Learning like children

Erziehungskunst: What is intuitive education, Mr Ahl­bom?

Pär Ahlbom: When truth can be thought of as an activity, then the true meaning of intuition shimmers through. Forty years ago I wanted to create a new school in Jaerna with a few friends – all young anthroposophists – who were frustrated by their own bad experiences of school and education. People were to find a living, human reality there, feel secure and be able to develop autonomously.

Our starting point was Rudolf Steiner’s ideas on education on the one hand, and our own musical experiences on the other; we developed numerous artistic exercises on that basis which consider the basic questions of life and extend far beyond school life. We wanted to awaken intuition through practical exercises; part of that is joy and the readiness to handle your own limits and blockages in a playful way. This approach can strengthen the ability also to respond to difficult situations with authentic vitality.

EZ: Rudolf Steiner describes the path to educational intuition as three stages: the teacher visualises the child as comprehensively as possible, then he meditates on that image and takes it with him into sleep. That makes him spiritually open for an intuition which comes to expression next day during the lesson in the right idea at the right moment. You appear to go along a different path.

PA: I would prefer to say that we do not go along a different path but along the same path in a different way. Because I have noticed that today we have increasingly to exercise in a practical and physical way in order to come closer to the “childlike”. Through such exercises each person can open that access for themselves anew above all in the artistic and communicative field. It exists in potential in each person but has to be induced to unfold.

Whereas Steiner primarily addresses the will and thinking of the adult, we attempt above all to address the will and feeling. An example which everyone will know: in life we repeatedly approach a point at which we are stretched to the limit. Persisting at that point and getting to know oneself through exercises allows us to grow beyond our limits in such apparently hopeless situations and remain capable of action.

EZ: And you think that we can learn something from children in that respect?

PA: Yes, When we adults play and exercise as inquisitively as children, we not only work on our own self but also on a renewal of culture which can emerge from such – what I call primary life. That is what Schiller meant when he said: “Human beings only play where they are human in the full sense of the word and they are only human where they play.” Children play themselves into life and on that basis develop the things that are essential for and characterise their life. The educational obstacles, in which I include educational ideas, routine, own blockages as a teacher and so on, prevent the child from developing. We can work to unblock them, even if that takes us through embarrassing depths. Children inhale such efforts by adults and thereby are more inclined to grow into their own destiny.

EZ: What is revealed through the exercises with the participants?

PA: The simplest physical exercises very quickly show the blockages in a person. I might for example build a tower made of benches and tables which stands on a thick matt.

When I climb up it I notice that it is rather wobbly, the higher I climb the more it wobbles. Our body responds to that with movements; it is the wisest of the components of our being because it is the foundation of all our concepts, and any learning begins with comprehension. It literally displays our fear turned into form – and blocked ideas – and that has an unconscious effect on every child! I can even say that the mood in a college of teachers is reflected in the mood of the whole school.

That includes all kinds of educational ideologies – including Waldorf education. Many teachers are psychologically completely inexperienced, above all in relation to themselves. In teacher training the development of a culture of feeling is often lacking. The aim of our work is therefore to lead to direct self-experience and dealing authentically with the signals which we permanently send out.

EZ: That may be comprehensible on a “theoretical” level, but how do people actually change their behavioural patterns.

PA: The work on the physical senses, such as for example the sense of touch, the sense of our own movement, the sense of life or sense of balance in particular brings us closer to the state of immediacy in which children still live as a matter of course. That often takes us to deeper layers of feeling, anger breaks out, rage and grief arise. In order to open ourselves and be prepared to develop, we adults, too, need trust, protection and security – like children. Our primary life always takes place in the here and now and is not orientated towards effectivity, usefulness and functionality. To change something in that we need more forceful breaks and “flowing resignation”. (Steiner).

EZ: How do we develop such a culture of feeling?

PA | We can achieve that by talking to one another directly out of our experiences in the exercises and not “about” the exercises. And by persisting with the same thing, not progressing through stages or “classes”. Such advancement in training does not guarantee anything. Development takes place individually through deepening repetition. Everyone can miss it. We only find access to our own strength and joy in life through the feelings. The loss of that access leads to burnout. But most of us are illiterate in this field, almost primitive. Humour and improvisation are the best companions on that path of learning.

EZ: What does that mean in concrete terms for a school, how does it change?

PA: We take leave of the illusion of the class grouping because it really is an art to teach individually and at the same time for a whole group. Then there is the collaboration with our colleagues – particularly those who hold different opinions from ourselves.

Tolerance has been around for a long time, but working together with your opponent is new. That requires unconditional interest – like with children. In healthy processes, the result is always like a kind of “positive waste”. Children are here and now. That is what adults should learn from them.

Mathias Maurer asked the questions.

Links: www.intuitive-paedagogik.de | www.desax.se