I have lately been exploring the ideas of multiculturalism within the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum, and lately especially the place of Africa and Asia within the grades for the American homeschooler as these streams of civilization are part of the fabric of our society. I have already talked rather extensively regarding Native American/First People streams before. I am certain I will have something to say about the Latin American stream as well in days to come – after all, one of my first degrees was in Latin American Studies. The ideas in this post are borne from my own exploration and are solely my opinion.
In Kindergarten, fairy tales and little stories should come from ALL cultures and include festivals that are authentic and real to your community. For Americans, I have a strong bias towards Native American tales and stories being used in kindergarten and throughout the first four grades, then moving into more Native American figures and history in the upper grades, but all streams should be represented as fully as possible. Although the characters in the fairy tales themselves are archetypal, I feel strongly if puppetry is used, the puppetry should include a variety of skin tones that correspond with where the tale is from.
In the early grades we include fairy tales, legends and fables, tales of the Old Testament/Hebrew legends, and the creation tales from many different cultures. Especially if you are an American homeschooler, we have the streams of nearly every civilization running through our country. Festivals could be included – for example, if you are doing a block of Chinese fables, you could include this block around the time of the Lunar New Year and see what is out in community to participate in, see, experience. There are many African and African-American tales also wonderful for second and third grade, and hopefully community festivals you can participate in! There are many wonderful Waldorf festival books about celebrating festivals, but I feel this can be authentic in a classroom setting than at home if this is not your cultural or religious background, which is why I mention community settings for the homeschooler. This is an experiential level – for children to be experienced in real life, not in an abstract manner!
Artistic work in all of these grades should again, include skin tones of all colors that are accurate. Old Testament figures, the Egyptians and Nubians of fourth and fifth grade should be accurate. Fourth Grade is often seen as a year for the Norse myths, the Kalevala, etc but “Hear the Voice of the Griot!” by Betty Staley also mentions that this can be the time of Bantu and San stories.
I have also been thinking strongly about American archetypes – for example, the West with cowboys and the vaqueros that became the foundation for the American cowboy, the Mid-Atlantic with coal mining, farmers in the mid-Western states, lumberjacks of the Pacific Northwest and how this would be embodied in the grades – some figures are larger than life, think of an “American Tall Tales” block in second grade and we keep moving forward. I think if you are American, an “American” stream is also important to think about. It is complicated to think about so many people that have come to our shores, my ancestors included, and forget in this day and age the uniquely American archetypes that used to hold us all together in the past.
Fifth grade – I feel very strongly that Ancient China should be represented in this year, as well as Ancient Africa. For Fifth Grade and up, a wonderful resource is “China: Ancient Inspiration and New Directions” by Judith G. Blatchford, available through Rudolf Steiner College Press. This 171 paged book is very helpful. It is not divided by grade, so it is just a sort of “sit down and read” and gather gems as you go along. There are many interesting things in this book as it applies to Waldorf Education and what Rudolf Steiner had to say about China!
India is traditionally well covered during this year I like Marsha Johnson’s block on The History of Chocolate for math because this is yet another way to acknowledge South American geography and history as cacao and also other countries that produce chocolate. It is important to remember that this year is not so much history as it is mythology, the feeling life of a culture (which you will harken back to in seventh grade with tribes of people) and a note to the changing and evolving consciousness of humanity. Steiner talked about the streams covered in India, Babylon, Persia and Greece but I feel since the American consciousness includes streams from all over the world, it is appropriate to build a foundation for the coming world history and world literature for this in fifth grade. Again, please make your drawings accurate with skin tones and provide accurate examples of handwork and crafts.
I also feel whilst fourth grade covers local geography, fifth grade should cover the United States of America (if you are American). I acknowledge and like the idea of Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources, Inc to place our North American “neighbors” in this category as well – Mexico, Caribbean, Canada. North America also includes what we as Americans often refer to as Central America and some folks seem to forget this!
Sixth Grade -In sixth grade, the Crusades, the arrival of Islam, the Ottoman Empire is traditionally well covered. However, I also feel strongly that feudal Japan should be included as an example of Medieval East Asia and perhaps even independent Vietnam, the Khmer Empire, or the Kingdoms of Burma or even Medieval Java included as representatives of Medieval Southeast Asia. We choose to study European Geography in this grade to go along with Rome, but you may choose to map it out differently, especially if you decide to cover some of the Asian countries in their medieval periods.
Seventh Grade -In seventh grade, one can more closely study the Mongol culture and history, the rise of Buddhism, the Silk Road and China as part of “The Age of Discovery”, and also include the great explorer . We studied African geography in this grade and also included Ancient History as well as explorers and colonization and the diaspora along with the geography, Ancient Civilizations and explorations of South America. There is plenty to explore. Latin American geography is another area of exploration. I also feel this grade should cover Native American tribes again and colonial America
Eighth Grade – In eighth grade, the study of modern history is broached with broad brush strokes and themes, and will continue into ninth grade in many Waldorf high schools. One most likely will touch upon colonialism, nationalism and the rise of independence as part of these themes, and of course there are many examples of this around the world. I believe eighth grade should include Middle Eastern geography (you probably have already covered some of this; however, much of the Middle Eastern landscape was changed as a result of World War I and II and it makes sense to cover this here) Asian and Pacific Rim geography. If you do decide to foray into more modern history past World War II, one could of course include Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines and more.
If you want an example of how to work with this if you are in a non-European country, I suggest the teaching manuals from East Africa Waldorf training that are available for free on line. It shows how this training center has adapted the curriculum to fit their geography and streams of cultural groups.