Maria Montessori, Speech at the Governing Board 1951

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Maria Montessori, Speech at the Governing Board 1951
Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori

(1870-08-31)31 August 1870
Died6 May 1952(1952-05-06) (aged 81)
Noordwijk, Netherlands
Resting placeNoordwijk, Netherlands
EducationUniversity of Rome La Sapienza Medical School
  • Physician
  • educator
Known forFounder of the Montessori method of education

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It is with close attention and much admiration that I have followed the discussions of this Board.

I am delighted to have found such goodwill and harmony among you, and if I am once more taking the floor, it is because I am certain of your wholehearted commitment to the work we have set our hand to and that we are all pursuing the same aim, namely of helping, however possible, this poor, perplexed and divided humanity.

You have spoken of freedom in education: excuse me if I remind you that I introduced it. You have spoken of that movement: I was one of the first to bring the movement into the school. You have spoken of the international character of education: permit me to point out that I was active in this field when many of those present were still children. I am not saying this in order perhaps to display my merits, for I do not believe that any of us is here to glorify himself.

I am making this statement in order to tell you that I recognize the praiseworthy concerns which you have so clearly expressed over the last two days. If I address you now, it is because I should like to give you a few pieces of advice which, considering my age and experience, may be able to support your efforts. Here they are:

I implore you not to repeat the mistakes which since the beginning of this century have been made by people who had the same goodwill as you have and reached their decisions with the same unanimity as you have done in these sessions.

I took part in the same efforts to solve educational and social problems, the same efforts towards a general understanding before 1914 and after 1918. I shared the enthusiasm and favor during the 'twenties' and 'thirties' to bring these problems nearer to solution. You know, the disappointments. It is not goodwill alone which will help us forward. Neither does it depend on agreement or on the problems. In my opinion, there is only one remedy by which future generations can be protected against the woe which burdens us: let us forget the problems and concentrate on the person!

Remember that people do not start at the age of twenty, at ten or at six, but at birth. In your efforts at solving problems, do not forget that children and young people make up a vast population, a population without rights which is being crucified on school-benches everywhere, which – for all that we talk about democracy, freedom and human rights – is enslaved by a school order, by intellectual rules which we impose on it. We define the rules which are to be learned, how they should be learned and at what age. The child population is the only population without rights. The child is the neglected citizen. Think of this and fear the revenge of this populace. For it is his soul that we are suffocating. It is the lively powers of the mind that we are oppressing, powers which cannot be destroyed without killing the individual, powers which tend either towards violence or destruction, or slip away into the realm of sickness, as Dr Stem has so well elucidated.

If the Institute is justified in existing, then it is only in pioneering a new path for education, that is to say one for education as a support to the inner life of man. It should create a science of man, in the same way that nuclear science came into being. Physics concerned itself exclusively with the problems of matter until that day when it discovered that every substance is shaped by invisible energy. This energy is so terrifying that mankind today is living with a nightmare. But that other energy, that emotional power which is dormant in each newborn child and shapes every race, that energy is not feared by mankind. And yet, that overlooked and unapplied energy turns every human discovery into a danger rather than a help.

I am happy that through our discussions we have come to the conclusion to work unpretentiously and begin at the beginning. But let me say that this beginning does not start at the primary school, and – forgive me the remark – that the school is not the same as education.

The wisdom of mankind dates back to primitive times, and there have not always been schools.

While the application of my experiences as an educationalist extend to university level, and although probably only a few have studied the psychological development of man at every stage as I have; although I am therefore aware of the significance of the primary and secondary school as much as of the university, I would repeat once more that the school should not be the objective of this Institute but people, the whole person, and this person begins at birth.

There is no international institute which concerns itself with the pre-school age. Our institute will undertake this, and I am certain that the whole world will derive benefit from it. If, on the other hand, we were to deal only with schools and school-children, we should perhaps encounter indifference and boredom.

Let us concentrate on this neglected age, on children at the pre-school age, and we shall set up a landmark for the Millennium, indicating a new path of justice and salvation in international endeavors.

At the same time, insofar as my experience is well-founded, you will reveal a treasure trove, the riches of which will cause the world to marvel, and from which mankind and you yourselves will derive an unlooked-for reward.

My proposal demands courage perhaps, and I offer it therefore to your courage, to your educational ideal, to your spirit of sacrifice, which has been dedicated to the welfare of mankind. I am presenting it in the form of a personal resolution. If it is approved, I hope that the whole Governing Board will assist the Director in the difficult task of implementing it:

“The Governing Board decides that the Board shall consider all possibilities with a view to concentrating, in the initial phase at least, the work of the Institute on the area of the pre-school child. For this purpose, the Board and the Director will examine every means of bringing together educationalists, psychologists, psychiatrists, adult educators, Ministers of Culture and parents to co-operate in this area. The Board and the Director should arrange shorter meetings and consult with experts in order to draw up a more precise program to be presented to the Board at its next session.”

Maria Montessori gave this speech at the first meeting of the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Education on 19 June 1951.

It is due to her influence that the second international seminar held at the new Institute in January 1953 took up the theme of the pre-school child. She could not attend this meeting as she died on 7 May 1952.