Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The spirituality behind Waldorf

A few months back, Papa Bradstein and I were chatting and he inadvertently dropped a bomb in my mind: he asked, what is the spiritual background of Waldorf education?

I say it was a bomb because at the time I stammered out a few lame sentences, and then we went on to some other topic. And I've been thinking about me stammering ever since. Why can I not explain the background of something that I've been working with for almost 10 years? Is it just too complex, or have I not tried to make enough sense of it?

In either case, I decided to give it a try. Now, in discussing this with Anthropapa, he pointed out that to reduce something like spirituality or child development to a few bullet points is automatically ridiculous: you can't take something organic and interconnected and break it down in a materialistic, reductionist way. But anyway, I'm still doing it! OK now, deep breath as I dive into the pool of decidedly woo-woo stuff that may lose me most of my loyal 5-6 readers...

  1. Human beings reincarnate. Therefore a child is not a tabula rasa to be filled with knowledge; on the contrary it is our task to lead them to their own inherent wisdom. Viewing children in this way leads to a profound respect for them as individuals, and acknowledges that intellectual development alone is not the sole reason for education.


  2. The human being is comprised of a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an immortal spirit. Waldorf education attempts to bring these bodies into balance through healthy development; mainstream education (and indeed mainstream culture in general) is seen as overly materialistic and intellectualized.


  3. Humans develop in seven-year phases starting at birth. The first, birth-7, is linked with the will and learning via imitation and physical activity. The second, 7-14, is linked with the feelings and learning via imagination and the arts. The third, 14-21, is linked with the thinking and learning via abstract concepts. Waldorf curricula seek to educate the child in accordance with these developmental stages: for example, there is no "intellectual" teaching in Waldorf kindergartens because the child needs to learn about the world through the senses and in movement.


  4. To be continued...

4 comments:

charlotte said...

I've only just come across the post and am fascinated. Please don't stop - I want to hear more. My spiritual beliefs match points one and two, and point three resonates very strongly with me too.

I have a feeling that a Waldorf education might suit my middle child. Anything more you have to say about it will find interested readership in me!

Papa Bradstein said...

We're still thinking about spirituality over here at the Bradsteins. No decisions or action yet, but some more questions, inching closer to action.

(un)relaxeddad said...

Interesting. The idea of rhythms of seven feels intuitively right - though humans being the pattern making creatures we are, I wonder whether nine would work?

Buddhism (which I'm still in an ongoing on-off dating situation with) includes a lot of beliefs involving reincarnation but one could equally take them as an image for this one single life and its (hamster) wheels upon wheels...

Henitsirk said...

URD: Steiner talked about several numerical configurations for the human, including three (body, soul, spirit), four (physical, etheric, astral, and spirit), seven and nine (it's been too long since I've read up on it to describe, but it's in the Wikipedia link in my post). Steiner viewed humans as a microcosmic mirror of the macrocosm of the natural and spiritual worlds. So it's not surprising that he developed a ninefold view, considering his many discussions of the nine spiritual hierarchies (seraphim, cherubim, angels, humans, etc.)

Steiner was also well-versed in eastern religions, having been the leader of the German section of the Theosophical Society. He didn't believe in Krishnamurti being the Messiah though, so he split with them pretty early on. He talked many times about how things like reincarnation and the existence of the soul were stricken from Christian dogma in the early centuries.