On the first full day of the conference, the Holzhaus was packed beyond capacity as a forum was held on Waldorf Education in the Context of Cultural Diversity. This topic drew the attention of many as the Waldorf movement addresses themes of interculturality and pluralism in the context of the 21st century.
Constanza Kaliks opened the forum with a reminder that Waldorf Education was intended for a shared world and that the humanity of all human beings must be recognized and affirmed. Belonging is a birthright of every child and necessary to eventually take part actively in our common world. Each participant was then invited to speak to two questions. The first question simply asked, «Where do you come from and what brought you to working with Waldorf education and questions of cultural diversity?» Each of the respondents answered this question quite personally from their own biographies.
Linda Williams, currently Grades Coordinator at the Detroit Waldorf School, is an African-American Waldorf educator from Detroit, Michigan. She told her story of being introduced to Waldorf education through a younger cousin who attended the Detroit Waldorf School. Impressed with how she saw her relative thrive in the Waldorf environment, she decided to pursue Waldorf teacher training herself. It was at the Waldorf Institute of Mercy College in Michigan (now Sunbridge Institute in New York) that she met and began to study anthroposophy. It was also during those years that she looked into Afrocentric curricula and programs and found many points of intersection, including the spiritual aspects of humanity, the importance of relationship and the primacy of the arts.
Linda then further described her years as a Waldorf class teacher, further graduate studies, becoming an education professor, and her return to the Waldorf classroom. Through the study of educational philosophy she began to recognize the role of colonization, materialism, and mechanization in the lives of students and teachers in all schools, including Waldorf schools. This led her to investigate more thoroughly Waldorf education and its application in different cultural contexts. While she always felt empowered to deepen her own cultural practice as a Black Waldorf teacher, she continues to build her understanding of how colonization has shaped the grand narratives we all carry about who we are, where we came from, and what we can become. Helping children (and adults) learn to think outside of those narratives is one of her aims as an educator.
Martyn Rawson, from Scotland and now Germany, chose to answer this question documenting a few stations in his life in reverse order, starting with more recent events. He began with describing how about three years ago he published an article on the Pedagogical Section digital publishing website, «Educational Resources» entitled Decolonizing the Curriculum – Tips for Auditing».This article had such a resonance with many people contacting him, that Martyn realized that it might have been one of the first times that the words «Waldorf» and «decolonizing» had been discussed. Martyn then stepped back further in time and pointed to another marker for himself concerning this question. About 20 years ago, he had helped publish an English language edition of the Waldorf curriculum and many countries translated this into their own languages. Sometimes the publisher in another country would ask permission to publish and Martyn always answered, «Yes, but I need to write the foreword.» In the foreword, Martyn warned readers that the book is out of date, it is inappropriate for your country, and that it will need to be modified and adapted.
If we step further back in Martyn’s biography, at university, he majored with a thesis on «Savages in Civilization in English and American Literature.» It was in the course of these studies Martyn became aware of a massive problem that really hadn’t been understood. As a side note, Martyn added that while he was writing this thesis, he was also performing in a play: Ken Kesey’s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Martyn remarked that the central figure in the story is The Chief, the silent observer who is neither seen nor heard, but who makes emancipation possible.
Paula Edelstein, teacher and teacher educator from Argentina expressed that she is here because of two feelings that have always been present in her life and her work: enthusiasm and pain. She remembers enthusiasm as awakening in her when she met something or someone different than herself. And also she remembers the pain – when she experienced injustice or indifference towards herself or others. She studied anthropology and as soon as she finished her studies in the mid-90s, there was a change in education in Argentina. School time was extended and many people returned to school to finish academic obligations. She was invited to participate in research that asked, why did boys and girls in school have difficulty learning in school when they had no difficulty learning in contexts other than school. And then the question was turned around: Why was the school failing? And the answer from the students and families was: The school didn’t know them; didn’t want to see them.