Last night I went to hear Trevor Eissler speak at my 2-year-old's Montessori school. Eissler, an Austin, TX-based pilot, wrote a book called Montessori Madness: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education. Eissler is certainly a Montessori enthusiast, and regaled us with tales of the great happenings in Montessori classrooms. I do think there are great things that happen in such classrooms, though there is always the correlation vs. causation issue. Though Maria Montessori may have tested her theories in a slum, in this country, at least, many Montessori schools are private. In the case of the one my son attends, it was actually written up in Philadelphia magazine as being the snootiest pre-school in the area (Note: I am not paying $12,000 a year for it, but then again my kid only goes 2 days a week). So...I am not sure it is entirely fair to compare it with schools that have to take all kids, where some kids are showing up hungry and may have stayed in three different places in the past month. While I also like discovery-centered education in theory, I have seen constructivism done horribly. Bad teachers could make a mess of Montessori too. Private schools have more control over who they hire.
But one concept I have been intrigued by, educationally, is the idea of learning from one's mistakes. One of the problems of traditional education is that you take a test, then learn several days later what you got wrong. You may not even know why. Sometimes you get a chance to redo wrong problems, but the feedback isn't immediate, and the consequences are artificial (bad grade) rather than natural (the toy house you're building falls over when you measure the pieces wrong). Done right, the Montessori method aims for immediate feedback and natural consequences.
Of course, Montessori isn't the only way to get at that concept. One of the great promises of digital learning is that you not only meet the child at his level, you give immediate feedback. The child can learn from his mistakes in real time, seeing what works and what doesn't. In general, we fear errors too much. Sometimes there are bad consequences (medical mishaps come to mind). But trial and error is a great way to make new knowledge, and once you own your mistakes, knowing why things went wrong, you know how to do things differently in the future.