The North American Montessori Teacher’s Association and John Chattin-McNichols, a professor at Seattle University, have independently sought to identify misconceptions about Montessori education. This list is derived from their work.
1. Montessori schools is just for preschool children. Most Montessori schools in North America are preschools but programs are offered at elementary, middle school and high school levels.
2. Montessori is just for special learners–the gifted or the learning-disabled. The methods used in Montessori schools have been effective with learning-disabled and gifted learners but they are designed to ensure success of all children.
3. Montessori schools are religious. Maria Montessori was a religious Catholic and her schools early in the 20th century reflected her religious sensibility. Today, a few private Montessori schools in the US have a religious orientation but the vast majority of schools are operated in nonsectarian fashion.
4. Montessori is only for the rich. Montessori began her work with poor children in the slums of Rome. The American Montessori movement began in the 1960s as a private preschool movement, supported by tuition, but it has grown. it has not received the public support it merits–the support that would allow it to serve many more poor children–but it is offered in more than 250 public school sites and at several Head Start centers.
5. Children in Montessori classrooms do whatever they want. Montessori education is based on the principle of free choice within limits of purposeful activity.
6. Montessori is a cult. Occasionally, a few Montessorians behave in ways that make that charge plausible. They may appeal to Maria Montessori’s writing as a fundamentalist refers to a religious text or speak with a sense of certainty that does not set well with mainstream American educators–or with fellow Montessorians. All Montessorians are educated to see subtle changes in children’s behavior, to interpret it in terms of a complex vision of human development and to respond in thoughtful, disciplined and effective ways. But the Montessori community is diverse and most Montessorians see the approach as expansive and are able to maintain a commitment to their ideals while being open to new ideas. It is grossly unfair to characterize their work as cult-like.
7. Montessori classrooms are too structured. Although the teacher is careful to make clear the specific purpose of each material and to present activities in a clear, step-by-step order, the child is free to choose from a vast array of activities and to discover new possibilities.
8. Montessori classrooms discourage fantasy and stifle creativity. Teacher-directed fantasy play is rare among Montessori educators, but fantasy play initiated by the child is viewed by many as healthy and purposeful, depending on the child’s health and stage of development.
9. Montessori classrooms push children too far too fast. Montessori education emphasizes allowing each child to develop at his or her own pace.
10. Montessori is out of date. Montessori education has developed in a variety of ways in North America. Some schools adhere quite closely to the initial specifications, others have adapted freely. This can lead to heated disputes. But it is important to recognize that although classrooms that take the name “Montessori” may look somewhat different, they all may be quite successful in meeting children’s needs and nourishing their potential.