cover image The Child Is the Teacher: A Life of Maria Montessori

The Child Is the Teacher: A Life of Maria Montessori

Cristina De Stefano, trans. from the Italian by Gregory Conti. Other Press, $28.

Journalist and literary scout De Stefano (Oriana Fallaci) focuses this episodic biography on childhood education pioneer Maria Montessori’s tumultuous personal life and prickly personality rather than her pedagogical theory. De Stefano sketches Montessori’s childhood interest in acting, the obstacles she overcame to enter medical school and practice as a physician, her outspoken support for women’s suffrage, and her “clandestine union” with fellow physician Giuseppe Montesano, with whom she had a son out of wedlock. De Stefano also delves into the inspiration Montessori (1870–1952) took from Édouard Séguin’s methods of educating intellectually disabled children, and the breakthroughs she made as director of a kindergarten program in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Rome. Drawing from Montessori’s personal writings, De Stefano paints a portrait of a charismatic yet difficult woman who was devoted to her family, in love with her own celebrity, prone to making collaborators into enemies, and willing to seek Mussolini’s support for her cause. Unfolding the story as a series of vignettes and writing in the present tense, De Stefano occasionally sacrifices coherence for a sense of immediacy. Still, readers of feminist history will savor this evenhanded profile of a groundbreaking educator and businesswoman. (Mar.)