Near North Montessori #6

This is the sixth in a series of six raw tapes where videomaker Anda Korsts visits Near North Montessori School in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago to learn about how it works.

0:00Copy video clip URL Teachers continue joking and socializing. They laugh about how the children are shocked if they run in to the teachers outside of school, like at the grocery store, because they think they live in the school. They then relate their occasional frustrations with teaching.

3:12Copy video clip URL Korsts mentions a girl with learning disabilities who eventually left the school, and asks whether Montessori can handle these types of students. Bergen claims that the issue is that parents have no trust in their children, rather than that Montessori can’t handle these types of students. After Korsts says that the particular student was tested by an outside source, and was found to have fallen behind, Bergen says that this is an issue that frustrates her greatly. She claims that the learning process is quite nuanced, that children don’t just suddenly at one moment go from not knowing how to read, to what a parent defines as “reading.” She says that the other day, a father came in to observe his child, and the child sounded out her first word – a minor miracle – and the father didn’t appreciate it as a type of reading. She says that children become proficient in reading between the ages of four-and-a-half and seven, yet some parents impose arbitrary deadlines on this process, rather than patiently letting their children learn at their own pace. Bergen says that all of the Montessori students attending high school this year are in honors classes, which shows that Montessori teaches well.

8:12Copy video clip URL Korsts says she learned under the school system in Europe, which was quite rigorous and traditional, and all the children learned to read by age 4 1/2, and she doesn’t feel she suffered at all from that type of standardized instruction. She implies (as she has a few times before), that she worries that the Montessori school doesn’t have enough of a focus on hard learning of traditional educational basics. The teachers respond to this by claiming that today’s children live in a different environment because of the pervasiveness of television and the diminished focus on books, that they learn through audiovisual means. Bergen outlines Montessori’s media studies curriculum, saying they make sure to take the children to see films and discuss them (most recent was “On Golden Pond.”)

11:30Copy video clip URL Korsts asks, “Do you learn anything from the children?” After the teachers start to respond with some mushy sentiments about the uniqueness of children, Korsts gets fed up and announces, “I don’t really believe that all students are creative, for instance, you know, those kinds of cliches.” Teacher: “They can develop that [creativity] much more than I can.” Korsts: “Oh, I doubt that.”

12:40Copy video clip URL One teacher relates a story about her process of learning how to let a child learn things for himself. Korsts responds with a story about going to Montana with her children for the summer: “She [Korsts’ daughter] was playing with some grasses, and I suddenly realized that she was seeing things for the first time, and it slowed me down, and I realized that I was seeing things for the first time. So that’s what you get all the time – lucky you.” Korsts and the teacher discuss the difficulty in determining how to treat each child based on what a child is thinking, rather than following the model of how they were treated as a child.

16:20Copy video clip URL “What do you need to make the school more effective?” Teachers respond immediately with “supportive parents.” One teacher says that the parent-run school system makes it take longer for things to get done, and can complicate things. “If you go to dinner with one parent, you’re committed to going to dinner with 31 parents.” Korsts says it is hard for her to know what her child is learning, since the style of learning is so free, so she has trouble knowing how to help her child learn. She says that for a period of time, her daughter was crying every night, which Korsts eventually learned was because she couldn’t understand fractions. Bergen relates a story about Korsts’ daughter’s performance at a parent event the previous night, where she and another girl were confidently and knowledgeably teaching a group of adults some facts about animal evolution. Korsts then says that several years ago, she would have never imagined she’d be going to PTA meetings and baking pies.

20:57Copy video clip URL Bergen holds a picture of Maria Montessori and describes her imperative to “Watch your children, appreciate your children, learn from your children, and meet the needs of your children,” and not just do it exactly the way she did it.

22:24Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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