Marie Montessori Influence in America Thesis

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Maria Montessori is best known for her contributions to early childhood educational theory and practice. However, Montessori also became Italy's first female medical doctor. Being steeped in the scientific method, pediatrics, and psychiatry enabled Montessori to devise pedagogically sound teaching strategies. Montessori valued empirical evidence and yet her methods were initially regarded as experimental both in Europe and in the United States. Her methods have been "criticized for being too structured and academically demanding," and yet she documented her successes in books like the Montessori Method ("Maria Montessori 1870-1952" nd).

Montessori made an especially important mark on the education of children with disabilities and economically disadvantaged youth. In 1907, Montessori found work at the Casa dei Bambini: a school for poor children from the slums of Rome ("Maria Montessori, MD," nd). The experience prompted Montessori to take up greater interest in the study of teaching, for she had been previously immersed more in the rigors of a standard medical profession. Montessori's budding interest in children, and especially children with special needs, began several years prior to her work at the Casa dei Bambini.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Thesis on Marie Montessori Influence in America Assignment

Pediatrics and psychiatry were Montessori's area of specialization when she begun her medical profession (Maria Montessori 1870-1952 nd). Her work put Montessori into contact with poor children who lacked access to the educational resources enjoyed by their peers. Montessori also became the director of the University of Rome's Orthophrenic School, which was essentially an insane asylum for Rome's children (Maria Montessori 1870-1952 nd). She became a harsh critic of the institutions in charge of disadvantaged children and set forth to devise a revolutionary system of education. Thus, just three months after the first Casa dei Bambini opened in 1907, a second was launched and headed by Maria Montessori. For this newer Casa dei Bambini, Montessori declared her broad view of education as being a crucial social responsibility: one that could transform society by minimizing class conflict and gender inequality (Kramer & Freud 1988). All the while, Montessori fulfilled multiple roles as educator, psychologist, and anthropologist. For Montessori, "the school was a laboratory in which a great social experiment would be carried out," (Kramer & Freud 1988, p. 144). She created a diligent pedagogy based on systematic observations of children, and her detailed accounts of her educational experiments laid the foundation not just for her signature "method" but also for American public education.

Montessori Comes to America

By the end of 1907, Montessori had a small following, many of which were middle class women seeking guidance from a possible mentor (Kramer & Freud 1988). She had come to teach courses in professional education in Italy, and her work was drawing considerable media attention. Visitors from around the world, from Asia, South and North America, the Middle East, New Zealand, and throughout Europe paid visits to Montessori and her schools. By 1909 she was working not just with disadvantaged and disabled children but advantaged ones as well. Several American visitors carried back word of Montessori's methods to the United States. Initial press in the United States offered mixed reviews of Montessori's methods. Jenny B. Merrill, writing for the Kindergarten-Primary Magazine, described Montessori's approach as if it were radical and peculiar because of the emphasis on rapid development of practical skills including early literacy (Kramer & Freud 1988).

What really caught the eye of American policy-makers as well as educators was the way Montessori's core teaching philosophy paralleled American ideals of equality. Montessori's method was essentially egalitarian, which appealed to public school administrators and educators in early twentieth century America. "Many political leaders saw it as a practical way to reform the outmoded school systems of Europe, North America, and Asia, as well as an approach that they hoped would lead to a more productive and law-abiding populace," ("Maria Montessori 1870-1952"). Montessori advocated a teaching method that was the antithesis of prevailing models, which were teacher-centric, authoritarian, and demanded a passive role of students. Such methods mirrored the political regimes that dominated throughout much of Europe and most notably in Montessori's native country. Montessori's method was practically the opposite of dictatorial: a student-centered classroom in which the teacher acts as an observer to facilitate maximum cognitive, social, and emotional development. Her methods were admired not just for their underlying political philosophies but also for Montessori's ascription to empirical observation.

Maria Montessori first visited the United States in 1913, welcomed by the likes of Alexander Graham Bell who founded the Montessori Educational Association in Washington D.C. Thomas Edison and Hellen Keller were other luminous supporters of Maria Montessori's teaching methods ("Maria Montessori"). Maria Montessori was invited to speak at Carnegie Hall in 1915. As part publicity stunt and part demonstration of the Montessori method, she participated in the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco: "spectators watched twenty-one children, all new to this Montessori method, behind a glass wall for four months," ("Maria Montessori, MD," nd).

Her fame spread, and Montessori became a celebrity teacher. Eventually she would lead teaching seminars in South Asia as well as in the Americas. When Mussolini took power, he initiated a partnership with Montessori and hoped to "capture publicity" for the regime by naming Montessori as "Italy's children's ambassador to the world," (Zimmerman & Schunk 2003, p. 175). Montessori refused. She was summarily exiled. Not long after, Montessori made her mark in India and Sri Lanka, where she helped set up Montessori schools. Montessori's rejection of Italy's fascist regime perfectly paralleled her vehement opposition to an authoritarian classroom.

Montessori's work was easily applied to any social setting, but took root especially well in the United States where increasing numbers of immigrants altered the class stratification and the social and political landscape. For Montessori, "education…was still infused by the spirit of slavery, typified by the school desk and the immobility it forces on the child," (Kramer & Freud 1988 p. 151). Americans, especially politically liberal ones, appreciated her socially conscious worldview and corresponding approach to teaching children ("Maria Montessori 1870-1952"). Montessori "had put forward an ambitious plan for reforming society through a method of educating young children," (Kramer & Freud 1988 p. 143). She reformulated the role of educational institutions in democratic societies: education was to be a vehicle for social change, the foundation for an egalitarian and free society.

By the beginning of World War Two, Montessori fell out of favor in the United States. Montessori schools had reached a height of popularity in the mid-1920s but by 1940 "the movement had virtually disappeared from the American scene," ("Maria Montessori 1870-1952").

The decline of Montessori education in the United States was unique, given that the Montessori method remained popular internationally. Social and political changes taking place in the United States may have been reasons that prompted the decline of interest in Montessori. Some suggest that "being a highly articulate and outspoken woman who was openly critical of the schools of her day may have also played a substantial role" in diminishing the popularity of Montessori schools ("Maria Montessori 1870-1952"). The 1950s was, in fact, the heyday of the housewife: a role fully antithetical to that the strong-willed, subversive character embodied by Maria Montessori. However, Montessori also "advocated a precisely calibrated technique" that she wanted implemented "without change or revision," (Zimmerman & Schunk 2003, p. 186). Her inflexibility was undoubtedly incompatible with the American public school system, but also started to fall out of favor among private educators. Montessori likely failed to keep up with emerging pedagogy and to effectively integrate it into her well-honed system.

The Montessori Renaissance in America

After a long lull, Montessori's methods were revived in the United States in the late 1950s. The Montessori method was "rediscovered by parents seeking a more academically-oriented early childhood education than they believed was provided by public school kindergartens," (Zimmerman & Schunk 2003, p. 176). Dr. Nancy McCormick Rambusch founded the American Montessori Society "to meet an overwhelming public demand for more information on Montessori education," (American Montessori Society nd). When Montessori came back into favor among American educators, the American Montessori Society incorporated current pedagogical methods with those of Montessori. Maria Montessori had died in 1952, and afterwards educators had significantly more leeway in how they interpreted the Montessori method.

The Montessori method and its underlying philosophies fit in well with the ideals of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and yet never had the chance to blossom as a social movement in the United States. Maria Montessori developed her methods because of her work with disadvantaged and disabled youth. Yet in the United States, the Montessori method became marginalized and restricted to private school settings. The Montessori method "appealed only to middle-class white families in the States," and was considered "radical and elitist," likely because the method was not incorporated into public school systems (Matthews 2007). The revival of Montessori during the 1960s ironically did not parallel the social changes taking place as a result of the Civil Rights movement.

Conclusion: Montessori Now

The renaissance of the Montessori method did have a lasting… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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