Have you ever made a list of people, past or present, who inspire you? Maybe your list includes the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Oprah, John Lennon, Coco Chanel, or Jesus Christ. Whoever your list includes, I encourage you to ponder these people, what makes them so inspirational, and how can we apply that inspiration to our own lives.
I've been pondering my own list as of late and have decided that the founder of the Montessori philosophy of education certainly ranks among the top. Why, you ask? Well, here are three big reasons that the life of Maria Montessori is such an inspiration to me:
1- Maria Montessori was an advocate for women's rights.
In 1890, after completing her secondary education, Maria Montessori chose to pursue a medical degree. This was a time when teaching was one of the only professional paths available to women. Her career choice was met with opposition from her father, and once she was accepted into the University of Rome's medical school, she was met with hostility and harassment from some of her fellow medical students and even from professors because of her gender. During her medical studies, Montessori was required to perform dissections of cadavers alone, after hours, because being in a room with men in the presence of a naked body was deemed inappropriate. Despite these hardships, she graduated with honors and went on to become one of Italy's first female physicians.
In 1896, Montessori was asked to represent Italy at the International Women's Congress in Berlin. While at the conference, she spoke on the topic of women's rights in the workplace, including equal pay for equal work. In 1900, she was asked to speak again at the same women's conference in London.
Today, we live in a much more progressive society, but unfortunately there are still so many women all around the world are undervalued. Many are treated poorly, not given equal rights, or have their voices silenced. Maria Montessori inspires me to educate myself and to work hard for success, even as opposition arises. She also inspires me to speak out on behalf of those who are less fortunate.
2- Maria Montessori studied anthropology and combined this scientific approach with her work in education.
In 1901, Maria Montessori, once again, enrolled as a student at the University of Rome in order to study psychology and anthropology. During this time, she visited elementary schools in order to perform anthropological research and collect data. These scientific observations became an integral part of her method of education.
"Scientific observation, then, has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment."
-Maria Montessori, Education for a New World
I also studied anthropology as an undergraduate. It is, by definition, the study of human kind. Maria Montessori's work falls under the realm of sociocultural anthropology. According to the American Anthropological Association's website, "Sociocultural anthropologists examine social patterns and practices across cultures, with a special interest in how people live in particular places and how they organize, govern, and create meaning." Montessori observed children in their environments, paying particular attention to how they made sense of the world and how they met their needs.
I appreciate this scientific approach to education. As a Montessori teacher-in-training, I've learned that Montessori encourages teachers to also take the time to observe the children in their classrooms. It's the best way to discover each child's particular interests and abilities. I am inspired to continue this work in my own classroom, one day.
3- Maria Montessori was an advocate for Peace Education.
"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war."
In 1931, Maria Montessori met Mahatma Gandhi for the first time. She invited him to speak at the Montessori Training College in London. During his speech he urged:
"Therefore, I repeat that even as you, out of your love for children, are endeavoring to teach those children, through your numerous institutions, the best that can be brought out of them, even so I hope that it will be possible not only for the children of the wealthy and the well-to-do, but for the children of paupers to receive training of this nature. You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have the struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering."
-An excerpt from Gandhi’s Speech, which was published in a weekly newspaper, Young India, on November 19, 1931
Indeed, during her lifetime, Maria Montessori worked with children from all backgrounds and cultures. She worked with mentally disabled children, children who lived in slums, and children with more privileged upbringings. She was confident that all children could benefit from this kind of holistic education.
From 1932 to 1939, Maria Montessori held a series of peace conferences at which she gave lectures on peace and education.
Cheryl Duckworth, Ph. D and Asst. Professor of Conflict Resolution at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. wrote an interesting exposition regarding Montessori's contribution to Peace Education. She points out:
"[Maria Montessori] passionately argued (perhaps most notably before the United Nations) that education was a means--perhaps the only genuine means--of eliminating war once and for all. Without explicit and intentional moral and spiritual education, she believed, mankind would inevitably revert to its habit of war. Values such as global citizenship, personal responsibility, and respect for diversity, she argued, must be both an implicit and explicit part of every child's (and adult's) education. These values in Montessori education are every bit as crucial as the subjects of math, language or science."
-Cheryl Duckworth, Ph. D "Maria Montessori's Contribution to Peace Education"
Personally, I am so excited to bring these values into the forefront of the classroom. I look forward to providing children with the tools they will need to carry these values out into the world. And I believe that the future of human kind depends on this.
Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times: in 1949, 1950, and 1951. She never received the award. But she has certainly inspired people all around the world, including myself.
I'm curious to know who is on your list of inspirational people. What about them inspires you? Let me know in the comments!
If you'd like to know more about Maria Montessori's work with Peace Education, I'd recommend reading a collection of her lectures, Education and Peace. Cheryl Duckworth's complete writing on the subject can be found here. And if you'd like to read Gandhi's full speech given at the Montessori Training College in London, you can check that out here.
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