Maria Montessori (1870-1952) has been one of the most innovative childhood pedagogues of the 20th Century. An early feminist and advocate of women’s rights, she gave birth to a pioneering method of childhood education that has survived almost unchanged in its essential features – and despite a long period of obscurity in the USA — for more than ninety years. Montessori’s pedagogical methodology (deeply inspired by her background in pediatrics as well as by her psychological, anthropological, and philosophical research) has shown an amazing degree of resiliency. Schools following the “Montessori method” have been growing virtually in every country in the world, as a remarkable testimony to the method’s adaptability to different historical, cultural, and socio-economic environments.
The philosophy grounding Montessori’s pedagogy is based on a few basic principles. In Montessori’s view, each child has a unique potential for growth and development waiting to be expressed and revealed. Such potential is best developed by letting the child be free to explore and manipulate the surrounding environment. The role of the teacher in this process should be not that of directing the child’s activities, but rather that of continually adapting the environment in new and exciting ways in order to let the child fulfill her potentials — physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually – at growing degrees of complexity. The teacher is, therefore, more the “interpreter” of the child’s inner potentiality than the outside “controller” of the child’s behavior.
Throughout her studies, Montessori became increasingly convinced of the vital role of education in building a more just and peaceful society. Hence, towards the end of her life she tirelessly devoted her efforts to the rights of children: most notably, by becoming involved in the founding meetings of UNESCO and by advocating for peace education in her...