Why I Give

Each year, the school prints letters from parents offering their thoughts on the ways they value the school and why they participate in our Annual Giving Campaign. This offering was given by a current parent—and college professor—in our January 16, 2014 school newsletter, Community Tidings. Kristy Bryant-Berg's insight is powerful because she has first-hand experience with thousands of college-age students. It also effectively articulates the benefits of a broader, more well-rounded education as the foundation for a fulfilling and successful life. The school would like to thank her for allowing us to share her beautiful letter. My family has been finding its way into the Waldorf community since we discovered the Rainbow Bridge play groups for toddlers where we encountered many kindred spirits, most of whom we are lucky enough to still enjoy friendships with today. Each year since, the Annual Giving Campaign has reminded me of the “The Lesson of the Widow’s Mite,” a biblical parable about a woman who gave only two small coins, much like today’s pennies, when they were all she had left. This association stirs in my mind, in part, because my family suffered a series of financial hardships around the time our daughter reached school age, making tuition a struggle to afford and the amount we have to gift smaller than we wish and far less than we feel her education is worth. But this parable also feels especially apt to me because, as Jesus defends the widow’s contribution against those who scoff at its monetary worth, it becomes apparent that the value of her gift is not just about a mere financial transaction, but also about the community she is giving to and what the act of giving meant to her. There are several ways our gifts to our school, combined with those offered by our friends and family, collectively exceed their immediate financial value. There is the mathematical accumulation of many gifts into a sum much larger than any one of us could afford individually, but also our school is able to earn additional monies in the form of grants and pledges when we achieve 100% participation among Waldorf families. Thus, our giving enables us to access further funds for our school, beyond what our community alone can generate. Literally, each gift is worth more than its initial financial value. And that we each give a gift matters greatly. Yet, our gifts represent more than this synergistic collection of money and its power to keep our school running; our gifts also represent the value of the education our children are able to receive here, a value that many of us, even though we appreciate it deeply, may be inclined to underestimate due to pressures from today’s intensely commercialized, bargain hungry world. But is the “free” public education that looks like a savings in the short-term really a good deal over the long-term? Typically, when parents today strive to provide a good education for their children and work to ensure a successful future for their kids, they focus on the looming cost of college tuition and see higher education as the stepping stone to their children’s success. And who can blame them when these costs continue to rise and the long term burden of student loans becomes the norm rather than the exception? But as someone who has spent more than a dozen years pursuing a succession of college degrees and another decade teaching college classes, this singular focus on college admittance as the key to children’s happiness and future achievement in life seems to me, sadly, to be too little too late. By now I have met and taught thousands of college students; through their writing and our conversations together, I have learned about their educational goals, motives and work ethics. Among them are young people, bright and bursting with enthusiasm for their studies, who exhibit the confidence and talent to pursue their dreams, much like the young adults we hope our children will one day become. But these delightful young people are too few and far between for the comfort of a parent like me with high hopes for the future happiness of her own child. Often I encounter cynical and uninterested students, plainly, already tired of school at the very point when it expands into the most possibilities. For an eager mind open to discovery, college can be a vastly rewarding educational opportunity. But by the time they reach college, many students have already lost touch with their natural love of learning and see their education as a succession of hoops to jump through, and each class as an obstacle to the larger goal of getting a job that pays well. While college may or may not help them achieve such financial goals, as a self-declared lifetime student who still loves learning for its own sake, it saddens me to see the appreciation of education reduced to the college diploma that validates a resume: a simple piece of paper forgotten once it garners an adequate job. From observing such apathetic college students, to gazing at the eager faces of kindergarteners at Waldorf who play with such enthusiasm as they greet each day and readily embrace every opportunity to learn, I have to question what went wrong. How did such natural delight in discovery end? And how do I keep such a tragedy from happening to my child? These questions and the answers I’ve found here at Eugene Waldorf School have steeled my resolve to give my daughter a Waldorf education. Observing the teachers and students here, I’ve reaffirmed my faith that all children are gifted with an astonishing capacity to learn. During the period in which each child’s body grows into adulthood, more learning will take place than in his or her entire adult lifetime. This means that what happens during childhood education is even more vital and valuable in determining our children’s future happiness and success reaching their fullest potential than what happens during their college years. As a parent of a Waldorf child, I’ve observed that each child has an amazing ability to absorb the values, habits and ideas with which they are surrounded, even—perhapsespecially—when they are not being actively “taught” to them. Our children are shown how to be kind and loving (patient ideals undervalued in today’s rushed world) by Waldorf teachers who are consistently kind and loving with them rather than through commands about how to behave. As well intentioned as they may be, school rules that make it so teachers cannot even give a child a hug, create unwieldy classes of more than thirty kids and introduce them to a new teacher every year, impede even the most loving teachers’ efforts to reach each individual student with genuine affection, or to have the necessary time and patience to truly get to know, let alone cherish, every uniquely wonderful child. Watching my daughter’s past three years of Waldorf education in progress has taught me that education is not something that adults do to children but rather an experience that adults can enable by providing children with the support, guidance and trust they need to explore their own latent abilities. Each child’s individual potential is a treasure chest held within. Waldorf education strives to offer the key to unlock this promise by fostering a safe and supportive environment—physically, psychologically and spiritually—for children to develop their innate capacities. The hidden nature of these gifts makes the multi-disciplinary approach so vital. How could a Michelangelo bloom if he never grasped a paint brush or held a mound of clay? Or how could Jane Goodall have discovered her calling as a scientist if she hadn’t been given the chance to stop and wonder intently about the natural world around her? Despite the surge of imagined futures flooding into parents’ minds when children show glimmers of interest or as yet unharnessed aptitudes emerge, we will never realize their full potential unless we expose them to the varied tools, disciplines and ideas that spark self-discovery, enliven exploration and engender the self-worth from past accomplishment that emboldens each student to meet new challenges. Nourishment for our children’s natural longing to know, belonging to a compassionate and caring community, and ample confidence and inspiration for their journey through maturation are gifts that cannot be measured or converted into a net worth. Yet, the financial support we generate together is essential in providing a sanctuary where keys to such treasures can still be found. With gratitude from a mother learning a lot from her proud-to-be-a-first-grader Waldorf student! Sincerely, Kristy Bryant-Berg PhD