In the fifth grade, Waldorf students learn that the Olympics were an expression of that golden age when the ideal of the human form, in physical beauty and inner grace, comes together to create something heroic within the individual and blesses all those who are fortunate to witness the event. As the stories brought by the class teacher take the children deeply into the imagination of this period in time, they begin to intellectually, physically and emotionally experience an entire culture. And to this end, the fifth grade Pentathlon emerges.
Last week, our fifth graders met fifth grade students from six other Waldorf schools from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis areas. They divided into five city-states of Greece and competed with those in their particular city-state in five events: discus, javelin, long jump, Greek wrestling and running. As they compete, the students strive with great intention to give form to the hero (the union of the divine and human) within themselves and can win laurels for both Truth (measurement) and Beauty (form) as they participate in each event. One child in each city-state also wins the laurel for Goodness.
Andrea Shaffer, the movement teacher from Chicago Waldorf, described it this way, “After watching the event in various forms for 11 years, I would describe the event as fun, difficult, strenuous, beautiful, disappointing, triumphant, painful and celebratory. It is an amazing way to bring to the fore the multi-faceted issues of competition and compassion and community.”
As a parent watching, I was struck by the respect and support that all the children had for each other. They watched each of their teammates perform and did not talk during their efforts. Afterwards, they congratulated each child on her/his effort with sincere celebration, even though the child was a competitor. It was touching and inspiring to watch all the children step up to this experience with grace, focus and heart. My daughter made friends with children from other schools and experienced that you can feel happy for a teammate’s success while still feeling disappointed that you did not win the laurel. A wonderful life lesson hidden inside a memory she will treasure forever.