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Skyler Clark English 2010-055 Professor Lara Asplund 9 October 2013

Changing Americas Educational Paradigms It is almost an unwritten law that parents strive to give their children better and more enriched lives than they themselves had. A recent study by Philip Zimbardo, PhD found that working Americans are busier and busier each year, meaning less and less time for the educational enrichment of their children (Zimbardo 2010). There is a call going out to all current and future parents, an echoing screech in the night, a rallying trumpet; something needs to be done about childrens education. America, once the top in industry, politics, and business, was also the top in education. Studies now show that our children are barely performing at the world average level for math, sciences, and reading (TIMSS 2011). The call is for something to change, and the voice of the parents will likely be the catalyst to initiate that change. Parents can receive guidance from Maria Montessori, an icon in Italian education. Montessori developed a learning method that was very successful for educating young children. If the American educational system is to change, altering the methods used in the education of these children would be the best place to start. When pursuing a model from which we will be able to pattern a new educational system, the effectiveness, low cost, and time needed to implement the strategies of the Montessori Method is what makes this program the obvious choice. To understand Montessori's iconic methods one must first become familiar with Montessori and her astounding research Montessori specialized in pediatric medicine andsoon


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after her graduation from medical school became involved with young children, where her educational methods found their roots. After extensive research Montessori found the best way to educate children, and implemented those methods. It started with her Childrens Schools or Casa del Bambini, where she began to apply these methods with children considered mentally disabled. When her students were tested and performed at or beyond the levels of mainstream children, she attracted a lot of attention. Prominent figures of the time such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Helen Keller were all deeply intrigued by her educational accomplishments (Soylent 2002). Having briefly learned the roots of the method and its astonishing success, one can then perceive its effectiveness with all children. The Montessori Method is a hands-on approach to learning, primarily targeted at children ranging ages 2-7 years old. Montessori educators allow children time to develop specific skills through hands-on tasks that will foster creativity and encourage divergent thinking. Divergent thinking has been defined by Sir Ken Robinson, a New York Times bestseller, as The capacity for creativity (Robinson 2010). The encouragement of divergent thinking is one of the most important things that a Montessori school does. Divergent thinking is one of the traits many famous Montessori alumni such as Larry Paige & Sergay Brin, the co-founders of Google, or Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon, or even rap artist Sean P. Diddy Combs share, and they all attribute it to their early education. Montessori students dont take tests and they dont receive a lot of praise, stickers or any extrinsic incentives for that matter, yet many of these children read at age four, add complex numbers, and in some cases even speak a little conversational Japanese. How can a child develop these skills without being academically pressured? The Montessori Method functions on the basis that children are selfmotivated, and encourages children to develop themselves. Children are motivated when they are self-satisfied. Montessori teachers dont pressure their students or form competitions, and yet


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these children perform better than students in traditional schools. What is even more important is that these children are self-motivated, confident, and love learning (Lee 2012). Montessori teaching methods are highly successful with young students. The United States educational system has only produced decreasing math scores year after year according to international test comparisons (TIMSS 2011). The Montessori education modal however has been shown to educate young children in such a way that they excel in this field (Boyles 2006). Montessori math is just one aspect of a comprehensive and intuitive educational system. Investigating this one aspect of Montessori education will give greater understanding to the dynamics of the program. Montessori realized that children have trouble grasping abstract concepts when younger, and for many children when they are older as well. To best mold her teaching to the children, Montessori developed a hands-on and tactile method for children to learn numbers. This method was used to bridge the gap between tactile and abstract learning. The children would first engage in learning numbers 1-10 as well as decimals with small objects they can see and feel. The children would then progress by learning multiplication and division with these objects in synchrony with their written symbols. It wasnt long before the children would be able to associate these symbols with the objects and were able to effectively translate what they learned from tactile objects into abstract learning. Montessori children see math, before they work out the abstract problems, which is one reason why Montessori students score higher than public school students on tests (Lillard 2006). The United States is acountry that once used to be looked to as the foremost innovator is now trailing ever farther behind the pack. Humanity typically suffers from amnesia- forgetting history and repeatedly making like mistakes. At the moment the US has taken a different tact.. Americas way of living is not progressive, but reminiscent. The US still holds the same educational structure that was modeled in the days of industrialism, and in the image of it.


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(Robinson 2010) The US isslowly adjusting and changing its idealisms throughout the country, but education, which ought to be the fastest changing modal in society, seems to be the slowest changing of all. Change cannot be taught if teaching practices do not change. Children are cranked out by batches, hundreds, and thousands at a time. They are all submitted through a quality control process, made to pass each standard and fit into the mold given them. They are produced by year, time stamping them and moving onto the next batch. Conformity has been the model since the educational system was established, but as the world becomes more diversified, and at the same time smaller, education needs to be going in the opposite direction. When it is said that the world is getting smaller, it is meant in terms of commerce, communication, and culture. The paradox is that with the world shrinking in this way, knowledge and access to it is only increasing. There is so much to learn it is impossible to master all of it. Yet, American traditional schools tack on additional required courses and credits at the start of every year to meet with new developments. All of these courses are perceived to be necessary for their future, yet most of what is learned is of no interest to the children and is soon forgotten. Why not let the children choose from a younger age what they wish to pursue as many Montessori schools do? Children dont need to have every subject force-fed to them, but rather the opportunity to choose from the expansive array of available options to best fill their appetites.


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Whats more, the afore mentioned opportunities and happiness in education is not only possible, but cost effective. Finland is one of the highest ranking countries in the world by test scores, and spends around $10 billion for education, or a rough $5,600 a year per school child. This is far behind the US at a whopping $809.6 billion, or $7,700 per child per year. Finland, a country which shares many of the same methods and idealisms with Montessoris own method, outperforms the US and most every other country in math science and reading. In addition, by age 11 all of the students begin learning their 3rd language, and for many, by 13, their 4th. To cap it all, Finnish students spend the least amount of time in class per week out of any nation (USCRossierOnline
(USCRossierOnline 2011)

2011). Education in Finland shares many key traits with the Montessori Method. Both systems use peer-teaching for example. Elder students are encouraged to tutor, mentor and teach their younger classmates. This helps the elder children develop as role models as well as a sense of empathy and understanding for others. The younger students in turn, learn new ways to interact and experiment by learning with and from their elder peers. Another common feature is what makes peer-teaching possible. Students arent always clumped together into groups based upon


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when they entered schools. With Montessori schooling, it is most common for children to be taught together in age ranges. Most commonly the groups range from 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, and less commonly, 13-18. Perhaps the biggest difference between American traditional schools and Finnish schools, or even Montessori schools for that matter is their high-quality educators. Finnish teachers on average get paid nearly $10,000 less than US school teachers with about a 30% higher cost of living. This proves that it is not our educators salaries or resources that are at fault for poor education, but the system schematic itself. Whereas the Finnish system may be more difficult to repeat in the United States because of cultural differences, the Montessori system, which shares many of qualities with the Finnish system, is already in place in the United States. With thousands of teachers ready to share their knowledge with other instructors, a "wave" of change in education would not be difficult to initiate. This not only makes the implementation of a more hands-on educational system feasible, and cost effective, but time efficient as well. Only minimal funds would need to be spent on preparing educators to adjust their teaching strategies, and could be done gradually, as new educators coming into the field could constantly be bringing these skills with them. In an Interview between Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and Need to Knows Alison Stewart, Sahlberg was quoted as saying [a successful educational system needs] more collaboration less competition; more personalization, less standardization; more trust-based responsibility, less test-based accountability; more pedagogy, less technology; and more professionalism, less bureaucracy (Stewart 2010). If this is indeed the truth, then we need not look any further than the models presented by our nearest Montessori institutions. It may not be feasible to implement this method in all schools simultaneously, but when applied to


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individual primary education facilities gradually throughout the United States, the countrys educational system will begin to transform into the successful modal it ought to be. As it seems obvious, Montessori and the Finnish models require highly informed and enthusiastic teachers who are able to inspire students about the subjects that they teach by their simple excitement in education. Less reliance on testing to evaluate teaching performance allows the classroom teacher to take the time to share personal interest in subject matter and to cater instruction to each child instead of worrying about test prep and scores. While this opens the classroom curriculum for deeper exploration of subject matter, it also demands that classroom teachers bring a high level of knowledge to the class, requiring more intense training for educators. A change will not necessarily be easy, but it needs to happen. By beginning this process in the lower educational levelswhere the Montessori modal has proven to be the most effectivethe changes in curriculum for educators will be adopted without much difficulty. More stringent standards would need to be set for educators, as well as more freedoms given. A high level of trust would be placed in these individuals to be quality and proficient educators. As the Finnish system shows however, this trust and freedom may be incentive enough for individuals to pursue careers in education. Although not paid any more than other professions, and even less than US educators, an educational career is something highly sought after in Finland, and it could be the case in the United States as well.

The United States pays top dollar for education, but is reaping a lesser educational harvest than other countries that are paying and schooling less. Our country has been treating education like an early 1900s assembly line. The paramount issue of that time was ensuring that each child, or to better match the metaphor product, was receiving the same quality process as the last. Henry Ford once said about his model-T cars, You can have any color you


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want as long as its black. Thats what our educational system is doingproducing only black cars. If the car industry has had the sense to move on and develop from this fashion of industry why hasnt our educational system? The educational process in America has lost value, as shown by declining test scores, and yet we are still ensuring that each child is undergoing the same process; that process is out-dated, much like industrialism in America. It is time we move on to something better. Industry is not what helped America to become a world leader; it was, and still is creativity. Unfortunately, creativity is exactly what has been suppressed in American school children for years. RSA Animate, a research charity, recently published an educational video about Americas educational system that illustrates this very clearly (Robinson 2010). Ken Robinson talks in this film of Americas industrialized system, and some of its effects. He directly shows how education has decreased our capacity for divergent thinking, or as before mentioned , The capacity for creativity (Ibid). Conformity shouldnt be our standard, but ingenuity. In conclusion, changes in our educational system need to implemented in primary education in order to see greater success. The Montessori educational model offers an opportunity to alter our out dated system that is effective, low cost, and time efficient. The ideal foundation for an educational modal has been already been laid it, and is ready to be built upon. American parents have a responsibility to begin building.


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Works Cited Bedrick, Jason. No, Teachers in Finland Are Not Paid Like Doctors. CATO Institute. 4 Dec. 2012. Web. Boyles, Salynn. Study Shows Improved Test Scores for Students in Montessori Schools. WebMd. Sept. 28 2013. Web. Jacobs, Heidi. The Growing Need for Interdisciplinary Curriculum Content. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 1989. Print Lee, Anna. TED Event: For the Children are the makers of MenMontessori Education. Washington D.C: TED Event: MidAtlantic. Oct 2012. Presentation. Lillard, Angeline. Montessori: The Science behind the Genius. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. Print PISA. Program for International Student Assessment. Office for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2011. Web. Robinson, Ken. Changing Education Paradigms. CognitiveMedia RSA Event. 10 Oct. 2010. Web Video Presentation. Soylent Communications. Maria Montessori. NNDB. 2002. Web. 24 Sep. 2013. Stewart, Alison. Pasi Sahlberg on why Finland leads the world in education. Public Broadcast System. 10 Dec. 2010. Web. TIMSS. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Institute of Education Sciences. 2007. Web.


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USCRossierOnline. U.S. Education Spending and Performance Vs. the World. USCRossierOnline: 2Tor Staff 8 Feb. 2011. Web. Zimbardo, Philip. The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life New York: Simon and Schuster. 2008. Print.