The Freedom of a Waldorf Education

As the archivist for the MWS Parents Association, my role at the monthly meetings is to record the conversation then organize the notes into an accurate report for distribution to the parent body.  Somewhat like a news reporter, I try to not color what is said with my own ideas and opinions so that parents not present can simply read what was discussed without my commentary.   

This school year we invited faculty representatives to present an educational topic at each meeting for group study.  At the last meeting of this year, 6th grade class teacher Andrew Gilligan brought his incredible energy to discuss with us what it means to be a Waldorf School.  He presented with such passion and reverence I found it stifling to dilute it for the regular meeting minutes so I am sharing here what I took away from the discussion, not the least of which is an incredible gratitude that people such as Andrew Gilligan exist and take deeply into their own souls the responsibility for educating children in a way that goes much deeper than the practical curriculum of reading, writing, and math.  

Educational Freedom

education

Andrew Gilligan began his discussion about the importance of Waldorf Education in the world and what it means by asking us to think about the word freedom.  As parents, we exercise our freedom to choose the type of education that best fits the needs of our child.  Waldorf Education exercises its freedom as an independent school system, free from the full weight of government regulation.  Waldorf philosophy (or pedagogy) views children as free beings who come with unique gifts to bestow upon the world.  The children are granted the freedom to enjoy childhood.  The education itself is intended for children to grow into adults who are confident in exercising their own freedom to be who they are meant to be.

Educating for an Unknown Future

Children are the lifeblood of human society.  Children are, quite literally, our future.  While this is a popular media catchphrase, the gravity of this is taken quite seriously by teachers.  Our children will become the adults that make the decisions in our world.  The root of the word education means to draw out.  Waldorf educators abide by the philosophy that their primary role is to remove hindrances so that children are able to bring their own ideas out into the world.  This stands as a stark counterpoint to the general idea that a proper education ‘fills up’ the child with information, information that may or may not be relevant when the child is grown.  As a teacher Mr. Gilligan asks: “How is the gesture of education able to draw out the capacities that lie within the child?”  “How can we educate this child for freedom?”

We prepare a child of today for an unknown world of tomorrow by allowing them to know their own self, to rely on their inner strength, and by allowing them their own freedom within the moral compass of knowing that they must take responsibility for that freedom.  We do this by holding a quiet knowing of what childhood ought to be, by allowing them the freedom to fully experience childhood.

Education Begins with Healthy Relationships

Waldorf educator and author, Gary Lamb describes a Holy Trinity of Education made up of parents, teachers, and children.  The basic foundation of a healthy school is healthy relationships, where no one is given authority to make a decision about a child unless that individual knows the child in question and bears some responsibility for the education of that child.  No outside agency, (government, academic or industrial) should be involved in making policy decisions about education unless directly involved in providing that education to the children concerned.  If children are to be free to develop to meet the future they must be free of the demands of present economic and political considerations.  Waldorf Education is child-centered meaning all decisions regarding that education are driven by the needs of the individual child and the class in question.  Using the Holy Trinity of Education those decisions are made by the child’s parents and teachers.

pedagogical artistIndividuality in Education

In a Waldorf School, the teacher is a pedagogical artist with the freedom to bring his or her own particular interests, experiences, and skills to the students, enriching the curriculum with deeper meaning.  Public school colleagues are limited in this capacity, not because they lack the understanding or do not feel the gravity of their responsibility, but because their freedom is restricted by school systems regulated by the need to provide quantifiable results and that evaluate success according to metrics based on standards unconnected to the child’s individual capacities.  Within the Waldorf curriculum teachers are free to make choices that meet the needs of the class, assessing progress and evaluating the process as it relates to the children concerned.

Freedom to Invest in an Education

As parents we know our children, their needs and gifts, better than anyone.  As parents we have the freedom to choose the educational system we feel is the best fit for our children.  However, the cost of attending an independent school may mean some parents are unable to act on their choices.  Parents in Waldorf Schools are partners in their children’s education not only by working with the teacher in support of the work done in the classroom, but by sustaining community life and helping alleviate financial pressures through volunteerism.

Mr. Gilligan offered that it is a brave choice to become a part of a  Waldorf School. It is a free choice, not something foisted upon you and it requires a personal investment.  What it calls on us to do is to rise up and hold ourselves accountable, to sharpen our responsibility of soul.

Pedagogical artists

Freedom to Pursue Their Life’s Work.

As a parent listening to this talk, I was repeatedly moved by the depth of commitment expressed by Mr. Gilligan.  Most parents if asked, I imagine would say that what they want is for their children grow into happy, well adjusted adults.  To me this means that they will pursue what they are passionate about, something that is soul satisfying and that they can fully immerse themselves in.   What became clear to me while listening to Mr. Gilligan is that in choosing a Waldorf School, I have surrounded my children with adults doing exactly that.  Adults who felt a calling and pursued it, a calling they are free to fully inhabit to the benefit of the children.  With adults they respect, doing their life’s work with integrity and passion, the children are being shown daily that they are free to do the same.  I can’t think of a better place for my children.

Finding Quiet

Contributed by Sarah Wiberg, Parent-Child Class Teacher

Parent-Chid Class Table Quiet Crafting
Tea and crafting is part of the rhythm in the Parent-Child classroom. This time offers parents a creative activity and time to connect while the children play.

I am currently enrolled in the Birth to Three Training at Sophia’s Hearth, in Keene, NH. As I was reflecting on my week of training last month,  I began to see that this training is meeting me professionally and personally in such a deep way. I  have been called to grow in ways I did not expect.

Practicing Quietness

One of those opportunities for growth came in the form of practicing and embracing quietness. One of my teachers put into question my own practice of quiet. I had been so proud of all the things that I could juggle in my mind and still appear calm on the outside. I started to realize that I do not allow enough quiet moments to come into my day – moments that could really fill and restore me instead of constantly feeling frazzled.

“A quiet mind and calm environment is fertile ground for creative play and safe social experiences and interactions.”

During class, I am often able to find a place of quiet. The strong rhythm of the morning offers opportunities to follow what is known so well and I enjoy a calm, quiet mind.  The children can often find that peace in the day when they are surrounded by what is predictable. A quiet mind and calm environment is fertile ground for creative play and safe social experiences and interactions.

Modeling Quiet for our Children

Our children find this peace when we are able to find it for ourselves. Through our modeling, they learn to feel calm in their environment.  This might be the hardest to achieve for parents.  I will be the first to admit that there are many times that it is easier to be the teacher in a class than a parent at home.  At home it is easy to become distracted by the demands of life; dishes, laundry, ironing, making lunches for school, cleaning the living room, vacuuming the floor…(care to add a few more?)  And I did not even mention the work expectations, evening meetings, or different family commitments.  How is one ever able to find a quiet moment at home with the ever-running list of responsibilities and commitments?

During the season that seems to pull us in so many directions, I challenge you as I have challenged myself, to find a quiet moment each day.  This moment could be to meditate, reflect on something in nature, read a book, or just observe our children as they play.  In this moment we may also make time for finding gratitude for what we have in our lives.  This practice helps us to find the positive in each day when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed.  Our children will feel this shift and begin to reflect it in their own lives.

Here is one of my favorite verses.

Felted Art Quiet Winter NightQuiet I bear within me
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong
Now will I be imbued
With their glowing warmth
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being,
When by my steadfast striving
I become strong
To find myself within myself
The source of strength,
The strength of inner quiet.
 -Rudolf Steiner

Many blessings during this Holiday Season.

Saint Nicholas Day in a Waldorf School

Saint Nicholas Day at Meadowbrook Waldorf School

shoes Saint Nicholas

The children in the lower grades were busy yesterday tidying their rooms and placing their shoes out neatly in anticipation for a visit from Saint Nicholas.  This morning those eager boys and girls found treasures of clementines and small shells in their shoes waiting for them, sometimes with a hint of glitter left behind from their secret visitor.

Who is Saint Nicholas?

Today the children celebrate Saint Nicholas Day.  Saint Nicholas was a bishop born in the 4th century. He was known for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas.  Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, pawnbrokers.* Saint Nicholas day is celebrated throughout Europe and is honored by Waldorf schools and Waldorf inspired homes and homeschoolers as well.

Legends of Saint Nicholas

One of the most popular stories of St Nicholas tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas.**

Saint Nicholas Felted

Our German teacher shares this poem about Sankt Nikolaus translated into English.

Knecht Ruprecht – Theodor Storm

From out of the forest I now appear, to proclaim that Christmastide is here!
For at the top of every tree are golden lights for all to see;
and there from Heaven’s gate on high I saw our Christ-child in the sky.

And in among the darkened trees, a loud voice it was that called to me:
‘Knecht Ruprecht, old fellow’ it cried, ‘hurry now, make haste, don’t hide!
All the candles have now been lit – Heaven’s gate has opened wide!

Both hong and old should snow have rest away from cares and daily stress;
and when tomorrow to earth I fly “It’s Christmas again!” will be the cry.’

And then I said: ‘O Lord so dear. My journey’s end is now quite near; 
but to this town I’ve still to go, Where the children are good, I know.’

‘But have you then that great sack?’
‘I have’ I said, ‘it’s on my back.
For apples, almonds, fruit and nuts for God-fearing children are a must.’

‘And is that cane there by your side?’ 
The cane’s there too,’ I did reply;
but only for those, those naughty ones, who have it applied to their backsides.’
The Christ-child spoke: ‘Then that’s all right! My loyal servant, go with God this night!’

From out of the forest I now appear; To proclaim that Christmastide is here!
Now speak, what is there here to be had?
Are there good children, are there bad?

Sources:
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas
**http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

Farm to Table: Is home canning safe?

Contributed by Teri Gregg

Home canning

Are home-canned products safe to eat?

Is it safe to eat Aunt Gab’s or Grandma Mary’s pickles, green beans and preserves?  Every year, people proudly give their homemade canned goods for gifts and the wary recipients leave them in their cupboard for years wondering if they are really safe to eat. If this sounds like you, then here is some helpful information to help you decide when to toss a canned good and when to sing Aunt Gab’s and Grandma Mary’s praises!

What is canning?

Canning is a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in an airtight container. Canning provides a shelf life typically ranging from one to five years, In 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Nicolas Alpert  suggested canning, and the process was first proven in 1806 in tests conducted by the French navy.  The packaging prevents microorganisms from entering and proliferating inside.

To prevent the food from being spoiled before and during containment, a number of methods are used: pasteurisation, boiling (and other applications of high temperature over a period of time), refrigeration, freezing, drying, vacuum treatment, antimicrobial agents that are natural to the recipe of the foods being preserved, a sufficient dose of ionizing radiation, submersion in a strong saline solution, acid, base, osmotically extreme (for example very sugary) or other microbially-challenging environments.

Other than sterilization, no method is perfectly dependable as a preservative. That said, really, only foods with a low acidity (most veggies, meat, seafood, poultry and dairy products) need sterilization under high temperatures.  This is achieved through pressure canning.  Foods that can be safely canned in ordinary boiling bath water are highly acidic such as most fruits, pickled vegetables (anything canned in vinegar) or other foods to which acidic additives have been added.

Simply put, if your great aunty (or Teri) gives you jam, jelly or anything pickled in vinegar, it is more than likely okay and most assuredly NOT going to kill you.  The worst thing that would happen is it may not have been sealed properly and it will get moldy.  This is easily seen (or smelled) and should just be thrown out.  If the seal has been compromised at all, again, just throw it out.

Home canning and a bit about botulism

Foodborne botulism (which is what everyone is afraid of getting!) results from contaminated foodstuffs in which C. botulinum spores have been allowed to germinate and produce botulism toxin, and this typically occurs in canned non-acidic food substancesSO, again, simply put, this means that if you get a jar of green beans that are canned in just salt water, not vinegar!,  there is a chance, albeit small, that it has grown botulism.    Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness, leading to paralysis that typically starts with the muscles of the face and then spreads towards the limbs. In severe forms, it leads to paralysis of the breathing muscles and causes respiratory failure.  So.  What to do about those green beans.  If Grandma Mary is up to snuff on the latest information on how to pressure can, then I would go ahead and eat them!  The latest recipes have all the benefit of the litigious world we live in and have made it almost impossible (IF ALL STEPS ARE FOLLOWED!) to pressure can improperly. HOWEVER! if she poo poos the latest information and uses old school, or old world methods, I would consider giving it to the mouse outside first and see what happens. (ONLY KIDDING!  I like mice!)

Try the jams, jellies, marmalades, chutneys, relishes, pickled veggies with confidence! And send the thank you note singing their praises. The others may need your brave trust…..or a reserved spot in the pantry to honor the effort. (Really, don’t feed the mice)