The medieval German Romance Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach, is read widely in Waldorf high schools and teacher training courses, as a rich allegory for the modern human’s struggle for inner development (or as Rudolf Steiner put it, the development of the consciousness soul). (See here for an interesting article on how the story of Parzival relates to adolescence.)
I haven’t read it in a few years, but the other day it struck me that my current inner struggles about sending my kids to mainstream schools in some way resembles a thread in the plot of Parzival.
Queen Herzeloyde (Herzeleide, “heart’s sorrow”) loses her husband in battle, and so in her grief she vows to raise their son, Parzival, alone in the forest where he will never encounter knights, the chivalric life, or anything that may harm him. She doesn’t even tell him his name, only calling him bon fils, cher fils, beau fils.
Does this work?
No, of course not. One day some knights happen to ride by Parzival in the forest, and it’s all over. He’s overawed by their splendiferous armor, their knowledge of weaponry, and so on. He’s gone before Herzeloyde can say boo.
Now, without sounding too presumptuous, I remembered this part of the story when I was mulling over our school situation the other day. We’ve been pretty firmly in the Waldorf camp for a long time: Anthropapa and I have both studied the foundational works of anthroposophy and quite a bit of the Waldorf pedagogy as well. We’ve worked for two Waldorf teacher training colleges. Our kids went to a Waldorf home day care last year.
Here in the wilds of Pocatello, however, there are no Waldorf schools to be found. No Waldorf anything, so far. Just some homeschoolers and a fledgling school about an hour away. We’ll be glad to get to know them, but it’s not possible for us to commute that far right now.
So we found our best alternatives: a Lutheran school for SillyBilly, and the Early Learning Center at ISU for Napoleona. Both fine, sound schools where the kids are safe and happy all day long.
These are mainstream schools. They are definitely not Waldorf. There are computers, there are movies, there are character books. There is reading and math in kindergarten. There are USDA lunches, complete with the tater tots and pizza I remember from when I was a kid (OK, they get some fruit and/or veggies with each meal, I will admit. But none of it is organic, no less biodynamic.)
I feel like, despite my best intentions, my kids are off into the dark woods, following a bunch of people dressed in shiny stuff and sporting the coolest rides they’ve ever seen.
Now, I realized that Parzival had some kinda destiny to follow, what with all the finding the Grail and helping the Fisher King and all. But Herzeloyde just wanted to protect him, so that neither of them would have to feel the grief she felt at the loss of her husband.
I don’t anticipate falling down dead the way Herzeloyde did when Parzival left her. But I do feel like we’ve tried so hard to provide a safe, nurturing place for my children, and now they’re off to fight wholly different and unanticipated battles.
And unlike Herzeloyde, I have options. We could move closer to the fledgling Waldorf school. I could homeschool them. Some day, we’ll probably move somewhere else, perhaps where there is a Waldorf school. But right now, I’m feeling my own heart’s sorrow.
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Images from the beautiful Codex Manesse.