It is estimated that a majority of young children about to enter school these days will graduate a decade or so hence without the ability to decipher cursive script — because they will never have been taught it.
In this autumnal issue of Center & Periphery–the online newsletter of the Center for Anthroposophy that, since its inception, has seen neither print nor paper–we explore the implications for today’s children of this seismic revolution in writing.
And we also revisit some other questions about writing and teaching as they relate to Rudolf Steiner and those closest to him; or to graduates and teachers in our programs; or to future courses and publications.
We invite you to read — and we invite you to write to us, also. If your cursive handwriting is legible, we can guarantee that any one of us at the Center will be able to read what you have to say!
In this Issue
Dateline Amherst MA: The Right to Write
In barely a generation, students have reversed the order in which they learn to write and learn to type. Douglas Gerwin, Director of the Center for Anthroposophy (CfA), explores what happens when keyboard replaces cursive.
The last time I wrote out a major-length paper by hand was during the early 1980s, when I was working on my graduate dissertation. Under pressure of time, I disciplined myself to compose some ten pages per day–or 50 pages a week–and in eight weeks or so I had completed a first draft of the manuscript. To speed the process, I placed a typewriter at my side, so that with minimum distraction I could keep a running tab of footnote references and supplementary remarks. But despite impending deadlines, I opted to write–at times to scribble–the dissertation itself in long-hand.
At the time, it was quite evident to me that the tone and style arising from long-hand cursive (or sometimes my short-handed approximation of cursive) were quite different from the more clipped tone and style of the typed footnotes. At some level I was aware that linking one letter to another by hand was helping me construct an argument in which one thought was linked (seamlessly, I hoped my dissertation advisor would say) to the next. Footnoting, by contrast, did not require that kind of textual weaving. Only after a final edit did I undertake the weary task of converting the written manuscript into a 391-page typed document.
Were I to engage in such a project today, I would doubtless opt for the convenience of a computer — and not least because of that convenient button labeled “delete”, to say nothing of the time-savers “cut” and “paste”. In retrospect, however, I am grateful that I was obliged to compose that thesis on a notepad, rather than on an electronic Notebook.
Today I read with alarm that, following the advent of the government-mandated Common Core standards, cursive has been dropped as a curricular requirement in many schools (to be precise, Common Core remains silent on this issue), though several states–among them California, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee–have been giving cursive another look. One reason to be alarmed is that, according to William Klemm, a neuro-scientist at Texas A&M University, writing in cursive makes kids smarter.
“Cursive writing, compared to printing,” he concludes, is more beneficial “because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual-recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation.” His is not the only voice to speak up for the merits of cursive writing, though there are others who challenge his conclusions. But the National Association of State Boards of Education stands with Professor Klemm: it has issued a report saying that cursive helps develop memory, fine motor skills, and better expression.
Writing by hand also improves memory and comprehension among adults. According to a study published last spring in the journal Psychological Science, college students who take notes longhand write less but remember more than those who type their notes on a laptop.
However, even those elementary schools that retain cursive in their curriculum are giving their students less time to practice it. Catholic schools, famous for emphasizing penmanship, are devoting considerably less class time these days to this skill. Instead of getting it for a half hour or so a day–or roughly 7 1/2 hours per week–students may get 15 minutes’ practice three times a week. That comes to less than an hour a week, or a tenth of the time once allotted to this exercise.
Meanwhile, a recent online poll by Harris Interactive reported that 79 percent of adult respondents–and even 68 percent of kids, ages 8-18–felt cursive should still be taught in school. Nearly half the adults polled (49%) and more than a third of the kids (35%) felt that practicing reading and writing in cursive improved literacy.
Regardless of what schools decide about their curricula, most children these days begin to peck their way around a computer keyboard long before they enter school and years before they are handed their first pen (if indeed they are handed a pen in school at all). And even when–in some cases we may need to say “if”–they pick up a pen, a growing number of children don’t even attempt to learn cursive, since they are allowed to remain with printing as they exercise their writing skills.
What does this developmental switch–from writing or printing first to typing or keyboarding first–imply for future generations of writers — and of thinkers? At a superficial level one could say that they will not be able to decipher great documents such as the U.S. Constitution or scribbled notes from a friend or a grandparent. In a sense, they may find themselves slipping into a state of quasi-literacy, as happened famously during the murder trial of Trayvon Martin, when one of the witnesses was handed a note while giving testimony but could not decipher it because it was written in cursive.
Much more troubling, however, than the risk of reduced literacy among the rising generations of children may be the effect that a lack of cursive practice will have on the fluency of their thinking. To be sure, it is hard to establish a causal link between fluent or steady orthography and fluent or coherent thinking, but I have heard English teachers swear they can tell from the coherence of their students’ essays whether they were composed by hand or at a keyboard.
No less an authority on the merits of keyboarding than Clive Thompson, author of the book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, confessed in an interview that when it came to organizing his thoughts, he felt the need to set aside his electronic writing tools in favor of pen and paper. “To organize the structure of an argument, I really need paper,” he admitted. “I can use all those wonderful swoopy arrows to connect stuff.”
In Waldorf schools, pupils famously develop their printing initially out of pictures and images — deriving the letter “s” from the shape of a snake, perhaps, or the letter “m” from the contours of a distant mountain. At the same time, they are engaged in the discipline of repetitive form drawing. By fourth grade they are introduced to the more advanced skill of cursive handwriting, which in some Waldorf schools is cultivated right into high school with courses in calligraphy and illuminated capitals.
This approach to writing is based on the idea that what we do with our hands gives shape to what we can do with our brains. Or to say it even more radically (and now with the endorsement of research into the new science of “neuro-plasticity”): what we do with our hands, especially during our early years, actually gives shape to the brain itself.
Comparative research remains to be undertaken, therefore, on the way a child’s higher mental powers are helped or hindered by the practice or avoidance of cursive handwriting, especially during the elementary grades. But we should not have to wait on large-scale or long-term studies to recognize the value to be gained from flowing cursive movements across a blank page, compared to the percussive staccato movements across a keyboard.
Put most simply: children have a right to write.
Dateline Ilkley, England: (Frau) Doktor Hat Gesagt
An update on the mystery concerning who crafted one of the most commonly cited statements concerning the purpose of Waldorf education.
A couple of years ago, we revealed in this newsletter that one of the most often-cited passages concerning the mission of Waldorf education originated not with Rudolf Steiner but with his wife, Marie von Sivers.
The passage, which can be found in countless Waldorf school catalogues, reads: “Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.” It is to be found in A Modern Art of Education, a cycle of lectures that Rudolf Steiner delivered in 1923 to an English-speaking audience from the small Yorkshire town of Ilkley in northeast England.
However, this passage actually comes from the foreword to this book and was written by Marie Steiner, who attended this lecture cycle and later took on the responsibility of publishing her husband’s complete works–over 350 volumes in all–after his death in 1925.
In our initial report, we noted that this foreword is missing from the current German edition of this lecture cycle, raising an intriguing question as to its original publication and even its original language. But after visiting the Steiner archives in Haus Duldeck, adjacent to the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, earlier this year, we can confirm that Marie Steiner’s foreword was indeed included in the original German-language publication of this lecture cycle in 1927 but, for some reason, was dropped in subsequent German editions.
For those readers of German who might like to know the original version of this popular citation, we offer it here in full:
“Ist der Mensch in ganz menschlichem Sinne erzogen worden, lernt er sich auch as ganzer Mensch fuehlen und empfinden. Er ist zur eigenen freien Religiositaet und Sittlichkeit erweckt worden. Dieses Hinschauen auf den freien Menschen, der da weiss, sich eine Richtung im Leben selber zu geben, muss vor allen Dingen erstrebt werden: das Entlassen in das Leben in Freiheit.” [Rudolf Steiner, Gegenwaertiges Geistesleben und Erziehung (Dornach: Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1927), p.xxxv.]
The official English-language translation of this passage states:
“If the child has been educated in a wholly human sense, he will learn to feel and know his full manhood. His own free religious and moral nature will have been awakened. Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.” [Rudolf Steiner, A Modern Art of Education, Collected Works GA 307 (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), p.23.]
Not exactly a close translation, but nonetheless accurate and clear — and a full line shorter!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For those who missed our initial article on this subject, it is excerpted below:
In response to a recent question, we took on the task of tracking down the original German formulation of this statement. An Internet search established that this quote comes from A Modern Art of Education, the title given to a translated cycle of lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave between the 5th and 17th of August, 1923 in the small Yorkshire town of Ilkley in the far northeast of England.
In the course of his life, Steiner made ten visits to England, and although he understood (and could even speak) English, he opted to deliver these lectures at Ilkley–as he did on other occasions–in his native Austrian, with George Adams then freely rendering them into English. Under the terms agreed by these two men, Steiner would speak for 40 minutes to an hour and Adams would then summarize Steiner’s remarks in roughly half that time.
The first published edition of these lectures in English appeared five years later and was subsequently twice revised and expanded. In German the lectures were published as No. 307 in Steiner’s complete edition under the title Gegenwaertiges Geistesleben und Erziehung (“The Spiritual Life of the Present and Education”).
The well-known quote in question appears on the final page of what turns out to be a foreword to the English edition. At the bottom of the page the author of this foreword is identified as “Marie Steiner”. Based on this evidence, it would appear that the quote attributed to Rudolf Steiner actually comes from the pen of his wife.
Whatever the original language of this passage, the upshot of this research is that Marie Steiner (who, as it happens, was in attendance at her husband’s lectures in Ilkley) is the author of one of the most popular formulations of the mission of Waldorf education: “Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”
Dateline Freeport ME: New Clusters of Foundations
Eight clusters of foundation studies stretching from coast to coast are starting up this autumn. Here is a brief listing of clusters new and ongoing.
Enrollment in CfA’s eight clusters of foundation studies in anthroposophy and the arts–represented for the first time in all four corners of the United States–is growing, and it’s still open!
Foundation Studies Year One programs are starting up this fall in:
* Anchorage, Alaska
* Asheville, North Carolina
* Denver, Colorado
* Phoenix, Arizona
Foundation Studies programs resuming with a Year Two program include:
* Waldorf School of Atlanta, in Decatur GA
* Cincinnati Waldorf School, in Cincinnati OH
* Merriconeag Waldorf School, in Freeport ME
* Lake Champlain Waldorf School, in Shelburne VT
In addition, interest is already brewing for new clusters at some point in Baltimore MD, Gainesville FL, and Nashville TN, all of them sites of previous CfA clusters in foundation studies.
Here are a few comments from participants who recently completed the second
year of foundation studies at our cluster at the Washington Waldorf School:
Coming together every other week with this group of people, to study and engage our creative faculties, became very meaningful . . . .our different segments of study were enlivening and engaging. — Christine Belford
An opportunity to study spirit in a group setting, to hear others’ experiences, questions, objections, and ideas has been enriching. Cynthia and Natalie have been fountains of information. A great team. They both are really able to add dimension and perspective. . . . all the teachers have been able to extract things to consider, take in. — Felicia Derosier
A good overview of Steiner’s work and philosophy – also a good range of the different aspects of his work. More on Steiner’s social ideas may be nice to be presented here, in order to see some of the conclusions his philosophy led him to. — Max Urmey
For details outlining the next round of foundation studies, check our web site–at www.centerforanthroposophy.org–or contact Barbara Richardson, Coordinator of Foundation Studies, at: [email protected]
Dateline Wilton NH: Renewal Once Again Renewed
Karine Munk Finser, Coordinator of Renewal Courses, reports on a record-breaking season of CfA’s popular one-week summer courses.
This was the Renewal of Renewal summers! Over 300 people gathered–during two weeks of courses–to enjoy tremendous instruction and fruitful encounter on the beautiful hilltop campus of High Mowing School.
This year we welcomed back Michaela Gloeckler, who offered a course, attended by over 60 people, entitled The Incarnating Child: Medical and Pedagogical Support in the First Seven Years. Michaela offered us a large body of knowledge that reached far beyond the title and helped us re-enter life with more open eyes. We are grateful that she will return next summer (28 June to 3 July 2015) to teach a course on Healing Trauma in Childhood and Adulthood.
In this our 15thyear, we created a uniquely “Renewal approach” to grade-specific instruction: Christof Wiechert, in addition to conducting his own course, offered daily morning lectures to over 70 participants on themes from Study of Man. This was not only inspiring and enriching to everyone, including the faculty who attended with their participants, but also essential in supporting the anthroposophical foundation of all our curriculum work. We will continue offering grade-specific instruction with this essential component of anthroposophical deepening and artistic transformation. This year the grade-specific teachers included Christopher Sblendorio, Elizabeth Auer, Patrice Maynard, and David Gable.
When Christopher Bamford arrives on campus, as he did this year, we are delighted for we know that he and his special group of people will bring a certain grace to our community. His course typically meets in the Chapel and generates a special soul quality. Chris will return next year with a course on “The Women Around Rudolf Steiner”.
Jaimen McMillan and Katie Moran offered a highly popular course on movement, and it was easy to recognize participants in this workshop from their smiling and ruddy faces! Jamie York taught what some participants called “a life-changing course” on Projective Geometry. As always, Jamie’s masterful approach enlivened both the mind and the feeling life.
Ted Mahle was back to teach two courses: one on “Painting through the Grades” and one on “Art History and the Visual Arts”. Both featured his dynamic teaching style and keen insights. David Lowe, from England, made his debut with us, offering an exciting course on Goethe’s Italian Journey, the Renaissance Masters, and Rudolf Steiner’s Art History lectures.
A lot more should be shared: Charles Andrade’s Collot-inspired course was hugely successful and masterfully led by this dynamic artist-teacher. Leonore Rusell and Torin Finser’s course on Personal and Organizational Renewal was dynamic and instructional in both study and Eurythmy experiences and included participants who were administrators, early childhood, elementary, and high school teachers thus modeling a Waldorf school community. Our Foundations Studies “completion” course–taught by Signe Motter, Douglas Gerwin, Elizabeth Auer, Hugh Renwick, and Cezary Ciaglo–was varied and rich and full of discoveries for its many participants.
This year we again enjoyed having our gifted language teachers, Lorey Johnson and Kati Manning, and we hope that they will continue to teach World Languages, next year addressing the younger grades. Finally we were grateful for Cezary Ciaglo’s artistic contributions in eurythmy, often accompanied by Jeanette Resnick on the piano. David Gable and Jeanette were our morning singing teachers and helped us all begin the day as one big community. Thank you to all, faculty and participants alike!
Please check our website for earliest possible postings for new and returning faculty in Renewal 2015.
Dateline Wilton NH: Where Do the Teachers of the Teachers Themselves Teach?
One way of getting a picture of a teacher education program is to know the origin of its faculty and what they do when they are not teaching teachers. Here is a line-up of the instructors working in the Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP).
At the Center for Anthroposophy, we hold that one of the prerequisites for teaching teachers is to be teaching students. With the quickening pace of changes in adolescence from one generation to the next, the best way to remain current is to remain active in the classroom.
With this criterion in mind, we have built up a solid faculty who not only have years–in many cases decades–of experience in the Waldorf high school but who are still engaging with today’s teenagers in the classroom.
Please meet the faculty of the Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP), their years of teaching experience, their specialization as it applies to WHiSTEP, and their current high school affiliation (underlined):
(physics, chemistry, mathematics) 21 years teaching. Class teacher, founding high school teacher at
Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs (Saratoga Springs NY)
(history, life science, English, music) 33 years teaching. High school teacher in Wilton NH; guest teacher/mentor in 30 Waldorf schools; visiting teacher at Monadnock Waldorf School (Keene NH)
(history, English, drama) 46 years teaching. High school teacher in Washington DC, Sacramento CA, San Francisco CA, Seattle WA, Santa Fe, NM, and now part-time high school teacher again at San Francisco Waldorf School (San Francisco CA)
(life sciences, mathematics)
34 years teaching. High school teacher in Vienna, Austria, and now Chicago Waldorf School (Chicago IL)
(eurythmy) 20 years teaching. High school eurythmy teacher in Chicago IL, Portland OR, Keene NH, and now Green Meadow Waldorf School (Spring Valley NY)
(eurythmy, English) 38 years teaching. High school teacher at Garden City NY; visiting teacher at Tara Performing Arts High School (Boulder CO)
(English, drama) 40 years teaching. High school teacher in Spring Valley NY, Boulder CO, now at Merriconeag Waldorf School (Freeport ME)
(Music) 30 years teaching. High school chorus and drama teacher in Kimberton PA, New York NY, Chicago IL and now at Rudolf Steiner School (New York NY)
(speech) 26 years teaching. Class teacher at Honolulu Waldorf School and now freelance speech instructor and coach based at Highland Hall Waldorf School (Northridge CA)
(sculpture, arts/art history) 36 years teaching. Currently high school guest teacher at several Waldorf schools, including High Mowing School, Monadnock Waldorf School, and near home at Hawthorne Valley School (Ghent NY)
(mathematics) 23 years teaching. High school teacher in Holland and now at Shining Mountain Waldorf School (Boulder CO)
Dateline Wilton NH: Where Are They Now?
Of the nine students who graduated this summer from CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP), eight are currently active in the classroom. Douglas Gerwin, Director of the Center and Chair of WHiSTEP, briefly outlines where they are working.
All but one of the Class of 2014 were already working in schools even before they completed their training this summer in the Center’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP). With the beginning of this school year, all of them are teaching or interning in schools dotted around this country:
— Corby Gallegos: teaching high school humanities and drama at the Pasadena Waldorf School in Pasadena, CA, where he helped found the high school two years ago.
— Steve Haendiges: teaching high school math and English, as well as some sciences, at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley, MA
— Naomi Henderson: newly hired as high school arts teacher at the Hartsbook School in Hadley, MA.
— Jeana Lee: teaching high school physics and math at the Green Meadow Waldorf High School in Chestnut Ridge, NY.
— Kelda Mazzone: completed her course work and preparing to intern from her base in Princeton NJ, where her children attend the Waldorf School of Princeton.
— Dan Moise: moving from Chapel Hill to teach high school physics and math at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in Saratoga Springs, NY
— Michal Noer: teaching high school arts as well as being a dorm counselor at High Mowing School in Wilton, NH
— Max Urmey: teaching high school physics and math at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD.
Looking ahead to the summer of 2015, a new group of high school trainees is already forming, with specializations offered in
- Arts and art history
- English language and literature
- History and social sciences
- Life science and earth science
- Mathematics and computer studies
- Physics and chemistry
- Pedagogical eurythmy
For details, contact Douglas Gerwin, Director of the Center for Anthroposophy, at [email protected]
Dateline Wilton, NH: Stepping into High (School) Gear
For the 20th year in a row, the CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) will launch a new summer session for prospective and practicing high school teachers. Douglas Gerwin, founder of this program, briefly previews the forthcoming cycle.
The next round of our three-summers program starts in July 2015 on the campus of High Mowing School, a Waldorf school in Wilton, New Hampshire. As in previous years, we will be offering specialization in:
- Arts/Art History — with Patrick Stolfo
- Biology and Earth Science — with Michael Holdrege
- English & Foreign Languages — with David Sloan
- History and Social Science — with Meg Gorman
- Mathematics and Computer Studies — with Jamie York
- Physics and Chemistry — with Michael D’Aleo
The schedule is arranged in such a way that students can specialize in either one or two of these areas.
The program, begun in 1996, also features hands-on seminars in “Living Thinking” with Michael D’Aleo, “Human Development and Waldorf High School Curriculum” with Douglas Gerwin, and “Professional Research” with Michael Holdrege, as well as workshops in drama (David Sloan), eurythmy (Laura Radefeld), music (Jeff Spade), sculpture (Patrick Stolfo), and speech (Daniel Stokes).
In addition to these three summer intensives, students undertake two years of independent studies including a research project and internship. At present over 110 current students and graduates of this program are working in around 50 Waldorf schools across North America.
Details of our forthcoming summer program–starting on Sunday 28 June and running until Saturday 25 July–can be viewed on our website.
Dateline Wilton NH: Books in Black and White From Color Shop & More
In addition to its usual lines of quality arts supplies and fine gift items, the CfA’s Color Shop & More has expanded its offerings of books, thanks to its refurbished website.
Bolstered by brisk sales during the summer months, the Color Shop & More has significantly increased the number of titles offered in the store and online at its refurbished website. Specifically, the store has acquired a new selection of recently published books on Waldorf education and anthroposophy, including texts used in the Center’s foundation studies and teacher education programs.
With an eye on the fall season, the Color Shop & More has also filled its shelves with a new line of beautifully illustrated children’s books, along with an array of flying machines, origami sets, puzzles, and kits for all ages.
In addition the store has restocked its arts supplies with new materials including a new line of high-quality paintbrushes.
Hours for the store are Thursdays and Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For placing orders, contact the staff at (603) 654-6297 or via e-mail at [email protected] For browsing online go to the store’s website at www.colorshopandmore.com.