Kirkpatrick on Montessori and Dewey

Professor Jerry Kirkpatrick gave a talk at Rockford College on October 28 on “Montessori and Dewey as Educational Philosophers.” Dr. Kirkpatrick is Professor of International Business at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

In the following eleven-minute interview after his talk, I speak with Dr. Kirkpatrick about the two great educational philosophers of the twentieth century, both of whom are exerting great influence in the twenty-first.

The talk was also based on Dr. Kirpatrick’s fine book Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism. His talk at Rockford College was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship, and this video interview is also available here at the center’s site.

More of my interviews with CEE’s guest speakers are available here.

5 thoughts on “Kirkpatrick on Montessori and Dewey

  • November 4, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I enjoyed the interview with Dr. Kirkpatrick. Curiously, I have a BS degree in Philosophy and further studies in Finance, also, though not nearly as impressive as Dr. Kirkpatrick. I would think in discussing ethical systems, one would need to begin with epistemology and metaethics. The categories discussed by Dr. Kirkpatrick are not as simple as they appear. Now, I understand that both you, Dr. Hicks and Dr. K. only had a short sound bite to discuss these issues. In depth discussions of these issues were not possible.

    I am going to raise issues with only two subjects covered in interview. That is, one, that Christianity is purely altruistic, and two that a Christian, informed by the Bible, would not have lied if his own or an innocent guest’s life were at stake.

    Christianity is purely or indiscriminately, altruistic and teaches the same.
    A reading of the narratives of the Biblical corpus will *not* verify this. It is not uncommon for critics of Christianity, such as Nietzche, to make such assertions and then move on with their arguments. Ayn Rand does this in Atlas Shrugged and other of her writings which I read in the early seventies. This is coming from one who has a first edition, 2nd printing hardbound edition of Atlas Shrugged and a framed copy of the postage stamp bearing her image from the Post Office. Wouldn’t she have been surprised that a failed, government imposed enterprise would have issued a stamp with her image!

    That Christianity does not authorize lying under certain circumstances.
    Lying in the Ten Commandments (Words) is dealing, within context, with day to day dealings such as community judicial proceedings and weights and measures.
    -Within the context of war, the Israelites could maintain spies, and lie to protect spies, such as Rahab did when she harbored the spies. She not only was commended for this, but was in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
    -Under some circumstances bribery is permitted.
    -Bluffing is permitted, such as letting the enemy think you have more resources than you really have.
    -Withholding information when further knowledge might have changed the minds of the recipients.
    -Luther provided another example, bluffing and lying when game playing! All members of the game know that this is the rule.
    -There seems to be an order of priority in scripture when it comes to applying the commandments. This was recognized during the Second World War when both the Roman Catholics and the Reformed communities protected Jews living in the Netherlands by harboring them in their homes and not disclosing the ethnic origins of school children to Nazi thugs. Many Netherland Christians were martyred for this very reason. Many Jews lives were saved by courageous Christians in other Nazi occupied territories.

    As a Christian, I look at the patterns of teaching in the Bible and seek to apply the gleanings in our modern business environment.

    Thanks so much for offering me this forum.

  • November 4, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks for your weighty comment, Philip. I will follow up on your helpful references.

  • July 20, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    I found it very interesting that there was quick agreement to the suggestion that Dr. Montessori was a “socialist.” I have read a great deal about her and her life, and found that her commitment was to stay away from politics as much as she possibly could! She also went to lengths to distance herself from socialists according to several biographies.

    Dr. Montessori’s commitment was to her work. She accepted funding and worked within whatever governmental framework existed, just as any scientist does. When the state made demands that required her to compromise her methodology, then she refused, and was exiled as a result.

    The philosophies and practices of Montessori and Dewey are quite different from each other on several fronts. While they may both use some of the same vernacular, in practice, they can be starkly dissimilar. For instance, in Dewey’s classes the teacher plays a leading role and gives many group lessons. It is antithetical to Montessori classrooms. Dr Montessori said: The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” This a fundamental difference that can not be overstated.

    There are several such differences that would take pages to cover. Dewey’s progressive methods are those that have been used by traditional education for the last century. Montessori’s ideas have been taken out of context and used piecemeal, but without any meaningful attribution to her…and without any recognition that the parts were taken out of complete sets and did not reflect their intended use.

    I am less than thrilled that the two theorists are being equated. Maria Montessori was a woman ahead of her time, and her brilliant observations and contributions to the science of pedagogy deserve serious consideration on their own terms.

  • July 20, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    I agree, Terri, that there are many profound differences between Montessori and Dewey. I believe Dr. Kirkpatrick’s point is not to equate the two but to point out several fundamental and important, and sometimes overlooked similarities in their philosophies and educational practices.

  • July 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

    If anyone is interested, I’m pasting below a copy of a review I did of Kilpatrick’s book for Public School Montessorian newspaper.

    Another view
    Ron Miller, author, editor and a former Montessori educator, wrote a more favorable review of Montessori, Dewey and Capitalism in Education Revolution. Although he shared some of the views expressed here —“I find this to be a remarkably callous dismissal of the realities of poverty and class in a competitive capitalist society.”—he also offered praise for it as a provocative volume. (He also has a cover blurb on the book.)
    Miller’s review appears in the Summer 2008 issue of Education Revolution, 417 Roslyn Rd., Roslyn Heights, NY 11577-2620.

    Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education by Jerry Kirkpatrick, TLJ Books, 2008.

    Reviewed by Dennis Schapiro
    Quoting his philosophical guide, Ayn Rand, Jerry Kirkpatrick writes that under laissez-faire capitalism’s definition of acceptable social behavior, “no one—individual or government —may initiate the use of physical force against others and that the only proper use of force is in retaliation against those who initiate its use.”
    On the next page, in a footnote, he writes, “fraud is an indirect initiation of physical force.”
    Given those definitions, anyone who purchases Montessori, Dewey and Capitalism with the idea that it is even remotely about Montessori, Dewey and Capitalism has a solid claim for fraud. But Montessori educators, being peaceful sorts, are not likely to see it as a justification for violence.
    There is a lot to criticize about this book by a business professor at California State Polytechnic University—some of which could have been avoided had he instead titled it: “What Would Ayn Do: Education.”
    Rather than dissect the works of Montessori and Dewey and consider how these great thinkers might analyze Schooling in Capitalist America (the title of a far more insightful book by Herbert Gintis and Samuel Bowles), Kirkpatrick creates a universe from a single idea he extracts from the approaches of both Montessori and Dewey—“concentrated attention.”
    Only capitalism permits concentrated attention, he writes. “When third party intervention enters the picture, as happens when the government becomes involved in education, dictating purpose, method and content, concentrated attention breaks down.”
    Teachers in Montessori schools, public and private, are likely to find a few counter examples to that assertion.
    The analysis the title implies would have been interesting.
    Dewey was a self-described socialist, Montessori urge governments not to abandon the child. But Montessori education seems to do reasonably well within in capitalist system. How do the obvious tensions between Montessori and Dewey work out as their legacy is played out in a capitalist system?
    Instead, Kilpatrick assumed the answer. He writes in his preface:
    “Laissez-faire capitalism is the social system in which all the means of production, including roads, schools, and hospitals, are privately owned and operated…I assume that this system is morally and economically unassailable.”
    From there he provides a Cliff’s Notes overview of educational theory and cherry-picks bits and pieces—wildly out of context—from Montessori and Dewey.
    Kilpatrick’s understanding of learning theory in general and specifically of Montessori and Dewey is dubious. There is a surprising lack of evidence that he is even familiar with Rand’s best-known statement on education, an essay called “The Comprachicos,” in which she commented favorably on Montessori classrooms. That essay relied heavily on a 1980 essay on Montessori education by Beatrice Hessen that appeared in Rand’s Objectivist magazine.
    Kilpatrick struggles with the concept of progressive education. To him, as to Hessen and Rand, it is the boogey man, with kids learning how to be slaves to their peer group. But he has little analysis to go with his commented that his “long-time admiration of Maria Montessori was shaken somewhat when I read that she considered herself to be a progressive educator.”
    He appears unaware of the identities of prominent authors—Alfie Kohn becomes Alphie and Larwence Cremin, the historian who celebrates progressive education at one point become the final word on an issue.
    That shaky intellectual foundation ought to temper even his high praise for Montessori education: “Montessori’s theory of concentrated attention is the most developed of the child-friendly ideas on education that have been evolving over the past 2,500 years.”
    But his zeal for laissez-faire capitalism is complete. And that may be the redeeming value of the book.
    What would an educational system look like under laissez faire capitalism?
    He writes: “No philosophy of education exists, however, that explicitly requires capitalism for its implementation.” To his credit, he tries.
    His structure builds on the theories of Rand and economist Ludwig von Mises.
    “The purpose of formal education,” he asserts, “is to prepare the young for adult life as independently thinking and acting individuals in a capitalist society.”
    And if independent thinking leads one to conclude that unfettered capitalism is not “unassailable?” That is a possibility not worth Kilpatrick’s time.
    Race, class, culture and privilege are irrelevant.
    There would be no state schools or even state-funded vouchers. (“Some people are being coerced into paying for the education of others. The problem of how to provide an economical education that does not infringe on the rights of others has not been solved,” he writes.) Parents would dip into their pockets to pay schools and teachers. Following a comment from Jacques Barzun, Kirkpatrick suggests this utopian system might consist of highly paid “lecturers” and lesser-paid “tutors.” Montessori classrooms are good, but perhaps too expensive for most.
    Would the schools of his system support his values—notably Dewey’s and Montessori’s “concentrated attention”? Only the free market would tell.
    His utopia is not, he admits, imminent. A few things would have to happen first, such as the sale of all publicly owned property to private investors (including school buildings), ending minimum wage and any other legislation protecting workers, elimination of social security, Medicare, food stamps, the reestablishment of the gold standard and the passage of laws to permit unrestricted immigration.
    So, even if his book in seriously spacy and offers little insight to them, Montessori educators ought to be wary that some parents may focus on the title and take it as gospel. And, to the extent that they enjoy exploring alternative realities, Montessorians might find it amusing.

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