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Sects and Violins

June 2, 2012

Today, in the search of a better fitting educational experience for my daughter, she and I attended a function at our local Waldorf School. It was a fundraiser / talent show, and unlike anything you will see in a public school across America.

The fundraiser was a silent auction – in itself a common event. Articles were laid out across a number of tables with bidding sheets and suggested starting prices. There was a pie, a garden basket (complete with a faculty member willing to dress as a gnome and stand in your garden for two hours), a home-made dollhouse tree house, and various art baskets assembled by the grade schoolers.

The talent show was primarily songs by individual students – in foreign languages. One kindergartener (or preschooler) clapped the cymbals a number of times. The gnome-to-be brought in an amp, a microphone, and an iPod – though his voice sounded better and clearer without the effects. The final act was an engaging story told by a parent (who may have been a teacher as well). It was about a poor old lady whose rice cakes roll out the door and get stolen by a group of scaly blue ogres. They take her prisoner but she finally escapes with their magic stirring spoon, and uses it to extend her own rice supply – allowing a few cakes to roll off to the ogres, occasionally.

After the talent show there was do-si-do dancing and live violin music. My daughter, who loves to move her body, had no interest in the regulated movements (and neither did I). We went into the yard and she swung from trees and crossbars while I mingled. The parents were ‘my type of people.’ Relaxed, friendly, and unpretentious. I would like her to go there – as much for the community as for the Waldorf style of education.

As a student I went to public school for three years, Catholic school for six, and a private prep academy for four years of high school. I made friends everywhere – but many of my lasting friendships (excluding the facebook phenomenon, and notable exceptions) are with Waldorf kids I met outside of the schoolyard. I’ve asked my parents why I didn’t go to Waldorf and have received answers varying from ‘we couldn’t afford it’ to ‘we wanted you to integrate with the locals.’

It makes me think. Eva picks quality friends – and doesn’t have a lot in public school. She excels in academics, but has a passion for art. If I have the opportunity to provide her with a community of quality friends in an art-based learning environment, why would I hesitate? Because it’s not mainstream? Because reading and math aren’t stressed? Because somewhere down the line she will (probably) have to attend a normal high school, and Waldorf kids are known to struggle with that transition?

There’s a boy at Eva’s current school who used to dress like Johnny Depp’s character in Benny and Joon. He did it on his own, without encouragement or stimulus from his parents. He even carried a cane at times. I’m certain he would have continued his fashion trend had he attended a Waldorf school; as it is, he shed his tie and tuxedo after being teased relentlessly in favor of black jeans and a turtleneck. He’s one of Eva’s best friends.

Schools are sects. A sect’s definition, according to http://www.thefreedictionary.com, is: “A group of people forming a distinct unit within a larger group by virtue of certain refinements or distinctions of belief or practice.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say private and alternative schools are sects, as many public school families are there by economic necessity more than belief or practice.

My family is in a similar economic struggle, but we would be ‘a good fit’ at the Waldorf School, as they say. We match their distinctions of belief. We try to put them into practice. And even if my own life and labor are currently governed by economic necessity, I am committed to providing something better for my daughter. A rich childhood. Lasting community. Cherished memories. From what I saw today, these things are available at Shining Star. It may not be perfect, but it’s probably better.

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5 Comments
  1. My children are grown up now. I believe you find the child and school “fit”. My twin sons, now nearly thirty, went to a single sex catholic boys school and loved the sport, the rough and tumble, the cross section of demographics from poor to affluent. The academic could do well, but the teaching quality wasn’t great. Still, my boys achieved scholarships, not great, but they did ok. The important thing is that they kept learning, even if it was not as high powered as other schools. At university one son gone straight As in Maths, Computer Science, Philosophy, Econometrics and everything else he was interested in. The other boy is now a barrister. His grades weren’t as impressive but he was sufficiently well rounded and travelled that he’s flying high doing what he enjoys.
    My daughter went the opposite way. She chose a co-ed school with a reputation for poor grades, drugs, misfits … But also teachers who encouraged independent learning, worked beside them, and were sometimes on first names with students who respected and liked them. Travel and life experiences were encouraged. My daughter went to New Caledonia, while in Idia with a group of teachers she climbed the Himilayas, stayed in the one room homes of peasants as they climbed, they worked in the “projects”, (sponsored communities of poor Indian women and their children who were taught to read and right, how to clean and basic hygiene), visited the Taj Mahal. She spent her final year of high school on exchange in a non english speaking town in Quebec (we are from New Zealand on the other side of the world). Her grades at school were ok, but she was into everything from debating, swimming, water polo, cricket. At university she achieved good grades, graduated with two degrees, Commerce, majoring in economics and finance, and Art, majoring in Frenchlanguage and literature. By 21 she had graduated, been offered several graduate recruitment programmes and now, having just turned 23, has bought her own home and has a great job working in a bank doing exactly what she wanted.
    My point is, that if kids follow their passion, learn aboutt how the world works, develop critical thinking and make good choices based on strong values, they will do well!
    Sorry to take so long to make my point!

    • Denny, thank you for the heartfelt reply! Congratulations on successfully raising three children. I’m probably
      most like your daughter in that I didn’t take the ‘normal’ path but instead focused on life experience. I most
      definitely take your point about urging our children to follow their passion and make good choices based on
      strong values. I am trying to instill those values in my daughter, as the blog mentions.

      I hope her schooling for the next few years doesn’t come down to an economic decision. Waldorf education isn’t
      cheap, but if we feel she’ll thrive there it will be totally worth it. Tomorrow we’re going to sit in on an
      afternoon of classes to see how it feels.

      Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Bonough Bos permalink

    Should violins be allowed on television before 10 PM? What about sects?

    • Ah, yes! Someone gets my humor. Thank you! Oddly, in this case I’d approve of violins before sects…

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