I was first introduced to Rudolf Steiner through agriculture. I was doing some work for a grape farmer who was converting vineyards to biodynamic methods. Looking at them from a distance, you wouldn’t really know there was any difference between two adjacent vineyards. But when he took me into the one that had been fed chemical pesticides for decades and suggested I feel the soil, all I got was hard, granite-like ground that I could hardly dig my fingers into. The soil in the biodynamic vineyard was soft and moist and rich. One vineyard on life support, the other alive and nurturing.
As a metaphor, I compared the soil in the two vineyards to the kind of education I had and the kind I wanted my children to have. What mine was like: traditional, narrow, learn-by-rote, academically orientated, results-focussed; a slow beating out and deadening of childish vitality and curiosity. What theirs might be like: holistic, diverse; promoting creativity, self-awareness and confidence; a nurturing of wonder, play and purpose.
As early as Class 1, the difference in educational styles was stark. My children’s friends at other schools had long days, extended by hours of homework, and were stressed, even at 7 years old, exacerbated by their parents’ anxiety that they should do everything possible to help their children “get ahead” and be ready for the adult world they’d get to only in 15 years. My children had short school days, weren’t given homework for years, were encouraged to play and be children – a style supported by parents who were comfortable and confident that their kids would ultimately be better equipped for the world, with skills and ways of thinking that most other children don’t have.
At Gaia, specifically, my children also were gifted what I was deprived of: an experience of diversity and inclusivity, compared with most other schools’ overwhelming homogeneity. Our children saw – still see – skin colour the same way they see hair or eye colour – not as something that defines people, but as one of many, many features that merely describe people superficially.
I’m aware of and own the sense of superiority I have about the education my children are getting at Gaia Waldorf. I feel like I know something other people don’t: that the soil of our children’s’ education here is softer and moister and richer than they’d get almost anywhere else. Much of traditional education is on life support; Waldorf’s is alive and nurturing.
A generation ago, I sense, the impression most people had of Waldorf education was that it was for “special” children. The reality is that our kids don’t arrive at Gaia special. But they do leave that way.
Parent Class 7