Maria Montessori was a big believer in creating an education method where children could have the freedom over their own education.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So, we have, I think, a theme that goes through many of our episodes, which is highlighting the problem with public schools and not even just public schools, traditional schools, and not really traditional, traditional in the aspect that they followed what was called the Prussian model, that when school got really almost militant in the, what was it, 18th century, no, sorry, 19th century. 19th, yeah, 18th. And schools became more about teaching kids what to think instead of how to think instead of no, no other way. They were teaching kids what to think instead of how they can use their critical thinking skills. So, I like to provide and teach you guys about different alternatives to these schools and different ways that people learn. We talked about play-based learning, we’ve talked about unschooling, we’ve talked about the free-range kids, which they’re all very similar. And today I want to talk about another form of learning. It’s called the Montessori method, but it’s called the Montessori method because it came from a woman named Maria Montessori. And I love her name. Her full name is like six names. I can’t say them all, so I won’t. But it’s a very Italian name. It’s very fun to say. So, she started these schools called the Montessori School, and it took a different approach to education, especially during this time. So, a little bit about her and then Connor, and I’ll just talk about how we feel about this and other alternative forms of school. So, Maria Montessori grew up in Italy in the 19th century, and this was a time when women were starting to go to school, but they weren’t doing as much college as the men were. They were still, a lot of them were still homemakers and being stay-at-home moms. So, Maria was really a pioneer. In fact, she was so smart and her parents were so proud of her, but her dad was very confused as to why she wanted to do all this. She has several degrees, why she wanted to go to college. He was very confused. He was like, why are you such a rebel? Why are you doing this? But she was a firecracker of a woman. So, she decided to go to school to be a doctor, and this was not very common at the time at all, but she ended up getting interested in education and this is really interesting to me because we talked about a man named Peter Gray who got really into education after an incident with his son. It happened with his own son who wasn’t doing well in school. And Maria’s was a little bit about that too. She had a son and she started getting more concerned about education because I think once you have kids, you want to make sure that they’re getting the very best education and that the parents get a say in choosing what they get to learn. So, kids learn best when they are free to choose what they want to learn is something that Maria Montessori believed. And she also would’ve believed that she didn’t want them to sit at desks all day, which I’ve talked about a million times that I don’t love that kids have to sit at desks all day at these public schools. Montessori schools are really interesting because they have different activity areas where kids can just get up and do different things whenever they feel like switching. Now, some of these things are really weird, like washboards, you can learn how to use a wash. But here’s the funny part about that is they’ve kept the integrity, meaning they’ve kept the same tradition she has. So if you go to a Montessori school today, sometimes they still have washboards for kids to play with. Interesting. On the one hand, I think it’s cute. I think it’s nice. On the other hand, it’s just like, that’s interesting. Not a lot of computers going on there. Button snapping was another thing they had for younger kids. This is for much smaller kids, but it was nice because they got to do other things. They got to move around and they didn’t have a teacher like you. And I think of teachers. There was no teacher up by a whiteboard instructing them all on what they were learning. Instead, the teachers are more like guides, which act in an academy, which I know Connor you’re familiar with, is similar, that they have guides. They don’t call them teachers. That’s at least to my understanding, right? Yep. So that’s how Montessori schools do it. The teachers just kind of walk around and C and make sure that everything is okay with the kids, but they don’t interfere with their learning. There’s also no grades, so you won’t get an A or a B or a C. They’re just no grades. I think you’re graded on if you have fun in the school or emotional stability, there’s these different criteria. But my favorite part about Montessori schools is that kids are not separated by their age. This was always so silly to me to think that children learn best when they’re with kids their own age, and everyone has to learn the same thing at the same time. I’m pretty sure, Connor, you and I were very different eight-year-olds, but because of the public school system, we were, in fact, you probably would’ve been terrified of me. I was very loud, and I think you were probably a quiet kid. Am I right? Yes. Yeah. But imagine they tell people that like you and I, who are different, that we have to learn the exact same way and learn the same things at the same time. And not only does that not make sense for the individual, but life doesn’t work that way. It’s not like you graduate from college if you choose to go or you get your first job and you get to suddenly just work with people your age. That’s not how it works in the real world. I work with people sometimes 20 or 30 years older than me, and I learn so much by getting to interact with them. And one thing that’s been really hard for me to deal with as I’m getting older is now I’m working with people who are 21 or 23, and that is a weird feeling, but it’s nice that you get to work with people of all ages. But what does the school do when they put us in that little box and they teach us to only work around people our own age? I think it makes transitioning into being an adult really strange. All of a sudden you realize that you’re not going to be hanging out with people your own age probably ever again. That’s not how it works. So, I really like that, and it’s really fun to me how the school got started. So, I said she had a son and she was concerned about his education, but she was also tasked with starting a school in a poor area of Rome, and it was with disadvantaged kids. So, kids from poor backgrounds, or maybe they had some learning disabilities, some small ones, but she wanted to create an environment that would make these kids love learning. She believes at your core or belief, she’s not around anymore. That kids all love learning. And I think that’s true because I know as a kid, I didn’t like sitting in a desk and having to do whatever the teacher told me. But when I was left on my own, I wanted to read. We had encyclopedias. That was the old Google we had. I think every family did. Your family had that set of encyclopedias. I would do that. Sometimes I would read the dictionary just because I thought words were fun. I love words. So, things like that were like, when I wasn’t being told to do something, I would do it. In fact, I hated being assigned to read books. And so without fail, if a book was assigned to me, I wouldn’t read it at a principal. I didn’t want to. And then when I graduated high school and I started reading all these books in my spare time, I read a lot of the books that were assigned to me, and they were great books. I just didn’t want to read it because someone told me I had to read it. And maybe I’m a little bit defiant, but it was funny to me. I’m like, this book would’ve been great if I wanted to read it on my own. So, she believed that kids naturally love to learn, and I agree with that. I think that’s exactly correct. Her school started becoming more popular, which was interesting because again, it wasn’t for well-to-do families. It wasn’t for even just regular people, it was for disadvantaged kids. But they started calling her students Miracle children because they were able to focus so much. And they called it spontaneous self-discipline, which I really love. Talked about spontaneous order in here. But these kids, they were able to self-regulate because they had to with their learning, they were in charge of it, so they had to direct that. So, she believed students needed activities to help them understand themselves and to find their place in this world. And I like that too, because we’ve talked a lot about with economics, specialization, and division of labor, and that comes through trying different things. As you learn more skills and try different things, you can say like, oh, I’m really good at this. Maybe this is what my purpose is. For me, that was writing in school where I was like, I really like writing. This is what I want to do. Another thing Connor, I think you’ll really like is she was really big on wanting to teach her students about peace because she’d lived through some horrible wars. And so that was just terrifying to her, the thought of it. So, she was very big on that. And then finally, her schools came to America and people loved them. They loved them so much, and so they went through this big growth spurt here. And then actually it calmed down for a little bit. There was an era when people didn’t like it. And then there was a bunch of controversy because in Europe, this was for kids that didn’t have access to a lot of education opportunities. But then it came to America and it became a very elitist thing where you had to have money to go to the schools. And so there was a bunch of back and forth there. This one thing is really interesting before we discussed the methods, but China actually likes Montessori schools, which made me think, wait, is this a good thing? But one thing that China is really big on is having the most educated kids, and I don’t think they do it the right way or anything, but I thought that was really interesting. This doesn’t seem like a school that would be really compatible with a very authoritarian society.
Connor: It’s interesting, Brittany, that you mentioned that, because one thing I know about Montessori, her full name, you alluded to, Maria Tela Artisia Montessori. You can imagine someone holding their fingers up in the air as they say that. And one of the things that was interesting about her is that she wasn’t that great about business, the business operating her school and contracts with people and the books she would write, and the royalties. And so she struggled with the business side. She was really focused on helping kids. And so from a business perspective, she was open to working with all kinds of people. And one of the people that she worked with in 1923, keeping in mind that she was in Italy, was the fascist dictator Mussolini. And so, in Italy, they’ve got this fascist party and they’re exerting all this control. And today people use, I think we’ve done an episode about fascism, haven’t we before, Brittany?
Brittany: Yes, we have.
Connor: Okay, so let’s link to that on today’s show notes if you need a refresher on fascism. So, go to Tuttletwins.com/podcast and you can find it in the show notes. But today, the word fascism is thrown out, thrown around all the time, and people don’t really, in fact, funny little aside, someone on social media, a critic of ours just yesterday at the time we’re recording this, called the Tuttle Twins Books, fascist Propaganda. I’m like, you have no clue.
Brittany: Listen to the fascist episode clearly.
Connor: Exactly. So, anyways, here’s Mussolini, the fascist, and this collusion of Mussolini has this quote, I’ll butcher it, but he says everything by the state, in the state, and for the state to him, he didn’t support individualism, he didn’t want freedom. It was all about the state. In other words, the government, everything is done through the government. That’s basically fascism. So, Montessori is approached by Mussolini. He wanted to meet her she was one of the most famous Italians in the world. This method had been taking off, as you pointed out, people saw this as like a miracle. The kids were learning so much. And so, Mussolini meets with Montessori, and after this, he says, you know what? We’re going to change all of Italian schools to follow Montessori’s method. And so he creates this agency, this government agency deal called Opera Montessori, and he even puts his own money apparently, into this effort. And so the idea was, Hey, let’s go change schools and expand this Montessori method. But a lot of the fascists within the government really did not like the Montessori model. And so they undermined it, and they made it difficult for this program to move forward. Why? Well, it’s because these fascists recognized that Montessori’s method involved respect for children’s autonomy. In other words, their self-independence. Yeah, their agency, their ability to kind of control themselves. Montessori, her big idea, if you were to boil it down, is that kids are largely capable of teaching themselves if they have freedom, if they have a nice good environment in which to learn and grow, and if an adult who’s willing to step back and observe, not a teacher, as you pointed out, not someone to be like, I’m the authority figure. Come listen to me, but a caring and competent adult, a good environment, but then give kids the freedom to learn what they want. So, no wonder the fascists didn’t like this because that’s a breeding ground for entrepreneurs and freedom lovers, not this Prussian model of do what you’re told, follow authority, raise your hand if you want to go to the bathroom. And so I like that aspect. So, unfortunately, Montessori was working with the fascists in her country. She had this very open nature of working with all kinds of people. It ultimately didn’t end up really working out well. And then she ended up fleeing Italy to India during World War II as World War II continued to continue to just write out the war. And so she moved to India until things cooled off and the war ended. But it shows, I think that even though she wasn’t political, in fact, she said that politics doesn’t interest me, is what she said. She said if she was interested in any political party, it was the children’s party. She was really focused on just helping kids. And so even though I think there was a fascist in Italy who once complained about her that she had a libertarian view of children.
Brittany: How dare she?
Connor: Yeah. Right? Or we might call it an anti-fascist view of children. And so I like that her model and so much of this, because it does recognize that kids, that humans, frankly, young little humans have these innate desires within them and abilities and our purpose. Like government schools today, they see themselves as, oh, kids are a blank slate. They don’t know anything. So, we need to imprint upon them everything they need to know, and we need to put them in this mold and shape them the way they need to be shaped. That’s like the modern view of education. Well, Montessori’s method, like I think any good method is that these kids have innate interests and desires and budding skills that can be cultivated, that our purpose is to draw out of them what’s already there, whether you believe that’s put there by God or nature or whatever that the education process is about helping those kids identify and discover who they are, what their talents are, their purpose, their goals, their abilities. And that’s so different than the public school thumping on you. You must learn all these things in this way. Sit in the chair. So, Montessori methods, I think rightly are seen by many in America maybe not elitist anymore, but ideal perhaps because they help produce kids who are more confident in themselves. They’re more competent because we’re honoring their individuality. We’re allowing them to explore a little bit. We’re giving them some freedom, and we as humans, thrive when we have freedom. And so really cool stuff. We will link to some stuff about Maria Montessori on the show notes page along with that episode of Fascism. So, make sure you head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Check out the show notes page. Thanks as always for being subscribed. Share the podcast with a friend. Keep listening as a family. Have those amazing discussions that we want you to have. Until next time, Brittany, thank you and we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.