An occasional soliloquy from author Aline D. Wolf

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


When Sir Ken Robinson gave the final keynote address at the 2011 National Conference of the American Montessori Society  in Chicago, he called upon teachers to look for the hidden talents of their students. Search deeply, he urged, for the natural aptitudes and diversity that can lead each child to a fulfilling life and perhaps to creative discoveries that could make a difference in the world. If you design conditions that encourage the uniqueness of each child, he advised, then these often undiscovered talents can flourish.

A few days after I had heard these inspiring words, our son, Chris, sent me an article in a technology newsletter that confirmed many of Robinson's points. Written by Peter Sims, (author of the forthcoming book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries) it bemoaned the fact that our educational system emphasizes spoon-feeding knowledge and testing while it neglects nourishing creativity. "Utilizing existing knowledge," he writes, "works perfectly well for many situations, but not when doing something new, creative or original."

An extensive six-year study about the way that creative business executives think, found several "discovery skills" that distinguished the innovators from the non-innovators. These included experimenting, observing, questioning, and networking with people of diverse backgrounds. In a word, "inquisitiveness."

These skills surfaced again in an interview that Barbara Walters did with Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the founders of Google. When asked what was the driving factor behind their success, they did not credit their computer science degrees, but pointed to their early Montessori education. "We both went to Montessori school," Page said, "and I think it was part of that training of being self-motivated, questioning what's going on in the world, doing things a little differently."

Such testimonies raise the critical question of the purpose of education. Is it simply to convey knowledge, as the current system is weighted, or is it also to make room for nurturing children's hidden talents and fostering their ability for self- learning by encouraging them to observe carefully, to try new things, and to ask "What if?" and "Why not?"

What do you think?