Where Do We Go from Here?
Let’s suppose–and it’s supposing a lot–that humankind manages to come up with a solution for its climate issues, what comes next? Apocalyptic overpopulation solutions? Ballooning prison populations? The collapse of public education? Civil war? Global war? The end of civilized society as we know it? All of the above?
Who is going to run the world, and how? That doesn’t depend upon us directly. We’ll be gone, some of us to Heaven, others to garden mulch. Only one thing is certain, the future will depend upon our children and grandchildren. Will they be as greedy, selfish and inept as we have been, with results just as grotesque as those we have attained? Yes, of course they will. Unless–and this is a big unless–we change the ways we educate them.
We are all victims of the lies we were told as children, lies about racial differences, lies about magical religions, about national superiority and exceptionalism, about patriotism, about “success” and the meaning of life. What’s more important in the long run, a limousine or the wrens nesting in your fruit trees? Your portfolio of investments or health care for all? Are our grandchildren going to be able to answer–or even ask–these questions and others like them? This is the critical junction where our teaching comes in, because most of those children will believe–and act on those beliefs–throughout the rest of their lives what we are teaching them today and tomorrow.
Does It Sound Terribly Complicated?
Don’t despair. We can count on the valuable help of an expert. Her name is Maria Montessori and, though she died in 1952, her legacy still vibrates and provides us with a roadmap for raising competent, compassionate and creative children, the sort of people who just might be capable of putting the world right. Will we have the wisdom and conviction to follow her lessons and act on them? That’s up to each and every one of us. History is indifferent. Its choice between utopia and dystopia is as random as the flip of a coin.
What Do Katherine Graham and Beyonce Have in Common with George Clooney and Gabriel García Márquez?
What they all have in common is that they had life-changing experiences when they were small children. Their personal development was profoundly affected by the influence of a remarkable woman of historic importance both as a teacher of teachers and a tireless activist in the cause of helping children to evolve positively in their earliest stages of development. Thanks to María Montessori’s legacy many of these children will become better adults who will go on to create a better world. Many of them have done so already.
All of the outstanding people mentioned above, and many more, attended Montessori schools. Doctor Montessori, it seems, was a century ahead of her time. Her extraordinary person and her discoveries in the field of nurturing and teaching children from early ages were remarkable during her active life in the first half of the 20th century and remain critically relevant today, nearly 70 years after her death.
With the passage of time Dr. Montessori’s teachings and her example of dedication and perseverence have become increasingly important to the world. Today’s children face complicated scenarios in which to grow up, settings that are becoming more complicated over time in a geometric progression. Do you doubt doubt this? Compare your own childhood with that of your children or grandchildren. Try to gauge the importance of Internet and the smart phone on young people today, the confusion sown by self-seeking dishonest politicians or the effects of astronomic consumerism. Our world is a frightening place grow up in today. Does anybody know how to help children deal with this sensory armageddon? Yes, Maria Montessori does. Thanks to her influence that goes far beyond her own schools into institutions of public and private education around the world, we have a formula for forming capable, compassionate and committed young people who will make the world a better place.
How Did the Maria Montessori Phenomenon Come About?
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 the little town of Chiaravalle, in the Province of Ancona in the Italian region of Marche. It was a sleepy town whose inhabitants, shoemakers, olive farmers and herders, lived tranquil rural lives, an unlikely place for the principal educational innovator of the 20th century to have been born. Not satisfied with the lot of women in her society, Maria studied science and engineering at a boys’ school in Rome and went on, against her father’s will, to study medicine, becoming the first woman to obtain a medical degree from the University of Rome.
In 1896, at the age of 26, Doctor Montessori was chosen to represent Italy at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin where she delivered an address on rights of working women, including equal pay for equal work. Until that time her world view had been that of a young medical doctor, but her trajectory began to change. For the following three years she audited courses in pedagogy at the University of Rome and read all major works in educational philosophy from the previous 200 years. In 1899 she attended the women’s congress in London and was received by Queen Victoria. The bright young woman from Chiaravalle was beginning to make her mark in the world.
In the preface to Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, she elaborates on the inspiration behind Helen Keller and her revolutionary teacher:
It’s not words, but human figures to illustrate this little book intended to enter families where children are growing up. I therefore recall here, as an eloquent symbol, Helen Keller and Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who are, by their example, both teachers to myself – and, before the world, living adornments of the miracle in education.
The admiration was mutual. Helen Keller referred to herself more than once as, “a product of Montessori.”
Montessori Blazed Her Own Trajectory
She dedicated the first decade of the 20th century to research and preparation for what would be her life’s work, from lecturing at Rome’s teacher training college for women, working at the Rome psychiatric clinic, and experimenting at their model school with materials for stimulating the senses of children with developmental disabilities. She took a second degree in education and experimental psychology, eventually lecturing at the University of Rome school of education. These lectures were to become the basis of her book, Pedagogical Anthropology.
Between 1907 and 1908 she opened two first “Montessori schools,” the Children’s House (Casa dei Bambini) in Rome and then the Children’s House in Milan, run by Anna Maria Maccheroni. In 1909 she gave her first training course in her methods to some 100 students in Rome. There she wrote her first book, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini. This book, written in one month, has been translated into more than 20 languages. The English version is called, The Montessori Method. After the publication of this landmark book she resigned her teaching post in Rome and closed her medical practice in order to dedicate herself entirely to education. By the end of 1911 the Montessori method was being used in schools in England and Argentina, and quickly extended to Italy, Switzerland, Paris, New York and Boston. The worldwide Montessori revolution had begun.
A Life of International Travels, Training Courses and Contacts
Maria Montessori contributed to her education project not only the concepts and the creation of the courses, but also their worldwide dissemination, thanks to her incessant travel and training courses all around the globe. In 1916 she moved to Barcelona at the invitation of the city government and was based there for 20 years until Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s 1936 fascist coup d’etat, when she went to England, then later Holland. During and after the Spanish Civil War Montessori extended her curriculum to include peace, as well as education campaigning. She lived in Holland until the Nazi invasion.
In 1940, after Italy entered the war on the side of the Nazis, Montessori went to India to impart some courses. She was accompanied by her son, Mario. He was 42 years old at the time and was promptly confined in India as an enemy alien. But he was soon released by Viscount Wavell, the British viceroy, as a present for his mother’s 70th birthday. (The little-known story of Maria Montessori’s son is fascinating.) Nevertheless, they were not permitted to leave India until the end of the Second World War, a twist of fate that permitted her to do extensive education work in that country. She returned to Holland after the war and lived there for the rest of her life, dying there in 1952 at the age of 82. Today there are more than 200 Montessori schools in the Netherlands. One wonders what their contribution must have been to that remarkable society.
What Was Maria Montessori’s Pedagogical Secret?
Maria Montessori had many secrets for dealing with little people but they seem to revolve around a single premise: permit children to develop their own innate talents and inclinations at their own paces, respect them, in short, as people. This approach is reflected in many of her quotes that have come down to us:
“Children’s greatest instinct is precisely that of liberating themselves from adults.”
“Any unnecesary help is an obstacle to development.”
“Help me to do it myself.”
“If salvation and help are to come, it is through the child ; for the child is the constructor of man.”
“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”
“The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature.“
“Personal health is related to self-control and to the worship of life in all its natural beauty — self-control bringing with it happiness, renewed youth, and long life.”
“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.”
“The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was.”
“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 a mission.”
“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”
Thank you, Maria.
Do you consider this a world view worth fighting for? What are you waiting for?