Sunday, February 26, 2012

The jugendkreis - is it a secret enclave within anthroposophy?

Dear friends, Some of you reading this message will be aware of the existence of the jugendkreis, or youth circle, established in 1922 with the assistance of Rudolf Steiner. Indeed, if you know of it you’re likely to be a member of the circle. Some of you however, will be totally unaware of its existence even though you may have been an anthroposophist for decades. Until very recently, I hadn’t heard of it either. When it was first described to me I initially refused to believe that a secret group existed. It seemed inconceivable that such a thing was possible. ‘Nobody in anthroposophy would join a secret, select group,‘ I declared, ‘and if invited to be part of such a group they would loudly denounce it.’ I was wrong. The group does exist and has members all over the world, including, I’m told, at least three members of the executive council at Dornach, as well as many representatives of national & regional councils, Waldorf teachers, doctors, etc. Over the past six weeks I’ve asked many of my fellow anthroposophists in Forest Row if they are members of the circle. So far, the results are split 40/60 between those who are members and those who’ve never heard of the circle. The latter group often share the same incredulity as I did and sometimes feel deep dismay at learning of its existence. Circle members often seem surprisingly eager to talk about the circle; some are totally convinced of the rightness of belonging to the group and value its exclusiveness. Some say they are relieved to finally unburden the secret. Some carry concerns about not telling family, friends and colleagues about their membership. The more conversations I have, the more concerned I've become about the health implications of this secrecy - both the health of the individuals involved & the health of anthroposophy. As anyone who has read either of my books will know, the social & spiritual implication of the secret stands squarely at the centre of my life and my work. Therefore, I’d like to now put the same question to those of you who have a relationship with anthroposophy. I invite you to complete a survey & answer ten simple questions that will give a clearer picture of the percentage of anthroposophists who know about the circle and are members, compared to those who don’t know. I give you my guarantee that the survey is completely anonymous. Neither I, nor anyone else, has any way of knowing who the participants are. At the end of the survey each participant will immediately see the cumulative results to date. And, in the spirit of inclusiveness, I will send another email in three weeks giving the total outcome of all the answers. I hope, by then, to also send a more comprehensive article about the circle and its implications, as well as a more comprehensive survey about anthroposophy. In the meantime, you can learn more about the founding of the youth group by reading, Esoteric Lessons 1913 - 1923. This account gives a good picture of the impulses that lie behind the group but it doesn’t give any indication of the current strength or influence of the group therefore it’s rather disingenuous of some circle members to point to this publication as evidence that the circle is open and visible. It is however, very enlightening to discover that Rudolf Steiner exclusively refers to the youth group impulse as the founding of a ‘community’. That, in itself, should give pause for thought to those who claim Steiner sanctioned the existence of a secret circle. It's also worth reflecting on the deep connection of two of the founding members of the circle with the medieval 'Friends of God', a mystical-type order connected with the 14c Roman Catholic Church. Have some aspects of this medieval practice crept into the circle? Perhaps. Finally, I know that this message and this research will cause distress and possible offense to some. I wish it were not so and ask that we all take care of each other during this process of rediscovering who were are, and who the other is. To access the survey please click the link: Please circulate this message to all who may be interested. I hope you will leave comments and engage in discussion and dialogue wherever possible. Warmest regards, Kelly

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute - dialogue in the New York Times

October 29, 2011 NEW YORK TIMES

Sunday Dialogue: Using Technology to Teach

In schools and in homes, teachers and parents wrestle with the role of technology in children’s lives. Our readers weigh in.

The Letter

To the Editor:

Re “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” (front page, Oct. 23), about employees of high-technology companies who send their children to a Waldorf school that is pointedly low-tech:

From 1993 to 1997 I was the chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and oversaw the Clinton administration’s program to connect classrooms to the Internet. At the same time both of my children attended a Waldorf school. My children had no access to computers, and extremely limited access to TV or movies.

How did I reconcile this? I asked Waldorf teachers when they felt computer learning was appropriate. Answer: around sixth grade, the same grade that the Clinton program aimed to connect.

And here’s why. Waldorf education holds that children learn best “in through the heart, out through the mind.” Let children experience the world through their hands, hearts and bodies, not just their minds.

When overzealous parents brag that their preschoolers can use a computer or iPhone, they are elevating intellectual/technological achievement over child’s play. The irony, of course, is that success in life depends much more on children developing imagination through play than on learning a soon-to-be-obsolete technology, which is why schools are wasting money and failing our children when they spend millions on technology and cancel play time. By sixth grade children are moving out of play and into more intellectual pursuits; hence computers are more appropriate.

I wish that the parents who surround their children with technology and adult-created graphic images as early as 2 years old would realize that they are robbing their children of their greatest treasure and skill — being a child.

Bethesda, Md., Oct. 23, 2011

The writer is now an executive at Pfizer.

Readers React

There is no inherent reason computers and related technologies cannot be used to encourage and promote creativity and play among young learners, just as much as balls and blocks and mud and gardening tools. If schools instead are using computers simply as drill taskmasters, blame the educators, not the technology.

I do believe that one can get an adequate elementary education without computers, but why, in a fit of doctrinal elitism, would a school absolutely prohibit this technology?

It’s become a topsy-turvy world when private schools for the well heeled have no computers, while schools for the rest of us are using them — the “digital divide” in reverse.

Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Oct. 26, 2011

The writer is the editor of Educational Technology Magazine.

Should I feel bad that I let my son watch age-appropriate educational programs on TV and learn things like a second language, or enhance his reading ability? Shame on me for letting my child play chess and math games on my iPad?

Is it really outrageous that I let my son sit on my lap in front of my computer so I could help him type his first love letter while in preschool, before he could write with a pencil? Is using Skype to chat with faraway family really a no-no?

The fact is there is no one parenting solution or one type of child. When used appropriately with guidance, there’s nothing wrong with technology for kids.

New York, Oct. 26, 2011

For the past 30 years, Americans have been sold the lie that computers in the classroom will revolutionize education, despite the continued deterioration of educational achievement. All of the iPads, laptops and Web cameras cannot alter the fact that learning requires hard work and discipline.

It is foolish for schools to waste scarce resources buying expensive technological products that will be obsolete upon purchase, when a textbook can be used for up to 10 years.

The “Grading the Digital School” series in The Times indicates that this high-tech philosophy can produce students who can make fancy PowerPoint presentations and upload videos to YouTube but who are functionally illiterate and devoid of critical thinking skills.

Atlanta, Oct. 26, 2011

I fail to see how technology robs children of their chance to be children — any more than pencil and paper do.

My third-grade classroom has a 4-by-5-foot interactive whiteboard connected to my computer. It’s like a highly enhanced blackboard. I can instantly project the children’s writing and any other document for the entire class to see and to edit. Children can move and rearrange geometric shapes to demonstrate how to find area or perimeter. I have immediate access to maps and other information as the need arises. I can teach how to evaluate and compare information from multiple Web sites.

Technology does not prevent the children in my class from physically acting out fractions, drawing, playing math games, making collages and having educational treasure hunts around the neighborhood. The children still get immersed in reading their books — books, too, were once “new technology.”

Technology comprises a diverse set of tools. When selected carefully and joined with various activities, a comprehensive and rewarding education becomes possible.

Brooklyn, Oct. 26, 2011

For 20 years as a Waldorf teacher, I helped grade school children develop their imagination and creativity through an artistic approach to the usual subjects. The living word was our magic wand, and the living world our playground. The rich Waldorf curriculum stimulated their sensing, knowing and creating. The intrusion of electronic devices was minimal, to avoid neurological and attentional disruption.

In Waldorf high school, I now teach some of the same students. They use technology in masterful, creative ways. PowerPoints show the American Revolution and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The class Web site becomes a digital library. Research is online; Web sites are critically evaluated. Technology is in service of higher order thinking, not vice versa. This is as it should be. Technology in education is fundamentally a developmental question — when, what and how. The Waldorf schools have figured it out.

San Francisco, Oct. 27, 2011

As the parent of two grade school children who are still fairly computer illiterate, I welcome this debate. I’d really like to know what benefits there truly are to children in using technology at an early age, because I’m not convinced.

As the manager of the I.T. department for a public library, I have struggled to reconcile my own reliance on technology with my reluctance to teach my children much about the computer at home. I’ve heard other parents brag about their kids and their iPhones and iPads, and sometimes wonder if I am putting my own kids at a disadvantage by keeping them at arm’s length from our family Mac.

But I have listened to my instincts, which have been telling me that with the ubiquity of technology in daily life, there is no urgency to get them started just yet. It’s heartening to know that there are a lot of parents out there like me who also feel that the time will come soon enough when our kids are immersed in the world of technology and gadgets — but believe that for now, childhood can be quite complete and fulfilling without them.

Berkeley, Calif., Oct. 26, 2011

I have two teenagers, a 9th-grader and a 12th-grader, and if I could turn back time I would seek for my children just the kind of computer-free education practiced at Waldorf — but I would take it farther and extend it all the way through high school. Unfortunately I can’t go back, so I’m stuck with the reality of watching two intelligent, creative children hooked on computers the way my generation was hooked on drugs.

My husband and I would love to disconnect our wireless router every night and for part of the weekend, but we can’t: Schools have integrated Internet use with homework to the extent that taking away the Internet is akin to taking away paper and pencil. As parents, we’re trapped. So we leave the Internet on, painfully aware that of all the open tabs across our kids’ screens, one relates to homework while the others are Facebook, YouTube, iTunes and whatever else has driven them to utter distraction.

Some argue that kids need to learn about technology to prepare them for the work force. When I was growing up we weren’t handed a desk, a telephone and an I.B.M. Selectric ... at age 3. We played and dreamed, we finished school, got a job, figured out how to use the tools of our trades and did just fine.

Brooklyn, Oct. 26, 2011

Why must “being a child” and learning “in through the heart, out through the mind” be divorced from the use of technology?

I find the notion that parents and schools must takes sides on this debate through a strict binary — either all technology all the time, or no technology whatsoever — to be frustrating and counterproductive to the needs of young people. Educational technologies certainly offer incredible potential for a child-suitable mixture of learning, engagement and play, but they are not solutions to the ills facing schools in and of themselves.

Instructive technologies, no matter how innovative, are shaped by the cultures and communities that adopt them for use. Student needs are varied, and school contexts matter.

Given the tools, support and the appropriate learning contexts, young people can truly benefit from technology.

Irvine, Calif., Oct. 26, 2011

The writer, a Ph.D. student in sociology, is a researcher for a study examining how young people learn with technology and new media.

As a public school teacher with a passion for engaging students in hands-on learning, I couldn’t agree more with the approach to technology-free schooling described in “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute” and endorsed by Mr. Simon.

Right now, my third graders are learning about the role of plants in our diet by growing food in a courtyard garden, composting our lunch, conducting scientific observations, interviewing farmers and analyzing the food choices at local supermarkets and farmers markets. How dull it would be to be tethered to a computer screen instead!

Sadly, I’ve been in schools where costly technology sits unused while at-risk students go without basic resources. Now, with national efforts to shift standardized testing to computer-based assessments, districts will be forced to invest heavily in technology at the expense of the money they so desperately need to provide rich, hands-on experiences for their students.

Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 26, 2011

Mr. Simon is right. Screen time takes both adults and children away from face-to-face relationships, which children, especially young children, depend on for learning, connecting and growth. Abundant research finds that young children especially need to be introduced to modern technology very slowly and gradually for optimum growth.

Unfortunately our culture pushes both parents and children to accelerate that exposure far too soon, with infants hitting iPads to make sights and sounds, and vulnerable children being exposed to intense violence and marketing on computer screens long before they are equipped mentally to cope with them.

Dimitri Christakis found in a 2007 study that “educational” videos like Baby Einstein even interfere with learning. Older children may get knowledge from the screen, but often at the cost of social and emotional competence.

Bethesda, Md., Oct. 26, 2011

The writer is on the executive committee of Concerned Educators Allied for a Safe Environment.

My (comparatively unplugged) 9-year-old was recently reading a Louis Sachar book in which a teacher announces that she will use the classroom computer to explain how gravity works. Then she throws the computer out the window.

My sentiments exactly.

Yonkers, Oct. 26, 2011

The Writer Responds

All of the responders seem to be actively engaged with children, which is a critical aspect of healthy child development. Where the responses differ is their starting point for analysis. Mr. Lipsitz and Ms. Lambert start with the question, Why can’t I use technology in positive ways for young children? Mr. Weber starts with the question, How can I develop the creativity and imagination of a young child? This is a critical difference.

Proponents of technology in the elementary classroom like Ms. Bernstein assume that technology can “fit in.” Several readers point out that the seductive nature of computer images and games and the pervasive use of technology outside the classroom make subtle use of technology in the classroom nearly impossible.

As one of my favorite Waldorf teachers has written, “Waldorf is a choice that earnest parents have made, parents who have confidence in technology, who see it as part of their children’s future, but who feel that the natural creative and imaginative capacities of children can best be developed through an immediate connection with nature, art, storytelling, movement, music and drama.” Case in point: My own Waldorf-educated son is graduating with a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania this year.

The question parents like Ms. Lambert should ask themselves when interacting with their children is: Am I pulling my child into my adult world or I am playing with my child in his or her world? Instead of helping a young child write a letter on a computer, why not help him draw or paint an expression of love?

There will be plenty of technology later in children’s lives. Why not let them begin life experiencing the magic of the world and their own imagination rather than holding a mouse and watching electronic magic unfold before them?

San Diego, Oct. 27, 2011 dialogue waldorf&st=Search&scp=1

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Article on Waldorf Education in Harvard Review, Nov 2011

Two very interesting articles about Steiner schools.

An article on Waldorf Education in the Harvard Review, November 2011.

And from New Zealand:

(Emailled to my contacts 10 Nov 2011)

Monday, November 28, 2011

A sleep of prisoners

Emailled to my contacts on 24 Nov.11

Many of you will be familiar with Christopher Fry's wonderful poem, A Sleep of Prisoners, but may not be so familiar with the equally wonderful play from which the poem derives. You are invited to join Vanessa Underwood's initiative to read passages from the play in preparation for the Holy Nights.

'The longest stride of soul'
An exploration and reading of Christopher Fry's 'A Sleep of Prisoners' is proposed to run for six sessions starting Sunday 27th November. The work will act as preparation for the Holy Nights, for on 4th January a presentation consisting of introductory thoughts and prepared passages from the play will be led by Vanessa Underwood.

Please feel free to join us for the preparation even if you may not be here for the Holy Nights.

Dates: Sundays 27 Nov, 4 Dec, 11 Dec and
Weds. 30 Nov, Weds.7 Dec, Thurs.15 Dec Time: 3.30pm - 5.

Please register your interest with Vanessa

Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity's sake!

-- Christopher Fry

Cosmic Adultery

Five very busy years have passed since the last post on this blog. The previously mentioned novel, The Moondance of Destiny, was finally published six months ago as, Cosmic Adultery book one - the fire trial. I hope you will read the extract and enjoy it enough to want to read more.

To fill in the picture of my life and my activities over the past five years I propose to take a retrospective (ruckshau) approach and post details of the many email announcements I've sent to my contacts over recent years. I'll begin with the most recent and work backwards.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Conference delegates

Editing my conference script went better than expected yesterday; if I can find the same inspiration today, then it will be finished and ready for rehearsing by tomorrow.

The conference delegate list was published this morning on the website - I think I'd better wear my best frock! These people move in different circles than I do; and yet, I have to admit that, on balance I'm probably slightly more excited than anxious. I've always enjoyed a challenge and I really enjoy meeting people who have a completely lifestyle and outlook than I do.

My lack of nerves about this event can be attributed to a couple of very fortunate character traits; firstly, stage-fright only hits me in the minutes, or sometimes just the actual moment immediately prior to a big event. This is the same whether the event is a performance, a reading, a talk, a live interview, or meeting someone important. And because it happens so close to the event there is no possibility of backing out; I have to just breath deep and get on with it.

The second reason is my deeply held belief that we all really do share a common humanity. There is always a point of reference between two people that allows at least a spark of recognition and respect to flow between them. We might not always be conscious of this spark, which means we can't always fan it into life, but I'm certain that it always exists. It's because of this belief that I'll be honouring the delegates and the conference organisers by dutifully preparing my presentation over the next 2 weeks; and, I'll be genuinely looking forward to the experience of meeting some very interesting people.

As a friend of mine used to say: Onwards, ever onwards.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Preparing a conference presentation

This time of the morning is usually given to the writing of my second book, The Moondance of Destiny. However, for the next four weeks it won't be possible to give much attention to book writing. Instead I'll be focussing on three very important events that are about to unfold. These are: the imminent wedding of my daughter Meegan, on Saturday, 1st July; an extended visit from a dear friend, Liz, who is coming for the wedding and staying with me for three weeks; and finally, my preparation for a giving a presentation to a major conference taking place at the CBI on July 6th.

The theme of the conference, wait for it, is Corporate Manslaughter. You can find out more about the conference at my website but basically it's about the new legislation that will hold corporate executives accountable for any deaths that occur, either of, or by their employees, if the death can be shown to have resulted from inadquate company policy or practices.

I've been invited to speak to the delegates about my experience of causing an accidental death. My presentation isn't a facts and figures talk but a dramatic retelling of the terrible consequences of causing a death. It's a 45 minute scripted monologue that I've performed many times, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004. However, I only have 30 mintes for the conference slot so I have to rework the script. This means reducing an already cut to the bones presentation by one third!! And then of course, once it's edited, I have to remember not to fall into the habit of presenting it in the usual way. Hence, I will be giving a fair amount of time and energy over these next two weeks to getting it right. After all, the conference organisers have taken a gamble putting me on the speakers list so I don't want to let them down.

Anyway, enough procrastinating. Time to get editing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A new career as a writer

When my book, To Cause A Death, was published in June 2004, I had no idea how it would be received. The topic of causing an accidental death is hardly a common conversation subject, in fact it's far more likely to stop a conversation rather than enhance it!
Another unknown aspect of my book was whether my experience had any resonance at all with others who share my destiny; I'd never found another book that describes a first-hand account of causing an accidental death so I had nothing to compare my story to.
But the unknown quantity that provoked the most anxiety was whether my untested writing skills were adequate to convey the extraordinary thirty-three year odyssey that I was catapulted into when I caused the death of a pedestrian, Margaret Healy.
It is now exactly two years since the books publication and thankfully, I can report that all three of the concerns described above have had positive outcomes. The book has been very well received both by the media and the reading public; my story has encouraged others who share my destiny to speak their own stories (see my website for examples); and, I've been pleasantly surprised by the positive comments about my writing style.
So, what now? This blog will be about what happens next to a 52 year old woman who suddenly finds herself on the cusp of a new career as a writer. And, it will be about the ongoing journey of my first book, which is now in the process of being adapted for the stage.