Empathy

Making as Being

By Carrie Nordlund, posted on Feb 1, 2019

Art as a way of knowing intensifies the experience of living and thinking. In Waldorf edu- cation, the arts as social, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive acts are a means of perceiving, processing, and presenting one’s know-how. As an art educator and, more recently, a parent of a child in Waldorf education, I have come to appreciate Waldorf education’s seamlessly arts-infused curriculum that honors children’s imagination as fundamental and vital to living and knowing.


Tristan Willey, mechanical bug. Based on a lesson taught at River Valley Waldorf School with art teacher Sharon Ferguson. Photo by Tiffany Robinson.

Arts Infusion
In Waldorf schools, individuals are considered endlessly “coming into being,” where each has his or her own unique destiny to fulfill. Accordingly, Waldorf educators teach to this potential, with no one content area dominant over any other con- tent area. In doing so, Waldorf education blurs the line between art and nonart subjects. The arts are seamlessly infused in every class where children sing, move, act, and draw with their class teachers as much as their “specials” teachers.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education in 1919, believed children need to experience a curriculum in which the arts and imagination are central to accessing and advancing one’s potential, in turn, forwarding humanity’s potential. Through arts- infused curriculum, Steiner intended to engender self-reliant, inventive thinkers and compassionate adults, who would be free to discover and create a just society. A century later, are we adequately exposing our pre-K–12 learners to art—this undefined place of the possible—and are we forward- ing citizens who enter society with a greater capacity for creative thinking, and mindful of what could be?

Children Are Makers
We are makers, a commonality in all of us. During making, we learn about ourselves as much as the objects and subjects at hand. In this way, the act of making in Waldorf schools is a practice of research—art as finding. Waldorf educators have been scrutinized about the curriculum time they devote to teaching nonessentials such as handwork (e.g., knitting) and other traditional crafts (e.g., stone carving). When I consider the maker education movement where materials act as provocation for research and inquiry, Waldorf education’s emphasis on children seeing themselves as makers is timely and necessary—even essential.

Material-Based Learning
Children are innate makers; they dwell in a world of the possible. Material-based learning offers making as thinking. In the tinkering of and translation with materials, children discover new certainty and actuality; as a result, a kind of trueness is revealed through their hands, heart, and head. From the process of potential to the actual, one not only conjures and holds a picture or concept in consciousness (head), but likewise one comes to own it (heart), and manipulate it (hand). In essence, Waldorf educators use art-making to advance thinking, feeling, and willing beings as the change-agents in our world.

What does it mean to bring some- thing into a form from one’s own head/heart/hand? During the processes of making, our typical habits of linear thinking are disrupted and we must reckon with what arises. Makers engage in flexible thinking to observe and attend to the emergent, embrace problems, persist and persevere through challenges, envision anew, stretch and explore capacities, reflect and judge outcomes, and, most importantly, discover what it is to know and be. All these acts of making and being are essential dispositions for the uncertainties in the century ahead: temperaments to be encouraged and practiced daily in our schools.

Carrie Nordlund is an art educator at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. nordlund@kutztown.edu

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