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Montessori: The Australian story of a revolutionary teaching method

Susan Feez
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 1913 four Australian teachers attended inspirational educator Dr Maria Montessori’s first international training course in Rome. That same year Blackfriars School in Sydney was one of the first schools in the world to adopt the Montessori approach. A century later, Montessori continues to be at the forefront of innovative education in this country, with 200 schools and centres, including Indigenous learning programs, and a recognised curriculum of its own.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-654-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. Preface and acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
    Christine Harrison and Megan Tyne
  4. 1 An enduring educational tradition
    (pp. 9-26)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century the idea that all Australian children should receive a quality education was still novel. Most classrooms of the era would seem alien places to children and teachers of today. It is remarkable then that an educational approach which first emerged at this time, enthusiastically greeted by a small group of Australian educational reformers, should still flourish in twenty-first century Australia.

    One of the treasures preserved in the State Library of NSW is a hundred-year-old manuscript that evocatively spans the years separating the Australian Montessori educators of today from those first Australian Montessorians. Walking...

  5. 2 A shared European heritage
    (pp. 27-37)

    If Dr Montessori’s pedagogy and the new Australian nation shared the idea of liberty as a founding principle, it was because an exploration of the provenance of both leads back to a collection of ideas that emerged in eighteenth-century Europe, a period known as the Age of Enlightenment. The influence of Enlightenment thought, and the impulse to unify and be free of foreign rulers, found expression in nineteenth-century Italy in the Risorgimento, or Resurgence. Maria Montessori was born in 1870, the year the newly liberated Italy finally unified as a nation in its own right. Both her parents were Italian...

  6. 3 International travellers
    (pp. 38-65)

    The educational leader who stands out as the earliest and, it could be argued, the most influential proponent of Montessori education in Australia was Martha Margaret Mildred Simpson (1865–1948).

    Dr Montessori’s work first came to Martha Simpson’s attention through an article, originally published in the AmericanMcClure’s Magazine. The author was Josephine Tozier, an American who had visited theCasa dei Bambiniin Rome in 1910. When Miss Simpson read the article in 1911, she was already a leading figure in early childhood education in New South Wales, a lecturer in kindergarten methods at the Sydney Teachers’ College and...

  7. 4 Martha Simpson
    (pp. 66-87)

    On the way home to Sydney, like so many travellers returning from Europe, Martha Simpson broke her journey in Perth. Because Perth was so strategically located on the sea route between the eastern states and Europe, it was often the first landfall for news and new ideas making their way to Australia from Europe. Martha Simpson arrived in Perth just as the education system was being expanded and reformed, and the new primary school curriculum ‘was declared to exhibit as a whole Montessori’s concern for the self-activity of the child’ (Petersen 1983: 252). Perhaps at Miss Simpson’s invitation while she...

  8. 5 Swimming against the tide
    (pp. 88-122)

    The students returning home from the first international Montessori training course in mid-1913 would have left Rome brimming with enthusiasm. As they set out on journeys by steam train and steamship to different corners of the globe, they would have looked forward to implementing all that they had learned in Rome in their own classrooms at home. No matter how far the Montessori graduates travelled, however, whether to other parts of Europe, to the Americas, to Asia or to Australia, they were all heading into an era far less attuned to their enthusiasm for educational reform based on liberty.


  9. 6 Immigration and the baby boom
    (pp. 123-133)

    As the first generation of Australian Montessorians grew older and began to retire, the Depression and World War II prevented a new generation of Australian teachers from travelling to Europe to attend Montessori training courses. Australia would have to wait until the war ended before educators were again in a position to travel overseas to study ways to improve the education of young children.

    In the years between the wars, from 1915 to the early 1930s, Dr Montessori lived in Barcelona in Spain with her son, Mario, and his children. From there, during the 1920s and early 1930s Maria Montessori...

  10. 7 Training at home and abroad
    (pp. 134-157)

    A key factor restricting the expansion of Australian Montessori schools over the last hundred years has been an ongoing shortage of trained Montessori teachers, a consequence of the tyranny of distance made more serious when the volatile working conditions in small schools struggling to survive drive teachers away to find more secure careers.

    From 1913 to the present there have been three ways Australian Montessori schools have been supplied with trained Montessori teachers. First, Australians travelled to train overseas. As we have seen, before World War II Australians travelled overseas to attend training courses delivered by Dr Montessori herself, first...

  11. 8 Philanthropy and social justice
    (pp. 158-181)

    The early twentieth-century pioneers of Montessori education in Australia, like Maria Montessori herself, were working in an era when early childhood educators saw themselves as social reformers, motivated by philanthropic ideals and hopes of ameliorating the family life and living conditions of the urban and rural poor. Over the decades, as war engulfed the world twice, Maria Montessori’s vision became increasingly international. By the 1930s, Dr Montessori had become an advocate for peace, arguing fervently that hopes for world peace begin with how the world supports its children.

    In 1999 the Association Montessori Internationale launched Educateurs sans Frontières (EsF) to...

  12. 9 Parents, a vision and a church hall
    (pp. 182-239)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century Montessori classrooms were established by middle class philanthropists and social reformers, most of whom were already involved in the free kindergarten and infant school movements. The vision of these early Montessorians was to provide disadvantaged children with an environment in which they could thrive physically and intellectually in an atmosphere of freedom.

    Changes in the educational landscape in postwar Australia created a very different environment for late twentieth century Montessori educators. In this new environment, Montessori was no longer viewed as a liberating alternative to the harshness of the type of mass education...

  13. Afterword: Australian Montessori graduates
    (pp. 240-241)

    A century of Montessori schools in Australia has produced many thousands of Montessori graduates. What has become of all these people? What stories do they have to tell of their time in Montessori classrooms and the impact a Montessori start had on their lives? The work to chronicle these stories has barely begun, but with luck this book will be a catalyst for a keen researcher to do just this.

    The greatest challenge will be to uncover the stories of those children who attended the earliest Australian Montessori classes, whether at Blackfriars Practising School in Sydney, the Franklin Street Free...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 242-243)
  15. References
    (pp. 244-246)
  16. Index
    (pp. 247-256)