glyph 369: Maria Montessori, Casa de Bambini, Children's House, San Lorenzo, Italy, January 6, 1906 ... Michael Strong, FLOW ... foundations of lifelong learning ... education, pedagogy, schools, schooling (home & elsewhere) . innovative pedagogies ... Maria Montessori's entrepreneurial initiative ... Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ... tools for explorers ... Thomas Edison . Alexander Graham Bell . Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Google . Jeff Bezos, Amazon . John Mackey, Whole Foods ..... [unfreezing the river of imagination (Charles Morgan) . all liberty begins with the education of sovereign spirits ... an important date in the history of freeorder -leif smith]
On January 6, 1906, Maria Montessori opened up the first Casa de Bambini, Children's House, in San Lorenzo, Italy. This January 7th  marks the 100th year anniversary of Montessori education.
Maria Montessori was the first woman to attend medical school in Italy. In 1896 she became Italy's first female physician and she soon began working with "feeble-minded" children. She came to believe that their problem was educational rather than medical, and began a process of studying innovative pedagogies and observing how actual children go about learning on their own. By means of the methods she was developing, she worked with a cohort of "idiots" and enabled them to pass the standard elementary school test in Italy at the time; this achievement was regarded as "miraculous."
In her words, "While everyone was admiring the progress of my idiots, I was searching for the reasons that could keep the happy, healthy children of the common schools on so low a plane that they could be equaled in intelligence by my unfortunate pupils!" She thus came to focus on the development of new pedagogical methods, and offered to implement her methods in the public schools of Italy, but permission was denied. She then obtained an opportunity to open up a pre-school in a rough ghetto on the outskirts of Rome:
"It was January 6th (1907), when the first school was opened for small, normal children of between three and six years of age. I cannot say on my methods, for these did not yet exist. But in the school that was opened my method was shortly to come into being. On that day there was nothing to be seen but about fifty wretchedly poor children, rough and shy in manner, many of them crying, almost all the children of illiterate parents, who had been entrusted to my care"... "They were tearful, frightened children, so shy that it was impossible to get them to speak; their faces were expressionless, with bewildered eyes as though they had never seen anything in their lives."... "It would be interesting to know the original circumstances that enabled these children to undergo such an extraordinary transformation, or rather, that brought about the appearance of new children, whose souls revealed themselves with such radiance as to spread a light through the whole world."
Soon the results she was obtaining made her an international celebrity. She was invited to the U.S. to speak at Carnegie Hall in 1913 by Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and soon there were hundreds of Montessori schools opening up in the United States.
It is in our bones to believe that "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." As of 1913, it certainly appeared as if Maria Montessori had created a new and better kind of education, and the world was beating a path to her door.
Then in 1914, William Heard Kilpatrick, a disciple of John Dewey, a professor of education at Columbia Teachers College, and the leading expert in education in America, published The Montessori System Examined. Kilpatrick presented a scathing critique of Maria Montessori and her system from a Deweyan perspective through which he persuaded Americans that the strange woman doctor from Italy had created an unscientific approach completely at odds with contemporary pedagogy. The nascent Montessori movement collapsed in the U.S., with only a handful of schools surviving into the 1920s.
Meanwhile Mussolini was pushing Italy towards fascism, and Montessori's methods that liberated children were becoming increasingly unwelcome there as well. In the 1930s she moved to India, where she stayed until the late 1940s. After restarting the Montessori movement in Europe, she died in 1952.
Nancy McCormick Rambusch is credited with re-launching the Montessori movement in the U.S. in 1958. By 1964, Time reported that there were hundreds of Montessori schools in the U.S. That first cohort started as pre-schools, but by the 1970s some of them had begun to develop elementary programs. By the 1980s a few had begun to create Montessori middle schools; from 1994 onwards I've been involved in the movement to create Montessori secondary education. Now there are thousands of Montessori pre-schools around the world, hundreds of Montessori elementary programs, dozens of middle school programs, and a handful of high school programs.
For me, the essence of Montessori's genius was to create an integrated system in which children learn to take responsibility for their own learning in the context of a prepared environment. Often people naively assume that Montessori education is similar to the controversial "Open Classroom" movement of the 1970s or various educational programs in which students are allowed to do as they please. In fact, Montessori education works because the classroom learning materials are carefully designed, the Montessori guide has been carefully trained in how to manage such an environment, and the students are gently trained to become successful autodidacts. A functioning Montessori classroom is actually a very sophisticated organism which really must be seen to be believed: Imagine a room full of four year olds, quietly and intently focused on learning, with an adult off to the side perhaps giving one child a new lesson.
Montessori education results in adolescents who are happy, confidant, bright, well-educated, who love learning and who are eager to initiate projects. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google Founders, credit Montessori for much of their success, as does Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. When I was about to open up a Montessori middle school program in Palo Alto, a group of 6th grade girls came up to me in the middle of the summer, prior to the start of school, to discuss with me, politely and appropriately, which Algebra textbook was best. For those of you who are familiar with adolescents, how many do you know who would have the seriousness of purpose, courage, and interest, to approach an adult authority figure on their own initiative in order to discuss optimizing their curriculum?
At one point while a Silicon Valley executive visited the middle school classroom after it had opened and asked "How do you do this? This is exactly what I want my employees to do!" The adolescents were quietly and intently focused on learning, with no authority needed to tell them what to do. Our average middle school student without a learning disability finished 8th grade with SAT scores higher than those of the average private school senior; some of our students were among the most mathematically advanced of any students in Silicon Valley.
Maria Montessori did create a better mousetrap, a much better one. Here I won't elaborate on why it hasn't been more widely adopted, though for an introduction to the subject I'll point you to "Renewing the Promise of Montessori Education."
On our website this month we have a short articles by Ariel Miller, a Montessori middle school student at the Oneness Family School in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I had the opportunity to hear this young woman give a speech in front of an audience of several hundred Montessorians from around the world, and was impressed by her articulateness and poise as well as the content. The organization highlighted this month is The Montessori Foundation, an excellent resource for those interested in Montessori education, and our featured book is by the Director of The Montessori Foundation, Tim Seldin, How to Raise an Amazing Child: The Montessori Way.
To a world in which all children have an opportunity to be amazing by means of developing their intrinsic genius,
CEO & Chief Visionary Officer
Please contact us at "contact *-at-* flowidealism.org" with ideas, insights, and inspiration. And remember that FLOW is a non-profit organization that promotes economic freedom and broadly distributed prosperity. You can support FLOW through your financial contributions among other means.
P.S. And, not surprisingly, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, is a fan of Montessori education, because the "quietly and intently focused on learning" feature mentioned above is, of course, a "flow" experience. Montessori schools allow children to learn and grow up habitually in a state of flow.
Michael Strong, is the co-founder of FLOW, with John Mackey of Whole Foods.
FLOW is an entrepreneur of meaning, advancing an idealistic worldview through a community that supports new ways of seeing, being, doing, and belonging, which embody the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.
Our goal is to liberate the entrepreneurial spirit for good, to create sustainable peace, prosperity, happiness, and wellbeing for all in the next fifty years.
January 15, 2007; edited/updated November 26, 2015