The Green Curriculum in Waldorf Schools ~ Part XII October 30 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. 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 Twelve!

From Roots to Bloom: Green in Grade Twelve

The Waldorf student’s final year brings many inspiring, yet difficult questions to the surface. Many of these questions come at the level of the individual: what are my strengths and weaknesses and how do I work with them? Where do I go from here? Why might I choose a particular path or direction in the world, and how do I approach the many opportunities and challenges before me? The Waldorf twelfth grader feels at last his or her part as a citizen of the universe, eager to step into the world and to leave school behind.

The contemplation of the twelfth grade Waldorf student finds good company in the senior curriculum: “Do not go where the path may lead”, advises Ralph Waldo Emerson, “go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” The study of Human Development and Consciousness lend encouragement and understanding to the twelfth graders as they look towards the future. They experience the inner urge and necessity for true independence, and guided by the Transcendentalists, they explore life’s largest questions: What is truth? What is goodness? Can we know and experience an inherent goodness in humanity? The depth and complexity of wrestling with these themes continue to grow a thoughtful idealism in the students, inspiring them towards leadership and responsibility for the problems of our time: in particular the planet’s current environmental, energy, and economic crises. There is often a sense of place that is born in the senior year, indicating that each can make a difference in the future, in the world.

Waldorf Main Lesson Book - Faust

The twelfth grade studies of modern literature also echo important themes in epic and dramatic proportions, including the nature of morality, of human knowledge and of our inner life of thought – for example, in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and other famous works of Russian literature. In the much loved senior main lesson block on Goethe’s Faust, the students’ quest for truth and understanding deepens and enables the capacity to relate to and grapple with their personal life questions, and those of the contemporary world around them.

The rigor and difficulty of lessons in economics, calculus, zoology, and biochemistry challenge the seniors in many ways, offering opportunities to improve academically, clarify thinking skills, use their highly developed writing and research skills, and to sharpen their study discipline in preparation for the academic environment many will meet at the university-level. Simultaneously however, the Waldorf approach couples rigor with lively, contextual learning experiences to the soon-to-be graduates. Calculus is first introduced graphically and in pictures, zoology experientially, with visits to nearby field study opportunities. Economics blocks often include spirited games and simulations of economic life and trips to factories, farms and nearby store-fronts.

The twelfth grade is a year of synthesis, culmination, and excitement for the future. Twelfth graders have the opportunity to exercise Emersonian self-reliance in taking on senior internships, self-designed studies and year-long projects. And on rigorous class hiking trips, or solo wilderness experiences, students cultivate self-reflection, discernment, wisdom, and courage for the next steps of their journeys, beyond the school walls. Senior year, as in each of the twelve years of a Waldorf education, engenders an ethic of care, concern and conservation of mother earth and her precious resources. The graduate also carries a sense of safety in the protective lap of the living Earth!

~ Sarah Hearn