Post-Secondary Montessori Advocacy

By Jason Phillips and Soraya Elbard

Here is a great example of Montessori advocacy: a group of students from a local college’s Early Childhood Education program presented on Montessori, and the response stunned them:

Our “Montessori Workshop” produced the somewhat unanticipated response of 1/3 of the class exclaiming in subsequent conversations, “I want my children to go to Montessori” and “I think I want to become a Montessori teacher”!

Montessori advocacy was discussed at the closing panel session of the CAMT/CCMA 2012 Fall Conference. One of the avenues considered was working to incorporate education about Montessori into various college and university programs, especially in departments of education, early childhood education, and psychology. This example, from Mohawk College student Soraya Elbard and her group, is exactly the kind of action and response I think we at the conference were envisioning.

The ECE students came into Dundas Valley Montessori School over the March Break to take pictures of the environments and ask a few questions. I asked Soraya to give some details about the project, its presentation, and the response, and she replied with a phenomenal summary of the project, and her own opinions on and experience with Montessori:

The PowerPoint slide show featuring DVMS classroom photos comprised a portion of my group’s workshop/presentation on Montessori for a fourth semester Early Childhood Education course at Mohawk College. Montessori was my group’s “hands down” first choice among nine possible curriculum models that included Bank Street, High Scope, Core Knowledge, Traditional Theme-Based, and Reggio Emilia, but receiving our premium selection in competition with others ultimately reflected fortune or luck.

This said, Montessori was my first choice for the following two reasons: for the past 2-4 years, as Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten has been rolling out and into community schools, I have been both an informal admirer and student of Maria Montessori and the more or less “comprehensive developmental package” that is her educational model; a “package,” secondly, that twenty-first century neuroscience is beginning to catch up with, effectively not only discovering and explaining how and why Montessori’s methods and materials achieve the ends they do, but also the relevance of Montessori’s pedagogical first principles to so many seemingly intractable, contemporary social and educational problems.

In short, I was hoping a deeper understanding of Montessori might answer for me the impenetrable question of why our provincial government opted for a very tough-to-implement “play-based learning” kindergarten model over a globally established pedagogy that is both inherently inclusive and profoundly developmentally sound? The project of preparing an “Introduction to Montessori” workshop for my fellow ECE classmates deepened my conviction that our province has missed an important opportunity to catch up to those European and modernizing Second and Third World countries, as well as the U.S. where Montessori options are more established and increasingly embraced, as well as often publicly funded. Ultimately, I believe the answer to the question of Canada’s exceptionality here involves a fundamental ignorance or misunderstanding both of what Montessori is and of how acutely insightful Maria Montessori was.

In ECE, we study Piaget to the exclusion of the woman and Montessori experience that informed so much of his cognitive developmental thinking; at the same time, where current research demonstrates those places where Piaget underestimated children’s abilities or attributed cognitive qualities to more advanced stages, we find that Montessori was correct.

I remain profoundly befuddled and confounded by Canada’s slowness in this area of recognizing and deploying the opportunity of espousing such a scientifically substantiated and socially transformative pedagogy.  

As the above intimates, part of my desire to present on Montessori was to ensure that both Maria Montessori and Montessori as an educational model were accurately and substantially represented. In this regard, the response to our workshop was both wonderful and somewhat surprising in that 1) all seemed genuinely engaged throughout the presentation; 2) many asked questions bespeaking engagement in the topic; and 3) after a combination of presentation and hands on demonstrations of the materials through practiced three period lessons, many of our classmates proclaimed “wanting Montessori for their children” or, indeed, “wanting to become Montessori teachers”.  Heartwarmingly for me, this response continued into the following week’s workshops where workshop presenters, instead of presenting their own materials during a centre exploration period, instead wanted to talk to me about Montessori and “how good” they thought it was!

I was delighted to have thus launched the social revolution in a small corner of my current ECE diploma program world (which is so much preferable to simply earning a good grade on a Curriculum 2 assignment).  Perhaps, finally, however, on this note of immaterial motivations, I should confess that I also attended a Montessori Casa program for two years prior to enrolling in public kindergarten and to this I attribute much of who I am and what I like about myself, whether those essences be effects of “normalization” or self-actualization.  Ultimately, I suspect Montessori and Maslow would have got along famously had they known or read each other!

— Soraya Elbard

We’d love to hear your ideas about Montessori advocacy. What are the best ways to go about it? What should be emphasized? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

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