Ausgabe 09/23

Waldorf education. Yesterday's future – (II): The beauty of revolution

Walter Riethmüller

Enabling relationships with interpersonal resonance is the subject of education if it is serious about successful relationships between pupils and teachers as a motivation for learning. Education researcher Joachim Bröcher describes the current situation of academics as being a constant search in the same room, «instead of simply going outside and opening their eyes». Because it is only through free thinking that «completely new perspectives suddenly emerge».

Here, the uncertainty of the present becomes the condition for thinking in new perspectives. We could speak of beauty in statu nascendi if idea, function, form and material were in a harmonious state of flux and did not rigidify. Beauty in this uncertain sense would arouse curiosity, would be infectious, opening up. But are Waldorf schools and their education beautiful in this sense, and do they live the present in this uncertainty, open to development and the future? Or are they stuck in old thought structures and patterns of behaviour that have become entrenched in their study of Rudolf Steiner's educational lectures? Does this mean they are no longer free to think in new perspectives? After all, a hundred years ago, the Waldorf school set out with the aim of opening up new perspectives.

On the eve of the first course for teachers, in August 1919, Steiner explained how Waldorf schools should be: reforming, revolutionising, a cultural act and thus practical proof of the penetrating power of the anthroposophical orientation towards the world. He called for adaptation to «what will be far removed from our ideals», including beyond the school as a microcosm. Teachers should be «people of culture to the highest degree». They must have a «lively interest» in the world and develop enthusiasm for school and work tasks. «This requires elasticity of spirit and dedication to our task. Only from this can we draw what can be obtained today if interest is turned, firstly, to the great need of the time and, secondly, to the great tasks of the time.»

Steiner therefore took a risk in the state of uncertainty of the present: he relied on people of culture and rejected school as an executive organ of an educational programme. All of this is well known. It is therefore all the more surprising that his call for free action in education seems to have had little impact on the minds of those involved in the school movement as it has grown and become more distant from its origins.

Literally everything is at stake for pupils in our world today. Like the other types of school, the Waldorf school – as an institution of yesterday – was deliberately founded in the hope of starting something revolutionary with new teaching methods even though in a traditional form. But is it currently really still beautiful?

A look at the social status of parents' homes alone reveals little of a revolutionary nature, but instead stabilising potential: reliability in the curriculum and class teacher system; work placements, class trips and class plays – and this has been the case for a hundred years. For all their appreciation of this arsenal from the past, alumni are resolutely calling for reforms. The esoteric flavour should be put aside and the «entire system should be adapted to the present time».

In addition, as seen from outside, there is the museum-like reference to Rudolf Steiner. This causes irritation about how his personality and his work are dealt with. Presence of mind is needed, but it seems to have been lost. The impression is one of dogmatism and hypocrisy, outdated views and an affinity for conspiracy theories.

It is not about a Waldorf school with an esoteric flavour, but about a Waldorf-specific taste of spirituality and esotericism in teaching practice. Steiner favoured an esotericism of encouragement and enthusiasm that is ignited by the experience of truth. His educational works don't contain esoteric concepts for the world, but rather a spiritual anthropology with multiple perspectives that is accessible to a broad public. He explains the understanding of child development in Waldorf education and a supportive educational approach that expands the predominantly neuro-centred view to include a spiritual understanding of the human being.

Waldorf education is not possible without the reference to Steiner; this is essential and inescapable. Otherwise, it is subsumed as one of many progressive educational school systems. However, its approach to anthroposophical principles must be scrutinised and provided with new perspectives through individual study. It may then be possible to reveal the energetic core of the education that is inextricably linked with Steiner's personality.

As with all arts – and education is decidedly a specific art – it is possible to arrive at a new understanding by going back to its sources: spirituality and revolutionary spirit were and are the driving forces behind Waldorf education and schools.

With a new reading, the future may lie in the past. The option of «Waldorf education without Steiner», or anthroposophy, would no longer be available. However, there are many tasks associated with this in terms of future viability. Steiner's statements on education must be evaluated against the background of current science. Methodological suggestions must be permanently tested in practice. The uncritical implementation of Steiner's recommendations for teaching practice is just as unacceptable as ignoring them. Curriculum content must be adapted to the times, and also discarded as a result of current scientific findings. The current global, universal, decolonised understanding of history gives rise to fundamentally questioning and revising Steiner's view of history.

Note: An unabridged version of this series can be found under the title Waldorfpädagogik – Die Zukunft von gestern at: ars-studien.de (with the option to download)

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