Royal Wedding Special: are there some in the Montessori movement who want to have their cake and eat it?

'Thank God for child-centred education.'
I wasn't going to write word one about the big do in Westminster today, but destiny conspires against me. During a spot of research into Montessori for my third book (watch this space), I kept running into His Royal Highness in a manner that suggested that he was actually stalking me, when he should have been memorising the route to take up a red carpet and practising ambi-waving.

The link between Da Dook and the world of mixed-age education probably seems slight; and so it probably is. But every time I read a website that supported or endorsed the Montessori method, I invariably came across comments like, 'Famous alumni of Montessori schools include George Clooney, P Diddy [I'm not making this up]...and Princes William and Harry.' There it was; time and time again; the second and third in line to the throne were seeded in the pot of the famous Italian pedagogue. Best of all were the comments that invariably revolved around the sentiment of, 'The Princes owe much of their success to their beginnings in Montessori schools.' Now forgive my somewhat abject cynicism, but I suspect that the level of fame and success that both Princes enjoy owes somewhat more to the genetic roulette wheel that, like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, saves or damns us from birth. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

In fact, the whole celebrity educational testimonial racket is a sleight of hand. While the lists of alumni are proud to include such worthies as Larry Page (one of the founders of Google) and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), I imagine that the real list of graduates includes just as many drop outs and flunkies as any other schooling method, other than, say, the 'locking them in a cupboard' movement (and you should see their website). I reckon I could pick a dozen successful people who watch Charlie and Lola and claim that it was responsible for their prosperity. In that way, it;s a bit like the self-fulfilling prophetic claims of Celebrity Scientology, where every step towards becoming L Ron Hubbard, or JK Rowling or something guarantees good fortune- I've also seen a few Charismatic Christian TV channels that promise similar goods.

These Montessori testimonials remind me of the legions of desperate home genealogists who meticulously pick their way back through centuries of lineage in the vain and unlovely hope of describing a route of descent from William the Conqueror, ignoring the premise that, given the exponential nature of interrelation, if you look a few centuries back we're probably all just a branch or a twig away from each other. Look! they say, see our graduates and how well they've done! My mind boggles when I consider that the charmless, thuggish Sean Combs learned everything he needed to know about personal relationships and emotional intelligence at the hands of Progressive Education.

Well, quite. This isn't a Montessori bash- not yet- but a rather neurotic nosey around the license some of its practitioners show in claiming that William or Harry's fabulous and unexpected success was in any way derived from child-centred education. I love a good nosey around the internet, especially when I've spent the morning in the grimy and conspiratorial world of Regicidal hate groups (don't ask- but I wonder how Johnny Anarchist thinks that Plod won't rumble their cunning plots when they plaster them all over t'web).

The Archbishop in THAT dress.
Our well-spoken groom has enjoyed an unsurprising education entirely spent in the private sector. Presumably his parents didn't have much confidence in our world class school system? When he was three, he spent about a year in the charmingly named Mrs Mynor's Nursery School in Notting Hill. I can't find more than a spoor or two about this place on the net. I did find a place callede the Minor School, in  a different Notting Hill location. Perhaps it moved and changed names. But there's no mention of any Montessori element in either. And in either case you'd have to be the most generous, optimistic, uncritical commentator to claim that twelve months of playing with interesting shaped blocks would somehow inspire tomorrow's Caesars.  Next he went to Wetherby School in West London (where he 'excelled in English and Spelling') until he was eight. Are you asleep yet? Sorry. Then it was five years at Ludgrove School; followed by a stint at Eton, an inevitable gap year ('I'm totally in South America'), and St Andrews for an MA(Hons) in Geography (2:1, I might add).

None of these schools advertise any elements of Montessori (you'll no doubt be tremendously relieved to hear that all of their prospectuses make similar, deafeningly inoffensive offers of 'supportive tailored education where children can flourish'. Well, for the price of a Range Rover every academic year, I should bloody hope so). And besides, the whole pedagogy of Montessori kind of runs out of steam when they start getting tall; I'm guessing that St Andrews doesn't waste too much time on the Four Planes of Development.

Of course, I could be wrong; all of the schools listed above could be the Hogwarts of respecting children's 'natural psychological development'. And they could explain why William is, as I write mamboing with the King of Tonga and re-thanking every one of his lucky stars every time he sees Mrs Wales shyly biting her bottom lip as she tucks into a swan cornetto. And we're not.

But I doubt it. God bless yer, Brenda.


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