B E T T Y . S T A L E Y To Educate Future Change Agents, Change Education Today

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

We live in a short attention-span world and face long attention-span challenges from a stressed-out educational system, a stressed out society, and a stressed-out earth.
Although we can and do look at the educational system in isolation, we could begin to see it in context of its interconnection with society and the environment. Based on 40 years of experience as an educator – most recently working with teachers of “at risk” students learning how to apply the “Waldorf” educational approach – I propose an integrated approach that meets the needs of children at different ages. We could stop assuming, for example, that concepts appropriate for 11-year-olds can just be simplified for 6-year-olds. This goes against the latest neurological research and against common sense. As one community college educator remarked to me, “Things have changed. The students coming in are deficient in basic skills, are superficial thinkers, and lack depth and insight. They know isolated bits of information, but they can’t see the whole picture.” 
Where do we start? When Rudolf Steiner founded the first of more than a thousand Waldorf schools that exist worldwide today, he spoke the following words to the teachers: 
“Imbue yourself with the power of imagination, have courage for the truth, sharpen your feelings for responsibility of soul.” 
I will examine these words in relation to our current educational task and in relationship of society and the earth. 
“Imbue yourself with the power of imagination.” Re-imagine teacher education. We begin with the teachers themselves. At the Public School Institute at Rudolf Steiner College, it’s become clear that a new imagination of teacher education calls us to develop new abilities: the art of self-transformation, the art of entering the developing consciousness of the child, and the art of cultivating community. 
1) We begin with work on our own self-transformation. Teachers begin to use tools to strengthen their capacities of reflection, of finding inner peace, and experiencing joy. The humanizing activity of the arts is an essential part: the joy of learning through painting, drawing, sculpting, acting, singing, playing music together, and story telling. , This joy influences cognitive learning as well as providing a healthy social atmosphere in which children feel safe and willing to take risks. 
2) We begin to focus on child development. We learn how children of each age operate and what children of each age need for healthy development and support for their learning. Re-imagining the curriculum and methods based on developmental stages leads to strong, intelligent, problem solvers connected to a sense of place in the natural world and to each other in healthy social communities. 
3) We begin to nourish community life. We share classroom experiences; discussing particular children’s needs, inter-act with other professionals in the learning community, and work with parents so that the school becomes a village. 
“Have courage for the truth.” Speak up on behalf of children. We ask of ourselves the inner strength to speak what is needed regardless of popular opinion. On behalf of our children, we begin to confront the pervasive polluting presence of electronic media, video games, and advertising that fills the airwaves, the billboards, and even school walls. With courage for the truth, we are joined by others who are willing to turn off the television and computer, insist on stronger family time together, create a change in life style so that every member of the family becomes healthier and more in touch with each other. We begin to call upon teachers, principals, parents, community activists, politicians, doctors and others to stand up for children with courage and integrity. 
“Sharpen your feeling for responsibility of soul.” Work together with integrity. Education. Society. Environment. Each speaks to us through the stress we feel about them separately and together. All three desperately cry out for us to begin to notice the needs of each human being, renew our relationship as guardians of the earth, and grow strong and caring communities. Children are not computers, passive screen watchers, or a commodity. Children are the latest messengers from the future and they rely on us to make this world a nurturing, welcoming place in which to grow and awaken in their own time and manner. Adolescents rely on us to be role models of healing, caring, and moral strength. We adults begin when we reclaim authority as guides for the next generation with imagination, courage and responsibility. 
The question is not whether these changes are necessary, but when will we start? 
Article by Betty Staley, Educator, Writer 
Betty Staley has been an educator for forty years. She consults for schools beginning Waldorf high schools (independent and public charter), lectures world-wide on adolescence and education, and has authored seven books. She has translated the essence of Waldorf education into many different settings in service of transforming education for all children. Having been a key teacher at the Sacramento Waldorf School in past decades, Betty directs teacher educator programs through Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California – for independent Waldorf schools and for Waldorf-inspired public schools, for teachers of at-risk students and juvenile offenders, and workshops for public, parochial, and home school teachers.