If you've read Animal Farm, you will appreciate this letter from Oct. 11, 2001
As plans for our inter-school communications network are apparently moving slowly, I would like to invite everyone who isn't already on this email list to join. If you know of anyone who might be interested in discussing political or other important issues of Highland Hall, please have them email me so that I can add them to this list. I especially invite Board members, College members, administrators, staff members and faculty members to join the many parents and friends of Highland Hall who are, through their courage and by their participation, becoming involved in the often difficult work of ensuring the best possible education for their children and the children who will follow them. If you would like to address the people on this mailing as a group, use the "Reply All" button on your email software or just reply to my emails and indicate that your response should be made public - so that I can forward it to the others who have expressed an interest in this subject matter. If you would like to be removed from this list, please contact me and I will remove your email address.
I've just received the new "Community Directory". Naturally, since I recently had discussions with Hasib about the school organizations, and was advised that the wording would be "updated", I immediately looked up the new wording that describes the College of Teachers (page 24 in the directory). Today, I would like to address this issue and the impact that the new wording has. Fortunately, I have preserved the old wording so that we might make a comparison and discuss the implications of this apparently "minor" wording change.
FROM LAST YEAR'S DIRECTORY:
"THE COLLEGE OF TEACHERS
The College of Teachers is the main pedagogical and administrative body of the school. Members are teachers of long standing who intend to carry the present and future well-being of the school as a primary responsibility. Meetings are every Thursday and decisions are made on the basis of consensus. The group makes decisions on hiring, staff development, the curriculum, student affairs, and overall school policy. Day to day operations are delegated to specific committees composed of faculty, staff, Board, and/or parent volunteers."
FROM THIS YEAR'S DIRECTORY:
"THE COLLEGE (Note - the words "of Teachers" has been omitted in the heading)
The College of Teachers is the main pedagogical and administrative body of the school. Members are colleagues of long standing who intend to carry the present and future well-being of the school as a primary responsibility. Meetings are every Thursday and decisions are made on the basis of consensus. The group makes decisions on hiring, staff development, the curriculum, student affairs, and overall school policy. Day to day operations are delegated to specific committees composed of faculty, staff, Board, and/or parent volunteers."
Amazingly, the wording is almost the same the only differences being that THE COLLEGE OF TEACHERS is now referred to as THE COLLEGE, and the word "teacher" has been replaced with "colleague". While the Animal Farm analogy instantly comes to my mind, let's all take a moment to consider if these changes are really significant and important to us and to our children. After all, what are the responsibilities of the "College" and how do they affect us and our children? We need look no further than the above statement: " The group makes decisions on hiring, staff development, the curriculum, student affairs, and overall school policy."
So, let's take these one at a time. Why is it important, after all, that only teachers be involved in hiring decisions? If we trust and support the premise that the teachers know what is best for our children, then they MUST have ultimate control over hiring decisions, whether it be teachers, staff or administrative personnel. I fully believe they should be ADVISED by others regarding the filling of non-teaching positions but that the voting privilege on the hiring decisions, especially the hiring of teachers, must ultimately be based on what the College of Teachers (not the Colleagues of Teachers) deems is best for our children.
I'm not sure what making decisions on "staff development" entails. If this refers to the development and training of teaching staff, then do we want non-teacher involvement here? How about other staff - after school care staff, for example. The people involved in this are with some of our children many hours a day. Do we want them to deal with our children in accordance with a method that has been discussed with them by our teachers? Of course. Should it be the burden of the College of Teachers to monitor this activity? Of course not - that's why we have the "day to day operations delegated to specific committees".
Let's move on to the bigger responsibility of the "College" - curriculum. Do we want non-teachers involved in decisions regarding curriculum? I have to be quite bold here and say that I DO NOT WANT, NOR WILL I ACCEPT ANY non-Waldorf-trained "colleague" making even the slightest decision or having the slightest influence over curriculum. The thought that this could happen (or may be happening right now) leaves a horrible taste in my mouth - and I am absolutely against the politically corrected or modernized revisions of traditional Waldorf curriculum that I suspect non-teachers might want to inject into the curriculum. Frankly, I don't trust non-teachers to make these decisions. Waldorf teachers undergo intensive training that is very specific and there is no way to overemphasize the importance of the curriculum in a Waldorf school. If decisions on curriculum need to be made - Waldorf Teachers of LONG STANDING should make them. Colleagues of Teachers don't have this training and should never be placed in a position where they could vote against the better understanding of the trained Waldorf teachers.
Decisions about student affairs should, once again, be made by a College of TEACHERS not COLLEAGUES of Teachers. Teachers are most vested in and are specifically trained to have the best understanding of student affairs. Again, no "colleague" needs to or should have a voting influence in making these decisions.
"Overall school policy" - What a tremendous responsibility - making decisions about the overall school policy. There is, and always will be, a conflict here. The battle lines are clearly drawn. There are the teachers - whose primary interest is the well-being and education of the students. Then, there are the non-teachers (OK, we could call them "colleagues") whose primary interest is the well-being of the school. These can be very different points of view. Is one more noble than the other? No. They are both very valid political views - and both necessary - so that the school may run properly and the students may get the environment and education they deserve. The old community directory had the balance between these two political views correct. The College of Teachers, of course, represents the interests of the individual students. Others, perhaps the Board of Directors, have the well being of the school and the overall student population as their primary focus. This is exactly how it should be. And yet, setting the overall school policy was clearly granted to the College of Teachers. Unfortunately, when we allow the infiltration of the College of Teachers by "Colleagues", we upset that balance. When the balance is upset, the individual students tend to suffer.
Here's an example of how this works: In the past, it has been at the discretion of the teacher to decide how many students the teacher feels comfortable having in their class. Teachers support this understanding in that a teacher who is taking more children than they feel comfortable with is likely to be ineffective and the individual child's education is bound to suffer, or worse yet, the teacher may be overwhelmed, able to handle the pressure and either do an inadequate job or even leave the school. However, people who put the interest of the school first tend not to support this view and have been known to try to convince teachers to take more students than they feel comfortable taking. Their reasoning is that the classroom costs the same to operate whether full or half full and therefore needs to be full. From an economic viewpoint, they are absolutely correct. After all, higher enrollment means more funds for more activities and a stronger school which, overall, benefits all students.
Both are valid viewpoints - one benefits the individual student, one benefits the school. Weakening either viewpoint disturbs the balance. We must be clear here, that by simply changing a couple of words, we have weakened the College of Teachers and have disturbed this balance (which, by the way, began several years ago). The past few years of problems attest to the validity of my assessment of this issue.
It is clear to me that the wording has changed to accommodate the current makeup of the College of Teachers. This is a fresh black eye for Highland Hall. I implore everyone to please consider this issue carefully and to insist that the make-up of the College of Teachers be restored to "teachers of long standing who intend to carry the present and future well-being of the school as a primary responsibility." These are the only persons who should have voting privileges on the College of Teachers. They are the ones we have placed our trust in and have trusted with the well being of our children. There are places for people who haven't attained the level of teacher of long standing but they clearly don't belong in the College of Teachers regardless of what the new Community Directory has been revised to declare. They may and should do the valuable work of "Day to day operations are delegated to specific committees composed of faculty, staff, Board, and/or parent volunteers."
As a final note, I'd like to point out that I, too, could be considered a "colleague of long standing" at Highland Hall. Under the current qualifications, even I would qualify to become a member of the Colleagues of Teachers - especially as (unlike teacher) there are no qualifications to be a colleague. If the thought of this makes you uncomfortable (as I would hope it might), consider that perhaps the qualifications have become too relaxed and that the once high standards for this, the most important governing body of the school, must be restored. Additionally, there is no mention of what percentage of "colleagues" can be represented in "the College". Could there be a College of Teachers with more "colleagues" than teachers? Perhapse without ANY teachers? According to the above definition, there could. I find this particularly disturbing. Could we see next year's wording change make it the College of Colleagues? Please, don't take my word for any of this. Talk with teachers around the school and get their viewpoint - especially the teachers that are on the College of Teachers. Don't let the changing of a word turn into the changing of the guard. Let's all support the highest ideals of Waldorf education by speaking openly and freely whenever we feel they are being tarnished.
Blessings and peace,