The image of the human being in education

Cornelie Unger-Leistner

This was the second time that ENASTE had organised its conference in Vienna. All European institutes and training centres for Waldorf education working in an academic framework are combined in this network. About 160 education researchers, practitioners and theoreticians in the Waldorf movement from 28 countries participated in the conference on the subject of “The educator’s view of the human being”. 

Five main lectures and 36 workshops were devoted to the conference theme. One workshop asked: Is religious education as understood by Waldorf education possible also in non-Christian regions of the world? Carlo Willmann (Alanus University and Centre for Culture and Education in Vienna) highlighted the religion-transcending element in Waldorf education using empirical research results from Egypt and Israel. Not the content of individual religions but developing a feeling for fundamental values such as trust, humility or the ability of wonder was the goal of this education. And this goal could be realised in various ways. If we compare the approach to this principle of a general religious education as developed in the Sekem school in Egypt or in Israeli schools, different tendencies become apparent. Teachers in Sekem work on the basis of the Islamic religion – verses of the Koran accompany the morning verse – and from there broaden all teaching into a generally religious and ethical sphere. Their Israeli colleagues, in contrast, introduce their pupils, most of whom come from a secular world, very cautiously into the culture of the Jewish religion – for example through an anthropologically-based inclusion of Biblical literature in the “classic” storytelling material of the first eight years of school.

Marcelo da Veiga, principal of Alanus University in Alfter, put forward the opposing hypothesis in his subsequent contribution that the practice of Waldorf education is clearly guided by the Christian festivals of the year and storytelling material, which makes its transfer into other types of tradition something of a challenge. Anthroposophy and Waldorf education, which has its basis in anthroposophy, should be seen in the spirit of European cultural development; they related to a historical perspective as far as the methodology of scientific cognition, ethics and the affirmation of a modern and open society was concerned which was incompatible with a theocratic and anachronistic attitude. If this point of origin was blurred, Waldorf education was in danger of losing its identity.

These two examples illustrate the breadth and diversity of the discussion. Other points of focus of the 36 presentations were “Homo oeconomicus”, which has predominated in the educational discourse since PISA, the possibility of truly innovative teaching, the importance of attachment in the learning process and the risks contained in the inclusion concept.