“The child is the father of the man”. With this premise, the Italian Maria Montessori (1870-1952) developed one of the most innovative pedagogical methods – still in force – of modernity, centered on the fact that the child builds himself. Both the teacher and the school must be placed at the service of this learning, stimulating in the child autonomy, independence, initiative, ability to choose, as well as their will and discipline.
These ideas, which to this day are obvious to us, were an extraordinary revulsion for spaces accustomed to the draconian authority of the teacher, the punishment-reward pedagogical procedure and the gloomy classification of students as smart and foolish.
Montessori studied Engineering at the age of 14. Graduated in 1896, she became the first female doctor in Italy. Her life journey is a continuous training: Biology, Anthropology and Philosophy. By then she knew that the education of children, specifically those with mental health problems, had more to do with pedagogy than with the medical spectrum.
She was the first woman in Italy to graduate in Medicine, in 1896
In 1907 she founded the first Children’s House (Casa dei bambini), as she called these unmistakable schools, in a disadvantaged neighborhood, for children between three and six years old. In them, the teacher did not impart knowledge, but promoted the inner teacher that inhabited each of the infants in her care through different materials.
Aware that the senses filter knowledge, Montessori grouped these materials according to what they promoted: for touch, different objects with different roughness and bottles of water at different temperatures; for the view, objects with multiple dimensions, colors and shapes; for taste and smell, plants, perfumes and food; and for the ear, bells, metal boxes and xylophones.
Children are their own teachers, it is enough for them to explore the world freely and with a multiplicity of options for them to solve the problems that arise (the instruments used were self-correcting, so that no task could be completed incorrectly so if the child was not able to do it, he would notice; (a piece that does not fit in the sequence, for example). This is how they learned. First, those who had some cognitive delay; later, anyone who wanted to enroll in these Houses, designed as bright, beautiful, spacious, warm and simple spaces.
She had to go into exile during the Mussolini regime
This contemporary of Freud was convinced that an adequate education in children would build a more friendly and humane future and therefore create societies based on peace and cooperation among their members.
For this reason, when Mussolini came to power, she publicly accused fascism of training the youth in the brutalization of their nature, for which she had to go into exile. Living in Barcelona and the Netherlands until her return to Italy in 1947. She was a convinced feminist, which led her to participate in the Berlin and London Feminist Congresses.
Several times a candidate for the Nobel Prize, she was convinced that children carry out their learning intuitively, unconsciously, until they reach consciousness. That path, according to Montessori, is presided over by joy. Her Catholicism transformed the heritage of his teachers, Jean Itard and Eduardo Séguin, until it became a personal legacy that presides over twenty thousand schools throughout the world, not only in nurseries, but also in primary and secondary schools.