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Alan speaks in a very symbolic and esoteric manner in some parts of his books. Although they can be read anthroposophically, passages speaking of Atlantis, archangels, gods, etc. do not need to be taken literarily to be meaningful. The more you read, the more you will realize he uses many different religions to express ideas in a symbolic manner and not in a religious manner. His writings are not religious. In some places his writings are meant to refer to religious events in a historical way. In some places he is using religious figures (from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Ancient Roman and Greek Religions, etc.) in a symbolic manner. However, at no point is he promoting a specific religion or speaking from a religious point of view.
I have kept the writing as close to one-hundred percent original so you will also find that he speaks of Australia often and some spelling or manners of speaking may be cultural. Any words I have changed are presented like this: <word>.
Also keep in mind that these books are written by a Waldorf teacher with decades of experience who also studied with a Steiner student himself, so he speaks to an audience that is dedicating their lives to the Waldorf method without exception.
Because of this, all of his views are not reflected in the Earthschooling curriculum and not all of them may be ones you want to embrace or are able to use. In all of Alan Whitehead’s writings the opinions are his own and may not align with Earthschooling or Waldorf Books. In some cases, we will be updating some of these chapters in the future with additional and/or updated information.
Ultimately, however, as I read through these passages I find I can distill wisdom from even those paragraphs that do not resonate with me.
We invite you to read with an open mind and heart and with eagerness to learn and discuss…
WHAT ABOUT THE CURRICULUM?
Students like to be tested, inherent in this is a challenge – one even tests oneself constantly through life. If the test is against one’s previous performance, then it is a useful and valid procedure. However the more competitive against (not the word) other people the test is, the less justified. Co-operation builds truly progressive communities – the real success-stories are those who improve their world through co-operative activity, rather than exploit it through competition.
To examine a person, as the word implies, is an invasion of privacy; ultimately in place for the benefit of the examiner (in the wider sense of the word). Doctors, not educators, should examine school students.
The examination is an exclusive process, excluding those who fail; and excluding any learning which isn’t in the set syllabus. It focusses on a tiny fragment of world knowledge. For high school students this is a soul-splintering process.
The Steiner high school ‘curriculum’ attempts to encompass the whole world of learning, as far as this is possible in context. The widening consciousness of adolescents should be reflected in an expanding horizon of knowledge and experience, not a contracting, elective-subject one. The way some schools have embraced specialization, their blinkered students learn more and more about less and less until soon they’ll know everything about nothing at all!
The broadest range of subjects should therefore be made available, emphasizing breadth rather than dept. take a single strand of the Social Sciences program, one of three taught each year: Class 8, Anthropology; 9, Psychology; 10, Sociology; 11, Theology; 12, Philosophy. To suggest that teenagers are too immature to understand the fundamentals of these topics has proved incorrect in practice.
In fact the challenge of wrestling with complex material and meaningful ideas stimulates the learning nerve – subject of course to the presentation having life, and not dead concepts.
Every avenue of learning could find its place within this universal framework, providing curriculum planners (Class Guardians!) with unlimited freedom – a condition necessary to assure the genesis of the Spirit of Freedom in their students.
The Steiner curriculum, using the word in the loosest possible way, is a Being; one whose true home is in the Spirit. But like so many Beings, it has an imperative to incarnate into the world; it does this through Man and his schools.
The vast compendium of concepts, expressions, and activities explored by the pupils/students from Class 1 to 12 is, in its essence, Spiritual Science itself. Although this as such is not taught – directly at least.
As a book chooses its author, or an image its sculptor, a curriculum chooses its school; the talents (and limitations) of the ever-changing constellation of people who form the school community, determine how perfectly the particular Curriculum Being can manifest. This lofty supersensible entity is formed in the image of Man, and was created to serve him. It has, like Man, the three soul-forces of Thinking, Feeling and Will, expressed vertically through the Main, Middle and block lessons. It also has a four-fold, horizontal ‘bodily’ organization of Ego, Astral, Etheric and Physical Body. This vertical/horizontal reality forms, as in Man, the curriculum Cross.
In Main Lessons, this 4-fold horizontal bar is represented by Language, Maths, Social Science and Science (Ego, Astral, Etheric, Physical).
But like Man, there are sub-sets; the head is essentially a Thinking system, yet it manifests all three soul forces through the cerebral activity of the crown, the expressive power of the face, and the resolute firmness of the jaw. Just so does the curriculum; The four Main Lesson subjects further devolve into three strands each. With English these three are: Australian Literature (Will); Expression (Feeling); World Literature (Thinking) – these can also be interpreted as Body, Soul and Spirit, a similar but broader concept. With Maths, the three sub-strands are: Geometry (Body); Finance (Soul – believe it or not, the soul-less manipulation of money is responsible for the ‘bankrupt’ ethical standards we see in the financial world today!); Numeracy (Spirit).
And on to Social Science with Australian History (Body or Will); Sociology (Soul or Feeling); World History (Spirit or Thinking). Finally Science, the three subordinates are: Physics (Body); Chemistry (Soul); Biology (Spirit). The four horizontal ‘body’ strands of the Middle Lessons are Professions, Cultural, Service, and Industrial; their 3-fold subsets are as follows: Professions _Physical, Life and Human Professions, with one unit of each taught each year. The same with the three Cultural strands: Arts History (Body); Performing Arts (Soul);’ Literary Arts (spirit). The three Service subjects are: Public (Body); Music (Soul); Eurythmy (Spirit). Eurythmy? More about that later.
The last of the four Middle Lesson subjects on the horizontal bar of the Curriculum Cross is Industrial, its three sub-sets are: Primary Industries (Body); Secondary Industries (Soul); Tertiary Industries (Spirit). These four, Professional, Cultural, Service and Industrial express the forces of Ego, Astral, Etheric and Physical in the same order.
And finally the four Afternoon Block Lessons – Visual Arts, with their three strands of Painting (Will); Sculpture (Feeling); Drawing (Thinking). Craft – Soft; Hard; Other, expressing the same 3-fold arrangement. Technics – Metal; Wood; Other. Practical – Agriculture; Culinary; Other.
A visual outline of this curriculum detail can be found in the fold-out on the inside back cover. Like all curricula, it is a living organism, subject to growth and change – in fact it’s probably out of date by the time you get to read this, but then again, maybe not.
As can be seen, the Curriculum Being accords, as does Man, to the laws of the Zodiac as well, with a 12-fold corpus of major subject areas, from English at the top (always regarded as the most important subject), right through to the 12th, Practical.
“The Rudolf Steiner school curriculum is comprehensive in the actual matter presented to the children. It is comprehensive in that it not only sets out to give knowledge and develop intellectual capacities, but it considers the life of feelings and of will; it considers social, moral and religious aspects, in short, it educates the whole human being.” Roy Wilkinson, London, 1959
IS RELIGION TAUGHT?
Steiner schools have been born out of the womb of Western Christianity, that which is the central core of Anthroposophy. Yet Anthroposophy is not a religion, having no doctrine, ritual or priesthood – or belief base even. It is a path of spiritual knowledge. The schools therefore are non-denominational, yet they adhere to the ethical fabric and spiritual teachings expressed in the Four Gospels.
For students to find their way within the complex tapestry of world spiritual life, they must learn about the great religions, both past and present. The schools teach, as well as Christianity, the history and main tenets of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and many others – elements of which will certainly touch their lives as they grow into a world both fantastically varied, yet often frantically strife-torn, by opposing religious viewpoints.
The central aim of the Steiner schools is to prevent bigotry and intolerance in its students towards people who look, think or believe differently from themselves.
Religion is dying; spiritual life, based on knowledge, is emerging from its long Kali Yuga sleep. The Spirit lives in deeds – children who love and protect nature, and develop a deep sense of moral and social responsibility, are truly religious – in the modern sense. Steiner schools teach an uncompromising veneration for life, expressed by the policy of for instance, not allowing any experimental learning on animals – dead or alive! They also nurture a deep respect for human dignity, engendered by a gratitude – expressed by the teacher, encouraged in the student – towards the world.
AND MORAL INSTRUCTION?
In moral terms, the adolescent is like a young elk, testing its strength against the day when it will share in the responsibility of the herd as an adult. An inflexible statement (or opinion) on a moral issue by the adult, will either limit the student to a particular fixed point of view; or force him into an opposing, and often cynical position – one based on reaction, rather than a sincere search for reality.
The teacher should be a sounding board upon which his students can test their budding powers of moral discernment – not a dictator of opinion. The contrived ‘debate’ in support of issues in which the student is perhaps even opposed, is a violation of this principle.
If say Class 11 were to study a 3-week unit on Theology (comparative religion) in which is presented all points of view as potentially valid, then the flowing debate is free to explore the various doctrines – accepting this, rejecting that, leaving something else in abeyance. This way they may learn to respect (sometimes in awe) the wisdom found in the various sacred documents, like the Bhagavat Gita. In studying Shinto, the class might visit a Japanese restaurant, prepared beforehand as they are with knowledge, to experience the powerful sense of form expressed by this sublime faith.
Ideally the discussions should be left open-ended so that, as the students move into adulthood, they have the freedom to refine, modify or even reject their initial view. How can one enter the peace debate without some study in nuclear and military science, philosophy and legal issues? – just some of the many units in the high school curriculum. Exposing them to facts and figures relating to the real world will do more than any amount of proselytizing, evangelizing or moralizing. The values learnt translate in later life as action, where issues like peace and the environment become, not the stone rejected so expediently by our politicians and community leaders, but the keystone of the Temple or Morality itself.
WHAT IF A STUDENT DOESN’T WANT TO DO EURYTHMY?
And now Eurythmy – I must preface the following statements by confessing that, having never taught the subject, I am patently unqualified to comment at all; I have nevertheless observed, at close quarters, Eurythmy teaching in high schools for many years. I have also been a regular attendee of Eurythmy classes for an even longer time.
Eurythmy, without a doubt, would be the most difficult subject to teach of The Big 12; ranged round the Zodiac, Eurythmy (in an educational sense only) is the Leo subject – that which calls upon, and cultivates, the Sense of Life. Ironically Eurythmy is almost always taught in the old ‘period’ system, a method discredited for all other subjects with its one, two or more 45-minute lessons per week.
This is inefficient, unimpactful and uneconomic in terms of time. Compared with the Main or Block lesson system, it is like going to see a play in 45-minute pieces, one per week – the ultimate in fragmentation.
I have seen Eurythmy taught in the more holistic ‘block’ system, and the difference in student-attitude between this and the period method was palpable. Being a Performance Art, these blocks were generally focused on the production of a Eurythmy play of one kind or another; unit teaching conforms to the artistic laws of beginning, climax and conclusion – all spiced with the sweet taste of success, or tangible achievement at least. Skills were learnt (like moving a pentagram on the floor) in a fraction of the time it usually takes in the one-lesson-a-week, exercises-for-their-own-sake method. The pentagram was readily accepted by the students because it was part of the play, or whatever; they could see the reason for it, nullifying their usual complaint of ‘But why do we have to do it?’.
My somewhat radical suggestion is therefore to program, under the ‘Spirit’ Services (an apt slot I thought), a five-year course in Eurythmy. This would be in the form of one 3-week, five days a week, 1 ½ hours per day, unit per year – with a performance focus. Not counting special rehearsals and performances, there would be about 23 hours of formal instruction per year. However, like all the other Performance Arts, Eurythmy must be regarded as capable of being an important part of any and every performance throughout the five years – of which there should be many in a culturally-alive school. Of course the 3-week block as well as a weekly lesson would be the ideal! This way aesthetic impact combines with continuity.
The Services is the Etheric Middle Lesson strand, so apposite for this Art of Life Spirit, the fully transformed Etheric Body. Eurythmy is truly an art of our time. Oh, I’ll be Rudolf Steiner answer the question “The only student who doesn’t have to do Eurythmy has to be suffering from partial idiocy.”
The above program ideas refer to high school only, younger children and adults may have different requirements.
This structured, 12-subject program outlined above must not be regarded as a prison, as in Man, it is a skeleton only, but a necessary one if a true and universal learning balance is to be obtained. If one feels ‘I must teach that at this time, rather than what I want to teach.’ Then the skeleton becomes dictator of the Spirit. Unlike the skeleton in Man, we can re-arrange our curriculum to our heart’s, and our students’, content.
The program is suggestive only, so that the all-important element, balance, can be previewed visually. It provides a picture – but a picture only – of the various aspects of inner and outer Man, all yearning for expression in their turn: Thinking; Feeling; Will; Ego; Astral; Etheric; Physical; Body; Soul; Spirit. As long as this balance is maintained, you can teach what you like, when you like it.
The central core of the Steiner high school philosophy is to educate all students in all possible subject; all boys and girls partake in all curriculum areas. Boys can excel in gourmet cooking, whilst girls can apply considerable intelligence in penetrating the mysteries of mother mechanics. To achieve this goal, the syllabus attempts to cover every major facet of human endeavor.
This ‘no option’ method seems at first sight to be an abrogation of freedom; ‘What if the kid doesn’t like the subject?’ Well as the particularly despised unit, say technical drawing, only lasts for about 20 hours of teaching, the ‘pain’ is endurable. Indeed the experience of confirming a dislike is valuable in itself. After all, you don’t really know if you don’t like something unless you’ve tried it. In many cases, a student will approach a unit with suspicion and prejudice – and finish up loving the subject! Sadly the opposite can also occur.
Judgement faculties are not as yet so far developed in adolescents to be able to decide what is educationally beneficial to them or not; so a program which teaches everything to everyone will assure, as far as possible, that each student is exposed to the maximum – that their individual needs are fulfilled.
In a universal, or catholic, curriculum, instead of funneling the students into a handful of subjects, purportedly enhancing existing and/or specific talents, it assumes a holistic approach to the human being. It acknowledges that it cannot possibly know the complex physical, psychological and spiritual needs, those served by education at least, or every, or indeed any individual. So in harmony with the students’ strident soul-stirring to explore their world – all of it – they all participate in the widest possible way to do just that.
Where possible a life-experience, or career orientation element, is provided in each unit. This relates the student more and more to the realities of the outside world. A professional in a given study field may be invited in to speak; or the Class might be taken to the workplace. In some cases the whole unit could be taught in office of factory!
This ‘real world’ element could range from a large engineering plant in relation to a sheet metal Block Lesson – to the principal of a school for the handicapped speaking to the Class during a psychology Main Lesson.
A Class will ideally experience three, three-week units each of English; Maths; Social Science; Science; Professional; cultural; Service; Industrial; Visual Arts; Craft; Technical; and Practical subjects each year – 36 units in all every year for five years! This unit teaching is extremely time-economic, impactful and effective.
It is inherent in the Steiner view of the evolving individuals in our care, that as they grow older, they wish to broaden their horizons (difficult with elective subjects); in enjoying the benefits of a universal curriculum, the 18-year-old has the widest possible foundation of experience upon which to stand when confronted with the age-old question ‘What am I going to do in life?’
From the broad-based, exciting and experimental tapestry of five years of secondary schooling, the student is best equipped to find the right answer to this ‘quest’. Only then, with a career firmly in mind, is specialization appropriate – this becomes the task of tertiary education. Steiner schools encourage the individual to enjoy 12 full years of education; the school, with its disciplined learning environment and structured curriculum, is the only place where a student can be educated in the widest sense. Every young person deserves this, and indeed requires it; that is if they are to become well-informed and worldly, and to both know of, and be able to express, the many potentials each individual has.