I really wanted to give a more complete response, but with the way the board has been working lately, it's just too frustrating to reply on here. I hope it holds out this time. (It seems to be so far).
I think part of the frustration comes from the fact that this is often how teacher education programs approach Montessori. I love this quote from John Chattin-McNichols's book (slightly edited for brevity...so it's not a direct quote):
Choose a university, either a famous one, or a local college that offers Masters or Doctoral level programs in Early Childhood Education. Call the School or College of Education on the telephone, and ask the secretary to speak to the chair or program coordinator in early childhood. When you actually get a faculty member on the telephone, ask three things:
1) What text is used in the introductory course in early childhood?
2) if the University offers any courses in Montessori education or the professor thinks of the Montessori method in general.
3) The professor's own knowledge in Montessori
The results of these interrogations are not uniform, but they reveal a pattern that is quite consistent....
The textbook used will (usually) have only historical references to Montessori....
The professor will typically admit to a lack of detailed familiarity with the Montessori method, but will typically recommend against it in favor of "more modern" programs....
The professor may or may not have read any of Montessori's books, has been to one or two Montessori classrooms in his or her lifetime, and is typically unable to suggest a single piece of research on Montessori.
So I doubt we're dealing with a student that doesn't WANT to learn about Montessori. It's more just a student that doesn't have anyone to guide them through it at the University. This is a common thing and it is frustrating because it means we often have to start over at square 1 a LOT.
The silver polishing discussion actually got me laughing early. My mom went to China about a year ago to help a school that was starting there. She met with the parents who actually asked her, "Why do the children need to polish silver? We have maids that do that!" Square 1....square 1.... :-)
So...let me start at square 1 and use that example.
What we really have to remember is Montessori ideas are centered around a few things:
1) Certain assumptions about the child, which I will get to in a minute.
2) Observation. We observe children to see what happens, much like a scientist in the woods might quietly observe an elephant to find its nature.
3) Materials are there to meet the needs of the children based on those assumptions and observations.
When I say we have assumptions, I also have to say that these assumptions can readily be taken away if the observations do not show it. The biggest assumptions we have include:
--Children are developing. Children subconsciously or instinctively know more about what their own needs than we do.
--Children enjoy meaningful activities.
--Children have a sense of wonder and awe about the world.
These are assumptions I think EVERY Early Childhood Educator has. The first one may be more debatable than the others, but I doubt any early childhood educator (outside of Taiwan) would say, "Children need meaningless activities." (Taiwan comment...side note. Sorry. haha)
So then the question is what do we do with this? The Montessori method has the solution of providing the students with an environment that is suited to their needs and observing them. Observation, for well over 100 years by schools all across the world, have shown the same things. Children consistently:
--Prefer to do the Montessori activities when they have the choice between the Montessori activities and toys.
--Develop a love of learning.
(I could add a big list, but I'll stick to those points).
So this brings us up to the question of what parents want for their children. Schools are set up with a HUGE range of options from this point.
Parents often want their children to be immersed in a fantasy world...welcome to Waldorf!
Parents often want a place where their children can play all day with other children....welcome to most of what's out there for Preschool!
Parents often want their child to sit still and do worksheets that make them feel like they're paying for something....welcome to a (thankfully) very small minority of what's out there.
Parents often want their child to become independent, have confidence in doing an activity themselves, be able to focus on something they love for a long time, love learning (not love going to school and playing games necessarily...love the process of learning), develop creativity, develop without any sort of sense of negative competition, develop academically as best they can and love doing it, and be respected for the choices they make....welcome to Montessori! :-)
How does this relate to the silver polishing? It's a perfect example of an activity for Montessori and I can relate it from a 5 year old's perspective perfectly. When I was 5, there was a penny polishing activity. Every day, I chose this penny polishing activity. I remember that fact because I recall one morning walking into the classroom. I was the first student there and I went right to the practical life shelf. Sitting on the shelf where the penny polishing always sat was a completely different activity. The penny polishing was gone. I looked at other shelves...the penny polishing was gone.
My teacher was in the coat room and I walked up to the door and asked where it was. She said she put it away because she had no more pennies that needed shined (I guess I did them all. haha) and said she would put it out tomorrow. I said OK and walked away, but she knew I needed that activity. Almost immediately, she said to wait a minute and told the assistant/intern she'll be right back. She went around to other teachers and faculty members in the building and came back with pennies for me to shine.
I remember shining a penny that day. I put the apron on. I sat down. I opened the lid and placed it carefully where I always do. I took a q-tip, dipped it in, and began polishing the penny. After I had scrubbed and covered the penny with the polish, I set the q-tip down and began wiping off the penny. I remember seeing that shine. I remember that *I* created that shine. More importantly, I remember that ritual that came with the activity.
So much stuff is rushed in our lives. At that time, about 3/4 of the rest of Cincinnati was rushing around, trying to get to work after they woke up late, getting their kids dressed and running around, taking their car in to get fixed while trying to plan the rest of their day, or listening to the traffic report, frustrated that they're stuck on interstate 71 when they have to be somewhere in 5 minutes. On the other hand, there was at least one single solitary boy who was allowed to have time to himself to perform this otherwise unimportant ritual.
When I was finished, I am sure I put the polishing activity away. I'm sure I likely went and did more "challenging" activities. I'm 99% sure I did math at some point, since I'm still addicted to and fascinated by the math materials. But providing me with that ritual was something that still stays with me after almost 30 years.
Finally, I think this article states it better than I ever could. I posted this a few times here, but it's ideal for this discussion again:
Sorry for the long winded reply. :-)