When Curiosity Counts

When Curiosity Counts

Without tests or grades, one school of thought challenges our views of education, and has the alumni to prove their point.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
  • 7 april 2011

Far from the cries for accountability amongst teachers, and better performances on standardized tests, a century-old school of thought is setting its own benchmarks for students. And given a few of its successful alumni, we may have good reason to start paying attention.

The Montessori learning method consists of collaborative learning environments intended to foster creativity amongst students. There are no grades or tests; instead, classes include lengthy, self-directed learning periods of discovery to spur spontaneous self-development. With an emphasis encouraging creativity during the early developmental years,  students are between the ages 2 1/2 to 7, and each classroom is an amalgam of all ages.

One need only look at a few of the school’s disproportionate representation amongst the creative elite for good evidence of the method’s success. Its alumni include Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs, and Julia Child. When asked about his schooling, Larry Page believes that it helped him to ‘think differently’.

Maria Montessori founded the first school of its kind in Rome, 1907. As she explains:

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”.

Perhaps in contrast to traditional approaches to education, students aren’t judged by the answers they get wrong.  After all, some of the most respected entrepreneurs in history have attributed all of their success, to the many times they’ve failed.


The Wall-Street Journal: “The Montessori Mafia”

Image by Zen Granny



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