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June 14, 2014

How Edison Brought Tears to the Eyes of Maria Montessori



(p. 221) Edison's partial loss of hearing prevented him from listening to music in the same way as those with unimpaired hearing. A little item that appeared in a Schenectady, New York, newspaper in 1913 related the story that Edison supposedly told a friend about how he usually listened to recordings by placing one ear directly against the phonograph's cabinet. But if he detected a sound too faint to hear in this fashion, Edison said, "I bite my teeth in the wood good and hard and then I get it good and strong." The story would be confirmed decades later in (p. 222) Madeleine's recollections of growing up. One day she came into the sitting room in which someone was playing the piano and a guest, Maria Montessori, was in tears, watching Edison listen the only way that he could, teeth biting the piano. "She thought it was pathetic," Madeleine said, "I guess it was."


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






December 27, 2013

"Myth that Most C.E.O.'s Are Extroverts"



MerrimanDwightMongoDBcoFounder2013-12-07.jpg








""It's a myth that most C.E.O.'s are extroverts," says Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of MongoDB, an open-source document database. He has overcome his own earlier shyness, he says, and relies on enthusiasm for his work." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.



(p. B2) Q. I take it you're an introvert.

A. I am.

Q. You were C.E.O. of MongoDB for five years before becoming chairman, and a big part of that job no doubt required you to spend a lot of time with people and give a lot of talks. How did you handle that?

A. I think 95 percent of the time you can get past that with just sheer brute force. I remember public-speaking class in college. I really didn't want to do it. But today, when I give talks to 1,000 people, I'm not nervous at all. I think you get used to it. You just have to force yourself out of your comfort zone.

And it's a myth that most C.E.O.'s are extroverts. Many are, but probably no more than the general population. I do what works for me, which is being enthusiastic and passionate about what we're doing. You've just got to find what works for you.


For the full interview, see:

ADAM BRYANT. "CORNER OFFICE: Dwight Merriman; Being an Effective Leader Without Being an Extrovert." The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B2.

(Note: bold and italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title "CORNER OFFICE; Dwight Merriman of MongoDB on Leading by Enthusiasm.")






November 30, 2013

Google Surprised at Success of Chinese Cyberattack



(p. 268) Though the underlying issue of Google's China pullout was censorship, it was ironic that a cyberattack had triggered the retreat. Google had believed that its computer science skills and savvy made it a leader in protecting its corporate information. With its blend of Montessori naiveté and hubris that had served it so well in other areas, the company felt it could do security better. Until the China incursion, it appeared to be succeeding.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 27, 2013

Google's Bathrooms Showed Montessori Discipline



(p. 124) You could even see the company's work/ play paradox in its bathrooms. In some of Google's loos, even the toilets were toys: high-tech Japanese units with heated seats, cleansing water jets, and a control panel that looked as though it could run a space shuttle. But on the side of the stall--and, for men, at an eye-level wall placement at the urinals--was the work side of Google, a sheet of paper with a small lesson in improved coding. A typical "Testing on the Toilet" instructional dealt with the intricacies of load testing or C + + microbenchmarking. Not a second was wasted in fulfilling Google's lofty--and work-intensive--mission.

It's almost as if Larry and Sergey were thinking of Maria Montessori's claim "Discipline must come through liberty.... We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself." (p. 125) Just as it was crucial to Montessori that nothing a teacher does destroy a child's creative innocence, Brin and Page felt that Google's leaders should not annihilate an engineer's impulse to change the world by coding up some kind of moon shot.

"We designed Google," Urs Hölzle says, "to be the kind of place where the kind of people we wanted to work here would work for free."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






September 23, 2013

Montessori Taught Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Always Ask Questions



(p. 122) "Their attitude is just like, 'We're Montessori kids,'" said Mayer. "We've been trained and programmed to question authority."

Thus it wasn't surprising to see that attitude as the foundation of Google's culture. "Why aren't there dogs at work?" asked Marissa, parroting the never-ending Nerdish Inquisition conducted by her bosses. "Why aren't there toys at work? Why aren't snacks free? Why? Why? Why?"

"I think there's some truth to that," says Larry Page, who spent his preschool and first elementary school years at Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan. "I'm always asking questions, and Sergey and I both have this."

Brin wound up in Montessori almost by chance. When he was six, recently emigrated from the Soviet Union, the Paint Branch Montessori (p. 123) School in Adelphi, Maryland, was the closest private school. "We wanted to place Sergey in a private school to ease up his adaptation to the new life, new language, new friends," wrote his mother, Eugenia Brin, in 2009. "We did not know much about the Montessori method, but it turned out to be rather crucial for Sergey's development. It provided a basis for independent thinking and a hands-on approach to life."

"Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule," says Brin. "It was a pretty fun, playful environment-- as is this."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 19, 2013

Key to Google: "Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids"



(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google's new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. "You can't understand Google," she said, "unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids."

"Montessori" refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.

(p. 122) "It's really ingrained in their personalities," she said. "To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They're always asking 'Why should it be like that?' It's the way their brains were programmed early on."



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: bracketed name added.)






April 28, 2011

Does Montessori Nurture Creativity?



Ironically, the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school's alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google's founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean "P.Diddy" Combs.

Is there something going on here? Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?


. . .


The Montessori Mafia showed up in an extensive, six-year study about the way creative business executives think. Professors Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of globe-spanning business school INSEAD surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products.

"A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity," Mr. Gregersen said. "To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different)."

When Barbara Walters, who interviewed Google founders Messrs. Page and Brin in 2004, asked if having parents who were college professors was a major factor behind their success, they instead credited their early Montessori education. "We both went to Montessori school," Mr. Page said, "and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what's going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently."

Will Wright, inventor of bestselling "The Sims" videogame series, heaps similar praise. "Montessori taught me the joy of discovery," Mr. Wright said, "It's all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori..."

Meanwhile, according to Jeff Bezos's mother, young Jeff would get so engrossed in his activities as a Montessori preschooler that his teachers would literally have to pick him up out of his chair to go to the next task. "I've always felt that there's a certain kind of important pioneering that goes on from an inventor like Thomas Edison," Mr. Bezos has said, and that discovery mentality is precisely the environment that Montessori seeks to create.

Neuroscience author Jonah Lehrer cites a 2006 study published in Science that compared the educational achievement performance of low-income Milwaukee children who attended Montessori schools versus children who attended a variety of other preschools, as determined by a lottery.



Source:

Peter Sims. "The Montessori Mafia." http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/ Posted: April 5, 2011, 10:57 AM ET

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs is added; ellipsis at the end of a paragraph was in the original.)


The reference for the Science article mentioned above is:

Lillard, Angeline, and Nicole Else-Quest. "Evaluating Montessori Education." Science 313, no. 5795 (September 29, 2006): 1893-94.





October 31, 2007

Testing Incentives

 

When W. became president, he had two major education initiatives:  vouchers, and "no child left behind."  It is unfortunate that in the face of formidable Democratic opposition, he abandoned vouchers, and stuck with "no child left behind."  The latter policy's intent is noble, but some of its unintended consequences are perverse. 

Mandatory testing results in educational inefficiency:  teachers teach to the tests, and as the commentary quoted below reports, tests get jiggered to show good results.

The main harm though, is that some of the most important results of good education, like resilience, self-discipline, and creativity, are not readily measured in standardized multiple choice tests.  So programs, such as Montessori, that encourage such results, end up under-appreciated and under-rewarded.

What we most need is for parents to be free to choose in education.  That would result in far greater innovation and improvement in education than the current "no child left behind" standardized testing.

 

(p. A31) If teachers, administrators, politicians and others have a stake in raising the test scores of students — as opposed to improving student learning, which is not the same thing — there are all kinds of incentives to raise those scores by any means necessary.

. . .

A study released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association found that “improvements in passing rates on state tests can largely be explained by declines in the difficulty of those tests.”

The people in charge of most school districts would rather jump from the roof of a tall building than allow an unfettered study of their test practices. But that kind of analysis is exactly what’s needed if we’re to get any real sense of how well students are doing.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

BOB HERBERT.    " High-Stakes Flimflam."  The New York Times   (Tues.,  October 9, 2007):  A31.

 

 HerbertBob.jpg  Columnist Bob Herbert.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT column quoted and cited above.

 




September 10, 2007

When You Need to Know the Difference Between Glacier Creek and Big Thompson River

 

  Is it Glacier Creek, or Big Thompson River?  Source of photo:  me. 

 

On May 17, 2007, in Estes Park, Colorado, I was the co-leader of a "two hour" hike with 15 Montessori middle-schoolers from Omaha, Nebraska.  At some point what we were seeing didn't seem to correspond with what our roughly drawn YMCA map told us we should be seeing--we worried that we had taken a wrong turn and were lost.

II we were on course, then the water beside us should be Glacier Creek.  If we were lost, then it was probably Big Thompson River.  (It's appearance didn't help--it looked a bit larger than a creek, but a lot smaller than a 'big river.')

The first person I found to ask was a tourist who admitted upfront that she was extremely uncertain about where we were.  She pulled out a modest map, and pointed to where she thought we might be, which was along the Big Thompson River.

Seeking confirmation, I apologetically interrupted a fellow teaching his girl-friend how to fly fish.  This fellow was dressed as an outdoors-man, and exuded confidence.  He talked about hiking on a glacier the day before.  He helpfully strode back to his SUV with me and pulled a detailed, authoritative-looking map.  With no doubt, he pointed on the map to where we were, on Glacier Creek, as I had hoped.  As we walked back to where he had been fishing, he pointed in the direction that we had been hiking, and said that without question, we should continue to hike in that direction.

The scenery was fantastic, but Cindy began to worry whether we were going in the right direction, pointing out that there didn't seem to be any opening in the mountains in the direction in which we were supposing the YMCA camp should be.  I agreed with her observation, but said that there must be some non-obvious route, because the fellow who pointed us in this direction had exuded credibility.

We finally got to a small museum.  There, an old park service employee asked where we were from.  When I said "Omaha" he jokingly asked if knew his old friend Warren Buffet?  He told us that he had lived in this area all his life, and that we were definitely walking along Big Thompson River.  Then he tried to draw a map to show us how to get back.  He scratched his head, discarded his first attempt, and started trying again.  Then he asked us (again) where we were from?  At this point, I was really worried.

But his second attempt at a map was a good one--it got us back to the YMCA camp.

Maybe we should look for advice from those who are self-critical, as the old man was, rather than from those who exude undoubting self-confidence, as the fly fisherman did?  (Or maybe the key was local credentials?)

Maybe, I made a mistake that Christensen and Raynor warn against in their The Innovator's Solution:  looking at charisma and confidence as signs of who to follow.  (In fairness to myself, at the time, I didn't have much else to go on.)

 




August 4, 2007

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Attended Montessori Preschool

 

As a preschooler, Jeffrey P. Bezos displayed an unmatched single-mindedness.  By his mother's account, the young Bezos got so engrossed in the details of activities at his Montessori school that teachers had to pick him up in his chair to move him to new tasks.

 

For the full story, see: 

"THE GREAT INNOVATORS; Jeff Bezos: The Wizard Of Web Retailing Amazon.com's founder made online shopping faster and more personal than a trip to the local store."  BusinessWeek  (DECEMBER 20, 2004).

The above is a reprint.  The original story appeared as: 

Robert D. Hof.  "THE TORRENT OF ENERGY BEHIND AMAZON."  BusinessWeek  (Dec. 14, 1998):  119.

 




June 8, 2007

Google Hires "Interesting" "Geniuses" & Provides Them a Workplace Where Interesting Geniuses Want to Be

 

   A break lounge at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

You could be forgiven for not knowing that a satellite Google campus is growing in downtown Manhattan. There is no Google sign on the building, and it’s hard to catch a glimpse of a Googler, as employees call themselves, on the street because the company gives them every reason to stay within its candy-colored walls.

From lava lamps to abacuses to cork coffee tables, the offices may as well be a Montessori school conceived to cater to the needs of future science-project winners.

. . .

“These are power geniuses,” said Jane Risen, a statuesque brunette who works in training for the sales staff and is considered among the best dressed on campus — she was wearing a brown blazer from the Gap. “If they don’t have the same social skill or style sense, they’re extremely interesting people or else they don’t get hired.”

. . .

The strategy of keeping employees happy and committed to spending endless hours on campus seems to be working. Richard Burdon, 37, an engineer who joined Google two years ago, has been staying past midnight to prepare for the introduction of a project. (Google’s Manhattan engineers have been responsible for developing Google Maps and are working on some 100 other projects.)

“Google is about as interesting as starting your own startup because you can really follow your own ideas,” said Mr. Burdon, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, Sony and I.B.M. The only time he could remember leaving the office during the workday was to buy a friend a birthday present.

 

For the full story, see: 

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN.  "Can Google Come Out to Play?"  The New York Times  (December 31, 2006).

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

GoogleManhattanActivities.jpg   Work and non-work at Google's Manhattan offices.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 




June 5, 2007

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin "Really Enjoyed the Montessori Method"

 

MOM-Web-Cover-2007-02.png MOM-Web-Brin-2007-02.png   Source for the image of the Moment issue cover, on left: http://www.momentmag.com/issue/index.html   Source for the image of the first page of the article, on right:  online version of the Moment article cited below.

 

Sergey, who turned six that summer, remembers what followed as simply “unsettling”—literally so. “We were in different places from day to day,” he says. The journey was a blur. First Vienna, where the family was met by representatives of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped thousands of Eastern European Jews establish new lives in the free world. Then, on to the suburbs of Paris, where Michael’s “unofficial” Jewish Ph.D. advisor, Anatole Katok, had arranged a temporary research position for him at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques. Katok, who had emigrated the year before with his family, looked after the Brins and paved the way for Michael to teach at Maryland.

When the family finally landed in America on October 25, they were met at New York’s Kennedy Airport by friends from Moscow. Sergey’s first memory of the United States was of sitting in the backseat of the car, amazed at all the giant automobiles on the highway as their hosts drove them home to Long Island.

The Brins found a house to rent in Maryland—a simple, cinder-block structure in a lower-middle-class neighborhood not far from the university campus. With a $2,000 loan from the Jewish community, they bought a 1973 Ford Maverick. And, at Katok’s suggestion, they enrolled Sergey in Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland.

He struggled to adjust. Bright-eyed and bashful, with only a rudimentary knowledge of English, Sergey spoke with a heavy accent when he started school. “It was a difficult year for him, the first year,” recalls Genia. “We were constantly discussing the fact we had been told that children are like sponges, that they immediately grasp the language and have no problem, and that wasn’t the case.”

Patty Barshay, the school’s director, became a friend and mentor to Sergey and his parents. She invited them to a party at her house that first December (“a bunch of Jewish people with nothing to do on Christmas Day”) and wound up teaching Genia how to drive. Everywhere they turned, there was so much to take in. “I remember them inviting me over for dinner one day,” Barshay says, “and I asked Genia, ‘What kind of meat is this?’ She had no idea. They had never seen so much meat” as American supermarkets offer.

When I ask about her former pupil, Barshay lights up, obviously proud of Sergey’s achievements. “Sergey wasn’t a particularly outgoing child,” she says, “but he always had the self-confidence to pursue what he had his mind set on.”

He gravitated toward puzzles, maps and math games that taught multiplication. “I really enjoyed the Montessori method,” he tells me. “I could grow at my own pace.” He adds that the Montessori environment—which gives students the freedom to choose activities that suit their interests—helped foster his creativity.

“He was interested in everything,” Barshay says, but adds, “I never thought he was any brighter than anyone else.”

 

For the full story, see:

Mark Malseed.  "The Story of Sergey Brin; How the Moscow-born entrepreneur cofounded and changed the way the world searches."  Moment Magazine  (February 2007).

 




April 10, 2006

Ernie Chambers Right in Supporting Parents' Role in Education


For several months, the Omaha community has been roiled by the hostile efforts of the Omaha Public School (OPS) district to seize the schools and territory of long-established suburban school districts. Here ia an email that I sent to my representative in the Nebraska unicam on Sun., 4/9/06:

Dear Mr. Brashear:

I have appreciated your hard work as my representative in the legislature, and I have always voted for your re-election.

We believe strongly in giving our 11 year-old daughter a Montessori education. The Millard School District is the only area district that has had the entrepreneurial initiative to offer such a program, so we filled out the paperwork to option Jenny into the Millard District.

I strongly resent the implication of OPS that those who choose other school districts necessarily do so for racial reasons. We would have been very happy to stay in OPS (and it would have been more logistically convenient), but OPS does not support the diversity of educational options that Millard does.

Ernie Chambers is often wrong, but he is not always wrong. Dividing OPS into three districts would be a modest step toward increasing parental choice. Parents of all races want to be free to choose.

Tomorrow, I hope your vote will be to support freedom and competition.

Thank you for considering my views.

Sincerely,

Art Diamond






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