Montessori Education: High School, College
We are happy to publish this guest post by Christy Bell:
"I have to tell you about my own kids and why I think Montessori education is so important for individuals and our country. Like all people, my two children have very different personalities. When they were in the 3-6 classroom, a teacher once mentioned to me that one always speaks for the other. She wasn’t concerned and neither was I. It was just an observation and, frankly, I was glad they were close enough in age to be in the same class because if somebody was going to speak for my son it may as well be his brother who loved him. They thrived in their 6-9 and 9-12 classrooms as time progressed. They were curious, they respected others, they enjoyed school, and people were stunned at the high level they (and their classmates) worked. At that time we lived in Boca Raton, Florida. We had moved there from Wichita, KS to open a business with family. That business was not to succeed and as a family we had decisions to make. My children were entering teenage years and we all (my sister and her husband, my parents, myself and my husband, and my Grandmother) started talking what would come next. As a group we decided that Boca was not where we wanted to raise teens. At the time I thought I wanted my kids to have a traditional education experience prior to college. Plus, if you have ever been to Boca you might know that it doesn’t provide a very clear picture of the “real world”; not much diversity either culturally or socio-economically. We found a smaller town with more Midwestern values and believed we would be happy with the educational options. So, we moved. I would say that middle school probably isn’t the best time to make such a move. Off to traditional middle school my boys went. My younger son came home announcing how cool it was; he me about how easy it was to just look at a book and then write answers down. He loved how quickly he could do schoolwork and then move on to things that interested him. My older son bristled at the ridiculousness of the waste of time, but also finished busy work quickly and then went on to read about things of more interest to him.
After several weeks, they both requested to home school. I asked them if they would be willing to finish out the semester, make some friends, and work within “the system” and they both agreed. I told that home schooling would be ok with me until high school. Because I am not a very meticulous record keeper, I wasn’t comfortable with what the potential outcomes as far as college applications would be if they homeschooled for high school. Plus, I believe education is more than just academics, and I wanted them to have the choices to participate in sports or arts or music, dances, and all the social learning which occurs in a high school environment. So, middle school was at home. It was a joyous opportunity for me and they benefitted as well. Our local home school group was primarily a religious group, which didn’t fit our needs or desires, so we found other social options. We followed the same curriculum used by the Montessori school the boys had attended and I worked at in Boca. The owner of that school had provided the first training in the United States for 12-18 teachers and he was very happy to answer questions for me by phone. We were very fortunate.
Middle school flew by with no standardized tests grades and none of the typical behavior issues one so commonly sees in traditional middle school settings. Part of our daily routine included watching Dawson’s Creek. We ended up watching all of the seasons produced about three times. To this day, almost a decade later, certain songs will play on the radio and I am immediately transported back to that time. :-) Dawson’s Creek was our break from studies, our clean up time (during commercials; hurry hurry get the trash to the curb so we can see what happens with Pacey and Joey!) and our exploration of teenage social structure, our conversation starters about topics including dating and sex and drinking. And the boys and I learned. We learned about science and algebra and writing. We read about history and we studied their own history while reading and researching Ellis Island and found their great grandfather’s signature when he entered the United States. Science, being my own weak area, was often Discovery Channel followed by research. Interestingly enough, they both ended up strong in the sciences. We volunteered in the community and we exercised and participated in sports.
Then high school time came. They had a lot to learn. Calling teachers by Mr or Mrs and not being able to create their own curriculum was difficult. Boredom was the word of most days, academically. They did continue to thrive. They took with them to high school their years of Montessori and homeschooling philosophy. They would learn more than was required in their classes because they would research independently. They wouldn’t tell you that, but that is what happened. They were stunned when they had to cut out pictures and glue it to poster board. They balked when they asked teachers if they could change the assignment and the teacher said no. They were shocked that when they did math work in their head, it wasn’t counted or accepted. But they got through it. They both graduated with a class rank of 10, they were both on prom court, they were both on state championship athletic teams. They are different people with different personalities, but the statistics that generally measure students were the same outcome. High grades, high SAT scores, high FCAT scores, etc.
So, what could the problem be? Montessori followed by traditional high school and on to college. Isn’t that what should happen? College is a frickin’ nightmare. After getting through high school, where they thought they were just biding their time until they could really start learning, they now find that undergrad school is what high school should have been. They hate the educational system and most of their college friends came from traditional education high schools and have to do so much remedial work that the first couple of years of college is just that; catch up time. Students have been told what to do and how to do it and when to do it for so long, that in college it is a free for all with young adults tasting freedom with no safety nets. Young adults who don’t value education for the sake of acquiring knowledge, rather they are just trying to get the reward of the piece of paper at the end. Something is greatly amiss.
My older son will graduate this year and hasn’t bought books for 3 years. Granted, his GPA is not all that stellar, it’s fine at a 3.0, but he certainly has not gained much at college. He will graduate with double majors in business and poly-sci, and minors in chemistry, biology, and anthropology. Well rounded, I guess. But he is disgusted with school and the whole process. My younger son will graduate next year, with a business major and chemistry minor, unless he chooses to change his path over the summer. Neither young man have the slightest idea what they want to do other than be done with school. And that is fine. They will both take a gap year if they choose to do grad school. They will use the time to rekindle their passions out of an academic environment. My older son is an avid skydiver and will likely float around trying to figure out his options and work places near to where he can play in air tunnels and jump from planes. They will both be fine and find their way just like everybody else does, but I am so sad for them that college, while loads of fun, is a time just to get through. When did that happen? How did that happen?How did college become an extension of high school? The kids coming out of high school don’t know how to question or think or create or innovate. They continue wanting and needing to be spoon fed. That is how my generation has trained them. When fewer people were able to go to college, it was special. Even if a generation ago the students entering college had the same handicaps that traditional education creates, college was rare enough that the students were grateful for the opportunity.
I believe we are all fortunate that college is now more common, but because it is more a part of the norm, we really must change the way we look at educating our children in K-12. They must know how to think, not just repeat information. As we have more and more readily accessible knowledge, we must be educating people to think and create and debate. One can see in the political arena that we are producing citizens unable the think critically and compromise and find creative ways to solve problems. I just wanted to point out that the preparation our children receive goes on to impact more than just their K-12 years. The way they are prepared creates a whole culture. We are at a point in the world that education must be turned upside down so that we don’t send thousands of young adults off to a college wasteland for extended adolescence. We all want for our young adults to leave their childhood homes and be thrilled and filled with possibility! It starts with the youngest of little people!"