When I start thinking about the public school sector, and how Montessori education can compete with traditional education, I remember a cartoon that my father showed me years ago. I don’t have the original, but I have recreated it here based on my memory, and modified for this purpose.
I think that public education is key to the advancement of Montessori education. I was a product of public education, I taught secondary art in public and charter schools for 2 1/2 years, and my amazing wife taught secondary math in public schools for 7 years before we moved to Manila where she began teaching in private international schools. I know that public education is a mess, and I don’t think that the increasing government involvement is helping. Top down mandates such as No Child Left Behind might serve the short term goals of re-election campaigns but they only limit the options available to educators. (Montessori is one of those options).
As much as I believe that free education is a birthright, I must confess that I am not interested in trying to fix or save the current public education system. It is firmly rooted in traditional education principles such as testing and grading, and I think it would be much harder to renovate that system than to simply build a new one from scratch, and that is exactly what I propose.
Consider this: If you have the choice between an enormous, defunct, dilapidated, patched and repaired house, or a newer, elegant, modern, clean, energy efficient house just next door, for the same price, which would you choose?
Right, the new house. If Montessori education is offered as an alternative to traditional education, at the same public school price, I am confident that families will flock to Montessori in a matter of years. If I may extend the metaphor further, I think the Montessori movement should abandon efforts to renovate the old public school house, and apply for a building permit to make a new public school house built on Montessori principles.
The building permit would be a set of laws creating a Special Circumstance for Montessori schools in the public education system. An established set of exemptions and special regulations appropriate to Montessori education. Let me be clear, I’m not saying that Montessori should get a free pass, I believe very strongly in diligent oversight, but that oversight should be appropriate to the principles being enacted. Why should Public Montessori schools be held to the same state or district mandated curriculum goals when we have a robust and well tested curriculum of our own? Doesn’t it make more sense to hold public Montessori schools to curriculum goals based on Montessori curriculum?
In a public Montessori school a teacher shouldn’t be required to have a state teaching license from a state approved education program training in traditional education techniques. They should be required to have a state Montessori teaching license from a state approved Montessori program. Unfortunately I don’t know of any states that have a state approved Montessori program that confers a state Montessori teaching license, and that is one example of how we’re buried up to our necks. Another example is standardized testing, and the list continues.
Let me provide a more humorous example to illustrate this absurdity. What if everyone was required to obey or conform to state car driving laws whenever travelling in any vehicle? Seat belts would be mandated by law on motorcycles (just like in a car) but a crash helmet would be optional (because they are not used in a car). Currently, the laws require Montessori schools to install seat belts on their motorcycles.
Now how do we get a Special Circumstance? I don’t know. This is where my mouth has far exceeded my ability to back it up with action. I think the process involves lobbying politicians, maybe even writing a draft of the law (just like big special interest groups such as the health care industry). I don’t know how to do those things. I wish I had a better plan, and I’ll keep thinking about it. If you think of anything, let me know.