Who’s actually learning here?

Mathias Maurer

That is what we want – but do we always act like that? Because children need free space, freedom to develop their personality. Making such a demand is in itself an issue in education policy: the demand that educational action can be undertaken purely out of love for the developing human being without a specific intent; that it can be attentive, observing, supporting without ulterior educational motives, without a didactically packaged orientation towards learning targets. Standards are the death of freedom because the latter always contains individual diversity.

Wrapping ourselves in the flag of a free education system and making a fuss about being prescribed what to do by state-sanctioned school leaving exams and the needs of business – but at the same time going along with these things because the pupils should, after all, leave school with a certificate – shows little consistency. Even if there were a specific Waldorf school leaving certificate which was recognised by everyone – which encouraged pupils to reflect themselves on their learning behaviour and the growth in their knowledge and skills – the problem is more deep-seated:

This is about dictating to pupils how they should be, what and how they should learn – be it through the teachers who know, for as long as they can maintain their knowledge advantage, how a young person should acquire knowledge about the world and learn; or be it through the parents who are aware of the opportunities of which their children will not be able to take advantage if they leave school without a certificate.  

Rudolf Steiner confronts the professional certainty of teachers – which is easily transferred to parents in their attitude to bringing up their children because there is agreement on one thing: the pupils and children should learn something! – with a startling paradox. In a lecture only one year after the Waldorf school was founded, he says that lessons were abysmal unless we asked ourselves as teachers: “Who has actually learnt the most here? It is I the teacher!” Even if we followed the most wonderful educational principles and the best masters of education “we would most certainly have taught badly”.

But we would teach in the best possible way “if we have gone into the class each morning in fear and trepidation, unable to rely on ourselves to any great extent, but can then say to ourselves at the end of the year: you yourself have actually learnt the most during this time.” We should constantly have the “genuine” feeling: “You grow in helping the children to grow.” That contained a “particular secret”: We would have taught well “if you did not know the things you have learnt by the end of the year, and it would be harmful if you had already known at the beginning of the year what you have learnt at the end of the year”.

If a teacher themselves becomes a learner, their pupils will also learn – quite naturally – with or without a school leaving certificate.