Thoughts from an inspiring conference
A hundred Waldorf educators, administrators and parents came together this past weekend to explore spiritual questions in Waldorf pedagogy. Dorit Winter, the director of the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training, led us with two intensive keynote lectures: "What are the esoteric roots of Waldorf education, and how are we nourished by this source?" on Friday evening and then, "How are these esoteric roots reflected in the Waldorf curriculum?" on Saturday. Dorit dove into these challenging questions with rigour and led us on a rewarding journey through many of Rudolf Steiner's core insights into the spiritual nature of the human being. It is in working through this knowledge of the true spiritual nature of the human being that Waldorf pedagogy so distinguishes itself from other streams in education. Dorit reminded us that all of anthroposophy is permeated and is founded upon the fact that the Christ Impulse plays a central role in human development and equally in the development of humanity. Christ gives to each person a living imprint of that which lies in potential for all of humanity, the possibility of becoming capable of both freedom and unconditional love. This development is not guaranteed for all people, but may come to fruition through a combination of hard work and grace.
The Christ Impulse
In Steiner’s lectures to the teachers at the first Waldorf school, he stated that the Christ is the teacher's teacher. The Christ inspires the highest self of the teacher to address that which is highest in the becoming of the child. The Christ Impulse is implicit in most of Steiner's books and lectures and is often discussed explicitly as well. There simply is no avoiding the connection between the Christ Impulse (also the Christ Being) and Waldorf education. But what does he mean by the Christ Impulse? Steiner employs a great variety of terms to characterize that which lies as a spiritual archetype for human development, the spiritual ideal towards which human beings may strive. These include: Christ Impulse, Christ, Christ Being, Representative of Humanity, Human Archetype, Macrocosm…. These represent the spiritual fount that has impacted all people regardless of race, religion or belief. In fact, Steiner describes the spiritual being, Christ as standing beyond religion (although claimed and shaped by many) and applying to all peoples. Nevertheless, this term carries with it a lot of cultural baggage and can easily be confusing. Rather than hide from this challenge and possible confusion, it is incumbent upon us as Waldorf educators to penetrate it with our conscious striving for truth. It is our task to see if actively working with these insights can inspire a deeper level of pedagogy, colleagueship and humanity.
Dorit suggested that the best way to get to know the Christ Being (Impulse) is through observing and interacting with children before the age of 3 1/2. These young children are learning at a miraculous pace how to walk, talk and then think. Never again in their lives can humans assimilate so much wisdom seemingly from thin air. This is because at this age the highest spiritual wisdom is pouring directly into developing children. They are wide open and remarkably receptive. Imagine for a moment if a person were able to learn how to learn again in this way. Imagine what might become possible. What might the adult equivalent be to learning how to walk, talk and think?
Dorit encouraged teachers to develop a "living thinking", a capacity to think that is mobile and can respond to each individual situation both creatively and responsibly. But, she cautioned that it is hard work to stay this active and open in the realm of thinking. It can at times feel like "ants swarming in your brain." This discomfort brings with it new possibilities. We can not solve existing problems with the same thinking that has led us into them. We must develop new, intuitive, interconnected thinking that can grow and change with each situation. This in fact is one of the foremost tasks of Waldorf education: to foster the capacity for living and compassionate thinking in the students. This is a path of education that leads children towards wholeness and freedom.
Dorit offered so much more with many well researched citations. Perhaps it would be best to end this report with the thought that true self confidence rests upon trust in God. This trust can become an ever-flowing fount for life and a deep source of modesty:
"Not me, but Christ in me."
Jan Ney Patterson, Dorit Winter and Warren Lee Cohen