Friday, August 21, 2009

Why don't students like school? a book by Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist.

"Kids are naturally curious, but when it comes to school it seems like their minds are turned off." That's on the dust jacket. It reminds me of a presentation I made several years ago to the "Men's Business Breakfast Club".

I asked, "How many of you like learning something new?" and every hand went up.

Then I asked, "How many of you liked school?" and almost every hand went down.

This morning one of the dads was walking into school with his young daughter. She was skipping down the hall. He said to me, "Never before have I seen a child who was happy to go back to school after summer vacation." I smiled and said, "Yes, I know we're different."

Another dad, a third-year medical student, noted that a classmate wrote on her Facebook page, "Two words for today: yuck! and yeah! Yuck because school has started again; Yeah because I'll be done at the end of this year."

I've never met that med student. I wonder whether she is going into the wrong career, or whether she is crying out about how poorly schools fit students?

Another physician on another day, Dr. Montessori, a woman who went to medical school after deciding she did not want to become a teacher, took one of life's strange turns and dedicated her life to working with children. She approached the task the way a scientist would. After all, she was a scientist. She began by observing children, by finding out how they learn, and then began designing learning materials. This led to the creation of learning environments and the redefinition of the role of the adult. And when she was all done, the children rediscovered the joy in learning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

E-mail to Fast Company

Wonder whether education really matters?

It does, but not in the way common knowledge suggests. Ivy League? MBA? Technical training?

What do the following people have in common: Sergei Brin, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Will Wright, Jimmy Wales, Sean Combs, and Julia Child?

If you said they are all creative, entrepeneurial, shapers of the culture, I'd agree.

They also attended Montessori schools as children, and note that approach to education (hands on, experiential, self-directed) shaped them.


John Long
Head of School
The Post Oak School
Houston, TX

Friday, August 7, 2009

Julia Child

I'm going to see the new movie about Julia Child because ... she was such a character (I remember watching her on tv cooking with a blow torch!)...and I truly admire Meryl Streep (who plays Child in the movie)...and I love to eat...and I love what changes she provoked in the American diet since my boyhood days when canned chop suey was considered adventuresome (at least in my family)...and because she was a Montessori child.

That's right, Julia Child attended Montessori school and credits that education (in her book Julia Child and Company)for her love of working with her hands.

Actually, I see much more Montessori than that in Mrs. Child.

Several Houston chefs were interviewed about Julia Child for a story in today's Houston Chronicle.

Michael Cordua (chef and owner of Cordua Restaurants) said, "Julia was a role model to me in that she broke away from the homogenization of the American diet in the '50's--white bread, canned veggies, etc. She was a pioneer in taking an ethnic cuisine center stage and paved the way for the rest of us to express our culinary heritage to mainstream America."

A pioneer. Montessori kids have the courage and the creativity to be pioneers. How about Montessori kid Jimmy Wales who invented Wikipedia? He reinvented the old fashioned book-based encyclopedia written by experts and revised every couple of years. Everyone said everyone can't collectively write an encyclopedia. It will be worthless...

Ryan Hildebrand (executive chef at Bistro Don Camillo and Bistro Provence) said, "I remember watching her show with my mom. Her character added a sense of fun to cooking, which generated an interest in me. She made an omelet look fun. It didn't look like work. She showed you could spend your day in the kitchen and it was a fun and happy place to be. She put a happy spin on what can be a very taxing career."

A sense of fun. It didn't look like work. When a group of parents and teachers sat down together to describe Post Oak graduates, one of the characteristics was, "They are fun to be around. Their enthusiasm, civility, and respect for others are contagious."

Stacy Crowe-Simonson (executive chef and owner of Chez Nous) said, "Her history of going into the kitchen so blind and becoming such a master of it definitely gives women an inspiration. It did for me....She takes the fear out of trying something new."

Montessori wanted kids to develop "a friendly relationship to error,"--to understand that mistakes are a normal part of learning, and that to learn, you must be willing to make mistakes, and then to move forward. Unfortunately, traditional schools are more concerned with knowing than with learning. And when that is your concern, mistakes are an embarrassment, a red mark on the page, a poor grade on the report card. And the result is resentment, shame and fear--rather than encouragement to accept mistakes as the price of admission to the steep part of the learning curve.

Robert Del Grande (chef/owner of RDG + Bar Annie) said, "Julia was the same person on TV or in front of a group or having coffee with her. There wasn't a stage persona. If you were talking to her one on one, it was the same as if she were on a TV show. She had no pretense at all. She was completely genuine."

Del Grande's observations echo loud and clear another characteristic our parents and faculty observed in Montessori grads: "They are comfortable in their own skin. Post Oak grads have grown up in a nurturing culture that encourages self-motivation, independent thinking, and the experience of taking on big challenges—all great preparation for whatever life has in store for them."

Popcorn anyone?