Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to Lose Your Teaching Job: The Big Three

Why do teachers get fired?

An old joke in Waldorf schools goes like this:

A new teacher meets the teacher she’s replacing as he packs up his belongings. He gives her three envelopes. “When you’re in trouble,” he says, “open one of these envelopes.” He wishes her luck and leaves. She starts to teach. After a few weeks, she receives a summons from the school’s governing body (Council, College of Teachers, whatever). Seems they’re concerned about her class. Quaking, she opens the first envelope and reads, “Blame the parents.” Fortified, she enters the meeting and talks about the parents who let their kids eat sugary cereal, watch TV, stay up too late, dress inappropriately, and on and on. The College calms down and offers support. Our teacher returns to her classroom. A couple of months go by, and she receives another summons. She opens the second envelope and reads, “Blame the kids.” She goes to the meeting and describes how Jill needs special attention, how Johnny suffers from anxiety, how Brad is a bully, how Samantha tries to run away. The College understands, and offers renewed support. She returns to the classroom, but, a couple of months later, receives yet another summons. Curious, she opens the third envelope and reads… “Prepare three envelopes.”

Maybe you believe teachers don’t get fired often enough, but they do, in fact, get fired. The rule of thumb is that half of all those who enter teaching are gone in 5 years. About half of these leave of their own volition—it’s not the job for them—and about half don’t. Maybe they get to resign before they’re actually fired, but they’re gone. This is true pretty much across the board—large public school, small Waldorf school, you name it.

In my experience, which is in small private schools, mostly Waldorf schools, teachers are fired for one of three related reasons. I’ve come to think of these as “The Big Three,” and, to the extent that we can, we in teacher education should address these so that promising young teachers don’t get fired before they find their feet in a classroom.

In no particular order, these are the three: Parent relations, collegial relations, and classroom management.

A promising young teacher runs afoul of the tuition-paying parents and, before Thanksgiving, despite whatever gifts she may have, they’ve banded together against her, written ultimatums to the school, and she’s gone. Maybe she’s great with kids but tongue-tied around adults. Too late. Doesn’t matter.

Or the parents love her, but she’s too strident in faculty meetings, has ideas that don’t match the culture of her school, insists on doing things her own way, and, again, she’s gone.

Or the parents are on board, colleagues are hopeful, but our na├»ve young teacher—brilliant, personable, well educated, and well liked as she may be—can’t command the respect and decent behavior of her students. Eventually, this becomes common knowledge, and parents or colleagues or both together arrange her swift exit.

One sweet graduate student told me, “I’ll just love my students and they’ll just love me.” I said that they’d eat her alive by Thanksgiving. She was offended, but so be it. Teaching is wonderful, but it is not an easy job, and sentimental feelings give way to hard realities pretty quickly.

It rarely happens, by the way, that someone makes it into the classroom who actually just can’t teach—can’t teach reading or arithmetic, or, later, history or botany. In my experience, teachers aren’t fired for a fundamental lack of knowledge or teaching skill, but for the reasons listed above.

So, what can we do about this?

Some of my colleagues in teacher education maintain that students can’t be taught to address these things, that each teacher has his or her own style, that what works for one teacher won’t work for another.

This is true, but I believe two things are also true: First, forewarned is forearmed, and we can at least raise this topic for discussion so that our students enter the classroom with eyes open, more alert and more likely to seek help quickly.

Second, we can give our teacher education students tools that they can use, at least for the first few months, until they begin to develop their own styles (and then they can decide what to use and what to discard). Students can be taught to set expectations from the beginning, to begin a class only when it’s quiet, to establish small rituals to begin and end a class, and on and on. Students can be taught such things as “I” language for conversations with parents and colleagues to avoid creating defensive reactions. Role play, student teaching, group discussions, checklists, the number of ways to fortify our teachers before they enter a classroom is large, and we only serve them well if we make our best attempt to ensure their success in every way.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Free the Math Gnomes

I was part of a panel discussion on the future of Waldorf education last week. The moderator asked me to identify a “myth” about Waldorf education. My go-to myth is math gnomes (first appearing here: Playing "Steiner Says").

In the 1940s, Dorothy Harrer, then a teacher at the Steiner School in New York, needed an imaginative way to teach her students math. She couldn’t turn to Europe—most, if not all, of the continental European Waldorf schools were closed during the war. She couldn’t turn to colleagues at other schools in the U.S.—there weren’t really any. She couldn’t easily turn to Steiner’s works; many of them hadn’t yet been published, let alone imported or translated. She couldn’t turn to experts at a Waldorf teacher education program; such programs didn’t exist in the U.S.

There were probably resources from Rudolf Steiner and Hermann von Baravalle—Steiner’s colleague, then in the U.S., and a mathematician—but who knows if she could put her hands on these, was aware of them, and so on?

She was a humanities person and a former public school teacher, I believe, hired and trained on-the-job at the Steiner School. (She married a European anthroposophist—William Harrer—faculty chair at the Steiner School before Henry Barnes. I knew them both slightly; I worked in their garden in New Hampshire one summer, across the road from Camp Glen Brook.)

Anyway, Mrs. Harrer dreamed up the math gnomes, wrote them down, and, eventually, published them. Here’s a link to her book: Math Lessons for Elementary Grades. I don’t recommend it. I wish it would go out of print. But if you want to see what I’m talking about, this is the source.

Her math gnomes, which have no basis in Steiner’s work, and which actually contradict his recommendations for teaching math, have become the default position for many or most Waldorf elementary school teachers.

I asked Ernst Schubert, a German Waldorf teacher and teacher educator with a doctorate in mathematics, if he had heard about them. He smiled and said, “No, vat are zees mass gnomes?” They do not exist in Germany or, probably, in other countries. Here’s an elementary math book I recommend, and Schubert has written several others: Teaching Mathematics.

After the panel discussion, a friend and former Waldorf school teacher and I chatted. He related how he had not used gnomes, he had invented a prince, instead. (I’m honestly not sure if it was a prince—I was tired, we were talking about other things, and I didn’t necessarily register it properly.)

Then, a couple of days later, I received a sincere email from a former student, now teaching second grade, wrestling with how to bring some math concepts to her students. She knows my position on the gnomes, and was wondering about possibly using fairy-tale animals.

So here’s the point, guys.

It’s not about the gnomes, the princes, the animals, the characters of whatever size or shape or background!

Math brings the immaterial, the conceptual, the spiritual into the material world. Steiner recommends beginning with a pile of mulberries. Or beans. Or pieces of paper. These are real. Fairy-tale anything—gnomes, animals, princes, whatever—are not, at least not when it comes to teaching math. (If you don’t believe in gnomes, then why on earth would you introduce them in math class? If you do believe in gnomes, why on earth would you trivialize them by asking them to teach arithmetic to young children?)

There are lots of sources, beginning with Steiner and Baravalle, and continuing through Schubert, that are intelligent, thoughtful, anthroposophical, true to math and true to the world into which we bring math, that do not personify what should really not be personified.

This is not to make anyone who used or uses gnomes, princes, or animals feel bad. We are all doing the best we can. I mean that sincerely. A former trustee with whom I worked, to avoid saying that something was bad or wrong, would jokingly say that it was “suboptimal.” When we recognize that our performance is suboptimal, then we should change. We don’t need to feel bad, we just need to do better. There’s no shame in being wrong. We’re all wrong much of the time.

There is shame, however, in rationalizing bad practices as good practices because of history or ideology. There is shame in not doing the research once a practice has been seriously called into question to decide for yourself whether or not you will continue, knowing all that you can know. There is shame in continuing stubbornly because it’s easier than to change.

Free the math gnomes.

(I’m indebted to Christine Cox, a former student at Sunbridge College, for tracking the math gnomes to their source in her unpublished 2006 MSEd thesis, In Search of Math Gnomes.)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Elevator Speech--Part 3

My own attempt at an elevator speech to describe Waldorf education. Waddaya think?

Education inheres in the relationship of student and teacher. A teacher’s job is to connect the student in a developmentally appropriate way to the world—the world of nature and the world of culture (human beings participate in and link these two worlds). To do this, given the individuality of each student, teachers require insight. Through self-development via a contemplative, meditative path, teachers may increase their capacity to know their students and obtain the insights that will assist them in their task. Rudolf Steiner outlined Waldorf education according to these principles, and his method of inquiry, known as anthroposophy, describes a path of self-development toward insight.

(Click for links to Elevator Speech and Elevator Speech, Part 2)



Monday, September 3, 2012

An Unintended Consequence of Reading Aquinas with High School Students

I assigned my Medieval History students Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God from his Summa Theologiae. It was not my intention to convert students to Catholicism or even really to raise the question of faith. I wanted them to understand and appreciate the mind of Aquinas as representative of the late Middle Ages and to understand his style of dialectical argument.

My students didn’t let me off the hook. “I don’t believe in God,” Erica (name changed) volunteered. “So why do I have to read this?” I explained my purpose. She agreed to read it.

The next day, she still didn’t believe in God. Neither did Josh (name also changed). “There’s no old white man with a white beard in the sky who cares about what I do,” he said. Others murmured agreement.

“Is that what you read in Aquinas?” I asked. “You’ve let your conventional notions of God interfere with your reading.” We talked it through—prime mover, first cause, and so on. Not a white man, not even a mention of a human form. “You have to enlarge your conception of what you mean by ‘God’ if you’re going to read Aquinas,” I told them.

After we finished our discussion, I asked the class, “So, what do you think? Is this how you discuss the existence (or nonexistence) of God when you’re sitting around your room with your friends late at night?” Clearly not. Formal dialectical arguments, rigorous logic based on assumptions that modern people no longer make, imagining the objections of your opponents and then addressing them, one by one. There is a crystalline beauty to Aquinas’ thought—a cathedral of the mind—that we may learn to appreciate, even if it no longer really speaks to us.

I didn’t ask them if they (now) believed in God—it wasn’t my purpose, and, anyway, I didn’t imagine Aquinas’ arguments would address modern concerns.

We left it there and moved on to the 14thcentury—plague, the Great Schism, the 100 Years’ War. Lots to take our minds off Aquinas’ precision and rigor.

Weeks later, I ran into Erica’s mom in town. “Erica believes in God now,” she told me, “and somehow it’s because of your history class. Her devout grandmother’s very happy.” I explained what we had done. “Oh,” mom said. “That’s why she keeps telling us we have to enlarge our conception of God. But she still refuses to go church.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One World, Two Worlds, False Worlds, True World: Why the Education of Adolescents is so Important

We live in one world, but we act like we live in two.

We characterize these two worlds in many different ways: Mind and body, “inner life” and “outer life,” subjective and objective, quantity and quality, scientific truth and religious faith, and so on. We recognize truth claims in each of these worlds, but we act as if and believe that these worlds are irreconcilable. God will not reveal itself in a particle accelerator, and interpretation of a work of art will not assume the objective truth of natural law. We live, it may be said, with a “two-realm theory” of truth.

But any two-realm theory of truth is profoundly unsatisfying: What is the relationship between these realms? What is the relationship of science to ethics? Can the gulf between them, in fact, be crossed, or are we destined simply to suffer a tear in the fabric of the universe, a consciousness split in two?

(This is not the place to go deeply into the consequences of two-realm theories of truth, but we could indicate the importance of this by pointing out the way religious fundamentalists—sticking to the truths of faith—may use weapons that brutally demonstrate the truths of science.)

First, I acknowledge that some on each side will dispute my characterization and claim that we actually live only in one world, that the other is illusion, or that one is built on the first.

Some believe we live in one, material, physical world, but they then have to create a (religious) belief that mind, consciousness, value, and so on will ultimately be explicable through material and material processes.

Some believe we live in one, spiritual world—that matter is some sort of illusion—but they will still break their ankles when they trip over Dr. Johnson’s rock. (“After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it—‘I refute it thus.’  -James Boswell, Life of Johnson)

If we acknowledge, at least, that we live with two realms of truth, and that it is unsatisfying to do so, then we may seek a larger view of the world, one that unites seemingly objective scientific truth with seemingly subjective artistic or poetic or ethical truth. This is one of the fundamental tasks of anthropsophy, and represents one of Rudolf Steiner’s primary aims.

One of Rudolf Steiner’s most acute insights, found in his Philosophy of Freedom, is that thinking precedes any experience of the possibly dual nature of the world. In thinking, we may say, we create the possibility of seeing the world in subjective and objective terms. Thinking exists before this division. We think, and, in thinking, discover that the world seems two-fold.

Only thinking, therefore, can potentially unite any division that we ourselves introduce into the world.

This insight does not answer all questions, does not address all objections, does not immediately stitch up a rent in the fabric of the universe. But it points the way—perhaps the only possible way—out of the prison of a split consciousness.

It’s tempting to believe, therefore, that the reconciliation of the so-called mind-body problem, the resolution of a two-realm theory of truth into a unified view of the world, because it is based in thinking, is work for the intellects of brilliant academics.

A moment’s reflection, however, will show that this is false. Who are and who have been the greatest proponents of this two-realm theory of truth? The most brilliant persons of modern history—Descartes, Kant, you name it. Who are most susceptible to see the world as constituted of two apparently irreconcilable realms of truth? The highly educated and the scientifically-minded.

Yet children are untroubled by this apparent division. We could say that children are ignorant of the truth, or, with greater respect, we could say that they still perceive the world as one and have not yet employed their thinking to divide it. “Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Although it is not a common insight that human thinking precedes a division of the world into two realms, each with its own apparent truth, it is also not difficult insight. An average middle-schooler can comprehend it, I believe. And high school students can, if posed appropriate questions, acknowledge and wrestle with it.

Recognizing the importance of thinking, the point is not then to continue thinking in what Henri Bortoft calls a “downstream” way, sticking to the channels and canals of convention—we do plenty of that, day in and day out. The point is to work to think in new ways, ways that lead to an active unification of the world. At each moment, especially moments of choice and decision, we can resolve to recognize that the world is one, and to bring into being thoughts, feelings, and actions that honor this simple truth. There is, then, no once-and-for-all statement that reconciles the halves of the world. There is the hard work of generations to sew up the rift we may all acknowledge, stitch by stitch.

I’ve made my point, briefly, so now let me address the reason for writing this.

The course of an education, from early childhood through elementary school to high school, covers the introduction of a child into the world in which we all live. He or she will necessarily grow from an unconscious unity with the world into our present split consciousness. Even if a child’s parents have a different view of the world, it is not possible to escape the modern, two-realm mindset. School, playmates, advertisers, books, a flood of influences will ensure that we all become modern people. (And I have no problem with this. I love being a modern person, and wouldn’t want it any other way.)

But what happens then? In high school and college, we generally continue to indoctrinate students into our unexamined two-realm theory of truth. We ask them to specialize, to fit themselves for a world without asking too many questions about the unexamined assumptions on which our world is built. Chief among these, I maintain, is this untenable treatment of the world as if there are two separate realms of truth.

Adolescents and young adults, however, at the same time that they are learning—as they should learn—about the triumphs of science and technology and art and literature—are capable of learning that there are views, historically and philosophically based views, that our current assumptions about the world are not the only ones, nor are they necessarily true. And they are capable of learning that our two-realm theory is just that—a supposition, an assumption. And they are capable of learning that thinking introduces this division into the world. And they are capable of learning that creative thinking may be able to show us ways to overcome this split.

For these reasons, more than many other more mundane reasons, I believe that Waldorf high schools—and the teaching that teachers in any school could impart if they chose to—can offer a valuable service to young men and young women growing into a world with which they will have to live for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Playing “Steiner Says” Again: Nine More Myths about Waldorf Education

(Click here to read the first installment of “Playing ‘Steiner Says.’”)

I started writing this essay following a re-reading this summer of Rudolf Steiner’s Education for Adolescence during which I was reminded of a pet peeve: Waldorf teachers, at least in the U.S., talk about a three-day rhythm to “main lesson” classes. Steiner is clear, however, that the rhythm of a lesson occurs over two days and in no real way can be construed to be divided into three parts (thinking, feeling, will). I was then pleased to discover that Christof Wiechert, leader of the Pedagogical Section of the Anthroposophical Society, and a Waldorf school graduate, has written about this as well. He does not address what Steiner does say about such a lesson, but he identifies the myth of the three-part lesson. He also raises several other myths in two related articles. These myths have been on my list for a while, so it’s time to write them up.

The point is not to castigate those who have adopted these practices, but to point out that these practices have little or no basis in Steiner’s work, cannot be said to be essential to our practices, and may well be replaced with other, more healthful, more educational, more effective practices. And all this speaks again to the importance of 1.) continued immersion in Steiner’s work as the foundation for our thinking about Waldorf education and 2.) continued research in teaching (remember, that’s the point of our weekly faculty meetings). Four or five generations in, word-of-mouth, oversimplification, static, and all manner of other distractions are bound to enter the domain of our work, and it’s up to us to review and renew it.

1. “Three-part” Lessons.

How do you teach in a Waldorf School?

You teach a lesson over three days, addressing thinking, feeling, and will, right? Or you make sure to address thinking, feeling, and will—the order varies depending on the lesson and on whom you read—in every lesson, a “threefold” [abuse of the word; three parts does not make threefold] lesson?

WRONG. So wrong. There is no reference in Steiner’s work to anything like this. I’d like to be corrected, but I doubt that such a reference exists.

Don’t just take it from me. Wiechert writes, “There are no grounds to be found for dividing the main lesson into three parts in Steiner’s work, neither in the lectures nor in the books of the teachers’ meetings.” (Italics in original.) Later, “…this three-fold structure does not belong to the essential characteristics of Waldorf education. On the contrary, it can be a hindrance to the development of a teacher-pupil relationship which breathes between teaching and learning.”

A slightly longer version of Wiechert's article may be found here.

So what does Steiner suggest? Well, one primary source is in the third lecture of the mistitled Education for Adolescence, formerly The Supplementary Course, given in the spring of 1921 for ALL teachers at the original Waldorf School. Here Steiner discusses a two day rhythm, and one that addresses students first in “their whole being,” and then in imagination, then in sleep, and then in judgment, discernment, or conclusion-forming. To be clear, the imaginative and the judgment-oriented portions of the lesson, separated by sleep, both address the realm that we may call “feeling.” Feeling isn’t just one capacity among three; it is the gateway between which thinking and will must pass on the journey from one to the other, in either direction.

(Which leads me to the following digression: All those “threefold” logos that Waldorf schools adopt aren’t actually threefold. A lemniscate [think of an 8 on its side], the symbol of infinity, is threefold in that the two “lobes” on either side are connected by a crossing, the third, connecting part. Any form with three lobes is minimally four-fold.)

In this passage, Steiner doesn’t address class work or homework. (Dogmatists will say that Steiner was “against” homework, but this clearly isn’t true. Briefly, we can say he was in favor of meaningful work.)

Steiner’s description of a lesson is more beautiful, more real, more practical, and less fragmented, less schematic, less pedantic, than some easier-to-remember but false idea of a lesson.

For Wiechert, “The real rhythm, which we must always heed, is not between parts of the main lesson, but rather the rhythm which reveals itself with the children or pupils. When do they get tired, when do they waken up? That is the essential consideration. Whoever teaches according to this principle, will dissolve half the discipline problems just through doing this.” Recall that for Steiner, spirit, consciousness, expresses itself in states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping.

Waldorf teachers, if you have bought the three-part lesson, I urge you to reconsider. September is right around the corner. No time like the present.

2. Recorder (flute) Playing.

Here is Wiechert: “Thus, I dare to question whether playing the recorder in the first part of the morning is the right activity. Just watch a group of children that plays the recorder in the early morning and a group of children who do this in the music lesson later in the morning. A great difference is to be noticed; (a difference which, strangely enough, is not to be noticed with singing).”

3. Clapping, Stomping Math Games.

Wiechert, again: “How about the much praised stamping, what does that achieve? You can see that it makes the children tired instead of awake. Stamping makes them tired, not awake.” Later, “The idea is very widespread that you stamp around vigorously with a group of children in order to get them awake. In fact, it has the opposite effect. You can observe it with the practicing of the times table when it is linked to movements. Then you will see the pupils carrying out the procedure ‘as in a dream.’ Spoken in chorus a kind of ‘trance’ ensues: it is carried out as in sleep. Teachers will do well to lose no time in breaking this link between movement in sleep and knowledge gained through wakefulness.”

If we conduct our research as we should, we will discover, I have little doubt, that rhythmical repetition of math times-tables is actually a poor way to teach them, whether with clapping, with stomping, or with beanbag tossing. Students are resilient and usually learn what we have to teach them despite our poor methods. But there are plenty of children who simply don’t easily make the conceptual leap from the chanting and stamping to the beauty, patterns, and concepts of math. I wrote this when I wrote about freeing the math gnomes, and I’ll write it again: Read Steiner on math teaching. Read von Baravalle on math teaching. There’s nothing trance-inducing there.

4. Too Many Stories.

Wiechert’s on a roll. Here is a myth that had not occurred to me, but, reading him, I concur. “How many tales and stories can people ‘stand’ in a day, in a week? The handwork teacher reads something as the children are so hard-working, on the same day there is a religion lesson and the stand-in teacher has brought a story from his ‘emergency reserves ’ with him. Have the teachers in the college meeting concerned themselves with the issue of how many stories a certain class hears in the course of a day?”

(Note: German schools may have a religion lesson as part of the school week. Not just for the children of anthroposophists, for whom Steiner created the “independent religion lesson,” but for all denominations. U.S. schools generally do not, unless they are religious academies. Waldorf schools in the U.S. do not have such lessons.)

School ended at lunchtime in Steiner’s day, and “main lesson” was followed by classes in which teachers were not necessarily expected to tell stories or use verses.

Can we address Wiechert’s questions? Or are we too set in our ways?

5. Annual Class Play.

Drama is important in the lives of children. Doing a play every year is not, nor can any reference to such a practice be found in Steiner’s work. In another article, Wiechert writes in some detail of the history of plays, and Steiner’s words on drama in schools.

6. Block Crayons.

These are not suited to anyone’s hand for writing, and are designed for and convenient for creating washes of color. Here’s Wiechert: “In Waldorf schools worldwide there is an established custom that colored wax crayon blocks, then later on colored wax crayons are used for the first lessons in writing.

The question of the ergonomics of the wax crayon blocks was settled a long time ago: they were never thought of as instruments of writing, but for laying on expanses of color. Of course, you can make straight lines and bent lines with blocks too. However, a glance at the children’s hands shows that they hold the blocks in an unnatural and cramped way. It makes sense to get their little hands used to the wax crayons that nestle better in their hands from the very outset. (Yet the question needs to be raised - and allowed – as to how it would be if people in far off countries would look around to see what the local markets offer by way of writing equipment and other implements before falling back on these particular items. This gesture of looking to see what is available in the topical culture of the country concerned, that can be connected with, is a gesture to be positively affirmed in principle).”

7. Borders in Main Lesson Books.

Wiechert says it all: “One result of the use of the wax crayon blocks is that before use a page is framed first in colored borders. When this occurs for a definite and appropriate purpose and it is carried out carefully, there can be no objection: it will draw attention to what is being presented. However, when it happens automatically, as you will find in nearly all schools in the world (!), and when you hear, upon enquiring, it belongs to Waldorf schools, or else it is the way it was taught in the Seminar, or else has been discovered in other main lesson books, which have been shown as exemplary, then a habit has been established once again which shoots wide of its target. For as a rule these borders are anything but beautiful. A fine, purposeful knack, the striving to shape the main lesson book aesthetically gives birth to the opposite.”

8. Main Lesson Books.

Some classes, courses, and students benefit from them, if they are produced by good teachers teaching well, but the idea that they belong to Waldorf schools or Waldorf education—or, that, if a teacher does not choose to have the students make such books, he or she is not a Waldorf teacher—is wrong.

Wiechert: “Nonetheless, this use of the main lesson book must be in keeping with the dynamics of the child’s development. For younger children the main lesson book can almost represent a threat on account of its defining character: every mistake is written permanently, is there for good, can no longer be put right. The white sheet can instill fear. In the first few years of school there should be main lesson books with removable pages or else a system consisting of loose leaves.

"If we look at the middle school classes, we see the main lesson book in an intense battle of competition with knowledge available on the internet. In these new circumstances, the keeping of the main lesson book as an aesthetic-artistic task can be reduced to the ‘sticking in’ of facts that more or less belong to the lesson, which have been ‘Googled’ or downloaded from Wikipedia. The balancing between what is heard and seen becomes skewed. However, this balancing of what is heard and seen is the instrument of the flexible-musical study of man.

"The core of Steiner’s pedagogy was not meant as an object of study, but as an application for every day teaching. The work in the main lesson books in a meaningful balance is such an application in the day to day work.”

9. Building Projects in 3rd Grade.

Many schools in Germany and the U.S. more or less insist that 3rd graders build something, consonant with their study of housing. It’s just not necessary nor does it accord with Steiner’s words.

Wiechert: “[Steiner] makes it clear not everyone has to build on the school grounds! … Whoever’s school is on the coast can concern themselves with fishing, whoever is in the mountains with his school, where possible with quarrying, whoever has his school near a car factory, where possible with metalwork or forging. The freedom to shape it is huge, in the Richter Curriculum it is pointed out with great clarity by Tobias Richter.

“Why this great detail? There are two motives behind it; firstly, because there is the danger that a class three that does not leave behind something they have built on the school grounds will easily be considered as not conforming to the curriculum. Yet, such an insinuation has no basis whatsoever.

Secondly, you cannot help wondering whether it is right that year after year pupils pass by something on the school grounds that only in the rarest cases (with a bench or a functioning oven) has some practical purpose. Steiner attached great value to the practical aspect particularly with all crafts; it should be something that makes sense. Even a tree house, beautifully made with the industrious participation of the parents with the pupils, is something dead for the following school year.”


I’m sure this article, as my previous “Playing ‘Steiner Says,’” will arouse objections from some and dismay in others. I welcome debate about these important matters. But can we admit we were wrong, working from faulty understanding? Can we serve the children we teach by examining our habits and practices and changing them when they are deficient? If we don’t, if we can’t, can we really say we’re practicing “Waldorf education”?