María Montessori

Educator for Peace

María Montessori

She was born into a bourgeois catholic family in Italy in 1870. She studied engineering at 14, then biology and was finally accepted into the School of Medicine of the University of Rome. She graduated in 1896 as the first woman doctor in Italy. Later, she studied anthropology and achieved a doctorate in philosophy, attending in that period one of the first courses in experimental psychology.

Between 1898 and 1900 she worked with children considered mentally disabled. She realized that these children had potential that, although diminished, could be developed, and that they were deserving of a better life without being a burden to society. At that moment she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the service of these boys and girls.

She created the scientific pedagogy: starting from observation and the scientific method, she developed her materials and her philosophy. When the socioeconomic situation in Italy improved, social housing was built. In 1907 she unveiled the first Children’s House in Rome, for 60 girls and boys. Instead of imposing arbitrary rules on them and filling their heads with facts, she freed their spirits. When children of 4 or 5 years old learned to read and write as a natural process, the world was in commotion. It was then when San Lorenzo ceased to be a centre for the control of girls and boys and became a research centre where children were developed with dignity, freedom and independence. They had the freedom to be active and the responsibility of knowing how to use their freedom.

In 1909 the first course for Montessori guides took place. Maria Montessori writes her first book: ‘The Montessori Method Scientific Pedagogy’. In 1912 Alexander Graham Bell and his daughter invited Maria Montessori to the USA and opened the first Children’s House in that country. The schools in the USA multiply. In 1934 Mussolini and Hitler close the Montessori schools in Italy and Germany on political grounds. In 1939 Maria Montessori travels to India, where she stays until the end of World War II.

She lived through three wars and questioned the future of humanity. She used to say: “If help and salvation are to come they can only come from the children”. She lived and worked convinced that the child is a different being who needs to be loved in order to ‘be’ and to blossom, and that we must help them develop and perfect themselves through contact with reality. All her life she studied, worked and disseminated her philosophy based on Education for Peace, for which she was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“The child is a source of love. Whenever we touch the child, we touch love. It is a difficult love to define; we all feel it, but no one can describe its roots, or evaluate the immense consequences that flow from it, or gather up its potency for union between men. Despite our differences of race, religion, and of social position, we have felt, during our discussions of the child, a fraternal union growing up between us…”