How have I come to be who I am? Does my life, and the relationships I form within it have lasting meaning? Each of us is born into a specific life situation, a set of seemingly random circumstances encompassing gender, inherited genetic and ethnic traits, a social grouping that may – or may not, help us to thrive. While the nature-nurture debate rages on we all know of instances, perhaps within our own families where similar life situations produce very different individuals leading very different lives. In her new book, Why on Earth: Biography and the Practice of Human Becoming, Signe Elkund Schaefer explores the idea that each of our lives expresses a uniqueness of spiritual intention within the unfolding of universal rhythms and possibilities. What mysteries are at work in the development of human consciousness, in the unfolding of history, in the evolution of the universe? Continue reading →
Susan Corkran is an alumni parent and MWS board member. The following is a speech she gave at Meadowbrook during the 2013 New Parents Reception.
Welcome Dear Friends, to this beautiful place on this beautiful evening. You have embarked on a journey which if you let it, will change your life. Through it you and your children will change the world. I know my little talk runs the risk of being as memorable as most speeches but I ask that you please keep in your mind one question, and that is “what brought you here?”
My name is Susan Corkran and I am the mother of a Meadowbrook Waldorf School graduate of the Class of 2010. My son, Jasper Romero is in his senior year at South Kingstown High School and he is what brought me here, not just to this podium on this night or to this community but to Rhode Island and, I have begun to believe to this life on this planet.
When I was 21 and living in Colorado in a basement apartment working as a costumer at an opera festival I saw a picture of two hale and hearty farmers, a young Vermont couple loading hay onto a horse-drawn wagon. At the end of the opera season I packed up my Datsun F-10 and my dog and headed for Vermont. The car died in Connecticut and my sister drove me to Maine to work as a waitress in a national park. At the end of the national park season I made it to Burlington Vermont where I lived at the YWCA until I found a chilly apartment in an old house and started working as a baker in a subterranean cafe. There followed stints as a poster hanger, ice cream scooper, and brochure distributor. No farming.
Then I met a man who dangled tempting images of rural Rhode Island. I moved here to Charlestown to a cottage on a sheep farm adjoining the Merners’ property and resumed work as a costumer, this time at Theatre by the Sea. At the end of the summer theater season I found a job in the retail shop at a small herb farm just down the street from here, in Wyoming. Finally, farming. Or selling things in a shop attached to a greenhouse on a tiny two acre biodynamic herb farm, and occasionally working up a righteous sweat rubbing dried herbs from their stems while listening to the farmer wax philosophical about Steiner this and Anthroposophy that.
The pieces started coming together slowly over the next few years, when our landlords’ daughter Kate, a bright, engaging, always-smiling young person who had played the flute at our wedding in the sheep field invited an elderly lady, “Miss Gerri” to her high school graduation party. What kind of 18 year-old invites her first grade teacher to her graduation party? And who was this person who had so formed this young woman that she was revered in the household as a wise elder? The story came out that clever Kate had so wilted over a few weeks in public kindergarten that her parents, both PhD’s in one science or another, quickly scooted lovely Kate to the new-forming Waldorf School which was then in a church basement being nurtured by, among others, our very own Betty Merner. Their bright child rapidly returned with new songs and games to share with her little brothers on the vast farm by the swamp. Miss Gerri taught Kate through the third grade, a concept which garnered from me the usual concerns about “what if they don’t get along?” and “how can a teacher know how to teach different grades?”
Enter Jasper, after his mother’s first seven years of wondering what the heck a big Western girl like her was doing in this tiny Eastern state where the trees blocked every view and people were just, well, Yankees. Swamp Yankees, even. Fast forward to our own public kindergarten experience: the teacher was lovely, the school as cozy as could be but when we sat down for our first parent-teacher conference and it all boiled down to the 17 words Jasper could read, a chill ran down my spine. I tried to maintain a respectful attentiveness but all I could think was “you do not know my child.” That teacher met the standards of her profession with grace and compassion, became a reading specialist because she wanted to make a difference for individual children. She would have made a great Waldorf Teacher.
In the midst of a divorce, we stayed at that school for first grade assured that we had the best teacher. And that teacher miraculously held the attention and affection of 30 busy six year olds, told stories, sang songs. Today Jasper says she was a “no-nonsense lady, very good at working with kids, at getting past things in a friendly way. She had a motorcycle. She was cool.” She would have made a great Waldorf teacher.
But when for the next year, Jasper’s 17 words suddenly having become thousands so that he was testing at sixth grade level, we were offered the options of putting him into a computer-based accelerated reading program, advancing him to third grade instead of second, or putting him in a class of 10 “accelerated learners,” 10 “delayed learners” and four adults, we knew enough even as divorced parents flattered by this recognition of our son’s special cleverness, to become alarmed. It seemed clear that our child was being viewed as a feather in someone’s statistical cap. We had considered and decided against home schooling because Jasper had thrived in daycare while I was in nursing school; how would using a machine to make him smarter at something he was already smart at advance his need for human connection?
And so we found ourselves on a May afternoon in a dimly-lit room draped in pink silk, trying to sell ourselves to Betty and Miss Su. Jasper’s dad was reassured by whatever they said about the academic rigors of Waldorf education, the statistics indicating that children who participate in this education go to the high schools they want to, the colleges they choose. My only agenda at the time was that my son, who was struggling with the sadness and anger of our divorce be a nice, happy person. (I have since learned by the way that as altruistic as that sounds, I really had no business having any agenda for my child but that he be himself.) The delightful irony of the ironclad ‘six-by-June first’ rule meant Jasper, who had been five when he started first grade would be repeating first grade and not skipping second. He was invited to visit with the kindergarten class he would be joining as a first grader the next year. To this day, Jasper thinks he attended kindergarten at Meadowbrook so indelible an impression did Miss Su make in that week of visits.
And so there we were, and here we are. Here we are in a place where you pay money so that your child has a chance to break her arm at recess. Because she will be in a tree or on a rope, or riding on the back of a bigger child. In a place where instead of being suspended for a physical disagreement with another child, your child will be sentenced to community service alongside that child weeding gardens, or stacking wood, or moving risers. So that when they are high school seniors they will sit in your living room together and play their guitars. Or yes, their video games.
Here we are, where you do not have power over what happens in the classroom because this is not a democracy; it is an exquisitely planned and executed pedagogy that recognizes, perhaps better than you will sometimes, what your child needs and offers it cleverly disguised as a walk in the woods, a wooden flute, a knitted sock, a math poem delivered in unison while marching in a circle, a violin lesson and the attendant torturous 15-minutes-a-day practice (I recommend viola; not as squeaky), a Shakespeare play, “Farmer Boy”, wet-on-wet watercolor (all yellow? Just yellow?), Diwali, Michaelmas, eighth grade projects (ask Lorna, board president, about that log cabin), the eighth grade trip… Savor it while you are in it, friends. It flies. Congratulate yourselves for having the wisdom to let the universe bring you and your children here.
And please bring what you have. If it’s money, great. We can always use more of that. If it’s time, that’s good too; let your skills and interests be known and used. Build a fence. Sew a costume. Weed a garden. Drive another child to and from school. Bake cookies. And more cookies. Show up for everything you can show up for. Don’t argue about technology policies; they are there for a reason, and it’s a good one, and it has to do with the long-term health and functioning of your child, not their short-term pleasure or their grandparents’ disappointment about not being allowed to buy the latest gadget for Christmas. Watch plays instead of filming or photographing them. Be here. Drive for field trips, or buy gas for someone who is driving for field trips. When the teacher asks for your help, give it if you can. He or she is tending the soul of your child and the future of humanity. Learn about Steiner and Waldorf education; attend adult ed programs. This is more than just an alternative to public school; this is a movement, and its goal is the evolution of human spirituality, one little human spirit at a time. We are in the business of equipping human beings to meet the world they are in; it’s going to take all of our energy. Please bring your trust in this process; these teachers and administrators are meticulous professionals who are very serious about their tasks. And it is a joyful, beautiful process. If it makes you want to quit your job and become a Waldorf school teacher, please do so.
Here I am, a big Western girl in a little Eastern state. I have thought of leaving many times, moving closer to family, or someplace where the views are better and land cheaper. This idea was, of course, emphatically vetoed by my son. The Meadowbrook Waldorf School community has been the village that has raised and continues to embrace my child and be his home. Jacquelyn tolerated my endless late tuition checks (do not take that as an endorsement of late tuition); Lorna was Jasper’s Thursday mom; Charlotte the Administrator sang him nonchalantly off a stone wall his first day of first grade while I was panicking that he wouldn’t obey my direction to get down off the wall; Jeremy the strings teacher almost succeeded in getting him to continue viola past 10th grade. Amalia corralled 19 very different children into a cohesive class that still meets for birthdays, breakfasts, musical jams, Three Kings’ Day, hiking trips, going-away parties, and to remember their beloved friend and classmate Allie.
A week ago Jasper came out of the bathroom in distress, pointing out to me his receding hairline. Sadly, he was correct; my brother started balding at 17, so the hand is dealt. Then, we got in the car and headed to Michaelmas. There I was, driving to my son’s grade school, with my son and his receding hairline. At Michaelmas he met up with his reading buddy, who showed him forts in the woods. One of my colleagues on the board, Mikhail, who has younger children, asked me what my son looked like; “Like a man,” I said, “with a receding hairline.” In the blink of an eye, this community has nurtured and sent forth a young man who will spend a Saturday morning walking through sunny woods with a 10-year old boy; a young man who fills my living room with music, who writes like he’s on fire, who scores well on standardized tests but won’t take them over to see if he can score even better, who knits hats for extra money, who can mastermind a backpacking trip or a charity concert, who says the entire take-home message of his grade school education was “nobody’s perfect, but everybody has something to offer,” and who above all, loves his friends fiercely. I am deeply grateful to the forces that brought us here.
ANNE PEARCE is a Research Fellow and Meadowbrook parent. Her daughter has participated in the All-State Festival for the past 2 years. In this post she writes about the Waldorf approach to music education.
Early on a cold Saturday morning in November, several violin students warmed up for their audition for the 2012-13 All-State Festival, Orchestra. The students looked nervous as they practiced their scales, reviewed their music and waited to be called into the audition room. Jeremy Fortier, the Strings teacher at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School, explained that the students prepared for the audition for months, in school and with a private instructor, learning scales, developing sight-reading skills, and mastering a movement or two from a staple of classical music.
The Rhode Island Music Educators Association sponsors the annual All-State Festival. RIMEA is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the musical development of all Rhode Islanders, especially through music education and performance in schools and communities. The festival is open to music students in grades 7-12, who are sponsored by their music teachers, in Orchestra, Chorus, and Band. This year 1,594 music students from across Rhode Island auditioned and approximately 600 were selected.
“All-State is music-making at a very high level and an opportunity to participate in a full symphonic orchestra, with woodwinds, brass and percussion; the experience is impressive and unbeatable,” Fortier said.
What is also impressive is the large number of Fortier’s students who audition and are selected for the All-State Orchestra, especially given the School is relatively small compared to other participating schools whose student population is 5 to 9 times larger. The enrollment data for this year’s strings players, for example, shows the Meadowbrook Waldorf School is the best represented at the junior and senior divisions, with 7 of 10 who auditioned selected for the Junior Orchestra and 4 of 7 alumni students selected for the Senior Orchestra. The next best school represented, a school 5 times larger, had 4 strings students selected for the Junior Orchestra and 2 for the Senior Orchestra.
The reason for the Meadowbrook Waldorf School’s achievement is not only in the talented teacher’s they hire, but in their approach to music education. Every child at the school plays an instrument from Grade 1 through Grade 8 and from their teachers in Strings, Chorus, Recorder and Ensemble, the students gain not only musical skills and knowledge, but a chance to experience the finer aspects of music-making. The Meadowbrook choral program will also be represented at this year’s Festival with four current, and several alumni singers. All students learn to play in ensembles, culminating in performances such as the School’s annual Yuletide Revels Chorus, Recorder, and Strings Ensemble, and for some, the opportunity to participate in the All-State Festival.
The idea of Waldorf music education is that musical ability goes beyond melody, harmony and rhythm to include the experience of working within a group of peers with differing abilities to produce something beautiful. It helps students go into the world understanding how to listen for more than what meets the ear, and with the satisfaction that comes from refining a skill through effort and perseverance. The Waldorf music curriculum helps produce fine musicians, but its true aim is to help produce fine human beings.
The RIMEA 2012-2013 All-State Festival concert is on 24 March 2013, Choruses at 12:30pm, Orchestras 3:30pm, and Bands 6:00pm , at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, RI. Tickets are $10.
JEREMY FORTIER has been teaching Grade 6, 7 and 8 Strings at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond, RI for eight years. He is also a private teacher for many Meadowbrook students and alumni. He has played the viola for 30 years and participated in several All-State Festivals in Georgia.
All photographs by SETH JACOBSON PHOTOGRAPHY
Sarah Wiberg leads the Meadowlark Parent Child class. Here she shares her thoughts on taking time to reflect.
Create moments of inner peace, distinguish the essential from the inessential. ~ Rudolph Steiner
I recently came across a pile of tea cups that I had collected over the summer. My intention was for us to have tea during the Meadowlark Parent-Child classes. The idea seemed like a perfect way to encourage what I hope for the class; a calm, quiet, relaxing environment for both the parent and child. Isn’t it funny how our best intentions can get sidetracked? It reminded me of a comment a good friend said to me, “Should I even offer you a cup of tea, because you never drink it.” And she was right. Every time she made me a cup of tea I never sat long enough to enjoy it. I would easily get distracted and end up with a cup of cold tea. I could blame that on my children but I think I was that way long before them.
It is my very active practice now to sit long enough to enjoy what I have before me; a meal, a game with my children, a book, and a cup of tea. It is too easy to become distracted by the list of chores or commitments that need to be accomplished for the day. I have a picture in my head of who I want to be and that person recognizes the gift of a quiet mind.
For the Meadowlark class I picture a quiet, peaceful room where parents are able to sit, observe, reflect and feel the joy of their child. This peaceful place is possible if we practice the art of being quiet in multiple ways. If we are quiet in our thoughts and bodies our children will respond, their play reflects the environment that they are in. If we are easily distracted, they will be too. If we are calm with focused intentions then our children will feel peaceful and focused too. This brings about purposeful play where children can develop their own capacities such as being able to follow through with an idea.
This class is also a time when we can talk as adults. We may not want our children to overhear these conversations so we can try to be mindful and connect during outside playtime where our voices are not enclosed by the room. Being able to talk freely and share our daily joys and struggles helps us move out peacefully into the rest of our day.
Let’s see if we can get our lives to a place where we can all have a cup of tea … and finish it!