Colorado German Awards Banquet Speech | 11.4.16 | Jane M. Zeender, School Director

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Shining Mountain Waldorf School the first Waldorf School in North America to offer the German Language Diploma Program… and why World Languages are so important at our school.

Good evening! My name is Jane Zeender, and I am the current School Director of Shining Mountain Waldorf School in Boulder, Colorado. I am honored to be one of your guest speakers this evening, and my goal in the next few minutes is to educate, inspire, and maybe even provoke you to think about the German language and how vital learning a world language is in these interesting times of our current world order.

Nelson Mandela has said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language-, that goes to his heart.”   Johannes Kiersch, an early Waldorf World Language teacher, states: “The overall objection of language teaching in a Waldorf school is to give pupils individual experience of the reality of language. ….. It is a schooling of empathy.”

These two quotes reinforce the Waldorf School’s belief that learning a world language makes you a citizen of the world, and allows you to stand in solidarity with people who may have been raised far differently than you, and to see and understand the world through their perspective. And it honestly does not matter if that language is German, or French, or Spanish, or Swedish, which was my first language, or even American Sign Language, the language of the Deaf, which I learned when my daughter lost her hearing several years ago.

Taking the effort to walk in another’s shoes through our voices, or hands, or dialects, opens our minds, our hearts, and our feelings in ways that translators can never even imagine, and is one of the paths to peace in our world. Just imagine, if every citizen of the world committed to learning another language, and committed to understanding another culture, what would our world look like? What COULD our world look like? This is our task as educators, to teach our children another language so they can be messengers and promoters of peace.

The first Waldorf School, and every Waldorf school that has come after it, was founded as a model for restoring peace in our world and for educating young people who would help heal the challenges of our times, and work in human connection in service to others. Almost 100 years ago, a man by the name of Emil Molt, who owned the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory in Stuttgart, Germany, approached an Austrian philosopher by the name of Rudolf Steiner and asked him to start a school at his factory for the children of his employees, all blue collar workers. Their vision and dream was to create a new educational model that would eliminate the conditions that led to World War 1, and all that transpired in Germany and in Europe at that time. The context of this education would be to focus not only on a child’s intellectual and academic potential, but on their social/emotional, physical, and spiritual potential as well. To recognize that each of us is a unique spiritual being, with a destiny to pursue, and with the hope of raising balanced, integrated, and healthy human beings. This is the core of the Waldorf pedagogy.

Shining Mountain Waldorf School was founded in 1983 by a very passionate group of parents who wanted this education for their children, and over a very short time built out our 12 acre campus in North Boulder, that today serves 300 children in preschool-12th grade. We teach two languages at our school- German and Spanish, and we begin teaching these languages in first grade. The children alternate between each language about every 6 weeks, and in 8th grade they choose one language to carry through High School. By the time our students leave 12th grade, they are conversationally fluent, and the majority of them test out of level 1 and 2 Spanish or German when they go to college. The reason we start so young is to not only immerse our students in these languages by ear, but to immerse them into the cultures that these languages arise from.

The Waldorf schools were founded out of the German cultural traditions, and although many Waldorf schools around the world have adapted their cultural traditions to their country, Germanic principles and ideals still are embedded at our school. I don’t have to be married to a Swiss German man to understand the importance of order, precision, beauty, and attention to detail in our school! In addition, we instill strong levels of respect, appreciation, resourcefulness, caring for the earth’s resources, and having fun at Shining Mountain, all values that resonate deeply with what many consider Germanic principles. All of these values, traditions, and principles are alive and well at Shining Mountain Waldorf School, and we are incredibly grateful to Emil Molt and especially Rudolf Steiner for their work almost 100 years ago in founding the Waldorf school movement, which remains the fastest growing educational movement in the world. Rudolf Steiner himself stated that “The gradual unfolding of language capability should occur in such a way that first of all a sense for what is naturally correct arises, and then a sense for what is beautiful, and finally a sense for the power language confers in the conduct of life.”

In closing, we are extremely proud and excited to be the first Waldorf School in North America to be a part of the German Language diploma program, and know that it will not only serve our students going onto university, but will help us attract and grow our High School. Many of the students in our High School who study German are interested in pursuing careers in the sciences and engineering fields, and know that fluency in German will help expand their opportunities, both in the US and abroad, over many years. Thank you to each of you for your dedication to teaching German in the United States, and to supporting our school in being dedicated to teaching German throughout our entire program. As Istated at the beginning of my talk, learning another language is a pathway to peace, which is so needed in our world today. Our work together is vitally important to the future of our children, and their children, and their children’s children. I am the proud mother of two teenagers who are learning German, and one of the greatest gifts of this language to my family was seeing my children speak German last summer with their Great Aunts and Uncles in Switzerland. German was the bridge to their connection with each other, and there is nothing more precious to me than seeing my children, and other children, cross over that bridge into those deep personal connections.