How one parent found Waldorf education

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.

Susan delights Holiday Faire visitors as the Pocket Lady

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?”

Heading to the Olympics in grade 5

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?

Jasper, right, jams with fellow alumni during a visit to Meadowbrook

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.

Grade 7 (Jasper with guitar) winners of the 2009 German play competiton at Mt Holyoke.

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.

 

 

 

 

Parenting as Practice

 

Renee is a Meadowbrook parent and yoga teacher. In this article she writes about her experience of fusing these two identities in a time of crisis with surprising results. 

Friday afternoon I got a phone call from school. It’s always unnerving to see the school’s number pop-up on the phone. Then, the word nobody wants to hear: Lice. Nits were found in my daughter’s hair. By the time I arrived at school to pick her up, all three of my children were waiting for me. All infested. So much for long weekend plans.

If you’ve ever had to comb nits out of a child’s hair, you know where the term nit-picking comes from. It’s a tedious and tiresome task. An off-the-mat, long-hold, life experience requiring patience and focus. Thanks to yoga practice, I found myself asking (praying really): How can I see this differently? What if I showed up to this task completely present? Without expectation or judgment.

My son is 13. Changing – what seems like overnight – into a young man. He has little interest in conversation with his mom these days – or – even if he did - he’s hard pressed to get a word in with two boisterous sisters. Our nit-picking session started out in silence with an occasional one-word answer to my random questions. We were on our deck, the sun giving us the best light. Perhaps it was the unseasonable heat that caused things to shift, because just like in yoga, the warmer it got, the more we opened up. He started talking first about baseball – his favorite sport – and – although I’m not quite sure how we ended up where we did – before I knew it, we were having the discussion I had been putting off – about puberty and girls and how babies were made. The need for me to keep my eyes on his hair seemed to put us both at ease. He asked questions and we both spoke freely. I am grateful for the time with him.

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Who is the Waldorf Teacher?

As parents we bring our children gradually into the world, nurturing them closely through their earliest years and hoping to bring them to experiences that will promote their healthy development.  As they grow in independence we become increasingly aware of their individual capacities and especially their enormous appetite for learning, their innate ability to assimilate the world around them.  In the early childhood years parents are allowed a level of autonomy with a choice of services offering various components of education and daycare that we may include or decline.  For most of us then, the beginning of the grade school years marks the first time our choice of just who will be our child’s teacher, who will direct him/ her for a significant number of their most formative hours is no longer wholly our choice.  We may choose the educational philosophy that best suits our family’s values but a leap of faith is required.  We must trust in the individual teacher assigned to our child’s class.

The Waldorf ideal is that the class teacher will stay with the class from grade one through grade eight.  Waldorf education holds the child at its center.  Concerned with educating the whole human being, the creation of a familial environment within the class with a consistent, authoritative voice is fundamental to providing the secure setting necessary for students to explore and unfold their life’s purpose.  The continually evolving relationship between teacher and parent is essential to this process.  At Meadowbrook these relationships developed between students, between students and teachers, parents and teachers continue to enrich the lives of all far beyond grade school and college.

In recognition and celebration of our community, here is a short (12 minutes) film in which Waldorf teachers from some of our affiliate schools describe their roles and share their motivations.  Being a Waldorf Teacher.

An Evolving Exploration of Eco-psychology.


Ecotherapy seeks to heal the individual by healing their relationship to the natural world.

This article was written in 2006 by Terri Henry, a natural health practitioner and educator at Onelove Livity.  Eco-psychology is a growing field of inquiry by environmental scientists as well as psychologists and psychotherapists.  It explores the idea that our increasing disconnect from the natural world is destroying not just our planet but our sanity.

A spinning blue and green oasis in the vast expanse of dark space, Earth is the only planet in our entire solar system known to be capable of supporting life. The now widely circulated ‘Gaia theory’ of James Lovelock has shown the Earth to be a self regulating, intelligent and alive organism where all parts affect and support each other to reach a state of homeostasis. This intricate and dynamic balance of life-sustaining features are the very basis of our survival as in every single moment all human beings are completely dependent on the resources of the Earth such as fresh water, air, sunlight and food. However at this moment in time our future existence is more fragile and threatened than ever before as human activity has ravaged, polluted and drained the planets resources and compromised Gaia’s ability to effectively regenerate and replenish. A critical question to be asked at this juncture in the evolution of human history must surely be: “why do we as a society continue depleting our natural resources even though we know that it is to the detriment of our survival?” Bringing together the disciplines of Ecology and Psychology, Eco-psychology has emerged to answer this question and provide solutions for the sicknesses of both our psyche and the planet.

Eco-psychology asserts that many of our personal, societal and planetary crises stem from disconnection with nature which is especially prevalent in the modern Western world. With both theory and practice Eco-psychology explores and demonstrates the ways in which humans can contribute to the healing of the Earth and how nature can contribute to the healing of humans in a mutually beneficial relationship. With an understanding that our relationship the Earth is far richer than simply as a consumer to a limitless store house, Eco-psychology also shows how a connection with nature is necessary for our full psychological, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Dr Sarah Conn, a Harvard professor and practicing psychologist states the obvious, but seemingly forgotten idea that “There is no such thing as ‘individual’ health separate from the systems within which the individual exists.”

Although Eco-psychology is seen as being relatively new as a formalised discipline, many of its theories and ideas are rooted within ancient wisdom sources and indigenous cultures who continue to live in harmony with their surroundings. The actual term ‘Eco-psychology’ has been attributed to Theodore Roszak who in 1992 wrote ‘The Voice of The Earth- An Exploration of Eco-psychology’ In the short space of time since this book was launched there has been an explosion in academic literature and practice within the field to demonstrate that in order to heal both people and planet “ecology needs psychology and psychology needs ecology” The ways in which Eco-psychology continues to fuse the expansive earth-wide subject of ecology with the deeply interpersonal perspective of psychology is summarised in this article with examples of the various theories and methods used to contribute to the scope of each discipline.

Ecology broadens the focus of psychology to acknowledge that the problems of an individual may legitimately stem from the state of their environment. Buddhist scholar and systems theorist Joanna Macy recounts that when she spoke to a psychologist about her concerns on nuclear war, these fears were reduced to represent a personal pathology. Macy has since developed a powerful and experiential group practice which allows people to acknowledge their pain for the world without it being viewed as a private neurosis. Her work operates under the principle that our pain for the world is natural and necessary and that our biggest problem comes from our repression of our despair which “produces a partial numbing of the psyche” Professor of Psychiatry John E. Mack resonates with her experience and urges fellow professionals to consider that “when we hear expressions of distress about pollution or other forms of environmental destruction in dreams and other forms of communication, we not hear or interpret these simply as displacements from some other, inner source” Eco-psychology explains that since we are so interconnected with the web of life we all feel the pain for the world, whether or not we are consciously aware or acknowledge it and many Eco-psychologists have argued for a new definition of sanity that would include our relationship with the natural world. Indeed psychologist Sarah Conn asserts that the earth is speaking and is heard most loudly through the most sensitive of us. Thus Eco-psychology could eventually show that feeling pain for the Earth is sign of an awakened and enlivened psyche rather than a disturbed one.

The natural world can also be a valuable therapeutic tool for Psychotherapy and many therapists are bringing ecological connection to aid their patients healing. This eco-therapeutic approach allows both therapist and client to draw on the expanded references and healing opportunities of the outdoor environment and recalls a time when all therapy was done within the healing context of nature. Australian Clinical Psychologist George Burns feels that Nature Guided Therapy brings new insights that enable us to “create effective positive, relational behaviours rather than just eliminate the undesired.” A relationship with the natural world can also be used as preventative and remedial health care for the general population to combat a variety of malaise that may never make it to the psychotherapy office. Michael Cohen, founder of Project Nature Connect advocates direct sensory contact with nature to alleviate our lack of fulfilment in nature ‘substitutes’. Feedback from participants in the PNC programme report that people are much healthier, happier and reduce or eradicate their dependence on medication drugs or self harming behaviour. The field of eco-therapy is vast and its range includes work such as wilderness journeys, outdoor adventures, vision quests and gardening.

Eco-psychology also offers a radical review of mainstream psychology which has been criticised for “its general promotion of adjustment and conformity to a ‘mad’ ecocidal social order” Depth Psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin (Ph.D) echoes this radical view through his practice of ‘Soulcraft’, which encourages participants to fully explore their soul calling and unique gifts on the premise that finding our true purpose will allow us to live in harmony with the Earth. Plotkin feels that psychologists must have a greater appreciation of the soul in order to fully grasp the healing journey of the individual as “The essence of the soul cannot be separated from nature. This is why an adequate psychology must be an eco-depth psychology” Taking into account our embeddedness in the ecological world, all psychology becomes Eco-psychology and in this context Eco-psychology can be seen as more than just another branch of psychological theory but the entire context in which the field of psychology must be held. Indeed the fact that psychology has been able to exist for so long without consideration of the natural world is highly indicative of the human-centred world view of modern society. In the view of Eco-psychologist Andy Fisher, one of the major aims of Eco-psychology must be to “offer models of human psychology in which the Earth is not a resource filled background to the human enterprise, but rather the living matrix out of which we are born and in relation to which our self understanding and well being lie.”

As the scientific study of mind and behaviour, Psychology also has a great deal to contribute to ecology. Bringing a deeper sophistication to the usual scare, shame and blame tactics of environmental campaigning. psychology can introduce more affirmative methods which empower potential and active adherents to become involved in preservation or restoration of the environment based on their desire to live in accordance with what they love and value in life. Eminent biologist E.O. Wilson has suggested, with the Biophilia hypothesis, that humans are genetically predisposed to love nature and Eco-psychology works on rekindling this love as the basis for environmental action and behaviour. A great example of applied Eco-psychology recently occurred in a London borough where recycling bins were painted to resemble Friesian cows and then placed underneath a bill-board which depicted a countryside scene with children feeding the ‘cows’ and the slogan “FEED THE COWS.” The bins were then situated in the midst of a busy urban area on a pavement which was sprayed green to resemble grass! The success of the fun message over the preaching tone was demonstrated with a 61% increase in recycling in the painted bins over the plain ones and a spokesperson for one of the groups involved in the project explained that “We hope our Feed the Cows concept will inspire more people, especially children, to change the way they think about recycling. We want the experience of dropping off waste to be fun, not rubbish.” Certainly a key contribution of Eco-psychology is to transform environmentalists from doomsday prophets to healers who bring a celebratory attitude of the joys and creativity of the healing journey in amongst the very harsh realities.

A conference held in 1990 entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered” came to the conclusion that “If the self is expanded to include the natural world, behaviour leading to destruction of this world will be experienced as self destruction.” Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess who developed the field of Deep Ecology felt that it is vital for humans to develop their ‘ecological self’ which would shifting environmental care from being a ‘moral’ to a beautiful act’ and demonstrating that Earth care and Self care are one and the same. When we view the Earth not just as a valuable resource but as an actual part of us we realise that to keep destroying it is tantamount to chewing off our own arm whilst trying to feed ourselves! Thich Naht Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk holds similar views and expresses that “The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves.” Thus Eco-psychology encourages us to shift our paradigm from the anthropocentric perspective, where humans sit at the top of a hierarchical pyramid with all other life forms under our dominion, to the eco-centric view of equally sharing the earth with all other aspects of the natural world and view ourselves as “inter-being” with the entire planet.

Lady Slipper in RI woodland.

Eco-psychology is highly relevant for today’s world where we face a planetary demise of immeasurable proportions. There are an incredible multitude of practical measures that must be taken to heal our Earth such as environmental education, community building, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, zero-carbon transportation, and so on. Eco-psychology creates the foundational underpinning for these transformations by beginning and nurturing the transformation of our minds. In her explanation of the process of shifting from the “Industrial- growth society” to the “Life-sustaining society” Joanna Macy shows that the foundation upon which all other actions will be built and sustained is in the realm of our values and ways of thinking. This view is echoed by Thom Hartmann in his book ‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight’ which concludes that in order to halt the damage and create a sustainable culture we need to remodel the old cultural stories upon which all actions are based. Nature conservationist, Iain Scott also insists that the only way the earth will be restored and regenerated is if humans develop a consciousness of ‘non-selfishness’. Hungarian philosopher of science, Dr Ervin Laszlo explains in his earth-healing manifesto ‘You Can Change The World’ that in order to effectively create positive change we need to examine and evaluate our ethics and use them as our primary navigation tool for our lives. Eco-psychology encourages and fosters these new and expansive ways of thinking which are crucial in creating change which is crucially necessary because as Einstein advised “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”

Ultimately Eco-psychology offers a hopeful vision of a restored Earth and a future where humans enjoy a sustainable, healthy relationship with their environment and themselves. This harmonious co-existence has the potential to enrich our lives, bring a greater level of satisfaction and self realisation for the good of all beings.

1 Dominique Larocque – ECOPSYCHOLOGY 101-Therapy For a Stressed Out Society

2 Theodore Roszak – Ecopsychology – Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind

© Terri Henry – November 2006

To find more articles and resources visit:

California State University, Hayward.

The John E Mack Institute, Planet Earth Project.