This chapter from The Montessori Method (1912) provides us with an insight into the context in which Maria Montessori operated and the respect in which she held both children and parents. She placed considerable emphasis on teachers utilizing a particular pedagogical approach. Her aim was that children should become independent, and able to do things for themselves. She looked to 'spontaneous self-development, however, the teacher was central to deciding what needs are to be addressed and broad activities to be undertaken.
She saw the children's houses (Casa dei Bambini) as a new kind of educating institution “part of of a broad social programme aimed at 'the redemption of the entire community'. It's associational and communal approach looked to the achievement of a much greater linkage between schools and parents in the question of educational aims.
We have put the school within the house; and this is not all. We have placed it within the house as the property of the collectivity, leaving under the eyes of the parents the whole life of the teacher in the accomplishment of her high mission.
This idea of collective ownership of the school is new and very beautiful and profoundly educational. The parents know that the “Children's House” is their property, and is maintained by a portion of the rent they pay. The mothers may go at any hour of the day to watch, to admire, or to meditate upon the life there. It is in every way a continual stimulus to reflection, and a fount of evident blessing and help to their own children.
This address, originally delivered at the opening of the second Casa dei Bambini in 1907, provides us with an insight into Maria Montessori's belief that 'the school was a laboratory in which a great social experiment would be carried out':
It would perform many of the functions of that had traditionally belonged to other educating institutions of society “home and family, church, child-care and child-saving centres, and asylums “not in order to replace them but to build on them. In the school the child would acquire the capacities of judgement necessary to order the experiences the rest of his life provided. Society would be given its direction by the school as the centre of the life of the child, forming character as it trained the body and taught cognitive skills. (Kramer 1976: 144)
In many respects it is the pedagogical 'Method' that remains as part of educational debates today “but that 'Method' had social and communal implications and concerns without which it is significantly constrained.
Anne E. George, the translator of the book had been trained by Maria Montessori herself (and was the only person in North America at the time judged by Montessori able to teach a 'Montessori class'.
Note: the headings used in this piece are taken from the book's table of contents “and were not in the original chapter.
[page 48] It may be that the life lived by the very poor is a thing which some of you here to-day have never actually looked upon in all its degradation. You may have only felt the misery of deep human poverty through the medium of some great book, or some gifted actor may have made your soul vibrate with its horror.
Let us suppose that in some such moment a voice should cry to you, "Go look upon these homes of misery and blackest poverty. For there have sprung up amid the terror and the suffering, oases of happiness, of cleanliness, of peace. The poor are to have an ideal house which shall be their own. In Quarters where poverty and vice ruled, a work of moral redemption is going on. The soul of the people is being set free from the torpor of vice, from the shadows of ignorance. The little children too have a 'House' of their own. The new generation goes forward to meet the new era, the time when misery shall no longer be deplored but destroyed. They go to meet the time when the dark dens of vice and wretchedness shall have become things of the past, and when no trace of them shall be found among the living." What a change of emotions we should experience! And how we should hasten [page 49] here, as the wise men guided by a dream and a star hastened to Bethlehem!
The Quarter of San Lorenzo before and since
the establishment of the “Children's Houses–
I have spoken thus in order that you may understand the great significance, the real beauty, of this humble room, which seems like a bit of the house itself set apart by a mother's hand for the use and happiness of the children of the Quarter. This is the second “Children's Houses” [Dr. Montessori no longer directs the work in the Case dei Bambini in the Quarter of San Lorenzo] which has been established within the ill-favoured Quarter of San Lorenzo.
The Quarter of San Lorenzo is celebrated, for every newspaper in the city is filled with almost daily accounts of its wretched happenings. Yet there are many who are not familiar with the origin of this portion of our city.
It was never intended to build up here a tenement district for the people. And indeed San Lorenzo is not the People's Quarter, it is the Quarter of the poor. It is the Quarter where lives the underpaid, often unemployed workingman, a common type in a city which has no factory industries. It is the home of him who undergoes the period of surveillance to which he is condemned after his prison sentence is ended. They are all here, mingled, huddled together.
The district of San Lorenzo sprang into being between 1884 and 1888 at the time of the great building fever. No standards either social or hygienic guided these new constructions. The aim in building was simply to cover with walls square foot after square foot of ground. The more space covered, the greater the gain of the interested Banks and Companies. All this with a complete disregard of the disastrous future which they were preparing. It was natural that no one should concern himself with [page 50] the stability of the building he was creating, since in no case would the property remain in the possession of him who built it.
When the storm burst, in the shape of the inevitable building panic of 1888 to 1890, these unfortunate houses remained for a long time untenanted. Then, little by little, the need of dwelling-places began to make itself felt, and these great houses began to fill. Now, those speculators who had been so unfortunate as to remain possessors of these buildings could not, and did not wish to add fresh capital to that already lost, so the houses constructed in the first place in utter disregard of all laws of hygiene, and rendered still worse by having been used as temporary habitations, came to be occupied by the poorest class in the city.
Evil of subletting the most cruel form of
The apartments not being prepared for the working class, were too large, consisting of five, six, or seven rooms. These were rented at a price which, while exceedingly low in relation to the size, was yet too high for any one family of very poor people. This led to the evil of subletting. The tenant who has taken a six room apartment at eight dollars a month sublets rooms at one dollar and a half or two dollars a month to those who can pay so much, and a corner of a room, or a corridor, to a poorer tenant, thus making an income of fifteen dollars or more, over and above the cost of his own rent.
This means that the problem of existence is in great
part solved for him, and that in every case he adds to his income
through usury. The one who holds the lease traffics in the misery of his
fellow tenants, lending small sums at a rate which generally corresponds
to twenty cents a [page 51] week for the loan of two dollars,
equivalent to an annual rate of 500 per cent.
Thus we have in the evil of subletting the most cruel form of usury: that which only the poor know how to practise upon the poor.
To this we must add the evils of crowded living, promiscuousness, immorality, crime. Every little while the newspapers uncover for us one of these int–rieurs: a large family, growing boys and girls, sleep in one room; while one corner of the room is occupied by an outsider, a woman who receives the nightly visits of men. This is seen by the girls and the boys; evil passions are kindled that lead to the crime and bloodshed which unveil for a brief instant before our eyes, in some lurid paragraph, this little detail of the mass of misery.
Whoever enters, for the first time, one of these apartments is astonished and horrified. For this spectacle of genuine misery is not at all like the garish scene he has imagined. We enter here a world of shadows, and that which strikes us first is the darkness which, even though it be midday, makes it impossible to distinguish any of the details of the room.
When the eye has grown accustomed to the gloom, we perceive, within, the outlines of a bed upon which lies huddled a figure “someone ill and suffering. If we have come to bring money from some society for mutual aid, a candle must be lighted before the sum can be counted and the receipt signed. Oh, when we talk of social problems, how often we speak vaguely, drawing upon our fancy for details instead of preparing ourselves to judge intelligently through a personal investigation of facts and conditions.
The problem of life more profound than that of the
intellectual elevation of the poor. We discuss earnestly the question of
home study for [page 52] school children, when for many of them
home means a straw pallet thrown down in the corner of some dark hovel.
We wish to establish circulating libraries that the poor may read at
home. We plan to send among these people books which shall form their
domestic literature “books through whose influence they shall come to
higher standards of living. We hope through the printed page to educate
these poor people in matters of hygiene, of morality, of culture, and in
this we show ourselves profoundly ignorant of their most crying needs.
For many of them have no light by which to read!
There lies before the social crusader of the present day a problem more profound than that of the intellectual elevation of the poor; the problem, indeed, of life.
In speaking of the children born in these places, even the conventional expressions must be changed, for they do not “first see the light of day–; they come into a world of gloom. They grow among the poisonous shadows which envelope over-crowded humanity. These children cannot be other than filthy in body, since the water supply in an apartment originally intended to be occupied by three or four persons, when distributed among twenty or thirty is scarcely enough for drinking purposes!
We Italians have elevated our word “casa” to the almost sacred significance of the English word “home,” the enclosed temple of domestic affection, accessible only to dear ones.
Far removed from this conception is the condition of the many who have no “casa,” but only ghastly walls within which the most intimate acts of life are exposed upon the pillory. Here, there can be no privacy, no modesty, no gentleness; here, there is often not even light, nor air, nor water! It seems a cruel mockery to introduce [page 53] here our idea of the home as essential to the education of the masses, and as furnishing, along with the family, the only solid basis for the social structure. In doing this we would be not practical reformers but visionary poets.
Conditions such as I have described make it more decorous, more hygienic, for these people to take refuge in the street and to let their children live there. But how often these streets are the scene of bloodshed, of quarrel, of sights so vile as to be almost inconceivable. The papers tell us of women pursued and killed by drunken husbands! Of young girls with the fear of worse than death, stoned by low men. Again, we see untellable things “a wretched woman thrown, by the drunken men who have preyed upon her, forth into the gutter. There, when day has come, the children of the neighbourhood crowd about her like scavengers about their dead prey, shouting and laughing at the sight of this wreck of womanhood, kicking her bruised and filthy body as it lies in the mud of the gutter!
Isolation of the masses of the poor, unknown
to past centuries
Such spectacles of extreme brutality are possible here at the very gate of a cosmopolitan city, the mother of civilisation and queen of the fine arts, because of a new fact which was unknown to past centuries, namely, the isolation of the masses of the poor.
In the Middle Ages, leprosy was isolated: the Catholics isolated the Hebrews in the Ghetto; but poverty was never considered a peril and an infamy so great that it must be isolated. The homes of the poor were scattered among those of the rich and the contrast between these was a commonplace in literature up to our own times. Indeed, when I was a child in school, teachers, for the purpose of moral education, frequently resorted to the illustration of the kind princess who sends help to the poor cottage next [page 54] door, or of the good children from the great house who carry food to the sick woman in the neighbouring attic.
To-day all this would be as unreal and artificial as a fairy tale. The poor may no longer learn from their more fortunate neighbours lessons in courtesy and good breeding, they no longer have the hope of help from them in cases of extreme need. We have herded them together far from us, without the walls, leaving them to learn of each other, in the abandon of desperation, the cruel lessons of brutality and vice. Anyone in whom the social conscience is awake must see that we have thus created infected regions that threaten with deadly peril the city which, wishing to make all beautiful and shining according to an aesthetic and aristocratic ideal, has thrust without its walls whatever is ugly or diseased.
When I passed for the first time through these streets, it was as if I found myself in a city upon which some great disaster had fallen. It seemed to me that the shadow of some recent struggle still oppressed the unhappy people who, with something very like terror in their pale faces, passed me in these silent streets. The very silence seemed to signify the life of a community interrupted, broken. Not a carriage, not even the cheerful voice of the ever-present street vender, nor the sound of the hand-organ playing in the hope of a few pennies, not even these things, so characteristic of poor quarters, enter here to lighten this sad and heavy silence.
Observing these streets with their deep holes, the doorsteps broken and tumbling, we might almost suppose that this disaster had been in the nature of a great inundation which had carried the very earth away; but looking about us at the houses stripped of all decorations, the walls broken and scarred, we are inclined to think that it was [page 55] perhaps an earthquake which has afflicted this quarter. Then, looking still more closely, we see that in all this thickly settled neighbourhood there is not a shop to be found. So poor is the community that it has not been possible to establish even one of those popular bazaars where necessary articles are sold at so low a price as to put them within the reach of anyone. The only shops of any sort are the low wine shops which open their evil-smelling doors to the passer-by. As we look upon all this, it is borne upon us that the disaster which has placed its weight of suffering upon these people is not a convulsion of nature, but poverty “poverty with its inseparable companion, vice. This unhappy and dangerous state of things, to which our attention is called at intervals by newspaper accounts of violent and immoral crime, stirs the hearts and consciences of many who come to undertake among these people some work of generous benevolence. One might almost say that every form of misery inspires a special remedy and that all have been tried here, from the attempt to introduce hygienic principles into each house, to the establishment of cr–ches, “Children's Houses”, and dispensaries.
But what indeed is benevolence? Little more than an expression of sorrow; it is pity translated into action. The benefits of such a form of charity cannot be great, and through the absence of any continued income and the lack of organisation it is restricted to a small number of persons. The great and widespread peril of evil demands, on the other hand, a broad and comprehensive work directed toward the redemption of the entire community. Only such an organisation, as, working for the good of others, shall itself grow and prosper through the general prosperity which it has made possible, can make a place [page 56] for itself in this quarter and accomplish a permanent good work.
Work of the Roman Association of Good
Building and the moral importance of their reforms
It is to meet this dire necessity that the great and kindly work of the Roman Association of Good Building has been undertaken. The advanced and highly modern way in which this work is being carried on is due to Edoardo Talamo, Director General of the Association. His plans, so original, so comprehensive, yet so practical, are without counterpart in Italy or elsewhere.
This Association was incorporated three years ago in Rome, its plan being to acquire city tenements, remodel them, put them into a productive condition, and administer them as a good father of a family would.
The first property acquired comprised a large portion of the Quarter of San Lorenzo, where to-day the Association possesses fifty-eight houses, occupying a ground space of about 30,000 square metres, and containing, independent of the ground floor, 1,600 small apartments. Thousands of people will in this way receive the beneficent influence of the protective reforms of the Good Building Association. Following its beneficent programme, the Association set about transforming these old houses, according to the most modern standards, paying as much attention to questions related to hygiene and morals as to those relating to buildings. The constructional changes would make the property of real and lasting value, while the hygienic and moral transformation would, through the improved condition of the inmates, make the rent from these apartments a more definite asset.
The Association of Good Building therefore decided upon a programme which would permit of a gradual attainment of their ideal. It is necessary to proceed slowly because it is not easy to empty a tenement house at a time [page 57] when houses are scarce, and the humanitarian principles which govern the entire movement make it impossible to proceed more rapidly in this work of regeneration. So it is, that the Association has up to the present time transformed only three houses in the Quarter of San Lorenzo. The plan followed in this transformation is as follows:
A: To demolish in every building all portions of the structure not originally constructed with the idea of making homes, but, from a purely commercial standpoint, of making the rental roll larger. In other words, the new management tore down those parts of the building which encumbered the central court, thus doing away with dark, ill-ventilated apartments, and giving air and light to the remaining portion of the tenement. Broad airy courts take the place of the inadequate air and light shafts, rendering the remaining apartments more valuable and infinitely more desirable.
B: To increase the number of stairways, and to divide the room space in a more practical way. The large six or seven room suites are reduced to small apartments of one, two, or three rooms, and a kitchen.
The importance of such changes may be recognised from the economic point of view of the proprietor as well as from the standpoint of the moral and the material welfare of the tenant. Increasing a number of stairways diminishes that abuse of walls and stairs inevitable where so many persons must pass up and down. The tenants more readily learn to respect the building and acquire habits of cleanliness and order. Not only this, but in reducing the chances of contact among the inhabitants of the house, especially late at night, a great advance has been made in the matter of moral hygiene.
The division of the house into small apartments has done [page 58] much toward this moral regeneration. Each family is thus set apart, homes are made possible, while the menacing evil of subletting together with all its disastrous consequences of overcrowding and immorality is checked in the most radical way.
On one side this arrangement lessens the burden of the individual lease holders, and on the other increases the income of the proprietor, who now receives those earnings which were the unlawful gain of the system of subletting. When the proprietor who originally rented an apartment of six rooms for a monthly rental of eight dollars, makes such an apartment over into three small, sunny, and airy suites consisting of one room and a kitchen, it is evident that he increases his income.
The moral importance of this reform as it stands to-day is tremendous, for it has done away with those evil influences and low opportunities which arise from crowding and from promiscuous contact, and has brought to life among these people, for the first time, the gentle sentiment of feeling themselves free within their own homes, in the intimacy of the family.
But the project of the Association goes beyond even this. The house which it offers to its tenants is not only sunny and airy, but in perfect order and repair, almost shining, and as if perfumed with purity and freshness. These good things, however, carry with them a responsibility which the tenant must assume if he wishes to enjoy them. He must pay an actual tax of care and good will. The tenant who receives a clean house must keep it so, must respect the walls from the big general entrance to the interior of his own little apartment. He who keeps his house in good condition receives the recognition and consideration due such a tenant. Thus all the tenants unite in an ennobling [page 59] warfare for practical hygiene, an end made possible by the simple task of conserving the already perfect conditions.
Here indeed is something new! So far only our great
national buildings have had a continued maintenance fund. Here,
in these houses offered to the people, the maintenance is confided to a
hundred or so workingmen, that is, to all the occupants of the building.
This care is almost perfect. The people keep the house in perfect
condition, without a single spot. The building in which we find
ourselves to-day has been for two years under the sole protection of the
tenants, and the work of maintenance has been left entirely to them. Yet
few of our houses can compare in cleanliness and freshness with this
home of the poor.
The experiment has been tried and the result is remarkable. The people acquire together with the love of homemaking, that of cleanliness. They come, moreover, to wish to beautify their homes. The Association helps this by placing growing plants and trees in the courts and about the halls.
Out of this honest rivalry in matters so productive
of good, grows a species of pride new to this quarter; this is the pride
which the entire body of tenants takes in having the best-cared-for
building and in having risen to a higher and more civilised plane for
living. They not only live in a house, but they know how to live,
they know how to respect the house in which they live.
This first impulse has led to other reforms. From the clean home will come personal cleanliness. Dirty furniture cannot be tolerated in a clean house, and those persons living in a permanently clean house will come to desire personal cleanliness.
One of the most important hygienic reforms of the [page 60] Association is that of the baths. Each remodeled tenement has a place set apart for bathrooms, furnished with tubs or shower, and having hot and cold water. All the tenants in regular turn may use these baths, as, for example, in various tenements the occupants go according to turn, to wash their clothes in the fountain of the court. This is a great convenience which invites the people to be clean. These hot and cold baths within the house are a great improvement upon the general public baths. In this way we make possible to these people, at one and the same time, health and refinement, opening not only to the sun, but to progress, those dark habitations once the vile caves of misery.
The “Children's House” earned by the parents through their care of the building. But in striving to realise its ideal of a semi-gratuitous maintenance of its buildings, the Association met with a difficulty in regard to those children under school age, who must often be left alone during the entire day while their parents went out to work. These little ones, not being able to understand the educative motives which taught their parents to respect the house, became ignorant little vandals, defacing the walls and stairs. And here we have another reform the expense of which may be considered as indirectly assumed by the tenants as was the care of the building. This reform may be considered as the most brilliant transformation of a tax which progress and civilisation have as yet devised. The “Children's House” is earned by the parents through the care of the building. Its expenses are met by the sum that the Association would have otherwise been forced to spend upon repairs. A wonderful climax, this, of moral benefits received! Within the “Children's House”, which belongs exclusively to those children under school age, working mothers may safely leave their little ones, and may proceed with a feeling of great [page 61] relief and freedom to their own work. But this benefit, like that of the care of the house, is not conferred without a tax of care and of good will. The Regulations posted on the walls announce it thus:
“The mothers are obliged to send their children to the 'Children's House' clean, and to co-operate with the Directress in the educational work.”
Two obligations: namely, the physical and moral care of their own children. If the child shows through its conversation that the educational work of the school is being undermined by the attitude taken in his home, he will be sent back to his parents, to teach them thus how to take advantage of their good opportunities. Those who give themselves over to low-living, to fighting, and to brutality, shall feel upon them the weight of those little lives, so needing care. They shall feel that they themselves have once more cast into the darkness of neglect those little creatures who are the dearest part of the family. In other words, the parents must learn to deserve the benefit of having within the house the great advantage of a school for their little ones.
–Good will”, a willingness to meet the demands of the Association is enough, for the directress is ready and willing to teach them how. The regulations say that the mother must go at least once a week, to confer with the directress, giving an account of her child, and accepting any helpful advice which the directress may be able to give. The advice thus given will undoubtedly prove most illuminating in regard to the child's health and education, since to each of the “Children's Houses” is assigned a physician as well as a directress.
The directress is always at the disposition of the [page 62] mothers, and her life, as a cultured and educated person, is a constant example to the inhabitants of the house, for she is obliged to live in the tenement and to be therefore a co-habitant with the families of all her little pupils. This is a fact of immense importance. Among these almost savage people, into these houses where at night no one dared to go about unarmed, there has come not only to teach, but to live the very life they live, a gentlewoman of culture, an educator by profession, who dedicates her time and her life to helping those about her! A true missionary, a moral queen among the people, she may, if she be possessed of sufficient tact and heart, reap an unheard-of harvest of good from her social work.
This house is verily new; it would seem a dream impossible of realisation, but it has been tried. It is true that there have been before this attempts made by generous persons to go and live among the poor to civilise them. But such work is not practical, unless the house of the poor is hygienic, making it possible for people of better standards to live there. Nor can such work succeed in its purpose unless some common advantage or interest unites all of the tenants in an effort toward better things.
Pedagogical organization of the “Children's
This tenement is new also because of the pedagogical organisation of the “Children's House”. This is not simply a place where the children are kept, not just an asylum, but a true school for their education, and its methods are inspired by the rational principles of scientific pedagogy.
The physical development of the children is followed, each child being studied from the anthropological standpoint. Linguistic exercises, a systematic sense-training, and exercises which directly fit the child for the duties of practical life, form the basis of the work done. The teaching [page 63] is decidedly objective, and presents an unusual richness of didactic material.
It is not possible to speak of all this in detail. I must, however, mention that there already exists in connection with the school a bathroom, where the children may be given hot or cold baths and where they may learn to take a partial bath, hands, face, neck, ears. Wherever possible the Association has provided a piece of ground in which the children may learn to cultivate the vegetables in common use.
It is important that I speak here of the pedagogical progress attained by the "Children's House" as an institution. Those who are conversant with the chief problems of the school know that to-day much attention is given to a great principle, one that is ideal and almost beyond realisation, “the union of the family and the school in the matter of educational aims. But the family is always something far away from the school, and is almost always regarded as rebelling against its ideals. It is a species of phantom upon which the school can never lay its hands. The home is closed not only to the pedagogical progress, but often to social progress. We see here for the first time the possibility of realising the long-talked-of pedagogical ideal. We have put the school within the house; and this is not all. We have placed it within the house as the property of the collectivity, leaving under the eyes of the parents the whole life of the teacher in the accomplishment of her high mission.
This idea of collective ownership of the school is new and very beautiful and profoundly educational. The parents know that the “Children's House” is their property, and is maintained by a portion of the rent they pay. The mothers may go at any hour of the day to watch, [page 64] to admire, or to meditate upon the life there. It is in every way a continual stimulus to reflection, and a fount of evident blessing and help to their own children. We may say that the mothers adore the “Children's House”, and the directress. How many delicate and thoughtful attentions these good mothers show the teacher of their little ones! They often leave sweets or flowers upon the sill of the schoolroom window, as a silent token, reverently, almost religiously, given.
And when after three years of such a novitiate, the mothers send their children to the common schools, they will be excellently prepared to co-operate in the work of education, and will have acquired a sentiment, rarely found even among the best classes; namely, the idea that they must merit through their own conduct and with their own virtue, the possession of an educated son.
Another advance made by the “Children's Houses” as an institution is related to scientific pedagogy. This branch of pedagogy, heretofore, being based upon the anthropological study of the pupil whom it is to educate, has touched only a few of the positive questions which tend to transform education. For a man is not only a biological but a social product, and the social environment of individuals in the process of education, is the home. Scientific pedagogy will seek in vain to better the new generation if it does not succeed in influencing also the environment within which this new generation grows! I believe, therefore, that in opening the house to the light of new truths, and to the progress of civilisation we have solved the problem of being able to modify directly, the environment of the new generation, and have thus made it possible to apply, in a practical way, the fundamental principles of scientific pedagogy. [page 65]
The “Children's House” the first step toward the socialization of the house. The “Children's House” marks still another triumph; it is the first step toward the socialisation of the house. The inmates find under their own roof the convenience of being able to leave their little ones in a place, not only safe, but where they have every advantage.
And let it be remembered that all the mothers in the tenement may enjoy this privilege, going away to their works with easy minds. Until the present time only one class in society might have this advantage. Rich women were able to go about their various occupations and amusements, leaving their children in the hands of a nurse or a governess. To-day the women of the people who live in these remodeled houses, may say, like the great lady, “I have left my son with the governess or the nurse”. More than this, they may add, like the princess of the blood, “And the house physician watches over them and directs their sane and sturdy growth”. These women, like the most advanced class of English and American mothers, possess a “Biographical Chart”, which, filled for the mother by the directress or the doctor, gives her the most practical knowledge of her child's growth and condition.
We are all familiar with the ordinary advantages of the communistic transformation of the general environment. For example, the collective use of railway carriages, of street lights, of the telephone, all these are great advantages. The enormous production of useful articles, brought about by industrial progress, makes possible to all, clean clothes, carpets, curtains, table-delicacies, better tableware, etc. The making of such benefits generally tends to level social caste. All this we have seen in its reality. But the communising of persons is new. That the collectivity shall benefit from the services of the servant, the nurse, the teacher–this is a modern ideal. [page 66]
The communised house in its relation to the
home and to the spiritual evolution of women.
We have in the “Children's Houses” a demonstration of this ideal which is unique in Italy or elsewhere. Its significance is most profound, for it corresponds to a need of the times. We can no longer say that the convenience of leaving their children takes away from the mother a natural social duty of first importance; namely, that of caring for and educating her tender offspring. No, for to-day the social and economic evolution calls the working-woman to take her place among wage-earners, and takes away from her by force those duties which would be most dear to her! The mother must, in any event, leave her child, and often with the pain of knowing him to be abandoned. The advantages furnished by such institutions are not limited to the labouring classes, but extend also to the general middle-class, many of whom work with the brain. Teachers, professors, often obliged to give private lessons after school hours, frequently leave their children to the care of some rough and ignorant maid-of-all-work. Indeed, the first announcement of the “Children's House” was followed by a deluge of letters from persons of the better class demanding that these helpful reforms be extended to their dwellings.
We are, then, communising a “maternal function”, a feminine duty, within the house. We may see here in this practical act the solving of many of woman's problems which have seemed to many impossible of solution. What then will become of the home, one asks, if the woman goes away from it? The home will be transformed and will assume the functions of the woman.
I believe that in the future of society
other forms of communistic life will come.
Take, for example, the infirmary; woman is the natural nurse for the dear ones of her household. But who does [page 67] not know how often in these days she is obliged to tear herself unwillingly from the bedside of her sick to go to her work?
Competition is great, and her absence from her post threatens the tenure of the position from which she draws the means of support. To be able to leave the sick one in a “house-infirmary”, to which she may have access any free moments she may have, and where she is at liberty to watch during the night, would be an evident advantage to such a woman.
And how great would be the progress made in the matter of family hygiene, in all that relates to isolation and disinfection! Who does not know the difficulties of a poor family when one child is ill of some contagious disease, and should be isolated from the others? Often such a family may have no kindred or friends in the city to whom the other children may be sent.
Much more distant, but not impossible, is the communal kitchen, where the dinner ordered in the morning is sent at the proper time, by means of a dumb-waiter, to the family dining-room. Indeed, this has been successfully tried in America. Such a reform would be of the greatest advantage to those families of the middle-class who must confide their health and the pleasures of the table to the hands of an ignorant servant who ruins the food. At present, the only alternative in such cases is to go outside the home to some caf” where a cheap table d'h–te may be had.
Indeed, the transformation of the house must compensate for the loss in the family of the presence of the woman who has become a social wage-earner. In this way the house will become a centre, drawing unto itself all those good things which have hitherto been lacking: schools, public baths, hospitals, etc. [page 68]
Thus the tendency will be to change the tenement houses, which have been places of vice and peril, into centres of education, of refinement, of comfort. This will be helped if, besides the schools for the children, there may grow up also clubs and reading-rooms for the inhabitants, especially for the men, who will find there a way to pass the evening pleasantly and decently. The tenement-club, as possible and as useful in all social classes as is the “Children's House”, will do much toward closing the gambling-houses and saloons to the great moral advantage of the people. And I believe that the Association of Good Building will before long establish such clubs in its reformed tenements here in the Quarter of San Lorenzo; clubs where the tenants may find newspapers and books, and where they may hear simple and helpful lectures.
We are, then, very far from the dreaded dissolution of the home and of the family, through the fact that woman has been forced by changed social and economic conditions to give her time and strength to remunerative work. The home itself assumes the gentle feminine attributes of the domestic housewife. The day may come when the tenant, having given the proprietor of the house a certain sum, shall receive in exchange whatever is necessary to the comfort of life; in other words, the administration shall become the steward of the family.
The house, thus considered, tends to assume in its evolution a significance more exalted than even the English word “home” expresses. It does not consist of walls alone, though these walls be the pure and shining guardians of that intimacy which is the sacred symbol of the family. The home shall become more than this. It lives! It has a soul. It may be said to embrace its inmates with the [page 68] tender, consoling arms of woman. It is the giver of moral life, of blessings; it cares for, it educates and feeds the little ones. Within it, the tired workman shall find rest and newness of life. He shall find there the intimate life of the family, and its happiness.
The new woman, like the butterfly come forth from the chrysalis, shall be liberated from all those attributes which once made her desirable to man only as the source of the material blessings of existence. She shall be, like man, an individual, she shall seek blessing and repose within the house, the house which has been reformed and communised.
She shall wish to be loved for herself and not as a
giver of comfort and repose. She shall wish a love free from every form
of servile labour. The goal of human love is not the egotistical end of
assuring its own satisfaction–it is the sublime goal of multiplying the
forces of the free spirit, making it almost Divine, and, within such
beauty and light, perpetuating the species.
This ideal love is made incarnate by Frederick Nietzsche, in the woman of Zarathustra, who conscientiously wished her son to be better than she. “Why do you desire me?”, she asks the man. “Perhaps because of the perils of a solitary life? “
–In that case go far from me. I wish the man who has conquered himself, who has made his soul great. I wish the man who has conserved a clean and robust body. I wish the man who desires to unite with me, body and soul, to create a son! A son better, more perfect, stronger, than any created heretofore!”
To better the species consciously, cultivating his own health, his own virtue, this should be the goal of man's married life. It is a sublime concept of which, as yet, [page 70] few think. And the socialised home of the future, living, provident, kindly; educator and comforter; is the true and worthy home of those human mates who wish to better the species, and to send the race forward triumphant into the eternity of life!
The rules and regulations of the “Children's
The Roman Association of Good Building hereby establishes within its tenement house number, a “Children's House”, in which may be gathered together all children under common school age, belonging to the families of the tenants.
The chief aim of the “Children's House” is to offer, free of charge, to the children of those parents who are obliged to absent themselves for their work, the personal care which the parents are not able to give.
In the “Children's House” attention is given to the education, the health, the physical and moral development of the children. This work is carried on in a way suited to the age of the children.
There shall be connected with the "Children's House" a Directress, a Physician, and a Caretaker.
The programme and hours of the “Children's House” shall be fixed by the Directress.
There may be admitted to the “Children's House” all the children in the tenement between the ages of three and seven.
The parents who wish to avail themselves of the advantages of the “Children's House” pay nothing. They must, however, assume these binding obligations:
(a) To send their children to the “Children's House” at the appointed time, clean in body and clothing, and provided with a suitable apron.
(b) To show the greatest respect and deference toward the Directress and toward all persons connected with the “Children's House”, and to co-operate with the Directress herself in the education of the children. Once a week, at least, the mothers may talk with the Directress, giving her information concerning the home life of the child, and receiving helpful advice from her. [Page 71]
There shall be expelled from the “Children's House”:
(a) Those children who present themselves unwashed, or in soiled clothing.
(b) Those who show themselves to be incorrigible.
(c) Those whose parents fail in respect to the persons connected with the “Children's House”, or who destroy through bad conduct the educational work of the institution.
This feature: Montessori, M. (1912) The Montessori Method translated by A. E. George, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. pp. 48-72
The full text of The Montessori Method is available at the Celebration of Women Writers website.