Thomas Südhof is a professor at Stanford University in the USA and received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2013. Südhof is a former Waldorf pupil. In an interview, he spoke about his time at the Waldorf school in Hannover-Maschsee and vividly recalled the impression left by the stories told by his then class teacher who, as a geographer, had spent winters in Spitsbergen. That happened fifty years ago and Südhof still vividly remembers those descriptions.
Nothing has a more sustained action than pictures – both good and bad. They remain in our memory fresh as a daisy even many years later. They can place a burden on us or lift us up, nourish or weaken us. We carry them through life, they mark us and influence our actions. If we once told on a friend in childhood to save our own skin that can still make us blush with shame many years later as adults. If Playboy or more hardcore material circulated secretly in the class, it took quite a lot of effort as an adolescent having first real experiences to free oneself again from this “invasion”. If we helped a old lady who had slipped and fallen by calling an ambulance, that can still fill us with deep satisfaction today. All our behaviours are based on latent models in us which we have assimilated through reading or through what we have heard and seen, that is, through our experiences; they are consolidated in us and give us our basic outlook on life and guidance. We measure ourselves against them, are heroes and zeros, failures and winners.
In contrast, everything that we acquire as something purely abstract appears pale and anaemic. It disappears if we do not associate an experience, a feeling with it. And all “good” educators know that. We require not just literature and history but also physics, chemistry and mathematics to be presented in the language of pictures so that “facts” stick vividly in our memory and educate the whole human being in us.
The picture – pictorial learning – forms the archetypal basis of Waldorf education. Be it in play or lessons – everything is about the ideal image of the human being, from kindergarten to upper school.
Our ability to learn is dependent on the imaginations, that is, the inner pictures we can generate. We will notice: these images are more real and determine our perspective on so-called reality to a greater extent than we generally think. We should make more of them.