Join us for an enlivening variety of artistic and educational workshops with international presenters and participants. Embryology, Eurythmy, Biography Waldorf Art, and Doll Making are a few of the 21 courses on offer.
We have Waldorf grade level intensives (Grades 1 to 7) for teachers, music teachers, early childhood educators and administrators balanced by a wide range of artistic workshops that are open to all.
Evenings will be filled with our popular coffee houses, research presentations, social art and a graduation celebration for our part-time Waldorf teachers.
Human Form Divine
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine...
Here we are invited to see the divine revealed in our human form, the light of love filling this vessel, the constant change that is our lives. The same forces that form our bodies are continuously at work throughout our lives. What is it that stays constant amidst all the change? What is the spark that orchestrates the show, but never quite appears on the stage? Join us and explore the wonder and the mystery, human and divine.
Every morning the teachers at Sekoly Tenaquip meet for half an hour before the start of school. One teacher stands at the front and shares reflections on a Bible passage that she finds inspiring. This responsibility rotates daily through the whole faculty. The teachers then sing a psalm and speak any news of the day. I was invited to speak each morning about the art of education, to inspire the teachers and to give them practical tools to enliven their teaching. Furthermore I endeavoured to help them realize their creative roles in shaping this school. It is their school after all and they are they play an important part in forming its learning culture. We explored aspects of the Waldorf curriculum that offer them direct experiences for how they can work more creatively with students in ways that enrich the learning and their lives as teachers.
Right from the very first day I observed what a miracle this school is and was able to celebrate with them all that each had done to create it. The school's existence from inception to it's extensive campus and faculty truly are a miracle on any number of levels. It is so important to take stock of all the good work that has gone into this endeavour that lifts it well beyond the ordinary or typical. With this appreciation in place we were then able to take steps in imagining how each teacher could stretch herself to make the school even better. Our aim has to be that the children not only pass their basic exams, but that they can grow into well-rounded human beings with all the essential knowledge and skills to step into leadership positions in their communities. This latter is essential for the future of this fragile land and culture.
With the elementary school teachers we did a series of exercises with clay and storytelling over 3 afternoons. The aim was to lead the teachers through an experience of artistically integrated curriculum that would offer them a deeper understanding of how Waldorf pedagogy can be so effective, engaging and fun.
We began with two handfuls of clay from the rice paddy below the school. Each teacher was invited to make their clay as round as possible using just their hands. I reminded them that "Hands know roundness much better than the flat surface of a table." This seemingly simple exercise awakened the sensitivity of their hands and challenged each person to use their hands to find symmetry as a dynamic process. Some felt more successful than others. We then passed our spheres around the circle and were surprised to find that they all had different qualities. We tried to find language (using Malagasy, French and English!) to characterize the differences between one and another sphere. These were described as differences in warmth, density, texture, smoothness and shape. Just in the first part of this exercise we witnessed that this simple artistic activity awakened sensory perception (touch, warmth, balance, movement, sight and sound). We then raised our experiences to consciousness by reflecting on the activity. We tried to find accurate language to describe what we perceived in our spheres and others. There was no point at which we had to judge them as good spheres or not. Rather the whole awareness of what constitutes a sphere emerged between us and each embodied aspects of it.
Next we gradually transformed our spheres into eggs. We place these on tables and noticed that these simple forms, depending on their positioning, looked like a whole variety of animals from chicks and cows to owls and whales. I then challenged the teachers to transform their egg into one of these animal forms without adding or taking away any clay, just moving what was already there. I wanted them to have an experience of wholeness, just like nature, in which everything is already given. One form transforms into another and another in processes of growth and decay. Nothing is wasted.
Most of the teachers had never modelled with clay before; nevertheless, they were able to make animals and enjoy the process. They made a whole menagerie. It could have been Noah’s Ark. We went around the circle offering praise and appreciation for what each person had managed to create. It is not always easy to give or receive feedback, especially positive feedback, but this stretched people and prepared them for the next level of challenge, inventing a story.
Earlier in the year, Kathy Lucking had led some very successful work with the faculty with storytelling as a means for reviving traditional culture and engaging interest. It resonated well with the teachers, but they were looking for more skills. So, I next asked them to get together in pairs and create a story about their two animals that they had just created. There was a lot of talking and laughter. Soon the room was crackling with creativity and filled with inventive stories that the teachers had made up on the spot. These were so engaging and inventive. Everyone was eager to tell theirs and they were all very enthusiastically received.
On the following afternoons we reviewed all the steps in this whole process. We reflected on how each step challenged us and then shifted our focus to how we could use these kind of artistic activities to make our lessons more engaging for all concerned. The teachers were genuinely inspired because not only had we spoken about Waldorf curriculum, but we had practiced it together. This was an important, perhaps essential, step in their ability to begin to transform their archaic approach to teaching.
The work with clay led seamlessly into our preparations for building a bread oven. In fact it gave us a few days of delicious anticipation as we looked forward to it more and more. I described this process more fully in Article #3. This again was a start to finish project in building a functioning bread oven and baking bread in it. This hands-on experience led the teachers to understand more fully how their teaching could be enlivened through direct experience, reflection and integrated lessons. And, children always love lessons that incorporate food.
The Sekoly Tenaquip teachers love to sing and do so with great gusto. They were grateful for any opportunities to learn new songs. Equally they enjoyed learning new ways for integrating singing into their lessons. We sang a number of rounds and work songs to accompany the various activities that we were doing. This proved to be a very enjoyable part of our working together.
Every afternoon I met with the high school teachers and tried to offer them ways that they could step beyond their exam preparation curriculum and make teaching more interesting and learning more memorable. They were intrigued by the idea that math could be beautiful. This was completely new to them, but is so integral to the Waldorf approach to mathematics. So, I led them in doing a number of geometrical drawings that reveal mathematical relationships in beautiful ways. We worked with compasses and straight edges and coloured pencils to reveal the laws of circles and six-fold symmetry, "The Seed of Life." These are very satisfying drawings to execute. They are exacting and reveal ones skill and attention to detail or lack thereof. And in the end, if they are drawn carefully, the results are stunningly beautiful.
It is so important to see that learning does not need to be drudgery or rote. Each lesson can challenge the students on numerous levels and hopefully find a way to engage their thirst for learning. If the students are motivated in this way, then learning comes much more easily and goes in much more deeply. They will far exceed the demands of basic exams.
We also had numerous opportunities for talking about education the value (or lack thereof) of exams. Ever and again I looked for ways to offer them inspirations for their pedagogy, to ask them why they were teaching a particular subject to their classes and how they could make it interesting for the students. Much more than just teaching knowledge and basic skills, the highest endeavor in education must be about learning to become human, learning how to think clearly, feel deeply and impart meaning to one’s life.
Truly teaching is one of the most important and demanding professions on the planet. It asks each teacher to stand before students, colleagues and parents as a striving example of what a human being can be. It demands that teachers have a broad base of knowledge, that they feel empathically for others struggles and that daily they bring their ideals into practice. It asks that teachers make themselves worthy of emulation, that they question everything and seek ever for truer answers. This level of striving demands everything.
Much more than just a job, teaching is a calling, a vocation. Waldorf teachers need to understand that they could not accomplish this task on their own. They need the help of the whole community, colleagues, parents and students alike. Furthermore, their individual, spiritual striving is paramount. Each teacher needs to be on a path of development. Teachers need to be life-long learners. It was abundantly clear to all the teachers at Sekoly Tenaquip that their best teaching came because Jesus Christ stood right behind them. They trusted that Christ helped them to be better teachers and human beings. They are learning to trust in this support. That is right. Christ is the teacher's teacher.
I would be remiss to write this series of articles on the Madagascar School Project and not comment on what I observed in the children whom I met at Sekoly Tenaquip. These are beautiful children filled with life, curiosity and play. It seems that Malagasy children are raised to look after themselves. I never observed a conflict arise between children, neither bullying nor teasing. They took care of one another. If any conflicts did arise, I was told that the children took care of it themselves. They do not look to adults to help them solve their problems. Because of this ability to look after themselves, they required no supervision at recess times. Literally 500 children could manage safely by themselves with no incidents. This is the norm across the country. In their typically large families siblings must take care of one another while the parents work in the fields.
The children I met were remarkably patient and well behaved. I saw no signs of hyperactivity or nervousness in the children, few of the common behavioral pathologies we witness all too often in the West. Perhaps this is because their lifestyle is highly predictable and repetitive. They suffer none of the stresses that are associated with sensory or media overstimulation. The children never have to rush about in cars or worry about being late. Most significantly they are surrounded by a beautiful and healing nature in which they feel an integral part. They live according to the cycles of the day and the seasons without artificial light. They go to bed as a family at sundown and wake up to witness the sunrise, at one with their environment. Only half of the children had shoes – flip flops. Furthermore most live simply without toys, multiple changes of clothes or the need to make decisions. Few children could express a favorite food. They ate all the rice and vegetable that were served to them and never had a choice otherwise. It was this or hunger. Nevertheless, despite their economic poverty and sometimes poor nutrition, these children appeared remarkably healthy and at peace.
It was interesting to note how differently the boys and girls occupied themselves at recess. The boys for the most part played active games of football or a version of marbles in which each boy had one precious (and well used) marble. Their play was loud and full of energy. The girls by contrast played alone or with a partner often with stones that they found on the site. The girls would rhythmically bang two stones together and tell the stories of their day. They were more or less in their own world, digesting the events of each day. Teachers observed that this activity helped the girls to outperform the boys in their school lessons.
I, the “Vazaha” (foreigner, aka gringo), always drew a crowd of children around me wherever I went. They were very curious about this strange, balding white man in their midst. They wanted to touch me - to make sure I was not a ghost. They were curious in this respect, but when I had a chance to speak with them (through translation), they displayed little curiosity about me, my family or my home country. It seemed that questioning is not highly valued in their culture. Similarly the teachers also asked very few questions of me or of themselves. They were content for the most part with the status quo and had spent little time on reflection or questioning.
And it is this very quality of questioning, of developing a thirst for learning that we seek to awaken in the children at Sekoly Tenaquip. Rote learning will only take them so far but is unlikely to give them the tools needed to redress the all too serious problems in their culture. They will need a deeper level of resources if they are to pull this country up by its bootstraps. This will require creativity, resilience and resourcefulness. These are the hallmarks of Waldorf education.
Throughout my 2 weeks at Sekoly Tenaquip, I worked with the faculty each day to give them concrete ways to deepen their curriculum and their understanding of the role of the teacher in leading students and in creating a vibrant school. We explored a number of practical, artistic and inspirational themes to enrich these teachers and the culture of the school as a whole. Foremost amongst these themes was the building of a working bread oven for the school.
Making a Bread oven
A significant part of the Waldorf school curriculum, in third grade in particular, centres around learning practical life skills. These include farming, cooking, house building and making clothing. These practical lessons give children a strong sense of place, empower them with fundamental skills for life and have been shown to improve neurologic functioning, coordination and health. Interwoven with these hands-on lessons are lessons in language arts, mathematics and science. All subjects derive as much as possible from direct student experience and are structured to build upon the students’ full involvement. When students are interested and engaged, learning proceeds by leaps and bounds.
In this spirit the faculty came together to design and build a functioning bread oven for the school. It should be noted that there are no ovens in any of the neighbouring communities as this is a culture based entirely on rice. Bread is exotic here. We built the oven from scratch, baked in it and then reflected upon the whole activity, looking for all the possible ways we could use such a direct experience and build a variety of meaningfully lessons around it.
We dug clay from the rice paddies below the school (with the mayor’s help!). We then kneaded the clay with rice straw and sand to make “cob”. Everyone joined right in, teachers, children, even the breast feeding mothers with their babies.
We sang work songs while we worked. We laughed and soon the mixture was ready to put on the sand-dome we had made as a form for the oven . We shaped the cob mixture into little loaves and built the oven up just as you would build an igloo.
After the oven dome was completely covered we added a second layer of cob, beat the two layers together and then shaped and smoothed the oven. We then cut out a hole for the door. Everyone wanted to decorate the oven with dancing people, sun, moon, birds, mortar and pestle and the name of the school. One teacher even made a little bread oven maker (me!) to add onto the oven.
We let the oven dry for a few days and then fired it up. It took a few hours to fully dry out, but soon it was hot enough to bake. With a group of teachers, cooks and guards we prepared bread dough, let it rise, and then proceeded to bake many, many pita breads.
It was amazing. No sooner did we start to bake bread then huge crowds began to show up. Everyone was so interested in watching, making bread and in tasting it. Hundreds of children lined up for just a little taste of this delicious bread. And everyone was so joyful, singing, laughing and salivating in anticipation of the bread to come. It was such a treat!
The day after we made our first pita for the community, I gathered the faculty. We reflected on our whole bread oven experience. I modelled for them how I as a teacher have integrated such an experience with other Waldorf schools. First we remembered all that we had done to build the oven. It was important that we could recount all of the steps we took in building and baking. Then we looked at our feelings connected with these activities and lastly the thoughts and questions that we have connected with them – hands, heart and head! This was our experience and our learning. Next we looked at ways that this experience could be used as a springboard for teaching writing, reading, mathematics and science. The teachers had many excellent ideas of how they could tie this in to their lessons to make them much more interesting and engaging. This was such a wonderful process as most teachers had not before considered the possibility that they could enrich their lessons with activities. The process of building a bread oven certainly helped them imagine other possibilities to more creatively plan and integrate their lessons.
Since this first firing, the bread oven has been used a number of times and to much acclaim. Bread baking was featured as part of the school’s seventh anniversary festival. Everyone participated. Furthermore, a community member has come forth, the husband of a teacher, who wants to start a small business baking bread and sweets for the community. This would be a wonderful step in helping the school step towards serving the broader needs of the community and helping this baker make a better living to support his family.
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” - Albert Einstein
Legacy of Imperialism
Madagascar is struggling through a number of long standing social, economic and environmental problems that are 'exacerbated' by the more recent political volatility. In many parts of the county the farm land is exhausted and yielding much less than it did a decade ago. The environment is fragile and still in a rapid process of decay. And, most of the families subsist on less than two dollars a day. Much of their rich cultural traditions have been lost due to cultural oppression, the scars of slavery and poor education. In many ways the people of Madagascar must find ways to reinvent themselves to reclaim all that has been stripped away, to create renewal for both the land and their cultural traditions.
Malagasy schools more or less blindly follow an archaic French educational model based in copying, drilling and testing. This model does little to inspire the students or to foster appreciation for learning. There is little to support their interest or understanding for their Malagasy language, culture or love for this beautiful land. This is sorely neglected in this intellectual Eurocentric schooling that offers little of relevance to the lives of these children in rural villages. The children are expected to sit quietly in school and copy lessons that the teachers scribe in French on the black boards, or speak them chorally, which they do with deafening enthusiasm. This style of education leaves many students confused as French is their second language. Most of their families do not speak it at all let alone with any fluency.
There is little interaction between teachers and students and almost nothing to inspire interest in the lessons. Learning is rote. Neither teachers nor students show much interest in it, nor do they question it. The reason to study is to pass national exams and the only reason to pass exams is to then pass the next exam, be accepted into university and perhaps land a job. The only problem with this is that there are precious few jobs and these are only in the larger cities which are already overcrowded. The real value of education for these villages is not so that well educated children can move away to make their fortune in distant cities or foreign lands. This would only create a brain-drain and further rob these communities of vital human resources.
Why Waldorf Education in Madagascar?
Sekoly Tenaquip has come to see that education can and ought to serve the lives of students where they live, here in the villages of Madagascar. It must be relevant to all that they experience in their daily lives and give them the tools to step beyond the cycle of poverty they currently face. The welfare of these rural villages depends upon this next generation being able to find creative solutions to the many problems facing their subsistence culture. Their education may well be the vital link that lifts them beyond survival and leads them towards cultural and economic renewal.
Malagasy students, like students everywhere in the world, need to be taught how to think, not what to think. They need to acquire not only the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, but the ability to use these in practical ways to enhance there lives. They need to learn history, but the starting point should be their village, province and country and only then fan out to the broader world. Once the home context has been fully explored and a strong sense of place cultivated, then a study of world history makes sense. Malagasy students need to be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and develop insight and empathy into human relationships. They need to hear the ancient stories and sing the songs that have shaped their culture. These are the required assets for their conscious cultural renewal.
The first Free Waldorf School, founded in Germany nearly a hundred years ago, has given rise to thousands of Waldorf schools in over 60 countries around the world. The unique genius of Waldorf education is that it is not a method, but a creative approach to nurturing the whole child, body, soul and spirit. Each school unfolds uniquely in its cultural context so that the students can gain both knowledge of and appreciation for their home on earth (in the broadest sense). Waldorf teachers work creatively to help the students develop interest and confidence in every subject brought in this comprehensive curriculum. To achieve this, the teachers employ artistic approaches that fully invite the student’s engagement in all subjects of study interweaving them as they go so that mathematics inspires history, and science inspires art, and vice-versa. Truly all human knowledge is one body of learning. Waldorf teachers strive to engage and nurture each child in a developmentally appropriate way so that the students can learn to think clearly, feel deeply and act with purpose (head, heart and hands).
Caring Relationships in Education
Waldorf education is based upon building caring relationships between teachers, students and their families. It takes a community to raise a child and these relationships unfold over time. Waldorf schools like communities are based upon long-term relationships. Teachers follow children over many years and come to know both their strengths and challenges. Long term relationships obviate the need for continuous testing. Rather teachers collect a portfolio of the students’ work that reveals their accomplishments, charts their progress and reveals areas of struggle. With a basis in shared experience, teachers can tailor their lessons to meet the needs and interests of each student. In this manner students are pulled into the educational process as vital participants rather than just as receptacles for object lessons. The education is relevant to their inner questions, acknowledges their gifts and challenges, and seeks to unify all their learning into a meaningful totality.
Furthermore the teacher’s own interest in a subject, often hard won in new areas of study, enables them to best engage students in this subject. Years of experience have shown that when a teacher has struggled to find her way into a new subject or theme, the interest she has cultivated is highly motivating for the students. It creates a thirst for learning. Therefore, one of the aims of Waldorf education is to encourage Waldorf teachers to be life-long learners and interested in all areas of human endeavour. This is no small task for the teacher. Nevertheless, what reasonable person would expect children to be interested in subjects that clearly bore their teachers?
Waldorf teachers must be people of initiative, interested in the world and the lives of others. They must learn to love the children, especially the ones who act out or have the most difficulties. Their motto is:
Accept the children with reverence,
Educate them with love,
Send them forth in freedom.
The foremost task for Sekoly Tenaquip is to create a vibrant school that can not only instruct children in the basics of education, but help them to be resilient, creative and thoughtful. Sekoly Tenaquip must continue to find ways to offer education relevant to this unique context that leads to opportunities. Waldorf creates a thirst for learning in both students and teachers. It fosters creative insight into the interconnections between subjects and works daily to make these meaningfully linked to the students’ lives. In order to achieve this, Waldorf teachers ask three essential questions:
Why is each subject taught and to which age child is it best addressed?
How can the children be fully engaged through direct experience, story, song, poetry, drama, problem solving, and writing in meaningful ways?
How can each teacher make herself a worthy example of a human striving?
The teachers at Sekoly Tenaquip have expressed their desire to become Waldorf teachers and make a difference in the lives of these children. How they are going about this will be the subject of the next article in this series.
I recently returned from a 16 day visit to Madagascar where I was invited to work with the first school working out of Waldorf impulses on this island nation. It was a beautiful and transformative experience for the teachers there who have built this thriving school from the ground up and for me as well. Over the following weeks I will be posting reflections on these experiences in the hopes of making their good work more visible and as a means for helping me to develope a closer understanding of the essence of Waldorf education and how can it serve unique communities anywhere in the world. I welcome your thoughtful feedback as a means of filling out this important research.
- Warren Lee Cohen
Working with the First Waldorf School in Madagascar #1
Madagascar is a world apart, almost a continent unto itself with rich flora and fauna much of which is found no where else on earth. Madagascar has a growing population that is joy-filled and yet amongst the poorest in the world. The Malagasy people have endured the hardships of colonialization, slavery, economic exploitation and intensive environmental degradation as well as more recent political instability. The majority of the population are subsistence farmers who remain illiterate in both their native Malagasy as well as in French, the country’s official language. Schools are run mostly in French and are geared towards three major exams written only in French. Malagasy schools are however poorly resourced and remain inaccessible to children in much of the country. And, where schools do exist, the $1 to $5 monthly fees are more than most families can afford. Access to any education let alone quality education is a big issue facing this nation whose median population is now younger than 20 years of age.
Kathy Lucking, a 25 year veteran Ontario elementary school teacher is deeply inspired by Waldorf pedagogy. Kathy is currently deepening her understanding of Waldorf education as a student in RSCT’s Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers part-time program. She is already using the knowledge, insights and inspiration she is gaining from this program to transform education in Madagascar, to plant vital seeds of hope for the future.
Seven years ago Kathy visited Madagascar where she worked in an orphanage. She soon realised that if she really wanted to make a long term difference in these children’s lives, she would need to create educational opportunities for them. Thus was born the Madagascar School Project. For the past seven years she has been steadfastly working to create hope and educational opportunity for these children who otherwise would not have any access to formal education. The Madagascar School Project has built two schools in underserved rural communities. The latest school, Sekoly Tenaquip educates and feeds over 650 children from kindergarten through grade 12. These children walk to school along dirt tracks from neighbouring villages as far as one and a half hours away. Kathy and her colleagues at the Madagascar School Project are trying to make Sekoly Tenaquip a model of what Malagasy education can be. They can already see that the creative and culturally sensitive approach of Waldorf pedagogy is helping them to create a truly Malagasy school that will prepare students to gain all the skills and vision they need step into their lives and take leadership in their communities.
Just 20 km outside of Antananarivo, the loud and sprawling capital city of Madagascar, lies the village of Ambohiborosy (Ambu-ee-bruce). This mud brick village lies at the very end of a gullied dirt road more suited to ox carts and pedestrians than four-wheel drive trucks. Surrounded by rice paddies at the feet of rapidly eroding hills, the people of this village, similar to other villages spread across the vast central plateau, farm for their living on the depleted red soil. They grow rice, an assortment of fruits and vegetables and raise chickens, pigs and their prized “zebu” humped cattle. They live much the way their ancestors lived 800 years ago in mud brick homes thatched with rice straw. Most of these villages know neither plumbing nor electricity. Their homes are dark and filled with thick wood-smoke from the indoor cooking fire. Due to a scarcity of fuel, they often burn wet wood. Their homes have no chimneys. It is not surprising then that many people suffer from respiratory ailments. Whole extended families often live in one house, along with their chickens and oxen. I was invited into one small home 3 x 3 metres that housed a family of nine with just two small beds and only three blankets. At dusk everyone goes to sleep and the villages are completely silent except for the daily thunder shower during the rainy season. No one ventures outside after dark as it is feared that this is the time that bad spirits roam the land.
The Madagascar School project was invited by the mayor of Ambohiborosy to build a school on the side of the mountain for the local children. The closest public school is more than an hour’s walk away. Half of it was destroyed and never rebuilt after a recent cyclone. The mayor helped the new school to find an appropriate site. The Madagascar School Project then procured the land and started building classrooms with funds raised from Canada. Each year they have added new buildings to house the growing school. In just seven years the school has grown into five large multi classroom buildings able to serve 2 classrooms at each grade level kindergarten to grade 12. They have also built a kitchen, canteen and housing for some of the teachers, farmers and volunteers. One more classroom building is still needed to complete the campus and is already in the planning stages. It is an impressive school that now employs over 50 teachers, cooks and farmers, effectively making it the largest employer for many miles around as well as the largest school I saw outside of the capital, Antananarivo.
Rice! Rice! Rice!
Sekoly Tenaquip has committed to offering the children who attend a nurturing and filling lunch, perhaps the largest meal of the day for many of them. They also offer rice pabulum for babies and younger children every afternoon. The traditional Malagasy diet - breakfast, lunch and dinner - is boiled rice served heaping on a plate with a little dollop of a well boiled vegetable: green beans, cassava leaves or pumpkin - whatever might be available. Occasionally meat may be served, but this is considered a very special treat. February to May is considered the “Hungry Season” when many families run out of rice from their last harvest and before the next harvest is ready. Many families literally run out of food at this time of the year. The lunches that Sekoly Tenequip offers make it possible for the children to have enough energy to learn. Without this lunch program learning would be severely limited by hunger and malnutrition. With this sustenance the children are able to focus on their lessons and get the most from school every day.
In the next article I will focus on what Waldorf education has to offer Sekoly Tenaquip and how this creative pedagogy can be uniquely tuned to work with these rural Malagasy people in their unique context to help them to enliven their education and their culture. Waldorf may just be the key to help this next generation step beyond the challenges they now face.
In January 2016, Warren Lee Cohen Codirector of the Rudolf Steiner Centre and Toronto Waldorf School parent will be travelling to Madagascar to support the first Waldorf school in this island nation. Warren will be bringing with him 25 years of experience as a Waldorf educator as well as education resources for the faculty of this school including beeswax crayons generously donated by TWS to support their growing school.
The Madagascar School Project was founded in 2007 by Kathy Lucking who was working/volunteering in an orphanage in Madagascar. She wanted to help children break free from the crushing cycle of poverty and malnutrition that have plagued over two thirds of this country. She decided to found a school there, Sekoly Tenaquip and has worked tenaciously ever since directing this school as well as securing funding and resources for it. The school serves an impoverished population, many of whom cannot afford the minimal school fees let alone feed their children during the “Hungry Season”. Now in its 7th year Sekoly Tenaquip has over 550 children enrolled from 18 surrounding villages. Many walk for over an hour to get to school each day and count on the school lunch as their only meal of the day. The school has 32 teachers from KG to Grade 12 and was founded initially on the traditional French school model which involves a rigid routine of drilling and testing in all subject areas as is common throughout Madagascar.
Kathy a retired Ontario school teacher envisions the possibility of converting the school into a Waldorf school, the first in Madagascar. She enrolled in RSCT Professional development for Waldorf Teachers part-time program as a school director. She has also travelled far and wide in Canada seeing and teaching in Waldorf schools as part of this program. Step by step she is working to convert Sekoly Tenaquip into a Waldorf school to help this unique community creatively find solutions for its future.
Kathy will be graduating from the Steiner Centre this July. She is working with others, including her mentor Warren Lee Cohen, to sensitively bring the ideals of Waldorf pedagogy to this Malagasy community. She introduces new ideas and then listens carefully to what finds resonance within the faculty so that they can grow into leadership in practically applying these ideas to their school. It is a process that requires complete metamorphosis: letting go of old colonial forms so that they can step into nascent Waldorf ideals. These can only take root if the teachers and families see the potential of education in a whole new light. Education can be a pathway to getting a good job and can also re-enliven the whole culture of their community creating many new pathways to prosperity.
Already the art of storytelling is taking root and bringing with it depth and joy for students and teachers alike. The teachers are learning to teach through stories, to engage the children’s imaginations and thus to inspire them to learn. Storytelling also gives ample opportunities to weave together a number of subjects in a way that helps the students learn more effectively. Building living pictures is central to Waldorf pedagogy and will help engage students so that they can make positive changes in their lives, families, country and culture. Big changes are needed to break this cycle of poverty and oppression and it will take many creative people to start the tide of change.
Warren lee Cohen, the Codirector of RSCT, will be joining Kathy in Madagascar in January to help implement the next steps in transforming this school into a Waldorf school. He will be working with all the grade school and high school teachers, helping them to identify what truly makes teaching come alive for them. Harnessing these moments when they reach a particular student, make a difference in her life or have a particularly creative moment in a lesson is what makes teaching inspiring and transformative as opposed to oppressive. Warren will work with them through the Waldorf science, math and language arts curricula as well as clay modeling. This will help the faculty to identify the students’ developmental needs and enliven their teaching. It is essential that each teacher develops inspiration and openness for this quality of change in her teaching method and ultimately in herself. Questions we will explore include:
What is a human being?
What gives you most joy in teaching?
How do students reveal when they are learning and/or failing to learn?
How can you assess the health of each student and the school as a whole?
What do your students most need?
What does your community need from these young people?
On his recent visit to Japan, Warren Lee Cohen, codirector of Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto and director of its Waldorf teacher education programs, was asked to address the theme of multiculturalism in the context of a Waldorf education at Osaka Prefecture University. Although there are people living in Japan from many different countries, their numbers are relatively small, and most are from East Asia. Japan does not grant work visas easily, has quite limited immigration, and has very few established foreign communities. People from other cultures are called outsiders (gaijin). Even Japanese who are of mixed heritage or have lived outside Japan for a time are considered as gaijin. Prejudice against such people, residents and citizens, is not uncommon. In the most recently reported census, in 2010, 98.7% of the respondents stated they were Japanese. Even the largest groups of non-Japanese, from Korea and China, made up only 0.36% and 0.33%, respectively, of the resident population of 127,007,000 people. Why was Warren invited to speak about multiculturalism?
In 2013, Osaka City, where this talk was held, reported that foreigners made up only 4.4% of its population, making the city quite homogenous as far as the nationality of its residents is concerned. However, two ethnic neighborhood communities, one Korean and one Chinese, have emerged there in the last few decades, and Osaka has a number of non-Japanese schools, for example, Korean, Chinese, and International. Also, the demographics of Japan are not nearly as homogenous as they were 150 years ago, or even 35 years ago. Although the number of non-Japanese living in Japan has been decreasing, the number of Japanese who grew up overseas or are of mixed ethnic background and are living in Japan has been steadily increasing in recent decades. These increases are expected to continue due to its aging and decreasing population necessitating the need for more foreign workers and to growing interest in Japan by people from other countries. As a result, some people in Japan are beginning to wonder how society should deal with these changes and likely a more diverse population. Interest in the notion of multiculturalism and how it can best be achieved is slowly awakening.
So, on June 19, 2015, Warren engaged an audience of 65 teachers, teachers in training, students, and professors with discourses, stories, and discussions related to the theme: “Challenges and Practices of Waldorf Education in Multicultural Cities—Toronto and Osaka.” His lecture was part of an on-going teacher education program offered by Osaka Prefecture University, which is trying to bring new life to the teaching methods and practices used in Japanese schools. This innovative program strives to address current societal issues and ideas that the standardized national curricula ignore.
Warren began by briefly describing the demographics of Toronto, highlighting that it is a thoroughly cosmopolitan and multicultural city with many ethnic and immigrant groups settled and living comfortably within it. English is the main language spoken, one of the two official languages of Canada, the other being French. Yet, it is common for people to speak other languages at home with family or with friends. Warren raised the question of how the various members of such a diverse community can best flourish in appreciation of their diversity and without leaving anyone feeling excluded. He pointed out how Toronto’s lively multicultural population and society stands in strong contrast to the mood and demographics of Osaka.
By celebrating festivals that are meaningful to various members of the community, neighborhoods and schools can cultivate awareness of and respect for people from other cultures. Warren chose the celebration of the Christian festival of Whitsun, also known as White Sunday or Pentecost, at the Toronto Waldorf School to illustrate this in practice. He first explained the essence of the Whitsun Festival, which in the Christian tradition comes 40 days after Easter. It recalls the period of bereavement and doubt felt by the apostles after Christ Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, His return and appearance before them, and their becoming multilingual after being permeated by the Holy Spirit in order for them to spread His word.
Warren then explained how the Toronto Waldorf School has attempted to cultivate appreciation and build bridges for its multicultural population by incorporating this celebration into the school’s festival life in a unique way. The school community separates into the more than 25 different language groups that comprise this community. Each group speaks in turn the same poem in its traditional language. This allows everyone to listen and speak, to sense wonder through these different languages, to consider “otherness,” and to experience the difficulties inherent in living in a place where the lingua franca is not one’s own.
To give the participants a feeling of this experience, Warren had everyone stand up and people call out in turn “Hello” in whatever languages they knew. It was quite a surprise to hear so many different greetings from a group that, for the most part, was ‘homogenous,’ and the ice of the lecture format and structure was broken.
Next, the whole group read aloud the same poem (which asks for Spirit’s assistance in working for the good of others) as is used in the Toronto Waldorf School, first in English (which all educated Japanese have studied for many years) and then in Japanese. At Warren’s request, a few participants, who were from minority cultures, then volunteered to spontaneously translate the first verse of the poem into Taiwanese and then Korean. Warren added Portuguese. Thus, the participants had the experience of hearing this same poem through the unique genius of five different languages, five different cultural lenses. He then asked them to consider the differing characteristics and qualities of each language they had heard and how it had affected them.
Poem for Whitsun
Breathe within me
You Spirit in all things
That I may truly think
You Spirit in all things
That I may truly work
You Spirit in all things
That I may truly love
You Spirit in all things
That I may truly help
You Spirit in all things
That I may never forget
A few participants compared how some of the different languages sounded. One mentioned that “The experience of hearing different languages was really something…. We often omit the word ‘I’ in Japanese and indicate it indirectly. We omit many words, while still expressing many things.” Yes, often what we omit has meaning, too. In this age of the consciousness soul, that Japanese nearly always omit themselves in their verbal communications is something to ponder. Another participant was brought to tears by hearing her native language spoken freely in public. This was a first for her. She said that she had experienced so much prejudice as a person from a minority culture in Japan. She was completely surprised by how emotional she felt by hearing her native tongue invited into this public forum. Her openness in sharing this emotional response allowed a number of others to reveal how this process touched them in an authentic way. It was a risk to be so open, but many participants expressed gratitude for the experience, saying it made them more aware of one another and their own cultural and linguistic prejudices and more interested to find out about others and the experiences that each brings to their community.
This experience brought these differences to light and helped participants awaken to the unique perspectives, both the gifts and the one-sidedness that each culture carries. Through gaining these perspectives, they came to a clearer insight into how our human nature transcends culture, faith, sexual orientation, and economic and social status. They caught a glimpse of what is universally human in each of us.
To deepen the experience of the other and to highlight the importance of trusting others and of self-disclosure and making oneself vulnerable in this process, Warren then told the audience about how the events of the Holocaust had impacted his family. When he was growing up, his family tree was on a wall in the house, and he passed by it many times each day. One of his grandfathers had traced it back many generations on both sides of his family. In the 1940s, a number of branches just stopped. In answer to his questions, he had been told since he was young that those relatives had been killed simply because they were Jewish in the genocide known as the Holocaust during World War II. One day, his mother said, “It is likely that you too will be judged because of your Jewish heritage.”
We all carry unconscious prejudices and stereotypes inside us as a result of our upbringing, learning and experiences. To reduce the tensions and misconceptions among us and others, we need to recognize and confront these thoughts and feelings and try to see the true human being in others that lies behind their external features and circumstances. This striving by members of a community is necessary for them to develop acceptance and appreciation of people different than themselves and cultures different than theirs.
Warren next raised the audience’s awareness of two common pitfalls people, organizations, and communities need to avoid when attempting to become more accepting and respectful of others: tokenism and apologism. Both impede advances in trying to make a community more multiculturally inclusive.
A tokenistic gesture is when something is done only in a superficial, and not in a meaningful, way. The intent, even if unconscious, is usually just to be able to demonstrate that something has been done to accommodate others who are outside the majority or to fulfill a requirement. As an example, Warren mentioned that some schools in North America try to celebrate Chanukah (Jewish), Kwanza (African), and the Winter Solstice (Pagan) all together with Christmas (Christian), or celebrate all of them one right after the other in the last week or two of December. The intentions might be well meaning. However, for all of these festivals to be celebrated authentically and in a spiritually nourishing way in such a short period of time is likely impossible. Also, so many celebrations will certainly be overwhelming for the children, leaving them over stimulated, exhausted, and confused.
An apologist gesture takes place when people or groups apologize for doing something that in fact they need not apologize for or for not doing something they could not do well. Warren again gave a common example from North America, when schools apologize to non-Christians for celebrating Christmas, or apologize for not celebrating all of the other holidays that take place at the same time of the year. He also spoke about the other contrasting apologist gesture as used in history: when a particular way of doing something, usually considered the traditional way, is considered unquestionable and unchangeable under any circumstances or for any reason. This is a dogmatic approach, which cannot but exclude others.
Of course, these two failures can occur together. It is not uncommon for schools to hold Christmas concerts that include a few Chanukah songs and perhaps a song about Kwanza and to say that they are sorry for only having time for the Christmas concert and not others. Another example is holding what is obviously a Christmas festival but calling it something else, in effect soft-selling it. We need to be honest with ourselves and be ever striving to find the spirit fount out of which community festival life can be renewed.
Warren rounded off the presentation by asking if anyone wished to make any comments. Participants expressed gratitude that the topic of multiculturalism was helpful and important both for Japanese people to think about and to work towards. One participant added, however, that there are many hurdles to overcome before the country can become more open to foreigners and embrace their cultural gifts.
The population of Japan, as well as that of other East Asian countries, is likely to continue to diversify under the further and increasing pressures of the globalization of communications, trade, entertainment, and industry and of changing demographics. As many nations attempt to open up further and to adjust to more of these foreign people and their customs being within their midst, will they address their differences in meaningful ways? Will they try to integrate these foreigners into their cultures or keep them primarily outside, only using them as sources of labor? Will these outsiders be dealt with sympathetically and with efforts to be inclusive or antipathetically and dogmatically? Will Japan and other countries try to become more multicultural? Westerners, too, need to recognize that they will also need to adjust their ways of thinking and doing things in order to be more acceptable to, more accepting of, and to fit in with other peoples and their customs. As anyone who follows the news these days knows, these are important issues in our times with grave consequences when poorly thought through decisions are made. These events make it all the more evident why we need to think a whole lot more about that which is universally human in us.
Reprinted courtesy of Pacifica Journal, A bi-annual newsletter published by the Anthroposophical Society in Hawai'i, 2016, Volume 49, Number 1
Warren Lee Cohen is a Codirector of and the Director of Teacher Education at Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto. With a background both in Physics and Sculpture, Warren has found his niche in working with children and adults in Waldorf education. He led a combined class through eight years at the Olympia Waldorf School and then went to England to direct the Foundation Studies Programme at Emerson College. He lectures internationally, has developed programs to train Camphill coworkers, taught both physics and English in Waldorf high schools and led numerous workshops in subjects as far ranging as Projective Geometry and the Art of Baking Bread. His publications include Raising the Soul (practical exercises for personal development), Baking Bread with Children, and Dragon Baked Bread.
Brian Daniel Bresnihan has been involved in English language teaching for 35 years. He began teaching English at a small language school in Hiroshima before spending 4 years studying at Teachers College, Columbia University, after which he returned to Japan. Currently, he is a professor in the School of Economics at University of Hyogo in Kobe, Japan. His research interests include Waldorf education, EFL classroom practices, and the use of TOEIC scores in schools.
Michiko Fujii came across Waldorf education in 1996 after having worked as a translator and an English teacher, and while in the midst of raising the first two of her three children. She is a certified kindergarten and grades Waldorf teacher, and has been mainly teaching in Waldorf early childhood but also about Anthroposophy and education to teacher trainees and other adults for about 15 years.
RSCT Director of Teacher Education, Warren Lee Cohen, was invited back to the International Education Forum at Kobe Shinwa Women's University in Japan to speak about Waldorf Education and to share perspectives on how to best tend the school transitions between kingergarten, grade school and high school. Rather than just speak about Waldorf education, Warren led them through singing a canon called Compassionate Heart. This piece of music speaks to the "gentle spark" that lives in all of us. It fosters healthy social dynamics while also working quite well with the Waldorf science curriculum in 6th and 7th grade. Singing together is a wonderful example of how art/music can enliven and deepen science curriculum while also helping to make it all relevant to the inner life of a developing adolescent.
Presenters and participants were eager to stand up, stretch and sing and this they did quite harmoniously. It was a welcome interlude from all the presentations. People came from as far away as China, South Korea, Italy, USA and Canada representing teachers, professors and school leaders from both public and independent education.
Here are the presenters, Shinwa organizers and translators, which had the challenging task of buiding bridges between languages and concepts in English, Chinese, Korean, Italian and Japanese.
Fortunately, after this 10th International Education Forum, there was also some time to explore the beautiful wonders of Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines that sparkle like fewels in the beautiful Japanese landscape. Thank you friends for a warm and inspiring welcome.
Our Collegue Sandra Ghali has made this helpful youtube video to help parents and children learn songs for their Martinmass Lantern Walks. It is a wonderful resource for the richness of Waldorf education. We are pleased to announce that Sandra has agreed to join our faculty for our Summer Festival of Arts and Education and will be teaching "The Art of Teaching Grade 1" July 4 to 8.