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The Sixth A

03 June 2021

In our last Newsletter Dani Finch outlined how our program of 5A’s meets the six 21st century capabilities. But there’s a sixth A, though we don’t talk about it much.

Julia Baird’s recent best-seller has brought it into the open and it’s time to talk about it. Her title says everything: Phosphorescence:  On awe, wonder, and things that sustain you when the world goes dark. The book has sold 150,000 copies in Australia and was the publishing phenomenon of the pandemic year. In the year when so many things went dark, her beautifully written book spoke to so many people about how to seek and find the extraordinary in the ordinary, the inner light in the ordinary world around us. Julia’s book told her own story of survival through extraordinarily challenging difficulties of pain and loss, and how she built reserves that in the face of these challenges, brought her “immense beauty”. She touched death numbers of times and she learned a number of lessons to cope.

A key lesson? “Seek awe, and nature, daily”.

As I read her book, I thought again of a constant question in my mind: how can we prepare children to find that feeling of awe, the sustaining sense that life is spectacular and grand, and we all have a place in it.

If this is such a human need, why aren’t schools making it a part of daily life? How can schools make sure that awe, and nature, are part of every child’s daily education?

Her book is a reminder that we all need bread as much as stones to nourish our inner lives. Feelings of awe nourish our inwardness. How sad that the language of education is yet to embrace this profound and essential human need as a fundamental for schools, just as much as other subjects.

Glenaeon draws on the rich heritage of Steiner education to embed feeling of awe and wonder in our daily school journey. Here are some of the ways we do it:

Morning verse: we start each day with a mindful reflection on the great powers of life. In a little touch of daily awe, a simple non-denominational verse starts our work for each student and teacher/mentor/guardian with a reminder that we are part of a bigger whole, that our lives are woven into a grander design than our minds can sometime fathom.

Stories: the special moment in a primary class day is story time, usually just before morning Recess. When all is quiet, a candle is lit and the teacher tells, in person, a story from world tales or their own imagination. For a teacher there is no more special moment in the day than seeing this crowd of expectant faces, waiting to be moved and touched by the power of imagination. So many of the stories carry the curriculum and in primary school even Maths and Science lessons can be woven out of and developed from a well-crafted story. Right up into high school, our classes enjoy a moment of wonder as the story unfolds, and the mind is taken to far off places and remarkable deeds.

Poetry: Our commitment to spoken poetry through the school says so much, just as a poem compacts meaning into a few lines. How much awe is in these 29 simple words?

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

 

Festivals: a man of aboriginal descent recently told me how impressed he was at his children’s Steiner school because they celebrated seasonal festivals, such as MidWinter when the children carry a candle and build a communal spiral of lights on the year’s darkest day. He hadn’t found other institutions so connected with the rhythms of the year, something which to him as an indigenous person was so fundamental. Our western style seasons have of course been simplistic and blunt compared to the nuanced and embedded aboriginal consciousness, but at least we have a feeling of awe and connection with the turning of the year.

Nature: “the quiet healing properties of Nature” write Julia. Our Middle Campus is a haven in the busy north shore, with a backyard that includes the exquisite Scotts Creek as it winds through mangroves to Middle Harbor. Our Outdoor Education program explicitly takes students to wild outdoor places where as well as stretching themselves against the forces of rivers and rocks, they can sit and absorb the quiet majesty of wilderness. The power of place is a sense in itself, and needs regular educating.

Cuttlefish: “For me, cuttlefish are symbols of awe” says Julia. Our Main Lesson curriculum charts a course through the rich stories of history, Science, Maths and literature, finding an implicit sense of wonder in our human connections with the world’s phenomena. How special it was to read Chapter 1 in Julia’s book which is titled Lessons from a Cuttlefish. We traditionally start our study of animals in Class 4 with the cuttlefish and examine their remarkable structure. Implicit in our scientific study is a sense of wonder at the extraordinary way the cuttlefish moves through the ocean.

The 5A’s of the Glenaeon journey educate the whole human being: Academic, Aesthetic, Artisan, Altruistic, Active Wilderness. But holding them all together is the sixth A, the special sense that life is grand and powerful, and we all have a place in it, the sustaining sense of Awe.

Andrew Hill
Head of School