Wonderful Words From Marsha Johnson!

This post is NOT by me, but by Master Waldorf Teacher Marsha Johnson, who lives in the Portland area.  She wrote this wonderful post this morning, I so encourage you to read it carefully, consider it, weigh it in your heart.  Please do go and join her Yahoo!group waldorfhomeeducators.  This is an excellent post, just excellent.  Please read Marsha Johnson’s wise words and enjoy!

“One recurring thread that emerges again and again in the various home schooling groups is the embracing of Info-Mation as Edu-Cation. This is an approach that relies on the passing along of facts and figures to the children, rather like filling up a blank sheet of paper with a long list of data. This kind of education is one that many parents themselves were exposed to as children in lower schools and is yet embraced by many institutions of higher learning.
I have jokingly referred to it as Information Vomitus. Particularly in graduate school, one absorbs mounds of information and must regurgitate it accurately within a time period, and those who can do this are considered ‘smart’.
As a species, some of us just love this habit. We have game shows where we love to quiz people on obscure and odd facts and see who can answer the most questions correctly. There are board games that focus on this aimless ‘art’, like Trivial Pursuit. That name does make me laugh at least the use of the word trivial. Small and meaningless.

As parents, we tend to veer unconsciously towards teaching our children in the way we ‘were taught’. This tendency is really one of the most dangerous and damaging stage in the life of the homeschooling family.

Why do I say this? Because the children of today, the millennial children, the Shining Ones, are very different than the previous generation of children, those born from the 1950s to the 1990s, when the Information Age really began to dominate. The idea was strewn about that one could improve a child’s IQ with exposure to this Factoid Education and that children were really blank slates whose minds could be sharpened and very soon after this time period began we started seeing massive testing of children as large population groups and lo and behold, a lot of stereotyping also began to show up in the statistics. All sorts of rather wicked and demeaning conclusions have been drawn from this kind of erroneous practice.

When we begin to ‘school’ children, and some are so anxious they start right away as soon as Baby can focus her eyes, we reach back into our own educational experiences and most often pull forward this kind of teaching that involves a lot of child sitting-parent speaking.

With a sense of humor here, often the children quickly teach the parent that this kind of education isn’t going to persist for too long. As children are naturally good and sweet and want to make us big people happy, they often accommodate us with love and grace, and put up with quite a bit of this kind of dreary boring presentation.

But some don’t. They rise up and run about and wiggle away, dancing, singing, going outside, done-with-that!, let’s have snack happy attitude that is probably the most logically kind response possible.

The type of education that really fits the developmental stage of the child most closely, from my own point of view, is Waldorf education. Within the very ‘bones’ of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies we find the most wonderful comprehension of how children are, what children need, and why we must approach the education of the child with an imaginative, artistic technique. A warm and inclusive attitude. A whole-child, integrated program that moves smoothly from moment to moment to create a kind of living-dream, wherein the child floats, soars, rests, and grows.

And this is probably the very opposite of the Info-Mation protocol, which calls mostly on the forces of the nerve-sense pole, the head, the hearing and memory and goes down dry as a desert rock in late summer.

Will you provide an education that inspires your child and yourself? Can you take a subject and find the Alice-In-Wonderland Rabbit Hole that will allow you to enter in a playful and unexpected fashion? How much of the school time is spent sitting and listening, or writing or copying? How much is spent moving, doing, trying, inventing, creating, cooperating, considering, digesting?

I am struck again and again by how passionate and devoted parents can be to a style of learning that would, well, invoke passion and interest in someone 35 years old or older? (smiles here) But a six year old is in his first decade, not the fourth, and taking the dry factual program to this tender age should really be some kind of crime.

Destroying a child’s imagination and tramping through their fairy land of fantasy with the bulldozers of ‘real life’ is actually a crime against childhood. We are surrounded by immense pressure from commercial marketers, manufacturers, media moguls, and those who want to benefit from premature aging. It is unbelievable, a very sophisticated and invisible force to destroy childhood and create an endless period of ‘tween’ and ‘teen’. Did you know the average age of video game players is actually 29 years old? This means there many older and younger right around 30 years of age who devote most of their free time to staring at screens.

One of the easiest ways to judge how a lesson is being received is to keep a close eye on the recipient. Rather than lose your adult self into the lovely land of facts and transmitting these facts, say a few words and watch the child. Allow for pauses and wait a bit. Does the child keep her attention focused on you, do the cheeks pink up, do the eyes sparkle, doe he sit forwards towards you, hanging on your words? Or does she fidget, grow pale, look down or elsewhere, try to rise and leave? Observe the child closely during the day, during play, during rest, during active vigorous exercise. Learn the color patterns of the child’s skin, the facial and body gestures. Configure your lessons in such a way that the child’s response is one of delight, close attention, desire to participate, and shows a healthy age appropriate expression.

Young children naturally move and use their bodies to learn. Incorporate this into each lesson and every day in your home teaching. Sitting is only one of many types of positions that the young child assumes in the natural exploration of the physical world. Adults tend to sit for the vast majority of each day in both work and play. There is much to be gained from moving often and finding physical ways to enhance the learning experiences.

The old saying `give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’, is a perfect mantra for teaching the young human born in the early 2000s. Consider subject matter from the child’s point of view, figure out what you can do in your lessons that allow the child to use the three elements of self: head, heart, and hands. One of the greatest errors in current educational practice is the sole focus on the head learning, forcing young children to sit at tables for long days, wearying their spirits and graying their outlook. Early academic fatigue syndrome is rampant in our country and fortunately, almost 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner illuminated a brilliant pathway of education that is more relevant today than ever before. Living artistic age-appropriate lessons, every day, naturally engaging and guaranteed to engender a life long love of learning.

Marsha Johnson, Spring 2009”

Thank you Marsha, for these words that I am holding in my heart,  thank you for being here and sharing with us,



4 thoughts on “Wonderful Words From Marsha Johnson!

  1. This is such a brilliant post! I’m glad you put it here, as I missed it on the Yahoo group, for some reason…

    I have to say I identify 100% with Mrs Marsha’s views, and our very short experience of “mainstream” school (half a term!) just served to reinforce my belief that the only path for us is Waldorf education.

    My children reacted very negatively to the “discipline” of primary school. They were given yellow and red cards (?!) and were sent to the headteacher’s office almost every day for time-out! Only for them to attempt running away and hide under tables or into the playground! On hearing what was going on I just thought to myself “these people will not clip our wings!”

    That and the very dry presentation of material, the lack of imagination and the distance imposed between the child and the “topic”. I went to one of my children’s assemblies and to my horror found the 5-6 year olds reading facts about spiders and insects that they could barely understand (“there are 30,000 species of spiders in the world” – I thought “if only they were left to go outside to see and touch ONE little spider, that would mean SO much more to them!”), and presenting in a huge screen attached to a laptop (which was being manned by a boy who had just lost his first tooth!) a long selection of “pictures of flowers we found on the internet”. That moment I realised we were in the wrong place!

    They were given “homework” and asked to present it in index cards written by themselves. They were encouraged to use the internet for research (!) and / or encyclopedias. Mine don’t read or write yet, so we decided to felt butterflies and learn a short poem about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, for them to recite in class while moving the butterfly’s wings up and down. Well, guess what? They were not allowed to do that because “their work was not written” (double !! – actually, that day I just felt like ^%*&= uttering expletives! hahahaha)

    Ah, and not to mention my kids’ questions about religion – it was a Catholic school, and although I was reassured by the headteacher that spirituality was presented in a “developmentally appropriate manner”, I soon realised we had very different ideas about what “child development” meant. One day my 5 year old said: “they told us that Baby Jesus died, mummy… And that he was alive again three days later. That’s a lie!” The other child asked who the “holy spirit” was… “Oh dear”, I thought, “this is getting insane… We’re not even religious in our family. We’ve got to get out of that school NOW!

    And so I swiftly scooped them out and took them home, where we are beginning our home-education journey. Our previous experience in a Waldorf Kindergarten was mostly wonderful, so I knew they could go back on track very quickly. And they are!

    Thank you for your blog, Carrie. You are a great inspiration!

    • Magma, Your story is VERY inspiring to all mothers out there wondering if they can or should homeschool or not..Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you, Carrie!

    I invite you to my humble blog, where I am trying to document our adventures…


    You’ll find an extended version of my comment in there, as an answer to a friend who doesn not believe I should have taken the children out of school so soon… [sigh]

    I shall keep reading you daily, you’re a wonderful source of inspiration!

    Keep up the good work..

    Many blessings,


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