Dr. Maria Montessori
Dr. Maria Montessori, the most internationally renowned educator of the twentieth century, actually began her career in medicine, as one of the first female graduates of the University of Rome with a medical degree. She worked first with impaired children in orphanages and asylums in addition to her private practice. Through this work, she discovered by careful observation, specific methods for educating the children beyond their expected capacities: teaching children, for example, to read at the same level as students in the normal school system. Montessori also noted that her children developed a peace and calmness, became focused and joyful, and showed great kindness and concern for others. Impressed by these results, Montessori returned to the University of Rome and spent seven years studying every subject that would help her to develop her knowledge of education and human development.
Subsequently, Dr. Maria Montessori established her own schools in Italy, training their teachers based upon all she was discovering about children and her new approach to their education. Responding to worldwide acclaim in the press, visitors soon came to see these schools for themselves and witness the progress of the children. In response to many requests from around the world, in 1913, Montessori established the First International Training Course in Rome, outlining her discoveries. Enrollees came from America, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and even as far away as India, China, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Some were heads of schools, inspectors of education, teachers, physicians, and psychologists; others were parents and young adults wanting to learn more about this new educational approach based upon the scientific observation of children. Many participants went home after completing the Course to start Montessori classes and schools in their own countries. Thus, by 43 years old, Montessori had earned an international reputation as an inspirational, innovative educator, open to new ideas and practical solutions to the problems of education.
Requests soon followed for Montessori to travel the world giving lectures and training courses. She travelled to almost every continent including Australia, South America, North America and Asia, as well as throughout Europe. Her only extended stay, however, occurred in India where she and her son, Mario, who had by now joined her in her work, were detained for the full seven years of World War II as Italian Nationals. It was during this forced stay that Montessori and her colleagues developed much of the elementary program and materials for 6 to 12 year old children.
Upon her return to Europe in 1946, Dr. Maria Montessori travelled to London to give an International Training Course. This course, given only six years before her death, reflects the mature Montessori, her enthusiastic and spontaneous personality, intellectually alive and delighted by all she had seen and learned of the world and its peoples. Her experiences had validated over and over again on every continent her discoveries about the child and the nature of human development from its infancy to adulthood.
It is because Montessori speaks from this experience in the real world, and not from any abstract ideological or political position, that her words and educational practices continue to have such an impact on parents in every age.