Maria Montessori and 10 famous graduates from her schools

Maria Montessori stands in many ways as the mother of alternative education. The Italian physician and teacher invented a new kind of school, one with self-directed learning, classrooms with mixed age groups, and no grades. Now, on what would have been her 142 birthday, thousands of schools bear her name. These Montessori schools have some very famous alumni, many of which credit the free-flowing classes with teaching them to think differently and allowing them to change the world. Here are 10 of the most prominent.

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1. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin

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    Maria Montessori would have turned 142 on Friday. Her Montessori schools helped shape several prominent business leaders and celebrities.
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Google ran one of its famous doodles on Friday in honor of Maria Montessori. No surprise, really. Both of the company's founders went to Montessori schools. 

In 2004, ABC's Barbara Walters asked Larry Page and Sergey Brin about the secret to their success. Both Mr. Page and Mr. Brin had college professors for parents. She wondered if that familial connection to learning played into their success. They said no. Their parents helped, but really their Montessori education was the key. Brin and Page specifically pointed to the curriculum of self-directed learning – where students follow their interests and decide for themselves what they want to learn. 

"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 and doing things a little bit differently," says Page, who's now CEO of Google. 

The transformation from college friends to twin billionaires took several turns. Google may have never taken off if Brin and Page didn't keep asking themselves: What else can I do? What do I find interesting? How can I make that happen?

As Forbes pointed out last year, Google "wasn’t launched by Larry Page and Sergei Brin as a brilliant vision, but rather as a project to improve library searches, followed by a series of small discoveries that unlocked a revolutionary business model." The Forbes article credits Montessori education for allowing them to keep tinkering. "Overall," it says, "there was resonance with the idea that education concerns inspiring students to become life-long learners with a love of education."

This model has seeped into Google's corporate culture, as well. The company is famous for its 20-percent rule. Employees should spend one day a week working on something that isn't in their job description. Basically, be self-directed. This Montessori ideal has led to many major Google products: Google Maps, Alerts, Reader, and many more.

Look for another Silicon Valley megastar as we continue down the list.

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