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TO SOME, the word “Montessori” conjures up an image of unruly kids being taught frou-frou things by means of artsy pedagogy. But nothing could be further from the truth—or the vision of Maria Montessori. What’s more, in developing her educational methods, this Italian woman broke cultural barriers along the way.
In her early education, Montessori showed preference for science and mathematics, yet also excelled in traditional lavori donneschi (womanly work). At age 20, she received a certificate in physics-mathematics; at first, she considered further studies in engineering, but focused instead on medicine.
This was hardly a conventional choice for a woman of the era, but evidently Montessori excelled here as well. It’s said she took up smoking at this time to counter the laboratory odor of formaldehyde—it’s my guess she did so in defiance of societal convention.
Montessori earned her medical degree in 1896. Her first work was with mentally challenged kids in Rome. Later, in 1907 she applied techniques learned there in establishing Casa dei Bambini, Children’s House, caring for and educating Roman slum kids.
Her work with these kids taught Montessori three essential points: First, children have natural periods of deep attention and concentration. (How else do they accomplish that most challenging of tasks—learning a language from scratch?) Second, children retain things through repetition. And, third, they’re sensitive to order and to logical activities that involve them directly.
With these points in mind, her belief was that the best “teachers” don’t merely teach in a passive atmosphere. They provide subtle guidance matching each child’s active readiness for learning. And, in fact, they’re not even called “teachers.” The term “directress” or “director” is preferred.
Last, maybe you know of “open” classrooms, where kids of several ages productively interact. An open-classroom structure has been part of the Montessori Method from its beginning.
Montessori’s educational methods flourished around the world in the early part of the last century. Ironically, pedagogical bickering here in the U.S. took it out of fashion around 1915. It wasn’t until mid-century that Americans “discovered” the Montessori Method, largely through European influence.
The Association Montessori Internationale, founded in 1929, has its headquarters in Amsterdam, this choice reflecting the popularity of the program in the Netherlands. There are other Montessori organizations around the world, many, but not all, related to AMI.
I see from its website, www.vimsia.org, today’s Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy is thriving, and still very much an AMI organization.
When I was there, it was essentially a primary school. Now its International Academy, with full Middle States Accreditation, provides education through Grade 12.
I also share a bit of pride with one of its staff members, Chaka Edwards, who teaches mathematics at the school. Edwards, a native St. Thomian, got his undergraduate degree in math in 1997 from the University of the Virgin Islands. When CVI (as it was called back then; see wp.me/p2ETap-bf) established this degree program back in the 1970s, I was an associate professor of mathematics there. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012