Who owns the Waldorf school?

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, May 2012

We have lived with the tradition that schools are a public task for such a long time in Germany that we forget that we are the public: the state has considered public life to be its property since absolutism spread across large parts of Europe in the eighteenth century, and thus it sees itself as being entitled to manage the school system.

In past centuries this idea was taken to absurd extremes. Dictatorships arose worldwide whose ideological spectrum ranged from the racist insanity of the Nazis through Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot to the personality cult in North Korea. For all their differences they had one thing in common: they were always intent on making the human being a functioning part of a system. School was the most effective instrument to achieve this. 

Above all in the western countries, most of which worship at the altar of capitalism, school developed into a supplier for the labour market. The question why who should learn what and when was not answered with the needs of the human being in mind but social necessities which commissioned experts declared to be the norm.

But there is another development whose workings were not, initially, visible but which is increasingly coming to expression: civil society, which is setting out to reclaim public life and take it in hand itself. Civil society replaces state monopolies or exclusively profit-driven corporate objectives with decentralised, ecological and socially compatible entrepreneurship.

In this field Waldorf schools are also performing pioneering work: for decades they have tested ways of bringing together hundreds of parents and teachers in communities of responsibility which are not about personal benefit but exclusively the wellbeing of the children. They place their trust in a power which is stronger than any structure, however well thought-out: the power of the individual as the constituting element of a community.

The most important condition for the success of such a community is freedom, because it can only be sustained if its members actively develop. The German language has the nice word “freiwillig” (in free will) for voluntary: the free, individual will of parents, teachers and pupils comes together and enables them to create a whole which only lives through the initiative of its individual members. Waldorf schools can only succeed through such collaboration. We know how difficult that can sometimes be – and yet no one wants to return to external control.

Waldorf schools belong to the future – as long as they keep moving!

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher since 1984 (currently on leave of absence), 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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