Maria Montessori vs. John Dewey

Aug 31, 2018 by

 (The Fight of The Century)

Maria Montessori vs. John Dewey

I’ve been studying Rudolf Flesch, the Reading Wars, the Ed Wars, John Dewey, and all points in between. Along the way I learned a lot about Montessori and her losing, bruising battle with America’s top educators. Mainly, I learned that she deserved to win.
Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy, graduating in 1896. You know she was extremely smart and determined; you know she thought for herself.
She got into education along an odd tangent. She wanted to help children with learning disabilities (at a clinic in Rome). She devised her own techniques and was soon producing miracles: these slower children were beating the so-called normal children. Now, that is an amazing and wonderful story. But it gets better.
Montessori next asked the very questions that would possess me: what the heck were the public schools doing to Italy’s children that they lagged behind her less capable children? How could she, a medical doctor, come along and beat those schools at their own game?
Long story short: she applied her techniques to ordinary kids and soon, she was the talk of Europe and then the world. Her ideas swept through enlightened circles in the US. She came here to speak in 1913.
And then comes one of the most shameful moments in American education. John Heard Kilpatrick, a crony of John Dewey, wrote a major attack piece in the New York Times (1914) that devastated Montessori. Her reputation in the US collapsed. Montessori schools closed. Her name disappeared until the 1960s. (Both she and Dewey died in 1952.)
Finally, it comes down to what an educator is REALLY trying to do.
 Maria Montessori was trying to set kids lose, make them smart. And all her resources explore (and explode) their potential. That’s what I believe in.
John Dewey and his gang were all too willing to settle for mediocrity. They were socialists and they believe that too much learning and knowledge got in the way of producing the cooperative, interdependent children they wanted. John Dewey specifically says in “My Pedagogical Creed” (1897) that he didn’t believe in too much history, science, math, geography, literature, and so on in the early grades. That is, ages 6 to 9 when according to Montessori and common sense, kids are on fire, eager to learn, growing every day.
 Instead, John Dewey says that he wants to emphasize social activities, including “cooking, sewing, manual training, etc.” (his words). He wants to slow kids down, to retard them. The payoff is supposed to be that they will grow to become good little socialists. (Even Antonio Gramsci, a real communist, said that if you want to help poor kids, you had better give them lots of basic academic skills.)
Here’s what I’ve figured out: you have to look at motives. Montessori was obsessed with making slow children fast. That’s a pedigree I can trust. Dewey was  obsessed with making all kids Socialists. So, from day one, Dewey was not an educator in the traditional sense. He believed in conditioning. He was a social engineer, trying to build he Brave New World he saw in his head.
A century later, we’re still paying for Dewey’s bad ideas. Dewey, I submit, is the  Father of Dumbing Down. He and his gang did not like too much literacy. That is, they were comfortable with more illiteracy. And they got it. By promoting Whole Word, which does not work, they made sure that this country’s literacy rate would steadily drop  This pedagogy is also, I believe, responsible for all the dyslexia and reading problems we hear about. (Want to eliminate dyslexia? My  conclusion is that the simplest way is to eliminate sight-words. Every last one. Once children see the sight-word shapes they become doomed, no longer able to perceive sounds in print.)
The problem with Dewey and Kilpatrick is that they were trying to pull off a silent coup. They wanted a Socialist America. You think they can speak candidly about their goals and strategy? Never. That’s why anything Kilpatrick, Dewey, or their allies say about Montessori will be bull and balderdash. It will, more formally, be disingenuous.
 Bottom line: let’s don’t get stuck in the details. Montessori was a real educator. She always INTENDS  to educate. Dewey was a real Socialist. He always intends to create  Socialists. As most people understand the term “education,” Dewey was actually anti-education.
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