Education has long been hailed as a cornerstone of peace and prosperity, but the field is also one where fierce debates and wildly different perspectives can emerge. The ways and means by which children learn are constantly being argued and reexamined by both educators and academics, with evidence for any side taking years to emerge as children learn and grow. Education has different methodologies, known in the field as approaches. One approach, once obscure but growing in popularity, is the Montessori education approach, pioneered in Italy in the early twentieth century by the physician and educator Maria Montessori. Though her ideas have long been controversial, they remain popular across the world
Montessori education is best described as emphasizing independence among children, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s natural development, mentally, physically and socially. The core elements of a Montessori education are mixed age classrooms (generally consisting of children between the ages of three and six together), choices of activities for students within a set range of options, uninterrupted blocks of work time (ideally in the range of three hours), a “discovery” model of learning (wherein students learn directly from examining materials, rather than from a lecture), specialized education materials developed by Maria Montessori and her colleagues, freedom of movement within the classroom and a teacher trained in the Montessori approach to education. It is also fairly common for Montessori schools to design curriculum around Maria Montessori’s model of human development, published over the course of her eighty-one year lifetime.
However, not all Montessori programs are the same. United States courts have ruled that “Montessori” is not a term that can be trademarked or regulated, meaning that there can be a great deal of variations between Montessori schools across the countries and indeed the worlds. Montessori schools are not inherently religious.
Though Maria Montessori was herself Catholic and had been involved with Theosophical Societies during most of her life, her methodology was not reliant on a faith-based model. Though Maria Montessori’s upbringing was Catholic, the primary sponsor of her early works was Jewish, and some of her earliest successes were in India. Her educational approach neither confirms or denies any specific religion. That said, the term “Montessori” can include a wide range of schools, including some religious ones. Thus, some Montessori schools are religious, though most aren’t, instead preferring to reach out to children of all faiths or none at all. It behooves parents interested in their child’s growth to do some research of their own, finding out whether Montessori schools they’re looking into will provide religious education in addition to secular education. Still, Montessori’s approach was not based in religion, but rather Montessori’s own research and model of human development.
For her part, Maria Montessori was a renowned peace activist, even at the cost of her professional prestige and influence; her desire for world peace alienated the Italian fascist government of Mussolini, but she stuck to her principles, even as it cost her a great deal of funding and influence. She had no great grudge with any one nation, religion or society, instead believing that education was the cornerstone of a future world peace. Her methods were constructed to address all children, no matter what their beliefs; indeed, her work has since gone on to educate children of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and atheist leanings equally.
Montessori education’s effectiveness is still being debated, sometimes hotly, in the realm of educational science. One thing that can not be debated about the approach, however, is that it is inclusive of all faiths, all nations and all children across the world.