History of Montessori in Taiwan

Thought some might get something about of this. The history of Montessori in Taiwan, as best I could piece it together. Not a “normal” thing most would blog about, but that’s what I do… :non-potable_water:

History of Montessori in Taiwan | IMonteSomething

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Thanks for sharing!

I have to say I’ve been to one of Ms. Lam’s primary (aka “kindergarten”) schools in Taipei, along with the relatively new elementary school, 長華小學. Spent a few days as a fly on the wall in each of the classrooms. That is a school system that certainly falls into the “Montesomething” category, aka “Montessori in name only”. Teachers were loud and rude to the kids, the lack of space/too many kids in the room meant children were punching each other in the face when they wanted to do works that were too big for the space they had, and a lot of kids in elementary were working straight out of the 康軒 textbooks used in the public schools. I didn’t get much impression of choice, independence, or respect for oneself and others. It was disappointing, since my online research lead me to think that Ms. Lam was solely responsible for making Montessori exist in Taiwan. A cultural failing of adults that want to see results now, failing to grasp the reality that seeds planted now don’t bloom until later…

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That’s interesting. I was approached by one of the Montessori type schools and it appeared they never even read my resumè. Asked me to teach senior level algebraic theory. As I wrote in another post it seems Taiwan has gone very much backwards this last couple of years. Back to the bad old days of paying westerners to perform like circus animals in front of glass windows facing the main road. Was recently shocked to see a school still using the 90s and 00s methods. I thought most of those schools had been shut down thanks to government guidelines. Appears not.

Yeah the experimental school I teach at now, which is trying to implement Montessori and failing epically, absolutely didn’t even glance at my resume. My background is in linguistics but they tried to convince me that I was an art major, as though I could have somehow forgotten that I spent four years doing math with words and had instead spent four years trying to be creative. I am also trained through AMI (the international Montessori association) in elementary. But I found out that the American actor and Russian woman who just graduated from some university in Taiwan, where she learned English, that they hired are being paid the same as me. My near decade of direct EFL teaching experience and high fluency in Mandarin (which neither of the other two other white faces have) means absolutely nothing to the administration. They could not care less what sort of education they provide. It really pains me to see and experience this. Maria Montessori implemented her method everywhere, perfecting the elementary part of it in India when she was held there as a prisoner of war in WWII (She was an Italian in British-controlled India). Unlike so many other culturally-focused alternative education approaches, Montessori follows the human and centers around how everything is done to meet human needs. There is no “superiority” in Montessori, only children on planet earth, trying to learn how to be humans and find where they fit into the universe. It can work here, just as it did in Europe, the Americas, India, and Japan. But the Taiwanese adults trying to implement it are too focused on the money and prestige. I had high hopes when Taiwan passed the experimental education act, but I don’t think there’s anything to look forward to now.

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The last two years have seen a significant regress of standards. And the bosses have gotten a lot more uppity. It’s all a power game to most Taiwanese. That’s why the little empower that wrecks classes is allowed to stay while all the other kids leave.

[little emperor]

Auto correct at its best.

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Blockquote I have to say I’ve been to one of Ms. Lam’s primary (aka “kindergarten”) schools in Taipei,

I have wanted to visit that school for a while. Could literally never get anyone to email me back.

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I could never see the logic in that. Then they lose money.
Same with shows. 2% of parents want more English spoken. 98% just want the kids to look cute and be funny. Yet they cater to the 2%. Morons.

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Why not do both? When I wrote shows I made sure they could display their English abilities and their innate cuteness.

Of course. But some bosses want it to be dry, boring and all about the English.

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Don’t waste your time. Or I guess you can, but they seem to have their own version of Montessori (and an ability to quote her works at you like a fundamentalist Christian quotes the Bible) that runs fully contrary to the very basics of the point of “The Montessori Method”.

I was able to observe by calling the main office at their Xinsheng branch (0227529503, according to google) and eventually talking to a woman named Vivian. She’s licensed in AMI primary and elementary, but actually talking to her for more than a few minutes made me feel like the bazillion hours I spent training was all wrong until I realized that’s just how brilliantly manipulative you have to be to run a pre-school that costs almost as much as TAS without any of the resources. I wanted to expose the whole scam for what it clearly is, but I don’t think the rich-beyond-comprehension parents that send their children there actually care/ it would only make everyone else in Taiwan hate the whole idea of Montessori.

Tangentially related to the topic: a recent piece from the New Yorker about the founder of the Montessori method and its history. It may or may not be paywalled.

The Miseducation of Maria Montessori

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I don’t think it was paywalled but I clicked the “reader view” button as the page loaded just in case.

I didn’t expect it to turn and become about Amazon, but that’s about right. Montessori developed her methods among the poorest and most abandoned children and they worked because she applied them with love and patience, always following the child and considering what the child might be lacking that would lead them to lash out. No rewards or punishments is something that really does work if applied consistently. (I think back to the “develop a rewards system in your classroom and it will save you” advice I got from so many as a beginning teacher. Looking back even on my own K-12 upbringing, 100% of rewards systems I experienced were failures, why did I think that’d work in my own classroom?) I’ve been to three Montessori schools in Taipei and all of them cost at least NT$150k/semester, some of them more than NT$200k, not including fees. That isn’t as much as TAS or TES, but it’s absolutely out of the question even for the teachers who work there. This New Yorker article certainly has me thinking about the hundreds of other criticisms of Montessori, including the fact that most the vast majority of Montessori educators are from social classes well below that of the children they are educating. Assuming you’re making 100k/month here, which is pretty solid even with the latest inflation, even if you only have one kid, you’re really stretching your budget to be able to afford such a school. (At least TAS and TES provide free tuition for children of their teachers. They also pay them a lot more than these “Montessori” schools)

The problem in Taiwan is that it goes waaayyy beyond just being out of the question from a cost standpoint. All three of the schools I’ve observed in Taipei had AMI or AMS certified teachers and administrators, but they had clearly failed to grasp the most basic elements of the Montessori Method. There was a lot of “we adapt for the culture and our environment” excuses that really didn’t jive well with me. Using foam puzzle piece mats instead of rugs, for example, deprives a 3-6 year old from developing the fine motor skills that are developed when rolling up the rug. The excuse I got was “there’s too much dust and the children have a lot of allergies”. Ok, so use a yoga mat, which will allow them to get the same sensorial experience as a real rug instead of throwing 30cm squares of foam around. The spaces in all but one of the classrooms I went to were mindbogglingly tiny, which meant the children would often look around and see that there was NOWHERE for them to sit and read a book, let alone unroll a timeline or work with a math material. Screeching and whining at other people would be expected, since the environment was not prepared correctly. But the teacher’s response? “Shut up and work quietly” rather than try to figure out how to resolve the issue. And the biggest problem was the absolute lack of choice. In all the classrooms I went to, the teacher had an insanely strict level of control over the children. The kids would come in and the teacher would say “you three, go to the multiplication checkerboard. You four, go work in the time zones chart. You five, come with me.” Choice? What choice? In some of the (elementary) classrooms, they started the day planning everything they would do that day. The reality is that a child of that age has no developmental capacity to think about what they want to do even in five minutes, let alone what they will want to do that afternoon. Montessori is about free choice because a child might see something outside or that another child is doing and be inspired to start a project then and there, spontaneously, based on that. Making the kids plan the day makes it hardly better than a traditional classroom. They have the freedom to decide where in the classroom they will sit (assuming there is any room to do so) and their freedom pretty much ends there. That’s not a “cultural adaptation”. Call out the teachers for that? “This is Montessori because it’s enforcing the responsibility that they need to learn about all the subject areas each day”. Um, no, it’s not Montessori because there is no need for them to learn all the subject areas each day. The whole point is that they learn what they are driven to learn, not what their parents told you they want them to learn. There was also almost no natural light in any of the classrooms I went to. That’s just depressing. I’ve never seen interior classrooms anywhere in Taiwan’s public schools. There’s usually so much natural light in the public school classrooms that you end up closing the drapes because you’ll be blinded. The kids in these overpriced Montessori classrooms in Taipei only get to see the sun during their recess time. The other eight hours of the day they’re hiding in a cave. That’s just sad whether you’re in a Montessori school or not.

I’d love to see Montessori in the public schools here, implemented fully following Maria Montessori’s methods. I’d even be willing to spend a summer getting my Chinese up to a level where I could be a full time, Chinese-speaking and teaching teacher in a public school if that’s what it would take to have a real Montessori classroom available for everyone. I look back at the materials from my training and I think “yes, this is what made me want to pay US$15,000 to learn this stuff”. But that’s not how it’s playing out in Taiwan. Maria Montessori was a true legend. Her work is applicable to all children everywhere. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn in a proper Montessori environment. I hate nothing more than seeing it become something for rich people to bastardize, which is the only version that you will see in Taiwan.

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The logic is pretty simple. The little emperor is the child of the local gangster, police officer, lawyer, doctor, or politician. Sometimes a combination of those professions listed. Or they are the child of someone that has invested in the business. So they can’t get rid of them.

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From what I’ve seen they aren’t anywhere near to the concept of unlocking a persons/child’s potential or passions. They’re stuck in the rote learning method which is kind of essential for learning Traditional Mandarin and math. Possibly science but only as an application to be copied over and over again.

One of the things I regularly do is ask “Are you happy?” To which the reply is usually “yes” so then I ask “How are you?” and always get the stock standard response of “I’m fine thank you. And you?” For one student that I used to teach but still see regularly it took 3 years to understand they can say “I’m happy” or any other version of how they’re feeling as a response to my question.

A big part of the problem is that nobody will accept that not everyone wants to learn this or that. So when those kids don’t get the results that are demanded from their parents someone needs to be blamed. And the finger is usually pointed at the teacher.

Not that the kids should be blamed. But they aren’t understood. And there’s a million distractions already so how do you implement a system that encourages kids to embrace what they’re learning with both hands and run with it?

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Mandarin probably actually does need route learning but Montessori math is effective in ways that no human that learned in the traditional way can comprehend. There is a language problem for Chinese learners, as Montessori math is based on one (“a unit”) = a dot, tens = a line, hundreds = a square, thousands = a cube (a 3D version of that dot, so back to “a unit”), ten-thousands= a line of 10 thousands cubes, etc. In every carefully designed math material in Montessori, all “units” (ones, thousands, millions) are green, all “tens” (tens, ten-thousands, ten-millions) are blue, and all “hundreds” (hundreds, hundred-thousands, hundred-millions) are red. This works in English as it’s a series of “families of 3” and we live in a 3D world. It doesn’t work as well with Chinese because Chinese numbers go to a fourth place value, which is another case of “the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is right”. But conceptually, carrying and borrowing and “sharing out” and “taking a number of something x # of times”, not to mention all the sensorial learning, are all so clearly explored in Montessori math. Even learning how to teach it as an adult pretty much rewired my brain to see numbers differently. The materials prepare the brain to understand numbers in such a way that when they move to doing it all on paper, they’re basically doing everything in their head already. But science is another thing that absolutely doesn’t need route memorization to understand. I tell the kids a story about something related to science and they are off conducting their own experiments regarding that in an instant. Especially anything related to plants or putting things in a freezer.

It even goes farther to say that adults anywhere (not just in Taiwan) are unable to grasp the idea that children simply do not learn what they don’t want to learn. Even if you shove information down their throat, they might be able to write the correct answer on a worksheet and then the test paper, but will they remember it a week later? As a kid, I practically lived outside and consumed all sorts of books. I remember far more of what I learned on my own/of my own interests than what was mandated by the school that I learn. Once we get past that as a society, education can change for children in a way that meets their actual needs. Taiwan is rooted in 5,000 years of Chinese culture of “memorize and pass the test”. We’ve got a long way to go…

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Tell that to @BiggusDickus. He seems to be in the enviable position of having the top 1% of Taiwanese students who can actually hold an intelligible conversation in English without repeating the rote lines.

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Yeah. I remember fuck-all of what I learned in high school regarding algebra, calculus, physics and chemistry.
I do, however, remember a lot that I learned in geography and history class.
It could be that those were what interested me most, or it could be that my science and math teachers were horrible fascist cunts.

You have to remember that most Taiwanese or Chinese (or even Japanese) only learn to the level they require. Scholars are a bit different. Montessori style learning would suit them better for advanced level depth of meaning.

As you were describing the math method I was thinking almost exactly the same way in my head. I never knew it was part of Montessori method.

I generally try to build up my students confidence and then encourage them to find what they like. Sometimes showing them how to apply the things they’ve already learned. My partner hates it tho because if I’m asked something I’m aware of I go into the detail of it when I discuss it.

Taiwan is very much a transactional type of society. And most people are only interested in learning the minimum in order to participate in their aspect of the transaction.

I’m lucky I’ve had great kids to teach this last few years. And parents that understood what I was doing and patient enough to see the results. And when kids start seeing their own test scores going up they start getting more confident in their own abilities. It really is a cascade effect.

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I completely agree with this concept, among others you mentioned. When I train my pre-service and in-service teachers to avoid rewards and punishments, they look at me as if I’m a crazy person. I tell them that I have never used a single sticker, candy, or point-based system with my students (weekly seven periods of clinical teaching from K-6) and have no problems with “child guidance,” which is a foreign concept to most of them who are still quite firmly grounded in a behaviorist philosophy. I apply concepts from Montessori, where applicable, and have a decent collection of manipulatives (which I seldom use). Frankly, a truly authentic Montessori learning environment is impractical for my purposes, given the short amount of time with each class per week.

Other local/cultural/systematic constraints make a full implementation quite difficult. Moreover, I would never brand my teaching as Montessorian, and would not strive towards complete fidelity of implementation, even in ECE contexts, since a more eclectic approach can build upon (but theoretically contradict) some of her core pedagogical principles

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I’m the same. If I do I share it out equally. It’s unnecessary competition. The goal is to improve a little each day as far as I’m concerned. And be proud of what you’ve done. I sort of make fun of test scores and try to remind them it’s just a number on a piece of paper. That each of them learn in different ways. Some have excellent book English. Others are much better at being creative. And a few see learning English as a puzzle to put together.

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