Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori — from Google and the rest of us!

31 Aug

Google's Montessori TributeAugust 31, 2012. Today would be 142nd birthday of revolutionary Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori.

To celebrate, Montessori alums at Google displayed a Google doodle of traditional Montessori learning manipulatives on their homepage.  That’s right -  both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, grew up as Montessori kids.  What’s more, it is this very Montessori heritage that they attribute to their success.

In a 2004 interview with ABC (embedded below), both Page and Brin spoke about the power of self-directed learning in the Montessori learning environment.  “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders -  and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a bit different,” Page said of Montessori school’s role in his success.  Maria Montessori believed that children had an innate drive to learn and that the educator’s role was to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for the student’s educational growth.  The self-directed Montessori student is then able to concentrate on acquiring knowledge through experimentation with hands-on, personalized activities, according to their own interests and at their own pace.

In fact, Google’s infamous 20% rule – where employees spend 20% of their work week on something company-related that they are personally interested in, something not in their job description – is grounded in this idea of self-directed learning.  And success in the form of Gmail, Google Talk,  Google Maps, Reader and other innovations has been the result.  As is often the case, powerful things happen as the result of empowering people to follow their own dreams instead the dreams of someone else.

So, in Maria Montessori’s honor, I want to take a moment to celebrate her legacy – a legacy of respecting the dignity of every child and empowering children to be masters of their own learning.  Raise a glass, give a cheer… and let’s all spend a few minutes reflecting on our own educational practice, a few minutes dreaming up at least one practical way to give our students more voice in their learning this next week and, in doing so, continuing her amazing legacy.

Happy birthday, Maria Montessori.

 

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