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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Brief History of Me

I was born in 1943, the first child of two public school teachers. Of course, I went to local public schools. All my relatives (but not my parents) were disappointed that I was not planning to become a teacher. I was nobody's fool. I knew how wonderful my parents were. I never heard either of my parents complain about children in their classes. Yes, occasionally they would tell some amusing story about something that had happened in class, but they always spoke with affection. I could see the indifference, even dislike, most of the time in the faces of my classmates as they spoke of their teachers. Of course, I did not attend the schools where my parents taught so the opinions of my peers did not cut me personally. But why in the world should I have chosen to become a teacher? I wanted to become a veterinarian so I prepared to study pre-med in college. Then two crises occurred.

I met the administrating professor of the Ohio State Veterinary College, who showed me around and introduced me to the only two women enrolled in the school, then sixty students total. One was tall and austere, the other was built like a football
lineman. He explained to me that I was much too small to become a veterinarian, that their policy was to accept only women who were big enough to handle cows and horses. They were interested in large animal practitioners only. I felt like a small insignificant fish he had thrown back into the water with nowhere to go.

And my father suddenly died of a heart attack.

I applied my pre-med courses to a BA in Medical Technology and for ten years I worked in hospitals, usually in blood banks. Then my daughter introduced me to Montessori education. I studied at Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center in 1975-6 and interned under the wise Margaret Keyser and the prodigious Katherine Kenneth. I have taught at Montessori schools in Lake Forest, Illinois, Alameda, California, and Chicago, Illinois.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why I Became a Montessori Teacher

First I was a Montessori parent, the mother of a four-year-old daughter who had announced that she wanted to read. It was 1974 and I was unimpressed with this request because I too had wanted to read--at the age of five. My father was a high school teacher who had taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the early 1920's before earning his teaching degree. With great patience he brought out his McGuffey Readers and worked with me (“The boy stood on the burning deck...”) to little avail. So I had no stellar expectations for my daughter.

But Erica was determined, so in spite of the fact it was August, my husband and I set out to find a school for her. The Evanston Public Schools would not take her--too young--but recommended two private schools in Evanston that might. At the last minute the Montessori school was the one with an opening. We enrolled our happy child.

Next door to us lived the only other child her age in our venerable Evanston neighborhood. Bicky and Erica formed a love-hate bond which erupted into shouting matches whenever they tried to play. One Saturday when I was desperately trying to clean the house for company, Erica asked if she could invite Bicky over. Knowing Bicky's doorbell was broken (Bicky's mom:”The only thing that works around here is me!”), I told her we would have to phone to invite her. "But,” I added,“I do not know the telephone number and I am much too busy to stop and look it up.” I thought that would be the end of it, but no.

Erica:“Where can I look it up?”

Me:“Erica, I'm busy. It's that big telephone book with the blue cover.” A few quiet moments pass.

“Mom! I found it! Now how do I look up the number?”

“Oh, dear, it's a little bit hard to do. You have to know the alphabet and find Bicky's last name. Can you say the alphabet?” She can and does.

“Good!” Next, I'm hoping, comes the impossible part when I say,”Bicky's last name is MacElroy. So to find her name, you first have to find the names that start with 'M'.”

“I found them, Mommy!” Then, amazingly, letter by letter, head bent over that big Evanston phone book, saying the alphabet over and over under her breath, she finally managed to find Sheila's phone number. Needless to say she dialed Bicky herself, and Bicky came to play.

Two years later I left the Blood Bank at Evanston Hospital and enrolled at the Midwest Montessori Teacher Training Center. As much as I felt I was helping people before, I have no doubt that what I have done in the Montessori classroom has helped many more. My daughter's was typical of the way children's minds develop in Montessori classrooms. But like snowflakes, each mind is unique.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freedom to Grow

It isn't easy to allow a small child to explore her home. Some years before I became a Montessori teacher, my life was much simpler. I had a daughter with a crib and an occasionally used playpen. In her exploratory phase she discovered at the base of the bathroom wall a small short pipe that had a removable cap, which she promptly removed. A clever discovery that was harmless because luckily the pipe was dry. I had never noticed it before. I was quite proud of her.

Fast forward sixteen years. My son has no crib, no playpen. The first year of his life is exploration. He discovers (and falls in love with) electrical outlets. I plugged them with protectors. Hah! He pulled them out as soon as I had put them in. Heavy furniture? The impossible took a bit longer. I had centered our heavy upholstered couch in front of his favorite outlet in the living room. I returned to find his tiny body, still in crawling mode, wedged between the couch and the wall, in front of the outlet. It was an ongoing battle which I constantly lost. And yet he seemed never to have shocked himself. He did eat the one toadstool ever to be seen growing in our yard, quickly followed by a call to the poison center and a dose of ipecac. And during the one automobile emergency I had involving a tow truck, he managed to open my purse and extract and uncap a bottle of cold tablets. When I returned to him, his mouth was the color of their coating and the pills were lying all around him. That was the only thing that earned him a trip to the hospital emergency room.

So giving a child freedom to explore his world is tough on parents and requires generous loving vigilance. The pay off is that your child's beginner brain is exposed to all kinds of interesting things. Things that might have no seeming significance to you, but might be important to him. Might be important to who he will be. Here then are the questions you must answer: Are you brave enough? Are you vigilant enough? Can you help your child grow in freedom?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Where do we start?

Now that I have shown you my radical heart, I must confess that it is nonetheless impossible not to admire Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone. He has achieved educational feats worthy of Clark Kent by bringing together teachers, parents, children, appropriate buildings, neighborhood schools, financial sponsors, medical facilities, and other neighborhood young people, even Berry Brazelton, all working together. An absolute coup. We could certainly use him on the West Side here in Chicago. But until human cloning is legalized... No, not even then. He was the perfect man in the perfect place at the perfect time. And what he has done is simply amazing!

Montessori education works more from the inside out. From birth we encourage the infant to explore the surrounding environment to the extent that safety allows. This does take more parental patience than the crib or the playpen. And it takes dedicated parents. An infant's intelligence grows through experiencing the surrounding world however small it may seem at first. It gets bigger fast.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where Do All the Children Go?


What is the future of humanity?

Our human gene pool offers wonderful diversity.

Our competitive society keeps us the same.

Our schools, our systems of education,

Wildly tip the balance toward the sameness of society.

We are losing genius, innovation, and sanity

With every individual ground through society's mills.

There is a way:

Open the world, slowly and carefully,

But open the world

For the young child.