Saturday, December 07, 2013

Review: Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius
Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lillard sets out to present the empirical evidence for the Montessori Method. Using research of Montessori directly and psychological research more generally, she explains both the Montessori theory and how the evidence supports much of what goes on in a Montessori classroom. The breadth of evidence that supports many of the key claims of Montessori is impressive and worth a serious look by anyone interested in Montessori or educational philosophy in general.

Another important aspect of the book is where Lillard points out the need for more research to support various aspects of Montessori. She is also careful to note the qualifications or limiting conditions on many of the studies. These are important both because it points out paths for future researchers, but also demonstrating Lillard’s intellectual honesty. She is clearly a Montessori supporter, but she is not dogmatic about it.

A downside here is that Lillard is often critical of traditional, mainstream education, but too often in an overly general way. She paints it with too broad of a brush and so might be seen as unfairly dismissing traditional schools and teachers. This is a point reinforced by some of my students’ responses to the book. I assigned this for my graduate class in Philosophy of Education. For the most part, they liked it and found much of it valuable and eye-opening; but a few noted her easy dismissal of traditional education and felt it unfairly characterized their own experiences. If the book was: “Why Montessori is better than traditional schools” then this would be a significant failing. But Lillard is not writing this book to criticize mainstream education but to show how research supports Montessori. So the fact that she falls short in fairly dealing with traditional education is not damning for the overall quality and importance of this book.

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