Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian physician and educator, a noted humanitarian and devout Catholic best known for the philosophy of education which bears her name. Her educational method is in use today in public as well as private schools throughout the world.
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Chiaravalle (Ancona), Italy, to Alessandro Montessori and Renilde Stoppani (niece of Antonio Stoppani). At the age of thirteen she attended an all-boy technical school in preparation for her dream of becoming an engineer. At the time, she insisted specifically that she did not want to be a teacher because the teaching profession was one of the few that women were encouraged to take part in at the time. Montessori was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rome La Sapienza Medical School, becoming one of the first female doctors in Italy. She was a member of the University's Psychiatric Clinic and became intrigued with trying to educate the "special needs" or "unhappy little ones" and the "uneducable" in Rome. In 1896, she gave a lecture at the Educational Congress in Torino about the training of the disabled. The Italian Minister of Education was in attendance, and, sufficiently impressed by her arguments, appointed her the same year as director of the Scuola Ortofrenica, an institution devoted to the care and education of the mentally retarded. She accepted, in order to put her theories to the test. Her first notable success was to have several of her 8 year old students apply to take the State examinations for reading and writing. The "defective" children not only passed, but had above-average scores, an achievement described as "the first Montessori miracle." Montessori's response to their success was "if mentally disabled children could be brought to the level of normal children then (she) wanted to study the potential of 'normal' children".
"Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society".