Why is a Waldorf High School Important?
Our High School – Teacher’s Perspective
By Charisse Louw
In Class 8 the young person crosses the threshold into High School – this is a time of Arriving. We support them in what can be a tricky transition into teenage life by putting them to work in the kitchen under the expert guidance of our in-house chef Janis in their Biochemistry ML and the garden in their Agriculture ML. They can now both grow food and cook it – essential life skills. What’s more they understand the science behind these daily deeds. In Geometry they study platonic solids, in physics they design and build a motor. In Biology it’s all about bones as they develop their own backbone. In Geography they come to grips with the Earth. In History it’s about expansionism and capitalism. They even have an Economics Main Lesson where capitalism is turned into a game. My Class 12s this year were still reminiscing fondly about this Main Lesson they enjoyed under Carol Berry’s expert guidance – show me another 18 year old who can remember what they learned in school at age 13! In craft they design and sew bags and clothes, in woodwork they make beautiful boxes and spoons. In Drama they learn how to get along and form a cohesive group. In Art they explore black-&-white with charcoal.
In Class 9 we enter a tricky time of Extremes. They explore these extremities (rather than denying them or bottling them up) in the chemistry of distilling alchohol (hugely popular!), Revolutions in History — if they want to fight give them a good reason/a cause worth fighting for, electricity in Physics, the cardiovascular system in Biology, blacksmithing in Craft and of course The Shakespeare Production which allows them to literally try on different ways of being – they are often cast in contrasting roles to get a real sense of the extremes of the human condition. The balm of humour helps smooth over what can feel unbearable to the 15 year old.
In Class 10 the young person wakes up in their thinking. This is the year for going out into the world on a Job Shadow and getting a sense of oneself in the context of a practical bigger picture. The 16 year old wants to know how we know what we know and how facts relate to them personally. There is a burgeoning of sexuality and physical power. The primary school parents will be familiar with the 9 year Crisis, a similar threshold is crossed in the 16th year. Our currciulum supports this change. We allow them to explore questions around sexuality in their Biology Main Lesson, explosions in Chemistry, the development of civilization in Ancient History, Trigonometry is put to practical use in the Surveying Main Lesson, in English we look at the transition from orality to literacy and the development of spoken and written language in The Word, as in all Main Lessons this is supported in their Running Lessons. They embark on a transformative Coming of Age Camp in collaboration with other Waldorf Schools. In Crafts they spin and weave, colour is rediscovered in Art, leatherwork is introduced, they tackle Ancient Greek tragedy in Drama and the building of computers from scratch. Before we can use this technology we need to understand how it works, as always in Waldorf education the practical & experiential comes before the abstract & intellectual…they find their own way there. They Learn to Think! Creatively!
In Class 11 insight grows and balance between the inner and outer world are encouraged. Their social conscience blossoms and they are allowed to develop this in their Social Practical. In projective geometry, botany, elemental chemistry and electromagnetic physics, they are questing for balance. This quest takes the form of an actual medieval style quest on the Parsival Journey, this 13th century Arthurian legend is rich in soul archetypes that help the Romantic 17 year old on their way. One of the highlights of this beautiful year is the final Eurythmy performance (please don’t miss ours at the Primary School on Tuesday December 6th at 6:30pm!). We are truly blessed with Sandise as our Eurythmist. The teenagers absolutely admire him and he has transformed what can be heavy going for this age group into a delight and a celebration.
In Class 12 the 18 year old wants to know what impact they can make on the world. They study Philosophy, Zoology, Algebra, modern History, the Theory of Light in Physics, Modern Art and Architecture and as a class they present a modern play which is an expression of the class as a whole. Their Class 12 Projects are a powerful opportunity to explore their own individuality.
I love how mature our students are. They are truly individuals capable of expressing themselves in a creative way. Recently I took some students to perform at The Baxter’s Kaleidoscope event which showcased talent from throughout the Western Cape. Our students stood out in that they presented truly original work with absolute confidence. So many people came up to me afterwards to enquire after this remarkable group of young people who are already making their mark on the world. The Class 12 Dinner is a celebration of the completion of our gorgeous Waldorf curriculum before embarking on the Matric exam year.
The life of our unique school includes our Therapy Dog, Rosie, who was rescued by Kath. At the start of each year we have the senior class present our incoming Class 8s with wishes for their High School journey. Each term begins and ends with a special assembly in which our talented student body can showcase their skills. Teachers talk about the festivals and we celebrate in our unique way, for instance at the end of term 1 the children write a letter to their future selves, we keep these letters and return them to the children to reflect on each year. They also choose to write something they wish to release and burn in the fire. At the end of Term 2 we celebrate St John’s Festival with our Class 8s Fire Poi performance, drumming and music by our student body. The school offers yoga, kung fu, dancing, soccer – our team does very well in competition with other schools throughout Cape Town. Our students clean their classrooms and we have work parties. We go on many enriching outings.
What I have seen is that the High School thoroughly prepares the young person to meet the challenge of Matric, but more importantly, the challenges of life NOW.
HIGH SCHOOL – An Overview:
Waldorf High Schools produce young adults who are balanced and confident in themselves and in their contributions to the world. We educate the intellectual and emotional aspects of the child through participation and involvement.
The days encompass a holistic balance of activities, educating the whole young adult as opposed to the intellect only. Intellectual activities alternate with art and activities such as craft, drama and sport that use the whole body. All crafts are offered through to matric within the school day and not just as extra-curricular activities. Class camps and outdoor adventure mean that every year an outside journey of exploration awaits.
Through cross-curricular themes the curriculum embraces the deep inner questions adolescents need to ask. Each year embraces different aspects of adolescence and tailored content appropriate to their stage of emotional development is provided.
A smaller social structure ensures a smooth transition into adulthood. An emphasis on group work means more natural personal contact and ease of relationships. All classes involve active participation of students in these groups, or as individuals, rather than teacher-only focused lessons. Wherever possible, inquiry and experimentation are used as teaching tools.
Strong guiding themes ensure that a framework is given that amplifies the value of content. Themes are also put into historical and social context, ensuring students connect strongly with curriculum content. Wherever possible real experiences are provided, and often form the starting point of an inquiry.
Multiculturalism is embraced through the inclusiveness of the curriculum. Along with multiculturalism, social responsibility and environmental awareness are strong themes within our school.
Our teachers continuously keep abreast of pedagogical developments and progressive educational principles while ensuring the core national curriculum milestone of matric is met.
Special subject themes and highlights
Besides mathematics and languages including Xhosa, these are special themes embraced in the different classes:
Grade 8: The Time of Arriving
Includes biochemistry of food, technology and agricultural crafts, platonic solids and geometry, physics and design of motors, building a steam car, textile and clothes design, drama, expansionism and capitalism in history, skeletons in biology and fossils, structure of the earth in geography, greenwood turning and woodwork, forestry ecology, poetry, graphic art, drawing from life.
Grade 9: The Time of Extremes
Production of a full Shakespearean play (including sound, lighting, stage design and costumes), biochemistry of alcohols and esters, alternative economic systems, magnetism and electricity, Riemannian geometry, revolutions in history, chiaroscuro and printing, literature as an art form, soil and erosion of the earth, blood and breathing in biology, blacksmithing, pottery.
Grade 10: The Time of Relative Harmony
Colour in art, work shadow experience, surveying and trigonometry, the human mind, gender and sexual development in biology, water and weather systems in geography, ancient history and archaeology, Newtonian physics of the earth, inorganic chemistry, history of art, spinning and weaving, leatherwork and tanning hides, building a computer from scratch, entrepreneurship and sustainability.
Grade 11: The Time of Opening to Others
Medieval literature and the transformative Parsival journey, projective geometry, plants, medicines and pharmaceuticals, relativity and radiation, modern world history, chemical industry, agriculture, industry and environment, modern art and making meaning, mixed media, woodwork, design, pottery, social practical.
Grade 12: Finding a Place in the World
Major six month project of own choice, production of a modern play, philosophy, zoology, further explorations in mathematics, fractal geometry, new developments in physics, organic chemistry industry, politics and people of the world, architecture, economics and globalisation, astronomy.
Grade 13: School exit and university entrance exams.