Now is a time when isolation and divisiveness are all around us. COVID-19 is keeping us at home. Politics is telling us we must choose to be Red or Blue. The news is showing us all how we’re different and afraid.
While these anti-social forces drain our will, we must hold fast to stand for togetherness, keep our connections, and cultivate courage over fear and apathy. What is to be done?
“Connection and relationships are at the heart of Waldorf education.”
Connection and relationships are at the heart of Waldorf education. Waldorf education and its roots in Anthroposophy can offer guidance. Faculty Chair, Kelly Beekman, has been taking this question to heart for our children and our community.
“In our classes, our teachers cultivate curiosity about the world and their classmates and help students focus on being of service to one another,” says Kelly. “Waldorf educators help children see and develop the qualities that make us human. What we do in the classroom, we can do as a whole community.”
Focus on Keeping Connection
Staying connected is more essential than ever. The prevalence of depression has increased 3-fold since the pandemic began, and humans are hardwired to thrive on connection.
Dr. Emma Seppala, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, studies the essential nature of social connection. Her research and that of her peers show isolation can be more detrimental to health than obesity and smoking. Scientists have also found that social connection generates a positive feedback loop of social and emotional well-being among those connecting.
Here at school, connection is built-in each day, but we also encourage our students to be brave and creative when making new connections. Children are asked to step outside of themselves to take an interest in their work and one another.
Kelly says, “As adults, we must draw these things out in ourselves too and work to be creative as we move toward connection. It’s essential that we don’t get stuck on the fact that we cannot be together. Connecting requires extra interest and dedication now. So be courageous. Explore new ways to stay safe and still connect.”
Suggestions include mailing letters to friends and family, raking a neighbors leaves or otherwise being of service, making extra phone calls or connection through cooking, music, and art. No matter what your family chooses when increasing efforts to connect, your children will see you reaching outward towards togetherness in trying times, which is a behavior worth emulating during their future challenges.
Focus on Respect and Mutual Understanding
Waldorf schools can have a deeper sense of community because of shared goals and values around education. But what happens when our values, outside of education, conflict?
As election season approaches, we all feel the stress of our society’s current monologue driven communication. Finding common ground and engaging in civil discourse is ideal but difficult. Placing a lens of respect for differences and a keen eye towards similarities and shared lived experiences can help us come together more easily in divisive times.
“Take a real interest in the world.”
When it comes to the Waldorf approach to such life lessons, Kelly says that Steiner asked us to “take a real interest in the world,” and teachers work to do that each day with students. Teachers who work with their class for multiple years have and take the time to learn the stories of their students and their families.
Kelly tells us, “Teachers are connecting and taking interest in their student’s stories and lives right now. They are pulling them together emotionally as a group and are also working extra hard to include our remote students and keep them connected.”
Our teachers also work, each and every year, at helping their students think critically and independently so that they can judge information and communicate their ideas with confidence. When it comes to positive civil discourse, these skills are essential to us all. We must learn how to respect differences and evaluate ideas critically and communicate our independent decisions civilly.
Focus on Personal and Community Wellness
As they tell us during air travel, please place your own oxygen mask on before helping another with their oxygen mask. Of course, this is because we can only be a real service to others when our own needs are met.
Steiner tells us,
“A healthy social life is found only when, in the mirror of each soul, the whole community finds its reflection, and when, in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”
How do we care for ourselves and our community right now? Nature can be a good place to start. Take an interest in the natural world. Make time to learn about the birds and wild animals that live in your neighborhood. Do you know what kind of trees are planted in your yard or along the sidewalk? What different trees can you name? Extend this to your community by raking leaves, chopping firewood, and preparing gardens for the winter.
We can also follow health and safety protocols that respect the weakest among us. We can remain hopeful and spread hope in uncertain times when apathy threatens to weaken our connections to one another and diminish our collective actions. We can care for others through service and love.
Kelly encourages good modeling for our children on self-care, family care, and community care:
“Help your own family first, and then keep reaching out to support others. Find new ways to be of service. Show your children how you can work and make a difference even when things are difficult. Activity undermines the feelings of powerlessness. We are capable of courageous change. When will there ever be a better time to make a start?”