To Jeff Bezos: 7 Suggestions for Enhancing Preschool Education, From a...

Opinion | Diversity and Equity

To Jeff Bezos: 7 Suggestions for Enhancing Preschool Education, From a Former Montessori Teacher

By Diana Anthony     Oct 21, 2018

To Jeff Bezos: 7 Suggestions for Enhancing Preschool Education, From a Former Montessori Teacher

Dear Jeff Bezos,

Some people might find your commitment to open low-income, Montessori-inspired preschools strange. Why would arguably one of the most innovative (and definitely the richest) technology tycoon of the 21st century support a low-tech pedagogy that has barely changed in more than a hundred years?

I think I get it. Maria Montessori created a curriculum for individualized, competency-based learning a century before any of these terms became buzzwords. When I reflect on how Amazon has transformed retail and the web, I can only imagine how you might modernize the Montessori model, and I am excited by the potential. However, as a former Montessori preschool teacher, I have a wish list.

Please respect the essence of the Montessori classroom. Let it continue to be a place where children are inspired by beauty and are free to move, choose work, and concentrate. But also, please use your brilliance to help modernize Montessori (in the appropriate ways) and make this great pedagogy more accessible to all.

Invisible Tech

Wildflower Montessori has done a great job of enabling invisible technology in its schools. Children wear sensors on their slippers that sync with sensors on the Montessori material and track the student’s movements in the classroom. This information is then fed into the teacher’s observations. This is key, because observation is a Montessori teacher’s bread and butter. It is used to asses and inform instruction.

Rigorous Science

In my Montessori teacher training, I was shown the typical science experiment about whether plants need light to grow: You put one plant in a box and another by a window. Modern Montessorians need to think outside the (plant) box. Instead, maybe children can use a luminosity sensor to determine the best place in the room for a plant. Montessori teachers need rigorous science in their training, and—after they graduate—an online resource they can refer to for inspiration. And, of course, please buy the classrooms science kits!

Screenless Coding

Montessori is anti-screen for young children. However, these children need computer science. Toys such as Primo teach the logic of coding without the need for a screen. I am pretty sure if Maria were alive today, she too would love this cute wooden robot.

Student Advocacy

If your preschoolers will be coming from under-served populations, they will benefit from learning self-advocacy (in fact, we all can). Luckily, this is a great fit for the project-based nature of the Montessori class. Train teachers to help students identify and make the change in their community. Would they like the trash in a nearby park picked up, or the speed limit near their house reduced? Project-based learning is most meaningful when tied to real-world issues.

Free, Open-Source Resources

About a third of the materials in a Montessori class are made by the teachers by hand (and sometimes by computer). Unfortunately Montessori sometimes has a culture of martyrdom, where teachers spend the summers, weekends, and evenings making beautiful material. This work could be reduced if you create a free online marketplace for high-quality, printable materials. If you plan to open a lot of schools quickly, you will need this.

Early Childhood Teachers as Professionals

Early childhood teachers are valued professionals, and they should be treated as such. I would argue that the work associated with Montessori training is on par with a master’s degree. Please celebrate these professionals and pay them handsomely. They deserve it!

Don’t Stop Here

I am so glad you recognize the importance of preschool! However, philanthropically-funded preschools will not be enough to meet the needs of all American three and four-year-olds. Only a third of four-year-olds (and 5 percent of three-year-olds) attend state-funded preschool. Seven states don’t invest any state funds in preschool. If you want to make preschool (Montessori or other) more accessible, please use your position as the world’s richest person to champion public, universal pre-K instruction—and the tax structures needed to support it.

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