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Montessori and the Mainstream: A Century of Reform on the Margins


by Keith Whitescarver & Jacqueline Cossentino — 2008

Background/Context: Montessori education has flourished as an alternative approach to schooling for a hundred years. In the century since the first Montessori school opened in the slums of Rome, the movement has undergone sustained growth while simultaneously enduring efforts to modify the method in order to reach a wider audience. Despite Montessori’s endurance and reach, the movement remains largely unstudied by educational researchers. This article presents a historical treatment of the method and the movement by treating Montessori as a case study of enduring and ambitious educational reform.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article is an examination of the American Montessori movement as it has evolved over the course of the past one hundred years. Situated within an international context, the study traces the development of the movement from its failed introduction to the United States in 1991, to its rebirth in the 1960s, to its current resurgence as a time-tested alternative to conventional public schooling. Key questions revolve around Montessori’s ongoing status as an influential yet marginal force in American educational reform.

Research Design: This is a historical case study drawn from archival data, interviews with Montessori leaders and practitioners, and secondary sources (biographies, memoirs) generated between 1906 and 2007.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 12, 2008, p. 2571-2600
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14765, Date Accessed: 8/18/2017 2:51:33 AM

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About the Author
  • Keith Whitescarver
    College of William and Mary
    E-mail Author
    KEITH WHITESCARVER is an assistant professor of history of education at the College of William and Mary. Recent articles on Montessori education include “Montessori and the Mainstream: A Century of Reform on the Margins,” Teachers College Record (Dec. 2008), and “Establishing an American Montessori Movement: Another Look at the Early Years,” Montessori Life (Spring 2006), both coauthored with Jacqueline Cossentino.
  • Jacqueline Cossentino
    College of William and Mary
    JACQUELINE COSSENTINO is a visiting scholar in the Department of Sociology at the College of William and Mary. She is also the head of the Williamsburg Montessori School (Virginia), which serves as the primary site of her current research on educational culture and practice. She is the author of several articles on Montessori education, including “Big Work: Goodness, Vocation and Engagement in the Montessori Method,” which appeared in Curriculum Inquiry; “Ritualizing Expertise: A Non-Montessori View of the Montessori Method,” which appeared in American Journal of Education; and the forthcoming book, Inside Montessori: Unexpected Lessons for Educational Reform, to be published by the State University Press of New York.
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