Daughter of freedom

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, November 2016

In 1819 the Swiss educator and social reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi wrote to James Pierrepont Greaves, a British educator, socialist and mystic: “I need not remind you of the importance of music because it is able to generate and support the highest feelings of which human beings are capable.”

Pestalozzi called for an “elementary education” which harmoniously develops the intellectual forces and abilities of the head, the moral and religious forces of the heart and the creative forces of the hands.

That was almost 200 years ago and 100 years before the foundation of the first Waldorf school which extends this idea and gives it concrete form with the help of the anthroposophical understanding of the human being. Current research in neuroscience has shown the topicality of these thoughts down as far as the most delicate structures of the brain: we learn not only with the head but at least as much with our hands and feet, with our feelings and, in general, with all our doings.

I was recently asked by a journalist whether the children in a deprived area of Hamburg did not need discipline rather than art. Art and discipline – a contradiction? Anyone who has ever learnt a musical instrument, chiselled a sculpture or rehearsed a play knows the amount of discipline that is required even for moderate success. Such discipline of the will and the feelings demands cooperation and overcoming ourselves, sets independent initiative above subordination. It is the discipline of freedom. To inspire it requires a culture of encounter, perception, interest in the unexpected and the unbridled joy of discovery with our senses, our hands, our heart and thinking.

In actual fact an exciting competition of ideas should long ago have set in about how such knowledge about real learning can become the heartbeat of each school. Instead almost everything in education policy, the education industry and, unfortunately, also among many self-appointed journalistic experts revolves around IT-supported learning, standardised testing and the question what Germany as a business location apparently needs. Korea here we come.

Much, much more is at stake in the twenty-first century: the global social and ecological challenges and the kind of relationship we can establish with technology which is preparing to determine the future of our planet. How can our children become the artists of their own biography? What do we have to do so that they can discover themselves as human beings who act and obtain knowledge creatively and become aware that everything depends on them? How do we create much more, not less, art which also includes the art of education?

“Art is the right hand of nature. The latter has only made creatures, the former human beings,” Friedrich Schiller wrote. For art is the daughter of freedom. 

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle.


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