Esoteric Roots of Waldorf Education Conference — a success!
What follows is a report by Third Year student, Coeli Polansky.
On three sunny and brisk California winter mornings in February, we were welcomed to the New Impulse Conference by a musical key note of selections from Bach’s Suite #1 for unaccompanied cello, played by Third Year student Elisa Saltet. The intricate compositions and rich sound brought a palpable atmosphere of active listening into the Great Hall at the Marin Waldorf School. Through the theme of the conference, “Re-Searching the Esoteric Roots of Waldorf Education,” the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training brought together a broad spectrum of Waldorf professionals for its fourth annual New Impulse conference. Guiding us into exploration of the theme and its ramifications on the life of a school, were speakers Stefanie Allon, Dorit Winter and Ken Smith. These three individuals exemplify the global consciousness that is possible in the Waldorf movement, as they all have biographies that in many ways transcend nationalism, and their work emphasizes their connection to “roots that go up rather than down.” The conference became a fount of guiding insights and thoughts to take with us into our work, offering encouragement to strengthen, and call upon, our connection to the spiritual world.
Each morning’s lecture was followed by a delicious snack, which provided an opportunity to meet and talk with colleagues past, present and future. On Thursday and Friday there were small discussion groups, divided by grade levels, to take on the salient questions raised by that morning’s lecture. In the afternoons, and after the snack break on Saturday morning, there was an opportunity for the conference attendees to pose questions to the panel of lecturers, mediated masterfully by Dave Alsop, which resulted in fruitful dialogue shared by all the participants. These panel discussions were a successful innovation.
Coming to the conference from Israel where she has been a pioneer of Waldorf education early childhood programs for many years, Stefanie was the first to give a morning lecture. She sensitively elucidated the characterization of the region, “the Holy Land,” as a land that is in need of healing. Over the course of the conference it became clear how her work there, fostering a stable healthy educational life for young children, is valuable in a place that is so extremely volatile. She pointed to the importance and value of developing a practice to sustain the inner life as a way of meeting the world. She spoke of the need to “dance” between the polarities of life: that which can change, that which cannot change. Such dancing enables us to meet any circumstance with flexibility and equanimity.
On the second morning, Dorit built a “thought ladder” from where we are in the here and now, upward to the world beyond the senses. Through education we, ourselves, are continuing the work of the spiritual world. Picking up on the previous day’s theme, Dorit invited us to engage in some “soul eurythmy”, and ultimately some very living thinking, by taking us on a journey from our experience of relating to children as adults, to discovering that part of ourselves that can actually become an even more awakened individuality. She described how humanity is on its way from philosophy to a living spiritual knowledge, and how the onus of authority has shifted from spiritual leaders to us as individuals who seek our own relationship to the spiritual world out of freedom. We can understand through this that the spiritual event of the Christ Impulse is how Rudolf Steiner refers to the means by which individuals can grow towards their own relationship to the spiritual world. By awakening to this higher self, we gain, among other things, more objectivity in relating to the world. In the classroom this can inspire us to provide the appropriate scaffolding for the children to express themselves, which in turn helps them to each incarnate into their true self.
After reaching towards a relationship with the spiritual world through the movement of feeling with Stefanie, and the faculty of living thinking with Dorit, our experience on Saturday with Ken brought us some images of archetypal artwork, made through the will of the artists, that also reach towards spiritual reality. By first invoking our capacity to build pictures, he offered us the exercise to picture, in the way children do naturally, the teacher we would like to become, and find a way to move our individual nature towards that archetype. Furthering the use of our capacity to form and relate to images, Ken showed three images that Rudolf Steiner had indicated as being pedagogically inspiring: for the world of early childhood, the Sistine Madonna by Raphael; for the grades, the image of Tobias with his Angel, by Verrochio; and for the upper grades, Rembrandt’s Polish Rider. Ken spent some time helping us to understand how these images work with archetypal gestures. He invited the idea that schools could display them side by side to keep all three phases of the developing child in view. In a world that is filled with the encroachment of both retarding and accelerating agents, Steiner’s sculpture The Representative of Humanity could be considered as a model for how a teacher can hold the space for the children’s natural development.
Providing this conference was a deed that inspired enthusiasm for renewing commitment to practice and development of anthroposophy within the Waldorf schools.
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