A revolutionary heart

By Mathias Maurer, July 2021

Henning Köhler died on Thursday, 8 April 2021. Since October 2009, he delivered his succinct and trenchant texts for the “Kolumne K” column month after month – which annoyed some readers and were missed by others when he had to take a few months off due to illness.

Henning Köhler. Photo: © Michael Mentzel

Henning Köhler was a fighter for children – especially for the disadvantaged. At the same time, he relentlessly exposed the defectological view of the trying-too-hard educational, therapeutic and medical little helpers. Even under the most adverse circumstances, he believed that the child had a potential for development, as if every child were a Kaspar Hauser – and thus honoured them. Michel von Lönneberga – the personification of social imposition – even became the eponymous title of one of his most widely read publications, in which he countered the myth of the child with attention deficit and their pathologisation. And he suffered when one or the other child came to him in the special needs outpatient clinic at the Janusz-Korczak Institute in Nürtingen as no longer capable of being (Waldorf) schooled.

Henning Köhler was a special needs teacher and a zoon politikon. For him, educational issues were always social and political issues as well. I remember how he took apart Michael Winterhoff’s Warum unsere Kinder Tyrannen werden (Why our children become tyrants) and Bernhard Bueb’s Lob der Disziplin (In Praise of Discipline), entirely in the spirit of Erich Fromm and his analysis of the authoritarian character. If not the Frankfurt School around Adorno, then the Achberg circle of social threefolders and artists around Beuys, Dutschke, Schilinski and Schmundt made him into the “individualistic anarchist”.

He found a more inner path around Pär Ahlbom’s “Intuitive Pedagogy”, which finds a kind of Christian deepening not least in his recent contribution “Der Mensch als Virusträger und als Ichträger”  (The human being as virus bearer and as ego bearer) in Ein Nachrichtenblatt. A week before his death, during the Easter holidays, he sent me a long manuscript entitled “Mit Kindern Leben gestalten in der Corona-Krise – Ein Elternbrief – Und ein Wort an die Jugendlichen”  (Shaping life with children in the coronavirus crisis – A letter to parents – And a word to young people) in which he urged parents to continue to “experience themselves as agents; as shapers of their lives and the lives of their children” and not to forget the “magic words of all education”: “social warmth and social beauty”.

The last column by Henning Köhler, originally intended for this issue, is published online. In it, he called for joint Easter marches with the Fridays for Future movement against disarmament and nuclear weapons. He said that Waldorf schools should stay out of party politics, but not out of central ethical, humanitarian issues. And he went on to write: “If the German Association of Waldorf Schools were to call for participation in the Easter Marches next year, I am sure many upper school pupils would enthusiastically participate. Parents and teachers too, hopefully.”

Now Henning Köhler has embarked on his spiritual Easter March.

So I thank him and to ask him to continue to accompany us from the “other” side.

“There could be a minimal ethical consensus, a level of understanding in the midst of the Babylonian confusion of languages of our time, beyond all ideological bickering, all religious and ideological boundaries: love for children.

Complete renunciation of violence towards children. Shaping society according to the best interests of the child. This is the key. The ethic under the Star of Bethlehem is Christian in the deepest sense and precisely for that reason interdenominational. Those who don’t want to hear about Christ can also be told: look at a child, really look at them, and you will encounter the miracle that within you slumbers the possibility of selfless love.”

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