Maria Montessori synthesized the principles and practices of four sciences and put them to work in a large room full of small children to develop a framework for the discipline she came to call Scientific Pedagogy.

Not long after the opening of her first classroom, a rising tide of enthusiasm for replicating the miracles that visitors were observing (all of which Montessori attributed to “natural development”) made it possible for her to expand to a multi-site implementation employing practitioners all over the globe, whom she had trained herself and with whom she stayed in close communication. Without necessarily having planned to do so, she was able to collaborate and consult with dozens of associates and amass huge volumes of narrative data.

Not having begun her work as an educator, per se, Montessori had no a priori interest in transmitting academic content to children. She was a student of human development, trained as a physician, who set out simply in search of the principles and practices that would promote the evident thriving of children at various stages of growth.

While she believed that acquisition of culture is a factor that is necessary to the flourishing of the child, hastening – or guaranteeing – content acquisition was nowhere on her agenda. Accordingly, she engaged in a continuous and rigorous cycle of observation, theory development, and modification/development of classroom implementation principles – to great effect.

Educators from all over the world began to take note of the remarkable successes of these classrooms full of autonomous, industrious, and peaceful young people … whose spirited engagement in their school work was, within less than 50 years, replicated across classrooms, age groups, socioeconomic spectra, language groups, cultures, and continents.

For Dr. Montessori, the rapid and joyful academic content acquisition that was coming to be a predictable and widely touted outcome of these pedagogical practices was not a goal, but one barometer of the “rightness” of the learning cultures.

To Dr. Montessori’s dismay, her American publisher refused to publish her findings under the title “Scientific Pedagogy,” as she had wished it, insisting that “The Montessori Method” would sell more books. (No doubt it did.) Although, during her lifetime, this ensured that she retained intellectual control of the further evolution of “The Method,” it’s not hard to imagine that this accident of naming has been an obstacle to broader academic acceptance and further development of a discipline of Scientific Pedagogy. (See next post – Scientific Pedagogy, Part III: formulating a new discipline  for details on how these intellectual threads were integrated.)

Other obstacles to wider acceptance exist, to be sure (starting with the frequent use of biblical metaphor in her prolific writing) – but an emponymous field of study surely suggests that all other contributors are interlopers. (Darwin didn’t talk of Darwinization, for example, but rather of Natural Selection. Generations of scientists since Darwin have felt entitled to read his work and contribute in diverse ways to the development and refinement of those ideas.)

During Montessori’s lifetime and that of her son and grandson, who continued her work, decision making about classroom implementation and training of teachers was thoroughly, definitively, and unapologetically autocratic. I’m convinced this decision making structure undermined the legitimacy of the serious study and practice of a truly Scientific Pedagogy.


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