On Friday, my wife, Karin, and I took Asher to a preschool playgroup. The playgroup was organized by the Tamarack Waldorf School in Milwaukee. Although it was a cold, blustery morning, the group gathered outside near the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park. Once the little children and their parents (or our case, their grandparents) had arrived, the woman leading the group told a fairy tale with puppets about the coming of spring. Then the group walked together to the woods nearby. The group leader encouraged the children to sing a few simple songs with her about springtime. After hearing a song only once, Asher remembered the words to it. The kids moved their bodies along to the singing. Then they went around the circle, singing “Ring Around the Rosie”. Following that, there was a craft project. The children (actually, the adults) found sticks and tied ribbons to them to make magic wands. The kids tapped their wands on the ground to wake up the spring flowers. Asher had a good time, and I think the other kids did too.
Waldorf education is excellent for little kids. It’s holistic and very much concerned with allowing children to just be children. There is a lot of emphasis on imaginative play and socialization skills. Respect for others is a priority. There is a sense of wonder and reverence for life. It’s a good way to start.
Karin and I have three grown children, and they all went to a Waldorf School, at least for a while. None of them have forgiven us for making them go there. Well, our youngest son, Stefan, who is currently a journeyman in the Ironworkers Union, has grudgingly admitted that there were some benefits to his experience at the school. He told me a few days ago that his time at the school taught him to look at things from a very different perspective than other people.
Exactly. That was the whole point.
Stefan learned quickly that schools in the United States are generally based on an industrial model, designed to produce workers, not thinkers. Waldorf education forms youngsters in such a way as to develop independent thinkers, people who do not follow the crowd. Not all Waldorf students grow up to be like Stefan, but they usually become adults who can solve problems in innovative ways. That’s a win.
Stefan also told me that he met a very diverse population of kids while at the school. The students came from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds. Stefan often hung out with the working-class kids, basically because that’s what he was. Stefan’s best friend at the Waldorf School was a Black youth who lived with his mom in a home in Milwaukee’s inner city. That was in stark contrast to our house which, as Stefan has noted, is part of a suburban area in sight of farm fields. Stefan went to visit his buddy now and then. He told me,
“Man, we used to ride our bikes in that neighborhood at night.“
Ah, the joys of youthful innocence.
The Waldorf School prided itself on a policy of Gandhi-like nonviolence. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the outside world penetrates the silks and stardust. Bad things can still happen.
When Stefan was a sixth grader, he liked to talk to his classmates about his maternal grandfather. Karin’s dad had been a soldier in World War II. He had been on the German side. Stefan was proud of his German heritage, and he was the only student in the Waldorf School whose grandpa (“opa” in German) had been in the Luftwaffe. Most of the kids probably didn’t even know what the Luftwaffe was. Anyway, he bragged about his grandpa to any who would listen to him. Some people did, and they did not like what he said.
German Luftwaffe machine operators using an anti-aircraft MG-15 gun next to an airfield. Source.
Stefan had a classmate who was Jewish. That was not uncommon. There were several Jewish students enrolled at the school. Stefan did not get along with the boy in his class, but not for any particular reason. They just did not like each other. Stefan had a quick temper, and the boy knew how to push his buttons.
There was an eighth-grade student at the school who had lost family members during World War II. He was deeply concerned about the Holocaust. At the time, my wife was helping to teach handwork to the students at the school, and she had a conversation with the eighth grader. The boy questioned Karin about her father. He asked her, “Was your father a Nazi?”
Karin patiently explained to the eighth grader that her father had been drafted into the German military, and that he had no choice about fighting in the war. He looked at her and asked, “So, are you a Nazi?”
The discussion didn’t end well.
Later, fate took a hand in matters, and one day three boys were in the school restroom simultaneously: Stefan, his classmate, and the eighth grader. Stefan’s classmate started taunting him, and Stefan got tired of it. He finally gave the kid a heartfelt, “Fuck you!”
Unfortunately, the eighth grader thought that he had heard Stefan say, “Stupid Jew!”
A male teacher rushed into the restroom to break up the fight. Things were immediately smoothed over and hushed up. That sort of thing does not make good publicity for the school.
After hearing about the brawl, my first reaction was, “They were fighting about this? Doesn’t this shit ever end?”
Apparently not. Ancient feuds resurface, and they are fought again by the descendants of people who are long dead.
I don’t know if Asher will eventually go to the same school. It might not make Asher a better person, or the world a better place, but it may be worth a try.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.