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Dutch Waldorf 2017

Reflections on Holland

There were several surprises in store for me in Holland.

First of all, I was dreading having to speak Dutch again after 17 years of being away from The Netherlands. Yet I quickly found myself speaking Dutch with everyone I encountered, and even thinking in Dutch. I dropped in unexpectedly on two of my Dutch tutors who lived in my old neighborhood, and ended up speaking Dutch non-stop for three hours. The greatest surprise was that I enjoyed it!

Jamie with Dutch middle and high school teachers, Spring 2017.

When I was in Holland 18 years ago, the feeling was that Waldorf education had had its growth period in the 1970’s and that things had leveled off. Surprisingly, and in spite of decreasing numbers of students in the country overall, the Dutch Waldorf schools have recently experienced a lot of growth. The school I had taught at (Adriaan Roland Holstschool in Bergen, which has grades 7-12) had about 250 students 25 years ago. Today it has 600 students. Each grade has five or six classes! In the whole country of the Netherlands, there are now 25.000 students in 74 primary schools and 20 high schools.

Confidence is the Key

In an educational world that seems increasingly fixated on test results and getting into prestigious colleges, we can lose perspective of what the true purpose of education is.

The pressure to prepare for state exams or college entrance exams can be overwhelming. The message I heard both in England and in Holland was that the topics on these tests have become more numerous, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the topics are needing to be introduced at a younger and younger age. Many of the high school teachers in Holland seemed more overwhelmed and discouraged by this tread than I had remembered from 18 years ago.

As I heard teachers expressing these concerns, I reminded myself that there is much more to education than preparing for exams and getting our students ready for math in middle school, high school, or college. Patrick Bassett, former head of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools), asked the question: “What are the skills and values that will be necessary for students to succeed and prosper in the 21st century?”, and came up with the following attributes: character, creativity, critical thinking, communication, team work, and leadership. I have included this list in my teacher’s source books. And have spoken about it often.

There is a common fear voiced by math teachers everywhere I go. They speak of the terrible pressures they feel for getting students prepared for their state exams. In the past couple of weeks, something has occurred to me. Of course, we want our students to do well on such exams which often can determine which universities they can be admitted to – but what is the cost? How many sacrifices do we need to make so that students will be prepared for these exams? It’s perhaps the most urgent question that I hear in every country and in every school I visit.

I think we need to look at it differently. We should instead ask ourselves,
What is the greatest gift we can give our students that will help them find their own place in the world, and allow them, ultimately, to fulfill their destiny?

I see this gift as confidence. In a world seemingly dominated by fear and uncertainly, what a gift it would be to provide the students in our care with an education that enables them to develop self-confidence – to know themselves and be comfortable with who they are. Think about it…how many students learn to play the game well, do great on their exams (be it SAT tests in the U.S., or state exams in other countries), and perhaps even gain admittance to prestigious universities, but somehow are lacking self-esteem and underneath it all are unsatisfied with life?

It shouldn’t be all about test preparation. It should be all about building confidence.

If we can gift our students with self-confidence then all of Bassett’s attributes are enhanced. Confidence strengths one’s character and one’s thinking abilities. Confidence allows for the possibility of being creative, and enables one to communicate more effectively, and work well with other people.

Now we have the question: how do we gift our students with confidence? Clearly, continuous false praise (everyone is wonderful and deserves a medal) does quite the opposite. Making things easy in order to ensure “success” doesn’t help either. After all, what does anyone really accomplish by doing something easy? No, we build confidence in our students by occasionally guiding them through challenging experiences. This is what builds confidence, whether it be in math class, on the sports field, or on stage. Real success comes when students find the courage to attempt something they thought they couldn’t do, and, usually with the teacher’s guidance, they work their way through a period of struggle until they break through and succeed. Real success isn’t easy.

How would students’ experience of school be different if their teachers focused less on preparing them for exams, and more on helping them to strengthen their self-confidence?

No Fear Math and a Puzzle for a Puzzle

Originally published by Waldorf Today as Reflections on Waldorf Math Research Colloquium NYC by Jamie York. No Fear Math.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a Waldorf math research colloquium in New York City with 17 colleagues. I was encouraged by the quality of mathematics teaching that appears to be… Continue Reading

Glimpses of the Taiwan Waldorf Movement

Here is a short video giving you a picture of the burgeoning Taiwan Waldorf movement. The film features the Ci Xin Waldorf school in Yilan county, during Jamie York’s Waldorf math visit there this spring. The school has 700 students from kindergarten to high school. The kindergarten is on a separate campus and the high school… Continue Reading

Taiwan Waldorf Math Workshop

Taiwan Waldorf Math Workshop: The Ci Xin Waldorf school in Taiwan is bursting at the seams. This publicy school has a total enrollment of 700 students, and includes a kindergarten, a lower/middle school, and a high school. Waiting lists are hundreds long, and parents move to lush, Yilan county, with its rice paddies and nearby… Continue Reading

Factoring: 9th Grade Waldorf Math

In the 9th grade Waldorf math unit, it is important that students learn to factor a variety of polynomial expressions, and eventually develop the ability to solve quadratic equations. Time needs to be taken here in order to ensure mastery before moving forward in the Waldorf high school math curriculum. It is best for the students… Continue Reading

Pressure for Waldorf schools to offer accelerated Algebra I and Calculus: Implications?

Mainstream education in the U.S. has increasingly been focused on “getting ahead”.  I believe that, as Waldorf schools, we should be focused on depth instead of acceleration.  What is the rush anyway?  What really are our real goals?  Are we really going to fill more seats by offering AP courses?  Are we then playing someone… Continue Reading

Introducing new math topics in the Waldorf lower grades

All too often, if a teacher is asked, “Why are you teaching this math topic to your Waldorf students now?” the response is “Because that’s when everyone does it.” An example is borrowing. Most teachers introduce borrowing (and have the children practice it a great deal) in second grade. Why? “Because that’s when everyone does… Continue Reading

Steiner and the high purpose of learning math

Rudolf Steiner spoke about how mathematics is a training in sense-free thinking. He also spoke of how the proper teaching of mathematics is an important part of the student’s moral and spiritual development. By cultivating mathematical capacities in our students, we are helping to lay the foundation for the student’s spiritual development later in life.… Continue Reading

Major math themes through the Waldorf grades

Here is an overview of the major math themes through the grades in our Waldorf math curriculum: Grades 1-4: Developing a sense of number These early grades within the Waldorf math curriculum are not about the mastery of written procedural skills (e.g., vertical arithmetic and calculations with fractions), even though these procedures were introduced in… Continue Reading

Working through math struggles is good

Ironically, even though there are greater expectations for our children to learn more material and do more homework — all at a younger age — we don’t want them to struggle, especially with math. We want our children to be happy and successful. We live in an “instant gratification” culture. If we want something to… Continue Reading