During the past few weeks, I’ve received a couple of invitations to check out an online store that creates Montessori-based applications for the iPad. On their blog, the product makers (two AMI-trained individuals who obviously skipped all the theory lectures) claim to wholeheartedly support Montessori education. They paint themselves as champions of children, on a mission to “expose a new generation to the force of [Dr. Montessori's] thought”.
Their only mission, as far as I can tell, is to make money by using the Montessori name, all the while tricking parents into thinking their children are obtaining a quality educational experience, and robbing children of the opportunity to fulfill their potential through real-world encounters. Making money? Perfectly fine. Conning parents and denying children the opportunity to interact with the real world? NOT FINE.
Join me as I dissect and respond to the very blog post that claims their intentions are pure (sections in green are taken from their blog):
“We are trying to introduce new families to the Montessori approach to early childhood education. We hope to highlight the importance of Montessori by exposing a new generation to the force of her thought.”
Unless the applications you’re selling come with a full download of The Absorbent Mind and an opportunity to observe in a Montessori classroom, I highly doubt that the families that purchase the products will be ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought‘ (although I give you points for poetic prowess). They will only be exposed to the force of mass marketing and the convenience of appliances-as-babysitters, and will once again be falsely reassured by money-grubbing sell-0uts that a video game is a great substitute for actual, physical learning experiences.
“We have carefully and thoughtfully translated the Montessori materials into iPhone and iPad applications. They are adherent to the Montessori philosophy of education. These applications are kinesthetic and proprioceptive, and incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child. They also address the vestibular sense of balance. Additionally, positive feedback systems are delicately put into place, and control of error offers the child an authentic Montessori experience.”
The only way a material can adhere to the Montessori philosophy of education is if it is a REAL material that can be touched, carried, weighed, dropped, stacked, taken off a shelf, explored, and carefully put away. And who are you trying to fool with your big words, anyway? These applications are anything BUT kinesthetic and proprioceptive! They don’t require the child to lift a red rod and gauge its length, or walk between tables and around rugs without bumping into anything.
Perhaps most tragic, in my view, is your claim to ‘incite the audio, visual, and tactile senses of the child’ (it’s auditory, not audio, by the way). How can you rob children of their RIGHT to have real physical experiences, which are so crucial for the appropriate development of the brain?
Let me quote Dr. Joseph Chilton Pierce, whose theories are based on Montessori’s discoveries: “The more extensive and complete the child’s interaction with the content of the world out there, the more extensive the resulting structure of knowledge within… In our anxieties, we fail to allow the child a continual interaction with the phenomena of this earth on a full-dimensional level (which means with all five of his/her body senses); and at the same time, we rush the child into contact with phenomena not appropriate to his/her stage of biological development.” Can this statement more clearly describe the cognitive devastation your products are supporting?!
Now, let’s talk about your so-called ‘control of error’ (which is how the child is able to check his own work with the real Montessori materials and learn from his mistakes). In the Red Rods (a Montessori material and one of the apps that you sell), the control of error is in the child’s ability to discriminate the differences in length. But did you know that in order for the child to truly develop this ability and apply his new knowledge in more abstract ways, he has to actually carry the rods and feel their difference in length?
Dr. Montessori, in The Advanced Montessori Method, explained that the value of the control of error is in its ability to allow the child to compare and judge his work. However, the simple posing of the problem (in this case, putting the Red Rods in order of length) is not what drives the child. What brings the child back to the material is the sensation of “acquiring a new power of perception” thanks to the control of error, but perception between the ages of zero to six can ONLY be gained through hands-on exploration of materials that are concrete and physical representations of abstract concepts. This makes the control of error in your apps useless as a true tool of cognitive development.
“If Maria Montessori were alive today, we think that she would be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad, thinking hard about these complicated issues… In our opinion, Maria Montessori would be trying to open up and discover new ways to think about how we learn.”
First of all, nothing ticks me off more than misguided Montessorians who justify their schemes by saying, “If Maria Montessori were alive, she’d agree with me”. Let’s get this straight: If Maria Montessori were alive today, she might very well be at the Apple store, playing with an iPad; but she would NOT be making iPad applications because she understood how children really learn and develop! Don’t believe me, read her books! The materials and the method she created were not designed simply to show the children how to read, write, or sort color tablets… She was helping develop “the human spirit” and change the world by following the needs, interests, and drives of children!
“Education must be reconstructed and based on the law of nature and not on the preconceived notions and prejudices of adult society,” she reminded us tirelessly. The law of nature has not changed in 100 years, although our willingness to accept and adhere to it has. We adults think we know what’s best for the children, and we fill their lives with our “anxiety-conditioned view of the world,” as Chilton Pearce says. We think abstractly, and thus force our children to follow suit. Any person who claims to believe in and support Montessori must put aside their ego and their delusions of grandeur, take a seat, observe the children, and take their cue from them. THAT is what Maria Montessori would do.
“Existing Montessori students will return to the classroom with a renewed sense of joy and wonder.”
NO. THEY. WON’T. You people are obviously not experienced guides, or you would know that any Montessori student who has been forced, bribed, praised, or coerced into working with Montessori materials at home after school will hardly ever want to touch the materials in the classroom, because the thrill of free choice, uninterrupted exploration, and intrinsic reward is gone. Even worse, by exposing Montessori children to the apps, you will have robbed them of the experience of interacting physically with the actual material. I can hear the children now: “No, I don’t want to work with the Red Rods. I already played that game on my computer at home.” Sadly, our children’s loss is EVERYONE’S loss, including yours.
“A parent summed it up best, ‘I look forward to this app since children 3 or 4 are VERY adept at using their PARENTS’ iPads and iPhones – especially during long car trips and long waits at busy restaurants, doctor’s clinics, and in airports and on airplanes…all of which we have experienced in the past weeks. Our iPad has been engaging, educational, and fun.’ “
Uh, whatever happened to keeping your children entertained the old-fashioned way: by interacting with them??? For long car trips, sing songs and play I Spy. Waiting at a restaurant? Tell a good story or bring a couple of books. At a doctor’s clinic? Bust out a shoelace and play Cat’s Cradle. For airplanes, nothing beats a coloring book or paper dolls! Good grief, parents… You complain you don’t get enough time with your children, and when you have the opportunity to interact with them, you plug them into a computer!
“As many of you can imagine, comments have ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other.”
Gee, I wonder what true Montessorians – men and women who have selflessly dedicated their LIVES to fighting for the developmental rights of children – think about all this? Spend one day – heck, even one hour – in a Montessori classroom, and you’ll understand why we’re fighting so arduously against the computerization of Montessori.
“In our estimations, the relevance of Montessori no longer rests with Montessori. It rests with us.”
No, it doesn’t. It rests with the children. Respect their rights, observe their needs, and go make your money at the expense of a less vulnerable social group. If you truly want to be relevant in the lives of children, then maybe YOU should spend a little more time being ‘exposed to the force of Dr. Montessori’s thought’.
“To stimulate life,–leaving it then free to develop, to unfold,–herein lies the first task of the educator. In such a delicate task, a great art must suggest the moment, and limit the intervention, in order that we shall arouse no perturbation, cause no deviation, but rather that we shall help the soul which is coming into the fullness of life, and which shall live from its own forces.”
– Maria Montessori