Beyond the crisis

By Mathias Maurer, July 2021

Among the adults, parents and teachers at Waldorf schools, the spectrum of attitudes and opinions on the pandemic measures is as diverse as it is in wider society. If this were not so, we would be living in an educational bubble and not in reality.

It is therefore not surprising that in Waldorf schools, too, people come together who, in accordance with their self-perception, define the boundaries of a liberal democracy in varied ways. Since Waldorf schools define themselves as “free” schools that take on social responsibility with their educational mandate – though as free as possible from state regulations or intervention – the conflict in wider society tends to only intensify at these schools. This makes the need to maintain dialogue and mutual understanding all the greater. However, everything that can and must be demanded of an adult person in terms of willingness for dialogue and tolerance of ambiguity then fails when children are exposed to a situation that separates them or one of their classmates from the community.

What frightens pupils is becoming infectious or infected. Or possibly becoming an outright pariah if they are not tested, exempt from masks or not vaccinated. The children perceive that they are potentially a virus and are dangerous, and so is everyone else. If they test positive, they are indeed then excluded.

There is also a tendency to notice that the smaller the children are, the more sceptical the teachers become because they feel unable to teach in the sight of the masked children. On the other hand, parents put massive pressure on the schools: “We will no longer send our child to school unless masks are worn and the children are tested.” Likewise, there are parents who no longer send their children to school because they have to wear masks and have to be tested.

In middle school, the teachers observe that it is mainly those children who are able to manage their daily routine, including their homework, relatively independently and who are able to concentrate on their studies who are able to get by at school. All the others have a tough time, a very tough time – especially if parental support is not provided, and there are quite a few such children; however, usually they do not stand out in a regular classroom routine because they float along with the rest of the class community. The greatest concern that their teachers have is not the need to catch up on the material – for some, it feels like they have not been to school for a year – but rather whether they will ever be able to find their way back into a regular routine.

In upper school, increasing psychological stress, fear about the future and feelings of loneliness have become apparent since the second lockdown, according to surveys. Young people are voicing concerns that they have simply not been heard, having to make sacrifices of meeting their friends, having freedom of movement and self-expression – no clubs, no school plays, no class trips, no graduation parties. They are demanding that we think beyond the crisis and offer real opportunities for participation. And so we are back where we started: democracy begins with the taking on of social responsibility. Practising this is part of our schools’ mission.

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