Citational Practice and Montessori

I’ve been thinking a lot about voice lately. I believe it matters whose voices we amplify within Montessori, as it has a direct impact on kinds of worlds that are produced, not just for ourselves and the humans we care for, but also for the multispecies world we are intricately and inextricably enmeshed in. In academia, this concept is made sense through what the British-Australian scholar, Sara Ahmed calls ‘citational practice’. The term addresses the need to give voice to some but not others. It highlights how the voices of minority scholars get displaced systematically as a result of scholarship traditionally being cis, white, and heteropatriarchal. Ahmed uses the metaphor of building materials to help us grasp the effect of our citational practice.

‘They are the materials through which, from which, we create our dwellings’

(Ahmed, 2017, p.16)

As an academic, this is hard work. For instance, I am deeply aware that the current surge in posthuman and ‘new’ materialist scholarship is anything but ‘new’. Non-western thinkers and philosophers have for centuries and millenia subscribed to similar worldviews that highlighted the illusoriness of individualism, the interconnectdness of the world as well as the agency of the nonhuman (See Advaita Vedanta or scholarship on Indigenous materialism from the Māori tradition). Despite knowing this, I find myself inadvertently citing western scholars in my work, because… guess what? The institution privileges, popularises and makes easily accessible western scholarship through the various systemic processes in place. As a result, the cycle of citation is reproduced time and time again. Therefore, citational practice is not an easy feat, it takes conscious, deliberate, and care-full effort.

Lessons from Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori’s contributions to early childhood have been dismissed and erased both in history and contemporary practice . This is evident in the thesis written by William Kilpatrick, a successor of Dewey, that criticised the work of Montessori. In his thesis ‘The Montessori system examined’, he discredited her work as obsolete and irrelevant and that ‘they are ill-advised who put Madam Montessori among the significant contributors to educational theory’ (Kilpatrick, 1914, p.66). This played a pivotal role in Montessori’s work being undermined in North America and eventually ceasing to exist (Kramer, 1988). Though Kilpatrick’s criticisms of the Montessori approach were misguided, the language used in his account quickly reveals his prejudice towards women. Throughout his essay, he repeatedly refers to Montessori in a condescending manner as ‘Madame’, despite her qualifications as a medical doctor and a lecturer in anthropology at the Royal University of Rome. He then concludes by dismissing her years of work as making ‘no theoretical contribution’ to the realm of education. Montessori’s contributions in early childhood literature has since been reduced to the introduction of child-sized furniture. There is an immense sense of injustice that surfaces when her own trainees, Piaget and Erikson, continue to receive more acknowledgment than her (O’Donnell, 2013).

‘When surveying the development over the longer term of British early years teaching, a simple striking contrast appears between the official endorsement on the one hand of ideas emanating from the German Fredrich Froebel, and on the other hand the marginalising of methods devised by an Italian woman’

(Cunningham, 2000, p.203)

What does this mean for contemporary Montessori practice? For me, it really brings us back to whose voice we are amplifying. Here are some questions worth thinking about:

  • Who are we giving voice to in our conferences, workshops, and panels? What worldviews do our speakers, panellists, and presenters subscribe to? Are their worldviews elevating the voices and lived experiences of marginalised folks?
  • Do we acknowledge and amplify the work and contribution of others (both online and offline) in the training and professional development courses we offer? Or do we borrow content without giving due credit?
  • Are our teacher training programs overly populated by dead white male theorists such as Froebel, Piaget, Erikson, Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner? Can we bring in and emphasise the works of feminists, BAME/BIPOC, LGBTQI+, and working-class theorists/philosophers?

Sid Mohandas is a doctoral researcher from Middlesex University, London UK, investigating gender within Montessori early childhood spaces using feminist materialist philosophies


BAME Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups
BIPOC Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
LGBTQI+ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and so forth.


Ahmed, S. (2017) Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press

Cohen, S. (1974) The Montessori Movement in England, 1911–1952 , History of Education. In Journal of the History of Education Society, 3(1), pp.51-67, DOI: 10.1080/0046760740030104

Cunningham, P. (2000) The Montessori Phenomenon: Gender and Internationalism in Early Twentieth-Century Innovation. In P. Hirsch and M. Hilton (ed.) Practical Visionaries: Women, Education and Social Progress, 1790–1930, pp.203–218. Abingdon: Routledge

Kilpatrick, W.H. (1914) The Montessori system examined Cambridge: The Riverside Press

Kramer, R. (1988) Maria Montessori: A Biography. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

O’Donnell, M. (2013) Maria Montessori: A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

5 thoughts on “Citational Practice and Montessori

  1. Thank you Sid, and thank you for your references. Just bought the Marion O’Donnell work.
    Much gratitude.

  2. I welcome your provocation, you are so very right in your summary of our reliance on established points of reference – as we prepare for the next Montessori Europe congress I will work actively to engage with the global community of
    Montessori educators and will reflect on your words. Thank you for your considered words.

  3. I would be very interested to know on exactly what grounds her work was deemed irrelevant and obsolete by Kilpatrick and why he thinks it has survived successfully in todays society if he deemed it futile.
    At the time when Maria Montessori qualified she was I believe one of the very few or first Italien women doctors to qualify.
    This is surely to be commended and not condemned.
    If people would recognise what an amazing achievement that was in that time and her everlasting contribution and legacy for teaching children, whilst taking care of that child’s soul in the process, the world would be a better place.
    I have been a Montessori teacher for 27 years and every day her philophosy is in my heart.
    It works as we see first hand how our children flourish following her complete understanding of how their minds work and in treating them with the utmost respect.
    The world would do well to adhere to her ways of thought in todays society.
    Yes, we will listen to many other theories and judgements from others on her works, but the real test is in carrying out her teachings.
    The end result: happy children, learning without even realising it as the teacher, standing back, and following the child, observes.
    Thank you Maria Montessori for being alongside me for so many years and guiding me.

  4. In response and reflection to your bulleted questions.—
    Since it was nearly one year ago I was already reminiscing.
    It has been nearly a year since I attended the yearly Montessori for Social Justice conference. I am still reflecting on and appreciating what I experienced and learned.

    I attended as my mind was full of reading about Partnerships across history. Partnerships-man with man; Partnerships-man with woman; Partnerships-adult with child; Partnerships-mankind with nature. I had been pulled into ancient history across the globe and ways of the Indigenous. *

    It was thrilling to be in a space where the Indigenous were honored, the elders were honored. Whiteness was quite literally asked to “take a back seat.” We introduced ourselves indicating our preferred pronouns. It was a bit of a scramble to try and decide which breakout groups I wanted to attend. My only disappointment was that I had to miss some of them, I was happy with all that I did participate in.

    Back to your questions—It is from MSJ where I would recommend gathering presenters for conferences and teachers for teacher-training programs in order to elevate voices needing to be heard.
    This was meant to be a fairly quick response, so I’ll finish with this and hope you will be able to join in a MSJ program in the future.
    One of many books to which I was introduced at one presentation is about Kindezi: The Kongo Art Of Babysitting; a very small book, but full of wisdom and the idea of Sankofa. These are just two nuggets I came away with.

    *Library of books from Riane Eisler

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