It’s the winter holiday season. Diwali was a few weeks ago, Hanukkah starts later this week, the solstice is around the corner, followed by Christmas and Kwanzaa. The match and candle industries are doing just fine this time of year. Before digging in to the power of light during the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, I want to talk a bit about first grade math and sixth grade science. Stay with me.
In the first grade, the first math lesson is an introduction to the numbers. The average new first grader has plenty of familiarity with counting and even some simple addition or subtraction. But math isn’t just moving numbers from here to there. It’s about relationships. How do the parts relate to the whole? It’s about understanding how those parts relate to one another. Are they gaining (addition) or losing (subtraction)? Is it happening fast (multiplication) or slow (addition)? How do we find balance on either side of that equal sign? Therefore the introduction to numbers starts with the quality of those numbers. Understanding the quality helps to better understand the “problem” we are trying to solve. And understanding those “problems” can uncover the deepest aspects of the human condition!
What is the number 1? What is there 1 of? There’s one of you and one of me. There is one planet earth. There is one sun in our sky. The students can go on and on naming what there is “one of”. And from the point of view of first grade level math, 1 is whole and you cannot divide it into pieces. When you multiply a number by 1, it keeps it’s identity. When you divide a number by 1, it keeps it’s identity. And on and on we go!
Now what about 2? What are there 2 of? How does 2 appear in nature? Two eyes, two ears, two hands. The sun and the moon. Night and day. Up and down. Two can be a pair or two can be polar opposites.
Jumping ahead to 6th grade science, the students will study magnetism. Magnetism is the study of the movement of electrical charges that either attracts or repels. It is the push and pull of polarities - positive and negative forces. The positive and negative are so attracted to one another and it’s when we bring the same charges together, they are immediately repulsed by one another.
The winter holiday season is the perfect illustration of the attraction of the polarities of light and dark. There is such comfort and hope in our human condition that strives to bring light into the times of darkness. We light candles or hang lights, celebrating miracles and the promise of love and peace. The light enlivens the darkness that surrounds us.
Like many Waldorf and Waldorf-inspired schools, we offer a festival around this time as well - the Winter Spiral - held on the Winter Solstice. In this evening festival, we lay out a spiral of greens on our farm. There is a single candle in the center. Each student, each “1”, carries an unlit candle into the spiral, slowly moving inwards. When they reach the center, they light their candle. As they retract out of that center, they choose a place along the spiral to place their “1” lit candle and continue out. What starts as a dark spiral ends with a spiral lit up by the lights of each “1” of the students. They journey inwards to find their light then share their light with the entire community. We start with darkness and end with light. The community of “1”s lights up the sky.