All children are born geniuses. 9999 out of every 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently, degeniused by grown-ups. This happens because human beings are born naked, helpless, andthough superbly equipped cerebrallyutterly lacking inexperience, therefore utterly ignorant. Their delicate sensing equipment is, as yet, untried. Born with build-in hunger, thirst, curiosity, the procreative urge, they can only learn what humanity has learned by trial and error also endowed with self-deceiving pride. All those witnessing the errors of others proclaim that they (the witnesses) could have prevented those errors had they only been consulted.… Motivated entirely by love, but also by fear for the futures of the children they love, parents, in their ignorance, act as though they know all the answers and curtail the spontaneous exploratory acts of their children lest the children make “mistakes.” But genius does its own thinking; it has confidence in its own exploratory findings, in its own intuitions, in the knowledge gained from its own mistakes.

Buckminster Fuller


The montessori educational system was developed by Dr. Montessori, a doctor not an educator, in response to her observation that much of the educational dogma regarding children was based upon society’s (often false) preconceived notions of children. Many believed, from Christian dogma, that humans were innately evil and had to be saved through baptism, which had led to authoritarian, rigidly controlling treatment of children. She approached a child with respect as another human being and developed her approach from her observations.

    She developed what she saw as a basic truth; the extremely important role that childhood plays in the formation of the adult personality. “At birth man is relatively immature compared with other primates. This is a statement of fact. Consequently, part of the process of growth and development that these animals complete in the embryonic stage, man accomplishes in this postnatal state, when he is exposed to influences from the outside world.” Thus nurture plays much of the role that instinct plays for animals.

    Freedom is an issue in Montessori system, as it is in the Catholic system. The Montessori system allows children independence, but then holds then responsible for their own actions. The balance between the freedom for the individual and the needs of the group is important in the school setting, as it is in society, and is determined as much by the children as by the adult. Punishment, very rarely meted out in Montessori schools, is temporary isolation from the group. These measures are determined by the social situation, and the child is allowed to rejoin the group when she decides she is ready.


The system is highly concerned with not interfering unnecessarily with the children, especially with not allowing an adult to directly impose their wishes upon the child. Montessori designed the educational materials of her system to help children teach themselves. The teacher in a montessori school is called a director or directress, implying that they are merely there to guide the children. Obviously there is always some level of control from the adult, but it is very much on a personal basis between the director and an individual child. The director will set up activities and allow the child to work through them.

    In reading about this method, there is much talk about the development of skills, whether it be through the Didactic Apparatus—specially designed materials for children to work with as part of their education—or assisting with the preparation and serving of meals. Criticisms leveled at the system usually attack not so much the ideas, but the execution of them. The skills learned from the materials are seen as not useful, or the method of learning the alphabet is too rooted in the Romantic pronunciation of the letters. These criticism seem to be missing the point entirely; the Montessori materials are designed with the intention of giving the children nonspecific knowledge which can be later applied to a specific situation. Maria Montessori explains it best:

    “Imaginative vision is quite different from mere perception of an object, for it has no limits.… To make it clear whether or not a child has understood, we should see whether he can form a vision of it within his mind, whether he has gone beyond the level of mere understanding.… The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim, therefore, is not merely to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his inmost core.”


Some principles of Montessori education:

• Education must help the child develop its personality in accordance with its nature and possibilities, and at its own rate, so that later it can fulfill its task as an independent, balanced human bing in the adult community. The aim, therefor, is always the formation of the total personality, not of independent functions, or processes.

• Children want to become adults and, prompted by their inner needs, strive to achieve this goal independently, Education must assist them in this task of inner development. In order to offer them adequate help. it is necessary to understand their psychic activity from the point of view of this final aim.

• The school must be a cultural environment, so that children have the opportunity to become familiar with the basic aspects of their own culture.… Schools must offer children this possibility for a cultural environment and enlarge their cultural horizon in such a way that not only intellectual, but also spiritual development occurs. The spiritual core of man is already present in children.…

• The Montessori material is constructed to appeal to these inner needs. In addition, it offers children the opportunity to work independently and to have their own experiences with it. Since handling it demands the coordination of different functions, the entire personality is involved. However, one single property is accentuated in each subdivision of the material. A child is thus invited to direct its attention to a special objective quality. The latter is so chosen that it is attuned to a specific psychic activity and requires, at the same time, specific actions for the manipulation of the material. The material itself make the child aware when something has not been done correctly. Its intelligence is then challenged to find a better solution. In this way the ego functions are differentiated, trained. and integrated without strain, more or less playfully, while the child is stimulated to perform meaningful acts.

• Montessori believed that the emphasis on the intellectual aspect of learning was largely wrong. The role of the personality as a psychosomatic unity in the learning process must be fully acknowledged. No passive absorption, but intelligent action is required. Learning is a dynamic process in which the whole personality of the child must be actively engaged.

• A free choice of activity, which confronts the child with alternative and which therefor teaches it to become independent, is a Montessori principle… Imposing the some task on an entire group degrades an alternative to a necessity.

(Montessori, Jr.)

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The child should not be regarded as a feeble and helpless creature whose only need is to be protected and helped, but as a spiritual embryo, possessed of an active psychic life from the day that he is born and guided by subtle instincts enabling him to actively build up the human personality. And since it is the child who becomes the adult man, we must consider him as the true builder of mankind .

Dr. Maria Montessori