The Great Technology Debate

In the April 2013 issue of The Atlantic, author and national correspondent Hannah Rosin takes a long look at The Touch-Screen Generation: the current under-10 set who are just as familiar with Angry Birds as they are Goodnight Moon.

While attending a California conference for developers of children’s apps, a rapidly expanding industry that has some jumping on the “digital education is the future” bandwagon and others longing for less tech-trendy days, she pontificates:

“What, really, would Maria Montessori have made of this scene? The 30 or so children here were not down at the shore poking their fingers in the sand or running them along mossy stones or digging for hermit crabs. Instead they were all inside, alone or in groups of two or three, their faces a few inches from a screen, their hands doing things Montessori surely did not imagine.”

After interviewing various experts, researchers and psychologists — and conducting informal experiments with her own toddler — Rosin ends up echoing the beliefs of Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who directs the Center on Media and Child Health. As quoted in this 2010 New York Times article, he says “with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, ‘like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.'”

In other words, stop setting time limits and stressing out, and just let them touch, tap and swipe away. But then, some say toddler iPad addiction is a very real thing, while studies are suggesting that too much tech time can lead to behavioral and relationship problems.

The debate goes on, even at The Atlantic. This month’s issue revived the roundtable via an interview with longtime tech executive Linda Stone. In “The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World,” she claims that tech overload can lead to a condition that is “worse than autism”, a lack of empathy, and even “a kind of sociopathy and psychopathy.”

But the app-happy parents and entrepreneurs at Rosin’s conference whimsically quote Montessori (“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”) and emphasize their wares’ educational potential. After all, whether they are tracing a “C” on a screen, in the dirt, or on sandpaper, the end result is the same.

Others assert that technology is essentially and fundamentally Montessorian, in that it allows the individual to learn at his or her own pace, unimpeded. The world’s knowledge is, after all, at your fingertips, and the tablet is a powerful, interactive tool that arguably has its place on Montessori shelves as well as in the home. Everyone from the 2013 Ted Talk winner to forward-thinking educators agree that we need to integrate technology to prepare students for the future, as well as to empower and equip them in new, never-before-seen ways.

Somewhere there is an ideal balance to be found between hands-on, person-to-person learning, time spent playing outdoors, and Toca Tea Party. It’s up to us as parents and educators to find it.

What do you think? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Foothills Montessori School is a private Montessori school serving families in Henderson, Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.

Google Honors Maria Montessori

Last Friday would have been the 142nd birthday of Maria Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy and the founder of a system of education that is now practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide., the all-powerful search engine, is the Internet’s most-visited site (close rivals with Facebook, natch); an estimated 700 million saw the Google doodle celebrating Montessori’s birth last Friday (August 31, 2012). Perhaps one of them was in India, searching for the latest movie times; or in England, looking up their favorite Paralympic athlete. Perhaps the sketch of traditional Montessori materials made them search for — what else — “What is Montessori?”

In case you are curious as well, Montessori is a method of education that emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, stimulating hands-on learning, mixed-age classrooms and safe and natural environments. The child is respected as an individual who has an innate drive to discover the world around her; thus she is given space to explore and experiment. She is allowed time to focus on a subject that interests her and to work for an uninterrupted period of time, enabling her to fully complete the task and feel a fulfilling and empowering sense of accomplishment.

In other words, the teacher more often follows the child than the other way around. This room for growth has nurtured many a young dreamer. Notable alumni include Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google; precocious young diarist Anne Frank; famous chef and personality Julia Child; former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Nobel Prize Winner and celebrated author Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Washington Post editor Katherine Graham; “Founder of Modern Management” Peter Drucker; accomplished young actress Dakota Fanning; founder Jeff Bezos; Prince William and Prince Harry; respected pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton; and many more … including the bright young graduates of Foothills Montessori!

Google co-founders Brin and Page have often credited the Montessori method with contributing to their success. “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 stated in a 2010 interview with ABC (watch the video clip here).

Maria would have been proud of this sentiment and encouraged it in her own pupils. ““Discipline must come through liberty,” she wrote. “We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself.”

Montessori herself went against the grain, defying gender constrictions  that tried to prevent her from entering medical school and realizing her dreams. Her perseverance allowed her to become the first female doctor in Italy. She then went on to create what was at the time (and indeed, still is today) a highly forward-thinking educational system that drastically differed from conventional norms. Not one to bow to unjust authority, her schools in Italy were temporarily shut down when she refused to have her students dress in fascist uniform and give the fascist salute under Mussolini’s regime.

Fortunately, the world was more than eager for Montessori’s refreshing approach to the classroom and to life. She quickly gained international recognition, was thrice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and gained such prominent supporters as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Helen Keller.

Foothills Montessori School is proud to bear her name and espouse her philosophies. We believe that, married with 21st century technologies, caring and qualified faculty and endless enrichment opportunities, this ideology provides the best environment for young minds and active bodies. Students are taught to follow their passions and nurture their ideas, just as Montessori did.

So happy belated birthday, Maria. You are an example of a true leader, and your enlightened methods have made the world a better place.

Curiosity still not satisfied? See, we told you learning is addictive. Check out more on Maria Montessori here and on her method of education here.