Maria Montessori: An Unstoppable Woman of Her Time
Try to imagine a portrait of an American educator on the dollar bill. Unlikely? Well, until the bland-looking euro replaced Italy's lyrical lira, Maria Montessori held the place of honor on the 1,000-lira note, the most common currency in the land of her birth. Born in 1870 in the small town of Chiaravalle, Montessori -- later known affectionately as La Dottoressa -- was an average grade-school student who took an interest in mathematics and engineering, attended a technical school, and eventually became the first woman in Italy to graduate from medical school.
Working as a psychiatrist with disabled and retarded children, she proved that with training and sensory stimulation, many of these children could pass tests designed for normal children. Expanding her techniques to all children, she developed what has become known as the Montessori method. In essence, it promotes the idea that children are not simply small adults, that they learn differently, and that the absorbent mind of a young child is infinitely capable of self-directed learning -- ideas central to today's schools, but revolutionary at the time. Montessori spread this gospel, that "the teacher must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work," in other European countries, the United States, and India.
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