MHP Speaker Series – Spirit of the school

MHP - Jacob Forward & William Forward

This is a transcript of the talk that was held on March 25th, 2021 via zoom to the community. Please also find the Spirt of the school document to read alongside this discussion. And now the audio is also available

Jacob Forward

Having attended since I was three years old. I have a very, very strong familiarity and connection with the school. And I think that somewhere deep in the recesses of my as yet youthful mind, is the belief and expectation that one day I’ll be able to send my children to Michael Hall. So I have a very strong interest and commitment to the school community going forward. Steve also mentioned I first encountered this spirit of the school document last summer in a conversation with Henry Howlett who introduced me to it. But I believe it’s been in the works for much longer over a year. So this is a lot of work and effort has gone into this. My role really was to edit it down quite substantially by about two pages worth of content, aiming for concision, and rephrasing lots of it with a view to making it more accessible to everybody. That’s been achieved. Henry and I will say aiming for a sense of timelessness and the documents that could serve the school in the long run, ideally. And I believe that the latest stage in this journey is that it’s been sent out to all parents and staff two weeks ago by Emmeline Hawker.

So what is the document? Essentially, I think that it’s an articulation of the values, beliefs and commitments of the school. So to use the language of government is the sort of constitution I suppose, and to use the language of cooperation, it’s a vision statement. I think the hope is generally that it will provide the proverbial hymn sheet from which, you know, the administrator that the staff and members of the school community can all refer to. And why is this document important? I think that it’s important because it states explicitly something that has been practiced implicitly for a long time. So I think it’s not so much an invention of, of values as an articulation of values that have really been practiced by teachers and their daily lives and can be seen in the curriculum. I’ve been have been with a school very much since beginning. The hope is also that this document will be more inclusive, and enable parents to have more of an active role of participation and engagement with the ethos of the school, which is something that there is the potential for them to be excluded from. So I think that’s why it’s also important. I think I should also mention that I think that participation in the school community does not depend in any way on belief in the philosophical underpinnings of this document. Especially not in a sort of dogmatic or uncritical way. I think quite the opposite is true. In fact, this document is a sort of invitation really for further discussion, which is what this evening is all about. I’m also wanted to refer to the fact that that Rudolf Steiner himself, if there was one thing that he really insisted on it was that people continually question and challenges us and try to apply his philosophies to their own personal experience. So I don’t think there’s any room for, for a sort of dogmatic approach to this at all. I think the only sort of absolute rule is the need for engagement and consciousness of what Michael Hall is all about. So with that in mind, I thought I’d offer a brief summary of the document for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it.

The document consists of five points. And these points, try to strike a balance between the needs for continuity and flexibility in a large institution, just what the score is. point one is the most sort of solid and point five is the most adaptable. The order from one to five also reflects a gradual transition from value to approach which is quite an important distinction, I think, set point one knowledge of the nature of the human being. Basically this, there is a particular conception of the human being that’s derived from Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy. And in this conception, the human being is threefold, having spiritual, soulful and physical capacities, that all of which benefit from education. Point two refers to the character of the education. The education really tries to work on all of the human faculties of thinking, feeling and willing, and the curriculum is age appropriate, which means that it recognises that there are three seven year stages in child development, beginning with the cultivation of goodness, from up to the age of seven, then the appreciation of beauty from ages seven to 14. And finally, the pursuit of truth from age 14 to 21.3 relates to the work of the teacher. There’s an emphasis on continual self development, because the teachers are role models for the students. That’s quite an important point. And the teaching is both principled in that it relies on this shared conception of the human being. But it’s also very flexible because teachers bring their own unique approach to the material they’re teaching. And they have to respond to the particular needs of their students in that class. point for refers to responsibility and relationship with the community. The school itself is a community that consists of teachers, students, parents, administrative staff, maintenance staff, and alumni. So it’s a large community. And this community is brought together and engages with itself, for instance, in school festivals. But the school also, as Marcus, Christopher, Robert mentioned, is engaged with the forest road community and the broader community of local schools. The final point is about accountability to the wider world. So this involves balancing the walled off approach with the needs of regulators from government, for instance, and examiners at GCSE and a level. And responsibility to the to the broader world also means kids concern for the issues of our time, and they could be environmental or social. And finally, I think the school is really trying to lead a paradigm shift in education as a whole, along with the over 1200 other Waldorf schools throughout there.

So I think that’s it for me now over to Mr. Ford senior, if you’d like to add anything.

William Forward

Thank you, Mr. Ford, Jr, much appreciated your summary of the key points. Now. It’s nice that you’ve penetrated the document as well as you have, because that gives me a good foundation to bring my my thoughts to it. Having been teaching for as long as I have and been a parent for as long as I have much longer than I was teaching, but put it important dimension that the source of the spirit of this whole is the child, child around him we gathered, and we gather daily. And that is a source of inspiration for each teacher, who has a job to do for that child. Also, for the parents who bring the child at the school, and in a child development through the school, something evolves which will then go out into the outer world, I can look back on the journey and see where it’s gone. And what is going forward. Mary Steiner said that our highest aim must be to develop young people who are able to give purpose and direction to their own lives. And that is a high achievement, I think it comes quite potentially comes from the involvement of children in art, from the very first days of kindergarten to the very last days of class 12. Because everything that the teacher brings to the child is through the medium of art, the engagement with the kindergarten child in painting, or baking or whittling or gardening, all that is brought in an artful way, in a way to engage the feelings of the child and allow it to feel I can do this. And in the school, from an age from seven formal education to 14, likewise, even more insist on bringing whatever topic it might be through the medium of art, touching the feelings, stimulating the world to work with it, and awakening the mind to whatever content is being brought. And in the upper school years, 15 to 18. The individual feels much more capable on the basis of a project work, or individually lead work to contribute to what’s going to happen in main lesson but also in subject lessons and steer their own path in their choices of which courses they follow to what follows in their own secondary education in general. So going back to where I started from, I think the the spirit of the school was founded in the child in our contemplation of the child and enlivened by the soul of that feeling like the artistic work that the teachers bring to their work with the children.