Today’s feminist Friday celebrates Maria Montessori.
This is the woman whose education theory will give Prince George of Cambridge (who started kindergarten this week) the grounding of his education.
I won’t go too much into the Montessori philosophy that I adore and am blessed to be able to educate my little Princes in this way. I want to talk about the passionate, determined woman that developed the theory. A theory that is based on independence, freedom within limits and a child’s natural psychological, physical and social development.
Montessori Education is directed by a trained Montessori teacher, utilising beautiful, usually wooden specialized education materials developed by Maria Montessori, in blocks of uninterrupted work cycles, within mixed aged classes.
Italian born Maria Montessori came into this world on the 31st August 1870. She was born to an accountant and a mother who was well educated and had a passion for reading. As her education advanced she smashed through barriers that had restricted women. Maria admirably studied and graduated as an engineer, her parents urged her to chase a teaching career as this was a well-known career choice for women. Maria had other ideas and interviewed at the all-male medical school. On refusal of entry to the school Maria’s last words to the Professor were “ I know I shall become a Doctor”.
Pope Leo XIII went in to fight for Maria, and she was accepted to the University Rome in 1890. After two years at the University she graduated with her diploma after studying physics, maths and natural science. Her diploma and the Popes blessing qualified her to apply and successfully receive several scholarships for Medical school. Maria was the first woman to enter medical school in Italy. Of course being the only women in medical school, a woman of passion and dedication she was on the receiving end of a lot of discrimination. On the 10th July 1896 Maria became the first woman to qualify as a Doctor in Italy.
After her employment at the San Giovanni hospital, she was asked to speak to congress about equal wages for women. At the time a journalist asked her what her parents thought of her becoming a Doctor. “They know intuitively when someone really cares about them……it is only the upper classes that have a prejudice against women leading a useful existence.”
Maria undertook a position as a surgical assistant, this lead to her having to visit mostly the poor, and their children. After visiting an asylum in Rome, she became fascinated with the children and how they respond to lack of sensorial stimulation, and how this contributes to their condition. Fast forward to 1904 and after years of studying, researching and observation, of children at the Orthophrenic School, she transformed her role from Doctor to educator. She had accepted a position of lecturer at the University of Rome, in one lecture she told the students: “the subject of our study is humanity; our purpose is to become teachers. Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of the mission”.
Maria was asked by some property developers who had rescued a building, and refurbished it into housing for the poor. If she would be able to keep the children occupied while their parents worked. As a result this was the birth of the very first Casa dei Bambini or “children’s house” on 6th January 1907.
She discovered that when she offered the children an environment, and activities that encouraged their natural development they were able to educate themselves.” I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”
By 1908, 5 year olds were reading and writing in five “Childrens houses” around Rome and Milan. Switzerland followed her example and began transforming all kindergartens into children’s houses.
In 1912 the Montessori Method book which was derived from the notes of her first training course of 100 students was second on the US nonfiction bestseller list and had been translated into 20 languages.
In 1939 under house arrest for being Italian in India at the beginning of the war, she spent her time developing, what is now called the cosmic education which educates 6 to 12 year olds.
In 1947 she addressed UNESCO on Education and Peace. 1949 saw her receive the first of 3 nominations for the Noble peace prize.
She died on the 6th May 1952, with her son by her side, who she bequeathed her legacy of work.
There are now more than 22,000 Montessori school in at least 110 countries.