Maria Montessori (1870–1952) was an Italian physician celebrated as an innovator in childhood education theory and practice. She is the author of The Montessori Method (1912) and many other famous books on her philosophy of education.
Born in Chiaravalle, Italy, Montessori was a brilliant student. At age 13, she studied engineering and went to a technical school despite her father’s objections that all her classmates were boys. She decided to pursue medicine a few years later, got the approval of the Pope, and became the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree.
As a physician, Montessori attended children with special needs and became interested in learning and education methods. She theorized that each child had individual intrinsic talents. A school must allow the child’s activities to develop freely. A teacher’s responsibility was to help that child discover his/her talents and interests, instead of assuming that the child is a blank state and then prescribing everything the child should know. Montessori stressed independence, self-directed learning, personal decision-making, and learning from fellow-children.
There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in 110 countries. Advocates of argue that the Montessori System fosters social and academic skills while critics argue that the classroom environment is “too free” and question Montessori’s teaching priorities.
During World War II, Benito Mussolini‘s fascist regime wanted to make her a figurehead for the Italian government, and when she dissented, she was sent to exile. She lived and worked in India for many years where she collaborated with the poet Rabindranath Tagore and continued developing her educational methods. While in India, she developed Education for Peace and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She died in Holland.
The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility, and evil with activity.