Category Archives: Montessori

Alpha Montessori Update


It was a total delight to visit Alpha Montessori this past April. The first class of nine students just graduated in an emotional and inspiring ceremony. (See photos below or watch the ceremony here.) Many of these children started in the very early days of the school when Alpha Montessori was not much more than a concept, a vision of what education could bring. Yet all have now been accepted into English medium upper schools, a fantastic accomplishment. They are stunning examples of how confident, competent, self-directed, and articulate Montessori children can become, regardless of background. The students presented individually chosen and researched capstone projects. Some of the ones I saw included a model of the eye, a demonstration of how electrical currents run a lightbulb, countries of the United Nations, different types of levers, and the ecology of rain harvesting. What a thrill to have been able to work with these students for even a short period of time.

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The rooftop garden, launched in late 2013 with help from AWA’s ‘Glimpses of Asia’ donation, is now in full bloom. The space is now lush and inviting and working with the plants provides a magnificent hands-on activity for the children, something especially welcome in this packed corner of urban Delhi.

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A computer lab with six well-functioning laptops is up and running and all the elementary children are learning a range of computer skills. Ms. Vel Hulton, a dedicated and skilled volunteer from Seattle, has been coming twice a year for a month to guide the children. She has been instrumental in teaching them keyboard skills, word processing, and the foundations of drawing and other programs.


Slowly the rest of the building is taking shape as well, with an art room well under way. The next challenge will be to continue the educational progress without the ‘founding’ children. In Montessori schools especially, those first groups of students are often unusually dedicated and play an instrumental role with the younger children, so there are big shoes to fill when they move on.

I look forward to seeing some new students – but with the same familiar teachers – this fall.

The 2015 Graduates

High School Graduation Circa 2015

For the record, I am a big fan of alternative education programs. I’m opposed to the thrust and consequences of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, especially their emphases on extensive standardized testing and connecting teacher assessments to student test scores. The Montessorian in me fully recognizes that all students learn differently, that there are many paths to success, and that there are multiple measures of knowledge. I want to see students encouraged to develop individual strengths and not penalized by failure on narrow, inappropriate skill assessments.

But are there limits here, folks? Are there NO bottom thresholds for skills attainments? In our very American drive to be individualistic, can we still educate the next generation of citizens?

imgresTake High School and the US High School Diploma: everyone wants one. Without this piece of paper, nearly every college is off limits. So are nearly all jobs with opportunities for advancement or a living wage. It is considered THE most basic calling card of some measure of educational attainment in America. So if you are an employer or a college, and someone says they have a High School Diploma, you make some assumptions about skills. Something comes to mind, right? This term has some meaning. So, exactly, what skills does it guarantee?

Apparently a lot fewer than I thought. In fact, the term is rapidly becoming the latest example of Orwellian newspeak. I learned this through my good friends at NPR and a little additional digging.


For example, did you know that 21 states have multiple alternative High School graduation paths, all with different requirements, but all of which are still “High School Diplomas” of some sort? Florida had five different options: you can go for three years or four years, be college ready or career ready, you name it. New York has nine options. North Carolina has six. Wyoming: five. Texas has – catch this – eleven possible diplomas, though, to be fair, three are being phased out. Whew.

And if a student comes with just too many obstacles – poverty, no English, a challenging home life, poor teachers, significant learning disabilities – and is unsuccessful with all of these diploma options? Which means, just so we remember, that their functional skills are simply too inadequate to pass what are usually very low state minimums. What then?

No problem. There are alternative credit programs and an appeals process. In many states, students desperate for a HS diploma, but without the skills to pass either their required courses or a state minimum assessment exam, can take a range of alternative paths and pursue an appeal. The unfortunate cake-taker in this race to the bottom seems to be Camden, a poor New Jersey school district. In 2010, fully half the senior class could not pass either the state mandatory graduation exam or the easier, untimed, alternative graduation exam. (The alternative graduation exam has just one question in each subject matter; the math goes through Algebra I only.) Never fear, there is an appeals process, which consists of showing work – a single math problem done in class, say, or a writing sample with teacher comments. Last year, 1,400 New Jersey students graduated through the appeals process and not a single student appealing has yet been denied.

Hhhmmm. Well, I’m thrilled they are now graduates. I guess. Sorta. But really, is this a joke? Why are we determined to make a mockery not only of the meaning of a “High School Diploma” but of these students as well, misleading them into thinking they are now ready for college or for jobs expected math and language skills befitting, well, a High School graduate? How is this helping?

I am reminded of some of the students I tutored in poor areas of India, students who would be passed up from year to year. The gap between their actual skills and the expectations of the grade they were in widened from a trickle to a stream to the flood of the Amazon. I cringed to think of how painful and boring it must be for students who could barely answer a question like “What is your name?” in English, but were sitting, day after day, in a class analyzing an obscure Mark Twain text filled with historical allusions or a densely footnoted history lesson about the British Empire.

So somewhere in the vast ocean of attention and assessment and argument about school standards, and the gargantuan sums spent on technology and on the rapacious folks at Pearson et al., we are still failing to provide way too many students with the bare minimum skills necessary for successful adulthood in the 21st Century. Now that is ridiculous.


  • A no-exceptions graduation assessment in each state requiring a demonstration of minimum skills. Sorry. A diploma shows you’ve attained some level of proficiency. It can be basic, I get it. This is still only High School. But proficiency at some level is still proficiency. No mastery, no diploma.
  • An alternate credential for students whose effort and attempts demonstrate diligence and high work habits but whose skill levels make it impossible for them to demonstrate minimum proficiency. (Note: this skills deficiency often accompanies English Language Learners, so perhaps some of that money just freed up from the tech moratorium could be spent on language tutors?)

Check out the series yourself here, or see how your own state is doing here.




A Mighty Girl





Does A Mighty Girl ( really have the world’s largest collection of books, toys, music, and movies for “smart, confident, and courageous girls”? Well, I can’t prove that ‘world’ claim, but it’s the best compilation I’ve seen in a long, long time.

imagesFor those of you who go nuts at the still prevalent stereotypical female roles in movies and wonder why entirely pink aisles in toy stores persist or wish there were more books about girls doing interesting things – and not just forced pedantic bios of Marie Curie – this website is a godsend. In addition to all those books, toys, music and movies, they have great parenting advice, a book club, back-to-school items, even clothes. You can search by age, interest, superhero, theme, price, award winners, charitable tie-ins, and much more.

WAIT! If you are thinking: ‘I only have sons or grandsons…’ don’t stop reading. It matters how you raise those sons and grandsons, nephews and students. We need the next generation of men to be mindful humans – so read on. All the stuff here would be great for ANY family, not just families with girls.

Teachers take note. Wonderful classroom ideas are here too, the kinds of things you won’t find in the average teacher’s catalogue plus book lists of all types. Or suggest the Book Clubs for your students.  They begin at age six and go right through the teen years.

41xitv9x3hl_1_Parents and grandparents, you’ll find tons of suggestions for toys, family games, parenting books, even music selections for all ages. And no, the music is not all the “Free to Be You and Me” genre. Plenty of top-drawer pop stars make the lists. Clothing finds include Rosie the Riveter socks, Frozen pajamas, Charlotte’s Web T-shirts. So everyone, skip the Toys R’Us and buy holiday gifts that count.

And if you need any more reminders of why helping girls see themselves as complex and capable creatures is important, read either Lisa Bloom’s article in the Huffington Post “How to Talk to Little Girls,” or Kasey Edwards’ plea to stop objectifying her daughter “The Best Ice-Breakers for Girls.” Then perhaps you’ll think twice before reliably and consistently remarking on a girl’s appearance/clothes/hair. Yes, we know you mean well, and she probably does look pretty, but it’s just not helpful. Truly. Do a girl a favor for life.