Montessori, Zamenhof, Pedagogy and Peace
Maria Montessori observed
children and designed original methods to facilitate their learning.
Ludovic Zamenhof observed people failing to communicate and designed a language to help them.
The motivation of both was the notion of peace, and their creativity and clarity remains inspirational to this day.
Both Montessori and Zamenhof were raised by professional middle-class families in the late 19th century and showed signs of unusual intelligence and strength of character from an early age. Both were well educated, Montessori being the first woman ever to graduate from the University of Rome with a doctorate in Medicine and Zamenhof mastering no less than eleven languages although he, too, was a medical doctor, specialising in optometry.
Montessori's attention shifted to the improvement of human experience through the humane education of children and Zamenhof became increasingly convinced that happiness relied on peace which , in turn, depended on communication and a common language.
Their abiding and over-riding hope and desire for peace came from first hand experience of its lack in Mussolini's Italy and in the ghettos of Warsaw. Although their social status could have sheltered both from some of the ugliness and suffering, neither averted their attention from those less fortunate nor lost sight of important problems facing society as a whole.
Both Montessori and Zamenhof
accepted the responsibility inherent in their unusual capacity to make
a difference.They found new solutions to old problems and refused to be
daunted by the ‘common-wisdom’ of their day.
Zamenhof did not accept that ethnic warfare was inevitable and acceptable in a multicultural society. He did not agree that children born into certain language groups need be permanently disadvantaged as citizens of the world, obliged (and not necessarily enabled) to learn the languages of more powerful groups who would never return the courtesy.
Montessori did not accept that poor or ‘simple ‘ children should have no education, that young children should be fed fantasy instead of reality, that children were inherently naughty or lazy, or that teachers should rule by force or bribery.
A century later, many of these ‘heresies’ against the common thinking of their time become as widely accepted as the presumptions they replaced.Even beyond 'Montessori' schools, it is understood that children can and do learn a great deal from early infancy, that they will make good use of appropriately scaled aids to independent living and that they need freedom to move and investigate.Millions of people use Esperanto, the language created by Zamenhof, to communicate with members of the global community in over a hundred countries. It is normal now to see value in cultural diversity and to respect the customs and beliefs of different nations. Travellers rebel against the 'McDonaldization' of foreign lands and language-preservation societies receive a hearing from outsiders as well as speakers. Athough people all over the world speak thousands of languages and hundreds of thousands of dialects, the minimum number of languages they need to learn in order to all speak together is just one. It is not fair to choose French, or English or Chinese, they are too complex and time consuming to be available to all. Esperanto, a politically neutral language ingeniously designed to provide all the amenities which a language must, by the most elegantly simple means, is still the shortest route to fair and effective international communication.
Doctor Montessori gained
her insight through careful observation of the child at work. She advised
her followers to do likewise in order to fit the pedagogy to the learner
and not the reverse, as had previously been the case.
Similarly, Doctor Zamenhof asked what learners needed of a supra-national language and created it : patterns for ease of learning, recognizable roots and neutrality to respect the dignity of all.
The existence of networks
such as Educators for World Peace shows that many people still share the
values of those practical visionaries, Montessori and Zamenhof. Let us
hope that we continue to implement the solutions they found and to follow
their lead in seeking new ways to contribute towards creating a more peaceful