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How Montessori education developed business executives

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

Wall Street Journal featured in April 2011, an article on how several computer and IT pioneers attribute their creativity to their Montessori preschooling. It was written by Peter Sims, author of “Little Bets – How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.” Among them were Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Interviewed in 2004 by Barbara Walters, she asked the inventors if having parents who were college professors was a major factor behind their success. Instead, they credited their Montessori education. Larry Page said that he and Sergey Brin went to Montessori schools and it was part of that training of “being self motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently,” that was a major factor behind their success.

Will Wright, inventor of the best selling THE SIMS videogame series lauded the method, “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori…”

How the Montessori approach nurtures creativity, inventiveness

According to Mr. Sims ”The Montessori approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia.

What do Larry Page and Sergey Brin mean by the Montessori training of “becoming self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently”? While conventional preschooling focuses on play, the Montessori system offers the “prepared environment” to satisfy the true inclination of small children to work. Open shelves of Practical Life (child size furniture for Personal Care, do-it-yourself dressing frames, broom and dust pan, mop, gardening, etc.).

What about Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, “As a child, Wales was a keen reader with an acute intellectual curiosity, influenced by Montessori’s method philosophy of education.” The Montessori system emphasizes a collaborative environment of multi-aged grouping of three -to six-year-old children using long blocks of work period. The child “grades himself” as he works on each material that has several exercises gradated in difficulties, as well as control of error.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ mother observes…

Mrs. Bezos noted that as a preschooler, Jeff displayed an unmatched single mindedness and a discovery mentality created in a Montessori environment. “Young Jeff would be so engrossed in his activities as a Montessori preschooler that his teacher would literally have to pick him up out of his chair to go to the next task.” Mr. Bezos himself said “I’ve always felt that there’s a certain kind of important pioneering that goes on from an inventor like Thomas Edison, and that discovery mentality is precisely the environment that Montessori seeks to create.”

The principle of “free choice” of materials strengthens the power of decision otherwise weakened with the traditional teacher who constantly dictates. The three and fours usually chose Practical Living work, and Sensorial Arts apparata. As they turn five, they reach for the Language, Math and Science apparata. The mixed-age grouping is like the natural grouping of a family, where the older children tend to look after the young ones, who in turn are inspired by their advanced work.

They learned early to think and act differently

Peter Sims wrote: “The Montessori Mafia showed up in an extensive, six-year study about the way creative business executives think. Professors Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of globe-spanning business school INSEAD surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products.”

Mr. Gregersen noted: “A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity. To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early to think different, they act different (and even talk different).”

Peter Sims also mentioned how Neuroscience author Johan Lehner cited “a 2006 study published in the “Science” that compared the educational achievement performance of low-income Milwaukee children who attended Montessori schools versus children who attended variety of other preschools, as determined by a lottery.”

According to this study, “By the end of kindergarten, among five-year-olds, Montessori students proved to be significantly better prepared for elementary schools in reading and math skills than the non-Montessori children.” The researchers likewise observed, “They also tested better on ‘executive function,’ the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems, an indicator of future schools and life success.”

Peter Sims further wrote: “Of course, Montessori methods go against the grain of traditional education methods. We are given very little opportunity for instance, to perform our own, original experiments, and there is also little or no margin for failure or mistakes. We are judged primary on getting answers right. There is much less emphasis on developing our creative thinking abilities, our abilities to let our minds run imaginatively and to discover things on our own.”

The ‘Montessori mafia’ provides lessons on how traditional education should be transformed

Mr. Sims’ “Wall Street Journal” article stated that “highly creative achievers don’t begin with brilliant ideas, they discover them. Google, for instance, didn’t begin as a brilliant vision, but as a project to improve library searches, followed by a series of small discoveries that unlocked a revolutionary business model. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t begin with an ingenious idea. But they certainly discovered one.

“Similarly, Amazon’s culture breathes experimentation and discovery. Mr. Bezos often compares Amazon’s strategy of developing ideas in new markets to ‘planting seeds’ or ‘going down blind alleys.’ Amazon’s executives learn and uncover opportunities as they go. Many efforts turn out to be dead ends. Mr. Bezos has said, “But every once in a while, you go down an alley and it opens up into this huge, broad avenue.”

“Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Montessori alumni lead two of the world’s most innovative companies. Or perhaps the Montessori Mafia can provide lessons for us all even though it’s too late for most of us to attend Montessori.”

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