Children need role models

By Werner Kuhfuss, April 2016

Werner Kuhfuss calls for the development of archetypes in kindergarten, the creation of a real theatre of life with mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, farmers, blacksmiths and artists. The author is not interested in entrenching stereotypes but primarily seeks to strengthen the masculine element in education.

We have to free ourselves from the idea that there is a fixed educational form for children. It exists as little as there is a fixed form for biographies or family life. But despite the open nature of life there are basic elements just as there are forms and colours from which paintings are created.

One of the most important basic elements which children require is the polarity of masculine and feminine. Unfortunately it is the case that the occupational profile of the female teacher is so pronounced in kindergarten, and thus so one-sided, that men – please excuse what I am about to say! – mostly only choose to pursue this job when they want to develop their soft and feminine side; that is precisely not those characteristics which the children need as a balance to the femininity of the female kindergarten teacher.

I, too, as someone who works with kindergarten children, have to ask myself: am I basically doing this to escape the hard life in other professions? I would love it if I had a seasoned craftsman in me, a carpenter, joiner or blacksmith, real life in a workshop like in olden times. Since the children only live in our current culture outwardly, but in reality pass through previous cultural epochs in their play, we should look for forms which contain the processes and products of the crafts by means of which the children can develop their play in reality.

Fortunately we have our friend Dick Verbeeck from Holland who comes for a week several times a year to fashion iron and copper chimes and gongs with hammers and tongs in a real fiery forge with the children present. The sculptor Max Meuter joined us several times until his death to work on a marble sculpture, as did the inversion mathematician Robert Byrnes who made movable models out of cardboard which the older children use with me.

We have to start with life and occupational profiles as models and something to emulate in the imitation of play. If play lacks work as a real model it remains introverted and silts up in mere dalliance which fails to give strength in later life. If the child only experiences feminine care and educational endeavour, be it ever so good and affectionate, then they will imitate this and they will lack in later life the masculine form of resistance, they will seek a niche to escape the difficulties of life today and thus also those of their own biographical development.

Fighting has to be learnt

What, then, do children need from a man, an old man who is not a seasoned tradesman but someone who rather seeks the social arts, someone who knows many manual ways of doing things and constantly invents new ones? Certainly, masculinity is a matter of the will, of concrete things and energy, of courageous advance, of an unambiguous yes or no, clear and definitive, if necessary a little earthy but with humour. The boys love it, the girls too.

A man can knock in a nail, he can carve sticks with a proper knife, and can show the children in ad hoc carving workshops inside and outside. He demonstrates how to fight with sticks, by the rules and fairly, he becomes actively involved and can let the children measure their strength against him, can wrestle and romp around with them. But that is something that has to be learnt and is the art of compensation where it is not the stronger who wins but the person who becomes more flexible in the beautiful double movement which originates in the life body.

Thus the children learn to grasp their body because it is taken hold of from outside perceptively and with dignity, something that is fluidity and musicality in the social sphere. Here masculinity is present as intelligence in activity. The arts appear, the seeds of the sciences, everything as the result of play, because that is the source of all culture.  They require the sensory and moral stimulation from outside in the role model, the masculine one and the feminine one.

Thus the rediscovery of the lever principle occurs in front of my eyes when Gian tries putting his spade under the thick tree trunk and – lo and behold – manages to roll it over! His look says to me: Did you see that? And do you understand what it means to me?

The understanding of the adult in such situations is like a blessing which continues to work for a lifetime in the child, without a word having been said. Beyond question: the child needs the maternal person at this age because actually his mother has gone and left them with strangers. The maternal, feminine envelopment is required.

But the lad also has to be there who has a joke and likes to behave mischievously, cause a bit of trouble for female ministration, otherwise the children become too virtuous. He carries pebbles in his pocket from which we can choose the most beautiful, and always a penknife. And small white tins which contain a selection of salt crystals, bitter gentian roots, all kinds of herbs, but also – with luck – pieces of brown rock sugar.

He has a workshop, perhaps just a corner with things somewhere in the room, perhaps a real proper big one like we have had for a number of years where a multitude of things can be found: curled wood shavings, coffee grounds, clay, plaster, wire, pieces of glass, tin, straps, string, rope and paper.

Yes, and there are crown caps from beer bottles which can be made to glow with a Bunsen burner and forged into clinking coins. Every man, every woman can, when they are together with children, develop an archetype: the mother, the father, the artist, the gardener, the baker, but also the labourer and farmer; indeed, why should there not be a grandmother and grandfather in kindergarten, rehearsed artistically and with humour, as part of a real theatre of life?

“Teacher” is not an archetype

Then the teacher would disappear and be transformed into the image which is inherent as such in his or her soul. Forgive me, but teacher is not an archetype for children – all good teachers know that!

Being active from out of the depths of our own soul and adding in the subjectivity which the artists needs to be creative. The children can immerse themselves in what comes to expression in that way. Then unexpectedly they become friends, men friends and women friends, if we do it properly and can maintain the connection, throughout life. Such friendships, when children have turned into young people and adults, show that we have not deceived them educationally.

Let those make arcs of observation who want to be observed themselves. Because it is not we who possess the wisdom but the children’s souls still under the immediate influence of heaven with their angels who are still very close to them in play and sleep. But it is we who recognise that wisdom and should affirm it through our workmanlike activity – with a light step on the heavy cobblestones of physical reality: preparing the way with and for the children, above us the stars, the sun and the moon.

Note: There is an impressive account of masculinity and femininity as archetypes in Rudolf Steiner’s lecture about the Hibernian mysteries, GA 232.

About the author: Werner Kuhfuss has developed the “Sinnbildung im Kindesalter” project at the “Bienenkorb” kindergarten in Waldkirch-Kollnau (Elztal) with the older children since 2000.


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