One of the major themes that Rudolf Steiner wanted to see taken up in the schools was to get the student up to modern times in history at the end of the grades. He felt children were not mature enough to really grasp history before the age of twelve, which is why it is often just taught as a series of events in time in mainstream situations and becomes part of why Waldorf teaches symptomatically.
If we can draw what children living in this present day and time need to understand something from a certain time period, then we start to teach history in a different way, a more symptomatic way, a way of great movements and tendencies the character of the people of a time period and then one can move into details. You can see Lecture 12 from The Renewal of Education for more details regarding what Steiner said about Greek and Roman history and the Renaissance.
However, these details do not give us much regarding the history of the United States, nor does it give us much to go on in terms that the streams that make up America are different than that of Western Europe. Western Europe is only one stream of American civilization and American society encompasses many streams. I feel strongly and have written about the need to include Africa, South America and Asian geography and cultures along with the European influences. When it comes to teaching American History, we must go back and think about the big tendencies of a time period and how we incorporate streams. With that in mind, I bring to you the way I looked at teaching American History in Eighth Grade several years ago:
I kept Rudolf Steiner’s verse in mind, the intent that Rudolf Steiner saw for America:
May our feeling reach
To our heart’s inmost core,
And seek to unite in love
With men of like aims,
With those spirits who, full of grace,
Look down on our earnest heartfelt striving,
Sending strength out of regions of light,
Bringing light into our love.
So, I tried to keep in mind the striving, the men of like aims, and where there was light in order to counterbalance the darkness of history and wars. I also tried to use biographies of interest to an eighth grader, and to really tie this to what was pertinent today.
We had done a Colonial Block at the end of seventh grade, and I had a whole block of Native American studies planned for ninth grade, so we essentially started with the time of Lewis and Clark in our first Eighth Grade block.
Here is how I divided our blocks (total of 12 weeks)
Block One (5 weeks)
Warm Up included Native American Poetry; Read Aloud before block began – Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
- President Jefferson and the American West; the Louisiana Purchase; Started “Sacajawea” by Bruchac as read-aloud
- Louisiana Purchase Review; Lewis and Clark
- Thomas Jefferson the Man – was he is visionary President or not?
- Last Day of Week end on Westward Expansion; the Erie Canal and the Golden Age of Canals and the Steamboat
- More material about the Steamboat
- The formation of Texas; The Texan Revolt, the Mexian-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe; start “Robert Fulton” as a read-aloud
- Manifest Destiny and the Pony Express;
- The Gold Rush – why was the California Gold Rush important for the development of the nation, what were some of the beneficial results; include impact of Gold Rush on ships and whaling industry in the Northeast; The Awakening of the American Mind (Fulton, Deere, Morse, Goodyear, Whitney, Howe)
Week Three – Read-aloud “Elijah of Buxton” and reader “Harriet Tubman”; lots of Civil War poetry; we got 15 books about the Civil War out of the library and read through them all; we also used our National Parks Service and completed a Civil War badge; visited many battlefields, memorized the Gettysburg Address, made a Civil War glossary; learned songs from the era
- The Abolitionists, the Compromise of 1850; the Fugitive Slave Act, – write summary of regional differences of North and South
- The Underground Railroad, the Dredd Scott Decisision; write about the impact of the Fugitive Act of 1850
- The Civil War begins; Lincoln as a Man, Civil War Bull Run to Antietam with biography of Grant and Lee, Stonewall Jackson; Sherman
- Lee and Grant; new weapons of combat for Civil War – how was the war deadlier than war ever was before? (steel ships, shells instead of cannon balls, trench warfare, role of telegraph and railroad cares, observation balloons(
- Review Battle of Antietam; psychological turning point of the war; Battle of Gettysburg as military turning point; Emancipation Proclamation
- Women in the Civil War
- Biography of Sherman and Sherman’s March to the Sea, the capture of Atlanta and Savannah
- Lee’s Surrender
- The Aftermath of the War
- Lincoln’s Assassination; Reconstruction and the Freedman’s Bureau; 13th and 14th Amendments
- Compare and contrast Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois; the rebuilding of Atlanta, the beginning of the many historic black colleges and universities in Atlanta
- The Plains Indians Wars; Custer, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull; read about the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where the Lakota Waldorf School is located
- Killing of the Buffalo and beginning of the cattle industry
- Transcontinental Railroad and the role of Chinese workers
BLOCK TWO (5 weeks)
- The Gilded Age – Rockefeller and Carnegie; Industrialism and the rise of the city; new inventions and what happened in the South (remained heavily rural, much more poor than the North or West; only a few scattered cities and mill towns, very few high schools until the 1920’s)
- Imperialism to De-Colonization
Week Two – lots of World One Quotes and Poetry
- World War One, biography of Woodrow Wilson
- The Jazz Age and effects of World War One – how did this change Americans? (rush for people to stop thinking of themselves as immigrants and to instead be “American”; the examination of the First Amendment due to the Espionage and Sedition Acts)
- The Dustbowl and the Great Depression; the seeds of World War Two
Week Three – Read Aloud “Breaking Stalin’s Nose”
- World War Two – Causes; Biography of FDR, Churchill, and Hitler
- The Holocaust and the lights in the darkness; The Grand Mosque of Paris
- The Japanese-American Prisoners of War and the Japanese Internment;
- How Did the Allies Win?
- The Creation of Israel
- Biography of Eisenhower; the Space Race; attend a rocket launch
- The Cold War – JFK
- Vietnam War, Nixon
- Reagan and Gorbachev – many of Reagan’s speeches reference Churchill and JFK, look at Cold War ideas in speeches
- The Persian Gulf War; biography of Osama bin Laden
- War on Terrorism; Operation Inherent Resolve; ISIL; Boko Haram
- Information Age/Digitality (history of the computer)
- Challenges for the Third Millenium and our role in these challenges
THIRD BLOCK (2 weeks)
Lots of poetry – lovely book “Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace” by Anna Gorssnickle
Week One – Reader “Black Like Me”
- Roots of Human Freedom – review
- Harriet Tubman and Sojurner Truth compare and contrast
- Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 timeline; biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr; Malcolm X (compare and contrast); Andrew Jackson Young; John R. Lewis; field trips
- Women’s Rights – biographies of Elizabeth Stanton; Susan B. Anthony; Wangari Maathai and Malala Yousafzai
- African Nationalist Movements; Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
These blocks were a TON of work to read and put together my own presentations. Just a ton of work. The main lesson book entries were a ton of work. However, we read alot and learned alot and spend a lot of each day creating art and reading books from the library around each time period.
Hope that helps someone as they are trying to figure out Steiner’s task of moving into modern times! I realize by posting my work here it may end up for sale in someone’s creation of a Waldorf Curriculum without accreditation, which pains me, but I welcome use of this for personal use only.