Maria Montessori and the promotion of education through discovery

On this day in 1907, Maria Montessori opened her first school in Rome, called the Casa dei Bambini, or ‘Children’s House’. Based on an educational system promoting and emphasising independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development, the Montessori approach has been adopted widely over the past century. It is currently practiced in approximately 20 thousand schools worldwide.

While the Montessori principles have been applied for children from birth to the age of 18, the most popular age group for this approach is the 3-6 year old category. This age, when children are at their most naturally inquisitive, and the world is one great place of wonder, learning and exploration, is particularly suited to the Montessori philosophy. Learning is not differentiated from playing, as this is an age where we very much learn through play.

Learning and playing - all part of the voyage of discovery according to Maria Montessori.(© All Rights Reserved)
Learning and playing – all part of the voyage of discovery according to Maria Montessori.
(© All Rights Reserved)

According to the American Montessori Society (AMS), the teaching approach holds numerous benefits. Quoting the AMS website, “Given the freedom and support to question, to probe deeply, and to make connections, Montessori students become confident, enthusiastic, self-directed learners. They are able to think critically, work collaboratively, and act boldly—a skill set for the 21st century.”

Thinking about it, I wish more people retained this probing, enthusiastic and inquisitive mindset further into their adult lives, instead of becoming closed-minded and stuck in their ways as soon as they enter adult life.

Maria Montessori firmly believed that responsible education was the basis for peace, saying “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education” (1963). For her contribution to education and peaceful development, she has received no less than 6 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Celebrating the International Day of Non-violence

The UN seems to be busy in October. Following hot on the heels of our discussions on World Rivers Day and yesterday’s World Habitat Day, today features another UN observance, the International Day of Non-Violence.

October 2nd is the commemoration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience paved the way for Indian independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world. A most suitable date, therefore, to be declared International Day of Non-Violence by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The aim of the day is to promote and disseminate the message of non-violence in different ways, including through education and public awareness. It reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.

“It may be easier to pick up a weapon than to lay down a grudge. It may be simpler to find fault than to find forgiveness” – UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
(The above image incorporates “The Blue Marble” photograph of Earth, taken from Apollo 17.)

Non-violence, or non-violent resistance, as it is also known, is about achieving social or political change without resorting to physical violence. It is a form of social struggle that has been successfully adopted by groups the world over in social justice campaigns, and has rightfully been referred to as ‘the politics of ordinary people’. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “the foundation for non-violence will be built by people: teachers and faith leaders, parents and community voices, business people and grass-roots groups”.

The three main categories of non-violent action are:

  • protest and persuasion, including marches and vigils;
  • non-cooperation; and
  • non-violent intervention, such as blockades and occupations.

Non-violence thus does not imply a lack of action. It is a very active instigator of change, only achieved without violence, and this is what gives it such power. The Occupy Wall Street movement we discussed recently would be a good recent example of citizen-led non-violent resistance.

In celebration of this day, perhaps the most succinct and profound statement comes from the great Gandhi himself:
“There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.”