This blog post of part of the Winter 2013 High Notes newsletter.
Heading home from a meeting, my thoughts were elsewhere as I walked across campus past the greenhouses and chicken coops. My contemplations were interrupted by the disturbing squawk of chickens in extreme distress — mixed with another much louder, high-pitched screeching. As I left the footpath and headed across the snowy field towards the hen house, a mature eagle flew up from the entrance, disappearing into the forest. I could not immediately tell if the eagle had taken any chickens but in their attempt to escape the predator, the chickens had managed to crush and kill several of their companions (I have since discovered four hens are missing and ten perished). This is not the first time nature and farm — our Naturalist Program and our Horticulture Program — have been in competition for attention on the High Mowing campus. Earlier this year, I received a desperate message for help from a resident faculty member who discovered a bear in the beehives!
I did what I could to take care of the chickens, calling for reinforcements. Brad Miller, the school’s horticulture teacher and farmer was unavailable, so I engaged the help of Dale Dintaman, Director of Residential Life, who temporarily extended his responsibilities beyond overseeing the students' residence to focus on the chickens’ residence!
Continuing my walk home, I passed Frye Field and noticed a student deep in thought as he walked across the yard. It occurred to me in that moment that, while chickens, eagles, bees and bears do not have identity issues — they know who they are and what they are meant do in the world — this is not the case with human beings. In fact, Rudolf Steiner, the genius behind Waldorf education, said in his lecture The Modern Art of Education:
(…) with the human being, thinking and will do not come together of their own accord, so that is why we educate. With animals it is a natural activity. With human beings it must become a moral activity. Human beings can become moral beings because here on earth they have the opportunity to bring thinking into their will. The whole character of the human being — in so far as it arises from within — rests on the proper harmony being established between thinking and will as a result of the individual’s own efforts.
The will-activity of children as they develop and grow has to be directed first, in early childhood, through example, and then guided through education. Ultimately, education connects their thinking with their will, freeing them from purely instinct-driven activity. In high school — at High Mowing School — through our unique curriculum (see Kathy Boss’ article High Mowing School and Waldorf Education), we serve the adolescent’s pursuit of balance between intellectuality and desire-driven action. The task of the developing adolescent is to discover one’s unique identity, gain an understanding of what it means to be human and find the relationship of self to the world and others. There is a need to reconcile inner life and outer world, and discover one’s life purpose — not things that trouble the bees, chickens, bears, nor even the powerful eagle. Wendy Bruneau, humanities teacher at High Mowing School, outlines this process in her article Why Faust? She describes how Faust, a required Grade 12 humanities block course, meets this developmental need. As Bruneau says, “Faust addresses the central 12th grade question head on:”
(…) the essential question for 12th grade students is who am I? As they prepare themselves to go out into the world, young people ask themselves what is my place in the world? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of person do I want to be? What am I here to do? Woven in with such concerns are the related questions of the role of good and evil in the world, and the foundations of moral action.
At the core is the adolescent’s search for identity, clear thinking and independence. Ultimately in the course of this search, while encountering the education, the developing adolescent arrives at an understanding of the responsibility of exercising free agency through moral action in the world. The curriculum at High Mowing School provides an ethical and moral education appropriate for the developing adolescent — an education that “rests on the proper harmony being established between thinking and will as a result of the individual [student]’s own efforts.” This is accomplished by nurturing the development of logical thinking, beginning in Grade 9 with a focus on the observation of phenomena in the world, to a shift in Grade 10 where the students seek to not only know how it is, but how we know how it is. Grade 11 students develop insight driven by a wish to understand their own inner life and how that balances with the wider world. Grade 12 students ask, “How can I have an effect on the world? What is my place and purpose? Can the world be changed by me?”1 Kim McCormick, a High Mowing School science teacher, describes this progression through the science curriculum in her article, The Nature of Science at High Mowing School.
In an article on procrastination, Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, asserts a direct connection between achieved identity and free will, motivation and self-directed action. He states, “(…) the more a person knows who they are, the higher the level of agency. (…) procrastination decreases as developmental issues of identity resolve.”
High Mowing’s developmental approach to education, with the aim of “achieved identity” and harmonizing thinking, free volition and free agency, is sorely needed in today’s world — and not just to end procrastination. In the light of the recent travesty in Newtown, CT, it is clear that our youth need to reconcile inner life with outer world to understand the responsibility of exercising free agency through moral action.
I am honored to be serving at High Mowing School where the unique curriculum fosters healthy development of each student, enabling each to realize his or her potential and develop the skills to contribute to a more compassionate society. I hold on to hope for the future when I see the courage to be human in this world of ours reflected back to me each day at our school. It is evidenced through the upright students that meet my eyes directly at roll call, and their strivings in the classroom, labs, library and lecture hall, in plays, at chapel and festival celebrations, in the A Cappella choir, in the jazz, orchestra and art studios, on stage, and on the athletic fields, in forest, and greenhouses….yes, even in the hen house feeding chickens or while studying the tracks of bears retreating from their dinner at our beehives. And, most definitely while observing the behavior of eagles clashing with the chickens who provide the eggs for the breakfast served in our dining room.
Now, through our Founder’s Merit Scholarship Program and tuition adjustment programs, we are creating opportunities for students from many walks of life to experience this kind of education. It is truly a gift.
1 Information about the Waldorf curriculum and the developing adolescent from The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, edited by Martyn Rawson and Tobias Richter, a research document produced in co-operation with the Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, East Sussex, reprinted in 2010. www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk
Students painted in the Renaissance style in a High Mowing art class.