Re-Inventing the Wheel… Poorly!

Welcome to what will be a running commentary on topics in education, admittedly from the perspective of a strongly dedicated Montessorian (but also an attorney, finance professional, mother of two… and a host of other passions in a “previous life.”) I will be thrilled if you find yourself borrowing ideas from this for any of the following: cocktail/dinner party conversation, guidance in making educational decisions for your children, inspiration to teach, or the impetus to social action on behalf of America’s youth in our education system — they will, after all, impact the world for decades to come!!! If you are “moved” to either of the last two, let me know. Our circle of like-minded thinkers in education is much too small… collaborators are welcome!

I am disturbed these days when I attend education forums or professional trainings. We are reinventing the (Education) wheel… and doing it poorly!  I have so titled the “series” that will comprise the first five of these comments.

Common Core, which articulates standards for academic learning and thinkingby age, has educators in a flurry! Separately, the increasingly widespread recognition of Social / Emotional intelligence (“EQ”) as being of comparable importance to IQ, has everyone scrambling to “import” a “best of breed” social / emotional curriculum to train teachers, students and parents.

Let me be clear. I am unconditionally supportive of a strong focus on social / emotional community building, fostered deliberately by teachers. Classrooms are the first real “group” experience for children and so we make a very grave mistake if those classrooms fail to deliberately build a child’s social / emotional well-being and their confidence in finding their own “voice” and respecting that of others. Further, I am unconditionally a supporter of raising standards in education — the premise of Common Core. I am even willing to stand behind the statement that I think America would be much better off if EVERY teacher taught in TRUE accordance with Common Core principles and standards.

Sounds like a ringing endorsement, right? So, why do I write this commentary as a critic? Simple! We are reinventing the wheel… poorly. All of this has been done before and done much better than the nascent attempts under Common Core or Social /Emotional programming!! It was (and is) called Montessori.

Common Core calls for:

        Sequenced progression from “grade to grade”

        Change from “mile-wide and inch deep” curriculum to mile-deep; enabling application of concepts across areas

        Student-directed learning so as to promote student’s engagement; encouraging teachers to better understand their individual students

Social / Emotional Programs (as paraphrased from Yale’s RULER program) call for:

        Recognizing, Labeling and Expressing emotions in self and others

        Understanding and Regulating those emotions

Montessori answers every one of these. Each subsequent comment in this series will address one of the bullets above.

The Montessori model demonstrated in the 1907 World’s Fair “Glass Classroom” blew away onlookers and it is just as relevant today. (Maria Montessori was admittedly very far ahead of her time as the first female MD researcher in Italy. Even today, virtually no educators have her credentials in scientific observation and basic scientific understanding of human development.) Montessori (now the term for an educational model) not only has strong academic, critical thinking and social “standards” but also contains a host of sequenced, successively building content in the form of materials for Language Arts, Geography, Mathematics and Science (STEM), Cosmic and Peace education and more. Most of this content (in the form of concrete materials and modeled lessons) was created by Maria Montessori herself. The internal cohesiveness is unrivaled. Her actual curriculum materials (far exceeding the grade level Common Core standards) spanned several years of development from toddler-hood through at least middle school today, arguably beyond.

Common Core does NOT do the foregoing… there are no curriculum materials that “come with” Common Core… it is just standards. In this, however, the scores of developers of Common Core are not alone. Profoundly important, NO world education system of which I am aware, other than Montessori, contains the actual curriculum materials and hands-on learning manipulatives — fully sequenced, beautifully built and suggesting their own “extensions” for “mile deep” curriculum – the type of curriculum advocated by Common Core standards.

Let me reiterate this stunning point: No other education system in the world creates both sequenced, successively building curriculum standards and materials across more than 10 so-called modern “grade levels."  Surely Montessori is worth a closer look by the mainstream of education?

Kristen Hanisch Mansharamani is the Founder and Executive Head of School of Torit Montessori. She holds a BA from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law School.