An interview with Henning Kullak-Ublick.… >> The courage of personal initiative
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>> Putting modern childhood under the spotlight
The courage of personal initiative
Today every school in the world is a centre and youthful impulses flow to us from all continents
Erziehungskunst | The hundredth anniversary is the subject of great celebrations. What is the central issue of this worldwide event?
Henning Kullak-Ublick | In the course of a hundred years, Waldorf education has spread throughout the world starting from a single town in southern Germany. More and more people are saying, not least because of the total economic takeover of all spheres of life: we want to bring our children up to be free human beings, we want them to be addressed as whole human beings. Their hope is that their child can become individual at the Waldorf school while at the same time extending their social skills. All Waldorf schools are united by the experience and the ideal that the universally human can be found precisely in the unique nature of each individual child. Waldorf education was conceived from the beginning as a system of education which can work in all cultures.
EK | The German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Pedagogical Section and the International Forum have called on all schools to work on Rudolf Steiner’s The Foundations of Human Experience in preparation. Why?
HKU | The Foundations of Human Experience is a path of schooling which gives us teachers a wealth of concepts and instruments with the help of which we can begin to develop a sensitivity for the characteristic developmental steps which each person goes through in their own way. With such a deeper observational capacity we can then also approach the question: how does this come to expression in general in children and what is the signature of their unique individuality? It is thus the complete opposite of postulating some finished system of the human being which can then somehow be implemented by “copy & paste”, but it is rather about observation without preconceptions from which alone original educational ideas can arise.
Working with The Foundations of Human Experience can help us to distinguish, also when we concern ourselves with modern developmental research, which of our traditions are worth continuing to develop and which of them have become mere conventions which can safely be dropped. So, in short, The Foundations of Human Experience are an enormous help in developing educational imagination.
EK | Presciently, Rudolf Steiner says with regard to the 100-year rhythm that if we did not succeed in mustering a similarly strong spiritual impulse in 2019, Waldorf education would become ever more diluted. What is the picture today?
HKU | We lived for a long time with the idea in Germany that Stuttgart is the centre of the world of Waldorf education. But that has completely reversed itself: today every school in the world is a centre and youthful impulses flow to us from all continents.
When a new Waldorf school is set up in a country, there are many things which are to begin with copied because they have proved themselves elsewhere; meanwhile, however, the question is being discussed everywhere with great intensity, including at the meetings of the International Forum, how Waldorf education can be developed in other cultures to take account of their needs and, of course, at a higher level, the needs of our time. Incredibly committed and enthusiastic people are at work on this, just as they are in Germany. The spirit simply blows where it wills. Hence the question about the future is above all one as to whether we want to make ourselves fit for the challenges of the twenty-first century, and particularly for living in a digitalised world.
One problem with regard such an intention is, however, something that is sometimes a weak point in the way we work together as colleagues, namely that the slowest determines the pace. That can have a real paralysing effect, above all on young teachers, and no longer has anything to do with our aspiration to be educational pioneers. That is why “Waldorf100”, after a long phase of consolidation of “Waldorf” as a brand, aims for primarily one thing: giving teachers the courage for personal initiative, for putting their good ideas into practice, alone or together with others.
I have the very strong sense with regard to the young colleagues who are joining our schools today that they have taken a very deliberate decision in favour of this system of education; they do not just want to be its “operators” but develop a real relationship with the children. We can achieve an awful lot with these young people! But we have to trust them, protect and strengthen them. Then our schools will become inwardly flexible, our teachers’ meetings an inspiration and people will trust themselves to achieve things.
Because giving someone courage is based on each individual having the greatest possible measure of freedom, while the school develops a culture of reciprocal perception and reflection, because freedom is more than randomness or arbitrariness. That, too, requires the ever fresh look at the human being themselves, so that’s another reason for The Foundations of Human Experience.
EK | What has changed in the way the Association of Waldorf Schools sees public relations when an anniversary on such a large scale as “Waldorf100” is being organised?
HKU | When I started to look into this subject eleven years ago, I kept getting feedback from journalists that our communication was hardly better than that of the Scientologists, we were shutting ourselves off, proselytising and rejecting any criticism. Today we are open to discussion and transparent. Above all, we have become aware: only when we are interested in what others are doing will they start also to show an interest in what we are doing. Public relations means perceiving the social questions which are blowing in the wind and seeing how living answers can be found which encourage people to reach their own conclusions instead of prescribing what they should think.
“Waldorf100” now acts with the self-confidence: we are the largest independent school movement in the world. We owe it to our time to raise our voice and make visible that there is a worldwide functioning civil society of which we are a really important part because we have been able to gather experience for the last hundred years about what an education system should look like which concentrates on the way that young people connect profoundly with the world; how they make the innermost core of their being the lodestar of their biography; and how in doing so they can bring about social cohesion. That is one of the most important requirements of our time.
EK | Has Waldorf thus arrived at the heart of society?
HKU | Yes. We are in a position which every marketing director dreams about: everyone has an opinion about Waldorf, be it accurate or not, everyone associates something with the term. That is a sure sign that we have become a real force in society. But it is up to us how we continue to develop and whether the thing which brought us teachers to this profession and the parents to their Waldorf school can truly become effective in the world.
Mathias Maurer asked the questions.