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Montessori: The Next 100 Years


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This presentation was given at the 2016 Montessori Early Childhood Education conference in Brisbane. It explores trends in the education landscape and the implications for Montessori.

Slides have been uploaded with presenter's notes.

Published in: Education
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Montessori: The Next 100 Years

  1. 1. We need to recognise that our idea of ‘children’ and ‘childhood’ is specific to our cultural moment. In the past, childhood has been seen very differently - often with much less distinction between it and adulthood. There was much less recognition of the unique developmental period that is childhood, and young people were expected to work at what we consider to be ridiculously young ages, they were betrothed, and in some cases they even came to power. This is Edward VI, King of England from 1547. Edward become king at the age of 10.
  2. 2. This began to change in the early nineteenth century. People like philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and educator Johann Pestalozzi are credited with some of the earliest modern writing on the subject - specifically, Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ which was published in 1832 was provocative in his description of the nature of childhood and the experience of learning in a natural setting. The work remains a inspiration to many alternative educators today.
  3. 3. If we want to look at the beginning of modern early childhood education, we start in a few different quite obscure places. As far back as 1779 a daytime child care service was started in Strasbourg on the border of France and Germany, but very little is known about it. A little later, we find ourselves in Scotland, where a young Welsh mill manager by the name of Robert Owen (who, typically of the age had finished school at ten) falls in love with Caroline Dale, the daughter of the owner of a New Lanark Mill and convinces his parents to buy the it around 1810.
  4. 4. When I hear ‘mill’ it conjures up an mental image more or less like this. We need to remember that by this time the industrial revolution is getting into full swing. But we won’t have an internal combustion engine until 1860. And electricity isn’t going to be around until 1879. Making hydrokinetic power state of the art. One of the problems with this kind of power is that it’s difficult to transport - you essentially have to come to it.
  5. 5. The mill was operated by essentially a small town of about 2,000 people including 500 children. Owen was appalled at the way they were treated and set about remaking the Mill and it’s township as a benevolent socialist dictatorship. Over time, Owen brought in fairer pay, better hours (8 hours work, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest), phased out child labour and a introduced host of other progressive ideas - and the mills were seen as a model society, visited by various interested people over the years, including Nicolas I, Tsar of Russia. One of the most interesting things Owen created was the Institution for the Formation of Character, opened in 1816. The Institution offered all families at the mill free infant education, funded by the mill-owned Village Store. Someone later wrote “No corporal punishment was to be administered, no harsh words were to be uttered by the teachers and the children were not to be ‘annoyed with books’. The young were encouraged to ask questions when their curiosity was aroused and, above all, they were to be happy. There were no prizes or punishments.”
  6. 6. Around the same time, other infants schools were being started with less progressive pedagogy. Samuel Widerspin - an advocate of social justice and the education of the poor - opened the first of many in England in 1819. In Hungary in 1828, Countess Brunswick opened the first of eleven Angyalkert (angel gardens) to care for the children of the noble and middle classes. And In Germany, a young man by the name of Freidrich Froebel was beginning to develop a philosophy to childhood education, drawing on the work of Pestalozzi. Core to his philosophy was the belief that children have unique needs and capabilities, and can best learn those things for which they are ready.
  7. 7. One of Froebel’s innovations was the tasks the children engaged in at his schools, and the materials they used. He called these his Gifts and Occupations, each a sequence of ten elements, associated with the developing skills of the child. The ten Occupations included origami, drawing and embroidery. The ten Gifts are shown here.
  8. 8. Froebel’s Gift Number 1 Yarn balls - exploring colour
  9. 9. Froebel’s Gift Number 3 2x2x2 blocks, exploring number
  10. 10. Froebel’s Gift Number 10 - Points Seeds or pebbles were popular for this gift because they reinforced the connection with nature. Froebel saw the power of learning through play, and the importance of physical movement. He advocated a prepared classroom environment in which the teacher is a guide - he used the metaphor of teachers as ‘gardeners of potential’. Continuing the metaphor, Froebel created his first ‘Kindergarten’ (children’s garden) in 1837. The model was brought to America by a german educator Margarethe Schurz in 1856, which inspired Elizabeth Peabody to open the first English language Kindergarten in 1860.
  11. 11. The trajectory of ‘mainstream’ childhood education in the UK, US and Australia can be charted from this point. This growing awareness of childhood as a discrete and important life stage led Swedish feminist author Ellen Key to write the influential book ‘The Century of the Child’ in 1900. She advocated the universal right to childhood. She believed that teachers should be mentors, not supervisors. And she felt that school was not primarily an exponent of society's rules and morality, but a way of creating individuals who can build a better society.
  12. 12. As The Century of the Child is published, we might cast our focus over the Atlantic to Italy and Maria Montessori. After working for some time with special needs children, by 1907 she has opened the Children's House in the slums of Rome. She collaborates with Alice Franchetti to develop Method Franchetti-Montessori, an unusually scientific pedagogy of the time, with Franchetti’s name being removed by the antisemitic fascist regime that would result in Montessori leaving for America. After a brief period of growth, interest in the Method in America wanes, particularly after the critical pamphlet ‘The Montessori System Examined’ is published by 1914. Back in Eurpoe the AMI is establishment 1929 but it’s not until another thirty years have passed that the American movement is revived, and the US chapter of the AMI is founded in 1960 and an article in TIME magazine in 1961 helps the Montessori movement gain the inertia that leads to its widespread presence today. In 1963, a rift leads to fragmentation between the more conservative AMI and the more progressive AMS. In 1967 the patent of the name
  13. 13. While much more is often made of the similarities than is fair, it is important to recognise Rudolph Steiner as another contemporary looking at more progressive childhood education. He wrote ‘The Education of the Child’ in 1907, the year Dr. Montessori opened the Children’s House. He established a school for children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in southwestern Germany in 1920, and in 1922 presented his ideas at Oxford University. Inspired by this, British ‘Waldorf Schools’ began to appear. There are now more than about a thousand Steiner or Waldorf schools worldwide.
  14. 14. It’s important to note that Montessori and Steiner were not the only educational innovators of the time. Similarly to Montessori, Charlotte Mason based her pedagogy on science - specifically on the brain research of the time. Establishing the National House of Education in Britain in 1891 and writing many books on education through until 1923 she has significant influence on early childhood education. She was children as capable, unlike much of the common ideology. Rather than text books, she focused on authentic texts - which for her meant the classics. She advocated a non-structured environment, and engaging with nature.
  15. 15. With work across many disciplines, John Dewey’s influence on education was primarily through his writings such as ‘The Child and the Curriculum’ (written in 1902) and the University of Chicago Lab School which he founded in 1896. Again, his approach to educational innovation was a scientific one, and he advocated for a more child- centred philosophy, a more holistic approach to the learner, and more experiential learning activities. Echoes of Dewey’s work can be seen today integrated into mainstream contemporary schooling, such as project based learning.
  16. 16. While all this was happening in Europe and America, Australia wasn’t far behind. In August of 1895, a meeting of kindergarten enthusiasts (after Froebel) was held in Sydney, and those present formed The Kindergarten Union. They were led by the well known feminist and educator Maybanke Anderson, and were the genesis for to growth of early childhood learning in Australia. Early childhood care and education was then really two streams - kindergartens (with an ambition toward social justice reform) and ‘day nurseries’ (supporting working mothers). Both were generally operated as philanthropy. After the second world war, the middle class became interested in kindergartens - which were referred to as preschools and often parent- run. In the 60s and 70s the government began to play a more active role in providing some level of service - and at a federal level we got the Child Care Act of 1972. The sector has continued to grow, with variously more or less
  17. 17. While these forces may not necessarily be focused on early childhood, what we are seeing is a ‘trickle down’ - from considerations about the economy and the workforce, down into tertiary education, then secondary, then primary, and increasingly people are asking questions and making policy suggestions in early childhood based on what is flowing down from a macro level.
  18. 18. Two conflicting forces. Neoliberal generally external, top down, neoprogressive ‘from the inside out’, driven by educators.
  19. 19. Political shift, closely linked to economic theory propounded by economists such as Milton Freidman and Freidrich Hayek. Key proponents were Margaret Thatcher, British PM 1979-1990 Ronald Reagan, American President 1981-1989 John Howard, Australian PM 1996-2007 …though a lot of the groundwork was laid by reforms introduced in the Hawke/Keating years preceding (1983-1996) Neoliberalism takes it name from the importance it places on freedom - in this case economic freedom, that is the belief that an unconstrained market is the best approach to capitalism. Key aspects include smaller government, privatization, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.
  20. 20. So how has the neoliberal agenda affected education? School focus on contributing toward economic success through delivery of skilled workers Education as a commercial product - students (or parents) as consumers Market competition and ‘consumer choice’ Privatisation of education Focus on efficiency and productivity Performance culture, assessment regimes and high-stakes testing (NAPLAN) Importance of international rankings (PISA) Neoliberalism is a broad cultural shift that is being brought to bear on education - as well as lots of other industries. It is essentially an external force.
  21. 21. At the same time, there is another force at play - one which is coming much more from within… the voices are those of educators and academics in the field of education. This force has significant similarities to the progressive education movement in America in the mid 20th century - but has moved on enough that we might call it neoprogressivism.
  22. 22. Once of the challenges in talking about neoprogressivism is that it is not a single, well defined movement. It is made up of many voices, not always in alignment. To do it justice, we are going to hear from five of those voices - to see the similarities and some of the differences in the rich discourse that makes up neoprogressivism.
  23. 23. Ken Robinson Education academic - He was Dr Ken before he was Sir Ken Director of Arts in Schools Project 1985-88 All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (led UK commission 1998) Schools Kill Creativity (2007), most watched TED talk Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education (2015)
  24. 24. Alfie Kohn Author in US No Contest: The Case Against Competition 1986 Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes 1993 Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community 1996 The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards" 1999 The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools 2000
  25. 25. Yong Zhao Executive Director of US-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students 2012 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World 2014 Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes 2015
  26. 26. Rafe Esquith Teacher in California, at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles. Member of the Order of the British Empire. Subject of the movie “The Hobart Shakespeareans” - annual outside of class project to stage a full Shakespearean production, including live contemporary musical numbers and dance routines. Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire 2007 Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: "No Retreat, No Surrender!" 2013
  27. 27. Tom Hobson (Teacher Tom) 15 years as early years Teacher at the Woodland Park Cooperative School in Seattle Social media following of over 50,000
  28. 28. It’s important to realise that it’s not only lone advocates who make up the neoprogressive movement. At a much more corporate level, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning is a collaboration of organisations including Apple, Disney, Ford, and LEGO. One of the key outputs they have produced is a definition of key learning skills for the 21st century.
  29. 29. And here in Australia, we are bringing in ideas like these. The Department of Education is actively championing the importance of these 21st century skills - but there is still a real gap in terms of how classroom pedagogy is contributing to these skills.
  30. 30. So education is experiencing two very significant and conflicting forces for change - and teachers are stick in the middle.
  31. 31. Childcare is expensive, in high demand, with limited supply. This is the discourse we read about in the papers - difficulty getting places, high fees. This only increases as; -  more women go back to work, and do so earlier -  there is increasing awareness of possible benefits of early childhood education -  providers are subject to increasing quality control
  32. 32. In Sweden, the child Crèche, designed to keep poor children off the streets, and the Kindergarten, to educate wealthy children, merged and expanded in the 1970s and 1980s. The result is heavily publicly subsidised EDUCARE. 83% aged 1-6 96% aged 3-6 Typically, fees are 2-3% of family income for first child, then decreases for further children. Maximum fee of about AU$200 per month. All of which make Sweden an interesting source of inspiration for the UK and Australia.
  33. 33. We need to recognise that suddenly we have a generation of devices which are intuitive and engaging for young and particularly pre-literate children.
  34. 34. There is an unbelievable amount of content - some terrible, some brilliant. Lots is user generated, breaking conventions of media production and consumption.
  35. 35. The are a huge range of custom apps - again huge variety of quality. We need to understand the challenge of navigating possibility - both for teachers and parents.
  36. 36. The Maker movement offers opportunities for deconstructing technology - and acting as creators rather than simply consuming technology.
  37. 37. Technology is also key in the ongoing discourse around the management of children. Fujitsu are promoting wearable devices that monitor not only the location but also the biometrics (pulse, breathing rate), reinforcing ideas of a risk society and a culture of fear.
  38. 38. New learnings in neuropsychology, molecular biology, cognitive science Let’s just touch on three important recent streams of thoughts.
  39. 39. Rather than appearing as complete and fully functional, we now know that brains are biologically built over time, from the bottom up. Early experiences affect the quality of that architecture by establishing either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health and behavior that follow. Sensory pathways like those for basic vision and hearing are the first to develop in the first year, followed by early language skills and higher cognitive functions. We know that plasticity of the brain is reduced over time. Early plasticity means it’s easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain architecture than to try and rewire parts of its circuitry in the adult years.
  40. 40. We have neurological evidence that brain development requires interaction with caregivers - that we build capacity through ‘serve and return’ experiences. We know that our broader emotional environment is also critical. While some ‘positive’ short term stress is important - and in fact necessary - chronic stress can be toxic to the developing brain.
  41. 41. And neuropsychologists increasingly realise how highly interrelated the brain is as an organ. How much its multiple functions operate in a richly coordinated fashion. From a neurological perspective we have evidence that our early motional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities. And we acknowledge that the emotional and physical health, social skills, and cognitive-linguistic capacities that emerge in the early years are all important prerequisites for success in school and later in the workplace and community.
  42. 42. We need to recognise and understand the changes in social expectations of early childhood services - particularly in the years immediately preceding school.
  43. 43. The pressure to succeed at school - for reasons ranging from getting a good job to simply satisfying social norms - continue to increase. We talked about trickle-down earlier … we are seeing these pressures trickle down into expectations of early childhood centres.
  44. 44. Increasingly, when talking about Montessori and Steiner as ‘alternative education approaches’, Reggio is seen as the new kid on the block.
  45. 45. I’m not going to go into detail about Reggio as I’m assuming many of you will be very familiar with it. Suffice to say, Reggio is a movement emerging in the 1940s, out of Italy. Very community driven, which has led to a much less centralised, less personality driven - if we are looking for a figure like Maria Montessori or Rudolph Steiner then we find Loris Malaguzzi, but he played a different role in the emergence of Reggio. Like Montessori, Reggio is play based, very conscious of the environment, very student directed. Differences include parents and the community often playing a more active role in the classroom, the absence of specifically designed materials. and training.
  46. 46. In Australia, many of the growing number of premium child care offerings are drawing heavily on Reggio - either explicitly or implicitly. Only About Children - one of the larger more aggressively growing premium networks - uses Reggio both as an underpinning pedagogy, and as a way to style environments that are very appealing to more progressive well off parents. Echoes of not only Reggio, but also Steiner and Montessori in the approach of Only About Children. And that’s not uncommon in the more premium offerings, targeting well off, well educated parents.
  47. 47. These radically outdoor early childhood environments started appearing in the middle of last century, in Denmark and then in Sweden. In the sixties the idea spread to Germany where the term Waldkindergarten was coined around 1968. They were officially recognised as a format for day care in 1993, and by 2005 there were over 450 across Germany. 2005 saw the first service of this kind opening in the UK, and then three years later in the US.
  48. 48. Looking at the National Quality Standards here in Australia, we read that “Outdoor spaces with plants, trees, rocks, mud and water invite open ended interactions, spontaneity, risk taking and a connection with nature”, which feels quite aligned with this type of approach. We also have plenty of bush! It is perhaps surprising then that there has only been one flirtation with the model - in Melbourne where Wesgarth Kindergarten started a ‘Bush Kinder’ program in 2011. “No toys, No tools, No art supplies. The children and adults benefit from using only what nature has provided.” After enjoying some initial coverage back in 2011, nothing further has been heard of Bush Kinder.
  49. 49. There is a new focus on quality in Early Childhood, as part of a growing professionalisation of the sector - a sector that many have thought of in the past as ‘babysitting’.
  50. 50. The Early Years Learning Framework is an astonishingly progressive and aspirational document - given that it’s a government document, and given the state of play in the average Australian Daycare Centre.
  51. 51. This is my son Jem. He’s four - older of two boys. Now it probably doesn’t surprise you that I was pretty picky about where he went for preschool this year.
  52. 52. Marrickville Council operates a number of public day care and preschool centres. Jen attends Globe Wilkins Preschool - it is one of 44 services in Australia rated as excellent by ACECQA - so it gives us a good insight into best practice within a mainstream setting.
  53. 53. This is Wilkins Green, a space shared with the primary school for gardening and raising chickens.
  54. 54. Here’s Jem - note the Reggio light table on the left. There are three rooms and an outdoor area. After arriving at their ‘home room’ in the morning, the children are free to move around the space at will (weather permitting). As with other Marrickville Council centres, groups are mixed age. Student can choose activity offered throughout the day by teachers The day is divided up by meal and rest periods (for those children still napping), but other than that students pursue activities uninterrupted. There is limited direct instruction, with a focus on exploration, discovery and constructivist learning. Staff are trained early childhood teachers.