At the beginning there is a girl. She is locked in a large classroom with too high ceilings. We are in 1876, and the public elementary school on Via San Nicola de Tolentino, in Rome, is like the other schools in the Kingdom of Italy: a prison for children. You have to remain motionless on the benches, listen to the teacher for hours, repeat the lesson in chorus. If one misbehaves, they punish him. The girl is six years old and hates all that from day one. In silence, she begins her personal revolution against the institution. A kind of attention strike, which in a few months leads her to be the last of the class. “At school I didn’t study at all,” she will say as an adult. She barely listened to the teachers, and at class time she organized games, comedies. ” And she continues: “I did not understand arithmetic operations and for a long time I gave the results with invented figures, the first that occurred to me.”
She’s better at writing, she’s passionate about books, and she’s a born actress. When she reads some touching text in class, she manages to make everyone cry. She has an extrovert character and, despite her young age, a great charisma. When they play in the yard at recess, he always calls the shots, without arguing. If a colleague rebels, he strikes her with a contemptuous phrase: «You! You are not yet born! ». She has a fearsome tongue and the security derived from being a very beloved girl at home. From the day she was born, her parents have been writing down in a notebook all the details of her life, as if it were a prodigy: the first steps, the first words, the talkative joy and, above all, the “vital and.
The teachers don’t like his strong personality, the way he looks adults in the face, without any respect. One day a teacher makes a sarcastic comment about the expression of “those eyes.” The offended girl swears to herself that she will never look up in his presence again. During the classes he is unable to retain anything. Memorizing poetry and texts is an ordeal: «A teacher was determined to make us learn the lives of great women by heart, to incite us to imitate them. The exhortation that accompanied these stories was always the same: “You too should be famous!” “Wouldn’t you like to be famous?” One day I coldly replied, “No, I never will be. I care too much about the children of the future to want to add another biography to the list ”».
He does not like to compete. Faced with a classmate who is crying because she has been suspended and cannot pass the grade, she shakes her curly little head: “I couldn’t understand her because, as I told her, it seemed to me that she was giving one course as well as another.” As for her, she was suspended three times: first, third and fourth grade. A method is required to achieve such a result, and Maria has it. She is absent from school a lot, alleging all kinds of ailments, she does not pay attention to explanations in class or makes an effort at controls. At home, when it comes to doing her homework, she suffers from severe migraines and crawls into bed, her head between two pillows. “No profit”, “Little profit”, the parents write with resignation in the notebook. They know their daughter’s temperamental nature. They offered him private lessons in French and piano, but soon they had to give up even them. When she passes the final exam in primary school, the girl is thirteen and looks like the older sister of her classmates, who are ten. Until the moment of the catastrophic clash with the school, Maria had a happy childhood: she was an only child and much loved by grown-up parents. The father, Alessandro Montessori, from Ferraris, a hero of the war against the Austrians, is a civil servant of the State. The mother, Renilde Stoppani, a native of Marche, is a teacher in love with her work, which she had to leave when she got married. The girl grew up between Chiaravalle de Ancona, where she was born on August 31, 1870, and Florence, from where she later moved to Rome, due to her father’s work. The new capital, recently conquered by the Savoy, is still a small and somewhat sleepy city, which is enclosed in the meander of the Tiber, from Mount Pincio to Porta Portese, and descends rapidly into a countryside of aristocratic villas and vineyards, where the sunny days people go on excursions and pick chicory. Beyond, immense and infested with malaria, the great empty space of the Agro Romano opens.
Maria’s father works in the Ministry of Finance and her mother is dedicated to the education of her daughter. It teaches you the values of solidarity. He makes her knit warm clothes to give to charity. He encourages her to care for the poor and keep a neighbor handicapped by a hump company. Perhaps this is how the first idea of being a doctor was born: usions If I saw a poor child in the street, I would find her pale and it seemed to me that she was ill. Instead of thinking of giving him my snack, I was thinking what medicine, what potion could heal him ». She does not use her dolls to try on dresses and hats, but as patients, in line on the bed, while she passes with the spoon, distributing cough syrup. Education at home is spartan. “You are not born to enjoy,” she will say when she grows up. And she will gladly tell an anecdote from her childhood. It must have been very small. She has just returned to the city after a long summer vacation. She is tired, she is hungry, she whines for something to eat. The mother, busy with the suitcases, asks him to wait. Finally, irritated, she offers him a piece of stale bread, which has been at home since they left: “If you can’t wait, have this.”
The seduction of the theater
«My toy was the theater. If I saw reciting, I would imitate with great vividness: I would get into the role of the characters until I became pale or sobbed and cried reciting fictitious things. He invented little comedies, improvised plots; he composed costumes and scenes. ” As she fights her own personal battle with the elementary school, she manages to be allowed to attend an acting class. Her father objects, but, as she always does, she ends up giving in to Maria’s insistence. It is difficult for her to face her only adored daughter, who has an authoritarian character. She has been that way since she was little, and will continue to be so throughout life. “When she was in a room, there was no one else,” a witness will comment many years later.
In the acting school, the teachers are delighted, they say that the girl is very talented. They convince her parents to let her debut in the theater, in her first official role. “I also noticed it,” he will write, remembering that time, “I was born for that and it was my passion.” However, at the last moment she decides to resign. It is a sudden decision, without explanations. “It was only a moment and I saw that I was really going to achieve fame, unless I escaped the seduction of the theater.” Throughout your life you will often make sudden decisions, made on instinct, following your inner star. Believe in listening to the vocation and in the signs. Her personality has a strong mystical component. An episode repeated a thousand times by biographers explains this aspect: «At the age of ten he suddenly changed. She developed a remarkable interest in religion, and at the same time a sense of “calling.” Her parents noticed it when she became seriously ill with the flu and the doctor told them to prepare for the worst. However, Maria reassured her mother: “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going to die. I have too many things to do! ‘
In 1883, just when Maria obtained, after so many suspensions, the elementary diploma, Italian law opened the doors of higher schools to girls. Maria claims that she wants to continue studying, a decision that her mother enthusiastically supports. With the grade obtained, she could not aspire to enter the classical Lyceum, so she settled for the Regia Scuola Tecnica in Rome, where a women’s section had just opened. There are barely a dozen girls enrolled, a small group of tight-knit pioneers. Maria begins to see the school with different eyes. The challenge of being one of the first girls to enter the male world of higher education is an important one, worthy of your attention. In no time she becomes a model student. Her father notes in the family notebook that his daughter no longer thinks of anything else. The migraines have disappeared. The afternoons are dedicated to study.
He studied the three years of technical school with excellent marks, and in 1886 he passed the final exams with a special mention. Her father would like her to enroll in Teaching, at that time the quintessential female school, which trains future teachers. But Maria doesn’t even want to hear about it. She doesn’t want to be a teacher. When your application is rejected because your technical title is not considered sufficient, you do not hide your relief.
He insists on enrolling at the Regio Istituto Tecnico de Roma, which is a very unusual choice. The few women who continue to study do so to improve their culture before marrying, at most to dedicate themselves to teaching. She doesn’t: she says she wants to be an engineer. Besides Maria, in the entire institute there is only one other student, named Matilde Marchesini. During the breaks between class and class, teachers lock them in a classroom so that the students do not disturb them.
Meanwhile, Maria has become a very attractive girl. She is short, but soft in shape. He has curly black hair and very bright black eyes, a very personal way of looking directly at his companions, without shyness, and an irresistible laugh. A student older than her, Giovanni Janora, begins to woo her, “following her from afar.” Questioned by Renilde, who is concerned about her daughter’s reputation, the young man claims that his intentions are serious. When he finishes school and has done his military service, he says, he will ask for your hand. Renilde, reassured, gives her permission to go to her house every Sunday.
The boy’s family, informed of what is happening, objects, stating that he is too young to commit. Renilde, who has come to like him, regrets it; on the contrary, Alessandro Montessori is relieved. She appreciates Giovanni, but considers her to be too taciturn in character, out of keeping with her daughter’s lively and expansive character. If the dating project had gone ahead, it would have meant a short-term wedding and a completely different life. Maria would have shut herself up in a bourgeois salon, between children to care for and evenings with her husband. But everything is canceled. The story of your life can continue.
SEARCH ONLINE ‘THE CHILD IS THE TEACHER. LIFE OF MARIA MONTESSORI ‘
Author: Cristina De Stefano
Translation: Maria Pons Irazazabal
Format: Softcover with flaps, 400 pages