Measuring Montessori

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There's a very interesting and relatively recent etymology to the importance of evaluations and tests in schools. At the turn of the century, the number one cause of death was infection. Children, of course, were highly prone to sickness and disease, which, to be sure, grossly affected development. Not knowing what we know today, about hygiene, genetics, contagion and disease, scientists were actively and aggressively looking for answers everywhere they could. Even in places that we would now consider to be misguided.

At this time, children were subjected to regular physical examinations at school, including measurements - or, what was, at the time, called a "biographical chart". Literally, entire classrooms were turned into scientific labratories. Which is to say, attempts were made to identify, record, and establish etiologies, especially as concerns familial histories. All efforts were placed on obtaining this information to better understand child development.

As Montessori explains, "The main part of the biographical charts consists of questions to be asked about the pupil's history, questions referring to the conditions of the family and to the physical development of the child specifically with regard to diseases, etc. This chart also includes an anthropological part, which guides the measurements we take to study the pupil from a morphological point of view."

In many respects, this method of data collection literally became a source for how to measure the physical growth of students. Subsequently, many of the same methods, tools and modes of observation became standard practice in measuring, comparing and establishing benchmarks on the academic side of things.

We wonder, to what extent these scientific forms of measurement are still in place? And, more importantly, what information is lost by these types of categorization of "growth"? One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century will be to find a way to adequately "measure" growing, instead of growth.