Thursday, December 18, 2014

Letter to the Shepherds

Written by David Barham, High School Humanities and Drama Teacher

David wrote this letter to the high school seniors playing the parts of the shepherds in our upcoming Shepherd's Play.  It illustrates beautifully the depth that lies behind this joyous production.  


Dearest Gallus, Huckle, Muckle & Crispin~

As your director, there is much I can do to help you bring to life a wondrous, funny, warm and profound performance as the shepherds. I can help you with the singing and the blocking and a more effective way to say your lines. I can help you find your character in the way you move your feet, or the way you sit on the bench or the way you listen when others speak.  Thursday.

But there is one profound thing I can not do for you and this one profound thing will make all the difference in the world on Friday, December 19.

I want to try to explain that one thing:

You three Shepherds represent something very profound. This deceptively simple script actually is speaking to the greatest of all mysteries- and it is given to the shepherds to communicate to the audience the profundity of that mystery.

The first part of the shepherds interactions are meant to warm up the audience to you. You are funny, you are goofy, you are warm. You bicker with one another like old friends which is actually endearing.

But then

But then the Shepherds have a revelation. You can say an angel comes to them in their sleep if you want. But do you know what that really means?

It means that these simple, uneducated people of the Earth are among the first to understand the true meaning of being human.

You shepherds, as "men of good will" are the true teachers and leaders of humanity. And what are you leading us toward?

Love. Kindness. Seeing the true worth of all people despite their station in life. Fulfillment of all one holds dearest and deepest and more profound. The secret you don't even dare utter to yourself about what you truly hope life to be and to become.

Substitute the child in the manger for a world free of lies and deceptions and all that separates one from another. A world that is True and Free and Noble. A world where you love and are loved- no holding back.

The feeling you should all have at the crib should just about bring tears to your eyes. In fact, tears would be fine. The audience already loves you and will follow you as you reveal the true meaning of life: everything is possible! We don't need to protect ourselves from a cruel and cynical world. It is love from top to bottom!

When you are working to transform yourselves into shepherds, these are the thoughts and feelings you must hold nearest and dearest so they flow through you and the specific words you speak. The true meaning of Advent, Christmas, Chanukah, Winter Solstice and Life Itself is that we descend into the darkness AND we ascend into the light at the same time and we are never again the same!

Your real job as shepherds is to communicate all this profundity to an audience of all ages. They all want to be moved and filled with hope. Your job is to give them that.

You can only provide that for the audience if it first becomes real for you.

This is your real work over these next weeks. Not just learning your lines (though that would be important!), but inner transformation. When you peer into that cradle and SEE (truly see- even though there is no baby there), we need to see/feel/sense that in your entire bodies and beings.

In that baby's eyes, you need to see the world as it ought to be, as it could be, as it needs to be- no longer as it is. You are to be transformed and changed. Made new and whole.

And then you can offer that as a true gift of measureless worth to your audience.

Only these shepherds, whom the audience has already loved and laughed at/with, can offer forth such a gift.

If you do this inner work over these next weeks, you will communicate this to the audience and we will have done something priceless for the world.

I will accompany you every step of the way, but you have to go deep.

I am laying down the glove here- are you up for the challenge?

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Media and Waldorf Education: Part One

By David Barham:  High School Humanities Teacher and Chair of the College of Teachers

Waldorf education takes a developmental approach to education.  By that, we mean at certain phases of human development, there are windows of opportunity to develop particular skills and capacities. Missing these developmental moments means a child has to work that much harder to develop what is needed. It is similar to this notion that one can, in fact, grow a tomato in northern New England in the middle of winter- but it requires more resources and energy than if one grew it in summer, when earthly conditions are just right and the tomato needs only support to grow itself.

We look at the period of childhood as subdivided into three seven-year phases: birth to seven years, seven to fourteen and fourteen to twenty-one. During each of these phases, the child or young person is busy accomplishing a wide variety of important tasks that will lay the foundation for healthy growth, development and learning for the whole of life. If the child is thrown off course from the work to be done because of too much time immersed in media, one has to ask the question- "What is lost?" and more importantly, what impact does that loss have on the rest of the life journey?

During the phase of development that takes place between birth and age seven, the child has his/her plate filled with physical developmental tasks. Learning to crawl, sit up, walk, talk and continuing the shaping of our internal organs are among the largest and most significant life projects we will ever take on! And we do all of those without being taught, without direct instruction! At this age, the child learns primarily out of imitation- carefully observing the actions of the adults around- doing as they do, not as they say. This is also the time the child learns to form and sustain human relationships, to develop a connection to the world of living nature, to develop healthy habits, and to lay the foundation for all future academic learning.

What happens to a child who spends more time in front of a screen instead of with other human beings engaged in human activity, or immersed in nature? We need to learn to think about what opportunities for growth and healthy development are being lost as we weigh what might be being gained. We can ask ourselves, which will give my child a firmer foundation for future development: time spent in climbing, running, skipping, and playing with friends and in nature or time spent swiping and clicking?

Also during the years seven to fourteen ("the class teacher years") we must weigh time on the computer, game console, cell phone or tablet with time spent working with bread, beeswax, clay, making things of wood or wool or cloth, drawing, painting, learning to play an instrument, singing, reciting beautiful poems, acting in plays, working together with classmates, and doing harmonious movement activities. We must imagine the difference between digesting already finished media images versus creating one's own inner pictures. Try remembering the images you had from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings before you saw the movies- can you ever retrieve those once you have seen Hollywood's version?

The years of seven to fourteen are also an important time for the development of a healthy emotional life. Using stories, the Waldorf teacher, is trying to work subtlety to strengthen and deepen the emotional life of the child and give him/her the vocabulary to express the wide variety of emotions that exist between happy and sad. Contrast this with the surface quality and intensity of what one experiences in a Hollywood movie or on television. If a large part of the education during this phase is learning to feel and be aware of one's feelings and the feelings of others, how might this learning be impacted by the emotional bombardment we get from mainstream media?

Media use in the early years of life can impinge on children's developing capacities to deal with frustration, follow tasks through to completion, and to work together with others. Such skills are harder to learn after the fact. In the middle years of childhood, the emotional life is going through enormous development. Children are learning what it means to be an adult. We need to take care with the images of humanity we share- that they are deep and nuanced- as things really are. A diet of superficial images leaves children emotionally unmet.  The second part of this article will focus on the impact of media on the development of thinking in the adolescent and young adult in the years fourteen to twenty-one.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Meaningful Play

By Jess Moore: Kindergarten Teacher

From parenting blogs to neurological studies, people are singing the praises of play these days. For decades, Waldorf education has been a forerunner proponent of play-based education, but what exactly is meaningful play? Is all play created equal?

Play is not just the act of “playing” but rather a creative impulse from within. Through play, children develop the ability to regulate emotions, process fears and anger, build resilience and develop empathy for others. Through play children learn to respect others and see that the needs of others are as important as their own.  During play, children also learn to take a thought, an idea or an item and expand on it in a new way. In this way, play fosters creativity which evolves into creative thinking.

Over my years as a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher, I have on many occasions, witnessed one child creating play and another child adding to the evolution of that play. For example, a boy in my class a few years back worked very hard gathering boards and stools and these big wooden spools we had in the classroom, and he fashioned a truck. He sat up front and proceeded to “drive” around.  Another little boy admired the truck and suggested that it become a trash truck.  Immediately the two boys gathered more boards, this time curved ones, and added a back to the truck where all the trash would go. Then they got back in and resumed “driving.” Soon they went over to the kitchen area where a boy and girl had set up a store. There they sold pizzas made out of slices of tree trunks. The boys ate their pizza then threw them in the back of their trash truck. Soon some other children who had been playing house, castle, and so on started hauling their refuse over to the truck and “cleaned up” the classroom. Then all together the class of children pushed the back of the truck with all the “garbage” over to a sorting and recycling station and the items made their way back into play. By this point, the whole group was involved in contributing ideas and molding and shaping the play, that all started from one solitary child and his idea to fashion a truck.

On a different day, the children in my class were playing different things in small groups. There was another pizza shop and there was also a hospital. It was a troublesome day for the hospital with many sick patients. They were being laid into hospital beds made of play stands and boards, and “bandaged” with silks, cloths and ties. But even with all that care, more patients were falling sick and nobody was getting better. That is until the “pizza seller” suggested that her magic pizzas might cure the patients. She loaded up a wagon with all the pizzas she could make and brought them to the hospital. Sure enough it was just the right thing and immediately the patients were fully recovered.

This type of social play affords children the freedom to imagine their world in new and creative ways, rather than being constrained by facts and scientific truths. It teaches them how to communicate their ideas to others and how those ideas may shift, based upon other ideas from other children. Think of how these skills would be useful in the adult world. A child that has the opportunity to work within the context of a group and confidently offer ideas that may or may not get implemented, learns the skills and resilience needed to work as an adult in a group where creative solutions are required. Such an adult can appreciate the contributions of others as well as have the confidence to suggest ideas of his or her own.

Other kinds of play do exist, but they do not offer quite the same experience for a young child. Play that involves structured activities or that is based upon something that is preformed for the child offers more of a consumption experience, rather than a creation one. Computer games, organized sports, certain types of classes, and television all fall into this category. They limit imagination with the constraints of preformed concepts and images, which can hinder abstract thinking. When children are burdened by too many of such experiences, play can get stunted. Some other examples of play from my classes have had different results.

Once there was a group of children playing bunnies and wolves together. They fashioned a bunny and wolf house out of play stands and blankets, and they gathered beanbags and chunks of wood for their food. They went out together and down to the river that they had made from a big blue blanket. There they got made fishing poles and trolled the waters for fish. Some tied sand bags onto their lines and hauled in their catch. Then together the wolves and bunnies made their way back to their house to cook their fish for dinner and go to sleep. All was quite good in the bunny and wolf world until another child who had learned all about animals came and told the group they were wrong. Bunnies and wolves could not live together. It just wouldn’t happen, they wouldn’t have a house together, they wouldn’t play together and they wouldn’t fish together. In fact wolves made meals of bunnies and that is why they could never be friends. The play stopped and the bunny wolf house was taken apart. This child was so full of the facts, that he couldn't appreciate the imagery that the other children were living in. The game was reaching at something more subtle and perhaps metaphorical, but that was equally real for the children.

In another class, there was a child who was playing robot. The robot could do all sorts of interesting things and had many clippers and ropes that worked all the different parts. Many other children were intrigued by the robot and wanted to play robot too. They fashioned themselves with clippers and ropes, and even some other appendages made from silks and bean bags, but the original robot told them they were doing it wrong. The ropes and clippers were to be just so, just like on the movie and just like on the toy. The other children tried again to make themselves into robots and to join in the play, but it wasn’t to be. Pretty soon they all left to play different things and the robot played alone.

Sometimes we think that when a child asks a question he or she wants a factual answer. But if we offer such answers too often, we take our child's natural sense of wonder and stuff it with finished concepts. This leaves little room for letting wonder lead the way to discovery. The best advice I was ever given was to answer the child’s question of why with, “hmmm…I wonder, what do you think?” With that answer, the child is free to: explore; experiment; investigate; ponder; imagine; create and invent … all through the magical world of play.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Does Climbing Trees Have to do with Learning a Foreign Language?

By Oliver Kinzer: German Teacher

Let me begin with a quote from René Descartes:
"It is useful to know something of the manners of different nations, that we may be enabled to form a more correct judgment regarding our own, and be prevented from thinking that everything contrary to our customs is ridiculous and irrational,- a conclusion usually come to by those whose experience has been limited to their own country."

Of course, Descartes cannot be taken literally; but his point is well taken that we must be open to new experiences. I believe that no one would contest this; nor would anyone find it strange that his child encounters the world anew from day to day, for the experiences he makes are always new. No game is ever played twice in the same manner; no tree he climbs feels the same, and the landscape he views from his high branch appears in a different light every time.

Perhaps the tree she, the child, likes to climb every recess is always the same. But one day the bark might be wet, one day dry, one day cold and slippery after the first snow. Our children might not be conscious of all these impressions; but they are taking it in, and it becomes part of their body and cognitive knowledge. These daily experiences teach our children that the world is a place of discovery, wonder, and changing conditions. Yes, the tree may be always there, but it looks never the same to those who can see, to those who have developed and maintained the sensitivity to note the differences.

I assume that our children internalize this attitude of wonder towards the world and carry it as a way of being, so that they can meet other people in the same manner. The cultural differences between nations are often quite salient, sometimes very subtle. And a fork held in the wrong manner perhaps causes amusement. But the differences are there to be discovered and not to be judged as inferior to our own ways of doing things.

On a more theoretical level the same can be said about languages. Here they can enter an unknown world of sounds and ways of saying that are quite different from what they are used to. The differences in style, the qualities of German and French, have lasting influence on the way the children see the world. For a tree feels different as a French arbre or a German Baum. The children know nothing at first of the grammatical qualities of a language. For them they are like the trees they climb. They play in the languages and feel the differences to their mother tongue. However, there is no judgment, there is only experience for the young child. Later on, of course, they learn to make judgments, some children earlier than others. But this judging happens in the spirit of discovery and wonder.


When our children learn that the world is a beautiful place with ever changing nuances, with palettes of ever mixing colors and expressions, with sounds of hundreds of different languages that express thoughts like I love you in so many ways, then we have every reason to believe that our children help create a world of peace and understanding.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Third Grade Language Arts

By Ida Dyment: Third Grade Teacher

In the third grade year students begin to emerge from the unified, dreamier world of the earlier grades. This brings a dawning realization of the world as separate from oneself and many things become differentiated that were previously experienced in a kind of wholeness. In first grade, the literature study is formed through imitation. In second grade, the children begin to work with their own sentences and words groups, and in third grade, they are becoming creators. They write not only through imitation, but also from their unique inner experiences and perspective. They create stories "in their own image".

This creative power is encouraged in third grade by using Hebrew culture and story as the literature base. The year begins with the words of creation, “and God said, let there be light." This marks a new way of perceiving and considering the world, which now will inspire our Language Arts curriculum. The sparse wording of this first part of our first literature block of the year creates space for deep imaginations. Already in the first weeks, we have begun to discuss these stories in a more individualized and philosophical way than we were able to do in previous years. For example, one student said, “I don’t think it was such a bad thing that Adam and Eve were thrown out of Paradise. I’m not unhappy here on earth!” A new ability to understand one’s own experience as separate from the world, yet immersed within it, can begin to be imagined and articulated. “Yeah! And we can still find paradise here in the gardens and the woods!”

While some third graders write prolifically and with excellent spelling, for others the skills of writing and reading are still emergent. Despite these varied levels of written language proficiency, each student participates in these deepening discussions at much the same level. Oscillating between this socially-oriented group work, to more individualized written work (from copying letters and words, to independent creative writing projects), each student develops writing at their own speed, but engages with the content on an elevated level.

We work with the Hebrew stories to further develop reading, copying and writing skills begun in previous years. Poems and verses are spoken chorally and individually, developing pronunciation and articulation, while narrative skills are developed in daily oral retelling of the previous day’s story content. Reading is integrated into daily lessons, with paired reading, individual reading, and group reading. The beautiful sentence is a focus of this year: page orientation, color, letter size, and script type are developed as well as punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. Editing drafts individually with a teacher and in a group helps develop composition fluidity, and spelling is systematically practiced through word families, similarities, and letter combinations. Parts of speech are consciously named and drawn out of previously unconsciously experienced grammar lessons of first and second grades. This separation and naming of the world and its parts—where students begin to create understanding for themselves—is initiated in our literature study, and practiced throughout the year.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Young Adults Really Need: A Peek into a Waldorf High School Humanities Class

By Kristin Agudelo: High School Humanities Teacher

As my 12th grade students file into the classroom, they are loudly complaining about all the work they have to do. Fall of senior year is a busy time: they’re in the middle of writing their college applications, visiting schools, and in some cases, re-taking the SATs. Despite being inundated with thoughts and anxieties related to education and schooling, the last thing on their minds is actual classroom schoolwork.

Now I’ve just handed them a copy of Goethe’s Faust, a dense, incredibly long poem-play that is so challenging it is not usually taught in any American (non-Waldorf ) high school classroom. A few kids pick up the books and drop them just to hear the thud on the table. “Do we really have to read all this?” one student asks. Another flips through the pages and picks a random verse out and reads it: “The greatest glory ever mind received,/By alien stuff becloyed, is choked and flawed,/When what this earth calls good has been achieved,/The better is accounted dream or fraud.” He breaks off and addresses the class: “What the..? Is ‘becloyed’ even a word?” Then he looks up at me, grimacing: “Do we really have to read 300 pages of this stuff?"  The answer, I tell him, is “yes.” And not only that, I can guarantee that not only will he come to understand the challenging text, but he will come away from the book having had some of the best, most philosophically challenging conversations in his life. A few eyes roll, but some kids are already intrigued. “One of the main characters is the devil,” I add, and I get a few more interested looks. “We’re going to be talking a lot about evil in this class—what it is, if it’s possible to define it, and how we encounter it in our everyday lives.” I continue, “We’re going to get pretty dark at times. I don’t know…,” I add, looking at the skeptical student with a little smirk on my face, “it might be too much for you to handle…” and with that pedagogically strategic dose of trash talk, even he is fully with me.

And so opens yet another high school Waldorf humanities class. I could point to any number of things from this brief real-life encounter that encapsulate the Waldorf language arts curriculum: the fact that we are teaching a book so challenging that it far outstrips the pace set even by public school AP English classes; or the fact that much of our classroom conversation will involve not just a close reading of the text, but philosophical discussions that range widely over topics not directly related to Goethe’s German Romanticism; or the fact that the playful, slightly mischievous, personal tone used by both student and teacher is indicative of a warm, trusting relationship between us, fostered over many years of interactions both in and outside the classroom. Each of these things--challenging academics, attention to students’ moral development, and long-term nurturing of interpersonal relationships and skills—is fundamental to how we teach humanities (both language arts and social studies) in the Waldorf high school.

Let’s take each of these aspects briefly in turn. Academically, we expect a great deal from our students—not only those who, in public school, would be deemed “honors-level,” but each and every kid who walks through our doors. All are believed to be capable of grappling with complex, difficult challenges: from reading Moby Dick in 9th grade to Faust in 12th; from talking about the sexual division of labor in early hominid cultures in 10th grade to unpacking Hobbes, Locke, Keynes, and Marx in 12th grade economics. This is not to say that we don’t teach to a diverse range of abilities. On the contrary, we work very hard to meet each student’s needs. Certain students who have different learning abilities or challenges may receive reduced workloads, more time on tests, or any other number of differentiated learning strategies. However, even students who need what would be considered “special ed” services in a public school are believed to be capable, on a fundamental level, of wrestling with and benefitting from the presentation of challenging ideas and texts. Instead of “weeding out” kids into higher and lower abilities and giving only the top achievers access to higher order discussions of texts like Hamlet, Dante’s Inferno, and Faust, we assume that all human beings benefit from exposure to great works of literature, and therefore make it possible for each student to encounter them in a manner that suits his or her individual learning style. The fact that all our 12th graders are expected to take on a book like Faust, then, can ultimately be traced to: 1) our overall expectation that every student can, and does, benefit from engaging deeply with challenging texts, and 2) the fact that we have prepared them gradually, over four years, for a text as dense and potentially rewarding as this one.

The second feature intrinsic to the Waldorf humanities curriculum that I’ve outlined—attention to students’ moral development—goes hand-in-hand with the first. If we expect each student to engage deeply with the great works of literature (as well as with complex story lines from history and the social sciences), it is because we believe it furthers students’ moral and ethical development. And in fact, we have carefully chosen the progression of texts and historical material in the curriculum precisely because it meets a distinct developmental need in each age of student we encounter. For instance, we teach 9th graders about world revolutions (whether the French revolution, the Iranian revolution, or Gandhi’s peaceful Indian Independence movement) because 9th graders typically think in very idealistic, black and white terms. By looking closely at the history of revolutionary movements, we both meet their need to have idealistic role models, and nuance their tendency to think in stark opposites of good/bad. A quick example: Gandhi’s non-violent movement, which did achieve independence from England, didn’t, in the end, prevent the incredibly bloody partition of India and Pakistan. What, we might ask the students, can we learn from such a historical narrative? What lessons might we take going forward as we try to make changes in our own lives?

In the 11th grade, we teach Dante’s Inferno because it strikes a chord with the dark, questing sensibilities of the 16-17 year old: Does intention matter when committing a “sin?” Who defines “sin” anyway? Is it something you can define only for yourself, or does there need to be some sort of accountability to society when defining what does and doesn’t count as “sinful?” And how is “sin” different from “crime”? Waldorf education isn’t afraid to introduce such deep, potentially incendiary questions into the classroom. In fact, we believe that doing so is essential to our goal of forming upright, thoughtful, creative human beings.

And finally, there’s that element of personal connection and fun that I find unique to Waldorf teaching. I should probably make a caveat here: it’s not that there are never fun moments in non-Waldorf settings, or that there isn’t the occasional deep connection with a teacher in public schools. I’m a product of public schools myself, and I certainly had such a connection with one or two of my teachers. However, on the whole, because Waldorf education is built around a community of people actively striving towards shared ethical and developmental goals, I believe the chances that students and teachers will develop deep, lasting connections is much greater. Some of it, of course, has to do with practicals: we generally teach relatively small classes, and over a period of years, rather than the one teacher/one grade mode employed in many other school settings. I will teach multiple classes in all four grades of the high school this year, for instance, so that by the time the students graduate, I will know each and every one of them quite well. But there’s a deeper level to this teacher-student connection as well. Because my ultimate goal as a teacher is not simply to teach my students academic content, but also to help mold them as moral actors engaged in the world, I bring to each encounter an awareness of and sensitivity to them as individuals. For student A, I may realize that though he is gifted in classroom conversation, he needs to be able to articulate his thoughts more clearly on paper. This is a pretty typical educational goal—one shared by teachers in almost any classroom setting. But what might not be so typical are my goals for student B, who is a high academic achiever, but tends not to notice that she talks over her classmates, or that she can’t make eye contact with her teachers. Or for student C, who interacts well with others, achieves high marks, but consistently makes poor ethical choices outside the classroom. In both these cases, by mainstream educational standards, the student is “performing well,” i.e. receiving good grades. But for the Waldorf high school teacher, students are more than the sum of their academic work. Because we aim to train not only the head, but also hands and heart, we look not only at students’ academic performance, but their social and moral development as well. This intentional social/moral engagement leads us to actively try to foster deep, trust-based relationships with our students, which, in turn, is reflected in the informal, friendly banter (both between students and between students and teachers) that often characterizes a Waldorf high school classroom. Being in a Waldorf classroom is (at least on most days) really fun.


So what is the “take-home” about the Waldorf high school humanities curriculum? I’d say it’s this: because teachers start with the premise that students need help developing not only their academic skills, but also their social and ethical beings, we structure everything—from the contents of our curriculum to our daily interactions with kids—around the goal of fostering a three-fold evolution in each student. We teach to their head by providing academically challenging work to all students, regardless of their individual learning styles. We teach to their “hands” (understood metaphorically as a symbol of their ethical development and ability to serve others) by engaging them in lively, philosophically challenging classroom discussions and activities. And we teach to their hearts by encouraging the development of long-term, trust-based relationships both with their peers and with their teachers. Such an education moves far beyond the concept, so prevalent in mainstream educational circles right now, of “workforce readiness.” Our students certainly are prepared for the workforce, and our college admissions record proves it. But they are ready for college and beyond not because we’ve foisted a set of defined “workplace-ready” skills on them, but because they’ve engaged deeply with challenging material in a variety of settings, and with small groups of people with whom they have long-term relationships. They are likely to encounter these two situations--needing to think creatively about challenging problems, and needing to negotiate relationships among small groups of peers and superiors--repeatedly throughout their adult careers, whatever their job circumstances. And because we’ve addressed not only their academic skills, but also their social and ethical capacities, they’re quite likely not only to succeed at whatever challenges they encounter, but also to continue growing and evolving as human beings as they do it.

By Kristin Agudelo: High School Humanities Teacher

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Drama: At the Heart of the Arts

By David Sloan: High School Humanities and Drama teacher 


From the puppet shows in nursery/kindergarten to sophisticated twelfth grade productions of contemporary plays such as John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, drama occupies a central place in Waldorf schools worldwide. In nearly every year of their Waldorf education, all children, theatrically gifted or not, take part in a play. So why is drama considered one of the most vital and indispensable experiences in the Waldorf program?

Our children live in the age of the internet and the mobile phone. Of course these technologies have improved the way we gather information, entertain ourselves, communicate. However, in terms of education, our screen-dominated culture has also contributed to three unhealthy tendencies in our children:

  1. They rely less and less on their own inner resources—no surprise when animated, larger-than-life, external images are provided for them.

  1. Children are spending less and less “face time” with actual people. Interacting with a machine is more convenient and less frustrating than having to deal with classmates to resolve disagreements. Never has instant gratification been more possible, or more dangerous.

  1. Children are losing their sense of what is real and what is not. As they grow up on a steady diet of simulated games and shows, the line between illusion and reality blurs significantly. What’s true?

Drama is also based on a kind of illusion, but the process of engaging in a play can serve as an antidote to each of these tendencies:

  1. First and foremost, acting requires activating one’s imagination. Whether the children are playing elves in a first grade fairy tale or one of Shakespeare’s immortal lovers in a high school production, they must imagine their way into their characters, the setting, the atmosphere of the play.

  1. Drama is inherently collaborative, the most social of arts. The process of mounting a play requires constant interaction between actors, technicians and directors. Working on a play becomes not just an artistic endeavor, but a social training in community building. Every child must learn the value of submerging his or her own wishes or vanities to create a meaningful theatrical experience for all.

  1. Finally, there are the truths that can be discovered through the illusion of drama. Consider two scenes that depend upon simulation. In the first, a young girl sits alone, transfixed by her iPhone screen. She is oblivious to the environment around her—to the rising wind or the dog barking across the street. Her whole world has contracted into this small screen; she is mesmerized, reading and sending texts.

Now consider a girl sitting onstage in the Community Hall, playing Emily Webb in Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our Town. She sits on a stool, sipping an imaginary strawberry ice cream soda on an imaginary counter in an imaginary soda shop. She sits next to George, her bumbling but earnest next-door neighbor who is about to become her sweetheart. He says,
“Listen Emily, I think that once you’ve found a person that you’re very fond of. . .I mean, a person who’s fond of you too. . . Well, I think that’s just as important as college is. . .”
             Emily replies, “I think it’s awfully important too.”
             George: “’Emily, if I do improve and make a big change. . .would you be. .               I mean, could you be. . .?”
             Emily: I. . .am now. I always have been.”

Like the girl with her iPhone, this couple is also mesmerized, but by each other. They lean toward one another, their lips almost brushing, when George suddenly bails out and, to cover his desire and embarrassment, blurts out, “So I guess this is an important talk we’ve been having.” They both turn away in awe, transformed by the enormity of their mutual disclosures.

The iPhone may exert a magnetic pull, but it demands very little inner activity of the girl. By contrast, the Our Town scene requires of audience and actors alike so much more of what is the core of being human. Nearly everything in the scene is left to the imagination. Yet somehow, if the actors are skilled, they can create an indelible impression, a “true” moment, recognizable to any person who recalls the first flush of young love.

       The vitalizing power of imagination, the collaborative nature of putting on a play, the striving to portray truth onstage—these are key reasons why drama is at the heart of every Waldorf program. Ultimately, drama is an “incarnating” experience, just as the gradual unfolding of individuality through childhood and adolescence is an incarnating process. If, as teachers and parents, it is our highest task to help children become themselves in the fullest possible sense, drama can be one of our most dynamic means of assisting in that unfolding.


Parts of this post were previously published in David's book: Stages of Imagination: Working Dramatically with Adolescents published by AWSNA Publications 2001