by Wendy Brown, director of Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy
Perhaps you have looked in the Rudolf Steiner Centre's window on your way to the Village Market on a Saturday morning. You likely saw 16 or 17 people sitting in a circle. Perhaps they were talking earnestly, perhaps listening to a lecture, perhaps laughing uproariously or talking in small groups. They may have been painting in vibrant water colour or sculpting with clay, many for the first time.
What is this group? It is Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy. Designed as its name suggests it has just graduated its 11th class. It is for all interested in the basic concepts and practice of anthroposophy, and is a pre-requisite for entering our teacher education programs.
Anthroposophy-wisdom of the human being- is the name Rudolf Steiner gave to his philosophy and work. It describes a path of self development emphasizing clear thinking, careful observation, refinement of feeling and strengthening of will.
Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy - in house - is tailored to fit in with a busy schedule and can answer the longing felt by many thoughtful people today for meaning and spiritual substance in life. It provides a systematic exploration of the ways in which anthroposophy fosters the connection between the spiritual and the practical, nourishes the inner life, opens up creativity, and can be a basis for service in the world. The full certificate program is 190 hours in length and consists of 31 Saturdays, plus two Sundays and two Friday evenings.
Thinking, feeling and willing are familiar concepts in anthroposophy. The first term is based largely on thinking as we approach the vast body of knowledge offered by anthroposophy. The second (winter) term more on feeling as we explore our own biography and experience destiny learning. In the third or spring term we work more with the will, exploring anthroposophical work in the world, for example by visiting a biodynamic farm and considering the basics of anthroposophical medicine. In the third term students also present a paper to their classmates. While the topic is of their own choice it must come out of some aspect of the year's work. This is a chance to really come to grips with a topic of interest. From The Meaning of Children's Drawings to the Three Fold Social Order to How Modern Brain Research Supports Waldorf Education, these research papers are probably the most challenging as well as the most fun parts of the year. They are also transformative for many, suggesting ways in which they may indeed become "of service to the world".
Some people shrugged off the “Occupy” protesters because they didn’t seem to have clearly focused goals, whereas the reason for that was they saw that what is needed is more than a little tinkering around the edges. We need a radical re-think of our whole system.
Our social setup is not human. A whole human being has basically three kinds of activities, exemplified in head, heart and hands. You don’t use your head to hammer nails. Nor do you expect to think with your hands and feet. And caring about others doesn’t come from either, but from the heart. If we are not just to become widgets in a profit-making machine, our society needs to reflect those facts.
There is such an approach, which has been around for 90 years, but one must look at the whole package before trying to judge it. Dare to imagine the following.
The ideals of the French Revolution still inspire us all: LIBERTY! EQUALITY ! FRATERNITY! The trouble is that they pull in different directions and contradict each other, hence cannot all be guaranteed by a unitary government. Decentralization is not enough. They need to be applied each in a functionally separate sphere.
FREEDOM, or liberty, belongs primarily to those areas of life where we develop and express ourselves as individuals. Here we are obviously not equal in our talents and abilities, although the opportunity to develop them should be available equally to all. Science, arts, philosophy, religion, education, therapy, sports and leisure activities all belong in this CULTURAL SPHERE.
EQUALITY belongs to those areas where our worth and dignity simply as human beings is at stake. Universal human rights apply regardless of wealth, ability, sex or race. This is the only proper sphere of government. Its sole task should be to safeguard these rights and mediate between the other two spheres, in this RIGHTS SPHERE.
BROTHERHOOD, or fraternity, is necessary for our physical survival. Resources are limited. Work must be done to feed, clothe and house ourselves, but no individual, or even nation, can do it all. Through cooperation and the division of labour, we attain the efficiency necessary for this ECONOMIC SPHERE.
Our problems arise through the intrusion of one of these spheres into another and the resulting confusion of operating principles. What are these principles?
In the cultural sphere, whether it is invention, art or sports, we want to be free to express ourselves as much as possible. Out of the infinite creativity of the individual, we always want to do more, and do it better—to give ourselves.
In the true economic sphere, on the other hand, everything is polar opposite. Here we are always trying for efficiency, to save work, to do less. Necessity calls for cooperation and division of labour.
Because superior ability naturally rises to the top, the cultural sphere develops—rightly—a hierarchical rather than democratic structure. As we all want the benefit of the leading person’s talents or insight, we put that person on stage, or make him/her the head of an enterprise. To try to abolish hierarchy also abolishes excellence and encourages mediocrity.
The economic sphere on the other hand, should be built on service. We each lend a hand and do what we can for the common good.
It is only the rights, or middle, sphere, that is actually democratic. As we have each only one equal vote, the government should only be able to pass laws that affect everyone equally. Even if there is a majority vote, it should not be able to favour any group, or religion, language, or business.
The chief person, here, is not the one who wields power, but the one who mediates, who is aware of all that goes on and focuses it to allow it to come to balance in a just way. He/she is the heart, not the head, of the body social.
Then we have the head, heart and hands, like a real person. It can also link on to older trinitarian concepts like spirit, soul and body, or thinking, feeling and willing. Our present system is not human. It is based on a materialistic view of the world, and as the economic sphere is the only one that can be conceived in entirely materialistic terms, it has come to dominate society.
ECONOMIC SPHERE: A country is not a business. If the government would leave the economic sphere to itself, pork-barrelling would end. The economic sphere however would have to organize itself into associations—say, one for the clothing industry, one for the transport industry, etc.—where manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers, would get together and end the wasteful duplication and competition. If a company cannot cover its costs, other companies could do the brotherly thing and subsidize it. They would also take over services like roads, sewage, water, electricity, etc. and find the cheapest way to cover them properly.
Virtually all the money would be generated by this economic sphere and its main business--creating and supplying commodities--and it would support the other two. What however is a commodity?
Labour is not a commodity. Whatever persuades one to work—interest, compulsion, or even force—the effort put in is a bit of oneself, freely given, and there is no monetary equivalent for it. It is demeaning, almost an insult, a kind of slavery, to be paid for it. Thus one’s pay should be determined not by production costs, but by the rights sphere. One should be paid what one needs to support oneself and one’s dependents, and to be available to serve the economy. The astronomical salaries of some executives have obviously no relation to needs.
Land is not a commodity, as it is just “found”. To tie up capital in such assets, instead of letting the money flow, is one cause of inflation. Likewise, minerals are just “found” in the earth, although one can charge for the labour of extracting them. To use land for producing food, or growing lumber, is something else, a means of production. Different again is using it for space for dwellings, roads, recreation, etc. All land should be simply held in a kind of stewardship, managed by community-based foundations (cultural sphere).
CULTURAL SPHERE: Everything produced by the cultural sphere should be supported by gifts, as there is again no monetary equivalent. Education, the arts, religion, even medical treatment, (if not medicines) could be paid for this way. There are medical clinics in the U.K now that operate solely on the gifts from grateful patients.
If it must be done through taxes, it must be really “arm’s length”, to preserve the freedom of the cultural sphere. Parents must be free to choose the kind of education they want for their children, perhaps by giving them a “voucher” to take to the school. Likewise the curriculum and standards of schools and universities should be left to them, to coordinate if they wish. People will find what they want.
This is where competition belongs—in the cultural sphere. As depending on gifts for one’s livelihood however can be risky, possibly artists, performers, doctors, ministers, etc. could be given a modest income as a basis.
It is the cultural sphere that makes things interesting or beautiful, such as in designing a new style of dress or architecture.
Thus creativity has a hand also in the economic sphere. Also when someone’s ingenuity invents a new process whereby a product can be made more efficiently, hence cheaper or quicker, one can charge the same and reap a modest profit until others catch up and do the same. This is legitimate profit, and it is accomplish¬ed by intellect, which works in the opposite direction from manual work. One's capi¬tal, in the end, thus is literally one's mind or talents, and belongs to the cultural sphere.
It can even be argued that profit belongs to no one in par¬ticular, but to society as a whole, through its cultural sphere. The inventor or designer after all developed his/her ability through his/her educa¬tion and training.
Similarly ideas as such cannot really belong to anybody, although the credit for producing them can. Hence a copyright or patent, i.e. the right to use the ideas in production, can be granted to some¬one for a time.
Profit, thus, originating from the cultural sphere, should return to the same sphere to be guided further. That means in effect that it should continue to be in the hands of individuals, not imper¬sonal corporations. Capital, or its expression as a factory or means of production, thus should not simply be inherited, nor sold to the highest bidder, let alone speculated with, but res¬ponsibly passed on into hands as capable as those that made the profit in the first place.
This could be done by some foundation of the cultural sphere, such as banks could become. Capital is the life-blood of new enterprises, the means for carrying out free initiatives. To take it all away as if it were a sin, is itself a sin against possibilities of development.
On the other hand, at present it is assumed the entrepreneur can do whatever he likes with it--enrich himself or use it to build up the business further until it becomes a huge economic power centre, a monopolistic source of artificially raised prices. This is a key source of the present excesses of capitalism.
Essentially profit should be seen as held in trust by the profit-maker. Some of it should go to that person as reward (besides his wages, which do not count as profit) but the bulk of it should be passed on either to fund other new enterprises, or to support cultural activity such as education, research, arts, reli¬gion, etc. which must ultimately be supported from this sphere in some way.
In this way, although at first glance a considerable sacri¬fice seems to be asked of the entrepreneur, he¬/she would still derive some benefit directly, and indirectly we would all bene¬fit. The difficulty of this point arises from the fact that "freedom" for many of us has not yet matured to where it becomes aware of its other side--responsibility. But we are closer than we were.
One of our greatest problems however is that we have let competition take over the economic sphere. One can see on every side how the drive for profits has corrupted activities which should be based on service.
In health care, for instance, Big Pharma takes in a greater proportion of profit than almost any other business. It uses, for instance, fraudulent science, where adverse effects are suppressed, to push their products, as has been repeatedly proven. It likewise takes advantage in the USA of the suspiciously frequent interchange of staff between them and the FDA. For nearly a century, they have increasingly used propaganda to spread fear of alternative methods, so that even doctors no longer know or understand them. If even one person dies from an alternative method, there is a huge uproar about “quackery”. Meanwhile, in the typical year of 2009, 37,485 people died in the USA from taking their prescribed medicines--more than from traffic accidents.
Or take agriculture. To make more money, entrepreneurs persuade farmers to convert to monoculture, which is more efficient, but over the years makes the soil unbalanced and arid. The big chemical companies then step in with their fertilizers. Becoming even more one-sided, the soil breeds weeds and insect pests. The companies push their herbicides and insecticides. When these also kill the good bacteria and the soil becomes dependent on the sprays, the farmers have also to buy their genetically modified seed, as no other will work anymore. They cannot even keep seed for the next year, as it will not work. Big factory farms are thus built up, which produce bigger cash crops, though of nutritionally inferior food, and farmers are forced to keep buying their chemical products. In India, thousands of poor farmers, driven to despair by all this, have committed suicide.
Farmers using organic and biodynamic methods have already proven that good crops can be produced without the chemical fertilizers and sprays. Nor can the excuse be used that they are needed to feed the world’s expanding population. On the contrary, it has been shown that organic methods, used by small farmers, would work best.
Much more could be said about both these areas, including for instance about the environment, but they illustrate the tremendous damage done by purely profit-based free-market thinking.
The most basic economic values are created by human labour on what nature offers us. A legitimate price can thus be asked for the products of this work, and there is such a thing as a “right price” which can be established by the associations.
Prices, in a service-based economy, would have a real relation to production costs. Money, today, however, has become disconnected from the real economy. A prime example is the stock market. The value of a stock is based not on the real value of the plant--the means of production-- but on its hypothetical expected value, usually several times the actual value, and it does not decline as the plant wears out.
Hence these shares, which may long ago have ceased to have any real relation to the creating of actual com¬modities, continue a kind of ghost-like existence, continuing to pay dividends and further fuel inflation. Individuals who amass enough shares can wield enormous power, but may have no real interest in the company. If the price is right, they may sell them in a moment.
Thus we have today the bizarre spectacle of thousands of investors all around the world nervously watching every twitch of the stock market, ready to leap into action to exploit it to their own advantage. But what are they watching? Simply how many stocks are sold, and the effect of that on prices.
Money should represent something, but it has become abstract—something in itself. Hence now money can make money, with no work or value involved, and the result is a kind of runaway cancer in the economy.
It is clearly seen in credit, which is regarded as the main problem at the moment. Nowadays, a bank is allowed to lend out ten times more money than it actually has—sometimes more. This loan money is created out of thin air as it were, and when it is repaid, it disappears again. The interest paid on it, however, does not. It is real money, so to speak, so the banker grows rich. Meanwhile you may have created something worthwhile, but you are left with no money, and will have also contributed a bit to inflation.
That interest money can then also be invested by the banker, the interest compounded and again money makes money. People are deliberately kept somewhat in the dark about how all this works, and so we have astronomical debts between countries that actually are largely a sort of fiction, and could all be cancelled without any effect on the real economy. That economy of real values is like a tiny point on which teeters an inverted pyramid of financial structures that now looks like it may collapse, the only question being when. The countries’ huge debts hang there, static, as it were, while a constant river of interest payments flow into the financiers’ pockets.
The system has become a kind of game, played by the few on top. As long as it is profitable, they keep the profits. When it goes into its cyclic recession, they get the government to bail them out. Such a system, so divorced from reality, cannot possibly sustain itself indefinitely.
At present we all live in fear that we will not have enough money. Hence the instinctive habit of greed, the constant scramble for profits, the intense competition, the over-production, the mistaken notion that constant growth is necessary to the economy, etc.
RIGHTS SPHERE: Government would be much simpler, and cheaper, if it restricted itself to universal human rights and justice. Parties might not be necessary.
If a military force is needed, that would be a government matter, as would police and a justice system. With the security of at least a basic wage behind one, a new self-respect and enthusiasm for work could awaken. If there are not enough jobs—perhaps because of improved technology--we could all work a little less and spread the jobs around. As a side-effect, all kinds of social problems would be alleviat¬ed, greatly reducing crime, and saving great expense on trials, prisons, mental hospitals, etc. Communism succeeded in doing this up to a point, but failed because it did not allow for a free cultural sphere, either inwardly or in terms of profit.
Also the urge to "become more and more" could then be shifted away from physical possessions to the mental, cultural or spiritual sphere, where it belongs.
SOURCE: These general ideas stem from Rudolf Steiner, PhD, (1861-1925), the Austrian philosopher, scien¬tist and educator, whose genius gave new creative impulses in almost every sphere of life. Among the many practical activities based on his work worldwide are the nearly 2000 Waldorf schools for general education, the many biody¬namic farms, medical clinics, therapeutic communities, artistic, religious and scientific initiatives, and even banks. The above brief sketch of one aspect of his work gives little idea of the depth or breadth of that work, but perhaps suffices for the present purpose.
Although his attempt to introduce these ideas of social reform into the chaos of Germany after the First World War was apparently one of his few failures, he was not disheartened. He said the basis for the ideas is so inherent in human nature that people will have to come to them sooner or later.
Obviously these policies would have prevented the rise of Nazism, which he apparently foresaw. They could certainly have prevented the conflicts at present tearing apart many countries. There are groups all over the world quietly promoting them, although they are much better known in Europe than here.
These ideas for instance helped bring down the Berlin Wall, as one of the original members of the Reform Party in East Germany, lawyer Rolf Heinrich, wrote a book incorporating them, smuggled it out into West Germany to be published, and was expelled from the Communist Party for it. They also had a good deal to do with the founding and rise of the Green Party in West Germany (although their policies are not identical). More recently, Nicanor Perlas ran for President in the 2010 election in the Philippines with the aim of introducing these policies.
They also influenced E.F.(Small is Beautiful) Schumacher. Michael Novak put out somewhat similar ideas in Forbes magazine. Some groups are also living them to the extent possible in small communities, such as the Camphill communities for the mentally handicapped that I lived and worked in for 14 years, in dif¬ferent coun¬tries. And some Waldorf Schools pay teachers according to how many dependents they have. Steiner did not spell out all the details of how to carry out these ideas because various practical arrangements are possible, depending on the local circumstances. The important thing is to grasp the principles.
Opposition to these ideas is likely, but not on grounds of their unreasonableness. The most furious opposition will probably come from those with the most invested—literally—in the present system. Some will object through sheer inability to imagine such sweeping changes, i.e. through prejudice and inertia. Some will object to specific points, forgetting that other things would also have changed, nullifying that problem. Some cynics may think people are not idealistic enough to live this way, but they might be surprised, even if it takes some time to adjust.
It might not be possible to institute such changes unless there is a collapse of the present system, but that could happen. The world’s economic systems, and many of its political systems, are in crisis. Thousands are protesting in dozens of cities, and millions more are sympathizing, even among the rich. Rudolf Steiner said these ideas must come someday.
Perhaps that time has come.
* * *
Steiner, Rudolf: The Threefold Social Order, Anthroposophic Press, R.R.4, Hudson, N.Y. 12534; 2nd edit. 1966, 82 pp.
Steiner, Rudolf: The Renewal of the Social Organism, Anthroposophic Press,1985, 151 pp. Foreword by Joseph Weizenbaum
Steiner, Rudolf: The Social Future, Anthroposophic Press; 3rd edit. 1972, 151 pp.
Steiner, Rudolf: World Economy, Rudolf Steiner Press, 35 Park Road, London, NW1 6XT, U.K.; 3rd edit. 1972, 188 pp.
Alexandra, John: Mephistopheles’ Anvil; Rose Harmony Publications, 338 pp. 1996, Spring Valley, N.Y.
Budd, Christopher Houghton, Rudolf Steiner, Economist, New Economy Publications, Canterbury, Kent, U.K. 1996
Budd, Christopher Houghton, Prelude in Economics, New Economy Publications, 1999
Large, Martin: Social Ecology--Exploring Post Industrial Society; Self-published,
Also: Virtually all of Rudolf Steiner’s books and lectures are available for free downloading at the Rudolf Steiner Archive: www.rsarchive.org
"Making Space for the Mysterious." has been our guiding theme this summer. Friends, atists and teachers have come from near and far bringing with them more joy, wonder and creativity than ever we could have imagined. We are grateful for the collaborative, creative environment that has grown through our work and play together. It has been an inspiring summer. and, no sooner has the Summer Festival concluded than plans are already underway for next summer.
We have compiled a photo album of images from the festival on Facebook
The role of anthroposophy in helping us to understand the central importance of the Christ in human and earthly evolution is perhaps the most difficult aspect of anthropsophy (and Waldorf education) to explore let alone understand. No matter what your upbringing or current spiritual path, wrestling with the notion of the Christ Jesus pushes most everyone's buttons. It is hard work and forces one to challenge basic assumptions, prejudices and commonly held beliefs.
And yet, in order to understand an evolving picture of human consciousness and the essential elements that each culture has contributed to human development, one cannot help but confront the pivotal role that the high spiritual being Christ played. Far beyond belief or worship many aspects of the humans' view of self, nature and divinity fundamentally changed at this point in history.
Rudolf Steiner in his spiritual science gives us invaluable tools for helping us to not only understand, but to actively work with the reality that a high spiritual being incarnated, suffered a human experience, died and then ressurected back into the spiritual world. This truly was a turning point in time that changed human beings and the earth itself. This divine mystery stretches our capacities to remain calm in cognitive dissonance as we enter in realms of the mysterious about much can be learned through patient, opeminded research. Here is how Steiner describes the role of anthroposophy in approaching the true nature of the Christ:
" The aim of spiritual science, and of all that can be acquired as spirit-seed by spiritual teachings is to enable us to comprehend the Christ power. One can not say that Anthroposophy is Christianity, but it is right to say that what has been given to the earth and to man by the Christ Principle will gradually come to be understood by means of the tool of Anthroposophy. By being understood it will increasingly become spirit-seed and, more and more, that mighty impulse will be poured into earthly evolution. For man has need of it so that, having sunk into the depths of matter, he may tear himself free again and return to his spiritual home."
- Rudolf Steiner from Universe, Earth and Man
It is exciting to see schools beginning to value the primacy of the relationship between teachers and students and to give time (years) for these relationships to develop. This speaks to the core of Waldorf education, which cultiveates long term relationships as an essential part of in stable and healthy child development. - editor
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 22, 2012
The New York Times
Usually when you visit a school you walk down a quiet hallway and peer in the little windows in the classroom doors. You see one teacher talking to a bunch of students. Every 50 minutes or so a chime goes off and the students fill the hallway and march off to their next class, which is probably unrelated to the one they just left.
When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.
The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.
The New American Academy is led by Shimon Waronker, who grew up speaking Spanish in South America, became a U.S. Army intelligence officer, became an increasingly observant Jew, studied at yeshiva, joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, became a public schoolteacher and then studied at the New York City Leadership Academy, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the former New York Schools chancellor, Joel Klein, founded to train promising school principal candidates.
Just another average résumé.
At first, he had trouble getting a principal’s job because people weren’t sure how a guy with a beard, kippa and a black suit would do in overwhelmingly minority schools. But he revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.
He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.
He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country. For the grandly titled New American Academy, he didn’t invent new approaches, as much as combine ones from a bunch of other schools.
Like the Waldorf schools, teachers move up with the same children year after year. Like Hogwarts, students are grouped into Houses. Like Phillips Exeter Academy, students are less likely to sit at individual desks than around big tables or areas for teacher-led discussions.
The students seem to do a lot more public speaking, with teachers working hard to get them to use full sentences and proper diction. The subjects in the early grades (the only ones that exist so far) are interdisciplinary, with a bias toward engineering: how flight, agriculture, transportation and communications systems work. The organizational structure of the school is flattened. Nearly everybody is pushed to the front lines, in the classroom, and salaries are higher (master teachers make $120,000 a year).
The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.
For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.
The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.
Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student. By insisting on constant informal contact and by preserving that contact year after year, The New American Academy has the potential to create richer, mentorlike or even familylike relationships for students who are not rich in those things.
It’s too soon to say if it will work, especially if it’s tried without Waronker and the crème-de-la-crème teachers he has recruited, but The New American Academy is a great experiment, one of many now bubbling across the world of education.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 23, 2012, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: The Relationship School
We just completed the first of two weeks of our summer festival and the mood has been tremendous. The courses have been well received, the food prepared by Hesperus excellent and a lively mood of discourse, sharing and joy pervasive. I'd like to thank the fifty plus people tha came together this past week and invite anyone who is still considering joining in the festival to coke at 8:15 on Monday morning and register. There are still a few spaces left.
One participant described her week as:
"Inspiration! Invigoration! Preparing me for a new gesture (in my teaching)."
Is it possible to value and actively work with spirituality in a non-sectarian school setting? And if so, how can balance be established between individual freedom on one hand and the desire for institutional cohesion on the other?
Independent Waldorf schools face this difficult challenge in every community in which they operate. Each school is born out of the unique efforts of local people to meet the educational needs of their children: body, mind and spirit. They have to carefully balance the essential respect all people desire for their religious and spiritual choices with the overarching needs to build a spirit-filled and unified school. Each community, geographic region and culture requires a unique spirit of education to serve the needs of its children and their families. A Waldorf school must respect the heritage and beliefs of its members and seek for ways to bridge differences between people.
It is a complex balancing act especially as Waldorf schools now exist in countries whose spiritual/religious outlooks include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Judaism and Secular Humanism. Needless to say each school must adapt to its circumstances. While respecting individual freedoms they also need to build fellowship with in their communities as well as with other Waldorf schools. Finding this delicate balance between personal and universal aspects of spirituality strengthens Waldorf school communities. Members must necessarily take an interest in and learn about one another and will inevitably face conflicts. These cannot be avoided. In fact, conflicts are only made more intractable through avoidance. Developing and maintaining a spirit-filled educational community requires conscious effort and effective strategies for working through the challenges that arise.
To illuminate these ideas I would like to share a process I recently employed in working with the newly forming Saltwater School in Courtenay, BC. I was invited to help them identify and develop the pedagogy and unique spirit of their new school. Over the course of a week, I met with their faculty, board and broader community. Each member brought a personally unique worldview and yet had a strong desire to create an educational community that openly nurtures the whole human being: body, soul and spirit.
I spoke openly with them about potentially difficult and divisive issues connected with spirituality in Waldorf education. Experience has shown that it is best to try to work together through challenging differences. This supports peoples’ ability to stay open, thus, withholding judgment and assisting their process of building a tolerant and creative learning community. No one has to agree with anything someone else says, but it is essential to talk openly about spirituality and to actively listen to one another. Tolerance alone for another’s viewpoint is not enough; interest in others’ ideas and beliefs and seeking for an overarching spirit for the school are essential to building a spirit-filled school community.
The founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, spoke to the teachers of the first Waldorf school (Stuttgart, 1919) about the central spiritual role of “the Christ” in the development of human consciousness. He did not mean the person Jesus, but rather the unique spiritual being and impulse that found its way into incarnation and entered (mostly unconsciously) all the world’s peoples and the earth itself. He termed it variously the “Christ Impulse”, the “Deed of Christ” or the “Representative of Humanity.” He emphasised that this universal spirit represents that which is highest and best in all humanity and impacts all people regardless of their religious persuasion or belief. This spiritual being is our potential, our inspiration, a universal teacher in our striving to be human.
This notion is challenging for most people as it runs counter to aspects of what most religions teach. Therefore, it often stirs up a wide variety of difficult feelings. Nevertheless, Steiner asserted that the Christ, the spiritual potential of all humanity, is working at the core of Waldorf pedagogy. So, while being non-denominational and open to people of all persuasions, Waldorf school members have the difficult task of also finding their own relationship with the Christ. Rather than denying this fact or trying to avoid it, it has proven most fruitful to explore the potential significance of this spiritual/religious/cultural hot-topic with eyes wide open.
At the Saltwater School, the faculty members and I began our process by listening to one another’s experiences concerning our spiritual and religious upbringing and beliefs. Each faculty member was given time to share her story. All were remarkably different, yet each contained universal elements of wanting to belong, wanting to find meaning, wanting to connect truthfully with the divine…. No interruptions or comments were permitted. When dealing with questions of spirit and peoples’ personal relationship to spirit and religion, the principles of freedom, tolerance and interest are paramount. Having established this foundation of openness and trust with one another, we read some of what Steiner had to say about the Christ Impulse to the first Waldorf teachers and then paraphrased how we each understood those ideas. We then discussed our own responses to these thoughts. The conversations were rich, open and wide-ranging. We drew from our hopes and fears and successfully wove together the strands of our lives into a robust warp that could then serve the cloth of the whole school community.
We built a collegial vessel of trust by following a process of listening, speaking, studying and then discussing guiding thoughts, questions and concerns. As our work unfolded, the teachers felt more and more united, that they were all pulling in unison. They created a sound foundation of openness and trust. They then decided to work together to create their first school festival, the autumn celebration of Michaelmas, in a way that would both strengthen the unique spirit of the school and respect the spiritual faiths of their community. Coming to their newly found unity gave them the requisite courage and insight to design a festival appropriate for their school community.
These teachers stand at the core of their new school. They are both its founders and its guiding lights. The manner in which they choose to teach, govern the school and communicate about their work each day impacts the healthy development of their school. Their deeds individually and as a group either support or challenge this development. Their courage to take interest in one another’s beliefs as well as their willingness to work towards an understanding of spirituality and Waldorf education has helped facilitate a healthy collegial atmosphere. Furthermore, their example lives as a guiding inspiration for the entire school community. The rigorous process they went through demonstrates that it is possible to work with spirituality in a non-sectarian school to foster trust, improved communication and colleagueship. Their honest quest for knowledge has strengthened not only their collegial work but the very heart of their school. Their living example inspires trust and communicates the courageous vision of their initiative to the wider world. The school community will in turn benefit not only from the care and guidance these professionals offer their children but also from their earnest human striving they have exemplified to understand and work through potentially contentious issues. These colleagues have demonstrated a way to balance the essential needs each individual has for freedom and respect with a community’s need for cohesive vision and action. Their remarkable dedication to working through differences has strengthened their ability to nurture the unique spirit that guides their school.
Waldorf Education arose as an impulse for personal, cultural and spiritual renewal after the tragedy of the First World War. The school was founded in Stuttgart through the generosity of Emil Molt, a wealthy industrialist in collaboration with Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher. Their aim was to provide a well rounded, holistic education for the children of the workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory. This was not an elite private academy, but one founded for all children of workers and those from the surrounding community. Since the successful founding of this first school, Waldorf education has organically spread creating over 1600 independent Waldorf schools on five continents.
This article first appeared as Spirituality and Education: Personal and Universal Aspects of Spirituality in Education Forming a School- in the online journal "Antistasis"
Warren Lee Cohen, M.Ed.
Director of Teacher Education at Rudolf Steiner Centre TorontoReferences
Astin, Alexander Why Spirituality Deserves a Central Place in Liberal Education,
Liberal Education, v90 n2 p34-41, 2004
Molt, Emil Emil Molt And the Beginnings of the Waldorf School Movement,
Floris Books, 2000
Steiner, Rudolf Foundations of Human Experience, Steiner Books, 1996
Wright, Andrew Spirituality and Education, Routledge-Falmer, 2000
Enjoy this compelling video from our friends at the Marin Waldorf School. Why would we want anything else for our children other than healthy imaginative childhoods. There will be plenty of time for all the rest that our modern world has to bring.