History of Dr. Maria Montessori
“The Science of Peace, were it to become a special discipline, would be the most noble of all, for the very life of humanity depends on it. So, also perhaps, does the question of whether our entire civilization evolves or disappears.”
Dr. Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. She was born in the town of Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, Italy, in 1870. She was the first female physician in Italy to graduate from the University of Rome.
In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn. She concluded that they build themselves from what they find in their environment. Shifting her focus from the body to the mind, she returned to the University in 1901, this time to study psychology and philosophy. In 1904, she was made a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rome.
Her desire to help children was so strong, however, that in 1906 she gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with a group of sixty young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House.” What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Montessori’s scientific observations of these children’s almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do “naturally” by themselves, unassisted by adults.
Maria Montessori made her first visit to the United States in 1913, the same year that Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, DC, home. Among her other strong American supporters at the time were Thomas Edison and Helen Keller.
In 1915, she attracted world attention with her “glass house” schoolroom exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. On this second U.S. visit, she also conducted a teacher training course and addressed the annual conventions of both the National Education Association and the International Kindergarten Union. The committee that brought her to San Francisco included Margaret Wilson, daughter of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori’s lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training— all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child.
Montessori based her theories on her observations of standard educational practices. She felt that traditional methods—teaching by rote (repetition and memory), restraining and silencing students, and relying on reward and punishment—were detrimental to child development.
Having lived through two world wars, Dr. Montessori was a strong advocate for peace. She firmly believed that the education of children was the key to future peace. Peace Education and the Peace Curriculum are based on the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori and her son, Mario Montessori. “Avoiding war is the work of politics, establishing peace is the work of education” is one of the basic tenets of Maria Montessori. Her vision and goal was the reconstruction of society and the establishment of world peace through education. She instituted the study of Cosmic Education for the child from six to twelve years of age, since she could see that in meeting the needs of the child, the needs of the world would also be met. “Cosmic Education” is the child’s gradual discovery, throughout the whole of childhood, of the interrelatedness of all things on earth, in the past, in the present, and in the future. For her efforts she was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Maria Montessori is memorialized as a citizen of the world.
November 8, 2008, Montessori Children’s Community dedicated a Peace Pole to honor school founder, Terri Modic. The pole is located in Waterfront Park, near the school. The Peace Pole has “May Peace Prevail on Earth” on all four sides of the pole. In English, Spanish, which is taught to all children in the school, Italian, the first language of Maria Montessori and Hindi, because she developed the Education of Peace with Ghandi while living in India.
Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, in 1952, but her work lives on through the American Montessori Society (AMS) and Montessori Children’s Community.