Maria Montessori

July 19, 2009
By Anonymous

“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war”. - Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori, born on 31st August 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy, was one of the most influential women in the history of education. She was an Italian lecturer, and physicist, and was well known for her invention of the Montessori Method, a style of education designed for the learning of small children. Her parents, Alessandro and Renilde Montessori, had no idea that they had just given birth to such a significant lady, who would be remembered universally long after her death. Throughout this essay, we will look at the impact of this woman in history; from the problems she faced, to how she coped with the tremendous pressure that she was encountering. Moreover, we will also discuss how Maria was made so memorable, how she was thought of by the public, the government, and, of course, other educators.

Maria‘s childhood was quite the opposite to that of the normal Italian child. She was stubborn, bossy, yet vivacious, and was extremely infatuated with subjects like arithmetic and science. Her family moved to Rome when Maria was five, where she pursued her further studies. She would always do a daily quota of chores, knitting shawls for the poor, washing the kitchen tiles, etc, and when it came to the choices of High Schools, Maria chose to go to an Engineering School rather than a Classical Italian School. Because this was in the 19th Century, educating women was not considered essential, and thus there were only a couple of female students at the Engineer School. She had a dream to become an engineer, but, when Maria graduated, she decided to become a doctor instead. This time admission into University was much harder. Somehow, Maria was accepted into the University of Rome, where she studied a medical degree. As she was a lady, and all the other students were male, she had to complete everything in an isolated setting, with no communication with any other men. Maria was even awarded a scholarship of a thousand lire, quite a large amount of money in those times. She was persistent in her studies; and in 1896, she graduated, with honors. Although it wasn’t surprising to her peers and lecturers, Maria was the first Italian woman to receive a medical degree. Little did anyone know, this was just the first achievement of Maria Montessori, perhaps one of the greatest women of all time.

After graduating from University, Maria came across a group of disabled children, and many say that this event was the turning point of her life. Maria questioned the lady who was in charge of the children, and the woman said that the children were dumb, worthless, and stupid. Maria knew that this was wrong; the children may have been mentally challenged; may have not been as smart as others; but they were definitely not useless. In 1907, she opened a school with the same disabled children known as The Casa dei Bambini (The Children’s House). Maria began to read many psychology books, and using Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard and Edouard Sequin, other psychologists as her inspirations, she began to devise a method of education. She wrote a book, with all of her observations and notes, known as The Montessori Method. The method was the entire opposite of how Italian schools used to teach. Maria took all of the desks and chairs out of the class, and replaced them with 2-7 year-old child sized furniture. She made new toys and learning tools for the children to use, the most famous of hers, the Pink Tower. The Pink Tower was basically a cluster of blocks that would be placed in front of a child. Without telling them anything, Maria would simply ask them to make a tower out of the equipment. One of her most famous quotes was “Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world”. Learning themselves, the toddlers would realize that by putting the bigger blocks at the bottom, the tower would stand stable and tall. By using techniques such as The Pink Tower, and many others, Maria transformed the once thought “stupid” children, into small, sweet youngsters full of manners.

Maria’s success, however, with her Method didn’t come into her palm instantly. It was difficult, in the 20th Century, for a woman to propose an entire new type of education. One of Maria’s biggest obstacles was her extremely stereotypical father- he had almost disowned her when she wanted to become a doctor. Although he was first frustrated by her persisting nature, Alessandro turned into a proud father once Maria showed what she was really made of. It was definitely difficult for Maria when leaders such as Adolf Hitler would burn her books as he thought that young children should be brought up to work in armies. People these days think of Maria as such an important figure because she went through so many hardships; not for herself; but for the education of children in the present and forever.

Although she did face some problems, especially with the Italian Government, and the Dictator Mussolini, the world took to Maria’s method immediately. As she was anti-fascist, Maria was forced to leave Italy. She went to various countries, including India and America, where everyone embraced her education. In fact, this was where Maria was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize Award, for her Education for Peace work. She did a lecture at Carnegie Hall, where more than five thousand people had come to learn about her education, and many were turned away once the hall was full. Associations such as the AMI (Association Montessori Internationale), and MEA (Montessori Educational Association) came into existence, which famous people such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and even Heller Keller, deeply involved with the organizations. Maria became particularly famous for the books that she wrote; The Absorbent Mind; The Discovery of the Child; Spontaneous Activity in Education; Dr Montessori’s own Handbook; and, naturally, The Montessori Method. Her achievements were endless, there was nothing in her way, and the world began to embrace her with all their hearts.

Maria died in 1952, in Holland, where she was buried; the same day that she was planning a trip to Africa. The young girl who had once refused to be a teacher had become the ultimate teacher of not just children, but also an incredible teacher of teachers. People still remember her; as a memorable professor, an educator, and a brilliant Italian lady. Although she has passed away, the flame of her kind spirit still burns brightly in many souls; fueled by her love for us all.

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