Old Testament Stories again?!

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Our fourth grade curriculum is now at the printer’s…..we expect to be able to send it out to you (all being well) in mid June. In the next day or so, we will set up a description of it in our Bookstore and people will be able to pre-order their copies.

As those of you who used our third grade curriculum last year know, we have a block on Old Testament stories. All Waldorf schools have this block of course. But whereas many teachers will either just dip into the Old Testament stories and end somewhere after Genesis, or take their third graders through the main stories of the Old Testament from start to finish, we decided to stop at the story of the arrival at the Land of Milk and Honey. To us, this seemed to encapsulate exactly where, developmentally, the 9 year old child is at this crucial juncture of life. She has arrived….but she hasn’t yet set foot forward.

Now, at 10, in fourth grade, she is very different. And we decided that the second half of the Old Testament contain some powerful stories which echo the next stage of the child’s development: the struggle of moral ambiguity.

Below we have re-printed the introduction from our fourth grade syllabus to our three week long Old Testament stories main lesson, explaining more of why we made this decision to have an Old Testament block in fourth grade. Here you can read my blog from last year where I explained what is behind our third grade Old Testament main lesson.

Last year a key main lesson was Old Testament stories. As the nine year old child struggles to find his own individuality and separates from his parents, so the stories of the Fall; of God’s covenant with Noah; of Abraham’s faith; and the trials and tribulations of the Children of Israel and, especially, their relationship to the Law, speak deeply to him. A year later, we return to stories of the Old Testament, beginning with the death of Moses.

The Law Giver is gone — how will the Children of Israel find a right relationship to God? This is a question which lives in the second half of the Old Testament. Looking at the ten year old child we see an echo of this question within her soul: my parents are no longer “Gods”, no longer infallible. How do I find a relationship to God or to the Spirit within? As with the Norse myths, the child sees and experiences moral ambiguity. The story of David is clearly a story of a very human king with many moral failings.

In this section of the Syllabus you will find the stories of Joshua, Samson, Saul, Samuel and David. We have included the rich and beautifully written stories retold by Walter de la Mare. The stories of Ruth, Naomi and Solomon, retold by me, are also included and we finish the story of David where de la Mare left off. Please don’t worry about de la Mare’s use of somewhat archaic language — as I explain in the Language Arts section, it is good for your child to be exposed to many different styles of writing and of language use.

Many of these stories are very violent. It might help you, during your inner preparation for sharing these stories with your child, to contemplate the violence both as a hallmark of a past era of human development and also as a symbolic or archetypal gesture. Much of the Old Testament can be understood as a preparation for a new impulse in the human being. Past streams of spirituality and of consciousness are being routed out, destroyed and overcome. Thus the tremendous numbers of battle and the specifics of enemies killed can be understood as a deed of cleansing. This is not always about real human beings being annihilated. Nevertheless, whether real or symbolic, present day humanity can no longer be involved in such bloodshed and hope to progress. We have come a long way from Old Testament consciousness (though some of us have moved on a bit quicker than others…) and such methods are no longer appropriate. Next year your child will encounter further tales of struggle and passion, including violence, as he hears the myths of India, Persia, Babylon and Egypt. Our shared human development has never been free of destruction and violence.

Some of you might not be entirely happy about yet another Old Testament main lesson. I feel strongly that the stories without the patriarchs are more relevant to children who have gone through the nine year change than those who are coming up to it. Thus this block’s appearance in fourth grade. For many of you, an additional reason for devoting an entire main lesson to these stories is because they are an important part of your religious life or of your cultural background. And if this is not true for your family, another consideration is that these stories are part of our shared Western Heritage. Anyone unfamiliar with the stories of the Old Testament will entirely miss out on crucial parts of our history, and of references, direct and indirect, in literature, art, social sciences and other fields of human endeavor.

I suggest you have your child create a beautiful main lesson book for this block and that you focus on filling it with a fair bit of writing. Last main lesson was math — not much writing. Next main lesson is geography — could also be very little writing. So it could be worth pushing a bit (gently!) and challenging your child to create a very full main lesson book which faithfully retells these stories from the Old Testament. If you look at the schedule for the year, you’ll see I recommend you expand into language arts subject lesson times during and after this main lesson to give your child plenty of time to make a really wonder main lesson book. Thus you won’t feel you have to cram the creation of a writing — rich main lesson book into these three short weeks.

Don’t hesitate to condense selections directly from the text for your child to copy into her main lesson book. At this age it is still best for your child to copy your writing, not typed text, so you can either write on the blackboard or on a large piece of paper you taped onto the wall.

You might have your child write the stories over several pages. Don’t overdo the amount of writing which you require from your child but do see if you can get more out of him than usual. For some children this will be several paragraphs — for others it will be several sentences.

Your child can also copy in and illustrate one or more psalms which he should also learn by heart during this main lesson.

All work should be beautifully and carefully illustrated.

Don’t forget to learn Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho at some point during this block (see Music se
ction).

Some of you might wish to carry on with the rest of the Old Testament, sharing the stories of Elijah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah and the rest with your child. Reading directly from the Bible is one possibility. Or you can select a tastefully done children’s Bible — which is often hard to find. My favorite is The Golden Children’s Bible, published by Golden Books Publishing Company, New York. This book is the culmination of work by a number of Jewish and Christian theologians and is very well done. It was originally published in 1965 and reprinted in 1993.

Here is an example of a possible pair of main lesson book pages.

Posted on June 2, 2009 in 4th Grade, Waldorf Curriculum

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