From the Editor’s Notepad
Dear Friends of CfA:
In steering through rough seas, it is important to focus one’s vision on the far horizon while simultaneously keeping sharp watch on the surges straight ahead. In this spirit, we would like to share with you how we at the Center for Anthroposophy are navigating the immediate as well as some of the longer-term implications of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
To begin, our hearts go out to all of you who, in your own ways, are dealing with the imponderables that have descended upon us all. Your children, your extended family, your parents, jobs, possible quarantine, your personal health concerns — all of these considerations challenge us to the limit. We wish you courage and strength to weather these turbulent times.
Through our website––as well as in e-mails to participants in our various programs––we will keep you posted concerning our plans for the remainder of this spring and the forthcoming summer season. Please check in with us regularly.
–– Douglas Gerwin, Executive Director
Center for Anthroposophy
Currently at CfA
- Our summertime programs of Renewal Courses and the Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) will be offered.
- If you are planning to attend one or more Renewal Courses this summer, we encourage you to register so that we can gauge levels of interest in them. Confirmation of these courses, after all, is always contingent on sufficient interest and enrollment.
- If you are enrolled as a returning WHiSTEP student, you are already registered for the summer program of high school teacher training. We will contact you concerning options for your first-week Renewal Course later in the spring.
- If you have just been accepted as a new WHiSTEP student, you can proceed with further arrangements concerning food and lodging as previously instructed (see next bullet).
- For both Renewal Courses and WHiSTEP, participants can book room and board through our website. Rest assured that all payments will be refunded if personal or programmatic circumstances necessitate it. Students making private arrangements should negotiate terms with their hosts.
- We expect to send out confirmation of our summer plans by mid-May. All who have registered for one or more of our summer courses will be contacted via e-mail. Please let us know if you have not heard from us by mid-May.
- Those taking part in our current Explorations and Building Bridges programs have already been contacted about prospects for the remaining onsite and online sessions of these programs. Further updates will follow as they unfold.
- Those wishing to sign up for next year’s Explorations and Building Bridges are encouraged to do so on our website, since these programs (like all of our offerings) are contingent on sufficient registered enrollments.
A Verse for Our Time
COVID-19 and our existential crisis
By Torin M. Finser
Looking outside at 7:30 each morning, I no longer see the yellow school bus that has appeared regularly for years and years. All local gatherings are cancelled, and many local stores have sold out on basic products. Thanks to various news outlets, we see images of Rome, Madrid and other cities around the world totally deserted.
More than a “news event”, this is an existential crisis that begs a larger question: what is going on?
Waldorf high school students are taught to look beyond the presented information, and practice symptomatology. The human spirit yearns for understanding that goes beyond what is incessantly presented in the news; we are in search of meaning as never before.
The Abyss of Nothingness
Already over the past year, I have observed that many of the old supports are being taken
away from us. Waldorf traditions are questioned as never before, finances are stretched to
the breaking point in many schools, and basic social norms seem to be eroding. Now in our
corona-crisis we see stark images of what has been creeping up on us for some time: an
experience of nothingness. The past is being stripped away, and we stand alone as never
before. This presents a new necessity: We are at a point in evolution where the “old” can no
longer continue, and now everything will depend on our own efforts as single human beings.
We now need to create out of Nothingness. That which I have been given is no longer
sufficient; I need to create out of myself as never before.
Social Justice and a New Order
Last September, Waldorf Today published my article on The Future of Waldorf Education:
Beyond 100. A major theme was the need for critical self-assessment of established
practices and the need to change our ways in order to thrive in the years going forward.
Waldorf schools have often lived in a kind of protective bubble, sustained by enthusiastic
parent support, dedicated teachers/staff, generous donors, and minimal interference from
the outside. Our independent and public Waldorf schools have nurtured many, many happy
children, and our graduates have demonstrated the many benefits of their Waldorf
education (see the new Waldorf publication Into the World, How Waldorf Graduates Fare
After High School) Although societal challenges have grown each year, something different
is happening in this year of the 100th anniversary. The paradigm has shifted.
“You must NOT look on everything as determined, rather it depends on whether or not we
allow our actions to be guided by the laws of justice and fairness. New things are
constantly being added to our morality, to the way we do our duty and to our moral
judgment.” (Rudolf Steiner, June 17, 1909) The present experience of the abyss of nothingness is a jolt to redirect our inner compass,
change our daily routines and reclaim our Waldorf roots in social justice. Change is no
longer an option; it is a necessity.
Schools are all about community. For years, the neighborhood school has been the hub of
cultural life, student dramatic productions, festivals, and more. Now we are being asked to
practice social distancing. Is this just a blip in time, or can we again use symptomatology?
Dis-tancing, dis-location, dis-establishment…all begin with the Latin prefix meaning apart,
and bring up other words that speak so strongly in today’s environment: disbelief,
discontent, dishearten, disown, discord (Dante referred to the deepest layers of hell as the
City of ‘Dis’). Long before our current manifestation of social distancing, we experienced
dis-association with traditional leadership roles, with each other and even with the facts.
In so many realms we no longer know where we stand. At times it seems we all need to go
back to first grade and learn again what it means to share, listen to others, play by the
same rules, in short, to be decent and respectful. The social distancing of COVID-19 asks us
all: can we address the soul condition of isolation and disconnection, and how do we want to
work together? Deeper down are questions concerning the very nature of the human
Ivan Illich spoke eloquently about deschooling, and how the institution of “school”
encourages conformity: answering the questions in a way that pleases the teacher, lining up
in the hall, and so on. Paulo Freire pushed the discussion even further in strenuously
arguing that institutions such as schools serve to perpetuate pedagogy of oppression.
Those “in control” of social norms, finances, designing standardized tests, etc. have long
found ways to make the institution of schools/colleges serve their ends. Those practicing
homeschooling have long been part of a larger deschooling movement. Now schools are
closed for weeks, perhaps months. What does this mean?
Death can lead to spirit rebirth. Institutions are in themselves always dying, and stay alive
only because of the people within them. But one senses that the present time is calling for
more radical change. Perhaps we need to re-orient ourselves more around activities that
bring life, and focus less on perpetuating the institutional aspects of buildings and budgets.
In the early days of Antioch New England (1960s), students would gather in a large room
and the professors would ask: what do you want to learn this semester? Which courses
should we offer? Of course, this was before accreditation and federal student loan
requirements. Do we dare entertain the conversation: ‘What sort of a school do we want to
have next year?’ It’s not easy to facilitate such a conversation (and we risk utter chaos), but
perhaps we need to develop a new perspective, that budgets and programs need to follow
real needs and interests, and not just serve to perpetuate what has been done in the past.
Fear and the Spiritual Journey
FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President, 1933-1945) will always be remembered for “We
have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He lifted us up as a nation by articulating what so many
were feeling, and gave us hope through his example of personal suffering and
perseverance. Fear is a symptom of our time. Loss of confidence in our leaders, misguided
trust, and unknown medical situations today prompt irrational behaviors, sleeplessness and
Many spiritual traditions, including most major world religions, have practices of atonement
or preparation for high festivals. Fasting for Ramadan, the period of Lent, and preparing for
Yom Kippur call upon participants to change their ways and forego ordinary comforts and
habits. Spirit comes before matter. We are being asked today to reaffirm our spiritual roots
and put limitations on our desires for material things. We are approaching an
unprecedented existential state. We are staring into the abyss: nothingness,
dis-connection, dis-establishment of institutions, fear and dread of the unknown.
Out of this moment can come a new sense of freedom. We can choose how we want to
relate, what we value in life, and how we want to support educational activities. Our
existential crisis is pregnant with potential, if we are awake at this turning point in time.
Yes, we all long for a return to some semblance of normality. For me, it is my vocation as a
teacher. I look forward to July and teaching a Renewal course on The Human Encounter, a
research course for experienced professionals in our Transdisciplinary Healing Ed Program,
and welcoming students beginning teacher education whose destiny path has led them to
I hope we can all go through this dark night of the soul and emerge stronger in spirit. As in
Narnia, a stone table that is cracked can lead to transformation because there is “deep
magic” in all things human. Death can bring new life.
Torin M. Finser, PhD, has served Waldorf education for more than forty years, first as a
class teacher, then as Director of Waldorf Teacher Education at Antioch University New
England, and later as chair of the education department. A former General Secretary of the
Anthroposophical Society in America, he also helped found the Center for Anthroposophy in
New Hampshire. His research and writings have reached people all over the world, with
several books now translated into multiple languages. Torin has served as a consultant,
workshop leader, and keynote speaker at numerous conferences. He is married to Karine,
has six children, and is now also a very happy grandfather!