There are many elements in Waldorf education which present startling contrasts to many of today’s educational practices. However, the one I feel impelled to describe first has to do with the importance of the quality of ‘heart’ in reaching the young child. I use the term ‘reaching’ in place of ‘teaching’ because, though we teach children, it is of little use unless we can reach them. I use the term ‘heart’ to point toward the child’s inner life.
I spoke to this in my first blog when I said, “the heart is the gateway to the child’s mind.” We most often view teaching in relation to the head, to thinking, and much is done to awaken thinking in children as soon as possible. I urge us to see thinking as more of a flowering in children, which comes about in the healthiest way through first cultivating the imagination and feeling in the elementary years.
To approach the child at this time as someone who is to be brought as quickly as possible to an intellectual flowering is to do a disservice. As with hothouse flowers we can bring about this flowering, but at what cost. While the metaphor is only partial, I must ask what is the human parallel to the stems and leaves? It is the life of feeling. They lend the plant balance and stability; they take in light and air; they are the health of the plant. And they create the conditions for a healthy active, creative intelligence to develop in due time.
When we look around with dissatisfaction and even dismay at what we see in our society, we may have to acknowledge that our approach to education may play a key role in our having come to this pass. Young children do not do thrive in the presence of pressure, intellectualization, abstraction, and even fear. We as adults and teachers may have become accustomed to operating within these conditions, but it is inherently alien to children. Of course, sadly, children can become accustomed to it, too, but much to their detriment.
If we are indeed to rethink our educational approach we must do so with heart.