The Queen of My Self

Betsy DeVos < be ashamed! Be VERY ashamed!

Dr. Maria Montessori was born in the provincial town of Ancona, Italy in 1870, the same year that it became a unified, free nation. The energy of that confluence permeated her personality, resulting in a free and unified person who, defied the traditionally dictated roles and relationships between male and female, teacher and student. From a very early age she operated her life as though she could and would effect it

The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth.

When she was five, Maria’s family moved to the more cosmopolitan and sophisticated Rome so that she could be exposed to culture and enjoy a better education. At 13 she entered a technical school to study engineering, only to discover that she did not wish to continue on this path. Her family was relieved that she rejected such a masculine study.

Instead, she pursued the study of medicine and became the first woman doctor in Italy. She graduated in 1896 with a score of 100 out of a possible 105. Her diploma had to altered to note her gender.

Immediately after her graduation, he life took off like a meteor. She was immediately chosen to represent Italy in a Women’s international congress in Berlin. On return she was appointed to be the surgical assistant at Santo Spirito. She was also working at the Children’s hospital and had a private practice.

In 1897 Montessori had a revelation. “I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical, rather than mainly a medical, problem.” The children she was working with could not be treated in the hospitals. They needed to be trained in schools. Given her new insight she began to transfer her time towards perfecting education in order to meet the real needs of children.

She developed an educational theory, which combined ideas from medicine, education and anthropology. In 1900 she began to direct a small school in Rome for ‘challenged’ youth. There she employed methods that were both experimental and miraculous. “We should really find the way to teach the child how, before, before making him execute a task.”

By 1907 Montessori began to assert the theories and methods of pedagogy that she had been developing. She began by directing a system of daycare centers for working class children in one of Rome’s worst neighborhoods.

The children entered her program as “wild and unruly”. Much to her surprise they began to respond to her teaching methods. She always held them in the highest regard and taught her teachers to do likewise. From the beginning amazing things happened. Children younger than three and four years old began to read, write, and initiate self-respect.

The Montessori method encouraged what Maria saw as the children’s innate ability to ‘absorb’ culture. In her book, The Absorbent Mind. she wrote, “And then we saw them ‘absorb’ far more than reading and writhing…it was botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, and all with the same ease, spontaneously, and with out getting tired.”

Although her methods were criticized for being too detached, rigorous, and even harsh for children, they did seem to facilitate a more genuine, natural experience. She was often heard saying, “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them.” This may seem common for us to do today, but Montessori was the first to view education in this manner.

Montessori pioneered other modern educational practices including a system of math learning materials for very young children that allowed four and five year olds to explore their interests where heretofore they had been considered to be too young. “To deny them (the children) the right to learn because we, as adults think that they shouldn’t is illogical and typical of the way schools have been run,” she said at the time.

She was also the first in education to have child-sized tables and chairs made for the students. And she created the Game of Silence, somewhat like meditation, where each child was able to start the day with a sense of peace and focus. She believed that the learning environment was just as important as the learning itself.

Her methods completely contradicted the educational theories and practice popular during her day when it was not common to treat children with such a high level of respect. Back then society felt that children should be seen and not heard. But she saw her children as they really were and heard their cries for true education. One day one of her teachers was late and the students actually crawled through the window and got right to work. According to her,The greatest sign of success for a teacher. is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

Word of the success of her methods spread and won her international recognition as an educational reformer, Dr. Montessori devoted all of her time and energy for the next 40 years to traveling all over the world, lecturing, writing and establishing training programs. She developed schools throughout Europe and North America and then spent nearly two decades in living in India and Sri Lanka where she trained thousands of teachers the Montessori curriculum and methodology. In her later years, Educate for Peace became a guiding principle, which underpinned her work.

Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.

Queen Maria Montessori died in the Netherlands in 1952, after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. Her early work centered on women’s rights and social reform and evolved to encompass a totally innovative approach to education. Hers truly was a vision, proven in practice where no child was left behind.

If an educational act is to be efficacious, it will be only that one which tends to help toward the complete unfolding of life. To be thus helpful it is necessary rigorously to avoid the arrest of spontaneous movements and the imposition of arbitrary tasks.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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