Is Montessori Ready for the Obama Generation? by ProQuest

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									Is Montessori Ready
                         for the

Obama Generation?
                                                                                                            By Mark Powell
“Your wonderful country is one of the hopes of the civilized world. The feel
of youth is in the air and soil. You will rear here the greatest race the world
has ever known. It is in your blood. The mixing of the peoples of the earth
will produce a great prosperity. No country has the heritage to leave its
children like the heritage of the American people.”
           —Maria Montessori, quoted in the New York Times, December 24, 1913,
            cited in Kramer (1988, p. 202).

                           Hope                                   ernment officials, including Philander Claxton, the U.S.
One of the great strengths of the United States has long          Commissioner of Education, who later stated that he
been its relative tolerance for diversity of opinion—its          supported the introduction of the Montessori system into
willingness to question its assumptions and to reinvent           public schools (Kramer, 1988, p. 193). The nation seemed
itself. This is a relative strength that varies over time and     eager for the revolutionary changes her methods promised.
distance, and whose focus settles on some issues more                  With a family of color residing in the White House,
comfortably than others. This rejuvenating potential has          the United States will never be quite the same again,
once again become unmistakable with the election of               politically. Reforming education, where there are many
Barack Obama.                                                     more entrenched interests and perhaps less willingness
     The groundswell of passion and anticipation aroused          to question assumptions and reinvent traditions, may not
by Obama’s run for the presidency in 2008 was in some             be so black-and-white. The Obama administration’s
ways reminiscent of the excitement surrounding Maria              education agenda recognizes that “America faces few
Montessori’s first visit to the United States in 1913.            more urgent challenges than preparing our children to
Montessori—female, foreign, and Catholic—arrived at               compete in a global economy,” and has expressed an
Carnegie Hall in New York to a triumphal welcome and              interest in looking outside the box for ways to “restore
standing-room-only crowds. The press had fanned the               the promise of America’s public education, and ensure
flames of interest in the Italian woman whose classroom           that American children again lead the world in achieve-
methods with young children promised to change the                ment, creativity, and success” (The White House, n.d.).
world (Kramer, 1988, p. 194). Contemporary accounts               In his Education Agenda, President Obama proposes a
painted Montessori in messianic terms: “the creator of a          three-point agenda for meeting this challenge (ibid.):
system of education that will within a few years modify                • Identifying and promoting successful schools by
all existing education systems and theories and as it is          giving greater emphasis to school reform and accounta-
developed, take their place, thereby evolving a new and           bility, while at the same time providing the funding
higher type of thinking and acting man” (Brooklyn Daily           needed to carry out those reforms;
Eagle, Dec. 7, 1913, cited in Kramer, 1988, p. 192). In                • Placing greater responsibility on parents for their
Washington, DC, Montessori met with prominent gov-                children’s success; and

18                                                MONTESSORI LIFE ISSUE 2, 2009
     • Addressing the lack of experienced, quality teach-            These comparisons have made the crisis harder to
ers in schools and reversing the drain of new teachers          ignore, but politicians have been seeking easy solutions
(30% of whom leave the profession within their first 5          to the ongoing problems of American education since at
years of teaching).                                             least the time of Montessori’s visit to these shores. The
                                                                2008 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll found that two-thirds

          s part of the first point of his education agenda,    of Americans believe that No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
          President Obama has committed to doubling             
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