The way students are educated shapes their lifelong thinking. I love the Waldorf way and have long been a passionate follower of this path, where children begin their journey into education by first learning about themselves, their culture and their world, rather than A, B, C.
Our homes were set up as Waldorf schools – “the world is my classroom”.
But apart form my eldest son, my other children went to conventional schools but they were schools that support a more liberal and open approach to education. I felt – and still do – that it was important for my children to go to school because I believe children need to be part of society at large, they need a structured and progressive environment, they need to learn to get on with a wide range of peers rather than just children from like-minded families, they needed laboratory equipment, the network, the opportunities and a slice of the outside world that I alone cannot provide, with the best will in the world.
It was a good arrangement all round. For a few hours each day, my children did what “normal” kids did – they put on school uniform and sat in a classroom. But they came home to a different reality for the rest of the day, the weekends and the long school holidays. They were running round like little savages whilst their peers were being tuitioned or attended music/enrichment/ballet/Kumon classes.
They were comfortable living with this polarity. The watershed was the A level years, where they had to become mainstream in readiness for university and the world of work. It worked well, because by 16, they were able to make choices based on cold reality rather than dreams, hopes and passion alone. By then, they had known beauty and magic, but also work positively with the fact that the ‘real’ world does not run on beauty and magic alone.
Dreams need concrete foundations, unfortunately, and that involves slog, unproductive days, repetition, uncooperative people, compromise.
But this seemingly perfect arrangement did not seem to fulfill my youngest child. She was frustrated with the airy-fairy, rainbow Waldorf world. She had fun with languages (spoonerism and Roald Dahl) but wanted to know where it all came from. How did human beings first understood each other? Where did the first language come from? How come there are words that sound alike in languages that have completely different roots?
Numbers. Did human beings invent numbers or did we discover them? If they were invented by humans, how come the universe obeys this system?
She seemed hooked on language, the language of numbers and patterns in the world. I gave her the Waldorf explanation, honed after years of teaching it to her older siblings: we are all part of a larger whole that has its own intrinsic beat and rhythm. Feel it, expand, be at one with it. All will be known in its own time.
But it frustrated her.
“So back to the school system then!” I yelled at her. I got in a talented but traditional teacher to teach her maths. She couldn’t last the hour.
Fortunately, in our world at that time was a young man from my hometown Portsmouth who taught maths but who understood. He opened the subject so beautifully for G by teaching her about tetrahexaflaxagon. In no time, she grabbed the paper from him and made her own.
And thus began G’s journey, her transition from Waldorf to Trivium. Seen here with Gaz, who started her on her journey, playing Pooh sticks in the rainforest.
My Waldorf child grew into a teen intent on constructing her own world-views, using the ancient system of educating the mind that was first practiced in the Middle Ages and established in ancient Greece. Trivium was first explained in Plato’s dialogues: grammar, logic, rhetoric.
The basis of Trivium, as I know it, is words. She learned that words are very powerful, for they shape reality. And what is reality but just constructs of the mind? Where do those construct come from, and crucially, how to communicate, to build constructs and to be free from them? I post liberally about our conversations because our conversations show the beautiful blooming of her mind, from her sharp humour, to her play with words, to her frustrations.
This was something she did when she was about 12, which captures Trivium very well, I thought:
At 15, she enters Quadrivium, the upper division of the medieval education in the liberal arts, which comprised arithmetic (number), geometry (number in space), music (number in time), and astronomy (number in space and time). This is where I struggle, because having been schooled in Trivium for 4 years, her intellect overtook mine in leaps and bounds. She asked questions that I could not answer though I have a degree in the subject.
Whilst I was teaching her IGCSE in Chemistry, she asked, “What determines the isotopic proportion of elements?” and then…… “Oh, I get it!”. I didn’t. I didn’t know the answer. Today, she can work out energy cycles in her head and comes up with the precise numerical answers with two decimal places.
I knew she had gone beyond me then, when she was 15. I wrote a beautiful story book for her when she turned 16, An Evening In Wonderland, and sent her off to higher skies on her own strong wings, to a place where I cannot take her.
This is a short clip of her father reading An Evening In Wonderland for her. Our much-loved youngest child, may you be guided always and may all your journeys be beautiful ❤
My article for Waldorf Today can be found by clicking on this link.