"Climbing the Tree of Knowledge"
[Monday, August 17, 2015]
Alicia concentrated on the picture
she was painting. She kept an eye
on the students to either side of her,
so she wouldn't make hers too good.
Each of them had three jars of paint --
red, yellow, and blue -- with a jar
of rinse water. From that, they
were supposed to make a scene
showing all six colors of the wheel.
Most of the kids were making rainbows,
but Alicia was painting Cinque Terre in Italy,
its flower-colored houses clustered between
the green hills above and the blue sea below.
Suddenly and fiercely, she missed
Andrea Mantegna, an Italian artist who
had shown her such wonderful things
about paints and how to use them.
Alicia looked up, trying to cheer herself.
The classroom was pale orange,
the curtains a brighter apricot.
They had nice wooden desks,
with shelves around the walls
holding books, games, toys,
art supplies, and potted plants.
That soothed her enough
to resume painting, and soon
she finished her picture.
Then it was time to go out.
Alicia scampered between
the birdbath garden and
the gazing garden, heading
for the grade school playground.
That had a big wooden climbing structure
with a real wooden slide that everyone
knew to avoid in the hot sun like today.
There were trees to climb, too,
and Alicia scrambled up one.
The third grade class was also
letting out to play, and soon
Bambina showed up, climbing
into the tree with Alicia. She
had olive skin and long dark hair,
her lips in a puckish smile.
"We did an art lesson,
and our teacher explained
the color theory quite well,"
Alicia said. "What about you?"
"Oh, you would have loved it,"
Bambina exclaimed. "The teacher
drew a beautiful wheel of the year
on the chalkboard in all colors for us
to copy. It related the archangels to
the seasons, with a poem too!"
"That sounds lovely," Alicia said.
"Too bad all the Christian references
will have to go. For the Maldives,
they want Islamic stuff instead."
"So?" Bambina said, kicking her heels
against the tree trunk. "Islam has angels.
They even have a heavenly horse!"
Alicia made a note on her vidwatch.
"That would sure appeal to little girls."
"What do you think about the idea of
a campus with all the years together
like this?" Bambina asked. "I'm loving it."
"Me too," Alicia said. "It's perfect for
age-shifters, brains, and other folks who
may not match their schoolmates perfectly.
It's more organized than Montessori too."
"I like having a separate building
for each class," said Bambina.
"And look at all this grass! They
have trees and gardens everywhere."
"Yeah, the Waldenkinder schools
do the same thing, only they have
even more outdoor classrooms,"
Alicia said, swinging on the branch.
"Last time I visited one of those,
I got rained on so much!"
Bambina laughed. "I don't care
if I get wet," she said. "After recess,
we're going on a creek hike. You know
that little stream that starts at the bottom of
the slope here, in the trees? It runs down
around that big field where the teachers live,
and you can do science in the field there."
"Cool," said Alicia. "We have eurythmy next.
I used to love listening to Mr. Steiner explain why
moving to words and music was so important."
"You're lucky to have known him," Bambina said.
"Yeah, I know, he was great," Alicia said.
"You know who I miss more, though?
Miss Montessori. She framed all of
her work with science and she'd
talk about doctor stuff with me.
She would have known exactly
what to do for the Maldives!"
"Well, she's not here, so we'll
just have to carry on as best we
can," Bambina said. "At least you
know a lot about different schools."
"I try to keep up with the new systems
and their inventors," Alicia said. "Have
you seen the Circle System? I've heard
about it, but haven't visited it yet."
"Same here," Bambina said.
"I have so many things to do!
I want to go, though. Did you
know they have a whole module
on Strega, Italian witchcraft?"
"No, I heard about Druidry
and Shamanism, though,"
Alicia said. "They made it
so people can customize
the curriculum based on
whatever faiths are local."
She liked all the nature schools,
really, where nobody bugged her
for hugging trees the way
she was doing right now.
"Yeah, that's really neat,"
Bambina said. "I like
"So, do you think we can
talk the Maldives into keeping
the eurythmy?" Alicia said.
"I don't see why not," Bambina said.
"We did a veil dance. They'd love that.
The program is designed to feature
all different cultures -- as long as
the Ministry of Education ensures
it's at least Muslim-friendly, it's fine."
"That sounds good," Alicia said.
"Plenty of people still teach music
and stuff along with math and the Qur'an
in the edhurge schools, on islands that
don't have enough kids for a public school.
At least we shouldn't have any difficulty in
convincing them to keep outdoor classrooms!"
"Thank God for that," Bambina said fervently.
"One thing I hate about being this age is
how often I get cooped up indoors all day.
Young bodies need to get out and move."
"Biologically true," Alicia said. "If they
don't move enough, the nervous system
doesn't develop properly, so they wind up
with poor muscle tone and balance issues."
"Well, the Maldives has all that beachfront --
we could make a class in watercraft or
something like that," Bambina said.
"That would get people moving, and
avoid the problem of them not having
big fields for the kids to run around in.
Swimming, surfing, beach jogging ..."
"Beach crafts too," Alicia said.
"That's perfect for handwork."
"Yeah, they'll love that stuff,"
Bambina said. "I've seen what
they do with hospitality arts --
those are a natural outgrowth
of handcraft in Waldorf schools."
"Oh, I'm writing that down!"
Alicia leaned against the trunk
to free up her hands to type.
"I don't think that they'll go for
the German, though," Bambina said.
"Pity, that -- I like the immersion sessions."
"Me too," Alicia said. "Over in Paideia
it's Greek, both modern and classic, and
they have a whole class in poetry." She
gave a wistful sigh. "I do love Greece,
and the immigrants did a splendid job of
making a school system that turns out
both model citizens and Olympic athletes."
"Good thing it's not the public school system,
though, or we might run short of recruits,"
Bambina said with a sassy wink.
"I wish," said Alicia. "We get
too many who are only in it for
three hots and a cot, and that's
no cause for villainy, or shouldn't be."
"Okay, you got me there," Bambina said.
"We have a chance to prevent a lot of that,
now, by making the first superschool
more supportive of people's needs."
"Agreed," said Alicia. "What do you
think of the Waldorf system now that
you've gotten a peek at it? Will this
fit as well as we thought it would?"
"I think so," Bambina said, lounging on
her branch. "It's got plenty of structure
for spirituality, so all we need to do is
rip out anything that doesn't mesh with
Islamic beliefs. So much awareness of
inner life makes it ideal for superpowers, too."
"We'll need to talk to the imams and see
what they think of the current curriculum,
what to keep or change," Alicia said.
"No problem, I'm used to networking
with Catholic priests," Bambina said.
A breeze made the leaves flutter around
the girls. "I feel like I'm getting paid to take
a vacation, and we've got a whole month!
The last time I did this, the Boss sent me
to check out Kids' Kingdom at a resort in
the Maldives, and that only lasted a week."
"Speaking of Catholicism, I hope we get
to angels in my class," Alicia said. "I like
how we make our own textbooks and I'd love
one on that topic. I may just keep going and
write a book on how education has changed
over the last seven hundred years."
"I'd read it," Bambina said at once.
"You have a great perspective, and
you should use it more than you do."
"Maybe so," Alicia said, looking down
on the other children. "I like sitting
up here where I can see everything."
"Me too," Bambina said. "It's nice
to have the view without having to
be a grownup at the same time."
"You kept your older mind in
class, though?" Alicia said.
"Nah, not once I decided it
was safe here," Bambina said.
"I just relaxed and enjoyed it, then
popped back up to talk with you."
"Speaking of a valuable perspective,
I'm glad you took this job," Alicia said.
"I can't see things the same way you do,
and this setup is really important."
"That's why I'm here," Bambina said.
"It never hurts to have a President
owing you a favor, either!"
Alicia laughed. "Just don't
lean on him, he's a nice guy."
"We'll be very careful," Bambina said.
We want him to like us, even if he did
startle the socks off the Boss by asking
for our help with the superschool."
"He's just like that," Alicia said.
"Would you believe, he asked
Ras el Hanout for advice on
how to treat addictions?"
"No!" Bambina said,
clapping her hands to
her cheeks and nearly
falling out of the tree.
"Yes!" Alicia said, pulling
her into place. "He said,
who better to ask than
the smuggler who moves
the most drugs around?"
"Well, he's not wrong,"
Bambina said. "So what
did poor Ras say to that?"
"He's putting together a report,"
Alicia said smugly. "I'll get to read it,
since I'm helping the Maldives to integrate
superpowers into their health system."
"That's fantastic," Bambina said.
"The more we can get people
to unwind instead of tightening up,
the easier life will be for all of us.
It's funny, I thought the Heights
was stuffy, but this place is nice."
"Usually it is stuffy," Alicia said,
then giggled. "Maybe what happened
is all the not-stuffy people got tired of
that, and made this place to get away!"
"Could be," said Bambina. "They
did a good job of it, in any case."
"Yeah," Alicia said. "I feel like
I'm climbing the tree of knowledge."
"It's nice to see things that were
once alternative becoming mainstream,"
Bambina said. "Maybe this venture
will help to lower the barriers
between soups and naries."
"We can hope," Alicia said.
"It's not just the superschool,
though -- they're also setting up
another one for people who want
to become supernaries. I heard
they're using everything from
Olympic athletes to Navy SEALs
for inspiration in the training."
"That sounds epic," Bambina said.
"Yeah, I bet," Alicia said. "I'm not
directly involved, but I'm watching."
"We'll work it out," Bambina said,
reaching out to pat Alicia's shoulder.
"You've gone through medical school
lots of times, you'll get through this too."
A stream of giggles from below made
them look down through the leaves.
Two redheaded girls jogged up the path,
one older and one younger -- maybe
seventh and eighth grade -- sisters,
by the similarity of their features.
Both of them wore crowns of
yellow flowers, though the one on
the older girl was starting to fall apart,
and the younger girl kept half-tripping
on things as they moved along.
Alicia swung down to dangle
under the branch so she could
talk at eye level to the girls.
"You didn't lock the stems right,"
she said. "Want me to show you
how to make the flowers stay put?"
"Yes, please," said the older girl.
"I'm Greta and this is my sister Gilly."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Alicia and
this is my friend Bruna," she said,
dropping out of the tree. "We're
going to need more flowers."
"Not from the gardens!" Greta said,
guiding Alicia away from the nearest one.
"We can only pick from those if it's for
a class, so they don't run out. Here,
we can pick anything we want from
the containers, that's what they're for."
"Great idea," Alicia said, making
a purely mental note to pursue it later.
She plucked a few orange marigolds
to shore up the yellow crown, then
set about showing Greta how
to make the stems hold fast.
This time, they would climb
the tree of knowledge together.
* * *
Bambina (Bruna Colombo) -- She has olive skin, almond-shaped brown eyes, and long wavy dark hair. She is Italian, from Lombardia. She speaks Arabic, English, Esperanto, French, German, Greek, Hindustani, Italian, Latin, Lombard, and Spanish. Bambina is a supervillain who uses her age-shifting abilities to disguise herself and learn secrets. She and Dr. Infanta explore the Shady Glen Waldorf School in the Heights.
Origin: Bruna's powers were discovered at puberty, but it's possible they worked before then and the changes just weren't dramatic enough for anyone to notice. Some of her ancestors collaborated with the Germans during World War II, hiding powerful artifacts and zetetic substances. It is possible that this influenced her development.
Uniform: As a child, she wears practical play clothes. As an adult, she wears Italian fashions. She knows how to disguise herself to match any locale.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Languages, Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Loyal, Good (+2) Mobster
Poor (-2) Catty
Powers: Good (+2) Age-Shifting
Motivation: To pull one over on people.
Greta Baumgärtner -- She has pale skin, brown eyes, and long wavy red hair. She is 13 years old, in 8th grade. She is the older sister of Gilly. They attend the Shady Glen Waldorf School in the Heights. Greta is a talented singer and excels at teamwork. Her fingers are clumsy, though.
Qualities: Good (+2) Affectionate, Good (+2) Singer, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Manual Dexterity
Gillyflower "Gilly" Baumgärtner -- She has pale skin, brown eyes, and long wavy red hair. She is 12 years old, in 7th grade. She is the younger sister of Greta. They attend the Shady Glen Waldorf School in the Heights. Gilly loves plants and gardening. She makes friends easily and excels at teamwork. However, her motor skills are poor.
Qualities: Good (+2) Botany, Good (+2) Making Friends, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Gross Motor Skill
* * *
The school grounds of Shady Glen Waldorf School span about 20 acres, with the adjacent neighborhood adding another 5. The school averages 375 students, with a range about 350-400. A class typically has 25 students, with a range of 20-30. The student-teacher ratio is 1:10. At the top of the map, the white building with the parking lot is the administrative building. Attached at the bottom are the libraries; the snail-shape is for younger children while the box-shape is for older ones. Below on the left, the kindergarten is the double-headed building in pink. Right across from it is the preschool in the peach octagon. Below those, first grade is in orange, second grade in green, third grade in blue, and fourth grade in the purple crescent. The yellow square attached to the first-second grade building is an indoor playroom. In the center right of the map lie the junior high and high school areas. Toward the left, fifth grade is in blue and sixth is in red, adjacent to each other, while seventh and eighth share the large red hexagon. Toward the right, the blue high school brackets a water feature. The upper left has ninth grade, tenth grade, and a special function room. The lower right has a special function room, eleventh grade, and twelfth grade. The yellow building below both is a gymnasium. Beside it lies the school garden and two rows of greenhouses. In the lower right corner, the red buildings are townhouses for school staff. In the lower left lies the Steiner Apartment Complex for intentional neighboring, of which the two green buildings are reserved for school staff. This provides affordable housing within walking distance of the school. The upper right corner is municipal property holding the community center (upper rectangle) and public library (lower L-shape).
This perennial garden grows in the parking lot for the K-4 complex. An artificial stream runs near the preschool and kindergarten. The sensory garden lies next to the preschool building. The story circle lies behind the kindergarten.
The Kindness Bench stands next to the second grade building. This herb garden lies in front of the fourth grade building. The birdbath garden stands near the herb garden. The gazing garden grows in front of the second grade building. The Circle of Knowledge stands behind the fourth grade building.
The kindergarten and preschool share a playground. The grade school playground lies beyond the third and fourth grade buildings. It is built with parts scavenged from an old building that was torn down. Notice that the slide and tunnel are made of metal. It heats up in the sun, and children learn situational awareness to stay off it when it gets hot.
The preschool uses earthy colors on the outside. The inside is lighter.
See a floor plan for the kindergarten building. The front has a rounded room with big glass windows. Here is the entrance. Each of the two kindergarten rooms has a kitchen and coatroom. Here is a wide view of the classroom.
The 1st grade classroom has melon walls. The 2nd grade classroom is orange. The 3rd grade classroom is yellow. The 4th grade classroom is green.
The 5th grade classroom is periwinkle. The 6th grade classroom is cerulean blue. The 7th grade classroom is lavender. The 8th grade classroom is sky blue.
The 9th grade classroom is rose pink. The 10th grade classroom is pine green and ivory. The 11th grade classroom is turquoise. The 12th grade classroom is white.
The gymnasium provides indoor space for games and other activities. A eurythmy class combines music and motion. Students learn to play musical instruments too. They can sing in a choir class if they wish. Drama class teaches acting skills.
The main school garden is relatively free-form. Table gardens on a deck offer wheelchair access. The greenhouse has raised beds. Among other things, the greenhouses provide a steady supply of potted plants that can be used for cut flowers, to avoid denuding the gardens in the ground.
These outdoor classrooms are part of the school garden near the junior high and high school buildings.
The administrative building has a lobby leading to the front desk. The secretaries share a common office. The principal has a private office. The teachers' lounge includes a kitchenette. The counseling room has chairs and toys.
The children's library has a giant artificial tree. The teen library is lined in bookcases.
Runoff from the upper parts of the campus collects in a stream which begins just below the grade school buildings and then runs around the large field in front of the staff townhouses.
The school store offers Waldorf toys and tools, art supplies, books, and regular school supplies.
On the left is the Steiner Apartment Complex. If you look closely, you can see that the ground floor consists of lively retail space. Across the street is commercial space, most of it also featuring retail storefronts at ground level with either housing or office space above. It is close enough for children to walk to school.
Cinque Terre, Italy is one of the most colorful places in Europe.
An astounding collection of 5 villages cascading down the most rugged cliffs of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre captures the eye, softens the soul, and releases the mind of all who visit. When seen from the water, the rainbow-colored terraced houses of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore shine out like precious gems along one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of coastline.
Tarot cards have been used for divination, games, and various other purposes. Strength is one of them. In the Tarot of Mantegna, described here, this card shows a tiny lion and a woman with a broken column. Most often, the woman is shown opening/closing a lion's mouth, but a few cards show them playing together.
The Waldorf curriculum includes common subjects like literature, history, math, and science. It also has some unique subjects.
Eurythmy combines music with movement. This video shows how children learn eurythmy through the years, including a veil dance.
Handwork spans a variety of arts and crafts. Here are some sample projects.
Shady Glen Waldorf School teaches German to all students. One kindergarten class is an immersion class, the other not. Other grades offer immersion sessions each day.
Ministry of Education is the part of Maldivian government responsible for schools. Traditionally, Maldivian children attended a casual school called an edhurge, learning math, Dhivehi, Arabic, and the Qur'an. In local-Maldives, they have been entirely replaced by western-style schools; in Terramagne they remain popular on islands too small to support a conventional school system.
Paideia is a T-American alternative school system based on the culture of ancient Greece, emphasizing classic subjects and especially citizenship. The academic track includes rhetoric, grammar, math, medicine, music, poetry, philosophy, debate, and civics. All students learn modern Greek with an option of Classic Attic Greek; often Italian and Latin are offered as well. The athletic track includes gymnastics, wrestling, track and field (including marathons), swimming, and equestrianism (including sulky races). It makes up considerably more of the day than just an hour of physical education -- typically two to three hours of different activities, but devoted athletes can do more. About 15% of their students go into politics, social work, nonprofit management, or other public service. About 15% become first responders such as paramedics, firefighters, police, or park rangers. Another 10% go into the fine arts such as sculpture or theatre, and 10% more become scholars of such things as history or Greek. About 5% become professional athletes, and the schools are famous for the number of Olympic athletes they have raised. A notable 5% become philosphers, and they produce a steady trickle of professional poets as well. Paideia is very popular among the upper class, but also among athletes who want a serious education. It covers grades 1-12.
SEALs undergo rigorous training. So do Olympic athletes.