Since the pandemic hit, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) has done a fabulous job providing webinars and other online content to deepen Waldorf education and help teachers and Waldorf families stay connected to the heart of Waldorf pedagogy and one another.
I wanted to let our community know of one effort by AWSNA that has been particularly profound. On alternating weeks, webinars have been crafted, first on the topic of “What Steiner Actually Said” followed by teachers from various branches of schools (early childhood, grades, high school) sharing “Effective Practices” and the ways in which they have utilized “What Steiner Actually Said” and made powerful and profound changes to what and how they teach in order to better meet the needs of the students in front of them right now.
I was honored to be invited to take part in one of these webinars on Tuesday, November 17. Along with Daniel Baker from the Pasadena Waldorf School and Gil Griffin from the San Francisco Waldorf School (both of which have been in full distance learning mode since last March!), I had the opportunity to talk about changes in the high school humanities curriculum.
The good news is that wonderful and innovative things are happening in Waldorf schools all over the country and the world. I wanted to share some of the changes we have made in our own high school over the past two years in order to continue to try to meet the needs of the times.
If anyone is interested, the webinar was recorded and can be viewed here.
We have implemented an electives program in which students are free to choose from a menu of seven or so course offerings each quarter. Offerings have included Slow Fashion, One Acts, Model UN, yoga, photography, dance, outdoor activities with Mr. Saccone, creative writing, chess, science fair preparation, marine biology, winter ecology, time at the YMCA (when this was safe!) and more.
Another change we have made is in the humanities offerings for grades 11 and 12, our oldest students. In place of stand alone grade 11 and 12 humanities offerings in the second and third quarter, we have introduced a program we call, “Selectives.” Students get to choose one of three offerings in each quarter and these mixed age classes are meant to look beyond what has become known as the traditional Waldorf curriculum. Students in one quarter might choose between courses in Asian, Russian, Native American or African American literature and in another quarter between Journalism, Western Philosophy or Poetry. In this way, students have been exposed to literature outside of the typical Western canon such as Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Additionally, last year when the high school teachers chose a book for the entire high school to read and discuss at the opening camping trip, the choice was made to read Zora Neale Hurston’s extraordinary Their Eyes Were Watching God. Classes have also taken up Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie and Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.
In so many ways, our history and civics classes have expanded to include a richer look at the history of inequalities of all sorts (economic, racial, gender, etc,) in the United States and elsewhere and to widen the lens as we look at particular periods of history such as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We are not afraid of teaching hard history and looking anew at the history of enslavement, colonialism, genocide and more.
During Tuesday’s webinar, it was powerful to share these innovations as well as others and to hear of the extraordinary work going on in Pasadena and San Francisco. I wanted to make sure the families in our school were aware of the good work going on in the continental Waldorf movement and in the individual schools and classrooms throughout our movement.
Be in touch if you are interested in further conversation about responsible innovation within Waldorf education.