Maria Montessori, Advocate for Peace
Maria Montessori, medical doctor, educator and visionary, opened her first school, the Casa dei Bambini, in Rome in 1907. In the next two decades, Dr. Montessori’s methods achieved worldwide currency, in part through the publication of The Montessori Method (1912) and Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook (1914). In the early 1930’s, the changed political climate in her native Italy, namely the rise of fascism, made her work difficult, and in 1934, Dr. Montessori’s refusal to politicize her work and schools resulted in the shutdown of all Montessori schools and her departure from the country.
World unrest and her own exile led Maria Montessori to advocate publicly for peace, and thus make clear the connection between her teaching methods and a social and world order generated by respect, cooperation and the intelligent activities of citizens. In a series of speeches, conferences and other activities, conducted in India and Western Europe, Dr. Montessori spoke about educational reform and the benefits to a world society. A number of her lectures were published as Educazione e Pace (1949), translated, Education and Peace (1972). Her work, embraced by a worldwide community of educators, politicians and academics, earned her nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, 1950 and 1951, and in recent years as well.
Committed to a nonpolitical platform, and a focus on the innate and positive forces of the human mind and spirit, she rejected the view of peace as the condition achieved by avoiding war and with nonviolent resolution of political conflict. “Inherent in the very meaning of the work peace is the positive notion of constructive social reform, ” she wrote, adding that “society at present dose not adequately prepare man for civic life,” and that “establishing a lasting peace is the work of education.” Far in advance of today’s catchphrase “globalization”, Dr. Montessori noted that scientific advances had so linked world cultures that our universal social connections were made clear, and she set forth strategies for a “universal, collective effort to build the foundation for peace.”
Dr. Montessori’s assessment of her contemporary world and the means to achieve a state of peace, like her educational philosophy, are holistic and rooted in her belief in the spiritual and intellectual powers of the child. Dr. Montessori’s method respected the intelligence and gifts of the small child, serving her with a prepared environment and materials that engaged the senses in the learning process. Self-confidence, control of environment, joy of learning, and an understanding of connectedness with society resulted, leading, Dr. Montessori believed, to a new social order capable of directing man’s technological advances to constructive uses. This would replace accepted educational practices that rewarded competition, discouraged cooperation and independent thinking, and ignored the creativity and deeply moral qualities of the child, a status quo that she believed led to warring society, one incapable of utilizing its own scientific and technological advances.
Dr. Montessori’s peace initiatives have been continued by organizations such as the Montessori Peace Task Force, the Montessori Peace Institute and the American Montessori Society Peace Committee. These national and international groups promote peace education within the Montessori curriculum, connections between schools, and global peace initiatives.
How does Healthy Beginnings Montessori educate for peace? Dr. Montessori herself noted that education in reaction to violence would not in itself yield a peaceful society. The peace curriculum at HBMH is enacted through a range of academic studies as well as the development of peacemaking skills, beginning with the youngest of our students.