Friday, March 14, 2008

And Now Onto the Curriculum

Finally, I have managed to post a photo of myself with the faculty of Goderich Waldorf School. Back Row, left to right: Suzanne Lamb, Susan Taylor (Class 3), Amara Suaray (Class 6), Robert Bendu (Class 5); Front Row, left to right: Aminata Bendu (Class 2), Shannoh Kandoh (School Director), Clarisa Bangura (Class 1), Mohamed Conteh (Class 4).

This past week I started to introduce the teachers to the Waldorf curriculum, in as much as it exists. Rudolf Steiner gave only bits and pieces of the curriculum in his various public lectures and discussions with teachers, and what is used in most Waldorf schools today was worked out from those lectures and discussions from his contemporaries and subsequently formalized through decades of practice. The curriculum was originally developed for European children and included such things as a study of Norse myths in fourth grade and of medieval European culture and society in seventh grade. These subjects exemplify certain qualities of cultural consciousness as they existed at various points in western European history. The West African counterparts still need to be worked out, and I am afraid that is a project I will hardly have a chance to tackle during my time here.

So I am teaching the teachers what I know and am hoping to inspire them to do a little of the work interpreting the Waldorf curriculum on their own, although it is very clear to me that this will not be easy for them either as they have so few resources and so little education themselves.

There is also the question of artistic expression. African music and art is qualitatively different from that of Western Europe or the U.S. and I have only a cursory knowledge of it. For instance, music here is far more rhythmic than melodic and pervades the social environment in ways I have never experienced at home. Fishermen chant as they pull in their nets on the beaches, school children dance their ways to school in the morning, and even the youngest children, the toddlers still wobbly on their feet, can bounce and rock their bodies to complicated beats. Morning singing is powerful in the Goderich classrooms and sets a completely different mood from any that I ever managed to create in my own New York classrooms. All of this is worth preservingand nurturing in the children, and it is my greatest challenge here to present the teachers with inspiring ideas for presenting subjects and skills to the children without imposing my own style and culture on them. This is so difficult because the teachers are very inclined to imitate what I demonstrate for them. If one day I teach them a poem in order to demonstrate how to work with alliteration, I can count on at least two teachers introducing that very poem to their classes the next day without consideration of its appropriateness for the age of the children or the subjects they are teaching.

Why does this happen? Well, not because I tell them to do this. In fact, I have asked several times for them not to do this. I think they have been given so little with which to work and they have so faint an understanding of the ideas for education that Steiner explained that they are desperate for anything of substance that they can introduce to their students. I have stayed away from teaching model lessons because I want the teachers to develop their own teaching styles. It is becoming clear to me, however, that this might be too much to ask of them at this point if all I am giving them are general ideas about childhood development and a few quotations from Steiner about how to educate children of different ages along with rudimentary lessons in drawing and color work. And so I have begun presenting lessons to the entire faculty and following them up with discussions about what I did and why. I am not sure this approach will be successful, but for now the teachers are grateful, and there is a renewed enthusiasm among them for the training sessions. It will take a long time before there is a true Goderich interpretation of the Waldorf curriculum.

1 comment:

Melisa Nielsen said...

You are so brave! I stumbled across your blog today and I wanted to tell you that I admire your effort. I am a Waldorf homeschooler in Idaho and I write guides for homeschooling families based on Steiner's indications. I work with a few families in South Africa and we have the same challenges of adapting Steiner's work to their concepts of nature and culture. You are in my thoughts!

Melisa Nielsen