Montessori as a movement
Montessori is several things:
A soup-to-nuts method of early childhood education
A philosophy of human development, one with potential application wider than actual soup-to-nuts implementation methods that exist
An untrademarked brand, the prestige of which can be claimed by most anyone
#1 is the thing that has the most awareness. #2 is the thing that is most revolutionary, and is of particular interest to us here at Montessorium.
#3 is thought of mostly as a dilution risk, but it also brings us into an important #4, which is that Montessori is a social movement. The debate about branding overlaps about a century-old debate about what Montessori means and should mean.
The Montessori movement is a movement of the “philosophical”, “grassroots”, “extra-academic”, and “charismatic founder” subtypes. So it shouldn’t be surprising to students of such movements that it has factions: there’s the more dogmatic originalist wing; there’s the more pragmatic progressive wing; and there’s a large constellation of people (including us) who feel frustrated by these wings and try to navigate them independently. The frustration is sustained by the fact that the Montessori movement has historically had and continues to have immense practical and intellectual value; one can’t opt out of the frustrating parts without opting out of the valuable parts.
For people in this constellation, I highly recommend Don Watkin’s essay How To Choose a Cognitive Subculture: A Guide for Non-Cranks. It’s not about Montessori, but its lessons will apply very directly to the most thoughtful people—the goal of the essay is to enable that thoughtfulness—who are in or adjacent to the Montessori movement.
History is always helpful, and it’s especially helpful in contextualizing intellectual movements. Kerry Ellard wrote this week about the late-1950s Montessori Revival, and she’s written earlier on her initial reception in the US. It’s fascinating how (a) much of the mid-century revival was enabled by financing changes, (b) that it was rebranded as progressive education in some corners, and (c) that in other corners it was seen as attractive because for “conservative” reasons of being more homey and established.
Other weekend reads:
Dr. Becky Doesn’t Think the Goal of Parenting Is to Make Your Kid Happy (interview) — David Marchese interviewed Dr. Becky (clinical psychologist, parenting Guru) this past November. I have a quibble—actually, a major objection—to the implicated definition of “happiness” as perpetual satisfaction without distress. But there’s so much good in the interview that it’s still very much worth reading. In general, parenting is an area where we have failed to figure out both how to give substantive guidance and to not guilt people. Usually you have to pick one.
Andrew Gutmann and Paul Rossi’s reporting in the WSJ on the NAIS DEI apparatus (the “woke indoctrination machine”) is harrowing. The moral panic around race has mostly subsided as of late, but its continued persistence in elite education spaces is just one indicator that this quiet is transient.
Last but certainly not least, I am going to shamelessly plug my appearance on the Increments podcast. Ben Chugg and Vaden Masrani interviewed me about Montessori. It’s unusually wide-ranging and, I think, there emerges an unusually clear picture of what Montessori is and why it matters. It’s by far my favorite out of my own podcast appearances, so go check it out.