Montessori and the open source way

No readers like this yet.
open source button on keyboard

I read with delight Steve Dennings article Is Montessori The Origin on Google and Amazon?. His arguments are firm, they accommodate a wide range of scientific facts, and they show what remarkable results can be achieved when we "follow the child." He writes well enough and clearly enough that I need not reiterate his points here--you can (and should!) read his writings directly. But there is more that can be said, particularly in understanding how open source principles and philosophies fit so well with those of Montessori education.

I came to Montessori education late in life, as a parent. I began knowing literally nothing whatsoever about Montessori's work, but the school my daughter attended took Montessori's writings very seriously, and I began to see the profound and deep connections between seemingly simple classroom activities. After reading The Science Behind the Genius, the grand design became clear to me, and I have since become a dedicated proponent of the Montessori method.

The Montessori mantra of "Follow the Child" speaks to the idea of nurturing the agency of the individual. Montessori found that if children are deprived of the opportunities to make authentic choices, their selves do not fully develop, and they can become far too dependent on others to make decisions for them. In an analogous fashion, open source empowers all participants, whether users, developers, distributors, or maintainers, to be authentic agents. Such empowerment encourages not only the improvement of the software (which can be seen by its 100x better quality than proprietary software), but more importantly it encourages the improvement of the individual. This is what I have seen in 20+ years of open source, and what I have seen in 10 years as a Montessori parent.

"Follow the child" is not limited to seeing what a child will do with a fixed curriculum. In Montessori education, all of nature is available for study, and children are encouraged to spend time outdoors, observing, journalling, asking questions, and seeking the necessary knowledge to find answers to those questions. The scientific method is a modular method, which is to say that results are built upon results that are built on yet more results. Scientific results must be reproducible or they are not acceptable as science. In much the same way, the natural modularity of open source software makes itself a kind of science of code. Modules can be freely used in much the same way that scientific results can be freely reproduced. And just as a great scientist tries to make their results as simple and as accessible as possible, there is equally a peer reward system for those who make their software as general, portable, and technically transparent as possible.

A key value of the Montessori method is that learning should be a life-long process. Denning paraphrases this by saying that education is not a destination but a journey. Denning observes that those who see their college diplomas as the all-important destination find themselves at the end of the road when circumstances change. For those who embrace learning as a life-long exercise, change is just a new opportunity to learn. Similarly, open source software tends very much to have open, expansive futures. So many proprietary programs and frameworks rise and fall because they were conceived with an end-state in mind. By contrast, open source software is constantly being rewritten, re-purposed, and re-invented. Look at the evolution of Linux over the past 20 years and tell me: has there ever been an operating system that has evolved so much, so fast, so far? This is the genius of a life-long learning approach.

Of course the real proof of the commonality between Montessori and open source is this: Are Montessori students excited to get their hands on source code? You bet!

User profile image.
Michael Tiemann is a true open source software pioneer. He made his first major open source contribution more than three decades ago by writing the GNU C++ compiler, the first native-code C++ compiler and debugger. His early work led to the creation of leading open source technologies and the first open source business model.


There is a new book about Google titled In The Plex by Stephen Levy. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin both attended Montessori schools. Throughout the book the author makes strong connections between the Google culture and the Montessori education of the founders.

Check out Medical Informatics 20/20, a good book on collaboration, open solutions, and innovation in medical informatics. Go to the non-profit web site COSI Open Health at

I was a Montessori child. The first time I walked into a Linux user group meeting it was like I found a long-lost home. I never made the connection before, but it's totally true.

No wonder you are smarter than me ;-)

Thanks for reading!

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.