[W]e all fail to educate our children. I am deeply suspicious of all modern methods, because child-rearing is by its very nature an attempt to inculcate in our children the best qualities of their ancestors or at least of the people our ancestors looked up to. I have visited one Montessori school, discussed it with parents, and met graduates. While I admire the commitment to discipline, I have failed to discover other virtues. As for child-centered education, the very phrase is a betrayal of the obligations of parents and teachers. The Charlotte Mason method seems to me to have very little to do with education. I don’t know who William Michael is, but in looking him up on his own website, he has rather little formal training in classics–an undergraduate degree in classics and history–but his group seems to be making something of a cult figure of him. That alone could be quite dangerous. While I admire Dorothy Sayers as a fiction writers, some of her ideas are foolish, such as teaching Medieval Latin because it is easier, more Catholic, etc. I recently met a Latin teacher who insisted that only a “living” language approach would teach real Latin but the more he enthused, the more he revealed his own ignorance and incapacity. These are sad times, but we must do the best we can. I do wish some of the classical gurus would take the trouble to learn their Latin before writing textbooks.
I am in no position to evaluate the success of Montessori’s methods in math but it seems too much like playtime for my taste. Yes, children learn a great deal by playing, but I am not at all sure that it is a good thing for adults to participate in and supervise their play. Writers as opposed as Walter Scott and Hegel both strongly objected to the child-centered methods being introduced in the early 19th century. One thing to ask any teacher or principal is: “What is your goal, namely, what ideal of human mind and character do you have in mind as you are teaching.” If the answer is something like what I have often heard, “Ours is a child-centered curriculum that permits each child to develop into whatever human being he wishes to become,” then you can say, “I may as well save my money and let him play at home.” Here is a plain truth about math: Very few people ever use any math beyond what used to be the sixth grade level. I used to pose little practical questions to teachers, which required them to set up the most minimal equation, for example, if one and a half pounds of butter costs $3, what does a pound cost? Only math and science teachers could answer, typically, and only math and science teachers could remember how to divide fractions. Supposing the only purpose today in studying math is to pass the SAT math section, then Montessori or other private schools would have to be able to demonstrate a greater success with children of similar IQ levels in other schools. If they cannot do that–as they usually cannot–then they are asking you to take things on faith. I strongly believe in math instruction, along with Latin, geography, history, and English composition, but what we know is that in all these areas, American students are generally inferior to students in Europe and the advanced parts of Asia.The Montessori Method may serve young children well, but what of those who are 7 or 8 or older? This FAQ has some more information, but I really should read Maria Montessori's book. Perhaps someone who has more experience with Montessori can respond to Dr. Fleming's concerns. Here are some common misconceptions.
Some have claimed that the Montessori method is effective for religious education/catechesis, and for acquainting children with the liturgy.
I think the advantages of the Montessori method may be the following:
(1) It permits children to build up phantasms and thus improves their understanding of reality.
(2) It uses children's inclinations to the virtues (and their spontaneous attraction to the various goods) to facilitate their acquisition of practical and social skills.
For English, does the Montessori method makes use of phonics or does it has its own way of teaching children how to read (and spell)?
The skills of reading and writing are not the same as the arts--can the Montessori method be effectively instruct students in the arts like grammar, rhetoric, and logic, or additional languages like Greek and Latin? Do Montessori proponents claim that these habits can be acquired by children on their own? What is the role of the teacher with respect to the arts and languages? And what of the study of history or of scientiae? What does the Montessori method do with children who have no interest in reading classic texts?
Because language is dependent upon convention, language and the arts cannot be deduced from principles. The nature of language and its intrinsic tie to tradition dictate the need for a teacher. It might be possible that they can be studied in systematic fashion, with students learning rules that help them see the reasons. But with respect to rhetoric and style -- Dr. Fleming would argue that students should be learning from the best models of their tradition.
The acquisition of scientiae requires proper phantasms, but it also requires the development of logic. According to NAMTA, "Unlike the other Montessori age levels, there is at present no international consensus defining Montessori secondary education." I also found this: MONTESSORI FOR AGES TWELVE TO EIGHTEEN: Montessori Philosophy and Practice for the Middle School & High School Years. I'll have to locate a copy of Sra. Montessori's From Childhood to Adolescence -- apparently she discuses university education in this book as well.
While Maria Montessori was Catholic, do Americans using the Montessori method end up being secular humanists with respect to moral instruction? I believe Montessori's own humanism was informed by her Catholic faith. I think it is fair to say that Montessori believed that all should received a proper moral education. (And she seems to be a bit of an agrarian as well.) But does she concede that differences in formation are grounded in differences in innate abilities? How egalitarian are her beliefs regarding education and social/political roles?
Having some interest in primary education in the past, I'd like to look into the Montessori method before becoming a primary school teacher, if possible. Using bad methods instruction may not cause long-lasting harm to a child's intellect, but it may cause frustration on the part of the student and the teacher which can have consequences on the student's moral and intellectual development.
The Rockford Institute website has been revitalized, and Dr. Fleming will be devoting more time to the Autodidact blog. Some posts of interest to me: The Real American Classics and Political Liberty and the Classical Tradition.
The Montessori Foundation
Association Montessori Internationale (alt)
Started on May 11.