Thursday, March 19, 2009

Waldorf is to Education what the Slow Food Movement is to your Dinner

The Slow Food Movement is an organization dedicated to spreading and maintaining appreciation for good, local, traditional, clean food in opposition to the fast foods and fast-paced life styles that are so globally pervasive today. Waldorf education has a lot in common with the aims of the Slow Food movement.

Just as Slow Food encourages pleasure in the experience of food preparation and eating, Waldorf creates an educational environment that is enjoyable and unrushed. Waldorf does not push children to read in Kindergarten or 1st grade. It takes a much more gradual approach. It weaves the arts into every subject, making them interrelated rather than isolated, providing a frame of reference from which the child can assimilate the subject more easily and permanently. This has the affect of piquing the students’ interest so that they want to dive deeper into the subject matter. It also makes the schoolwork and the environment of the school quite pleasurable. The students want to be at school and want to learn for curiosity sake, not for some external reward or punishment.

Slow Food advocates for clean and fair food for the health of the planet. It endorses patience in the growing of food, believing that dumping synthetic fertilizers and pesticides promote quantity and speed at a cost that is not worth the price. They believe industrial agribusiness practices produce problems with animal welfare, environmental damage, loss of local cultural traditions, and toxic residue on food, as well as unfair trade practices. The Waldorf system similarly advocates a more local, patient approach. It eschews reliance on national companies that provide standardized testing or textbooks . Rather it employs highly educated and respected teachers to educate students with their enthusiasm, patience, and expertise. They make use of classic traditions and classic literature, though they do not use textbooks. These tend to standardize and spoon-feed a lesson that is not likely to be remembered. Instead, the students make the books and they are filled with artistic renderings, math computations, science experiment observations, essays, and more. Waldorf also teaches a reverence for the environment by going on daily nature walks, incorporating the materials of nature into their lessons, and daily outdoor play.

The Slow Food Movement emphasizes the connection between the plate and the planet, seeing the whole picture. They call themselves co-producers, not consumers because of their desire to be informed about how food is produced, to be a part of that small scale production whenever possible, and to be supportive of others who produce food in a sustainable way. Waldorf’s mission is also to see the big picture and to teach to the whole child. They find multiple ways of reaching students in the manner they learn best. They encourage cooperation over competition and an attitude of questioning instead of unexplored acceptance. They do not teach isolated facts for rote memorization; they connect the subjects and question the students to get to the why, what and how.

By emphasizing local traditions and biodiversity, the Slow Food Movement aims to sustain an appreciation for them. The foods of Italy should taste deliciously different from the foods of India. So, too, the goal of Waldorf is not to create standardized students but to create happy, confident, interested, educated students with a world-view. It encourages each student to revel in their unique nature and to learn in their own way as they find their element.

The goal of eating is more than just stopping hunger quickly and cheaply. It is to experience joyfully the taste, texture, and tradition of food at a relaxed pace. Similarly, the goal of education is not just to end ignorance. It is to learn and explore with curiosity all that makes us human. It is to create well-adjusted, well-informed, productive citizens of the world. A focus on speed, low cost and standardization will produce an inferior hamburger and a less than optimal learning environment, doing a lot of damage along the way. Both excellent food and excellent education take time, patience, appreciation, expertise, and attention. We would do well to learn from the Slow Food Movement and apply its principles to education to enjoy the outstanding, sustainable results.