Friday, November 18, 2011

A High School Senior’s Tribute to Montessori

             On my first day of seventh grade, I was bewildered by the idea of sitting at a desk. Every classroom was filled with desks, carefully placed in straight, orderly rows. How strange middle school seemed, after spending ten years in a close-knit Montessori environment. The idea of a desk was fascinating and yet, disturbing – I now had my own, assigned space, but how was I expected to work with my classmates if we were separated? The desks seemed like they would hinder learning, rather than facilitate it. A strong contrast from Montessori school, this concept of desks triggered my concern with conventional education.
            At three years old, wearing an over-sized apron, I had used a yellow basin of water to determine which objects would sink or float. By seven, on my stomach with feet in the air, I had exhausted encyclopedias and organized note-cards for a research paper. I had wondered, discovered, and achieved in every physical position all over my classroom. Never had I been asked to listen to a lecture for forty-five minutes, or memorize dates, grammar rules, or names of countries for a test. Instead, I had learned the countries, capitals, and flags of the world before age eight by labeling maps with my friends.
            I have always been eager to explore and understand as much as possible about the world. I wanted to know everything, and that was that. Thoroughly researching and analyzing has always been my passion, never a chore. It was a shock to witness classmates in middle and high school complaining about homework. Advocates for the Montessori curriculum understand that it is natural for a child to enjoy learning. However, I soon realized that in conventional schools, teachers believe students need incentives to learn, like gold stars or good grades. My unconventional experience convinced me that traditional schools emphasize convergent thinking, leaving little room for creativity, exploration, and discovery.
            I have no doubt that the boy who fell asleep during physics class, and the girl who copied a few answers on the history homework were once excited by the prospect of learning. Montessori theory demonstrates that it is possible to learn effectively and still maintain an interest in the world.  Though I have often heard my classmates insist that they will never understand this or that concept, I believe that everyone possesses the ability and motivation to reach an answer. I owe my inextinguishable curiosity and views about education to my Montessori experience.
            Throughout my college search, I have sought a school that will encourage me to ask questions about so-called norms. Why do most schools suppose that children learn best when sitting at a desk? Can learning and freedom of movement not go hand in hand? While I have adapted well to conventional education and deeply respect my teachers, I often recall my Montessori education with longing. We learned by asking questions. We absorbed information by examining and analyzing. We understood that experience is not acquired behind a desk.