Current topics – Salutogenesis

By Michaela Glöckler, October 2018

On 24 August 1922, Rudolf Steiner formulated the remit of “all education and teaching” in the following words: “It should strive to turn children into human beings who are physically healthy and strong with freedom of soul and clarity of spirit. Physical health and strength, freedom of soul and clarity of spirit comprise what humanity will need most in its future development also in a social respect.” (GA 305).

The Waldorf curriculum is designed accordingly. All the lesson content aims to provide the physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation which is necessary for a healthy development. Even if Steiner did not coin the term “salutogenesis” – that was the American medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky (1923-1994) – we can nevertheless say today that Steiner was the founder of a system of education which is guided by salutogenesis.

Antonovsky’s salutogenesis research is centred on the development of a sense of coherence. He discovered that the more a person has the feeling that they understand the world, that they can give meaning to their experiences and that they are able to do the things they want to do, the healthier they are and remain. Enabling this was the task of education, even if Antonovsky does not go into details in this respect. Steiner, in contrast, emphasises the role of feeling in the whole of his lesson and teaching methodology. “The aesthetic sense contains the seed from which the intellectual aspect should develop.” (GA 305). In other words, ideas, intellectual matters, should never be taught without reference to how a person feels, what it’s all about. In the so-called “Sunday service” for children, which he introduced as part of the free Christian religion lessons for children without a religious affiliation, he formulated his version of the threefold sense of coherence: “We learn because we want to understand the world. We learn because we want to work in the world. The love of people for one another gives vitality to all human work. Without such love human existence becomes desolate and empty. Christ is the teacher of human love.” (GA 269).

It is clear that such a remit for education represents a great challenge both for teacher training and daily teaching practice. But using it as a guide and discussing it with colleagues in school also turns out to be a pillar of teacher health.

About the author: Dr. Michaela Glöckler, paediatrician, is the former head of the Medical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland.