The Wholeness of Waldorf Education
I am currently working on our Christopherus sixth grade syllabus (available mid July 2019). This is the first new syllabus I have written in years. There are a number of reasons for this and one reason is that the Waldorf middle grades curriculum is that much more in depth, that much more complex and wide, that much more in need of interpretation and sharing by an author steeped in both experience in using it and who has worked unflinchingly upon herself to be able to approach such a task. It is an awesome responsibility and after about 10 years of inner work, I feel I am just about able to do a reasonable job at this. At Christopherus we always strive to explain the whys of the Waldorf curriculum and suggest a number of hows–then you, as the homeschooling parent, can take that information and work with it to suit your particular homeschooling situation.
As one moves into the latter years of the grade school curriculum, one gets the exhilarating experience of seeing how wonderfully and truly holistic Waldorf education is. Themes introduced via experience (doing) in the earliest years (painting with beautiful colors, modeling with sand or bread dough) now return as experiences to think about. How do the colors come about? What can we experience light and dark and how do we work with these? What happens when bread dough is too dry, too wet, not kneaded enough? Such experiences which have lived in the doing of the child now come back and are experienced artistically and consciously in 6th grade physics and in 7th or 8th grade chemistry. Later, in high school, the student will think through abstract concepts–and because she has had these years of doing and artistically experiencing (feeling) she has a holistic basis upon which to build her focused thinking. This is what a holistic education is all about.
In each year’s syllabus we give abundant advice concerning the pedagogical and methodological basis of the curriculum. We include a lecture each year from Rudolf Steiner, and copious advice on everything from how to give a dictation to why woodwork is important (look for a short sixth grade main lesson, unique to Christopherus, on trees and woodwork). We also include a number of carefully chosen quotes from Steiner and various Waldorf teachers to help inspire the homeschooling parent. Here is one which follows on from some of the above. At its conclusion I have added a few thoughts to help modern (and perhaps new to Waldorf) parents understand a bit of what he is saying. This is from The Roots of Education, a lecture series Steiner gave in 1924, less than a year before he died.
If, during the early school years children have stored up an inner treasury of riches through imitation, through a feeling for authority, and from the pictorial nature of the teaching, then at puberty those inner riches can be transformed into intellectual activity. From that point on, the individual will be faced with the task of thinking what was willed and felt previously. And we must take the very greatest care that this intellectual thinking does not manifest too early; for a human being can experience freedom only when, rather than being poured in by teachers, the intellect can awaken from within on its own. It must not awaken in an impoverished soul, however. If there is nothing present in a person’s inner being that was acquired through imitation and imagery—something that can rise into thinking from the depths of the soul—then, as thinking develops at puberty, that individual will be unable to find the inner resources to progress; thinking would reach only into emptiness. Such a person will find no anchorage in life and at the very time when a person should really have found a certain inner sense of security, there will be a tendency to chase trivialities.
During these awkward years, adolescents will imitate many things…they imitate these things now because they were not allowed to imitate in an appropriate and living way as younger children. Consequently, we see many young people after puberty wandering around looking for security in one thing or another, thus numbing their experience of inner freedom.
One of the things a modern parent might find challenging in this quote is Steiner’s reference to children and authority. We modern folks tend to have an understandably strong reaction against notions of authority, as this is an arena of human relationships which is so often completely out of balance. It is also poorly understood. The authority between a teacher and his students (which is of course what Steiner is referring to) is to be based on love–the authority of the teacher in a Waldorf classroom flows from this love. So this is not authoritarian authority–it is the authenticity of natural authority that flows from selfless love. Children flourish under this sort of relationship and because they love their teacher, they tend to do what is asked for–or feel safe enough to act out, knowing they are loved. The idea is that there is not an external legalistic rule of law that the children learn to obey–but rather that the teacher (who of course is expected to work continuously on his inner development to achieve this relationship) loves his class and in that aura of love, the children thrive.
At home this is somewhat different–these are one’s children, after all, so the relationship is not the same. However, it is worth the parent bearing in mind that the more she works n her inner spiritual path, devoting herself to prayer and meditation to address her flaws and weaknesses, then her authenticity as a person in addition to her selfless love as a parent, is what Steiner is talking about.