In honor of her 153rd birthday the American Montessori Society wrote a letter to Maria Montessori.
Dear Maria Montessori,
Millions of people are walking the earth leading better lives of peace and fulfillment because you came along in 1870 and then later dared to pursue your dream to pierce the armor of a men only club that deprived women of the right to become medical doctors.1 Lesser humans might have stopped there, but you possessed the power of imagination. As we know, the power to imagine makes us infinite and you imagined a world at peace because you listened to what the child was telling you.
You started with women’s rights barely a month after graduating from medical school and you were lecturing the establishment about the inhumane conditions in which most women lived and attached to those conditions were the corollary condition of children. By elevating women to a higher status, you elevated the position of children. You stunned audiences in 1896 at an International Women’s Congress in Berlin2 that was convened to call attention to the condition of women and to call for reforms. You offered at that congress a proposal for all delegates to press their individual countries to obtain for women equal pay for equal work in 1896.
You plunged into your work as a doctor soon after and in 1897 you were given the responsibility to visit the Rome asylums for the insane in order to select suitable subjects for treatment at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome. It was here, in these insane asylums that your imagination could already see that the treatment for the “idiot children” belied their true potential.3
You did not rest until you discovered The Secret of Childhood. 4 That secret was no less that within each child there is an innate desire to learn and to perfect herself. That development proceeds universally among all humans in predictable and systematic fashion according to ages. Not resting there, you discovered and published those stages of development in numerous books and articles and then, in 1909, you stunned the world with the publication of Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini (The Method of Scientific Education as Applied to Child Education in the Children’s Houses). It was published five times over forty one years, each time including some variations, and each time under a different title.
Your work unleashed a torrent of activity all over the world by those seeking a better life for children and families. As a result of your efforts, you left us with so many other books and articles and speeches to help us fully understand the meaning of your lifelong work and created so many infinitely brilliant concepts that include but are not limited to an innate love of learning, lifelong learning, the higher purpose of meaningful work, the importance of concrete learning experiences, normalization, cosmic education, the elimination of reward and punishment, and the dignity of all human beings.
Along the way you also gave voice to how education must change to serve the needs of the child at each stage and as a precious gift gave life to cosmic education, to form the basis of elementary education and a blueprint for the reform of secondary education and a special advance for adolescent education still bearing fruit in hundreds of Montessori schools worldwide under the special name of Erdkinder.5
Cosmic education carried with it the profound notion that all things in the universe are interconnected and interdependent and that all people are global citizens yearning for peace. We are all one in seeking a better life.6
In the process of all that you have accomplished, there are now no less than thousands of schools bearing your name worldwide and growing. Major national and international organizations have sprung up dedicated to preserving and disseminating your ideas and dedicated to ensuring your approach to education would be carried out and improved as you intended as we continually learn from the work of the child. And no less important, each of your most impressive contributions to the cause of the child have been confirmed by science as true and just approaches for children.
Thank you Maria Montessori for being a rule breaker from your earliest childhood and showing us the way to liberate children to perform at their highest potential.
Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori.