For the goal of all their endeavours should be, after all, that the child can gradually develop from their initial complete dependence into an autonomous, free personality. But how is a growing human being supposed to learn to strive for freedom and autonomy if all they see around them are dependencies and limitations? When helicopter parents stifle their child’s developmental drive in well-meant solicitousness and enquire from the first day of school about the university entrance exams because of course they only want the best for their child, and when teachers play along with the game that education equals better job opportunities through selection?
With the establishment of the first Waldorf school, Rudolf Steiner freed himself from such externals. The crucial factor was the inner attitude of the educator. He sums this up in the so-called three golden rules which could not be more relevant today: “Receiving the child with reverence / Bringing them up with love / Letting them go in freedom.” In concrete terms this means: retaining our reverence even if the child is naughty, not stopping loving them when they misbehave, letting go when they hear the world calling.
Because what turns out to be the central prerequisite for bringing up a child irrespective of age, social environment and attendant cultural phenomena is the ability to retain the inner acknowledging relationship with them in the very different forms in which we encounter the specific individual child. Parents, nursery teachers and teachers must therefore grow with the child – grow with them as they become older, grow with their social environment and the time in which they jointly live. They must, as it were, bring themselves up alongside the child.
What might be the correct educational dictum at one time will turn out to be wrong a few years later, what was the correct educational measure for the one child can be wrong for another. Upbringing does not tolerate any prescriptive education. It must be so flexible and alive that the relationship with the child is never revoked.
Parents, nursery teachers and teachers can only create a positive framework for this by being people who love freedom, people “of initiative in the big and little things”, having an interest “in all worldly and human existence”, “never compromising with untruth”, and, lastly but perhaps most importantly in all our attempts at upbringing, “never atrophying and going stale” (Steiner).
In other words, anyone who finds freedom too uncomfortable, initiative too hard work, who reaches shoddy compromises and cannot stand humour will have great difficulty living and working with children and young people. Anyone who succeeds in engaging with them without reservation and without wishing to influence and impose ideas on them cannot but be a person of their time. The skill lies in learning to enjoy such contemporaneousness with children and young people, trusting in the future forces they possess.