What Maria Montessori Knew

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In this article in the July 9, 2018 issue of America: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry discusses Maria Montessori and her education method. Gobry writes that Montessori was the first woman doctor in Italy, a polymath who studied everything from mathematics to anthropology to philosophy at advanced levels, a scientist by training, and a devout Catholic and daily communicant. Gobry writes:

The most important thing about Maria Montessori is that she never used the term “Montessori Method.” She always referred to her “method” as “scientific education” or “scientific pedagogy.”

Why is this important? Every pedagogical method, whether “alternative” or “mainstream,” “progressive” or “traditional,” starts with an abstract theory (sometimes only implicit) of what a child is, how her mind works, how she learns. And it is starting from that theory that it deduces a practical method. Dr. Montessori, who was a scientist by training and never claimed to be anything more, worked the other way around. She started tinkering with materials, first in a hospital setting with patients and then in her first school, whose original iteration had a rigid class schedule and almost none of the distinctive attributes of today’s Montessori schools, like child-size furniture and free access to activities. Those aspects were introduced over time and tested, and they worked.

The same was true with the activities. From her findings, Dr. Montessori developed theories, of course, but then put the implications from her theories to practical tests. That is, in a word, the scientific method. The Montessori Method is the only pedagogical method that was completely developed and refined through the scientific method….

Maria Montessori was a deeply devout Catholic and a daily communicant. She believed her method was firmly grounded in the Gospel even as it was based on science, since indeed the two could never contradict each other, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught.

Click here to access an on-line version of this article from America: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture.