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As a former high school and current college English teacher, Judy Bentley became increasingly dismayed by a sense of lethargy among students she meets in the classroom. In general, they lack enthusiasm, initiative, a questioning attitude, or a sense of responsibility for their work. The problem, she concludes, is that our current educational system, whether public or private, secular or religious, has made students teacher-dependent. They feel that education is not something that they undertake, but something that is done to them.

Such is not the case with students educated in the Montessori system. The teacher's role is to monitor progress, give help when needed, and to present a method or process for mastery in a given field of study. Education, however, remains the student's responsibility. As a result, a Montessori education fosters initiative, independence, enthusiasm, and self-esteem, while the structure of traditional classrooms encourages passivity and loss of a sense of accomplishment.

A common objection to this methodology is that Montessori students have "holes" in their backgrounds. However, the rapid expansion of knowledge in fields such as science makes teaching everything virtually impossible, so some material is selected while other material is omitted. Traditional schools tend to emphasize the past over the future and the known over the questions still to be answered. They emphasize the "What?" "Where?" and "When?" while Montessori allows for the "Why?" "How?" "How do you know?" and "What if….?" Traditional schools teach children how to deal with someone in authority, a necessary skill in a monarchy or the military. But if we want children to learn the role they must play in a democracy, then they must learn to accept responsibility, exercise leadership, negotiate, cooperate, and compromise, not just on the playground, but in the classroom as well.

In the final analysis, successful and happy people don't have special knowledge or even exceptional gifts beyond the rest. What they have is self-esteem, initiative, creativity, and enthusiasm; they can figure out what they need to know and how to learn it; they take pleasure in hard work, they think critically, and they live and work well with others. When you select a school for your child, it is not enough to look at what is being taught; it is even more important to recognize how the character of the child is formed by the way that education is structured. Montessori education respects the child in a way no other system even attempts, and the effect is profound.

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