Sunday, March 12, 2006

Brin, Page, Bezos and Wales?

What do the founders of Google (both of them), Amazon and Wikipedia have in common? Like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, Buckminster Fuller, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Jean Piaget and Hilary and Bill Clinton before them, they all had early Montessori schooling.

Sergei Brin and Larry Page both attended Montessori schools. Indeed, they both credit their Montessori education for much of their success. It was the Montessori experience, they claim, that made them self-directed, allowing them to think for themselves and pursue their real interests.

Jeff Bezos's mother tells of his single-mindedness at his Motessori school, being so absorbed in the tasks he chose that they had to drag him off to give him a change. This same self-directed, single-mindedness was a feature of his Amazon adventure.

Jimmy Wales was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Although not home-schooling, it was close as he was taught in a class of four by his mother and grandmother, who ran the school. The school was significantly influenced by Montessori methods and he had the freedom to study what he liked on his own terms.

Note that all three have made significant contributions to increasing access to self-directed knowledge and learning.


Anonymous said...

I admire Montessori schools, but I think this is just evidence that the rich are more powerful and have better schooling.

You can use statistics and name dropping to prove or disprove anything.
Montessori also produced P.Diddy, Shari "Lamb Chop" Lewis, and Stephen "A-Team" Cannell.
And of course you could name scores of other famous people who are products of public education, simply by the sheer numbers of people in that category.

I mean, geez, George W. Bush went to Yale, and Einstein, as legend goes, was a poor student. So anything is possible.

Donald Clark said...

Is this statistically significant? You ask the right question. Montessori schools are rarely a asign of wealth. These guys were far from wealthy - Brin born in Russia to immigrant parents, Wales had a poor rural upbringing. If we extend the analysis into other billionaires such as Sperling (University of Phoenix) he was as poor as they get in the US - his biography is harrowing. I do think that the eductaional background to internet billionaires shows not wealth as the driver but focus, intelligence, self-direction and non-mainstream educational backgrounds. When they did enter the mainstream, many of them simply droppedout.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article by Steve McCormack here [How Montessori saved a struggling school - the startling success of progressive teaching mentods at an inner-city primary school could have serious implications for state-sector learning] in the 16/3/2006 Independent.

Caitlin Wood Sklar said...

This is my first attempt at blogging, so please forgive any protocol oversights.

We were all so excited when Brin and Page did their interview and credited Montessori. Only to have our hopes dashed when only Montessori publications really gave it any media attention. I really thought it would have generated more interest.

Anonymous' comment on P. Diddy is right on the mark. Who is to say whether Montessori education causes these qualities in its students or whether a certain type of parent, who values these qualities, chooses a Montessori education for his or her child?

The lack of coherent research on the benefits of Montessori education astounds and frustrates me. People who have experienced Montessori, either as students, teachers or parents, describe the concentration, self-discipline, self-direction, passionate interest in learning, and empathy/cooperative nature that this sort of learning environment engenders. Yet the research is very thin, and most people outside of Montessori either have no idea or are skeptical.

There is a book by Angeline Lillard, recently out, called Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, which describes the research behind a number of principles underlying Montessori education. Besides this, I am aware of only two current, rigorously conducted studies comparing Montessori and traditional education. (Go to and click on research studies). One shows Montessori students scoring higher in math and science scores and the other shows higher motivation, energy, friendships, and other social-emotional areas. It occurs to me after reading teh article recommended by seb schmoller (which was useful, thanks) that I may be limiting my search to American research. I'll have to make an effort to broaden my search internationally.

I helped to start a public Montessori school in Philadelphia in 2004. Our students face the typical challenges of any low-income, inner-city community and they are doing very well after only a year and a half. We want desperately to encourage more public Montessori schools in our own city and in other cities.

Politically, it is such an uphill battle as it is expensive to equip the classrooms and time-consuming to re-train teachers. Without a solid research base, it is virtually impossible to garner the political will to do this.

I am doing my dissertation now comparing teaching practices at Montessori and traditional public schools. The emphasis is on strategies to promote prosocial skills and build a peaceful classroom culture. If it shows any significant results, I'd love to do the same in other cities with more established Montessori programs in low-income, inner-city public schools.

Maybe Brin, Page or Bezos will fund the research? :)

Donald Clark said...

I admire your perseverance in the face of monolithic resistance from state education. These two studies are worth reading, both available as PDFs from the site at the end of this post.

A Comparison of Montessori and Traditional Middle Schools: Motivation, Quality of Experience, and Social Context
by Kevin Rathunde

With the help of co-investigator Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Dr. Rathunde compared the experiences and perceptions of middle school students in Montessori and traditional schools using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM). Montessori students reported a significantly better quality of experience in their academic work than did traditional students. In addition, Montessori students perceived their schools as a more positive community for learning, with more opportunities for active, rather than passive, learning.

This study was sponsored by the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA, an affiliate organization of AMI) and published in The NAMTA Journal 28:3 (Summer, 2003), pages 12-52.

Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program
A Longitudinal Study of the Experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools

"This study supports the hypothesis that Montessori education has a positive long-term impact. Additionally, it provides an affirmative answer to questions about whether Montessori students will be successful in traditional schools."

"A significant finding in this study is the association between a Montessori education and superior performance on the Math and Science scales of the ACT and WKCE. In essence, attending a Montessori program from the approximate ages of three to eleven predicts significantly higher mathematics and science standardized test scores in high school."

Anonymous said...

A study by Angeline Lillard, just published in the US-AAAS Science Magazine compared inner-city Montessori and non-Montessori students in Milwaukee and found that the latter generally performed better in all the tests (academic and behavioural)

Rina Tripathi said...

The learning in children has been an area of interest. When my son was born I was twenty-one but I loved children. Here the play school concept is fast becoming popular. These are close to the montessori schools,my son refused to go to these. As a result I would take him evey where along me and try showing him things. If it was a magnet, we would play and see the opposite poles attracting. If he asked about botterflies, we would collect the eggs in a cardboard box and see catterpillars emerging then turning to pupa. This gave him an idea about what they feed on and their habitat. I was made fun of by women who had pushed the kids to the play schools. These play schools are not scientific and just force manners on to kids. If we bathed we experimented with archmedies principal by immersing things and collecting the displaced water. Another thing, here kids are forced to learn two languages-English and Hindi, for long I did not converse with him in second language, using only mother tiongue. Now his English is amazing, he writes novels and grammatically perfect works. Seems we need to let things flow and go easy on learning. This time I had faced tremendous stress as my daughter was being teased for not speaking' English'. I became doubtful of my stand as my mother-in-law whois a teacher started pushing it that I was making the kid suffer this by not teaching her the language. Thankfully she learned on her own but I still believe that there is a soft ware kinda thing in kid's mind that openes up at right age and this may differ with each child. Nice post Donald, thanks for so much knowledge.

David Jennings said...

Hi Donald, Only just found this post via Seb citing it. I was amazed by the stellar list of Montessori alumni, and mentioned it to others. One of them gave me a sceptical look, and we soon realised it couldn't all be true. Several in that list were schooled in the 19th century, before the first Montessori school opened. Here's what I found about their Montessori connections.

Alexander Graham Bell gave financial support to Maria Montessori, and helped start the first Montessori class in Canada
Thomas Edison invited Maria Montessori to the US and helped found a Montessori school
Henry Ford is frequently cited as a "supporter" but the nature of his support is not specified
Mahatma Gandhi met Maria Montessori and spoke at one of her colleges, both in October 1931
Sigmund Freud corresponded with Maria Montessori, and his daughter Anna is reported to have had "an interest" in Montessori education (source)
Buckminster Fuller is also widely cited as a supporter, and wrote the foreword to a book by Maria Montessori's son, Mario
Leo Tolstoy -- I can't find any mention of a direct connection between Leo Tolstoy and Montessori beyond the same list that has been copied round the web; indirectly, his daughter Tatiana is mentioned as a supporter
Bertrand Russell sent his son to a Montessori school and wrote supportively about the approach in On Education (source)
Jean Piaget carried out his first studies of children in the 1920s in a modified Montessori institution in Geneva, and Piaget was for a number of years the head of the Swiss Montessori Society, though he later became dissatisfied with Maria Montessori (source)
Hilary and Bill Clinton sent their daughter to a Montessori school

This doesn't take away from your point about Brin, Page, Bezos and Wales -- but clearly all those Great & Good did not have an early Montessori schooling. As philanthropists, progressive intellectuals and educators, most of whom were active about a century a go, it's not particularly remarkable that they showed interest in, and support for, one of the educational innovations of their day.