Jörgen Smit – with unadorned goodness of heart

By Nana Goebel, July 2019

When Jörgen Smit (1916-1991) took on a first class in Bergen in Norway, he slept on a folding bed in the classroom – he could not afford to pay a rent.

Smit had studied classical philology in Oslo and Basel and even as a young man was committed to his work for the Anthroposophical Society. The spiritual understanding of the human being was just as important for the 26-year-old as solution-oriented action. Smit liked to concentrate on what mattered and could not bear idle chatter. His life’s motto was: practise! 

Smit taught at the Waldorf school in Bergen for 24 years and three times took a class from class 1 to class 7. He used a sabbatical year in 1955/56 for a trip to Greece and to visit many European Waldorf schools. 

Alongside his teaching activity, Smit gave many public lectures in Scandinavia. In 1966 he moved to Jaerna in Sweden and established the Rudolf Steiner Seminariet there together with Arne and Gertrud Klingborg as well as Rut Nilsson. It was where the Nordic teachers’ conferences were then held regularly in the summer. 

Jörgen Smit was intensively involved in developing the collaboration between the Waldorf schools in Europe, including setting up a group of advisers within the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum. Differences in position did not represent an obstacle for him in such collaboration. In the sober clarity of his thinking he thoroughly unpicked situations and thus resolved many instances of confusion. He also had the courage to advocate unpopular positions if that is what the facts suggested to him.

Smit headed the teacher training in Scandinavia from 1968 to 1975. In 1975 he was appointed to the executive council of the General Anthroposophical Society and took on the leadership of the Youth Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach. Together with Heinz Zimmermann he was involved in teacher training in Switzerland and eventually led the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum from 1981-1989. Smit decisively influenced the world school movement. Schools in and outside Europe liked to invite him frequently for the spiritual impulses he gave. With him an integrating and spiritual authority and power entered the joint work. 

Smit took the initiative for a world teachers’ conference: the first one took place in Dornach in 1983 on the subject “How do we work in education through an understanding of the human being acquired through the practice of meditation?”. It was attended by 1,500 colleagues from all over the world. The large auditorium of the Goetheanum was bursting at the seams so that seating even had to be put on the stage.

He introduced the conference with the following words: “This conference takes place in a time in which it is no exaggeration to say that the whole of humanity ... is passing through something of a bottleneck in which the whole future existence of humanity is at stake. It is appropriate to give this the most serious consideration. … At stake is that we should prepare with all our strength a path fit for human beings for the incarnating human soul from early childhood through to adolescence and adulthood.”

Some 65 years after the founding of the first Waldorf school and the development of a few pioneering schools, it heralded the phase of major worldwide expansion. With this conference, the Waldorf movement could be experienced for the first time as a worldwide school movement.

Smit expanded the work of the Pedagogical Section; in this context it was always important to him  that the world should not be organised in accordance with theoretical models but to recognise which person was suitable for which task. This gift was described by his successor Heinz Zimmermann as “unadorned goodness of heart”.

Smit united the Waldorf movement through his spiritual rigour, his depth, his authenticity. He could not bear superficiality. If there was nothing relevant to say, he remained silent. He rejected conventions. People united around this freedom-loving person with his deep-seated spiritual independence. He was accepted and loved by people of every shade and age. Jörgen Smit died on 10 May 1991.

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