Lifeboats

Created by Douglas Gerwin | |   BLOG Distance Learning
In retrospect, we may come to see the impact on secondary education of the current Covid-19 pandemic in America as akin to the iceberg that struck the Titanic. In mid-stream, the course of the Good Ship Education carrying high school, college-aged, and graduate students––including Waldorf teachers in training––was abruptly arrested. University campuses emptied out. Dorms and libraries and research labs fell silent. Tuition income drained from college coffers.  SAT and other American test score requirements, suspended at the time of the pandemic, lost their near ubiquitous control over the process of college admission. It is too early to say whether this venerable old vessel will sink, but for sure it is taking on water.

When a big boat begins to sink, passengers and crew must take to the lifeboats. This does not mean, however, that flimsy life rafts will forever take the place of giant cruise liners or tankers. It means only that in moments of danger and crisis, you need to take action in ways you would otherwise never countenance.

Survive a crisis of this magnitude, and you may well learn how to redesign both life rafts and the great vessels that carry them. And indeed, designers of future sea-going vessels may choose to incorporate some of the features of a lifeboat. But in all of this, it is important to remember that life rafts and the mother ship on which they are stored serve different purposes, even though both are intended to transport human beings, or at least the merchandize they need and desire.

Anecdotally I hear from Waldorf high school seniors who have been accepted to university that they will refuse to attend college in the fall if their classes are to be solely online. One senior, accepted to a prestigious university in California on a full scholarship, says, “If all they offer are online classes, I am taking a gap year and will see what’s available a year from now.” Comments like these are sending shudders through the admissions offices of colleges across the country.

By contrast, as it is remarkable how nimbly teachers and administrators of Waldorf schools and institutes have leaped into lifeboats of online courses and begun to paddle away towards an as yet unillumined shoreline. In a matter of days and weeks, entire programs have been shifted to virtual learning options, even while the schools and institutes acknowledge the huge compromises inherent in this switch. Some schools have been criticized for embracing a technological “interim fix” for their students, while others have been commended for their flexibility and innovative ideas.  When it comes to pedagogical survival––as with medical triag–– some uses of online platforms involve less compromise and more efficacy than others, but all require an element of improvising. Right now, we are living by the protocols of a jazz jam session, not of a carefully rehearsed concert.

As summer approaches, we see that the usual annual array of Waldorf face-to-face conferences, refresher courses, and teacher training programs has been cancelled, and in their place there begins to spring up across the country a selection of new and quite innovative online offerings. In virtually all Waldorf institutions, the face-to-face programs are suspended for now, and instead a collection of “live” one-week or one-month summer courses on Zoom platforms are being offered by a wide assortment of currently practicing Waldorf teachers.

For instance, at the Center for Anthroposophy (CfA) in Southern New Hampshire, a week of online courses––starting on Sunday 28 June and running through Friday 3 July––will feature “live” grades specific workshops akin to the popular series offered in previous years, with added presentations on “The Child Study” by Christof Wiechert, the celebrated former head of the Pedagogical Section in Dornach and (until the worldwide lockdown) a widely traveled Waldorf vizier. During the second week of these online offerings––starting Sunday 5 July and running through Friday 10 July––a further six courses will be held, including a live webinar series with Michaela Glöckler, the visionary former head of the Medical Section in Dornach, on the theme of “healing impulses and the call of destiny”.

Because of their online presence, these courses are attracting registrations from as far away as Europe and New Zealand. Tuition for these one-week online courses––all of them interspersed with “real-time” singing, eurythmy, and other arts led by seasoned Waldorf teachers active in the classroom––has been scaled back in recognition that an online course cannot offer the same depth as a face-to-face encounter. The lower tuition acknowledges the obvious fact––made explicit in the “Charter for Childhood” published last year by the International Forum (Hague Circle)––that learning online cannot offer the same experience as a human-to-human encounter.

On the teacher training front, courses offered by the Waldorf Program at Antioch University New England will also take place entirely online this summer. In a similar vein, CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program has been converted to an online format just for this summer, with tuition reduced by 15% in recognition of its streamlined format. As in previous years, specialized training will be offered in Arts/Art History, Biology/Earth Science, English Language/Literature, History/Social Science, Math/Computer Studies, and Physics/Chemistry.

Inevitably, the question must be asked: What will adult education look like once the current pandemic has begun to recede? Will we continue to see giant educational cruise liners and tankers on the high seas of learning, or will they give way, not to a flotilla of tiny lifeboats but to some form of smaller, more nimble watercraft? To be sure, it is premature to answer this question with any confidence, but it is to be hoped––indeed, it should be required––that college education and graduate training programs not revert to their pre-pandemic form.

At the same time, the tempting––oh, so tempting!––idea to convert adult education entirely to online learning instead cannot hold the solution either, since in the end human beings learn best from other human beings, not just from the books or plays they write, the music or poetry they compose, or the computer programs and platforms they design. We know from the disastrous experiment with the so-called “MOOC’s” (Massive Open Online Courses)––for which millions of students signed up but barely two per cent completed a course––that real face-to-face encounters with other human beings hold the secret to lasting success in education, at any age.

That is why CfA has chosen for its online summer program the subtitle: “Serving in the Interval”. A musical interval arises when two or more distinctly different notes are sounded at the same moment, creating a new and fleeting reality that draws from both tones without being identical with either. As Rudolf Steiner puts it, “the real element of music, its spirit, lies between the tones, in the intervals –– in what one does not hear." (1) In this sense we recognize that the forthcoming summer will have the quality of a supersensory interval, arising between a past note that is now fast fading away and a new tone that is just beginning to sound. In the present moment we hope to experience a harmonious transition from receding past to fast-approaching future.  Details of these online courses can be viewed at centerforanthroposophy.org

 

Douglas Gerwin, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Anthroposophy and of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education, as well as a member of the International Forum for Waldorf/Steiner Education. He can be contacted at douglasnoSpam@centerforanthroposophy.org

Literature
(1) Rudolf Steiner, Music: Mystery, Art and the Human Being  (Forest Row, Sx.: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2016), p.184