Book Review - by Lee Havis

Bringing Montessori To America

S.S. McClure, Maria Montessori, and the Campaign to Publicize Montessori Education

By Gerald and Patrica Gutek, 2016, University of Alabama Press

In “Bringing Montessori to America”, Gerald and Patricia Gutek describe the struggles of those early pioneers who first introduced Dr. Montessori’s revolutionary ‘new education’ to America in the early 1900’s. The story begins with a few key figures, such as the innovative American teacher, Anne George, who traveled to Italy in 1909, to personally observe and study the “new” children she heard about from a friend in Italy at that time.

The story continues in 1910, when the American travel reporter, Josephine Tozier, wrote about these “Montessori” children, and the magazine editor, S.S. McClure published a series of her articles in his popular American journey of the day, known as McClure’s Magazine.

The Guteks explore these events during the period 1910-1915, when the personal relationship between McClure and Dr. Montessori led to a series of highly successful lectures, and the formation of an American Montessori organization, which included members of the family of Alexander Graham Bell and President Woodrow Wilson.

This hopeful beginning, however, soon turned bitter as personality disputes arose about money, control, and philosophy between Dr. Montessori and her various American associates. For example, Dr. Montessori viewed Anne George as unreliable due to her comments about adapting Montessori to the American “culture” rather than giving full authority and control to Dr. Montessori herself.

Later, Dr. Montessori sought out another American educator, Helen Parkhust, to represent her work in the USA. But, as an independent spirit, she soon withdrew from this duty to pursue her own separate interests in education. So, by 1915, Montessori in America came to a virtual end, not to emerge again until others entered the field much later after Dr. Montessori’s death in 1952.

The Guteks leave the story of Montessori in America in 1915. Sadly, this same story of conflicts about “personality” and “culture” arose in the 1950’s as well, now playing out between Dr. Montessori’s son and heir, Mario, and those various American educators who sought to adapt Montessori to the American “culture.”

A further chapter of Montessori in America arose still later in 1979 with the emergence of the International Montessori Society (IMS), and the discovery of ‘true natural’ Montessori teaching. By then, however, conventional Montessori education had become deeply rooted to either “personality” or “culture.” So, today, IMS stands virtually alone to represent Dr. Montessori’s original discovery and vision of a ‘new education’ in the world.

As a personal observation, I wonder how today’s story of Montessori education will be viewed by future generations. Will it become lost and abandoned amid the disputes of the past? If so, will it revive again, perhaps under a new name by others? And, how people in the future still look back at Dr. Montessori’s amazing 1907 discovery of the child’s true nature and the promising new education she envisioned destined to bring about mankind’s true nature of perfect, peace, harmony and order in the world?