Raising Compassionate and Socially Aware Children

This article first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, November 2004

The following are
excerpts from the keynote talks I gave in Fair Oaks, CA and Ann Arbor, MI at
Waldorf in the Home conferences. The entire talk would be too long to reprint
here (plus I strayed from my notes considerably – especially in California
where I actually forgot my notes!) so I am simply reprinting chunks from it. I
have left out most of the concrete examples so this does read a bit like a
series of platitudes. Please indulge me in this – it was just too big a task
for me to write this up properly yet I wanted to offer something to you all.

* * * * *

 The talk was entitled Creating
World Citizens: Raising Compassionate and Socially Aware Children
  and I began with the following quote from
Rudolf Steiner:

Still something further is important: namely that we recognise in the
human beings who are born today as children the inclination toward what must
develop in the coming generations, and that we learn to educate
prophetically. ThefFact that we must educate prophetically, that we must foresee what are to be the tasks of the next generation,
this is of the greatest earnestness. This stands written in the world about us
as a constant challenge.

I believe Waldorf education, whether in a school or at
home, can help us raise children who have an ecological consciousness, who are
concerned about questions of social justice, who have a strong sense for
morals, and who can act out of compassion and clear thinking.

Our own actions, our own sense of right and wrong, our own search for purpose, is an important
grounding for our children, one which, when they are little, can surround and
nurture them. By thus helping them thrive in the certainty that this world is,
indeed, a good place, one helps them be assured that it is a place they want to
be part of. Later, when they are older, our certainty and our clarity in our
own morals and opinions will provide strong forms for our teens to push against
as they develop their own sense of
right and wrong.

* * * * *

 I should add that homeschooling, in and of itself, is a
very positive thing, an impulse toward freedom, an act which says to experts
and governments, “I can do this myself”. This, aside from anything else we do,
is a great example of freedom and self-initiative for our children to emulate.

* * * * *

 How can Waldorf education and its foundation,
anthroposophy, help us achieve our
goals? First we need to understand that anthroposophy has as its basis two
important aspects:

1) A spiritual basis: each of us
carries a spark of the Divine. Each of us comes from the spiritual world,
sojourns on this earth and will return again to the spiritual worlds. This
process is repeated many times with the soul incarnating in different time
periods, in different cultures and with a different consciousness.
Anthroposophy works with questions of destiny and karma.

2) The idea of development: as the
soul journeys and has experience, it develops. From one life to another the
soul changes. And, critical to an understanding of Waldorf education, is the
notion that each individual human soul is a mirror of the larger development of
the human race as a whole. And, as each individual soul has partaken in this
long journey, as humanity as a whole has changed and developed, so each of us
as educators must ask ourselves the question, “Who is this child who stands
before me and how can I help her to fulfill her destiny?”

* * * * *

 If we understand our journey to be a shared one, if we
understand that the development of humanity finds its echoes in the soul of
each human being, then we immediately experience history as our story, as a unified theme which can
help us understand each child’s individual journey as well as gain insight into
humanity’s journey.

Thus, when one tells the Old Testament stories to a nine
year old child, to a Third Grader, one can see that this has not so much to do
with the stories of Jewish or Christian religions, but rather that these
stories, with their powerful themes of relationships to authority and to the
Law, are the stories of all children of that age, irregardless of their
religion, culture, nationality and so on. At 9 years old, when the child is
separating somewhat from his parents, this is one of the main questions that
prickles at his soul, “Who am I and who are you?” And these stories nourish the
soul of the 9 year old, letting him see how others related to these very

* * * * *

Waldorf is a way of educating children which can transcend
national, cultural, religious and gender boundaries and speak to what lives in
each human being. And further, because it is a form of soul education, it is uniquely able to speak to those souls who
might live in bodies challenged by mental, emotional or physical disabilities
or challenges. 

* * * * *

We want our children to be able to understand our
immensely complex world; to be able to navigate and use the amazing technology
which will have advanced to an extent unimaginable to many of us by the time
our children are grown. We want them to think clear thoughts which are warmed
by compassion and to thus act rightly in the world. 

Our goal is to produce whole
adults, people who have developed their feeling life, their will, their
thinking abilities. In order to do this, we can take as our motto ‘the right
thing at the right time’ and know that adult ways of feeling, doing and
thinking are not appropriate for children. Rather, we can work with an
anthroposophical picture of how children grow and learn and how the child metamorphoses
into the adult. 

* * * * *

In terms of developing whole
thinking capacities, we can appreciate that the young child’s ways of thinking
are very different from the adult’s and that only very gradually do the linear
logical thought processes, which our society so values, become appropriate,
rarely before age 12 or even later. By allowing the imaginative picture-making
capacities of the young child to flourish we acknowledge that there are many
ways of thinking available to human beings and, further, lay the foundation for
these other, later ways of thinking. 

* * * * *

 We can help strengthen and form our children’s feeling
life, helping them attain balance and attunement to their inner life. By
working artistically, by helping them strive for something higher, by giving
them stories full of upright and moral deeds done by good people, we help the
child ennoble her emotional life. Without such conscious attention to the inner
feeling life, the child can grow up as a victim to his emotions, to his sympathies
and antipathies. Compassion is our goal – not sentimentality or emotionalism.

* * * * *

We can help the child develop her will forces by framing
her life with healthy rhythms, especially in the first 7 year period. By
instilling good habits, the child’s will forces gradually come under her
conscious control. We further help her master her will forces as we give her
opportunities to persevere, to be mindful, to bring attention to detail.
Handwork, practicing a musical instrument, participation in household chores
can all help with this.

* * * * *

 By educating the whole
child, by being mindful of her spiritual past and future, by seeing her
personal biography as being connected to that of humanity as a whole, we can go
far in creating socially conscious children with a strong sense of justice. If
the stories of Japan, of the Netherlands, of Ghana, of the Sioux resonate so
strongly in her soul that they are, indeed, her
stories then we go far in instilling a brotherliness, a sense of comradeliness
between our child and other peoples. And, if we have taken care to strengthen
our child’s will, to develop his thinking and to bring a sense of balance and
peace to his emotional life, then it is likely that our child will have the
strength, ability and knowledge to be able to act effectively in the world. 

* * * * *

Waldorf education helps us educate the whole child and
helps the child feel connected to the earth and nature as well. By developing
the child’s senses, by not dulling them with too much exposure to what is loud,
synthetic, overstimulating, we help the child retain the kind of sensitivity
which allows her to more fully explore and experience her world. By not rushing
the child through her early years, through his all-important sense of oneness with
nature and the world, by allowing him his dreamtime instead of hurrying to
bring him into the adult world of information, one preserves a deep sense of
connectedness and unity between the child and nature. And if one feels a connection to nature, how then could
one grow up and exploit, destroy or otherwise treat as a commodity our home,
our Earth?

* * * * *

 There are, of course, no guarantees that a child will grow
up to have this or that quality, ability or interest. But, as parents, we are
in a good position to influence our children positively when we have at our
disposal the vast pedagogical and therapeutic riches that Waldorf education

* * * * *

 If we can hold a vision for our children out of our own
inner certainty that the world is, indeed, a good, beautiful and truthful place
to live; if, despite the obscene conflicts and horrors of our world, we know in
our hearts and minds that understanding is possible, that compassion is
possible and that right action is possible, then we stand the chance of our
children growing up to be adults who take on these problems. Can we live with
this truth of ‘the right thing at the right time’ so that our children grow to
value process as much as goals, and to know that the end does not justify the
means but is a reflection of the path taken?

Our hope is that our children will grow up and take up
their life tasks with clear, heart-warmed thinking, that they will have the
vision and ability to go beyond the tweedledee, tweedledum politics that is
stagnating our communities, our country, our world. Our greatest hope for our
children must be that, out of hope, out of faith in their fellow human beings,
out of reverence for our blessed Earth, that they have the vision to create a
more equitable, more free and more compassionate world.

Posted on July 13, 2005 in Family Life and Parenting, General Homeschooling

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