by Matthew J. Helm on August 10th, 2011

Matthew J. Helm
November 23 2010

Influence of a Historical Figure: Maria Montessori

A quick look around my bedroom, four walls plastered with Spiderman comics, Harry Potter cutouts, and Lady Gaga posters, might suggest who my heroes are. That simply is not the case. Sure, super heroes and pop stars are great, but I like to think that true heroes are a lot more mundane, if not just as extraordinary. I am not referring to police officers or firemen either, however admirable their work may be. I am talking about the inspiration that everybody receives when growing up—teachers. After all, education is the tool that shapes each generation. In my own case I have one particular educator to thank for her influence on my life, Maria Montessori.
Born in the 1800s, Maria Montessori was a notable Italian philosopher and humanitarian, known today for her work in creating the Montessori Method of teaching. I was lucky enough to receive a Montessori education from pre-school through 6th grade. Aside from the basics—ABCs and 123s—my time at Montessori has left me with a set of invaluable life skills that are, six years later, still with me today. Above all, Montessori taught me to be independent, to love learning, and to be open minded.
One of the most important characteristics of Maria’s method is the concept of personal choice. The Montessori classroom is a prepared environment in which students have the ability to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. Every child moves at an individual pace. Students work alongside teachers on a first-name basis in order to find success in learning. This instilled in me a great sense of individuality. The Montessori Method breeds problem solving—children are encouraged to come to decisions on their own. This early influence on my childhood is why I am a leader, confident in my choices.
Concepts like, “learning is a chore”, or “reading is boring”, were foreign to me until I reached high school. Maria’s methods leave students with a thirst for knowledge. Students often find themselves encouraged to broaden their horizons. With no formal grading scale, students simply learn for the sake of learning, not so that they can avoid the consequences of failing a class. That’s not to say that teachers in the Montessori classroom overly nurture the class, far from it. Maria herself said to, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” She had a firm belief in “nurturing the absorbent mind”. Her teaching style brings forth a love for learning, as it did in my own case. I have the Montessori influence to thank for my adoration of knowledge and academics.
My Montessori education was quite the cultural experience as well. My 6th grade class alone consisted of Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and Jehovah Witnesses. There were a total of eleven students, and our school rented from the Muslim Community Center. True to the Montessori mantra, every year our class would participate in a day of peace—celebrating the diversity the world has to offer. We studied a variety of different cultures, learning about the food, music, and religions of many countries. No point of view was left unaddressed in our studies, from the Big Bang Theory to creationism. Thus the transfer from my grade school to a Lutheran high school was a bit shocking—I was not initially accustomed to more sheltered points of view. However, I think my time at Montessori has helped me bring a certain degree of open-mindedness into every aspect of my life. Maria Montessori was correct in saying that, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.”
The Montessori Method fosters a love for independence, knowledge, and diversity in young children—producing visionaries. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the creators of the internet giant Google, credit their time as Montessori students as a major factor in their success. They learned to be self-starters with the freedom to pursue their own interests. Julia Child, Helen Keller, Henry Ford, Jacqueline Kennedy, Alexander Graham Bell, and Yo Yo Ma are just a few more notable figures who commend Maria Montessori for making them the people they are today. I am proud to count myself amongst their number. Maria Montessori has inspired me to be the person I am today—an individual with a thirst for knowledge and an open mind.

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Posted on August 16th, 2010

My son starts school today. It is all going to be strange and new to him for a while and I wish you would treat him gently. It is an adventure that might take him across continents. All adventures that probably include wars, tragedy and sorrow. To live this life will require faith, love and courage. So dear Teacher, will you please take him by his hand and teach him things he will have to know, teaching him - but gently, if you can. Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend. He will have to know that all men are not just, that all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero, that for every crooked politician, there is a dedicated leader.

Teach him if you can that 10 cents earned is of far more value than a dollar found. In school, teacher, it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to learn how to gracefully lose, and enjoy winning when he does win. Teach him to be gentle with people, tough with tough people. Steer him away from envy if you can and teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Teach him if you can - how to laugh when he is sad, teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success. Teach him to scoff at cynics.

Teach him if you can the wonders of books, but also give time to ponder the extreme mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hill. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if every one tells him they are wrong. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone else is doing it. Teach him to listen to every one, but teach him also to filters all that he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through. Teach him to sell his talents and brains to the highest bidder but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patient to be brave.

Teach him to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind, in God.

This is the order, teacher but see what best you can do. He is such a nice little boy and he is my son.

Posted on August 9th, 2010

Today I did my math and language, practical life too,
I used my eyes, my ears and hands, my senses the whole day through.
I added and subtracted, learned patience all the day.
I used tweezers, blocks, and puzzles,
And worked with the scrubbing tray.
I learned how to mix colors,
And learned how to weigh.
So mom and dad, please don’t say-

You see, I’m sharing as I play,
Learning self control throughout the day,
I’m learning to listen and speak clearly when I talk,
To wait my turn and when inside to walk,
To put my words into phrases,
To balance along the “Red Rod” maze,
To find my name and write it down,
I do it with a smile, not a frown.
So mom and dad, please don’t say,

I learned about a snail, I learned about a worm,
I learned about flags and maps,
And how to take a turn,
I helped a friend when he was stuck,
I learned that water runs off a duck.
I looked at words from left to right,
Agreed to differ, not to fight.
Today I sang the continent song,
I learned the difference between right and wrong,
So mom and dad, please don’t say,

Because yes, I played the whole day through,
I worked to learn the things I do,
Encounter a problem, find the clue and work it out for myself, I do.
My teachers set the scene and stand near-by,
They want me to succeed and teach me how to try.
They pose the questions, and help me to think,
They keep me afloat and would never let me sink.
So don’t get discouraged and frustrate me,
I try my best and I’m learning each day.
So mom and dad, please don’t say,

- Anonymous

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