Letters from Santa: Father Christmas Shares the Gift of Waldorf Education in China

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Highland Hall Waldorf School teacher Jack Bryant trains future Waldorf teachers at Chengdu Waldorf School in Sichuan province, China.

The people are so eager and enthusiastic about learning, I am completely humbled!

Jack Bryant’s eighty students at the teacher training program at Chengdu Waldorf School in Sichuan province, China, affectionately call him “Father Christmas” because his physique and gnome-like beard typecast him for the role. But Bryant doesn’t deliver a sack of toys to be played with for a season and then discarded. What he shares is his experience in Waldorf education…a gift that will have a positive impact on his students for a lifetime.

Bryant, a teacher for the past eight years at Highland Hall Waldorf School in Northridge, California, was invited by Chengdu Waldorf School (CWS) to participate in a three-part teacher training over five weeks. His course emphasizes the Waldorf approach to practical arts for students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Highlights of the course include learning to carve spoons from cypress wood and the oloid, a geometric form, from dense sandstone.

A series of email posts back to his Highland Hall community reveal that the sharing of his knowledge is as rewarding for Jack as it is for his students. In one post Jack spoke about a unique opportunity to leave his usual comfort zone in the practical arts and share instead a lesson from the Waldorf science curriculum. “I also got the opportunity to teach an overview of the seventh grade physics block, mechanics. I was lucky to find examples of pulleys, wedges, inclined planes, screws, wheels and axles and, of course, the lever and fulcrum here on campus. I set up a few experiments, the best of which demonstrated the mechanical advantage of the lever. I set up a lever designed to lift a golf cart-sized motor vehicle, performed by the tiniest lady in the class! Everyone was amazed!”

He continues in a later post, “The stone carving and wood carving workshops happen every day and the resulting projects are some of the most beautiful things I have seen done by 'amateurs'. I am confident that any of these teachers will be able to carry this impulse into their classrooms because what they have been learning is alive in them.”

As a Waldorf teacher, Bryant might have foreseen how gratifying the experience would be to prepare teachers in China. What he didn’t anticipate was how much he would be emotionally moved by the experience or how much his students would adore him for just being…Jack. He writes, “The people are so eager and enthusiastic about learning, I am completely humbled...and intensely busy trying to keep up with everyone! They absolutely love my physical presence...beard and large belly and all! Virtually every man, woman and child I encounter stares and smiles and either tries to say ‘hello’ in English or give me a hearty ‘NEE-HOW’. Nearly every trainee wants a picture with Father Christmas.”

The Chengdu Waldorf School (CWS) opened its doors in 2004. It is the first of the seven accredited Waldorf schools in China. It provides the Waldorf curriculum for kindergarten and grades 1-8, and is also a center for adult education. The school joins nearly 1000 Waldorf schools worldwide and is a leader in the effort to support the emerging trend away from the intense pressure of competition in most Chinese schools. It does this by offering the Waldorf educational method of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, known for its emphasis on encouraging both creative and critical thinking.

Highland Hall Waldorf School is located in Northridge, California. Founded in 1955, it is the oldest Waldorf school in the western United States and offers an independent alternative to public and other private schools, providing the Waldorf Curriculum from Early Childhood through High School graduation.

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Rebecca Varon-Remstein

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