In early June, Torin Finser, chair of Antioch University New England’s Department of Education visited Chengdu, China as sole presenter at a conference on Waldorf education. He delivered a five-day series of lectures and presentations to an enthusiastic audience of Chinese teachers and parents, who represented about twenty different schools. The majority of participants had little Waldorf background.
Torin is an internationally recognized author whose work has been translated into Thai, Korean, and Chinese. In past years, due to his busy schedule, he has declined numerous invitations to speak in China. He was finally lured to Chengdu by the persuasive, joint pleas of noted educator and author Dr. Harry Wong, co-founder of the Chengdu Waldorf School, and AUNE grad student Tracy Thornton, who is completing an internship there.
No sooner did he arrive in Chengdu than he faced an unexpected problem. Besides having to adapt quickly to the Chinese culture and deal with the language barrier, he had to survive the week without his luggage, which had been misplaced en route.
“On a daily basis, I washed my clothes at night and bought what necessities I needed,” he said. “It was a challenge for me to be spiritually and physically prepared while coping with the differences in sights, sounds, foods, and culture.”
Nevertheless, Torin gave two, ninety-minute presentations each day. Topics included professional development, evaluation and mentoring, standards, school government and administration, and classroom management.
“The most exciting part was the afternoon question and answer session,” he said. “It was so touching. People wrote their questions on little notes and put them into a basket. People [in Chengdu] don’t just walk up to you to ask you something, like an AUNE student would do.”
“My translator spent her lunch hour on the notes,” he said. “I’d answer them individually, making eye contact. People wanted to be anonymous, but often I could tell who asked the question, and frequently discovered that there was a question underlying the question.” Attendees agreed that the number one issue for group discussion was: What is the healthy way for Waldorf education to grow in China?
Torin remains optimistic about the future of Waldorf schools in China despite some inherent obstacles. For one thing, the majority of schools in China are owned and operated by the state, which also controls most of the country’s land. Additionally, there is no legal nonprofit (501c3) status, so an independent school must be part of a business or owned by an individual.
“I’m very hopeful that Waldorf education will grow in China,” he said. “I found a tremendous yearning for more.”
At week’s end, he received multiple requests to return to China to speak to various individual schools and he anticipates that some of the Chengdu participants may apply for admission to AUNE’s Waldorf summer-sequence program.
“For the first session, there were only twenty-six people there, but it grew and grew,” he said. “These folks were calling home, telling others how exciting it was. They were hopping into cars, and driving five and six hours to attend.”
Many of the Chinese educators and parents wrote final notes to Torin, expressing how his teaching has influenced their feelings and future goals. One Chinese woman penned: “Your book changed my life direction. I had planned to be a businesswoman…, but after reading the book, I decided to be a main class teacher. This course has provided a lot of help and support to me.”