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Maria Montessori: The Liberator of Children

By Marsha Familaro Enright
Originally published in Free Voices, Spring 2013

One hundred and thirty two years ago last August in Chiaravalle, on the northeast coast of Italy, a baby girl was born who became the founder of a liberation movement: the liberation of children. Her work ignited interest around the world and is controversial to this day.

Maria Montessori was the highly precocious daughter of civil servant Alessandro Montessori and his wife, Renilde Stoppardi. Maria wanted to study engineering but graduated in 1890 at the age of 20 from the Regio Instituto Technico Leonardo da Vinci in physics and mathematics because she had decided to go into medicine instead—a shocking career for a woman in late nineteenth century Italy.

Over the objections of her father and the disapproval of her professors, she applied to the University of Rome where she went on to get a “diploma di licenzi” which qualified her for the medical school. There she, at first, endured shunning and contemptuous disapproval from the all-male students, and was required to dissect cadavers in a room separate from the men, due to the Age’s morals concerning the naked body. Yet, she was still able to win the sought-after Rolli prize of a thousand lire (a considerable sum in that time), and later, the coveted position of assistant at the hospital while only a medical student. The doors of achievement were open enough to this young, intelligent, self-confident woman that she slipped through.

Despite her difficulties, Montessori’s brilliance and perseverance enabled her to triumph, becoming the first woman doctor in Italy. At 26, she was chosen to represent Italy at an international women’s congress in Berlin and electrified her audience with her passionate, extemporaneous speech.

She was a feminist from the start, but so delicately feminine as to disarm, so charismatic as to enchant—without mincing words. To the theories of eminent male thinkers concluding that women were incapable, infantile, physiologically weak, she said “’It is certainly true that men lose their minds over women.’ Attempting to prove the absurdity of the feminist position, they had ended up making themselves ridiculous.”[1]

A reporter commented that she was well-chosen to represent Italy: “The delicacy of a talented young woman combined with the strength of a man—an ideal one doesn’t meet with every day.”[2]

In 1897 she took a position in the Psychiatric Clinic of Rome, working with mentally disabled and autistic children, which set the course of her life. The condition of these children in the asylums of the day were hideous, stuffed into barren rooms with only each other for company. Through her observations of them, she had one of her first pedagogical insights: these poor, deficient children were craving sensory experience. They sought it out through the little stimulation they had, their food, fondling the crumbs, savoring the tastes of their bread.

Improving their condition became her focus. While working in the clinic she studied anthropology and the history of education its theorists of the previous centuries including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Jean Itard, and Edouard Seguin.

Seguin’s dictum “Respect for individuality is the first test of a teacher,”[3] was to be an essential of Montessori’s approach, as were his many materials, used to develop the sensory ability and motor movement in children. Montessori used his materials and created new ones to aid the deficient children.

She joined the newly formed National League for the Education of Retarded Children, and was chosen to go on a lecture tour that galvanized national interest in improving education for the retarded. In describing the changes needed to make life better for these children, she argued that technological progress would liberate women from the need to do menial labor, enabling them to achieve equal rights and the freedom to live as they wished.

Despite being a socialist, here, as in the rest of her life, Montessori recognized the liberating and individualist role of work in the marketplace. Indeed, her vision was for each person to find a professional place in the economy, a place that would valorize the ego of each. In her view, by productive achievement and peaceful exchange, individuals all over the world would be lifted out of poverty and enabled to flourish. Sound familiar?

In 1900 the League opened the Orthophrenic School to train teachers of deficient children, which Montessori directed with Dr. Giuseppe Montesano. She applied her newly-developed methods and materials to these children and the results were astounding: her eight year old deficient children were able to pass the state exam for normal children.

“the boys from the asylums had been able to compete with the normal children only because they had been taught in a different way…While everyone was admiring the progress of my idiots, I was searching for the reasons which could keep the happy healthy children of the common schools on so low a plane that they could be equalled in tests of intelligence by my unfortunate pupils!”[4]

However in 1901, right at the moment of her triumph, she quit the Orthophrenic school and took a leave. Although it’s not certain, it’s likely that her illegitimate pregnancy by Dr. Montesano was the reason.  Exactly when her son Mario was born and why Maria didn’t marry Montesano isn’t clear, but the baby was sent to live with a wet nurse in the country. Maria would visit him, but he wouldn’t know who she was. However, at the age of 15, he announced to her “You’re my mother,” and demanded to go with her, which he did.  Eventually, he would become her constant companion and successor to her movement, taking her name instead of his father’s.

In 1901 she returned to study pedagogy and anthropology at the University of Rome, and studied Seguin’s methods in more detail, translating his 600 page book. Later, she became a lecturer at the Pedagogic School of the University of Rome where she established scientific pedagogy as a discipline and inspired the young teachers of abnormal children.

Her work brought her to the attention of the Instituto Romano di Beni Stabili, a group of real estate investors who had a complex in the impoverished San Lorenzo district of Rome. Although they had carefully chosen only married couples as tenants, their buildings were being defaced by the unsupervised children who lived there, left at home while their parents worked.

Once again bucking the conventional, Montessori took on the task of educating these children. The owners gave her a small room and free rein, but almost nothing else until she insisted on food, and enlisted Society women in raising funds for furniture and equipment.

And there began the first Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, in January of 1907. Within one year, the wonders that transpired in that house were famed throughout Italy; within five, throughout the world.

So what happened with this group of dirty, disheveled, mostly uncivilized, and completely uneducated children, ages two to six, from illiterate factory-worker families, that brought her such fame?

A transformation through principled freedom, unprecedented in educational history.

Montessori and the Society women brought in toys, dolls, paper and colored pencils—

and the materials she had developed for the deficient children. The room had a few tables and a cabinet, and she found an untrained woman living in the building to watch over them, under Montessori’s guidance and supervision. “I placed no restrictions upon the teacher and imposed no special duties.”[5] “I merely wanted to study the children’s reactions. I asked her not to interfere with them in any way as otherwise I would not be able to observe them.”[6]

Montessori was busy with many other projects; she stopped in once a week and over the course of the month, observed astonishing changes taking place. Leaving the toys aside, the children were drawn to the didactic materials, riveting their attention. They built towers with the cubes, fit the geometric shapes into their frames, and placed wooden cylinders in their holes, over and over, revealing powers of concentration hitherto completely unsuspected in children at all.

Remarkably, the children became healthier, with no change in their diet or exercise. “From timid and wild as they were before, the children became sociable and communicative. They showed different relationships with each other. Their personalities grew and they showed extraordinary understanding, activity, vivacity and confidence. They were happy and joyous.”[7]

Montessori observed one little girl of three completely absorbed in working with the knobbed wooden cylinders, taking them out of their frame, mixing them up, then putting them back in the proper holes. No amount of noise or activity around her got her attention. At one point, Montessori had her lifted onto a table and the children dance around it, “As I lifted the chair she clutched the objects with which she was working and placed them on her knees, but then continued the same task…she repeated the exercise forty-two times. Then she stopped as if coming out of a dream and smiled happily. Her eyes shone brightly and she looked about. She had not even noticed what we had done to disturb her. And now, for no apparent reason, her task was finished. But what was finished and why?”[8]

Unbeknownst to her, Montessori had discovered the phenomenon of optimal experience, now called “Flow.” Given a physical and psychological environment proper to their developmental needs, and the freedom to explore it according to the mysterious inner bio-psychological plan of each individual, the children flourished.

Their self-motivated interest in learning abounded, creating a self-discipline more rigorous than any adult could impose. Their desire for self-mastery knew no bounds. “I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. After I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater.”[9]

Rather than amusement, they were grateful for the lesson; they were frequently in trouble or humiliated because of their runny noses. Once again, Montessori had helped them be independent and self-reliant, civilized individuals. And they took this home with them: the order, beauty, and cleanliness the children learned at school caused them to demand it at home; their poor, uneducated parents began learning from them.

“Help me to do it myself” is the core of the Montessori classroom, where the physical and psychological environment is carefully structured so that the students can have as much freedom as possible to follow their needs. Its purpose is to enable individuals to learn at their own pace; to develop sensory-motor abilities, and knowledge, academic, social, and personal. They learn self-responsibility and how to behave in civil society, respecting property rights and the rights and individuality of others—in short, everything needed to become a successful, well-functioning adult. She recognized that only through the development of this kind of “new man” would we have peace in the world.

“The didactic material, in fact, does not offer to the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the order for that ‘content.’…The mind has formed itself by a special exercise of attention, observing, comparing, and classifying…which leads them to become active and intelligent explorers instead of wandering wayfarers in an unknown land.”[10]

Within a year of opening the Casa dei Bambini, it was famous worldwide. People flocked from Europe, the U.S., China, Japan, New Zealand, South America, and India to see this new “method” for themselves, and many begged to learn it.

By  1911, Montessori schools were established all over the world. Maria quit her position as lecturer at the University of Rome and devoted herself full time to the schools. A book describing her system was published, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicator all’educazione infantile nella Casa dei Bambini and by 1912, an English translation, The Montessori Method, had been prepared through Harvard’s education school. Within six months, it was in second place for the sale of non-fiction books. The international Montessori movement had begun. Despite World War I, by 1916, the book had been translated into English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Catalonian, Polish, Rumanian, Danish, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese.

Soon, she toured all over the United States, hosted by luminaries from John Dewey to Helen Keller. In 1915, a working Montessori classroom was one of the most popular exhibits at the San Francisco Exposition. Children worked on their materials, undisturbed by the marveling crowds around them.

However, the movement was not to last too long in the U.S.: strife was building between various Montessori groups and Maria over who should have control and the final say over the training and credentialing of Montessori teachers, and who was authorized to write about the philosophy. Further, William Heard Kilpatrick, the “million dollar professor” of education at Columbia University and a close associate of progressive theorist John Dewey, had visited the Casa dei Bambini in Rome and written The Montessori System Examined in 1914. He dismissed her system as based on 19th century notions, not in keeping with the “scientific” work of the nascent Behaviorists.

At the top of the pyramid as a teacher of teachers, his criticisms spread throughout Academia. By 1920, American respect for and interest in Montessori was dead. It wasn’t  until the ‘50’s when a young parent, Nancy McCormick Rambusch, rediscovered it in Europe and brought it back to the U.S. that it was revived. She was instrumental in establishing the American Montessori Society in 1960.

It’s been a grassroots, parent-driven movement ever since.

The power of her method to change the lives of whole families was illustrated during the Spanish Civil War. The Method had been brought to Catalonia in 1916 and flourished there for decades. After Montessori fled Mussolini’s fascist Italy, she was invited to live in Spain. She gave a series of lectures[11] on the Radio Associacio de Catalunya in 1936 to educate the public about the nature of children. Poor people began calling the radio station to thank Dr. Montessori. “It is true what you say. My child does the same things! I used to beat him because I though he was bad. Poor little one: It was I who was bad.”

However, in the midst of this work, the new republic erupted into chaos and the anarchists were burning and slaughtering Catholics and Italians (whose government had been suspected in helping the fascists). As Mario Montessori recounted the events, Maria was alone in her house with her grandchildren, watching the carnage from her veranda when anarchists approached with rifles in their hands, bandoliers of bullets across their chests, shouting and raising their arms in the Communist salute.

“The ‘militianos’ came straight to her door, but they did not ring. They…began to paint something over it with a black, dripping brush. The others, intense, stood watching. Soon it was finished. They all looked up, saw her at the window, raised their hand in salute, and marched away.

“The children and she ran down to see.

“On the wall, in large black letters, was the caption: ‘RESPECT THIS HOUSE. IT HARBORS A FRIEND OF THE CHILDREN.’ Under it was the sign of the hammer and sickle. The Child had paid its debt to its Knight.”

Fortunately, despite World War I, World War II and myriad local conflicts, the Montessori movement continued all over the world. During World War II, Maria and Mario Montessori were interned in India as enemy aliens and this led to a thriving Montessori movement in that country and those surrounding it, including the creation of many Montessori training centers.

She continued opening training centers and giving training sessions, observing schools and children everywhere. Over and over, she was struck by the universality of human nature and the variety of individual development. She used her sharp, scientific observational powers to further understand human needs and development, eventually encompassing adolescents. She called them the Erdkinder, children of the earth.[12] Montessori lectured worldwide from 1916 to her death in 1952, and published many, many books about her method.

Montessori eventually called Amsterdam her home and it is the headquarters of the Association Montessori Internationale and the Laren Montessori Training Center. Mario worked closely with his mother. In 1961, he established the Centro Internazionale Studi Montessoriani for elementary level training in Bergamo.

Today, in the U.S. there are about 4-5,000 Montessori schools, ranging from simply Children’s Houses (3-6 year olds) all the way to high schools; worldwide, the estimate is 20,000 and growing.[13]

Scientific research on the Method, through Mihalyi Cskiszentmihalyi’s and Angeline Lillard’s work has bolstered its profile. And, there’s been a spate of articles, such as “The Montessori Mafia” in The Wall Street Journal blog,[14] in the past few years regarding the unusual number of former Montessori students who head very innovative companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia.

In the ‘70’s, Montessorian Beatrice Hessen (wife of libertarian historian Robert Hessen), wrote a series of articles about the Method in Ayn Rand’s The Objectivist journal. These, combined with Rand’s article “The Comprachicos,”[15] in which she contrasts the Montessori Method with Progressive Education, introduced thousands of liberty-loving people to Montessori. Many, many stayed and are involved in the movement to this day.

In 2007, the Montessori movement celebrated its 100th anniversary with a grand conference in Rome, over 1,000 representatives from countries all over the world attending. Among other national publications reporting on the anniversary, The Washington Post featured “Montessori, now 100, goes mainstream.”

However, the Montessori Method is rarely included in the national debate on education reform. Movies concerning the dire situation in public schools and the search for alternatives, such as “Waiting for Superman,” glaringly lack any mention. Although there are a number of government-run Montessori schools, and growing, my guess is that two major factors mitigate against Montessori in the public debate:

  1. Montessori education requires a radical Gestalt-shift in perspective on the nature of education and the role of the teacher, from a top-down, collectivistic, directive approach to a radically individualistic, child-centered approach. The teacher’s role is as observer, expert guide, and servant to the child—not a very acceptable to most traditional teachers.
  2. The education bureaucracy of government schools clashes impossibly against the radical freedom and individualism of Montessori philosophy and practice.

For additional information on the relationship of Montessori and capitalism, see my review of Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education by Jerry Kirkpatrick

Endnotes


[1] Kramer, Rita. 1976. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York, Capricorn Books, 80.

[2] Garlanda, Federico. 1911. The New Italy. New York and London, 153

[3] Seguin, Edouard. 1866. Idiocy and Its Treatment by the Physiological Method. New York, 33

[4] Standing, E.M. 1962. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New American Library: New York, 34.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] Maccheroni, Anna Maria. 1947. A True Romance: Dr. Montessori As I Knew Her. The Darien Press:Edinburgh, 12-13.

[7] Standing, 26.

[8] Ibid., 25.

[9] Montessori, Maria, Letter to Clara, 1896, quoted in Kramer, 115.

[10] Montessori, Maria. 1914. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Frederick A. Stokes Company: New York, 83

[11] Later turned into her book The Secret of Childhood.

[12] http://www.montessori.org/sitefiles/montessori_way_HS.pdf

[13] http://www.montessori-namta.org/FAQ/Montessori-Education/How-many-Montessori-schools-are-there

[13]Sims, Peter. April 5, 2011. “The Montessori Mafia,” The Wall Street Journal blog, http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/

[13] Rand, Ayn.  1970. “The Comprachicos,” The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution.  New York:  Signet, 187-239..

References

Enright, Marsha Familaro and Doris Cox. Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education.

Montessori, Maria. Works.

Montessori, Maria. Articles and Letters.

 

A little recognized influence on the Montessori Movement by Marsha Familaro Enright

originally published in Montessori Leadership

“Help me to do it myself,” self-responsibility, peace:  these are fundamentals of the Montessori philosophy.  How many of you know that another, highly influential thinker with these same beliefs has had a huge influence on the Montessori movement:  Ayn Rand?  Today, there are thousands of parents, teachers and heads of school who came to Montessori through her.

Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand is most famous for her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. According to a 1999 survey by the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged ranked second in influence with readers, after the Bible.  Rand’s books have sold over 100 million copies and sell over 100,000 copies a year to this day – she has obviously affected a lot of people.

However, Rand wrote many other works, including an essay on education called “The Comprachicos,” now available in The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. In it, she discussed the Montessori Method at some length.  She also published an article by the late Beatrice Hessen, “The Montessori Method,” in The Objectivist magazine, which article is now reprinted in John Chattin-McNichols’ Montessori Schools in America:  Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives.

These two articles introduced millions of Rand’s readers to the Montessori Method and movement – and many of them stayed.  I, for one, had been searching since I was a child for a way of schooling which kept the joy in life while guiding students in learning.  The Rand and Hessen articles intrigued me and led me to a life-long love for the Method, which included founding Council Oak Montessori school in Chicago.  Currently, I am working on a new college using the Method (see www.collegeunitedstates.org).

I do not think I am an exception.  You will find Rand’s influence in Montessori schools all around North America, from North Carolina and Pennsylvania to Illinois and Colorado; from Toronto to Texas – and I’m sure almost anywhere you look.  In California, there are a group of Fountainhead Montessori schools.

Why was Ayn Rand interested in Montessori?  Ayn Rand dearly wanted peace, freedom, happiness and achievement for all the individuals of the world, having lived through the death and destruction of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.  She knew that only through strong independence of judgment would our children avoid the mob madness and mass murder of Communism, Fascism, Nazism or, today, Islamic terrorism, which have been responsible for over 100 million deaths (Rummel, 1994).  Only independence and respect for other individuals’ rights to make up their own minds and live their own lives would prevent any further killing fields and keep us out of war.

As she had hoped, the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957 ignited a revival of interest in Classical Liberalism and free-market thinkers like John Locke, Adam Smith, Ludwig Von Mises and Frederick Hayek, nurturing and triggering a huge movement to achieve freedom and prosperity throughout the world.  Last year at the centenary of her birth, many groups and publications paid homage to her vital role in this revival and its exciting consequences, such as the fall of the Soviet Union and the spread of freedom around the world.

The Social Entrepreneurship movement is also a result of this change in thinking, in this case, specifically applied to helping the poorest around the globe, and it is a huge engine of social change. Rather than centralized government programs, thousands of micro-entrepreneurship projects are spreading wealth through the world by helping individuals create their own jobs.  For example, in Bangladesh, Mohammed Yunnus created Grameen Bank to provide micro-credit loans all over the third world.  Mark Frazier, a Rand fan, created the Internet site Openworld through which young people from developing countries can get quality information and training inexpensively.  If needed, he helps them obtain computers and Internet hook-ups.

However, Rand’s similarity to Montessori went well beyond their common desire for peace.  In “The Comprachicos,” Rand lauded the Montessori Method as exactly what children needed to develop properly. “The purposeful, disciplined use of his intelligence is the highest achievement possible to man:   it is that which makes him human.”  “[the best development of intelligence is what] Dr. Montessori had in mind…when she wrote the following about her method:  ‘The didactic material, in fact, does not offer to the child the ‘content’ of the mind, but the order for that ‘content.’…The mind has formed itself by a special exercise of attention, observing, comparing, and classifying…which leads them to become active and intelligent explorers instead of wandering wayfarers in an unknown land.’” (Rand, 1970, 196)

Rand recognized that the Montessori Method is superb at developing a child’s thinking skills, independent judgment and inner self-confidence, while maintaining his or her love of learning.  She also applauded the sensitive, individual approach to each child’s personality and development, and the respect for order, property and other people nurtured by the Method – all important elements for a happy, productive life.

Like Montessori, Rand believed judging others by their individual actions and achievements, not their group membership, race or any other feature outside of their control, was the basis of real respect.  She realized that the road to peace was through educating individuals in the importance of thinking well and respecting the individual rights of others.

Footnotes

R.J. Rummel, Death by Government (Transaction 1994). Rummel is a now-retired political science professor.  He has extensively researched forms of government and war, summarized in his charts, available at

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/welcome.html

He found that no democracy has made war on another democracy since 1816 (democracy defined as government by the people either directly or through elected representatives).

References

Chattin-McNichols, John, ed.  1981.  Montessori Schools in America:  Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives. Lexington:   Ginn Custom Publishing.

Rand, Ayn.  1957.  Atlas Shrugged. New York:  Random House.

Rand, Ayn.  1970.  The Comprachicos in The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York:  Signet, 187-239..

Rand, Ayn.  1943.  The Fountainhead. New York:  Bobbs-Merrill.

Rummel, R.J.  1994.  Death by Government, New York:  Transaction Publishers

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DP.CHART.V19.PDF

Copyright © 2007 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

The Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein

When I was in grammar school in the late ‘50’s, I loved school.  I eagerly looked forward to learning every day.  But by the time I was eight I noticed this wasn’t true for everyone.  No.  In fact, many, many of the other children were confused or defiant or scared or just plain bored.  I could understand the confusion of children who were having trouble keeping up with what was being taught – although I didn’t understand why they were having trouble.  And I was simply outraged at the kids who got their jollies from picking on other children.  But what really puzzled me were the smart kids who just hated to come to school and who caused all kinds of trouble.  Why didn’t they find learning fun? Why did they misbehave constantly, rather than focus on their school work?  Why were they so bad?! Why was school such a miserable experience for so many of my schoolmates?  What was wrong?

I vowed that I would not let this happen to my own future children, and that they would go to a school that they loved.  That vow sent me on a decades-long mission to discover a better way of education.

In 1971 I had the good fortune to read an article on the deepest problems of modernist education, in which the author recommended the Montessori Method as a brilliant alternative1.  This led me to read Beatrice Hessen’s article “The Montessori Method,”2 and I was hooked!

The deepest insight Dr. Montessori taught me was:  don’t blame the children, question your assumptions.  In other words, when you see unhappy children, misbehaving in school and having difficulty learning the material, ask yourself:  “what should I do differently?  What is frustrating that child?”  It’s a simple question that any gardener asks when her plants don’t thrive.  This is exactly what Maria asked herself in the first years of the 20th century  – and answered by careful, scientific observation of children.  And this is the essence of the Montessori Method.

But we don’t seem to have learned that lesson well enough.  After twenty plus years of crisis, education pundits are still dithering over what’s wrong.  Activists want to throw ever more money into a failing system.  And politicians demand we revert to old methods of rote learning and testing.  But scientific research shows these very methods are merely mediocre in judging learning, achievement and potential!  Ironically, it was the failures of traditional systems that led to the early 20th century explorations in education of John Dewey, Rudolph Steiner and Maria Montessori almost 100 years ago.

What most parents and even most educators don’t know is that the traditional method of education is based on the factory model.  Centuries ago, mainly the rich were educated, because their families could hire private tutors for one-on-one lessons.  With the advent of the U.S. as a democratic republic, a need arose for mass education to ensure that citizens had enough knowledge and understanding to effectively participate in a free society.  Most people couldn’t afford to hire their own teachers, so factories for learning were set up all around the country.  Large numbers of children were taught to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way:  letters, numbers, reading and history lessons ‘by the book’.  To facilitate mass production in education, children were ranked by the same system as shoes:  in grades.3

This helped many to acquire basic skills in reading and arithmetic, history and geography, mathematics and maybe a little science.  Bright but poor children were at least exposed to the realms of knowledge through these schools, and many bootstrapped themselves to later success.  The well-to-do were able to get a richer education in private schools.  However, wherever traditional methods were used, the emphasis was – and is – on acquiring as much information as possible.  The systematic growth and development of the individual was usually left to chance.

A century ago, most jobs required rote learning and rote work – in factories and farms.  Today is a far, far different story.  More than ever, working individuals need to be highly motivated and capable learners, able to find out what they need to know and figure out what to do with that information.  They need to be able to think well and to judge complex situations using the latest technology.  And they need to interact with people all over the world in the vast global markets.

Most jobs today require knowledge workers, not just arms or legs to put parts on an assembly line.  Our factory workers use some of the most complicated, computerized equipment the world has ever seen.  The phenomenal productivity of the American worker is made possible by his or her ability to run the complex machines that now do the physical labor.  Even artists need to learn technology – for animation, sculpture, film – a whole host of media.  How can people of widely varying abilities and intellects get a solid educational foundation of knowledge and still be able to develop their individual gifts to the fullest?  How can we expect to consistently nurture capable, knowledgeable, highly motivated individuals in a factory system?  What education today needs is a truly innovative approach to individual education.

What’s really needed is right in our backyard, thriving since the early ‘60’s through a grassroots movement but largely ignored by educational theorists.  It requires an entirely new way of thinking about education, a way that recognizes and respects the needs of the individual child.  And that is the Montessori Way.  It is a remarkably dynamic modern approach that’s almost 100 years old!

These are the reasons many more parents and teachers need to understand the Montessori Way.  Fortunately, The Montessori Way by Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein has recently been published to help them.  This book does a brilliant job of translating Dr. Montessori’s deep insights into 21st century terms for parents, teachers and educators of all kinds.  It relays the Method’s exciting history and successes as well as recent research that supports her findings and the century of experience at Montessori schools around the world.

It shows how Montessori practices enable each individual child to develop his or her own unique powers while respecting others.  It illustrates why a good Montessori school is one of the best environments for children to learn the responsibilities that come with freedom and the respect of others that is necessary for true independence.

This book is written in very clear, accessible language, with beautiful illustrations and photos.   And it is comprehensive in its scope.  Anyone unfamiliar with Montessori should be able to come away from reading this book with a clear picture of what the Montessori Way is about and how it works.

With all its advantages, why hasn’t the Montessori Method swept the country as a model of educational reform?  There are several concrete answers to that question which the authors, Tim Seldin and Paul Epstein explore.  But one of the deepest reasons is a matter of outlook:  To understand the Montessori Method requires a change in thinking as revolutionary as the United States War for Independence.

That war was fought for a new idea of Man:  the idea that life was best lived when each human being had the right to determine his own choices and actions, and follow his own path.  It was a war for the freedom of the individual over the tyranny of other men.

The Montessori Way requires a similar revolution in thinking about the individual with equally revolutionary consequences.  It requires parents and teachers to understand that each child has a principle of self-growth and self-determination within him.  This principle will lead him to shrivel or to flower, depending on his educational environment.  Just like a garden, if we make the physical and psychological environment serve the needs of the individual child, he will thrive.

It is truly an “Education for a New World.”4 Parents and teachers here in the New World and everywhere around the world need it more than ever to help children become productive, effective individuals, capable of working happily at the highest levels of creativity and success.  This book should go a long way to showing why the Montessori Way can make that happen.

This book is only available directly from the publisher, the Montessori Foundation in the bookstore of its website,

www.montessori.org

  • Rand, Ayn.  1971.  The New Left:  The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York:  New American Library.
  • Chattin-McNichols, John P., ed.  1983.  Montessori Schools In America. Lexington:  Ginn Custom Printing.  Seems to be out of print, but may be available from Dr. Chattin-McNichols. orThe Objectivist 1966-1971 by Ayn Rand.
  • William Farish: The World’s Most Famous Lazy Teacher
  • http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/add_adhd/guide_to_adhd.html
  • Montessori, Maria.  1946, 1989.  Education for a New World. Clio Press:  Oxford.

Copyright © 2003 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

Interview with Marsha Enright by Karen Minto, Full Context, Vol. 12, No. 1

Q: How did the ideas of Ayn Rand impact your life?

Marsha: I read through Atlas the summer following The Fountainhead, and all the books and essays I could get my hands on after that, over the next few years. This included Nathaniel Branden’s The Psychology of Self-Esteem, which greatly influenced my thinking in psychology, directly, and, indirectly, by introducing me to the works of Arthur Koestler in a footnote. I have been immensely influenced by Koestler’s ideas in both biology and psychology and, when it comes to writing science well, he is my hero.

It’s funny, a discussion I had recently made me reflect on how I went about accepting Rand’s ideas. Some friends were arguing that it was the practical arguments about capitalism that finally convince people about the truth and value of a free society, but I know that’s not what convinced me: it was the argument for the value and necessity of freedom for the reasoning mind. I guess I always sharply felt the oppression of others trying to tell me what to do—especially because of the stupid things they would want me to do! I experience the value of freedom in a very strong, personal way, even though I’ve never been the victim of political repression. This deep attachment to freedom makes me an absolute basket case when I hear the Star Spangled Banner or read about what Jaroslav Romanchuck is going through!

I remember that the biggest question in my mind after reading the novels was: was I fundamentally a person like Roark or Dagny? I knew I wasn’t like them in many ways, and it seemed difficult to know what personality characteristics were essential to be like a Randian hero. For one thing, Dagny and Roark seem to have been born the way they are—popping full-blown from Athena’s head, so there weren’t many clues as to how to get from there to here. And for another thing, Rand’s characters all seemed to be very little affected by other people’s negative judgments and feelings towards them. And in the characterizations, this seemed to be mixed up with being independent in judgment.

So, did you have to be both in order to be a Randian hero? I knew I wasn’t exactly like that because, even though you’d have to kill me before I’d stop arguing what I thought was right, I also knew that the kindness or meanness of others and the way other people felt and acted towards me could really affect me—it could make me feel wonderful or awful. I’ve spent many years thinking about the psychology involved, and my article “Why Man Needs Approval” in Objectivity examines this issue at length and in light of scientific research. I reached the conclusion that these characteristics—independence of judgement and sensitivity to the feelings of others—are two separate issues, the one an issue of character and the other of temperament. I ultimately decided that Rand, for personal reasons, had chosen to make her characters have the two characteristics together.

And I also had some personal interactions with Rand that I found really interesting in regard to this issue of the essential qualities of her heroes, because I got to see what the author of these books was like as a person. You know, her personality and temperament weren’t very much like her heroes’: she wasn’t a serene, cool, calm person rather indifferent to the feelings of those around her—she was a wildly passionate, hot-headed woman who reacted sharply to negative criticism or feedback. And she was on an intensely felt mission to save the world.

In the seventies when I was about 25, I attended almost all the lectures given by Leonard Peikoff and Allan Blumenthal in New York City. My best learning experience and most vivid memories from those lectures were conversations which I had with Ayn Rand. I would go up to her at the breaks and after the lectures and ply her with all kinds of questions—about the nature of free will or how to cast the movie Atlas Shrugged—and I was usually delighted to get her typically unique answers. I even got her talking about cats—between lectures I had left a little pin of a cat arched and hissing at her office for her birthday. When I saw her wearing it one day, I asked her if she liked it and she said “Oh yes—it is ze essence of cat!” I even humorously threatened to bring my cats for her to see—at which she said “Oh no, dahlink, you can’t do that!” Sometimes I think she thought I was about 16 years old!

Once I mentioned to her that I had noticed where she got the name Danneskjold: from Victor Hugo’s first novel, Hans of Iceland in which the hero becomes the first of the Counts of Danneskjold! I thought this was a great tribute to him, but she worriedly said to me “Oh yes, but it wasn’t plagiarism because there really were counts of Danneskjold!”
You see, if you can picture this, Ayn Rand was worried that she would be perceived as trading on Victor Hugo’s ability and glory!
The most striking thing that happened to me during these conversations is that Ayn Rand once asked my forgiveness. I wanted to bring this experience up because it was so different from the experiences of Rand related by so many other people, perhaps it gives a different side of her. […]

Q: Did your family or friends give you a hard time over Objectivism?

Marsha: I remember trying to interest several of my friends, but failing. I did get my father interested and it seemed to change a lot in his life, although he came under the distorting influence of Lonnie Leonard. My mother hated the books, because she saw how it liberated my father and me from her moral grip—ugh! And my brothers hated the books without reading them because they thought they caused my parents to get divorced!

Q: Quite a few Objectivists seem to feel alienated in a society that does not seem to share their values and have trouble making friends or finding romantic partners. Have you found this to be true for yourself or do you think there is something fundamentally wrong with their viewpoint?

Marsha: I did feel alienated from others for many years. It started long before I read Rand, but the sense of it was probably sharpened by the lens of her explanations, by knowing how different I was. I was always intellectual and outspoken, and these didn’t endear me to other kids or grown ups. But, what I only realized later was that I was also the victim of an inordinate amount of envy, and this is something that aggravated the alienation—and this was something Rand helped me to see. When I read The Fountainhead I immediately recognized the social-climbing characters and their ways—because that went on all the time where I lived and in my schools. Unbeknownst to me, as a doctor my father was on the high end of the social pyramid, which apparently many of the other families resented, given the kind of cruel remarks and treatment I experienced from their children. These experiences contributed to my sense of alienation.

I guess Rand’s ideas also made the alienation worse by the view that most other people were “the masses” and that they were this social-climbing bunch who were untouchable by reason. In some respects, this idea jived with my own personal experience. It was the novels’ non-developmental slant that was a problem, the idea that so many people just chose to be like this and were, in a sense, irredeemably evil. It took me some years to examine the truth of this view—which loomed large in my mind because, as an educator and psychological theorist, I wanted to know why. I came to understand that it’s not a simple matter of choice on the part of most people—ability matters in grasping the philosophical, like it matters in everything else. It is very difficult for many people to be intellectual enough and self-aware enough of the ideas and feelings that influence their thinking, feeling and action to easily recognize what’s right and wrong. They often labor under a blindingly complex set of ideas that they’ve unknowingly accepted, and which they can’t untangle themselves. They don’t even realize that these things are important to think about. And their lack of ability leads to a lack of the knowledge and experience necessary to deal with the issues. All these things make it difficult for them to even think about, no less think through, the philosophical issues involved and see the rightness and importance of what Rand wrote.

The experience I’ve had working with amazingly rational, intelligent and sensitive people at my school especially helped me overcome my alienation. I learned that there are many people in the world who are motivated by the truth and the right, so they really aren’t that different from me as it might first appear. But its my job to learn how to communicate with them if I want to convince them of Rand’s ideas. And now I feel very relaxed about my relationships with others, very socially integrated and in fact socially capable and powerful.

Q: How did you get involved with Montessori?

Marsha: Psychology and development were always interests of mine (not that I had the names for those interests until I was much older!) I’ve been interested in education since I was a little girl, because I always disliked how miserable the other students were in class. I personally loved school and got along great with my teachers but terrible with the other students, and their disruptions drove me crazy—they were such a distraction from the learning I was hot to do. I was especially impressed with how miserable some of the smart kids were in school, and I vowed that when I had kids I would make sure they got an education that wasn’t frustrating, that didn’t turn them off from learning and that was fun.

So when I read Beatrice Hessen’s articles in The Objectivist about the Montessori Method I was hooked. I followed up by reading all of Montessori’s books, and anything else about her and her method I could find. I knew then that that was the kind of education I wanted for my kids.

What most attracted me to Montessori was her biological approach to the psychology and development of the child and her deep, deep respect for individuals and the fantastic power of self-creation they have within them. She was the first woman doctor in Italy at the turn of the century, and an amazingly careful scientific observer. Because of her genius she was able to recognize, through observation, many things currently touted as the “new” discoveries of experimental research and cognitive psychology. Sensitive periods of development, the need for sensorial and motor materials as teaching tools for proper development, the variety of cognitive abilities and styles among people (made popular by Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” theory), the advantages of multi-age classrooms, the need for guided learning in the social and emotional realms as well as the intellectual (much discussed recently as “emotional intelligence”) and the need to maximize “flow” in the classroom to keep students motivated are a few of the “recently discovered” things which are principles of her system.

Well, perhaps it’s not a coincidence, considering the influence of Piaget in developmental psychology. I remember a funny experience I had in graduate school when I was studying Piaget: his ideas struck me as awfully similar to Montessori’s, but in the language of German philosophy. Years later, I discovered that he had been a trained Montessorian, the head of the Swiss Montessori society and that he had done his observations for Language and Thought of the Child in the Jean Jacques Rousseau Montessori school in Geneva.

When I actually had my kids, I was charged and prepared to find the right school for them. Fortunately for us, a wonderful Montessori primary school (what others would call pre-school) had existed in the neighborhood for many years, so that’s where my children went until elementary. To make a long story short, I found there was a need and desire for elementary Montessori education in my area of the city, and I wanted it done right for my own kids. So, in conjunction with a few other mothers and one teacher, I started up Council Oak Montessori Elementary school in 1990 with 17 children, and its going into its tenth anniversary this year.

Q: If someone wanted to become a Montessori teacher what sort of training would they need?

Marsha: Anyone who wants to become a Montessori teacher needs to go to one of the special Montessori training courses given by the American Montessori Society or the Association Montessori Internationale (the original and most famous of which is given in Bergamo, Italy). These courses go into the philosophy and the method in immense detail, including exactly how to use the materials to give lessons in all the subject areas, manage a classroom and handle individual children. To give you an idea of the fullness of their content: one of our teachers was an education major in college and had gone for Montessori training. She had a thin, 20 page booklet which she had been given in one education course for the teaching of all arithmetic to all grades! From her Montessori training, she had a packed three-ring binder called an “album,” which contained the detailed methods and instructions for teaching arithmetic to 6 to 9 year olds alone!

These courses are given at training centers all over the nation and around the world, and they vary greatly in quality and somewhat in content. The best ones are incredibly loaded with important and useful information. For example, the AMS course given by the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies is given in 10 weeks in the summer, with a year internship, a week of exams 6 months later and a year long project presented the next summer. Its one of the most un-Montessori ways of learning I’ve ever seen, given all the information crammed into 10 weeks, but I guess that was the only practically feasible way most adults could afford to take the course.

Q: You wrote an article in the IOS Journal Navigator about starting an Objectivist Salon. I have attended a few of your Salon meetings and was very impressed by the quality of both the topics and the people attending. What problems do you think many Objectivist groups have in getting a good group together?

Marsha: Thanks for the compliment! First, of course, you have the problem of overcoming the bad memories and bad habits of Objectivist events in former years, which were so unpleasant. So, the person organizing the group has to be skilled at making people feel comfortable, being very friendly and inviting and insuring that the discussions are extremely reasonable and respectful of all participants. This can be difficult because some people in Objectivist and Libertarian circles have developed very bad habits of argument—they can be condemnatory, contemptuous and impatient; they don’t carefully listen to what the other person is saying and think about what he or she means before they answer in some knee-jerk way, or they know only how to lecture to others rather than have a conversation. But a good organizer or moderator can set the tone by the way they talk and by interfering, moderating, when things get out of hand. You tell people that they need to let someone else talk, or you say “we really want to deal with the facts, reasons and issues about the ideas here, so can you give us the basis for your arguments?”—that kind of thing.

The other thing is to make the situation very social and inviting, so people have a chance to get to know each other in a relaxed way, not just during a formal event or discussion. And I try as much as possible to elicit the topics and the speakers from within the group, rather than use tapes or lectures, to get everyone to be active participants instead of passive receptacles of information from the chosen.

Q: If an Objectivist is interested in changing the culture, what are some of the things he/she should be doing that are most effective?

Marsha: I’m assuming you want to hear some ways besides giving out Rand’s books, writing letters to the editor, becoming a philosophy professor or organizing a political party? First and foremost, I think being the best, and most intelligent, understanding and reasonable in your profession and your personal life, whatever it is, can go far in affecting the culture. And here’s why—because, by the example of your person, you can interest the people you interact with in your ideas—they want to know what makes you so special, so different.

And that leads into the other thing I think is extremely important in changing the culture: like I said before, go out of your way to understand other people. Don’t jump all over somebody you disagree with, but try to listen to their exact concerns, and agree with them where you can. Then introduce the ways in which you disagree and why—but try to do it in language and vocabulary from the other person’s context. Don’t use special vocabulary unless you absolutely have to—and then carefully explain your meaning. These are all ways I’ve found to actually communicate my ideas to other people and change their minds.

Q: What kinds of projects are you planning for the future?

Marsha: I want to do an end-run around the educational establishment, which continues to be inhospitable to Objectivism and good education. I am developing an institution which takes the principles of Objectivism as its grounding philosophy and applies the Montessori method to the teaching of adults. Although I want to teach courses on Objectivism (in fact, I plan to start with an introductory course in January), I want more than that. I want a liberal arts institution which uses Objectivism to inform but not confine the way all subjects are approached, especially through standards of reason, objectivity and importance to life.
I’m working on the curriculum and organization, and searching for someone who would like to be the operations director and a founding partner. By the way, I’d love to ask any of your readers who might be interested in working on such a project to drop me a note: my e-mail address is deanima@juno.com.

Foundations Study Guide: Montessori Education

Revised August 1997

Formerly a psychotherapist, Marsha Enright, co-founded the Council Oak Montessori School (elementary level) in 1990, of which she is the president and administrator. Another cofounder of the school and its corporate secretary, Doris Cox, currently teaches middle school children at Council Oak.

The education of the human child is of profound importance to anyone dedicated to achieving “the best within us,” but especially to those who have, or wish to have, children of their own, and to those who are or wish to become teachers. What are the child’s nature and needs? How are they different from those of an adult? How can we best foster the child’s development so as to help him maximize his potential for productivity and happiness in life? Current research validates Montessori’s ideas. We believe that, on the whole, the philosophy of the child developed by Italian physician and teacher Maria Montessori, is most consistent with the Objectivist view of human nature, needs, and values.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori, the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome Medical School, became a doctor in 1896. Her first post was in the university’s Psychiatric Clinic.

In that age, retarded children were considered a medical problem, rather than an educational one, and were often kept in hospitals for the insane. Montessori’s visits with children in Roman insane asylums prompted her to study the works of Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838) and Edouard Seguin (1812-1880), two French-born pioneers in education for the mentally deficient. She went on to read all the major works on educational theory of the previous two centuries.

In 1899, Montessori became director of the State Orthophrenic School, where her work with the retarded was so successful that the majority of her students were able to pass the state education exams. While other people exclaimed over this phenomenal success, Montessori pondered its implication for normal children. If the mentally deficient could do as well on the exams as normal children, in what poor state must those normal children be! This reflection led her to devote her life to education.

Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in 1907, applying to children of normal intelligence the methods and materials she had developed for deficient children. She also spent a great deal of time observing and meditating on what children did with her materials—what brought out their best learning and their greatest enthusiasm.

As a result of Montessori’s achievements at the Casa dei Bambini, her method spread rapidly. By 1915, over 100 Montessori schools had opened in America, and many more had opened in the rest of the world. In Switzerland, one of the most important 20th-century theorists in child development—Jean Piaget (1896-1980)—was heavily influenced by Montessori and her method. Piaget was director of the modified Montessori school in Geneva, where he did some of the observations for his first book, Language and Thought of the Child, and served as head of the Swiss Montessori society.

Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work, by E.M. Standing, is an interesting historical account told from the viewpoint of a devoted follower. A more recent and objective biography is Rita Kramer’s Maria Montessori.

The Montessori Method

Maria Montessori’s own works constitute the best source of information concerning her theories and methods. The Montessori Method, the first overview of her educational techniques, remains the best in many respects. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook goes into the details of her philosophy, materials, and methods. The Discovery of the Child is a later detailed summarization of Montessori’s philosophy and method of teaching, with much discussion of the child’s nature and the best means of approaching the child with work. The Secret of Childhood is a history of what—and how—Montessori learned about the unique nature of children, the problems that can arise when the child’s nature is not properly nurtured, and the repercussions that proper and improper nurturing of the child have on society. This work is especially recommended for parents.

According to Maria Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she will become.” To carry out this self-construction, children have innate mental powers, but they must be free to use these powers. For this reason, a Montessori classroom provides freedom while maintaining an environment that encourages a sense of order and self-discipline. “Freedom in a structured environment” is the Montessori dictum that names this arrangement.

Like all thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition, Montessori recognized that the senses must be educated first in the development of the intellect. Consequently, she created a vast array of special learning materials from which concepts could be abstracted and through which they could be concretized. In recognition of the independent nature of the developing intellect, these materials are self-correcting—that is, from their use, the child discovers for himself whether he has the right answer. This feature of her materials encourages the child to be concerned with facts and truth, rather than with what adults say is right or wrong.

Also basic to Montessori’s philosophy is her belief in the “sensitive periods” of a child’s development: periods when the child seeks certain stimuli with immense intensity, and, consequently, can most easily master a particular learning skill. The teacher’s role is to recognize the sensitive periods in individual children and put the children in touch with the appropriate materials.

Montessori also identified stages of growth—which she called “Planes of Development”—that occur in approximately six-year intervals and that are further subdivided into two three-year segments. These planes of development are the basis for the three-year age groupings found in Montessori schools: ages 3 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 12, and 12 to 18.

From birth to age six, children are sensorial explorers, studying every aspect of their environment, language, and culture. Montessori’s The Absorbent Mind provides a detailed discussion of how the child’s mind and needs develop during this period.

From age six to twelve, children become reasoning explorers. They develop new powers of abstraction and imagination, using and applying their knowledge to further discover and expand their world. During this time, it is still essential that the child carry out activities in order to integrate acting and thinking. It is his own effort that gives him independence, and his own experience that brings him answers as to how and why things function as they do. Montessori’s The Montessori Elementary Materials discusses the materials and curriculum to be used for children during this period.

From Childhood to Adolescence, also by Montessori, outlines the changes children undergo in mentality and outlook as they grow from childhood to adolescence, and the nature and needs of the adolescent child. She also proposes a radical concept of schooling for the adolescent.

Valuable secondary works on the Montessori method include Elizabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years, and Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. Both give an abbreviated view of the philosophy and the method, as well as detailed instructions on how to make and use the materials. Paula Lilliard’s 1972 work, Montessori: A Modern Approach, reviews the history and nature of the Montessori philosophy, discussing how “current” it is in addressing modern educational concerns and what it has to offer the contemporary family.

Throughout her writing, Montessori combines keen observations and insights with a heroic view of the importance of the child’s work in self- development—work by which each man creates the best within him. Many writers and critics dislike Montessori’s romantic rhetoric, and admittedly her phraseology tends to the mystical. Nevertheless, we find her language refreshing and inspiring. As the following sentence illustrates, she always keeps in mind the glory and grandeur of human development:

“Humanity shows itself in all its intellectual splendor during this tender age as the sun shows itself at the dawn, and the flower in the first unfolding of the petals; and we must respect religiously, reverently, these first indications of individuality.”

The Montessori method always places its principles and activities in the broad context of the importance of human life and development, intelligence and free will. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of the Montessori method is the presentation of knowledge as an integrated whole, emphasizing conceptual relationships between different branches of learning, and the placement of knowledge in its historical context.

Dewey Versus Montessori

In American academic circles, Montessori is little known, except as a name from the past, and textbooks on educational theory therefore tend to discuss her method only in an historical context. Much of this learned ignorance can be traced to The Montessori System Examined, a small but highly influential book published in 1914 by Professor William Heard Kilpatrick. In his time, Kilpatrick was one of the most popular professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College, an institution with far-ranging influence among educational theorists and one of the main redoubts for John Dewey’s Progressive method of education.

Dewey and Montessori approached education from philosophically and psychologically different perspectives. Dewey’s concern was with fostering the imagination and the development of social relationships. He believed in developing the intellect late in childhood, for fear that it might stifle other aspects of development. By contrast, Montessori believed that development of the intellect was the only means by which the imagination and proper social relationships could arise. Her method focused on the early stimulation and sharpening of the senses, the development of independence in motor tasks and the care of the self, and the child’s naturally high motivation to learn about the world as a means of gaining mastery over himself and his environment.

Thus, behind Kilpatrick’s criticism of Montessori’s educational method lay a great deal of antagonism towards Montessori’s philosophy and psychology. Kilpatrick dismissed Montessori’s sensorial materials because they were based on what he considered to be an outdated theory of the faculties of the mind (Dewey was greatly influenced by early Behaviorism) and a too-early development of the intellect. Kilpatrick also criticized Montessori’s materials as too restrictive: because they have a definite outcome, he felt, they restrict the child’s imagination. Following Dewey’s collectivist view of man, and his central focus on the social development of the child, Kilpatrick also disliked Montessori’s decidedly individualistic view of the child.

Montessori Today

In the United States, the views of Dewey and Kilpatrick prevailed, and the name of Montessori was largely forgotten for several decades. Fortunately for recent generations of American children, a dissatisfied American mother, Nancy Rambusch, rediscovered Montessori in Europe during the 1950s. Rambusch began the “second-wave” Montessori schools in the United States, lectured widely on the Montessori method, and helped found the American Montessori Society. Over the past forty years, grass-roots interest has spurred a phenomenal growth of Montessori schools in America, but the movement is not generally recognized or promoted in university education departments.

The Montessori Controversy and Montessori Schools in America, both by John Chattin-McNichols, discuss research on the relationship of the method to historical and current educational theories; and controversies that have arisen between the Montessori movement and academic theorists, and also within the Montessori movement.

Interestingly, Montessori Schools in America includes Beatrice Hessen’s article on the Montessori method, originally published in The Objectivist. As this Study Guide indicates, a link between Objectivism and the Montessori method of education is a promising connection for both movements.   Montessori’s methods encourage children to be at home in a free society, such as Objectivists would like to establish. Respect for the person, property, and ideas of others are primary values in the Montessori classroom, as are respectful cooperation and personal responsibility. Children are required to care for the materials they use and the environment of the classroom; they are encouraged to work on projects cooperatively, but only when they wish to do so. At a deeper level, Objectivism’s epistemological and ethical ideas offer a rich theoretical soil in which Montessori’s methods can thrive and perhaps even develop further.

Montessori Training

In the United States at present, training for teachers is offered through the Association Montessori Internationale/USA, an arm of Maria Montessori’s original training organization; and through the American Montessori Society, founded by Nancy Rambusch. Many independent organizations also offer training. The North American Montessori Teachers Association is a center of research and information. Further information can be obtained from these organizations at the following addresses:

AMI/USA
410 Alexander
Rochester, NY 14607
(716) 461-5920

American Montessori Society
281 Park Ave. South, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10010-6102
(212)358-1250
Web: www.amsha.org

NAMTA
11424 Bellflower Rd. NE
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216)421-1905
namtamail@aol.com

Bibliography

Many of the titles in this listing are available at Amazon.com. If you use this link, or the search box below, then IOS will earn a commission from Amazon.com on each book purchased.

John Chattin-McNicholsThe Montessori Controversy. Albany, N.Y.: Delmar Publishers, 1992.

John P. Chattin-McNichols, edMontessori Schools in America: Historical, Philosophical and Empirical Research Perspectives. Lexington, Mass.: Ginn Custom Publishing, 1981, 1983.

Elizabeth G. Hainstock. Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years. New York: New American Library, 1968.

Elizabeth G. HainstockTeaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years. New York: Random House, 1971.

William Heard KilpatrickThe Montessori System Examined. American Education Series, No. 2. Salem, N.H.: Ayer Company Pubs., 1972. Reprint of 1914 Houghton Mifflin ed.

Rita Kramer. Maria Montessori: A Biography. New York: Capricorn Books, 1976.

Paula Lilliard. Montessori: A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Method, rev. ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.

Maria Montessori. Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook. Edited by E.C. Orem. New York: Schocken, 1965.

Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1967.

Maria Montessori. The Child in the Family. New York: Avon Books, 1956.

Maria Montessori. The Discovery of the Child. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.

Maria Montessori. The Secret of Childhood. Bombay: Orient Longmans Ltd., 1936.

Maria Montessori. The Montessori Elementary Material. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Maria Montessori. From Childhood to Adolescence. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.

Jean Piaget. Language and Thought of The Child. New York: New American Library, 1955.

E.M. Standing. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. New York: Mentor Books, 1962.

Copyright © 1992 by Marsha Familaro Enright. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution to the author and inclusion of her byline.

http://www.atlassociety.org/cth–48-Foundations_Study_Guide_Montessori_Education.aspx