Do what you want

Henning Kullak-Ublick

The answer is many-layered. I will restrict myself to one core thought related to its teaching: education is always also self-education. This unremarkable sentence represents a battle cry against all attempts to educate human beings to meet objectives which are not founded in their own being but in economic, political, religious or other philosophical purposes. The history of the twentieth century, which the Swedish journalist Ellen Key proclaimed as “the century of the child” in 1900, and which the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk today describes as the “lost century”, offers numerous examples of the way in which people were to be educated to perform functions instead of training them to become the inspired creators of their own future. Almost all the unresolved social, ecological, economic and political problems of our time go back to education systems which were not intent on developing free spirits but on control, competition and adaptation. 

By contrast, the sentence “all education is self-education” expresses the trust that every person can develop – and wishes to do so if only the right conditions are created. Nevertheless, it places great demands on teachers and educators which can never be achieved but only ever striven for. That is much more inconvenient than complying with standards. If the latter measure, above all, the degree of adaptation to external requirements, the former demands to know whether my interest in my pupils is great enough to let me think of something that will inspire each single one and all of them together.

Rudolf Steiner did not conceive of Waldorf education as a closed system. On the contrary, he encouraged teachers to view their profession as an art in which all the knowledge and abilities of the pupils arise from becoming active – whereby “becoming active” should be understood as the self-efficacy of their thinking, feeling and will.

Not many are yet able to achieve that. And when they do, it happens in special great moments. But one possible answer to the question posed at the beginning is that the power of the encounter with another person, awakening through the other person, is beginning to become a question of the survival of our humanity in an increasingly externally controlled world. Ninety-three years later we are still at the start of a revolution in education which takes the human being properly seriously as the active creator of his or her future. But it will not happen by itself – we do have to want it to happen.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher since 1984 (currently on leave of absence), board member of the German Association of Waldorf schools  and the Friends of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (www.freie-schule.de)