“We are in a global mental health crisis!” said the organisation Save the Children on 8 October, Mental Health Day. The coronavirus crisis will go down in history not only for the Covid-19 infectious disease but also for the consequences of the measures taken with regard to the young generation. Thus the front page of the German medical journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt read on 1 October 2021 “Corona pandemic – The silent suffering of children and young people”. But we should not remain “silent” above all where we would expect ideas and actions to protect, strengthen and stabilise the youngest in our society.
This alarming situation led to an initiative group of doctors and teachers meeting at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy as early as March this year for a round table of medicine and education to discuss and develop possibilities for action. Some activities have since been started. On the one hand, a survey was carried out among parents of Waldorf pupils (ElKiCor study) in order to find out what perceptions and assessments there were among Waldorf families and Waldorf pupils about the coronavirus period, what the experiences have been with Waldorf schools and what needs and wishes have or have not been met. On the other hand, a Von Tessin Centre for Health and Education has been established at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy with the aim of collecting, documenting, making visible and networking the health-promoting activities and projects of the kindergartens and schools. A latent topic of the last months has been educational crisis intervention, a special field of the Parzival Centre Karlsruhe.
On 4 October, the Round Table was reconvened to discuss these activities, the current situation of children and young people, and the developments at our institutions. It was particularly pleasing that teachers from non-Waldorf institutions also took part.
Karin Michael described the shocking individual fates of two adolescents during the coronavirus crisis as examples from her paediatric practice. The round table discussion quickly showed how crucial the social climate of the educational institution is for the wellbeing of the children. How do we help each other to dissolve our fears – be it of infection, loss of democracy or other dangers – and develop an open climate of discussion, trust and commitment in the faculties?
Philipp Reubke from the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum reported from the international kindergarten movement. In an international comparison he noted that the so-called protective measures were weighing relatively heavily on German kindergartens. In most other countries their implementation leads to less of an oppressive atmosphere. He demanded that the children’s free play behaviour should also be kept free of “new” rules. Restoring the social basis for cooperation represented a major task for the future.
According to paediatrician Georg Soldner from the Medical Section at the Goetheanum, the coronavirus situation had exposed the weaknesses of our institutions so far and made clear the urgent tasks of the schools. Jan Vagedes, head of the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and scientific director of the Arcim Institute at the Filder Hospital, spoke about the ElKiCor study mentioned earlier which came about in collaboration with the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy and Witten-Herdecke University. The questions were largely taken from the questionnaire of the COPSY study (University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf). Four hundred and eighty four questionnaires completed by Waldorf parents were evaluated. Significant differences were found in the way Waldorf parents experienced the coronavirus period and what conclusions they drew from it.
Tomáš Zdražil from the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy reported on the new Von Tessin Centre for Health and Education. It aims to create a platform for all educational projects that strengthen child health, present best practice examples and provide information and advice for families. The foundation stones of the centre are currently being laid with Karin Michael, specialist in paediatrics and adolescent medicine at Herdecke Community Hospital.
Bernd Ruf from the Parzival Centre Karlsruhe spoke in his contribution about the uses and possibilities of emergency education as a secondary preventive measure immediately after a shock or trauma, and trauma education as a tertiary preventive measure to deal with the consequential disorders of a trauma. An initiative group has been formed to begin with the establishment of a supra-regionally active crisis education intervention centre.
Georg Soldner concluded the day with a far-sighted, radical and at the same time realistic view of our medium and long-term goals. A few quotations will succinctly illustrate the topicality of the subject matter: “The DNA of the Waldorf School is health promotion! ... We need a complete reform of the educational landscape ... A first aid mentality no longer helps ... The school is the central institution of public health ... We have to connect the educational crisis with the crisis of society as a whole.”
The Round Table forms the basis for the advisory board of the Von Tessin Centre for Health and Education, which will meet twice a year.
About the authors: Dr Karin Michael is a senior physician in the paediatric outpatient clinic at the Herdecke Community Hospital and a kindergarten and school doctor. Dr Tomáš Zdražil is a professor at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy.