Change your ways! An appeal to the Waldorf school

By Friederike Faber, February 2015

“This is necessary to prepare you for later life!” – how often have I heard this argument at the end of every discussion. How often have I allowed myself to be persuaded by this standard response from almost every teacher.

And then I began to question this statement. Of course we live in an achievement-oriented society. Of course we will be confronted in later life over and again with impersonal and unrealistic assessment methods. Of course we will also later on have to list stupid facts without knowing their context, connections, parallels and effects.

But then, should pupils like us not be taught how to deal with precisely those kinds of things? Should we not learn in such an achievement-oriented society to look beyond one or another comparative performance table and not to take them so much to heart. Should we not learn how to accept one another in our individual values despite any comparison of marks? Is it not learning which awakens interest which makes sense rather than one which consist of listing facts? When I was in middle school I always raised my hat to Waldorf schools managing to do their thing in a country dominated by state schools. But now I think that Waldorf schools make it too easy for themselves.

Everyone, I believe, is aware that marks bear no relationship to individual achievement and I also understand that it is necessary to achieve standards prescribed by the state to obtain school leaving exams recognised by the state. But I actually had a picture of my school in me in which it bridged the split between these standards and the individuality of each pupil. In my life so far I have learnt to stand by what I believe. I know that I am always as good as I can be at that particular time. I have learnt respect, appreciation and tolerance, always accompanied by people who placed great value on supporting me but never asking me to do more than I can manage and judging me. For that I am grateful.

Strong and autonomous

I have never been defined by numbers. Never have I had to experience that kind of pressure. Does it not lead to many being discouraged? I do not believe that it makes them stronger and more autonomous in later life. It makes them dull, small and insecure. And with such an inner attitude they do not feel prepared for what may come.

What would I wish the task, the responsibility and the joy of a teacher to be like? I fully agree with the view that the task consists of starting with pupils at the point they are at, accompanying them and not stuffing them full of knowledge from the top down. The focus should be on the development of creative individuals and not on raising conformist citizens. It is the responsibility of the teacher to help us future adults to develop a self-confidence which will always support us. Meanwhile I see my teachers for the best part of each weekday. And even when I start to go my own way the role models they have given me will continue to live in me. What is that if not responsibility?

I wonder whether the way that the learning content is currently communicated still has anything to do with Steiner’s basic ideas. I am not prepared to accept an “It’s no different in state schools”. That is why I am not in a state school.

I have reacted to the lesson content with a lot of defiance, rebellion and refusal to respond, something which has cost me a lot of strength and was not the right way either, I know. Currently I am trying to learn only those things I consider meaningful, and endure and stoically learn the rest to forget it again after the test.

The knowledge of centuries does not fit into 13 years

Only the lesson content which awakens interest in me (and I consider myself curious enough to be able to develop an interest in almost anything) sticks and can be combined and further worked on by me to form a greater whole. Thus I can, for example, remember lesson content from my very early years at school which was communicated to us through play and relate it to the learning content of today. That shows me that the frontal teaching methods I now experience should be questioned because they leave almost no residual effect in me. I am interested in understanding as such, in the world and life. I want to become capable of making the right judgement!

In an age in which everything develops at lightning speed, all the knowledge which has been obtained and discovered over centuries cannot be communicated in thirteen years. Perhaps school should move with the times. Perhaps it should be the task of a school to prepare its pupils for later life – but not through grading facts learnt by heart. Perhaps it should communicate the ability to identify connections, links, parallels and effects so that the learner can find their way themselves and can effortlessly adjust to new developments. Then we children can build the future.

About the author: Friederike Faber attends class 12 at the Free Waldorf School in Leipzig


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