Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Growing up in a Waldorf School

Last week a friend of mine asked me about my experience growing up in a Waldorf School... and I told her the following story...

One thing most people don't know about me is that I couldn't read until the summer before the fifth grade, and as pretty much everybody knows, that is unusual for most kids.

Had I been at any other school anywhere else in the country... a young black girl in the fourth grade who couldn't read... I would have definitely been filtered into a "special education" track or simply held back... I could have potentially been diagnosed with all kinds of learning disorders... and been told that I just wasn't as smart, or capable as the other kids...

Instead, nobody at Waldorf ever waivered... my classroom teacher Micheal Martin was convinced that I was intelligent beyond measure... and when my parents began to worry about my progress... he told them... don't worry... she is a very smart child, just give her time, she'll come around. At no point did he, or anyone in my life ever doubt that I was an intellectually capable child...

The summer before fifth grade my parents started working on my reading with me using flashcards, audio programs and other kinds of books... which I think must have helped a lot. Because going into the fall of fifth grade... I was finally able to read...

Within a year I was reading at an adult reading level... In high school I scored a 720 on my english SAT score... and english, the humanities and any other subject that involved reading and interpretation have consistently been my strongest subjects...

I owe all of that to Waldorf...

For those of you that don't know, Waldorf Schools have a holistic teaching curriculum that focuses on integrating the mind, body and spirit into education. While they are not a "Christian" school in a strict sense, they base their mission in Christian and Humanist principles (for more information on what a Waldorf School is, check out this website).

One thing that I always stress to people is that every Waldorf School is different, so if you are trying to decide whether or not to send your child to one, I think it is critical that you check out the school for yourself. Talk to parents whose children are currently enrolled, and try to talk to parents whose children have graduated. If possible, get a sense of what kind of high schools their graduates go on to, and whether or not they tend to go on to college. I think this set of questions is important because the effectiveness of a Waldorf education can be so vastly different.

Parental involvement is also important, as I illustrated in the story at the beginning... I needed a push from my parents to get over the final hump... The Waldorf School I attended did not use textbooks, we did not receive grades until the seventh grade, and we did not always have homework... So I think for parents who want their children to transition into traditional high schools or colleges, it is important that they are actively involved in teaching their kids how to use those tools. Reading textbooks, getting homework done, etc are all skills that have to be honed... the parent that can help their child learn how to navigate them will have a successful Waldorf graduate.

Another thing that helped me was being involved in academic summer programs, where I got exposure to learning tools like rote memorization and regurgitating information... which... Waldorf was adamantly opposed to in it's curriculum... but were critical to my success when I transitioned into traditional schools...

For students of color in Waldorf schools... isolation can definitely be an issue... not so much within the school environment, but back at home in their neighborhoods. The Waldorf student isn't experiencing the same things that other kids are experiencing in school... and since most Waldorf parents are encouraged to restrict television and popular music listening... that can be the cause of further isolation...

My mom was really active in combating this isolation for my sister and I... involving us in after school and summer programs with the Police Athletic League, the Detroit Center for Creative Studies and various summer camps in state and out of state... This was a critical part of us being well-adjusted kids with a diversity of friends...

Waldorf was exactly what I needed, and although I am just now reaching a point in my life where I can appreciate it, I can now acknowledge that if it were not for Waldorf I would not be working towards my Ph.d today... Waldorf taught me how to think, how to trust my intuition and how to be creative.

But most critically... Waldorf taught me to never doubt my own intelligence... to accept challenges as par for the course... and to always remain confidant in my ability to do the work... even if I have to do it a little bit differently, or it takes me a little bit longer...

If you have any questions about my experience or about Waldorf schools in general, feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email...

peace.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is truly an awesome testimony. It’s sad that as ungrateful kids we didn't appreciate Waldorf and understand the sacrifices our parents and out teachers made to keep us there. Having a Waldorf teacher is like having a third parent; they know everything about you, strengths, weaknesses and just your personality as a whole. I've heard my friends and teachers say "those Waldorf kids sure have some personalities..." The reason for that is like you said, we were given an opportunity for our personalities to truly develop. Personal development as well as scholastic development was not forced upon us, it came with time and that is why all of us are successful. I'm not saying everyone is working on a PhD, lol, but people are know their strengths and weaknesses and are able to find their niche and truly be genuinely happy. Thank you so much for sharing this Alex, this is great! Does Waldorf have a copy of this? You should send it to them! While you are writing we need to find some Eurhythmy classes! LOL
*this is Domonique Abner by the way. :-)

Papa Giorgio, M.A.T.S. said...

Some of my best years were spent there 1st-5th grade. Just the photo of that stage... WOW! All the plays done there, all the sneaking around with Matt, Roy, Paul, and others (after school ended). What memories.

Nancy said...

Alex- What a wonderful testimonial to ensuring children blossom to their full potential by "planting" them in a Waldorf School. One of my most vivid memories of you was in second grade when, as usual, you called "Shotgun" and sat next to me in the front seat and told me very clearly that when you grew up you were going to be a writer and live in a loft in NYC. Clearly you weren't too worried about your reading ability being an obstacle. You might have shared with your readers that by the end of the fifth grade you were a published author . . . "Girls Know Best"
Bravo, Alexandra! "Megan's Mom"

Anonymous said...

i am the mother mentioned in the aforementioned blog, and i just want to set the record straight!

if memory serves me right, you were the one who was so worried about not being able to read...and it was only after much wailing and gnashing of teeth that i finally gave in and bought those infernal flashcards. somehow you cooked up a deal with your father to purchase that 'hooked on phonics' kit, which i just recently gave away in pristine and unused condition.

in truth, i never worried about whether or not you could read, i knew from the first moment that i looked into those deep dark eyes that seemed to hold the wisdom of the ages that you had smarts.

i was/am far more interested in what kind of person you would develop into. and on that account you have rewarded me in spades: you are kind, funny, curious, compassionate, honest, passionate in your beliefs, brave, and the list goes on. waldorf certainly did it's share in supporting all that.

all the other is just gravy...love you peachie.

AMB said...

lol... awww you guys are making me all teary! thank you! :)

Carroll said...

Hi Al, that is a wonderful piece, but you forgot to mention handwork, your favorite subject, right? Well, it brings tears to my eyes and I have sent it on to Michael. Your teachers who love you love you forever, and you are always in my heart. Mrs. L

Melanie Reiser said...

Can I ad a link to your testimony on the DWS website?
Melanie Reiser
DWS Outreach Director

AMB said...

awwww Mrs. Lalinsky! thank you for writing!

Melanie, you are more than welcome to add the link, as long as none of the text of my post is edited. Unfortunately I do not have your email so I hope you see this!

best,
A.

Michael Martin said...

I don't have to sit hear and listen to this!

But, seriously Alexandra, you made the job a complete delight. I didn't do anything but get out of your way. I still remember you in third grade walking around with your "Seven Sister Schools" catalog. I knew then that you had the bucket in your hand and were headed for the well!

I look back to the days as your teacher with complete gratitude. You make me very proud. MM

angela said...

Thank you for writing this - and thanks to your mom as well! :)

I have a just turned 6yo that will be starting year one in 2010 at a Steiner/Waldorf school.

It is reassuring, heartwarming and informative to hear this from you and your mom (and others comments too) about a Waldorf education.

Warm regards,
ange

Anonymous said...

Mr.Martin's such a badass!

Apart from that
thank you so much for writing this, it reminds me how thankful I am to have had Mr. Martin as my teacher and to have had an education like the one I recieved at Waldorf.
-Dylan.

Melanie Reiser said...

We are starting a new section of the DWS newsletter focusing on alumni. I only have space for about 100 words. Can I take your last few paragraphs??

AMB said...

Hi Melanie,
yes thats fine.

a.