Thursday, May 27, 2004


Helena won't be going to school for a few years yet, but naturally I fret over the education she's going to have. I fret even that I've begun fretting a little late in the game.

I fret about the state of public schools. I used to believe that the public school system we had was a good one. My public-school education served me well; I even had the benefit of special education — of an open-concept, self-directed, advanced variety — for a few years and a good music program.

But there's no point in denying that times have changed. Funding is lacking. Educational standards are lacking. School buildings are being converted into condos.

I've toyed with the idea of home-schooling Helena, but I know I'm not up to the challenge. I wonder, though, if grade-school teachers are any better equipped for this task.

I don't know anything about the school system in this province. I'm bothered by the fact that Helena will be starting school at least a year later than I think is usual.

Of course, it's time to start educating myself about the rules and regulations, about the school districts, and not least about the standards of education and alternatives to public schooling.

So it was with interest that I read this article on the Waldorf system. (Set aside the fact that the article can't quite make up its mind what it's about.)

Waldorf education — a holistic, media-minimal and arts-based alternative to traditional schooling that's said to foster creativity, independent thinking and mind-body-spirit wholeness in its students.

Sounds nice.

But it turns out that the founder was a self-proclaimed clairvoyant and occult scientist who founded a philosophy with a mystical twist on Christianity, incorporating reincarnation, karma, and gnomes. (The website of the Anthroposophical Society of America is uninformative. I really want to know more about these gnomes.)

It seems parents are upset not so much about the "spirituality" that pervades the entire system as about the lack of disclosure regarding it.

Still, any program of education that sets out to produce well-rounded individuals itself ought to be well-rounded, to nurture mind, body, and spirit. It should include an arts component. I'm not convinced it need exclude media in this day and age.

To me the most troublesome aspect of the Waldorf program is that it delays reading till age 7 and academics till age 14. These "arbitrary" ages are based on the founder's spiritual principles, not at all on science.

The official website for Waldorf schools has this to say:

There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the “tiredness toward reading” that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood.

Show me that evidence. "Tiredness toward reading" has nothing to do with age or readiness and everything to do with boredom — the ability of a curriculum to be appropriately engaging and challenging.

And so the search for a proper education begins...

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