Last Friday would have been the 142nd birthday of Maria Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy and the founder of a system of education that is now practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide.
Google.com, the all-powerful search engine, is the Internet’s most-visited site (close rivals with Facebook, natch); an estimated 700 million saw the Google doodle celebrating Montessori’s birth last Friday (August 31, 2012). Perhaps one of them was in India, searching for the latest movie times; or in England, looking up their favorite Paralympic athlete. Perhaps the sketch of traditional Montessori materials made them search for — what else — “What is Montessori?”
In case you are curious as well, Montessori is a method of education that emphasizes independence, freedom within limits, stimulating hands-on learning, mixed-age classrooms and safe and natural environments. The child is respected as an individual who has an innate drive to discover the world around her; thus she is given space to explore and experiment. She is allowed time to focus on a subject that interests her and to work for an uninterrupted period of time, enabling her to fully complete the task and feel a fulfilling and empowering sense of accomplishment.
In other words, the teacher more often follows the child than the other way around. This room for growth has nurtured many a young dreamer. Notable alumni include Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the co-founders of Google; precocious young diarist Anne Frank; famous chef and personality Julia Child; former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Nobel Prize Winner and celebrated author Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Washington Post editor Katherine Graham; “Founder of Modern Management” Peter Drucker; accomplished young actress Dakota Fanning; Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos; Prince William and Prince Harry; respected pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton; and many more … including the bright young graduates of Foothills Montessori!
Google co-founders Brin and Page have often credited the Montessori method with contributing to their success. “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a bit different,” Page stated in a 2010 interview with ABC (watch the video clip here).
Maria would have been proud of this sentiment and encouraged it in her own pupils. ““Discipline must come through liberty,” she wrote. “We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself.”
Montessori herself went against the grain, defying gender constrictions that tried to prevent her from entering medical school and realizing her dreams. Her perseverance allowed her to become the first female doctor in Italy. She then went on to create what was at the time (and indeed, still is today) a highly forward-thinking educational system that drastically differed from conventional norms. Not one to bow to unjust authority, her schools in Italy were temporarily shut down when she refused to have her students dress in fascist uniform and give the fascist salute under Mussolini’s regime.
Fortunately, the world was more than eager for Montessori’s refreshing approach to the classroom and to life. She quickly gained international recognition, was thrice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and gained such prominent supporters as Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Helen Keller.
Foothills Montessori School is proud to bear her name and espouse her philosophies. We believe that, married with 21st century technologies, caring and qualified faculty and endless enrichment opportunities, this ideology provides the best environment for young minds and active bodies. Students are taught to follow their passions and nurture their ideas, just as Montessori did.
So happy belated birthday, Maria. You are an example of a true leader, and your enlightened methods have made the world a better place.