Dear BACWTT Students, Alumni, Friends and Colleagues,
The newsletter this week finds us in a national crisis of conscience.
Here is the Calendar of the Soul verse for this week:
The senses might grows stronger
In union with the God’s creating
Subduing my power of thought
To the dullness of a dream.
When being divine
Would with my soul be one,
The human thinking must
In dreamlike state abide.
This week’s verse continues the process of the dimming of the power of thought, the increasing strength of sense impressions, and a coming closer of a spiritual power in this dreaming state. In next week’s verse, we will hear a voice that sounds out as a key to this process – to “lose yourself to find yourself anew.” As we move towards midsummer, this idea of having to become lost in order to rediscover ourselves, our true essential nature and our essential goals connects us to a universal and timeless process.
This idea lives at the heart of many stories and legends. It is a key in many of the stories we hear, when the human being loses all of his or her power of self-determination and must call upon a higher power of one type or another in order to find themselves and their way forward again. The power of stories is that they grow in us and prepare us to recognize when such an experience is happening now and in real life – and then the lessons that have shaped our inner world through imagination can be a guide in our own life.
Perhaps, then, it is not inappropriate that this theme comes to meet us at this time of deep distress and distrust, of the blatant display of the loss of the moral compass of those who have sworn to serve and protect. It is one of the most deeply disturbing experiences to witness those who have been placed in positions of authority and power misusing that power. The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis has rightly called up the most powerful feelings of anger at the injustice, the abuse of power, the casual violence and of the inhuman behavior of the officers involved. But it must also highlight for all of us the fact that African American, Native American and other People of Color live each day with a constant threat to their safety and welfare that is sanctioned by all of us.
As a recent arrival in this country, I am still awakening to the depth of trauma borne by the African American community as a result of centuries of systemic racism and denial of the opportunity to live to one’s full potential – a cornerstone of what we espouse in Waldorf education. This police incident only makes visible one element of the threat and denial of liberties experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. I have experienced racism in my own country, New Zealand, and the depth of racism in England where my family originates. I have experienced it in many parts of the world that I have visited. I have experienced the effect it has on my Andean indigenous friends and colleagues in Peru. Racism and hatred towards those who are different from us, and usually towards those who are more pigmented than us, is universal – a universal human failing.
During the last weekend of our teacher training this year, we held our Whitsun Festival via Zoom. It was remarkable that we were able to create a sensitive mood and, with many voices, build a shared picture of human striving towards a better future. The poem by Maya Angelou, “A Brave and Startling Truth,” as well as an excerpt from Rudolf Steiner’s lecture, “The Work of the Angels in Man’s Astral Body” provided the themes for discussion (document attached). In retrospect, as the events unfolded this week, we could not have chosen a better topic for discussion. Our work together in the festival, and our sharing, made the events that followed even more shocking – and calls for our contemplations to become more strongly grounded in our will, our deeds.
I would like to reach out to members of our own BACWTT community who are People of Color, especially African American community members, and express my own and my BACWTT colleagues’ deepest feelings of concern for the well-being of you and your families at this time. I hope that you have experienced from our way of working and being together that we have absolutely no tolerance for racism and violence. We are committed to being a positive force in looking at Waldorf education and our role as teachers to ensure that it is free from racism and bias, and help it to realize its potential for all people. It is a path that we are on, working towards the vision expressed by Maya Angelou and Rudolf Steiner.
This year, we as an institute made some steps in the right direction to become more active in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. We held a board retreat with Ed Porter in June, and ran a course this past May with our 3rd Year students to support them as they step into schools. Over the past two years, a student group led by Momo Sakai and Veruschka Goyo was formed to discuss diversity in Waldorf education. Last year, Shirene Massarweh presented her 3rd Year project, “Waldorf Education Through the Lens of Social Justice.”
Have we done enough? No! But we are moving forward, and I would like to thank those students, staff and board members who have been catalysts for our development.
It is clear that we have failed to do enough at all of our institutions, including BACWTT, and we have failed to do it quickly. It is truly horrific what is needed to wake us all up. We must be more strident, more brave, and work harder to do the work of anti-racism. The stories we tell are in need of transformation. Our collective human story needs transformation. We must do this work out of ingenuity and imagination, and listening to the other.
Below is the painting Penumbra by Frank Bowling, painted in 1970 and displayed at the De Young Museum in San Francisco as a part of the Soul of Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983. It is described as “a central work from the artist’s innovative and iconic ‘Map’ series, the painting evokes the global scale, impact, and complexity of the African Diaspora; thus critiquing a long-reigning world view distorted by imperialism and colonial-ism.”
We showed this painting in the Diversity Waldorf 101 class with the 3rd Year students to launch our discussion of what it means to be anti-bias and anti-racist, and begin the long work of examining our privilege.
In this painting, the continents of Africa and South America are conspicuously absent. Today we are still struggling with the same questions as posed in this large painting that takes up an entire wall of a large gallery. Black Lives Matter has given us resources with which to change this conspicuous absence, and evolve from our socially conditioned fear and other-izing of black people. Black Lives Matter has given all of us a voice. How will we change, and write our new story?
Many of us feel outrage at the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, and yet it is but one example of the constant threat to the safety, security and well-being of Black and Brown people experienced every day across the United States. The 3rd Year students will recall the exercise we did together in early May called “Unpacking the Invisible Knap-sack of White Privilege.” Here is a small portion of a new version worth noting that reminds us of the seemingly unceasing flow of injustice.
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)…
We must take our strong feelings and actively seek a greater understanding of the depth and breadth of racial oppression and then gather our will forces to commit ourselves to work for justice. This will necessarily be uncomfortable. I grew up in Minneapolis and have spent the last week re-exploring my upbringing in that “most livable” city – working to under-stand all that I did not see, or took for granted in my upbringing. It is time to explore all that I, as a White person, have been complacent about, and thus complicit in: allowing the constant use of violence by the police against African Americans, not minding the unequal funding of public schools, not noticing zoning rules and housing covenants that exclude Black people from purchasing homes in certain neighborhoods, etc.; in short, being willfully ignorant about the many systemic disadvantages designed to prop up White people and keep Black and Brown people down. May the fires that are burning be purifying fires that help those of us who are White face difficult truths and find the will forces to right the wrongs we have committed against Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Liz Turkel Vose
We write you with outrage, grief and confusion in our hearts, but a deep knowing that stay-ing silent in the face of the unfathomable and familiar tragedy of George Floyd’s murder is not an option now. We at BACWTT acknowledge the suffering that continues to ravage this country due to the plague of systemic racism so deeply embedded in the marrow of this nation. We recognize the tenacity of the grip of its tendrils and we commit to dismantling its power. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and the peaceful anti-racist acts of resistance that are currently sweeping the globe. We see People of Color in our communi-ties and across this country and our world, we hear you, we stand with you, we honor you.
We commit to taking action and responsibility for shifting the collective story of division, marginalization, prejudice and oppression to one of true kinship amongst all people – beholding the likeness of the Godhead in the light that shines from each human being.
AWSNA has posed several questions to our community to support our evolving movement towards the vision of social renewal upon which our work is founded. We commit to explore these questions and invite you to join us in this work.
How do I participate, consciously or unconsciously in systemic racism?
What meaningful actions will I take in service to the leadership and agency of people of color?
Where are the possibilities for me to prioritize racial justice in my work to further Waldorf education?
At BACWTT, we have built – and will continue to build – a center for social renewal that is essential to the goals of Waldorf education. As adults, we come together in our program to work with and upon each other to prepare ourselves to be practitioners of social renewal with the young – to enable them to face and overcome injustice in their time. As teachers, we have to earn and be worthy of the right to guide the young. We aim to work out of a place that Rudolf Steiner calls “natural authority.” In our current social situation, we have much soul seeking to do in order to ensure that the position of authority we occupy is good and just for every human being.
Kenneth Smith, Director; BACWTT