At the intersection of education and technology, to be sure. Perhaps it’s best if we start by, as we always teach our students, looking both ways. If we plan to cross the street, it’s important to know what’s coming, less we be completely surprised. Certainly, it’s great to take challenges head-on, but it’s also important not to be blindsided by the unexpected.
When we focus on one at the expense of the other, we run the risk of getting stuck in the headlights, so to speak. If you look to your left, you might see a rich and fertile landscape, one complete with the promise of new and revolutionary educational advances. If you look to your right, however, you might see a much more ominous set of technological circumstances, a parlous, dare we say, disastrous point of contention.
When we first launched Montessorium
, our primary intention was to raise awareness of the Montessori approach to education. It was simply two parents and two teachers at Baan Dek
, in the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a shared vision for what lessons could be imparted. Namely, our ambition was to offer a renewed appreciation for what it means to learn, by showcasing the remarkable Montessori activities, coupled with a new found attention exerted on the incredible work that happens in Montessori schools throughout the world.
Essentially, the moment Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, an entirely new set of opportunities were suddenly presented. As we once commented
, it was a Neil Armstrong moment: “One small step for education, one giant leap for learning.” In a way, everything felt more possible. Instantly, a number of obstacles were seemingly, and rather convincingly, overcome. At least, that’s the expectation that hung in the air: that a breath of fresh air was blowing in from the salty seas.
Specifically, within the context of Montessori, the perennial issues of accessibility, affordability and quality, were immediately reassessed. It was a fresh and exciting time. It’s what the previous generation must have felt with the great space race. In some measure, everyone could participate. Keep in mind, this is the same set of problematics that constantly haunt administrators, no less than parent advocates and community supporters: how to share the brilliance of Montessori in a way that can easily be adopted.
With the advent of the iPad, instead of helping each family, one by one, learn the value of Montessori, in each town, spread across various nations, it felt like, if we worked hard enough, with just the right amount of aptitude, the entire planet could squeeze tightly into a virtual classroom. Or, what is even more, they would rally together, equipped with a few insights, and feel inspired to research Montessori, join their local Montessori school, or even, when we dream, really late at night, start their own. Yes, we know, it’s a bit naive.
With the above in mind, when we first launched Intro to Letters
and Intro to Math
, we had no idea what to expect. We were filled with hope, and promise, and excitement. We thought, at last, things could be different. Things could be better. Montessori could finally gain the recognition that it deserves. We also felt we could have a meaningful conversation about the true import of what it means to learn. After all, Steve Jobs himself cautioned about the incorporation of technology into education.
Then, slowly, almost methodically, we started to receive feedback from the “Montessori” community. The ones we were most interested in hearing from, the ones we felt the most affinity towards. However, the feedback we received wasn’t friendly, or even productive. It was irate. Quickly, it became hateful. It was the unfortunate sort. The type of correspondence you never share with your loved ones, the handwritten notes that the post office chooses to bury beneath the bills, so as to lessen the blows.
Yet, we read each and every one of these letters. Line by line. Word by word. We were trying to understand the hatred. We were looking for a way to make sense of it all. We were frustrated, disenchanted, disaffected by the Montessori community at large. “How could these teachers, the ones who were, reportedly, inspiring the next generation to be peaceful, to keep a free and open mind, to respect diversity, and difference of opinion, lash out, in this way?” What was at stake? For us, it was everything. It was the future of Montessori itself.
As these letters piled up, and we eventually had to change our phone number to avoid the flurry of distasteful voice messages, we reached a certain precipice. We looked at each other and simultaneously professed, “Why are we doing this? We should close the school, fold the apps, and just remove ourselves from this hostile environment.”
Then one night, in the middle of the night, we received a different kind of a note. It was a letter from Steve Jobs. He simply said, “I love what you’re doing! Let us know how we can help.” It was the first real, positive, meaningful correspondence that we had received. We immediately wrote back, perhaps too unabashedly, and expressed our concern over the reception of the applications. Needless to say, he was kind of our hero, and we felt that personal connection, whether it was warranted or not. He inspired, and this is a direct quote: “Don’t be discouraged by the traditionalists. The parents and kids will prove you right. Just keep going!”
Ever since, that’s been our modus operandi: “just keep going!” The biggest lesson that we’ve learned, which is a hard one, is that we must always, despite everything, stay open, stay free, trying our best to “keep thinking alive”, and look both ways before we cross a busy intersection. Keep thinking alive
, not only about the role technology can play in education, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the type of example that we want to set for our children.
We’ve been wrestling with this narrative, and whether to share it, for at least four years. Thank you for the opportunity. Maybe we’re finally ready, as individuals, as a community, to have a productive, meaningful conversation.
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