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IS THE MONTESSORI METHOD A FAD?

IS THE MONTESSORI METHOD A FAD?
By FRANK PIERREPONT GRAVES

PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF EDUCATION IN THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

AFTER all the popular excitement, spectacular magazine articles, and more or less interesting books on the subject, the busy man—even the educator—is still asking: "What is the Montessori Method?" Is it a wonderful discovery of educational principles, an ingenious invention of material and devices, or merely a new fad that has been exalted by manufacturers of educational apparatus and enterprising journalists into a profitable cult and propaganda? Will the inventor of the "didactic apparatus" be eventually enshrined a little above Pestalozzi and Froebel, Mann and Barnard, in the educational pantheon, or will she be relegated to the limbo of the exponents of tiddledy-winks and ping-pong, of Belgian hares and Teddy bears? While "neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet," it is in the hope of answering such questions and of satisfying such a mild curiosity, that this sketch is added to the pyramid of Montessorian literature.

In the first place, it should be noted that Montessori is on the right track in seeking a scientific basis for her educational structure. Despite the close resemblance of the "didactic apparatus" to the "gift of Froebel," it does not find its justification in German idealism Happily the practise of Montessori, which is so similar to that of the kindergarten, is not handicapped with the necessity of awakening the innate concept of "unity" by "adumbration" in the unsuspecting child through his activities with an ordinary ball. The symbolism, mysticism and obscurantism of the literal Froebelians are replaced by a scientific basis of modern biology, physiology and psychology. Some of Montessori' s biological statements have been shown by scientists and physicians to be inadequate, incorrect, or out of date, but, with the rapid expansion of modern science, it is almost inevitable that an educationalist should occasionally reveal a weakness when he builds upon a biological foundation. The scientific attitude of Montessori is an outgrowth of her training and experience. She was the first woman to receive the doctorate in medicine from the University of Rome, and she has followed up this medical education with careful study and researches in psychiatry, experimental psychology, anthropology and pedagogy. And it was her success in supervising the instruction of defective children that led to the experiments that have so stirred the educational world. Her procedure in teaching normal children has funda-