Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator known for creating an educational model that essentially allows children freedom to learn and create independently, is the subject of today’s Google Doodle. She was born on this date 142 years ago.
No doubt today’s Doodle has some extra meaning for Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Both Page and Brin are Montessori products – Page having attended Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan, while Brin attended Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland after emigrating from the Soviet Union.
As ex-Googler Marissa Mayer (now Yahoo CEO) explained in Steven Levy’s book “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives”:
You can’t understand Google unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids. … It’s really ingrained in their personalities. To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking ‘Why should it be like that?’ It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.
This upbringing as Montessori kids essentially inspired Google’s company culture – to mold it into the sort of place people would want to work for free.
In the video below, Page credits Montessori school for their success.
“I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a bit different,” Page said.
“Why?” became a critical question, especially for Page. The results of those why questions has been seen through the years – why not buy Motorola? Why not try to scan every book ever published? Why not create self-driving cars?
“Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule,” Brin told Levy. “It was a pretty fun, playful environment.”
The Googleplex is definitely designed to be fun and playful, whether it’s the plush furniture bearing the colors of Google’s logo, or the numerous sci-fi themed toys such as robots that decorate Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
“Discipline must come through liberty,” Montessori once said. “We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself.”
This statement is also indicative of Page and Brin’s mindset, Levy noted, because neither of the founders wanted to “annihilate an engineer’s impulse to change the world by coding up some kind of moon shot.” And Google loves moon shot ideas and projects.
So whether you love or hate Google or the way they do business, much of that credit or blame can be attributed to their education at Montessori schools – a model which is embraced globally by an estimated 20,000 schools.
“Google is not a conventional company,” Google warned everyone back in 2004 in their letter to investors ahead of their initial public offering (IPO). “We do not intend to become one.”