by Brianna Heupel
She Pushed the Limits From the Start
Born in 1870, she was constantly ahead of the times. She attended a boys’ school and studied science and engineering at a time when girls were expected to study more “appropriate” subjects and become teachers. She once told her father she would be “anything but a teacher” and instead became the first woman to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Rome. The same year she graduated, she presented at the International Women’s Congress where she spoke about the working rights of women.
She Wasn’t Afraid of Being Herself
Maria Montessori not only knew, but defied Benito Mussolini. When Mussolini became dictator of Italy, he was quickly drawn to the Montessori Method. He believed it would be the perfect way to discipline children into little soldiers who would do what he wanted. For ten years he served as the director of the Montessori Association in Italy. This helped Maria spread her teachings and open schools throughout all of Italy. However, Dr. Montessori was a very outspoken pacifist and when Mussolini demanded that everyone take the oath of Fasicism, she refused to force her students and teachers participate. Mussolini was furious and shut down all of the Montessori schools across the country and Maria Montessori was exiled from her home. She found asylum in Italy where she continued her work and began focusing on adolescent children.
She Always Strived to be Better
Just like the students educated in Montessori programs, Maria Montessori was a woman who questioned the world and respectfully pushed boundaries that needed to be pushed. When she began working at the psychiatric hospital. Montessori used her science background and applied it to the children she worked with. She did a deep dive into Anthropology and Education to learn everything she could. She worked with local carpenters to develop what would become the first Sensorial materials. These materials provided stimuli to the children in the hospital. She realized that these children made great improvements and sent them to get tested. These children scored just as well and even better than “normal” children. Rather than pat herself on the back and call it a day, she questioned what was wrong with the Italian education system. She made it her life’s work to observe children and improve education methods.
She Was Humble
Maria Montessori also emphasized the spiritual preparation of the teacher. She believed that teachers should be constantly reflecting on their own biases and improving themselves. When she published her “Secrets of Childhood” she explained that the secrets she discovered were not the end all be all and that it was the work of Montessori Teachers to discover their own Secrets of Childhood. She knew that there would always be room for growth.
Her Love and Respect for Children
Of course we could not discuss Maria Montessori without talking about the love and respect she had for children. She was the first to recognize the power within each child. She helped design child sized furniture. Many of these things seem so obvious to us now, but these things exist because of Maria Montessori. I have found my life’s work in teaching and I owe so much of that to the observations and teachings of Dr. Montessori. It is my hope that Casa dei Girasoli is and will grow to honor her legacy.