CfA's Op Ed

Breaking Hearts, Opening Hearts

by David Barham

The country watched with amazement as the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel two of its youngest members, Representatives Justin Jones, age 27, and Justin J. Pearson, age 28, from the chamber.  They were kicked out because of their participation in a rowdy protest calling for gun reform laws after a recent school shooting in Nashville had left 3 children and 3 adults dead. For some, the amazement was due to the use of expulsion to punish the lawmakers for their activism, but for me, it was witnessing the courage and clarity of the young Representatives. It was their vision of a revitalized democracy, in which the voice was returned to the disempowered, that was so incredibly powerful.  

These two young men, along with others, such as 26-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost, the youngest member of the US House of Representatives and the first Generation Z member to win a seat in Congress, inspire extraordinary hope for the future. 

For those of us who work with adolescents in high schools, seeing their passion for taking action in the world and responding to the real needs of the Earth and her inhabitants should not be surprising. We see these younger generations––educated amidst the shadows of September 11, school shootings, environmental disaster, and the Covid-19 pandemic––filled with energy to meet the world, rolling up their sleeves and engaging deeply. 

We also see the vulnerabilities and their need for trusted adults to talk to and receive support from. We see the mental health challenges and the scars left by quarantine and isolation. We see the disorienting impacts of social media, violence, discrimination, and rising authoritarianism. 

Waldorf education for adolescents can meet these outer and inner, spoken and unspoken needs of young people. And yet, like every generation of teenagers, Waldorf education needs reimagining. 

That reimagining is at the heart of the work of CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) and its “Starlight Rays in Darkened Times”, a regular series of seminars on high school “hot topics”. Building on over 100 years of classroom practice and pedagogical research, as well as the foundational picture of the developing human being given to us by Rudolf Steiner, we are working collaboratively to meet these extraordinarily complex individuals in new ways that speak to new times. Some of the sessions coming up in our “Starlight Rays” seminars will take up vital themes such as:

  • Learning from history to navigate the present
  • Helping teens have difficult conversations
  • Guiding adolescents without playing therapist, parent, or friend
  • Discovering oneself through drama
  • Formulating inclusive curriculum and authentic assessment
  • Battling bias in the science curriculum

There is still time to join “Starlight Rays 2023-2024” for the remaining spring sessions of this seminar, which then resumes after a summer break in September and continues into the 2023-2024 school year. We welcome you to become part of this online adult learning community, in which we explore strategies to help inspired but vulnerable adolescents thrive and find resiliency within supportive communities. For “Starlight 2023-2024” details, click here.

In our three-year teacher education program, long-time teachers who have demonstrated both their expertise in their subject, as well as their enthusiasm for keeping their teaching current and in touch with the modern moment, guide new Waldorf teachers to find their own approach. The archetypal pathway of adolescent development and the themes that illuminate each phase of adolescent development are largely consistent over time, but the content of the curriculum is open to responsible innovation based on the needs of the real human beings we are striving to meet. In this way, Waldorf high school education is kept fresh and eternally relevant. Details for the WHiSTEP program can be found here.

In the WHiSTEP program, deep engagement with the arts of eurythmy, Spacial Dynamics, drawing, painting and modeling, singing, creative speech, and drama can bring about a transformation of individual teachers that helps them see the world with a beginner’s mind and an open heart. As writer John Selwood says, “When the heart breaks open, it marks the beginning of a real love affair with this world. It is a broken-hearted love affair, rather than the conventional kind based on hope and expectation. Only in this fearless love that can respond to lifes pain as well as its beauty can we be of real help to ourselves or anyone else in this difficult age. The broken-hearted warrior is an essential archetype for our time.”

Through WHiSTEP and “Starlight Rays”, we are working to develop broken and open-hearted warriors who see both the remarkable potential of adolescents as well as their delicate vulnerability and seek to bring fresh approaches to education so that these young people can bring their best selves and brand new visions to a world on fire. 


Portrait of David Barham

David Barham, the Director of the Waldorf Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) at Center for Anthroposophy (CfA), is a long-time Waldorf subjects, class, and high school teacher. He currently also serves as the Northeast/Quebec Regional Leader on the Leadership Council of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). 

Join David Barham for his sessions at the Fall/Winter 2023-2024 online seminar “Starlight Rays in Darkened Times: Seminars on Contemporary Topics for Waldorf High School Teachers.” Click here for more information.