On Leaving the MSC Nest
It’s already near the end of the year! Where did the time go? In an objective sense, of course, we can answer that question, but when we’re so busy it seems as though we missed observing its passage.
At the school we’re preparing ourselves to bid farewell to some of our students, and I know that many parents ask themselves, “How will my child adjust to a traditional school environment?” The answer is: they’ll be fine. Since the school opened almost 1,200 children have successfully passed through our classrooms to classrooms with rows of desks, and that number is multiplied many times over by the passage of children from another 5,000 Montessori schools around the country.
Yes, they will be moving from an environment where they have enjoyed with enthusiasm the subjects that interest them. And in their new environment (with the exception of one or two children transitioning to other Montessori programs) they will study what the teacher tells them (perhaps at the direction of a school board or state legislature), when the teacher tells them to study it, and for as long as the teacher directs. I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, of course, because I am convinced (confirm by research I’m more than happy to share with you) that the Montessori approach to education fits perfectly with human development, and traditional education does not.
So how are our soon-to-be former students prepared for that world? Better than many people might imagine. Montessori children carry with them important traits that will enable them to adapt well to it. First, they are as academically prepared as a child at any age can be. Because each child works at his or her own best pace they learn at a rapid rate, and no one ever hears, “Sorry, you’re too young to learn this,” or “We don’t study that until year-after-next.” They tend, therefore, to leave their Montessori world at an impressively advanced place in all academic disciplines.
Second, they are confident in their abilities. By allowing children to work at their own pace (so the end of each effort is success), the Montessori Method builds the confidence that is essential to academic success. They have not been graded according to an arbitrary A-F system that—think about it—requires some children to fail. Because assessment is subjective, students don’t often compare themselves to their peers and they have much less developed feelings of superiority or inadequacy.
Third, because they have guided their own academic way, they tend to be internally motivated. Montessori children have assumed responsibility for their education. They won’t announce it that way; it is an internal assumption they have made about the nature of life.
Fourth, because we have not diverted their attention from academic subjects they enjoy to those they do not enjoy, we run almost no risk of ending the thirst for knowledge they all show the day they begin to ask their parents questions. Like the shark that constantly swims in search of food, Montessori children have embraced the underlying assumption that their function is to seek knowledge and understanding. They are far less likely than traditionally educated children to be bored.
So what will they do when they arrive in a traditional classroom? To answer, I am reminded of the report a former parent came to the office to tell me. That fall we had sent three students to Camden Middle School. One day, the social studies teacher put his hands on his hips and in frustration asked the class, “Why is it that, whenever I ask a question, only the kids that came from Montessori raise their hands?” I was struck by this: isn’t it telling that he even knew which of his students came from Montessori? Also, anyone who understands Montessori and hears this story smiles knowingly: of course Montessori children would raise their hands. Nothing is boring; it is fun to learn.
I admit that not every child will manifest the symptoms I have described her in the same degree. Variations are a function of the number of years a child has been exposed to Montessori, the degree to which their parents express joy in learning, and the academic environment in which they find themselves after Montessori. But they all bear the mark of a Montessori Child. So we bid a sad farewell to the children leaving our school with full confidence that they will continue to mature into confident, self-motivated, respectful, and responsible adults, at least in part due to the gift of a Montessori education.