Radical and Relevant Blog

July 2012

Photographs from Summer Festival 2012

 "Making Space for the Mysterious." has been our guiding theme this summer. Friends, atists and teachers have come from near and far bringing with them more joy, wonder and creativity  than ever we could have imagined. We are grateful for the collaborative, creative environment that has grown through our work and play together. It has been an inspiring summer. and, no sooner has the Summer Festival concluded than  plans are already underway for next summer.

We have compiled a photo album of images from the  festival on Facebook


Please enjoy these, add comments and feel free to share them with others.

We hope to see you next summer.

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Anthroposophy: a tool to approach Christ

The role of anthroposophy in helping us to understand the central importance of the Christ in human and earthly evolution is perhaps the most difficult aspect of anthropsophy (and Waldorf education) to explore let alone understand. No matter what your upbringing or current spiritual path, wrestling with the notion of the Christ Jesus pushes most everyone's buttons. It is hard work and forces one to challenge basic assumptions, prejudices and commonly held beliefs.

And yet, in order to understand an evolving picture of human consciousness and the essential elements that each culture has contributed to human development, one cannot help but confront the pivotal role that the high spiritual being Christ played. Far beyond belief or worship many aspects of the humans' view of self, nature and divinity fundamentally changed at this point in history.

Rudolf Steiner in his spiritual science gives us invaluable tools for helping us to not only understand, but to actively work with the reality that a high spiritual being incarnated, suffered a human experience, died and then ressurected back into the spiritual world. This truly was a turning point in time that changed human beings and the earth itself. This divine mystery stretches our capacities to remain calm in cognitive dissonance as we enter in realms of the mysterious about much can be learned through patient, opeminded research. Here is how Steiner describes the role of anthroposophy in approaching the true nature of the Christ:

" The aim of spiritual science, and of all that can be acquired as spirit-seed by spiritual teachings is to enable us to comprehend the Christ power. One can not say that Anthroposophy is Christianity, but it is right to say that what has been given to the earth and to man by the Christ Principle will gradually come to be understood by means of the tool of Anthroposophy. By being understood it will increasingly become spirit-seed and, more and more, that mighty impulse will be poured into earthly evolution. For man has need of it so that, having sunk into the depths of matter, he may tear himself free again and return to his spiritual home."
             - Rudolf Steiner from Universe, Earth and Man

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The Relationship School

It is exciting to see schools beginning to value the primacy of the relationship between teachers and students and to give time (years) for these relationships to develop. This speaks to the core of Waldorf education, which cultiveates long term relationships as an essential part of in stable and healthy child development. - editor

Published: March 22, 2012
The New York Times

Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.

When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.

The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.

Just another average résumé.

At first, he had trouble getting a principal’s job because people weren’t sure how a guy with a beard, kippa and a black suit would do in overwhelmingly minority schools. But he revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.

He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country. For the grandly titled New American Academy, he didn’t invent new approaches, as much as combine ones from a bunch of other schools.

Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. Like Phillips Exeter Academy, students are less likely to sit at individual desks than around big tables or areas for teacher-led discussions.

The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. The subjects in the early grades (the only ones that exist so far) are interdisciplinary, with a bias toward engineering: how flight, agriculture, transportation and communications systems work. The organizational structure of the school is flattened. Nearly everybody is pushed to the front lines, in the classroom, and salaries are higher (master teachers make $120,000 a year).

The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.

The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student. By insisting on constant informal contact and by preserving that contact year after year, The New American Academy has the potential to create richer, mentorlike or even familylike relationships for students who are not rich in those things.

It’s too soon to say if it will work, especially if it’s tried without Waronker and the crème-de-la-crème teachers he has recruited, but The New American Academy is a great experiment, one of many now bubbling across the world of education.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 23, 2012, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: The Relationship School

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Week 1 Summer Festival of Arts and Education

We just completed the first of two weeks of our summer festival and the mood has been tremendous. The courses have been well received, the food prepared by Hesperus excellent and a lively mood of discourse, sharing and joy pervasive. I'd like to thank the fifty plus people tha came together this past week and invite anyone who is still considering joining in the festival to coke at 8:15 on Monday morning and register. There are still a few spaces left.

One participant described her week as:
"Inspiration! Invigoration! Preparing me for a new gesture (in my teaching)."

Please feel free to add your comments.

Thank you all!

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Spirituality and Education

Is it possible to value and actively work with spirituality in a non-sectarian school setting? And if so, how can balance be established between individual freedom on one hand and the desire for institutional cohesion on the other?

Independent Waldorf schools face this difficult challenge in every community in which they operate. Each school is born out of the unique efforts of local people to meet the educational needs of their children: body, mind and spirit. They have to carefully balance the essential respect all people desire for their religious and spiritual choices with the overarching needs to build a spirit-filled and unified school. Each community, geographic region and culture requires a unique spirit of education to serve the needs of its children and their families. A Waldorf school must respect the heritage and beliefs of its members and seek for ways to bridge differences between people.

It is a complex balancing act especially as Waldorf schools now exist in countries whose spiritual/religious outlooks include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Judaism and Secular Humanism. Needless to say each school must adapt to its circumstances. While respecting individual freedoms they also need to build fellowship with in their communities as well as with other Waldorf schools. Finding this delicate balance between personal and universal aspects of spirituality strengthens Waldorf school communities. Members must necessarily take an interest in and learn about one another and will inevitably face conflicts. These cannot be avoided. In fact, conflicts are only made more intractable through avoidance. Developing and maintaining a spirit-filled educational community requires conscious effort and effective strategies for working through the challenges that arise.

To illuminate these ideas I would like to share a process I recently employed in working with the newly forming Saltwater School in Courtenay, BC. I was invited to help them identify and develop the pedagogy and unique spirit of their new school. Over the course of a week, I met with their faculty, board and broader community. Each member brought a personally unique worldview and yet had a strong desire to create an educational community that openly nurtures the whole human being: body, soul and spirit.

I spoke openly with them about potentially difficult and divisive issues connected with spirituality in Waldorf education. Experience has shown that it is best to try to work together through challenging differences. This supports peoples’ ability to stay open, thus, withholding judgment and assisting their process of building a tolerant and creative learning community. No one has to agree with anything someone else says, but it is essential to talk openly about spirituality and to actively listen to one another. Tolerance alone for another’s viewpoint is not enough; interest in others’ ideas and beliefs and seeking for an overarching spirit for the school are essential to building a spirit-filled school community.

The founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, spoke to the teachers of the first Waldorf school (Stuttgart, 1919) about the central spiritual role of “the Christ” in the development of human consciousness. He did not mean the person Jesus, but rather the unique spiritual being and impulse that found its way into incarnation and entered (mostly unconsciously) all the world’s peoples and the earth itself. He termed it variously the “Christ Impulse”, the “Deed of Christ” or the “Representative of Humanity.” He emphasised that this universal spirit represents that which is highest and best in all humanity and impacts all people regardless of their religious persuasion or belief. This spiritual being is our potential, our inspiration, a universal teacher in our striving to be human.

This notion is challenging for most people as it runs counter to aspects of what most religions teach. Therefore, it often stirs up a wide variety of difficult feelings. Nevertheless, Steiner asserted that the Christ, the spiritual potential of all humanity, is working at the core of Waldorf pedagogy. So, while being non-denominational and open to people of all persuasions, Waldorf school members have the difficult task of also finding their own relationship with the Christ. Rather than denying this fact or trying to avoid it, it has proven most fruitful to explore the potential significance of this spiritual/religious/cultural hot-topic with eyes wide open.

At the Saltwater School, the faculty members and I began our process by listening to one another’s experiences concerning our spiritual and religious upbringing and beliefs. Each faculty member was given time to share her story. All were remarkably different, yet each contained universal elements of wanting to belong, wanting to find meaning, wanting to connect truthfully with the divine…. No interruptions or comments were permitted. When dealing with questions of spirit and peoples’ personal relationship to spirit and religion, the principles of freedom, tolerance and interest are paramount. Having established this foundation of openness and trust with one another, we read some of what Steiner had to say about the Christ Impulse to the first Waldorf teachers and then paraphrased how we each understood those ideas. We then discussed our own responses to these thoughts. The conversations were rich, open and wide-ranging. We drew from our hopes and fears and successfully wove together the strands of our lives into a robust warp that could then serve the cloth of the whole school community.

We built a collegial vessel of trust by following a process of listening, speaking, studying and then discussing guiding thoughts, questions and concerns. As our work unfolded, the teachers felt more and more united, that they were all pulling in unison. They created a sound foundation of openness and trust. They then decided to work together to create their first school festival, the autumn celebration of Michaelmas, in a way that would both strengthen the unique spirit of the school and respect the spiritual faiths of their community. Coming to their newly found unity gave them the requisite courage and insight to design a festival appropriate for their school community.

These teachers stand at the core of their new school. They are both its founders and its guiding lights. The manner in which they choose to teach, govern the school and communicate about their work each day impacts the healthy development of their school. Their deeds individually and as a group either support or challenge this development. Their courage to take interest in one another’s beliefs as well as their willingness to work towards an understanding of spirituality and Waldorf education has helped facilitate a healthy collegial atmosphere. Furthermore, their example lives as a guiding inspiration for the entire school community. The rigorous process they went through demonstrates that it is possible to work with spirituality in a non-sectarian school to foster trust, improved communication and colleagueship. Their honest quest for knowledge has strengthened not only their collegial work but the very heart of their school. Their living example inspires trust and communicates the courageous vision of their initiative to the wider world. The school community will in turn benefit not only from the care and guidance these professionals offer their children but also from their earnest human striving they have exemplified to understand and work through potentially contentious issues. These colleagues have demonstrated a way to balance the essential needs each individual has for freedom and respect with a community’s need for cohesive vision and action. Their remarkable dedication to working through differences has strengthened their ability to nurture the unique spirit that guides their school.

Waldorf Education arose as an impulse for personal, cultural and spiritual renewal after the tragedy of the First World War. The school was founded in Stuttgart through the generosity of Emil Molt, a wealthy industrialist in collaboration with Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher. Their aim was to provide a well rounded, holistic education for the children of the workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory. This was not an elite private academy, but one founded for all children of workers and those from the surrounding community. Since the successful founding of this first school, Waldorf education has organically spread creating over 1600 independent Waldorf schools on five continents.

This article first appeared as Spirituality and Education: Personal and Universal Aspects of Spirituality in Education Forming a School- in the online journal "Antistasis"

Warren Lee Cohen, M.Ed.
Director of Teacher Education at Rudolf Steiner Centre TorontoReferences
Astin, Alexander Why Spirituality Deserves a Central Place in Liberal Education,
Liberal Education, v90 n2 p34-41, 2004

Molt, Emil Emil Molt And the Beginnings of the Waldorf School Movement,
Floris Books, 2000

Steiner, Rudolf Foundations of Human Experience, Steiner Books, 1996

Wright, Andrew Spirituality and Education, Routledge-Falmer, 2000

June 2012

Waldorf Rap "The Gnomies are my Homies"

This is both radical and relevant: Highschoolers' rap perspective on Waldorf education. Check it out it.


The Heart of Education

Lori Kran, An inspired Waldorf teacher speaks about what makes Waldorf education unique and uniquely suited to meet today's children.

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Media and Waldorf Education

Enjoy this compelling video from our friends at the Marin Waldorf School. Why would we want anything else for our children other than healthy imaginative childhoods. There will be plenty of time for all the rest that our modern world has to bring.

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Father’s Love

Just in time for Father's Day here is a research study that demonstrates the essential role that fathers play in their children's healthy development. - WLC

A father's love contributes as much — and sometimes more — to a child's development as does a mother's love. That is one of many findings in a new large-scale analysis of research about the power of parental rejection and acceptance in shaping our personalities as children and into adulthood.

"In our half-century of international research, we've not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood," says Ronald Rohner of the University of Connecticut, co-authored the new study in Personality and Social Psychology Review. "Children and adults everywhere — regardless of differences in race, culture, and gender — tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected by their caregivers and other attachment figures."

Looking at 36 studies from around the world that together involved more than 10,000 participants, Rohner and co-author Abdul Khaleque found that in response to rejection by their parents, children tend to feel more anxious and insecure, as well as more hostile and aggressive toward others. The pain of rejection — especially when it occurs over a period of time in childhood — tends to linger into adulthood, making it more difficult for adults who were rejected as children to form secure and trusting relationships with their intimate partners. The studies are based on surveys of children and adults about their parents' degree of acceptance or rejection during their childhood, coupled with questions about their personality dispositions.

Moreover, Rohner says, emerging evidence from the past decade of research in psychology and neuroscience is revealing that the same parts of the brain are activated when people feel rejected as are activated when they experience physical pain. "Unlike physical pain, however, people can psychologically re-live the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years," Rohner says.

When it comes to the impact of a father's love versus that of a mother, results from more than 500 studies suggest that while children and adults often experience more or less the same level of acceptance or rejection from each parent, the influence of one parent's rejection — oftentimes the father's — can be much greater than the other's. A 13-nation team of psychologists working on the International Father Acceptance Rejection Project has developed at least one explanation for this difference: that children and young adults are likely to pay more attention to whichever parent they perceive to have higher interpersonal power or prestige. So if a child perceives her father as having higher prestige, he may be more influential in her life than the child's mother. Work is ongoing to better understand this potential relationship.

One important take-home message from all this research, Rohner says, is that fatherly love is critical to a person's development. The importance of a father's love should help motivate many men to become more involved in nurturing child care. Additionally, he says, widespread recognition of the influence of fathers on their children's personality development should help reduce the incidence of "mother blaming" common in schools and clinical setting. "The great emphasis on mothers and mothering in America has led to an inappropriate tendency to blame mothers for children's behavior problems and maladjustment when, in fact, fathers are often more implicated than mothers in the development of problems such as these."

"Transnational Relations Between Perceived Parental Acceptance and Personality Dispositions of Children and Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review" was published in the May 2012 Personality and Social Psychology Review, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).

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Waldorf Teachers and Students Graduate

RSCT Waldorf Teacher Education Program graduated our Class of 2012. Our colleagues at the Toronto Waldorf School helped us celebrate.  Here is the lead article in their weekly news bulletin. Thank you TWS for celebrating our hard work and for our vital collaboration in educating  today's children - Editor

In just two weeks we will mark the passage of our Grade 8s into the world of High School, and then the graduation of our Grade 12s into their post-secondary lives.

This week, there was another very important graduation to celebrate. The Rudolf Steiner Centre, the Waldorf teacher education program that leases space in our building, hosted their annual graduation of their full-time program. This year Jessica Carter, Sonya Frebold, Ja Woon Gu, Chika Halayko, Monica Peters and Lori Ann Scotchko graduated from their full-time 9 month program with a certificate in Waldorf Teacher Education. There were performances of all kinds, lovely tributes to each graduate, and even an Honorary certificate awarded to Merwin Lewis, one of the pioneers of Waldorf education in this country who is still teaching and mentoring at the London Waldorf School. The families of the graduates were beaming with pride, and the mood of celebration was palpable.

We are very lucky at TWS to have the Rudolf Steiner Centre program -- with the teacher education work, the continuing education for practicing Waldorf teachers and administrators, and all the other adult education programming they offer. Their work helps us bring a stronger connection to Waldorf education not only for our teachers and administrators, but for our parents and others interested in child development, Waldorf education and its roots. Each year the student teachers play a vital role in our classrooms, and our students, faculty and staff form special bonds with them. Many of our faculty and staff have the opportunity to teach elements of their program. Many of our current faculty are graduates of the RSC.

On behalf of everyone at TWS, I want to wish these six new Waldorf teachers many blessings as they pursue their passion. So far we know that four of these teachers will move on to Waldorf schools or initiatives in South Korea, Nova Scotia, Kingston, and Halton. These schools will no doubt be delighted to receive them, and we look forward to hearing of their adventures.

And for anyone reading this column for whom there is some sense of curiosity and interest about what it would be for you to become a Waldorf teacher, I would strongly encourage you to call Warren Cohen or Jan Patterson at the Rudolf Steiner Centre. This education needs people with an interest in the world, an interest in humanity, to join us in this most rewarding work. Find out more on their website.

Savouring the Excitement – Continued!

I have said many times to parents and others in the community that every day at TWS there is magic in the classrooms – moments of awe and wonder, huge accomplishments, tiny steps forward. These moments add up to nothing short of human transformations as the days string into weeks and months and school years. Last week in my column I gave a brief snippet of just some of the more visible elements of excitement in the Grades – particularly Grades 2 through 12. In Grade 1 today parents might say it was the most exciting day yet! Each year the Grade 1 Class Teacher hosts a “Grade 1 Morning” when the parents join the class for a morning of lessons with their Class Teacher and all the specialist teachers. The students are always very proud to show their parents how they can play games or sing in French or German, play the recorder, do some math exercises, and their very fine eurythmy. Parents inevitably find themselves wishing they had been to a Waldorf school! I am sure that today’s Grade 1 morning was as inspiring as all that have gone before.

And finally, a note of congratulations to our Grade 8 class, under the direction of their Class Teacher Eleonora Ebata, who presented two matinees and two evening performances of A Midsummer Nights Dream this week. The students embraced their roles – there were many delightful gems! The staging and costumes were beautiful. The whole event carried that familiar air of significance – the Grade 8 Play is a much-anticipated milestone in the life of a TWS student, and these students rose to the moment beautifully. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions or concerns please contact me.

Michèle Andrews
Administrative Director

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