The great Waldorf anniversary show in the Tempodrom

By Mathias Maurer, February 2020

This is the day which the Waldorf world has been eagerly awaiting: 19 September 2019, Tempodrom, Berlin.

Photos: © Kati Jurischka

Over thirty contributions by Waldorf schools from more than twenty countries, presented in three densely packed sessions: in the morning “See the World”; in the afternoon “Love the World”; in the evening “Change the World” – an all day festival featuring over a thousand actors from all over the world, a feast for the eyes and ears of the approximately 3,000 guests, an impressive presentation of what this type of school can do, be it in Australia or Potsdam, in Japan or Windhoek, in Spain or North Rhine-Westphalia, in the United States or Chengdu.

There is – specially formed for the festival – a choir and a symphony orchestra of the Berlin Waldorf schools; eurythmy by pupils and students from Flensburg, Witten, Stuttgart, Berlin and Alfter; excerpts from the musicals Hair and Les Miserables; clog and light ball dancing; recorder music and the sound of drums; circus arts and alliteration from the Kalevala. Among the sound of the kora, the five-metre high illuminated wire figure “The gentle giant of light” unfolds its own technical magic. Hausi´s Finest with “66 Nations” and Jan Wiebe with “Waldorf war gut für mich” – which have turned into regular Waldorf hits – are not missing here either.

This was followed by a series of personal statements about the state and future challenges of Waldorf education. Janis McDavid, a former Waldorf pupil born without arms and legs and today travelling worldwide as a UNICEF ambassador and motivational speaker, told how despite his extreme disability even Machu Picchu could not stop him. The Green politician Çem Özdemir recalling the beginnings of the Waldorf school as a school for workers, called on Waldorf schools to be schools for all children, for the children of benefit recipients and children of hospital consultants – so that “they become friends for life” – and emphasised in particular the intercultural Waldorf schools as a future impulse to be welcomed.

Great commitment was demonstrated by Monique Brinson, head of the “Community School of Creative Education”, a school in a disadvantaged area of Oakland, who campaigns for greater access to the schools for socially disadvantaged children. Florian Osswald from the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum enquired with a view to the next hundred years about the risk and renewal potential of the Waldorf schools and encouraged everyone to “dare the impossible”.

Waldorf pioneers such as Victor Mwai Wahome from Kenya and the well-known paediatrician Remo Largo spoke with the filmmaker Paul Zehrer about the subject of digitalisation. The former Greens politician and head of the Social Sciences Section at the Goetheanum, Gerald Häfner, demanded equal financing for independent schools. Christoph Wiechert, former head of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum, recalled the many deceased pioneers who had advanced the Waldorf school movement worldwide, while Nana Göbel from the “Friends of Waldorf Education” linked with Rudolf Steiner’s intention to form a world school association: “We can only change the world if we promise one another to create relationships and continue to work together.”

Philipp Reubke from the international association of Waldorf kindergartens, focused in this respect above all on the small child who needs creative free spaces, what is “unfinished and not understood”, for their development; while Waldorf education – “a gift which has not lost its freshness after a hundred years,” thus the young class teacher from Überlingen Regine Ott –  was inconceivable without anthroposophy; the schools should not make too many compromises and not lower their sights too much.

Jost Schieren, education researcher from Alanus University, picked up on the view of critics in many newspaper articles that Rudolf Steiner and his image of the human being should be abandoned and countered it with a quote from the philosopher Georg Picht to clarify the academic approach underlying Waldorf education: “Knowledge which authenticates itself by destroying what it seeks to understand cannot be true.”

Finally there were two young representatives from the German pupil council “Waldorf SV” and the “Democratic Voice of Youth” who responded to exam anxiety, which also exists at Waldorf schools, with the motto: “Imagine it is school and everyone (happily) goes there!”.

Then cheering from the south bank: pupils from the Greifswald Waldorf School arrived with their dragon boat, having rowed 400 kilometres to Berlin, and presented the baton from the cross-frontier, 70,000 kilometre-long relay run in which more than 4,000 pupils participated – on Shanks’s pony and donkeys, unicycles to racing bikes.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, who with his Hamburg public relations team put the whole show on the stage in four years of preparatory hard work, directed our gaze from appearances to hard political reality and presented the “7 Core Demands” which the German Association of Waldorf Schools is making of education policy. The independent schools should no longer be forced into the corner of private education through insufficient public funding but had to be given an appropriate secure financial base as a part of the publicly-funded school system. Only this would allow parents to make use of their right to choose. That included real equal opportunity irrespective of the financial strength of the parental home, the right to a non-selective education and the right to an education which represented more than an examination and authorisation system.

These demands were confirmed by a study, presented on the previous day, from a national survey of more than 2,000 parents of school-age children: according to the study, many expectations of parents regarding school and school education were not met in the current system. Parents above all wished for greater school diversity and a free choice of school without additional costs, that is, the state should not differentiate between financing state and independent schools. More than half of parents would then send their child to an independent school. In addition, they voiced a clear view against marks and fixed curricula and demanded the individual and creative advancement of their children.

Just as the success of the Waldorf schools had, at minimum, to be recognised in the public and political space, so it was now important to apply pressure to give the “7 Core Demands” political weight. Then the time might be ripe after all for the introduction of an education voucher for all.

Film tip about the Waldorf festival in Berlin: live stream of all three parts of the performance (nine hours in total) at: https://www.waldorf-100.org/livestream-aufzeichnung/

Film by Paul Zehrer on the subject of digitalisation (in preparation): Digital rEvolution (trailer: https://vimeo.com/359190179)

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