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?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I loved the Montessori classroom (K,1,2). It was such a shock when I was suddenly thrown into a traditional christian school at the 3rd grade level where they were using antiquated teaching techniques. Montessori sought to find and nourish the inspiration in the child, the natural zest for learning. At the parochial school we had to sit still in wooden desks all day listening to the teacher. Students spoke only when called on by the teacher. It was so odd. We did so much more in the Montessori school. Kids were teaching other kids how to count, how to match colors, how to spell. The information spread faster through the group. The teacher could not predict from day to day what the children would get excited about. A book perhaps, a big counting project, pouring water, planting seeds, painting. There were lots of choices, and the kids weren't tied to any one set of tasks. I saw a similar thing when I was taking martial arts. Some days the black belts would work with the white belts, some days the green belts worked with the white belts, etc. The sensei would go from group to group during the class to check in and help. By mixing things up this way it kept it interesting for the kids, and again, the knowledge spreads faster for 2 reasons. One, you seem to learn something better when you teach it to someone else, and two, the teacher isn't the only one teaching, so it opens the format. I can't see inside every classroom in the country, but I would hope the techniques are improving with each generation.