The Montessori Community

As Dr. Maria Montessori sought to communicate her work and discoveries throughout the world, a “Montessori community” of her followers and adherents emerged, which came to center on the training and certification of teachers, as well as the development schools and regional organizations associated with her ideas and approach. Since 1907, this community has changed and evolved to reflect a diverse and wide-range of opinions and philosophies as the Montessori “method” became popular and practiced in various locations around the world.

From 1907 until Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952, the Montessori community was held together and defined by the authority and control of Dr. Montessori’s personal leadership. In time, however, diverse opinions and philosophies led to divisions and conflicts in the community which persist to the present day. The following summarizes the general history and development of the Montessori community from 1907 to 2013.

Association Montessori Internationale (AMI)

In 1929, Dr. Montessori sought to formalize control her work under the leadership of her son, Mario, through the organization “Association Montessori International” (AMI). Through this organization, Mario consolidated control of all her mother’s educational activity, including certification of teachers, copyright control of her published writings, and coordination of the activities of various regional “Montessori” organizations that emerged. After Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952, Mario continued to control the operation of AMI; however, now without the personal power and authority of Dr. Montessori herself. Conflicts and division in the Montessori community emerged, so that new, non-AMI organizations arose, which were owed no personal loyalty to Mario. When Mario died in 1982, AMI continued under control of the heirs and family members of Mario Montessori, and later through those who were most closely associated with Mario during the time of his leadership.

Today, AMI continues as a self-defined official authority for Montessori education, representing a type of “personality” philosophy in the field since it is so closely defined by its personal relationship with Dr. Montessori herself.

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American Montessori Society

In the 1950's, Nancy Rambusch, an AMI trained teacher from the United States, sought to build up Montessori education in the United States soon after the death of Dr. Montessori in 1952. When certain personality and philosophical disputes arose in this effort, Mario sought to reassert AMI authority and control in the USA through another representative, Margaret Stephenson, who established an AMI teacher education center that Mario personally approved. Ms. Rambusch, however, continued her own separate development of Montessori education, which eventually became consolidated in a new organization, known as “American Montessori Society.” (AMS) This new organization then certified teachers, affiliated schools, and organized training under its own “culture” type philosophy which fit comfortably into conventional American society. The conflict between AMI and AMS remains today the focus of dispute between the “personality” and “culture” type philosophies in the field, which are played out in a complex drama of control and power in many different ways around the world.

"Montessori" in the Public Domain

In the 1960's, disputes between AMI and AMS eventually led to a legal decision by the US Patent Office which held that use of the name “Montessori” could not be exclusively claimed by any one organization. It was, therefore, in the public domain as a “generic term.” In this way, many non-AMI and non-AMS expressions of “Montessori” arose in the field. These were often centered on prominent leading personalities, or certain religious, political, or cultural belief systems.

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St. Nicholas Montessori College

The “St. Nicholas Montessori College” was formed during Dr. Montessori’s life as an institution for training teachers in Great Britain. Organized and led by Margaret Humphries and Phoebe Child, it was authorized by Dr. Montessori with special instructions to provide “distance learning” for Montessori practitioners too remote to attend the formal AMI courses which only she was allowed to conduct at the time.

Following Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952, the St. Nicholas training continued, now against the will and approval of Mario and AMI. The training approach featured distance learning evaluated by qualified tutors in UK, and local workshop training seminars conducted by Humphries and Child in many diverse parts of the world. In the 1980’s, Margaret Humphries left St. Nicholas to form her own separate “Montessori World Educational Institute” (MWEI) in California, USA. This new organization then continued correspondence courses and teacher education, following the same essential format as before in the St. Nicholas Montessori College.

Following the absence of Margaret Humphries and Phoebe Childs, control of the St. Nicholas Montessori College eventually fell to Leslie Briton, and then separated to form two separate organizations, “Montessori Centre Internationale” (MCI) and “London Montessori Center.” Both of these organization exist to this day, providing training and certification to teachers through affiliated training centers in various countries around the world. The philosophical orientation of these organizations largely follow the “culture” type of Montessori teaching, since they conform closely to either British society or to that of their own particular native country.

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International Montessori Society

In the 1960’s, Lee Havis became active in the field of Montessori teaching, first as a teacher, and then later in the development of AMS teacher education. Due to conflicts with AMS, however, he led an effort to form a separate less “political” type of Montessori organization, which in 1976, came to be known as “National Center for Montessori Education" (NCME). By 1979, NCME was providing training through some 26 affiliated programs in the United States. The NCME training model was essentially the AMS “culture” philosophy type, however, similar in form and operation to the St. Nicholas Montessori College.

In 1979, Havis discovered a new understanding of Montessori teaching, which was a way of being committed to laws of nature, rather than the conventional commitment to either personality or culture. Since he found that this approach consistently brought about the child’s true nature, he described this as “true natural” Montessori teaching to distinguish it from the “culture” and “personality” types.

Based on this distinctive Montessori philosophy, Havis established the "International Montessori Society" (IMS) to direct and guide activities and support its practice through training teachers, recognizing schools, and building up an international support network as described and presented at this website:

After 1979, NCME soon re-formed itself under new ownership, and conducted various training activities until the early 2000’s, which its training centers gradually became affiliated with AMS. Besides NCME, many other groups, centers, and organizations formed and evolved as a dynamic aspect of the Montessori community.

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Many Montessori Organizations

After 1952, many independent organizations emerged, centered on various prominent personalities. In 1971, Dr. Helen Billings, a prominent educator, developed an independent study course which gradually led to the formation of the "Montessori Institute of America" (MIA). Based in Kansas City, MO, the MIA affiliates training centers and provides membership recognition for its associated schools. The "Pan American Montessori Association" was formed by Dr. Elizabeth Caspari and later associated with Dr. Feland Meadows, to provide teacher education and other support services in accordance with her personal study and learning experience with Dr. Montessori. The "International Association of Progressive Montessorians" (IAPM) is another organizational expression of Montessori education. Founded by Angela Martin, this organization provides its own distinctive certification and training of teachers and association of schools. These organizations have evolved their forms of operation in the process of change over time, largely following the philosophical orientation of their principal founders.

Throughout the world, many other organizations sprang up to train teachers and represent Montessori education, each according to its own particular philosophical orientation. For example, Tim Seldin left the AMS organization to advance his ideas and purposes in Montessori teaching through the “Montessori Foundation” and “International Montessori Council.” Some of these organizations follow the “personality” of its founding leader, while others take on the philosophy of the surrounding “culture,” or some combination of the two.

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Independent Montessori Teacher Education Programs

Unaffiliated single-purpose teacher education institutions have emerged, each with its own distinctive identity, form, certification and support for operation. During the 1940's, Dr. Montessori’s personal work in India and Pakistan led to independent training programs in this area, some affiliated with international organizations, and others free-standing based on the experience and strength of its individual founder.

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Harmony and Cooperation in the Montessori community

Re-print, excerpt - Montessori News (spring, 2013)

In the Montessori community, many find disharmony and conflict a negative and unpleasant aspect of representing Montessori education to the general public. Many become confused and distracted by this disharmony, deviating far from the core message of Dr. Montessori’s original simple idea of discovering the child’s true nature through scientific observation. In 1997, one commentator observed that “most educators dismiss the Montessori movement” and that “…Montessori…is exceedingly difficult to grow when consumed by invidious, sectarian, and trivial pursuits like the past mandates of MACTE.” (Public School Montessorian, Summer, 1997, Joseph Beckmann, director for Development for OEkos, a foundation for Education)

While cooperation and harmony are commendable where possible in the Montessori community, it must not, however, be made the primary basis for collaboration and expression in the field. Rather, the first priority must be adherence to Dr. Montessori’s vision and discovery of the child’s true nature – and how to best bring this about through scientific observation.

Since 1907, the Montessori community has achieved only marginal success in its collective efforts for Montessori teaching in the wider field of education. In these efforts, much potential progress has been lost due to appeasement and collaboration with the repressive, negative forces of conventional education. This type of collaboration, however, only makes these negative forces more bold, entrenched, and aggressive in their expression.

Since its founding in 1979, the International Montessori Society (IMS) has consistently sought to bring harmony and cooperation to the Montessori community, such as through the operation of the umbrella accrediting agency, International Montessori Accreditation Council (IMAC). Hopefully, this and other efforts will eventually succeed as the Montessori community becomes increasing committed to Dr. Montessori’s original approach and vision of a “new education.”

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Montessori Accreditation

Efforts to harmonize and assure uniform quality of Montessori teacher education have historically revolved around philosophical conflicts between the “personality” and “culture” philosophy types, such as most prominently represented by the AMI and AMS organizations. In the 1970’s, this conflict arose in the context of achieving official “recognition” of Montessori accreditation by the US federal government. While both AMS and AMI sought exclusive domination in this accreditation field, Lee Havis led the effort for a third type of accrediting agency to serve as an inclusive “umbrella” structure for the entire Montessori community.

In 1992, AMS created an accrediting agency compatible with its own “culture” type of training format. Eventually, this agency came to be known as “Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education” (MACTE). Due to the large number of AMS affiliated programs, and the willing cooperation of some non-AMS training organizations, MACTE finally gained recognition by the US federal government.

Significantly, IMS declined to participate in MACTE due its exclusionary nature and form of operation, incompatible with the basic “true natural” philosophy of Montessori teaching. Instead, in 1994, IMS formed the inclusive "umbrella" accrediting agency known as "International Montessori Accreditation Council" (IMAC). Structure of the IMAC agency is designed with standards and criteria broad enough to include all available formats and expression of teacher education in the field.

In IMAC, decisions are made by consensus, based on a definition of Montessori teaching as being committed to support normal development in children as described by Dr. Montessori's in her various published texts on the subject after 1907. The dialogue to reconcile and harmonize these philosophical issues and distinctions, such as the proper means for assuring quality Montessori teaching, is ongoing in the Montessori community to the present time.

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Vision for Montessori education, taking into account the existing infrastructure of people, programs, schools, etc.

A vision of "Montessori" is already expressing itself through the function of the entire diversity of personalities and organizations in the Montessori community. Perhaps a most suitable unifying inquiry and central focus for this vision would be the question "what is 'Montessori'?" - to help address and resolve the many unknown errors of action, misunderstanding, false assumptions and miscommunication in the field.

On the subject of "vision", IMS views Montessori teaching as a way of being committed to laws of nature.  It functions to "control of the environment, not the child", requiring precise and exacting technology, to effectively conduct a scientific observation of children.    Imperfect human nature spawns many diverse variations and understanding of what is Montessori.   Beyond these imperfect expressions and representations of Montessori in society, there is the child's true nature to discover - a unifying reality in the realm of the spirit.  This is the normalized child that Dr. Montessori discovered with a perfect inner guidance for its own self-directed development in harmony with its entire environment.  To allow this true normalized child to emerge in the world seems mostly likely as the true underlying purpose of Montessori education.  This is what Dr. Montessori said would bring about a new and better humanity.  

Laws of nature are beyond words, limitations, definition and control by the human personality.  IMS believes that ulitmately it is one's committed action on in compliance with these laws that will determine and form the progress and work of Dr. Montessori's great vision of a new education..

Many new forms and expressions associated with the name "Montessori" may come about as parents become more aware of their responsibilities and have greater freedom of choice in the education of their children. Non-traditional education and home schooling alternatives are already well established and growing in society today. Modern computer technology will certainly expand even further these new forms of expression - as parents and the general public become more aware of the great abundance of alternative information and resources available in the field.

Certainly, Montessori accreditation and other such interrelated organizational expressions could provide a unifying forum for discourse, debate and participation about Montessori - to elevate knowledge and create greater awareness of Montessori principles in the general public. Perhaps these various expressions will one day find a way to come together for a more harmonious interrelated functioning and cooperation in the Montessori community.  However, IMS sees real unity only coming about through experience built on infinite and eternal laws of nature.  As a unifying basis, our imperfect human efforts at this unity imust follow such concepts as inclusivity and consensus.

In 2003, IMS has been offering a comprehensive technology of Montessori teaching, a set of tools that anyone can use to create the normalizing environment that Dr. Montessori first created in 1907.  This new technology offers hope for practical progress of Montessori education, beyond the confines of conventional organizations, which are generally bound by limited concepts and practices of the past.

The Montessori community may be seen as a collection of all those using this word to describe their activities in education.  Certainly, this has some association with her published writings as related to the central vision and discovery of the "normalized".  Anyone can therefore answer the pertinent questions about Montessori for themselves through self-directed thought, study and independent judgment. .  So, the Montessori community will continue to evolve and express itself according to the words and actions of those involved in this process; progressing forward in whatever new or changed forms of expression may arise in the future to represent Dr. Montessori's vision of a new education in the world.

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Other Montessori Resources of the Internet

Michael's Montessori Links to the Internet

An on-line IMS discussion group, intmonsoc (International Montessori Society) is available for anyone to join at no charge. You can join at: The group includes those who have attended IMS workshops, and practitioners who are actively involved in using the IMS technology of Montessori teaching with children. To subscribe to this list, send an email to - , and then follow instructions to request placement on the list. IMS also has a Facebook page.

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