|Charlotte Bergmans, HVWS Alumni Parent|
The following reflections were shared by Charlotte Bergmans, double HVWS Alumni Parent, at the Class of 2016's Graduation.
Good morning graduating 8th grade! And good morning to their family and friends, teachers and fellow students.
For most of you, you are here because your parents made the decision to send you to a Waldorf school. But while we may have made the decision to send you to Waldorf, the truth is it’s been your experience. Yes, we as parents participated in the journey, but it’s you who’ve came to school each day. And it’s you, and only you, who will decide the value of a Waldorf education in your life over time.
And so, today, I can only reflect on my own Waldorf journey as a parent–I can only tell you why it was important to me that Noah and Quinn experience Waldorf education. And I can only hope that some of what I say will one day ring true for you. For me, Waldorf is about 2 essential questions.
The first is, how do we learn best?
I loved school. I mean LOVED school. I loved LEARNING. It came easy for me. I never questioned anything about it. However, throughout my 22 years of school, and since then, I’ve noticed, that despite the fact that I got good grades, understood the material, and actually enjoyed the classroom, I did not remember a good portion of what I was taught. What I noticed is that the learning that stuck was the learning in which some concept being taught finally spoke to me because my body or heart had also been engaged. What do I mean by that really? Let me share with you how Quinny learned to read.
For those of you in the audience who may not know, Waldorf does not begin teaching children how to read until first grade, or when a child is 7 years old. Quinny really, really wanted to learn to read while still in Kindergarten. So, I went to the chalkboard in our kitchen, and wrote the letter ‘A.’ I gave him a piece of paper and pencil so he could copy it down. I sounded it out. “A.” I asked him to sound it out. At this he promptly got up and said ‘I don’t want to learn anymore.’
And never brought it up again. That lasted less than 30 seconds.
Then, he entered first grade with Mrs. Thomas. And she didn’t start with the letter ‘A.’ Instead, she started with the letter ‘R.’ She drew a beautiful Rabbit on the chalkboard, and inside the Rabbit was the letter R. She had the children stand up and recite a rhyme all about a Rabbit and almost every word had the R sound or started with the letter R. She told a story about a Rabbit. And then, she had them write the letter ‘R’ in their main lesson books. And she did this for every letter in the alphabet. And seemingly, from one day to the next, Quinny was reading. No stress. No walking away.
Was it the drawing, the rhyme, or the story that met something inside of him ready to be awakened? Or was it the right time in his development to learn to read?
The key is, something inside of us is ready to be awoken with every lesson…The challenge is, how does a school or teacher access that? ENGAGE that desire to learn? How does a school awaken your curiosity?
It’s as if Waldorf gives you a lesson and says, it lies behind these doors: one door is art–drawing, painting, sculpting. Another door is story–what is the moral, the teaching–how does that lesson touch my heart? And another door is movement and music–maybe singing, or reciting, or eurythmy or acting. And the last is the mind–the actual facts, the reading, the writing and the memorization. Waldorf then allows you to enter through each door.
The second question is, what do we need to learn?
Clearly, you go to school to acquire knowledge. Math. Science. History. Writing. Literature. A foreign language. Conventional wisdom states that progressive proficiency in such subject matter, especially–these days–math and science–will prepare you to find a ‘place’ in our economy, or in other words, find a job.
And yes, while indeed math, science, data, history or any one of the subjects you spend at least 22 years learning, will hopefully truly inspire you and one day provide for you and your families, and I wish for each one of you only grand success and happiness in your choice of career, that alone does not a full life make.
We are much more than the knowledge we have acquired, or the subject matter we may become an expert in, or the new idea that’s going to change the world. We are also the person who falls in love, or the person that somebody else falls in love with. We are the parent, or the child. We are the sister, or the brother. We are the student, or the teacher. We are a friend. We are a neighbor. We are members of our local communities and citizens of this world.
And to be in each one of these relationships successfully also requires learning. To be in each of these relationships requires the ability to listen and be heard, the ability to see and also be seen, the ability to give and also receive love.
It is my sincere belief that a child can not be open to fully learning the facts and figures until he or she feels seen, heard and understood. Waldorf is structured to provide that experience for our children.
It’s the handshake every morning where the teacher looks you in the eye and acknowledges you, and you her. It’s starting the parent-teacher relationship with a home visit. It’s about honoring the school by giving back, so that it can continue to give to you. It’s growing up with each other every school day for 11 (or 8, 4, 2) years in a row–learning to live with your differences, and maybe even coming to appreciate each other for them. It’s having time with your teacher–often years–whereby she truly sees and understands you–and maybe even you her?
When Noah was in 5th grade with Mrs. B, he got in the car after school one day angry and upset. It turns out he and a classmate had made a plan to sort of drag behind the rest of the class on the way out to the playground. Then, they quickly put their hands in the bag of chocolates that was sitting on Mrs. B’s desk–chocolates that I believe had been given to her as a gift, and that she had not yet shared with the class, if that was her intention–and then ate them before heading out to the playground.
In other words, the boys did not have a right to those chocolates.
They took them without asking.
They stole them.
And, given that I’m up here telling you this story, it is clear they got caught.
So, on the car ride home that day, what I remember is Noah saying quite emphatically, “You see, this is why I hate Waldorf education. If I were in public school, nobody would have noticed, and I wouldn’t have to say sorry.”
I don’t know what would have happened in public school, and I am not here to make a comparison. What’s important is that Noah was experiencing discomfort–disappointment that his little heist didn’t go off as planned, regret and a healthy amount of shame. He knew he’d have to show up the next morning, shake Mrs. B’s hand, look her in the eye–and she in his–and stand tall in his regret. He knew he had another 2 and half years with Mrs. B, and that he couldn’t pretend this hadn’t happened, or recede to the background and sort of say ‘sorry’ because she was his teacher for only one hour a day, and only one school year.
He had the opportunity to apologize, and she to forgive.
And there they were in true relationship.
Fast forward about 4 years, when Noah was now in public school. One evening at the dinner table, he says, “I think I finally got it. These kids, they’re afraid of their teacher.” He had been struggling to find words for what he was experiencing in the classroom. I might venture to say he had been struggling to find words for what he was missing. And for Noah, and how he learns best–what he was missing was relationship. Missing being seen, and realizing that it was going to require a different approach to be heard, and understood.
And the beauty behind this is:
One, he learned relationship serves his learning.
Two, he realized that because he had the experience of it. Thank you Mrs. B.
And lastly, and to me, most importantly, he has the ability to bring that to not only his future learning, but maybe the future learning of his children and their generation.
So, let me end by quoting Harvard School of Education’s Dean James Ryan from his 2016 commencement address:
"Schools, and indeed the world, would be better places, if students didn’t just perform well, but also felt beloved. And to feel beloved is to feel not only dearly loved, but also cherished and respected."
Graduating 8th graders, it is my wish for you that as you mature and start to exercise more choice over where you go to school and how you learn, that you remember two things: there are many doors through which to learn a lesson, and, that you are truly beloved. It is my sincere wish that you will ‘feel’ Waldorf at your back.
Thank you to Mrs. B, Mrs. Thomas, Maestra Marcela and Frau Garten, all of the other teachers who taught our students, faculty and parents. Thank you for helping our children feel beloved.
|Melissa Merkling, HVWS Founder and Alumni Parent|
The following reflections were shared by HVWS founder Melissa Merkling at the Class of 2016's Graduation.
Dear Class of 2016 and your many fans,
Once upon a time, almost 50 years ago, I graduated from 8th grade at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City. I had been there since Kindergarten and I always knew my school was… different. We had things like Eurythmy, which nobody else I knew had ever heard of. We had Handwork, which nobody else called handwork. We didn’t have a school bus, or a mysterious subject called Social Studies, like the kids in the books I read. Yet we had something very special. In the middle of the city, I felt a deep kinship with the world of nature. The 79th Street traffic roared outside the windows, the sirens wailed, yet school was an oasis in which I experienced Truth, Beauty and Goodness. I knew that what I was learning rang true.
After 8th Grade I went on to four years at the Steiner high school. After I left Steiner, I thought little of my experience there. I went to Bennington College as a Fine Arts major, went to Italy to study art, quit school, and worked in an advertising agency in Rome. I came back to New York and worked for the Italian national public television network as a producer, traveling throughout the US and Canada with film crews, working for a science program.
All through that time, various things would ring bells with me. They would feel familiar. They would resonate with ideas that had been germinating in me, seeds that had been planted over the course of my 13 years of Waldorf education. And gradually these seeds sprouted into convictions, impatience with the status quo, passion for being of more use to the world. I started working for non-profits. And finally when I was in my 30s and had a young child, my Waldorf education came back to me. I fully appreciated what I had been given and recognized its influence on me. As a result in 1989, I planted the seed of this school.
Dear 8th graders, the Waldorf journey is now over for most of you. I know one of you is going to a Waldorf high school, but for the rest of you, what you have experienced here may go to sleep for a while as you enter a world with no Eurythmy and no Handwork. You need time to digest all the goodies we’ve packed you full of, think about other things, live your lives. But as the years pass you’ll notice that certain things will ring true for you, will resonate, feel familiar, remind you of your Waldorf years.
Remembering how different I used to feel my school was, it is a joy and even a triumph for me nowadays to hear, on a regular basis, about discoveries being made of things Rudolf Steiner knew about, a hundred years ago. He founded the first Waldorf school in 1919. Things we have been doing for nearly a hundred years, it turns out, have great merit and are exactly what children need!
- Play-based kindergartens are much better for young children than early academics.
- Having children enter first grade when they’re developmentally ready works a lot better, in the long run, than the alternative.
- Experiential learning is the best teacher.
- The arts are an essential component of human life.
- Incorporating lots of movement into the curriculum helps children learn best.
- Moral education cannot be taught, but must be actively experienced and shared.
These ideas are now more and more mainstream. The 2016 U.S. teacher of the year is Jahana Hayes, a high school teacher from Waterbury, Connecticut. She says that it is “of no benefit to anyone if a student achieves high grades … if they have no desire or knowledge of how to help others.” Students need a sense of community; altruism; grit; and willpower.
A sense of community: 8th graders, most of you have grown up together. You’ll always remain in each other’s souls as archetypes to whom you’ll compare other people you meet. You can’t fool each other, because you know each other so well and know you can trust each other. I am still regularly in touch with three of my classmates, and I know it will be the same for at least some of you.
(By the way, Rudolf Steiner would say it’s no coincidence that you have all played significant roles in each other’s lives. He says that if we know each other at all in this life, we have unfinished business from the past. He also says that in our 30s we will likely meet the people who were our parents in a former life: something to keep in mind.)
A book was just published with the title Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, by Paul Tough. The author writes,
Researchers … have begun to study … a set of personal qualities—often referred to as non-cognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children….
These qualities are all high on our list of goals as Waldorf teachers. The author goes on to ask how students can be motivated to “persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses.” He describes experiments in which students were offered money or other incentives to motivate them to do their schoolwork. They were all dismal failures. He writes,
…(R)esearch suggests … that students will be more likely to display these positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence, and competence, doing work that is challenging, rigorous, and meaningful. Character is built not through lectures or direct instruction … but through the experience of persevering as students confront challenging academic work.
All the keywords he mentions are vital components of the Waldorf classroom. The final ones are challenging and rigorous. As Rudolf Steiner says,
Our thinking needs riddles to wake up;
Our feeling needs pain to mature;
Our willing needs resistance to become strong.
Today we celebrate a pivotal moment in time. The passage of time is the strangest thing in the world. The best way to notice it is to be with something growing, a plant or a child, and one of the best things about working in a school is witnessing the students forever changing. We watch this ever-changing river of the student body flowing through our hands, an endlessly fascinating miracle.
Today the river you have been in for several years flows out of our hands and joins a much larger pool. You will join a stream that will eventually empty into ever larger lakes and seas until you reach an ocean – and even within the ocean there are streams, taking you through the path which is your destiny in this life.
Let’s walk upstream for a minute. This past March, I had the pleasure of helping Ms. Beardsley with the 8th Grade Shakespeare play, and before that, in December, with the Nativity Play. The two plays could hardly be more different.
Shakespeare is on this side of the Renaissance, that enormous shift in consciousness that heralds the beginning of modern thinking. In his plays you have to identify with complex human psychology to create a three-dimensional character. Shakespeare is a modern person: his words may at times be old, but his thoughts are absolutely intelligible to us.
The Nativity Play comes from an older time, the Middle Ages. It represents an earlier, more childlike stage of folk consciousness, and in fact this play is a wonderful gift from the 8th Grade to the younger children of the school – a backward look at where you have been. The play has few words, lots of songs, and characters that simply express goodness or wickedness. Like a medieval painting, it is flat, without perspective. It is absolute, pure, unsophisticated, yet potent.
In both plays you did beautifully. I’d bet that the Shakespeare demanded a lot more of you. That “lot more” mirrors your own profound shift in consciousness from childhood into adolescence and young adulthood. And despite the plays’ differences, they have one thing in common: they both ring true.
Moving further upstream now, let’s jump back over all the middle years into the distant past. I suspect the 1st Graders might know this verse better than the 8th Graders:
Brave and true I will be
Each good deed sets me free
Each kind word makes me strong
I will fight for the right
I will conquer the wrong
You spoke those words in 1st Grade with Mrs. Thomas as you stamped them like seeds into the fertile soil of your souls. Today you may hear those words with nostalgia or with amusement, but the older you get, the more life will prove them true.
One final step backwards. I’d like to see how many of you have been here since Early Childhood? How many from the Rose class? How many from the Sunflower class? How many from Apple Blossom?
And now, a very important statistic. In a few minutes, the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School will have graduated exactly 100 students–the last one of you to receive a diploma will be number 100!
I would like to close by saying that as you set sail into the wide world, you’ll find you have everything you need. The seeds you carry within will sprout and nourish you on your journey, helping you think clearly, have the integrity and strength to do what is right, and grow into your best self. Please come back and visit us often so that we may celebrate your journey, and rejoice that we had a hand in preparing you for it.
To submit your HVWS story please e-mail email@example.com
|John Alvord, HVWS Parent|
Over 10% of the parents who send their children to HVWS are non- Waldorf educators; they are public school elementary and high school teachers and even college professors. This week’s installment of HVWS Stories is from a current HVWS parent who is a community college professor.
I recall first hearing of Waldorf education from my wife. Her close friend's daughters attended a Waldorf school in Massachusetts. At the time, our son was preschool age and we wanted his education to develop as many aspects of his character as possible as well as a general "love of learning." After hearing the stories of my wife's friend (her description of Waldorf education, her and her husband's decision-making process, and the result of such a decision) as well as witnessing the qualities of her children, my wife and I became completely intrigued.
We went to a fall fair at the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School (HVWS) prior to enrolling. We were delighted by the atmosphere and perceived that the children exhibited qualities that were different from their peers at other schools. Fast forward a couple years (and lots of deliberation and learning about Rudolph Steiner's educational philosophy), we enrolled our son.
During the spring of my son's first year, we went to the presentation of eighth grade projects. The eighth graders exhibited such a high degree of confidence, poise, and creativity that any lingering doubts about our decision evaporated.
We now have two boys enrolled at HVWS. We're deeply grateful that such a unique opportunity exists that aspires to develop their whole selves. My wife and I feel good that the children we are preparing to be responsible global citizens have the opportunity to go to a school that explicitly honors and aims to develop their "head, heart, and hands."
John Alvord has a Master’s degree in Art and Art Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. He has been teaching graphic design at Norwalk Community College.
To submit your HVWS story please email firstname.lastname@example.org