Magazine article Montessori Life

Montessori Madness!: An Interview with Trevor Eissler

Magazine article Montessori Life

Montessori Madness!: An Interview with Trevor Eissler

Article excerpt

Browsing on several months ago, I stumbled across the book Montessori Madness! and ordered it out of curiosity. It lay around for months before I got to it because, frankly, I didn't expect much from a book subtitled "A parent to parent argument for Montessori education." I mean, I'm a Montessoricredentialed teacher with years of classroom experience - what could a parent teach me about Montessori?

But I'm glad I dove in. As far as Montessori books go, this one is like a midsummer's dip in the cool water of a backyard pool, neighborhood friends sitting around the edge in deck chairs, the host tending the barbecue: relaxing, refreshing, invigorating, and fun. Eissler uses contemporary, downto-earth analogies to breathe new understanding into sometimes enigmatic Montessori concepts. And he offers plenty of personal anecdotes to make them matter. If you are a teacher who has ever complained that parents of your students just don't get it, this book is for you (and them)!

After I read the book, I had lunch with Eissler as he passed through Oakland on his way to a string of speaking engagements in California. He's taken the year off from his job as a flight instructor to publicize his book, which came out in April 2009. He's given dozens of parent talks since the book released, both across the country and in Montessori schools in places as far-flung as Australia and Ireland. For someone looking to make a buck, this could be a lucrative gig, but Eissler charges schools only for travel expenses plus 50 books (which schools can sell to recover their costs). Here is a parent truly in love with Montessori - I was compelled to learn more.

MP: What does the title Montessori Madness! mean? Is there something maddening or even a little crazy about Montessori education to you?

TE: I chose "madness" for the alliteration; because sitting in the classroom for the first time and seeing what the children were doing was such a shock (madness!); because I came to realize that the system that was really "mad" was the traditional system; and because I was angry: angry that I hadn't known about Montessori earlier, that it was pure luck that we happened to hear about it, that more parents didn't know about it, and that I couldn't see that anyone was making much of an effort to get the word out.

MP; Your book taught me things I didn't know about Montessori and refreshed many of the understandings I did have. Maria Montessori is not terribly readable, even for teachers. How did you get such an in-depth understanding of Montessori philosophy and practice without formal teacher training?

TE: Even though various things in her books surprised me, I recognized Montessori. Deep down inside, I knew it. It felt like my home life as a child. I was lucky to grow up in a wonderful family environment with no TV in the house and filled with the respect, confidence, independence, and love of learning found in Montessori. Reading her books and observing the classroom was a recognition for me. I knew each of these principles, I just had never realized that they could be found in a classroom and that it would look like it does (no desks lined up in rows, no teacher lecturing at the front of the class, children working on the floor and walking around, mixed-age classmates, etc.). Maria Montessori did not invent any of these principles. She just put them together in a systematic way for the education of children in a school setting.

MP: Why would a parent with no formal teacher training want to write a book about Montessori? What was your aim?

TE: There are plenty of books by Montessori experts laying out the principles of the method, and plenty of books by Maria Montessori herself. But Montessori's style of writing and examples used are about 100 years old. There was a void in the literature for a Montessori book written from the perspective of a newcomer, someone who did not know everything about the method, someone who was just discovering it and, in a personal way, working through the issues it raises. …

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