Journal Entry

The Montessori Multiplier

Looking backwards at the life you’ve lived, consider the sheer variety of experiences that make up your history.

Looking backwards at the life you’ve lived, consider the sheer variety of experiences that make up your history. Hours spent conversing with friends or loved ones, learning to play the violin, reading a great novel, preparing a meal, walking on the beach, or researching some topic that is interesting to you. Looking forward at your life to come, consider the volume and variety of all the experiences that are still ahead.

Now imagine you could multiply by ten, or one hundred, or one thousand, the personal growth that happens through these lived experiences. Imagine you could gain ten times the depth of understanding in some domain like film or geology or financial markets, one hundred times the level of mastery of some skill like cooking or playing baseball, or one thousand times greater facility with which you can draw and apply the lessons of baseball to financial markets or financial markets to baseball.

Imagine you could multiply by ten, or one hundred, or one thousand, the extent to which you habitually notice the salient details in your immediate environment, in the media you consume, or in the memories you retain. Imagine you could multiply the extent to which you’re naturally attuned to the sights and sounds and ideas that will be the most impactful on your ability to learn and live.

What if you could fully optimize your brain in this way—making it so much more effective at learning and absorbing and integrating and growing? If you compounded the impact over a lifetime, the results would be astounding.

Such a multiplier exists. It is called a Montessori school.

The Montessori classroom is designed with a singular goal: to help a child access the potential value embedded in the millions of life experiences she’ll have outside the classroom. A Montessori education helps a child self-program her mind to get the most out of life. Each and every element of the Montessori program, from the deliberate mixing of age groups, to the specific materials included on the classroom shelves, to the ground rules chosen to govern the community, is chosen by the standard of how well it optimizes experiential learning in life, as against trying to maximize direct learning in the classroom.

Many people compare Montessori to other schools on conventional axes—how many facts does a child learn, what skills does she develop, how well does she do on high school entrance exams, or even how many field trips, art projects and other “enrichment” activities does she have?

While Montessori students do well on all these standard measures, such measures miss the point. They are incidental to the purpose of the Montessori program. The whole success of a Montessori experience lies in the way it enables a child to maximize the density of value she experiences as she engages with the wider world. The classroom is not a substitute for the learning that comes through life experience. It is a multiplier of the learning that comes through life experience. Its value is that multiplying effect. A child’s exploration of a Montessori classroom sensitizes the developing brain to the most essential experiential data—the shapes and colors, the words and images, the facial expressions and unspoken signals, the evidentiary chains and logical inferences—out beyond the room.

The Montessori concept of the “keys to the universe” symbolically captures this idea. The materials and experiences in the classroom are not merely ends in their own right, but are keys that unlock the wonders of the world. They attune the child’s mind to the most meaningful information and opportunities she encounters in the course of living her life.

A child in a Montessori classroom acquires a lot of factual knowledge. But that’s not point. A child in a Montessori classroom develops specific methods of critical thinking. But that’s not the point. A Montessori classroom imparts organizational skills and social skills and practical life skills. But that’s not the point.

The true value of a Montessori classroom is in how it is very consciously and carefully designed to amplify the effects of the child’s natural impulse to explore, experiment, analyze, integrate, value, and grow across life. The classroom is not an alternative universe where a child goes to learn, before coming back again to the real world. It is the lens that allows her to bring the rest of the world into focus, to access and unlock pathways of learning wherever she is, and whatever she may be doing.

This multiplier effect is the promise that Montessori has to offer to children. Those of us who are privileged to be involved in this great work should remember that the gift of a Montessori education is not of the moment, but compounds over the course of an entire lifetime.