Exploding into education with the Montessori method

(Photo by Amanda Martin)

Children learn best by doing. They learn at their own pace, in their own ways, by completing spontaneous activities that suit their needs. At least, this is what the Montessori method of teaching entails.

Dr. Gerald Lee Gutek has studied the Montessori method extensively and came to FSU on Wednesday afternoon to share the ideas behind his latest book, co-written with his wife, Patricia Gutek, “Bringing Montessori to America: S. S. McClure, Maria Montessori, and the Campaign to Publicize Montessori Education.”

Maria Montessori first created this revolutionary method of teaching in 1906 in Rome. The school became popular quickly, as parents and educators praised her method of letting children learn at their own pace, with only the tools provided to them.

“Teachers there are not called teachers,” Gutek said. “They are called directors.” Their job is to walk around the classroom and to be at the student’s side as soon as the student needs them.

The idea behind the Montessori method directly contradicted the teaching method that all children are the same and will learn in the same ways.

As Gutek explained, students are not just sitting in a room with information being shoved into their heads, but rather are learning by exploring their environment and using hands-on manipulatives and learning tools.

As the Montessori Method increased in popularity in Rome, it quickly caught the eye of S.S. McClure, best known for his publication “McClure’s Magazine.” The magazine was known for muckraking, or journalism that seeks to expose political and social corruption through investigative reporting.

Montessori and McClure met in 1910 and set off on a mission together to bring the Montessori Method to the United States.

Gutek noted the interesting difference in the classes of people who took to the new teaching method in the United States. When Montessori was first introduced in 1907, it was to a low-income school in Rome. Yet when the method was first introduced in the United States, Gutek explained that it was high-class public figures who took the method immediately.

Figures such as Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel as well as Thomas Edison acted as sponsors for the Montessori method as they saw the value of it as an educational system and were big supporters in the push for integration of the method into the United States.

In 1913, Montessori and McClure embarked on a lecture tour to spread the method and its philosophies throughout America. The people of the United States immediately took to it, and Montessori schools began appearing across the country.

People were fascinated with this method as they claimed it to be producing “miracle children,” as Gutek said.

The method caught on and by 1916, there were more than 100 Montessori schools opening across the United States, with an even larger number of schools in existence today.

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