The above question is a common question asked of Montessori Schools. The following response is an excerpt from an article by John Long, Headmaster of the Post Oak School in Bellaire.
Dr. Montessori emphasized the significance of internal, intrinsic motivation as the power behind learning- as opposed external, extrinsic rewards. Young people are hard-wired for learning. Their brains are still in formation for years after they are born, and during this period they are uniquely receptive to learning. their inner voice directs them to learn. We don’t need to manipulate them in learning. We don’t need to reward them, or to punish them, to make them learn.
But why not give them grades? Isn’t that the way the world works? Let me ask, ”What is the purpose of grades?” Is it to make students work? Our students work already. They do not need to be coerced into working.
Is it to make them work harder? When Montessori students ask “How much do I have to do?” we ask in response, “How much can you do?” Consequently, students set goals for themselves that are monumental in scope and work to achieve them.
Is it to make students competitive? Our graduates’ performance in high school tells us that they compete quite well.
On the other hand, academic competition, as is structured in traditional schools, leads to results in the character of the individual and in the construction of society that Dr. Montessori was trying to help us escape. She said, “Education, as it is commonly regarded, encourages individuals to go their own way and pursue their own personal interests. School children are taught not to help one another, not to prompt their classmates who don’t know the answers, but to concern themselves only with getting promoted at the end of the year and to win prizes in competition with fellow pupils.”
Furthermore, it has been shown that when students know they are being graded, their creativity declines. If a student knows he or she is being graded, he will make choices that are safe and not take risks. The student will do what he already knows will result in a predictable, positive result. He or she will not choose a project, or an answer, that could result in failure. Thomas Edison said that if you want to increase your creativity, increase your rate of failure.
We want students to learn because of their own intrinsic desire to do so. We want them to become self-confident, creative risk-takers. Ultimately, our success as individuals is not best measured by our relative standing in society, but in the society itself that we help to create.