Grand-friend Day at the Cincinnati Waldorf School 2011.
Good Morning. I’m Lori Kran, grade 2 teacher and College Chair. I’d like to take a few minutes to highlight an aspect of Waldorf education that some of you may take for granted and some of you may have never considered before. If I spark any thoughts, please catch me sometime today, email me, or call me, to discuss this topic, as I’d love to get your perspective.
As Waldorf teachers, we have the freedom to weave spiritual and religious teachings and philosophies into our daily lessons. We tell the stories of virtuous and courageous people, we sing the spirituals of the oppressed and newly liberated, and we recite the poetry of geniuses connecting with the divine. The literature, music, and poetry that your children learn is rich in allegory, steeped in the cultures of the world. However, with that freedom comes tremendous responsibility. Following, I’ll highlight a particular aspect of Waldorf education: the Festivals we celebrate throughout the year. I’ll point out what I believe are the valuable, deeper lessons and messages that your children are experiencing in celebrating these festivals.
In late September, we celebrate the festival of Michaelmas. St Michael is the legendary archangel who bravely conquers the dragon who has been wreaking havoc on the community. Students sing songs, teachers tell stories, and the second grade performs a play focusing on Michael’s courage to transform the symbolic, evil dragon into goodness. The deeper message is to resist our tendency to draw inward as the days grow shorter and instead to cultivate love and courage in the face of apathy and fear.
In mid November, we celebrate Lantern Walk: aka Martinmas. Martin was a Roman soldier who defied the Roman Emperor and Army to help a poor, beggar man who was starving and freezing. Martin risked his livelihood as well as his freedom to actively show love and compassion for another human being. Our students make lanterns to symbolize an inner light of moral certainty and goodness. In celebrating St Martin’s story students learn the deeper message that even in the face of danger one must have the rectitude to stand firm and take the right action.
Our school celebrates Winter Garden right around the time of the Winter Solstice. Teachers lay a spiral of evergreen and decorate it with representations of the four kingdoms: mineral, plant, animal, and human. It is dark and peaceful, volunteers play music and sing songs both secular and from many religious traditions. Students and adults quietly walk the spiral, admiring the treasures along the way. An angel stands in the middle holding a candle, offering light at the darkest time of the year. The deeper message is to remember to take time for self-reflection, to reignite your essential spark on the shortest day and longest night of the year.
We celebrate Springtime with our May Day Festival. Wearing flower crowns and gaily colored ribbons we dance and sing around the maypole. We rejoice at the rebirth of Nature and we revel in her fecundity. The deeper message is to remember to take time to notice, revere, honor, and care for our Mother Earth.
When we teachers prepare our students for these festivals, foremost in our minds is how to model gratitude, reverence, respect, care, and love for other people, animals, and the earth. We want our students to carry the impulse to do good deeds at home, at school, and indeed in the world each and every day. We want to empower them to take action now, to feel responsible and capable of transformation.
Fundamental to Waldorf education is the teachers’ freedom to teach their students verses, poetry, and songs with these types of spiritual references. The freedom to teach this material comes with the responsibility to model inner thoughtfulness accompanied by outer actions of goodness. For example, every day at snack and lunchtime we sing a blessing for our meals. We teachers model reverence and thankfulness for our food and for those who provided us with our food. My class’s snack and lunch blessing ends with “blessings on our lunch, the whole wide world, including all of us.” It is at that moment, that I have the responsibility to attach meaning to my actions and words, to model for my students inner contemplation, love, gratitude, respect, and reverence for the entire world and also for each individual. It is a freedom and responsibility that I, and my colleagues, take very seriously.