I had an excellent conversation yesterday with the parent of two students from Olympia’s Waldorf School. Following the traditional Waldorf curriculum, here in Olympia the school is regarded as the anti-traditional public school – much as other Waldorf schools are regarded internationally. The progressive community here seems to regard the school highly, and despite being out of the city – or maybe because of that – its the location for some additional cool activities – like a very awesome childbirth class my former partner and I took before my daughter was born.
Talking with this wonderful parent yesterday reinforced for me the personal nature of so much of this work. Her commitment to this school was nearly poetic, in that way that so many of us get passionate when we speak about something we’re committed to and put our energy inside. It was really very refreshing, and a great reminder that I need to mix more often with folks who expend their energy in such powerful ways.
Reflecting on this wonderful conversation reminded me about the powerful presence of noblesse oblige among youth workers, teachers, politicians and parents. The phrase was coined in the 1400s to describe the necessity imposed on the French aristocracy to take care of the peasants surrounding their castles. Literally, the nobles were obligated to care for the peasants because they had the resources to – castle walls, food in the cellar, etc. Its a similar notion as paternalism, but a little different: noblesse oblige comes from a place of nobility, and “doing the right thing” towards those you subjugate; paternalism is attached to repressing individual ability for the purpose of “doing the right thing” on behalf of those you subjugate. Give the adultist nature of our society, all adults are in the position to subjugate all youth, simply because of the power dynamic granted to age. That may happen despite our best efforts, either through a passing glare at a youth standing with his skateboard in the mall or by replying in a condescending tone in class when we’re in a crappy mood. The comic below demonstrates the noblesse oblige in reference towards young people in France.
The reason why the conversation about the Olympia Waldorf School brought all that to mind, and for the name of this post, is that over the last few months my former partner and I had to make a decision about schooling for our daughter in the fall when she enters kindergarten. What an awesome choice – for me. When I talked to my girl about it the story changed though. In talking she told me that she values playing, doing things, and being around other kids. Not a lot to base a kindergarten choice off of. So this change thing got personal. Stacking the chips of my commitment to democratic learning with the value my daughter’s mother and I place in public education I found tremendous appreciation when we explored a local public elementary school using a building-wide democratic learning model that embraces many of the attributes of meaningful student involvement. Locally they call this school “Waldorf Light.”
So change is personal.