Issue 10/23

Waldorf education Yesterday's future – Part 3: Forgetting as a responsibility

Walter Riethmüller

Where do beliefs in Waldorf education come from that do not stand up to critical scrutiny? Let us take a look at the distribution of lesson content up to year group eight at the time the Waldorf school was founded. Is the curriculum deliberately adapted to the developmental stages of humanity, and thus a plagiarism of the curriculum construct tailored to fit the biogenetic law as propagated by Tuiskon Ziller at the end of the nineteenth century, or does it follow genuine anthroposophical insights into the development of the child?

The fact that people in the Waldorf world believe the former is expressed, among other things, in the assertion that year five pupils were "real proper Greeks". This topic shows how parallels between the curriculum of the first Waldorf school and state curricula are condensed into something unquestioned and taken as self-evident, and how awareness is lost of the particular nature of the Waldorf school curriculum.

When Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf School, he was naturally concerned with the trends of his time concerning teaching method and methodology. According to Steiner, there had to be points of view other than those oriented towards natural science. For it was necessary "... to develop a new knowledge of the human being as the basis for a real art of education for the future". Steiner describes this in terms of development in seven-year periods, their metamorphoses in the seventh and fourteenth as well as incisions in the third and ninth year of life.

He characterises the metamorphosis of the powers of imitation around the seventh year of life into the child's need to absorb "what it should know, feel and want" on authority, and explains a teaching method and methodology based on the stated life changes. Steiner emphasises that the understanding of learning material should only come later in the biography: "Making the child aware of something that they do not yet understand, something that must first mature, is extremely important. And the only thing that is wrong is the principle that is so strongly emphasised today, that children should only be taught what they already understand – a principle that renders all education lifeless. Because education only comes to life when we have carried under the surface for a while what we have absorbed and then bring it up again some time later. This is very important for education from the age of seven to fifteen; then you can instil a lot into the child's soul that can only be understood later."

Forgetting and starting again

The weight of the abundance of lectures in Steiner's educational work might stand in the way of a worry-free pragmatism going forwards: how can it become light luggage?

To realise the consequence of the burden lifted, it helps to take a look at the last part of Nietzsche's metamorphoses from the first part of this series. The parable points to a possibility: innocence, forgetting, starting again – that would be a possible way of thinking and acting with the future in mind. Steiner was aware of the creative potential of the power of forgetting and he advised the teachers "... that they enter their school every morning with a virgin soul, so to speak, in order to stand before something completely new ... The ability to forget, which is only the other side of processing something, is what spiritual science teaches people, is the result of self-education through spiritual science."

Forgetting in an educational context would be a prerequisite for engaging with what is the world: this is where the medio-passive ability to transform the world comes into play, the subtle interaction of a couple's dance. Only when this open-mindedness is present can the future become tangible.
According to Steiner, there is "something fundamental in thinking and feeling onwards what has been assimilated." In this way, Steiner could have significance for the future, as a seed that continues to develop – representing the future. This requires an act of liberation from the baggage that has become habitual.

"Why not become a dancer?"

Rudolf Steiner: "Why not become a dancer, in the sense meant in Zarathustra! Live with the innermost joy in truth! There is nothing more delightful than experiencing the truth."
Waldorf education is not a programme, but is built on the responsibility of every person involved in it. Teaching lives in the grace of the moment, not through fixed assumptions and immovable intentions. Well prepared, we can get involved with the situation and the pupils – the lesson becomes a dance, is permeated by music, we are guided. This adaptation to the world based on the ability to engage is the future in the being of the moment, not plannable, but prepared in its forces. The moment of success would then be the moment of truth: the past becomes forgetting and the future. This requires people with a light touch.

Future in education is decided in the moment of the educational process, which is inconceivable without the past and present: we just have to prepare it well. In the words of Nietzsche: "How much is still possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, good dancers, high, higher! And don't forget the good laugh!"

If you are interested in the unabridged version of the series by Walter Riethmüller in german, please send an email to:


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