Education

Maria Montessori’s ‘Libertarian View of Children’

By David Kirby, Reason

The education pioneer’s authoritarian personality was at odds with her commitment to children’s independence.

The Child Is the Teacher: A Life of Maria Montessori, by Cristina De Stefano, Other Press, 248 pages, $28.99

Maria Montessori’s ideas about education stem from the principles of choice, individual dignity, spontaneous order, experimental discovery, and freedom of movement. They stand in radical contrast to traditional schooling, too often based on authority, central planning, rigid instruction, and force. She once described children in such schools as “butterflies stuck with pins, fixed in their places.”

It would not be accurate to call her a libertarian. She eschewed politics, which she said “do not interest me.” When asked, she declared that the only party she was interested in was the “children’s party.” To advance her ideas, she wanted “anybody’s help, without regard to his political or religious convictions”—leading to more than a few unwise collaborations, including one with Benito Mussolini. Yet perhaps more than anyone else, she advanced a “libertarian view of children,” as the Italian fascist Emilio Bodrero complained in 1930. Her ideas endure today in 20,000 Montessori schools around the world.

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