Teaching Freedom: Incorporating the Principles of a Free Society into Pedagogy

by Rachel Davison
Oak Farm Montessori School

and Marsha Familaro Enright*

The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute
Teaching Freedom Illustrations‎

Abstract

Free Enterprise educators are urged to examine their educational principles and align their classroom practice with their advocacy of liberty by providing a classroom environment that develops the virtues as well as the ideas needed to live in liberty. Such pedagogy has a direct benefit to the educator.  When freedom and autonomy are directly experienced, students become more engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners and more often adopt the ideas and values of liberty. Combining empirical evidence from Socratic practice and Montessori education with research on development and optimal learning, the authors suggest ways to create such a classroom culture.

 

“To consider the school as the place where instruction is given is one point of view.  But to consider the school as a preparation for life is another. In the latter case, the school
must satisfy all the needs of life. ”
Maria Montessori (1994, p. 5)

I. Schooling Versus Autonomy

When we think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges.

If young people are schooled in the facts about the overwhelming advantages of a free society, and how to reason well about them, and they study the full range of great ideas, the likelihood that they will be convinced of the ideas underpinning a free society goes up greatly because the facts are on the side of freedom.

Yet, it’s one thing to be lectured to about liberty and the virtues needed for it; it’s another to know how to act in freedom. It’s valuable to know the ideas of liberty, but can you apply them in your life? Where do you learn how? As Aristotle said: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” (Book II, Chapter 1)

It’s one thing to believe in the ideas abstractly; it’s another to experience what such a society would be like—and to be motivated to achieve it.

To build a free world, we need people at many levels of society and in many areas—

business, the trades, the arts, medicine, journalists, as well as intellectuals and professors—with the ideas, values, and habits friendly to liberty. This is where a sound, liberal education is essential.

With history as the measure, it’s clear that free society advocates don’t need to be a majority to significantly change the culture. But they need to be a significant, knowledgeable, and active minority. Such a minority made the progress towards full freedom and individual rights possible in Britain; such a minority in the American Colonies was instrumental in achieving independence from Britain.

Unlike the American Colonists, none of us has been raised in a highly self-reliant society of the Enlightenment Era—did we have the chance to develop the habits needed to embody its values? To act in our families, among our friends, in our towns and cities, the way a free person should act? To have the skills and force of personality to implement the changes needed to make our lives better and freer, whatever our professions, associations and interests?

Educators familiar with the facts, history, and ideas of free societies and spontaneous order understand the value of dispersed and localized knowledge and the prosperity and flourishing that results from individuals peacefully collaborating as trading partners.

What they might not have considered is the way in which the classroom is a micro-society in which students learn how to behave in the larger world and whether their classrooms reflect the social relationships, the virtues, and the psychological conditions that sustain and advance the behavior of free people. Educators have the opportunity to craft an experience in which students learn how to behave as self-reliant, independent, self-responsible individuals.

The modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a structure of a single arbiter of knowledge, often in the position of lecturer, discussion leader, knowledge authority, and director of learning. Directed group lessons in traditional grade school and lectures in higher education are favored methodologies of the traditional method of education.

The teaching paradigm encourages an authority to convey the “right” answers to the waiting student-receptacles. Yet, this top-down environment is counter-productive to conveying the ideas, values, and virtues of a free society.

In the traditional teaching model, students are considered passive empty vessels, to be filled with knowledge by the academic authority, rather than active agents in their own learning.

This model is a legacy of the movement to economically mass-educate the populace and is literally based on factory organization, i.e. everyone doing the same thing at the same time for mass production.

How is a young person supposed to learn to be an autonomous individual if he or she is being treated like an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge? What opportunities are students give to learn and practice the skills of a self-reliant, independent, and self-responsible individual?

If we are aiming to foster a society driven by free enterprise, shouldn’t the pedagogy of our classrooms align with those values?

Traditionally, “learning” is measured by the amount of information the instructor has offered which the student is able to reiterate on tests and in papers. How does the instructor know if real understanding has been achieved? Whether the student has deeply incorporated the instructor’s information and ideas into his or her thinking? Whether the student can use this information in his or her life?

Consider the psychological effects of the traditional methods of teaching in which:

  1. The teacher is the repository of truth.
  2. The student is taught one line of reasoning given in the lecture or presentation.
  3. The student is the receiver, not initiator of learning.

In this paradigm:

How does the student learn how to arrive at truth himself?

How does the student learn that there are multiple ways of approaching a problem?

How does the student learn to find subjects of interest to himself, individually, and know how to go about the process of learning new material?

If students have no skills in these processes, how can they grow into autonomous individuals, arriving at their own conclusions and navigating all the choices and opportunities which freedom presents?

“‘Autonomy’ suggests, strictly speaking, that one gives or has given laws to oneself; that one is self-governing; that in essentials one obeys one’s own imperatives.” (Kaufmann, 1980,15).

The conditions of freedom cannot be consistently and sufficiently conveyed in a traditional, lecture-based environment because it does not provide the individual with opportunities to learn how to be a free, autonomous person.

Advocates of reason and freedom understand that the mind cannot be forced to accept truth. Nor does the social pressure of authority or peers result in a real understanding of truth, and certainly not the first-hand comprehension and autonomy of the innovator. Neither does a top-down environment cultivate an independent person’s ability to fight for his or her individual freedom.

To acquire truth, each person must observe and reflect on facts for him- or herself. Each person must compare and contrast, analyze and synthesize those facts, for him- or herself. Each person develops ideas, from those facts within him- or herself. Each person must integrate one set of facts with another, one set of ideas with another, for him- or herself. This is the only way to arrive at truth, since an understanding of truth cannot be transferred directly from one mind to another.

If a classroom structure can serve as the sandbox in which to practice how to live as a free person, then the independence of rational inquiry and the development of rational judgment, need to be incorporated into that sandbox.

Advocates of a free society understand the value and power of the dispersed and localized knowledge of the individual within the structure of a market, the creativity it unleashes and the flourishing that results.  In turn, the micro-society of a classroom structure that endeavors to encourage the exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator, mirrors the creative process of the market. This is impossible in a strictly lecture structure, and difficult in many discussion structures.

Free society educators can endeavor to construct a classroom structure parallel to a market with a productive exchange of ideas between individuals, while still incorporating the guidance and expertise of the educator.

Such a classroom offers the student the opportunity to develop and practice the skills of rational independence, creative thinking, collaborative exchange, honesty, objectivity, justice, and honor—all skills and virtues valuable and necessary in a free society.

 

II. The Principled Pedagogy of Freedom

“The greatest [obstacle for] an attempt to give freedom to the child and to bring its powers to light does not lie in finding a form of education which realizes these aims. It lies rather in overcoming the prejudices which the adult has formed in this regard.”

Maria Montessori (1955, p.48)

Developmental and cognitive research, plus over 100 years of experience using the Montessori philosophy of education argues that optimal learning occurs through freedom within a structured environment, where the following conditions are present (Lillard, 2005, passim):

  • The instructor is informed about and alert to the developmental needs of the young adult student,
  • Questions are actively encouraged by classroom methodology,
  • Instructor’s activities are modified based on the interests of the students, within the limits of the studied material,
  • Activities are crafted with optimal learning conditions in mind, ones that engage the needs, attentions, and interests of young adults.

Methodologies rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy encourage individualism and self-reliance, foster individual development, unfettered creative discovery, exploration, and integration of newideas. In support of this claim, researchers have recently identified the unusual number of highly creative people who were Montessori students (Sims, 2011).

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, French cooking evangelist Julia Child, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are among the many unusually creative and capable people with a Montessori background. Some insist this type of education was instrumental in their radical creativity.

For example, Brin and Page have identified the individually-driven exploration of the Montessori classrooms as a major source of their willingness to try new things and think out of the box again and again. (Goodwin, 2012)

The environment created in a Montessori classroom relates to the well-known facts of spontaneous order: The discovery of truth, the correct identification of life-supporting facts, is not a centralized, top-down procedure. Instead, it results from a complex process of discovery and argument, demonstrated through the history of thought and the progress of civilization.

Socratic practice, short lesson-lectures and self-selected research projects are examples of classroom strategies for higher education which encourage individual autonomy and contribute to fostering attitudes that are receptive to the complex ideas of freedom.

III. Specialized Discussion Methods and Individualism

“Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is     an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” Maria Montessori (1912, p. 86)

The classroom is a micro-society in which the social order emerges through the exchange of ideas and values, explicit and implicit, and from the way in which participants interact with each other according to the discussion principles.

The term “Socratic Seminar” is used variously. We are using it here to mean a very particular discussion format and methodology in which students are engaged in examining, analyzing, and discussing the material themselves, first-hand. They are synthesizing the information themselves, rather than having it handed to them. It is an active learning environment. Michael Strong’s book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice well describes this particular methodology and its benefits.

Socratic Practice harnesses important and powerful social-psychological elements that encourage a freedom-oriented classroom culture while increasing learning. It is a process of collaborative inquiry which develops fact-based reasoning, objectivity, listening skills, and team work for problem-solving.

Seminars run by the principles of Socratic Practice function as a market of ideas, where reason, combined with the invisible hand of individual self-interest, results in greater knowledge, reasoning, and social skills for all. As a collaborative learning experience, it taps into all the advantages of learning by imitation; it’s an opportunity to see multiple ways to reason on the same materials. Research by the Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning at Vanderbilt University shows meaningful group problem-solving results in superior learning (Jasper Project, 2000).

“One particular thing that I learned at Queen’s [College]—both from faculty and students—was how to work collaboratively with smart people and make use of the Socratic method to achieve commonality of purpose.”  Billionaire founder of Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk

This method requires each participant to focus on what exactly is said in the text, and what can be surmised from it; the instructor guides the discussion with incisive questions and by requiring the participants to stick to the facts of the work when arguing their opinions.

  • All opinions must be grounded by reference to the work studied, developing the habit of fact-based judgment and objectivity.
  • The teacher acts as a facilitator, encouraging the students to use their own minds to find the meaning of the text; the teacher does not act as an authority on the text.  The best reasoning is the highest authority.
  • The teacher demonstrates and encourages questions and thinking in different ways when approaching the material. The points of view and questions of the different participants demonstrate how material can be approached in a variety of ways. This outcome encourages creativity by illustrating many ways to reason about the same issue. Consequently, not only excellent deductive reasoning, but creative, inductive reasoning is encouraged.
  • Participants effectively trade their knowledge and skills by example.

These elements work together to strengthen student reasoning skills and instantiate the value of individual differences.  Displays of inordinate knowledge about a subject are irrelevant and discouraged because each discussion member cannot verify them. This reduces non-productive jostling for social position. Reason’s authority is the great equalizer and students come to appreciate each other as helpers in their learning. This results in a psychologically safe environment, which encourages exploration and creativity.

At the end of every Socratic seminar, the instructor guides a “debrief,” a self-reflective discussion in which each participant comments on what went well and what could be improved. The beneficial effects are:

  • Significant improvement in the discussions from one session to the next by raising conscious awareness about participant actions and interactions,
  • Participants learn to be equally responsible for the quality of the inquiry,
  • A culture of equality among peers is established, including the instructor; the instructor and other participants values each individual’s thoughts and reactions, while the best reasoning remains the highest authority; Mastery Learning research on how individuals acquire mastery in knowledge and skills found that the attitude of the teacher seriously affects the students self-image and motivation, (Dweck, 1999, passim),
  • The validation of the person of each individual because each person’s participation with rational arguments adds value for the other participants,
  • The encouragement of the habit of taking responsibility, giving validation to the virtues of others, and working together in a rational way.

The discussions improve radically from one session to another because of the awareness generated by the debrief, and the expectation of achievement and cooperation. These methods benefit from the strengths of peer-learning and exchange (Brown, et al., 1989, Orr, 1987).

In Socratic Practice, the teacher uses his or her expertise to craft the entire environment of the class:

  • Physical:
    • Every participant sits in a circle facing all the others as equal intellectual explorers.
    • The room is well-lit and comfortable to enhance concentration.
    • No phones or outside distractions are allowed.
  • Cognitive:
    • Works are chosen and taught in a purposeful order, so that students can discover their meaning and connections themselves and find joy in doing so. They are invited to engage with the material rather than passively receive it.
    • Focus is on paying attention to the deepest meaning of the works studied and each other through questions of clarification, i.e. what does the other person mean?
    • Solid evidence and reasoning are required for all opinions.
  • Social:
    • The instructor takes a limited role and gives feedback in a way that is kind, but honest, encouraging student awareness of each other, and cooperation through self-moderated exchange.
    • Students are encouraged and enlightened as to how to respectfully listen by the instructor’s sincere attempts to hear and understand what the other is saying, before replying.
    • Students are responsible for their own contributions and encourage contributions from others.
  • Psychological:
    • Reflection at the end of the discussion about what went well in the discussion and what can be improved generates a high level of self-awareness and self-generated improvement in learning from session to session.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research on Flow, the psychology of optimal experience, shows that attention is the most limited cognitive resource (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). But it’s husbanded very well in this type of seminar.

  • Every person’s reasoned contribution is valued; being active makes it easier to pay attention,
  •  The specially selected texts are of deep interest about issues of importance; this makes it highly motivating to pay attention to the discussion.

These skills are enormously practical: a 2014 study by Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems analyzing Census Bureau data of 3 million U.S. residents found “the overwhelming majority of employers are desperate to hire graduates who have a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.” (Samuelson, 2014)

Lastly, students report that these seminars require the best of them; their best thinking, behavior, and awareness of others.

 “You see how much value you have to offer and to add to your own thinking. It’s not a zero sum game like in traditional education where you’re trying to compete with each other and there’s one answer. It’s not “the right answer”; it’s better and better answers. Everyone’s building a mosaic of truth together. We all study one text but there many objective truths in it, you’re benefiting from hearing all these different ways to understand things objectively and truly. And you realize you have something to contribute. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing, but together it fits with what other people are saying.” –   Michael Natividad, junior, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

 

IV. Conclusion

“Be careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori (1937, p. 26)

Comparing this method to the regular educational system, this unavoidable feeling of frustration comes up: Why, with such a fantastic method, isn’t there a change? The passion in learning that everybody had is proof of this seminar’s effectiveness.”  Tobias Mihura, junior, Clarin High School, Buenos Aires

The authors are sure they have not communicated all the ways in which teachers of free enterprise can encourage the values of a free society in the classroom micro-society. We welcome suggestions and wish to learn from the skills of others. But we urge such teachers to reflect on what kind of habits they are encouraging in their students. We hope that we have triggered reflection on how to develop the virtues needed for freedom.

 

References

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter 1, Moral Virtue http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.2.ii.html

Brown, J.S., Collins. A. & Dugid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, Jan/Feb, 21-42.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.

Dweck, C.S. (1999).Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press/Tarylor & Francis.

Goodwin, Danny. August 31, 2012. “Maria Montessori Google Doodle: How Montessori Education ‘Programmed’ Google’s Founders.” Search Engine Watch.

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2202181/Maria-Montessori-Google-Doodle-How-Montessori-Education-Programmed-Googles-Founders

Jasper Project on Cognition and Learning. 2000. Vanderbilt University.

Kaufmann, Walter. 1980. Discovering the Mind. New York: McGraw Hill.

http://books.google.com/books?id=iDIs2uDBaW4C&pg=PR33&lpg=PR33&dq=text+the+discovery+of+the+mind+Kaufmann&source=bl&ots=5XKEarOA2L&sig=jMucreJHHLLo8F_WSr-i4yRXetk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LF48U6bLKuim2AXp9oCQDQ&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=text%20the%20discovery%20of%20the%20mind%20Kaufmann&f=false

Lillard, Angeline. 2005. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montessori, Maria, translated by Anne Everett George. 1912. The Montessori Method, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method-V.html

Montessori, Maria. 1938. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longsman.

Montessori, Maria. 1989 (1955). The Formation of Man. Oxford: Clio Press. http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/form.html

Montessori, Maria, 1994 (1948). From Childhood to Adolescence. Oxford: Clio Press.

http://www.moteaco.com/abcclio/childhood.html

Orr, J. (1987). Talking about Machines. Palo Alto: Xerox PARC.

Samuleson, Scott. March 28, 2014. “Would You Hire Socrates?” The Wall Street Journal.

Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia.” The Wall Street Journal.

http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/

Strong, Michael. 1997. The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice. Chapel Hill: New View Publications.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. January, 2014. “Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight.” http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/nchems.pdf


Acknowledgements

Ms. Enright would like to thank Rachel Davison for initiating the idea of the presentation leading to this paper as well as for her lovely work on the presentation, and K.R. for his encouragement and help with the ideas and vision.

Originally published at the conference site of the Association of Private Enterprise Educators. http://www.etnpconferences.net/apee/apee2014/User/Program.php?TimeSlot=12

 

 

 

 

Flourishing Through Education in the Creative Destruction of Capitalism: The Science and Educational Principles of The Great Connections Program

By Marsha Familaro Enright
President, The Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute,
sponsor of The Great Connections Program

The Economic Stage is Set

In recent decades, the creative destruction of capitalism has changed the face of the U.S. economy, destroying many former giants of industry like TWA and Montgomery Wards, integrating others into colossal conglomerates, like GE. Simultaneously, thousands of new, small businesses grew from the work and talent of retired, outplaced workers. These developments were made possible by the adaptability and creativity of Americans.

Thomas Friedman’s 2005 runaway bestseller about globalization, The World Is Flat, argues that our remarkably cheap, worldwide communications technology is changing the nature of work even further. Internet email, Web sites, satellite links, and the rapidly expanded use of computer technology to automate many functions are unleashing change as fundamental as that of the Gutenberg press.

At root, these changes are empowering individuals around the globe. Most apparent is the ability of millions of people with good technical skills in faraway lands to offer excellent work for half or less of U.S. labor prices. “Global Outsourcing for the Little Guy,” in the Chicago Tribune (5/29/2006) reports on this phenomena. Web site designs that cost thousands of dollars in the U.S. can be created for $750 in India. India’s system of IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and the powerful ambition of its long-impoverished people make their huge population an awesome pool of talent.

Elance.com, a job-bidding Web site also mentioned in the article, empowers individuals and small businesses in the U.S., too. This website especially helps those with the creativity, adaptability, and great collaborative skills that have kept U.S. business in the forefront of innovation—and rich. These key ingredients enable individuals to offer unique skills and products to the market, thereby maintaining a market edge.

The Gartner Group, the technology consultants, coined a term to describe the trend in the information technology world away from specialization and toward employees who are more adaptable and versatile. The group calls the employees ”Versatilists.” Building employee versatility and finding employees who are already or are willing to become Versatilists “will be the watchword for career planning. “…Versatilists are capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing,” says Friedman. These are people who have the ability to master technical knowledge and can easily adapt and move from one area of expertise to another.

The highly adaptable Versatilist can effectively move from a job requiring one skill set to another, like Marcia Loughry, whom Friedman interviewed. As her former functions became outsourced or obsolete, she moved from an Electronic Data Systems (EDS) word-processing job in 1978 to four other jobs, taught herself Novell Netware and acquired other skills and knowledge. Eventually she rose to one of the highest positions at EDS—enterprise architect—all through curiosity, learning, excellent reasoning skills, and a willingness to adapt.

“The deep technical skills around math and science are going to get you in the door, but they are not what are going to keep you there or make you wildly successful. What will keep you there is developing a broader view,” said Loughry.

What fosters a broad view? The ability to continually learn. How can we use education to nurture young people so they will be well prepared for a life of versatility? At root, human developmental needs and psychological tendencies must be respected. Teaching methods honed to fit learning and development can make all the difference.

The Montessori Approach

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

This is not a new puzzle to those familiar with the Montessori Method. Maria Montessori used almost 50 years of observation and experimentation deeply informed by science to hone her ideas and methods on education. These methods stoke individual curiosity and ingenuity while ensuring that students master basic skills and effectively ingest huge amounts of information.

Although, in the U.S., Montessori schools are known mainly as preschools, many Montessori schools go through 8th grade and some even through high school. In the past 20 years, these schools have grown rapidly throughout the country, due to their superior system for producing knowledgeable, happy, highly motivated, and capable students.

University of Virginia psychology professor Angeline Stoll Lillard’s 2005 book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, succinctly explains Montessori’s principles and the research evidence supporting them. The Great Connections’ approach grows out of the application of Montessori principles to the adult level of education.

“When you have solved the problem of controlling the attention of the child, you have solved the entire problem of education.” Maria Montessori

When it comes to attention and learning, Montessori could have been talking about anyone, not just the child. Without attention, there is no learning. Attentional resources (focus) are limited. They must be used well to efficiently learn the most possible.

Further, the developed ability to concentrate on work and goals and to self-maintain interest and focus allow a person to succeed in long-term projects and purposes. In Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism, Jerry Kirkpatrick calls this “Concentrated Attention.”

Cskiszentmihalyi

Mihály Csíkszentmihály

In his studies on intensely productive and creative people, University of Chicago research psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi found that certain conditions elevate the ability to pay attention, and pay attention deeply for long periods of time. He also recognized that specially designed practices in Montessori classrooms provide these conditions throughout the school day. His research group, including the work of Kevin Rathunde, has found many exceptional outcomes from these Montessori practices.

The use of the Three-Period Lesson is a case in point.

 

Layers of the Earth Lesson

Layers of the Earth Lesson

Much scientific research shows that humans learn best if:

1. They are highly motivated to learn the material for some personal end.

2. They are physically engaged.

3. They understand the application of the material to their lives.

The classic Montessori Three-Period Lesson ingeniously engages human attention. With small groups of students, teachers (or “Guides” as we prefer to call them in Montessori) demonstrate learning materials specially designed to focus attention on an important concept, such as rates of change in calculus. Pictures, objects, sounds, and machines make the idea vivid. These Montessori materials engage the student’s whole intellect, sensory, motor, and conceptual, thereby powerfully imprinting memory.

The Guide gathers one to four students ready for the particular lesson, seats them in front of the materials, and then demonstrates their use with as few words as possible.  For example, the Guide might use fraction circles to demonstrate the addition of fractions. (see picture below)

Fraction Circle Montessori Material

Fraction Circle Montessori Material

These are sets of metal, pie-shaped circles cut into different quantities of wedges with little knobs on each wedge. For example, one circle consists of 4 wedges, another of 12, to demonstrate fourths and twelfths. There are numerous kinds of problems possible with these circles, including all the operations of arithmetic. In the most basic, the child can literally see the relationship of different proportions to each other by taking the wedges out of the circles and putting them back in—in different combinations. Each lesson demonstrates one possible use of the materials.

During the lesson, the Guide speaks little, allowing the student to focus and observe the demonstrated examples carefully. The Guide encourages questions from the student; she also, models curiosity, and triggers discussion with questions of her own when students are not forthcoming. Truly successful teachers are exceptional at listening to students’ questions, surmising what students need to know, and modeling and encouraging thinking.

After the fraction demonstration, the Guide asks the student to explain what to do with the materials to solve the next example and moves the materials according to the student’s instructions. Finally, the Guide asks the student to demonstrate the material, turning student into teacher and thereby requiring a more complete level of understanding for the student’s performance.

After the lesson, the student is free to pursue more problems right then or use these materials later to practice until the material is mastered, at a time when the student feels interested in working on the material (on the principle that one learns best when one is intrinsically motivated).  The Guide regularly takes notes while observing the children in her class and if she finds a child avoiding some material, she makes it her job to think of a way to interest the child in the work.

A key to the Montessori Method’s success is ensuring that the amount of material conveyed at one lesson is not overwhelming. More frequent, shorter lessons with follow-up exercises are preferable to one long demonstration. Of course, preparing shorter, pointed lessons is far more taxing to the teacher, but the Montessori Method has systems to make this aspect of teaching less time consuming.

The Three-Period Lesson can be fruitfully adapted to many college-level subjects. In fact, some college classes, such as chemistry, often use a version of the Three-Period Lesson, with the experiment as the final student demonstration. However, as with most excellent methods, the devil is in the details, which is why The Great Connections’ guides are trained in Montessori principles.

Lectures in Their Proper Place

If organized well, lectures can distill a vast amount of information down to a few principles and key examples. A lecture can be an economical introduction to a subject. The best lectures essentialize the subject matter conveyed by the lecture.

However, as a method, lectures are designed to be easy for the teacher, not the student. They allow the teacher to recount his or her knowledge without feedback or interrupting questions and side issues from the listener. Although sometimes necessary, lectures are usually a difficult way to learn because they frequently run counter to human learning tendencies.

For several reasons, students must exert an enormous amount of effort to stay focused on what the speaker says during lectures. A lecture requires the learner to mostly listen and look a little. Unlike learning methods that make learning easy, the lecture usually does not engage the whole mind, including vivid perceptions and imagination, or the body of the student. Listening and looking during a lecture involves little sensory-motor work, which normally helps cement learning in memory.

One of the reasons visual aids such as Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® are preferred for lectures is because they offer sensory stimulation, providing at least some perceptual imagery to associate with the ideas being conveyed. Although, like books, lectures can have illustrations, the student cannot study the illustrations in a lecture as long as he or she wants.

Human interaction usually helps to increase interest as well as physically engage the student, but during a lecture, there is very little interaction between student and teacher. Often the lecture is aimed at a large or general audience and thus cannot address individual student goals, interests and comprehension difficulties.

A student cannot stop the lecture to ask a question or request a further, clarifying explanation or replay what the lecturer said. Once confused, the student may find the rest of the lecture very difficult if not impossible to follow. Consequently, students often miss the important points and substantial content of the lecture.

In a lecture format, the best teachers attempt to address human learning needs by weaving their information into a story. Stories incorporate drama, character, values, passion, meaning, purpose, a climax and resolution. Winston Churchill was a master at this. This method utilizes human tendencies to search for meaning and purpose, to connect knowledge acquired to personal circumstances, and to remember people, places and things more easily than abstract ideas.

Excellent lecturers use plenty of concretes to make the information vivid and connected to real experience and, at least in imagination, to stir perceptual memory and bodily feelings of the listener. Imaginative work and bodily feelings help the student feel much more engaged in the material. Exceptional lecturer MIT physics professor Walter Lewin spends 30 hours and three practice trials developing each of the lectures for his remarkable classes.

The best learners are active learners. They can gain from almost any lecture; they come to a lecture motivated to learn for their own reasons. They expend extra effort in imagining their own examples in order to concretize the ideas they’re hearing. As they listen, they maintain an internal dialogue of questions with the lecturer, noting what they don’t understand and with what they take issue. They also tend to seek answers to their questions after the lecture.

Many teachers recognize that this kind of student is rare and usually has high intelligence, strong intellectual ambition, and great self-motivation. For the most part, traditional education methods do not nurture internal motivation and inherent interest in acquiring knowledge—qualities essential in the new global economy.

A long school career of lectures, drills, memorization, and teaching methods out of tune with learning needs usually turns most students away from enthusiastic learning at school. They are only too often motivated mainly by external rewards of grades, adult approval, superior social position and the acquisition of credentials.

Unfortunately, lectures are so difficult to pay attention to, and psychologically painful for most students, that students work hard to avoid them. During lectures, young students often goof around; consequently, they learn that they are “bad” and “undisciplined.” They are expected to know how to force their attention on boring material.

Older students attempting to pass their courses seek low-energy ways to fulfill requirements while maximizing grades, such as the use of tape recordings, buying others’ lecture notes, or passing multiple choice tests without attending lectures.

These students aren’t inherently bad, they are responding to the high psychological costs of traditional education in a psychologically economical way. They more profitably spend their limited attentional resources elsewhere.

Sadly, they often feel guilt, frustration and anger for failing to live up to the traditional classroom’s expectations, with a nagging disappointment for what they’ve missed—or should have gotten—from education. Many students desperately need help to become “active learners,” interested in the material and in charge of their own education.

These are some of the reasons we at The Great Connections program are so bent on instituting the best learning environment possible. The best methods result not only in superior knowledge but also in the development of highly needed motivation and self-confidence.

Integration

What college graduates do with the information they learn will now, more than ever, determine their competitive edge. Consequently it is imperative that education teach how to think, create and integrate. Broad knowledge and capability to learn combined with the ability to deftly integrate new material into one’s repertoire is essential to the adaptable Versatilist. The liberal arts and sciences studied at The Great Connections program is specifically designed to develop these qualities in students, even if they’ve endured a lifetime of lectures.

Developing broad knowledge is directly related to the work of integration. Before valuable information and ideas can be stored in the mind’s subconscious, they have to pass through the conscious mind, which usually can handle only about seven discreet items at any one time (see George A. Miller’s 1956 psychological classic “The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information“) If you’ve ever wondered why you need a list to remember what you have to do, here’s the reason, and it’s one of the reasons for our limited attentional resources.

Ideas—abstractions—are the primordial human inventions that circumvent this limitation, because ideas incorporate myriad data into a single audio-visual concrete, a word or symbol. All instances of babies are integrated into the idea of “baby,” and you can apply what you know about babies to any individual baby you encounter. Voila! You’ve saved a lot of time and energy.

Ultimately, the integration of simple ideas, like those of colors or types of animals, into more abstract groupings like “mammal” make the human mind extremely powerful. Imagination and integration work together to produce the torrent that is human creativity. Integration of information into ideas and actions into skills is the psychologically economical way to use our limited conscious resources when thinking and solving problems.

The person who is a master at the careful, fact-based integration of knowledge is a highly effective thinker.

This is the reason the curriculum of The Great Connections emphasizes work on subject matter across domains of knowledge, studying books that integrate philosophy with economics, epistemology with poetry. Further, integration is encouraged by the consistent emphasis on asking students to relate what is learned in one class and course to another.

Creativity

Integration of knowledge across broad ranges of subjects is a characteristic of creativity—and versatility. Research consistently finds that highly creative people tend to have very broad, as well as deep, interests and knowledge. They apply unconventional information and ideas to problems, integrating information in unusual ways across conventional subject areas.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

Famed physicist Richard Feynman is a case in point. Think of his brilliant demonstration of the space shuttle temperature problem, Challenger’s O-Ring: by dropping an O-ring in an ordinary glass of ice water, he simply and directly proved it could not stand up to low temperatures. His demonstration integrated an esoteric, bedeviling engineering problem with a mundane experience.

He was also famous for his wide-ranging interests, which included samba bands and experiments on ants. He put no limits on his curiosity about the world. Feynman’s measured IQ was in the high range—124—but not what IQ test-makers consider genius (135+). Contrary to traditional thought but consistent with research findings, most recognized geniuses do not have IQ’s in the 135+ range. (No one knows how individuals acclaimed as geniuses because of their work, such as DaVinci and Newton, would have scored on the test. Given the findings with current individuals, the results of an actual IQ test on Newton might surprise us!) Measured IQs of people considered to be geniuses are 116 or higher, apparently making an above average IQ a condition—but not a sufficient one—for high creativity. (Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity).

“What I cannot create, I do not understand” Richard Feynman

Unfortunately, IQ tests—and most tests—cannot measure working creativity and intelligence. In other words, they don’t adequately measure how intelligence is put into life’s service by creatively solving problems .

The number of highly creative and successful business people who score average to low on SAT tests, for example, is indicative of the test’s inadequacy in measuring working intelligence.

Besides IQ, other conditions seem to be equally important to the development of creativity, conditions which we can create in educational settings, thereby enabling education to make a significant difference.

For example, the tendency to amass information from close, first-hand observation

Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday

is very important. Michael Faraday, pictured here, exhibited this tendency par excellence as a young man: he had no formal education and knew only arithmetic, but discovered the laws of electromagnetism through fascinated observation of and experiments on nature.

A mind that is curious and constantly problem solving is another characteristic of the creative. Take the inventor of VELCRO, George Mestral, for instance. He and his dog became covered with burrs during a walk. Examining how the burrs use microscopic hooks to stick to the loops of his pant fabric, he realized he could make a new type of fastener. A little nature hike turned into a billion-dollar industry.

What’s needed in education to develop creativity?

We cannot change what nature gives our students in terms of basic intelligence. However, we can offer a program that nurtures those abilities and habits of mind that are known to be needed for creativity and productivity such as:

  • Develops their objective reasoning skills, not just in science and math, but all domains of knowledge, including such areas as art, history, and literature.
  • Not only informs students, but provides them with a broad array of information, ancient and modern.
  • Guides them in connecting information and ideas from one domain of knowledge to another (the way highly creative people do), by:
    • Teaching through works that are cross-domain, like Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, a work of moral philosophy that founded the study of economics
    • Guiding them to draw cross-disciplinary connections by example; pointing out examples of the way in which original thinkers do this.
  • Encourages their curiosity by:
    • Encouraging their questioning
    • Modeling enthusiasm and curiosity in what is being studied
  • Encourages their careful observation of the world through:
    • Demonstrating careful observation and the relation of any idea to the facts on which it rests
    • Questioning the observational/factual basis of their ideas
  • A curriculum infused with deep questions about meaning and purpose, which connects knowledge to living by:
    • Always asking what any given fact or idea means to human life
    • Asking of any knowledge: to whom is this information valuable and how will it be used?

Using the Great Books, our curriculum schools students in timeless ideas, useful in any era or place, by the best thinkers in civilization. These works are extremely influential today. They include works from philosophy to economics, mathematics to literature, history to science and more. Simultaneously, the the Great Books’ authors and their ideas serve as examples of the highest in creative thinking skills.

Properly schooled to think deeply about these works, a student economically recognizes patterns, trends and influences everywhere in culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries.

One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing is an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked. I’m sure you all take for granted the idea that something can actually be one thing yet potentially another—like a baby is potentially an adult human.

However, it took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—how could we think about science and technology, among many other things.

Our students learn about such great ideas as Aristotle’s breakthrough, along with the important fact that so much we take for granted in our great civilization was invented by creative individuals all through the ages. Further, reflecting on concepts that we take for granted raises the students’ analytic thinking skills. This is just one benefit of studying the Great Books.

Knowledge Across Categories

Through use of the Great Books coupled with assignments posed by our teachers, our classes purposefully integrate knowledge from one domain to another and encourage students to find connections between seemingly disparate material, just like creative thinkers such as Feynman and Mestral. Teachers urge students to constantly seek connections among these great ideas and between the ideas and our contemporary world. Unfortunately, most college curriculums and faculties make no attempt to execute these crucial tasks.

Discussing the place that a fact, idea or theory has in human life is a constant aim. Teachers consistently require—and offer–—proof for statements and beliefs and explicit logical arguments. Everyone checks their premises. Facts and truth, however unpleasant, are the standard. By modeling and emphasizing these practices, our faculty encourage our students to have excellent observational skills.

How to deal with unpleasant facts without denying them is also a highly encouraged skill. Teachers who model such thinking teach volumes. Our special teacher training ensures these aims.

Ultimately, students will learn the skills needed to think objectively.

Collaboration and Teamwork

With the special methods we use, an elaboration of Socratic Practice (Collaborative Inquiry methods), students learn to deeply understand others’ points of view and communicate their own clearly. These skills are crucial to successful teamwork in any profession, as well as life in general. Our Advisor Michael Strong is an international expert in this method.

When The Great Connections is implemented as a full time program, students will participate in collaborative research work and business internships throughout the year. Explicitly tied to the curriculum and to individual professions that students want to explore, these internships will greatly enhance teamwork skills.

These activities and more will give students a breadth of experience as well as a breadth of thinking so important to the creative Versatilist.

Lastly, the close, in-person interaction of students and faculty as well as outside experts and special guests in and out of class facilitate development of these skills and further nurture the kind of deep, thoughtful examination of ideas, thinking, purposes and assumptions that  are so radically life-changing and empowering.

“First We Must Inspire, Not Just Inform”

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

By embodying great thinking, respect for independent judgment, and deep appreciation of individual freedom, the faculty model the very values on which the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute is founded.

The student is a “spiritual embryo,” with his or her own innate pattern of growth ready to unfold, delicately and amazingly, given the right psychological and physical environment. The teacher’s role in this unfolding cannot be underestimated.

Maria Montessori said: Teachers “have to conquer minds stirring up the great emotions of life,” to achieve real learning in students. In other words, teachers must tap into students’ deepest desires and values, such as love, joy, and pride, to motivate students. And, although Aristotle’s dicta “All men by nature desire to know” captures the human species’ trait of curiosity, curiosity can be squashed through ridicule or sapped through boredom by teachers—or coaxed into riotous flowering.

Great teachers are often transformative to the student, helping him or her learn to love knowledge and serious work, to acquire heightened reasoning skills, to look at many sides of a problem, to gather information from far-reaching domains in order to find solutions and to be self-reflective and reasonable – all important ingredients to future success.

Famed investor Warren Buffet, who did not want to go to college, said of his time achieving a master’s degree at Columbia University, “But I didn’t go there for a degree, I went for two teachers who were already my heroes.”

These principles necessitate teachers of the highest order: those with the utmost respect for their students, who can teach by example and guidance through difficult material.

While it is possible to be competent in communicating information and in conveying some of these traits long distance, in-person interaction is the most compellingly effective method. We actively seek technology of all kinds to creatively facilitate learning and collaboration and make scholars and public intellectuals from around the world accessible to our students. However, classes are in person with skilled and specially trained teachers.

Let’s examine some ways teachers influence students.

Teachers and Activation Energy

Csikszentmihalyi notes that human beings have limited mental resources and energy when it comes to paying attention (focusing on material), and these should be used wisely. Hence, our program keeps these factors in mind and seeks to facilitate attention.

A small group of people, like concert violinist Rachel Barton Pine, seem to find riveting interests when they are mere toddlers. This kind of person often barrels full speed ahead in what they want to do; but most people are not as definite or enthusiastic about any particular interest. Teachers can make a difference in the subjects in which students become interested and even their choice of profession.

Often, a passionate teacher triggers an individual’s interest in a new subject. A previously unknown, boring, or distasteful field becomes the person’s area of professional interest through their teacher. I’ve seen many a student with no previous interest in, or maybe even a repulsion to, cicadas or worms become enthralled with them after an enthusiastic teacher shows them the interesting parts of the worm or the weird way the cicada flies. The teacher fuels what research psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls “activation energy.”

Many complex and deeply engaging areas of knowledge and skill require an enormous amount of unrewarding work before they become enjoyable. Ballet dancing, mastering physics, or successfully managing employees are a few examples. Initially the learner must expend intense mental energy in order to focus on the learning: this is the “activation energy.” Learning a musical instrument is a good example: the student spends hours practicing physical movements and enduring awful sonic productions before acquiring enough skill to make enjoyable music!

In the early 20th century, Montessori noted the same phenomena and realized its connection to teaching: “I believed that at the start the teaching material had to be associated with the voice of the teacher which called and roused the [students] and induced them to use the material and educate themselves,” Maria Montessori.

A great teacher like the character of Edward James Olmos in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” or Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” helps students through difficult material with contagious excitement and the ability to make it dramatically interesting and well-related to students’ deepest needs and values.

Long-time Montessori teacher Pat Schaefer summed it up, “First: we must inspire, not just inform. Second: It is in relationship that the secret of [human learning] power is released.”

Teachers and Great Questions

On the precipice of full adult life, the college student needs answers to the great questions: “Why am I here?” ”How should I live?” ”How should I deal with other people?” “What should I do with my life?” If the student is not already asking himself these questions, it is his teacher’s job to show him how to ask them and how to find good answers.

Knowing how to pose the right questions can lead to a great awakening with unforeseen, amazing consequences. Forestry Consultant Charles Tomlinson often regaled friends and family with stories of his experience at The University of the South (called “Sewanee”) with “Abbo.” Charles claimed himself a rather complacent product of a middleclass Southern family when he encountered “Abbo,” English Professor Abbott Cotton Martin. Abbo spent considerable hours poking holes in everything Charles took for granted, from football to religion, with some English literature thrown in for good measure. This was Abbo’s stock-in-trade.

Abbo taught Charles to thoroughly question and examine what he thought he knew, as well as his beliefs. But Abbo didn’t just throw students in the water of quandaries, he made himself available to talk all during the week, not just during Sunday office hours. Charles learned to “check his premises” through Abbo’s prodding as well as reading Ayn Rand. The other wonderful teachers at Sewanee helped too. They inspired him to demand more of himself, leading to a long, creatively productive, exciting life.

This included deeply influencing many, many people, including Jaroslav Romanchuk, a major figure in the opposition to Belarus’ authoritarian government.

Active Listening and Independent Judgment

Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.
Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

Inspiration is the fundamental mission of the teacher, because of motivations’ deep importance to learning. Active Listening is a powerful teaching tool which promotes an inspiring relationship between teacher and student. For one thing, Active Listening conveys deep respect for the individual’s independence in thought and value.

“Be “careful not to ask [your] questions of the [students]. Only when [students] seek to answer questions which they themselves ask, do they commit themselves to the hard work of finding answers that are meaningful to them…give only as much guidance and encouragement as is necessary to elicit the [students’] interest.” Maria Montessori

 

Active listeningActive Listening is a key skill enabling teachers to nurture independent judgment. The Active Listener authentically tries to understand what the other person means, empathizing with the other’s point of view by working hard to grasp his or her full context. This means trying to understand the other person’s level of knowledge about a subject, their age, what emotional issues may be affecting their thinking, and the set of ideas they are using to grasp the subject.

 

Used in teaching, this means the Active Listener asks clarifying questions about the student’s terms, respectfully allowing the student time to finish what he or she is saying before responding and, importantly, conveying an attitude of alert interest in what the student says.

The Active Listener must try to leave aside any personal feelings about the subject and squash the desire to assert and forcefully drive home the rightness of his or her own opinion. These actions only serve to distract a student from deep thinking and learning by bringing in issues of social hierarchy, personal power, and self-worth (i.e., do I know enough, what does the teacher think of me, he’s got more status than I, I should listen to him). These issues elicit powerful, distracting emotions.

Further, the Active Listener tries to sense any motives in the student’s statements beyond the informational. For example, if a student in a class on Freud asks “What if a son is extremely fond and affectionate toward his mother—does that mean he has an Oedipus complex?” The teacher needs to be aware that the student may be feeling anxiety about his love for his mother and respond with gentleness, general reassurance, and kindness.

Active Listening promotes the spread of truth. Only by Active Listening do we end up having a full idea of what the other person means and thereby gain the opportunity to respond with appropriate facts and reasoning.

Independent judgment is the well-spring of real choice, and true individuality and judgment is well-developed through good discussion. Unfortunately, these days teachers sometimes find it difficult to conduct good discussions because students have been led to believe all opinions are equal in value and everyone should open their mouths to babble whatever they wish, no matter how inaccurate or trivial. Resulting from the reign of the Post Modernist attack on objectivity, this belief cripples students’ minds by encouraging them to think that any opinion is acceptable, regardless of foundation, as long as it is theirs.

While stoking their egos by making them feel whatever they think is important, this practice stops them from learning that true, valuable opinion must be grounded in facts and good reasoning.

Postmodernist ideology further deforms a student’s concept of self by equating diversity with group membership. In the Post Modernist schema, one’s diversity depends on race or ethnic background or sexual preference rather than considered, ideological judgment. It promotes a concept of tribal or social diversity rather than true ideological difference.

In contrast, Active Listening in the classroom conveys a deep respect for the independence of the other person’s mind: the Active Listener takes the student’s ideological point of view seriously and tries to respond to it carefully. The aim is full understanding of what the other is saying in the service of arriving at truth. Just imagine the kind of productive political discussions we all might have if we used these principles!

Some people have a rare, natural ability or tendency to listen like this, but since it can be learned, there’s hope for the rest of us. It is also typical of the Montessori teacher, because of his or her deep training in careful observation of students.

Socratic Practice

“It is a sign of crudity and indigestion to throw up what we have eaten in the same condition it was swallowed down; and the stomach has not performed its office, if it has not altered the figure and shape of what was committed to it for concoction…Let the tutor make his pupil thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon mere authority…To the fragments borrowed from others he will transform and bend together to make a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment. His education, labor,and study aim only at forming that.” Michael Montaigne

Socratic Practice is a formidable method that, when used properly, incorporates Active Listening at its best. Some of you may have been to classes that mimic this style of teaching. In these, a teacher might ask a question like “What is justice?” and then proceed to tell students they’re wrong when they give an answer the teacher doesn’t want. Well, that’s wrong; Socratic questioning is meant to develop the student’s ability to think about a subject, not to test them and catch them when they are wrong or call them on the carpet for the right answer.

Teachers looking for the right answer encourage students to focus on pleasing the teacher, not on thinking for himself or herself. The excellent teacher aims at helping students learn how to find the right answer themselves. They help students use the facts and best theories available while learning to think well.

Teachers skillfully using Socratic Practice often have to spend time rehabilitating students after a lifetime of being told what to learn, what is the “right” answer— or that any answer is right, with no standard of truth. Students often view school as the place to feed back the answer the teacher wants to hear, not learn new knowledge in order to figure out the truth with their own powers.

Consequently, in the beginning of a program using Socratic Practice, the teacher (often called “tutor,” i.e. guide to learning) must work especially hard to shape the learning environment. Just as in any Montessori school, the prepared environment is a key to success in developing the thriving, independent-minded learner.

Physically, the environment must be quiet All participants are required to respect the appointed time of discussion, with no phone calls, text messages, etc. They sit in a circle facing each other. Attention must be on the discussion, and all participants are expected to have read the assigned text.

Psychologically, the tutor shapes the environment by many principles. He or she requires a formal politeness among discussants, to encourage rational, civil discourse. Sometimes participants must address each other by title and last name (e.g., Ms. Smith and Mr. Murphy).

Unless a student starts the discussion with a question about the study material, the tutor leads off with a thoughtful question about the reading—or often a factual question if the material is mathematical or scientific.

At our program, students are given extra, explicit instruction in reasoning skills and logic, to make them more consciously aware of how to reason well, both inductively (e.g., how to make an accurate generalization) and deductively (e.g., how to derive a conclusion from already-given facts and ideas). All these practices serve to develop student reasoning skills.

The tutor must walk a fine line, skillfully encouraging excellent reasoning while being careful not to discourage students from talking because they might have  errors in their arguments.

Learning to reason objectively about complex material requires the willingness to entertain possibly incorrect ideas in order to examine them fully, to measure them against the facts, and to analyze their rational foundation.

If a student is too fearful of looking foolish or feeling humiliated when caught in an error, he or she won’t explore complex ideas thoroughly enough to find out if they are true.

On the other hand, students are not allowed to have bull sessions and their opinions are not all equal. Only those opinions arrived at objectively through facts and reasoning are considered worthwhile.

The tutor must skillfully encourage questions and comments evincing an earnest search for truth, while discouraging or disallowing talk in which the student is proving his knowledge or disingenuous agreement with the tutor.

During a seminar on Aristotle’s Politics, if a student who says “Richard McKeon says that Aristotle’s politics….” is deflected from this line of discussion by a question such as “Do you think that is true? What does Aristotle say that makes you think that?” The tutor aims to bring the discussion back to the facts of the text studied, plus the student’s own experience and reasoning. In this way, the tutor encourages observations of the facts, generalizations closely derived from the facts, and conclusions reasoned from the facts.

Our Advisor John Tomasi implemented this method in his hugely successful special program, The Political Theory Project at Brown University. He says: “Kids are sick and tired of being told what to think. They want to make up their own minds. They want to be challenged.” The kind of work done through Socratic Practice discussions of the Great Books does exactly that.

The Habit of Thought

Questions and questioning of a special type are central to great education. The evidence that the methods of Socratic Practice consistently applied increases cognitive skills is clear. Our advisor, Michael Strong, extensively discusses these methods in The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.

Strong established remarkable programs in four high schools around the country. He measured program outcomes with the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, a cognitive skills test correlated with performance on intelligence tests and college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT. Administering this instrument before, during and after a year at school, he found cognitive skill gains ranging, for example, from 30% to 84%. The mean score of one school’s 9th grade group moved from below the national 9th grade mean to above the 12th grade mean in one year, while one inner city student who scored at the 1st percentile on the initial test, scored at the 85th percentile by the end of four months. While more work is needed to fully validate his results, they were consistent from school to school. Any teacher would be proud to so deeply help students learn to think well.

Teachers and Observation

“Our care of the [student] should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” Maria Montessori

To be a good listener, a teacher must be a careful observer. Maria Montessori, the quintessential scientist, incorporated the scientific method into her teacher training program. She urged her teachers to spend time every day sitting back and watching the students work, interact with each other and deal with problems. In this way, teachers learn a great deal about each student, their interests, abilities and difficulties, enabling the teacher to guide him or her well. Observe, empathize, respect—these are the basics of good teaching.

The only way teachers can learn these methods is by intensive questioning and self-reflective experience. Guidance by mentors with great experience, knowledge and skill helps. Such training will be a key component of a special two-month teacher training course and apprenticeship for every teacher at the full-time Great Connections program.

In this course the teacher will both study and practice the programs specific methods, as well as experience the breadth of the ideas and the excitement and challenge of examining the great works used in our curriculum.

Teachers at The Great Connections

The in The Great Connections program are highly educated individuals, consistently willing to engage in discussions of the great questions inside and outside their domains of expertise. An excellent seminar leader asks intriguing, deep questions respectfully, keeps discussion on important topics but lets students diverge from the set topic if it means exploring something important and meaningful to them. Clearly, much art and judgment is involved, which is why extensive training is necessary.

Program focuses attention on human achievement and what makes it possible, both existentially and psychologically. We require our teachers to implement his or her best attributes: commitment to clearly knowing what he or she knows and doesn’t know (the first step on the path of objectivity); passion for learning new material and integrating it with other knowledge; commitment to modeling the highest virtues of the free person, including honesty, responsibility and respect for the rights of others; commitment to the restless pursuit of personal improvement and growth; willingness to submit to careful investigation and evaluation in order to improve. Through embodying these virtues, the teachers inspire students to the highest ends of the free man and woman.

As Scott Buchanan, architect of the Great Books program at St. John’s College, said: “Have you allowed adverse evidence to pile up and force you to conclude that you are not mathematical, not linguistic, not poetic, not scientific, not philosophical? If you have allowed this to happen, you have arbitrarily imposed limits on your intellectual freedom, and you have smothered the fires from which all other freedoms arise.”

The Delicacy of the Young Spirit

Achievement and success in life require the vision of the possible and the ability to weather the actual.

To navigate the stormy waters of life, the difficulties, the disappointments, the setbacks and the failures, students need cognitive skills and plenty of encouragement and emotional fuel. They need great examples of other human beings who have successfully dealt with many difficulties.

As the scientific findings of Positive Psychology have recently identified, knowledge and cognitive skills integrate with emotional habits and character traits. Healthy, successful, happy people tend to have cognitive habits that deeply influence their emotional tone in a positive direction.

Our curriculum teaches the works of the Classics “The best that has been thought and said” as well as modern science and the usually neglected works of the liberty movement. In addition, students do special work on the skills of logic, introspection, and self-knowledge, and the achievements of great human beings. Students are armed with inspiring and invigorating knowledge that help them achieve their goals. We apply philosophical principles as well as recent findings in scientific psychology and neuroscience. And these teachers and other staff are available to help students in many aspects of their lives.

To implement this plan, we seek individuals who are exceptional in their learning, their self-knowledge, in their passionate curiosity, and in their character, who can serve not only as guides but as inspiring examples to the students. To see the complete curriculum plan, see www.rifinst.org.

An earlier version of this article, predicting the outcomes of our curriculum and methodology, was published in 2009 online.

Maria Montessori: The Liberator of Children

By Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in Free Voices, Spring 2013

One hundred and thirty two years ago last August in Chiaravalle, on the northeast coast of Italy, a baby girl was born who became the founder of a liberation movement: the liberation of children. Her work ignited interest around the world and is controversial to this day.

Maria Montessori was the highly precocious daughter of civil servant Alessandro Montessori and his wife, Renilde Stoppardi. Maria wanted to study engineering but graduated in 1890 at the age of 20 from the Regio Instituto Technico Leonardo da Vinci in physics and mathematics because she had decided to go into medicine instead—a shocking career for a woman in late nineteenth century Italy.

Over the objections of her father and the disapproval of her professors, she applied to the University of Rome where she went on to get a “diploma di licenzi” which qualified her for the medical school. There she, at first, endured shunning and contemptuous disapproval from the all-male students, and was required to dissect cadavers in a room separate from the men, due to the Age’s morals concerning the naked body. Yet, she was still able to win the sought-after Rolli prize of a thousand lire (a considerable sum in that time), and later, the coveted position of assistant at the hospital while only a medical student. The doors of achievement were open enough to this young, intelligent, self-confident woman that she slipped through.

Despite her difficulties, Montessori’s brilliance and perseverance enabled her to triumph, becoming the first woman doctor in Italy. At 26, she was chosen to represent Italy at an international women’s congress in Berlin and electrified her audience with her passionate, extemporaneous speech.

She was a feminist from the start, but so delicately feminine as to disarm, so charismatic as to enchant—without mincing words. To the theories of eminent male thinkers concluding that women were incapable, infantile, physiologically weak, she said “’It is certainly true that men lose their minds over women.’ Attempting to prove the absurdity of the feminist position, they had ended up making themselves ridiculous.”[1]

A reporter commented that she was well-chosen to represent Italy: “The delicacy of a talented young woman combined with the strength of a man—an ideal one doesn’t meet with every day.”[2]

In 1897 she took a position in the Psychiatric Clinic of Rome, working with mentally disabled and autistic children, which set the course of her life. The condition of these children in the asylums of the day were hideous, stuffed into barren rooms with only each other for company. Through her observations of them, she had one of her first pedagogical insights: these poor, deficient children were craving sensory experience. They sought it out through the little stimulation they had, their food, fondling the crumbs, savoring the tastes of their bread.

Improving their condition became her focus. While working in the clinic she studied anthropology and the history of education its theorists of the previous centuries including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Jean Itard, and Edouard Seguin.

Seguin’s dictum “Respect for individuality is the first test of a teacher,”[3] was to be an essential of Montessori’s approach, as were his many materials, used to develop the sensory ability and motor movement in children. Montessori used his materials and created new ones to aid the deficient children.

She joined the newly formed National League for the Education of Retarded Children, and was chosen to go on a lecture tour that galvanized national interest in improving education for the retarded. In describing the changes needed to make life better for these children, she argued that technological progress would liberate women from the need to do menial labor, enabling them to achieve equal rights and the freedom to live as they wished.

Despite being a socialist, here, as in the rest of her life, Montessori recognized the liberating and individualist role of work in the marketplace. Indeed, her vision was for each person to find a professional place in the economy, a place that would valorize the ego of each. In her view, by productive achievement and peaceful exchange, individuals all over the world would be lifted out of poverty and enabled to flourish. Sound familiar?

In 1900 the League opened the Orthophrenic School to train teachers of deficient children, which Montessori directed with Dr. Giuseppe Montesano. She applied her newly-developed methods and materials to these children and the results were astounding: her eight year old deficient children were able to pass the state exam for normal children.

“the boys from the asylums had been able to compete with the normal children only because they had been taught in a different way…While everyone was admiring the progress of my idiots, I was searching for the reasons which could keep the happy healthy children of the common schools on so low a plane that they could be equalled in tests of intelligence by my unfortunate pupils!”[4]

However in 1901, right at the moment of her triumph, she quit the Orthophrenic school and took a leave. Although it’s not certain, it’s likely that her illegitimate pregnancy by Dr. Montesano was the reason.  Exactly when her son Mario was born and why Maria didn’t marry Montesano isn’t clear, but the baby was sent to live with a wet nurse in the country. Maria would visit him, but he wouldn’t know who she was. However, at the age of 15, he announced to her “You’re my mother,” and demanded to go with her, which he did.  Eventually, he would become her constant companion and successor to her movement, taking her name instead of his father’s.

In 1901 she returned to study pedagogy and anthropology at the University of Rome, and studied Seguin’s methods in more detail, translating his 600 page book. Later, she became a lecturer at the Pedagogic School of the University of Rome where she established scientific pedagogy as a discipline and inspired the young teachers of abnormal children.

Her work brought her to the attention of the Instituto Romano di Beni Stabili, a group of real estate investors who had a complex in the impoverished San Lorenzo district of Rome. Although they had carefully chosen only married couples as tenants, their buildings were being defaced by the unsupervised children who lived there, left at home while their parents worked.

Once again bucking the conventional, Montessori took on the task of educating these children. The owners gave her a small room and free rein, but almost nothing else until she insisted on food, and enlisted Society women in raising funds for furniture and equipment.

And there began the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in January of 1907. Within one year, the wonders that transpired in that house were famed throughout Italy; within five, throughout the world.

So what happened with this group of dirty, disheveled, mostly uncivilized, and completely uneducated children, ages two to six, from illiterate factory-worker families, that brought her such fame?

A transformation through principled freedom, unprecedented in educational history.

Montessori and the Society women brought in toys, dolls, paper and colored pencils—

and the materials she had developed for the deficient children. The room had a few tables and a cabinet, and she found an untrained woman living in the building to watch over them, under Montessori’s guidance and supervision. “I placed no restrictions upon the teacher and imposed no special duties.”[5] “I merely wanted to study the children’s reactions. I asked her not to interfere with them in any way as otherwise I would not be able to observe them.”[6]

Montessori was busy with many other projects; she stopped in once a week and over the course of the month, observed astonishing changes taking place. Leaving the toys aside, the children were drawn to the didactic materials, riveting their attention. They built towers with the cubes, fit the geometric shapes into their frames, and placed wooden cylinders in their holes, over and over, revealing powers of concentration hitherto completely unsuspected in children at all.

Remarkably, the children became healthier, with no change in their diet or exercise. “From timid and wild as they were before, the children became sociable and communicative. They showed different relationships with each other. Their personalities grew and they showed extraordinary understanding, activity, vivacity and confidence. They were happy and joyous.”[7]

Montessori observed one little girl of three completely absorbed in working with the knobbed wooden cylinders, taking them out of their frame, mixing them up, then putting them back in the proper holes. No amount of noise or activity around her got her attention. At one point, Montessori had her lifted onto a table and the children dance around it, “As I lifted the chair she clutched the objects with which she was working and placed them on her knees, but then continued the same task…she repeated the exercise forty-two times. Then she stopped as if coming out of a dream and smiled happily. Her eyes shone brightly and she looked about. She had not even noticed what we had done to disturb her. And now, for no apparent reason, her task was finished. But what was finished and why?”[8]

Unbeknownst to her, Montessori had discovered the phenomenon of optimal experience, now called “Flow.” Given a physical and psychological environment proper to their developmental needs, and the freedom to explore it according to the mysterious inner bio-psychological plan of each individual, the children flourished.

Their self-motivated interest in learning abounded, creating a self-discipline more rigorous than any adult could impose. Their desire for self-mastery knew no bounds. “I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. After I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater.”[9]

Rather than amusement, they were grateful for the lesson; they were frequently in trouble or humiliated because of their runny noses. Once again, Montessori had helped them be independent and self-reliant, civilized individuals. And they took this home with them: the order, beauty, and cleanliness the children learned at school caused them to demand it at home; their poor, uneducated parents began learning from them.

“Help me to do it myself” is the core of the Montessori classroom, where the physical and psychological environment is carefully structured so that the students can have as much freedom as possible to follow their needs. Its purpose is to enable individuals to learn at their own pace; to develop sensory-motor abilities, and knowledge, academic, social, and personal. They learn self-responsibility and how to behave in civil society, respecting property rights and the rights and individuality of others—in short, everything needed to become a successful, well-functioning adult. She recognized that only through the development of this kind of “new man” would we have peace in the world.

“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.”[10]

Within a year of opening the Casa dei Bambini, it was famous worldwide. People flocked from Europe, the U.S., China, Japan, New Zealand, South America, and India to see this new “method” for themselves, and many begged to learn it.

By  1911, Montessori schools were established all over the world. Maria quit her position as lecturer at the University of Rome and devoted herself full time to the schools. A book describing her system was published, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicator all’educazione infantile nella Casa dei Bambini and by 1912, an English translation, The Montessori Method, had been prepared through Harvard’s education school. Within six months, it was in second place for the sale of non-fiction books. The international Montessori movement had begun. Despite World War I, by 1916, the book had been translated into English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Catalonian, Polish, Rumanian, Danish, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese.

Soon, she toured all over the United States, hosted by luminaries from John Dewey to Helen Keller. In 1915, a working Montessori classroom was one of the most popular exhibits at the San Francisco Exposition. Children worked on their materials, undisturbed by the marveling crowds around them.

However, the movement was not to last too long in the U.S.: strife was building between various Montessori groups and Maria over who should have control and the final say over the training and credentialing of Montessori teachers, and who was authorized to write about the philosophy. Further, William Heard Kilpatrick, the “million dollar professor” of education at Columbia University and a close associate of progressive theorist John Dewey, had visited the Casa dei Bambini in Rome and written The Montessori System Examined in 1914. He dismissed her system as based on 19th century notions, not in keeping with the “scientific” work of the nascent Behaviorists.

At the top of the pyramid as a teacher of teachers, his criticisms spread throughout Academia. By 1920, American respect for and interest in Montessori was dead. It wasn’t  until the ‘50’s when a young parent, Nancy McCormick Rambusch, rediscovered it in Europe and brought it back to the U.S. that it was revived. She was instrumental in establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.

It’s been a grassroots, parent-driven movement ever since.

The power of her method to change the lives of whole families was illustrated during the Spanish Civil War. The Method had been brought to Catalonia in 1916 and flourished there for decades. After Montessori fled Mussolini’s fascist Italy, she was invited to live in Spain. She gave a series of lectures[11] on the Radio Associacio de Catalunya in 1936 to educate the public about the nature of children. Poor people began calling the radio station to thank Dr. Montessori. “It is true what you say. My child does the same things! I used to beat him because I though he was bad. Poor little one: It was I who was bad.”

However, in the midst of this work, the new republic erupted into chaos and the anarchists were burning and slaughtering Catholics and Italians (whose government had been suspected in helping the fascists). As Mario Montessori recounted the events, Maria was alone in her house with her grandchildren, watching the carnage from her veranda when anarchists approached with rifles in their hands, bandoliers of bullets across their chests, shouting and raising their arms in the Communist salute.

“The ‘militianos’ came straight to her door, but they did not ring. They…began to paint something over it with a black, dripping brush. The others, intense, stood watching. Soon it was finished. They all looked up, saw her at the window, raised their hand in salute, and marched away.

“The children and she ran down to see.

“On the wall, in large black letters, was the caption: ‘RESPECT THIS HOUSE. IT HARBORS A FRIEND OF THE CHILDREN.’ Under it was the sign of the hammer and sickle. The Child had paid its debt to its Knight.”

Fortunately, despite World War I, World War II and myriad local conflicts, the Montessori movement continued all over the world. During World War II, Maria and Mario Montessori were interned in India as enemy aliens and this led to a thriving Montessori movement in that country and those surrounding it, including the creation of many Montessori training centers.

She continued opening training centers and giving training sessions, observing schools and children everywhere. Over and over, she was struck by the universality of human nature and the variety of individual development. She used her sharp, scientific observational powers to further understand human needs and development, eventually encompassing adolescents. She called them the Erdkinder, children of the earth.[12] Montessori lectured worldwide from 1916 to her death in 1952, and published many, many books about her method.

Montessori eventually called Amsterdam her home and it is the headquarters of the Association Montessori Internationale and the Laren Montessori Training Center. Mario worked closely with his mother. In 1961, he established the Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani for elementary level training in Bergamo.

Today, in the U.S. there are about 4-5,000 Montessori schools, ranging from simply Children’s Houses (3-6 year olds) all the way to high schools; worldwide, the estimate is 20,000 and growing.[13]

Scientific research on the Method, through Mihalyi Cskiszentmihalyi’s and Angeline Lillard’s work has bolstered its profile. And, there’s been a spate of articles, such as “The Montessori Mafia” in The Wall Street Journal blog,[14] in the past few years regarding the unusual number of former Montessori students who head very innovative companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia.

In the ‘70’s, Montessorian Beatrice Hessen (wife of libertarian historian Robert Hessen), wrote a series of articles about the Method in Ayn Rand’s The Objectivist journal. These, combined with Rand’s article “The Comprachicos,”[15] in which she contrasts the Montessori Method with Progressive Education, introduced thousands of liberty-loving people to Montessori. Many, many stayed and are involved in the movement to this day.

In 2007, the Montessori movement celebrated its 100th anniversary with a grand conference in Rome, over 1,000 representatives from countries all over the world attending. Among other national publications reporting on the anniversary, The Washington Post featured “Montessori, now 100, goes mainstream.”

However, the Montessori Method is rarely included in the national debate on education reform. Movies concerning the dire situation in public schools and the search for alternatives, such as “Waiting for Superman,” glaringly lack any mention. Although there are a number of government-run Montessori schools, and growing, my guess is that two major factors mitigate against Montessori in the public debate:

  1. Montessori education requires a radical Gestalt-shift in perspective on the nature of education and the role of the teacher, from a top-down, collectivistic, directive approach to a radically individualistic, child-centered approach. The teacher’s role is as observer, expert guide, and servant to the child—not a very acceptable to most traditional teachers.
  2. The education bureaucracy of government schools clashes impossibly against the radical freedom and individualism of Montessori philosophy and practice.

For additional information on the relationship of Montessori and capitalism, see my review of Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education by Jerry Kirkpatrick

Endnotes


[1] Kramer, Rita. 1976. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York, Capricorn Books, 80.

[2] Garlanda, Federico. 1911. The New Italy. New York and London, 153

[3] Seguin, Edouard. 1866. Idiocy and Its Treatment by the Physiological Method. New York, 33

[4] Standing, E.M. 1962. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New American Library: New York, 34.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] Maccheroni, Anna Maria. 1947. A True Romance: Dr. Montessori As I Knew Her. The Darien Press:Edinburgh, 12-13.

[7] Standing, 26.

[8] Ibid., 25.

[9] Montessori, Maria, Letter to Clara, 1896, quoted in Kramer, 115.

[10] Montessori, Maria. 1914. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Frederick A. Stokes Company: New York, 83

[11] Later turned into her book The Secret of Childhood.

[12] http://www.montessori.org/sitefiles/montessori_way_HS.pdf

[13] http://www.montessori-namta.org/FAQ/Montessori-Education/How-many-Montessori-schools-are-there

[13]Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia,” The Wall Street Journal blog, http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/

[13] Rand, Ayn.  1970. “The Comprachicos,” The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution.  New York:  Signet, 187-239..

References

Enright, Marsha Familaro and Doris Cox. Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education.

Montessori, Maria. Works.

Montessori, Maria. Articles and Letters.

 

Education for a New Enlightenment

By Marsha Enright

Winter 2010 — If you’re familiar with two- to five-year-old children, then you understand what Aristotle meant when he said “All men, by nature, desire to know.” Very little will stop the young child from exploring the world and trying to learn—sometimes to the exasperation of parents!

The young child who turns into the restlessly eager-to-learn, -to create, -to achieve adult is the fountainhead of human progress. Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Ayn Rand, Craig Venter, Steve Jobs—these are the people that never lost their two year old’s passionate, internally-generated drive to know and, consequently, change the world.

This is the state-of-mind which education in a Good Society would strive to achieve. These are the type of people who made Renaissance Florence, Enlightenment England, Revolutionary America, and our technology-abundant current culture possible. By nurturing this state of mind, the Good Society would create a self-perpetuating future of rational ideas, science, technology, liberty, and inspiring art in the renaissance of a New Enlightenment.
Before describing the shape of that education, let’s consider what kind of cultural backdrop would support that state of mind.

Upward Striving: The Essence of the New Enlightenment Culture

Reason, achievement, and liberty would be commonly accepted values and revered openly: ironically, this is not as different from today as we might think, but it would be much more consistent, well-justified, and widespread. Achievement in all fields would be honored much more uniformly and that of entrepreneurs and good businesses would be praised often on the nightly news. Capitalism would be celebrated as a boon to mankind.

Unlike today, these three values would be understood as an integrated whole, valued in all endeavors, from poetry to politics. Heroes of reason, liberty, and achievement would be widespread role models, rather than confined to comic books as freaks with supernatural powers. Only a shrinking minority would revere rap stars or leftist academics, like those who strategized the Chicago Way to the White House.

All excellent work would be honored. Individuals would feel proud of whatever they deservedly achieved, whether as a janitor or a jazz violinist. Schools would cater to vastly different educational needs; some for the academic life, some the artistic, some the trades, some for business, athletics, or the military—any productive area of human endeavor. A culture of creativity would surround the developing child.

All education would be private, mostly supported by tuition income with help from a vast array of private philanthropy. Responsibility for educating children would fall clearly to the parents. It would be the norm for parents to value individualism and independence in their progeny. Most parents would know that they should practice objectivity and forbearance in regard to their children. Their responsibility as nurturers would be to help the child develop into an achieving individual, passionate about his work, whatever that might be. Constant, upward striving, i.e. real progress, would be the bellwether of such a society.

(For a taste of these attitudes, read the novels of the early 20th century author Henry Kitchell Webster, such as Calumet K, The King of Khaki,and The Thoroughbred, recently available in paperback.)

Rather than “give my child everything so they won’t have to work as hard as I did,” parents would teach their child the joy of responsibility and work, like Frank Hanna’s father, the investment banker featured in The Acton Institute’s documentary The Call of the Entrepreneur. Instead of taking his two sons to Little League, Frank’s father provided opportunities for the boys to work at various family businesses. This gave the boys the experience of achievement and a taste of making money from it, plus the analytic knowledge to understand how businesses work. After a brief stint as a lawyer, Frank joined his brother in opening their own investment banking firm, reveling in the joy of finding great businesses to capitalize.

Those families with massive wealth would impart the responsibility of wealth and the ethic of achievement to their progeny. Rather than becoming dissolute ne’er-do-wells who don’t know how to live up to the previous generation, such heirs would find their passion and use their wealth to achieve it. Those in the family interested in the family business would become thoughtful stewards of the wealth, like Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, adding to the family’s achievements. I saw a current example on the TV show Undercover Boss in which Dave Rife, head of family-owned White Castle Corporation, expressed his desire to make his grandfather proud by improving the corporation the grandfather started.

To develop flourishing individuals, education would have to be based on the science of fundamental biological and psychological needs. These principles would call for the development of skills such as the habits of first-hand observation and excellent reasoning which enable objective judgment, so important for knowing what is exactly true in order to achieve success. Skill in creativity is equally important in solving problems and finding new solutions in all aspects of life. Further the integration of mind and body, including a great deal of self-knowledge, is crucial to effective functioning and happiness. The ability to effectively interact with other people is also essential to achieving happiness in home and work life. Finally, it’s almost impossible to live well without the ability to effectively put thought into action. These are some of the needs and abilities—important to a well-lived life—which would be nurtured in a great education.

Furthermore, the people who would implement this approach would be committed to individualism. This means that although teachers, parents, and administrators would recognize that there are universal human needs, they would also realize that individuals vary greatly in the particular way they develop and must have their needs met distinctively. For example, a gregarious child must work hard to develop his independence, while an introverted child not interested in or sensitive to others might need to learn more social awareness to work most effectively in the market.

Schooldays in the Good Society

Well, that’s great you say—but what would a school actually look like in a better future?
For one thing, it would not look much like the average grade to graduate schools of today, which are more often factory-like warehouses than exciting, attractive environments in which to explore the world and oneself.

Students would not be confined to the classroom.

Market competition would provide a plethora of choices, one school building more beautiful and luxurious than the next, even for the most inexpensive schools. If you doubt it, just think of how much more attractive Dunkin’ Donuts stores have become since the spread of Starbucks. The buildings would be well-integrated into natural landscapes or cleverly designed in highly urban environments to keep children in touch with nature and natural opportunities to observe and experiment. The layout would make it easier to make physical activity—the connection between body and mind—a regular part of the day.

The typical school in the Good Society would have classrooms filled with beautiful learning materials which would appeal to the students’ senses and would involve movement, shape, and color to cement concepts in memory. These materials would concretize the concepts and information students need while absorbing their attention effortlessly and appealing to their interests.

Each day, students would choose their work from an array of challenging materials from most knowledge areas. Students of several ages would attend the same classroom, providing an environment more representative of adult life than traditional schools, and giving students an opportunity to learn from each other and practice their mastery of knowledge by instructing other students.

Students as young as toddlers might work with others, but they wouldn’t have to. The result? Many would love to work together, giving students the experience of freedom of association and practice in teamwork. Part of the curriculum should consist of instruction in important social skills, from the appropriate way to blow one’s nose to how to express anger to a classmate in a productive fashion. This way of working readies students for a social life in which they can express and enjoy their individuality in a civil manner.

Excited conversation would take place throughout the classroom, as students share in their discoveries and ideas. The environment would be strategically arranged to allow the student freedom to move, work, make many choices throughout the day, and get feedback from reality about the success and the appropriateness of behavior.
Learning materials could be used for multiple problems; once the basic function of the material is mastered, students can discover their own problems and solutions, thereby encouraging creativity.

As befitting a society that values productiveness and rejects the separation of theory and practice, practical knowledge would be highly esteemed in the Good Society. From the age of three, students would have practical responsibilities for shared school property, returning materials to their place for use by the next student, cleaning up after themselves, feeding animals, or greeting visitors. At the upper levels of education, young adolescents would engage in real work, such as growing food, creating saleable products, operating retail businesses, or taking care of farm animals—all integrated with their academic learning. These activities would enable them to explore career opportunities and enjoy the achievement of production and meaningful work during their energetic adolescent years.
Adolescents would study the classics, such as Plato, Aquinas, Bacon, and Shakespeare, for a strong grounding in the liberal arts. The liberal arts would be recognized as essential to a complete education because, by learning philosophy, history, literature, science, mathematics, music, art, and the history of all these subjects, students grasp the way all subjects are related to each other. They also learn what ideas and events created present-day culture. This knowledge would be vital to maintaining a free and just society, because it would help students learn what made freedom and prosperity possible and how to protect it. Furthermore, the liberal arts would provide a broad base of knowledge to each student. This would enable each individual to adapt more easily to market and career changes. Two 20-year studies of top CEOs and scientists substantiate this view. They have found that the vast majority of these high achievers obtain their undergraduate degrees from small liberal arts colleges.

Because knowledge is practical, students would not be confined to the classroom. It would only be the taking-off point for exploring and experiencing the world. Remember Francisco D’Anconia’s education “all over the world” in Atlas Shrugged? On a more limited budget, every child would have such experiences: going out to explore the places in which he lives, learning to shop for himself, camping, and working in local businesses. Their responsibility and independence would grow with their age.

Schools in the Good Society would be motivated to provide the best possible teachers because the inspiring ideas and values in the culture would demand it through market competition. What kind of teachers would be the most effective in aiding a young person’s work to become the best person he or she can be?

Effective teachers would be highly knowledgeable in scientifically proven child psychology and the philosophical principles of a flourishing life. They would be persons of high character and achievement; passionate individuals who love to learn and form excellent role models for students. They would be empathetic and kind, nurturing the young spirit while inspiring it.

Teachers would also be sensitive to the vast differences among individual interests, abilities, and methods of learning. Their role would be to nurture each child into a flourishing adult, whatever form that would take—plumber or physicist, actor or entrepreneur. They would be the child’s advocate and parent educator, helping the parent understand the nature and needs of each individual child.

It’s Montessori

You may recognize my description of the school in the Good Society as a well-implemented Montessori school.

Like Objectivism, the principles of the Montessori philosophy of education are complex and must be very intelligently understood and practiced in order for their implementation to be consistently successful. I have yet to find anything more excellent for a deep understanding of and fulfillment of the child’s-to-adolescent’s learning needs than a well-implemented and authentically-implemented Montessori school. I believe this philosophy and method of education would be widespread in the Good Society—perhaps its principles would be so well-accepted as to become the common conception of education.

In many respects, the Montessori classroom deeply implements a philosophy of individualism. Yet, the ideas and practices of collectivism often hold sway among many of its teachers, parents, and administrators, undermining the Method’s results. These can be the ideas of radical environmentalism, which mystically values “The Earth” over human life. Or they can be the ideas of altruism which encourage students to dedicate themselves only to charity as the highest of goals. Or they can be an anti-capitalist attitude, which is ignorant of economics and sees all trade as zero-sum.

Rather than these attitudes, the Good Society would encourage a more sensible environmental approach which values clean air and water, and recognizes human time as the scarcest of resources. It would value the creative improvement of human life in whatever form that takes—business, science, art, or charity—and the immeasurable improvements to life possible through free trade.

In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would need to be expanded in various ways, especially to include the values lauded by Ayn Rand, such as an appreciation of capitalistic creativity and achievement.

And that wouldn’t be hard, because the Montessori classroom, materials, and methods already nurture creativity and achievement. Just ask Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, chef Julia Child, and a bevy of other successful entrepreneurs, all of whom were Montessori students. Or ask the thousands of parents and high school teachers who notice the remarkable difference in attitude and action between those of their young people who have attended Montessori schools and those who haven’t. That’s because the Method encourages individual thinking, conceptual development, and an integrated approach to studying subject-matter, while giving the child structured freedom to creatively explore passionate individual interests.

Enhanced Montessori

In the Good Society, the Montessori approach would be immeasurably enhanced with the following:
1. Systematic, highly conscious work on reasoning skills;

2. A stronger emphasis on the liberal arts;

3. A study of free market economics and the institutions of liberty;

4. An expansion of the Montessori Method to the college level.
What are some of the ways these changes would be implemented?
1: To develop cognitive skills, the program would have an extra, explicit focus on thinking skills, objective reasoning, and creative thinking, especially for the upper high school or college level. Students would be taught at least these elements of effective thinking, if not more:

• Observation, or paying careful attention to facts and accurately identifying them;

• Inference, or accurately drawing conclusions from information;

• Implication, or accurately drawing a second conclusion from the truth of a first conclusion;

• Induction, or accurately generalizing from knowledge of particular things to general principles;

• Deduction, or accurately identifying specific conclusions from general principles;

• Integration, or making the connections and relationships between thoughts and ideas to a unified body of
knowledge;

• Productive rearrangement of knowledge or creativity;

• Introspection, or the art of effectively identifying the contents and processes of one’s own mind;

• Evaluation or successfully identifying the value for oneself in what is observed and concluded;

• Implementation, or how to successfully use one’s thoughts to achieve one’s ends.

2: Excellent life preparation means being able to participate knowledgeably in civil society—just as the citizens of the early U.S. republic did. Their high rate of excellent literacy made The Federalist Papers the subject of everyday reading and debate; this would be the expected norm in the Good Society. Studying the liberal arts, students would be introduced to important and difficult works such as those of Plato and Aristotle, Bacon, Locke, Bastiat, and Rand at an early age, with intensive study of them in college.

3: Students would learn about the heroes of business and the achievements that made our civilization possible, along with the heroes of science, history, mathematics, and literature. And they would be introduced to the ideas and history of freedom and tyranny early in their school life.

4: Finally, as is done for students at other developmental levels in Montessori schools, the developmental needs of the young adult would be thoroughly considered to craft the teaching methods, setting, activities, and curriculum of college students.

College as it Could and Should Be

So what would college look like? There would be far more exact scientific research and understanding of what human beings need at the college level to develop well, resulting in a plethora of choices. And within an institution, careful scientific observation and experimentation about the best means of learning would be de rigeur, as it is in every authentic Montessori program.

Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business.

According to Michael Novak in The Fire of Invention, by 1852 there were more colleges in Ohio than in the whole of Europe. The sharp differences among the more than 4,400 colleges we have today are being dulled by government oversight of policies, curriculum, and finances. Government loans drive affirmative action policies. The accreditation process, which has been required only since the advent of government funding for college, hampers innovation. According to studies done for the Association of College Trustees and Alumni, accreditation does little to assure and excellent education.

Everything would be run more efficiently with little or no bureaucracy—it would instead be actually responsive to customers. Parents and students would be treated more like customers of a service business, every college competing to do the best job possible, instead of leaving students alone to get through a mandated course of study.

The current college system is, basically, a certification program for work or graduate school, i.e., “You’re worth X to your employer.” It results in an odd business structure. Students fail to graduate, or take longer than needed. Five years is the current average, no doubt enabled by low-cost government loans which delay the pain of borrowing money until after graduation. Fifty-seven percent take six years to complete the BA! This breaks down as follows: 60% of whites, 49% of Latinos, and only 40% of African Americans graduate within six years.

It’s ironic that our current culture tolerates such high risk in one of life’s biggest purchases, a college education. Where else do we put up with such results, for so much money? Not at Starbucks. Could you imagine “Sorry, even though you’ve paid, you can’t have your coffee”? Richard Vedder (of the Center for College Affordability and Accountibility) and a variety of economists and researchers attribute this failure to the lack of accountability caused by easily obtained government loans.

In the Good Society, colleges would be free from government interference or help. The higher education market would be a hotbed of competition, as it was in the U.S. up to the last 40-50 years. Many more small colleges would arise to give personalized guidance and service, and allow students to more easily know and be connected to their teachers and other students.

Not as many people would attend college. Many would be interested and skilled in non-academic areas such as crafts, the trades, the arts, and business. Their high school education would be so rich and thorough that they would be knowledgeable citizens without college. Further, non-college-level work would be honored for its excellence and importance in our civilization so that people without a college degree would not feel like second-class citizens as they often do today. There would be no government-generated push for “everyone” to attend college, resulting in the current idiocy of BAs for Construction Management and MBAs necessary to run a McDonald’s. Rather, high school education would be far more challenging and deeper than it is today, and there would be a rise in detailed, targeted technical education post-high school.

At the college level, inexpensive education obtained through online information, lectures, and demonstrations would be bolstered by judiciously chosen, close, in-person relationships with caring tutor/professors. Precious in-person time would be spent on productive discussions and deep conversations about their studies with these tutors and with other students. Tutor/professors would be expert guides to learning, not task masters.

Technology would be used for information delivery and rich simulations through which to practice all kinds of skills, from sports, to governance, to running a business. And it would also enable the use of new tools of evaluation such as Experiential Sampling which is now used in the study of “Flow,” i.e., high performance and optimal experience. Experiential Sampling researches individuals’ real-time experiences, i.e., actions, thoughts, and feelings. It could be used to find out more about professorial effectiveness. New tools of psychological evaluation and growth derived from the discoveries of Martin Seligman and other researchers in the psychology of high functioning, happy individuals would also be used to craft better in-class processes.

Colleges would design work, portfolios, and experiences to show employers and other schools their students’ achievements, instead of depending on unvalidated and inconsistent evaluations by professors not trained in human development or even the rudiments of teaching. Instead, professors would be required to learn the principles of learning and teaching and they would have to regularly train and review teaching methods and curriculum.
Rather than study in cloistered academic settings for years and years, colleges would offer creative and collaborative learning programs with businesses and other work settings as the norm, as well as opportunities at job sites. One current example is the relatively new program at the John M. Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts which requires its students, starting in freshman year, to work in teams on projects.

Ultimately, the education practices of the Good Society would result in an unimaginable outpouring of excellence, energy, and creativity, far beyond even the imagination of science fiction writers. Because these practices nurture the best within each individual, we can foresee a future of amazing technology, higher human fulfillment, and inspiring art. Peace would be widespread, driven by the shared values of reason, individualism, achievement, and freedom. Let us work our mightiest to see such a society in real life.


Marsha Familaro Enright, formerly a psychotherapist, co-founded in 1990 the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level), of which she is the president and administrator. Enright is currently the president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, and leads development of the College of the United States and its wholly independent scholarship fund. Enright also is a writer for The New Individualist magazine.

Originally published in The New Individualist and at: http://www.atlassociety.org/print/1302

 

 

What’s Wrong With Distance Learning

Thoughts from an expert teacher

by Marsha Familaro Enright

Very, very often when I tell people about our project to open a new college program, their first question is: “Will it be online?”

And they have good reasons to expect that it would be: online is vastly cheaper than in-person teaching and it can reach people everywhere in the world. Companies like the Floating University are trying to utilize the best of online resources to game-change higher education. With top lecturers and teachers, they have online tools offering certifications rather than the whole enchilada of a college degree.

Let’s look at a few of the best things online education can do:

  • Provide the best lecturer on Shakespeare, or Feynman, or Von Mises, when and where you want to hear him or her.
  • Provide the best demonstration of angular momentum at 3 AM when you can’t sleep.
  • Teach you how to make a bowtie or what the ancient Romans ate for lunch, just by Googling.
  • Connect people who might never have a chance to meet, and help them collaborate.

In other words, the Internet gives you access to an enormous amount of the world’s knowledge about facts, ideas, skills, procedures, and analysis.  And it allows you to connect with experts you might never be able to access otherwise, as well as and others all over the world. This is a fabulous resource for learning! And, don’t get me wrong, the RIFI program incorporates all these uses.

But our program requires a significant amount of in-person learning, and some people look askance at this.

Tales from the Front

About six months ago, I mentioned this issue to an applied scientist from a big lab who’s a friend and supporter. She immediately said “Oh, remote learning is never as good as in-person!”

I was a bit surprised because of the usual enthusiasm which technical people have for remote learning: they’re often the most adept at using these resources. So I recently interviewed her to get her story:

About once a month she is either teaching or learning something for her job. She often teaches other scientists, engineers, and technicians how to use the information on the website of their mutual organization—which has facilities all over—and how to explore new ideas for their projects.

Sometimes she teaches on-site but, often, she’s using teleconferencing or video-conferencing with a group of people at another site. During these sessions, they see her presentations, hear her voice, and see her image. If she sees them, it’s not close up, but they can make comments and submit questions.

She finds that the distance teaching never works as well as in-person. And she’s thought a lot about why. “If you go into a restaurant decorated with real plants, there is a different feeling than if the plants are artificial. A different atmosphere. The same thing happens in class.”

So what are some of the differences?

It’s in the Atmosphere

Remotely, “I have no idea what the audience is understanding,” she says. She can’t see them in enough detail in order to notice whether they have questions, are confused—or bored out of their minds. Consequently, she can’t adjust her presentation to suit their needs.

If she could see their faces and their reactions, she might get a sense of how to interact with them. I suggested having shots of their individual faces onscreen while she teaches, but she thinks that would be too difficult to absorb, probably because they would be separate images and because they would lack the detail of the real.

What’s the data she’s likely missing? Information from 3-d body movements, facial expressions, subtle eye movements, tone of voice or even pheromones that would indicate mood and reaction.  I also wonder how comprehension is affected because  mirror neurons can’t operate.

Mirror neurons identify and respond to others’ emotional expressions, helping us navigate social relationships. It’s the lack of these factors that can make email and online discussion a nightmare of misunderstandings.

Further, she thinks the remote participants feel, “’I can’t learn how interested the lecturer is in ME.’ A good teacher genuinely wants to help you learn something,” and, consequently, conveys excitement, interest and, concern about whether the participants are learning and enjoying what’s being taught.

And this “atmosphere,” these motivations, are essential to encouraging audience questions. Why does this matter?

Because questions, are crucial to good learning. They allow the teacher to find out how the students are understanding the material, and adjust what she conveys to suit them. And they ensure that the students are actively learning, i.e. thinking about the material in relation to their other knowledge. This is how new material is best absorbed and integrated.

Yet, most people are reluctant to ask questions, for a variety of reasons.  A common one: they don’t want to appear stupid or draw attention to themselves. Asking a question in front of the whole class is akin to public speaking—and most people fear that worse than death! They’re often concerned about appearing stupid, ignorant, or foolish.

My friend’s experience with in-person classes demonstrates this problem and how it’s even worse with remote learning. In a one-hour in-person class, if the class is very active, she may get a dozen questions. Infrequently, the class engages in a deep conversation. But when she runs the class remotely, she rarely gets any questions whatsoever, and never a deep conversation.

Another example is what happens to her group’s “Zen presentations.” These involve perfectly crafted visuals with no words on them. The pictures have to convey everything the teacher is going to talk about, so the audience can grasp the ideas just by sight. In the presentation, the teacher gives them the words to go with the picture.

Further, the Zen presentations have to have exactly the right pace to be successful—with the teacher conveying casual thoughtfulness and considered responses to the audience. This simply cannot happen through mere audio or even video.

What’s the Relationship?

She’s identified a few of the causes for these problems with remote education:

  • There’s a slight time shift, a gap between when she talks and when they hear, causing participants to be unsure of the right time to ask questions; this results in a feeling of formality, making them hesitate to speak up,
  • It allows no eye contact, so the participants can’t convey when they might have a question; consequently, the participants don’t know when it is polite to interrupt the speaker,
  • The teachers and participants cannot easily share knowledge and interest in the subject, even interest and motivation for the work they are doing together, yet motivation is so important to learning.

As a result, a weak relationship develops between teacher and participants, or participants with each other.

Instead of mutual engagement, learning some new, fascinating information and working well together towards their mutual goals, there is a void, the void of the learning relationship, of the learning and working community in which they should belong.

The importance of the personal relationship becomes very apparent when she compares two different kinds of classes they have at her organization. In one, they learn information and procedures, and rather introverted, scientific and technical types are the participants. They often do this remotely.

But the other kind of class is with extroverted, sociable types who need to work with the engineers, scientists, and technicians. The purpose of the class is to help the more sociable types, administrators and the like, learn how to interact with the technical people. These classes can never be done remotely.  There’s simply no way the people can learn what they need except in person.

Maybe When We Have Holodecks?

I think my scientist friend has trenchantly identified some of the basic problems with distance classes of any kind. That doesn’t even address the needs of young people going to college, who are trying to learn not only information but also how to think well and what kind of person they want to become.

However, that’s a discussion for another day, soon.

As far as my friend’s classes, she thinks it would be just as productive to tape her presentations and let participants watch when they like, as to do them remotely.

Alas, until we develop holodecks, those simulated reality rooms in which people meet and interact on “Star Trek,” online education cannot replace the kinds of learning only possible with in-person interaction; the full learning relationship. We’ll talk about that more in the future.

“Joy, feeling ones own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and 
capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”

(Maria Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 87)

 

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.

Schools for Individualists: TNI’s exclusive interview with Marsha Enright, by Sara Pentz

Marsha Familaro Enright has been attracted by the pleasures and problems of education since the third grade. Trained in biology and psychology, she has written research articles on psychology, neuropsychology, development, and education for a number of publications. She founded the Council Oak Montessori School near Chicago in 1990 and has served as its president since then. Recently, as founder and president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, Marsha and her colleagues have been developing a new college informed by the Montessori Method, the Great Books, Ayn Rand’s ideas, and classical liberalism. Information about that project can be found at its website, www.rifinst.org. Marsha also contributes articles and reviews to The New Individualist, including popular profiles of famous authors such as James Clavell, Cameron Hawley, and Tom Wolfe. Recently, she spent time with TNI contributing writer Sara Pentz to discuss the state of modern education, the prospects for its reform, and her own college project.

TNI: How did you get into the field of education?

Marsha Enright: When I was a kid, I loved school and I loved to learn. I looked forward to it everyday. But I was frustrated by the many kids around me who were miserable in school and often disrupted things. There was a lot of teasing and ridicule. I did not understand why that was happening, especially why the smart kids were not interested in learning. I vowed to myself that I would find a system of education that would really support kids in their learning and be a good environment for my own kids when I grew up. That is how I got interested in education.

But, ironically, that is not what I decided to go into when I went to college. At first, I wanted to be a doctor, like my dad. I was a biology undergraduate. After a while, I got interested in psychology, and toward the end of my college years, I decided that that was really where most of my interest lay. So I went on to graduate school and got a Masters in psychology at the New School for Social Research.

In high school, I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and got very interested in her ideas. And in one of her journals, The Objectivist, there were some articles about the system of education called the Montessori Method. They were by a woman named Beatrice Hessen; I think she owned her own Montessori school. When I read those articles, I said, “Wow, this sounds like a fantastic system.” I read all the books that I could get my hands on about the Montessori Method, and I visited many Montessori schools to observe how they worked. I determined that that was what I wanted for my children.

So, when I started having my children in the early 1980s, I looked around for a Montessori school. There was one in the neighborhood for pre-school, three- to six-year-olds. I put my kids there, and I was very happy with it. When it came time for elementary school for my son, I found a Montessori school in a nearby suburb that he went to for three years, but then it closed. I wanted to make sure that he and my other children could continue in Montessori, so I organized some of the other parents to open a Montessori school in our neighborhood. And that is how I got started as an educator, running Council Oak Montessori School in Chicago.

TNI: What interested you about Maria Montessori and her approach?

Enright: Montessori was a great scientist. She was trained as a medical doctor, the first woman doctor in Italy, and she approached human learning as a scientist, observing in great detail what children did and trying out different materials and activities with them to see what would work best.

Her method is very concerned with the individual child. She started out working with retarded and autistic children. And she became almost instantly famous around the world in the early part of the twentieth century because, after working with these children for a year and applying her observations and her methods, they were able to pass the exam for normal children.

But while everyone thought this was wonderful, she was thinking, “My gosh, if my poor retarded children can pass the exam for normal children, what is happening if normal children are only being asked to learn up to that level?” That is when she started working with normal children. And there, again, her results were so phenomenal that she gained even more fame.

Because motivation is so important in learning, she focused on the proper conditions to keep that fire burning. If you look at children who are one or two or three, you can see that they have tremendous motivation to learn everything they can—crawling around the floor, putting things in their mouths, looking at every book, following what their moms are doing, imitating. They are just balls of energy when it comes to learning everything they can about the world, about objects in the world, about how to move, how things taste, smell, look, about what people are doing with each other.

Montessori noticed, for example, that if she could get a child to concentrate on an activity and really be involved in it, when the child eventually stopped the activity he would be happy; he would be calm; he would be tired, but in a very contented way. And that would keep him interested. The next day, the child would want to learn and do more. So it became a self-feeding process.

TNI: What, besides motivation, is really important to learning?

Enright: Well, I see learning as acquiring the knowledge and skills that you need to function in the world—to be productive, happy, and successful. Just like a flower: If you put a flower under a rock, it is going to struggle around that rock to try to reach the sun and water, but it is going to become deformed. But if you put it in the right kind of soil with plenty of water and sunshine, it is going to be beautiful and flourishing. A child is like that, too. Montessori called the child “the spiritual embryo.”

TNI: What did she do to nurture that “embryo”?

Enright: Her method became famous in 1907 in Rome when she set up what she called the House of Children—Casa de Bambini—where she worked with slum children. It was a wonderful environment for learning that respected the individual child’s interests and his natural learning tendencies. It used the teacher as a guide to learning and had the children collaborate with each other, but very respectfully.

Their behavior changed so markedly that people came from all over the world to train with her, and soon her method started spreading globally. Alexander Graham Bell’s wife became interested and opened the first Montessori school in the United States in 1912.

TNI: That’s remarkable.

Enright: It was remarkable, because she was able to get three and four year olds to concentrate for long periods of time.

She had a famous example of a little girl working on what is called the knobbed cylinders. It is made of a bar of wood with cylindrical pieces of different widths in it. Each cylinder has a knob on it for grasping, and the child has to take all the cylinders out of the bar and then put them back into the right-sized holes. If they do not put them in all the right-sized holes, then one cylinder is left over, and the child knows that he made a mistake.

This is what we call, in Montessori education, a “self-correcting” material. The goal, as much as possible, is to help the child see for himself if he achieved the goal or not, if he “got the right answer.”

TNI: So they are not constantly being corrected by someone else?

Enright: Exactly. If you want the child to be an independent individual when he reaches adulthood, he has to be able to know on his own when he has achieved something or when he has failed—to judge that independently.

In this example, the girl working on the cylinders was so engrossed in her work that it did not matter that Maria had a crowd of children around her singing, or that she moved her seat around or anything; the child just kept focusing on the cylinders for forty-five minutes.

TNI: That’s impressive.

Enright: You see this in Montessori schools all the time—this incredible concentration, which, interestingly, Montessori figured out back at the turn of the century, was a key to learning and self-motivation. More recent psychological research by professor Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, on the optimal conditions for the most enjoyable kinds of experiences, independently and completely supports her original observations and conclusions. Csikszentmihalyi called this kind of experience of engrossing activity “flow,” because when he first discovered it, he was studying artists in the ’60s who would be totally engaged in what they were doing. And they said, “I’m just in the flow.” They would forget where they were, they would forget what time it was, and they totally enjoyed what they were doing. In sports, it’s “getting in the zone.” When the Montessori people read his books and contacted him, he recognized what was going on in the Montessori classroom—that Maria had created this optimal flow environment for learning.

TNI: And the focus was on the individual.

Enright: Exactly—that we are all individual human beings with human wants and needs.

Montessori schools spread all over the States, and they were spreading all over the world, too, when along came this very influential professor from Columbia University Teachers’ College, William Heard Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick decided to “scientifically” analyze the Montessori Method. He went to some schools, he interviewed her, and he wrote a book called The Montessori System Examined. His book basically gutted the Montessori Method, discrediting it with the academics.

You see, Kilpatrick was a staunch advocate of John Dewey’s “progressive” method of education. Dewey’s method, if you look at its basic principles, is actually almost the opposite of Montessori—although a lot of people think that it is very similar because it emphasizes experiential, “hands on” learning.

For one thing, Dewey opposed the development of the intellect when a child is young; he considered it stifling to the imagination. Whereas Maria said, “Well, you cannot really do imaginative work until your mind has some content.” So, the imaginative work goes hand-in-hand with learning about the world.

In addition, Dewey focused on the socialization of the child. For him, the school was about teaching the child how to get along with other people and be a part of society—this was the crux of his “pedagogic creed.” You can see it in his famous declaration about the purpose of education, first published in The School Journal in January 1897. Dewey wrote, “I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself. Through these demands he is stimulated to act as a member of a unity, to emerge from his original narrowness of action and feeling, and to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs.”

TNI: At that time, there was a big push for socialism in all aspects of our society. Anybody who promoted individualism was in the minority.

Enright: Exactly. Even Montessori herself was, politically, a socialist. I mean, it was generally believed that socialism was the most advanced political point of view. She understandably would have been seduced by all those ideas. That was not her field.

Now Maria Montessori’s method does teach social skills as a conscious element in the curriculum. We call it “the grace and courtesy aspects” of the curriculum. But contrary to Dewey’s approach, hers is about how people properly interact with each other to be productive and happy individuals, in the course of developing their minds.

You can see this in the whole system, starting with the very way that children are allowed to work with the materials in the classroom. They can go to the shelf where the materials are, select something, bring it to their own space defined by a rug or a desk or a table or wherever they wish to sit, and work on it. They can work by themselves with the material as long as they want; the children are taught to try not to disturb each other. They can share the material with the other children if they want to, but they are not forced to. Consequently, what happens is that they tend to be very happy to collaborate with other children.

TNI: How interesting.

Enright: And when they are done, they are required to take the material and put it back on the shelf where it was so that the next child can use it. To me, all of these principles taught in the Montessori classroom train children how to behave in a free society with other responsible individuals.

TNI: I can see that.

Enright: Montessori’s is not a focus on “You must get along with other people no matter what.” The focus is very much on intellectual development, on the individual trying to learn, to develop himself, and to interact in a respectful way. In some respects that is the opposite of the collectivist idea that Dewey had of how we should interact. One result is the consistent reports we get from upper-level teachers and employers that Montessori students stand tall in what they think is right.

Anyway, Kilpatrick said that the Montessori Method was based on an old-fashioned theory of faculty psychology. Now, at that time, 1918, the ascendant theory—the so-called “scientific theory of psychology”—was behaviorism, whose basic tenet is that you cannot scientifically say that there is a mind, because you cannot see it; you can only study behavior.

As a consequence of Kilpatrick’s books, the Montessori schools started closing down. Only a few remained over the long haul, and they were quite small. Students going to teachers’ colleges were discouraged from going into Montessori because it was considered old-fashioned—too much focus on the intellect, not enough on imagination; too individualistic, not the proper kind of socialization.

But the Method was rediscovered in Europe in the ’50s by a mother, Nancy McCormick Rambusch, who was very dissatisfied with education in the United States. She brought it back to the U.S. and eventually started the American Montessori Society. Ever since, it has been a grassroots, parent-driven movement, not an approach promoted out of the universities.

TNI: At that point, education was inundated by the ideas promoted by Dewey. Is that correct?

Enright: Right. You have to remember that traditional education was mostly either self-education or education of the wealthy, who could afford to hire tutors. The problem of mass education arose because a republic like ours needed an educated populace. But because not all parents could pay for school, public education started with the basic problem of how to educate so many people on a limited budget. To solve that, they came up with the factory model, which is to have everybody in one room doing the same thing at the same time. The teacher is the one lecturing or directing everything that the children are doing.

TNI: Sort of like mass production.

Enright: Right. And in some respects, it worked. I do not think it would have worked so well if not for the fact that many children going into this system were highly motivated immigrants—because motivation is the key to learning. Even today, as bad as some of our public schools are, you will find reports about immigrants from Somalia, Serbia, Poland, China, all doing fantastically in public schools where other children are failing.

People look back at nineteenth-century traditional education and early parts of the twentieth century and say, “Look at how well people were educated then, compared to now.” Yes, we have many examples of remarkably high-achieving people from all levels of society at that time, but what proportion of the population were they?

Actually, discontent with public education runs back a long way. There is a book from the ’60s by Richard Hofstadter called Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. He has a chapter called “The School and the Teacher,” in which he talks about the American dedication to education, how it is the “American religion,” and the concern, going back to statements of Washington and Jefferson, that we have an educated populace. He documents that objections to the kind of education received in public schools goes back to 1832—objections by Horace Mann in Boston, among others—and the complaints sound remarkably similar to what you hear today! Complaints such as: Not enough money being spent on students or teachers; teachers not getting the kind of social recognition they should for their important work; too many people apathetic about what was happening in the public schools.

So there were serious criticisms of traditional, factory-model education early on. But today there are serious problems with education as a result of the mass influence of Dewey’s philosophy of education and the ideas of leftists so deeply incorporated into the system of learning.

TNI: How do the ideas of leftists undermine education?

Enright: Well, the most serious problem is caused by the philosophical ideas of egalitarianism that became embedded in the system starting about thirty years ago. Egalitarianism is basically just a new variation on the socialist ideas which drove Dewey’s educational philosophy.

In the United States, we believe that people should have equality of opportunity. In other words, they should not be hampered by unequal treatment under the law, or by other people forcibly preventing them from pursuing what they want to do. Egalitarianism, however, takes the view that everybody should be made actually equal—not equal before the law, but materially and personally equal—that everybody should have the same amount of money, everybody should have the same abilities—

TNI: And opportunities.

Enright: Yes, and opportunities, regardless of their own effort. That these opportunities should be provided for them. This socialist permutation of Marxism was incorporated into the educational system in the way we spend public education money. Nowadays, we cannot spend more money on students of superior intelligence or talent than we do on students who have a lot of problems. We must focus instead on lifting kids with problems to the same level as everybody else. So a lot of money has been poured into “special education”—euphemistic code words for the education of poorly functioning children—and it is sold to the American public with the argument that we should give these kids an even break. In other words, it’s sold with an individualist spin: Since it’s government money, and since the government should be promoting equal opportunity, we should give problem kids extra help so that they can get on par with everyone else.

TNI: It’s easy to see how people can agree with that view of equal opportunity.

Enright: And it is true that we do need an educated populace. But there is a disjunction between the customer and the person paying, because public education is paid through government. So you have all of this conflict over what is going to be taught in the schools; and you end up having political pressure brought to bear by whoever has the dominant philosophy, influences the teacher’s colleges and education departments, or controls the local governments that run the educational programs.

There are two obvious consequences of introducing egalitarianism into the system. One is this idea that we must spend all kinds of money to raise the level of children with problems. As a result, a lot of money has been taken away from programs for what are called “gifted” children; after all, they’re already at a high level, so it’s not “equitable” to spend more to raise them higher.

The other consequence is the multiculturalism movement. That’s the idea that everybody should be considered equal no matter what their beliefs, or their racial, cultural, family, or ethnic background. Of course, as Americans, we think that you should not judge somebody based on his background or race, whatever group he is in, or anything like that, right? We think we should judge people as individuals. So, multiculturalism was floated in American society with an individualist twist.

But it is not about individuals. It categorizes everybody according to what social and cultural group he belongs to. And with egalitarianism comes cultural relativism: Every culture is equal to every other, none is better than any other. You throw out objective standards of what is good and what is bad.

So now, we are supposed to respect everybody regardless of what his culture or background brings to the table. If your culture believes in cutting off heads and ripping out hearts—well, it’s all relative!

TNI: And you have to be so careful about what you say, where you say it, and how you say it, in terms of being politically correct.

Enright: Exactly. And why is that? The egalitarians do not want anybody’s feelings to be hurt. They do not want people’s self-image to be hurt by the fact that they are not a white male, an Olympic athlete, or something like that. They have elevated a person’s self-image to being the main consideration, instead of what the person has actually achieved: We’re going to make everybody feel equal, even if they are not. Whereas our usual American approach to equality is: We do not care what your background is. If you have achieved something great, we are going to recognize and reward that.

TNI: We see the effects of this kind of philosophy, for example, in the “No Child Left Behind Act.”

Enright: Yes. No Child Left Behind is a way that conservative policymakers have tried to deal with the bad effects of egalitarianism in public education. They said, “See what this egalitarian approach to education, where everybody is worrying about hurting somebody’s feelings, has done to education. It has gotten teachers to give kids social promotions, which means that even though they have not mastered third-grade material, they are still promoted to fourth grade. We need to impose standards on public schools to make sure children are being educated to a certain level.”

So they imposed a centralized, top-down testing system for all schools, to try to make sure everybody was up to the same standards. This reflects the traditional way education is organized, because it is all about making everybody do the same thing at the same time.

TNI: And advance through the grades.

Enright: Right, advance through the grades. The other use of the term “grades” has to do with the evaluation of the child’s work on a task, essay, or project. Did you know that the use of the term “grades” came from the idea of grading shoes and saying that “this group of shoes is the best group, this group is just okay, this group is not too good, and that group must be thrown out”? What’s bothersome about this is that, as educators, our job should be to craft an environment to help each child, whatever his ability or background, so that he can learn and achieve as much as he can, so he can fulfill his best potential as a unique individual.

But in the grading system, you are thinking about how to decide whom to pass and whom to fail. In the traditional view, failing was the child’s fault, not the educational system’s—the child just didn’t try hard enough. One thing that traditional education was criticized for, and one reason why these newer methods were incorporated, was that we were losing all this human potential. But that truth was twisted through egalitarianism.

TNI: Then, at some point, there are classes where no grades are given at all, so nobody gets his feelings hurt? Or like the Little League where no score is kept?

Enright: Right. Nobody is labeled a winner or a loser.

I think that for young children, this is not always a bad idea, because grades and scores focus on competing with other people. In Montessori schools, we do not generally keep grades. We focus on whether or not the child is mastering the material. And each child is evaluated separately. A child also learns how to evaluate himself. “Have I mastered this material? Can I go on to the next level?”

TNI: And this is easily determined by the teacher?

Enright: Easily. Because the teacher knows the curriculum well; she knows what the child should be working on. And we have a general idea, from the scientific study of development, at what level children usually should be functioning at a given age. Not everybody will fall into the statistically normal sequence of development, because there is so much individual variation in human development and potential. We use a very broad category of what is objectively normal development.

TNI: This is also based on the biology of the child?

Enright: Exactly. One of the reasons we do not use grades in Montessori is that we recognize that education is, at root, self-education. Our job is to guide children in their self-education; we are very concerned that each child be concerned with doing his best and challenging himself. This only happens in the right educational environment because, you see, human beings are naturally very competitive. That, I think, comes from our nature as social animals competing in the social hierarchy, and it is very easy to let that trump the desire to learn.

So, when you introduce grades and all those comparisons in the early ages, children tend to focus on comparing themselves to each other and determining who is on the top of the heap and who is not. Their focus tends to be, “What is my grade? Am I pleasing the teacher? And am I better than the next guy?” They do not tend to focus on “What am I actually learning? Am I understanding what I’m doing? Do I know how to use it?”

TNI: That can be very dangerous. And it can undercut their self-esteem.

Enright: In the sense of undercutting their real self-esteem, their deepest sense of self-confidence. “I’m not good at math—I can’t do it as well as Johnny.” But maybe he’s just a late bloomer. Einstein was supposed to be a mediocre math student in the early grades. Being constantly compared to others can cut a child’s motivation to persevere and keep learning something, even if it’s difficult. So, we are very concerned to downplay that kind of competition. Competition happens anyway, but to a reduced degree. A child will look at what another is doing and say, “Hmm, I want to be able to do that.” If there is not a lot ofpressure to compete, this natural tendency will actually motivate him in a good way.

TNI: It’s more of a healthy, inner competition—

Enright: —than something externally directed. You want to encourage this intrinsic motivation to learn and achieve that we see in the two year old, because when you become an adult, you want to be self-motivated—to achieve things yourself and to know what you enjoy doing, in order to be happy.

TNI: Why do conservatives not like the Montessori Method?

Enright: Well, I do not know if I can speak about all conservatives. Some send their children to Montessori schools. But, politically, the conservative approach is, “Let’s go back to what was done before.” They tend to think in the paradigm of what was done traditionally in education. That ends up being the factory method.

And they want to reintroduce standards, since egalitarians following the Dewey method took standards and mastery out of the picture because they did not want to hurt anybody’s feelings. So, since nobody is learning or acquiring the skills needed to succeed, the conservatives’ response is, “Well, let’s reintroduce standards.” Their way of doing it is by using these tests. It is ironic that conservatives, who seem to want a more free-market approach to things, should introduce the federal Education Department’s top-down, one-standard idea about what everybody in the whole country should be doing.

My teacher friends now call it the “No Child Left Standing Act,” because of the tremendous focus on producing higher test scores at all costs. The money that schools get is so tied to the test scores that the focus of teachers and administrations is almost solely on whether the children are passing these tests at the designated levels—not whether the children are really learning things. As we all know, it is very easy for many kids to learn only what they must for the short–term, to pass the test, but in the end they know very little about the subject.

TNI: It’s the old practice of “cramming for the test” until the last moment, taking the test, and then forgetting everything.

Enright: Exactly. Whereas real learning is about gaining the knowledge and skills that you need, relating these to other things you know, figuring out how you can use it all in your own life, and understanding how it affects the world.

The conservatives wanted to revert to traditional testing to assess what the child was learning. But, unfortunately, a test is not generally an authentic measure of what the child understands. Many smart kids are encouraged to compete to get good grades and learn to “game the system.” The kids who succeed the most in school oftentimes are the best at doing whatever the teacher tells them. They know what they need to do to get good grades, to get into the good high school and college. We see students who do fantastically on the SAT and may even do well in college, but they do not know how to think well. They just know how to play along by other people’s rules. When they get out into the real world, they are not necessarily especially successful or great employees.

TNI: They don’t succeed in reality.

Enright: No. Sometimes they are tremendous failures.

There was interesting research done on millionaires by Thomas J. Stanley. He discovered that quite a few of them got under 950, total, on their SAT scores, and yet they are fantastically successful in business. Obviously, their talents were not served or assessed well in school.

TNI: So, it is ultimately an issue of learning how to think, is it not?

Enright: Exactly.

TNI: And that is never taught, is it?

Enright: Rarely.

TNI: What about the kids of single parents or kids from minority homes lacking the usual advantages—kids who may not be instilled with much motivation to learn? Also, why do children from some ethnic groups, such as kids from India, seem to be more motivated to learn?

Enright: Indian culture really emphasizes education.

TNI: As does the Chinese culture.

Enright: Yes. So your question is: What can we do to motivate children who come from less-supportive backgrounds? Well, for one thing, research finds these children tend to do very well in Montessori classrooms.

Also, speaking of motivation—I remember a John Stossel TV special some years ago. There was a segment about Steve Marriotti, a former businessman who decided to teach in a Harlem high school. And he just had an awful time. Almost the whole year, the kids made fun of him and caused trouble.

Just before the end of the year, as he was about to quit, he asked his class, “If I did one thing right, what was it? If one thing I did was interesting, what was it?” And he said, “A fellow at the back of the class, a gang leader, raised his hand and said, ‘Well, when you talked about how you ran this import/export business and how you made it successful.’” Right there, this gang leader basically reconstructed Marriotti’s income statement for him. Obviously, he was an intelligent student—he had absorbed all the facts about the economics of Marriotti’s business.

It dawned on Marriotti that what would really motivate these kids to rise out of poverty was to learn how to become entrepreneurs. So he instituted a program that is now worldwide, to teach kids how to be entrepreneurs—the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. One thing he found is that children from these backgrounds are used to tolerating uncertainty and risk, which you must be able to do to be a good entrepreneur.

TNI: Right.

Enright: But people from a very stable background will not easily have that ability. In fact, we have an opposite kind of problem nowadays. We have so many kids from wealthy families that they lack the motivation to make money, and they do not have any direction. Their parents do not instill in them enough sense of purpose and drive. They end up being profligate, drunks and drug addicts, just spending money—Paris Hilton or whatever.

Because we are such a wealthy society, that is another reason why teaching our children in ways that nurture their intrinsic motivation right from the get-go is so important.

TNI: Back to an earlier point. If conservatives don’t have the right approach to education, what about libertarians?

Enright: The libertarians have mostly been encouraging school choice—the idea that parents should have a right to decide where their child goes to school. Encouraging school choice is a good idea; it is certainly a step away from this monolithic public education system we now have and towards a more individualized educational market.

TNI: That means supporting the voucher system, right?

Enright: I have to say, the voucher system scares me, in this respect. With the government paying for private-school education through vouchers, on the scale of money we’re talking about, there will inevitably be corruption. And then political people will say, “Well, if these private schools are going to take government money, we have to have government oversight and control.” It is a real, dangerous possibility that the government will step in and standardize everything, and that will be the opposite of a free market in education. It’s what happened in the Netherlands.

TNI: Is that where libertarian educators are moving?

Enright: What I understand is that libertarians originally were encouraging tax credits for education. Milton Friedman talked about that, years ago. Individuals could take money off what they had to pay in taxes in order to use it for private-school tuition. Also, non-parents and organizations could give money to educate others, like poor children, and get tax credits. If there weren’t enough monies that way, I imagine that you could set things up so that children whose parents did not pay enough taxes would get some kind of voucher.

But, at some point, many libertarians decided that that was not going to fly, politically, and so they turned instead toward vouchers for everybody. But the politicians will end up regulating private schools that use vouchers, maybe saying that all voucher-accepting schools have to have state-certified teachers or curricula.

TNI: So this may put Montessori out of business.

Enright: Yes. Because once the government begins to issue vouchers, the schools are going to have to accept them—except, perhaps, for the schools of the very wealthy. All the other private schools, where middle-class and lower-middle-class students go, will either have to accept them, or they will go out of business.

TNI: Ah, yes.

Enright: So, the libertarians are encouraging a free market in education, which is a good thing. The thing I do not hear from them, however, is much talk about what kind of education is objectively best for human beings. That is because most libertarians believe in a free market, which is the political end of things, but they think that your moral standards and ethical beliefs are entirely private and subjective.

Okay, I do not think that the government should be regulating morals, either. However, although I think that what is right and wrong is often a complex question, I also think that you can look at human nature and reality and say, “Just as certain things are good for human health, certain actions are good for human education.” It is a matter of science and experience to figure out what is objectively good in education. But libertarians do not discuss objective standards of education very much; it is something they leave by the wayside.

TNI: I know that standards and discipline in education are important to you.

Enright: They are. But there is a good side to them and a bad side. The conservative view of education tends to be that children need to learn certain things, and we must make them learn them because they are not necessarily interested in learning those things right now. I call this the “Original Sin” view of education, because it fits many conservatives’ ethical views: They think children tend to be naughty and would rather play, so you have to discipline them to make them learn.

TNI: Force them.

Enright: Force them to learn, right. And what Maria Montessori discovered was that theylove to learn, if you give them the right environment, and they will do it of their own free will. You, as the adult, just have to be clever enough to give them what they need at the right time. You have to be the right kind of guide in their learning process, in their self-education. So, what tends to happen in the well-run Montessori school—and this is one of the things that is remarkably different about them—is that the children are very well-behaved of their own accord.

TNI: Because they are focused on learning and their own self-fulfillment—on intrinsic competition, as opposed to getting the best grade, fighting with others, and worrying about their self-images.

Enright: Exactly, exactly. What is so striking when you enter a Montessori classroom is this busy hum of all these children doing their own individual work all around the classroom. They are working on things; they are excited about what they are doing and sharing it with each other, but quietly. They are allowed to talk to each other. Maria said, “We learn so much through conversation as adults. Why do we stop children from talking to each other?” Well, that happens in traditional education because children end up talking about things that are different from what the teacher is directing them to pay attention to, right?

TNI: Yes.

Enright: People often ask me, “How do you know that a Montessori school is better than other schools?” And here is some of my proof: Over the years at my school, I cannot tell you how many children have lied to their parents, saying that they are not sick when they really were, because they do not want to miss school! We get notes from parents all the time about this.

TNI: That’s fascinating. It’s also fascinating that you have taken these concepts and have decided to put together a college for young adults. Why did you decide to do that, and how it is going to work?

Enright: It is well known that leftist philosophy dominates academia. Stories about how people with conservative or libertarian views are kept out of the academy are common. Furthermore, on campuses you have a proliferation of anti-cognitive, anti-free-inquiry ideas, like political correctness. The kids are not allowed to talk about things in certain ways because it might offend somebody. If they hold politically incorrect views and express them, they are ridiculed. In many instances students are punished with bad grades by professors who do not like what they write—not because it is poorly done, but simply because the teachers do not like the content. Well, that strangles debate. That strangles the reasoning mind. That strangles independent judgment.

TNI: It’s all too common.

Enright: Plus, it concerns me that the many students coming out of college are not able to think well. These people will take over the leadership of our society; yet they cannot think for themselves, and they have been encouraged to strangle their minds with political correctness.

So, I thought to myself, maybe it is time to start another kind of college, one consciously devoted to reason, to individualism, and to encouraging students to learn how to think for themselves—not only by the ideas that we’d teach, but by the very methods that we’d use to teach those ideas. A school where the teachers are not authority figures telling you what the truth is, and you are just absorbing it and spitting it back to them on the tests. Instead, a school where the teachers are expert guides to the best knowledge and ideas in the world—where reasoning skills are emphasized in every classroom, whether it is science or art, whether it is mathematics or history.

TNI: And you are going to find teachers able to do this—and wanting to do it?

Enright: Yes. I do not think it is going to be a problem to find teachers, because I have so many highly qualified people approaching me, saying they would be interested. It would be a matter of finding those with the right combination of skills, attitudes, and knowledge to properly implement the curriculum we have created.

TNI: Talk a little about that curriculum.

Enright: It is going to use what are called “The Great Books” as its foundation. These are group of classics first identified in the late 1920s and ’30s. Robert Hutchins, a far-seeing president of University of Chicago, was concerned, back in the ’20s, that college was getting too professionalized—that everybody was focusing on just getting a job, and that they were not being educated well enough in the great ideas of our world to understand what was going on around them.

So, he put together this committee of experts in ideas, works, and education—Mortimer Adler, a philosopher at U.C.; Richard McKeon and Mark Van Doren from Columbia; Stringfellow Barr from the University of Virginia—a number of people. They picked a group of books that they thought were the most influential, the best-reasoned, the most important works in Western civilization, and they called these “The Great Books.” Since then, the list has been expanded to include titles from civilizations around the world.

A person educated in these books knows a tremendous amount about the ideas, history, and people who have influenced the world we live in today. So, we are going to use that list of books, plus a select group of more contemporary ones, such as the works of Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Richard Feynman, and others. These will form the basis of our curriculum.

We will also incorporate philosophical questions in all classes—very reality-oriented philosophical questions. When the student is learning mathematics, he will also learn, “Why am I learning mathematics? What does it teach me about how to think? How can I use it in the way I live? How does it affect our society? What place does mathematics have in the marketplace?” So, when he graduates, he will have a firm grasp of the relationship between what he learned in school, and the workforce, and his life, and history, and political goings-on—all of these things. We will give him much stronger, more integrated knowledge of the world than does the usual curriculum.

TNI: And he will be independent.

Enright: And he will be independent. He will consciously know how to question and analyze. Through encouragement, reasoning skills, excellent philosophical knowledge, and the way the teachers will guide him, his independence will be highly nurtured. He will be much more confident of his own point of view because he will have thought it through so well. And whatever work he chooses, he will be able to be a confident leader promoting freedom.

Since I’ll bring Montessori principles up to the adult level in this school, a large component of the curriculum will be a “practical life component,” where the student not only intellectually grasps relationships between ideas and what is going on in the world but gains practical experience with that, too. We’ll give students an opportunity from their freshman year on to get involved in outside internships, research projects, and other activities where they can learn about whatever they might be interested in doing. They can try different kinds of work—

TNI: —actually working alongside business people, or interning with scientists?

Enright: Yes, precisely. The internship program will also demonstrate to people how well the students are doing, as they display their excellent thinking skills, their work ethic—all the kinds of things we are going to encourage and nurture.

TNI: Do you know for a fact that people out there would be willing to bring these interns into their environment?

Enright: Oh, yes. I know quite a few businessmen who are involved with me in this project, and they are very excited about the idea. You know, businesses today have a great deal of trouble with employees who are not prepared to work in the right way.

TNI: So, is this college going to be a reality?

Enright: If I have anything to do about it.

TNI: How are academics throughout the country responding?

Enright: I have quite a group of enthusiastic academics on my advisory board. When I go to conferences of the Liberty Fund and the National Association of Scholars and tell them about the college, many people are extremely interested. And, as I said, there is a lot of interest from professors who would like to work there.

TNI: You sound like an educational optimist.

Enright: I am. I think the basic principles of education—and educational reform—are now well-established. You have to remember that when Maria Montessori started, she basically taught slum children.

TNI: And proved that, given the right kind of education, these kids could rise out of poverty and become successful.

Enright: Absolutely. Every day, through a combination of factors, including drive and their own free will, people emerge from the worst of backgrounds and succeed. But what you want to do, of course, is to make it possible for more of them to succeed. And that is what education should be about: crafting a learning environment that allows the greatest number of children to develop themselves.

TNI: Well, it is a fascinating subject—and as your own project develops, I’m sure that we will talk with you about it again. Best wishes, Marsha.

Enright: Thank you, Sara.

The Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein

When I was in grammar school in the late ‘50’s, I loved school.  I eagerly looked forward to learning every day.  But by the time I was eight I noticed this wasn’t true for everyone.  No.  In fact, many, many of the other children were confused or defiant or scared or just plain bored.  I could understand the confusion of children who were having trouble keeping up with what was being taught – although I didn’t understand why they were having trouble.  And I was simply outraged at the kids who got their jollies from picking on other children.  But what really puzzled me were the smart kids who just hated to come to school and who caused all kinds of trouble.  Why didn’t they find learning fun? Why did they misbehave constantly, rather than focus on their school work?  Why were they so bad?! Why was school such a miserable experience for so many of my schoolmates?  What was wrong?

I vowed that I would not let this happen to my own future children, and that they would go to a school that they loved.  That vow sent me on a decades-long mission to discover a better way of education.

In 1971 I had the good fortune to read an article on the deepest problems of modernist education, in which the author recommended the Montessori Method as a brilliant alternative1.  This led me to read Beatrice Hessen’s article “The Montessori Method,”2 and I was hooked!

The deepest insight Dr. Montessori taught me was:  don’t blame the children, question your assumptions.  In other words, when you see unhappy children, misbehaving in school and having difficulty learning the material, ask yourself:  “what should I do differently?  What is frustrating that child?”  It’s a simple question that any gardener asks when her plants don’t thrive.  This is exactly what Maria asked herself in the first years of the 20th century  – and answered by careful, scientific observation of children.  And this is the essence of the Montessori Method.

But we don’t seem to have learned that lesson well enough.  After twenty plus years of crisis, education pundits are still dithering over what’s wrong.  Activists want to throw ever more money into a failing system.  And politicians demand we revert to old methods of rote learning and testing.  But scientific research shows these very methods are merely mediocre in judging learning, achievement and potential!  Ironically, it was the failures of traditional systems that led to the early 20th century explorations in education of John Dewey, Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori almost 100 years ago.

What most parents and even most educators don’t know is that the traditional method of education is based on the factory model.  Centuries ago, mainly the rich were educated, because their families could hire private tutors for one-on-one lessons.  With the advent of the U.S. as a democratic republic, a need arose for mass education to ensure that citizens had enough knowledge and understanding to effectively participate in a free society.  Most people couldn’t afford to hire their own teachers, so factories for learning were set up all around the country.  Large numbers of children were taught to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way:  letters, numbers, reading and history lessons ‘by the book’.  To facilitate mass production in education, children were ranked by the same system as shoes:  in grades.3

This helped many to acquire basic skills in reading and arithmetic, history and geography, mathematics and maybe a little science.  Bright but poor children were at least exposed to the realms of knowledge through these schools, and many bootstrapped themselves to later success.  The well-to-do were able to get a richer education in private schools.  However, wherever traditional methods were used, the emphasis was – and is – on acquiring as much information as possible.  The systematic growth and development of the individual was usually left to chance.

A century ago, most jobs required rote learning and rote work – in factories and farms.  Today is a far, far different story.  More than ever, working individuals need to be highly motivated and capable learners, able to find out what they need to know and figure out what to do with that information.  They need to be able to think well and to judge complex situations using the latest technology.  And they need to interact with people all over the world in the vast global markets.

Most jobs today require knowledge workers, not just arms or legs to put parts on an assembly line.  Our factory workers use some of the most complicated, computerized equipment the world has ever seen.  The phenomenal productivity of the American worker is made possible by his or her ability to run the complex machines that now do the physical labor.  Even artists need to learn technology – for animation, sculpture, film – a whole host of media.  How can people of widely varying abilities and intellects get a solid educational foundation of knowledge and still be able to develop their individual gifts to the fullest?  How can we expect to consistently nurture capable, knowledgeable, highly motivated individuals in a factory system?  What education today needs is a truly innovative approach to individual education.

What’s really needed is right in our backyard, thriving since the early ‘60’s through a grassroots movement but largely ignored by educational theorists.  It requires an entirely new way of thinking about education, a way that recognizes and respects the needs of the individual child.  And that is the Montessori Way.  It is a remarkably dynamic modern approach that’s almost 100 years old!

These are the reasons many more parents and teachers need to understand the Montessori Way.  Fortunately, The Montessori Way by Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein has recently been published to help them.  This book does a brilliant job of translating Dr. Montessori’s deep insights into 21st century terms for parents, teachers and educators of all kinds.  It relays the Method’s exciting history and successes as well as recent research that supports her findings and the century of experience at Montessori schools around the world.

It shows how Montessori practices enable each individual child to develop his or her own unique powers while respecting others.  It illustrates why a good Montessori school is one of the best environments for children to learn the responsibilities that come with freedom and the respect of others that is necessary for true independence.

This book is written in very clear, accessible language, with beautiful illustrations and photos.   And it is comprehensive in its scope.  Anyone unfamiliar with Montessori should be able to come away from reading this book with a clear picture of what the Montessori Way is about and how it works.

With all its advantages, why hasn’t the Montessori Method swept the country as a model of educational reform?  There are several concrete answers to that question which the authors, Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein explore.  But one of the deepest reasons is a matter of outlook:  To understand the Montessori Method requires a change in thinking as revolutionary as the United States War for Independence.

That war was fought for a new idea of Man:  the idea that life was best lived when each human being had the right to determine his own choices and actions, and follow his own path.  It was a war for the freedom of the individual over the tyranny of other men.

The Montessori Way requires a similar revolution in thinking about the individual with equally revolutionary consequences.  It requires parents and teachers to understand that each child has a principle of self-growth and self-determination within him.  This principle will lead him to shrivel or to flower, depending on his educational environment.  Just like a garden, if we make the physical and psychological environment serve the needs of the individual child, he will thrive.

It is truly an “Education for a New World.”4 Parents and teachers here in the New World and everywhere around the world need it more than ever to help children become productive, effective individuals, capable of working happily at the highest levels of creativity and success.  This book should go a long way to showing why the Montessori Way can make that happen.

This book is only available directly from the publisher, the Montessori Foundation in the bookstore of its website,

www.montessori.org

  • Rand, Ayn.  1971.  The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York:  New American Library.
  • Chattin-McNichols, John P., ed.  1983.  Montessori Schools In America. Lexington:  Ginn Custom Printing.  Seems to be out of print, but may be available from Dr. Chattin-McNichols. orThe Objectivist 1966-1971 by Ayn Rand.
  • William Farish: The World’s Most Famous Lazy Teacher
  • http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/add_adhd/guide_to_adhd.html
  • Montessori, Maria.  1946, 1989.  Education for a New World. Clio Press:  Oxford.

Copyright © 2003 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

Interview with Marsha Enright by Karen Minto, Full Context, Vol. 12, No. 1

Q: How did the ideas of Ayn Rand impact your life?

Marsha: I read through Atlas the summer following The Fountainhead, and all the books and essays I could get my hands on after that, over the next few years. This included Nathaniel Branden’s The Psychology of Self-Esteem, which greatly influenced my thinking in psychology, directly, and, indirectly, by introducing me to the works of Arthur Koestler in a footnote. I have been immensely influenced by Koestler’s ideas in both biology and psychology and, when it comes to writing science well, he is my hero.

It’s funny, a discussion I had recently made me reflect on how I went about accepting Rand’s ideas. Some friends were arguing that it was the practical arguments about capitalism that finally convince people about the truth and value of a free society, but I know that’s not what convinced me: it was the argument for the value and necessity of freedom for the reasoning mind. I guess I always sharply felt the oppression of others trying to tell me what to do—especially because of the stupid things they would want me to do! I experience the value of freedom in a very strong, personal way, even though I’ve never been the victim of political repression. This deep attachment to freedom makes me an absolute basket case when I hear the Star Spangled Banner or read about what Jaroslav Romanchuck is going through!

I remember that the biggest question in my mind after reading the novels was: was I fundamentally a person like Roark or Dagny? I knew I wasn’t like them in many ways, and it seemed difficult to know what personality characteristics were essential to be like a Randian hero. For one thing, Dagny and Roark seem to have been born the way they are—popping full-blown from Athena’s head, so there weren’t many clues as to how to get from there to here. And for another thing, Rand’s characters all seemed to be very little affected by other people’s negative judgments and feelings towards them. And in the characterizations, this seemed to be mixed up with being independent in judgment.

So, did you have to be both in order to be a Randian hero? I knew I wasn’t exactly like that because, even though you’d have to kill me before I’d stop arguing what I thought was right, I also knew that the kindness or meanness of others and the way other people felt and acted towards me could really affect me—it could make me feel wonderful or awful. I’ve spent many years thinking about the psychology involved, and my article “Why Man Needs Approval” in Objectivity examines this issue at length and in light of scientific research. I reached the conclusion that these characteristics—independence of judgement and sensitivity to the feelings of others—are two separate issues, the one an issue of character and the other of temperament. I ultimately decided that Rand, for personal reasons, had chosen to make her characters have the two characteristics together.

And I also had some personal interactions with Rand that I found really interesting in regard to this issue of the essential qualities of her heroes, because I got to see what the author of these books was like as a person. You know, her personality and temperament weren’t very much like her heroes’: she wasn’t a serene, cool, calm person rather indifferent to the feelings of those around her—she was a wildly passionate, hot-headed woman who reacted sharply to negative criticism or feedback. And she was on an intensely felt mission to save the world.

In the seventies when I was about 25, I attended almost all the lectures given by Leonard Peikoff and Allan Blumenthal in New York City. My best learning experience and most vivid memories from those lectures were conversations which I had with Ayn Rand. I would go up to her at the breaks and after the lectures and ply her with all kinds of questions—about the nature of free will or how to cast the movie Atlas Shrugged—and I was usually delighted to get her typically unique answers. I even got her talking about cats—between lectures I had left a little pin of a cat arched and hissing at her office for her birthday. When I saw her wearing it one day, I asked her if she liked it and she said “Oh yes—it is ze essence of cat!” I even humorously threatened to bring my cats for her to see—at which she said “Oh no, dahlink, you can’t do that!” Sometimes I think she thought I was about 16 years old!

Once I mentioned to her that I had noticed where she got the name Danneskjold: from Victor Hugo’s first novel, Hans of Iceland in which the hero becomes the first of the Counts of Danneskjold! I thought this was a great tribute to him, but she worriedly said to me “Oh yes, but it wasn’t plagiarism because there really were counts of Danneskjold!”
You see, if you can picture this, Ayn Rand was worried that she would be perceived as trading on Victor Hugo’s ability and glory!
The most striking thing that happened to me during these conversations is that Ayn Rand once asked my forgiveness. I wanted to bring this experience up because it was so different from the experiences of Rand related by so many other people, perhaps it gives a different side of her. […]

Q: Did your family or friends give you a hard time over Objectivism?

Marsha: I remember trying to interest several of my friends, but failing. I did get my father interested and it seemed to change a lot in his life, although he came under the distorting influence of Lonnie Leonard. My mother hated the books, because she saw how it liberated my father and me from her moral grip—ugh! And my brothers hated the books without reading them because they thought they caused my parents to get divorced!

Q: Quite a few Objectivists seem to feel alienated in a society that does not seem to share their values and have trouble making friends or finding romantic partners. Have you found this to be true for yourself or do you think there is something fundamentally wrong with their viewpoint?

Marsha: I did feel alienated from others for many years. It started long before I read Rand, but the sense of it was probably sharpened by the lens of her explanations, by knowing how different I was. I was always intellectual and outspoken, and these didn’t endear me to other kids or grown ups. But, what I only realized later was that I was also the victim of an inordinate amount of envy, and this is something that aggravated the alienation—and this was something Rand helped me to see. When I read The Fountainhead I immediately recognized the social-climbing characters and their ways—because that went on all the time where I lived and in my schools. Unbeknownst to me, as a doctor my father was on the high end of the social pyramid, which apparently many of the other families resented, given the kind of cruel remarks and treatment I experienced from their children. These experiences contributed to my sense of alienation.

I guess Rand’s ideas also made the alienation worse by the view that most other people were “the masses” and that they were this social-climbing bunch who were untouchable by reason. In some respects, this idea jived with my own personal experience. It was the novels’ non-developmental slant that was a problem, the idea that so many people just chose to be like this and were, in a sense, irredeemably evil. It took me some years to examine the truth of this view—which loomed large in my mind because, as an educator and psychological theorist, I wanted to know why. I came to understand that it’s not a simple matter of choice on the part of most people—ability matters in grasping the philosophical, like it matters in everything else. It is very difficult for many people to be intellectual enough and self-aware enough of the ideas and feelings that influence their thinking, feeling and action to easily recognize what’s right and wrong. They often labor under a blindingly complex set of ideas that they’ve unknowingly accepted, and which they can’t untangle themselves. They don’t even realize that these things are important to think about. And their lack of ability leads to a lack of the knowledge and experience necessary to deal with the issues. All these things make it difficult for them to even think about, no less think through, the philosophical issues involved and see the rightness and importance of what Rand wrote.

The experience I’ve had working with amazingly rational, intelligent and sensitive people at my school especially helped me overcome my alienation. I learned that there are many people in the world who are motivated by the truth and the right, so they really aren’t that different from me as it might first appear. But its my job to learn how to communicate with them if I want to convince them of Rand’s ideas. And now I feel very relaxed about my relationships with others, very socially integrated and in fact socially capable and powerful.

Q: How did you get involved with Montessori?

Marsha: Psychology and development were always interests of mine (not that I had the names for those interests until I was much older!) I’ve been interested in education since I was a little girl, because I always disliked how miserable the other students were in class. I personally loved school and got along great with my teachers but terrible with the other students, and their disruptions drove me crazy—they were such a distraction from the learning I was hot to do. I was especially impressed with how miserable some of the smart kids were in school, and I vowed that when I had kids I would make sure they got an education that wasn’t frustrating, that didn’t turn them off from learning and that was fun.

So when I read Beatrice Hessen’s articles in The Objectivist about the Montessori Method I was hooked. I followed up by reading all of Montessori’s books, and anything else about her and her method I could find. I knew then that that was the kind of education I wanted for my kids.

What most attracted me to Montessori was her biological approach to the psychology and development of the child and her deep, deep respect for individuals and the fantastic power of self-creation they have within them. She was the first woman doctor in Italy at the turn of the century, and an amazingly careful scientific observer. Because of her genius she was able to recognize, through observation, many things currently touted as the “new” discoveries of experimental research and cognitive psychology. Sensitive periods of development, the need for sensorial and motor materials as teaching tools for proper development, the variety of cognitive abilities and styles among people (made popular by Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” theory), the advantages of multi-age classrooms, the need for guided learning in the social and emotional realms as well as the intellectual (much discussed recently as “emotional intelligence”) and the need to maximize “flow” in the classroom to keep students motivated are a few of the “recently discovered” things which are principles of her system.

Well, perhaps it’s not a coincidence, considering the influence of Piaget in developmental psychology. I remember a funny experience I had in graduate school when I was studying Piaget: his ideas struck me as awfully similar to Montessori’s, but in the language of German philosophy. Years later, I discovered that he had been a trained Montessorian, the head of the Swiss Montessori society and that he had done his observations for Language and Thought of the Child in the Jean Jacques Rousseau Montessori school in Geneva.

When I actually had my kids, I was charged and prepared to find the right school for them. Fortunately for us, a wonderful Montessori primary school (what others would call pre-school) had existed in the neighborhood for many years, so that’s where my children went until elementary. To make a long story short, I found there was a need and desire for elementary Montessori education in my area of the city, and I wanted it done right for my own kids. So, in conjunction with a few other mothers and one teacher, I started up Council Oak Montessori Elementary school in 1990 with 17 children, and its going into its tenth anniversary this year.

Q: If someone wanted to become a Montessori teacher what sort of training would they need?

Marsha: Anyone who wants to become a Montessori teacher needs to go to one of the special Montessori training courses given by the American Montessori Society or the Association Montessori Internationale (the original and most famous of which is given in Bergamo, Italy). These courses go into the philosophy and the method in immense detail, including exactly how to use the materials to give lessons in all the subject areas, manage a classroom and handle individual children. To give you an idea of the fullness of their content: one of our teachers was an education major in college and had gone for Montessori training. She had a thin, 20 page booklet which she had been given in one education course for the teaching of all arithmetic to all grades! From her Montessori training, she had a packed three-ring binder called an “album,” which contained the detailed methods and instructions for teaching arithmetic to 6 to 9 year olds alone!

These courses are given at training centers all over the nation and around the world, and they vary greatly in quality and somewhat in content. The best ones are incredibly loaded with important and useful information. For example, the AMS course given by the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies is given in 10 weeks in the summer, with a year internship, a week of exams 6 months later and a year long project presented the next summer. Its one of the most un-Montessori ways of learning I’ve ever seen, given all the information crammed into 10 weeks, but I guess that was the only practically feasible way most adults could afford to take the course.

Q: You wrote an article in the IOS Journal Navigator about starting an Objectivist Salon. I have attended a few of your Salon meetings and was very impressed by the quality of both the topics and the people attending. What problems do you think many Objectivist groups have in getting a good group together?

Marsha: Thanks for the compliment! First, of course, you have the problem of overcoming the bad memories and bad habits of Objectivist events in former years, which were so unpleasant. So, the person organizing the group has to be skilled at making people feel comfortable, being very friendly and inviting and insuring that the discussions are extremely reasonable and respectful of all participants. This can be difficult because some people in Objectivist and Libertarian circles have developed very bad habits of argument—they can be condemnatory, contemptuous and impatient; they don’t carefully listen to what the other person is saying and think about what he or she means before they answer in some knee-jerk way, or they know only how to lecture to others rather than have a conversation. But a good organizer or moderator can set the tone by the way they talk and by interfering, moderating, when things get out of hand. You tell people that they need to let someone else talk, or you say “we really want to deal with the facts, reasons and issues about the ideas here, so can you give us the basis for your arguments?”—that kind of thing.

The other thing is to make the situation very social and inviting, so people have a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed way, not just during a formal event or discussion. And I try as much as possible to elicit the topics and the speakers from within the group, rather than use tapes or lectures, to get everyone to be active participants instead of passive receptacles of information from the chosen.

Q: If an Objectivist is interested in changing the culture, what are some of the things he/she should be doing that are most effective?

Marsha: I’m assuming you want to hear some ways besides giving out Rand’s books, writing letters to the editor, becoming a philosophy professor or organizing a political party? First and foremost, I think being the best, and most intelligent, understanding and reasonable in your profession and your personal life, whatever it is, can go far in affecting the culture. And here’s why—because, by the example of your person, you can interest the people you interact with in your ideas—they want to know what makes you so special, so different.

And that leads into the other thing I think is extremely important in changing the culture: like I said before, go out of your way to understand other people. Don’t jump all over somebody you disagree with, but try to listen to their exact concerns, and agree with them where you can. Then introduce the ways in which you disagree and why—but try to do it in language and vocabulary from the other person’s context. Don’t use special vocabulary unless you absolutely have to—and then carefully explain your meaning. These are all ways I’ve found to actually communicate my ideas to other people and change their minds.

Q: What kinds of projects are you planning for the future?

Marsha: I want to do an end-run around the educational establishment, which continues to be inhospitable to Objectivism and good education. I am developing an institution which takes the principles of Objectivism as its grounding philosophy and applies the Montessori method to the teaching of adults. Although I want to teach courses on Objectivism (in fact, I plan to start with an introductory course in January), I want more than that. I want a liberal arts institution which uses Objectivism to inform but not confine the way all subjects are approached, especially through standards of reason, objectivity and importance to life.
I’m working on the curriculum and organization, and searching for someone who would like to be the operations director and a founding partner. By the way, I’d love to ask any of your readers who might be interested in working on such a project to drop me a note: my e-mail address is deanima@juno.com.

Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education

Revised August 1997

Formerly a psychotherapist, Marsha Enright, co-founded the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level) in 1990, of which she is the president and administrator. Another cofounder of the school and its corporate secretary, Doris Cox, currently teaches middle school children at Council Oak.

The education of the human child is of profound importance to anyone dedicated to achieving “the best within us,” but especially to those who have, or wish to have, children of their own, and to those who are or wish to become teachers. What are the child’s nature and needs? How are they different from those of an adult? How can we best foster the child’s development so as to help him maximize his potential for productivity and happiness in life? Current research validates Montessori’s ideas. We believe that, on the whole, the philosophy of the child developed by Italian physician and teacher Maria Montessori, is most consistent with the Objectivist view of human nature, needs, and values.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori, the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, became a doctor in 1896. Her first post was in the university’s Psychiatric Clinic.

In that age, retarded children were considered a medical problem, rather than an educational one, and were often kept in hospitals for the insane. Montessori’s visits with children in Roman insane asylums prompted her to study the works of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838) and Edouard Seguin (1812-1880), two French-born pioneers in education for the mentally deficient. She went on to read all the major works on educational theory of the previous two centuries.

In 1899, Montessori became director of the State Orthophrenic School, where her work with the retarded was so successful that the majority of her students were able to pass the state education exams. While other people exclaimed over this phenomenal success, Montessori pondered its implication for normal children. If the mentally deficient could do as well on the exams as normal children, in what poor state must those normal children be! This reflection led her to devote her life to education.

Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in 1907, applying to children of normal intelligence the methods and materials she had developed for deficient children. She also spent a great deal of time observing and meditating on what children did with her materials—what brought out their best learning and their greatest enthusiasm.

As a result of Montessori’s achievements at the Casa dei Bambini, her method spread rapidly. By 1915, over 100 Montessori schools had opened in America, and many more had opened in the rest of the world. In Switzerland, one of the most important 20th-century theorists in child development—Jean Piaget (1896-1980)—was heavily influenced by Montessori and her method. Piaget was director of the modified Montessori school in Geneva, where he did some of the observations for his first book, Language and Thought of the Child, and served as head of the Swiss Montessori society.

Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work, by E.M. Standing, is an interesting historical account told from the viewpoint of a devoted follower. A more recent and objective biography is Rita Kramer’s Maria Montessori.

The Montessori Method

Maria Montessori’s own works constitute the best source of information concerning her theories and methods. The Montessori Method, the first overview of her educational techniques, remains the best in many respects. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook goes into the details of her philosophy, materials, and methods. The Discovery of the Child is a later detailed summarization of Montessori’s philosophy and method of teaching, with much discussion of the child’s nature and the best means of approaching the child with work. The Secret of Childhood is a history of what—and how—Montessori learned about the unique nature of children, the problems that can arise when the child’s nature is not properly nurtured, and the repercussions that proper and improper nurturing of the child have on society. This work is especially recommended for parents.

According to Maria Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she will become.” To carry out this self-construction, children have innate mental powers, but they must be free to use these powers. For this reason, a Montessori classroom provides freedom while maintaining an environment that encourages a sense of order and self-discipline. “Freedom in a structured environment” is the Montessori dictum that names this arrangement.

Like all thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition, Montessori recognized that the senses must be educated first in the development of the intellect. Consequently, she created a vast array of special learning materials from which concepts could be abstracted and through which they could be concretized. In recognition of the independent nature of the developing intellect, these materials are self-correcting—that is, from their use, the child discovers for himself whether he has the right answer. This feature of her materials encourages the child to be concerned with facts and truth, rather than with what adults say is right or wrong.

Also basic to Montessori’s philosophy is her belief in the “sensitive periods” of a child’s development: periods when the child seeks certain stimuli with immense intensity, and, consequently, can most easily master a particular learning skill. The teacher’s role is to recognize the sensitive periods in individual children and put the children in touch with the appropriate materials.

Montessori also identified stages of growth—which she called “Planes of Development”—that occur in approximately six-year intervals and that are further subdivided into two three-year segments. These planes of development are the basis for the three-year age groupings found in Montessori schools: ages 3 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12, and 12 to 18.

From birth to age six, children are sensorial explorers, studying every aspect of their environment, language, and culture. Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind provides a detailed discussion of how the child’s mind and needs develop during this period.

From age six to twelve, children become reasoning explorers. They develop new powers of abstraction and imagination, using and applying their knowledge to further discover and expand their world. During this time, it is still essential that the child carry out activities in order to integrate acting and thinking. It is his own effort that gives him independence, and his own experience that brings him answers as to how and why things function as they do. Montessori’s The Montessori Elementary Materials discusses the materials and curriculum to be used for children during this period.

From Childhood to Adolescence, also by Montessori, outlines the changes children undergo in mentality and outlook as they grow from childhood to adolescence, and the nature and needs of the adolescent child. She also proposes a radical concept of schooling for the adolescent.

Valuable secondary works on the Montessori method include Elizabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years, and Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. Both give an abbreviated view of the philosophy and the method, as well as detailed instructions on how to make and use the materials. Paula Lilliard’s 1972 work, Montessori: A Modern Approach, reviews the history and nature of the Montessori philosophy, discussing how “current” it is in addressing modern educational concerns and what it has to offer the contemporary family.

Throughout her writing, Montessori combines keen observations and insights with a heroic view of the importance of the child’s work in self- development—work by which each man creates the best within him. Many writers and critics dislike Montessori’s romantic rhetoric, and admittedly her phraseology tends to the mystical. Nevertheless, we find her language refreshing and inspiring. As the following sentence illustrates, she always keeps in mind the glory and grandeur of human development:

“Humanity shows itself in all its intellectual splendor during this tender age as the sun shows itself at the dawn, and the flower in the first unfolding of the petals; and we must respect religiously, reverently, these first indications of individuality.”

The Montessori method always places its principles and activities in the broad context of the importance of human life and development, intelligence and free will. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of the Montessori method is the presentation of knowledge as an integrated whole, emphasizing conceptual relationships between different branches of learning, and the placement of knowledge in its historical context.

Dewey Versus Montessori

In American academic circles, Montessori is little known, except as a name from the past, and textbooks on educational theory therefore tend to discuss her method only in an historical context. Much of this learned ignorance can be traced to The Montessori System Examined, a small but highly influential book published in 1914 by Professor William Heard Kilpatrick. In his time, Kilpatrick was one of the most popular professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College, an institution with far-ranging influence among educational theorists and one of the main redoubts for John Dewey’s Progressive method of education.

Dewey and Montessori approached education from philosophically and psychologically different perspectives. Dewey’s concern was with fostering the imagination and the development of social relationships. He believed in developing the intellect late in childhood, for fear that it might stifle other aspects of development. By contrast, Montessori believed that development of the intellect was the only means by which the imagination and proper social relationships could arise. Her method focused on the early stimulation and sharpening of the senses, the development of independence in motor tasks and the care of the self, and the child’s naturally high motivation to learn about the world as a means of gaining mastery over himself and his environment.

Thus, behind Kilpatrick’s criticism of Montessori’s educational method lay a great deal of antagonism towards Montessori’s philosophy and psychology. Kilpatrick dismissed Montessori’s sensorial materials because they were based on what he considered to be an outdated theory of the faculties of the mind (Dewey was greatly influenced by early Behaviorism) and a too-early development of the intellect. Kilpatrick also criticized Montessori’s materials as too restrictive: because they have a definite outcome, he felt, they restrict the child’s imagination. Following Dewey’s collectivist view of man, and his central focus on the social development of the child, Kilpatrick also disliked Montessori’s decidedly individualistic view of the child.

Montessori Today

In the United States, the views of Dewey and Kilpatrick prevailed, and the name of Montessori was largely forgotten for several decades. Fortunately for recent generations of American children, a dissatisfied American mother, Nancy Rambusch, rediscovered Montessori in Europe during the 1950s. Rambusch began the “second-wave” Montessori schools in the United States, lectured widely on the Montessori method, and helped found the American Montessori Society. Over the past forty years, grass-roots interest has spurred a phenomenal growth of Montessori schools in America, but the movement is not generally recognized or promoted in university education departments.

The Montessori Controversy and Montessori Schools in America, both by John Chattin-McNichols, discuss research on the relationship of the method to historical and current educational theories; and controversies that have arisen between the Montessori movement and academic theorists, and also within the Montessori movement.

Interestingly, Montessori Schools in America includes Beatrice Hessen’s article on the Montessori method, originally published in The Objectivist. As this Study Guide indicates, a link between Objectivism and the Montessori method of education is a promising connection for both movements.   Montessori’s methods encourage children to be at home in a free society, such as Objectivists would like to establish. Respect for the person, property, and ideas of others are primary values in the Montessori classroom, as are respectful cooperation and personal responsibility. Children are required to care for the materials they use and the environment of the classroom; they are encouraged to work on projects cooperatively, but only when they wish to do so. At a deeper level, Objectivism’s epistemological and ethical ideas offer a rich theoretical soil in which Montessori’s methods can thrive and perhaps even develop further.

Montessori Training

In the United States at present, training for teachers is offered through the Association Montessori Internationale/USA, an arm of Maria Montessori’s original training organization; and through the American Montessori Society, founded by Nancy Rambusch. Many independent organizations also offer training. The North American Montessori Teachers Association is a center of research and information. Further information can be obtained from these organizations at the following addresses:

AMI/USA
410 Alexander
Rochester, NY 14607
(716) 461-5920

American Montessori Society
281 Park Ave. South, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010-6102
(212)358-1250
Web: www.amsha.org

NAMTA
11424 Bellflower Rd. NE
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216)421-1905
namtamail@aol.com

Bibliography

Many of the titles in this listing are available at Amazon.com. If you use this link, or the search box below, then IOS will earn a commission from Amazon.com on each book purchased.

John Chattin-McNicholsThe Montessori Controversy. Albany, N.Y.: Delmar Publishers, 1992.

John P. Chattin-McNichols, edMontessori Schools in America: Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives. Lexington, Mass.: Ginn Custom Publishing, 1981, 1983.

Elizabeth G. Hainstock. Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Elizabeth G. HainstockTeaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. New York: Random House, 1971.

William Heard KilpatrickThe Montessori System Examined. American Education Series, No. 2. Salem, N.H.: Ayer Company Pubs., 1972. Reprint of 1914 Houghton Mifflin ed.

Rita Kramer. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York: Capricorn Books, 1976.

Paula Lilliard. Montessori: A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Method, rev. ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.

Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook. Edited by E.C. Orem. New York: Schocken, 1965.

Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1967.

Maria Montessori. The Child in the Family. New York: Avon Books, 1956.

Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longmans Ltd., 1936.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Elementary Material. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Maria Montessori. From Childhood to Adolescence. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Jean Piaget. Language and Thought of The Child. New York: New American Library, 1955.

E.M. Standing. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Mentor Books, 1962.

Copyright © 1992 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

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