Forty years of teaching experience by self effacing Waldorf teacher Jack Petrash makes this TEDxRockCreekPark video truly engaging. I would like to offer some background to his observations regarding the Waldorf curriculum’s focus upon teaching hands, hearts, and heads.
Anthroposophy is the underlying spiritual science initiated by Rudolf Steiner PhD, upon which Waldorf education, and numerous other cultural endeavors are rooted. One of the ways a human being can be classified within this world view is by observing that we are a being of body–that each of us is directly connected and part of the earth, soul– that each of us has experience of the world which we can further classify as impulses of will, emotions, and thoughts, and spirit–that which is objectively real but initially only consciously accessible to our souls by means of our thinking, as in philosophy, mathematics and geometry. These basic classifications can become quite complex and must be conceived as interpenetrating one another. We are, after all, a unified being.
From an ideal perspective, educating the young needs to address all three aspects of our being, and for us to truly understand we must individually be able to functionally penetrate all three spheres. So, we can speak of a type of body knowledge, as in learning to walk, where the deepest impulses of will arise within our being. It is our first primary means of learning–directly manipulating objects, building, digging, counting by means of things taken directly from our world. When we are not properly grounded in the world we become disconnected from ourselves and others. From a developing child’s perspective this is certainly a first choice, as it were, in learning, and for some, continues to be their primary learning predilection.
For others, there is the focus upon our need for inner experience, as when we first learn to speak, and creatively express ourselves, feeling our way into the world. Inner pictures, like dreams, awaken in us and our imaginative play becomes a world unto itself. For all of us, we want our learning to be filled with art and play, in order to be fulfilling.
Thirdly, there are the thinkers, a process that begins in early life and reaches its highest levels of development only when one reaches their early twenties. Thinking needs to be brought along in education carefully and slowly. Too much intellect early in life is damaging and deadening to a child, but beginning around the age of twelve to thirteen, there is a stronger awakening, where the will can gently begin to be applied to an already imaginatively alive thinking that can lead to a conscious awakening to what lies beyond one’s self, and yet is of the same qualitative character as ones’ self, namely being of a spiritual nature: philosophical ideas, concepts of universality, freedom, individual rights, higher attainments in mathematics and geometry, the sciences, and the future possibilities for mankind becoming harmoniously aligned with our cosmic parents–the sun and earth.
As demonstrated within thinking itself, a whole person needs a proper education of the will, through their hands, as well as from a heartfelt artistic experience, in order that thought itself might become fully enlivened and invigorating. A child needs to learn by manipulating, through artistic expression, and by directly thinking and working through a subject. We each have our own personal tendencies, one favoring a more bodily form of learning, another the heart, and a third the head. Yet, each of us is made whole by developing the other two that we may need to strengthen in ourselves. We need then an education that nurtures and furthers the development of our whole potential. For life’s problems, especially in an age with so many serious and varied challenges as those we face today, need whole human beings present in order that those challenges be met concretely, creatively, and with cognitive certainty.
For those interested in diving into some of the deeper philosophical origins of anthroposophy, I’d like to recommend the short piece I wrote entitled: Anthroposophical Thoughts On Epistemology found here on our website.
Commentary by: Gerald Fluhrer, Sandpoint Waldorf School teacher for the past sixteen years May 2013