Maria Montessori

from NewsScan Daily, 2 August 1999

Maria Montessori's Background

Food for Thought:

Today's Honorary Subscriber is the legendary Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952) whose "Montessori method" is based on the belief that there needs to be an individual, joyous, stress-free learning program for each individual child.

The first woman in her country to earn a medical degree, Montessori studied medicine and literature at the University of Rome before taking a job teaching in a mental-health clinic and working with mentally ill children. At the age of 28 she gave a lecture on her experiences at the clinic, and was so knowledgeable that Italy's minister of education, who heard her speak, appointed her to direct a school for retarded young people.

In 1907 she led the development of a new school system for the poor children of Rome, and for the first time began to apply her insights to the teaching of children with normal intelligence and mental health.

She was convinced that the teacher must be a friendly, unobtrusive guide rather than a dictatorial instructor, and that children need objects to touch and play with, a quiet surrounding, and an environment in which they will establish their own individual discipline, based on neither punishment nor reward.

Montessori fled Italy for Spain after the rise of Mussolini. Her educational style has had an enormous influence throughout the world, including the United States. Her books include "The Montessori Method," "The Secret of Childhood," and "The Absorbent Mind."

Here's a typical passage:

"The pedagogical method of observation has for its base the liberty of the child; and liberty is activity.

"Discipline must come through liberty. Here is a great principle which is difficult for followers of common-school methods to understand. How shall one obtain discipline in a class of free children? Certainly in our system, we have a concept of discipline very different from that commonly accepted. If discipline is founded upon liberty, consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.

"We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself, and can, therefore, regulated his own conduct when it shall be necessary to follow some rule of life. Such a concept of active discipline is not easy either to comprehend or to apply. But certainly it contains a great educational principle, very different from the old-time absolute and undiscussed coercion to immobility."

A good general introduction to Montessori is Elizabeth G. Hainstock's, "The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Method, the Writings, the Movement," at: