Mike Gustafson, who founded the Massachusetts Montessori Atlas Academy, sat down with Jon Hersey to discuss his school and its approach.
The Montessori approach, says Gustafson, recognizes two key principles. First, “children . . . are forming themselves. They are doing the work. No one else can do it for them,” although adults can “help them with it,” of course. Second, an appropriate environment matters “to help them grow and develop to reach their full potential.”
In a recent podcast episode with Michael Shermer, Chris Edwards, a teacher and author, points out that online resources can take the place of many in-class presentations. He’s obviously right about that, but he’s not too specific (at least here) about what future role he sees for classrooms and teachers. My sense is that teachers should use classroom time for things obviously done better in groups, such as certain sorts of science projects. I think that classroom math instruction often is useless but that one-on-one tutoring always will be helpful, especially for students falling behind or with special needs. I suppose that certain sorts of math lessons are especially amenable to a group setting. (Interestingly, at this moment, my six-year-old is watching newly released Generation Genius videos on K–2 math, which are quite good.)
Edwards also points to the obvious truth that measuring educational results by time that students spend in seats is absurd. What matters is mastery. My own sense is that students waste an enormous amount of time in classrooms. I think that, especially in younger grades, students should spend limited time in deep concentration learning the traditional subjects and spend the rest of the day playing and working on their own projects. That’s basically the approach I take in homeschooling.
I found Edwards’s remarks thought-provoking; it’s a long discussion, but some people will be interested in the entire exchange.
Children and adults tend to learn about things that interest them. How does interest work? What can parents and teachers do to foster a child’s interest in a given subject? Should adults seek to foster such interest, and, if so, how and when should they do so? These are some of the important questions addressed in a recent podcast discussion between “Schooled” host and education professor Kevin Currie-Knight (whom I’ve interviewed) and and psychologist K. Ann Renninger.
How much should we tailor a child’s instruction to the child’s preferred learning “style”? I was surprised when someone I know from the field of education, Kevin Currie-Knight, suggested that learning styles aren’t too meaningful. Currie-Knight suggested a couple of starter articles: “Learning Styles as a Myth” from Yale’s Poorvu Center and “The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’” by Olga Khazan. (See also my podcasts with Currie-Knight.)
I’m a big fan of Jason Crawford’s work for “The Roots of Progress.” Crawford’s main theme is that people have improved their lot dramatically through science, technology, and the underlying causes of those developments. So why not make more of an effort to teach children about human progress? In a July 27 Interintellect discussion that Crawford hosts, several educators weigh in on the topic.
I agree with Lisa VanDamme, founder of VanDamme Academy and one of the presenters, that the project of teaching children about human progress quickly can run into problems. First, she notes, “progress” is not a primary field unto itself, at least in terms of K-12 education, although aspects of it properly integrate with history and science (which are both major fields of study). Second, the proper aim of education is to enable children to ably pursue their own values and live their own lives, not to convince children to embrace certain conclusions (such as “progress is good”). That said, as VanDamme also notes, well-educated children typically will turn out to be the sort of people who do appreciate human progress (among many other things).
Kyle Steele (one of VanDamme’s associates) adds a great point: Properly, children have lots of room to explore their interests outside of their core education. For example (as several speakers discuss), a child keenly interested in music might want to limit time spent learning core subjects and maximize time spent practicing a musical instrument. Similarly, a student keenly interested in science, technology, or entrepreneurship might want to spend disproportionate time in those areas. So, for example, Crawford organized “Progress Studies for Aspiring Young Scholars.” This fits perfectly well as an extension or special-interest program with the sort of core education that VanDamme has in mind.
The entire discussion is fascinating. (Those interested in learning more about Crawford’s project also can check out my podcast discussion with him.)