Friday, July 24, 2009

The Wrong Stuff

“We’re teaching the wrong stuff.”

Who said that? Some wild-eyed education critic in 2007 or Dr. Maria Montessori in 1907? Neither. That conclusion comes from an engineering professor at the North Carolina State University. Is he calling for more calculus and physics? No, he is calling for engineering schools to move away from “…traditional ‘I talk, you listen’ pedagogy toward the active, cooperative, problem-based approaches that have been repeatedly shown to equip students with the skills...” graduates will need to be employable in the 21st century American job market.

Sounds like a Montessori classroom.

What are the personal attributes Professor Richard Felder believes schools must help engineering students develop?
• creative and entrepreneurial mind set;
• holistic, multi-disciplinary thinker;
• strong interpersonal skills;
• language skills and cultural awareness;
• self-directed learner.

That list sounds like the portrait of a Post Oak School graduate; universal characteristics that Montessori schools across the country consistently report observing.

You can read Felder’s brief article on Tomorrow’s Professor Blog, a partnership between Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Mount Evans

I had read the book. In fact, I read two of them: Road Biking Colorado and Riding Colorado's Mountain Passes. Both books gave route descriptions and other practical details along with romantic descriptions of the scenery and the sense of exhilaration awaiting the intrepid bicycle rider willing to take on Mt. Evans. I had already ridden Colorado’s second most monstrous climb, Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, not once but twice this summer. I had done everything I could to ready my mind and my body to pedal to the top of that mountain. And still I was not truly prepared.

I am both a reader and a writer, and yet I must confess that books could not prepare me. Books are two dimensional abstractions, and Mt. Evans is an enormous three dimensional reality. An artful author touches the reader’s imagination in reporting his own first-hand impressions, but in the end, one person’s experience is never congruent to another’s.

Even my own experience riding many other mountain roads did not prepare me for this mountain, this road, this day.

Mathematics helps us understand: how many miles of climbing, at what speed, at what heart rate, for how long, at what gradient, to what altitude, at what temperature and wind velocity. But even all of my measurements failed to describe the personal challenge of propelling my bike upward and onward each moment, and the recommitment that came with each pedal stroke to give one more stroke, and then another, and another.

There were dark moments: halfway to the summit I doubted I was up to this challenge, but I pushed the doubts aside. I said to myself, “I have topped other mountain roads before, some real, some metaphorical; I know I have both physical and spiritual strength; I know I can do this.” Self-confidence based on experience, and self-knowledge helped me conquer those moments of doubt.

And then it got harder. The mountain answered my renewed resolve. The road got steeper as I reached higher altitude; the air got colder, and the wind grew stronger, much stronger. And then my authors betrayed me; the National Forest Service betrayed me. Everywhere it was written that the ride was 28 miles from Idaho Springs, 14 miles from the park entrance to the summit. There at the side of the road was mile post 14. And still I looked upward toward the summit. Several more switchbacks on the road. I wanted to stop. To complain. I don’t know what I wanted. I was mad.

At that moment I remembered: I chose this path; I chose this ride; I chose this challenge because it is hard, because it is the ultimate ride in the mountains, and that I was getting everything I wished for and more. I smiled. I laughed at myself, at my weakness, and I pushed on.

Mountain goats greeted me at the summit. Coasting across the highest parking lot in the United States, I saw snowy peaks in every direction. I was electrified with joy, with the sense of accomplishment that comes from setting a challenging personal goal and making it.

I thought about our children, my own sons and your children and all of the children in all of the Montessori schools around the world. We offer them an education based on personal, hands-on experience, one that offers many many successes, one building upon another, some small, some big, and failures, too, because we must encounter moments of difficulty, even failure, in order to build psychic strength and the knowledge that we have the personal resources and resolve to overcome adversity. And we invite them to make choices, to set individual goals, big ones. Riding up Mt. Evans on a bicycle is not everyone’s goal. But everyone has their own Mt. Evans…if they have the courage to see it and to take it on. That is what I wish for my own children and for yours.