An American mother visits Maria Montessori

In 1913 an American mother published her experiences after visiting Italy and the little school that was established and run by Dr. Maria Montessori. I am only part way through the book A Montessori Mother but it’s proving an interesting read.

One of the first things that strikes me about what Mrs Canfield writes is her clear contrast between what she has seen in American schools and what happens in Dr. Montessori’s Casa Bambini place. Compulsory education had only been in operation in the USA and UK since around 1870 with some adjustments up to the beginning of the 20th century, but it is clear there were some serious problems with it’s approach from the beginning.

There were great and successful educational ideas already from Montessori, Charlotte Mason and others, and yet Dewey and his mates somehow got all the power. Gatto’s theory that this was a system to produce minimally educated factory workers, not genuinely educated adults looks more and more likely to be true.

Maria Montessori opened her schools in the slums of Rome.  The children learn to be independent, helpful and self possessed from an early age. This is the kind of education that would lift them from life in the slums.

I was told how an appeal to open a Montessori nursery in an area of Birmingham known for being not much different from the old slums was turned down on the grounds it wouldn’t be suitable for “those kinds of children.”

I am particularly taken by the role of the adults in the classroom.  They are not “teaching” the children. They are on hand to assist when needed but they don’t force anything. The children work for as long as they like on an activity. I noticed that while Mrs Canfield is there, she doesn’t mention any bells to stop learning and go and play. The door is open to the garden or outside play area, and the children can come and go safely.

I would love to know what Miss Mason would have thought. She must have known about the Montessori approach. There are many similarities especially in the way children are treated with such deep respect, recognised as persons with inherent dignity.

Even in books written as long ago as this we see the first concerns that children are not being given an education according to their needs. The industrialist view of schools was to churn out basically skilled factory workers. Reformers and realists like Mason in England and Montessori in Rome were roundly ignored and we are now faced with children-are-commodities.

I recommend the book. The kindle edition is pretty low on typo’s and it’s free.

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