Educational options should grow to meet the diverse needs of students, and Montessori is a welcome addition to Tulsa public schools.
The first Montessori school in Tulsa opened this August, generating a fair bit of excitement. Parents and teachers are happy to see a new kind of public school available for children from pre-K to second grade.
Montessori is actually a method of teaching, not a physical school. So while Emerson Elementary has been around for decades, its renovations — and renovated attitude — are sparklingly new. Montessori focuses on individualizing education for children, both in terms of pacing and the physicality of learning. Children have more in the room to interact with, and their lessons are hands-on.
Let’s be real, I don’t need to talk about what a good move this is. We’re all well aware of how painful, how grating it was to sit through day after day of lessons in the same hard chairs, with too much energy and too little to do when we were little. And sure, there are drawbacks: it’s expensive, it’s too vague at times and too independent.
The criticisms seem fair. The materials for these hands-on lessons are expensive. Children break and drop things, and everything in the classroom is sure to take a beating. Because there is an emphasis on children learning at their own pace, the curriculum schedule cannot be as strict as it is in traditional schools. Children learn to go at their own pace and do their own thing during class when the teacher is helping other students or groups. All these criticisms only serve to point out how necessary this kind of education is.
School should be expensive for the state. It is an investment in people, in future citizens, in children. It should be worth pouring money into. School should make room for all its students, including those that understand academic material easily and those that do not. A school isn’t worth its salt if it can’t help students understand the basic material, that’s its basic premise. So what if a kid takes an extra week to figure out their multiplication tables? In a regular school, they’d just be given a failing grade and move on or be held back. And independence is only a drawback if people fear children who are intelligent and can make their own decisions about which adults to trust, and who want to be respected by their instructors just as much as the children must respect the teachers.
If this all seems par for the course, then let me go one step further: this educational logic shouldn’t stop in early elementary. We need to adopt the idea that all education is valuable at every level and in every institution.
I went to an online high school for my junior and senior year. And I loved it! I tell every parent I meet that mentions that their kids don’t like school about my experiences. I hadn’t ever been given the option of moving at my own pace before. I could breeze through my English classes and finally understand math, even if it did take hours of color-coding and practice. But I realized that I actually like math; I’m just not a natural to it. Like a foreign language, I have to grapple with the concepts until I’ve wrangled them into a logic I can understand.
That’s important — that love of learning, that sense of wonder when students realize that they’re not dumb, they just process information differently than their teachers have presented it. It changes people. And sure, some people are disasters in this environment. They need a schedule, the tangibility of physical homework assignments, the forced socialization of a brick-and-mortar school. And all of that is fair. But we live in a world where people are in space and we talk about artificial intelligence like it will take over the world at any second. We should admit that giving people options isn’t on par with witchcraft anymore.
More than that, we need to accept that not only are these options, but they’re options that are just as good as their traditional counterparts. A Montessori education and a traditional education where children have to sit and learn the same lesson as 30 of their peers at the same pace is probably better for a lot of students. But even if it’s not the best option for all children, it is the best for some. Similarly, an online high school or college education, or vocational school, or literally any other kind of education, is a good way to learn if the student is comfortable.
The Montessori opening is a great start to reforming the way we think about education, especially in Oklahoma. Hopefully, parents and educators will continue to push for better and more varied kinds of education for older and more diverse students.