Creating a meaningful Easter

For those Christians with religious inclinations Easter will already be a significant time, but, for many, Easter has become a secular celebration and, in some countries, an opportunity to get away for a few days. Yet it also offers an opportunity to build a meaningful celebration around the universal values it contains.

Finding the universal human values to celebrate in the Easter traditions.

The original significance of the Easter story and many of the Easter symbols has been lost in the commercialization of Easter. Easter in the broadest, most universal sense, is the celebration of new life, of resurrection, of the archetypal loving deed done on behalf of others. It is about seeking for the best part of ourselves, our spirit. For children ideally it is about the joy of Easter Sunday, of the risen Christ in the Easter event, not the darkness of the crucifixion of Easter Friday; for sensitive young children can understand simple death, and burial, but not torment, torture and agony.

The date of each Easter is set at the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, a powerful time for the forces of growth in the earth in the northern hemisphere. Many of the symbols of Easter – in the egg, the chicken and the hare, (which has transformed into the rabbit)— are ancient symbols of spring, of the coming of new life after the hard winter. These are northern hemisphere traditions.

In the southern hemisphere, it is of course autumn at Easter, a very different time when the hens may even stop laying eggs! Nevertheless, in the temperate zones in the south, we can also observe a renewal of life in nature. For with the first autumn rains, the earth really sings, the plants and the insect world come alive again. The plants and the microbial activity in the soil, which have withdrawn from the scorching heat of summer, open up, to grow in the gentler autumn sun again before the cold of winter takes hold; the grasses begin to shoot; the autumn wheat is planted, along with the bulbs and seedlings which will flower later in the southern spring.

In the tropics, the rhythms are different again. Perhaps April at Easter time creates a breathing space between the tropical cyclones and storms in the south and those in the north. We need to observe what is happening with nature in each place. What is flowering or fruiting? What are the clouds, the rain and the winds doing? What is changing? Can we find the symbols of Easter, the cross, the egg form, in the flowers, fruits and seeds or in signs of new life and of resurrection here too?

Creating meaningful Easter celebrations

Much can be done to make a meaningful beautiful Easter within the sacred religious traditions of course. But we can also bring more meaning to what has become secular, the eggs, the chicks, rabbits, Easter hunt and hot cross buns. You may want to research the origins of these symbols on the web for ideas—Wikipedia articles have more depth, than a general search. You can work with the concepts of new life, service to others, and the seeking in the Easter egg hunt.

Traditions like finding a hill to watch the sun go down on Easter Friday in a quiet contemplative mood, and come up on Easter Sunday, with the experience of the renewal of life in all the joy of increasing light and life and bird song, can provide special moments in the festival. Planting something for the future in the earth on Easter Friday can be a wonderful thing to do with children— bulbs for later flowering, trees for the good of the earth, flowering plants for the native birds to feed in. Such activities can bring a continuity of awareness from Easter to Easter as the children watch their gifts to the earth grow. In such activities children can experience the joy of the traditional Easter event, of renewal, of unconditional love, of the re-enlivening of the earth and humanity. Easter can be a festival of life and hope in a world which can be depressing at times as we listen daily to stories of violence, poverty, war and environmental degradation.

Can the love of the beautiful form of the egg, with its endless possibilities of decoration, display and discovery, bring a different sort of joy and richer memories than just being given cheap eggs from the supermarket (often of poor quality chocolate at that). Home-made, blown decorated eggs can be hung from a branch to make an Easter Tree or placed in a bowl of freshly sprouted wheat. Eggs, and nests for little eggs, can be made from healthier ‘treats’ like roasted nuts and seeds, shredded coconut and dried fruit mixed with melted carob or chocolate. You could even make jellied rabbits in colourful salad gardens. You can find food from your multicultural traditions, like we had in our family in our own Nonna’s Pizza Chiena, sometimes called Italian Easter pie, a bread made with cheese and salted meats at its centre.

Family traditions can be made in your own Easter egg hunt. We have an Easter story in my family of when my mother was a small child in the early 1920s. Her family got together with another family to hide eggs in the garden for everyone, adults included. One year my grandfather’s egg was hidden at the top of a pine tree. When everyone had found their eggs but him, they stood around the tree looking up until he scaled the tree to find his egg. He was in fact a church minister, with considerable athletic ability and a very good sense of humour. In my own family here, we would hide a nest of eggs for each person in the garden late at night, until one night a fox made off with one of the nests before we had our hunt. Such stories become part of our family traditions, memories of which can sustain us through our lives.

The delight in the seeking of eggs in the garden in an Easter egg hunt, is best if the motivation is as much in the seeking, like the enthusiasm for the living of life, seeking for meaning, for inner riches—rather than just in the finding and accumulation of prizes. A collection basket, where all the found eggs are placed for sharing out more equally later, makes it less competitive.

The possibilities are endless for you to create your own Easter festival, into which you can bring your values, love and appreciation— making it meaningful and relevant for your own family. Ideally here we make our primary motivation to bring meaning and human values to what we do, not just adding more ‘decorations’ or ‘activities’ to our festival. For more ideas on creating meaningful family festivals in general see the photo link below.

With thanks to Creative Living with Children, Susan Laing’s resources for understanding children.  creativelivingwithchildren.com

Click for the full article including links to Easter activities

Child Safety Handbook

A new edition of the Child Safety Handbook is now available online with updated safety content.

We urge all parents and carers to download this latest edition and discuss the safety content with your children.

Read the Child Safety Handbook here

Waldorf education and social justice

Created by Neil Boland 04/09/2020.

Neil Boland would like to focus on Waldorf education as an education for social justice, to explore how Rudolf Steiner phrased this a century ago and then consider how it can be approached in a twenty-first century context. What the author wants to encourage here is a wider conversation, wider debate on social justice within Waldorf education, what it might mean, what is (not) working, how the ideal can be strengthened and how we can engage more widely with social justice partners to facilitate this.

Social justice has multiple meanings, but for me it is that all members of society are acknowledged as of equal merit, value and importance. In addition, no group or groups within society should be privileged to the detriment of others, be that based on gender, class, wealth, resource ownership, culture, belief or non-belief, ethnicity, sexual or gender orientation, education, physical or mental abilities, epistemological viewpoint or other identifying characteristics.

Waldorf education has its roots in the movement for social renewal envisioned by Rudolf Steiner, the three-fold social order. This movement was created at a time of great social upheaval and need after the First World War and the Russian Revolution; the world is perhaps at another moment of great social need. Waldorf education is the child of this movement which has found greatest success and acceptance in the intervening 100 years. There are praiseworthy instances of Waldorf schools working strongly with notions of social inclusion and social justice. Individual teachers work hard and achieve similarly praiseworthy results. Of the three independent areas of the movement for social renewal which Steiner identifies, I am going to be taking two, the legal sphere and the cultural sphere.

Legal and cultural sphere
In the legal sphere, equality reigns. The current English translation of Towards Social Renewal puts it like this: “In the political and legal sphere, each individual has an equal voice simply through being a human being” (1). I find it a call to action as many people in our societies so manifestly do not have an equal voice.

In what Steiner calls the cultural sphere, we are free, all different, all individual. I would like to take freedom in the same sense as Bloom when he points out, “By freedom, Steiner meant it in the spiritual sense rather than political. Each person must be left free to form her or his identity” (2).

Now I presume that you agree with these two ideas – that all people should have equal voice simply by being human beings and that each person should be left free to create their own identity. However, as Steiner also says in Towards Social Renewal, “People do not always judge their own motives and impulses correctly” (1), and therein lies the rub.

We live in a world in which social justice is not realised. Racial discrimination and attacks, religious intolerance, increasing inequality, the plight of refugees and immigrants, oppression of minorities are all in the news. We read of fear, oppression, intolerance and suspicion around the world. Sexism and patriarchy are not new to any of our societies, neither is the affluent minority being able to wield power over the less well-off majority. Many of us grew up in societies which were to a greater or lesser extent homophobic, white-dominated and which saw gender as a binary concept. Many of us grew up in societies in which the indigenous inhabitants of the lands we live in were often marginalised, forgotten and not considered part of current debates.

Education cuts both ways
What we can lose sight of is how this influences what we think, feel and do. It is difficult to have lived through the past and not have been influenced by systemic racism, sexism etc. These form unconscious biases which we then can unwittingly carry into our work and so perpetuate. Education cuts both ways: it can empower and liberate; it can work just as easily to replicate the inequalities and injustices of our societies. We may well be people of goodwill, wanting to do good in the world, but have we identified things which might be holding us back?

What or who do those biases involve? They involve difference, dealing with the Other, with people who do not come from dominant groups in societies (some of these change according to society, some seem to remain constant). They can include being of non-dominant gender (aka female), different colour skin, different religions, different world views and historical perspectives, different sexual identities, different expressions of gender, speakers of other languages, those who dress differently, the handicapped, the poor, refugees, the homeless. The list goes on. If Steiner’s ideal was that everyone has an equal voice by virtue of being human, how well is that expressed in the society you live in? What do students learn about these groups within their Waldorf education? Is what students learn nuanced and rich in complexity?

In order for people to have equal voice, it is necessary as teachers to identify ways in which we unconsciously and unintentionally discriminate and, unwittingly and unwillingly, are ourselves biased (3), so we can experience “what it means to unlearn certain regressive behaviours, ideas, habits, and values that the dominant culture imposes on [us] as second nature” (4). Without this first step, worthy actions we undertake in the direction of social justice can only have limited success.

Social renewal
The roots of social justice in Waldorf education are long and deep. The education was established in order to renew society. It is possible that this impulse has to some extent been eclipsed by the myriad other concerns and challenges schools and early childhood settings face.

I would like to suggest that this initial aim be revisited in light of two short passages by Steiner. The first comes from Towards social renewal again: “Social structures continually give rise to anti-social forces. This has to be overcome again and again” (1). A similar quotation comes from The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness which is both stimulating and sobering:

“We … must seek ever-new ways, look for new forms over and over again … however good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation – it will turn into a wrong in the course of time.” (5)

To what extend does this apply to accepted Waldorf forms? There is a documented tendency within Waldorf education to accept what has gone before as how it is, as what is accepted, and often as how it should be. Are there anti-social forces which can be discerned within Waldorf education today and which need to be reviewed? Is there anything within Waldorf education which, by not remaining contemporaneous, not staying current, through not finding new forms again and again, it can be argued, has turned into “a wrong”?

A final quote from Steiner draws attention to the notion of inclusivity. “All those who think about the proletariat [Steiner’s term] rather than with it have only the vaguest notions … notions which … can have a harmful effect” (5). If we expand what Steiner says here about the working class to any group, when wishing to act for social justice, we have to work with groups, not do things for them or teach about them. This challenges the notion of the well-meaning, liberal teacher as ‘do-gooder,’ wanting to help the disenfranchised. How do you work with or think with marginalised groups? This can be as simple as reaching out and contacting people, visiting them, asking advice on how to bring minority viewpoints into lessons, asking for advice on the complexities of alternative readings of history, belief and worldview.

Social justice as a notion seeks to level the playing field, to empower the disenfranchised, to acknowledge the forgotten, to give voice to the marginalised. It is challenging and uncomfortable as well as rewarding, complex and not given to quick fixes. Above all it is an open-ended process, a process which, once entered into, does not stop, working towards an unrealisable ideal which must, nonetheless, be striven for.

Lastly, working towards a socially just education can be linked to striving to embody aspects of the consciousness soul, taking Elan Leibner’s definition of the consciousness soul (6) as the “empathetic soul”. For me, working towards social justice, towards inclusion and decolonisation requires and is what happens when you have empathy for the Other. Feeling within yourself how the Other suffers when marginalised, oppressed, caricatured or rendered invisible, and not just understanding or knowing it, marks the beginning of change. It is an important step towards social renewal, which lies at the heart of the Waldorf movement.

To read more about Neil Boland and to access the full article and references please visit waldorf-resources.org

Happy International Women’s Day for yesterday!

What is International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day (8 March) is a day for us to join voices with people around the world and shout our message for equal rights loud and clear: “Women’s rights are human rights!”

We celebrate all women, in all their diversities. We embrace their facets and intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, or disability. We celebrate those who came before us, those who stand beside us now, and those who will come after.

It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of women, whether social, political, economic or cultural.

What is the theme for International Women’s Day in 2021?
The global theme for International Women’s Day in 2021 is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’. COVID-19 has impacted women and girls in profound ways, amplifying the inequalities they face every day. It is fundamental that diverse women’s voices and experiences are central to national and global recovery plans.

A key contributor to a more equal COVID-19 world is increasing women’s access to leadership roles. Unfortunately, women still face significant cultural, socio-economic and political barriers to accessing leadership. You can read more about this in our research Women’s’ Pathways to Leadership: Our Pathways, Our Voice, which investigates how and why women become leaders, and the gendered barriers they face along the way.

Click here to find out why it matters and how to get involved.

From IWDA iwda.org.au

Why we need much more than consent training in our schools to stop sexual assault

POSTED ON MARCH 8, 2021 maggiedent.com

Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and uses sexual terms.

One of the main reasons I wrote my bestselling 2020 book From Boys to Men was to help parents and those who work with tweens and teens to raise boys to be happy, healthy men. No-one wants to raise their son to be a creep, a sexual predator, an abuser of girls and women or worse, a murderer who kills his female partner and children. Sadly, on this International Women’s Day we know that statistically violence against women is increasing.

At last there is some serious light being shone on the dark underbelly of inappropriate sexual behaviour and abuse and most specifically rape from boys and men in Australian schools, communities, businesses and parliament. From the moment that the courageous advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame became Australian of the Year, something shifted.

Then, former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins finally disclosed her alleged (I use that word only for legal purposes) rape in the office of a Federal Minister. This disclosure from an eloquent young woman has been the catalyst for others to speak up about similar assaults in our Federal Parliament.

Then appeared the petition by former Kambala student Chanel Contos now signed by almost 30,000 girls and young women. The testimonies that they have left are harrowing and distressing to read however the light needs to shine on the stories so that we collectively know the truth of this violent culture and stop it happening to other girls.

Chanel has now set up www.teachusconsent.com and this is a message from that website:

“Those who have signed this petition have done so because they are sad and angry that they did not receive an adequate education regarding what amounts to sexual assault and what to do when it happens. These are uncomfortable conversations to have with young teenagers but it is far more uncomfortable to live knowing that something happened to you, or a friend, or perhaps that you were even the perpetrator of it, and it could have been avoided.”

Many of the stories shared are about appalling behaviour from boys from elite private schools. Since then, stories have been shared that include government schools so it is safe to say this is problematic for many adolescents, not just in Australia but around the world. I know and I want to acknowledge that not all boys behave in these disgusting ways, but many decent boys stand by and do nothing, and that has to stop too.

In Chanel’s words.

“The following testimonies were sent to me by those who passionately believe that inadequate consent education is the reason for their sexual abuse during or soon after school.” www.teachusconsent.com

First, let me explore some of the reasons why I believe things seem to have got worse since the digital world arrived. Indeed, most children and tweens have smart phones which give them access to content that can be shattering their child-like innocence and feeding a ‘hook-up’ culture where sex without intimacy is almost the norm. We need to keep in mind today’s children, teens and young adults DID NOT create the digital world. It was created by adults and, sadly, it is our young who are paying the price.

Access to free porn
Porn is freely accessible and sadly many children stumble upon it accidentally. Heck it can even be found on Kids You Tube where sickos embed links that take children to graphic hard-core pornography. There has been a significant increase in inappropriate sexual behaviour, often of a penetrative nature, with children under five. One of the main ways children learn inappropriate sexual play is by seeing pornography or through having another child who has seen it, doing it to them. Research has shown that sibling-on-sibling sexual violence is common among children with problem sexual behaviours – and the vast majority have experienced early sexualisation via porn.

The first thing we can do to better prepare our children to avoid being sexually abused or becoming a sexual predator, is to ensure that access to all pornography needs to have an age verification. Many good parents have told me that, even with parental controls and conversations about how to avoid seeing bad pictures and videos, their children have been exposed to porn by other children. With smartphones, this can happen on the bus, in a school playground or on a play date or sleepover.

Protective behaviours and body awareness education must start in the home and thankfully there are many excellent picture books and resources that can help with these conversations. We must teach our children about their ownership of their own body and that it’s not OK for anyone to touch their private parts. This is also where we first start talking about the importance of consent. It is now built in to early childhood education and in our schools however we need to be addressing this in our homes just as importantly. No matter how awkward the conversations are, they need to happen, often.

Adolescent sexual maturity
Evidence is now showing that today’s children are beginning puberty earlier than ever. There are so many changes on this journey – physical, emotional, cognitive and hormonal and one of the drivers on this journey to adulthood is sexual awakening. This is normal, however if our young people are learning how to express their sexuality by watching pornography it is problematic. Why? Firstly, because they are watching porn during a stage where they lack the cognitive capacity to understand and make sound choices through reasoned decision-making using a fully formed executive functioning brain (this doesn’t develop til the mid-20s or so). Secondly, during adolescence, they are biologically driven to belong, and to be liked and validated by those of the same age so they’re more prone to being influenced and so we can understand how this could become problematic. There is plenty of research that indicate that our young people’s sexual behaviour is being shaped (negatively, more often than not) by porn.

This problem of male entitlement where boys demand that girls meet their sexual needs, or where boys think there is no problem with raping a sleeping or unconscious girl, has to come from somewhere. It has been a part of traditional patriarchy for years but it seems to be reaching a tipping point for teen boys today – attitudes aren’t shifting as we might expect. This is not just about the lack of consent education. This is a lack of character building from not only their family and society at large, but also their school community, and the communities that surround them whether that be sport, faith or the arts.

Raising healthy, happy respectful men takes a lot of time and measured intention and cannot be left to chance or the world wide web.

Read the full article by Maggie Dent here

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call the 1800 Respect national helpline on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.