Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Issues of School and Home
22 June 1923, Stuttgart
Ladies and gentlemen! For a long time we have been aware of your active wish to have the issue of school and home, children and parents, discussed here at a parents’ evening.
It is not possible to say everything there is to say on this subject in one evening, but we will continue to organize evenings where these questions can be discussed so that the topic can be covered exhaustively. Today I will articulate the basic main points that the teachers and I have in mind.
In the field of education, parents evenings are often proposed, but many representatives, even outstanding ones, of today’s official school system do not think much of such parent’s evenings. Some excellent educators say that nothing comes of them except fruitless discussion. Now, different points of view are possible with regard to everything in practical life, including parents’ evenings, and there is some foundation for all of them. I will not dispute people’s right to think little of parents’ meetings from their particular point of view. We, however, as representatives of the idea of the Waldorf School, must see something of extraordinary significance in these parents’ evenings, because if these meetings can be conducted in the right way, they are connected to the conditions most necessary for the life of what we intend to bring about through the Waldorf School.
To be sure, teachers who have found their place in the social context that is prevalent today, who feel supported by state authorities, are at home and secure in this and are very often satisfied with it. There are plenty of people telling them what to do, so why take it from the parents, too? This is how they look at it.
This cannot be our point of view. We are not embedded in current societal circumstances in the same way. We have to work out of the guiding light of our understanding of human beings and of life, out of human science and human art as our pedagogical goal. As educators, we must draw what we need for our teaching on a daily basis from the inner strength of our hearts. For that we need, not recognition — I do not want to say that because an idea that derives as strongly as ours does from the challenges of the present and the future must be self-contained in the strength of its effectiveness and not count on recognition — but understanding; above all, the understanding of those on whom so much depends, of those who entrust their children to this school.
Without this understanding, we cannot carry out our work at all. This understanding must be general in nature at first. We cannot claim to be guided by a higher wisdom, derived from the acknowledged social order and hovering above our heads, and to need nothing more than awareness of this wisdom. We must gain leverage for the ideals of our school, and this happens when people see that what comes to light through the idea of the Waldorf School is very deeply rooted in the most important cultural demands of the present and the near future. Therefore, we must strive to present our intentions to our contemporaries in a clearly understandable form, in a form that can engender understanding. Above all, we count on the understanding of those who entrust their children to us, who therefore have a certain love for the Waldorf School. We count on them being able to grasp the thoughts, feelings, and will impulses that sustain us.
Thus, we would like first and foremost to establish a relationship between the school and the parents that does not rest on faith in authority. That is of no value for us. The only thing that is of value is having our intentions received with understanding, right down into the details. The only thing that is of value is the awareness that this school is taking a great risk in trying to use feeble human forces to recognize the scarcely decipherable demands of the twentieth century and to recast them in the form of an educational venture. I believe there is no single member of our faculty who is not trying to experience what we are involved in as some kind of solid footing in world history, in humanity’s evolution. This is what our teachers are trying to do in all modesty. As necessary as modesty may be, however, we must not be timid in what we are doing. We must be aware that what we are doing is significant, but also that this significance rests not in our own character but in what we acknowledge to be true. The significance of what we are doing must be looked at in the right way, not from an arbitrary or sympathetic standpoint, but from the standpoint of a will that stems from the consciousness of the times. This, above all else, is what we need from the parents.
We would like the parents of the Waldorf School children to say, “We are especially aware of our duty to educate human beings, and we would like to have our children make a contribution to humanity’s great tasks in the twentieth century. We want entrusting our children to the Waldorf School to be a social act of some consequence.” The more strongly this becomes a part of your whole attitude, the better.
We have to depend on your attitude above all else. We cannot think much of detailed guidelines on how teachers are meant to act toward the parents and vice versa. We cannot expect much from these guidelines, but we can expect a great deal from meetings between teachers and parents that take place with the right attitude, because we know that when people’s attitudes relate to their inmost being, the attitude turns into action, right down into the details of life. When an attitude takes hold of a person on a general level, then his or her individual actions become copies of the broad strokes of the attitude’s intentions. That is why it is more important for us to feel and understand the right thing in the right way than to lay down or follow specific guidelines.
I have emphasized how the different stages of life affect children, how children are different before the change of teeth than afterward, in the period between the change of teeth and puberty. Up until the change of teeth, children’s destinies actually keep them in very close contact with their parents and their home. If we are not totally caught up in the materialistic way of thinking that is flourishing at present, if we can see through to the spiritual context within human interactions and evolution, we know that the destined relationship between children and parents is much greater than our abstract age with its materialistic ideas often assumes. If, in addition to knowing what physical life provides, we know what is given to us by life in the spirit beyond the boundaries of birth and death, then we take the destined relationship between children, parents and siblings very seriously, and the way in which children come into elementary school from home, which is really incisive for all of education, acquires significance for us.
Although this first part of my remarks may be somewhat far from the thoughts of most of you parents, it still seems important to me to touch on this. Those of you who already have children with us may have younger children at home. You may have come to love the principles of the Waldorf School and want to send your younger children here too. For you, tonight’s subject of raising pre-school children will be important.
On entering school, children are true reflections of all the characters and circumstances in their parent’s home and in their environment as it has been until now. Up to the age of seven, children are almost entirely sense organ. They take in everything from their surroundings with incredible sensitivity — everything that is said, done and even thought. Hidden within this is a secret of human growth that is largely disregarded by today’s science: Expressions of soul in a child’s surroundings are transformed into the child’s organic, bodily constitution. Anyone who has acquired the educator’s fine feeling for a child’s appearance that a Waldorf teacher is meant to have will see by the shine in a new elementary school student’s eyes whether that child has been treated lovingly at home or has been treated unlovingly and subjected to outbursts of anger in his or her environment. What parents and siblings and so forth do, say, and think lives on in a child’s bodily constitution. If I wanted to, I could say a lot about how these expressions of soul can be observed in the processes of breathing and blood circulation and in the working of the child’s nervous system. Due to certain circumstances, the child’s father and mother may tend to have frequent outbursts of anger in dealing with the child. In such children, we notice what they have taken in and bound up with their inner being. It has turned into their bodily constitution; it is there in how their digestion works, how their muscles move, and even in how they can and cannot learn.
It is literally, not figuratively, possible to say that when a first-grader is entrusted to a teacher, the teacher receives a complete image of the parents’ home. In their health, temperament and ability to learn, children bring their home right into school. Our first intimate acquaintance with the home is through the child. This should become part of the attitude of those of us who have a real interest in schools such as the Waldorf School. Such things need only turn into an attitude to begin to affect our actions.
When you are clearly aware of something like this, you will do some individual things that you would otherwise not do and refrain from doing many things you would otherwise do. This is no abstract knowledge; it saturates your whole life. If this prerequisite is present, it will result in the will to bring parents and teachers together in the right way. When we know that what is important works in the depths of human nature, we pay less attention to what is actually said in words in five minutes, but much more to how it is said. When the attitude I indicated brings parents to school again and again to encounter their child’s teacher, the simple fact that parents and teachers are not strangers to each other but have seen each other before will start to bear fruit.
In this relationship between parents and teachers, what we need above all is for this interest in the generalities of Waldorf education to carry over to all aspects of school life, to everything that is connected to the Waldorf School through the faculty on the one hand and the parents on the other. If we know that at home there is a daily interest in what we as teachers are doing in the Waldorf School, then we can teach with a great feeling of reassurance, with a strength that gives us new incentives each day.
I do not deny the difficulty of mobilizing such interest. I am well aware that under current social conditions people have little time and energy to ask “How was it? What did you do?” when their children come home from school. I know that the children cannot expect their warm enthusiasm to elicit this question. The point is that parents should not ask this question out of a feeling of duty, but in a way that makes the children want to be asked. We should not be at all embarrassed that the children may sometimes tell us things that we ourselves have forgotten; that goes without saying and will pass unnoticed if the right enthusiasm is present on both sides. Do not underestimate this: If teachers can know that what they are doing sparks lively interest at home, if only for a few brief minutes, then they know that their work rests on a firm foundation. They can then work out of an atmosphere of soul that can have an inspiring educational effect on the children.
This is the most effective thing we can do to combat what has been termed by some of today’s outstanding educators, “the war between parents and teachers.” That is what they call it when they are speaking among themselves. This war is a subject of secret discussion among many educators. It has led to a noteworthy expression that is becoming well-known; young teachers in particular tend to use it: “We have to start by educating the parents, especially the mothers.” We here, however, have neither the ambition nor sufficient Utopian sensibilities to do that. Not that we believe that parents are not educable or refuse to be educated, but rather because we want there to be a really intimate relationship of friendship between parents and teachers, a relationship based on the matter at hand. The parents’ interest in the school can do a lot to bring this about.
While the parents’ souls have very strong effects on their child’s bodily constitution, it is only possible for teachers to work on the child’s soul through soul means. Here, in place of the imitative nature with which a child encounters his or her parents before the change of teeth begins, there appears the principle of a necessary and natural authority. This is something we must have, and teachers are especially supported in this if an interest such as I have described is present. Much of what the parents can contribute to supporting this authoritative strength, to enabling their child’s teacher to be the authority that he or she must be, can have its source in something as simple as the fact that school is taken seriously, with a certain ceremonial seriousness. A lot of sifting out goes into choosing teachers for the Waldorf School, and they are people you can have confidence in. And if you do not understand something, rather than wrinkling your nose at it right away, it is important that you trust in the great overriding principle in which you yourself believe. Then you will be supporting your child’s teacher and making use of the opportunity to bring about a relationship of trust between parents and faculty.
You know that we do not issue report cards with grades as the public schools do. Instead, we try to describe what is typical of each child and to enter into his or her individuality. First of all, if teachers sit down to formulate reports and are aware of the responsibility involved, then riddle upon riddle appears to their minds’ eye, and they weigh up every word they write down. It is a great relief to them in this process if they have actually met the child’s parents, not simply because this tells them about the hereditary circumstances, which is all materialism is concerned with today, but because it allows them to see the children’s environment, and then everything begins to appear in the right light. It is not necessary for the teachers to judge the parents themselves in any indiscrete way; they simply want to meet the parents in a friendly manner. Just as writing a letter to someone you know is different than writing to a stranger, it is also different to write the reports of students whose parents you know and those whose parents you have not met.
Secondly, the teacher should actually be able to know that such reports spark loving interest at home, and I believe that if parents would manage to write a brief response to what the teacher wrote in the report, it would be an incredible help. It would make no sense to institute this as a requirement, but it is extremely important from an educational standpoint if parents begin to feel the need to do this. Such notes are read with extreme attentiveness here in the Waldorf School. Even if they were full of mistakes, they would be much more important to us than many currently acknowledged accounts of modern culture. They would permit us to take a deep look into what we need if we are to teach, not out of abstract ideas, but out of the impulse of our times.
You must not forget that Waldorf teachers educate out of an understanding of the human being that does not come about in today’s customary ways. A powerful human understanding would flow in what the parents could communicate to the teacher in a devoted way, and I do not exaggerate at all when I say that a response to a report card would almost be more important for the teacher than the report itself is for the child.
Here too, however, I place more value on parents maintaining a lively interest in everything going on in the school than I do in this specific measure I have chosen as an example.
Thus it is my opinion that the right thing will happen in the time the children spend on vacation if the school year runs its course in the way I have indicated. We would do well to let the vacation be a vacation and not pin the children down to doing anything school-like. However, if you can make the attitude I wished for into a reality, that would mean the right kind of happiness, joy, and healthy refreshment for your child.
We are particularly dependent on an atmosphere that is steeped in this attitude, so that you realize that the Waldorf teachers are concerned about every aspect of your child, including first and foremost his or her health. We are particularly concerned about being informed in our souls of subtleties with regard to the state of health of the children who are entrusted to us. An art of education is not complete unless it extends to this degree of interest in a child. This is an area, however, in which the work we need to do will be possible only if parents and school work together in the right way. We would like to see our school met by an understanding that arises from an inner need. We would also like to see the parents turn to the school for tips on their children’s bodily well-being, diet and so forth. Above all we want to see the fundamental impulse behind our activity in the school, namely deep, inner human honesty and openness, take full effect in these details in the interaction between parents and teachers. This could lead to great results in life, and much can be done better in this regard if fathers or mothers come to the teachers and say, “My children are coming home from school tired; they get home too late. What can I work out with you to counteract that?” Working things out in this frank way can be the basis for many good things to happen.
In particular, it can help the school a lot if the parents lend their support in things in which exactitude, but not pedantry, is needed. It contributes a lot to how we can maintain order in the school and create a mood of seriousness among the children if everything about how children and parents interact in the morning makes it a matter of course that the children leave the house at the right time and therefore arrive at school at the right time, without any special commands being issued. Here, too, it is not so much the individual instances I am referring to as the consciousness that stands behind them, the attitude that school is something serious and ceremonial and that when your teacher is satisfied with your punctuality, you satisfy your parents as well. This is a moral note that the children bring from home each morning. A child’s state of mind on leaving the house in the morning is not merely a source of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to the teacher’s educated eye. Disturbing or supportive impulses find their way into the teacher’s mood, too, if the child leaves the house in one way rather than another. Such things need to become conscious. I believe it is of no small significance for the rest of your life to have heard as a small child from your father, “There are two things that need to run exactly on time, you know — the clock, and getting children to school.” Saying that now and then does not take much time, but it will have an effect on the rest of your child’s life.
We are not dependent on details, but rather on a heart-to-heart relationship between school and home. We are confident that if this real heart-to-heart relationship is present, the right thing will come of it. We long to see this attitude awakened not merely with regard to details, but in full force. Then the Waldorf School will accomplish something not only through its cultural consciousness but also through such things as we have discussed today.
We must be clear that in our times certain innovations have been necessary so that deficits in such things do not come to light too strongly. Just think of what kindergartens sometimes have to do to make up for what has been done badly at home! Our times have become such that they require surrogates for what should be experienced in the family.
What we are trying to accomplish in the Waldorf School is something that needs to be followed not only intellectually; it must also be loved. And if the parents’ attitude is steeped in this love, we will not need to raise our children in fear and in hope, which are the two worst but most used means of educating children today. The best means of educating children, however, is and always has been love, and home can be a great support for a school whose art of education is sustained by love.
Some people say that the discipline in the Waldorf School is not as good as in other schools. Time is too short to speak about this in detail now. Simply keep in mind that things have changed a lot in recent years, not only in society but also in the souls of children. We cannot apply the standards of our own youth. There is a deep gap between the young generations of today and the older ones, and when getting an educational grasp on the being of a child is at issue, we will do badly if we educate on the basis of fear of punishment and hope for good grades, but we will do well if we teach out of love. No matter what kind of wild turmoil is going on in the classrooms, if children have the right relationship to their teachers, if the children are still able to see in their teachers what they are supposed to see, then all their boisterousness will not mean what it would mean otherwise. This may be paradoxical, but it is psychologically correct. We begin to look at boisterousness in a different way: The children are getting it out of their systems so that it will not have to come out later on, which is decidedly better than the other way around. Later stages of life are based on what we foster in school, you see. If we are deeply convinced that we are educating with a whole lifetime in mind and not just for the current moment, then we also know how much we need you parents in order to move forward with the idea of the Waldorf School.
These are the points of view I wanted to present first. I want to emphasize that they contain what is most important, and that we will get very far indeed by taking hold of them honestly and thoroughly. This will also strengthen the Waldorf teacher’s sacred conviction, with which we hope you agree. We know that we will achieve our goal if the school’s intentions are understood at home and if it is made possible for us to work together intimately with the parents.