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You arrive ten minutes early, extend a firm handshake, politely decline a water, and your interview begins. In one way or another, you’ll be asked about your educational experience. Of course, this information is on your resume.Your well-manicured response will dwell on your university alma mater.  Perchance you touch upon your high school glory days, but keep in mind that each of your answers is a test of your personality. Strong grades and a respectable institution won’t guarantee you a job anymore in today’s innovative market. If you went to a Montessori preschool, this may be a good time to mention it.

Meet the Montessori Mafia.

In 2011, Peter Sims wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal entitled “The Montessori Mafia.” This group of “creative elite” includes Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, Julia Childs, chef extraordinaire, and Queen Bey herself. A mere coincidence seems unlikely. In a 2004 interview, Page explained to Barbara Walters why he and Brin attribute so much of their success to their Montessori beginnings reminiscing, “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.” Likewise, Will Wright, creator of the Sims recounts, “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori…” Yes, Montessori was their preschool.

Ok, what is “Montessori” then?

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A photo taken in a Montessori kindergarten classroom

Maria Montessori became one of the first female physicians in Italy in 1896. Early in her career Montessori educated mentally handicapped and impoverished children of Rome. She brought a scientific lens to her approach, noting the natural way children absorb knowledge. She observed their innate desire to learn and designed materials which would foster their curiosity. (For those Montessorians reading this, the metal insets, sandpaper letters, and hundred number board may take you on a walk down memory lane.)  Montessori, above all, noticed the incredible capacity and proclivity for children to teach themselves.

Kids teaching themselves?

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In an ideal situation, the Montessori directress would stand back and observe her pupils as they go about their work. Montessori designed materials which intrinsically promote the process of trial and error. Thus, teaching the child that there is no “right way” to approach a task and engraining the fact that one must repeatedly revise his methods to obtain his goal (Did you know Google started as a digital library project?).

Montessori found it essential there be no time limit to a child’s work. Generally ranging from 3-6 year olds, the Montessori environment breeds collaboration. The younger students observe their older classmates, who, in turn, share a sense of pride in assisting their younger peers with skills they have mastered. Montessori taught that the child must be empowered to believe in their ability to succeed. Her goal was to build an environment “rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”

Montessori encourages an auto-learning, a self-curiosity. Today, there are over 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide transcending all language and cultural barriers. The method encourages the individual to ask questions and propose solutions so his own queries, providing the individual with the skills to become life-long learners.

If you didn’t attend a Montessori school, don’t worry. Neither did Steve Jobs or Einstein. Regardless of our upbringing, we must all aspire – like true Montessorians – to maintain our innate motivation to revise ourselves and our environment. Though unrelenting in their efforts, Google doesn’t have the answers for all of the issues we observe in our world. We must have the confidence to not only question that which we know, but propose and pursue unprecedented solutions. One of them may just work. So what did you learn at school?