A little recognized influence on the Montessori Movement by Marsha Familaro Enright

originally published in Montessori Leadership

“Help me to do it myself,” self-responsibility, peace:  these are fundamentals of the Montessori philosophy.  How many of you know that another, highly influential thinker with these same beliefs has had a huge influence on the Montessori movement:  Ayn Rand?  Today, there are thousands of parents, teachers and heads of school who came to Montessori through her.

Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand is most famous for her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. According to a 1999 survey by the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged ranked second in influence with readers, after the Bible.  Rand’s books have sold over 100 million copies and sell over 100,000 copies a year to this day – she has obviously affected a lot of people.

However, Rand wrote many other works, including an essay on education called “The Comprachicos,” now available in The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. In it, she discussed the Montessori Method at some length.  She also published an article by the late Beatrice Hessen, “The Montessori Method,” in The Objectivist magazine, which article is now reprinted in John Chattin-McNichols’ Montessori Schools in America:  Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives.

These two articles introduced millions of Rand’s readers to the Montessori Method and movement – and many of them stayed.  I, for one, had been searching since I was a child for a way of schooling which kept the joy in life while guiding students in learning.  The Rand and Hessen articles intrigued me and led me to a life-long love for the Method, which included founding Council Oak Montessori school in Chicago.  Currently, I am working on a new college using the Method (see www.collegeunitedstates.org).

I do not think I am an exception.  You will find Rand’s influence in Montessori schools all around North America, from North Carolina and Pennsylvania to Illinois and Colorado; from Toronto to Texas – and I’m sure almost anywhere you look.  In California, there are a group of Fountainhead Montessori schools.

Why was Ayn Rand interested in Montessori?  Ayn Rand dearly wanted peace, freedom, happiness and achievement for all the individuals of the world, having lived through the death and destruction of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.  She knew that only through strong independence of judgment would our children avoid the mob madness and mass murder of Communism, Fascism, Nazism or, today, Islamic terrorism, which have been responsible for over 100 million deaths (Rummel, 1994).  Only independence and respect for other individuals’ rights to make up their own minds and live their own lives would prevent any further killing fields and keep us out of war.

As she had hoped, the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957 ignited a revival of interest in Classical Liberalism and free-market thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, Ludwig Von Mises and Frederick Hayek, nurturing and triggering a huge movement to achieve freedom and prosperity throughout the world.  Last year at the centenary of her birth, many groups and publications paid homage to her vital role in this revival and its exciting consequences, such as the fall of the Soviet Union and the spread of freedom around the world.

The Social Entrepreneurship movement is also a result of this change in thinking, in this case, specifically applied to helping the poorest around the globe, and it is a huge engine of social change. Rather than centralized government programs, thousands of micro-entrepreneurship projects are spreading wealth through the world by helping individuals create their own jobs.  For example, in Bangladesh, Mohammed Yunnus created Grameen Bank to provide micro-credit loans all over the third world.  Mark Frazier, a Rand fan, created the Internet site Openworld through which young people from developing countries can get quality information and training inexpensively.  If needed, he helps them obtain computers and Internet hook-ups.

However, Rand’s similarity to Montessori went well beyond their common desire for peace.  In “The Comprachicos,” Rand lauded the Montessori Method as exactly what children needed to develop properly. “The purposeful, disciplined use of his intelligence is the highest achievement possible to man:   it is that which makes him human.”  “[the best development of intelligence is what] Dr. Montessori had in mind…when she wrote the following about her method:  ‘The didactic material, in fact, does not offer to the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the order for that ‘content.’…The mind has formed itself by a special exercise of attention, observing, comparing, and classifying…which leads them to become active and intelligent explorers instead of wandering wayfarers in an unknown land.’” (Rand, 1970, 196)

Rand recognized that the Montessori Method is superb at developing a child’s thinking skills, independent judgment and inner self-confidence, while maintaining his or her love of learning.  She also applauded the sensitive, individual approach to each child’s personality and development, and the respect for order, property and other people nurtured by the Method – all important elements for a happy, productive life.

Like Montessori, Rand believed judging others by their individual actions and achievements, not their group membership, race or any other feature outside of their control, was the basis of real respect.  She realized that the road to peace was through educating individuals in the importance of thinking well and respecting the individual rights of others.

Footnotes

R.J. Rummel, Death by Government (Transaction 1994). Rummel is a now-retired political science professor.  He has extensively researched forms of government and war, summarized in his charts, available at

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/welcome.html

He found that no democracy has made war on another democracy since 1816 (democracy defined as government by the people either directly or through elected representatives).

References

Chattin-McNichols, John, ed.  1981.  Montessori Schools in America:  Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives. Lexington:   Ginn Custom Publishing.

Rand, Ayn.  1957.  Atlas Shrugged. New York:  Random House.

Rand, Ayn.  1970.  The Comprachicos in The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York:  Signet, 187-239..

Rand, Ayn.  1943.  The Fountainhead. New York:  Bobbs-Merrill.

Rummel, R.J.  1994.  Death by Government, New York:  Transaction Publishers

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DP.CHART.V19.PDF

Copyright © 2007 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] I’ve tried to persuade my fellow Montessori educators of the importance of school choice but with only limited success.  I would say that within the Montessori movement the issue largely divides along partisan lines, with something like 95% of Montessorians identifying as “progressives” and also resisting school choice out of a misguided loyalty to the teachers unions, who will never return the support.  (There also exists a small network of libertarian-inclined Montessorians, some of which were inspired to look into Montessori through Ayn Rand’s strong endorsement of Montessori education). […]

  2. […] A little recognized influence on the Montessori Movement by Marsha Mar 8, 2007. In it, she discussed the Montessori Method at some length.. which included founding Council Oak Montessori school in Chicago.. – A little recognized influence on the Montessori Movement by Marsha […]

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