An Example of Rudolf Steiner Education FINAL EDIT COMPLETE

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Alan Whitehead


Rudolf Steiner education has been practised throughout the world for over fifty years. It has manifested in different ways in different schools in different countries; this article will attempt to describe one of these manifestations.


Lorien Novalis school at Glenhaven, Dural near Sydney began only in 1971. The work up to now has been more of a formative nature than a strong consolidation. However it is possible to perceive the underlying structure of the school, to see how it ticks, and also to see if it is a valid alternative in the social context in which it exists.

To begin with, Lorien Novalis is not a 'progressive' school—it is, however, a very progressive school. The strength in the structure lies very much in the fact that throughout the primary years, the class teacher of a group of children remains with the group ideally for eight years—from age seven to fourteen. He achieves the same natural authority with the children as they find in their parents.


Security in childhood is strength building and at school every attempt to provide a reliable and secure atmosphere is made. The child and teacher know each other intimately; the question of discipline does not arise because the group has learned to live together in relationship to the teacher who is the recognised 'head' of the group. The teacher responds in a positive, direct way to the children's needs and they trust him; he knows where he stands in the world and is indeed a figure to whom the children can look up too; he stands (with the parents) as a model of the adult world—a world which they are consciously approaching.

The teacher at Lorien Novalis assumes the responsibility for the child's education and does all in his power to find out what is the best thing for a child or the group at any given time. He does not assume that the child knows better how to educate himself. Therefore he doesn't throw the responsibility on the child's shoulders. Steiner's work is invaluable in finding the 'hows' and 'whys' for the teacher's actions.


This natural authority or 'authority of the ego' begins to wane as puberty approaches for the child. At that stage the authority gradually becomes one which is based on the capacity of the teacher— young people admire skills and their questioning adolescent minds will soon unmask the hack. As Lorien Novalis only educates children up to twelve years of age, that chapter will have to wait. 


One of the opposite poles of this 'natural authority' is the teacher who lets the children do whatever they wish, he, more or less, only following after them, climbing on to their bandwagons. Hand a child a violin and ask him to 'express himself'. The kind of sounds emitted are painful beyond words to a skilled musician. These things are often justified on the basis that it is the child's 'inner expression' mostly, however, it is simply lack of artistic discrimination and technical skill. Anyone who believes that art is 'in the eye of the beholder' need only hold up a series of pictures to a group of children who respond naturally to what they see. There is absolutely nothing arbitrary about their reactions. One can hear them all breathing out simultaneoulsy at a beautiful picture with (the '00's' and 'AHS') and also detect their knotted brows and general contraction when ugliness is presented to them. If the child's soul subconciously tells him one thing, and an adult tells him another, then uncertainty and confusion will be born in him.


The other pole of the teacher's 'natural authority' is the 'galloping major' syndrome. This is where convention and tradition have taught the teacher a set of immobile standards against which everything is judged—he is always right, right because he says so. The children feel this as a straight jacket, and this is where the discipline comes in. The natural reaction of the children is to try and squeeze through the fingers of the clenched fist—teacher's nick-names are born and the writing appears on the wall. Of course, if the teacher is strong enough, he can instill enough fear in the children to get through the day. If he is not strong enough, then the situation becomes riotous.


These three pictures present themselves to the educational gaze today: 1) No authority 'How should I know, work it out yourself.'  2) I am right because I say so' or fear-inspired authority. 3) Authority based on intimate and long standing relationship s between children and teacher. At Lorien Novalis we practise the latter.


Why are we educating children at all? We often hear that they would be better off just merging freely with external life. This is probably right; but external life would need to be more organic. At the moment the child has no place outside the institution called 'school'. If he were to move out now he would be quickly lost. However, sometime in his teen years he does move out and face the world. The question is, how do we prepare him for life outside? Do we prepare him as a carefully modified end product to fit neatly into his place as a cog in the great wheel—often an inhuman wheel? Or do we educate him to have contempt for the wheel, hatred of authority, a conviction of the uselessness of work, and a cynical attitude to the progress that western civilisation has made? One picture sees the human being subject to the system—his inspiration and values dictated to by a television culture; the other sees him with dirty feet, occasionally engaging in some cottage industry to get enough 'bread' to live on.


One of the most important things that one can recognise in children is their unashamed creativity. They use it in all manner of ways; it is not ego-centred but completely spontaneous. What's more they have a keen sense for perceiving it in other people.  The child who asks in excitement for the teacher to come and look at his drawing is not exhibiting immodesty—he is living in the joy of being personally creative. If lesson material could be so arranged as to draw forth from the child, as much as possible, his creative spirit, then many educational problems and dislikes would cease to exist. One point of confusion often found is that creativity has something to do only with a few specialised arts. Creativity can encompass the whole of human activity. There is, no doubt, a conventional method of designing a bridge, there are also thousands of unconventional ways to design one most, not as good as the conventional, but some infinitely better. Those bridge designers who find the better ways are the creative people. The only imposition that we would place upon the children leaving Lorien Novalis is the wish that, no matter in which field they work, their approach to it is a creative one. All the educational method employed in the school is directed to this end. The teachers therefore must be as creative as possible. Mathematics problems should be worked out in nightly preparation in a creative way, they should be presented to the children next day in a creative way, and the children should be encouraged to exert creative faculties to solve them. For example, the solution should be able to be found in a conventional way, but there should be other ways open so that the children can explore the problem and discover for themselves that the more obscure way maybe the quickest and best. 


To cope with the world today, people should leave school strong in spirit. The nature of creativity is to strengthen the individual. The child who has been educated to utilise his own creative resources consistently and effectively, will take this as a gift with him through life. He will not automatically turn to the outer world for things which he can provide himself. He will not accept pre-masticated culture but will build upon it to create the new. He will never be bored with life because life offers much to one who thinks creatively. And finally, he has the greatest possible chance to be effective in the world. The man who is fully 'Man' will not want to 'opt out' of society and he will not tolerate being submerged by it, instead he can take his position as one who can help shape the future. If there are enough people like that around, then the future appears bright indeed.

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