Is Montessori Elitist?

Is Montessori Elitist?

It strikes me as odd how often this question is raised. Perhaps odd isn't even the right word. Disheartening maybe. An education system that started in the slums of Montessori is now seen as a status symbol as was relayed to me recently by a mainstream ECE teacher

How did we get to this point?

Montessori has undergone various waves. In the first wave Montessori attracted many teachers and educators to her schools who then took the methodology back to their own countries.  In America the movement fizzled in the 1920s and it wasn't until the 1960s that Montessori took off again. In NZ we have a similar history, Educators who had seen Montessori in action bought the methodology to NZ but it died off due to staff relocations and educational fashions. It wasn't until the 1970s in NZ that a second wave started. Montessori's current success in NZ is due in large part to a desire from middle and upper class parents for Montessori education where as the first wave was really a top down approach.
Today the majority of Montessori schools worldwide  are privately owned. This means that to access them a person needs money far in excess of what the average blue collar worker can afford. I am challenged by this regularly as I ponder whether Montessori is making any large roads into social change. If we only reach families of certain economic and cultural means what does this mean for everyone else?

Montessori aims to prepare children for life however I wonder if this is what we do when our classrooms are nearly homogenous and where families are "screened" before being accepted. The real world is multicultural, multi economic and diverse. We cannot choose who is in it.

There are Montessorians who are endevouring to change the landscape. To do this is brave and radical and goes beyond offering a token scholarship here or there.

From my reading as a non US Montessorian it looks as if AMI and AMS (the lead Montessori teacher groups) are endevouring to invest into Public School settings in the US. Here in NZ  and in Australia Montessori is generally only available to an elite few which makes me really upset.

One thing that compounds this is funding. Here in NZ one can establish an Early Childhood Centre  (ECE) or Private School (for children aged 5-12, or 12+ ) if they have the financial means and meet complex requirements. Further suitable staffing is needed. As there are very few training centres in NZ this means sourcing qualified staff can be troublesome. If a person is opening a centre as a business it is unlikely they are going to have students in their centre who can't cover the costs as this would not make good business sense.

To change this we need Public and Private partnership and education of the wider community. This needs a concerted effort from the Montessori community and a social justice mindset. It needs teachers and Montessorians to go outside their comfort zones and to truly look at their spiritual preparation as agents of social change for all children.

Here are some schools and organisations that are doing great things in bringing Montessori to the masses!


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