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What is Jeff Bezos Up To?

by Maura Joyce, Head of School | From the October 2018 issue of The Post

Montessori found itself in the headlines last month, as Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and a former Montessori student, and his wife MacKenzie announced their plan to create and operate a national network of Montessori inspired preschools. Committing to a two billion dollar investment in programs for underserved communities, the Bezos family created quite a stir.

There are other tech giants who have attributed their success to Montessori (Will Wright, Larry Page, Sergey Brin), so it is no wonder they are attracted to it as a potential game-changer in terms of education. Much of conventional education is stuck in the archaic factory model of 150 years ago. Meanwhile, our world has moved on, and Bezos, along with so many others, recognizes the need to move education forward. Our experiences in the post-tech age are no longer standardized—they are individualized to meet our needs. We can look at tons of reviews before we even purchase a taco. The skills required to navigate the world today are much more complex than following directions and complying with those around us. Education should create learners who are ready to offer their specialized talents and the ability to be flexible in an ever-changing world.

However, it is even more than that. What is it about Montessori that convinced Bezos to invest such a large chunk of change? Recently at our Montessori Journey event, Post Oak parents were able to answer this question after participating in the work in the classrooms. When I asked parents to describe what they experienced, they shared the following. The use of the hands-on materials, which required the use of multiple senses, allowed parents to fully engage in the process and they found themselves really concentrating. A few participants spoke about the feeling of joy they experienced while doing the work and how much fun they had with the tasks. This happiness and fun contributed to their intrinsic motivation to seek out another activity. Others remarked about how the freedom and choice spurred a deeper dive into the task at hand. They went further than they expected or might have done if it was "assigned." Working collaboratively at the upper levels pushed them to stretch beyond their comfort zone and added an active conversation about the work that enriched the learning process. Working with one material made them want to know more about the subject, which motivated them to do more research. Finally, the connections between the subjects helped our adult Montessori students see the big picture and the inter-relatedness of the work. No one asked, "Why do we need to know this?"

Let's review that list: the ability to engage happily, collaborate, enjoy work, choose the right tool for the right job, stretch beyond their comfort zone, see the big picture, and grow in intrinsic motivation as your interest is piqued. Aren't these the skills and attributes we want in our coworkers, colleagues, friends, partners, co-parents, and fellow citizens? These experiences were individualized for each participant, with teachers as guides who allowed students to be the drivers of the learning process.

Back to Bezoswith few details given as to how this would be implemented, many Montessori professionals responded with their opinions, which generally reflected a lot of excitement. In articles that appeared after the two billion dollar investment announcement, my favorite quote came from Angeline Lillard who has conducted several smaller studies of the outcomes of Montessori education in lower-income communities. She is among the researchers working on the first large-scale, federally funded longitudinal study of Montessori effectiveness that will study public programs in multiple locations. Her view on what Montessori education brings to every child is the most poignant reason there should be a large investment to bring it to a broader audience. "The Montessori environment has a certain dignity," Lillard said. "Regardless of their background, children have a sense of self and who they are." This is what we see each and every day here at Post Oak, and it is what the parents experienced in their brief, two-hour period in our classrooms.

Bezos' announcement speaks to our own investment in a Post Oak education. We are moving education forward. We are preparing our students for the world they live in now and for a future that they will inherit. I appreciate your continued support and your investment in Post Oak especially this month, as we kick-off our Annual Fund campaign. I also hope you will invest your time in what we do, by attending the upcoming parent education events this month to experience it for yourself.