Sunday, January 1, 2012

Daniel Petter-Lipstein

This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!

A passionate advocate for Jewish and general Montessori education in the US, Daniel Petter-Lipstein produced an acclaimed video about Montessori, “Superwoman Was Already Here” which inspired Trevor Eissler (another passionate Montessori father) to create his own video, “Montessori Madness.”  Daniel, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School, is Chief Love Officer of the Jewish Montessori Society and serves as in-house counsel for a Fortune 50 company. He was a Dorot Fellow in 1994-95.  

What is a network? What is a community?

A network is the precursor to a community. It’s a group of people who have some bond or connection that’s beyond the familial, happenstance, or purely social, even though you could argue that the best networks are generated from one’s social sets. The best networks are based on some external force, such as in my case college, the Dorot Fellowship, or Montessori. It’s something people are genuinely engaged with and connected to. The problem is that the word “network” has a sterile connotation, which causes some to think about it in sterile ways rather than in terms of communal connections.

Is the Jewish Montessori Society seeking to create a network or a community?

Right now it is a network of those linked by the fact that they’re running Jewish Montessori schools or part of a Montessori sub-community. Without facilitation, this network could turn into a community where everyone is talking to one another. But I want it to be a tribe. As per Seth Godin’s Tribes, people protect tribes. You want to think you’ll protect your community, but ‘community’ doesn’t have the same visceral connotation as ‘tribe.’ You know when you meet a member of the same tribe.

What can a tribe provide its members?

We are going to make enemies doing what we do, because we represent a rejection of the status quo. Marginalized tribes in particular spend a lot of time justifying their existence and feeling attacked. You turn to your tribe for comfort, safety, advice, and a sense of home. This generates more trust, and you understand that your tribe is there to help you, because they’ve been in your place, too. Beyond that, other members of the tribe help strategically move things forward, solve problems, and think out loud in a safe space.

What is the goal of the Jewish Montessori Society?

We want every child to be learning l’shma – every child should have the opportunity to learn not because they have to learn, but because they love to learn.

How does the Montessori educational philosophy fit into today’s global trends?

The world of showing up somewhere, being told what to do, and advancing through a series of positions is over. Thomas Friedman talks about how when today’s students get out of college, they’re not going to have to find a job – they’re going to have to invent a job. If we continue to educate students using a factory model, they won’t be prepared for a 21st-century workforce. It’s ultimately not about getting into college. India has more honor kids than there are kids in the US. The question is: What are you doing that’s distinctive, that no one else is?

Montessori education is about hands-on, self-directed learning: learning by doing. There’s a misconception that you learn to drive by driving a car, but when you learn math, you should read formulas in a textbook. Cognitive science demonstrates that when you learn by doing, you learn (and do) it best.

What are some lessons you have learned about network-weaving?

Woody Allen said that 80% of life is showing up. We’re helping people show up at the same time. The most wonderful things happen when we do. Also, it’s important to listen really well, find out what people are interested in, and connect people with valuable services to offer each other. As they learn, we also learn, and can leverage those resources for the rest of the network.

It’s a very Jewish theory if you think about the lesson from Pirkei Avot: “What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is yours.” The lesson is: Don’t keep knowledge, wealth, or expertise to yourself. If you have an extraordinary gift, there’s an imperative to share.

Where do you see the Jewish Montessori Society by 2020?

Right now Jewish Montessori Schools are an accident of geography. By 2015, there will be Jewish Montessori schools in each Jewish community in North America with at least 25,000 Jews. By 2020, Jewish Montessori education will be seen as a mainstream Jewish educational practice. It doesn’t mean every child will go, but the key is access – there should be access to Jewish Montessori education. In doing that, we believe we will revolutionize Jewish education.

Contact the Jewish Montessori Society to find out how you can start a Jewish Montessori school in your community. 

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