Montessori Today: Introduction and Preface

NAMC Studying Montessori Today Polk Lillard Introduction Preface. Smiling girl

With this blog, we begin a new series, reviewing Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Adulthood by Paula Polk Lillard. Written for parents and educators, Montessori Today is Lilliard’s overview of Montessori education, with emphasis on the elementary years.

Reading the preface for the first time in a while, I found myself moved to share quotes and excerpts with my friends concerning Lillard’s views on Montessori children and the state of conventional education. Although this book was written two decades ago, its message remains timely and relevant.

Reviewing Montessori Today: The Introduction and Preface


Lillard points to an educational reform movement in the 1960s that embraced an open classroom concept following ideas in John Holt’s book How Children Fail, originally published in 1964. Holt describes how schools work on the assumption that “most children don’t want to learn, are no good at it, and won’t try unless made to.” He further states that schools try to make children learn by giving “long lists of meaningless little tasks to do and facts to remember, and punishing them if they fail.” Holt holds the view of many modern educational researchers that this approach never works and schools continue to fail because they make increasingly longer lists with stricter punishments. (Holt, 1983)

Lillard indicates that this reform movement and others like it did not work because they failed to recognize the necessity for a holistic view of education and “well-defined academic components capable of helping children to meet high standards in literacy, mathematics, and the abilities to think and communicate clearly.” (Lillard, 1996)

NAMC Studying Montessori Today Polk Lillard Introduction Preface. Boys reading

In today’s rapid and changing world of technology, we understand that our children will live in a future that we can hardly envision. “Parents look to schools to help prepare their children for the world of change in which we live. Unfortunately, they consistently find educational systems geared to the past, built upon rewards and punishments, grading curves and class rank, rote memorization and testing. Primarily sitting and listening, each student is isolated at a desk with little opportunity for developing the social and communicative skills required for solving problems in the real world.” (Lillard, 1996) Lillard also touches upon the perceived decline of behavioral standards as another problem facing conventional education.

The Montessori approach views education and the child as parts of one whole. They are not separate. Rather than emphasizing individual outcomes and benchmarks at separate grade levels, Montessori education considers the child from birth to adulthood, assessing the overall developmental goals for the first 22 years of life. Montessori does not measure the progress of the child by standardized grades or test scores. It is an education to assist the child from infancy to become a capable, competent, fully functioning adult who is a happy and contributing member of society. It is a personal process that occurs not by age or grade but over developmental levels and stages unique to the individual.

NAMC Studying Montessori Today Polk Lillard Introduction Preface. Boy waving

Lillard’s perspective recognizes the difference Montessori education makes in children, not just in educational philosophy and methods. As a teacher, administrator, mother, and grandmother, Lillard has decades of direct experience in observing exactly how Montessori children learn and mature into adulthood. We look forward to reviewing Lillard’s work Montessori Today and to sharing thoughts, questions, and ideas with you along the way.

Works Cited
Holt, John. “Same ‘cure’ won’t help schools.” USA Today. December, 1983. http://www.holtgws.com/writingbyjohnhol.html
Lillard, Paula Polk. Montessori Today: A Comprehensive Approach to Education from Birth to Childhood. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1996.
Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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