More than 100 years ago Maria Montessori got it right. She believed that children learned through spontaneous self-development. If the right environment was provided for children to experience different challenges and learn new skills they would excell in ways that traditional education can't compete with. She also believed that grouping children by major growth periods was better than grouping them by 1 year intervals. In other words she instituted a multi-age, child directed classroom. A study in the Journal of Science in Sept. of 2006 upheld the belief that Montessori educated children do better academically and socially than their peers educated in traditional public schools.
I was a Montessori educated child. I taught myself to read when I was 4. My mother went back to school. She didn't have enough time to spend hours reading to me during the week. It made me mad. So... I showed her! I taught myself to read. Looking back, I'm sure that the hours I spent in school taught me many of the skills I needed to put it all together and really read. The teachers also took turns during the week choosing our language of the day. One teacher spoke Spanish with us, another spoke German, and yet another spoke English. We didn't just learn a few words or phrases of each language; we spent most of the day speaking to our teachers and our friends in whichever language was chosen for that day. Our teachers fostered mental flexibility and taught us to seek challenges rather than boredom.
And therein lies my beef with the public school system. Conformity seems to be the word of the day. If you're different there are all sorts of interventions the school's willing to help you with in order to make you more normal. If a student is falling behind the class there is help available to assist them with catching up. It's all very nice and seems to be in the students best interest but what I see is that the final result is to make everybody the same.
We are not all the same and it is damaging to believe we should be. I was an advanced student. That should be a good thing, right? In reality it was horrible. Being advanced meant that I got to do the same kind of homework for weeks while the rest of the class caught up. Hours worth of busy work, no challenge except to keep from turning my homework into paper airplanes and sailing them out the classroom door. In the beginning I loved school. By the time I graduated I was skipping more days than I attended. Of course, I was advanced so I manipulated the system so that most of the skipped days were school excused, but the reality is that I attended only 80 days of my senior year. Imagine how much better a student, and how much better a work ethic, would have been developed in an environment that rewarded individuality and provided constant challenge and opportunity for growth.
The school system (at least around here) is broken. It's not the fault of the teachers. They do an amazing job within the guidelines they're given. I believe that each and every person I've encountered in the Nampa School District truly cares about my child and wants to help him. I also believe that if they do get to help him become "more like his typical peers" they'll break him. There's an underlying belief that if we can just get everybody to the same level of (insert something here) the world will be a shiny, happy place and we'll all live happily ever after.
My son is different. He thinks at a different rate of speed, in different directions, and about different subjects than his "typical peers." Different isn't bad. It isn't even less than optimal. It's just different. He isn't broken, we don't need to fix him. We just need to help him learn. Amazingly, spontaneous self-development occurs when you allow a child to pursue his own interests in an environment that's supportive and rich in stimuli. Who would've thought it?
My grandfather, mother, and I are all scientists by education. By trade I'm a mother and dog person. By trade my mother is a microbiologist and my grandfather was a leader in the field of micology and forest pathology. I keep hearing that America is falling behind the pack when it comes to science and math. I'm not sure what education looks like in the countries with the best outcomes in these fields (ooh! research project!!) but I bet it doesn't look like American education today.
Successful scientists question. They don't follow the pack. They are amazing problem solvers. Clear linear thinking is required to insure that the scientific process is followed (and your results are solid). Abstract leaps of logic are required to tackle problems that no one has ever solved before. Einstein was not a normal student. Luckily he found good mentors who helped him in his education while he was still very young. It wasn't the school system that developed Albert's mind and love and learning. It was that amazing ideal espoused by Maria Montessori, spontaneous self-development. What if Einstein were "helped" to fit in better with his peers? Would he have followed the incredible road that led to his many discoveries in the realm of physics? Or would he have worked harder to learn basketball, to dress, and act, and talk like the other kids in his class? Would he have accepted that his classmates were his peers? Or would he have continued his quest for information and understanding that allowed him to meet his true peers?
Conformity makes it easier for those in charge to stay in control. In a school system that lacks parental involvement (even though the school welcomes parents, most don't visit regularly) the teachers either need a new method for teaching or they need the majority of the students to be somewhat similiar in learning styles and needs. Heaven forbid we shake the system up enough to try something like Maria Montessori's education model. A world without grades, the sky would fall!