More art, more nature and also more home

November 2019

Interview with Siegmund Baldszun (teacher), Stefan Neuburger (parent), Sarah Jeuken (pupil) and Beate Kötter-Hahn (public relations) about the future of the Uhlandshöhe Waldorf School.

Erziehungskunst | How do you see the future of the school?

Siegmund Baldszun | The Uhlandshöhe school was founded a hundred years ago. The century was one of disasters. Now another hundred years are starting and further disasters are inevitable. But there is something that lives in this school that is stronger than disasters, a spirit of renewal which can be felt and which can be relied upon – across every chasm. Of course the school will change. Transformation means death and resurrection, and thus also renewal. Making a contribution in this respect is our educational task. 

EK | What does that mean specifically?

SB | Everything will become more differentiated. There will be an education for the lower school which resides very strongly outside in the school garden. Everything we still posses in terms of nature will be cared for and sensory and natural experiences will be created with the little pupils. Art, too, will play a greater role. Artistic activities which enable access to real experiences and are connected with authentic analogue experience will accompany the whole school day. 

Middle and upper school will be differentiated to a greater extent in line with the needs of the pupils. Some of them will grow into the more theoretical areas of civilisation, the others will want to work more practically. In upper school, the class community will dissolve because it will be determined by interests, by what lives in the individual pupil. It will be a school in which particularly the older pupils will work together with the teachers because there is no other alternative; together they will develop and discover things. To this extent I see things being very different from today. The communal aspects will also be cultivated to a much greater extent than today, there will be many more gatherings as a community to give one another strength. The learning goal is: giving hope, giving courage for the future. Like a kind of home. 

EK | Do you think that the most important question for parents – the question about final exams – will no longer play a major role? 

SB | That will change completely. It will no longer be about final exams but about creating new openings in the life of the pupils.

EK | How is this prediction viewed by parents?

Stefan Neuburger | Other qualities will be required in future. I think that qualifications will not be the only thing of importance but flexibility, creativity, the capacity for innovation. School will become a place of calm, of deceleration and the development of social skills in place of egoism, self-optimisation and acceleration. I am convinced that we – parents, teachers and pupils – are working together on a kind of social building. We should no longer go into detail or specialisation but develop the skills to have the overview. I believe that training communicative skills and attention, developing critical awareness, having confidence in oneself and the world, and the ability to take on responsibility are important qualities in the age of digitalisation and technologisation. The labour market is likely to change completely in the future through artificial intelligence, then such skills could become crucial. 

EK | At what point will there be concrete changes in the habitual life of school and its goals? Sixty percent of all pupils go to an academic high school, as many as never before! In other words, in our everyday actions we are still wholly immersed in the old system. 

SN | In my view there won’t be a defined turning point but a process of transformation. Today’s striving for optimum school performance, including higher education, will probably no longer be as important in the future as today. Because academic specialisation will not be able to solve the challenges of the future on its own. The skills mentioned above will increasingly contribute to further development, irrespective of the degree of qualification. We must be alert to what the individual child needs in order to develop their abilities. Perception of that is the most important task for us parents and teachers of the school. 

Beate Kötter-Hahn | Anyone who has seen many generations of pupils come and go will have noticed: children are different today. How do we encounter them? That is the biggest task for the next century. I experience a great wakefulness in the children. As we meanwhile know, the art of education, that is an artistic educational attitude, will be increasingly important. That is one of the resources which we fortunately have to hand with Waldorf education and which leads into the future. In addition, we are much more dependent than previously on the collaboration with the parental home. School becomes a common home for everyone involved. The division between school and parental home will only any longer exist in terms of location, but even that will change in the future. School will assume a village character, turn into a common social project.

EK | What will the future of the Waldorf school look like from the perspective of a pupil? 

Sarah Jeuken | I think that the turning point exists every time that people are sufficiently attentive to the impulses which the pupils bring with them – consciously or unconsciously. For me, the “school of tomorrow” means asking ourselves: what kind of society do we want to live in? When I leave school right now, I am perfectly prepared for society as it is at the moment. But in ten years time society will no longer be as it is now. It will not always be about personal interests and digitalisation but about the question what constitutes the human I. That is why it is important that the school becomes a place of reality, a real home. I believe that school as an institution – above all in Waldorf – can give a great deal of support so that we arrive in reality.

EK | What could school as an institution do about that in concrete terms? 

SJ | School will no longer just be an institution where pupils go but a place of human encounter. The pupils will learn and work with one another, also in individual working and interest groups, and together with the teachers. Everyone will learn from everyone else and everyone will discover learning in themselves. Community building will become ever more central to school. 

EK | Will the classroom therefore disappear? 

BKH | More areas of freedom are needed. Where can pupils meet today? Mostly there are no places for that. And it requires that time is made available. Nothing can happen in ten-minute breaks.

SJ | I could well imagine that there is no longer just one specific teacher but that people could also come from outside, that older pupils work together with younger ones, that there are more and longer breaks, and that pupils are trusted to organise themselves, to discuss and consider content. In upper school, what I’ve notice most is the amount of time I spend with my fellow pupils debating things alongside school. There are maybe two or three lessons in which that is permitted in some way once a year. There must be much greater room for discussion. 

EK | Does that also mean getting away from narrow subject boundaries, from strictly clocked lessons and timetables?

SB | We will not be able to completely dissolve the structure in the next ten to twenty years. Having guide rails is also important. We cannot say: let’s do this free thing now. A certain structure is required which preserves the spirit of Waldorf education. The special thing about it is that it looks at the human being in a differentiated way and derives the cultivation of soul and spiritual abilities from that. That leads to specific methodological approaches. The salutogenic aspect belongs to the future in this respect. Because if we don’t have a healthily developed body, we will subsequently not have the forces available for the things we want to do. As teachers, we see with increasing frequency that some catching up has to be done in this field with the things which were not predisposed in the parental home. That will also make parents collaborate to a much greater extent with the teachers. 

EK | Should the Waldorf schools refer to a much greater extent to the anthroposophical image of the human being?

SB | The important thing is to let parents know what gives the children strength so that they can find their way in the world, that they look up to something higher, to their higher abilities, to their higher self. These are forces that have to be cared for. That is not a question of belief but of life.

BKH | I think that it would be a great advantage for parents if such questions really stood at the centre. The school educates not just pupils but also parents. A much closer collaboration between the school and the parental home thus becomes ever more important.

SB | It is important to formulate a guiding principle which is generally comprehensible, that the main points are highlighted without immediately resorting to anthroposophical language. If we want to educate people who will take on responsibility in the future, then we have to bear that responsibility today and cannot just teach in a bubble. Perhaps we also have to be involved to a greater extent in the public debate in this respect or be active to a greater extent through lectures and communication with other schools. But that will not work if we project a finished educational concept externally and advertise that.

BKH | There are meanwhile numerous publications which deal with anthroposophical questions and thoughts in a completely open way which are also written in a way so that everyone can understand them. I do not believe that it is our task to preach Waldorf education on a Hyde Park Corner. The only path we have is via the people who are in the school here – that is parents, pupils and the children of the pupils.

Interview by Mathias Maurer