A Note of Gratitude on Montessori’s Birthday
Dear Dr. Montessori,
Tomorrow, August 31, 2021, marks 151 years since you were born.
The world is a very different place today than it was then. I wonder if you ever contemplated your own early days and how your world shaped you. You once said: “The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.” Would anyone has guessed that baby Maria would eventually become one of the most influential educators of all time?
Your own life stands as an example of what a person can achieve under the right circumstances. Your work created a foundation on which others have been able to support generations of children finding their own unique paths through life.
So, this is a letter of gratitude.
Thank you for having the courage to do what your heart pulled you to, even if it meant being the first and traveling down an uncomfortable and challenging road. During a time when women were largely expected to stay at home, and were certainly not permitted to attend medical school, your persistence changed the system.
Thank you for having the wisdom to blend your scientific perspective with the empathy that all humans deserve. You noticed that children discarded by society had far more potential than they were given credit for, and you worked tirelessly to prove your theories and change yet another system.
Thank you for investing in communities that had high needs. Your very first school was opened in a poor neighborhood in Rome, and your work with the children and families there had amazing ripple effects that no one would have predicted.
Thank you for showing children the respect they so deeply deserve. It was completely novel at the time, and still is in many communities. But your ideas spread quickly and effectively, especially once people saw what life could be like if we just shifted our perspectives a bit.
The sole purpose of the teacher used to be to stand before their students with a definite air of authority, lecturing prescribed information that the students were meant to memorize. You changed all that. Your teachers are not enforcers and information dispensers, they are guides. They stand beside children and lay a path out before them that the child may willfully wander down and gather information for themselves. You created a system of empowerment for children, and a more meaningful (and much more effective) way of learning.
You were not a perfect human being (as none of us are). Your flaws lie in the memories of the people who knew you as well as in the pages of biographies about you. They are a good reminder that even the most positively influential people can make mistakes. We can all make mistakes, and hopefully, we will grow and change with time and experience. This is a lesson we must all share with our children.
You taught us to observe and to stay curious. We encourage children to do this with the world around them, but as adults it’s our responsibility as well. Learning should never end, and we should observe to learn about the children in our lives, but also continue to stay curious about the world ourselves. It takes a lot to unlearn previous assumptions we have gained over a lifetime, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
In Education and Peace, you said: “An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” The timelessness of this idea is just as applicable today as it was then.
It seems fitting that your birthday happens to fall right around the beginning of a new school year. Right around the time when we all find ourselves reflecting on what we have learned in the past and also on what lies ahead. Just as with the history lessons we teach our elementary students, it’s helpful to honor those who have paved the way for the work we are doing now.
So once again, thank you. Your work continues on, touching the lives of people all around the world, generation after generation. We imagine it will continue to do so long into the future.
With deep gratitude,
The Montessori community