Guiding children: Reform ourselves to reform education

Guiding children: Reform ourselves to reform education

“The educator must be as one inspired by a deep worship of life, and must through this reverence respect … the development of the child’s life .…”[1]

On January 6, 2017, we celebrated the 110th anniversary of the opening of the first Montessori school. What’s remarkable is that few educational movements persist this long, and even fewer contribute as effectively to today’s urgent need to reform education and school practice. Successful living in our digitized world requires a different approach to how and what children learn. Education based on memorization can no longer adequately ready children for today’s ever-changing, unknown future. Memorization teaches compliance and how to forget. In an ever-changing future, digitized information is immediately available and voice accessible. What’s imperative now is learning to think, inquire, understand, adapt, innovate, and more

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The work of the adolescent

The work of the adolescent

I spoke recently with a friend about a course I led in Warsaw for teachers. The focus of the course concerned the design and implementation of Montessori education for adolescents. I then listened to his concerns about his teenage daughter. She's not who she once was, he lamented. I asked, how is she different? His answer was that of a person in mourning, mourning how she used to share her enthusiasm to understand bugs and math problems and geographical land and water forms. He missed riding bikes together and reading bedtime stories. They used to do just about everything together. As he continued, he focused on one difference in particular: she used to love to learn in school. Now all she wants to do is talk and text with friends, and, as far as he could tell, these distract from her school work. I asked him to describe her school work, and, not too surprisingly, it mostly involved memorization.

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When Your Child Says "NO!"

When Your Child Says "NO!"

It’s time for a bath, and your child says, “No!” It’s time for bed, and your child says, “No!” It’s time for your child to clean her or his room, and your child says, “No!” It’s time to do homework, and your child says, “No!”

“No!” heard as a rejection can trigger a lot of emotions as you ready for another struggle and confrontation with your child. And sometimes the rejection triggers additional memories such as what happened the last time your child said “No,” and what happened to you earlier that day, and even your memories of what your parents, grandparents, and teachers did when you said, “No!”

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Speaking Out: The Adolescent

Speaking Out: The Adolescent

I shared recently with a friend about my upcoming work in Poland where I will lead a Montessori secondary teacher education course. I then listened to his concerns about his teenage daughter.  She's not who she once was, he lamented. I asked, how is she different? His answer was that of a person in mourning, mourning how she used to share her need to understand bugs and math problems and geographical land and water forms, and how they used to ride bikes together and read bedtime stories, how they used to do just about everything together .... But as he continued, he focused on one difference in particular: She used to love to learn in school. Now all she wants to do is talk and text with friends, and, as far as he could tell, these distract from her school work. I asked him to describe her school work, and, not too surprisingly, it mostly involved memorization, and she struggled with concentration.

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Learning to Think in an Ever-Changing World

Children today live in a world truly different from when we were children. Back then our parents and our grandparents anticipated we would become adults in a world that would resemble their own. How our parents and grandparents learned was sufficient for how we learned: We learned to memorize. What we memorized would prepare us for our adult lives because we grew up into a known future. This is no longer the case. Our children are growing into an ever changing future, and this is taking place worldwide. The evidence is pervasive. We live changing economics, politics, technology, medicine, sciences, environment, and more. 

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How Do Children Learn to Manage Complexity?

Regardless of where in the world, a typical adult day is filled with complexity. We routinely multitask, deal with distractions and interruptions, maintain composure, lose composure, refocus, make decisions, regret decisions, reflect on progress, make new plans, and much, much more. Simply, we are busy. To successfully manage the complexity, we must know how to scan our environment, comprehend what is going on, retain and retrieve cognitive information, refrain from acting impulsively, predict what might occur next, and alter our plans when circumstances change. 

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Becoming Disciplined: A Child's Achievement

Parents, teachers, and other adults understand the necessity for disciplining children. Discipline typically refers to what adults must do if children are to become obedient. Adults, according to this understanding, must be consistently vigilant. Reward children when they are good. Otherwise, punish children to control their wrongful impulses and desires. If adults are successful, disciplined children should become morally ethical and responsible citizens. 

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The Necessity of Making Mistakes

One of my parenting fears is my child will make a mistake, and then she will be humiliated and embarrassed. Because my child made a mistake, her future opportunities will become fewer. And, because she suffered humiliation and embarrassment, she will decide to fear failure. Reluctance and caution will replace her passion and love of learning. There’s still more to my fears: I won’t be there to prevent her from making mistakes and protect her from the consequences. And I won’t be able to prevent the emotional wounds. Of course I am projecting my own experiences, my own fixed mindset, and yet, this is silly. Mistakes are inevitable, and mistakes are an essential component of growing and learning – if treated respectfully. Great mistakes are costly, but great mistakes have led to world changing discoveries like penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, post-it notes, and the potato chip! 

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