“I am the greatest obstacle”. Inclusion congress in Berlin

By Mathias Maurer, November 2013

Under the motto “Working with diversity – on the path to inclusion”, six hundred educators, teachers and special-needs teachers from throughout Germany met from 20 to 22 September 2013 to exchange views about the legal, financial and educational consequences of inclusion. The congress was organised by the Association of Waldorf Kindergartens, the Federation of Free Waldorf Schools, the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum and the Association for Anthroposophical Special-Needs Education. More than 30 courses covered the diversity of aspects and allowed for the subject to be discussed in greater detail. The host was the Kreuzberg Free Waldorf School.

Inclusive music making on the xylophone. Photo: © Kerstin Zillmer.

Ten percent of the world’s population lives with a disability. The UN disability convention introduced a paradigm change in education whose full consequences are not yet altogether clear. The Convention highlighted the environmental and attitudinal factors of disability as being the actual disability which must be overcome, as Johannes Denger from the Association for Anthroposophical Special-Needs Education noted. It implemented the three social ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity in the form of autonomy, accessibility and full integration. Inclusion assumed the ability to move. If an encounter with the “other” was not possible, people deprived themselves of an experience of the way that the archetypal image of the human being comes to expression in our counterpart. “I am the greatest obstacle in that respect,” Florian Osswald from the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum added.

Unprepared for the paradigm change

The “ambassador of integration” and founder of the Jakob Muth Prize, education researcher Jutta Schöler, set out the goal in her opening lecture: inclusion would be successful when it was no longer talked about. Her forecast: in thirty years there will no longer be special-needs schools. But schools and administrations were not prepared for this social paradigm change and currently overwhelmed. Educators were in need of further training and advice to which the Federation of Free Waldorf Schools should respond with a corresponding provision. The whole range of therapies should be applied within the learning group in order to avoid separating the pupils from one another. Schöler drew attention to the fact that under section 11 of the therapies ordinance (home health care), all therapies prescribed by doctors can, since January 2011, also be offered in kindergartens and schools and must be reimbursed by the health insurers.

Nothing works without parent collaboration

The parent forum revealed that there are still many open question. Not that many years ago, many mainstream Waldorf schools refused to accept pupils with disabilities. Special arrangements were made only in exceptional cases. But the wind has meanwhile turned. The disability of a child is today no longer acceptable as a reason for refusal. Conversely, special-needs schools are also called upon to open their doors to children without disabilities. In reorganising a school, the skills of the “secret therapists”, as the parents of children with disabilities have been described, are urgently needed, otherwise the teachers could quickly be overwhelmed.

Another problem area: hitherto inclusive school concepts were developed in inclusion working groups which mainly had parents as members. But their proposals did not always fall on sympathetic ears among the teachers, who felt restricted in their “educational autonomy”. Result: inclusion does not work with a non-functioning education partnership.

What might common learning objectives look like?

Parents are also unsure when it comes to the subject of learning objectives. In class 4 or 5 at the latest, the divergence between the children can grow considerably – despite every effort by the teachers to counter this development through internal differentiation. Inclusion begins to erode by the time the final state examinations come around. In contrast, year projects, class trips, Waldorf final examinations in art or eurythmy do not present any obstacle to inclusion. That is shown, for example, by Sabine Brüggemann’s “Inkludo” eurythmy project: when people with disabilities and those without move in perfect harmony on the stage it is deeply affecting for the audience.

Understanding destiny and oneself

Michaela Glöckler, head of the Medical Section at the Goetheanum, explained how inclusion was designed to be part of Waldorf schools from the beginning and how it was practiced in the 1930s by Karl Schubert. No child was turned away. The Waldorf school was threatened with closure and the children with the euthanasia programme of the Nazis. Schubert had to leave the school with his class. In the current inclusion debate, it suggests itself to connect again with his impulse from the “mother school”. Glöckler spoke about the opportunities and risks of inclusion. It was not enough if the children to be supported were nothing more than a nice addendum. If teachers were to obtain an individual view of each single child, they required vigorous inner training. Disabilities or not – without the deeper understanding of destiny and oneself provided by anthroposophy, with regard to which Rudolf Steiner had given numerous exercises and suggestions in his works, no Waldorf teacher could teach.

Youth forum refreshingly open

In the youth forum, there was no occupational confusion or hastiness about inclusion but a refreshing certainty that it is not actually a problem to live together in school and at home. Pupils with disabilities, their siblings and fellow pupils had their say. “That’s all we know and it is quite normal for us,” was the unanimous opinion among the pupils. They value the openness and sociableness of their classmates with disabilities and the latter in turn the patience which is shown towards them. There is bullying, as in any other school, but real bullying only happens out in the street.

This impression was confirmed by the lawyer and former children’s representative Reinald Eichholz, for whom the prerequisite for successful inclusion is a natural “sense of belonging”. Markus, a former pupil at the Emmendingen inclusive Waldorf school, visibly benefited from that: “I am proud of myself,” he concluded his contribution.

Regional inclusion advice: Hesse shows how

Regional meetings offered the opportunity to become acquainted with one another, exchange information and discuss questions concerning implementation, accreditation and finance. It would be desirable for all regional working groups to offer inclusion advice, as is already the case in Hesse. In order to get out of the “diagnosis versus resources dilemma” of the individual cases, Waldorf schools in general should seek accreditation as inclusive schools and campaign for institution-linked funding. That would put an end to the current patchwork of subsidies.


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