Sensible Science – Waldorf Gateways Conference

April 23, 2012

By Matt Palmer

Two years ago I read an interesting yet scary book called “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future“. The authors, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, argue that  the most pressing issues facing us require a science-based solution, yet respect for science is declining rapidly. They attribute the decline to the rise of religious ideologues, a weak underfunded education system, science-phobic politicians, and corporate run media that have cut budgets to science divisions. In addition, we face increased polarization even amongst people who consider themselves scientifically aware or literate on important problems concerning energy, the environment, and climate change. Disagreements around scientific issues, and studies are important as long as they help to push discourse and research further; not stagnate them. Why has respect for science declined or become so polarized, and what can we do to inspire people to embrace science?

Full disclosure: growing up I was not a science nerd. I had no particular interest in physics, chemistry, or biology. I was not engaged in the natural world, I spent most of my teen years inside the confines of a squash court, and as I look back, it left me not fully formed in my relationship with the world of the senses. As an adult, these relationships are evolving, and over the past six years my interest and understanding of  science has grown. Researching for this project, “Unintended Consequences”,  continues to expand my scientific awareness, and sharpen the depth of my inquiry and curiosity of nature.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the third annual Gateways Conference at the Calgary Waldorf School. The theme this year was “Sensing Our Natural World: The Root to Learning” and the keynote speaker was Michael D’Aleo a mechanical engineer, owner of 17 patents on his inventions, and co-founder of the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs, NY. Mr D’Aleo teaches high school science and is a principal researcher at Sensri which he co-founded. Michael’s presentations at the conference were truly inspiring, and powerful.

The development of true ideas and concepts is based upon rich sensory experiences.  True knowing is to be fully awake to sensation – to experiences that are full of sensation.

As a teacher, I have found that the only time I am really preparing students for the life that they will live, the life of the future, is when I teach them how to fully use their senses and live in the present.

Mr D’Aleo’s keynotes touched so many important issues regarding education and science, and I can’t possibly touch on all of it. He has some great articles on his website that you can check out. Perhaps the greatest emphasis was on guiding people, particularly children and adolescents, to develop the ability to perceive what is happening in the world around us using our senses. Our senses influence our ability to think and use logic, forming a powerful toolset that, when combined with artistic sensibilities, and freedom to think creatively, allow us to see possibilities and solutions to complex problems. The connection between students and the natural world, inspiring a keen interest in the interconnectedness of all things, is a central foundation of Waldorf education.

We live in an object based world, at least we think we do. Yet, as science has evolved concepts of matter are no longer, and we now understand the world to be a system of energy. We are all connected to each other, and to the world we exist within through energy. Mr D’Aleo reinforced the need to approach the world based on relationships rather than a focus on objects. How do we do this: being present. Yet, the technologically centred world we exist in has a great tendency to disconnect us, even though we think we are more connected. Having worked in the electronics industry, and being a mechanical engineer, D’Aleo is not advocating against technology, rather to be more aware of our relationship with it.

The ability to perceive what is happening around us has always been the starting point for all truthful insights and new ways of thinking. The healthy development of the senses is most powerfully accomplished in the early years of life. Our senses develop most richly in conjunction with regular exposure to the powerful yet subtle integration of the natural world.

Although he never used the words, what Mr D’Aleo is talking about, and what he teaches his students, is “systems thinking”. Waldorf approaches this by combining humanities, and sciences with a relationship to the natural world, by synthesizing inner and outer experiences. This is the focus of my documentary, understanding how energy, food, and water issues exist within a global system. Exploring the interconnectedness within the global system, and inspiring a greater understanding of the positive and negative consequences of the choices before us. We all have a unique relationship to the world and to those around us, yet how often do we take time to contemplate it?

I have not started reading this yet, but Mr D’Aleo also has a new book on his website that is available for free download. The book is called “Embracing Materialism and Letting It Go“.  I look forward to its insights.

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About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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