Referred to as the French Socrates, Renaissance humanist thinker Michel de Montaigne ranks among the more influential philosophers in the Western world. His writings, called essays, are central contributions to philosophy and education.
Born February 28, 1533, he was given a classical education and then studied law. He became a city counselor in Bordeaux, a post he held until he took over the running of his family’s estate in 1571. In 1572, he began his essays, a series of discussions on many topics that were published in 1580, 1588, and 1595. He broke with Western philosophical tradition in that he wrote in French rather than in Latin.
Although his writings have been considered discursive and sometimes rambling, the central message that the reader should take from Montaigne is one of skepticism and questioning. In his essay on education, titled “Of the Education of Children: That It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity,” Montaigne stresses the importance of the teacher and at the same time insists that the teacher, however competent, must be sure to move at the same pace as the student.
Montaigne does not prescribe what is to be taught, as other philosophers of education have done, but rather is concerned with the pace and methodology. He reiterates the importance of skepticism, but with useful limits. In other works, he also argued that religious beliefs must be accepted on faith alone, which contrasted sharply with the efforts of other intellectuals of his time to ground religious teachings in logic and reason. Montaigne is often studied in contrast with René Descartes, although Montaigne’s writings did indeed influence this other great philosopher.
Maria Montessori was a physician, an educational reformer, and an advocate for children and peace. She is best known for designing the educational system known as the Montessori Method, which flourishes today in more than 8,000 schools on five continents.
The first Montessori School, known as the Casa dei Bambini, was opened in 1907 as part of an urban renewal project located in the poor district of San Lorenzo in Rome. The well-publicized success of her experiments in the Casa marked a decisive turning point in her life. In 1907, she left the practice of medicine and devoted the remainder of her life to education. From this point, until her death in 1952, Montessori traveled the world establishing Montessori schools; training centers for teachers; and the professional society charged with perpetuating the integrity of the method, The Association Montessori Internationale.
Having spent the better part of her life as a war refugee, Montessori was inspired by the belief that education based on the developmental needs of children could create a new generation of adults who, through proper formation, would be able to forge a new vision for peace. She called this “the science of peace,” and it infused all aspects of her method of education.
- Kramer, R. (1988). Maria Montessori: A biography. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
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