When she was well over eighty, she still went to the Reeperbahn red-light district on Christmas Eve and invited prostitutes, the homeless and all those in need into her home in order to share what she had with them and tell them about her beloved Jesus. When she died, the family stayed away but the chapel at the cemetery was filled with many of those whom life had clearly dealt a rotten hand. The minister read out a long letter in which Aunt Ninne asked her fellow human beings for forgiveness for every sin she had ever burdened herself with, be it ever so small.
From the wild punk girl to the down-and-out drunk who held on to me for the whole time, everyone listened deeply moved. Right at the end an old lady, equally advanced in years, climbed on to the mound of earth, pointed her umbrella and eyes to heaven and called out: “Ninne, I’m happy for you, see you soon!”
Some years later, we had our first anthropology and zoology main lesson in class 4, which starts by comparing the human form with some characteristic animal species, in order then to look more closely at the human hand as the organ of our freedom and thus responsibility. A particularly well-meaning father supplemented my “Waldorf” perspectives by in parallel showing his son films of popular science about evolution and the solar system.
One morning the boy came to me and declared: “The sun is a fusion reactor!” In response to my question what that was, he answered: “These little crumbs are baked together.” Overnight, Mother Sun had turned into a soulless, abstract energy source. Only when we had spoken about the amount of love she had to have within herself to be able give her light and warmth to all plants, animals and humans in the wide world, did she turn back into a real being, notwithstanding any fusion reactor.
It’s a bit complicated, this whole thing about belief. Did the dad of my class 4 pupil understand more about the human being than Aunt Ninne because he didn’t believe in “Jesus” but random material evolution whose substances started by accident to become aware of their existence?
We should teach our children in good time not to see knowledge as something that can or, indeed, should be delegated to religious or scientific authorities, be they ever so important. Cognition, as one of our most human abilities, is always our own responsibility.
So let us teach children to ask questions, not to look away, to trust their thinking and also their imagination, and to develop their heart into an organ of cognition, including all errors and, more to the point, always the perpetual striving for truth. This is the only way that belief and cognition can find their way back together again. In human beings themselves.
Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984-2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle.