An article from 2000

When I was still a teacher, a small group of us decided to reignite the Montessori Association of Colorado (MAC). We managed to get out one small publication and host a conference before enthusiasm fizzled and many of us went on to other endeavors.

I still have that little publication from 2000 and came across it the other day. In re-reading my article, I noted several things. One, it’s where I see my first musings that would later lead me to getting a Master’s in Information & Learning Technologies, focusing on 21st century classrooms, incorporating modern tools into my instruction…everything that led me to where I am today.

I also noted, with frustration, that we are still having the same conversations eleven years later. Does this mean that I’m going to come across one of my more recent publications in the year 2022 and see the same issues? I most certainly hope not.

In the meantime, here is the article as published in November of 2000. To put this year in perspective: I had just purchased my first cell phone and laptop that summer. The three computers I had in my classroom were the Apple “candy” colored desktops. No one had ever heard of an iPod, a PLN, or wikis. I see imperfections in some of my thinking, but I can also see seeds of what would grow into my love of networking with other educators and helping students to think deeply rather than look up facts. (You can also see evidence that I was really into Jared Diamond’s work at the time.)

Montessori for the 21st Century: The Changing Face of Montessori

by Elizabeth A. Ross

It’s common knowledge when discussing the development of a species…

It’s often a driving statement behind the restructuring of a business…

It is true of any machine, life form, or philosophy…

That which does not evolve eventually dies.

Many Montessorians, as of late, have had to struggle with this phenomenon. In this age of research, technology, and more quickly changing societies, when students are having to learn more information at an increasing speed, we find ourselves sometimes having to make tough decisions. Should I focus more on keyboarding skills? How much time should I spend teaching test-taking strategies? How soon should children be proficient at using a CD-ROM and the Web? With an already-full curriculum, what are we willing to sacrifice for these added units?

I guiltily find myself asking: Is knowledge of facts now as important as being able to independently find the answers when needed? I seems that, as some point, one has to stop memorizing and begin learning reference material.

Life coach Martha Beck recently wrote in the September issue of Real Simple magazine: “Consider…that there’s more information in one daily edition of The New York Times than the average 18-century person would have consumed in a lifetime.”

Not only is there more to know now, but the profile of a typical Montessori student has shifted incredibly since its beginning. Maria Montessori shaped her philosophy and materials based upon observations of inner-city, underprivileged children in the 1800s. While children share many commonalities throughout ages, cultures, and socioeconomic circumstances, most children educated in the Montessori tradition today come from middle- to upper-class homes. They have been reared by well-educated parents. They have been entertained by TV, the Web, and various electronics. They are generally well-traveled and have a vast knowledge of the world at a very early age. Can we compete and hold these children’s interest with traditional Montessori? (Incidentally, many Charter Schools and Head Start programs are thankfully making Montessori available to children of all backgrounds. Montessorians are so grateful to finally see such a wonderful program offered to everyone.)

Even within my own 6-9 classroom, I’m seeing changes. By the third grade, gone is the interest in using the Stamp Game or learning plant nomenclature. The children make mental leaps earlier and earlier with each passing year. Sadly, things that glitter and move hold much more of an interest than those beloved green, blue, and red tiles. A child will not necessarily get exposure to every wonderful material Montessori has to offer. Now, to keep from boring the learner, I have to quickly move on once a concept is understood.

What’s a Montessorian to do? I believe the first step is finding others who are sharing these frustrations. Knowledge that others are feeling torn between what we were taught as fundamental in our training and answering the twenty-first century’s educational demands would be a great relief. From that point, sharing ideas is a must. Montessori must undergo some changes, but we need to be able to also hold on to what makes Montessori education the beauty that it is. This also filters into training centers: do they keep the training pure or must they, too, revolutionize? How many changes are too many changes? When is Montessori no longer Montessori?

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