March 8, 2012
By Matt Palmer
Education is a great gift. As parents, where we send our kids to school can become a task filled with stress over which school will give our kids the best opportunities in life. Many parents have no choice, their kids go to the nearest public school. No matter what the choice, or lack there of, we hope that our children will learn, become stronger, and move on to pursue some form of higher education whether that be at a trade school, college, or university.
I have spent a lot of time in schools over the last few years, being inspired by the passion for education by the teachers and students. There are amazing things happening in schools today.
When our oldest son was born, within a year or two there was a sudden pressure to decide about pre-schools, kindergarten, and elementary schools. Stories of parents camping out for days in front of schools to get their children registered were commonplace. So we began to research options.
We heard about the Waldorf School through one of my wife’s clients. Their children had gone through Waldorf and they raved about it. As we began to do some reading, the philosophy of the school spoke to us. As an artist, I appreciated the focus on creativity in learning.
We signed up our son for a parent/tot program, and toured the school, and saw there was something very different about Waldorf from traditional schools. Technology fills most modern classrooms from computers, iPads to smart boards, but Waldorf classrooms have none of those things, at least until grade eight when they do begin to do limited work on computers.
Many people get hung up on the lack of technology in the classrooms at Waldorf, worried that kids will be left behind, but listen to what is said in the video about this. Does technology really make education better? Multitasking is a myth, and leading neuroscience shows that our children’s brains are being rewired in unhealthy ways. The other big challenge of our education system is the use of standardized tests, and that many schools teach to the test.
Not all schools are like this, but the pressure to perform for the test, to pressure by parents on teachers to get kids into university is transferring to the kids. (www.racetonowhere.com) There are new teaching methods like inquiry based learning and Galileo method that are interesting, but the focus is still often on the technology and how the technology is supposed to get kids more engaged.
I love looking at the work that kids at Waldorf put into their presentations, everything by hand. Hand drawn pictures, not photos searched from Google. It begs the question: what education is for? Our modern education system may not be serving our needs. The pressure on kids to achieve, in many cases, robs them of that most vital time in a person’s life: childhood.
Here is another great video by the amazing people at RSA animates about the challenges with the current educational framework.
I could go on about why we love Waldorf, but the video I posted does a great job of eliciting the nuances and beauty of the Waldorf philosophy and approach. I admit I teared up a few times during it listening to graduates of the program talk about what Waldorf meant to them.
Here are two of my favourite moments at Waldorf so far. When our son started grade one in the fall, each child was led one by one by their kindergarten teacher down the hallway through a flower strewn pathway, and introduced to the grade one teacher. Their teacher shook their hand, gave them a hug, and then they went into the classroom. The ceremony is simple, but a beautiful and gentle introduction into the big school.
Then all of the kids in the grade one class were paired with a mentor from the grade nine class. At the very first assembly, the school gathered, and the grade nines brought in their grade one “buddy” and introduced them to the student body. Then each child was given a rose. What is powerful about this is the building of community within the school. The children are taught to be responsible for each other.
Waldorf is a choice. It may not be right for every family, but the choice has been good for us. We like the whole person approach, and the focus on creative thinking. Waldorf classrooms are filled with movement and music, a technique that stimulates right brain/ left brain thinking.
I would love to hear any thoughts or comments about the videos or this post. I do not mean it to be evangelical, rather I am offering a choice, opening a dialogue of where education might evolve to. And, think of the savings – instead of spending millions on technology, that money could be put into more teachers and other resources.