The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
Dr. Montessori and Her Method
Dr. Montessori and Her Method.
Who is Dr. Montessori, and in what way is she qualified to speak with authority on things educational?
Dr. Montessori is an only child. Her mother died at the end of last year, and her father is still alive. As a girl she decided on a medical career, and page 9 was the first woman to take the degree of doctor of medicine in the University of Rome. After taking her degree, she was engaged as assistant physician to the Psychiatric Clinic at Rome, and it was while occupied in this work that her attention was drawn to the matter of defective children. She soon came to the conclusion that "mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical rather than mainly a medical problem," and so convincingly did she put forth her view on this subject before a conference of teachers and educationists at Turin, in 1898, that the then Minister for Education, Guido Barcelli, asked her to deliver to the teachers of Rome a course of lectures on the education of feeble-minded children.
The school established was composed of children who, in the elementary schools, were considered hopelessly deficient. Later on all the idiot children from the insane asylums in Rome were also brought together. In this school Dr. Montessori herself, in addition to training students, actually taught very day for two years.
Her experience with these defective children soon led her to the further conclusion that the methods used with defectives might with normal children bring about self-education. Her own words are:—"From the very beginning of my work with deficient children—1898-1900—I felt that the methods which I used had in them nothing peculiarly limited to the instruction of idiots. I believed, indeed, that they contained educational principles more rational than those in use, so much so, indeed, that through their means an inferior mentality would be able to grow and develop. . . . . . . . Little by little I became convinced that similar methods applied to normal children would develop or set free their personality in a marvellous and surprising way."
In order to better qualify herself for work with normal children, Dr. Montessori resigned her position at the school for defectives and re-entered the University of Rome as a student of philosophy. She followed the course in experimental psychology, which had just been established in Italian univer- page 10 sities, and visited the primary schools for the purpose of studying the children and the pedagogical methods in use in educating them. Apart from her researches in anthropology, which afterwards led to the teaching of pedagogic anthropology in the University of Rome, Dr. Montessori does not appear to have found much field for child study in the elementary schools. How indeed could she, since the first pre-requisite of any scientific investigation—a prolonged scrutiny of the natural habits of the subject—was impossible? She found just what we still find in schools all over the world—"Rows of immobile little children nailed to their stationary seats, and forced to give over their natural birthright of activity to a well-meaning, gesticulating, explaining, always-fatigued and always-talking teacher."
After six years of philosophic study, thought, and research, Dr. Montessori's opportunity came to her. Signor Edoardo Talamo had solved the problem of the housing of the poor by the establishment of the model tenements of the "Bene Stabili" Society, of which he was Director-General. There were at this time 400 of these model tenements in Rome. But the clean halls of the tenements, and the smooth walls and handsome stairways, were scratched and defaced by the large numbers of little children below school age, who had of necessity to be left alone all day by their mothers, whom grinding poverty compelled to go forth to help earn bread for the family. Signor Talamo believed that the money spent in repairing the damage done by these little ones would be more profitably expended in providing a house for them. He accordingly set about building a children's house in each tenement block. This meant that a grown person would have to be in this "children's house "to look after the children, and hence it came about that Dr. Montessori was asked to take the directing of the various "children's houses "in the tenements. Here was the laboratory she wanted ready to her hand, and it was in these schools that the methods which have made her name famous throughout the educational world were first tried. The first Montessori school was established in January, 1907, in a large tenement house in the Quarter San Lorenzo. Now Montessori schools are springing up everywhere in every civilised land, and the Montessori spirit is leavening the whole educational thought and practice of the world.