Moving mountains

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, July 2017

“This class is impossible to teach!” With these encouraging words, a colleague handed me the list of names of my new class 1 pupils the last time I took over a class.

Precisely these children then amazed me for eight years through the intensity with which they kept grappling with the world. When I was asked about them, I often found nothing better to say than to observe: “They are moving mountains each day – my only task is to make sure that they move them in the right direction.”

I had been told that Jana was a particular problem because in kindergarten she reacted to even the smallest change of routine with anxiety, often associated with loud crying. I therefore soon noted with all the greater admiration the heroic courage with which she faced up to the many tasks which often appeared insurmountable to her at first. It is this courage I want to write about here.

When Rudolf Steiner gave his first lecture to the future college of teachers of the Waldorf School on 21 August 1919, he began by speaking about the tasks of education in our time. In a section which was only passed on verbally, he touched on the question of how the college could muster the courage to do in education what was actually required by the time. If in 1917 he had advocated introducing independent self-governance to schools free of political, economic or ideological interference, he now spoke about the inner substance of such freedom.

In doing so, he developed an idea of school management which has retained its revolutionary nature to the present day because it places complete responsibility for the educational work in the hands of each individual teacher. However, in this context Steiner expected a level of intensive research work in anthropology, developmental psychology and anthroposophy – associated with a profound interest in the pupils by the teachers – which would enable them to develop an art of education on this basis which no longer needed a prescribed programme but could follow the actual developmental needs of the pupils: school management as an essential encounter, as research, as perception and as the source of new ideas – and as the courage also to swim against the tide if that was in the interest of the pupils.

School today is increasingly driven by the fear of missing targets which have nothing to do with life but everything with the assignment of opportunities. The result is standards, surveys, “teaching for the test” and the panicked fear of missing out on technological progress, something which could be clearly and comprehensively experienced at the recent “Didacta” trade fair for education.

If we want to keep up with Jana, we need greater heroic courage – in our colleges of teachers but also in the Association of Waldorf Schools which was founded not just as a representative body but above all as an association of free schools. So that we continue to develop in reciprocal communication. And move mountains.

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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