Authentic Montessori

Originally published by the Montessori Foundation

Because accreditation has traditionally applied to high schools and colleges, very few Montessori schools are accredited. More recently, parents have begun to hear about accreditation at the childcare level by an organization known as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which represents a less comprehensive standard than traditional school accreditation. Again, while some Montessori schools might hold that recognition, it is not as applicable to schools as to childcare programs, and only a small percentage of Montessori schools have sought that recognition.

Normally, this is not a concern with Montessori schools. The term actually refers to the preparation of the teachers, and the specific Montessori designed school program that they implement. Most Montessori schools are excellent.

Dr. Montessori was a brilliant student of child development, and the approach that has evolved out of her research has stood the test of almost ninety years in tens of thousands of Montessori schools around the world.

The Montessori approach has two great qualities: it is replicable and can be translated successfully into all sorts of new situations, and it is sustainable – Montessori programs don’t tend to lose their identity and become something else after a few years, as have many other educational reforms. However, the only truly authentic Montessorian was Dr. Maria Montessori herself. The rest of us have been forced to interpret her ideas and methods through the filter of our personalities and experience.

While some Montessori schools try their best to remain faithful to what they perceive to be her method, in reality, even the most staunchly conservative has gradually been influenced by the evolution of our culture and technology. One would think that any two “Montessori” schools would be relatively similar in every respect. In reality, they can differ dramatically in size, facilities, programs, and emotional climate.

Saying that a school is “Montessori” can be like saying that they are Christian or Jewish. There is tremendous variation. Without getting into the question of those schools whose operations are so extraordinarily poor that they would be disavowed by liberal and conservative Montessorians alike, there is a great deal of variation within the name “Montessori.”

I know that the concept of the Montessori approach implies something like a brand-name (McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Campbell’s soup), but the truth is that Montessori schools and Montessori teachers may share common values, but can also be significant variation. It is a shame that instead of accepting and celebrating that diversity, Montessori educations sometimes get caught up in judgmental behavior. It is no wonder that some people think Montessori might be a cult.

The selection of a Montessori school in the end comes down to a matter of personal style and preference. If you visit a school and find yourself in harmony with its ambiance and practice, it will represent at least one example of what you define to be a good school. I can only urge you to trust you eyes, ears, and gut instincts.