Sunday, January 29, 2006

Soul Economy

Parent-Teacher Community Gathering at The Harvest
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Dr. David Booth of Austin Waldorf School

((As a note of introduction, this essay was crafted from 2 pages of notes taken during a presentation given by Dr. Booth. In a technical sense, Dr. Booth has not sponsored or authorized the content of this essay. Thus, this essay that I have crafted represents my best possible understanding of what he spoke to the parents of The Harvest at our most recent Parent-Teacher Gathering. Enjoy....))

Economics, as a social science, is the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth. It focuses its study upon how a nation’s or the world’s resources are utilized and whether or not they are being utilized effectively. Comparably, Soul Economy is primarily concerned with how to gauge, manage, and take care of one’s inner experiences. This inner life is comprised of the many ways in which the soul processes the outer life – thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Thus, Soul Economy is concerned with how those key components of one’s soul are used and abused in everyday life.

As teachers and parents of children in a Waldorf school, we should concentrate our attentions and energies upon the Soul Economy of those children. These children as in our care, so we are the ones who should be most responsible for helping them conserve the energy in their inner life, maintaining and increasing the vitality of their souls. Children must have their Soul Economy conserved and preserved at an early age, since, as adults, we know how easily it is to feel drained at the end of a long day or week. And since children spend most of their day in a school setting, the classroom should be a place where their Soul Economy is strengthened and developed, not undermined.

A child’s teachers (especially lead teachers) serve as the primary conduits for the maintenance and healthy growth of Soul Economy. The primary means by which a teacher seeks to cultivate Soul Economy in a child is through the pictorial representation of concepts through imagery, conveyed through story. Whether a discussion concerns world cultures throughout history, ideas from science and literature, or concepts of a mathematical nature, a teacher brings them to life through illustration and imaginative narrative. The lesson being learned leaves the realm of abstract head knowledge so that it might become concrete principles laden with convincing truth.

Here is an example of this using the number one. Philosophically, there are two number ones, with both being around us at all times. In one sense, there is a one that is always much more than one: one always becomes two. One is always the sum of its parts. Cell division is indicative of this concept, as well as any social unit. There is one family, but that one is made up of many individuals; there is one body, but it is comprised of various systems, that are collections of various organs, that are all built of a great many cells. In another sense, one is all and all are one. This notion is best evinced by monotheism, in probability, and in Boolean algebra where the number one equals truth.

In the younger grades, ideas like this are taught mathematically by seeing math (beginning with addition) as more than solely an accounting practice. 1 + 1 does = 2, but a more holistic view of this problem allows us to see that 2 = 1 + 1. A teacher starts with the answer (10) and the students learn that there are many ways in which many parts (1’s) collect themselves to equal that answer (1+9, 2+8, 3+7, 4+6, 5+5, 6+4, 7+3, 8+2, and 9+1). All of this is graphically represented so that the child sees the problem and isn’t merely learning a collection of facts. The problem is presented so that the child is actively thinking and not simply recalling the answer from rote memory.

By 5th and 6th grades, teachers do move from the pictorial to the conceptual when presenting ideas, whether new ones or reintroducing older ones from past lessons. These ideas are now able, within the child’s soul and mind, to move from the paper and blackboard to the intellect. The student can now form thoughts from their inner selves, as they are old enough to engage in true independent thought.

By the 7th and 8th grades, with the onset of adolescence, students begin to personalize these concepts. With independent thought being utilized, rational arguments are springing up and conceived within the child’s soul and mind. They are eager to define “what’s me,” often doing so in regards to the ideas they are learning and have learned in the classroom.

As students enter High School, they are more eager than ever before to seek out who they really are and/or who they want to be. They actively engage in role modeling, doing so on a deeper level than the typical “I want to be a fireman/policeman/whatever Daddy or Mommy are” role modeling of childhood. Moreover, they want to be taken seriously and to have their ideas approached rationally and authentically by the adults that they consider important. They seek to be reasoned with as soon-to-be-adults and, in doing such, they will actively reach out to respected adults who will engage them in that reasoning process. As adults, it is our responsibility to reach out to them so that they do not sink back on themselves and their peers for justification too much or too often. For them to do so will dramatically drain whatever economy of soul they have built up by their High School years.

Soul Economy is the key to this progression. Without it, students, whether they are children or teenagers, will not be able to cope with these transitions. The Soul Economy of children and teenagers must be developed, grown, maintained, and constantly bolstered by their parents and teachers.

Here is an example of this that uses the order and rhythm of the class day. In Waldorf schools, there are class meetings that are internal and external in nature. The main lesson, languages, and chorus are all types of internal meetings, while woodworking, eurhythmy, and physical education classes are external meetings. Internal meetings are held at the beginning of the day, progressing until lunchtime, and then followed by the external meetings. This allows for the natural flow of a student’s energy and mental capacity as the day moves forward. Similarly, the main lesson patterns are coordinated so that students are constantly challenged to think and learn. Math, Science, Literature, and History are all arranged in order to minimize any chance for a student to become bored or driven into a learning rut.

This is Soul Economy. A student’s natural body and life rhythms must be reinforced. Parents and teachers must decrease any stress a student might come to feel before they are able to handle it. A balance must be achieved between any memorization/homework needs and the needs of a real, healthy life for that child. Thus, to accomplish that, parents and teachers should look for ways to create a balance between inspiring children to learn and giving them exercises for their growing intellect.

(Question-and-Answer Session followed.)


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