In many ways, I was the model public school student. I was rarely absent, memorized all the facts that were presented to me and effectively regurgitated them for every exam. From an early age I was patted on the back for my straight-A report cards and placement into honors-track classes. I listened, memorized, regurgitated and repeated, but what I really didn’t do, is learn. I didn’t fall in love with learning.
My scores were high on every social studies test I ever completed, but if you ask me to tell you about the War of 1812 or The Magna Carta, I can’t. Biology was easy as pie, but I’ll flounder if asked to name the parts of the cell. I devoured books and loved writing from an early age, but by high school my essays were often so riddled with red marks that I lost confidence and stopped writing all together. Rather than helping me nurture and develop my writing skills, essays were simply judged and tossed back on my desk with an arbitrary number grade, leaving me to assume that writing was just not my calling.
I was rarely inspired and my interest-level and natural curiosity were dwindling, but I continued cranking out that data and those facts until I graduated with a solid G.P.A. and shipped off to college like a perfectly manufactured student. That’s how I felt that first year in college: I didn’t know what held my interest or what I remembered but FEED ME MORE DATA and I could spit it back out at you. That’s where I excelled! Was there a career for that? Just don’t ask me to explain anything, because I only knew the end-result. Rather than a solid foundation of knowledge, my 13 years of education before college provided me with a shaky, under-nourished backbone.
Getting good grades does not mean you’re learning.
I recently saw this video by Trevor Eissler, a parental advocate for Montessori Schooling:
When I visited my first Montessori school with LJ this past spring, I was blown away. The level of excitement and inquisitiveness present in those elementary classrooms was like nothing I had ever seen. Nothing. Not in my years as a student or as a teacher had I seen children working with such confidence and wonder. Two children were learning Mandarin at one table; many were using wooden manipulatives to learn square roots on a mat on the floor; a few were scattered about doing independent science experiments; one was sewing something while others were doing independent research. There was such a hushed, respectful sound in the room and a contagious buzzing energy permeating the air, that when I walked out of the school I sat in the parking lot and called Pete immediately, saying,
“This is the most incredible school I have ever seen.”
I actually felt angry at our parents for not presenting us with the opportunity to learn in this manner. I was jealous of these kids. My husband, who in many ways was too smart for public school, would have flourished at a Montessori School. I know many people who would have: people who questioned the formulas that were force-fed down their throats, people who constantly asked “But…why?” and refused to simply memorize the facts scribbled on the chalkboards and typed into the textbooks. They would have come alive in a student-led, curiosity-based learning environment, rather than been stifled and frustrated.
For those that don’t know, here are the cornerstones of the Montessori method, created by Maria Montessori around the turn of the 20th century:
- Each child is seen as an individual with an individualized learning plan. They learn at their own pace, gently guided by the “teachers”.
- Although still within parameters set by the teacher (called a “guide”), students guide their own learning dependent upon their own interests.
- Multi-age classrooms foster a cooperative environment filled with respect and a tremendous sense of community.
- The kids work for the joy of discovery and the process: not simply the end product.
- The teacher plays a very non-authoritative role in the classroom: he or she is not there to “correct their mistakes” but to encourage them to make their own discoveries and in turn, build self-esteem and independence.
- Montessori schools provide long, uninterrupted work periods led by each student’s interest, rather than the 30 minute blocks of regimented subject matter forced upon kids in public school. (ie: the girl working on the long-division problem for most of the school day in the video)
There have been countless studies cited that prove the benefits of a Montessori education, such is in this article from The Guardian and this one from the Harvard Business Review. It’s a no-brainer, really.
So, what’s the catch? Lotte attends a Montessori preschool right now: what is keeping us from confidently sending off those applications for next year and her elementary education?
Public school is free.
Is that the right choice, though? Is THAT the place where we should skimp? That’s where we should save a dime and cut corners? On our daughter’s education?! Never mind the expensive cars in the driveway (only Toyotas, really) or the fancy denim on our bodies (only Pete’s body. I’m a Gap girl now): we should look to save money on our kid’s future? We should send her to public school…
…just because it’s free?
Well, that seems a little crazy, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure we can do better than that. If Pete and I gave up our Starbucks every day we could save almost four thousand dollars a year. See where I’m going with this? Surely our kid’s education is more important than our daily lattes. After all, isn’t she our greatest investment?
***I am in no way bashing public schooling in general, but simply describing my experiences as a student and observations I have made. There are many phenomenal public school educators as well as many kids who thrive in any atmosphere of learning.