Wednesday, May 7, 2014

School Year 2014-2015: Hopes & Dreams & Questions

As this school year draws to a close and I reflect on the incredible diversity of schools that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in the past year, I’m realizing that what I want next is a deeper exploration of a few schools that have really stoked the fire of my curiosity.  This year has been a very broad but shallow overview, and has really helped me to refine some of my questions. Next year I will be working in at least two schools with radically different philosophies and environments, trying to clarify some of my understandings. 

I’ve been thinking about the following polarities between two of the schools I hope to study more intensively: 

Liberty-Based Democratic School ----- Waldorf-inspired Nature-Based School

Liberty, Agency -------- Routines, Rituals 
Bottom-up: Student initiated ------------ Top-down: Teacher/Pedagogy 
Freedom to focus solely on interests ------ Broad curriculum, many skills taught
Child & adult are equal  -------------- Teacher is trusted authority
Freedom to stay inside, unlimited screen time ------- Outdoor learning daily, no screens

Of course, these polarities vastly oversimplify these learning environments. However, I do think that it helps me to frame my questions as along a continuum. 

Any thoughts, friends? The more you know, the more you don't know.... It's so true. 


  1. So excited to see a fellow traveler on the journey. I was so fascinated that I went back to school for an M.Ed and researched, studied, and observed Reggio, Waldorf, Montessori, Radical Unschooling. I was not allowed the privilege of observing in a freeschool environment. I would love to dialogue with you further and plan to follow your blog going forward. Have a lovely day!

  2. Dorna, it's great to see you describe various pedagogical philosophies. I plan to follow your blog and learn as you learn. Thank you for going to these lengths to move the conversation about education to the level of aims and practice.

    As a Waldorf "lifer", I have one tweak to suggest. While Waldorf, as you say, is nature-based, it's also arts-based and "mindfulness"-based ... but it's overarching guiding principles are rooted in the pan-human developmental stages of childhood. What would you think of contrasting Liberty-Based Democratic School with Development-Based Waldorf-inspired School? One other hair to split would be that, in my experience, Waldorf - or at least the more progressive parts of Waldorf in the 50 public schools using Waldorf methods in the U.S. - introduces screens in 5th grade - learning to type and create documents - and by 8th grade students are learning to take a computer apart and learning to write code. My son is a graduate of a K-12 private Waldorf school; he has a degree in computer science from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and he works successfully in the video game industry today. His computer skills matter, but it is his people skills and curiosity that got him noticed. Use as you wish! Or not. In any case, thank you again for undeertaking this project.

    1. Dear Joan,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response. In this post I was actually referring to one school in particular that I'm going to work at next spring (I wrote about it in November. It's called "The Learning Village"). I agree with you that a traditional Waldorf school does have these aspects that you describe. I'm also happy to hear that some Waldorf schools have really changed with the times-- when I was in high school we were not allowed to use any technology except for a word processor after grade 10, which I felt was really limiting.

      All the best,