In April, almost a thousand teachers and educators from over 60 countries left their home countries to take part in the World Teachers' Conference 2023 at the Goetheanum. Philipp Reubke, Leader of the Pedagogical Section, describes his impressions of the lively conference in «Das Goetheanum». Read an abridged version here.
Monday, 10th April, 20h30 and 995 educators from sixty-one countries have just listened to the lecture of Catalan philosopher, Josep Maria Escquirol. Then a man with a leather jacket and a telescope enters the stage, followed by some flamboyant ladies and gentlemen, and a harlequin. They speak several conference languages, one after the other, but finally one understands: they want to get away from here, away from this problem-filled, polluted, boring planet earth.
Fortunately, the man with the leather jacket and telescope can pilot spaceships and soon lands with his troop on Mars, that is, in another corner of the hall. But even this planet quickly becomes inhospitable and uninteresting. The flight continues until, after a last flight accompanied by a Rachmaninov piano movement, the insight occurs: that which invites us to stay here is not the more or less pleasant conditions, but love...
In his own way, Esquirol made similar points to these young actors and eurythmists from the Goetheanum stage: the invitation to take responsibility in society comes through educators who take time, who create a special place – the school – and who build warm relationships with the children and young people they meet there.
On Tuesday, many languages vibrate through the large hall once more. English and Dutch form a clear melody, with a strong Spanish accompaniment and a choir of Nordic languages, alongside Italian, French, Hungarian, Chinese and many other harmonies, including a delicate double voice of Russian and Ukrainian. And German? A discreet basso continuo. Before the recitals begin, silence spreads. A young woman from Holland stands on the stage and remains silent. Then she begins to sing and makes the large hall sing along too, without words.
Thomas Fuchs, Professor of Philosophical Foundations of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Heidelberg, expresses the theme / leitmotif of the conference with a pair of terms so striking that they are heard repeatedly at the conference, even more so in the English translations.
He explains the difference between «the body we are» and «the body we have». The small child experiences itself unconsciously as a living bodily-mental unity, she/he is completely body and is there in bodily presence. The adolescent, on the other hand, feels different from his body, which disturbs him, which he hides, which he styles. The body becomes a physical object that can become alien to oneself, that one changes or manipulates at will as an object. The alienation from the body, which becomes a manipulable object, a commodity, can be counteracted through education and self-education. Spontaneous bodily modes of existence and a 'feeling at home in the body on earth' must be consciously striven for today.
But how? Wilfried Sommer, lecturer at the teacher training seminar for Waldorf education in Kassel, made a proposal regarding science lessons in the upper school. The lecture was detailed, precise and concrete. Sommer considered how the experiments, the descriptions of experiments and the development of scientific concepts can be connected to the bodily experience of early childhood, and to the sensory experiences of young people.
The next day provided further suggestions concerning daily educational practice. Both speakers elaborated on how the generally formulated idea of Thomas Fuchs («Being-in-the-body is when the body is characterized by its own sense of time and place; by rhythmic and periodically recurring processes»), can be implemented in kindergarten and school. Kathy MacFarlane, Waldorf early years educator from New Zealand, spoke of an «attack on the rhythmic system» that has taken place through digital media, and through pandemic measures. By slowing down and simplifying ways of being and working in kindergartens, by taking time to carefully nurture the environment, she said, children can be helped to learn to breathe and strengthen their life forces.
Michal Ben Shalom, class teacher and lecturer from Israel formulated a philosophical – poetic plea for walking: How many children and teenagers get «from bed straight to school» with minimal bodily movement? In such situations, parents and teachers have to use imagination to find solutions to enable walking and hiking every day. «It promotes rhythm, deepens breathing, supports circulation, allows harmonization of the rhythmic system, the middle person, and promotes life.»
History lessons have the task of accompanying children and young people in their arrival in the here and now, to illuminate what has become from the past. But not only. Michael Zech, from the teacher education seminar in Kassel, emphasized that the present must also be illuminated from the future. And the aim of learning about history is not only to give narratives, but also to enable the young people to tell their own narratives. And then the most important task, which is not only about making students aware of connections to their own culture, but: «Learning to become a stranger in one's own culture. Being at home where you are.»
The eurythmist and former class teacher from Taiwan, Ya Chih, impressed the participants with her lecture style, which was so very different from what one had heard before. She spoke about her life and showed and interpreted the Chinese character for «Zen»: a pictogram, a call, an ideal of humanity to connect the divine in the universe with the divine in the individual. In individual consciousness, according to Zen philosophy, during cultural development, a kind of lifelessness and lovelessness has appeared, which has also corrupted the human body. In the Christian tradition, it is said that through the death and resurrection of the Sun God, «a therapeutic well-spring» or a seed of healing powers has been placed in the human body. This, however, can only be made effective through the conscious activity of the ego forces, or as one would say in Zen philosophy, through the effort to practise simultaneously the awakening and strengthening of the individual, and the letting go of oneself in the cosmic whole.
«If, at the beginning of the meeting, someone had said something like this, we would not have been ready to open ourselves to such perspectives», commented an Italian class teacher after the lecture. (...)