The Best Weapon for Peace
Maria Montessori, Education, and Children's Rights
George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Skye Doney, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors
Winner of the 2021 American Association for Italian Studies First Book Award
Winner of the 2021 International Standing Conference for the History of Education (ISCHE) First Book Award
“Innovative and extremely well-documented. This volume reframes the life and work of Maria Montessori within the context of international peace studies. She deserves recognition as a pioneer who faced gender barriers and nevertheless almost won the Nobel Peace Prize. Moretti gracefully weaves portraits of historical topics into this narrative of Montessori's intellectual life.”
—Mary Gibson, John Jay College and the Graduate Center–CUNY
The Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori (1870–1952) is best known for the teaching method that bears her name. She was also a lifelong pacifist, although historians tend to consider her writings on this topic as secondary to her pedagogy. In The Best Weapon for Peace, Erica Moretti reframes Montessori's pacifism as the foundation for her educational activism, emphasizing her vision of the classroom as a gateway to reshaping society. Montessori education offers a child-centered learning environment that cultivates students' development as peaceful, curious, and resilient adults opposed to war and invested in societal reform.
Using newly discovered primary sources, Moretti examines Montessori's lifelong pacifist work, including her ultimately unsuccessful push for the creation of the White Cross, a humanitarian organization for war-affected children. Moretti shows that Montessori's educational theories and practices would come to define children's rights once adopted by influential international organizations, including the United Nations. She uncovers the significance of Montessori's evolving philosophy of peace and early childhood education within broader conversations about internationalism and humanitarianism.
Erica Moretti is an assistant professor of Italian at the Fashion Institute of Technology–SUNY. She is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor's Award in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
“More than just a fascinating account of the life and groundbreaking thought of Maria Montessori, this scrupulously researched book sheds new light on her humanitarianism, feminism, and environmentalism, all contextualized in a transnational framework. It will inspire readers from a variety of disciplines interested in education and peace.”
—Lorenzo Benadusi, author of The Enemy of the New Man: Homosexuality in Fascist Italy
“A monumental intellectual history of Montessori's pacifism [that] places Montessori as a central figure in 20th-century global humanitarianism, disaster relief, peace activism, and social reform. . . . Moretti's retelling shows us Montessori in action—engaging with Italian and global leaders, including the Pope, Mahatma Gandhi, Rukmini Devi, and Benito Mussolini, and existing in contradictory states of radical vision and political compromise.”
—Mira Debs, Montessori Life
“Combines intellectual history, biography, and political theory to alter our understanding of Maria Montessori’s life and legacy. Moretti draws on extensive archival research and on readings of the broad range of Montessori’s lectures, letters, lesson plans, and published writings to recast the celebrated educational reformer as a theorist of peace. In an era of catastrophic geopolitical conflict, teaching became a means to work toward peace on a global scale. For decades, Moretti argues, this vision sustained Montessori’s far-flung pedagogical projects. To ignore the central place of pacifism in these projects is to miss a crucial dimension of Montessori’s work.”
“An impressively researched, exceptionally well written, and deftly presented biography.”
—Midwest Book Review
“A landmark publication, bringing a new perspective to Montessorian historiography. It presents Montessori’s educational project as a means to promote peace. Consequently, this study of her lifetime contribution is not a biography but a transnational history of Montessori’s educational thinking and practice. . . . A valuable contribution.”