Hand and head

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, February 2013

“A bright head, if we think aright, is really just a carpet knight:
it eats and drinks, states its opinion –
but on the move is carried by a minion…”

(from a verse for a class 4 pupil)

What kind of education is it which without much ado declares the head to be a parasite? We have learned so much in the meantime about its neuronal inhabitants, the synapses, their dwelling places and mirrors, that we can almost watch ourselves thinking. Brain researchers have studied the central organ of our conscious life in such detail with the aid of imaging methods that some people would like nothing better than to relocate the whole soul into the brain. The author of these lines also admires the revelations from these modern-day high priests. But the ever more precise inspection of the interior of the brain once again throws up the age-old question about human beings themselves: not a few of our contemporaries today believe (they would say: know) that we don’t really exist at all but that the breathtaking bio-electrical fireworks in our brain only imagine their existence as a real “I”. A magnificent logical contradiction, by the way, because those who say those things do so as people who know about themselves. But if they do not exist ...?

We cannot be involved in education without facing up to this question with a certain radicalism. It is a crucial difference whether we try as teachers to help the children cautiously to align their unique spiritual individuality with their physical existence so that they can act as free human beings – or if we are convinced that we are living in a matrix whose code perishes with the matter by which it was programmed. Each person is at liberty to think what they like about that, but it is a question which is crucial to the way that teachers see their educational task because it is the quintessential question about freedom.

In 1911 no one had yet heard about “mirror neurons”. When at the time Rudolf Steiner was speaking about the human body at a philosophical congress in Bologna, he described it as a “mirror apparatus” for the “I” working in its surroundings. The soul did not work from the brain into the world but it used this marvel to develop an objective consciousness of itself and the world.

The head creates consciousness but the relationship with the world arises through activity. Skill is arises first through practise and only then through reflection. If we only consisted of our head, we would indeed be parasites who see, hear and know everything but only reflect the world instead of being at work in it. For action we need not just our head but our hands and legs and that is why the active and creative person needs the same attention in education as the mirroring and reflective one. Only then does the word “holistic” become meaningful. The verse for the pupil continues: “So if we want to give the world some satisfaction, we have to stir our hands in action.”

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf schools and the Friends of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (www.freie-schule.de)


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