Driven to Learn, Driven to Thrive
On this episode:
- Reflections on education–from public school to Waldorf School
- Being a Waldorf School alum and now current Waldorf School parent
- Beauty, truth and goodness in and outside of the Waldorf School classroom
- Waldorf School students: renaissance individuals
- Insights into Waldorf students’ academic strengths
- Lifelong learning and living a balanced life
Nita Davanzo: Hello, and welcome to WE Talk. A podcast that explores the role of Waldorf Education in helping children, parents, and families thrive in an ever-changing world. WE Talk is brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School, and this is your host Nita June Davanzo.
On today’s podcast, I am delighted to welcome Ann Kathryn Orsinger-Olson to the show. Ann is an old and dear friend of mine. She and I graduated in the same class from Shining Mountain Waldorf High School, the class of 1999.
After graduation, Ann attended Saint John College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, taking part in their amazing Great Books program. After graduating Saint John’s, Ann then went on to work on a masters degree in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science at UC-Irvine, then transferred to the University of Texas-Austin to complete her masters and PhD in political science, with a dissertation on how the aesthetics of schools can help to develop democratic civic virtue in students.
Ann is a true Waldorf student in ever so many regards, and one can see this in her current lifestyle. Anne is a teacher of math, philosophy, and cello, a published children’s book author, a mother of three, a step-mother of five, and an avid and talented basketball player.
Ann – welcome to WE Talk Podcast!
Ann Orsinger: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
Nita Davanzo: Thanks for coming and being on the show. So, my dear, it truly amazes me to think of all that you do and all that you are, and all the places that you’ve studied, and the things that you’ve created in your life. You were just noting a moment ago sometimes it’s hard to remember all the things we’ve done. I hope we can touch upon at least some of those incredible offerings and pieces that you’ve created and brought into the world during our time today.
When I think about you, Ann, I feel like you are indeed a true renaissance individual, whether you feel like it or not, and also a true Waldorf student. When I say that, or when someone else says that to you, how does that make you feel? What do you think about that phrase, being a true Waldorf student, and do you feel like you are one?
Ann Orsinger: I do feel like I am one. I feel like I get the opportunity to share that I’m a Waldorf student because my kids are at the Waldorf school, and so it’s really fun to talk to other people who decided to have their kids at a Waldorf school to tell them, hey, I got to go here.
So many people wish that they had the opportunity to go to Waldorf, and I just feel really lucky that I did get to go, and that I know firsthand how amazing it is. I also feel like it’s a wonderful community to belong to. We’re kind of in this little cocoon, and then we go off into the world, and it’s nice to know we can always touch back in with that community and have a place of belonging.
Nita Davanzo: Absolutely. Ann, you are at currently the Austin Waldorf school. Tell me how many children you have there, and what grades.
Ann Orsinger: I have three children, and five step children, so we have a full house. The youngest, Sophie Rose, she’s three, and she is going to come to the Waldorf school next year. It’s a mixed-age kindergarten, and so she’ll be joining next year. She’s currently at an in-home program that I helped to start, that’s Waldorf inspired, just down the road. She’s there.
Then I have my daughter Aria, is in the kindergarten. She’s what we call our rising first grader, so she’ll be in first grade next year. Then my stepson Abel, they’re nine days apart, so he’s also in the same kindergarten.
Nita Davanzo: Are they in the same class?
Ann Orsinger: They’re not. There are three gardens, Star, Moon, and Sun, so they’re in different gardens, but together on the playground a lot, which is really special.
My son Ody is in the second grade, and super excited because he gets his library card this week. He’s in one of the last groups, and he just cannot wait to go, so it’s really fun.
My step-son, Levi, is in the third grade, and step-son, Theo, in the eighth grade, and two step-daughters in the 10th and 12th grade, so we have a full range. My step-children have all been in the Waldorf school all the way through, so deeply connected to it.
My husband also is the athletic director at the school, at the Waldorf school, and coach of many sports there as well.
Nita Davanzo: You guys are deeply in. (laughs)
Ann Orsinger: (laughs) Yeah, we are.
Nita Davanzo: Wonderful. As a parent now looking at your children going through their respective Waldorf journeys, what is it like for you? How does that feel now to be a parent watching them go through these different developments and through the grades?
Ann Orsinger: It’s really great to watch my kids in the Waldorf school now, and really special to see them going through it. It makes me wish that I’d been there my whole time, kindergarten on. Often I’ll ask my kids about what happened in their day, and they’ll be like you know, you were there, you went there. I’m like well, no, I wasn’t in second grade at a Waldorf school, I began at a Waldorf School in Seventh Grade, you have to tell me about it.
I feel like what they’re getting is really unique in today’s day and age, and something that I don’t feel like I could find easily for them anywhere else. It feels like kind of a safe haven of meaning and goodness, where I just have this whole community of people who are helping me raise my kids.
Nita Davanzo: That’s incredible. We certainly need more of that.
Ann Orsinger: We do. I think one of the most surprising things to me is that parenting can be really lonely, you can really feel like gosh, I have this huge responsibility, and I’m not sure where to turn. Connecting into the Waldorf school just makes that completely different.
I feel like all these other parents, and all these teachers, like my son’s class teacher, I feel like I have a partner in loving him and working with him, and leading him. I really cherish it.
Nita Davanzo: Wonderful. It sounds like a pretty incredible experience. I haven’t yet visited the Austin Waldorf school, but hope to soon.
You have been in education whether as a student yourself or now as a teacher in a whole variety of facets and regards, and teaching a whole variety of offerings. I wonder as a teacher when you teach Waldorf students and non-Waldorf students, and certainly now have your children at the Waldorf school, do you see any differences in students who are Waldorf students and students who are not Waldorf students?
Ann Orsinger: I got the opportunity to teach in a Waldorf high school last year, and I’m currently teaching college level in Austin as well. There’s a big difference in students’ dedication, in their ability to focus in, and feel like there is meaningful work for them to do.
Their level of writing is extremely different. I just feel like, and I kind of have a snapshot with my children and step-children all the way along, and looking at how their writing is progressing, and I see my eighth grader writing better than many of the college students that I have, and then just seeing that refine and improve throughout high school as well. I feel like it’s got a lot more depth and a lot more engagement from the students as well, compared to the students who’ve never had the opportunity to do Waldorf.
Nita Davanzo: That reminds me of some years ago, it was at Shining Mountain Waldorf School’s 25th anniversary. My husband and I attended, and we left that evening, and he was almost crying in the car. I said, “Honey, what’s wrong?” and he was so upset that he didn’t get the opportunity to be at a Waldorf school. It made me wish that everyone could have the depth and the richness of Waldorf education.
Ann Orsinger: That’s what I end up wishing, too. I think it’s not just the depth and the engagement, but also the different focuses all the way along that the students get to have, focusing on goodness of the world, focusing on the beauty of the world, focusing on finding and seeing truth in the world. I just feel like there’s no one and nothing in our world that wouldn’t be better off if they had that foundation to come back to.
I feel like we’re in this day and age always rushing ahead to the next best thing, trying to get there faster, and push our kids faster, and who got to learn to read quickest, and it just feels like so much is lost then. I feel like Waldorf actually prioritizes what’s important, and says yeah, there’s a whole host of things out there in the world, and they’re not bad, but they also aren’t necessarily what a five-year-old needs or what a seven-year-old needs. We need some foundational things first to be able to enjoy the world as an adult in a happy, healthy, balanced way.
To me, that underlying philosophy, I kind of just keep coming back to goodness, beauty, and truth. I feel like it’s so rare for anything to hold those three up as the pillar to strive for in today’s society.
I started to think about teaching and childhood as an opportunity to curate experiences. You have these kids, and you have their captured attention for years, and years, and years, and I just think it’s a really serious question as to what we bring before them during that time. There are so many truly amazing things in this world, beautiful things, that humans have done, natural things, just so many wonders, and it seems to be a shame if we don’t bring our best before our children.
Nita Davanzo: Absolutely. Right, and just that reverence of the world around us, and the wonder of the world around us, I think that’s something that will certainly with my having taught in public schools too, and some different schools, that that’s not there, and that’s really it’s a tragedy.
Ann Orsinger: Yeah. It’s something that’s really missing.
Nita Davanzo: Yeah. As our world is quite, quite amazing and beautiful, and to–especially now –to really know that and own that and take responsibility for keeping our world as beautiful as it is.
Ann Orsinger: Yeah. I think it’s hard. It’s hard right now for those of us that receive that message the strongest, it can still be hard to keep your faith up and to continue to look past the tragedies paraded in front of us, and say yeah, but that’s just part, and there’s other goodness.
I think it just could be really easy to spiral downward if you don’t have that inner core belief and experience of the good and the beautiful.
Nita Davanzo: Absolutely. Speaking about good and beautiful, and creations too, I know you recently published a children’s book. Can you share with us just a bit of your process in that, and then also what inspired you to create a children’s book? I believe that you are still writing others.
Ann Orsinger: Yeah, I am. Thank you.
It was I think I would say a really inspired process. I mean I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. I was going through a divorce with really young kids, and I think that this definitely comes from my experience with Waldorf that I would look to stories to help them. Stories really encourage you to look at challenges that you’re having with your child, and to create stories for your child that somehow helps them to move through it, instead of just sitting down and speaking adult words about what they need to do.
It kind of came from that place, and I just started telling them the story. Before their dad and I separated and moved out, and I knew that’s what was coming for them, I just started telling them the story about when Father Sun moved to the sky.
So the basic story is that Mother Earth and Father Sun used to live together in the same house with their Flower Children, and Mother Earth’s hills blocked Father Sun’s light, and Father Sun’s light made Mother Earth’s soil hard and dry, so it was better when he moved to the sky. I was really just so fortunate to partner with a good friend of mine who’s an amazing artist, who just did the most aesthetically beautiful, colorful, vibrant drawings to go with it, and she was going through a divorce with small kids at the same time, and I think we spent like a year on the phone, three to five days a week, just talking each other through it, and so there was a way that we were really just on the same page, and it felt like this collaborative thing that just emerged out for us.
Then I sat there with it done for about two years, and didn’t do anything with it, and recently came back to it, and discovered print-on-demand publishing, so indie publishing where you’re not buying a box of 500 books to sit in the garage, but it’s just for sale on Amazon, and then as people order it they print it, and it’s just a really amazing opportunity, I think, for anybody who has something to say.
Nita Davanzo: Sounds good. What is the name of your book, and your author name, too, so that people can go and find it?
Ann Orsinger: It’s When Father Sun Moved to the Sky, and it’s for young children, probably 0 to 7, although honestly I think every time I read it I feel better about my own divorce, honest, so I think it’s for parents, too. It just brings this sense of hope and goodness around a time that can be really challenging. I published it under Ann Kathryn Orsinger-Olsen, hyphenated last names, and it’s available on Amazon.
Nita Davanzo: Wonderful.
Ann Orsinger: Please spread the word.
Nita Davanzo: Yes, listeners, please check it out and spread the word.
Ann, if you were to give your life a title or a theme, looking at all the various realms and pieces and parts of it, what might you come up with?
Ann Orsinger: (pause) I think something like Meaning Through Words, or Learning Development and Stories. It’s something that gets at self-development and growth, and that process through connection of literature and spoken word as well, so discussion. I think those are the things that I really value. I think I always have, and I think it’s coming into even sharper focus for me about the relationship of those two, of understanding yourself through understanding others better, and vice versa. For me, the written word has always been really powerful, and I think using stories, using literature for adults, and for younger children, young children’s books, to try to get at some of our deepest places, I think that can happen most effectively through stories sometimes.
Nita Davanzo: Certainly a Waldorf education certainly meets and cultivates that capacity to learn and to work through life and life situations in that way. You came to Shining Mountain Waldorf School in seventh grade, and I clearly and vividly remember the first time you came into the classroom because you were raising your hand and answering questions already, and I was like who is she, wow. Like I noted at the beginning, I always felt you were a true Waldorf student, but you weren’t always in Waldorf.
Ann Orsinger: Yeah. I always loved school. I went to kindergarten in a public school, and came home the first day and said. “ooh, what’s this?” I wanted to go to school. We’re in the sandbox and singing songs. I often wonder what my experience would have been like in a Waldorf kindergarten, because even though you’re not reading, you’re not doing academic stuff, I feel like there’s more substance and meaning and realness there. I wonder if I would have had the same experience.
I’ve always loved it, and have gone to school in different states, and had different experiences with different schools, and coming to the Waldorf school was kind of like coming home, I felt like. I still remember we recently moved back to Colorado from Wisconsin, and so I was in a new school. The school I had been in in Wisconsin had a lot of art, a lot of music, was a small K-8 school, and a really great place, high academics, took sports seriously, kind of all across the board. The public school I came back to in Colorado was very different than that. It was a big public middle school. It was really low academics, and no girls sports, and no music, no art. We were looking around for other options, and I just vividly remember coming to the winter faire at the Waldorf school, and it was just like my eyes were sparkling.
There were people playing recorder walking around. I think there were hot chestnuts for sale, and pocket ladies handing out gifts. Then walking into these classrooms where like there were these little workshops, like you were really making candles, and you were carving wood, or using real fibers to make something, and it’s like my life has never been the same since that moment because all of a sudden I thought to ask a question that I had never asked before, which is like why aren’t kids given real materials to do real artwork in schools.
In public schools, at least my experience, even at a school that had quite a good art program, we were gluing noodles to a page.
Nita Davanzo: It makes it seem so sad to be there, but it’s true, you’re right.
Ann Orsinger: It’s true. We were painting plastic cartons, using pasta for supplies!
Nita Davanzo: Perhaps one day that style of art will be in a museum. (laughs)
Ann Orsinger: Maybe. (laughs)
Nita Davanzo: This is called “Rigatoni on the Wall”. (laughs)
Ann Orsinger: Somehow I think even if we were using noodles in the Waldorf classroom, it would have a validity and a seriousness to it in taking students seriously that I just never had felt before.
I think then I went to an information session on the high school, and I turned to my parents and I said I will only go to this school, I’m dropping out of my other school, I better get in here. Yeah, I mean it was just such a huge turning point for me. I loved it. I had played the cello, and kind of that renaissance woman, that’s who I’d always been, so I’d always enjoyed all these things that the Waldorf school and the students at the Waldorf school appreciated and valued.
I think if I hadn’t found my way to the Waldorf school, I’d still be who I am, but I think I’d be really depreciated, I’d be a lot less than I am kind of even on the inside, because I think you can’t underestimate the value of who you are being supported by a community. I think that was the case for everyone in some regard because it’s such a broad range of opportunities that people have. Maybe you’re good at art, maybe you’re good at math, maybe you’re good at sports, but you don’t get labeled, you get to participate in all of it, and you get appreciated for what you have to contribute. That’s a gift that I want to give to my kids for sure.
Nita Davanzo: And you are giving that gift. So, my dear, if you were to look back on your life thus far, this question came to me as I was on a hike with one of my dear friends this past weekend, and we were going up, we were ascending this mountain, and as we were going up there’s all these boulders and rocks, and we kept on losing the path. We finally got to the top, and looking down the path was so clear behind us. It’s that analogy of life, is that really you can only make sense of things when you look back upon it. If you were to look back at your life, and maybe just look at some of the guiding themes in your life, what might those be for you? What might you choose and recognize for yourself?
Ann Orsinger: I definitely think it’s the case that life is like a long hike, and so you kind of wander along, and then you reach a summit, and you see, oh, yeah, everything was leading me here. But then you keep going, and sometimes you lose the path again, and then you can see the whole thing put together. I feel like life has been kind of a series of those.
I’ve had many points where I felt really strongly that I could feel this guiding hand keeping me on a path, and that definitely has always had to do with education and with inspiration of teaching and learning environments. Waldorf and then my undergraduate college, Saint John’s College, which really in many ways is an extension of Waldorf just as far as its broadness and a seriousness with which it takes its students and just really emphasizes the learning of the individual, I think that that has been central for me all the way along.
Currently, I feel like I’m about to reach another summit and look back, kind of see how where, get a sense for a minute of where I’m going, and how everything has been leading here. I was thinking that in a lot of ways I think maybe all of us at this point are in a phase of life that we maybe didn’t plan out exactly. You kind of think like I’m going to get married, I’m going to have kids, I’m going to get a job, but there’s so much life after that. Then getting divorced, and Texas, I never assumed I was going to live in Texas forever, and I’m very happy to be here, and I didn’t in my wildest dream imagine eight children.
I feel like in many ways life has just given me more than I could have planned or imagined myself, and asking for more too. I think my plans were a lot simpler than real life, and I have to march ahead and I’ll work it out. I think there’s a lot more left to what I’m going to do, and hopefully a bigger reach also as to who I can reach. That’s why publishing is really exciting to me. It’s wonderful in a classroom to reach the students in front of you, and it’s really exciting to think about reaching a lot more than that with what you have to say. I’m excited to see what lies ahead.
Nita Davanzo: As you are about to ascend this next possible peak in your life, what might you see in your future? Are there some other books on the horizon?
Ann Orsinger: Yeah. I’m currently working on quite a few other children’s books, and I feel like it’s sort of this dual process of both my own creation, but also then learning just the technical ropes, how do you get stuff published, and formatted, and then marketed, and also connecting with illustrators.
I guess maybe I’ll put it out there right here, I’m looking for illustrators to partner with. It’s kind of a unique opportunity where I don’t have a lot of funds to pay somebody up front, so it’s a co-partnership in the project together. If you’re interested, let me know, all you Waldorf artists out there.
Nita Davanzo: Calling all illustrators!
Ann Orsinger: Yeah, exactly. I’m just learning the ropes, and kind of building that business up in Austin, and it’s been a really great learning experience, it’s kind of some exciting initiatives there that I’ve been involved in with creating a new seminar program for incoming freshmen that I’m really passionate about. I feel like being connected to education in some way, either at the Waldorf school or at the college level will probably continue, although I feel like I’m not completely clear on in what way that I’ll end up panning out.
Nita Davanzo: You’ll know when you’re on that next peak.
Ann Orsinger: Yeah. I’m just starting a reading group, a reading seminar for the community, on self-transformation in literature, where we’re going to be working with a book and having several sessions, and just kind of asking those introspective deep questions that only the best books bring out in us, and discussing them. I feel like there’s a future there as well, to kind of build this all together.
Nita Davanzo: Wonderful. Ann, your work sounds so inspiring, and it is so inspiring. Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with me today on WE Talk.
Ann Orsinger: It’s fantastic, and I love that you’re doing this, and I can’t wait to hear the interviews to come.
Nita Davanzo: Thank you for listening to We Talk, brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School. Nita Davanzo is editor, producer, and host. Introduction music was created by SoundDotCom.com.
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