Maria Montessori: how a woman changed the way we look at education

Maria Montessori developed a unique learning system that helped children with special needs to pass school exams on a par with their peers. But to develop her ideas, she had to go through a lot. For example, to achieve the right to study and work with men. We tell how Montessori fought for her rights and the rights of women.

How a girl won the right to study at a men’s gymnasium

Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870 in the provincial Italian town of Chiaravalle. Her father was a high-ranking official, and her mother came from an old Italian family.

Maria from childhood was fond of mathematics and wanted to study at a gymnasium with an in-depth study of technical subjects. But the gymnasium was for men. Thanks to the perseverance and support of Montessori’s parents, they still managed to enter there. The girl successfully coped with the program, but she spent the changes alone. According to the moral rules of that time, she could not freely communicate with the boys and sat in a separate room during breaks.

Parents assumed that their daughter would receive the profession of a teacher. This was typical for women of that time. But she wanted to continue her education already in medicine. Maria Montessori again faced the problem with an asterisk – women were not accepted into medical schools. The stubborn girl won the right to study at the university, but with a number of reservations. Her father had to accompany her to class. She could enter the audience only after her male classmates were seated. She was forbidden to attend the anatomical theater, because there the girl could see naked bodies. She studied at the morgue on her own, after the end of the lectures.

Despite all the difficulties, Maria Montessori graduated from the university in 1896 and became the first female doctor in Italy. The standard form in the diploma had to be edited by hand – it was designed exclusively for men.

How Maria Montessori fought for women’s equality

After graduation, Maria Montessori was asked to represent Italy at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin. She knew from personal experience how hard it is for her contemporaries to study and work on an equal basis with men. Monsessori spoke “on behalf of the six million Italian women who work in factories and farms 18 hours a day for wages that are often half what men earn.” As a result, Congress delegates unanimously passed the Montessori resolution on equal pay for equal work for women.

The theme of women’s equality throughout her life remained important for Maria Montessori. In a speech in 1899, she said that “the woman of the future will have equal rights and duties with men. Family life as we know it may change, but it’s absurd to think that feminism will destroy maternal feelings. The new woman will marry and have children of her own choice, and not because marriage and motherhood are forced on her.”

Montessori herself was not married. She had an affair with colleague Giuseppe Montessano. The girl became pregnant and in 1898 gave birth to a son, Mario. Giuseppe’s mother did not allow the couple to marry. But the young people swore to be faithful to each other. However, Giuseppe broke his promise. Raising a child while unmarried was nonsense at the time. To save her honor and the honor of her son, Maria gave the child to a foster family. Montessori continued to communicate with the boy, but hid that she was his real mother. When Mario grew up, Maria told him the truth and took him to live with her son. Montessori and Mario had a close, warm relationship. He followed in the footsteps of his mother and continued the work of Montessori after her death.

How was the Montessori system born?

After Montessori University, she worked in a psychiatric clinic in Rome. She attended orphanages for children with mental disabilities. Maria noticed how the children collect bread crumbs after eating. And I realized that in a clean, sterile environment, little patients are sorely lacking impressions and sensations for development. And this only exacerbates their condition.

Montessori read all available literature on working with children with learning difficulties. Based on this, she developed her own development methodology. Montessori’s idea was that in a properly organized environment that encourages exploration, children develop themselves. An interested child can be engaged in business for a long time and with concentration, mastering new things and achieving high results. The task of teachers is to follow the children and help if necessary.

Maria began to apply her technique in practice. Many of the students with whom Montessori worked passed their school exams along with their neurotypical peers, although they had previously been considered unteachable. Maria Montessori realized that often deviations in the development of children appear because the environment around them does not stimulate them to learn and explore the world. In 1897, she spoke at the National Medical Congress in Turin, where she demanded the creation of normal living conditions and education for children with special needs. And she recommended opening medical and pedagogical institutes for the training of defectologists.

Seeing the effectiveness of her technique, Maria Montessori decided to use it to teach neurotypical children. In 1907, she opened the Children’s Home in Rome, a school that created a cozy and comfortable environment for children of all ages. The developing environment of the school encouraged children to explore the world. And thanks to sincere interest, they could focus on one thing for a long time.

In the Children’s Home, children learned not only typical school subjects, but also everyday skills. And there was no division by gender. Montessori believed that it was just as important for boys to learn how to cook as it was for girls to solve mathematical problems.

How Maria Montessori was forced to leave her native Italy

Soon, several more Montessori schools were opened in Italy. Maria’s ideas were appreciated all over the world. She traveled with lectures in Europe and America, taught teachers from different countries, participated in international congresses. In 1929, together with her son Mario, she organized the International Montessori Association , which still operates today.

Graduates of Montessori schools grew up as free-thinking people, which was unprofitable for the Nazi regime. Montessori schools were closed in Germany in 1933, and in Italy in 1936. Maria and her son emigrated to England, the Netherlands, and then to India, where they lived from 1939 to 1946.

After the end of World War II, Maria Montessori returned to Europe. She continued to work and develop her theory. She has written books, lectured and given interviews. In 1949 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maria Montessori died in 1952 at the age of 82. Her tombstone reads : “I ask my dear children, who are in control of everything, to work with me to achieve peace among people and throughout the world.”

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