Introduction to Rudolf Steiner

On 27 February 2013 Gaia will celebrate the birth of the man whose ideas and thoughts manifested in the global movement in education known as Waldorf Schools. His name was Rudolf Steiner and he was born in 1861 in what is now Croatia and died on 30 March 1925 in Dornach, Switzerland.

Steiner had a deep and profound knowledge of the spiritual aspect of humankind and through hundreds of lectures and many publications he shared this knowledge with those who sought it. In the ten years since I started studying Waldorf education, my admiration and respect for him has changed and evolved from, “Geez, this man is so clever…” to the absolute, highest regard for all the gifts and very practical indications he has given to humanity. Steiner’s research and insights traverse the arts, architecture, medicine, religion, agriculture, education, care for the sick and dying, and community or social structure.

My experience of Steiner and his work is mainly through my own teaching. Many of the meditations that Steiner gave for teachers refer to personal development rather than teaching, and this in my opinion, lies at the heart of Waldorf education. In this, my seventh year as a Waldorf teacher, I have been stretched, kneaded, rolled and placed in such uncomfortable zones that self development has been inevitable.

While I was studying and completing my thesis, I discovered why I fell in love with Waldorf education at the beginning of my teaching career. According to Steiner: “Schools are made up of teachers and children and the school must develop out of these two; the teachers and the pupils rather than any abstract ideals and programmes or cleverness”. I love that! Gaia is unique and as long as Gaia continues to work as practically as possible, the school should meet the needs of the children and the teachers.

What I found most reassuring in Steiner’s book “Balance in Teaching” is the way in which he encourages teachers to be practical rather than to work with abstract principles; what is gained at the end of the year has more practical value than any preconceived ideas at the beginning of the year. This means that the teachers, children and the entire community are continually in a process of becoming.

I love being a Waldorf teacher and all my colleagues do too. At our Whole School Meeting recently, I listened as each teacher introduced themselves, and even though I know all of them well, I was still intrigued and listened carefully to their stories. According to Steiner, “Reverence and enthusiasm – these are the two secret, fundamental forces by which the teacher-soul must be permeated.”

This reverence and enthusiasm is definitely an inner impulse which all Waldorf teachers embody. Most of the teachers at Gaia will be spending a week of our Easter vacation at the National Conference of Waldorf Teachers, held at Max Stibbe in Pretoria. These annual conferences always manage to refresh and revive our enthusiasm for what we do, and there are so many moments of reverence that filters enriching our teaching when we return to our classrooms.

There are more than 1 000 Waldorf schools in more than 60 countries, over 2 000 Waldorf early childhood programs on 5 continents, and more than 600 institutions for curative education. Waldorf Education is truly global with a curriculum that supports and fulfils the needs of children and teachers living in other countries, practising diverse cultures all over the world.

The theme of the conference last year was ‘Waldorf in Africa’ and it continues this year as we look more deeply into our African stories: the Nstomi’s of the White Lion, Timbavati, Credo Mutwa, Saartjie Baartman and the “Afrika ander”. “Ik bin ein Afrika ander,” was the response from a Dutch student after being questioned by police on the streets of Stellenbosch one night, centuries ago. While sitting around the evening fire by the light of the moon, when she was a little girl, our playgroup teacher, Zoliswa, told us how her Gogo would tell stories, Gogo would occasionally ask if they were still listening and their response was:”Gcosi ntsomi,” which means: “We are listening to the story”. On the eve of the anniversary of his birthday, from the southern shores of the African continent we say, “Yebo Tata Steiner, gcosi ntsomi!”

“You Steiner people are the Aboriginals of the Universe.”
Burnam Burnam, Australian Aboriginal, actor, activist, author, and sportsman, descendent of the Wurundjeri tribe.

With blessings and light,
Melanie Francis