This week we led a discussion group on the cultural differences between Montessori and mainstream schooling (in particular primary school). Culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterise members of an organization and define its nature.
What was the culture you remember of your own school experience? Think back.... Most parents in the group recounted values such as compliance, obedience and conformity. In contrast, the beliefs of Montessori East are child centred and the child is truly leading their learning versus being in a controlling environment. We place equal importance on academic and socio-emotional development.
A key difference between the two models is the attitude to the curriculum. The Montessori curriculum provides a three year pathway at each stage, and the child moves through the curriculum according to their individual progress rather than moving along as an annual group in the mainstream model. The Montessori child maintains a connection with the curriculum, like moving along a rope of which they never let go. They can see what lays ahead and what they have accomplished. We support the child in setting the right pace for their learning so that they are sufficiently challenged yet not overwhelmed. Mainstream education is trying to implement more individualised teaching practices although this is difficult to achieve in the current model. The curriculum is still teacher led and it moves all children along each year.
A culture of performance is intrinsic to mainstream schools. Performance is used to measure, control and promote desired behaviours. We discussed 'how might this make the child feel about themselves and their learning?' The Montessori standard is to help each child reach their potential and to develop self-agency and service to others. Outright competition undermines this and externalises self assessment and belief. Children have a natural level of competition (to varying degrees) that they use to evaluate situations, without detriment to the efforts of others in a non-competitive Montessori classroom.
Ultimately schools should be places where learning is loved, joyous and where connections to the world are made through curiosity and discovery. Placing the child at the centre of the model is where we believe Montessori achieves it's key difference.