An unconventional understanding of the human being

By Mathias Maurer, October 2021

Anthroposophists and friends of Waldorf are not infrequently ridiculed by the public, or indeed viewed by critics to be “pre-Enlightenment cranks” because of their worldview. Some critics say that parents, who have come to know and appreciate Waldorf education because they have experienced in their children and in themselves that it is simply beneficial, should be protected from anthroposophical indoctrination.

At issue here is that this system of education is based on an understanding of the human being as a complex, spiritual, soul and physical being, an understanding of the human being that has not only been taken for granted for thousands of years, but can also be found in the most diverse cultures worldwide.

Just one example: rhythm is an essential process that sustains all life. Rhythmical – that is regularly recurring – processes take place not only in the human body, but also in the soul, even in the spirit – we need only think of the regular alternation of sleeping and waking which is indispensable not only for the integrity of the person, but also for health. Soul and spirit, on the one hand, and processes in the body, on the other, influence each other. Reductionism in either direction is unacceptable. How, for example, does the oxygen content of the blood change when we are mentally in turmoil or when a realisation dawns on us? And vice versa, in the case of illness: what state of mind and soul do we get into when we can no longer “dispose” over our body as usual?

Waldorf education views the human being as a whole, as an integral unit. To break them down into individual parts may bring a partial gain in knowledge; but the parts must be reintegrated into the whole.

The healing impulse of this system of education lies in the cultivation of thinking, feeling and volition, in the harmonisation of body, soul and spirit. Every child in class 1 encounters an apt image of Waldorf education’s understanding of the human being when they begin with arithmetic. It starts not with the parts but with 1, the big whole. Because we form a unity as human beings and with the world. Without this unity there would be nothing to be divided. This holistic approach, which is accessible to everyone’s common sense and which we consider to be fitting for human beings, may be what causes some people to ridicule Waldorf education.

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