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What is the difference between Montessori's educational philosophy and other American Progressive educators like Dewey?
Dewey:American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose thoughts and ideas have been greatly influential in the United States and around the world
Although by today's standards many people would consider Montessori a progressive educator, she was not considered one in her time. One of her biggest critics was the American philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey. He had many criticisms of the Montessori philosophy. The most common ones were:
Dewey did not like Montessori's teachng of reading. He felt that children should not be taught to read until 8. Montessori believed children should be taught to read when they were individually ready for it, usually beginning around the age of 4 or 5.
Dewey believed in the "look-say" method of teaching reading, the predecessor to "Whole Language". Montessori believed in phonics.
Dewey believed that children should be allowed to do whatever they want with whatever they had, so they could build a house with math blocks, or pretend that books were cars. Montessori believed that her materials were designed for specific purposes and needed to be used for those specific purposes. Moreover, by allowing children to "play" with the materials, you lessoned the impact of the academics of the academics that they were designed to impart.
Dewey believed that the Montessori Method was too restrictive and stifled creativity. However, he did agree with Montessori that the needs of the individual should direct their education and that the teachr was a guide that moved each child through this process.
Kilpatrick: US pedagogue and pupil, colleague and successor of John Dewey
In 1913 Kilpatrick went to Italy to meet Montessori and observe her schools. After visiting several schools he met with her, but the meeting did not go well. Kilpatrick let it be known that he was dismayed with what he perceived as Montessori's lack of knowledge on the issues of formal discipline as well as her beliefs on memory, reasoning, and sensory discrimination. .
After this short meeting, Kilpatrick visited several more Montessori schools on his own, learning about the Method through his own observations rather than from Dr. Montessori herself. Upon returning to America, he lectured on what he had observed.
Although many important public figures of the time were praising Montessori’s work, Kilpatrick was highly critical. Through his lectures and 71-page dissertation entitled The Montessori System Examined, he denounced the method and philosophy. In fact many students of educational philosophy believe that The Montessori System Examined is one of the main reasons that Montessori Education did not have a strong toe hole in the American Education System until recently. Many also believe that his work is also partly to blame for many of the misguided myths that still persist to this day.
Although Kilpatrick commended Montessori on her ideas of child liberty and discipline, his criticisms were many. Among the most prevalent were:
Kilpatrick claimed that Montessori’s concept of child development was “inadequate and misleading” he believed her educational views had been created through unscientific observation and note taking
He insisted that the “three R’s” should not be taught before age six.
He argued that her teaching of arithmetic had little or no use in America.
He was upset with the lack of group work and instruction in her schools, feeling that there was more need for social cooperation.
He believed that Montessori discouraged play of all kind in her classrooms..
Kilpatrick alleged that Montessori’s didactic materials, although strongly attractive and compelling to children, were very remote from their social interests and lacked a connection to anything relevant in the child’s life. He also felt that Montessori’s insistence that these materials be used only for the intent in which they were designed stifled creativity, and that their self-correcting features were too rigorous and closed.
Kilpatrick did approve of the Practical Life activities, asserting that they “offer expression to a side of the child’s nature too often left unsatisfied,” and that “To do something that counts in real life, not simply in the play world, is frequently one of the keenest pleasures to a child,”
Froebel: Founder of Kindergarten
There are many beliefs in common between Montessori’s and Froebel’s education philosophies.
Both believe in the child's right to be active, explore and develop their own knowledge through investigation.
Both see activity as a guide to education and do not believe in repressing it.
Both believe the environment cannot create a human being , but it does give them scope and material, direction, and purpose.
Both believe that it is the teacher's task is nurture, assist, watch, encourage, guide, and induce, rather than to interfere, prescribe, or restrict.
It is in the practical application of their beliefs that we see the actual difference between Montessori’s and Froebel’s philosophies. Montessori children spend most of their time working with materials under the individual guidance of the directress, while kindergarten children are usually engaged in group work or games with an imaginative background and appeal.
Other similarities in the philosophies that are manifested differently in actual implementation are:
Both agree on needing to train the senses, but Montessori's curriculum is more elaborate and direct than Froebel's. Using Séguin's apparatus as a guide she developed materials that teach sensory discriminating through steps and repeated exercises. Froebel on the other hand designed a series of objects (Called "The Gifts" or "Occupations") for creative use, but these materials were not designed specifically for or adapted to the training of sensory discrimination. Instead, sense training can be a side effect of the activity in which they are used.
Both systems believe in the need for free bodily activity, rhythmic exercises, and the development of muscular control; but Froebel’s philosophy seeks much of this through group games with an imaginative or social content, while the Montessori philosophy places the emphasis on special exercises designed to give formal training in separate physical functions.
Both philosophies believe in teaching children social skills and empathy. In Froebelian philosophy this training is done primarily through imaginative and symbolic group games. (For example the children play at being farmers, mothers and fathers, birds, animals, knights, or soldiers; they sing songs, go through certain semi-dramatic activities–such as "mowing the grass," "a bird looking for seeds," with each child acting out his part. The social training involved in these games is formal only in the sense that the children are not engaged in an actual activity. In the Montessori philosophy children often are in a real social situations, such as that of serving dinner, cleaning the room, caring for animals, building a toy house, or making a garden.I must state here, that this is one of the main places the Montessori philosophy’s refrain from fantasy comes from. Many of her comments on fantasy were in regard to Froebels’s teacher directed fantasy play.
Both philosophers created manipulatives for their students to use. The Froebelian “gifts” concretely reveal of the concepts of whole and part, through the creation of wholes from parts, and the breaking apart of wholes into parts. Although this material was designed for this purpose, it may also used for counting and any number of things that the child can vision. In contrast the Montessori manipulatives were designed for specific purposes and Montessori herself professed her belief that they needed to be used for those specific purposes only. She believed that by allowing children to “play” with the materials, you lessoned the impact of the academics they were designed to impart.
Neill: Founder of Summerhill Education
Since both Montessori and Neill spoke about personal freedom and choice being two of the most important aspects for a child’s upbringing, the two philosophies are often confused, not only by the general population, but also by many adults in the field of education. In my experience, the confusion of the beliefs of these two educators has influenced and hurt the perception of Montessori education in the general populace's psyche more than anything else.
Although there are great similarities in their beliefs, tNeil was a fierce adversary of Montessori. He believed her to be overly scientific and moralistic in her beliefs and approach.
Besides personal freedom, the two philosophies have several other features in common;
Both value the uniqueness and integrity of the child as a person, and of childhood as a state of being.
Both value the child as a whole person, one with developing abilities in the physical, the social, the mental and the emotional realms.
Both believe that the child grows through active engagement with the environment, and that the role of the adult as mentor and model can not be overstated
there are also great differences, especially in the organization of their classrooms and the imparting of knowledge.
Neill believed that the happiness of the child should be the overriding consideration in decisions about a child's upbringing and education. He believed that this happiness grew from a sense of personal freedom in the child. Therefore Summerhill, Neill’s school, is run democratically with meetings held to determine school rules. Pupils have the same voting rights as the school staff. Additionally, classes at Summerhill are not mandatory; attendance is optional. Neil believed the students in these classes learned more quickly, and deeply, because they were learning by choice, not compulsion.
Montessori on the other hand believed that children needed to learn how to make good choices so that they could work in freedom. “To let a child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.” she states. “No one can be free unless he is independent: therefore, the first, active manifestations of the child's individual liberty must be so guided that through this activity he may arrive at independence.” In a Montessori classroom students have the freedom to make choices, but it is within limits. More so, it is the teachers’ responsibility to teach children how to make good choices so that they can learn to be independent.
Neill believed that when, or if, a child was ready, he would learn. No special apparatus or adaptation of the curriculum was needed. If he didn’t want to learn, he wouldn’t learn. No special apparatus or adaptation would help. In fact he believed the Montessori manipulatives at best to be worthless, at worse to be sugar coated coercion.
Montessori, on the other hand believed that children were individuals who did not learn in the same way or pace. This belief led to her invention of the Montessori manipulative materials. With these materials, a certain concept could be presented in a multitude of ways to spark the child’s interest in learning, then the child could use them on their own to discover, reinforce and practice a concept the exact number of times they personally needed for mastery.
Neill believed that externally imposed discipline prevented internal, self-discipline from developing. He therefore believed that children who attended Summerhill were more likely to emerge with better-developed critical thinking skills and greater self-discipline than children educated in traditional schools.
Montessori also shunned external rewards and punishments, for the same reason, but as opposed to Neill allowing children to do as they please with the belief that they would consciously or subconsciously learn from their mistakes, she professed helping a child learn how to appropriately meet needs rather than disciplining through the use of rewards and punishments.
Neill felt that the adult should be involved in the students’ life as little as possible. In Summerhill schools the adult remains outside the child’s life until asked for help by the child. It is then the adults’ responsibility to impart the information, help, or comfort until the child is not interested any longer and then to once again retreat. “The role of the teacher is to facilitate, to stand aside, and to intervene only when necessary.” A.S. Neill
In Montessori classrooms teachers are still responsible for students' learning, but rather than being dispensers of information they become guides to the learning process. Here the role of the teacher is to observe, coach, facilitate and overall manage. The Montessori teacher is very observant, watching the children as they work with the materials, guiding them when they are confused, making sure the sequence is appropriate, preparing the classroom, and organizing the activities. To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.
Steiner: Founder of Waldorf Education
See page Montessori and Waldorf
Different Educational Philosophies written in table form can be accessed