Freedom of Choice

John Sallans
Post Oak Eighth Grade Class of 2002

Introduction by John Long, Head of School

John Sallans graduated from Post Oak in the class of 2002. He went on to Episcopal High School (EHS) where he was recognized as the top math student multiple times. He also played competitive volleyball and established the EHS hackey-sack club. This is another Montessori characteristic: if there isn't a club, start one.

After EHS, John was recruited by the University of Houston to enter its Honors College and awarded a four-year Terry Scholarship. The University of Houston website offers this information about Terry Scholars:

"The Terry Scholars at the University of Houston are a close-knit community of students who are motivated not only to succeed academically but to contribute to the betterment of our community as a whole. The current 58 scholars participate in numerous service projects in the greater Houston area. We strive to be leaders in our school and community because of the great opportunity afforded to us. Outside of school, we believe strongly in creating a safety net and often get together for fellowship and just to have fun!"

Among this group of leaders, John is a leader, serving as an elected officer for the past three years. John embodies Dr. Montessori's dictum, "It is the responsibility that a leader must feel, not the authority of his position." John looks first to help and to serve.

And he probably won't mention that he just finished class at 7:00 to join us tonight.

I present … John Sallans.

I would be lying if I said that I was not at all intimidated when Christina [Kopanidis-Cantu] asked me to speak at this event tonight. However, the more prevalent feeling was one of excitement. Not that I would get to dress up, valet park at swanky hotel, or enjoy a fancy, free dinner. No. Excitement that I would be able to speak about how I have been blessed to receive a Montessori education and how it has influenced my life.

However, as the weeks pressed on, the intimidation set in. How could I even begin to quantify what I gained from my Montessori education? It has been seven years since I was a student in a Montessori classroom. Do I still remember what it is like to be a Montessori student? I remember some of the materials we used: the sandpaper letters and the pink tower in Primary, the bead chains for multiplication and test tubes for division in Lower Elementary, the mental math packets and trinomial cubes in Upper Elementary, and the variable blocks for algebra in Middle School. A Montessori education is more than just a conglomeration of physical objects in a classroom. It is the students exploring those materials and the invisible hand of the teacher guiding them.

As you might have guessed from that list, I love math. One of my favorite things about the Montessori method is that the student is encouraged to explore the materials they are interested in. The teacher is there to introduce new material and suggest that the student balance their time with some variety. I distinctly remember spending a majority of my time doing math and whenever I was asked to write a report, I would always pick a really cool topic like sharks or dinosaurs. Allowing children to work on whatever they want really helps define their interests, both academically and otherwise. This freedom of choice in education is really not seen outside of Montessori until the college level. By then many people are so used to being told what to do in school that they end up changing majors many times before they find something that really fits.

My transition to college was more of a return to my Montessori roots rather than an entirely new experience. First, in terms of deciding what I wanted to study, that one was pretty easy. I already knew I loved math and I discovered my love for physics in high school, so engineering seemed like the obvious choice. In engineering there is a lot of room for the exploration of new ideas as well as an emphasis on working with physical media, both of which are well represented in a Montessori education. Second, many children start college by living on their own for the first time in their lives. This is their first real taste of independence and responsibility. I have seen many people that cannot handle it and end up abusing their independence and neglecting their various responsibilities. A Montessori education places an emphasis on responsibility and independence from the very beginning. Finally, in order to succeed in college, the student must actively want to understand the subject being presented rather than just do well on the exams. After you graduate it will not matter if you got a 97 on your controls and vibrations test if you cannot remember that un-damped systems will fail near their natural frequencies. The emphasis in a Montessori education is on acquiring knowledge rather than learning how to pass a test. Passing tests is important too, but if you already understand the material then you do not really need to worry about passing.

I am now in my senior year at the University of Houston and the not-so-distant future is once again consuming my waking thoughts. I need to make a decision on what direction I want my life to go in. "What are you going to do after graduation?" I get this question on almost a daily basis now and, "I don’t know," my go-to answer for the past three years, is not really acceptable anymore. My problem is not in finding something I would enjoy doing, but in choosing one path to focus on for the next few years. There are so many opportunities in the world, it would be a shame to have to choose only one. My goal for the coming weeks and months is to determine which path before me will inspire and encourage me to branch out and experience everything I can. Ultimately, I am just so relieved to know that no matter what I end up doing, I will be able to succeed thanks to the preparation I received in my Montessori education.