The middle school curriculum is designed to reflect the students’ own human development, engaging the students so they feel that what they are learning is important, gratifying.
To nurture and support the changes taking place in upper grades students, the Waldorf curriculum transforms significantly from that of earlier grades. Critical reasoning skills, accurate observation, and the development of individual judgment are emphasized as each year progresses. In addition to curriculum content, the following changes appear in other areas:
- Tests and quizzes appear increasingly; in eighth grade, students encounter tests they’ll find in high school (e.g. multiple-choice).
- Letter or number grades may be assigned at the teacher’s discretion.
- Homework increases each year. Rather than “busywork,” it consists mostly of reading, finishing class bookwork, research, or projects.
Emerging adolescents are entering the world of judgment, self-judgment, intellect, and cause and effect. Rudolf Steiner describes this age as the advent of, “a gentle sprinkling of pain that never goes away.” Emotional energy appears in full force, creating inner chaos. Simultaneously independent and dependent, they need adults to be strong, firm, clear, calm, and patient. The curriculum is designed to reflect the students’ own human development, engaging the students so they feel that what they are learning is important, gratifying.
As certainties and self-confidence falter, students feel secure in a group. In History, they study the Roman Empire, built on standardization and the subjection of individual will to the state. As they experiment with willfulness, the rigid structure of Roman law satisfies their unconscious longing for rules and order. The collapse of Rome and the chaos of the Early Middle Ages echo a growing fascination with darkness in the teenage soul. Business Math is taught in conjunction with the history of the first banks and meets the students’ desire to feel competent as they begin fundraising for their Eighth Grade trip.
Students are challenged to look beyond themselves. Self-centeredness is met with the vastness of Astronomy. Their physical and emotional “weight of the world” is met with the ultimate in heaviness and lifelessness in Geology and Mineralogy. Exciting Physics experiments require exact observation and reveal the truth behind natural laws, no matter how one happens to be feeling. As a balance to self-absorption, they discover a newfound patience and discipline in Geometry, where they create beautiful, complex precision drawings using only compass and straightedge. In Geography the boundaries of the world expand.
In History, they encounter soul counterparts in the Renaissance, the flowering of individual imagination; the Reformation, the triumph of individual conscience; and the Age of Exploration. The profound change in consciousness from the 15th to 18th centuries encouraged individuals to seek truth via none but their own sensory experience and reason; exact measurement and factual accuracy became ideals. In Geography, the world as a whole comes into view, enhanced by the Renaissance development of cartography.
In Astronomy, the revolutionary sun-centered view of the universe appears, put forth by Renaissance thinkers who dared to thwart church doctrine. In Physics and Mechanics growing skills in observation and calculation reveal laws of cause and effect, via intriguing experiments like the construction of a walk-in camera. In Chemistry, inflammatory adolescents study combustion, acids, bases, and the lime cycle and construct a limekiln that burns marble at 1800ºF. In Physiology, they encounter their own bodies in the Digestive, Circulatory, Respiratory and Reproductive systems, including sex education and the results of substance abuse.
The students are now thrilled to encounter Algebra, a new, abstract world accessible only to the mind. And because they resonate with life’s imperfections, they are deeply gratified to discover experimentally, in Geometry, so-called “irrational” numbers—which paradoxically underlie the most perfect forms in nature, classical architecture, and the ratios of the human body.
With their gaze increasingly fixed on the future, this year’s focus is whole systems, building up the complex picture of the modern world. The History curriculum covers a vast arc, including current events. As the students prepare to break with their past, they study the Age of Revolutions, the Civil Rights movement, the World Wars, and contemporary struggles for independence through biographies of major figures. What happens after a revolution? What is freedom? Political and economic systems are compared; thorny issues and paradoxes abound. The story of Gandhi, who reversed traditional conceptions of strength and weakness, leads to the realization that the most revolutionary act may not be one of violence.
In Geography the earth is examined as a whole with its landmasses, wind and ocean currents. This leads into Meteorology: as emotional storms and sunshine alternate, students discover the complex interactions that create the world’s weather. In Physics, experimentation, observation and conclusion are the key to solving fascinating riddles of gases, liquids, and electromagnetism. Anatomy and Physiology reveal the intricacies of the Skeletal, Muscular, and Nervous Systems. In Organic Chemistry the study of Nutrition helps determine healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Discovering different Number Bases is a mini-revolution in basic assumptions about numbers. Algebra explores equations and polynomials. Mastering the Square Root Algorithm is difficult and rewarding. In Solid Geometry, the Platonic Solids are constructed. Formulas for area and volume are derived experimentally. The mysterious symmetry of Conic Sections concludes the mathematical journey through the grades with a return to the beauty of numbers, now not only heartfelt but illuminated by comprehension as well.
Each eighth grader completes a Graduation Project, a major, months-long endeavor chosen by each student, requiring motivation, initiative, and diligence. Students work with a mentor and present the culmination of their work to the public at the project’s end.
The Eighth Grade Class Trip, for which the students have fundraised for multiple years, is the joyful culmination of their years together and contains a community service or personal development component. Recent classes have journeyed together to the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and Costa Rica.