Magazine article Montessori Life

Let's Ask Anyway

Magazine article Montessori Life

Let's Ask Anyway

Article excerpt

The following is an excerpt from a keynote speech delivered by Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut at the 2007 Annual Conference of the American Montessori Society, March 3, 2007, in Neiv York City.

As remarkable as Dr. Montessori's willingness to teach the unteachable was her willingness to respect them. In a time when lectures and rote memorization were universal from kindergarten to college, she literally took the teacher's desk out of the classroom.

She gave up control in a way that few teachers ever had, because she understood why the system of her day was holding children back: The system itself was meant to make life easier for the adults. It's easier to stand at the front of a room and talk. It's easier to look out at straight rows and still bodies; but what's easy and what's right are rarely the same. A Montessori education is called child-centered, and to me that means putting the convenience of adults exactly where it belongs-last.

Once Dr. Montessori was trying to amuse her students by showing them silly ways to blow their noses. "The children watched me in rapt attention," she reported, "but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater." "Thank you, thank you for teaching me how to blow my nose!" one child shouted.

Dr. Montessori had no idea what to make of that, until something occurred to her a few days later: She saw adults punishing children for their runny noses all the time but she couldn't remember seeing an adult take the time to show how a nose was supposed to be blown. You only need five seconds to punish the wrong behavior. But to teach the right one, you need uncommon reserves of time and patience.

What then are the lessons we learn from Dr. Montessori's example-from her readiness to remove herself from the center of the classroom, and from her years of work with her society's expendables? First: When it comes to educating our children, it's not about us-it's about them. And second: It's about all of them.

Well how can we put those lessons to use today? What can we do now to get this world right for our children?

For me, it starts with confessing our limits. I will never affect the life of a student as directly as my sister Carolyn and brother Tom have over their many years of dedicated teaching. And yet I still believe that, working from Washington, we can shape the lives of our nation's children for the better; we can still turn principles into practice.

I'd like to share with you a few of the ways we can do just that. First, we need to make it easier for parents to take part in their children's education. Second, we need to reform the No Child Left Behind law. Third, we need equal expectations and equal resources for all of our children. Fourth, we need to keep our promises to our most vulnerable students. And fifth, we need to bring quality pre-kindergarten education to every child in America.

First, I want to start at the foundation with the first teachers-parents. I'm sure the parents in this room understand: the success of your children from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. rests heavily on what goes on between 3 p.m. and bedtime. If you build your home on a love of learning-or even if you simply insist on no TV before homework-you're doing your sons and daughters the favor of a lifetime (though it might take them a while to realize it).

So we need to make sure parents have time to be with their children. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which I'm proud to have written, guarantees working men and women time off to care for their own illnesses, or for sick loved ones, a newborn, or adoption without losing their jobs.

I believe we should go a step further. We should also help parents stay involved in the life of their children's schools. I want parents to have 24 hours of leave each year to attend teacher conferences and school activities-when we consider what a difference that time could make, it's a miniscule amount to spare. …

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