Teaching History à la Waldorf - Part II March 14 2018
Part II: Grade Five through High School
With the introduction of this first glimpse of what could be called “real” history, the stories that preceded this moment have prepared the children to turn from mood and memory of where they came from to be born on earth, to interest in what this earth holds as its own stories, its history. Their memory muscles have grown strong, and the eagerness to learn more has been cultivated by these stories. It’s in the fifth grade that the first “real” history comes with the tales of the Trojan War, the Peloponnesian wars, and the recorded work of Greek philosophers and mathematicians. Dorothy Harrer’s book, Chapters from Ancient History, which serves as both a resource for fifth grade teachers and as a reader for fifth graders, grandly explains the sweep made in the fifth grade curriculum through the beginning cultures, mythology, and religious beliefs of ancient India through Persia, Babylon, Mesopotamia, Egypt and through the myths of Greece to — ka boom! — the history we know of city-states, philosophy, theater, poets, and heroes of old. Alexander the Great caps and recaps the history learned all year by handily conquering Greece, Egypt, Persia, and India.
Sixth grade brings the next cultural epoch in this road of western civilization and the empire of Rome. From Aeneas, who escapes from the fall of Troy to discover the land that would be Rome through to the beginning of the Middle Ages, Dorothy Harrer’s Roman Lives describes the life and times of notable figures that made Rome and then made Rome great. This book once again informs teachers and gives twelve-year-olds a marvelous reader recounting the many centuries of Roman rule, the mighty personalities of Rome — Sabine women to Caesars — and the flourishing of Roman arts which imitates so much of the glory of Greece. The story for sixth graders of Geron and Virtus by Jakob Streit is an engaging novel of two boys, a young fellow from the tribes of Northern Germany, and another young fellow from the aristocratic home of a wealthy Roman family. In their meeting, the book demonstrates how stories help the rising middle schooler to bridge their thinking from pictures to a true understanding of the times and countries represented in this strong friendship.
In seventh grade, with almost young adults, history comes fully forward. Gone are all remnants of mythology or fairy tale qualities. Students ripening in puberty hear of courageous navigators plunging into the unknown and circling the globe — just as these young people begin to imagine themselves around the globe as they become their own individuals. Renaissance artists, patrons, astronomers, scientists, and philosophers enter the lessons and characterize through their biographies the age in which their history was unfolding around them and to which their remarkable achievements contributed. Read Sponsel’s riveting biography of Copernicus, a book designed for seventh graders, to develop an understanding of how biographies characterize a whole growth-node in human consciousness and human history!
Eighth grade gallops all the way from the Reformation through to modern history. The sweeping speed through these many rapid changes in the history of the world as biographies are told. These are carefully chosen by the teacher. They help the now advanced young people, rising to enter high school, to understand the advances in technology and science that mark the modern world and the dizzying speed with which these changes now occur. Musicians, artists, scientists, political and religious leaders, march through the lessons defining their eras as they come. Men and women of extraordinary courage, depth, and dedication describe the cultures and the changes surrounding them. Many of these are described in Biographies for the Eighth Grade, written by Susan Cook, from her years of teaching experience.
By orienting the young people to their own stream of history, calling their young hearts to the admiration of the remarkable men and women who have made our culture as rich and beautiful as it is, they can then look to other cultures with interest, knowing well their own. The building of context through this method of presenting history deepens understanding and cultivates confidence. Students also understand how to look to other cultures respectfully, finding the varied facets that make any culture distinct.
Once in high school, the in-depth recapitulation of both ancient and modern history, as well as a broadening of scope to include world history with details and cultural facts, bring the students from feeling understanding to a comprehensive knowledge of their world. Christoph Lindenberg in his book Teaching History, as well as Evelyn Debuschere’s Revelations of Evolutionary Events, characterize the methods used and the reasons for the effectiveness of the approach of teaching history in education. “Symptomatology” might be a word to describe how we teach. Pointing to the people, events, fashion, architectural style, and discoveries of each new epoch of humankind reveals a world of truth about the development of consciousness through the ages and the patterns of civilizations.