Each month of the Centennial year we will look at a notable book published during 1911, and give you a glimpse of what people were reading while Loyola Marymount University was just getting started.
Our seventh review in the series comes from Ani N. Shabazian, Clinical Professor in the School of Education and Director of the Loyola Marymount University Children's Center.
A Practitioner’s Perspective: A Review of the Book The Montessori Method
Decades before Maria Montessori (pictured, with one of her students) became a household name, she published her first book in 1909, which details the theory behind her original educational practices. Her work, translated into English in 1912, received international recognition. Entitled The Montessori Method: Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Child Education in “The Children’s Houses”, the book explores the often-overlooked piece of educating very young children and illustrates how approaches to early childhood education have evolved over time. Topics addressed in this book include the decline of freedom in the classrooms, the idea of children guiding their own learning, the resurgence of training teachers, and the origins of today’s highly specific Montessori methodology.
Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was always ahead of her time. She attended a boy’s technical school as a teenager and was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She later studied the fields of psychiatry, education, and anthropology, which greatly influenced her pedagogy. In the late 1890s, she was an assistant doctor at a psychiatric clinic at the University of Rome. In her work at the clinic, she became familiar with the work of Edward Seguin, a teacher and physician, who was one of the first to believe that children with mental retardation could learn and, thus, be taught. Maria Montessori began her work with children with special needs; after successfully developing her methodology, she expanded her lens to include working with typically developing children. Informed by her life experiences, the cornerstone of her methodology is rooted in the scientific method of observation.
Maria Montessori opens this piece with defining the purpose of education by stating, “Education is to guide activity not repress it” (p. 25). She believes that children are born as unique individuals and it is the teacher’s responsibility to reveal their potential. Subsequently, her image of the child is one of strength and competence; she believes that children are self-motivated, active, and naturally curious learners. Her method is especially unique and extraordinary because it was created by a “feminine mind and hand” (p. xviii), unlike other educational approaches. Her ideas were viewed as not only progressive during her time, but are still so today over one hundred years later.
In this book, Maria Montessori reveals her strong critique of the traditional education system for young school age children; concerns which hold just as firmly today in consideration of the traditional elementary education system. She writes at length regarding her concern about the “slavery” pervading the school systems; she refers to the restrictive chairs and desks, and the “suffocation” of the children’s growth because of their inability to be “free.” Through her methodology she proposes to protect the children’s right to be active learners by creating environments for children that allow them to explore the space on their own. She advocates for the modification of the furniture in the classrooms, adjusting the table size and shape, enabling children to move them around as they please as well as work together at the same table. Maria Montessori considers it important that children be able to choose where they want to sit as well as find a comfortable position to sit in. She states that “freedom is not only a sign of liberty but a means of education” (p. 84), and this freedom for children begins with the environment in which they are placed. The children’s daily schedule also allows for flexibility, as Maria Montessori firmly states, “we have never followed [it] entirely” (p. 121). Although the schedule calls for some teacher-directed instruction, there is also a point at which the teachers move on to “free teaching”, which she describes as the teacher limiting herself to “correcting the disordered movements” (p. 123). Her belief that children are self-directed learners is evident in her role for teachers in the classroom.
There is also an amusing chapter on nutrition, which is one of the only areas in which this book seems to be a bit dated. Maria Montessori writes that children’s diet should be rich in fats and sugars with recommendations such as, “the morning breakfast for the rich might be milk and chocolate” (p. 135). This chapter outlines the details of how to prepare broths for children as Maria Montessori asserts that the children’s diet under the age of three and half years should largely consist of fluids, endorsing soups, purees and meatballs, as they are not able to chew their food properly. Maria Montessori concludes the chapter by stating that children should learn to eat with “cleanliness, both with respect to themselves and with respect to their surroundings” (p. 136).
Although at times overly detailed, this is a wonderful book that provides deep insight into the education of young children. It is a must read book for anyone in education, including adult education. Maria Montessori exhibited originality and insight into the mind of young learners, experimenting with a different type of instruction that continues to be an innovative approach to education. As such, this book warrants careful reading, for Maria Montessori’s ideas are as relevant to teaching today as they were when she first proposed them.