Book Learnin’ vs. Doin’… What’s Gooder?

Aunt Henrietta

“…I didn’t think of myself as dumb. Unfortunately, the school system decided otherwise. When I expressed my feelings of isolation and revealed some resulting low self-esteem, Aunt Henri would tilt her head and smile..and say in her long accentuated Greta Garbo style ‘Dahhhhling…life is all in the doing! Find what it is you love to do…and just do it. All the rest will fall into place.'” ~Jack Costantino, Pres., TFU~

My Aunt Henrietta, who recently passed away at age 92 was my pal. We were as close as bees and hives. She was a talented and successful, virtually self taught New York artist whose work was hung and mounted in galleries and art museums in and out of the US; including prestigious wall space in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in NYC.

My elementary school years were challenging to me. In the 7th & 8th grade, I was put in the dreaded number 3 classes. There was 7-1, 7-2, 7-3 and so on. The 7-3 kids were considered not as smart as the 7-1 and 7-2 pupils. Although it was true that I was not good at memorizing all the chalk board information and charts in our text books and repetitive math examples, I didn’t think of myself as dumb. Unfortunately, the school system decided otherwise. When I expressed my feelings of isolation and revealed some resulting low self-esteem, Aunt Henri or just Henri if you knew her well enough (which took about 3 and half minutes) would tilt her head and smile at me (just like the picture) and say in her long accentuated Greta Garbo style “Dahhhhling…life is all in the doing! Find what it is you love to do…and just do it. All the rest will fall into place.”

Maria MontessoriIn 1896, Maria Montessori took on the challenge of educating those classified educationally disabled and retarded. When her class exceeded the test grades of normal students, the intelligencia in Italy and elsewhere took notice. She was 26 years old. When asked to describe her methodology she replied…

Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was known, and yet the inhabitants – doing nothing but living and walking about – came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality.

It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.

Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.

Patricia LennonDr. Patricia Lennon owns and operates the Absorbent Mind Montessori Academy in Paramus, NJ. She started her career as a public school teacher and worked her way up to school psychologist, director of special services, principal and superintendent of schools. She received her Montessori training at St. Christopher’s Academy in 1999 and 2000. In June 2006, she retired from public school education to follow her dream of starting a Montessori School. She holds a masters degree in educational psychology, a professional diploma in school psychology and a doctorate in educational administration and supervision. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her current position of Educational Director of AMMA.

buildingAfter leaving or as she describes it “escaping from traditional education” she decided to spend her so called retirement years teaching the way she has always preferred, and doggedly attempted to introduce in the Public School system. Although she recognizes there are many teachers and school systems that understand and utilize experience-based educational styles, the realities of class size, standardized testing and core curriculum parameters make it difficult for many to be innovative or stray too far from the fold. During my interview with her she explained…

I spent the first half of my 32 years in public school education learning how the brain works and students learn and the second half trying to convince other people of the facts. Although I held many influential positions in public schools including superintendent, I found it somewhere between daunting to fruitless to align methodology with educational research.

Although the Core Curriculum Content Standards are publicized and tested, it is the methodology that takes place in the classroom that is the downfall of “No Child Left Behind”. The published standards use the verbs directly lifted from Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning which is a cognitive pyramid with the lowest level being knowledge (recalling data); the next highest being comprehension (interpretation; then application (applying a concept in a new situation; then analysis (organizing information and distinguishing between fact and fiction); next is synthesis (putting parts together to form a new meaning); and finally the highest form of learning is evaluation (the ability to make judgments about the value of ideas or materials).

Although the CCCS are written in terms of these verbs, the actual instruction in the classroom is generally knowledge-based which is at the bottom of the pyramid; this…ladies and gentlemen… during the information age when knowledge is all around us at the click of a mouse. We need to ramp the cognition of our students up the pyramid and stop spoon feeding information as though we were in the turn of the century when the public school system was invented.

Over 100 years have passed since Maria Montessori revealed her theories. During these technoblasted times, as our children travel their own educational road…will they be drivers or passengers in accumulating basic knowledge?

As a young child, while sitting on the hard curved desk seat in 3rd grade, I found it much more interesting and intellectually stimulating to consider the crab apple tree I would climb after school in search of the perfect sweet and sour specimen. I would watch ants build their kingdoms in the narrow dirt strip between the large blue stone pavers which formed the sidewalks in my neighborhood. Other neighborhood kids would join me. Some of their names were Stevie, Johnny, Joanie, Freddie. They were the kids next door. We lay flat on our stomachs with chins cupped in well played hands as we contemplated the cooperative and occasionally warring factions of different sized and colored ants. We all knew red ants were mean (they would bite us) and really good fighters because they decapitated the black ants easily. We were fascinated that the antennae of the beheaded ants would continue to search the air for messages. We were wholly unaware of pedestrians stepping over us, adjusting our weight only occasionally to rebalance on our denting elbows.

We learned about each other also. And especially…I learned about Joanie and that she made me mad, or happy or dizzy or something! We lived across a narrow alley. As we approached adolescence, we remained best friends. I remember a Spring day in 1953. We were 12. We sat side by side on a creaky swing in her back yard and moved slowly in sync just enough to absorb our nervous energy and shared a first kiss. We strung a tin can phone across the alley and sat on the floor peaking at each other over the window sill while giggling and not saying much which made any sense but the learning was happening and deep. I can still smell the tomatoes which formally resided in my phone along with the unmistakable metallic odor. That was almost 60 years ago.

Now, my 12-year-old Granddaughter texts me from her cell phone just to say “Hi Pop Pop” from 200 miles away and sends me PIX of her and her friends on Facebook. She’s a straight “A” student…but her favorite activity is her dancing which she’s been doing since age 3. When I asked her once why she loves it so much, she replied it really gives her something fun to do. And of course I reply…you’re right Hannah…it’s all in the doing.

Fifty years ago, I decided I liked building things with my hands. I’ve been doing it ever since…and Aunt Henri was correct…everything else has fallen into place.

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