In the first half of the 20th century, Dr. Maria Montessori, a highly intelligent, scientifically minded woman who had found traditional school boring in her youth, decided to address the problem of education with a fresh outlook. In effect, she redesigned education from the ground up.
Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870. She was a math prodigy, physicist, and anthropologist. At age 24, she was the first woman to graduate from the medical school in Rome. She was a pragmatist and a visionary and a humanitarian; a friend of Gandhi’s and Thomas Edison’s; a three-time Noble Peace Prize nominee. Her face is on Italy’s 1,000 lire bill. Today, we know Maria Montessori best for the educational method that bears her name.
Maria Montessori was interested in the end result of education, not its method. She cared about developing “a complete human being, oriented to the environment and adapted to his or her time, place and culture.” She came to her work with no preconceived ideas about how young people should be taught. She simply observed them, gathering evidence about how their minds worked and formulating tools that responded to their needs. Her observations contained groundbreaking insights into human development and cognition—insights that are largely upheld by scientific research today. They also contain luminous descriptions of the potentialities of children in the tender process of self-formation. Perhaps most moving: the picture her writings paint of a world made better by the way we adults touch those unfolding personalities. Maria Montessori recorded her observations in prose that stands as some of the most beautiful in literature. We can do no better than let this wonderful humanitarian speak for herself...