Montessori Success Stories

Ryan Stolp

Ryan Stolp was featured on the front page of the News and Observer on August 23, 2013. He and four others reached the summit of a previously unclimbed and unnamed peak in Kyrgyzstan earlier this year. Ryan also made the clothing he wore, in order to field test his new company’s products, designed for harsh climbing conditions.

Larry Page & Sergey Brin

In 2004, ABC’s Barbara Walters asked Larry Page and Sergey Brin about the secret to their success. Both Mr. Page and Mr. Brin had college professors for parents. She wondered if that familial connection to learning played into their success. They said no. Their parents helped, but really their Montessori education was the key. Brin and Page specifically pointed to the curriculum of self-directed learning – where students follow their interests and decide for themselves what they want to learn.

“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 and doing things a little bit differently,” says Page, who’s now CEO of Google.

The transformation from college friends to twin billionaires took several turns. Google may have never taken off if Brin and Page didn’t keep asking themselves: What else can I do? What do I find interesting? How can I make that happen?

As Forbes pointed out last year, Google “wasn’t launched by Larry Page and Sergei Brin as a brilliant vision, but rather as a project to improve library searches, followed by a series of small discoveries that unlocked a revolutionary business model.” The Forbes article credits Montessori education for allowing them to keep tinkering. “Overall,” it says, “there was resonance with the idea that education concerns inspiring students to become life-long learners with a love of education.”

This model has seeped into Google’s corporate culture, as well. The company is famous for its 20-percent rule. Employees should spend one day a week working on something that isn’t in their job description. Basically, be self-directed. This Montessori ideal has led to many major Google products: Google Maps, Alerts, Reader, and many more.

Nick Abrams

In mid September 2013, the News & Observer featured a story about Nick Abrams, who attended MCHD with his brother, Wesley. Nick is currently a student at Stanford University, and recently completed biking across the country from the west coast and ended up in his hometown, Durham, on his mother’s birthday, September 7th. Nick and a friend made the trip to raise money for cancer and blood diseases. Nick’s mom, Toni Lipscomb, who was long a supporter of the Parents Association and MCHD, died of cancer in May 2012. She will be missed among her friends here, and in the wider Durham community, but there is no doubt she lives on in the strength, initiative, and grace of her son, Nick.

Julia Child

In her book Julia Child and Company, Ms. Child says that Montessori learning taught her to love working with her hands.

“[Maria] Montessori wanted kids to develop ‘a friendly relationship to error,’ – to understand that mistakes are a normal part of learning, and that to learn, you must be willing to make mistakes, and then to move forward,” writes John Long, head of a Montessori school in Houston, who wrote about Child’s connection to Montessori education.

That’s certainly the schtick behind the famous Saturday Night Live sketch, where Child (played by Dan Aykroyd) ruins just about every part of the meal, yet rolls right along. Child always was graceful under stress. 

Brock Winslow

Former MCHD parent and Board member, Brock Winslow, reports that three members of the incoming class of 2013-14 at the prestigious North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM) are former MCHD students. NCSSM accepts only 2-4 students from each of NC’s 100 counties each year, and the school has been rated in the top 100 public high schools in the country for 14 consecutive years, so this is quite an accomplishment.  Brock is currently a member of NCSSM’s administration.

Will Wright

Video game pioneer Will Wright created The Sims, SimCity, and Spore. Each of his widely successful games shares a certain spirit. For one thing, they rarely ever say “The End.” Instead, his games let you tinker toward perfection, but let you define that perfection. Whether mapping out a digital city or directing the lives of a pixelated family, players follow whatever path interests them.

“Montessori taught me the joy of discovery,” Mr. Wright told The Wall Street Journal. “It showed you can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori.”

Jimmy Wales

If you want to learn more about Montessori – the woman or the teaching philosophy – you can always turn to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia run by Montessori graduate Jimmy Wales.

“As a child, Wales was a keen reader with an acute intellectual curiosity and, in what he credits to the influence of the Montessori method on the school’s philosophy of education, ‘spent lots of hours pouring [sic] over the Britannicas and World Book Encyclopedias,’ ” says Mr. Wales’ own Wikipedia entry.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Colombian author of Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude attended a Montessori school as a child. The Nobel prize winner has said, “I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.”

Jeff Bezos

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stands as a prominent alumnus of a Montessori education.

“Mr. Bezos often compares Amazon’s strategy of developing ideas in new markets to ‘planting seeds’ or ‘going down blind alleys,’ ” writes The Wall Street Journal. “Amazon’s executives learn and uncover opportunities as they go. Many efforts turn out to be dead ends, Mr. Bezos has said, ‘But every once in a while, you go down an alley and it opens up into this huge, broad avenue.’ “