Rudolf Steiner identified the deeper cause of the catastrophe of the First World War as the clash of two developmental streams: the rise of a globalised economy on the one hand and a feeling of community still tied to “blood and soil” not able to cope with this development on the other. The world economy necessitated a type of education which developed the abilities to have a free relationship with national, social or religious affiliations and to experience oneself as a member of a world community. But this was only possible if the education system was removed from the administration of nation states and made self-governing. It was not the subjugation of the individual to communally decided “values” which socialised but the I itself – as soon as it was given its unconditional freedom. By its nature, the striving of the I was holistic and would, in so far as it could develop its most intimate cognitive powers, grow beyond its own national imprint and come together with the members of other nations.
“Whereas we grow into our own nation because we are in a sense a constituent part of it, we become familiar with other nations because we learn about them. They act on us ... by way of recognition and understanding. We gradually learn to love them through understanding and to the extent that we can love humanity in its various nations and territories through understanding, to the same extent our inner internationalism grows.” (Rudolf Steiner)
Recognition, understanding and love – these are activities which human beings can only unfold within themselves as free abilities. Thus while current demands that values should be taught or that a “minister for integration” should be appointed are perfectly understandable, these things act on a person from the outside and destroy those intimate forces on which all international understanding is based.
Waldorf education therefore turns the relationship between “sender” and “recipient” on its head: from learning the alphabet to history lessons, the material is handled in such a way that the form becomes a means of drawing out the free forces of cognition of the child. The child should use the world to educate itself and by the time they leave school have obtained the ability to base their feeling of self-worth on their own free personality irrespective of any group affiliation. In many respects the world situation today is similar to the eve of the First World War. On the other hand, more than 190 nations are living in Germany today. This mixture of nations provides a huge opportunity to transform a parallel existence through reciprocal recognition into togetherness and to work on a community spirit reaching beyond any outdated group instincts.
In 2003, the first “Intercultural Waldorf School” opened its doors in a deprived area of Mannheim with an extended range of subjects such as for example Turkish, Polish and Croatian as “languages of interaction”. It served as a model for further initiatives in Berlin, Hamburg, Dortmund, Stuttgart and Dresden which are networked within the German Association of Waldorf Schools in the “Working Group for Intercultural Waldorf Education”. “What makes us human in all its aspects does not actually come to expression in any single person ... it only does so through the whole of humanity.” Rudolf Steiner
About the author: Johannes Mosmann is the chief executive of the Berlin Free Intercultural Waldorf School and also works at the Institute for Social Threefolding.