Power of Thought, Depth of Feeling, Strength of Will

“Here on Abbot Hill there is a rich educational and social community that, over the last nearly seven decades, has developed, changed and adjusted to meet the needs of the students, offering teenagers a unique combination of Waldorf education and community living….At High Mowing students embark on a journey of self-realization, accompanied by a gifted and committed faculty. Here, we recognize students' potentials, stir their passions, nurture their innate human sympathies, and help them develop their intellectual, artistic, and physical capacities.

Underlying all aspects of learning at High Mowing School is the conviction that each student has a unique sense of self and of her or his own life’s purpose. Fully developed, or well-educated individuals, must possess the tools to become fully cognizant of who they are and what they bring to the world. They must be confident in their ability to craft prosperous and fulfilling lives based on this knowledge, while at the same time respecting the rights and privileges of others. This is the very hope that we all carry for our young people.”

- Rea Taylor Gill, Executive Director

My visit to High Mowing in New Hampshire was as impactful as I had hoped.  Having visited Lexington Waldorf schoolI was intrigued to see how the Waldorf model builds on its continuum of human development throughout the high school years - Robert Schiappacasse recommended I visit High Mowing - not only a Waldorf High School, but also the only Waldorf high school on this continent to offer a boarding program as well as a day school.

Here’s an excerpt from the school’s website on the history, context, curriculum and pedagogy:

"Inspired by the writings and educational theories of Rudolf Steiner, Mrs. Emmet opened the school in 1942. It is the first Waldorf high school to have been founded in North America. Since that time, the warmth and casual comfort of the old farm site have welcomed teenagers from around the globe. Here, students experience a rich Waldorf curriculum, as they live and work in close proximity to their teachers and classmates

The curriculum of a Waldorf school is based on a certain view of the stages of human development, deriving from the insights of Rudolf Steiner.  The consciousness of the child changes in its nature and qualities in very specific ways as the child grows older, changing in tandem with corresponding physiological development.  The curriculum thus springs out of the nature of the child, seeking to bring the content which is right for each age, and in an appropriate form. 

It is through the capacities of thought, of feeling, and of will that as human beings we bring our individuality to play in living and acting in the world. The main concern of this education is to try to bring balance and harmony to the interplay of these capacities so that students may better be able to live fruitfully and effectively as adults. The art of education lies in finding the ways to accomplish this.

In broad strokes, each of the four years in the high school curriculum embodies an underlying theme and method that helps guide students not just through their studies of the world, but through their inner growth as well.  Obviously, these themes and methods are adapted to each specific group of students and take account of the fact that teenagers grow at their own pace.  And yet, one can identify struggles common to most any teenager. Even though adolescents pass through developmental landscapes at varying speeds, they nonetheless have to cover similar terrain.

One can summarize the curriculum by grade in the following way:

  • Grade 9 trains the student’s power of observation with the question:  What?
  • Grade 10 trains the student’s power of comparison with the question:  How?
  • Grade 11 trains the student’s power of analysis with the question:  Why?
  • Grade 12 trains the student’s power of synthesis with the question:  Who?"

Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for more specifics on the Waldorf High School curriculum by grade level.

I shadowed a student, Jack, during his first block of the morning.  When I arrived, the students were returning from one of the fields onsite, measuring angles and distance using surveying equipment. Students captured measurements on the whiteboard and an in depth conversation ensued given the disparate measurements on the board. The tangible act of having being out in the field, working with the equipment, brought the real world application of angles, gradients and ratios to life.  A key part of the the Waldorf curriculum is personal reflection. Later in the morning, Jack was working on his personal reflection on Othello.  I was struck by his questions and how he was challenging himself on the concepts of tragedy, the role of hero and anti-hero - deep inquiry, critical thought and wrestling with his views and assumptions.  My own reflection as Jack shared his, was how deeply Jack was engaging in these questions - his own questions, questions without Googleable answers. [Click on images to see more.]

The gallery to the left highlights student work and will give you a flavor of how embedded the Arts are in the Waldorf curriculum and pedagogy. Students have the opportunity to explore their creativity and aesthetics through pottery, sculpture, glass making, silver smithing, painting, to name a few of the aesthetic pursuits available.  Again, the Arts are embedded and woven throughout.  A great example is the sculpture work where students are invited to sculpt a bust (head and shoulders). They are not invited to sculpt themselves, however it invariably transpires that each student does. It's not by personal design of the student to do so, yet the work happens as the student is making sense of self in relationship to others - what a wonderful deep example of kinesthetically sculpting who we are and want to be in the world.

The High Mowing visit helped me understand just how complex, thoughtful and visionary the Waldorf curriculum is. It has inspired me to read more on Steiner's biography, and in particular his early writings and speeches. At the moment, I am reading ‘The Spirit of the Waldorf School - Lectures Surrounding the Founding of the First Waldorf School Stuttgart’  and am struck by how Steiner viewed the purpose of an education to inspire and develop "power of thought, depth of feeling and strength of will" - the means to the ultimate end of ‘graduating’ young adults able to meet and transform the world. Steiner highlighted this vision in a speech during the launch of the first Waldorf school in 1919. As we ask ourselves “What’s Worth Learning” almost a century later, I believe these three elements remain true and ever more relevant. In this VUCA world, we are called upon to develop deep, interdisciplinary thinking, emotional intelligence and empathy and the resilience to work through struggle and hardship. 

Next on my action list is to read more about Waldorf's approach to teacher development and support.

Visit the Association of Waldorf School of North America, AWSNA, to learn more about Waldorf education.