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[Page 28] 

THE MONTESSORI METHOD: CHAPTER II

HISTORY OF METHODS

IF we are to develop a system of scientific pedagogy, we must, then, proceed along lines very different from those which have been followed up to the present time. The transformation of the school must be contemporaneous with the preparation of the teacher. For if we make of the teacher an observer, familiar with the experimental methods, then we must make it possible for her to observe and to experiment in the school. The fundamental principle of scientific pedagogy must be, indeed, the liberty of the pupil;­such liberty as shall permit a development of individual, spontanous manifestations of the child's nature. If a new and scientific pedagogy is to arise from the study of the individual, such study must occupy itself with the observation of free children. In vain should we await a practical renewing of pedagogical methods from methodical examinations of pupils made under the guidance offered to-day by pedagogy, anthropology, and experimental psychology.

Every branch of experimental science has grown out of the application of a method peculiar to itself. Bacteriology owes its scientific content to the method of isolation and culture of microbes. Criminal, medical, and pedagogical anthropology owe their progress to the application of anthropological methods to individuals of various classes, such as criminals, the insane, the sick of the clinics, [Page 29]  scholars. So experimental psychology needs as its starting point an exact definition of the technique to be used in making the experiment.

To put it broadly, it is important to define the method, the technique, and from its application to await the definite result, which must be gathered entirely from actual experience. One of the characteristics of experimental sciences is to proceed to the making of an experiment without preconceptions of any sort as to the final result of the experiment itself. For example, should we wish to make scientific observations concerning the development of the head as related to varying degrees of intelligence, one of the conditions of such an experiment would be to ignore, in the taking of the measurements, which were the most intelligent and which the most backward among the scholars examined. And this because the preconceived idea that the most intelligent should have the head more fully developed will inevitably alter the results of the research.

He who experiments must, while doing so, divest himself of every preconception. It is clear then that if we wish to make use of a method of experimental psychology, the first thing necessary is to renounce all former creeds and to proceed by means of the method in the search for truth.

We must not start, for example, from any dogmatic ideas which we may happen to have held upon the subject of child psychology. Instead, we must proceed by a method which shall tend to make possible to the child complete liberty. This we must do if we are to draw from the observation of his spontaneous manifestations conclusions which shall lead to the establishment of a truly scientific child psychology. It may be that such a [Page 30]  method holds for us great surprises, unexpected possibilities.

Child psychology and pedagogy must establish their content by successive conquests arrived at through the method of experimentation.


Our problem then, is this: to establish the method peculiar to experimental pedagogy. It cannot be that used in other experimental sciences. It is true that scientific pedagogy is rounded out by hygiene, anthropology, and psychology, and adopts in part the technical method characteristic of all three, although limiting itself to a special study of the individual to be educated. But in pedagogy this study of the individual, though it must accompany the very different work of education, is a limited and secondary part of the science as a whole.

This present study deals in part with the method used in experimental pedagogy, and is the result of my experiences during two years in the "Children's Houses." I offer only a beginning of the method, which I have applied to children between the ages of three and six. But I believe that these tentative experiments, because of the surprising results which they have given, will be the means of inspiring a continuation of the work thus undertaken.

Indeed, although our educational system, which experience has demonstrated to be excellent, is not yet entirely completed, it nevertheless constitutes a system well enough established to be practical in all institutions where young children are cared for, and in the first elementary classes.

Perhaps I am not exact when I say that the present work springs from two years of experience. I do not believe that these later attempts of mine could alone have rendered possible all that I set forth in this book. The [Page 31]  origin of the educational system in use in the "Children's Houses" is much more remote, and if this experience with normal children seems indeed rather brief, it should be remembered that it sprang from preceding pedagogical experiences with abnormal children, and that considered in this way, it represents a long and thoughtful endeavour.

About fifteen years ago, being assistant doctor at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Rome, I had occasion to frequent the insane asylums to study the sick and to select subjects for the clinics. In this way I became interested in the idiot children who were at that time housed in the general insane asylums. In those days thyroid organotherapy was in full development, and this drew the attention of physicians to deficient children. I myself, having completed my regular hospital services, had already turned my attention to the study of children's diseases.

It was thus that, being interested in the idiot children, I became conversant with the special method of education devised for these unhappy little ones by Edward Séguin, and was led to study thoroughly the idea, then beginning to be prevalent among the physicians, of the efficacy of "pedagogical treatment" for various morbid forms of disease such as deafness, paralysis, idiocy, rickets, etc. The fact that pedagogy must join with medicine in the treatment of disease was the practical outcome of the thought of the time. And because of this tendency the method of treating disease by gymnastics became widely popular. I, however, differed from my colleagues in that I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical, rather than mainly a medical, problem. Much was said in the medical congresses of the medico-pedagogic method for the treatment and education of the feeble [Page 32]  minded, and I expressed my differing opinion in an address on Moral Education at the Pedagogical Congress of Turin in 1898. I believe that I touched a chord already vibrant, because the idea, making its way among the physicians and elementary teachers, spread in a flash as presenting a question of lively interest to the school.

In fact I was called upon by my master, Guido Baccelli, the great Minister of Education, to deliver to the teachers of Rome a course of lectures on the education of feeble-minded children. This course soon developed into the State Orthophrenic School, which I directed for more than two years.

In this school we had an all-day class of children composed of those who in the elementary schools were considered hopelessly deficient. Later on, through the help of a philanthropic organisation, there was founded a Medical Pedagogic Institute where, besides the children from the public schools, we brought together all of the idiot children from the insane asylums in Rome.

I spent these two years with the help of my colleagues in preparing the teachers of Rome for a special method of observation and education of feeble-minded children. Not only did I train teachers, but what was much more important, after I had been in London and Paris for the purpose of studying in a practical way the education of deficients, I gave myself over completely to the actual teaching of the children, directing at the same time the work of the other teachers in our institute.

I was more than an elementary teacher, for I was present, or directly taught the children, from eight in the morning to seven in the evening without interruption. These two years of practice are my first and indeed my true degree in pedagogy. From the very beginning of [Page 33]  my work with deficient children (1898 to 1900) I felt that the methods which I used had in them nothing peculiarly limited to the instruction of idiots. I believed that they contained educational principles more rational than those in use, so much more so, indeed, that through their means an inferior mentality would be able to grow and develop. This feeling, so deep as to be in the nature of an intuition, became my controlling idea after I had left the school for deficients, and, little by little, I became convinced that similar methods applied to normal children would develop or set free their personality in a marvellous and surprising way.

It was then that I began a genuine and thorough study of what is known as remedial pedagogy, and, then, wishing to undertake the study of normal pedagogy and of the principles upon which it is based, I registered as a student of philosophy at the University. A great faith animated me, and although I did not know that I should ever be able to test the truth of my idea, I gave up every other occupation to deepen and broaden its conception. It was almost as if I prepared myself for an unknown mission.

The methods for the education of deficients had their origin at the time of the French Revolution in the work of a physician whose achievements occupy a prominent place in the history of medicine, as he was the founder of that branch of medical science which to-day is known as Otiatria (diseases of the ear).

He was the first to attempt a methodical education of the sense of hearing. He made these experiments in the institute for deaf mutes founded in Paris by Pereire, and actually succeeded in making the semi-deaf hear clearly. Later on, having in charge for eight years the idiot boy [Page 34]  known as "the wild boy of Aveyron," he extended to the treatment of all the senses those educational methods which had already given such excellent results in the treatment of the sense of hearing. A student of Pinel, Itard was the first educator to practise the observation of the pupil in the way in which the sick are observed in the hospitals, especially those suffering from diseases of the nervous system.

The pedagogic writings of Itard are most interesting and minute descriptions of educational efforts and experiences, and anyone reading them to-day must admit that they were practically the first attempts at experimental psychology. But the merit of having completed a genuine educational system for deficient children was due to Edward Séguin, first a teacher and then a physician. He took the experiences of Itard as his starting point, applying these methods, modifying and completing them during a period of ten years' experience with children taken from the insane asylums and placed in a little school in Rue Pigalle in Paris. This method was described for the first time in a volume of more than six hundred pages, published in Paris in 1846, with the title: "Traitement Moral, Hygiène et Education des Idiots." Later Séguin emigrated to the United States of America where he founded many institutions for deficients, and where, after another twenty years of experience, he published the second edition of his method, under a very different title: "Idiocy and its Treatment by the Physiological Method." This volume was published in New York in 1866, and in it Séguin had carefully defined his method of education, calling it the physiological method. He no longer referred in the title to a method for the "education of idiots" as if the method were special to them, but spoke [Page 35]  now of idiocy treated by a physiological method. If we consider that pedagogy always had psychology as its base, and that Wundt defines a "physiological psychology," the coincidence of these ideas must strike us, and lead us to suspect in the physiological method some connection with physiological psychology.

While I was assistant at the Psychiatric Clinic, I had read Edward Séguin's French book, with great interest. But the English book which was published in New York twenty years later, although it was quoted in the works about special education by Bourneville, was not to be found in any library. I made a vain quest for it, going from house to house of nearly all the English physicians, who were known to be specially interested in deficient children, or who were superintendents of special schools. The fact that this book was unknown in England, although it had been published in the English language, made me think that the Séguin system had never been understood. In fact, although Séguin was constantly quoted in all the publications dealing with institutions for deficients, the educational applications described, were quite different from the applications of Séguin's system.

Almost everywhere the methods applied to deficients are more or less the same as those in use for normal children. In Germany, especially, a friend who had gone there in order to help me in my researches, noticed that although special materials existed here and there in the pedagogical museums of the schools for deficients, these materials were rarely used. Indeed, the German educators hold the principle that it is well to adapt to the teaching of backward children, the same method used for normal ones; but these methods are much more objective in Germany than with us. [Page 36] 

At the Bicêtre, where I spent some time, I saw that it was the didactic apparatus of Séguin far more than his method which was being used, although the French text was in the hands of the educators. The teaching there was purely mechanical, each teacher following the rules according to the letter. I found, however, wherever I went, in London as well as in Paris, a desire for fresh counsel and for new experiences, since far too often Séguin's claim that with his methods the education of idiots was actually possible, had proved only a delusion.

After this study of the methods in use throughout Europe I concluded my experiments upon the deficients of Rome, and taught them throughout two years. I followed Séguin's book, and also derived much help from the remarkable experiments of Itard.

Guided by the work of these two men, I had manufactured a great variety of didactic material. These materials, which I have never seen complete in any institution, became in the hands of those who knew how to apply them, a most remarkable and efficient means, but unless rightly presented, they failed to attract the attention of the deficients.

I felt that I understood the discouragement of those working with feeble-minded children, and could see why they had, in so many cases, abandoned the method. The prejudice that the educator must place himself on a level with the one to be educated, sinks the teacher of deficients into a species of apathy. He accepts the fact that he is educating an inferior personality, and for that very reason he does not succeed. Even so those who teach little children too often have the idea that they are educating babies and seek to place themselves on the child's level by approaching him with games, and often with foolish [Page 37]  stories. Instead of all this, we must know how to call to the man which lies dormant within the soul of the child. I felt this, intuitively, and believed that not the didactic material, but my voice which called to them, awakened the children, and encouraged them to use the didactic material, and through it, to educate themselves. I was guided in my work by the deep respect which I felt for their misfortune, and by the love which these unhappy children know how to awaken in those who are near them.

Séguin, too, expressed himself in the same way on this subject. Reading his patient attempts, I understand clearly that the first didactic material used by him was spiritual. Indeed, at the close of the French volume, the author, giving a résumé of his work, concludes by saying rather sadly, that all he has established will be lost or useless, if the teachers are not prepared for their work. He holds rather original views concerning the preparation of teachers of deficients. He would have them good to look upon, pleasant-voiced, careful in every detail of their personal appearance, doing everything possible to make themselves attractive. They must, he says, render themselves attractive in voice and manner, since it is their task to awaken souls which are frail and weary, and to lead them forth to lay hold upon the beauty and strength of life.

This belief that we must act upon the spirit, served as a sort of secret key, opening to me the long series of didactic experiments so wonderfully analysed by Edward Séguin,­experiments which, properly understood, are really most efficacious in the education of idiots. I myself obtained most surprising results through their application, but I must confess that, while my efforts showed themselves in the intellectual progress of my pupils, a [Page 38]  peculiar form of exhaustion prostrated me. It was as if I gave to them some vital force from within me. Those things which we call encouragement, comfort, love, respect, are drawn from the soul of man, and the more freely we give of them, the more do we renew and reinvigorate the life about us.

Without such inspiration the most perfect external stimulus may pass unobserved. Thus the blind Saul, before the glory of the sun, exclaimed, "This?­It is the dense fog!"

Thus prepared, I was able to proceed to new experiments on my own account. This is not the place for a report of these experiments, and I will only note that at this time I attempted an original method for the teaching of reading and writing, a part of the education of the child which was most imperfectly treated in the works of both Itard and Séguin.

I succeeded in teaching a number of the idiots from the asylums both to read and to write so well that I was able to present them at a public school for an examination together with normal children. And they passed the examination successfully.

These results seemed almost miraculous to those who saw them. To me, however, the boys from the asylums had been able to compete with the normal children only because they had been taught in a different way. They had been helped in their psychic development, and the normal children had, instead, been suffocated, held back. I found myself thinking that if, some day, the special education which had developed these idiot children in such a marvellous fashion, could be applied to the development of normal children, the "miracle" of which my friends talked would no longer be possible. The abyss [Page 39]  between the inferior mentality of the idiot and that of the normal brain can never be bridged if the normal child has reached his full development.

While everyone was admiring the progress of my idiots, I was searching for the reasons which could keep the happy healthy children of the common schools on so low a plane that they could be equalled in tests of intelligence by my unfortunate pupils!

One day, a directress in the Institute for Deficients, asked me to read one of the prophecies of Ezekiel which had made a profound impression upon her, as it seemed to prophesy the education of deficients.

"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.

"And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

"And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live ? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

"Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.

"Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:

"And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

"So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.

"And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came [Page 40]  up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them.

"Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

"So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.

"Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts."

In fact, the words­"I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live," seem to me to refer to the direct individual work of the master who encourages, calls to, and helps his pupil, preparing him for education. And the remainder­"I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you," recalled the fundamental phrase which sums up Séguin's whole method,­"to lead the child, as it were, by the hand, from the education of the muscular system, to that of the nervous system, and of the senses." It was thus that Séguin taught the idiots how to walk, how to maintain their equilibrium in the most difficult movements of the body­such as going up stairs, jumping, etc., and finally, to feel, beginning the education of the muscular sensations by touching, and reading the difference of temperature, and ending with the education of the particular senses.

But if the training goes no further than this, we have only led these children to adapt themselves to a low order of life (almost a vegetable existence). "Call to the Spirit," says the prophecy, and the spirit shall enter into them, and they shall have life. Séguin, indeed, led the [Page 41]  idiot from the vegetative to the intellectual life, "from the education of the senses to general notions, from general notions to abstract thought, from abstract thought to morality." But when this wonderful work is accomplished, and by means of a minute physiological analysis and of a gradual progression in method, the idiot has become a man, he is still an inferior in the midst of his fellow men, an individual who will never be able fully to adapt himself to the social environment: "Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts."

This gives us another reason why the tedious method of Séguin was so often abandoned; the tremendous difficulty of the means, did not justify the end. Everyone felt this, and many said, "There is still so much to be done for normal children!"


Having through actual experience justified my faith in Séguin's method, I withdrew from active work among deficients, and began a more thorough study of the works of Itard and Séguin. I felt the need of meditation. I did a thing which I had not done before, and which perhaps few students have been willing to do,­I translated into Italian and copied out with my own hand, the writings of these men, from beginning to end, making for myself books as the old Benedictines used to do before the diffusion of printing.

I chose to do this by hand, in order that I might have time to weigh the sense of each word, and to read, in truth, the spirit of the author. I had just finished copying the 600 pages of Séguin's French volume when I received from New York a copy of the English book published in 1866. This old volume had been found among the books discarded from the private library of a New York physi- [Page 42]  cian. I translated it with the help of an English friend. This volume did not add much in the way of new pedagogical experiments, but dealt with the philosophy of the experiences described in the first volume. The man who had studied abnormal children for thirty years expressed the idea that the physiological method, which has as its base the individual study of the pupil and which forms its educative methods upon the analysis of physiological and psychological phenomena, must come also to be applied to normal children. This step, he believed, would show the way to a complete human regeneration.

The voice of Séguin seemed to be like the voice of the forerunner crying in the wilderness, and my thoughts were filled with the immensity and importance of a work which should be able to reform the school and education.

At this time I was registered at the University as a student of philosophy, and followed the courses in experimental psychology, which had only recently been established in Italian universities, namely, at Turin, Rome and Naples. At the same time I made researches in Pedagogic Anthropology in the elementary schools, studying in this way the methods in organisation used for the education of normal children. This work led to the teaching of Pedagogic Anthropology in the University of Rome.


I had long wished to experiment with the methods for deficients in a first elementary class of normal children, but I had never thought of making use of the homes or institutions where very young children were cared for. It was pure chance that brought this new idea to my mind.

It was near the end of the year 1906, and I had just returned from Milan, where I had been one of a committee at the International Exhibition for the assignment of [Page 43]  prizes in the subjects of Scientific Pedagogy and Experimental Psychology. A great opportunity came to me, for I was invited by Edoardo Talamo, the Director General of the Roman Association for Good Building, to undertake the organisation of infant schools in its model tenements. It was Signor Talamo's happy idea to gather together in a large room all the little ones between the ages of three and seven belonging to the families living in the tenement. The play and work of these children was to be carried on under the guidance of a teacher who should have her own apartment in the tenement house. It was intended that every house should have its school, and as the Association for Good Building already owned more than 400 tenements in Rome the work seemed to offer tremendous possibilities of development. The first school was to be established in January, 1907, in a large tenement house in the Quarter of San Lorenzo. In the same Quarter the Association already owned fifty-eight buildings, and according to Signor Talamo's plans we should soon be able to open sixteen of these "schools within the house."

This new kind of school was christened by Signora Olga Lodi, a mutual friend of Signor Talamo and myself, under the fortunate title of Casa dei Bambini or "The Children's House." Under this name the first of our schools was opened on the sixth of January, 1907, at 58 Via dei Marsi. It was confided to the care of Candida Nuccitelli and was under my guidance and direction.

From the very first I perceived, in all its immensity, the social and pedagogical importance of such institutions, and while at that time my visions of a triumphant future seemed exaggerated, to-day many are beginning to understand that what I saw before was indeed the truth.

On the seventh of April of the same year, 1907, a sec- [Page 44]  ond "Children's House" was opened in the Quarter of San Lorenzo; and on the eighteenth of October, 1908, another was inaugurated by the Humanitarian Society in Milan in the Quarter inhabited by workingmen. The workshops of this same society undertook the manufacture of the materials which we used.

On the fourth of November following, a third "Children's House" was opened in Rome, this time not in the people's Quarter, but in a modern building for the middle classes, situated in Via Famagosta, in that part of the city known as the Prati di Castello; and in January, 1909, Italian Switzerland began to transform its orphan asylums and children's homes in which the Froebel system had been used, into "Children's Houses" adopting our methods and materials.

The "Children's House" has a twofold importance: the social importance which it assumes through its peculiarity of being a school within the house, and its purely pedagogic importance gained through its methods for the education of very young children, of which I now made a trial.

As I have said, Signor Talamo's invitation gave me a wonderful opportunity for applying the methods used with deficients to normal children, not of the elementary school age, but of the age usual in infant asylums.

If a parallel between the deficient and the normal child is possible, this will be during the period of early infancy when the child who has not the force to develop and he who is not yet developed are in some ways alike.

The very young child has not yet acquired a secure coordination of muscular movements, and, therefore, walks imperfectly, and is not able to perform the ordinary acts of life: such as fastening and unfastening its garments. [Page 45]  The sense organs, such as the power of accommodation of the eye, are not yet completely developed; the language is primordial and shows those defects common to the speech of the very young child. The difficulty of fixing the attention, the general instability, etc., are characteristics which the normal infant and the deficient child have in common. Preyer, also, in his psychological study of children has turned aside to illustrate the parallel between pathological linguistic defects, and those of normal children in the process of developing.

Methods which made growth possible to the mental personality of the idiot ought, therefore, to aid the development of young children, and should be so adapted as to constitute a hygienic education of the entire personality of a normal human being. Many defects which become permanent, such as speech defects, the child acquires through being neglected during the most important period of his age, the period between three and six, at which time he forms and establishes his principal functions.

Here lies the significance of my pedagogical experiment in the "Children's Houses." It represents the results of a series of trials made by me, in the education of young children, with methods already used with deficients. My work has not been in any way an application, pure and simple, of the methods of Séguin to young children, as anyone who will consult the works of the author will readily see. But it is none the less true that, underlying these two years of trial, there is a basis of experiment which goes back to the days of the French Revolution, and which represents the earnest work of the lives of Itard and Séguin.

As for me, thirty years after the publication of Séguin's second book, I took up again the ideas and, I may even [Page 46]  say, the work of this great man, with the same freshness of spirit with which he received the inheritance of the work and ideas of his master Itard. For ten years I not only made practical experiments according to their methods, but through reverent meditation absorbed the works of these noble and consecrated men, who have left to humanity most vital proof of their obscure heroism.

Thus my ten years of work may in a sense be considered as a summing up of the forty years of work done by Itard and Séguin. Viewed in this light, fifty years of active work preceded and prepared for this apparently brief trial of only two years, and I feel that I am not wrong in saying that these experiments represent the successive work of three physicians, who from Itard to me show in a greater or less degree the first steps along the path of psychiatry.

As definite factors in the civilisation of the people, the "Children's Houses" deserve a separate volume. They have, in fact, solved so many of the social and pedagogic problems in ways which have seemed to be Utopian, that they are a part of that modem transformation of the home which must most surely be realised before many years have passed. In this way they touch directly the most important side of the social question­that which deals with the intimate or home life of the people.

It is enough here to reproduce the inaugural discourse delivered by me on the occasion of the opening of the second "Children's House" in Rome, and to present the rules and regulations * which I arranged in accordance with the wishes of Signor Talamo.

It will be noticed that the club to which I refer, and the dispensary which is also an out-patients' institution for medical and surgical treatment (all such institutions be- [Page 47]  ing free to the inhabitants) have already been established. In the modern tenement­Casa Moderna in the Prati di Castello, opened November 4, 1908, through the philanthropy of Signor Talamo­they are also planning to annex a "communal kitchen."

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Notes:

[Page 46]

* See page 70.

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