History and Background —
Issues of Power, Control and Fear in Teacher Certification
After Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952, conflicts arose over Montessori teacher certification, challenging the central authority given by Dr. Montessori personally to the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). In the United States, these conflicts finally erupted in a legal battle over use of the name “Montessori”, which was finally settled by a US Patent Office decision in the 1960’s. In this decision, the Patent Office held that the term “Montessori” is “generic” in nature and therefore open for free public use. Accordingly, many new organizations sprang up with their own particular form and approach to Montessori teacher education, each one issuing their own unique brand of “certification” for teachers. One such organization, the American Montessori Society (AMS), became particularly prominent in the United States as a conventional adaptation of Montessori teaching to the American culture.
In the 1970’s, issues of power, control and fear emerged anew in the “accreditation” arena when AMS sought to obtain exclusive US government “recognition” for its particular brand of teacher certification. Quite naturally, non-AMS groups opposed this exclusionary type of Montessori recognition due to its harmful effect on their own certificate-issuing institutions.
In 1976, the National Center for Montessori Education (NCME) and other non-AMS organizations formally opposed the government recognition of AMS, proposing instead an alternative inclusive “umbrella” accrediting agency to encompass the entire Montessori community. Despite AMS opposition, other organizations still hoped that this inclusive type of accreditation could effectively resolve the pertinent conflicts among the diverse interests in the Montessori community.
Unfortunately, AMS had little interest in inclusive accreditation because only exclusive government recognition offered hope for monopoly control over Montessori teacher certification. With such control, AMS could effectively stifle competition from non-recognized institutions whose graduates would be unable to legally work as Montessori teachers due to restrictive state licensing of Montessori schools.
In 1986, AMS established the “ACCESS” accrediting agency in a renewed effort to obtain its exclusive government recognition. Again, non-AMS groups, led by International Montessori Society (IMS), rallied to oppose this recognition, proposing yet again the formation of an inclusive “umbrella” agency. IMS and others then proceeded to set up the basic structure and standards for this inclusive agency through a consensus decision-making process among all interested parties. However, AMS soon withdrew from this process, initiating instead their own separate meetings to form a more exclusive type of Montessori accreditation, this time inviting non-AMS groups to participate.
Regrettably, these AMS meetings soon began stifling any meaningful dissent from their particular model and philosophy of culture-based Montessori teaching. Therefore, non-AMS groups, such as IMS, gradually withdrew from this process to pursue their prior goal of a fully inclusive accrediting agency. In 1989, IMS led this effort to develop broad-based standards and structure for this agency, which eventually became the International Montessori Accreditation Council (IMAC) in May, 1994. Meanwhile, the separate AMS effort continued ahead also, ultimately becoming the “Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education” (MACTE).
The IMAC agency is inclusive in structure, purpose and practice. For example, institutions can qualify for accreditation through various “review committees”, each one having its own unique criteria and philosophical emphasis. In this way, many different organizations and independent programs can become IMAC accredited, without having to abandon their own distinctive style and emphasis of philosophy and format.
In 1996, the MACTE agency sought and finally obtained exclusive US federal government recognition over the strong objection of IMAC and others in the field. Thereafter, IMAC has consistently opposed any renewal or extension of MACTE recognition due to its harmful effect on innovation, competition, and free expression in the field of Montessori education.
Specifically, MACTE standards set up rigid curriculum and time requirements that constrain all programs to conform to the conventional AMS model and philosophy. The MACTE agency also lacks independent decision-making since its accreditation decisions are made by those who are themselves under the agency’s accreditation. Accordingly, this agency effectively precludes the participation of those holding a different philosophical approach and format. Exclusive government recognition of this agency, therefore, interferes with the effective operation and success of all non-recognized certificate-issuing institutions in the field.
The overwhelming majority of MACTE programs are affiliated with AMS, which effectively controls all its decision-making procedures. The relatively few participating non-AMS programs do so either because they agree with the culture-based philosophy of AMS, or out of fear and threat that non-accredited status will effectively disqualify their graduates from employment as Montessori teachers.
In 1994, IMAC unsuccessfully sought its own US federal government recognition to counter the prejudicial effect of exclusive MACTE recognition. Now, recognizing the IMAC agency, or withdrawing MACTE’s current recognized status, is the only means to restore a measure of freedom and fairness in the federal government's involvement in Montessori accreditation.
In sum, resolving the issues of power, control and fear in Montessori teacher certification must necessarily begin by addressing the harmful effects of preferential treatment of the MACTE agency. For the above reasons, IMAC strongly opposes any further exclusive government recognition of MACTE.
IMS executive director