I Look Unto the World
“I look unto the world,
In which the sun is shining,
In which the stars are sparkling.
In which the stones repose.
The living plants are growing
The animals live in feeling,
The human being ensouled
Gives dwelling to the spirit.”
Last week we began a conversation about how the Waldorf school approaches education in a way that is fundamentally different than most educational streams. We noted how Waldorf education seeks to educate “head, heart, and hands” rather than focus simply on the intellect. However, it would not be a contradiction to describe a Waldorf education as an academically rigorous education. Many high school graduates from my previous Waldorf school described college as “easy” compared to the rigors of their high school education. That may sound surprising to many of us, whom are asking why kindergartners are not learning their letters and numbers. An understanding of child development is essential to know what to bring and when to the students so that the curriculum will support the whole being of each student. The morning verse of the upper grades, which is repeated each morning by the teacher and students is somewhat mysterious, but it can give serve as a key to our approach as Waldorf educators.
Many of us may be familiar with the author of this verse, Rudolf Steiner, as the founder of the Waldorf schools. Interestingly, we are not asked by Steiner to follow any of his ideas, but rather explore through individual freedom. We can look unto the world as individuals to find deep truths about the human being. In this verse we are reminded of the living forces that surround us each day. Those forces that live in nature through the mineral, plant, and animal can be observed and this related to the same as those that work in the human being. The “reposing stones” can represent our physical body and needs. A physical body must be endowed with life to transform the micro and macronutrients we eat into energy and proteins. In this way, we are like the “plants growing”. As we grow, so does our emotional intelligence and like the animals, we “live in feeling”. Eventually, with much effort put forth from our parents, teachers, and ourselves, we may become a “human being ensouled.” This is a simple yet profound outline that can serve as an example for how we educate our children.
In the Early Childhood, we can imagine that our children are not yet independent in their thinking or even in their feeling life. They learn through imitation and imagination, often processing what they see through their play. We see that the students’ emotional life is a reflection of their parents’. Like a plant, children under the age of six need safe, fertile ground in which to grow; they take in what is around them like sponges. Therefore our greatest efforts should be made not in explaining, but rather in demonstrating. Keeping young children “out of their head” allows them to focus their energy where it is needed, toward the physical growth of their body. We know a major change takes place when those “plant” forces needed to grow are freed up for other pursuits through the change of teeth. After a child begins to lose teeth we see they are ready to enter a new phase of development, that of the feeling life.
Like the “animals” that “live in feeling” the student from Grade 1 to Grade 8 primarily learns through the feeling life, which is nurtured in through the imagination. Whether it is a soul journey with Martin Luther King Jr. in the upper grades or a fairy tale in the first grade, the imagination is used to awaken wonder in the world. When we feel things, we feel them in our heart, not our heads. Our heart, along with the lungs, work in an unconscious rhythmic way. Similarly in the grades, we use rhythmic activities to learn things such as our times tables. We utilize the rhythm of the day to bring harmony to the individual child going from activities that focus the child’s attention to activities where they can be more free, what we call the breathing of the class. Students of course can think, but they look to their teachers as the authority, or authors of the curriculum, trusting in what they bring as learned adults. They have unique capacity to memorize long stories and verses. When students begin to question their teachers and parents, we begin to see that they are beginning to think for themselves and are entering a new phase of development, adolescence.
The adolescent who depended so much upon the example of the adults in the youngest years and the education of their feeling life in the grades, begin to emerge as their own unique selves, a process that will take them through high school and into college. We are often surprised at these individuals and who they are! They no longer look to the adults; initially, they look to their peers for guidance, forming social groups or cliches as they search for identity. As a school, we must meet them with a curriculum that challenges them to think independently and critically. They seek challenges. Like the kindergartner learning physical boundaries, the adolescent needs to come up against the challenges of the real world. The adolescent is undoubtedly going to make many mistakes and feel new depths of emotions, many of which are painful. As parents and teachers we tend the young spark of their individuality, allowing them to explore without fear of the “irrational” and “over-reacting” adults. In this way, the “human being ensouled” may “give dwelling to the spirit”.
7/8th Grade Teacher