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Waldorf, cont.

I knew nothing about Waldorf schools before I became a mother in Germany. Although when I started first grade, we were living near the Rudolf Steiner School in New York, my parents were political liberals in the midst of the civil rights movement and would never have dreamed of paying private tuition - even if they had known about the school. Then by the time a Waldorf school was founded in San Francisco where we had moved, I was well into my teens and attending an excellent public high school. So, the whole Waldorf movement passed me by - until Germany.

When our oldest son was 7 months old, we took out an ad in the local newspaper for a Tagesmutter (babysitter) so that I could get back to writing my PhD dissertation (and I felt Awfully Guilty about having even taken a half-year off). Suddenly, a bit like Mary Poppins, she arrived and changed the landscape of our lives. Having been a Waldorf student all the way through school, she had an understanding of the environment and child development that astonished me even though she was only in her early 20s.

I had been spending time in one of the highest and dustiest of ivory towers, and, surrounded as I had been by the romance of an old Medieval town, I was absolutely and deeply convinced that the hours spent reading Wittgenstein or Beudrillard were THE most significant way to fulfill a human life and how lucky I was to be part of this smartest and more 'meaningful' human group. We scoffed at trivial matters such as baking a cake or pursuing a sport. With reason, why spend money and time on such temporary fancies. So many were brilliant and often bitingly funny, but somewhere in the back of my mind I noted that they were often also a little disshelveled, their haircuts a little ragged, their handshakes sometimes a little weak. They were, though, my frame of reference whenever I sat down to study and whenever I berated myself for loving those endless new 'wasted' hours of carrying our son, feeding him, bathing him, watching him learn about the world.

Suddenly, with our new-found Waldorf babysitter, things like color began to make an appearance.  I found myself making a bed canopy out of thick red linen under which our (sanguinic/choleric - a new concept) son could sleep more quietly. (And, yes, I had to re-learn how to sew, too). Suddenly I was thinking about natural tones in his clothes instead of that blue fleece jumpsuit on sale. The rhythms of the day, introduced by my mother in his second month (nurse, sleep, play, nurse, sleep, play), were adapted in long warm discussions onto each new phase of his baby- and childhood. I began to find myself wanting to learn to sing, to bake bread, to knit, to plant trees and weed the garden. This was a revolution inside me, and at first had nothing especially to do with Waldorf.  I attributed it to motherhood and to Germanness. In the 1990s, children in Germany still spent most of their days outside. People - even cool, young people - went for walks along the river for fun - picture leather jackets and cigarettes. Families ate dinner together.

Woven into my awakening to what I thought was German-ness was something else. Our babysitter sang beautiful songs, and made simple figures for play out of cloth and wood. She sewed an elf doll. She put old-fashioned baby hats on our son even on warm days. And we had lots of discussions about the proper layers of clothing when it got cold, and why antibiotics should be avoided, and the best way to prepare a lemon wrap for a cough. Sometimes I found what she said a little weird, but I saw how wise she was and I thought carefully about all her ideas. Little by little, I began to realize I was missing out on something in my cognitive world of words. And as I got to know my neighbors with children, I also got to know through her some Waldorf parents and children and I noticed a difference. Waldorf parents tended to be musical, tended to be kind to their children, usually cooked organic foods, and tended to be calm and avoid television as a babysitter.

We decided to try out a Waldorf kindergarten for our son when he turned 4. And thus began our saga of experiencing a Renaissance-type education for our children and for ourselves.  I have learned so much, and we have come upon some stumbling blocks that reflect the educations' weaknesses.

As someone once said: Most Waldorf parents in the US are the 'walking wounded', guessing as we go along but not having experienced it first-hand ourselves. 

There are many Waldorf schools in Germany. It is the largest alternative to public schooling in the country. It is also the fastest growing private school network in the world. Each school has a different character, depending on whether it is urban or rural, its teachers and particular set of parents are more politically liberal or conservative. The education is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who was born 150 years ago. Some of Steiner's teachings are hard to comprehend (and frankly a little too esotheric) for someone like me, but I have never been asked to comprehend them. And some of his teachings have been so widely adapted we don't think about them anymore, such as the Demeter bio-dynamic farming method. There is a church side to the Waldorf movement, which in our 14 years' contact with two Waldorf schools has never intruded or even played a minor part.

All three of our children have attended Waldorf school. And two of them have left it, for different reasons and at different times. But those steps also illuminate some of the conflicts and problems with the Waldorf movement. Our oldest son was what an aupair called 'a high maintenance' child. (I still find that insulting. He was not high maintenance. He was lively and healthy and energetic! 'What, you want a baby that sleeps through the night from the beginning? Won't you be worried about his intelligence?' said a friend of mine to a mother who was so proud of her sleep-like-a-stone baby.)

Interested in more? Here are other articles:
Waldorf Germany

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