Maria Montessori and Ellen White. A comparative study

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014

266 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

What Makes an Educational Method Effective?

Ellen White and Maria Montessori – two women educators of the 19th and early 20th century

The life of families Harmon and Montessori in 19th and early 20th century

Life and work of Ellen Harmon White and Maria Montessori

Travels of Ellen White and Maria Montessori

Principles of education of White and Montessori
On education
Heredity and environment
Child development and learning
The role of the teacher
On education
Heredity and environment
Child development and learning
The role of the teacher
Practical skills


The Role of the Teacher

Ellen White’s Educational Advices and Methods

How far have Ellen White´s educational ideas been spread

Ellen White’s child guidance compared to modern education


Ellen’s encounter with religion

Principles of religious education
God in nature
Parental influences
Acquiring practical skills and labour
Character development and discipline
Duties of teachers



This thesis compares the educational methods and writings of Ellen Gould White and Maria Montessori. It shows that there a number of significant similarities in between both methods. The large number of resemblances suggests that Maria Montessori copied from Ellen White´s works or at least read them. I could not find any evidence that she did although it is possible that she read some of Ellen White´s writings, since her son married an American wife and Maria Montessori also visited the USA at least two times. Yet this remains a possibility which I was not able to prove.

I suggest that since both authors were interested in the very best education and development up to the highest standards possible for each and every child and both women were deeply religious and believed in the importance of religious education, teaching each child thankfulness to his creator and finding his or her purpose of life on this earth that it is this similar attitude towards children, God and life that lead both independently to the same results.

I compared the methods and “theories” of both educators with what modern science is teaching and found that neither Maria Montessori nor Ellen White can be contradicted in any way by what modern educational and psychological science research say.

Personal Approach and Relevance of the Topic

I am a teacher teaching adults to use Montessori education in their every day educational work. I am convinced that Montessori education belongs into every kindergarten, every school, university and course in adult education. Everybody should profit from these wonderful methods. My students confirm that. They say they profit most from it in their lives with their own children. I first learned about Maria Montessori 1986 at the University of Vienna, where I studied to become a teacher. Later I observed the marvelous results in a playgroup with handicapped children while I found out more and more that the Montessori Method has a lot in common with sensory integration therapy as used by ergo therapists. That was around 1993. It was then that I started to read on Neuroscience by Jean Ayres and started to discover a lot of similarities between both methods. That meant for me that Montessori education must be scientifically proof-able. That was long before any of the works on the topic which you can find in my bibliography was written. I was too young then to understand it would have been worth studying.

Now I am older, wiser and more courageous. I hate to see Montessori’s wonderful method being spoiled by people who never read what she really wrote.

In the other side I love to see my Muslim students feeling so very encouraged when they hear, read and understand what she has to say on faith in God and religion , a fact so very much neglected by all her followers here in Austria.

The more I studied her works the more I found out how much all she says is in line with what Ellen White wrote only few decades earlier in the USA and Australia.

Yet very often people, who believe in the works of Ellen White, condemn Maria Montessori´s writings.

For the wellbeing of the children we are educating, I want to end the narrow mindedness and open educator’s minds to these extraordinary methods which have not been fully understood and practiced until today.

Research Questions

How much of this 19th - early 20th century educational methods are still valid for today´s education?

Is it philosophy or science?

Which scientist have proven Montessori´s methods and how?

Which science has proven Montessori`s methods?

Which are the similarities to Ellen White´s educational methods?

What are the differences if there are or is it only the angle from which these two lady educators look at things?

1st Hypothesis: Nothing in the books and articles on education by Ellen White can be contradicted by serious educational science.

2nd Hypothesis: Much of what Ellen White writes on education can be supported by modern educational and psychological science.

3rd Hypothesis: Nothing in the books and articles on education by Maria Montessori can be contradicted by serious educational science.

4th Hypothesis: Much of what Maria Montessori writes on education can be supported by modern educational and psychological science.

5th Hypothesis: Much of what Ellen White says is in line with what Maria Montessori said some years later and for which she became very famous.

Having studied both authors thoroughly I believe my hypotheses are correct yet I need to prove them well and on a scientific basis.

How much were Ellen White and Maria Montessori ahead of time in their educational views?

What can we learn for child education from these 19th and early 20th century writers? Do their views fit or do these two educators contradict each other ?

Review of Literature used

I will be using the written and published works of both Ellen White and Maria Montessori. The big advantage for studying Ellen Whites writings is the fact the all her writings are accessible for free online and that I can read them in the original language in which they were written.

For Maria Montessori´s work I have to depend on published translations of her writings into English, German or French. I own most of her books in German but will use a number of online sources in English.

Most of the books by both authors I´ve already studied thoroughly for quite some time

Rational, Significance and Innovation

In Europe followers of Maria Montessori are often behaving like members of a sect, misusing her writings to support very extreme standpoints. There are a lot of prejudices against the writings and methods of Maria Montessori because of these wrong and extremist interpretations.

Ellen White lived before Maria Montessori (She was already 45 years old when Maria Montessori was born). Her books are translated in many more languages than the books of Maria Montessori but read and considered mostly by Seventh Day Adventists only. Although there is a number of scientists who do appreciate her very much and use her writings on education as very valuable sources.

This is why I believe it is high time to put aside prejudices and extremist views and opinions and dare to compare these two outstanding female authors.

I have studied both and believe that they teach a lot of things which are completely in line.

I was surprised when I first found out which extraordinary importance Maria Montessori accords to religion and religious education. A point that is omitted by practically all her followers here in Austria as well as by many authors interpreting her writings. This is one point Ellen White o also supports so very much in all her books.

I believe to be the first researcher daring to compare a declared Catholic and a Seventh Day Adventist Educator.

The focus of my thesis is to find similarities between both as well as modern educational and psychological science in order to tear down separating walls.

Ellen White as well as Maria Montessori was supporting ideas and methods which are not practiced fully until today, meaning that they are still ahead of time as they were ahead of their own time.

Research Design and Method

This will be a theoretic, comparative literature study using as sources, the written and published work of Ellen Gould White and Maria Montessori. To prove whether their theories are scientific or pure philosophy I will use diverse authors of science.

Outputs and Deliverables

Well, I am quite convinced that the outcome of my research will encourage me to use both authors more in my lectures and seminars, besides the courses which focus on either of the two.

I am also quite sure it will legitimate my courses much more in the public. More people will be interested to study these methods of education.

What Makes an Educational Method Effective?

“That humanity which is revealed in its entire intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”

Maria Montessori

In order to know what makes an education method effective, we need to know what the effect of education is, i.e. how education works, how it comes to be. The main goal of education is not the compiling of an aggregate of disintegrated facts but a process of learning how to think freely and to synthesize information into a logical whole. Ultimately all sciences aim at free thinking, since their goal is to go beyond seemingly random events and find a constant pattern that is the effect of itself.

Reason does not depend on contingent phenomena but is self-sustainable which the definition of freedom is. The desire to go beyond seemingly random events is inherent and immediate in children. They want to know the reason things happen. They are constantly doing research. Research is childish curiosity that has been formalized - it is digging into things with purpose.

Maria Montessori states: “If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man's future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?” (Montessori, 2000)

In education consciousness “is thrown outwards with a special direction, intelligence being extroverted, and there is an unusual demand on the part of the child to know the reasons of things” (Montessori, 1989). For millennium education has been the ground, the essence and the source of reason and science. It proceeds by the partaking of the child in the collective consciousness of the cosmic and human mind. This process starts unconsciously before birth, and is continually transforming and energizing the individual soul, training its analytic and synthetic thinking and emotional intelligence. This way the soul gets plugged in, so to say, into the intellectual and ethical well of nature and society.

Formal education can only differentiate this knowledge in some private direction. Integral education, however, can help the student to enter the sphere of thought “where all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity”, as Maria Montessori says (Montessori, 1989). Rudolf Steiner also advocates for development of the whole human being so thought, sense and action are integrated and capable of functioning in a healthy way.

"Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education." (Steiner and Lipson, 1995)

In order to teach children to think freely, we ourselves need a precise concept of what it is to think freely. This means that the real teacher is a passionate scientist who pushes aside their ego and makes room for childish curiosity towards the student’s actions. Such an attitude would not only reflect the child’s curiosity on the empirical level, but subtly nurture the proper method in the teacher.

“The liberty of the child should have as its limit the collective interest; as its form, what we universally consider good breeding. We must, therefore, check in the child whatever offends or annoys others, or whatever tends toward rough or ill-bred acts. But all the rest,–every manifestation having a useful scope,–whatever it be, and under whatever form it expresses itself, must not only be permitted, but must be observed by the teacher. Here lies the essential point; from her scientific preparation, the teacher must bring not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. In our system, she must become a passive, much more than an active, influence, and her passivity shall be composed of anxious scientific curiosity, and of absolute respect for the phenomenon which she wishes to observe. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.” (Montessori, 2000)

This freedom will lead us to an independent concept of education that we as teachers and parents can exercise without the need to refer to external authorities, formal empirical experiments and statistic evidence. It will follow the mere logic of teaching logic, and not the external variations of this single method. Then we will have a self-sustainable pattern of education which can organize and support itself in any environment. Then we would reach a point where spirit is far above his mere "mechanical skill” (Montessori, 2000).

“When [the scientist] has reached this point, science will receive from him not only new revelations of nature, but philosophic syntheses of pure thought." (Montessori, 2000)

If we decide to take the mechanical, empirical approach, we risk ending up in a situation where formal tests would decide what method is right for each child. That would jeopardize the subtle spiritual undertones of its constantly developing personality that only a very intuitive teacher can sense and reflect. An empirical approach to the human soul would lead us to the method Thorndike proposed in the Journal of Educational Psychology:

“A complete science of psychology would tell every fact about everyone’s intellect and character and behavior, would tell the cause of every change in human nature, would tell the result of every educational force-every act of every person that changed any other or the person himself-would have. It would aid us to use human beings for the world’s welfare with the same surety of the result that we now have when we use falling bodies or chemical elements. In proportions as we get such a science we shall become the masters of our own souls as we now are masters of heat and light.” (Thorndike, 1910)

Unfortunately, this method treats the human psyche as something static and measurable, and not as a constant process of development. (Not to mention that it handles light with the same certainty.) It does mention change, but in a rather static way - as the measurable result of change which is set in stone and motionless. Thorndike’s point of view was not shared by all. John Dewey, William James, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner developed theories of education that focused on the development shifts of the child rather than on the categorization and testing of its psyche.

However, Thorndike’s theory was accepted by the majority of educators. The concept for culturing and saturating our children’s consciousness would rely on prescriptions of experts who spend countless hours on comparing test results to determine the right method for a child they haven’t even met. Such an approach is risky. It could lead to robotisation of education and reject the very nature of science - the freedom to act according to a logically, i.e. ethically, grounded principle. Such a principle would help teachers to look at exploration more than discovery, to value surprise more than control and to give “more attention to our children and imagination than to test scores” (Wright, 1972).

The history of modern education, which is basically a system of interrelated successive ideas, has its roots in the logic of Plato and Aristotle who viewed teaching as the support of recollection: the teacher helps the student help herself in recollecting what universal Spirit has already accomplished. The teacher is as much a student as a teacher in this symbiotic dialogue. He witnesses the path of the human soul with the curiosity of a child and the patience of a loving parent. Teaching is learning how to teach. It is not something the teacher does, but a natural process of development.

How are we to grasp this process of development during which children master the skills of movement, speech, gesture, verbal and non-verbal communication at a very rapid pace? First of all we need to acknowledge that “those who judge human beings according to generic characteristics only reach the boundary, beyond which people begin to be beings whose activity is based on free self-determination”, because “where the realm of freedom of thought and action begin, the determination of individuals according to generic laws ends” (Steiner, 1984). According to Steiner during the first stage of development (0-7 years) the inner forces of the child’s individual spirit are working to transform the body of the child from the one that was inherited by the parents to the one that expresses the full personality of the child. In the same way as the statue is hidden in the stone, the Self and the true character of the person are already contained in the child, waiting for someone to guide the soul to sculpture itself, to abstract its true essence from the parental heredity of its body.

“In human beings not only does the species evolve, but so does the individual. What a human being acquires in a lifetime through education and experience is preserved, just as surely as are the evolutionary achievements of an animal's ancestral line.” (Steiner, 2002)

Thus the basic endeavor of the teacher is “not set up demands or programmes, but simply describe the child-nature” (Steiner, 2014). He goes further to claim that the teacher is responsible for building an undistorted relationship between the child and universal consciousness, between the soul and its “cosmic ether”.

“We shall never do so unless we, as teachers, are permeated through and through with the feeling that the thoughts in all their rightness and in all the power of their livingness are contained in the cosmic ether, are present all the time in the cosmic ether. Without having ourselves this religious feeling towards the cosmos, we cannot possibly develop a right attitude towards the child. And the attitude, the whole relation that we bear to him, is what matters most of all. (…) When the human being is descending from pre-earthly existence, there are of course, at that moment, as always, only right and true thoughts in the cosmic ether; but these right thoughts have to be received by the being who is providing himself, clothing himself, with an ether body. The teacher's etheric body (and this should follow quite naturally as a result of his training) must be able to influence the physical body of the child, and the teacher's astral body the etheric body of the child. The ego of the teacher must be able to influence the astral body of the child. And now you will be rather taken aback, for we come next to the spirit-self of the teacher, and you will be thinking that surely the spirit-self is not yet developed. Nevertheless, such is the law. The spirit-self of the teacher must work upon the ego of the child. (…) Not only in the ideal teacher, but often in the very worst possible teacher, the teacher's spirit-self — of which he is himself not yet in the least conscious — influences the child's ego.” (Steiner, 2014)

Thus the main aim of the teacher here is to “feel his way right” into each critical situation, to identify the deadlock in the child, and to develop deep empathy for the child's experience. Then he or she will build an understanding for the situation, and will harmonize in him all subjective reaction to it. Steiner concludes that by freeing himself of every trace of selfish reaction, the teacher learns how to balance his own energies (Steiner, 2014).

Whatever we decide for our child, certain universal values are necessary in raising a healthy and integral personality. Thus in any case an educational method should be supported by the following spiritual principles: love, kindness, trust, respect, freedom of movement and speech (restricted only by basic safety measures), non-violence, understanding and compassion. When a teacher’s principles are grounded in those virtues, the child naturally picks them up by imitation.

Thus the first and crucial factor in choosing an education method is whether it supports liberty and helps the child to a conquest of liberty (Montessori, 2000). Such methods are mostly thought of as alternative. They differ in many ways from traditional education. The latter deals with isolated facts that have to be memorized, all students learn the same things and the teacher is the only expert who knows everything beforehand and does not uncover mysteries hand in hand with the child. Such education does not engage the student and is often tedious and oppressive. It does not create admiration and wonder which is the beginning of all science, as the famous saying of Plato goes. It does not support trial and error, nor imaginative thinking that helps the mind organize and interrelate knowledge in a systematic way. It simply gives information without letting the student experience the lesson, without leaving space for research.

After deciding between traditional and alternative methods the parents can exercise their own spiritual training to recognize which method suits their child’s temperament best. This is a subtle decision which only they can take. If their relationship with their child is heartfelt and honest, they would put aside their own interests, ambitions, traumas and insecurities. Often the method is not as important as the relationship between the teacher and the child.

The current paper will explore three contemporary preschool methods: Waldorf/Steiner, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori Waldorf education sees the child as an integral being, made up of body, soul, and spirit; and endeavours to support every angle, helping children ascent to their fullest potential. Waldorf schools offer an intimate learning environment that feels much like a home. In early childhood it is outfitted with open-ended toys and helps kids to utilize their imagination and creative energy. The educational program in Waldorf schools is not simply academic in nature; however it incorporates symbolization, art, practical activities and physical training. Celebrations play a main role in the rhythm of life. The program is described as "spiraling up" and "out" as it engages the natural interests of the children according to the phases of development as they grow, and later goes ‘out,’ taking a deeper look at things that have been studied previously. Reggio Emilia is an approach likewise created in Italy by Loris Malaguzzi. He was a middle school teacher who worked with families to establish a new system of preschool education, focused on the child and honouring the individuality of each student. The first Reggio Emilia schools were a community effort in which the parents themselves took part. On account of Malaguzzi's work, by 1963, the government took responsibility of the administration of the community schools and the first civil preschool was opened.

Reggio Emilia inspired schools to use a collective methodology to learning and to treat the child as a social being. Teachers treat each child as part of the whole group and look to cultivate genuine connections between the kids, the entire community, and the environment. A vital rule of Reggio training is the hundred languages of children. Malaguzzi depicted kids as having one hundred methods for speculation and adapting, through work, but also play, imagination, science, creative energy, dream, reality, etc.

Teachers in Reggio schools don't have a pre-determined education program, they rather help the investigation of the child through any of the "hundred languages". The multi-age classrooms of Reggio schools have two instructors who go about as partners in exploring, watching, and reporting the distinctive phases of the child’s work. The third teacher is Nature and the environment itself which is intended for learning and investigation and encourages the development of the kid’s hundred languages. The classroom is intended to be an augmentation of his or her natural environment, outlined in a manner that reflects the society in which they are growing up. The rooms also reflect the venture based approach in Reggio schools, as the kids decorate the walls with "documentation boards," chronicling their work on past and current activities.

Montessori educators accept that the child is lead by an internal guide. This is their main impetus helping students pick exercises that will complement each phase of their development. The role of the teacher is to prepare and maintain a natural environment, carefully orchestrated, rich in materials and opportunities for every little explorer to follow their inner drive for experience and learning. The educator’s part is to watch and decide how to change the environment as per the child’s encounters and to help them, offering individual lessons on new materials and managing them when required.

The environment is outfitted with materials exceptional to the Montessori Method, a big portion of which were created by Dr. Montessori herself. The difficulty level of the games varies from easy to mind boggling, moving from one layer of insight onto the next, they are pleasant and visually attractive. They contain an inherent error control, or some sign that allows the player to notice when he or she makes a mistake and to correct them.

Montessori concentrates on supporting the child’s inner longing to learn and does not include any punishments or rewards, but confides in the student’s capacity to gain from the natural outcomes of their activities. Montessori classrooms are multi-age. As opposed to having every year in a different room, kids are gathered by phases of development. Births to year and a half are regularly seen together, then year and a half to over two years. 2 1/2-6 year olds cooperate, then there's 6-9, 9-12, etc. This permits younger children to learn from their older peers and offers more experienced kids the chance to go about as guides, good examples, and teachers themselves.

The first seven years of a child’s life are the time during which his or her free self-determination in the element of spirit is built. This is achieved by careful and loving reflection of any emotion, stress or doubt the child might feel, so that it can see itself in a mature light which does not judge but strengthen self-awareness and confidence. Since confidence is the reflection of trust, the teacher’s attitude towards the student must be as pure and childish as can be, an attitude which gives freedom of choice and movement, an attitude that says: “Let’s see what you’ll do!”

As Michael and D’Neil Duffy conclude: “Montessori elementary students will not have the distressing struggle of initially confronting the “Who am I?” question in their adolescent or adult years. They will have been comfortable with it since their second phase of development and will be able to use it in ensuing years as a touchstone when making major decision in their lives. They will have an inner guidance system... They will already know something about who they are and what their purpose is in life.” (Duffy, M., & Duffy, D.)

Ellen White and Maria Montessori – two women educators of the 19th and early 20th century

The life of families Harmon and Montessori in 19th and early 20th century

Both Ellen White and Maria Montessori lived in the 19th century, a time of poor opportunities for women to educate themselves or lead a public life. The conservative society both in America and Europe considered that the only work women should be doing involve household duties and raising children. These two women broke out the barriers of the conservative society and made their place in history as educators, writers and public speakers.

Women and men in 19th century, in both North America and Europe, were expected to have different roles and occupy different spheres of society. While men were allowed and expected to socialize in clubs and bars, women were expected to spend their free time doing things also related to keeping the house and children. Men were the “breadwinners”, and women’s duties involved taking care of the house and children and providing haven for returning husbands (Bomarito & Hunter, 2005). Very few women in this period had same opportunities for educations as men. They were completely shut out from society, unless they were accompanying their husbands or fathers (“Feminism in the 19th century”, 2014). Women had no social or political influence, but they were considered as guardians of morality and social cohesion (Bomarito & Hunter, 2005).

In first decades of the 19th century, families worked together growing farms or small businesses. Industrialization, urbanization and market growth started to change family life and women’s roles. While upper class women stayed at home running the household, lower-class women had to work to support their families, but had limited choices regarding their occupation. They worked mostly as domestic-servants for low wages or in factories and mills. With the onset of industrialization, women started working in factories (Bomarito & Hunter, 2005). Despite the rise of urbanization, most Americans in the nineteenth century lived in rural locations, in the Northeast, the South or the new Midwest and Western frontiers. Women’s work was tied to agriculture, maintaining family farms, gardening, soap making, sewing, and similar (Wayne, 2007).

In Italy, the mid of 19th century was designated with absence of civil rights and free press, obsolete school system which was attended by a small number of Italians. In 1870, the peninsula was united and became one territorial entity. Unification did not bring the expected political democracy or social revolution. Class differences still prevailed and the country was divided: north and south, businessmen and landowners, monarchists and republicans. Moderate reformers saw the education reform as a key to effective change. In 1860, three quarters of population could neither read nor write. Female education had been in hands of family and the Church. After the unification, the post revolutionary optimism prevailed and the new hope for the oppressed – poor and women – had risen. (Kramer, 1988).

Although coming from different social class and with different educations levels, Ellen Harmon White and Maria Montessori managed to set the grounds of new education theories and to affect the lives of their contemporaries through their teaching. However, the distinguishing characteristic of the family life and upbringing of both Ellen and Maria was the discipline that their mothers believed in and practiced, and their religious background.

Ellen (Harmon) White was born on November 26, 1827. She came from a family of farmers who lived in Gorham, northeastern Main until Ellen and her twin sister Elizabeth were born. After the birth of twins, Robert and Eunice Harmon moved to Portland where Robert Harmon, Ellen’s father started a hat making business and Ellen spent her early childhood helping her father in hat making (White, 2000). Ellen’s mother, Eunice Harmon was a good disciplinarian. She taught her children to share household obligations equally and never to talk her back or disobey her (Fortin & Moon, 2014).

Maria Montessori, on the other hand, came from a family of middle-class and well-educated parents. She was born in 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy (Maria Montessori, 2014, the website). Maria’s father, Alessandro, was conservative, with military habits. He had been a soldier in his youth and later served as a clerk in the finance department, from which he advanced to a position of inspector of ministry of finance and accountant the departments of salt and tobacco manufacture. Maria’s mother, Renilde Stoppani was a niece of a distinguished scholar priest and geology professor, Antonio Stoppani (Kramer, 1988). She was well educated, had a passion for reading and believed in firm discipline. Although liberal in her beliefs, she wasn’t irreligious; in fact, she believed in God. Antonio Stoppani was known as a naturalist and liberal cleric. He was author of numerous scientific works, one of which being “Il dogma e la scienze positive”. It was the same principle of scientific positivism that Maria suggested to be applied to social problems in Italy, only 12 years later. Maria was used to knitting for the poor every day, and was also given the task to scrub the portion of floor every day. Later she included such work in her studies for children, calling it “exercises of practical life” (Kramer, 1988).

Ellen Harmon hadn’t had a chance to finish her elementary education due to a nearly fatal accident that almost took her life. Maria Montessori managed to finish university and became a first female doctor in Italy at that time.

At the age of nine, coming home from school, Ellen was hit by rock that one of her classmates had thrown. The rock hit Ellen in the face and she suffered a severe injury. She was unconscious for three weeks and it seemed that she wouldn’t live long (White, 2000). At that time Ellen’s praying began caused by bad prognoses and fear of death. She began to recover, but her respiratory system was so damaged that she couldn’t breathe through the nose for two years. Ellen’s nervous system was damaged which caused her hand to tremble and causing faintness and dizziness. Her health condition had significant impact on her ability to attend school regularly and to study without disruptions. She accepted her teachers’ advice to leave school until her health improves (White, 1922). At the age of twelve, Ellen attended Methodist camp with her family and there she embraced the faith in Jesus Christ. In 1840 and 1842, Ellen and her parents attended Adventist meetings. They became devotees of William Miller who believed that the Christ will return on October 22, 1844. Most people left Adventist church when Miller’s prophecy did not fulfill, but Ellen stayed devoted to Adventist church and claimed to have received visions. She believed that she could reunite former Adventists and her visions and dreams quickly made it possible for her (Challies, 2014).

Montessori family moved to Rome when Maria was 14 (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). Although her family suggested her to have a teaching career like most women at that time, she chose to pursue her love to mathematics. She chose to study engineering and attended classes at a boy’s technical institute (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). Although growing up in a conservative time and environment, she constantly broke out rules related to gender limitations. Following her interests developed at boy’s technical institute, she went to medical school of the University of Rome, facing her father’s resistance. Maria’s first attempt to enroll to the Medical school was rejected, being unheard at that time that a woman studies medicine (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). She finally triumphed at her attempts and graduated in 1896, with high honors, as the first female doctor in Italy (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). She was immediately employed in San Giovanni Hospital, attached to the University. The same year, Maria represented the women of Italy at the International Congress for Women’s Rights in Berlin, where she talked about the issues of working women, arguing that women should have equal wages with men. Montessori held similar speeches throughout Europe standing up for children’s and women’s rights (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). Later that year she was appointed as surgical assistant at Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome, where much of her work involved treating the poor and particularly their children (Standing, 1984).

Life and work of Ellen Harmon White and Maria Montessori

Ellen White spent the most of her life spreading the Advent message she was given, writing books that described her visions and dreams, and also the views on contemporary topics such as health, social relationships, marriage, child upbringing and education. During her lifetime, she wrote more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books. She is still the most translated woman writer in the entire history of literature and the most translated American author of either gender (White, 2000).

Whereas Ellen devoted her time to writing and travelling in order to accomplish her mission, Maria Montessori spent most of her time observing children in institutions where she worked and later in her “Houses of Children” or “Casa dei Bambini”. She recorded the behavior of each child and used those observations for establishing new education principles and methods of working with the children.

Ellen’s writing and publishing began after she met and married an Adventist preacher James White, in 1846. While staying at Rock Hill, Connecticut, in 1849, James White began publishing the newspaper,The present truth,(White, 2000), which later included Ellen’s writings. She began writing articles and books and often left her newborn son at home with friends so she could travel and spread her mission. (National History Women’s Museum, n.d.). In 1851, Ellen published her first book,A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White.Together with itsSupplement, whichwas released in 1854, these were found on the pages of the book,Early writings.Time period between 1852 and 1855, Ellen spent working on her writings. Those years were tough for the White family stricken with poverty and sickness. In 1855, the family moves to Battle Creek, New York, where Ellen together with her associates continued writing and sharing the Advent message. The success of herTestimony of Church,which totaled nearly 5000 pages in 55 years, lead her to establishing the publishing work and travelling over the country. By the fall off 1860, White family numbered six members with four boys. The death of the youngest son, who lived only a few months, efforts to establish church and conference organizations, writing and travelling occupied the early years of the 1860s (White, 2000).

Ellen’s work did not only concern religious writings and prophecies; she wrote and preached about the relationship of physical health to spirituality, principles of diet and body care, benefits of nature remedies (White, 2000) as well as education social relationships, evangelism, prophecy, nutrition and management (National History Women’s Museum, n.d.). In 1866, after the Civil War ended, Ellen White helped establishing the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek. She was spreading ideas of a different nutrition consisting of vegetarian food and water combined with exercise and fresh air (National History Women’s Museum, n.d.). In 1874, Ellen and her husband co-founded Battle Creek College that was intended to implement Ellen’s ideas of child-centred learning approach and free schooling for all. She also worked in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union on preventing of alcohol abuse (Weatherford, 2004). Maria Montessori dedicated her time after graduation to working with mentally challenged children. Montessori’s specialities involved paediatrics and psychiatry (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.) and following those interests, she volunteered to join a research programme at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Rome. She worked alongside Giuseppe Montesano, with whom a romance was to develop. She visited Rome’s asylums and had the opportunity to observe children stationed there (Standing, 1984). In one occasion, while she observed them during lunch, she noticed that they were throwing their food on the floor and playing with it. She realised that children needed toys to manipulate and to use their hands on (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). During the 1897-1898, Maria studied the works of Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel, following terms of the University to expand her education in pedagogy. She addressed Medical Congress in Turin and afterwards the National Pedagogical Congress presenting an idea of social reform through education (Standing, 1984).

She began to research childhood development and education literature including the works of Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard and Edouard Seguin who had experimented with capabilities of disabled children. Her interests in these children, observations and findings led her to becoming a co-director of Orthophrenic school (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.), together with Guisseppe Montesano. Their relationship had developed into a love affair, and in 1898 Maria gave birth to a son, Mario. He was given to care to a family living in the countryside of Rome. (Standing, 1984). Montessori started to work on her own method of teaching these children, applying educational theories of Itard and Sequin. She tested her methods observing her students at Orthophrenic School and found the improvement in their development remarkable (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). In 1901, Montessori left Orthophrenic School and started attending courses of educational philosophy and anthropology. In 1904, she began teaching at the Pedagogic School and held her classes there until 1908 (Standing, 1984).

In 1906, a housing project in San Lorenzo, a slum area, began. Montessori was given the task of taking care of the children of this area, considering that their parents could not take care of them, having to work all day. Maria equipped the room with materials that she used for mentally disabled children, and was given an assistant without teaching experience. She thought of the assistance lack of experience as an advantage, because she wanted to try completely new methods in teaching children. (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). Montessori went a step further applying the findings of her research and her new methods on “normal” children. In 1907, she was placed in charge with of 60 students from the slums from 1 to 6 years and the nursery was named Casa dei Bambini (Children’s house) (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). By the autumn of 1908, there were five Casa dei Bambini operating, four of them in Rome and one in Milan (Standing, 1984).

Casa dei Bambini presented and opportunity to Montessori to practice her method and create “prepared learning” environment. The method consisted of applying sense learning and creative exploration. Children were allowed to follow their natural interests and the teachers were encouraged to stand back and follow the child (“Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). In 1909, Montessori wrote “The Method of Scientific Pedagogy as Applied to Infant Education and the Children’s Houses” (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). The same year, she began with first training course in her approach, giving lecture to around 100 students. Her notes from this period evolved into her first book, which was published in Italy that same year. The book was translated into 20 languages. The book appeared in United States under the name The Montessori Method and reached the second place on nonfiction bestseller list. After the death of her mother, deeply affected by the event, Montessori brought her 14-year-old son, Mario to Rome to live with her (Standing, 1984).

Travels of Ellen White and Maria Montessori

Both Ellen White and Maria Montessori were conscious of the significance of their work and the need to share their ideas with the rest of the world. Ellen travelled throughout America, Europe and Australia to spread the Advent message and to fulfill missions that saw in her visions. Maria Montessori was faced with enormous interest in her methods all around the world, but also with misinterpretations and misapplication of those methods. She found that it was her responsibility to share her findings with the rest of the world, so that the new schools do not resemble the old ones anywhere in the world.

While still together, the White family travelled mostly throughout America. The death of James White, in 1881, left Ellen devastated, but also gave her the new strength to continue their mission. She kept writing and travelling. By the 1884, her book,The Great Controversy between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angelswas finished and sold in 50 000 copies within three years. She travelled throughout Europe, visiting Switzerland, England, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. She claimed that she had seen some of those places in her visions, such as Waldensian in Italy, which she visited twice. The success of her books in Europe, especiallyThe Spirit of prophecyencouraged her to write more controversy scenes involving places in Europe. These writings are now known asThe Great Controversy, released in 1888 (White, 2000). As the Adventist movement continued to expand, Ellen accompanied by her sons, began to travel constantly. Their mission led them to Australia, where she spent nine years together with her son William. During her stay in Australia, she helped opening a Bible school in the city of Melbourne, in 1892. It was first located in rented quarters, but in her visions she saw this school built in a rural environment and she demanded it to be located outside of town. The school was built in Avondale Estate and Ellen bought a lot nearby and made her home there (White, 2000).

While in Australia, Ellen completedThoughts from the Mount of Blessing, The Desire of Ages, Christ's Object Lessonsand the sixth of nine-volume seriesChrist's Object Lessons and Testimonies of the Church, in which she outlined her theory on education. Together with her son William, she contributed spreading the Adventist message across Australia and New Zealand and establishing health-food manufacture in Australia. In years that followed, Ellen has travelled a lot. She moved to Melbourne and stayed there until 1894, in Sydney until 1895 and at Cooranbong, New South Wales until 1900. She travelled throughout Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand attending church meetings and giving public lectures ranging from and temperance to biblical interpretation and prophecies. (Krause, 1990).

In the same period, she fought for the rights of African-Americans to have proper education and fulfilling their rights. Her son James Edson White supported her efforts and built a Mississippi River steamboat, which was used as a floating mission for Blacks in Mississippi and Tennessee. Working on medical missionary program and writing articles for theReview, SignsandInstructordelayed her bookwork. It was not until 1896Thoughts from the Mount of Blessingwas published followed byThe Desire of Agesin 1898, andChrist’s Object Lessons and Testimonies for the Church, volume 6 in 1900 (White, 2000).

After she returned to United States and made her home in Elmshaven, near the town of St.Helena in northern California, she dedicated her time to writing books, personal labor and travel. She attended meeting where she was fighting for reorganization of the work of Seventh-day Adventist General Conference and succeeded in implementing a plan of reorganization. The plan consisted of acknowledging union conferences as intermediates between General Conference and local conferences. After the offices of General Conference and Review and Herald Publishing Association were moved to Takoma Park in Maryland, Ellen left California and founded her new home in Takoma Park. She kept in touch with her associates in California, encouraging them to secure the property for a sanitarium in Loma Linda and helping to establish a Paradise Valley Sanitarium near San Diego. She spent last years of her life writing books with instructions to church and the readers.Testimonies for the Church, volume 9 was published in 1909,The Acts of the Apostles in 1911 andCounsels to Parents and Teachersin 1913. In 1914, she finished her manuscript for Gospel Workers and the last months of her life she spent working on the bookProphets and Kings.In the winter of 1915, Ellen suffered an accident in her home when she tripped and fell, not being able to get up. She spent five months confided to bed or wheelchair. She died in July 16, 1915 at the age of 87. Her friends who saw her before her death and had a chance to talk to her were witnessing her happiness and feeling that the work entrusted to her by God was well done and that the truth will triumph (White, 2000).

Maria Montessori travelled mostly throughout Europe and United States. In 1914, she visited America and American Montessori Society was established, with Alexander Graham Bell as its president. Montessori schools were opened around the world, in Japan, China and Canada. The method of her work was observed by her followers and her works were translated into different languages. She was giving lectures all over the world and continued her research and application of her method to children of all age (“Dr Maria Montessori Biography”, n.d.). Montessori societies, training programmes and schools were formed all over the world. Dr Montessori travelled throughout America, Europe and United Kingdom giving lectures and speaking in public about her method. After her son Mario got married in 1917, Maria moved to Barcelona whereSeminari-Laboratori de Pedagogiáwas created for her. Soon her son with his first wife joined her and formed a family there. Growing fascist movement prevented Maria from establishing a permanent centre for research and development of her approach in Spain. By 1933, all Montessori schools in Germany were closed (Standing, 1984). After refusing to cooperate with Mussolini and turn her schools in Italy into training centers for military, all schools in Italy were also closed (NNDB, 2014). In the summer of 1936, Maria Montessori and her family sailed to England due to the outbreak of civil war in Spain. They continued their trip to Netherlands to stay in the family home of Ada Pierson, who was later married to Mario (Standing, 1984). In 1939, Mario and his mother went to India to give a three-month training course in Madras and there she met Mahatma Gandhi (Standing, 1984), Nehru and Tagore (NNDB, 2014). They stayed in India for 7 years, Mario interned and Maria put in house arrest. In 1947, they returned to Netherlands and soon after their return, Maria addressed UNESCO on the theme “Education and Peace”. She received the first of three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949. In 1951, she attended the 9th International Montessori Congress, which was her last public engagement. She died on May 1952, at the holiday home of the Pierson family in company of her son (NNDB, 2014).

Principles of education of White and Montessori

While Montessori based her theory and education principles on theories of other scientists of that age such as Itard and Seguin and on her own scientific observations of the child behaviour, White derived her principles and ideas from her visions and Holly Scriptures. Her lessons on education, home life, nutrition and any other topic had one source and one goal – getting closer to God and living a simple life of a Christian, following God’s commandments. Even derived from different sources, Montessori’s and White’s views on education and child development have many similarities.

On education

Ellen White claims that educations means more than a having a knowledge of books. She offers a holistic approach to education arguing that education consists of practicing temperance, godliness and love to one another. A proper education means giving attention to physical, mental, moral and religious education (Fortin & Moon, 2014). Montessori has similar arguments. According to Montessori, the child is a constructor of man. The education cannot be giving knowledge only; it has to develop human potentials. Education during the early period of child’s life, first two years, is very important and must be intended to help the development of the psychic powers of the individual (Montessori, 1949). Montessori approach is based on a radical conception of liberty for the pupil and training sensory, motor and mental capacities. Development of these capacities leads to rapid and easy mastery of the elements of reading, writing and arithmetic (Montessori, 1912). Whereas Ellen White argues the great significance of the prenatal influences on the child’s development, Montessori sees the prenatal period of a child similar to the one of the animals (Montessori, 1949). While White states that education of a child starts even before it was born, Montessori sees a prenatal period as the first of two embryonic periods. The other period is the period of prolonged infancy, which separates man from animals and during which the individual actively participates in the development process and is related to the outer environment (Montessori, 1976, p.11).

Ellen White argues that each women that is to become a mother needs to encourage positive inner state, no matter of the environment. Positive state of mind and soul will also lead to the improvement of the physical health of the mother. Her thoughts and feeling have deep impact on the heritage she transfers to her child. The mother should be spared of hard physical work and anything that could affect her physical health and well-being. Mother’s needs by no means should be neglected; her life and the life of her child depend on her health and well-being. However, gratification of appetite and every wish and impulse should not be encouraged (White, 1977).

Heredity and environment

Ellen White sees heritage as the transfer of parents’ dispositions onto a child, while Montessori’s view on heritage refers to inherited physiological and psychic dispositions.

According to Ellen, children inherit dispositions of their parents, but also their passions and habits. Parents should restrain from indulging their passions in the prenatal time, so they don’t transmit them to their newborn child. Ellen argues that mothers should get informed about laws of heredity and be aware of the disposition transferred to their child by heritage. Children inherit their parents’ inclination to wrong, but also many good character traits. These traits should be strengthened and developed, while tendencies to wrongdoing should be carefully guarded against and repressed. (White, 1977). Montessori finds the life itself as a primary force that develops into the life of an individual child. The child is a body which grows, and a soul which develops (Montessori, 1912, p.105). According to Montessori, these two forms, physiological and psychic should not be hindered, but awaited to express their manifestations (Montessori, 1912). The environment is the secondary factor in the phenomena of life, which can modify life, but cannot create. The child does not grow because he is nourished, but because the potential life within him develops according to the biological destiny determined by heredity. We can therefore affect variations related to the environment, but we cannot affect mutations. Mutations are bound to the life itself and their power raises superior to the modifying elements of the environment (Montessori, 1912, p.106).

Child development and learning

Ellen White considers parental influences very important in child upbringing and emphasises that parents have the responsibility to encourage or discourage the traits of child’s character (White, 1875). On the other hand, Maria Montessori does not see parents as independent entity in education of a child. She suggests that union of family and school enhances the student’s learning and makes it more meaningful both for the parents and the child (Cooney & Jones, 2011). Montessori emphasises hands-on environment and learning from experience, exploration and manipulation with the environment as crucial in child development (Montessori, 1912). The receptiveness and readiness of the child’s mind that Ellen White mentions in her work are equivalent to sensitive stages in the work of Montessori. Also, they both see early years of child’s life as very important and determining for the future development.

According to Ellen White, parents are responsible in great degree for the traits of their children’s character. Their responsibility is to stimulate weak traits as well as good habits and right ways of thinking and to repress the wrong ones (White, 1977). The work of parents begins in the child’s infancy. First three years are especially important to teaching child a discipline. The first lessons child receives will form his character and stay with him in the following years. The lessons child learns within first seven years of his life have more significant impact on their character than anything learned in future years (White, 1977). Parents should pay special attention to physical aspects of their child’s development. In the first seven years of a child’s life physical training should be paid more attention than intellectual. Physical activity and exploring the things of nature will fortify the mind of the child and secure its proper development. After this period, equal attention should be paid to intellectual training as well as physical. In order to educate children, their mind should be prepared and interests aroused. The education should not be forced to them if their mind is not receptive and ready to receive instructions. Children have to feel that they must achieve the highest development of their mental powers. (White, 1977). There are natural differences between children and each child demands to be treated according to its needs. Certain character traits might be weak in a child; it is parents’ responsibility to stimulate these traits and develop them. The child might end up in having those traits far more developed than a child from whom it was expected (White, 1977). Parents and teachers should aim to cultivate the tendencies of youth and present them contents appropriate for each stage of their development (White, 1952).

Maria Montessori also argues that the early years, from birth to six, are the most formative and the learning at this stage is easy, fun and important for child development (Cooney & Jones, 2011). The first two years as very important in child development, since the first two years of child’s life show the laws of psychic construction and type of psychology completely different from that of the adult (Montessori, 1973). She noted that children of all age and socio-economic background had innate drive to learn and that they are capable of accumulating incredible amount of information. She discovered that children learn best when they are free and safe in hands-on learning environment, equipped with materials that children can work with by themselves. In such conditions, children are self-motivated to explore experiment and reach new understandings (NNDB, 2014). Montessori noted some special “sensitive” periods in children’s development when they were especially receptive to certain types of learning (LeBlanc, n.d.). Sensitive phases are periods of heightened receptivity in connection with learning by interaction with the environment (Rohrs, 2000). The period from seven to twelve years is of particular importance for moral development. In this period, the concept of justice is born and the understanding of the relationship between one’s act and the needs of others. Imagination in this period must be stimulated and used to create. Science addresses best to imagination because children see in science a sort of magic (Montessori, 1973).

The role of the teacher

While Ellen White emphasizes the importance of the teacher’s character and habits and sees the teacher as a person who the children look up to, Maria Montessori suggests more passive role for the teacher. Whereas White finds the teacher’s habits and relationship between teacher and student important for child’s character building, Montessori argues that the teacher should follow the child, observe him and facilitate his actions, not interfere. Ellen’s points are understandable considering that she talks about existing education system, where the teacher has active role, and guides and directs child’s learning process. On the other hand, the education system and the role of the teacher Maria has in mind are the ones she implemented. Ellen White argues that teacher’s habits and principles had much influence on the child. The teacher should have sincere love for his pupils and interest in developing their physical, mental, moral and spiritual traits. He should be firm and practice self-control in order to be able to mould the minds of his pupils. Children’s misdoings and errors should not be given public attention. The teacher should not humiliate the child, rather to talk and pray with him alone. This way the child is discouraged to talk about other children’s mistakes and to criticize them. Teacher himself has to have confidence in each child and to manifest trust in their relationship. The same behaviour teacher manifested toward children will get from them in return. That is why it is important to treat pupils with respect, tenderness and confidence. If the teacher is critical, overbearing and insensitive to pupil’s feelings, he will get the same in return. The teacher must have patience and adaptability in order to be able to deal with human minds and to impart knowledge into his children (White, 1977). The true teacher is not satisfied with second-rate work and achieving lower standards than the ones that are possible for his pupils to attend. It is necessary to practice thoroughness in order to have success in character building. Careless and unreliable work ruins the character building (White, 1977). True educator must be able to recognize talents and potentials of his pupils and must take a personal interest in developing them. Pupils should be encouraged to develop all their faculties, weak and strong (White, 1952). The teacher should give special attention to developing weak faculties, so the child may form well-balanced and harmonious character (White, 1977). When giving lessons, the teacher should practice simplicity and effectiveness. He should teach by illustration and explaining clearly and in plain words. Teacher should speak of the subject of lesson with enthusiasm and inspiration coming from their knowledge. Before attempting to teach a subject, teacher should develop a plan with results he is trying to accomplish. They should not give up until the pupil shows understanding of principles involved in the subject and ability to state clearly what he has taught (White, 1952).


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Maria Montessori and Ellen White. A comparative study
Humboldt State University  (School of Education)
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