Over the years, CfA has pioneered a growing number of different programs related to Waldorf education, from introductory courses and teacher preparation to administrative training and ongoing rejuvenation – seven programs in all. In this issue of our online newsletter, we briefly showcase their latest offerings and most recent innovations.
And we examine a basic right of all students.
— Douglas Gerwin
Center for Anthroposophy
Dateline Amherst, MA: The Right to Write
In barely a generation, students have reversed the order in which they learn to write and to type. Douglas Gerwin, Executive 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––so that in eight weeks I had completed a first draft of the manuscript. To speed the process, I placed a typewriter at my elbow in order, with minimum distraction, to keep a running tab of footnote references and supplementary remarks. However, notwithstanding impending deadlines, I opted to write––at times to scribble––the body of 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 –– 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 chose to compose that thesis on a notepad, rather than an electronic Notebook.
Nowadays, in light of government-mandated Common Core standards, I read with alarm how 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 opted to give 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.
below“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, for one, stands with Professor Klemm: it has issued a report saying that cursive helps develop memory, fine motor skills, and better expression.
belowKlemm’s conclusions are further supported by a study in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, which reports that children who practice cursive writing show improved symbol recognition, leading to a heightened ability to read fluently. The study’s published fMRI scans show that physically writing the letters by hand links visual processing and motor experience, thereby strengthening students’ ability to recognize––and later to write––words and sentences.
Writing by hand also improves memory and comprehension among adults. According to a study published 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.
Meg Kursonis, principal at St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary School in Worcester, nevertheless points to research that comprehension and retention improves among students who write in cursive. “Students who print or type on a keyboard see individual letters when writing,” she says, “whereas cursive writers see the word as a whole, using the bridges and circular movements to join letters for connectivity. Seeing the whole word also helps them to be better spellers.”
Meanwhile, an online poll by Harris Interactive reports that 79 percent of adult respondents––and even 68 percent of kids, ages 8-18––feel cursive should still be taught in school. Nearly half the adults polled (49%) and more than a third of the kids (35%) said 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 the keyboard of a computer or smartphone 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. Some teachers worry that students may leave school unable to sign their name in cursive.
What does this developmental switch––from writing or printing to typing or keyboarding––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 historical documents such as the U.S. Constitution or scribbled notes from a friend or 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.”
belowIn 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, a practice 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 later 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 neglect 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 leaps across a keyboard.
In the meantime, the town of Edmonds, near Seattle WA, has put up a new sign in flowing script. A local newspaper featured a photo of the sign with an accompanying headline: “Welcome to Edmonds – if you can read cursive.”
This sign reminds me of the new logo chosen a few years ago by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America intended to capture not just a style of teaching but the essence of a covenant that Waldorf schools make with their students: namely, that the hand shall guide the head – and the heart.
Put simply: children have a right to write.
Dateline Wilton, NH: Renewal Courses Return Online
Once again, CfA’s one-week Renewal Courses will be held online this summer. Karen Atkinson, newly appointed as Coordinator of this popular program, reports on the latest line-up.
New growth is blooming all around me. Every day, I witness nature’s beauty in my garden. The blossoms of the seeds planted over the past year, as they radiate new life, bring me inspiration for the season ahead. It is exciting, and truly gratifying, to observe the flourishing growth of the foundation laid before me.
belowIt is similar with my new role as Renewal Coordinator. Over the past year, and the prior two decades, Karine Munk Finser has laid the foundation and nurtured the growth of a garden which I am in the process of taking over in terms of its care and cultivation. Maintaining CfA’s mission––providing research and renewal, while providing preparation and renewed ingenuity for Waldorf teachers and those who stand with them as administrators, trustees, parents, and friends––is at the forefront of my inspiration for embracing this new venture.
belowLast summer, in response to the pandemic, Renewal Courses served our family of participants “in the interval”, as it was dubbed. This summer, in an effort to ensure the health and safety of all of our participants, we will once again stage each of our courses virtually. We continue to be dedicated to the principle of providing live, interactive courses infused with the arts.
belowThis coming summer, then, Renewal Courses have been carefully selected to nourish teachers, leaders, parents, and all community members across Waldorf education, particularly during times of continual growth and adaptation. Here is a brief snapshot of our 2021 virtual summer offerings:
· Separate grade-specific courses for each year, grades 1 through 8,
beloled by our stellar faculty, through live, interactive instruction and
· Curative education seminar
· Inspiring daily lectures by Christof Wiechert
· Daily, innovative conversations on “Decomposing the Colonial
beloGaze” with Chérie and Petna Ndaliko
Click here for details of our summer line up!
· “Sacred Hospitality” with Orland Bishop
· “Honeybees and the Heart of the Consciousness Soul” with Alex
· “Waldorf 101” with Signe Motter
· “Biography and Social Art” with Jennifer Fox & Sandra LaGrega
· “Physical Sciences for Grades 6-8” with Roberto Trostli
· “Living Thinking” with Michael D’Aleo
· “Painting a Path Towards Artistic Freedom” with Charles Andrade
belowDuring our two weeks of five-day coures this summer we also look forward each day to singing with Meg Chittenden and taking eurythmy with Leonore Russell.
belowMay our Summer 2021 Renewal Courses bring forth the fruits of past and current efforts. I look forward to seeing many of you this summer! Please join me in spreading the word about summer Renewal Courses so that all those who wish to grow and learn about Waldorf education and anthroposophy have the opportunity to engage in these amazing offerings.
May your days be filled with joy,
CfA Renewal Coordinator
Dateline Keene, NH: A New Leadership Program for Administrators
Building on previous successes, a new training program for Waldorf leaders and administrators has already created a waitlist, as well as sign-ups for a second cohort.
In early April, the Center for Anthroposophy launched the new Administration and Leadership Development Program. The course was designed to guide, support, and inspire school administrators and leaders from both independent and public Waldorf schools.
belowAn earlier version of this successful program was led by Torin Finser through Antioch University New England. While some elements have remained the same, this new program has been updated and designed specifically to meet the needs facing Waldorf school administrators and pedagogical leaders of today.
belowThis 14-month, low-residency program has been meeting twice monthly during the school year, virtually. The program continues with a week-long summer intensive, plus two long weekends, scheduled for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Through professional development and training that builds skills, capacities, and understanding of the vital roles carried by Waldorf school administrators and pedagogical leaders, the program is ideal for anyone carrying a leadership role in an independent or public Waldorf setting.
Program themes include:
belowNot surprisingly, this course quickly reached maximum capacity and is operating with a waitlist for the current cohort residencies. Sign-ups for our next course, scheduled to start in Spring 2022, have already begun.
belowCurrent participants include school administrators, pedagogical leaders, college chairs, section chairs, board members, and public Waldorf principals from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and as far away as Cambodia! Bringing together this dynamic group of Waldorf school leaders has proven to be both exciting and rewarding.
belowFor more information about our Administration and Leadership Development Program or to reserve a spot for in our next round, please click here:
May your days be filled with happiness and inspiration,
Coordinator of the Administration and Leadership Development Program
Dateline Conway, NH: Building New Bridges to the Northeast
Dateline Keene, NH: Exploration of Specialist Waldorf Trainings
Since its inauguration last year, CfA’s introductory course has gone online as well as expanding into the specialist training of Waldorf administrators and high school teachers. Bev Boyer, Coordinator of this burgeoning program, reports.
CfA’s introductory course to anthroposophical studies––now called “Explorations”––made a very successful transition to an online format last year. This program offers artistic work as well as contemplative studies on current themes, using Anthroposophy as a method of inquiry. In addition, program includes features such as monthly office hours with the faculty and ongoing “conversation groups” to offer students the opportunity to engage in a more personal way with each other and with their instructors.
belowThe first cohort using this new format will graduate in May, 2021. Meanwhile a new and much larger group was launched last month. Thanks to its online format, this second group has drawn 128 participants from as far away as Hawaii to Ethiopia.
belowFurther, this new cohort includes participants from two other CfA programs: the new Administration and Leadership Program (described above) and the Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (outlined below). Participants in either of these programs who wish to gain a more solid footing in the foundations of anthroposophy are attending the core Explorations workshops in addition to the seminars offered in these two areas of specialization.
belowSome 30 high school teachers have opted to supplement the core course with the series of high school seminars, which allow all participants to sample the various high school disciplines in the humanities, science, and math before taking up one or more of these specialized subjects in more detail.
belowFor those intending to undertake teacher training, the Waldorf program at Antioch University New England recognizes a certificate of completion in CfA’s Explorations program as fulfilling part of Antioch’s entrance requirements.
belowThe Explorations faculty is looking forward to a rich and exciting year with this dynamic and diverse group of participants. Those interested in signing up for the next cohort, to be launched during the coming school year, should contact Bev Boyer, Coordinator of Explorations, at email@example.com
Dateline Wilton NH: New Cycle of Waldorf High School Teacher Education
Each summer for the past quarter-century, the Center for Anthroposophy has graduated a new cohort of its Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP). Here is a brief preview of the subjects being featured online this summer – and an unusual twist to the latest graduating group.
Launched by the Center for Anthroposophy (CfA) in July of 1996, the Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program––known to its friends as “WHiSTEP”––will this year graduate its 24th cohort of prospective and practicing high school teachers. With this latest group we exceed the 200-mark of trainees who have completed this part-time three-summers program.
below As of this year, WHiSTEP students or graduates are active in some 34 of the 40 Waldorf high schools extant in North America, from the Pacific Northwest to the sultry Southeast and the rocky Atlantic coastline of Maine, as well as both of the latest high schools launched in Cincinnati OH and Halton ON. Overall, about two-thirds of WHiSTEP’s current and graduated students––including half of the original Class of 1998––are working full or part-time at some 60 Waldorf schools spread across five continents.
belowSometimes we are asked: How many teachers does it take to constitute a full high school faculty? At the Center for Anthroposophy, we calculate that number as approaching 12 (give or take a few, depending on the size of the school): 3-4 for humanities including languages; 3-4 for sciences and math; 3-4 for arts and crafts, as well as athletics. These numbers do not include administrative and non-classroom positions such as college and guidance counselors, after-school coaches, and office staff.
belowEach summer, the Center’s high school program admits a new class of 10-15 students––in other words, the equivalent of a full high school faculty––ranging across the subject specializations. This year we are offering specialized “subject seminars” in Arts and Art History, English and Literature, History and Social Science, Life Science and Earth Science, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.
belowAll of these summer courses are usually held on the merged campuses of High Mowing School and Pine Hill Waldorf School in Southeastern New Hampshire, though this summer these courses will be held largely online. An exceptional twist this summer is that a majority of the graduating third-year cohort have opted to rent a house in Upstate New York and have even coaxed about half of their teachers to join them there for a partly in-person completion of their journey through the WHiSTEP program.
belowThe first of the newest cohort have already been accepted into the forthcoming cycle of this month-long summer program, which includes seminars, artistic ateliers, and subject-specific workshops. Several are taking the high school seminar linked to the introductory “Explorations” program (described above).
belowThis new group of teachers––many of them already active in the classroom––will be studying, albeit in separate online Zoom classes, alongside close to a hundred trainees and their faculty in the Waldorf elementary teacher education program of Antioch University New England. A few are joining with the intention of securing a fully-accredited Master’s degree in Waldorf high school teaching from Antioch as part of a joint venture introduced several years ago. A separate stream has just opened up for those wishing to apply for a doctorate in Waldorf high school education under the aegis of Antioch’s Education Department, based in Keene, NH.
belowThis summer’s cycle of the high school program starts on Sunday27 June 2021 and runs five weeks until Saturday 31 July. For details about application, contact Douglas Gerwin, CfA’s Executive Director and Chair of its Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program.
Dateline Keene, NH: Alumni Association Update
Now in its second year, the Alumni Association for CfA and Antioch alums is planning another round activities, both online and in person. Bev Boyer, who oversees this group, reports on what’s happening.
The recently launched Alumni Association continues to work towards the goal of facilitating meaningful connections between alums of both Antioch’s Waldorf Program and Center for Anthroposophy (CfA). Most recently, the Association’s leadership team sponsored an online event for alums in March entitled “Restorative Practices in a Time of Zoom Fatigue”. More such events are being planned for the next academic year.
belowMembers of the Alumni Association are invited to suggest further topics they think would be valuable to alums by contacting Bev Boyer (firstname.lastname@example.org). CfA and Antioch graduates wishing to take an active part in this Association should likewise reach out to Bev at this same e-mail address.
Correction to Memorial Article on Ann Pratt
As a service to Waldorf teachers and administrators–both those in training and those who have completed their training-CfA has launched a new page on its website for those seeking employment. Milan Daler, CfA’s Administrator, outlines this new service.