Waldorf School at Moraine Farm | Blog

Musings on Teaching News Literacy

A reflection from Jenny Helmick, Middle School Writing and Reading Workshop Teacher at Waldorf School at Moraine Farm.

Our school has just begun working with the digital literacy curriculum called Cyber Civics. While as a Waldorf school we encourage limits to screen time, especially in the younger years, there’s a wide range among our families as to the use of computers, smart phones, and other devices. In the middle school, most students are using the Internet and social media outside of school. The Cyber Civics website shares a great quote I can relate to:

“Our children are growing up on a digital playground, and no one’s on recess duty.” [1]

So we’re hoping as teachers and parents we can take our heads out of whatever layer of sand we’re in, go out on recess duty together, and give them the adult guidance they need.

I was recently asked by a reporter about my experience in teaching news literacy in our middle school. I started reflecting on changes in how I’ve taken students through the process of writing research papers, a big part of which is finding reliable sources on the Internet. I remember 8 or 10 years ago introducing a lesson by showing a website on whale watching in the Great Lakes.

Screenshot from www.greatlakesgazette.com/2016/04/01/whale-watching-on-the-great-lakes/

It was a fake site, a joke, but I didn’t tell the students that at first; we looked through it together, with its description of fresh-water whales and photos and testimonials and mugs and t-shirts for sale. I would wait till the first student would say, “Hey, wait a minute, are there really whales in lakes?” And then everyone would think about it and gradually get the joke; it was funny, and I could make the point that anyone could put anything on the Internet, and they do. That was memorable for them. I also remember five years or so ago talking a student out of writing about the first human moon landing as a hoax filmed on a sound stage in New Mexico—he’d read that on the Internet.


But now things have taken a darker turn. Now you have social media being used systematically and deliberately to manipulate people and spread disinformation. For example, not to get too political, but we have powerful people tweeting that climate change is a hoax from China, and that millions of people voted illegally in November, and other stories that are patently false. And kids are probably the biggest consumers and users of social media. So I’ve found I need to be much more direct and cautionary and expose the students at age 13 or 14 to things I wouldn’t have a decade ago. For example, in one of the Cyber Civics lessons in eighth grade, we looked together at a site that is pushing fake news stories. We came on articles saying that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax perpetrated to promote gun control. Nothing funny about that. It’s not easy to shock eighth graders, but they were shocked. One student said, “How can they do that to those parents?” I nodded: yes, exactly. I was thankful that his reaction was one of compassion, and that he shared that with the class.

Of course, fake news is not new, and the groundwork was laid a long time ago for what we’re now experiencing. I recently read that in 2002, in reference to the issue of weapons of mass destruction, an administration official criticized the news media as being part of the “reality-based community.” He said this consisted of people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” [2] He explained that this was not how the world worked anymore, that we are an empire and when we act we create our own reality. And we know how that turned out. And there’s the decades-long disinformation campaign about climate change, taking a page from the tobacco industry playbook to convince people that there is a scientific debate about causes and effects. We know how that’s turning out as well.

It’s not a big leap from all that to today’s “post-fact” world, where scientists are just corrupt eggheads with secret agendas, where people in authority are fine with broadcasting anything, bogus or not, with the tag line “U decide!”

And our kids, as they use their devices, are in the process of creating their own personal echo chambers with their Facebook likes and shares, and the newsfeed on their phones and so on. They’re being encouraged to have instant opinions about everything. As teachers and parents, we need to help them avoid going down that rabbit hole…we need to give them skills to discern what’s reliable and what’s fake, and when they need to know more before making a judgment.

There are things we can do directly on the topic of news and information literacy, in school and at home. Our eighth grade, for example, definitely cottoned to the Cyber Civics lesson on “C.R.A.P. detection”: evaluating a website for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose. At our school we put a lot of stock in forming class communities; regular times for sharing and class meetings are a comfortable setting for students to discuss current events, with a teacher’s guidance, and hear a variety of perspectives.

But I would go further, to say that if we think that the theater of battle in all this is just the Internet or news per se, we will lose. Ultimately, I believe it’s all about how we are or aren’t raising children so that they think for themselves, and care about other people. I think that’s really the theater of the battle.

Image from Cyber Civics

First of all, to have a basis for news literacy and learn to think critically, kids need real experiences in the world. You can’t judge what is real if most of your experience is virtual. We need to demonstrate to our kids that the Internet is not the only source of information about the world. We need to tell them stories. We need to encourage them to observe the natural world; visit museums, laboratories, historical sites; interview people who are passionate about their jobs or avocations; talk to older generations who can share life experiences; serve their communities. If they ask you something, don’t just Google it; show them how to dig a little deeper.

And we need to help them learn how to put all the information that’s at their fingertips in a bigger context. For this, they need deep learning about the achievements of humanity, across time, across cultures and nations. They need to actually do science, to work as scientists do, which is not just receiving finished concepts and definitions, but forming questions and testing your ideas by observing real phenomena. They need to understand how things work, especially the technology they use all the time, so they really get that human beings create technology, and that humans get to decide how and when to use technology, and for what purposes. Kids need to know they can control their digital lives. That’s a big part of what we have to teach them and model for them, even knowing they will be using technology in the near future in ways we probably can’t even imagine.

To learn to think for themselves, kids also need real people they can look up to, who are good and wise people—they need role models. If you haven’t had the security of trusting and looking up to authority figures, like parents and teachers, when you’re young, you can be susceptible to a distorted version of that—authority gets twisted into authoritarianism. Even in adolescence, when kids know everything and seem to reject authority, they are still observing us and listening to us as parents and teachers, more than we realize. That’s one reason it’s so important to put our phones down and pay attention to them and have real conversations, casual or serious, at the dinner table or a class meeting or wherever we can. I remember once when my own daughter was a freshman in college, she called me up—this was back when kids made phone calls—and said “Mom, I just did something you told me never to do.” Oh no, I thought, imagining all the worst possibilities. “I went skydiving!” she said. Now, I don’t remember a skydiving conversation—it was probably an offhand remark—but she clearly did, and considered it in her decision.

To discern what is real, kids also need experiences of beauty. This is not just pretty sunsets; it’s experiencing and creating art, music, and literature. This connects them to great human achievements, and they learn to distinguish what is beautiful and what is degrading. As one historian said, “Beauty is but the sensible image of the infinite”—and therefore itself a form or experience of truth. On this topic, it’s well worth consulting John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” which our eighth graders sometimes learn by heart.

You might notice that I’ve actually been talking about what the ancient philosophers said was the aim of education: upholding truth, goodness, and beauty. This, I believe, is the theater of our battle.

In sum—if our kids are to avoid the fake news trap, they need adults who are willing to go out on recess duty. They need real people they can look up to, and they need real experiences in the world, as the basis for judging what is true, good, and beautiful.

Maybe what we need to do, as educators and parents, is declare our membership in the reality-based community, and figure out how to grow that community. Maybe we owe that to our kids, to ourselves, and even to the world.

[1] Kevin Honeycutt, quoted at http://www.cyberwise.org/what-is-digital-citizenship.

[2] quoted in Jonathan Mahler, “Search Party,” New York Times Magazine, January 1, 2017.

Waldorf Families Join in This Season of Giving

‘Tis the Season of Giving

This holiday season, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary with service, one of our parents organized a toy drive to benefit Christmas in the City.

“Each year, Christmas in the City brings holiday magic to thousands of Boston-area kids and their families – kids and families who’ve been experiencing the uncertainty of homelessness and the stress of poverty.” — christmasinthecity.org

Several Waldorf School at Moraine Farm families participated in the toy drive. On Saturday, December 17, hundreds of toys were distributed by volunteers at a spectacular party in Boston.

Here is a brief overview of the celebration on their blog.

Thank you, Sima and family, for organizing this effort and being examples of the true “giving” spirit of the holiday season.

Photo taken from Christmas in the City Facebook page. Follow them on Facebook here.

Eighth Graders Learn About Zimbabwe’s Social Economic Past Through Their Fundraising Efforts

Each year, the eighth-grade class organizes several fundraising efforts to help pay for their year-end trip. This year, not only did they help raise funds for their class, they also raised funds for Ishmael Mhikea and learned all about Zimbabwe’s past.

During a summer trip, one of our Waldorf families met Ishmael and thought to bridge the connection with helping Ishmael by selling his recycled metal art figures as a fundraising effort for their class. While Ishmael benefits from a new marketplace for his incredible recycled metal works of art, the eighth grade learned about Zimbabwe’s political and economic unrest and what can happen to ordinary citizens when inflation spirals out of control.

Ishmael’s Story Inspires Eighth Graders to Learn About Zimbabwe’s Past

Because of Ishmael’s story, the eighth-grade class was inspired to learn more about the history and economic past of Zimbabwe. They learned about Cecil Rhodes and how he founded Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), formed De Beers diamond company, and later became Prime Minister.  They had economic lessons on what causes run-away inflation. They now understand what happens when governments keep printing money to keep up with out-of-control inflation. Students got into character and pretended to be farmers in Zimbabwe with decreasing food supplies. Using real Zimbabwean currency, they quickly realized how bidding wars start when supply does not meet the demand.

This project is a great example of how Waldorf education brings a visceral learning experience to each class. What better way to learn about history, politics, and social economics than this?

Meet 37-year-old Zimbabwean artist, Ishmael Mhike.   Read Ishmael’s story.

Learn more about Ishmael’s work. See his flyer.

We thank our eighth graders for taking on this opportunity in helping others. A great example for all our students to see, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary with service.

Eighth graders selling Ishmael’s recycled metal figures at the Enchanted Fair.


An Invitation to the Spiral of Light

The Waldorf Community Association would like to extend an invitation to this Saturday’s Community Spiral of Light starting at 6pm in the Great Hall. Our Community Spiral of Light is for adult individuals, families with older children or entire families.
Many have found the experience of walking the Spiral as an older youth and/or adult as a powerful and peaceful experience.
You may sign up in the front foyer or contact Mrs. Deveau at info@waldorfmorainge.org or call 978.927.8811 so we can ensure seating arrangements.

Spiral of Light

We are fast approaching the longest night of the year, the winter solstice.  For months now, the darkness has been slowly but steadily encroaching upon the light.  The great drama of the season, a symbol of the struggle between light and darkness in our souls, is about to reach its climax.  In just a few weeks the influence of the darkness will reach its peak.  This season, however, is not one of despair, but one of intense hope and wonder, for just as the darkest hour is just before dawn, the longest night is, in reality, a herald of the daylight’s return.

At the festival of SPIRAL OF LIGHT, we look forward to the return of the light in the midst of the darkness. The children and their families enter the school quietly and gather inside the foyer upstairs until a doorkeeper brings you down to the Great Hall, which has been darkened. Families are silently ushered into the Great Hall, where the mood is one of reverence and wonder. In the center of the room is a spiral pathway made of evergreen boughs.  Music is softly playing as the children, some assisted by the angel and some walking alone, light their candle in the spiral’s center and find a place to rest their candle along the path.  Very often the best place is where the place is darkest.  When the last child has placed his or her candle on the spiral, all present take a moment’s pause to bear witness to what they have created.  Before them is a spiral pathway of light, a vision of hope and promise for the future.  The candles stay on the glowing spiral as the families silently leave for a quiet time at home before bed time.

The Spiral will take place on Saturday, December 3, starting in the early afternoon for the students.  However, it really begins before that with the activities chosen for the children earlier in the day and the mood set in the car on the way to school.  The more we adults are able to awaken in ourselves the sense of joy, reverence and wonder, the more we will have to offer the children.

After the festival, a fitting conclusion to the children’s day would be a special meal at home with family and friends and then a good night’s sleep with plenty of space for light-filled dreams.

**For clothing, please no dresses. Long hair should be tied back.**

Caroline Mercier, for the Blue Festival Group

Learning About Climate Change


Waldorf Moraine students learn about the effects that climate changes have on the world through the experiences of Dario Schwörer, a Swiss climatologist and international ski and mountain guide (UIAGM). Dario and his wife founded TOPtoTOP with the goal of being the first expedition traversing the seven seas and reaching the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, relying only on the power of nature and the human spirit.

Their sailboat has taken them over 100,000 nautical miles to more than 100 countries. Along the way they have made presentations on climate change to more than 100,000 school children. Their message is one of hope designed to inspire children and communities to act for a better future by sharing experiences of nature’s beauty and resiliency, and presenting innovations for a healthy planet.


Waldorf School at Moraine Farm

701 Cabot Street
Beverly, MA 01915

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