Dr. Maria Montessori
Maria Montessori was, in many ways, ahead of her time. Born in the town of Chiaravalle, in the province of Ancona, Italy, on August 31, 1870, she became one of the first female physicians in Italy upon her graduation from medical school in 1896. Shortly afterwards, she was chosen to represent Italy at two different women's conferences, in Berlin in 1896 and in London in 1900.
In her medical practice, her clinical observations led her to analyze how children learn, and she concluded that they build themselves from what they find in their environment. Shifting her focus from the body to the mind, she returned to the university in 1901, this time to study psychology and philosophy. In 1904, she was made a professor of anthropology at the University of Rome.
Her desire to help children was so strong, however, that in 1906 she gave up both her university chair and her medical practice to work with a group of sixty young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome. It was there that she founded, on January 6, 1907, the first Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House." What ultimately became the Montessori method of education developed there, based upon Montessori's scientific observations of these children's almost effortless ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings, as well as their tireless interest in manipulating materials. Every piece of equipment, every exercise, every method Montessori developed was based on what she observed children to do "naturally," by themselves, unassisted by adults.
Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori's lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training--all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child.
Maria Montessori made her first visit to the United States in 1913, the same year that Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel founded the Montessori Educational Association at their Washington, DC, home. Among her other strong American supporters were Thomas Edison and Helen Keller.
In 1915, she attracted world attention with her "glass house" schoolroom exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco. On this second U.S. visit, she also conducted a teacher training course and addressed the annual conventions of both the National Education Association and the International Kindergarten Union. The committee that brought her to San Francisco included Margaret Wilson, the daughter of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
The Spanish government invited her to open a research institute in 1917. In 1919, she began a series of teacher training courses in London. In 1922, she was appointed a government inspector of schools in her native Italy, but because of her opposition to Mussolini's fascism, she was forced to leave Italy in 1934. She traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and was rescued there by a British cruiser in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. She opened the Montessori Training Centre in Laren, Netherlands, in 1938, and founded a series of teacher training courses in India in 1939.
In 1940, when India entered World War II, she and her son, Mario Montessori, were interned as enemy aliens, but she was still permitted to conduct training courses. Later, she founded the Montessori Center in London (1947). She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times--in 1949, 1950, and 1951.
Maria Montessori died in Noordwijk, Holland, on May 6, 1952.
Ursula Thrush was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1930, where she was an only child in a wealthy family. In 1942, the German occupation of Hungry forced Ursulaís mother and aunt to smuggle her, then only 12, out of the country and into England. It was in England that the threesome spent the remainder of the war, embroidering sweaters to make a living. Ursula recalls this experience as a "life changing" one that would resonate throughout the rest of her life. Embroidering, out of the necessity to earn a living, was her first experience "working with her hands." This experience left a profound impression on Ursula as a young girl and was central in her decision to choose the Montessori Method as her lifeís work.
In 1948, Ursula married an American newspaperman and together they had a son, Ray. The marriage did not last, and when Ursula divorced her husband in 1954, Ray stayed by his mother's side in England. Ursulaís attention turned toward Montessori education and in 1956, Ursula visited Mario Montessori, son of Maria Montessori, in Amsterdam to begin the Montessori Teacher Training Program that was now under his able direction after his motherís death four years earlier.
Ursula finished her Primary Teacher Training course in 1961 and traveled to Bergamo, Italy to again study under Mario in his role as Elementary Teacher Trainer in the new International School For Montessori Teacher Education.
In 1968, Ursula and her son, Ray, moved to California where she began a small Montessori school program in Tiburon. She once stated, "In those days, you could fit 8 children into a Volkswagen for your field trips!!" She moved to San Francisco in 1971, establishing the Maria Montessori School of the Golden Gate and her Teacher Training Program.
The Teacher Training Program was designed after her mentor and teacher, Mario Montessori, who carried on his motherís work after her death in 1952. The program was established with these guidelines:
- Each portion (Primary, Elementary I, Elementary II and Middle School) would be a two year program
- One year of Philosophy and Psychology
- One year of Material Presentations
- One year of Internship (done during the training at each level)
- The teachers had to make their own manuals
- They had to be tested and pass after each segment of the course
- Class attendance must be at least 95%
- Class participation and test scores must be above 90%
In 1982, Ursula established her Peace 101 project, which focused on the importance of the Montessori Cultural Subjects to create a peaceful child, a peaceful classroom and thus a peaceful world. She wrote in her essay, "The Key Experiences Of Peace Education":
We need to incorporate peace, values, morality and the explicit practice of consciously making responsible choices, and being aware of their consequences, in the curricula we offer to students at the various developmental levels Ė including student teacher training. We need to make our students explicitly aware of the importance of their knowledge of the world, and the consequent role the choice of their actions will play in the future. Their comprehension of the global view, the interdependence of life, and the laws of nature, will determine the conscious choices they will make as adults of integrity, not only in their personal lives but as leaders of their generation; influencing the major areas of life: education, economy, politics and morality. Thus Peace Education will advance to become the Science of Peace of the next generation.
Through her dedication to fulfilling Maria Montessoriís vision for peace through children, Ursula inspired many Montessori educators to include peace education in their classrooms and communities. In addition to establishing the Montessori School of the Golden Gate and Maria Montessori Teacher Training Center in San Francisco, Ursula helped establish several other Montessori programs, including The Science of Peace Task Force and the Montessori Peace Academy.
American Montessori Society
Since its formation in 1960, the American Montessori Society has grown to be the largest Montessori organization in the world. AMS is a non-profit, non-discriminatory service organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting the use of the Montessori teaching approach in private and public schools. Member-supported, its funding comes mainly from Montessori-credentialed teachers, schools, administrators, teacher education programs, parents of Montessori schoolchildren, and interested friends. Ten thousand members strong, they are committed to furthering Montessori philosophy, making it a growing educational alternative, and promoting better education for all children regardless of age, socioeconomic status, or geographical location.
More information at the American Montessori Society website
Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education
More information at the MACTE website