Adam Blanning, MD
As a Waldorf parent, you gather lots of good stories about your children. One that stands out for my family is when our new first grader—who had independently taught herself to read at 5-and-a-half years of age—marveled at how clever her new teacher was. She told us about this at the dinner table. Her first-grade class was learning about the letters of the alphabet and how for each letter there is a story, and a story associated with a shape, and a shape with a sound. We were wondering whether this process of learning the letters might be boring for our daughter, but found the reality was really quite the opposite. She already knew the shapes and the associated sounds, but she loved hearing the stories. She drank them in joyfully. She looked forward to them. The stories were what she found so inspiring; that was why the teacher was so clever.
Waldorf education focuses a lot on process. On many levels, the goal of Waldorf education is not simply to memorize and spout back facts, but to instead build living experiences. You don’t just learn the letters, you learn the stories and sounds and processes of the letters. You don’t just learn your times tables, you stomp and clap them (often forwards and backwards). You bake bread, carve a spoon, knit, move, sing, play instruments, plus lots of drawing and writing about the things you have seen, heard, and felt. Sometimes multiple weeks of adventures, stories and experiences gets crystallized down into only a few pages of text and image. The block book stands as a representation of larger activity, but it’s not the main focus. Otherwise, all the time in the classroom would be spent faithfully copying the exact text and images of an expert teacher. Much more content, less process.
Many traditional educational activities do lean that way. Taken to the extreme, education can even fall into a pattern of solely “teaching to the test,” of focusing (almost exclusively) on the facts that will be on an exam. Education becomes the transfer of factual information without much creativity or context.
Medicine, too, can sometimes fall into that pattern. The practice of medicine has indeed become increasingly focused on facts, tests, diagnostic criteria, and electronic medical record templates. Interactions with a patient risk becoming a kind of teaching to the test in which gathering and checking off those data points becomes the sole prerogative. Assessment and plan shift efficiently towards choosing a diagnosis, then connecting that diagnosis to a predetermined treatment plan or protocol. Of course, those factual elements of diagnosis and treatment are needed, but they aren’t the whole picture. Many practitioners feel that. They sense a certain stiffness or hollowness in the direction medicine has taken, without necessarily knowing what the missing pieces might be.
Believe it or not, a “Waldorf” acknowledgement of process, of living experience, can also be brought into the realm of medicine and nursing. In fact, at the same time the first Waldorf school was being founded in Europe, simultaneous collaboration with practicing physicians was also taking place. The goal was to explore an “extension” of the art of medicine, using the same kinds of insights about the human being. That process is not finished, it’s not perfect, but it’s been steadily developing for more than 100 years.
Trainings for licensed prescribers (MD, DO, ND, NP, PA) and nurses take place all over the world. Instead of “Waldorf” medicine, it is known as anthroposophic medicine— “anthro” meaning the human being, “sophia”: knowledge— a medicine striving to know the whole human being. These trainings for doctors and nurses work to enliven thinking, deepen observation, learn about whole-person therapies, connect to the natural world, and see how body, soul, and spirit weave together, both in sickness and in health.
The trainings are designed for people who have already completed their traditional medical or nursing training—you need to already know the “alphabet” of medicine. But what a “Waldorf school” for doctors and nurses offers is a chance to hear the stories behind the alphabet, dig deeper, challenge and enliven your thinking, find joy, meaning and new community.
If you practice medicine or nursing and are eager to expand into new pictures or have a favorite nurse or doctor in your community who you think would be nourished by this process, please tell them about our programs.
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