Monday, August 10, 2009

Man and Animal Main Lesson Block

It seems that the typical Waldorf schedule would have two "Man and Animal" blocks this year, but there is variation, and in that variation I find my hope. We will do one good block, and 4 more main stream Zoology blocks, though even these will be Waldorf flavored, if not straight from the Steiner shelves.
This lesson finally made sense to me when I stopped thinking about animal science, and started thinking of it as a deeper understanding of the human. The animals are really in the lesson to illustrate our characteristics, with Man alone standing and the animals falling away from this ideal in stages, closer and more bound to the earth as they go. There is an understanding that for the other animals their existence, their body, is the total scope of their being, the reason for their work, but that for humans the body is but a shell, a vehicle, or a tool, and it is our thoughts, our soul, our will, that is our real presence, our important work, and the way in which we best honor God.

Week 1
This week we are guided by this idea: Man is the Living Word, the one created in God's image, the culmination and central idea. We talk about this in various ways, but the important aspect is this idea that Man's ability to reason is what pulls him upward, above the rest of the animals, who show different aspects of the divine, but in a one-sided way. It is Man alone who stands tall and free, with a balance of these aspects.
And so: We have conversations about the senses- eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to taste, noses to smell, skin to feel. Without the senses nothing would make sense, we wouldn't know anything about the world. We would be in chaos, as everything was before the creation of the world. With our heads we are able to make sense of the world around us, with our senses. We are able to think, to imagine, and it is as if God were shining a light down for us, illuminating our understanding, lighting the world for us.
So the head is like the sun, lighting up everything it sees. Both are round, and high, and help everyone around. With our heads, our thoughts, we can understand and brighten the world around us. Also like the sun, which is not bright just for itself, but in service to the whole earth, making things beautiful and warm, helping them grow and be strong, our heads take in food, water, air, not so the head can grow bigger, but for the body to grow big and strong. The understanding we gain about the world is passed down, too, to the body and limbs, so we can take action, go about the world, and love the world.
We talk about the trunk- always changing, breathing in and out, notice how the shape changes, like the moon, waxing round and full, waning to the thinnest crescent, like waves coming in and going out. Did you know the tides are pulled by the moon? Sailors and farmers keep a close eye on the moon, to know the tides and the rains, when to sail, when to plant. The moon helps everything grow in its time, as our trunk, our lungs and heart, help us grow as we should.
And then those limbs- Legs that crouch, leap, hold us up, feet that move us, dance, and hold us to the ground, arms that stretch and reach, fingers that grasp and spread. Look! Like a star, overhead. We are earthbound, reaching always for heaven. Our legs and feet move us, help us go from place to place, the carry our bodies, our trunks, everywhere on the earth we want to go, but it is really our arms and hands that are free to do what they want. We need them not to move around, but to do the things we imagine- painting, writing, playing music, growing food, swimming, swinging, even, reaching up to heaven, even praying we move our hands in certain ways. What about holding hands? Reaching out to one another? Our legs and feet are meant to serve us, to carry us around, our arms and hands are meant to serve others.
1.1 The threefold human being- head (draw a full, glowing sun near the top left-ish part of a big watercolor sheet of paper) Write out, nicely "The Sun shines and makes the world brighter; I shine and make the world better."
1.2 The threefold human being–trunk (draw a crescent moon in the center right-ish of the paper) "My breath flows in and out, guided by the Moon."
1.3 The threefold human being-limbs (draw stars all around, four biggish ones, some tiny ones, and draw a correspnding person) "My feet hold me to the firm earth; my hands reach for the stars, and yours."

Week 2
This week we begin talking about animals that represent some aspect of the human being. We will start with the Octopus, because we have access to view a live octopus at the aquarium, and I think it will be more interest-grabbing than the cuttlefish, which is often used for this section in Waldorf curriculum.
And so we start a conversation: In the sea, at the bottom of the sea, in dark little caves with only the tiniest entrance, lives an animal with a rounded body, like a head, round and empty, with a sharp beak at one end, the mouth, which takes in food and also water, to breathe. When we eat the food goes down into our stomach, and when we breathe the air goes to our lungs, blood carries the nutrients and oxygen up, up to our brains. In an octopus this is all much simpler, everything is right there in one place. Stomach, hearts (3!), gills. There is no separate body, no trunk, just this great head with no bones, and these long limbs, reaching out for food and climbing around on all those rocks, suction cups to hold it where it wants to be, and to pry open shells. Yes, it's an octopus! It has eyes to see, and a brain to think, but its brain cannot understand what its own arms are doing, or where they are, or even the whole shape or the thing it is holding. Imagine if your arms and legs moved around of their own accord, going up and down and grabbing things your brain didn't intend to grab! When an octopus is attacked it can shoot out ink, to make a big sort of cloud to sneak away in, and if someone hungry grabs hold of one of his arms, he can detach it, just let that arm go, with no pain, no problem. His limbs are useful only to keep that head- that is important part of the octopus, so important he will gladly lose his arms to keep the head safe!
Down in the ocean, under the sea, the octopus lives a kind of dreamy, floaty life, crawling around, swimming, shooting off here and there when it gets spooked. Holding on tight to things it wants. We are like that octopus, sometimes, taking in everything we need and sending all that information to the head, but sometimes our heads float off on a gentle current when we might be attending to our lessons, or we create diversions when we want to escape some task we don't want to do, just as the octopus creates a diversion with all that ink.
What other head animals can we think of? Cuttlefish, of course, really are nothing but a head, hard outside and soft inside, jellyfish, crab, mussel. What about snail?
2.1 The Octopus as head animal, (make a wet felted octopus figure)
2.2 The Octopus, drawing, writing
2.3 The Octopus final writing, other head animals

Week 3
Now we talk about the trunk animals.
Let's start with the Mouse, as Steiner suggests. A mouse does not seem to have a head separate from its body- there are not shoulders and neck like we have. It looks like the head is part of the body, just one end of the trunk happens to have a face, and is then the head, narrowing down to that little pointy, sniffy nose, sniffing and smelling and pointing the way. What about those whiskers, long and shivering, trembling, telling the mouse if danger is near. Sharp, pointy little teeth, always wanting to nibble, nibble, eating up food, carrying food back to its cozy little den, nibbling holes into packages, and holes in walls, even tunnels for the whole mouse-trunk to crawl through. Tiny little eyes that don't see very well, and big ears, standing guard, always alert. A mouse's head is like a little toolbox, full of all kind of equipment to help the trunk get around. Even the mouse's tail, long, and made in rings, is a wonderful tool for the trunk, made so that mouse can stand on its own tail and reach up to climb. Its short little legs can scurry fast, but they are there just to move the mouse along. It is really the trunk that is important to a mouse, and everything else serves that main body.
What other animals are trunk animals?
Fish, for sure. Those fins just move the trunk along, and the mouth seems to open right in to the stomach!
What about the pig? It is hard to tell where the body ends and the head begins on a pig. Like mousey his body tapers down to a nose- for him, though, nothing pointy, but a long, hard, blunt snout, always digging, rooting around, sniffling around for something to eat. It snorts and grunts, swallowing and digging, pushing and chomping. A pigs eyes are small, and deep in all the heavy weight it carries. His ears hang down lazy, not much needed. It's that snout and mouth that do the work, finding food for that massive trunk, with short little legs to help move that heavy body around.
Now what about the horse? Might he be a trunk animal too? Those long, strong, graceful legs are nothing like a pig, short and heavy or a mouse's, quick, but so small and limited in their movement. A horse can walk, trot, gallop, leap, even dance! Maybe it is a limb animal? Horses can see and hear and learn their own way home, even. Maybe they are head animals? But no. Horses may be proud, but just like their awkward and humble cousins, the donkey, they are trunk animals, for their legs, no matter how graceful, are just for moving their bodies around, and their minds, no matter how keen at remembering, are easily broken, and mostly concerned with remembering their task. Even in a horse everything serves the trunk.
3.1 The Mouse (felted wool sewing project)
3.2 The Mouse, drawing and writing
3.3 The Mouse, writing, and other trunk animals

Week 4
Many Waldorf teachings would concentrate this week on "Limb" animals, but we will not. This is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about, reading and trying to take in. I don't believe there to be really Limb animals, where everything goes to the glory of the limbs. The human is the only creature with limbs that are used for anything other than glorifying the body, as our limbs, our hands in particular, enable us to glorify others as well as ourselves and God, and to do all the work our souls demand. Nothing else in the world has hands as useful and wonderful as ours. No one else has hands so perfectly matched to spirits yearning to do good work. And we are balanced- our hands may be much more capable than other animals', but our legs, our feet, are bound to the earth, able to jump and leap, run, and dance, but not so fast or strong as other animals, not so protected or such good weapons as some animals. But we are not disadvantaged, indeed, we have minds and hands to clothe and protect us, better than furry, clawed or hoofed legs would. We will be concentrating this week on the three-fold aspects of the human being again. Head, heart, hands, using animals again to illustrate the lesson.
And so: We speak first of the eagle, the King of the birds, high in his rocky, barren mountain top aerie, carefully surveying the world below. Maybe he his soaring through the sky, graceful and silent, when suddenly he streaks down, like a bullet, a fighter jet, and that beak, sharp and iron strong, opens and immediately clamps hold of some unsuspecting prey. The talons, immense and dagger sharp and strong grab hold and don't let go. Back he flies, fast and furious, to his home, to eat alone, without distraction.
Aren't we like that eagle, casually floating about the lovely day, swooping down and catching hold of some idea that can transform us, help us grow and learn, at least give us something to think about when we are in our nest and quiet? Don't our thoughts flit and fly, soar to the heavens and streak this way and that, chasing ideas, morsels of truth? Doesn't our head sit above the commotion of our working bodies, in the heights like that eagle keenly observing the world's events. Even the eagle's shrill shrieking sounds like it comes from his head. When we make that eagle sound where does it seem to come from? Deep in our abdomen, or way up high?
The eagle's shrill sounds seem to come from the head, but what of the cow in the field, mooing about the grass or her full udders ready to be milked? What about the bull, bellowing his strength and power to the world? That sound, when we make it, we can feel it down low, in our gut. It is a torso sound, not a head sound, don't you think?
How even do the cows and bulls move about getting their food? Do they swoop and leap and chase nuggets down? Not at all. They lay or stand to graze, moving slowly throughout the day about the field, nibbling the green soft grass and chewing their cud. Their heavy bodies are slow and cumbersome, their mouths encased in soft thick lips and no eagle- beaks, sharp and hard, they have soft, wet noses and big brown, mournful eyes. All day they chew grass and make milk, which they don't keep for themselves, but make just to give, to their little babies, and to us. We can learn from the cow, though, of course, to be patient and gentle, to chew our thoughts over and over and over again, to take everything in and change it into something useful for others, to share what we have and to be gentle despite our strength.
Who else might be in that field with all those gentle, timid cows? The bull, of course. He is not gentle, but fierce and angry, storming across the field, charging full force, head first at whatever is bothering him? Where is the power of the bull? Not in his head, he uses that merely as the tip of the weapon. His might is in his torso, all that muscle and strength moving forward on legs meant only propel. Without those legs he is nothing, though. His strength is manifest in those pounding, sod-breaking, dirt-flying, legs, powerful enough to move that great body forward, fearlessly forward. A bull is most wonderful and terrible to watch when he is charging, those legs going a mile a minute. How are we like that bull? When we are working hard, at something physically demanding and hard, like digging a ditch or moving logs, when we say "He is as strong as a bull". When we move forcefully and obstinately, when we dig in our heels and stick with our work until we're done, no matter how hard, no matter how sore our arms and weak our legs, when we keep going forward until we've pounded our way through our task.
But who is the King of the Beasts, strong and sleek? The Lion of course. How is his roar? Not from the head, or the gut. Lion's roar fills our chest, surrounds our heart, makes the blood flow fast and strong. Lion rules the forest with that roar. How does he move? Low and silent, crouching and waiting, then pouncing, deadly fast and sure. He is strong; all muscle, silent on the earth and in his leaps, between the earthbound heaviness of the bull and the windswept heavens of the eagle. Lion is most beautiful and frightening, most himself, in his leap, his pounce, all muscle and spring, grace and strength. When the lion leaps we feel our own hearts leap, it is such a powerful thing. It is so akin to our own hearts, all muscle and strength, unnoticed until death, though the very movement of the heart, clasping in and bursting forth, is so like the crouch and pounce of a lion. That is why we are called lion-hearted when we are fearless and brave, observant and decisive.
We can see all these things- an eagle in our thoughts, the strength and determination of a bull in our limbs, a lion in our hearts, and it is all of these together combined with the grace of God, the spark of the divine, that make us who we are- humans.
4.1 The functions of the human: head- eagle (create an eagle mobile figure)
4.2 The functions of the human: hands/limbs- bull (create a bull mobile figure)
4.3 The functions of the human: heart- lion (create a lion mobile figure, and a self-figure, and hang them appropriately)


  1. Thanks so much for posting this stuff. We are doing 3rd grade this year, but I am already taking notes for 4th grade.

    Love & light, Jenn

  2. Your notes here are great. I would never have put the idea of learning about being human from the attributes of the animals. Very insightful and very, very helpful to me!