Cherchez la faim

La-grosse-faim-de-Ptit-Bonhomme-There is so little time to do anything frivolous these days.  One thing I miss is listening to NPR.  When I visit my relatives in North Carolina, I stay with Annabelle’s parents, two college professors to whom I am related on my mother’s sixth grader waldorf illustrationside. They have two big-screen TVs but those are disconnected most of the time and the elaborate gauntlet one has to traverse to get a decent program on is above my pay grade.  So I listen to WUNC and sometimes tune in to it here in LA via Pandora.  One of the interesting programs I heard was about this topic, which arrived in e-mail form yesterday.

Among many shocking facts is the one that only 1 in 4 Americans knows that the earth circles the sun, not the reverse. Yes, that’s right, in the richest, supposedly most exceptional country on earth, 25% of the people are that ignorant. And we are not alone, other countries are offenders in this regard.

What does this tell us about the state of education in the 21st century (everywhere except Finland and South Korea, I guess).

5th grade childs drawing of sun and earthThen while I was digesting that, I happened to watch Fareed Zakaria.  He had on, among others, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker and a historian.  His books are just wonderful, and I would recommend them.  He has lived in France and has some amazing stories to tell about that culture and his and his family’s time there, but has also written a magical children’s book that I would recommend if you know any 8 to 10 year olds.

He said something that really struck me as important.  That, while of course we need the STEM courses and many technical jobs go begging in this country because we are graduating so few trained and qualified specialists in those areas, we cannot put the humanities, i.e. art and literature especially, on a back-burner.  He pointed to Apple and said that largely Apple’s genius is not just its engineering wizardry, but its aesthetic mastery.  The creative aspects of Apple products are what enable it to command the popularity and prices it does — not its technology.  We will always have technically savvy people, but what will elevate the  few is their advanced creativity.

I feel lucky to have developed some artistic skills that embellish and decorate my life.  From childhood I could sing, draw and dance well — something both my mother and father encouraged.  Had I not had parents that emphasized science and teaching as a profession, I might have gone into the arts and thrived.  I find time to do those things still and all through school, I made sure I took classes at least in history and literature so I Waldorf fifth grade child's illustration on botanywouldn’t be a Joanie one-note.  I don’t care about fame and fortune, I want to live life purposefully, but artfully, beautifully, consciously and  fully.

I am not just a psychologist.  I have a lot of hobbies.  I go to a great deal of trouble to beautify my home, turn out imaginative pastries, paint scenes on furniture, plant a year-round blooming and fruiting garden, knit and crochet (I am working on a colorful Noro sweater right now that I will share in the future).  This is a lifelong drive, a hunger for knowledge and a complete life that wastes as few personal resources as possible, especially time.  It is something almost all children have naturally until it is driven out of them by misinformed, misguided adults in the name of very short-sighted expediency.

Where is that voracious appetite for enriched learning in our schools today?  The entire teach-to-the-test movement has meant the impoverishment of the so-called electives.  I attended public schools growing up and we had art, crafts, music, gymnastics, theater, debating — all were part of the curriculum as were all sorts of languages (including Latin and Greek), right along with the sciences and math.  We had a pioneering accelerated English program for gifted kids that tied into the history and science classes so they were all coordinated (much like Waldorf education has on a richer and more varied scale).  What I see now in my younger nieces’ and nephews’ textbooks in so-called California model schools is appalling: dull, soul-draining, pedestrian, lifeless. How kids get into top colleges and universities equipped with such mediocrity, is beyond me.

As I have mentioned before, my favorite niece, a 12-year Waldorf graduate, got into a top college and from there she went on to the top graduate school in her scientific field.  She sings, acts, paints, and knits.  She can make books, draw her own clothing patterns and then sew those clothes by hand, to make any garment she wants.  She has made dolls, tooled leather, done woodworking; she plays two instruments and was a volley ball captain.  All of this prepared her to be a scientist, because it developed all her faculties, not just the left-brain talents. In Waldorf Schools, the students create and illustrate their own subject books.  That skill, from 12 years of learning how to sketch and paint the world around them by continuous practice (the way the masters learned their crafts at one time), enabled my niece to illustrate her work in graduate school while many other students were struggling with awkward computer-generated images. And, most of the kids she went to school with have gone on to similar successes.  (In fact, an earlier graduate of her school, who is now a CEO of a sizable company, built and painted a harpsichord when he attended, that he later donated to the school!)

Waldorf eighth grade lesson book on radiationAdam Gopnik said something profound: we are impelled to study the humanities because we are human.  It is a natural desire and we innately long for an understanding of where we are, where we have come from and where we are headed as a species.  We need to anchor today, in yesterday, in history.  We need to read books from the 19th century to learn that they struggled with much the same issues and longings and misgivings with which we ourselves are occupied right now.

We study science so we can known the world as it is.  But history tells us how we got here, and inspiration found in art, music, books shows us the path to where we can go.  You need a creative mind to imagine the next invention.  You will not learn that in an engineering or computer class.

Gopnik said that in every past era, the conversations pivoted around books and pictures, literature and art.  These things are accessible to all and thus highly democratizing.  That is why libraries and museums have always been largely free.  Everyone can and should feel part of a conversation that extends back through time to the very beginning of civilization as we know it, and allows our imaginations to freely stretch toward an amazing future.sixth grade waldorf geometry

This is the very core of human desire.  In fact, as my Francophone friends know, the word ‘coeur’ or heart is etymologically akin to ‘core’. The human heart desires to understand and the arts speak directly to our hearts and to this need.  If we sacrifice them at the altar of practicality, we drain the very life blood and nourishment from our culture.

This country readily teaches our kids to use guns but cannot justify teaching them to paint and write music and read French literature? Maybe if students in all our schools had to draw and paint and model figures from nature, let’s say, of our solar system, in vivid, vibrant colors, they would learn and remember that we do not live in a geocentric universe.  They might see the similarities between the 5th grade child's drawing sun and earth 2species that reveal evolutionary progress, it might be driven home to them that the world has order and is beautiful, and we can know and understand that order through our senses, if we are trained.

They might yearn for true knowledge and not be satisfied until they have explored our world in all its glory, thoroughly.

If you roll over or click on the images, you will see the grade of the students at different Waldorf Schools who created each of these illustrations, in the image URL.



37 Comments on “Cherchez la faim”

  1. Sometimes it’s hard for me to comment on your posts when all I can say is “I agree.” I’m not sure where the value in arts and humanities is gone, but I sort of want to blame the television. It still amazes me when I go out with a group of people and they have lengthy conversations about TELEVISION SHOWS. It just bores me to tears as well as frustrates the hell out of me, but it seems to have taken over the creative part of people’s brains as some sort of cheap substitute, like junk food. I suppose the internet is also a factor, but I still see TV as the worst offender.


    • I appreciate every time you take a moment to comment and that you agree with me! I totally agree with you (and Cole) that television has usurped the role that reading and family discussions or walks in nature or trips to museums and libraries used to occupy. Anna’s parents take her to a local library every weekend because the place has storytelling — how many children hear stories told any more? Especially the fables and fairy tales? The internet is also a culprit — kids are on computers before they can even speak. Very wrong-headed. I fault the schools and the parents. They are not studying human development properly. If they did, they would resist this dangerous trend. You are such a creative soul, it must be an acute annoyance to you to see the arts back-burnered.


      • I think, however, that I live in my own little bubble a lot of the time. We don’t have kids, and are not very social, and even at work I’m in my little office doing my own little thing. So in my world everything is a-OK. I think that is a shortcoming of mine; my lack of connection and observation of the world around me a lot of the time.


        • You can’t be everywhere at once and are focused on the things you need to be. I think because I deal with young children, I am particularly sensitized to this. And it does occur to me that my posts are a bit like preaching essays. I don’t mean them to be final or unto themselves — I do want people to feel free to contradict me or point out what I am missing. I have a lot of blind spots. I don’t think you are isolated, I think you are busy. 🙂


          • That’s true, you are more in connection to this working with young children. And I don’t think your posts are preachy, I just see them as extensions of your thoughts that you are putting down here to help clarify them for yourself. Or perhaps I’m projecting since that’s what I do with my blog, LOL!


            • That is exactly how I see my posts! How funny, I had months ago planned a post on this topic, related to research I saw on dreams. Every time I plan to get around to it, something else interferes. Note to self….LOL!!!!


  2. You have to already know how much I LOVE this post- going to reblog, as a matter of fact. The problem is systemic- television is a big part of the problem, but so is access to instant information- and the lack of awareness that the information that is accessed instantly isn’t necessarily a critical or factual presentation of anything like reality/truth.
    Once again, our minds are travelling the same paths. Excellent post!


    • You and I seem to be on many similar wavelengths. This is truly a pet peeve of mine. I do value the technical fields but it isn’t a zero sum game. We need both. Rudolf Steiner believed you can start all the more left-brain studies after the age of 7. That would be heresy today. Yet, I know for a fact that Waldorf students when my niece was going through the grades did not watch television at all and avoided computers until they were in second grade. It sure worked out in her case. She developed her own website when she was 15 — she masters complex technology in her field. People need to study human beings and then design a curriculum that supports not thwarts proper development. Thank you Cole, as always for your comments.


      • It is an example of this alarming tendency we have developed to polarize everything. Somewhere along the line the model became ‘arts VS. sciences’- rather than ‘arts AND sciences’.

        As Anne-Marie mentioned below, we need to encourage the holistic love of education and fight the suborning of willful ignorance. As I’ve mentioned- repeatedly- I very much believe that we are being encouraged in our intellectual laziness by those that claim to be our leaders.

        Very happy to see that there are so many voices in agreement- and I think that we are seeing and promoting movement on this subject. Let the talking/planning continue!


        • In this country, it is all about defunding public education. This stupid “austerity” baloney that greedy selfish lawmakers have snowed our gullible voters with. No money for the failing schools. Lots of money for private corporations taking them over and using federal tax dollars to do it and then doing a lousy job. It is a big problem here and I cannot wait to see the last of these extremists and so-called ‘libertarians’ (read ‘selfish’).

          “No money for frivolity” is their motto – the arts, humanities, even social sciences being ‘frivolous’ in their view. Or supposedly. It is really just an excuse to shift money to themselves and their cronies.


          • That’s happening here, too. And we also have (a) conservative government(s) in place that defund (or audit or just cancel/drive out of business) institutions, organizations and companies that offer a researched and investigated view of the world that differs from the governmental/corporate-driven economic bottom line.

            ‘Business’ commentators/leaders/’educators’ all over the country seem determined to place failures in our economic and social systems at the feet of those who are ‘irresponsible’ enough to want to study the humanities rather than more ‘practical’ areas of study.

            The Business School prof- who followed me and the tenured prof from UBC- on the Current a few weeks back is certainly a spokesman for this propensity to suggest that anyone who views education as inherently valuable FOR ITS OWN SAKE and who chooses to engage in life-long learning and appreciation of the humanities, DESERVES to end up unemployed/unemployable.

            I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall sometimes…


            • It is a disturbing trend, here and apparently, there. When I was at Columbia, we were taught the value of the “ivory tower”. Academicians whose main genius was for conceiving the future. So valuable. Now everything has to be bottom-lined with immediacy in mind only. We are losing greatness and brilliance. Talk about Marxism! This is capitalist mediocrity at work.


  3. Fantastic post, Beth. I am heart and soul in agreement with everything you have said. I was commenting on one of Cole’s posts the other week about ‘the way forward’ and how we may go about ‘a new enlightenment’. I am mulling over a number of different matters pertaining to education at its most basic form right now. And have started something of a pilot project …’control’ element in place. I see a big part of what is wrong being in the early education years and it seems to just spiral from there. There are so many interferences to what and how teaching occurs that education is losing its value and beauty.
    I hope to write more on this subject and I hope you will too. It feels imperative that a new love should evolve for education in its myriad forms. And I want to emphasise the word ‘love’. So many kids are turned off of it before they even get to senior school. It breaks my heart to see and hear of it. One would almost think that people were being kept deliberately ignorant.
    I look forward to more of your thoughts on this. And I hope to be in touch with Cole shortly on the same subject. Minds are coming together it would seem. 😉
    Thank you for this. It makes me feel I am on the right path.x


    • All of us are on the same path – I know in my gut that we aren’t wrong. Marey is a highly creative person and an educator as well as counselor. I am sure she could tell us her war stories bucking the system where she is. If only we could all start a movement to change this trend and find a way for parents and teachers, especially of young children, to get on board. I am thinking about how to do this in my own little way. Thank you for your encouragement! Let’s keep dialoguing…


  4. So true Beth, I was advised at school to do serious subjects at A level so that I had something to fall back on. I got 100% in biology! top grades in Math and high grades in physics and chemistry. I put myself under enormous pressure taking A level Maths as well as Music and three other performing arts subjects trying to keep my options open for entry to a good university in case I didn’t get a conservatoire offer. As soon as I got my offer I was allowed to drop my Maths after AS level to concentrate on the other four.


    • You were wise to do that, even though you shouldn’t have had to think of your gift as a potentially secondary pursuit or achievement. So many educators and parents stream artistic children into ‘practical’ endeavours. For one thing, I have always felt people who were good musicians seemed to be good at mathematics too. Thank you Charlotte!


      • My brother got a first in his Maths masters degree at a top 3 Uni but he was president of the ballroom dance sport team, won half colours from his University for competitive dancing and is still just as proud of that. He still loves dancing, singing and acting – he just didn’t want the uncertainty in his career and chose to go for academia whilst still competing at dance as a social pursuit.

        I think the schools were just worried about directionless leavers with a clutch of performing arts certificates and they were starting to be judged on how many students passed the governments baccalaureate: maths, English, a foreign language, geography or history and a science – no room there for music or performance it doesn’t seem right to me, glad I was in and out of the system before it became compulsory.


  5. Your post is right on the money (so to speak). When I was teaching elementary grades (2-6th grade), I had to buck the system to include art, always wrote lesson plans that were cross-subject. It was extremely frustrating. I didn’t “teach to the test,” I taught to the kids, and introduced hands-on learning whenever possible.I don’t think I could cope with teaching now. I had a great run – over 20 years – but the restrictions would drive me batty. I think I’d have my classroom outside in a park every day where I wouldn’t be micromanaged and where the kids had an actual opportunity to learn. Course, I’ve always been a rebel. 😉 Off my soap box now.


    • You aren’t on a soap box! This is very important. Our schools are drifting in a dangerous direction and the results are quite telling. As is the fact that one in four people in our country don’t know how the solar system is configured. Good grief!!!
      Thank you as always, Susan, for adding to the conversation with real life examples and your gracious touch.


      • That 1:4 is a very sad statistic; horrifying, actually. Truthfully, makes me want to tear out my hair. Needs to be headlines in every major newspaper in the country. Of course, the backlash would probably be to eliminate every subject except math and science and take even more money from public schools. 😦


        • Well, except for the fact that 25% of this country (could it be the same 25%???) don’t think science is a valid subject or discipline. They have chosen ignorance and made it a philosophy. When I read that statistic, I was skeptical but it was a National Science Foundation study and they of all groups should know how to mount a valid research project. I agree, there should be widespread outrage that this could be happening in the 21st century in such an “advanced” country. Thank you again, Susan. It is good to know we think so much alike on this.


          • Beth,

            Your statement about Science is true and I can vouch for it. I taught in inner-city elementary and middle schools for 2.5 years, just having left in October Such a large percentage of the students were behind on reading that the common strategy was to forget about Science and focus on PALS and Reading Intervention (especially at the elementary level).

            While I understand the importance of reading, the schools in my area have created a Catch 22 because it’s common practice to pass students along to the next grade though they’re not ready. (They claim the social repercussions would be too much). So, you have kids getting up to the third and fourth grade who are still only reading at a 1st and 2nd grade level. The teachers then spend unbelievable amounts of time and energy trying to play catch-up that they rarely ever get around the the grade-level stuff, and when they do, the school year is almost over. Not to mention how unfair it is to above-level and gifted students who sit around with barely a challenge while the teachers teach to the below-level students. Then, you have Administration fussing about how differentiated learning isn’t getting done when they are the ones who created the problematic situation to begin with…(well, that and the budget cuts – no aides).

            How some of these schools get accredited is beyond me…

            I could go on and on, but Science isn’t the only thing getting the ax, at least where I live. There has also been talk of cutting art and music over the past couple of years.

            In all honesty, there are a few schools here that don’t suffer as much as the ones I mentioned above, but I’d say 75-80% do…


            • Kim, this confirms my belief that most of the problem is austerity-related and to the fact that child development is not properly taught to teachers in training.

              The austerity philosophy that this country has fallen in love with is simply a guise, behind which to force schools to privatize and divert public dollars to private stockholders. There is a push toward charter schools, even though, for all they may look better, charter schools are not succeeding, but failing to educate children properly, across the board.

              When I was growing up and when I was a teacher twenty years ago, there were reading specialists to spent time with students who had problems reading, outside of regular classroom time. That freed the class teacher to concentrate on those average and above-average students. Budgets for this specialists are now gone.

              The core or ‘liberal arts’ should be taught in the first twelve years. There should be physical activity outdoors and indoors. Music, art, crafts, shop, are all things that all children would benefit from for twelve solid years. If we are not seeing to it that these things are in our schools, we are letting our children down.

              Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment.


  6. Beth, as I read this post, then read through the comments, I’m tempted to say “ditto” to mareymercy. I do agree with what you say here. Colemining also makes observations with which I agree, eg., about polarizing.

    I have no direct interaction with the education system, though I was astounded to discover children grade 2 students having homework. My nephews in Arizona attend a Christian school with a well-rounded curriculum and they enjoy studies, sports, music and have fun at school. One of my friends has 3 girls and I found their school-time lives over-scheduled but, again, with studies, music, sports and fun.

    I think today’s education system is focused on turning out students who will be working contributing members of society, less concerned that they also be well-rounded individuals who enjoy life. I’ve been out of school for 30+ years, but I remember having lots of time for creative imaginative fun. I had no goals for my education, I was more concerned with finding Mr. Right (she said, a 50+ divorcee who loves living on her own!).

    I’m sad for children who seem to be burdened with so much in life at such an early age. Education should be about more than just streaming into the workforce. I would love to see a system that encourages children to embrace subjects and interests that nurture creativity and instill joy and delight in life!


    • I agree with you about children enjoying themselves. In fact, get them away from media screens and outdoors where they can run around, or have them sit quietly and read or read to them, or tell them stories.

      But, the arts in school are not just for fun or for enjoyment. My point is that they are integral to becoming adept in things like science and math. If one looks at Piaget and the continuation of his insights into child and adolescent development that Rudolf Steiner contributed, for example, you can see how these skills directly result in heightened observational and reasoning ability. The ability to make connections that is essential to empirical analysis, which is the foundation of all the sciences.

      Anyway, some schools and educators know this because they are properly trained and others don’t. I fear we are raising a slothful, overweight, dull group of children right now and little wonder they do not know how to get a decent job when they get out of school.

      The humanities are essential to critical thinking and the ability to learn a new skill and apply one’s knowledge to novel subjects and challenges.

      If they also have fun, let’s say, after the age of 7 when reasoning fully materializes, then all to the good! They will be happy as well as sharp.


  7. Your commentary on the generally sad state of education and education philosophy is insightful. While not every child is destined to be a scholar or artist, a well-rounded early education is essential to the full development of the entire person.

    Superb post, Beth.

    I do recall having read criticism of the Waldorf school/method some years ago. Perhaps it was William Gairdner ( – I’ll have to check my books when I get home. It’s a vague memory.


    • Thanks for commenting on this (while on holiday, no less). It is not easy for some people to ‘get’ Waldorf education. But, I largely think that is because it is hard to understand until one has been thoroughly involved with it, from the ‘inside’ so to speak. I would go toe to toe with anyone on Waldorf. The proof is in the pudding – there are 500 of these schools worldwide and they produce amazing graduates. To me, there is nothing to come close, in terms of educating the whole child and respective natural human development, along the lines of Piaget, for example. In fact, I relish debating on this subject, lol! I consider myself an expert (humble of me, I know).


      • Ah, that brought a little chuckle. I suppose having been on the inside, and with that Ph.D. in psychology, we could find it within our hearts to grant you at least a little expertise on the matter. };-)>

        Thanks, Beth.


        • Well, on most things I keep an open mind. But, I spent a great deal of time on this one, first hand and through research, and so it is one of my few touchstones. If Waldorf can’t succeed with a child, we are all in trouble. But I do know that there are parents — not children, mind you, but parents)who cannot accept the concepts (and who have not given those concepts time to sink in properly) and who judge it by some of the followers, by Steiner and his associates who lived a hundred years ago, in Europe, and things of that nature. One cannot do that. One has to look at the product of the institution today, embedded in today’s issues. Just like we cannot excoriate the US Founding Fathers because they had slaves in the late 18th century (well, we can, but it is unfair, out of their cultural context). More on this some time — or any time anyone wants to go over it. I am ready! 😉


          • I think that might make for fascinating series of posts, especially if written for the average parent. Child education 101. Could bring in names/topics such as Piaget, Montessori, Trivium, Quadrivium, etc .

            In fact, if you were looking for a project, you could plan The Parents’ Guide to Child Development & Education (or The Waldorf Book) as a book, and write a series of posts that are basically executive summaries of the planned chapters.

            Having established some such framework, if the posts go well and you’re inclined, the book could wait until you’ve the time and interest. Even with no book, I suspect such a series of posts would be appreciated by more than a few readers.


            • That is a capital idea, Nav. In fact, interesting that you should suggest this. I was thinking recently that people might be interested in a series of posts on the importance of early childhood mental health — one of the many things that a good education fosters, but most of all, proper parenting. I do like giving practical info and it is sorely needed. So few parents study child development before they attempt to raise a healthy human being! Thank you. Should this come to pass, I will give you credit for inspiring me and making such a useful suggestion.


            • You’re most welcome, Beth. It seemed a natural way to put your expertise and writing skills to excellent use, in a way that could interest and benefit many.


  8. Pingback: In the Name of Knowledge and Creativity | Hope, Honor, and Happiness

  9. Pingback: Save Tigger | Beth Byrnes

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