Chalkboard Drawings
in the Waldorf Classroom

The Essence of Grade Eight

A CULMINATION AND NEW HORIZONS

In the last year of elementary school, the eighth grader is well on his way to an understanding of humanity in the world in which he lives. This has been brought to them through years of instruction that have nurtured their souls and created a space for them to act out of their own thinking, feeling and willing. They have been engaged by a curriculum that meets the developmental needs and soul mood of the child at each step along the way. Having had this freedom in education, they are now met at the threshold of their next journey, toward adulthood, with a curriculum that embraces their new capacities for logical thinking and independent judgement. Now they learn about human striving where these capacities emerged into ideals of human freedom in revolutions of nations all over the world. Within the eighth grader is a strong feeling of needing or seeking new challenges. He is eager to feel part of the educational process not just the recipient of prescribed plans. Here he is willing to venture out and seek what he is capable of, and what his limits are. By the end of another rich year he is finally ready to enter into the next phase of his development and welcomes the changes on the horizon.

Without going into a general overview of the eighth grade curriculum, it would be more appropriate to sum up with an auspicious excerpt from Marjorie Spock (1985). Here she forms an accurate description of the elementary years of the growing child and the culmination of these lifelong formative experiences:


In the light of the Steinerian principle of metamorphosis the development of the human being from birth to twenty-one falls into three great growth phases, each one of which requires a different type of education. In the first phase, lasting until the onset of second dentition, the world is the child’s teacher. He lives wholly imbedded in his surroundings, learning by imitation and drinking in impressions with keen, wide-open senses. At this age it would be presumptuous to instruct him. It is enough to provide him with impressions of a human world of goodness, truth and beauty. For the rest, nature herself cares for him as no human being can. In kindergarten he will be endlessly content to play there with a few simple play things. Though he asks endless questions, learned answers enter his ears as so much empty air or at best as a kind of soothing music. He does not want to be taught. He is too busy learning to welcome interruptions, and his keen senses perceive far more than we know how to teach him.
    With the maturation that takes place at five or six, however, the child begins to withdraw from the world into the fastnesses of his own being. Slowly the world becomes a riddle to him. Now he has a real need of knowledge. At this period we do well to offer him instruction, to bring the world to him provided we can do so as artists in pictures that speak potently of reality.
    The second phase of childhood corresponds approximately to the eight year period of elementary schooling. It is the task of elementary education to give children in the second phase of maturation an understanding of man and the world they live in, to offer them knowledge so rich and warm as to engage their hearts and wills as well as minds. Such an understanding is the basis of all real efficiency in later years. Children educated in Rudolf Steiner’s sense are genuinely practical as well as finely artistic human beings.
    With the completion of the eighth grade the children should have a well-rounded general picture of man and universe. This last year should not only bring all previous experiences to a new peak, but enable the children to enter fully and potently into the life of their own times. (p.109)

 

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