“The method convinced me”

Tatjana Fuchs | What was your training and how did you start your careers?

Friederike Bönner | I went through a traditional training as a pre-school teacher in a Catholic vocational college. Then I worked for seven years as a pre-school teacher in a Catholic kindergarten.

Maximilian Buchka | I began by studying to become a primary and secondary school teacher, then special needs education. In the 1970s I started teaching at a school for children with intellectual disabilities and half a year after starting there began additionally to develop seminars for the second, the practical phase of training special needs teachers throughout North Rhine-Westphalia. After that I developed a pilot school for children with intellectual disabilities and managed it as its director. In the 1980s I was offered a professorship at the Catholic college in Cologne as professor of special needs education. I worked there for more than 14 years as dean and at the level of the vice-chancellorship to raise its profile.

TF | How did you first come into contact with Waldorf education?

MB | A teaching candidate whom I was supervising undertook her preparatory service at the Troxler House, a special needs Waldorf school in Wuppertal. During my first visits there a lady recited a Russian poem wearing traditional Russian attire and she was followed by a lady in a petticoat who recited a French poem – all in a German lesson. I was admittedly irritated but also interested enough to buy all the writings by Rudolf Steiner I could find in the nearest bookshop. Reading them did not take me any further – I did not understand them. But then destiny wove its web one further time: at the start of the 1980s some of the students asked for an excursion to the Camphill communities on Lake Constance. There I became acquainted with anthroposophical curative education and with it outstanding anthroposophical personalities.

FB | While I was still training, I visited a Waldorf kindergarten. The design of the rooms deeply impressed me, every detail had a reason. I also felt touched by the atmosphere, I felt at home. In the following months I kept thinking back to it. But I thought that for me as a traditionally trained pre-school teacher working in a Waldorf kindergarten was out of the question. Having worked for a few years in the profession, I wanted to study again.

TF | What finally led you to the decision to make Waldorf education the focus of your work?

FB | The practice reports developed such luminous power for me that I decided to move to a Waldorf establishment – while I was still studying. The examination of Rudolf Steiner’s educational ideas also contributed to this.

Finally, meeting personalities working in Waldorf education led to me work in this environment myself.

MB | It was also the personalities in my case. The methods of Hans Müller-Wiedemann and Georg von Arnim, both of whom had worked with the founder of Camphill Karl König, convinced me through their credibility and authenticity. Müller-Wiedemann and von Arnim for example gave me an insight into their method of the “child case discussion” which educators can use to find out what their joint task is with the young person. All the colleagues, and if possible also the parents and other attachment figures who are dealing with a child, sit down together and report from their perspective about the child. In the overall picture that emerges something more arises than what each person could perceive individually about the nature of the child.

TF | Did you have doubts during this change of perspective, were there obstacles?

FB | I thought a great deal about whether I was the right person to be a pre-school teacher. But in practice it very quickly became clear that it works very well.

MB | In order to accommodate Rudolf Steiner’s ideas in the teaching of a Catholic college, I had to make detours to begin with: I was told off by the vice-chancellor for the seminar I proposed in 1985, “Rudolf Steiner and curative education”. I renamed it “Reformist educational approaches of curative education” but taught everything I had planned anyway. In addition, I was unable to publish my theoretical examination of curative and Waldorf education for many years – no specialist medium would accept any essay which contained the word anthroposophy. Not until the special needs journal Lernen konkret, which I co-founded, was I able to publish my fundamental anthroposophical and educational convictions without a problem in collaboration with Professor Rüdiger Grimm.

TF | Looking back, do you feel that the change to Waldorf education represented a break with traditional education.

FB | Yes and no. I distance myself from certain elements of traditional education and question some of the things it takes for granted. Independently of any particular kind of education the question which underlies everything for me is: what is in the interest of the child?

MB | I fully and completely stand by Waldorf education, but in my seminars also begin by teaching traditional education because many of the students are familiar with it from their training or the education course in senior high school. I do that to connect with them at the point they have reached. Only then do I enter in my seminars into a discourse between traditional education and Waldorf education. For students who wish to deepen their examination of Waldorf education further, I offer a reading colloquium. In it we read texts from Steiner and discuss what these approaches mean for ourselves, our life and our education.

TF | Why are you working as Waldorf teachers today?

MB | I  want to give the students access to anthroposophy – in my view that is only possible through people who are authentic. I want to be someone like that but also someone who communicates lifelong spiritual foundations to the students.

FB | I myself have experienced how Maximilian Buchka can inspire people. That is one of the reasons why I am a Waldorf teacher today – just as Saint-Exupéry said words to the effect that if you want to build a ship then don’t round up a whole lot of men to bring wood but teach the longing for the wide, endless ocean. I am a Waldorf teacher out of conviction, I experience every day how this system of education proves its worth, how it supports the children. For the first time in my professional career I feel supported and authentic.

The questions were asked by Tatjana Fuchs, public relations officer at Alanus University.