Public Waldorf Education Exists To Serve Both The Individual And Society
By Daniel Bittleston
Public Waldorf education is designed to prepare students to become fully themselves and to familiarize the world as a benevolent place to which they can fully belong. While these may not be taught as overt concepts, the breadth of the curriculum serves up experience after experience that nurture self-awareness, pique curiosity about others across time and space, and, essentially, develop empathy for oneself and others.
Why is music an absolutely essential element in Public Waldorf education? Waldorf educators see the activity of playing flute as a class or taking part in an orchestra or band as the archetype of truly social behavior. As a member of a musical ensemble, one plays one’s own part with skill and confidence and at the same time has to be wide awake to what everyone else is playing. By concentrating on making harmony, the student musician is developing a strong self and simultaneously a lively interest in—and commitment to—the whole group. Music class becomes the laboratory for discovering social dynamics.
The Waldorf picture of child development includes the possibility of recapitulation theory—that every child experiences a stage of affinity with each of humanity’s earlier cultures; rightly timed, the sense of humanity being one family can be encouraged through dramatic empathy. Further groundwork to combat xenophobia is laid in grades four and five with an exploration of the mythologies of the Norse, of India, China, Persia, Egypt and Greece. If you have acted the part of a Rama or Sita, a Pharaoh or Plato, you are not so likely to think of Indians, Egyptians and Greeks as dangerous foreigners. And there are many other ways in which Waldorf prepares a student to be comfortable with all races and nationalities: in third grade, for example, the curriculum includes an introduction to all kinds of housing, with students making models of every kind of dwelling in every climate.
The manner in which the unfolding curriculum introduces students to time and space gives a solid preparation for social life, connect Adventure learning puts Credo High School students into their local environments and informs responsible citizenship. ing students to fellow humans past and present, near and far. Time is introduced to kindergarteners and first graders with “once upon a time” stories that through the grades lead into mythology, and ancient, then medieval, history, until students are brought home to American history in eighth grade. Spatial consciousness is seen to begin with awareness of, to quote the song, “head, shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes,” and expands to describing and drawing a plan of one’s own desk, classroom, house, town, state, country, the world, and then culminates in astronomy in eighth grade. This approach may account for the exceptional comfort that Waldorf alumni tend to feel in the world and in their own bodies.
In high school, subject teaching aligns with the teenage development. The ancient places studied in fifth grade are revisited, now in a contemporary timeframe; the knowledge of ancient India establishes context and caring when high school history teaches of India’s colonization and its quest for independence. With debate, ninth graders practice expressing their often black and white ideas, but by twelfth grade they are able to really comprehend the different worldviews of, say, the Bolshevists, or the Romantic Poets.
The Public Waldorf curriculum steadfastly builds the ability to understand points of view other than one’s own. The intent is that graduates will be socially adept, able and inspired to contribute creatively to society in a way that is in harmony with their own essential character.
■ Daniel Bittleston is a threefold Waldorfian: Student for twelve years, class teacher for 21 years, parent of six overachieving children. He is an Alliance Advisory Board member, an active member of the Anthroposophical Society and installs hardwood floors.