Clean slate

Text Umi Perkins
Thread School of the Future

Rote memorization, drill and practice, recitation, towering authorities in austere classrooms—those are elements which we now think of as traditional education because of the intervention of new educational leaders in the late 19th century.

Rather than an emphasis on a ponderous textbook or a teacher, education should be child-centered, they said. Children were not empty vessels, to be filled with the wisdom and knowledge of a teacher or text; keiki have their own perspectives and ideas which could be expressed through arts and language. And social norms and structures were not to be simply replicated through education, but were themselves subject to interrogation and challenge through pedagogy.

Summit tips our hat on these pages to some of the innovators in progressive education, whose influences are still felt in schools near and far. Danke, grazie and mahalo.


Their standard bearer was the consummate pragmatist and writer John Dewey; their philosophical underpinnings came from Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and the science came from developmental psychologist Jean Piaget.

Progressive education focused on the learner by putting her, rather than course content, at the center of the educational experience. Dewey viewed the proper place of teachers as facilitators, writing in 1897 that “the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area.” The three European approaches–Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio–share this general view.


Waldorf schools are the brainchild of Austrian polymath Rudolph Steiner (1861–1925), founder of Anthroposophy, a philosophy that emphasizes the three-part nature of human beings—mind, body and spirit. Steiner believed in a unity of spirit, soul and body, and that “good education restores the balance between thinking, willing, and feeling.”

The Waldorf approach sees childhood development as having three broad stages of approximately seven years each: the first includes the development of empathy (0–7 years of age), the second focuses on feeling and imagination (7–14 years of age) and the third deals with thinking and judgment (14–21 years of age). In Waldorf schools, the teacher remains with one group of students for the first eight years. Art is integrated throughout the curriculum as part of a holistic program aimed at producing graduates able to create a just and peaceful society.


Montessori Schools began with the Casa del Bambini (Children’s House) of Maria Montessori (1870–1952), Italy’s first female doctor. Montessori viewed children as active participants in their education, learning best through active engagement with the world. Students begin writing before—and as a way of—learning to read.

Like Waldorf, Montessori is a developmental model in broad stages of six years, but students are put in three-year groupings. Montessori schools view the years from 0–3, for example, as the phase of unconscious absorption, whereas the years from 3–6 are the phase of conscious absorption. While students spend periods of time in self-directed activities, Montessori schools are more structured in their approach than Waldorf schools.


Named for the Italian city of Reggio Emilia, and founded by Louis Malaguzzi (1920–1994), the Reggio system of early-childhood education sees the child as social from the outset. Questioning “rigid” stages of development such as those of the psychologist Jean Piaget, the Reggio system holds a powerful view of the child, while the teacher uses reflection, negotiation and long-term multisensory projects in various media to bring out the child’s creativity and even literacy. Children are encouraged to express themselves in multiple “languages,” including expressive and cognitive ones, available to them.


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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