The American Impulse In Waldorf Homeschooling

I think in Waldorf homeschooling, we have a unique chance to take the indications and pedagogy built by the indications of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf Schools and build off of them toward our own culture or our own religious impulses.

The American impulse in Waldorf homeschooling is something I really want to discuss today.  I alluded to it in one of my last posts where I referred to the Neoclassical period of American history here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/03/17/pondering-portals-part-three-media/

I have been deeply disappointed as to the depth and breadth of the American spirit as covered within the Waldorf Curriculum as according to the AWNSA chart, which otherwise I love and use for planning my year. There are a few nods to American literature and other things on there, such as mentioning Tom Sawyer as a literature pick for sixth grade.   American history is usually covered in depth in Waldorf Schools in the Eighth Grade, although one teacher I met a few weeks ago stated the Waldorf School he was teaching in for a few years “didn’t get to American history” that year.   That is appalling!

A long time ago I ordered a small book that was a working document by several esteemed Waldorf teachers regarding the Waldorf curriculum for American teachers (“Examining the Waldorf Curriculum from an American Viewpoint”).  With all due respect, I was rather disappointed as it contained just a few seeds of ideas for each grade.   It was, to me, more of a nod to multiculturalism and how the curriculum fit the American child as is without much mention of American history, art, poetry, songs or literature.  I think multiculturalism within the curriculum is exceedingly important, and I have back posts about this on this blog, but I  also think the spirit of America not only includes multiculturalism but also transcends it to be something more:  the purely unique and individual character of America and the American spirit that unites us all.  I have head an  American anthroposophist speaker refer to this as “The Spirit of Columbia” and I agree.  I was raised by grandparents who made it through the depression and World War II and saw this American spirit everyday.  It embraced multiculturalism but also transcended it.

Those of you who homeschool in states where American history is required by law have no doubt found ways to work some things about America into the Waldorf curriculum.  Veteran Waldorf homeschooler Lauri Bolland, who has written several guest posts on this site, wrote an extensive list regarding this issue on Melisa Nielsen’s homeschoolingwaldorf Yahoo! group.  I have a few ideas and suggestions as well.

First of all, consider revitalizing the American festivals and all the literature, stories, legend and music that go with these festivals.  The pillars of American festivals, at least to me,  includes especially the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, now combined more popularly into President’s Day.

Look at the region of the country in which you live, and consider the American music of your region.  The AWNSA curriculum chart includes African-American spirituals as seventh grade material, and I understand why, but I LIVE in the Deep South, and it would be ridiculous when that music is all around us to not live into that.  Your region will have its own music, its own heroes and legends.  Live into that!

I highly suggest besides the American festivals and songs, that one looks at the stories, legends, folktales, literature that is pure American spirit.  Multiculturalism is of course part of this and part of the American story, but I am also thinking of the spirit that makes us all Americans and unites us as one.

Many blessings,

Carrie

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17 thoughts on “The American Impulse In Waldorf Homeschooling

  1. I never really thought about this Carrie, but it is sure something to ponder. We did a US Geography block last year and one of the best parts of it was discovering and singing American folksongs. Food was also a big part of that block. Here is the link if your readers want to look at what we did http://sureastheworld.com/2012/05/21/us-geography-block/ There are lists of stories, cookbooks and cds over there too.

    Looking at this bigger, I think we are losing regionalism at an alarming rate, with everywhere you go looking the same: Wal-Mart, Applebees, Olive Garden, etc . . . I think there are pockets where regional identity still exists, but you have to get off the main roads to find it. I love my neighbors’ mountain accents, their way of doing things and the fact they would not go “uptown” (to Asheville) if you paid them. They keep their cows, tend their fields, go to church and watch NASCAR on Sunday. It is a way of life so different from my growing up in an Italian American family in urban NJ.

    And I think you are talking about an “America” that is bigger and more enduring than how that word is used today. This is what I think we need to reclaim. Something beyond Happy Meals . . .

    Love to you. Looking forward to seeing you this weekend.
    Sheila

  2. Living in Massachusetts, we celebrated Patriot’s Day. Each year, Paul Revere’s ride is reenacted as well as the fight on the Lexington Green (people start gathering in the middle of the night to watch the fight at dawn). The events are held at different times of day and night and not necessarily in order. Our younger children simply enjoyed seeing Paul Revere ride by in the day. Older children might attend the battle at dawn.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriots%27_Day
    Longfellow’s poem is a memorable document for a grades block:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Revere%27s_Ride

  3. Yes, I agree!! I am working in a month of Uncle Remus and American Tall Tales, and a month of Native American/First Nations tales into our grade 2 homeschooling for just this reason. I grew up with these things and love them as part of my culture. I feel a connection with European stories too, as part of my ancestry, but I am a Texan and feel these stories are part of our heritage. How could we leave them out?

  4. I love this post so much Carrie!!! This is something I have thought a lot about this year. I love your phrase transcending multiculturalism :-) We recently moved to Lexington, MA and we are definitely embracing the historical significance of where we live. My husband and I both really love American history so we tend to sort of seek and celebrate what is local – no matter where we live! Thanks for this wonderful post!!!

  5. I remember reading Lauri Bolland’s list when she first posted it on Melisa’s yahoogroup, and it made a big impression on me. We did a Tall Tales block in second grade. One thing that I felt strongly about was expanding the U.S. geography portion of the curriculum. I was not satisfied with most of what I found from various curriuclum providers in regards to this. I just felt that my children should know their own country well. When we are finished, we will have done two full blocks on U.S. geography totalling about six weeks’ time. (And then we will do another two weeks on Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.) My main resource was an e-book from Meredith at A Waldorf Journey, which I thought was fabulous. I read cautions about turning the geography block into a “state study”, and I feel we were able to go in depth into this topic while still staying close to the Waldorf intentions for these blocks.

  6. This is a good post Carrie and I am surprised myself as a non-American how few people celebrate the 4th of July. We usually have a 4th of July party at our house and everybody loves to come to it. Thanksgiving is usually reserved for the family around here, but we try to have a couple people over regularly, as we do not have family around here.
    I find it also intriguing that there does not seem to be many resources, because the Christopherus curriculum includes actually a lot of Tall Tales, Native American tales and folk ballades as well as American author suggestions. Given that we live in New England we are pretty well surrounded with lots of national as well a regional history and celebrations as another poster mentioned this previously.
    We are lucky to live in a history rich area, where we can go on hikes at the seaside with a yummy lobster roll for lunch and a bike ride on the Minute Man Trail, but this was part of the reason why we chose to move here as well. I would imagine that the south of the United States is very similar in this respect, although I would not know this as I have never been there myself.

  7. I agree with you as well Carrie! My children are still too young to start officially homeschooling yet but we already enjoy singing American folk and campfire songs and we also celebrate the American holidays. Here are a couple other ideas I’ve had:
    - Using songs and stories from the Chumash Indians, local to our area.
    - Focusing on Americans for historical biographies in the upper grades.
    - I found a book of American songs that are featured in the Little House series so I plan on using some of those songs for singing and playing flute.
    - Reading together American novels such as the Little House series, Tom Sawyer, etc….

    I’m eager to hear what others come up with as well! I do think that focusing on our music and our historical figures will help bring across that “American Spirit” that Carrie is referring to. I’m guessing that most of our local stories and tales for the blocks would either come from the Indians or carried over from Europe and the rest of the world, depending on your region. So finding original American fairy tales might be trickier…

    • How about reading the famous authors like:
      Longfellow, Louisa May Alcott, Arthur Miller, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Charles Eastman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, John Winthrop, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thornton Burgess.
      Just to name a few. America has lots of great writers.

    • Maggie –
      yes! Absolutely! But again, if the Waldorf curriculum recapitulates the development of humanity then I think the bigger picture is sort of the when to bring things in — otherwise it becomes a mishmash like so many of the curriculum out there instead of this living breathing thing…I think for that one has to really know Waldorf Education and Steiner…which is why someday I will write my ideas down in little block booklets for the grades…Someday when my children are much older, LOL.

      Cheers and blessings! Lovely to hear from you!
      Carrie

    • No, I would not bring all of them in withing the elementary of even high school grades….., but some authors write beautifully for the younger children as well, there is not just adult literature among these authors. I think the adult needs to ‘pre-read’ as always and find the appropriate literature for the children.
      You are right though, as adults we need to know the developmental stage of the child well to apply the literature to each stage/ grade.

  8. May I also suggest to add more traditional American crafts, things like quilting, braided rug making, making a rag doll or husk doll with the children, weaving pine needle baskets, making a dream catcher, beading of Native American jewelery, baking bread out of acorn meal, going animal tracking, trapping and hunting etc., things that are related with the old way of living.

  9. I always felt this was lacking too, in fact when Lauri made those recommendations, we were lying the foundations for our revisions. We address this in many ways and I feel like we give people enough space to address it within their country and culture. In grade three, we focus on occupations that you are continually in contact with – something Steiner was really big on. He didn’t say “build a house” he said that children should understand what goes into building a house, how a train works,etc… his focus was occupations that children come in contact with -so do you go to the raw dairy once a week for milk? Find out what they do there. Do you ride the city bus to the library each week? the train to the grocery? Find out about these things. Then in 4th grade, we do a big block on local studies, local Native American populations, understanding your culture. In 5th grade we work with geography from a stand point of where we are, where other family members might live, basics of how our country works. What I found in doing things this way, is that by the time we get to 7-9th grade history, they are READY! They have been enjoying the layering Waldorf can bring and are ready to really drink deeply at the well of it all.

    Just my thoughts :)

    Melisa
    waldorfessentials.com

  10. Hi Carrie,
    I’m new to your site, and just happened upon this post. While I can’t address the history part of the curriculum, I did want to share an observation, from my experience as a Waldorf teacher and also creator of a new website for children’s literature…as I began selecting books for the website, I discovered much to my surprise that the majority of the great books I found were written by British authors. I had a hard time finding many American written stories that could match the level of imagination. This is just a random observation; however, as you mention the lack of American literature in the curriculum, perhaps it’s because the writing has tended to be more materialistic than in other countries? just a th
    ought. Thanks for your website. Laura http://litkidz.com

    • Laura,
      Perhaps. I think there is good literature but it also has a level of individual consciousness rather than an archetypal consciousness, which can be hard for children under the age of 9. To me that is more of a problem than lack of good literature. The American anthroposophist I know feels strongly that Dorothy should be included in the fairy tales of the first and second grade range, whilst I see those tales as more for a nine year old or ten year old. I have picks in mind for each grade. We must love the time and place we live in, and I think we can.
      Cheers, thanks for writing in
      Carrie

  11. I was lucky to attend a Faust Branch lecture by Nancy Poer about the spiritual destiny of America.
    As an activist against so many things this country has done/does, I find it hard to delve into Americana without pangs of consciousness. How do I talk about this subject?
    The better part of her lecture was a slide show of those she called heroes/ activists, starting with some of the founders and working her way up to Occupy Wallstreet and Deep Green Resistence. It was amazing! There, finally I found the language to talk about the American spirit. We celebrate King, Chavez, Mother Jones…..
    I also have to say that exploring different regions through music, poetry and literature is where we can find some of our most authentic representations of our people. We are in Appalachia (in our studies), and looking in to learning to play the dulcimer!
    Great topic!

  12. I taught violin in a Waldorf school and usually use American folk songs for “by ear” teaching. I was appalled at how they weren’t known. I have since gone on to discover that older children don’t know patriotic songs and many key things about American history. Thanks for this post in helping people add it to their teaching!

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