China Blog 2016: Part 2
China May 2016: Teaching in China
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have just returned from my second trip to China this spring, my sixth trip in the past 3 years. In this issue, I would like to describe some of the communities I have been working with there.
There has been an enormous growth in Waldorf education in China, beginning in the early 2000’s. The Canadian-Chinese Harry Lee was one of the first inaugurators, who helped start the first school in Chengdu, in the heartland of China. Australian Ben Cherry and his wife have since stepped in to play a very important role in helping school communities around the country get started. (A parallel but independent movement has also been growing in Taiwan, with perhaps one of the largest Waldorf schools in the world: this merits a full essay on its own someday!)
Contemporary public school education in China is very tight. Students study extremely long hours each day, often continuing their studies in “cram schools” late into the evenings. The curriculum is very much oriented towards training the students to successfully pass the highly competitive college-entrance exams, and students live under a great deal of stress. Of course, this kind of education emphasizes multiple-choice tests and answers, and has the real danger of stifling original, creative thinking.
The citizens who have found Waldorf education hope it will help shift this paradigm. There are Waldorf Schools popping up all over the country, and almost all are illegal or at least “outside of the law.” (Several schools, however, are currently being supported by their district heads of education, which is a hopeful development.) At last count I had heard of over 400 Waldorf-inspired kindergartens and small schools, and one developing high school. Numbers are slippery, however, and I am fairly certain that no one knows how many initiatives there are.
Unfortunately, there is no way that there could be enough teachers to fill all these schools.
With the rapid growth of the Waldorf movement, schools are growing far faster than it is possible for teachers to be trained. Despite everyone’s best effort, trainings are, of necessity, short and fast. For this reason, I perceive a huge challenge for teachers to learn the basic philosophical underpinnings of anthroposophy. And if this foundation cannot be laid, teachers only work out of techniques, and not out of insight into how and why it works. Only if foundation studies can be developed that help really understand what they are doing will they be able to work creatively with Waldorf education. The consistent problem that I meet in China is that the enthusiasm for Waldorf Education is not supported by sufficient anthroposophically-rooted work.
In short: the schools are in grave danger of only giving the appearance of being Waldorf schools without developing the skills necessary for future autonomy or for building a contextualized currciculum. Some schools are carried by eager but inadequately trained parents, and some by financial speculators who hope to make a tidy business by funding Waldorf kindergartens.
In almost every school I visit, teachers want to organize their own local, in-house teacher training. However, this only compounds the difficulties of establishing a sufficiently deep basis for common understanding among schools.
Because I meet these challenges wherever I go, I am vigorously trying to encourage the schools that I come into contact with to consolidate their teacher training programs into several main centers, and also to develop consistent Waldorf school standards to certify that the schools have enough qualified teachers to ensure high quality schools.
Currently, the Chinese Waldorf movement is trying to focus on developing certification programs in four or five major centers.
- Beijing, in the north, is the capital city; it has a no-nonsense executive flair.
- Xi’an, in the middle, was the ancient home of the Qi dynasty, where the terra-cotta warriors were created. It feels old and culturally dense.
- Chengdu, in the west, is the home of the first (and largest) Waldorf school, and reminds me of the American heartland.
- Guangzhou, in the south, is only miles from HongKong, and one can feel a breathe of international openness there.
- The eastern coast also needs a Waldorf training center, but it isn’t clear yet, if one might be created in the fast-moving megapolis Shanghai or in the ancient capital city nearby, Nanjing.
Support for this initiative towards centralization is met in part by skepticism, because schools seem to be afraid of any possible element of “dogmatism.” I engage in many conversations trying to overcome this kind of resistance.
Building on my background as a Eurythmist and lecturer for Foundation Studies, most of my own teaching work in China focuses on the basic principles of anthroposophy, enlivened by really accessible eurythmy experiences. I have done this as part of the teacher trainings, and also as part of general community outreach work. I often work with the parents and community members as well as with teachers. I have been to all five of the major cities, but also work with some of the smaller schools as well. (On this last trip, for instance, I visited the coastal city of QingDao. which quickly became my favorite city in China, with its clean beaches, its bay ideally suited for the 2008 Olympics sailing events, and its surrounding mountains.)
I have cultivated a special offering for the communities where I teach, enlivening foundation studies through movement practices. Having taught these for over 25 years, I offer many things: Eurythmy, the Nature of the Human Being, Yin/Yang and Creation Myths in conjunction with Cosmic and Human Evolution, Life before Birth and after Death, Human Biography and Life Cycles, Developing Etheric Vision, Fundamentals of Biodynamics (with Harald), Group Processes and Coaching. Due to my background in the sciences, my experiences in the East and my studies of eastern philosophy, I understand the Eastern mind and paradigms. I am committed to helping bridge the Eastern and Western mind.
I seek above all to bring the teachings to people in a way that they feel moved in the hearts and understand what it means to “wake up.” I avoid what students tell me they often get: “cook-book anthroposophy that teaches the head but not the heart.” (This is what I teach around the world, including in many communities in the US.)
“Please help us to become more human”
Twelve months ago, I taught a two-week course in the Chengdu Community Education program. In the second week of that work, we began to speak of the eternal nature of the human spirit, and looked at the story of life before birth and after death. In time, the women dared to ask me, “What happens when we abort a child?” Knowing that many, if not most, Chinese women have had one or more abortions, I delicately found my way into this exploration of their deep wound. This work opened new levels of intimacy and candor I could not have anticipated.
This past year, these same women wrote to me with the request to begin a new work with them. They asked if I could come and offer a full training on Eurythmy, inner work and biography, saying, “We feel that we are becoming hardened, like robots. Please help us to become more human.” This request touched me deeply, and I knew that the unique gift of Eurythmy as a Personal Practice, combined with practices from self-transformation workshops and coaching would be able to answer their need.
This May we held our first five-day workshop, focusing on questions such as: What are the archetypes of man and woman? How do we meditate? What is biography work? With two lecture periods a day and two eurythmy classes, they could feel themselves getting out of their heads and into their hearts and bodiesBased on the success of this workshop, we are planning for more in the future.
My journey in China has many installments in the years to come. I also look forward to sharing more of these journeys with my husband Harald in the future. And although I am sure I will not move to China, I plan to return to offer the gifts that Rudolf Steiner offered to the world.
(PS: My husband and I are currently preparing to bring our workshops to two or three cities in Mexico next month. Life is full of surprises.)
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