“The greatest strength of a Waldorf school is that people take it very personally. On the other hand, the greatest challenge of a Waldorf school is that people take it very personally.” Throughout his visit in late April, John Bloom of RSF Social Finance reminded us what makes a Waldorf education distinctive and meaningful for not only children, but parents, faculty and staff as well. His opening comment about the deeply personal nature of our work has stuck with me, particularly as I move through these busy weeks filled with the milestone events of May – 8th grade presentations, senior project rehearsals, and the initial parent evening for our rising first grade parents, who are just beginning the journey with their children through grade school. Each of these brings us together in uniquely intimate ways to witness the potential for transformation through our experience here. As John Bloom offered, the end goal is to cultivate and liberate every human being’s capacity. To help – not hinder – children and adults to become who they truly are.
Well yes, but…it’s not quite that simple. Because to do this work with children well, we adults must be willing to “take it personally” – to pursue our goals with passion, to risk failing, to be vulnerable, to be what David Brooks in his recent article, The Moral Bucket List would call a stumbler. The stumbler “faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.” Brooks suggests that we take up the quest to find our vocations by asking not what we want from life, but what life is asking of us. How can we match our intrinsic talents with the world’s deep needs?
I believe this yearning – to close what Brooks calls “the humiliating gap between your actual self and your desired self” – is what brings us to the threshold of a Waldorf school. We may not know it at the time; I certainly did not. In fact, I was busily accumulating the “career virtues” and external successes that Brooks describes, rather than “eulogy virtues” – a depth of character and generosity of spirit that people will speak to at the end of your life. As my relationships within this community have taken root, and my understanding of our pedagogical and spiritual work has deepened, I am acutely aware of the gradual yet profound melding of my professional and personal values. I am humbled by the opportunities I have daily to both celebrate and rue my humanity, and grateful that I am surrounded by others in similar pursuit of their desired selves.
Lest we think it’s all about striving and suffering, Brooks assures us that “stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling.” And I would offer there’s immense joy in taking our work in a Waldorf school and membership in our community personally. It’s a wonderful gift to us, and to our children. Let us stumble together!
Enjoy the warmth and sunshine of this weekend!
Published in the Connection from 5.8.2015