Head, Hands, Heart

Anita Thomas writes about the Waldorf Education, which focuses on developing creative, independent thinkers committed to social change, offering an alternative to current pedagogy.

I encountered the term anthroposophy (or ‘wisdom of the human being’) a few weeks ago, when I attended a talk at a local pre-school. In contrast to the current methods of teaching largely followed by educational institutions in Singapore, the fact that the school was run by the parents of its students was in itself a reason to visit, and to learn that it offered a ‘Waldorf Education’ (or preparation, in this case) based on the philosophy of anthroposophy (try saying that) was doubly interesting despite the fact it meant nothing at all but suggested the possibility of interesting theories.

A short introduction to anthroposophy is necessary to understand the Waldorf perspective.

Anthroposophy ?

A philosophy credited to Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophy believes that humanity (anthropos) has the inherent wisdom (sophia) to transform both itself and the world if every individual develops and harnesses his connection with the natural and spiritual in the universe. This ideology is a way of life rooted in knowledge and self-development.

The emphasis is on knowing and thinking, not faith, so anthroposophy is more predisposition than doctrine, acknowledging a living power which shapes thoughts, feelings and actions – ergo head, hands, heart.

And what is the Waldorf Education ?

The anthroposophical approach recognizes that an individual’s growth and development depends entirely on his self-esteem and self-confidence, which is reinforced by his experiences in acquiring knowledge and skills. Unless learning – a lifelong process – is enjoyable, it cannot be a catalyst for change.

Therefore, the Waldorf curriculum “… focuses on the acquisition of knowledge, but also on the growth of moral judgment. It values intellectual ability, but also creativity. It propels academic achievement while nurturing imagination, personal courage, sensitivity to others and emotional balance.”Sloka, a Waldorf School in Hyderabad, India.

It is a meld of academics, artistic activity and a unique teacher-student relationship. The emphasis is on critical thinking skills, coupled with an appreciation of – and respect for – beauty and goodness, in addition to truth.

Waldorf : a 3-phase learning curve

Between the ages of one and seven (pre-school) a child develops a sense of self through a sensory exploration of his environment. So all learning in this phase is concentrated on understanding oneself and one’s place in the physical construct of places and situations.

Between seven and fourteen (Middle School), the child begins to experience independent human emotion, which is often polarizing – love versus hate or sympathy versus antipathy. By confronting unexpressed fears and insecurities, the child further understands himself, learning and accepting his ‘dark side’. The teacher understands this, and learning accommodates this.

Fourteen to twenty one (High School and further) cements the understanding of relationships, concepts, personal responsibility and free will. The child begins to explore cause and effect. In a shift in consciousness, he begins to reflect on his mission on earth. His growth parallels an inner physiological need, a trajectory that we are all familiar with – seeking friends, blaming parents, reveling in early adult freedom, a rediscovery of parents, the idealism and frustration that accompanies independent learning and finally choosing a path in life, a profession.

And so …

It is all about understanding oneself and putting that understanding to work through a ‘clarity of intellectual thought with the imagination, and beyond this with consciously achieved inspiration and intuitive insights’ – Wikipedia.

How do Waldorf students fare in the ‘real world ‘ ?

More than well, by all accounts. A dedicated site offers a long list of Waldorf alumni that includes globally recognized actors, writers, politicians, sportsmen and women, journalists, novelists, photographers, designers, musicians, architects, artists, scientists, painters, CEO’s, inventors, diplomats and poets.

Not unsurprisingly, it seems to favour people whose contributions to society reflect their personal growth and beliefs – which in turn reinforces the anthroposophical view that new generations spark and/or influence social change.

As a parent …

As we prepare our children for their journey in life, we seek the best education we can possibly give them.

Anthroposophy asks if we recognize – and respect – their individual needs. Or do we lapse into formulaic expectations and resort to academic structures which favour a certain set of skills, which reward conformity rather than individualism ?

The natural response to this – in Singapore and everywhere else – is what are the options ? More to the point, from my point of view, is do we have any ?

Parenting is our own inner path of discovery and it involves taking risks in what we believe is best for our child.


Photographs googled off the Web.

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