The Green Curriculum in Waldorf Schools ~ Part IX October 20 2015

Waldorf Schools strive to co-exist in a profoundly felt, right relationship with the Earth throughout the grades, building inner habits that prepare children to be environmentalists on the deepest levels. The practices and experiences which engender these inner habits are embedded in all aspects of the Waldorf School curriculum from grade one to grade twelve.Here, we are exploring and highlighting some of the elements and ways in which environmental sustainability lives and breathes through each grade of the Waldorf curriculum. Below, we continue with Grade Nine!

From Roots to Bloom: Green in Grade Nine

Entering high school often heralds an intense period of remarkable physical growth, inner struggle, and social development in a young person’s maturation – they are full of subjectivity, emotional energy, and willful activity. High school students are climbing to the peak of their intellectual capacity at about the time of graduation from high school. At the same time, students step towards greater intellectual capacities, and specifically the capacity to discern out of their own wisdom and sense of judgment. To meet the intensity of these inner developments, the ninth grade curriculum is rich and full of matching intensities found in the intriguing world around them. Polarities are strongly represented throughout their lessons, reflecting their inner struggles, and helping to guide them towards careful observation, discernment and the ability to think clearly and independently, beyond emotional reactions - thus laying the foundation for increasingly complex and abstract thinking.

In the sciences, the students meet contrast and polarities in many ways: heat and cold; inhaling and exhaling; expansion and contraction; acids and bases; anabolic and catabolic processes; plate tectonics. As they review the sciences covered in the previous year, they bring to the material their increased capacities for intellectual understanding and artistic representation, while continuing to meet the subject through first-hand experimentation. In English, students study history through drama, encountering the polarities of tragedy and comedy, through the magnificent literature of Shakespeare, Melville and Goethe; while history brings the conflicts of Russia, the U.S. and elsewhere to the forefront. In the ninth grade artistic work, contrast and polarities are again a key focus: black and white drawing, spinning and weaving wool, furniture building, blacksmithing, metalwork, clay sculpture, and other practical arts and crafts at different schools.

Because the Waldorf curriculum offers parallels to the growth and development which the students are presently managing in adolescent turmoil inwardly, ninth graders can experience their own opposing reactions, struggles, and ‘inner storms’ mirrored back to them in the world content of their studies. In this way, the students are increasingly able to see the world as an interconnected whole. In this way, students learn the emotional habits of curiosity and commitment to figuring things out and connecting to the world. And in the words of scientist and environmentalist David Sazuki, “…environmentalism isn’t a profession or discipline; it’s a way of seeing our place in the world. It’s recognizing that we live on a planet where everything, including us, is exquisitely interconnected with and interdependent on everything else.” While engendering this experience of interconnection, the ninth grade curriculum provides wonderful opportunities to bring more complex, difficult and philosophical questions directly around current events, including environmentalism and sustainability. And as Waldorf pedagogy continues to engage the whole child through adolescence, head, heart and hands, the students are encouraged toward passionate engagement and meaningful initiative, in their lessons, in their school communities, and beyond.

- Sarah Hearn