Sunday, June 12, 2011

waldorf charge

from seven to fourteen and beyond

(This article is a slightly modified reprint of a blogpost I wrote for The Magic Onions.)

Sedimentary rocks settle back to their bins inside the science closet. The chalkboard compass acutely rests deep in my desk. My sword leans against a wall like a seasoned knight retired from his last battle. From studying rocks to Rome, knights to starry nights, my year with the sixth grade comes to a close. Here at the end of this amazing year - my first year at Davis Waldorf with my students, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts about the development of the child, and how it determines the charge of the Waldorf teacher.

Steiner’s developmental approach to Waldorf intuitively holds the child first from the physical environment. This is the kindergartener whose body and soul are nurtured through the oneness with his teacher, peers, and surroundings. Next, the child of the first through eighth grade, from 7 to 14 years old, is then held by authority and leadership. The teacher’s role through the grades is being the noble knight, to use imagery from my sixth grade year. In chivalric fashion, with unwavering resolve, the teacher must guide the student with charismatic aplomb.

I have had to be a noble knight this year! The curriculum of the sixth grade is such that it meets the mind and heart of the 11-12 year old. My students were like rowdy attendants to the king’s ball, enjoying the thrill of entertainment, which sometimes can be as economical as pulling one’s lips to imitate a quacking duck. Then, with the announcement of a cause, a challenge, or a quest, and with the possible reward of victory or even certain death, they sober to become unified crusaders! How fitting it was this year that they had studied the clarity of Roman law, and the code of the medieval knight. For the sixth graders, it has been about the passionate interplay of silliness and sincerity.

Banking on their capacity for precision and recitation, I wrote the “Warrior’s Creed” which they performed with martial arts-style movements at the Medieval Games and at our May Faire.

With strength and sacrifice,
My sword I wield.
From righteous code,
I will not yield.
I sheath my sword
And extend my hand.
I giving heart
Benefits all the land.
With discipline
I resolve on the right.
I trust my path
Towards everlasting light.
From spirit mountain
I gladly stand and fight.

The eighth grader, at about the age of fourteen, is then held in a different manner. It is not so much holding as if in cupped, protective hands, but rather open and challenging, like you are asking, “So what do you think you should do?”

After fourteen, the child, or the young adult, is developmentally prepared for independent judgment. It is scary to think that we are empowering our teenagers with making their own decisions! But perhaps, it would not be so scary if truly we as caregivers, teachers and parents, were fully present in creating nurturing environments, and leading with responsibility and role modeling. Then, we should be able to trust that their decisions will be made from a place of our own making.

The charge of the Waldorf teacher, in the context of the threefold nature of the human being (body, soul, and spirit), is to transform the children’s natural desire for learning into treasures of creative and intellectual capacities. As the child develops, the needs evolve. The parent or teacher must recognize these shifts and find the rhythm of the growing child.

My own fourteen-year-old graduates this year from Davis Waldorf. He has decided to pursue his ninth grade at a nearby public school in Davis. The school offers a fantastic music program, and my son auditioned as a clarinetist for the concert band and as a saxophonist for jazz band. I had driven him to the school and I waited in the hallway as the music teacher lead him into one of the practice rooms. A faint but confident melody penetrated through the adjacent wall. Only a few measures later, the music teacher emerged from the room and told me that my son had earned positions in both bands. It struck me with full force for the first time that my first born child had just carved his own path, paved the way for his own fate. My role as a guide for him had reached its apex. From here on, like a waning moon, I glimmer only as a celestial navigator, and I let my son’s own luminous self become the star. I thought about the instruments that we always had around at home when he was a toddler. I thought about the times I would play songs on the piano or when my wife would teach him how to hold a clarinet. We had given him the physical environment and the guidance to appreciate music.

Now he is making his own music.


Sarah said...

My dear girl is just now completing her first year of public high school. It has been so interesting to watch her find her way after Waldorf.

Discovering Montessori said...

Beautiful post! Very inspirational!! Just decided to homeschool two of my children. I am so determined to follow my children passions,to allow to them to find the love that comes from owning our own paths. So glad I found your blog today. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations on your son making a decision and making his goals come true.