Savory Montessori Elephants

By Tony Evans

Today, I watched a life changing Ted Lecture on preventing the growth of deserts and perhaps solving our climate crisis. Allan Savory is a Rhodesian biologist who, in the 1950s, killed 40,000 elephants because he believed, as most scientists did at that time, that large herds cause desertification. What they found was the culling only made the problem worse. 

Savory loved elephants, and in his remorse he dedicated himself to finding an answer to the rapidly spreading deserts. Instead of trying to come up with a new solution, he looked to the past, when the grasslands flourished despite there being enormous herds of animals. He recognized that the animal waste and trampling allowed for the grass to naturally breakdown and compost, which led to healthy regeneration in the next rainy season. So Savory quadrupled the herds of cattle and had them follow very specific, natural grazing patterns. The results have been incredible and offer so much hope.

One of the lessons here is that the best answer almost always lies with following nature’s path. Instead of asking how we should teach children, Dr. Montessori asked how children learn. In building a model of education based on how the human brain has evolved, Dr. Montessori diverted her gaze from the factory-based classroom model, that was still quite new at that time, and instead looked to the children themselves to create environments in which they would flourish. We should not be surprised that research supports Montessori education because it is based on a million years of evolution.

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