Tell us about yourself.
My first real career was in academia. I have a PhD in philosophy from UPenn, and was a visiting professor of psychology at Franklin and Marshall College for a little while. I still think of myself as a philosopher. Whenever I read Maria Montessori herself, the training in intellectual history kicks in. And generally at Higher Ground I’m sort of the in-house intellectual, so that training is actually quite valuable to me now.
What inspires you about education?
Two things. First, the promise of the new. Every student is in some way unformed and to that extent contains pure human potential. That’s a big part of the magic of children. Whatever one loves about the human species, one loves the unspoiled potential for that that exists in each child.
Second, the learning is just so interesting. I’ve always been interested in how knowledge is created and validated. (That’s the bulk of what philosophy is about!) Education is just that problem in vivo. There are lots of ways that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, that children go through a compressed version of what the entire species has had to learn.
How did you discover Montessori?
Through Ray Girn, Higher Ground’s CEO and my long-time friend. I was thinking about issues in learning and education at the college level, and he convinced me that early childhood very relevant for those interests. It took years of conversation. Plus, ultimately, seeing quality Montessori in action. Which was itself worth all those years of conversation combined. A big part of Montessori is the aesthetic, which is hard to convey indirectly.
How does Montessori philosophy inspire your daily life?
Well, it's my job to think about it somewhere between 8 and 16 hours daily, so that’s pretty impactful on a day-to-day basis!
There’s a lot to say here, but I’ll pick one thing. Her view of the work of the child, and the analogies she draws to the work of adults, is very meaningful for me. She views humans from the perspective of achievements. Montessori loves people and by extension their accomplishments. For her, writing a novel or learning the rudiments of language are, in some sense, the same kind of great work. I don’t know if I’ve fully acquired that perspective in my daily life—it requires a lot of deprogramming of things one ordinarily takes for granted, both for children and adults—but I aspire to do so.
Do you have a favorite Montessori quote?
My favorite Montessori quote of all time is one that we use a lot for Higher Ground:
“A calm, serene child, attached to reality, begins to achieve his elevation through work.”
It captures all my favorite things about her approach in one quote. There’s the happiness that is possible in and natural to childhood. There’s the mind and hands of a child engaged in active exploration and shaping of her world. And finally there’s the perspective of elevation, that all of this is spiritually, morally significant.
When was the moment you decided to make Montessori your career?
I don’t know if there was a moment of decision, but the turning point for me was definitely the first time I really observed in a Montessori classroom, in 2013. I was a professor at the time, and was already thinking about other options, and that really planted a seed.
Why did you help start Higher Ground education?
I believe in the big idea: that the core solution to the problems in education is a Montessori approach, one that blends, without compromise, the agency of the individual learner with the rich knowledge she needs to live a full life. here’s also the incredible team, people that I would work with on anything—and just the fact that, I guess like a child, I wanted to do something big and new and scary, something where I could be part of a team, working together, on our terms, that was going to either succeed or fail in a big way.
What have you learned from your time working at Higher Ground thus far?
I’ve learned a ton about Montessori, both from the people at Higher Ground and also from the broader Montessori world. I’ve traveled a ton, which has been an extended lesson in what’s different in different places and in what’s the same everywhere. And I’ve learned so, so much—about education and childhood and beyond, about strategy, about myself.
What do you enjoy most about working with your teammates?
Just the teammates themselves. When I left my academic career, I was very paranoid about losing something in terms of colleagues. In academia, no matter how knowledgeable and smart you are, you’re always surrounded by people who know more and are smarter, which is wonderful to have and seemed awful to potentially lose. But my fears were completely unfounded. It’s a singular team, in terms of the individual people and also in terms of the team dynamic.
What are your passions, interests and hobbies?
I have a brilliant fiancée who is a clinical psychologist and researcher. I live in New York City, which has always been a dream of mine and which I try to take advantage of whenever I’m not working. And I love rock climbing. For me, climbing is very meditative, sort of like how people often describe yoga... except that if you get distracted you fall, which really helps me get out of my head and stay focused.