If you are just now learning about Montessori, there are a lot of resources available to you. Some of these resources, like social media for example, might leave you wondering if Montessori is a cult.
I say this light-heartedly, but I was once in your shoes, torn between embracing the Montessori philosophy and running as fast as I could away from it.
In this post, I'm going to discuss why people believe Montessori is a cult and whether Montessori is actually a cult.
So, let's get right to it.
A cult is defined by Britannica as, “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous”.
I have some experience with cults because my parents were part of The Way International when I was very young.
We moved from our home state to join other Way members and my parents gave the leader, Victor Paul Weirwille, a generous portion of their meager monthly earnings in exchange for the feeling of belonging and the shot at eternal salvation.
We, the children, were subject to punishments from the other members, and our parents were not allowed to intervene.
My parents and the other members would hang on Weirwille's every word and gush about what a great man he was.
Our time as literal followers of The Way was short-lived, thankfully, but the philosophies and dogma were a part of our lives for many more years.
The trauma of those years with The Way is embedded in who I am and shapes the way I view large organizations.
The accusation of something being a cult is a very serious thing.
Why do people think that Montessori is a cult?
It's not difficult to understand why some people get cult vibes from Montessori.
The way Montessori schools operate
For some people, it's a lack of understanding about how Montessori classrooms are designed to operate.
It can be offputting for parents when they tour a Montessori school and see children cleaning, fixing snacks, and working with materials that are not typically found in mainstream preschool and kindergarten classrooms.
This deviation from familiar methods of schooling can rub people the wrong way.
Constant talk about Maria Montessori
When a parent asks questions about why the classrooms function the way they do, they are likely to be met with a lot of talk about Maria Montessori, the creator of the Method.
This can give off “cult vibes” to some people, as well.
Strict adherence to the Maria Montessori's teachings
Parents and caregivers might also find the strict adherence to Maria Montessori's Methods in schools to be a little cult-like.
AMI and AMS-accredited schools require their teachers to be trained and certified in Montessori's Methods, which means that Montessori schools are uniform in the way they operate.
There's rarely deviation from the teaching methods or materials used from school to school.
On social media
Outside of Montessori schools, on social media platforms specifically, there's quite a bit of discussion on whether or not things are “Montessori”.
On a daily basis, if not an hourly basis, parents and caregivers take to Facebook and other platforms to ask questions about their child's experience in their Montessori program.
Often, these questions are met with answers such as, “That's not an authentic Montessori program”.
These discussions are generally fairly reasonable, as the questions are often in reference to a teacher's untoward response to the child's behavior.
Another common topic of discussion, though, is whether or not a particular toy is “Montessori”, or whether a certain parent-child activity is considered “Montessori”.
The responses to these questions are often, to me, a childhood cult member, extremely offputting and cult-like.
Maria Montessori was not a toy maker, so no toys at all are Montessori. This doesn't mean your child can't have a Montessori upbringing and also enjoy toys.
A child can enjoy a product-based craft with their caregiver and still be raised in a Montessori home.
A baby can sleep in a crib and eat in a high chair and still benefit from a Montessori upbringing.
Children can engage in imaginative play or even fantastic play and your household can still be “Montessori”.
I could go on, but I believe you get the idea of what I'm getting at.
Is Montessori actually a cult?
No, Montessori is not a cult. It's an educational pedagogy that is strongly rooted in science.
The essence of the Method is that a child's interests should be nurtured, that they should learn at their own pace, and that they should be shown respect in all ways.
It's not a cult, but it's understandable that so many people think it is.
Maria Montessori said, “Do not look at my finger, look at the child”.
By focusing on her finger, I believe we've given the Method a negative reputation.
Dr. Montessori did not intend for parents, caregivers, and teachers to be caught up in the minutia, but here we are, so caught up in it that we are accused of being part of a cult.
I want to get a discussion going on this topic.
Do you think Montessori is a cult, or cult-like?
If so, why do you feel this way? What do you think Montessorians can do to help people understand the Method without throwing up red flags?
Cheers and don't forget to subscribe.