An Empowering Education
Maia at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty has been writing about alternatives in education. She got me thinking about my childhood and my education. I spent all of my school life at an alternative school – a school grounded in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner schools use what is often called a 'holistic curriculum'. If that phrase means nothing to you, here's a short explanation:
'Education should be understood as the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the developing child. A holistic way of thinking seeks to encompass and integrate multiple layers of meaning and experience rather than defining human possibilities narrowly. Every child is more than a future employee; every person's intelligence and abilities are far more complex than his or her scores on standardized tests. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic "curriculum" that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment. Holistic education nurtures a sense of wonder'. http://www.infed.org/biblio/holisticeducation.htm
For Steiner education had high goals: it had to develop in children such power of thought, such depth of feeling, such strength of will that they would emerge from their school years as full members of the Human Community, able to meet and transform the world. The teachers at my school worked hard to produce well-rounded individuals - people who could learn from life as well as books. Field trips to beaches and forests and school plays were as important as exams. The arts were taken as seriously as the sciences, and imagination was celebrated rather than stifled. Ours was a 'hands on' way of learning: we were encouraged to do our own research, rather than simply swallow facts and figures. I remember learning about history and English literature not by sitting in class taking down a teacher's monologue, but by touring the North Island with our class putting on a play about Nazism and the resistance to it in continental Europe during World War Two. While studying Indian Mythology we heard stories, learnt music, poetry, cooked Indian food and learnt traditional dancing and some of the language, and put on another play. As twelve year olds studying geology we went camping and caving at Waitomo.
Our school would acknowledge the rhythm of the year by celebrating the change of seasons. In autumn we would dress up in autumnal colours, have a harvest table of food we would give to charity, sing songs and eat a meal we had cooked together. For winter we built a bonfire, made lanterns, went for a lantern walk at night and sang winter songs – very magical! These celebrations gave us a sense of stability and connectedness to the world around us.
Like any organisation, the school had its good and bad points, but overall I feel that it gave me self-confidence and ability to think laterally. Any gaps in knowledge could be filled in later, as I had the nous to go out and ask questions - to research and discover things for myself. It was wonderful, too, how the school, which was co-educational, unstreamed, and kept students together in the same class all the way through, acted like a community. Some of my closest friends now are people I went to school with from kindergarten. How many people who went to 'mainstream' schools can say that?