M. Giant's
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Tuesday, October 02, 2007  

School's Out

A couple of weeks ago the whole family went to check out a possible Montessori school for M. Small. Here's the short version: HE IS NOT GOING THERE.

Here's the long version.

Ever see that David Lynch movie, Mulholland Drive? One of the characters in that movie is Coco, the nosy landlady. Ideally cast and played by Ann Miller, Coco symbolizes the glamour of Old Hollywood refusing to go to seed no matter what it takes, with her uptight air and black lacquered hair and the makeup that's always perfectly and liberally applied at all times, even in the middle of the night.

So the lady who runs this Montessori school is like Coco, only way more Lynchian.

It took me a moment to remind myself to look past my first impression of this woman, just because it wasn't so much an "impression" as a "crater." Her entire person had this sort of weird, unholy sparkle, from her purple tap shoes to her tattooed-on black lipliner to her immovable black top-ponytail. I'm pretty sure her accent was also fake, since it didn't sound like any accent I've ever heard before, but that didn't stop Trash from mentally dubbing her "Ukrainian Whore."

She began by explaining to us, with the Talmudic detail of a true dogmatic, the extent to which her facility adhered to the Montessori method of education.

"The children bring their own lunch," she said. "Montessori. They clean up their own dishes. Montessori. They clean up after themselves. Montessori!"

I certainly don't claim to be any kind of expert on Montessori – far from it, in fact – but I'm reasonably certain that saying the word "Montessori" after every sentence like an incantation is sufficient to make it part of the method. I began to wonder if, instead of having read a Montessori book, she hadn't mistakenly read a mislabeled copy of Oliver Twist.

Maybe I'm still being unfair. We did kind of have to assemble her spiel in our heads after the fact, due to the fact that she kept interrupting herself to go harangue her miserable-looking teachers, who were constantly either putting away puzzles in the wrong order or failing to utilize the proper "stack balls by color" technique that must be outlined in the Montessori manual. There's hands-on, and then there's micromanaging. But I'd never seen nanomanging before.

Maybe you can make a case for the effectiveness of her approach by looking at the kids in the place, and taking some brief measure of their apparent intelligence, emotional health, and joy of spirit. I couldn't, though. One cheerful girl did wave at M. Small and happily call a greeting to him from across the room. She must be new.

The highlight of the visit for M. Small was the tour of the playground, a sandy wasteland of abandoned toys containing stagnant puddles of rainwater. But even the novelty of a new (or, more accurately, "unfamiliar to him") play area didn't last as long as the amount of time UW made M. Small spend scraping the sand off his shoes before allowing him back in the building.

So after about an hour and a half in this Dantean circle, we returned to our car to find out that not only had we not found a school for M. Small, but the clock in Trash's car was broken. It showed that only fifteen minutes had passed. Somehow this time-distortion effect had spread to my watch as well. I can only imagine the devastation it would wreak on a young child.

Trash assures me that all Montessori schools are not like this. She'd better be right.

* * *

Speaking of learning environments in need of improvement, let's pretend for a moment that any of you reading do not also read Tomato Nation. That way I can direct you to her Donors Choose challenge for this year.

Last year Trash and I did a Donors Choose challenge of our own, in honor of M. Small's birthday (he's going to be three next Friday, God help us all), but we're forgoing that this year to throw our full support – and, if you're down, yours – behind Sarah's effort.

Because if she makes her goal, she's going to be spending an entire day wearing -- nay, rocking -- a full-body tomato costume, up to and including a My So-Called Life dance in the middle of Rockefeller Center. Will there be video? Are you shitting me? Forget YouTube -- this shit is likely to end up on broadcast, what with Rockefeller Center being the home of one of my employers, a little mom-and-pop operation I like to call NBC.

But speaking of My So-Called Life, what does Claire Danes think about all this? Well, check this shit out.

Donate now! Not just because the kids need your support, but also because if you don't move fast, it's going to be too late for you to be part of it. Go, go, go!

posted by M. Giant 3:16 PM 15 comments


Thanks for the Donors Choose update - I was waiting to see what you were planning to do before deciding how much to donate to Sarah's challenge.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 2, 2007 at 4:31 PM  

I was waiting to give to the TN fund, as well. I am happy to see you join forces. Kids win! Happy Birthday, M. Small.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 2, 2007 at 6:52 PM  

Wow 3 years... I cant believe that is how long I have been anonymously reading about you and your family's life! Here is to many more! How time flies...Happy Birthday M. Small...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 2, 2007 at 7:36 PM  

Okay, I don't know if *all* Montessori schools are like this, but my mom kept me out of the one in our town because they didn't allow any kind of imaginary play. In preschool.

Happy bday, little man!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 2, 2007 at 8:39 PM  

Whereas all the kids I've known who went to Montessori schools were just poster children for behavioural problems. Neither of the ones now old enough to have done so graduated high school, and only one of the four others (note: all from different families) looks like having a hope in hell of doing so.

I've yet to know a kid who actually seemed *improved* by the Montessori experience.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 2, 2007 at 11:58 PM  

What with all the Montessori trashing, I'll be the odd voice out. Trash is right, they all aren't like that. Our kiddo is also three, but small, stutters and otherwise is painfully shy. He has flourished with the kind teachers and other kids at the school. He loves taking care of things himself and they do encourage consideration and self sufficiency appropriate for three-year-olds.

The imaginary play thing is because they assume preschool kids LIVE in an imaginary world (which they do-- yesterday I picked him up and he was "feeding" "hungry" chairs, with leaves from the ground) and don't need any structured help to get there.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 3, 2007 at 6:35 AM  

Hey, I went to Montessori, and I turned out alright... or did I?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 3, 2007 at 6:44 AM  

In defense of Montessori schools... We toured two different Montessori pre-schools when our oldest turned 3. The first one is very reminiscent of your experience. The head of the school actually derided us for exposing our children to Dr. Suess (defintely NOT Montessori).

The second school was a completely different environment. The teachers were warm and friendly. The children were working peacefully when we took the tour. We ended up sending both of our children through the school (through kindergarten), and we couldn't have been happier or more satisfied about the experience.

It seems that the Montessori system can attract some controlling, power-hungry administrators who misinterpret the method to their benefit. Everyone always has a story about a Nazi-esque Montessori school in their town. But...when the system is used by the right teachers and administrators, and they truly celebrate the child and the child's individuality, I beleive it is the best environment for a curious, inquisitive child.

Good luck in your search for the right pre-school for M. Small....

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 3, 2007 at 6:54 AM  

"Ukrainian Whore."

That is just so totally a Trash thing to say.

I miss you guys terribly sometimes.

By Blogger Febrifuge, at October 3, 2007 at 9:44 PM  

Nanomanaging power-crazed control freaks are the same everywhere, but Montessori schools are as individual as... different schools in other categories also are.

I had a very similar experience with my kid's first preschool. It was not Montessori, but it was run by a lunatic control freak. They pushed two and three year olds to do academic work including reading. They expected all the children to go to the bathroom on command. They wouldn't support us in potty-training the kid because he "wasn't ready" because he didn't use the bathroom when they ordered him to. And by "wouldn't support us," I mean that he was almost totally potty-trained at home, but had to keep wearing (expensive) pull-ups to preschool because they wouldn't let him go to the bathroom at any time except when they wanted him to go.

Their concept of discipline involved putting the kids in time-out in an unsupervised room. They undersupervised the kids in general; they had an illegal teacher-to-child ratio which they bulked out with staff members who weren't really involved with the kids. There was a ton of bullying as a result, and when children came to them to say that some kid had hit them, or when the teachers had to break up some disagreement, they would say "Well, I wasn't there so I don't know which one of you is telling the truth" and send both kids to time out. We had a problem at first with our kid fighting; then we taught him not to hit, so all that happened was that the other preschoolers beat on him all the time and then he got in trouble all the same. They routinely lied to us about hitting the kids' arms to make them drop things they weren't supposed to have, like toys they grabbed from other children. When we found out that our three-year-old snuck out of time out and they dragged our kid back BY HIS EAR, we pulled him out of the school immediately.

If it had been up to me he would have been out of there a lot earlier, but I didn't have legal custody.

and i think it is not posting this because it is too long, so i will try breaking it into pieces!

By Blogger oakling, at October 4, 2007 at 3:27 PM  

I did find the next school though. It was a Montessori school and it couldn't have been more different. Their idea of discipline was to mediate and help the kids work through their disagreements. They emphasized building conflict resolution skills. Where the previous school had been full of gay-bashing (at REALLY young ages) so that our kid got tons of flak for wearing light blue shirts or carrying a powerpuff girls backpack, the Montessori school was full of girls playing with hammers and boys playing house. The kids, true to Montessori-ness, had lots of time to choose whatever they were interested in learning, as well as more structured time. They got to develop emotionally and socially even in the academic parts of the program. Every teacher was beloved by the kids; they could hardly walk three steps in the playground without being mobbed by happy children hugging them. It was freaking ridiculous. We loved it.

We're lucky because we had tools like http://parents.berkeley.edu where local parents reviewed and recommended different schools. But nowadays with things like yelp.com and such, it keeps getting easier to get that kind of information. Come to think of it, I should go post a long negative review of that first preschool on yelp....

By Blogger oakling, at October 4, 2007 at 3:27 PM  

Whereas young Deniece has been doing spendidly at her Montessori, and aside from the occasional maiming, arson, and penchant for profanity, has thus exhibited no sign whatsoever of behavioral problems. Also, she always writes a lovely letter of apology afterward. MONTESSORI.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 4, 2007 at 5:47 PM  

I heard someone once call one of the schools "Monster-sori." Seems to fit the one you visited!

By Blogger Teslagrl, at October 5, 2007 at 8:23 AM  

"Ukranian Whore" - Trash rocks.

By Blogger Unknown, at October 5, 2007 at 4:57 PM  

Please don't give up on Montessori because of one bad school. My kids went through sixth grade at a beautiful Montessori school and turned out great. Because the children learn at their own pace, I find that bright children, as yours is described can make phenomenal strides.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 9, 2007 at 9:28 AM  

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