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Rudolf Steiner and the Developmental Phases of Childhood: Introduction: Acquiring knowledge – real life observation versus orthodox science.

If one stops for a moment and reflect on the state of affairs in the world today, who of us wouldn’t feel anxious and some amount of despair. One is constantly being traumatized by news of violence, destruction of our natural resources and a sense of helplessness in a scenario where one is being propelled along in an unstoppable spiral of self-destruction. Why is this happening? Why are people so obsessed with greed and violence? How did they become so estranged from their natural environment that they are completely unable to fathom the damage they are inflicting on their surroundings? How is it possible that they cannot see that contaminating the fresh water sources and destroying eco-systems will lead to their own demise? What is this seemingly mysterious force that sends people blindly towards their own self-destruction?

    Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) was a gifted scientist and a philosopher and deeply interested in spiritual development. He lectured widely and was the founder of the philosophy called Anthroposophy which forms the basis of Waldorf education. Steiner said that Anthroposophy sprang from the deepest need of our present culture. He studied the human being as a living entity in its surroundings and through very fine and careful observation he came to a groundbreaking understanding of how the human functions on every level of existence which led to a deeper insight of why the majority of people find themselves leading fragmented, misunderstood and isolated lives. His educational model addresses the whole human being – body, soul and spirit. It attempts to provide a blueprint for healing the brokenness of society and to empower children to develop into adults living full lives imbued with meaning and purpose in a connected community capable of taking care of one another as well as their environment.

    Steiner firstly explains how orthodox science and its methods shape our worldview and affect our everyday lives. Now it needs to be said that Steiner had a very high regard for current day scientific achievements. He was a scientist himself and very familiar with scientific procedures and methods for research and the resulting conclusions. He noticed however, that most people from all walks of life owed their world orientation to the tremendous scientific achievements of the current day whether they understood them or not and regardless of faith or nationality. What he also noticed was that the human soul has been strangely affected by modern science. Somehow, humans, by being part of this global scientific journey discovering the outer workings of the universe, became alienated from their inner lives and from themselves.

    The reason for this he explained is that science mostly focuses first and foremost on a controlled and often lifeless environment in order to do experiments and research. For instance a human being is analysed according to physiological and chemical components in a laboratory and the results are then applied to the living human being. Or else what has been discovered in the plant and animal kingdoms is applied to the human being. The interaction between the body, soul and spirit are being completely disregarded by orthodox science.

    Steiner continues and also states that our current age places prominent emphasis on the intellect at the cost of other human faculties. The intellect is only concerned with whether information is logically correct or not and as a result we have stopped asking whether it conforms to a real-life situation or not. Our intellect tells us constantly what should be as is dictated by the media and science and statistical data when reality might be far from it. Statistical data might have its place but can only serve as confirmation after careful observation of a real life scenario. It doesn’t allow us to understand the human being in depth.

  In order to create a knowledge of the human beings as they really are, a person needs to develop advanced powers of objective observation. When you apply this to a classroom situation the teacher must observe and be attentive to what the children reveal themselves. The teacher must never deviate from the real life scenario. Intellectual knowledge of the outer world can never fully comprehend the true situation. It is only when observing the human being in the human sphere that one will come to recognize the true situation and being able to respond appropriately.

    Accurate observation is a topic in itself and self-knowledge and spiritual growth are key elements in its development. I will refer to and expand on this time and again as I continue with this blog on Waldorf Education. I also will still refer to other leading world authorities on education and how the Waldorf methodology is gaining ground globally as we speak. However for now I would like to end with following excerpt from the “The Child’s Changing Consciousness” by Rudolf Steiner:

‘Materialistic minds can grasp only human thinking—and
this is their tragedy. Materialism has the least understanding of
matter because it cannot see the spirit working through matter.
It can only dogmatize—there is only matter and its effects. But
it does not know that everywhere matter is permeated with
spirit. If one wants to describe materialism, one has to resort to
a paradoxical definition. Materialism is the one view of the
world that has no understanding of what matter is.
What is important is to know exactly where the borderlines
are between the phenomena of body, soul, and spirit, and how
one leads over into the other. This is of special importance with
regard to the child’s development during the first period of life.’

References

Steiner, R, 1996. The Child’s Changing Consciousness As the basis of pedagogical practice. 1st ed. New York, USA: Anthroposophic Press.