With growing dissatisfaction for a chronically under-funded public education system, American parents are looking more and more toward alternative models of learning for their children. For those who do in depth research on successful teaching methods and education models, it is clear that the current system of public education in the United States is falling short of its goals and creating a culture that no longer values critical, scientific, artistic and spiritual curiosity.
The main objective of our public education system (primarily “common core” curriculum) seems geared toward improving test scores in math and reading while other topics such as music, art, and civics no longer play a prominent role in required coursework. Skills developed by these activities have shown great value in the adaptation to changing societies and cultures. Social and emotional intelligence exercises, like the teamwork necessary to complete a complex task with multiple roles are not a priority. Languages other than English are rarely part of the curriculum despite the fact that international trade requires people to speak more than one language. Teachers, who struggle with ever increasing class sizes, lament the fact that they are no longer able to give the attention to each student that they feel is necessary for a trusting relationship. It is becoming apparent that the results of state mandated curriculums do not reflect the values of our society in 2016. Even by their own measure, proponents are starting to admit failings in this model and its lack of progress toward the desired goal of improving student capacity in math and reading. Other topics like conflict resolution and teamwork are not even part of the discussion, despite the fact that international trade agreements, wars over shrinking natural resources and genocide have become increasing threats to our own national security.
Public schools across the state of Oregon struggle with budget constraints which make it difficult to provide quality education for families not capable of providing private education to their children. Here in Eugene, parents find many options for educating their children, public schools are widely supported through active PTA’s and strong volunteerism. But economic limitations can only be overcome with effective leadership who recognize that quality education for students must not be put off until the next budget meeting or election cycle, change needs to come more swiftly for our kids.
There is a strong push to change the basis by which we encourage our youth to love learning and be life-long learners, a position of power that cannot be stripped from them. Two models of education, broadly adopted by some European nations, are Montessori: founded by Maria Montessori of Italy and Waldorf: Founded by Rudolf Steiner of Austria. These methods have shown that project based learning, and integrated hands on experience are the best ways to create successful contributors to future generations and emphasize the values we know bring about empowered citizenry. What naturally follows from this process is a civilized culture that values all contributions regardless of their source. Scientists, artists, philosophers and leaders are realizing the importance of quality education for a global population. People world-wide are seeing that stability, peace, sustainability and economic well-being are all linked to educated populations. Nations with poor education models, or who oppose quality education, bring about a culture which spawns the opposing values. As they develop and flourish more widely, these two models provide evidence of significant contributions toward a peaceful, free and intelligent citizenry.
For those students who are not successful in public systems, Eugene parents have the good fortune of public and private alternatives. Currently there are many sectarian private schools, four successful Montessori schools, one of which is a free public charter, one successful Waldorf school, and one charter school which incorporates Waldorf methods. Parent support and community involvement make it clear that quality education is a high priority in this region despite a lack of economic support.
The Montessori Method is praised by many, though its lessons rarely go further than 8th grade level. The current Eugene Waldorf Schools end with the 8th grade. Students from these models are highly flexible and adaptable and many have integrated successfully to public high schools in Eugene. But families in south Eugene who have moved to the neighborhood to be close to these schools express valid concerns about the social and cultural ramifications of a move to a public system once students reach the 8th grade.
With this in mind, there has been increasing interest in forming a Waldorf High School in Eugene. Students can then engage in studies that take into account the highly formative adolescent years with a curriculum that emphasizes the development of creative thinking, artistic expression and meaningful activity in addition to academic rigor.
The effort to form a Waldorf High School is in the initial stages of development, following examples of successful high schools that are considered stable in other regions. With parents in the current Eugene Waldorf school, as well as other interested community members, teams are coming together to create a high school that will draw from the current student body as well as other schools across the county. Currently a non-profit organization started for this purpose, called the “Waldorf High School Initiative”, is forming groups that will research how supportive Eugene will be as a community and how to develop a school that is sustainable and successful with a target opening date of fall 2019. The process of sighting the school and other administrative foundations have been laid but the project needs input from community members as well as contributors who are passionate about education from any discipline. All are welcome and all skill sets are appreciated.
With current funding of public schools at an all-time low across the state and the nation, parents are increasingly alarmed at the slow pace of change in updating the models of education used in America today. Our system has not been fundamentally overhauled in over 50 years and the results of that failure to adapt are raising questions about how much we value successive generations and their ability to compete in a globalized society. It’s time to have a transparent discussion about the failures and successes of our current system, time to re-think the way we educate our children and time to update our system to include models that are successful in other regions of the world. If we fail in this, we risk losing a place at the table of international problem solving that will undoubtedly come to haunt us in the future.
For information about this project please visit the website
If you are interested in finding out more about Waldorf Schools or learning more about Rudolf Steiner, please visit this website….