Friday 4th June
Here’s an interview with Jason Fagone, author of Philadelphia Magazines June article “Revolt of the Bruppies”. Jason was interviewed by Sonja Seawright, mother of two daughters who will one day (hopefully) attend WSP. Thanks to both Sonja and Jason for this piece – enjoy!
Sonja: Let’s talk about your article, “Revolt of the Bruppies,” which appeared in the June 2010 issue of Philadelphia Magazine. What was your inspiration for the article?
Jason: We had a magazine retreat at some point, and we were talking about “trend stories,” which is the way that magazines have always tried to squeeze the zeitgeist into 3,000 words. A lot of the time trend stories are very silly exercises. Maybe this one is too. But basically, I was in this meeting, and I had just read the Matthew Crawford book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” so I started talking about it, how much I loved it. It’s an amazing book, beautifully written, and a lot of it spoke to me, especially the parts about how the intellectual aspect of mechanical work is undersold. Not that I have any mechanical abilities — I really don’t — but maybe that’s why I was intrigued. And then I remembered that you, Sonja, had been taking classes to learn electrical work, and I knew a couple of other knowledge-worker types who were really passionate about raising chickens and that sort of thing. So I threw out a sort of vague idea for a story about knowledge-worker dissatisfaction and how the recession is fanning it, and it developed from there.
Sonja: Why did you decide to go to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia (WSP) as part of your research process for the article?
Jason: I asked my wife, Dana, if she knew of any schools that took a more hands-on approach to learning, and it turned out that she had taken my daughter to an open house at Waldorf about a year ago, I think. She told me about it, and there happened to be an open house that Saturday, so I showed up and talked to some of the teachers. The eurythmy teacher was the first person I met, and then I talked to Susan Stevenson for a while in her 3rd grade classroom. I guess I was struck by the naturalness of the integration of the hand skills with the rest of the curriculum. Not segregating anything. I mean, when I was in school, our shop was in a totally different part of the school, down at the end of a corridor, and going there was like going to another building.
Sonja: You wrote about WSP in your article as a reporter trying to tell a specific story – the story of the “bruppies.” But you are also a parent of a 2 year old girl (who is adorable!). What were your impressions of WSP as a parent?
Jason: Oh man. The smell of the bread. Hot cross buns, I think? What a nice thing that would be for a little kid to experience in the morning. I guess the most appealing thing about the school, to me, was that it was impossible to imagine my daughter going there and not thinking that it was a fun place to be. I haven’t read as much about education theory as I should, but I imagine that when you’re trying to motivate kids to learn and be curious, that’s probably half the battle.
Sonja: A person could read “Revolt of the Bruppies” and come away with the idea that you are pigeon-holing the Waldorf education philosophy as craft or trade oriented. Is that how you see it? If not, could you clarify your thoughts about Waldorf education philosophy?
Jason: Right. I read [WSP parent Andrew McCann’s] https://phillywaldorf.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/philadelphia-magazine-and-bruppies-one-parents-response/ and I agree with a lot of what he says. I wasn’t able in the space I had to convey the breadth of what Waldorf does. So, yeah, to clarify: I don’t think Waldorf is a machine for cranking out the future bread-bakers and knitters and fence-builders of America. As I understand it, the handwork component is mainly there to give kids a sense of control and mastery, to build self-confidence, and to accommodate lots of types of intelligences. Which is totally logical and sensible and mainstream, and which I’m all for.
Sonja: I agree that it’s logical and sensible, but I’m not so sure that it’s mainstream. In fact, I think that the integration of handwork into the curriculum is one of the things which sets the Waldorf philosophy apart from mainstream education. Or perhaps you are using the word “mainstream” to convey something else?
Jason: Well, mainstream in the sense that Waldorf parents probably aren’t as quirky as I made them seem. As Andrew pointed out. There’s still math and science and language and all the rest in the school. I mean, I thought that was a valid point.
Sonja: Now I understand. Continuing on… Your daughter is only two years old, but with waiting lists being what they are, you’re probably going to be seriously considering schools for her pretty soon. Do you think your experience touring WSP will influence some of your thoughts and choices as you look at schools?
Jason: Yes. I think we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on the learning environment and the physical environment — I loved that Waldorf had these beautiful grounds, trees, a big lawn — and a mix of practical skills and traditional academic disciplines. One parent told me that his child came home from school singing songs a lot of days. Musicmaking is big for me. I like to think I’m not directing my daughter to be any type of person, but she WILL play an instrument. I mean, if she’s cool with that. I mean, she WILL play an instrument.
Sonja: [laughing] I’m the same way. The emphasis on music is also one of the things that drew us to Waldorf.
Jason: Just not Suzuki. I was a Suzuki kid. No joy in Suzuki.
Sonja: What???? My partner was a Suzuki kid, and she loved it! We’ve already started indoctrinating our kids!
Jason: Well, there are advantages to Suzuki, but huge disadvantages. I burned out on it, like I think a lot of kids do. Somewhere around the first couple pages of Book 4 piano. Too hard to practice with your mom every day when you want to be playing soccer or something. But it gives you a good ear for music for the rest of your life, because you go to bed listening to those tapes.
Sonja: Well, hopefully a balance can be maintained. Like everything else, it requires a good teacher who has the desire to find a way to motivate his/her students and find joy in the learning. Like they do at WSP! Look at that, I’ve brought it back around!
Jason: Nicely done.
Sonja: Thank you. The journey that we’ve been on to find a school that feels good to us has been stressful, but we feel like we’ve found the right place for our kids at WSP. I wish you the best of luck as you wade into these waters, too. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Jason: Thanks, Sonja.
Sonja: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jason: Yes. For the record, I’m not writing a book about bruppies. I’m writing a book about clean energy and the race to build a 100-MPG-equivalent car, for a division of Random House. Tentative title is “Genius is Not a Plan.”
Sonja: That sounds like a book I want to read – and a car I want to drive. Thanks again, Jason.