If you are a parent of a student of Asheville Waldorf School, a teacher, both, or a relation of someone in the community even, you surely have your own individual values that draw you to this school community. However, if you are anything like myself, even though I have been on a journey of exploration in Waldorf education for the last twenty plus years, I still find ways to deepen my understanding. Maybe some of us are new to this community, maybe not; either way, I thought that I would share some of my own experiences, hoping that they might inspire some conversations among us about our ideals, what we hope to achieve, and how we can create a community that is capable of our lofty goals. For around the first ten years of my teaching, I sought to avoid conversations in which the leading question was, “So what is Waldorf education? It is like Montessori right?” To explain what I valued in Waldorf education, I would have needed at least a weekend conference, if not a semester-long course. How could I provide a description in a few short words that did not fail miserably to convey the depths of the curriculum, let alone ideas such as community? Perhaps by taking on the task of writing these articles, I am making an attempt to atone for those lost opportunities to help others understand what the essential elements of our work are. What follows may be considered the first chapter.
Unlike my colleagues who are lucky enough to be Waldorf alumni, my initial interest in Waldorf education did not arise out of a rich educational experience as a child, but the feeling that my own education was a chore that lacked true relevance to me as a human being. Unfortunately, the trend in education is more and more a good-willed effort to prepare students for adult-life though an approach entirely focused on developing the intellect. This means that for primary school children, the curriculum tends to become a watered-down, spoon-fed version of high school and college curricula. This attempt to awaken the intellect prematurely can succeed, but comes at the expense of the inner feeling life and will forces of the child. We find over and over these precocious students who shine as stars in the early years, show a lack of will needed to take up the work of the upper grades and high school. Seemingly burned out, they may just opt-out of their own academic career. Currently, we have a phenomenon of twenty-somethings living in the basement of their parents, where they occupy their time and attention with video games. Young children are natural dreamers, not thinkers. We know from our own experience when the thinking forces are awakening and ready to be exercised. Any parent of an adolescent can attest to the great lawyering powers they develop as they seek to argue their cause! A clear sign of an awakening intellect.
In the Waldorf school, we seek to educate the intellect in the right time and in a manner that nurtures the feeling/emotional life of the student, while simultaneously strengthening the will. Our goal is that each student finds the tools and inner freedom to become their true authentic self. We seek to free students of the obstacles that lay in the path to this goal, to achieve their life’s destiny. Sounds lofty, but this is what each teacher believes, and we base our education upon it as such. The fact that Waldorf students have impressive people skills, excel in college and university settings, have creative approaches to solve problems, and feel driven to be a part of social change are just a few of the positive side-effects of this education. Each day our students in the 7th/8th grade, along with students around the world, speak a morning verse. In the verse we do not pledge allegiance to a nation’s flag, but we “look unto the world”. There we see and acknowledge the stones, plants, animals, stars without and the soul within. Each day begins with a picture of the self within the unfolding mysteries of the world and cosmos around us. This simple verse can actually be seen as a key to understanding the curriculum of the Waldorf School. Though this will be the topic of our next chapter.
7/8th Grade Teacher, Grades Chair