Misunderstanding

By Mathias Maurer, January 2020

We’re all familiar with it, be it at home, in class or in the car: loud, arguing children, hitting and scratching one another, screaming and shouting as they climb over tables and benches, ignoring all instructions, and, to cap it all, answering back.

We can cope with it every so often. But if it becomes constant, we reach our limits. Both parents and teachers are sometimes at a loss as to what to do but the former cannot simply “exclude” their difficult children, a school can. 

Frankly, I don’t like what the word education implies, even when it is meant to be an art. What is artistic about balancing on the brink of a nervous breakdown or fit of anger? And it has connotations for me of pushing someone to a place where they don’t want to be of their own accord because I know best what is good for the child. An image which automatically gives rise to a relationship of tension and pressure ... 

We are subject to a fundamental misapprehension in education because it “works” completely differently. Education does not push and pull but pulses like a heart: it is not driven by a central motor, by the intentions of the nursery teacher, teacher, mother or father, or an educational guru, but by providing spaces for development and play, for latitude in the periphery of the child into which the individual impulses of the child can flow and unfold. 

Interest is aroused in the child when they can gather experience about the world and people from their surroundings. “The child is informed,” Rudolf Steiner says, and we educate ourselves in that we learn to understand the impulses of the child and how to handle them. The child themselves draws what they need for their individual development from their environment not from what the focused intention of the teacher demands right now. Also, when we say: this child is disruptive, it can’t listen – the educational gesture should be precisely the reverse: the educator listens to the child and the child speaks. 

And that, indeed, is an art because it too lives from the principle of dialogue between point and periphery, between individual and community. If the relational conversation stalls or comes to a halt, that is only the beginning of issues in education which mostly come to expression in learning and disciplinary difficulties. In this point, too, Steiner touches a nerve: issues in education are, at heart, social, that is relationship issues. And the “disruption” is the fault of no one, neither teachers nor parents, and least of all the children themselves.

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