We celebrated the anniversary of Montessori’s 151st Birthday in 2021 and we look forward to celebrating 115 years since the founding of the very first Casa dei Bambini on January 6, 2022.
As August 31, 2021, marked the 151st anniversary of Dr. Maria Montessori’s birth, I wanted to remember her with gratitude for all she has given us. She certainly was a remarkable woman, always pushing forward to ensure peace, justice and equality for all.
We know Dr. Montessori mostly for her discoveries of how children learn best and we continue to be grateful to her for opening the very first Casa de Bambini in the San Lorenzo Quarter, outside of Rome, on January 6, 1907. (This school continues to exist today, 115 years later).
Within a very short period of time, Dr. Montessori not only transformed the lives of the children but of their parents as well. She shared her ideas with those closest to her, and eventually, with the whole world! Personally, her life and works gifted me with my life’s work. For that, I am eternally grateful!
Dr. Montessori was a woman of great principle, tenacity, and strength. She bucked the system early on by attending an all-boys technical school with the hope of becoming an engineer. She excelled in math and physics. Her second foray into a male-dominated field was when she decided that she would prefer to be a doctor and entered medical school. As the only female student, Dr. Montessori was subjected to ridicule, pranks, and the very clear message of “we don’t want you here” by the male students. Her disapproving father disowned her the day she entered medical school. (Thankfully, they reconciled years later, when one of her father’s friends told him that she was giving a lecture and invited him to join him. Luckily, her father accepted that invitation which began their reconciliation.)
Another sadness for Dr. Montessori was having to make the heart-wrenching decision to have her son, Mario, who was born on March 31, 1898, be raised by another family. The norms of the time dictated that had she married his father, she would not, as a married woman, be allowed to work. As she knew that the work she was called to do was unfinished, she chose not to marry. Happily, When Mario was 15; he was reunited with his mother and began working with her. It is written of him “Although Mario had no formal training as a teacher, his love of children and intuitive understanding of his mother’s work and approach, put him in the international world of education for his entire professional life.” He worked closely with her throughout her lifetime and carried on their work after her death on May 6th, 1952. (On a personal note, as a young teacher at Ravenhill Academy in Philadelphia, Pa. I had the pleasure of meeting Mario who was a frequent visitor to our school. He came to see Mother Isabel Eugenie who had been trained by his mother. Happily, Mother Isabel hired me after I finished my Primary Montessori training in Washington D.C., and thus I had the opportunity to meet him. Mario, a family man, was an interesting person and deeply committed to his mother’s work.) When Dr. Montessori’s schools were flourishing, Mussolini wanted her to help his cause, through the children. Montessori said “NO” and paid the price as he closed all of her schools in Italy. When she received the same request from Hitler and said “NO”, he closed all her schools in Europe. During World War II, Maria and Mario were interned in India, where they remained for several years. While there, the idea of Cosmic Education was born which is our Elementary program! She also gave 30 lectures on the first 3 years of life, which became the Primary Program. She wrote her ideas in two books: Education for a New World (about 3-6-year-olds) and To Educate the Human Potential (about 6-12-year-olds). They are good books for you to read and can be purchased at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. After World War II ended, Dr. Montessori settled in the Netherlands because it had been a neutral country during the war.
Maria Montessori lived what she believed and we are all the better for it. She had strong beliefs about the importance of peace which she outlined in a book called EDUCATION and PEACE. One of her quotes from the book is “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics. Establishing peace is the work of education.” She frequently gave lectures on peace and was nominated 3 times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Although she never received it, she gifted the world with her wisdom and passion for peace. Dr. Montessori was also known for her lectures about women and children focusing on the violation of their rights.
As we celebrate this remarkable woman today, I think of our children–yours and mine–and wonder what they will be called to do with their lives. We know it will be purposeful work, done with integrity because of the gift of Montessori education that you are giving them. They will live out Dr. Maria Montessori’s request of them which is written on her grave in Noordwij, Netherlands: “I beg all the dear powerful children to unite with me for the building of peace in Man and in the World.” (Today I’m sure the word man would have been changed to humankind). May we all unite with her as we try to make sense of this troubled world in which we live.
Thank you for celebrating the legacy of Maria Montessori with me and our wonderful staff who implement it every day.
Head of School at Little Flower Montessori School, FL
Kathleen Miller Dzura has been a Montessorian for 55 years. She completed both the Primary Montessori (1965) and Elementary training (1985) at The Washington Montessori under Elizabeth Stephenson. Upon completion of her Primary training, Kathleen was hired by Mother Isabel (a protege of Maria Montessori) to teach a Primary class of children at Ravenhill Academy in Germantown, Pa. During the next 11 years, Kathleen taught in Primary classrooms, trained Montessori teachers, under Mother Isabel’s guidance and was head of the Montessori Lab school. During those years, she had the good fortune to meet Mario and Ada Montessori who, as friends of Mother Isabel, were frequent visitors at Ravenhill. Kathleen’s Montessori journey encompassed private school settings as well as working in Head Start and teaching Elementary Montessori in the Philadelphia Public School system. She founded and was CEO of The Philadelphia Montessori Charter School (2004-2009). Kathleen is currently working as Head of School at Little Flower Montessori School in Wilton Manors, Fla. In addition to her love for Montessori education, Kathleen is equally passionate about the need for healing life’s wounds, losses, etc. which often prevent us from living life to the fullest. Her own divorce, when her children were 3 months and 7 years of age, began her journey toward healing, forgiveness, and eventually a sense of peace. In addition, she worked with divorced and widowed people for 10 years, helping them to bring closure after their profound losses. She also taught Peace courses at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pa.