Recognising oneself in the other

October 2018

Interview with Klaus-Peter Freitag and Christian Boettger, the two managing directors of the German Association of Waldorf Schools about their views on education.

Erziehungskunst | What are the central questions in education today?

– Klaus-Peter Freitag –

Klaus-Peter Freitag | The greatest problem is that we pay much too little attention to what children bring along with them and fail to give them the opportunity to find their own path.

EK | Let us mention the Pisa study here. It gave the German education system a shock. What is the attitude towards it?

KPF | I am less interested in international comparisons than in the question, how can the specific pupil develop? What are they as individuals? And how can we support them in the best possible way?

– Christian Boettger –

Christian Boettger | The key question is: do I see the pupil as an individual who wants to develop or not. If we want to have a society consisting of responsible individuals who also want to take control of their education – guided and supported, of course – then we need a different system. It is not enough to look simply at a particular body of knowledge which somehow has to be acquired. Anyone who wants to develop the abilities of the child must, in support of that development, also remove the obstacles.

EK | How can the Waldorf schools put this concern into practice in real terms?

KPF | Waldorf schools have the possibility of pursuing quite different paths. But they could show a lot more courage in realising this individual aspiration with the people concerned in the places concerned.

EK | Can you give an example?

KPF | Inclusion. But also exams: how can they be designed in such a way that they take account of the real abilities of the pupil and not just the ability to memorise.

CB | If we put such emphasis on the individual, on autonomy and independence, we are also challenged not to hide behind norms but to grant the other person that they really are different and cannot be compared with anyone else. In the interests of such difference or, rather, individuality, we have to defend the room for manoeuvre in education against standardisation.

EK | Does that mean that the Waldorf schools are in opposition to the anti-individualistic education system?

CB | Developments show that this issue is becoming increasingly acute – also in Waldorf schools. How can we uphold the autonomy of the individual teacher and trust them with it? We hardly even manage to trust teachers to take responsibility for themselves in their own learning process – both in school in lessons and in teacher training. We still do not manage to give pupils the freedom, for instance, to structure their learning path in upper school, for example in the form of an individually mentored programme.

EK | In other words, Waldorf schools are still too timid in this respect?

CB | Yes, we are still too timid in realising our aspiration, in taking the leap of faith in the “principle of development”.

EK | What might a concept look like which gives the freedom for autonomous learning?

CB | One project has been running successfully for five years: an in-service teacher training course in which a group of people who want to become Waldorf teachers organise and manage themselves. They set up an association to organise and finance their training. They draw up their individual training curriculum for themselves. They ask, how can I learn the things with this group of people which I think I will need in my job as a Waldorf teacher? They go to lessons and in the contact with the children and young people they ask themselves: what do I need to manage in my subject with this age group? That can also go wrong, of course; that is why they are supported by training mentors who support this autonomous learning process. About 40 people have already trained themselves in this way, a further 60 to 80 are in the middle of such a training course at nine locations in Germany.

EK | And how many actually then join the school?

CB | At a guess about two thirds to three quarters.

EK | What does this self-empowerment strategy look like with regard to the work with parents?

KPF | It is not the parents we are educating! We work together on educating the children. That has to be taken seriously, that has to shape the dialogue. It also means always creating opportunities for parents to make a contribution with their skills.

EK | What does it mean for a school as an organisation to hold this dialogue?

KPF | Openness, transparency and interest.

EK | That is put in very general terms. Despite many possibilities of involvement for parents, it nevertheless seems to be the case that the depth of involvement does not exceed certain limits when we are dealing with matters of education or teaching.

KPF | That is also how I see it. We have to take the parents who are ready to be involved, who actively want to be sponsors, really seriously. Without that, real collaboration will not succeed.

CB | It is very important to begin by filling parents with enthusiasm for education and learning processes as a whole. For example, to develop an understanding that there is not just one birth when the child enters the world but that their children go through several births and that these births remain the responsibility of parents and teachers. So information of an educational and organisational nature is a very important area; here it is important to open up new perspectives, to think outside the box and enter into dialogue about that. I have noticed repeatedly that many important topics, such as for example how to handle media, are determined by political attitudes. Actually we have to crack things open in many situations. Waldorf schools have to show clearly that they want something different.

The school must not think that the parents already know, when they join the Waldorf school, why they are actually here. No! They don’t know! The opportunities offered by this type of school for the biographical development of people must be made accessible to experience again. We have to make time for that. Parents develop in supporting their children, the important thing is to clearly set out the perspectives which govern the most important principle of Waldorf education: all education is self-education.

EK | What, then, can we do to communicate the “added value” of our system of education?

KPF | In working together on The Foundations of Human ExperienceI, a kind of warmth pole of our education is for example created. There is a real encounter when we get into conversation with other parents about it; we are working on an understanding of the human being which is also always an understanding of ourselves, and that is quite simply incredibly satisfying.

CB | The Foundations are not about finished knowledge or iron laws but about a growing understanding of the human being. Rudolf Steiner’s Foundations of Human Experience consists of a series of lectures; in a planned new edition greater emphasis will be placed on revealing the spoken word again to make clear in this way how Steiner always addressed the whole human being: the cognitive abilities in the general course on education, the heart forces and the aspect of encounter in the course on general and teaching methodology and the work impulse, the self-education of the teacher, in the so-called discussions with teachers. I think we can use this first course for teachers, which Steiner gave what is now ninety-nine years ago, as a kind of total work of art; to take a new step by strengthening the heart aspects and aspects of encounter in the section on general and teaching methodology and combine it with the training aspect from the discussions with teachers in training and advanced training and also in the educational teachers’ meetings, and thus throw a completely new light on the lecture themes from the course on The Foundations of Human Experience.

EK | Why is the anthroposophical image of the human being and the understanding of the human being which arises from it so relevant today? Why do we claim such relevance today or, indeed, a potential which has not yet been exhausted?

CB | Steiner on many occasions told the first Waldorf teachers: always relate the human being and the cosmos to one another, always think of a point and its circumference. Always remember that a person can only define themselves through other people – indeed the whole environment, the earthly and cosmic environment. I can only experience myself as a person in my spiritual, soul and physical aspects through others and the other. It will take us some time to come to terms with that.