Gutek and Gutek, Bringing Montessori to America: S.S. McClure, Maria Montessori and the Campaign to Publicize Montessori Education.
My first in person experience with the Montessori Method was a visit in the 1970s to a Montessori school in Reynosa, Mexico where all of the teachers had been trained at the House of Childhood in Italy. After that visit I included the Montessori Method in all of my classes. When the International Society for Educational Biography (ISEB) was formed, members shared my interest. One of our members, Phyllis Povell, published a book on Montessori, Montessori Comes to America: The Leadership of Maria Montessori and Nancy McCormick Rambusch (UVA, 2009), which gave an in depth view of Montessori's relationship with one of her greatest U.S. supporters. Now Gerald L. and Patricia A. Gutek, also members of ISEB, have written a fascinating book about Montessori (1870-1952) and S.S. McClure (1857-1949), the man who brought her to America.
The Guteks' book reads like a novel. There is intrigue, deception, great highs and very low lows in the relationship as befitting a great drama. Gerald Gutek previously has authored a text which used biography to lead readers to the ideas of educational philosophers, Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: A Biographical Introduction (Pearson). My students often commented about how interesting they found his treatment of his subjects, and in this book he and Patricia Gutek do not disappoint.
S.S. McClure was the founder of McClure's magazine, a popular and well-respected magazine. He had made some poor business decisions, and although the magazine was widely read, his actions put his magazine at risk. Prior to their meeting and unknown to Montessori, McClure secretly organized a new company which would include McClure's, a McClure's bank, a McClure's life insurance company, a school and book publishing company and McClure's Ideal Settlement. His plan was to do this with the backing of the floor stock in the magazine. This led to the loss of stock holders, staff and writers. His purchase of the others' stock led to bankruptcy even though he remained editor.
McClure desperately needed an infusion of cash. To improve his finances, he selected Montessori to improve his situation. He determined that education had been relegated to academic journals and that people would be interested in reading about new and effective methods of teaching children. In many ways his decision was ahead of its time, and the emphasis on personality that would result in popular acclaim is suggestive of People magazine, Facebook and blogs which appeared much later. It is interesting to note that McClure's prestigious magazine evolved into Photoplay, the magazine very popular with teenage girls of a later generation. In his treatment of Montessori, McClure understood the public's desire to hear about a famous person's accomplishments but also to see them as a person.
In order to realize the most revenue from Montessori's visits to the United States of America, McClure arranged lecture tours. Montessori was a very bright, organized business woman who, in a time when many women did not even read newspapers, understood the benefits of positive well-written press coverage and saw McClure as the best person to promote her ideas through news and lecture tours. While her business acumen seemed to serve her well throughout most of her career, her neglect of thoroughly investigating McClure's background and her naive trust in financial contracts contributed to the break with McClure. These financial concerns are documented in detail.
The Guteks analyze the personalities of McClure and Montessori in order to clarify the sources of their conflict. While McClure was excitable, Montessori rarely showed emotion. When they began their association, McClure was well known in the United States. However, Montessori was not. While both were egocentric McClure's opinion of himself never allowed him to realize that Montessori was becoming free from his support as her popularity grew in the U.S. and internationally. Montessori's egocentrism gave her the determination to achieve international acclaim through her control of her method. However, she did not control her method in the U.S. She may have been naive in the beginning, but she learned her lesson from this experience of trusting too readily. Both McClure and Montessori turned their backs on persons who had been loyal to them and those stories are vividly told.
This book is well documented with a variety of sources. Since the purpose of coming to America was to make known The Montessori Method to the public, especially mothers and educators on all levels articles in numerous journals and popular magazines are cited concerning Montessori's ideas and her schedule of appearances.
Five archives, including the Library of Congress and four university archives in four states provided information. Theses archives provided contracts and letters between Montessori and McClure and others. In an age of Facebook, Tweets, emails, and clear, easily accessible and affordable phone service, the importance of letters cannot be over emphasized. Once people wrote as they spoke. The written word was how people in faraway places expressed overtly or more delicately their ideas and emotions. Letters are invaluable in giving the biographer a sense of the person they are researching. Since McClure and Montessori often had a tense or even volatile relationship, letters serve to place the researcher "on the scene."
In all of the Guteks' varied sources were five archives, thirty-six books, thirty-two journals and magazines, one thesis, and four web sites ranging from a book by Eduoard Seguin in 1866 to a recent book by Phyllis Povell in 2010. These sources are not only impressive but serve as an instructive list of types of resources for biographers.
The Guteks have given an in depth look at Montessori, the person, and how her experiences and her personality contributed to the development of the Montessori Method, a method respected throughout the world and which has lasted and influenced early childhood education for over 100 years.
Martha May Tevis
University of Texas
Rio Grande Valley
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|Author:||Tevis, Martha May|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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