There always seems to be some kind of controversy on the Waldorf Facebook groups or Waldorf Yahoo Groups regarding the stories of the Old Testament in third grade. Some curriculums refer to this block as “Stories of the Hebrew People”. Some go as far as to try to make the third grade a “Hebrew Year” to go along with this.
I think the title “Stories of the Hebrew People” may be done just to emphasize that Steiner saw the place of the Judaic stream within Western Civilization as a profound shift of the consciousness of humanity. It was a time when humanity turned inward. We can look at Moses and the Burning Bush and see how God was in the bush, loudly speaking to Moses, and how the Old Testament prophet Elijah found God not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the “still, small voice” after the fire. In Steiner’s view, this represented a shift from a group consciousness carried by the Patriarchs to a more individualized consciousness. There are other ideas Steiner had to be examined regarding Creation and the concept of time within the Jewish psyche of this time that he felt was important. These may be the details that speak unconsciously to the nine-year-old in an important way.
I think this block can be challenging for some families because despite what anyone says regarding the fact that this is part of the soul development of a nine year old in the nine year old change that needs to hear stories about separation, loss and redemption; despite the fact that these stories are important literary and foundational references within Western Civilizations, it inevitably brings up for many homeschooling parents things associated with religion. It is especially hard when there are associations for parents with negative religious experiences, even if this is not supposed to be a religious main lesson! In this day and age, however, I would not expect less examination. And because in homeschooling each home is like a world onto itself, and because whilst homeschooling is alternative and Waldorf homeschooling may truly be the alternative of the alternative, I think it often makes the diversity of opinions even greater.
Teachers in the school setting have to work and struggle with the material as well, but in a classroom one may have an entire class of children from different spiritual and religious experiences there and that perhaps reminds the teacher of the archetypal journey of human consciousness of these stories, whereas at home, there is one parent (usually) leading the block with whatever background and experiences the parent brings. In some ways I think this makes it harder! Some religious homeschooling parents (and there are Christian and Jewish families who use Waldorf homeschooling as their educational model!) struggle because as part of their religion, these “stories” are not just “stories” but full of meaning, wonder and promise within their religious life; however the goal of this block is not to have these stories associated with religion but with the development of humanity. As a Christian in the home environment, I know I look at the Old Testament as not just part of the consciousness of humanity shifting, but through a lens of redemptive love found in the New Testament. So that can be not so much a struggle, but a particular background to deal with. Some parents struggle due to past negative experiences. As I said before, this block is not in any way meant to be a religious main lesson. You can see more on this in the Christopherus post on this subject here and also a small mention of this in this post over at Math By Hand.
I don’t know as there is any other answer than for us as teachers, as homeschooling parents, to do the work. I have known some homeschooling families that never really came to a place to bring these stories; I don’t think that can be nor should be forced. The blocks need to flow out of who the teacher is. It is worth it to look at this and see why it doesn’t flow, and see different points of view, but at the end of the day, all you can do as a teacher is bring what you think would work best for the soul development of the child in front of you and what is in your own inner work. People ask for recommendations for “substitutions” for this block but I don’t know as there is any really. You can certainly bring in more of the Native cultures from your area as tied in with the practicalities of the third grade curriculum; some families do creation stories from around the world but I am not certain that that really gets at the heart of why Steiner considered these stories important for children of this age. It doesn’t mean that doing a block of Creation stories is wrong, I just don’t know as it is a substitute for what Steiner seemed to have intended…..
I don’t have the answers, but just a few thoughts to share on a situation that often challenges the homeschooling parent.