Sunday, January 31, 2010


Luke and Dad's Third Year and a Half

At exactly 9:15 am December 9th, 2009, I was quietly ushered into Mr. Antonucci's classroom at Aiden. The school occasionally invites a parent to observe the Montessori method in a classroom setting. Mrs. Antonucci put me in a far corner chair like a jealous scientist protecting her fragile experiment. She reminded me that observation is just that, not participation.

At first you did not see me. You sat with your back to me scribbling and chattering with your friend, Peter Kumar. When you noticed me, I got a wide smile, and a proud introduction, “This is MY daddy!” Working quickly to mend her punctured bubble, Mrs. Antonnuci pressed you towards a puzzle of cylinders. In classic Luke style, you stubbornly resisted, but your campaign wilted in the face Mrs. Antonnuci’s thick fortifications.

Children roamed around, played at tables, or worked on floor mats scattered all over the room. The kids were spread in both age and the sophistication of their schemes, and they worked individually and in groups. I suppose I expected an orderly circle of children being taught about a frog or something. The classroom scene resembled a chaotic market bazaar. I felt a sinking feeling that, perhaps, I had gotten you into a Montessori mess!

Then I noticed something remarkable. Upon completion of a cylinder puzzle, you returned the contraption back to its proper storage place. What the hell! That never happened at home ... ever. Then you started a new venture, picking another puzzle. You grabbed a mat and laid it out methodically on the floor establishing a working area creating an educational microcosm, a protected area of concentration. You sat and worked through your project.

Mrs. Antonucci was the conductor, orchestrating the pace of the projects, allowing each child’s innate interest and creativity set course but, when necessary, sprinkling that path with more challenging and expansive activities. She and her staff also policed and preserved childrens' working areas. The older children were expected to help.

So, my first impression was right, the class was more like a free market bazaar than the centralized, communal teaching approach I had been programmed to picture. What I saw in its place resonated strongly with me.

The most successful people I know (mostly entrepreneurs) learned far more in life by fiercely following their own interests. A path hewn by one’s own ideas derives knowledge because it is a necessity, a set of tools, to get where one wants to go. Coupled with quality guidance and a willingness to accept it, you have a winner. Einstein was not a great mathematician, but became adept with help from his peers. Math was just a means to express his own concepts to the world.

Proof in point, you’ve resisted learning letters through flash cards or other blunt instruments. However, you love books and, as a result, became interested in the strange symbols Rachel and I clearly used to decode the storyline. Today, January 31st, 2009, you spelled out your first word “KETTLE” out of the book XXXXXXX. Sure, you can’t read, but you are clearing a path because you want to decode the books.

By the way, you show glimpses of high emotional intelligence too. A couple weeks ago the two of us were sitting together, you playing with Playdough, and I writing a to-do list in my little black book. You looked me square in the eye, put your hands on both my cheeks, and asked, “What do you think when you are alone?” I was dumbfounded.

Luke, I think about you, Cash and Rachel.