Only through the parental home

By Mathias Maurer, December 2015

Rudolf Steiner formulated principles for the collaboration between parents and teachers in the initial years following the establishment of the Waldorf school which it is worth recalling.

Photo: © FemmeCurieuse /

The core of his demand of teachers is that they must win the trust of parents. The way to the child can lead only through the parental home. Parents, on the other hand, are asked to let go of what is “dearest” to them. Waldorf schools are not about balancing various different interest but only about everyone pulling together – for the welfare of the child.

Here we take a look with a commentary at the addresses in the volume Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School (GA 298).

Waldorf parents are social pioneers

When parents choose the Waldorf school for their children, they do so because they consider this school to be the best one. They want what is best for what is “dearest” to them, which they surrender to the school.

Beyond such a caring interest, something which the teachers share with the parents as part of their professional duties, parents and teachers should also keep their eye on the bigger picture. They should feel themselves to be the creators of a free school, to be social “pioneers”. Steiner was concerned to liberate education from the clutches of state and economic tutelage. He wanted to overcome the hierarchical and selective school system with the Waldorf school and oppose the associated “class consciousness”. Because the latter acted like “poison” in the souls of the children.

There must be no opposition between the school and home

Steiner kept emphasising that real parent-teacher organisation of the school can only work when there is no opposition between their interests. Children perceive all the nuances in their surroundings in the most subtle way. When they come home and feel that what they have learnt in school is looked at quite differently, they are caught in an “inner conflict”. Conversely, teachers through the child obtain “a picture of home; the child takes home into school through their health, temperament, comprehension ability and moral disposition”.

That is why “parents and teachers must not be strangers to one another”. There must be “a real, profound friendship between parents and teachers” which “has its basis in the matter itself”. Parents should display a real interest in the education and the educational activity of the teachers. This interest from the parents supports the authoritative power of the teachers and the children can sense that. Such reciprocal attestation by the parents was “almost more important than the teacher’s report for the child”.

Trust and patience are necessary

Parents often criticise that their child learns a particular subject to little or too late. Their concerns were unjustified. What the child learnt at what time was based on an understanding of the human being. Knowledge and skills served the development of the child, not the other way round. Steiner is concerned to strengthen the life forces of the child (“cheeks glowing red”) in a learning environment free of anxiety.

“The earlier, the better” is countered by Steiner with the concept of maturation and deceleration in harmony with the laws which govern the development of the growing child – along the lines: “A blade of grass does not grow faster just because you pull at it.”

The teacher’s love for the child …

The relationship between the teacher and the child should be free of fear and anxiety: “… we will not achieve anything in teaching and education in school if ... a relationship of real love does not exist of the teacher for the child and the child for the teacher. This is the thing we truly want to cultivate in our Waldorf school … as something which is just as necessary educationally and in terms of teaching methodology as pure outwards cleverness.”

… and the love of the parents for the school

Merely being able to understand or intellectually follow Waldorf education is not enough; it must also be loved: “And if the attitude of the parents is immersed in such love, it will not be necessary for us to bring up our children in fear and in hope, the two educational tools which although they are most common today are also the worst.

The best educational tool is and remains love and in an art of education based on love the home can provide great support for the school.”

Parents are like a fortress around the school

If a free space is to be created to give “children the best that they should receive, then we need a school which is surrounded by parental understanding like the ramparts of a fortress. Our teachers will be able to teach best if they are aware that this exists.” Such awareness cannot be required by Waldorf teachers “because they do not in some way in the background have all the compulsory measures which teachers at other schools have. But compulsion will never achieve anything sensible in human life. In order to work in freedom, we need an understanding of what free work means among the parents.” For this it was necessary that “the teachers think in common with the parents, feel in harmony with them, that we want in school what the parents themselves want with their embodied ideals, with their dearly loved children.”

The parents’ gift to the teachers

It is not just the children who learn but also the teachers – through preparing the lessons, but above all in that they “recognise .. the souls of the children”. They do so in full recognition of what the parents have brought as their “gift into the school building” with their children. “With this sense of deep, caring gratitude,” Steiner says, addressing the parents, “our teachers receive what you bring into the school building as what is dearest to you.” That gives rise to the endeavour of these teachers to give back to you to the best of their ability in gratitude and love what you have yourself given …”

Steiner addresses lofty feelings when he says that it is like “a solemn promise” that the teachers will teach “in consciousness of the most sacred thing” with which the parents came to the school. They should respond to this decision by the parents with a profound feeling of responsibility.

Teachers have to work to obtain the understanding of parents

While teachers normally feel supported by the authority of the state and derive their own authority towards pupils and parents from that, Waldorf teachers had to perform their work “on the basis of what illuminates our path as the educational goal arising from our knowledge of human beings and life, human science and human art. We have to gather what we need for our daily lessons from the inner strength of our educational heart.” They could not invoke “a higher wisdom arising from the recognised social order” suspended above their head which guided them.

They had to work out of their own school ideals which were “deeply rooted in the most important cultural demands of the present and immediate future. Parents had to be able “to enter into the thoughts, feelings and will impulses which support us ourselves”. Such insight must not rest on a belief in authority. “That is of no value for us,” Steiner thought.

The connection of teacher and child through destiny

Parents, as Steiner says, are connected with the destiny of their children in a “natural” way. Teachers are no less so, although not through descent (parenthood) but through a soul affinity and spiritual task: “What we work on artistically is not like an external art work in marble or wood, it is something which connects with us through destiny. When we stand in front of our children during the day … we connect ourselves for an eternity through destiny with these souls … Such a sense of destiny gives rise to a view of the world such as we have it here, the true responsibility of the teacher.”

The ideals of the teachers and the trust of the parents

According to Steiner, the ideals of the teachers must justify the trust of the parents. And such trust of the parents must rest on understanding. “And that is why the teachers and pre-school teachers of our Waldorf school ... are so keen to bring about everything for the weal and woe of the children in harmony with the parents …” “We are fortunate that we possess the trust of people such as the parents …” so that the teachers could “properly have the feeling”: “Over the years, the parents have left their dearest in our care, have given them to us in trust, and that is the fortune of the school that we have not only maintained that trust but have justified it …”

Collaboration in self-management

The tasks of the self-administration and management of the school could also only be solved in association with the parents: “After all, our Waldorf school should be a free school not just by name but by nature.”

Steiner is convinced that “nothing but the deepest satisfaction will be evoked in all parents if there exists in us the desire for collaboration with the parents”. Anyone for whom the radical nature of Steiner’s views is not clear has no knowledge of the everyday life of the school, of the parents’ evenings and the daily involvement of the teachers with the pupils and parents.

The significance with regard to their destiny that a pupil and teacher encounter one another and intend to get along with one another for eight years has as its counterpart the fact that pupils are expelled from school. The task of the parents to protect the school organism like a living being is countered by splits into factions which can tear whole classes apart, the call for trust and understanding by abstract structures and rules which harden opposing interests.

To avoid any misunderstanding: Steiner’s concept of love, trust and reciprocal understanding  is no invitation for a mollycoddling form of education and enforced harmony. In the Study of Man (GA 293) he says in addressing the teachers: “We will only manage our task if we do not just consider it as a comfortable intellectual one but as a moral and spiritual one in the highest sense”, a task we have to master – out of love for the child.