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.
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.
Individuality 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. This is not because they lack the understanding or do not feel the gravity of their responsibility. It is because their freedom is restricted by school systems. They are regulated by the need to provide quantifiable results. They are required to evaluate success according to metrics. Metrics that are based on standards unconnected to the individual child’s 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.
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.