Between chaos and atrophy

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, December 2015

The monumental wooden sculpture of the “Representative of Humankind” can be seen in Dornach; Rudolf Steiner fashioned it with the sculptor Edith Maryon for the back of the stage of the first Goetheanum at the time that the first Waldorf school was established.

The whole sculpture represents a grandiose balance between forces which are in polar opposition. The tension between them is held by a central figure in whose balancing middle breathing and rhythm unfold.

Main lesson, class 1. Jurriaan balances along a long beam in his socks, keeps up a constant flow of talk while doing so, sways to the right, left, backwards, forwards, laughs, chatters and keeps on walking until he – like every morning – arrives safely at the end and throws himself into his next adventure. Paula follows, inching her way along this scary device, feeling the void below her at every moment, taking a gamble with each new step – and is relieved to reach her destination in the classroom after a long journey.

What do these children have in common with the sculpture? The children are practising to balance as they move, to find the courage and confidence and gain the physical experience so that they can keep themselves upright. As soon as they start attempting to walk even the tiniest tots practise to acquire the delicate balance which makes up our human constitution.

It is a balance which we never simply posses, on the contrary, it has to be recreated at each moment. What is an elementary experience in children is also an existential part of being human as such. It relates to nothing less than life.

The only thing is that it must not stop at the experience of physical balance. The souls of the children must encounter the world in diverse ways with curiosity, joy, empathy, enthusiasm, sadness, love and anger to create the foundation for the ability to make judgements which allows things themselves to speak. The wider, more discerningly and aesthetically the soul can feel, the deeper will be its understanding.

But it still needs a third ability to maintain its balance: a striving for truth; that is, a longing for knowledge which allows it to endeavour to differentiate the important from the unimportant beyond all prohibitions or fashions of thought and to act on the insight it has obtained.

When we talk about school and education today, we are inundated with rankings, standards and anxieties about the future. That has nothing to do with education. Nothing but looking at human beings themselves can lead us to understand the abilities which need to be taught for the time in which we live. And the equilibrium arising from the power of the heart is undoubtedly of exceptional importance because it is the living balance between atrophy and chaos.

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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