A different Education

By William “Doc” Halliday

Maria was born on August 31, 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy.  Because of her father’s work, the family relocated first to Florence in 1873, and then to Rome in 1875.  In 1876 Maria entered a public elementary school.  It was said that her work was not particularly noteworthy.  Maria continued her formal education by entering a secondary technical school, Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti.  After graduation in 1886, Maria continued her education at the technical institute Regio Istituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci.  She did well in the sciences and especially in mathematics.  By the time Maria graduated in 1890 at the age of 20 with a certificate in physics–mathematics, she had decided to study medicine.  It was an unlikely pursuit for a woman, considering the cultural norms at the time. 

The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is a study in contradictions: analytical and intuitive, careful and audacious, playful and determined. Critics note his extraordinary ability to learn from others one hallmark of the early education he was given. 

Maria enrolled in the University of Rome in 1890, in a degree course in natural sciences, passing examinations in botany, zoology, experimental physics, histology, anatomy, and general and organic chemistry, and earning her diploma di licenza in 1892. This degree, along with additional studies in Italian and Latin, qualified her for entrance into the medical program at that University in 1893.  Maria won an academic prize in her first year, and in 1895 obtained a position as a hospital assistant, gaining early clinical experience. In her last two years she studied psychiatry and pediatrics.  Maria worked in the pediatric consulting room and emergency service, becoming an expert in pediatric medicine. Maria graduated from the University of Rome in 1896 as a doctor of medicine. Her thesis was published in 1897 in the journal Policlinico. She obtained employment as an assistant at the University hospital, and started a private practice. 

Joshua Bell is the Grammy award-winning violinist and subject of a Pulitzer prize-winning media story.  He is thoughtful about the role his music plays in society. In a cultural experiment turned Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story, it is Bell’s humility, not his virtuosity, that most inspires. In suspending his fame to explore the true meaning of his work, Bell exhibits the best thinking espoused in his early education by Maria’s principles. 

After graduating from the University of Rome in 1896, Maria continued her research at the University’s psychiatric clinic, and in 1897 she was accepted as a voluntary assistant there. As part of her work, she visited asylums in Rome where she observed children with mental disabilities.  These observations were essential to her future educational work. Maria was intrigued with Marc Gaspard Itard’s ideas.  She created a far more specific and organized system for applying them to the everyday education of children with disabilities. 

David Blaine is an illusionist and magician.  He was a four-year old student of Maria’s methods when he fell in love with magic. Today he’s called “the modern day Houdini” by The New York Times, which says, “He’s taken a craft that’s been around for hundreds of years and done something unique and fresh with it… [His magic] “operates on an uncommonly personal level.” 

Maria left the Orthophrenic School as well as her private practice in 1901.  In 1902 she enrolled in the philosophy degree course at the University of Rome. (Philosophy at the time included much of what we now consider psychology.) She also pursued independent study in anthropology and educational philosophy, conducted observations and experimental research in elementary schools, and revisited the work of Itard and Seguin, translating their books into handwritten Italian. During this time she began to consider adapting her methods of educating mentally disabled children to mainstream education. 

One hundred and twelve years ago, on January 6, 1907, Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House—in Rome.  She subsequently traveled the world and wrote extensively about her approach to education, attracting many devotees. The Montessori Method of education is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world, and to develop their maximum potential. There are now more than 22,000 Montessori schools in at least 110 countries worldwide. 

Others who have been educated by the Montessori method include; Julia Child, George Clooney, John and Joan Cusack, Peter Druker, Dakota Fanning, Anne Frank, Katharine Graham, Helen Hunt, Helen Keller, Beyonce Knowles, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Taylor Swift, and Will Wright. 

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