Teachers enduring teacher training programs are given plenty of exposure to the most scientifically accepted theories of psychology, behavior, and child development. Teachers learn the work of B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, and Abraham Maslow to name a few. Little or no attention was paid during my teacher training to educational innovators such as Maria Montessori, John Holt, John Dewey, or Rudolf Steiner. I began my teaching career in the late 1990’s in Texas, during a time when testing and accountability was increasing in our state. After about three years of teaching in public schools in south Dallas, I thought there had to be a better way! I got curious about those innovators and started reading their work.
Dissatisfied with the joyless effects of standardized testing, I looked for more holistic alternatives that would keep kids motivated and engaged in learning and surveyed everything I could find. My older sister became a certified Montessori teacher straight out of high school. We had many discussions about Montessori’s view of child development and child rearing when I was still a teacher in training at the University of Houston. My sister prompted me to read about Montessori and I found the life of Maria Montessori fascinating. At that time my goal was to survey everything I could and come to some kind of overview of the “better ways” that were already out there.
I postponed teaching to start my family, and was able to keep these questions alive, reading and studying as much as I could. In the hours that I had when my first baby napped, I learned about the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, a democratically governed school with completely student-led learning. Many schools modeled themselves after Sudbury Valley School. Then in 2001-2002, right after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, I helped initiate a Sudbury-Model School west of Houston. We called it Brazos Valley Sudbury School, for the nearby Brazos River. I was hopeful for these seeds to grow, and yet I soon learned that for the youngest children in our group, something was still lacking in this model. I loved the freedom the older students had to learn what they wanted to learn, but felt it was too much freedom for children under the age of seven. I knew from seeing Montessori schools that an essential component was missing – structure. Young children needed more structure, care for their basic needs, and closer contact to thrive. I left behind the Sudbury model because of this flaw, but still held a deep respect for it as a model with great potential for older, self-motivated students. For me, it was a question of readiness, of appropriate timing in harmony with child development.
I took a break and homeschooled for a time, reflecting on these things as I reformulated my own views. A short time later I discovered Waldorf education. I thought I died and went to teacher heaven at first. Everyday children in Waldorf schools were painting, cooking, listening to stories, singing, gardening, playing music, doing crafts, playing outside. They were doing real things, not pencil and paper worksheets or fill in the bubble scantron tests. The children and teachers looked so happy! Even the young ones were doing such fun stuff. I couldn’t wait to get hired as a teacher and put the mundane world of standardized tests far behind me. I learned to knit and play the recorder. I learned how to tell stories and paint again. I learned how wonderful it was teach again.
It was during my first teaching job in a Waldorf School that I was exposed to the ideas of informing one’s teaching with an esoteric understanding of the human being. Waldorf school pedagogy began planting new seeds in me. Philosophical questions were given more time. But the transformation was not an easy one.
In Waldorf School faculty meetings the teachers read lectures and writings of Steiner, all philosophic and esoteric material. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary of words I had never read or heard before: astral body, etheric body, Lermurian epochs, kamaloka. I thought something was wrong with me because Steiner’s ideas made very little sense to me at first. I had to go through a period of unlearning of the materialistic thinking habits that traditional schooling had given me and relearn how to think. At times, I wondered if I would ever get to the bottom of it. Ultimately, I pushed past my doubts because I saw that this kind of school worked and the children were thriving. I taught for three different developing Waldorf Schools for the following eleven years, one of which I helped initiate called Great Oak School. I learned some amazing things during that time from the people I met and the pedagogy itself.
I began to see and believe that teaching is an art, not a science. This artistic view of the teacher and the cosmic point of view of the human being was the missing ingredient I was seeking, and this different view or picture of the human being seemed to impact the youngest students the most.
Even after eleven years of learning about the cosmic picture of the human being, I was perplexed because I was still feeling as though I could not even speak about most of these ideas with people, even in the Waldorf school.
I then began a more serious study of the twelve signs of the zodiac and western Astrology as compared to others forms of astrology or star wisdom. It brought me into dialogue with others who were receptive and ready to share their questions. I enrolled in 90 hours of beginning astrology classes and have just kept going ever since. If someone had asked me five years ago whether I thought I would be writing a book about using astrology in your teaching today I would have been a little surprised. Waldorf Schools do not practice any form of Astrology. Steiner in fact had very negative things to say about it in most of his lectures and writings, calling Astrology “dilettantism.” So, I should be clear that Astrology and Waldorf schools do not go hand in hand together at all.
I could only give my astrological studies part time attention with my family obligations and regular, full-time teaching load. I took workshops and night courses, and took up reading on my own time. Gaining a basic vocabulary in Astrology took about three years with that pace. I am now into my fifth year of on-going study of this subject as I simultaneously teach grade school and raise a family. I returned to public school because I felt it was time to bring my journey full circle and give back what I know.
I continue to learn as I go. I don’t get to the movies a lot, and I might not play my music as often as I’d like, but I feel as though I am somehow making a difference in my own small way.
I consider the following questions a lot lately:
- What ideas have I learned from Waldorf Education, Sudbury Schools, and homeschooling that will make the most positive difference for students in mainstream education? What about for teachers?
- What ideas have I learned from Astrology can help students or teachers?
- What are the best ways to reach receptive minds with what I have to share?
It’s my opinion that the cosmic view of the human being has been unnecessarily excluded from education theory and practice and it is time to do more research. The awesome power of computers has drastically changed the world of astrology and data collection, not to mention education in general. The open-mindedness of younger generations towards astrology and the power of technology may factor together to change many things going forward. Whether you like to call it Astrology or not, I think a resurgence of interest in the planetary forces is overdo.
Any kind of cosmic picture of the human being has been utterly eliminated from public discussion thanks to our centuries old demand for scientific evidence. Some would say that is a good thing, and of course superstition needs to be always called out. Testing, providing proof, verifiability and quantifiability of learning just made logical sense and has long been the focus in our times. Brain science, research from the testing industry, and behavioral science now inform, if not dominate educational practice. So why is it that when we look at our educational system and our society as a whole, things are still a mess? If we are so smart, why do we still have so many problems?
One study in 2005 showed that 23% of Americans believe in Astrology. This study is 15 years told. Where do we stand today with that?
I think part of the reason for this is that the understanding of our planetary cycles and its integration with other fields has been suppressed for the better part of three centuries, perhaps longer and people are hungry for meaning.
From very young ages, most of us have all been taught very materialistic forms of thinking which we won’t undo quickly or easily. While skepticism is considered healthy, it can also close doors to good, creative questions and solutions. Open minds learn. Understanding planetary cycles may at the least augment, if not complete the story of our human development. We need to be open to questioning our beliefs.
Working with a more cosmic understanding of the human being takes time to get comfortable with, but the potential gains for all fields of human endeavor warrant further observation.