Philosophy of Education

"Small Is Beautiful"

The theory of chaos and complexity tells us that a small change can affect the whole. By valuing self direction, good character, respect for nature and each other, Melville Montessori School stayed small, and went on. We believe we have made, and will make, a difference . Einstein tells us that 2% of "positive" energy can affect the whole system. We don't need a majority to shift the balance in the attitudes and actions of the people on the Earth. Knowing that the critical minority is two percent gives us great hope (hundredth monkey). In human terms, denial and apathy are the greatest obstacles to the growth of human consciousness.

Public Education is a Human Service, but when Human Services, like education, are stripped of the "personal" and interactive, it contradicts the term "human". Run like businesses, people become objects and are robbed of their uniqueness. This has been the case for Public Education in California since Prop 13. Once this model took over, the "product" became the focus, not the "process". Before Prop 13, California was #2 in Public Education in the United States, second only to New York. Today we are #47. Research that has been paid for by "the people" is not being applied to todayıs classrooms. This research tells us that a ratio of 1 to 10 or 1 to 15 is best, and that when you go beyond 1-15 retention drops by 70%. Research also tells us that teacher evaluations are the best marker for how a student will do in school and in life, NOT TESTS. Standardized tests that are gender biased like SATs are "good for the state" but not good for the child. The "labels" used by the Public System to "sort" the children is so damaging to the childıs self concept, no rational person could deny it. It was for this reason that I feel Melville Montessori School attracted so many children whoıs parents worked in the System.

A school is an extension of the family, not a learning factory. Process-oriented education is best made possible with a low student faculty ratio. Product-oriented education not only tends to damage the spirit of the child, it is not cost effective in the long run. In most of today's public schools, children sit in rows, in many cases thirty or more to a teacher, and try to endure. Grouped by age with one standard curriculum, how can we wonder at the childrenıs despair. I would love to see hundreds of home schools, (Montessori called her schools, "Casa d'Bambini" - A Home for Children) each based on individual philosophies of teachers, interacting with the other little schools. The big institutional buildings could then be rented out for sports, big dances, and College classes.

A very dangerous trend today is kids being treated as if they belong to the State. That so outrages me. It is so anti-American, so anti-freedom - the idea that we are not responsible for our children until age 18. And after that, they belong to themselves and the World. I donıt know how many people are aware that they are losing their rights as the counselors and religious center of the family. It is discouraging that military recruiters can ask for a childıs records without parent permission, and that students can be tested without parent permission. Although the law still supports the rights of the parents, Public School administrators take the position that a parent MUST ASK that their child/ren not be tested. A parent MUST ASK that information regarding their child/ren not be given to recruiters.

A Montessori teacher, or any good teacher (parents are our first real teachers), passes on the love of learning to children in an environment where they can be self-directed.

When I consciously made the choice to take my children out of Public Education in 1981, all Public Institutions in California, even the University System, had accepted the argument that "Humanism was Religion". Only UC Santa Cruz, Sonoma State University and private Universities like, The Claremont Colleges taught "Humanism" as the core of the social sciences. The idea that all "humans" are created "equal" and that they are endowed by their creator with certain undeniable rights; like "life", "liberty", and "the pursuit of happiness" , was practicing religion. However, "evolution" was false science, and "creationism or intelligent design" was good science. Today we live with the consequences of this "dis-ease".

Fortunately, Humanism is at the core of the majority of European Educational Institutions and most of the Universities in the rest of the World. Behaviorism divorced from Humanism is only practiced in America. This is where Skinner and other "soul-less" social scientists function. Science as exploration and fact finder, to Aristotle evolution was a'prior - an obvious truth - common sense, what ever you want to call it. Only humans removed from nature are divorced from the obvious existence of change over time. This is why Darwin experienced the evidence with such "awe" - he was not living with nature in his own life. He was the refined, ill at ease with nature "sex" etal generation. Yet, Chief Seattle, in his words expresses a mind conscious of evolution and connection to the whole of nature, though he had never heard of Darwin. Also, the Ancient Native Minds who constructed the "Sun Dagger" in the US South West could not have done so without the quality of mind of an Einstein. Refinement of facts and further links to the whole will continue for ever, the great mystery - the more you know about it - the more there is to be known, like an onion with layers and layers of skins.

SEX LINKED DIFFERENCES: As a teacher and administration of children K-12 for over 20 years I learned a great deal about sex linked differences. Here are some of the facts:

If you lay a group of babies - 3 to 6 months - under a tree with branches and leaves on a warm - gentle breeze - day, and you have an equal number of boy babies and girls babies, all the babies will be engrossed by the leaves waving and rustling in the branches, but if you roll a wagon by the babies as they are watching the tree branches, the majority of boy babies will turn their heads and look at the wheels, but most of the girls will not stop concentration on the branches.

When young children first came to my school I would do exercises and games with them to determine if they were "abstract" in math - and how "abstract" they might be. ( For a long time, since Sputnik went up, we have not looked for children who are "abstract" in language in most of public education. There was a time when tests were much more wholistic, because the idea was to use the tests in order to approach the child at the place they were, not to treat them like they were cookies that had been cut out by the same cookie cutters, but more like snowflakes, each unique.) I would also do exercises and games to determine how "abstract" my young children were in language. In this way I could offer each child work I felt would help them grow, not bore them or push them, but challenge them.

What is meant by the term "abstract"? In math the ability to see - in your mind, an object - like "a cube" - and rotate it, is "one" form of abstraction. In language, the ability to understand relationships, is a form of abstraction. The majority of boys that I worked with were able to "see" objects and concepts in their minds without any physical aids. (However if offered physical aids, or materials, the majority of boys moved quickly to math and science concepts that most children who did not have the three dimensional representations would not approach for years.) The majority of girls were more "concrete" in math, but the girls who had the manipulative kept pace with the boys. The majority of girls I worked with were very conformable with the flow of words, the psychological dimension, and if offered materials, quickly moved to the understanding and use of metaphor. If boys are offered concrete materials in the early years, they too "abstract in language" and will keep pace with the girls. In a public school, students are enrolled in Algebra around grade 8 or 9. Those girls who have not "abstracted" are encouraged to forget doing math and science, but by age 18 or so these girls will be ready for the math and science. By this time most of them have had such a bad experience with these subjects, that many will say "I hate math". The girls who have had the manipulative at an early age do not have this experience. Students in Public School are enrolled in College Prep English by 9th Grade. Those boys who make it into these classes often do poorly, and many never read novels or poetry again. By age 18 or so these boys will be ready for the experience in reading and writing that these classes offer. By this time most of them have had such a bad experience with the subject, they avoid the subject whenever possible.

"The child should love everything that he learns, for his mental and emotional growth are linked. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear, striking his imagination. Once this love has been kindled, all problems confronting the educationalist will disappear."

Maria Montessori

The term "manipulatives", where used in the text of these web pages, is used in the context of "experiential, or direct experience". Where direct experience is not open to the facilitator, the created "experience" should be presented in such a manner that all the senses are addressed. (ie. you don't have a real horse? visit a farm, take a ride in the country side, - can't do that? use an object; At the very least have a three dimensional representation of what the student has told you they want to focus on, and yes a photograph or painting is good, and so our books and movies but direct experience is such a great teacher, and for the guide so effortless. You know this if you have ever taken a group to the tide pools, camped - had dialogue and prepared meals together.

A wonderful model of what is possible when parents and facilitators work together exists in
Saint Helena. Under the direction of Head Teacher and Director Maureen Kelly, parents work with their own children and others at the Saint Helena Cooperative Nursery School

. The co-op's web address is: <>

An Evaluation of Montessori's Philosophy of Education by William Crane : Theories of Development - Concepts and Applications:  Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs,. New Jersey: 1992 (4th Ed.) ISBN 013955402-5 passages from pages 82-85


Although Montessori's interests were more practical than theoretical, she did develop a definite theoretical position, one that owed much to Rousseau. She argued that we are wrong to assume that children are whatever we make them, for children also learn on their own, from their own maturational promptings. And, as did Rousseau, she argued that children often think and learn quite differently form adults.

A central component of Montessori's theory is the concept of sensitive periods. Sensitive periods are similar to critical periods; they are genetically programmed blocks of them during which the child is especially eager and able to master certain tasks. For example, there are sensitive periods for the acquisition of language and for the beginning use of the hand. During these periods, the child works with all his or her might at perfecting these abilities. And, "if the child is prevented from enjoying these experiences at the very time when nature has planned for him to do so, the special sensitivity which draws him to them will vanish, with a disturbing effect on development."(Montessori, 1949)

A cornerstone of developmental or child-centered education is a faith in the child - or, better put, a faith in Nature's laws guiding the child from within. Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Gessell, and others made this point. Adults shouldnıt constantly set goals and try to influence children; they should try to provide tasks that give children opportunities to pursue their naturally emerging interests. Before Montessori, however, no one knew how much children seem to need such tasks, or how much energy they will pour into them. In the Children's House, 3 to 6 year olds freely chose certain tasks and worked on them with the deepest concentration. And when they finished, they emerged happy, refreshed, and serene. They seemed at peace because they had been able to develop themselves. The intensity of concentration seems to be especially great in the first 6 years of life, but Montessori believed that all education should consider what children themselves are most eager to learn. ...........................................................

................................ If Montessori were to hear of this pattern of results (that children from Montessori schools don't do as well on tests), she probably would be pleased. For her primary goal was not high scores on achievement tests, but inner attitudes. (But researchers have generally been more impressed by the attitudes that Montessori schools foster - concentration, confidence, and independence.).................She did not want to impose tasks on children just because adults are anxious that they learn them as soon as possible. She care little about how rapidly children learn standard skills or about advancing them along the ladder of achievement tests. Rather, she was concerned with children's attitudes toward learning. She wanted to unharness their natural love for learning and their capacities for concerted and independent work, which unfold according to an inner timetable. As she once said: "My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certificate from the secondary school to the University, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual."(Montessori, 1936)............. ........................She anticipated much that is current in developmental thinking. For one thing, she was among the first to argue for the possibility of sensitive or critical periods in intellectual development. Even more impressive were her insights into language acquisition. Early on, she suggested that children unconsciously master complex grammatical rules and suggested that they must possess an innate mechanism that enables them to do this - suggestions that anticipated the work of Chomsky.

Montessori also was among the first to call attention to the child's need for contact with nature. She said children are especially attuned to nature and benefit from rich exposure to it. She didn't specify a precise sensitive period when this is so, but she believed that children need experience with nature to develop their powers of observation and other qualities, such as a feeling of connection to the living world. Today we find such thoughts among researchers advancing the "biophilia hypothesis". ............... Montessori was among the few scholars ever to take the child's tie to nature seriously.............Montessori might have given more recognition to young children's social, imaginative, and artistic development. I believe Montessori was also wrong about fairy tales.........

Montessori, then, may have undervalued some components of the childhood years, such as play, drawing, and fairy tales. But, whatever Montessori may have overlooked, her oversights are minor in comparison to her contributions. Montessori, as much or more than anyone, demonstrated how the developmental philosophies of Rousseau, Gessell, and others can be put into practice. She showed how it is possible to follow children's spontaneous tendencies and to provide materials that will permit them to learn independently and with great enthusiasm. Montessori was one of history's great educators.