To the villages, steady, go ...

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, January 2012

“It takes a village to raise a child,” is an African saying. But what happens when there are no longer any proper villages – with a baker, blacksmith, cobbler, carpenter, minister and village policeman – at least not for most children? Who raises them then? “It takes a city to raise a child” gives us the creeps, signals anonymity instead of security. And yet this saying is also true because the majority of children worldwide grow up in towns and cities. We therefore need villages in the cities, many villages for many children!

But differences remain: in a village the generations live side by side in accordance with old and respected traditions; its inhabitants follow the great rhythms of nature and everyone has their task which they do for the community. Everything has its place and meaning which arises from the activities themselves. The culture gives the life of each single person a context which points beyond anything individualistic.

Such a village cannot simply be installed or else it would turn into a museum. What would a modern village look like? A school, for example? A school which works like an African village? In which everything that is done has meaning, in which the collaboration between everyone results in a greater whole and in which conversely the greater whole arises from the collaboration of the individuals? When our children have grown up they will require abilities which, at best, we can guess at today. But they must be developed and tested today already. That is why it is important in our village that all activities bear their value within themselves but at the same time are a part of the whole: the second class might look after the herbs for the kitchen, while the ninth looks after the bees, the tenth builds the scenery for the next class 8 play, the twelfth makes the costumes and the seventh looks after the playing fields. Working groups which have formed out of the joint interests of adults, adolescents and children are a natural part of school life.

Such a village needs time. But time shuns matters of superficial importance. We can only entice it with something substantive... for example school grounds dotted with quiet corners, alcoves and other meeting places, places in which time can momentarily stand still. We can also entice it by giving each teacher his or her own desk at which he or she can prepare in school – and as a result simply be “there” even outside their scheduled lessons – for pupils, parents and colleagues.

Everywhere where people are individual and courageous enough to trust their educational voice such a village can begin to grow – beyond any conformity and tradition.

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 (


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