The Richness of Waldorf Education, by Salvatore Martino

Today we live in a world in which the vicissitudes of economic life are profoundly effecting the ways in which we work, play and relate to others. Our communities are changing more rapidly than our capacity to adapt and acquire new skills and habits. The future is ever more uncertain. I remember going to college in the 80’s and everybody I knew was either getting an engineering or a business degree, or going on to law or medical school. Economic security and prosperity were in their grasps with their high- tech, analytical, logico-rational degrees. But all that has changed.

According to Daniel Pink in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the World, those careers dependent upon left-brained, rational, dialectic capacities as mentioned above, are now being outsourced to other countries that can do the same work but much more cheaply. Many of those same jobs can be performed by systems of automation. In the wake of this changing work environment, new capacities will be needed to meet new and different demands. Coupled with the abundance we now enjoy because of the previous technological advancements, the knowledge workers of the past, the cadre of the Information age, are being replaced by the heralds of the Conceptual age. Those who are now developing their capacities and skills to succeed in this new economy will have a sizable advantage over those who have not.

What are these capacities? According to Pink, they are the six senses of: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. These six senses are just one way of viewing the functioning of the right brain, or holistic way of thinking. This thinking is in contrast to the mechanistic, atomistic and reductionistic thinking of the left brain. To train these six senses requires a form of education vastly different than most current systems: it requires a truly holistic approach.

Design is the capacity to create, to take existing forms and make something new. It is seen in the marketplace today from cars to toilet brushes. In an age of abundance it’s what distinguishes a successful product from a not so successful product. Story is the capacity to weave a narrative, to see things in terms of metaphor, to place people, things and events in context. The power of narrative is showing up in ventures as distinct as real estate, medicine, law and wine making. Symphony is the capacity to comprehend relationships and patterns, to see the big picture. Empathy is the capacity to understand what it is like to be another. Play is the capacity to find humor and enjoyment in our life and work; Meaning is the capacity to go beyond belief to an understanding of our purpose that can arise out of spirituality, philosophy and psychology.

Taken together, these skills are at the heart of our Waldorf education. If Daniel Pink’s assessment is correct and these are the criteria for future success then Waldorf Education is at the cutting edge of training individuals for success in the Conceptual Age. Daily we teach to all these six senses: Our main lesson books encourage design, as does from drawing, modeling painting and the like. Story telling is our central teaching tool. Not only do we train each and every student to develop the capacity to play in an orchestra, but their symphonic skills are enhanced by drawing. Play is integral to everything we do- -we try to make our students laugh everyday. And finally the Waldorf curriculum is imbued with meaning – from verses and stories the children memorize and recite to the meditations and studies the teachers engage in.

Many schools claim to be holistic: Montessori schools, private and public charters. But for the most part this exists in name only. The roots of their educational philosophy have not been thoroughly or even partially imbued with a deep understanding of holism. They use holistic techniques overlaid upon an essentially reductionistic philosophy. There is only one system as far as I can tell that is truly holistic: our Waldorf Education. Met on every level—academic, artistic, emotional, rational, intuitive, physical, spiritual, social, archetypal, imaginal—it’s hard to imagine an education more rich and complete.

Salvatore Martino is a class teacher at the at Susquehanna Waldorf School, where he has been teaching for over 22 years.