The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Self Development
resistance, new ideas, transformation, Faust, strength of initiative
By: Claus-Peter Röh, September 2016, Midsummer Journal 2016, No 57 of the Pedagogical Section

Resistance as the Origin of Pedagogical Initiative

In the opening lecture of the World Teachers' Conference 2016 “Overcoming Resistance” Claus-Peter Röh names some of the typical issues a Waldorf teacher may be faced with and provides examples of how we put up resistance in our daily lives. Below, you find a summary of his lecture which has been published in the Midsummer Journal 2016, No 57 of the Pedagogical Section.

Experiencing and overcoming resistance has always been an existential aspect in the development of the international Waldorf movement. Each new school initiative knows the phenomenon and knows that the resistance they meet actually helps them pool their forces, think out new ideas and bring about transformation. We can look back to many a crisis situation and realize that the obstacles we experienced then were instrumental in helping us to muster the strength to take new steps. “Necessity is the mother of invention”, as the saying goes. Rudolf Steiner saw resistance to the old, habitual ways of thinking as necessary and as a sign of the new school’s orientation towards the future. “It must oppose [traditional thinking], for otherwise it would not work in the direction of future development.” (1)


Today, three generations later, the Waldorf movement also faces obstacles and questions that require us to take a stance. In recent years, for instance, the media have intensely promoted the “digital revolution in the classroom.” 


Scientists develop complex “observation systems” that collect countless data on the basis of which they promise ever more plannable and predictable lessons as well as “highly individual” ways of learning. Individual students only need to press a button for the images on the electronic blackboard to change. “The possibility to zoom in on the Alps will drive the last vestiges of nostalgia from the classrooms.” 


As Waldorf teachers we need to penetrate the fascination with these floods of outer images and develop, out of clear insights, valuable living inner pictures that are conveyed from person to person as we teach students of various ages. 


Resistance is necessary for personal development


How we, as modern human beings, gain insights and impulses for our actions, especially when we come up against resistance, is an essential theme in Goethe’s Faust. In the very prologue of Part 1, the Father God explains how human beings need Mephisto and his dealings in order to develop new strengths:  


(340) The Lord: Man’s energies all too soon seek the level,

He quickly desires unbroken slumber,

So I gave him you to join the number,

To move, and work, and pass for the devil.


Mephisto has two kinds of influence on us: he tries to induce us to leave our intended path and he enables us to gain knowledge of the world and knowledge of ourselves. When asked about his identity, he replies that he is (1335) “Part of the Power that would always wish Evil, and always works the Good”.


The more clearly Faust sees the gulf opening within himself between the elevating divine forces and Mephisto’s degrading influence, the stronger grows his will to overcome this abyss through his own human actions. 


Part 1 ends with Faust painfully realizing, on seeing Gretchen in prison, that his awakening and initiative have come too late for Gretchen. Through the ups and downs in his dealings with Mephisto, his own power of judgment and strength of initiative have grown, however, allowing him to meet Mephisto in Part 2 as a human being who has become freer and more independent. Rudolf Steiner described this kind of inner growth in the face of the opposing forces as characteristic of the modern human being. 


“This swaying between Ahriman and Lucifer is necessary because, without it, our personality would not develop. Without the spirit that creates and acts through resistance, our personality could not unfold. In order to progress, it needs to feel resistance that reaches right down into the physical.” (2)


The members of our organization also offer resistance


Looking at the effect resistance has in our pedagogical work, we find an archetypal image in the daily waking up process. Every morning, our ‘I’ and astral body, which are intimately connected, must penetrate, and overcome the resistance of, the – equally closely linked – physical and etheric bodies. Because this penetration is not harmonious yet in children, Rudolf Steiner said, in the first lecture of The Foundations of Human Experience (formerly The Study of Man), that it was the foremost task of education to bring about the gradual harmonization between the spirit-soul on the one hand and the physical and life body on the other. 


When we look at child development we see that the pupils experience the resistance of their various levels of being in very individual ways. Imagine a boy who encounters strong resistance on entering into his physical body in the morning: he finds it hard to wake up, but as a result of this ‘clash’ with his physical body his thinking forces wake up very early. 


Or imagine a girl who has a strong astral body: she is soon awake and, spurred by her astral body, she brings a cheerful, wide-eyed, often hard to bridle, sensory joy and anticipation to each day. Because of her strong life of feeling, she easily connects with everything that has to do with movement, rhythm or music, but her astral love of movement offers resistance when she is required to concentrate on a quiet reflective activity.


As teachers we also experience various kinds of resistance within ourselves which we have to overcome in our own individual ways. This overcoming of resistance has an effect on our individual sense of freedom, on our inner mood and strength of initiative. If I decide, for instance, to change a long-cherished teaching habit with my next class, I will face the resistance of this old habit in my ether body until my new approach has established itself.


The other side of the ‘I’ in the face of outer resistance


These kinds of inner resistance are only one side of the teacher’s experience. As we meet the world and outer resistance with our senses, with our interest and actions, we come across a riddle: even if we fail to see this at first, we realize increasingly how the experiences, challenges, even difficulties, we encounter at school are deeply connected with our own selves. It almost seems as if we were meeting ourselves in our external destinies. 


Martin Buber referred to this finding oneself anew in our encounters with others and with the world when he said “I become an ‘I’ through you”. As Waldorf teachers in particular, we are required to practise our love of initiative by leaving old habits behind and devoting ourselves fully to the work and encounters that every new day brings. If we do this, as suggested in the Philosophy of Freedom, from individual intuition and conviction, we take steps towards finding ourselves in the social realm. Rudolf Steiner described this as a future stage of human evolution when he said, “We are heading toward a future age in which a person will say to himself: My self is out there in all those whom I meet; it is least of all within me.” (3)  


“Be a person of initiative”


As we are taking the initiative our dismay about the discrepancy between the actual lesson and the ideal we had in mind is often transformed into new strength and confidence. In applying our will and taking action we clearly connect with the part of our ‘I’ that is coming towards us from the future. 


In volume 3 of Karmic Relationships Rudolf Steiner described the biographical significance of developing initiative in the face of resistance: “Become a person of initiative. You must find the centre of your being by taking initiative when your body or other circumstances present you with hindrances; for all joy or sorrow in life depends on your finding or not-finding of this personal initiative.” (4)


With the theme of this World Teachers' Conference, “Overcoming Resistance – Courage for an Independent Spiritual Life” we would like to work on further developing our individual strength of initiative. 


translated by Margot Saar



Claus-Peter Röh, born on December 15, 1955. After studying education, he began worked from 1983 on as class teacher and taught music and religion at the Waldorf School in Flensburg, Germany. In additon to teaching, he taught at the Pedagogical University in Flensburg and gave courses at various teacher training centers in Germany. Since 1998 he has been a member of the Initative Group of the Pedagogical Section in Germany. In September 2010 he joined the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach/Switzerland as a colleague. Since January 2011 he has been leading the Educational Department of the School of Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum in Dornach/Switzerland together with Florian Osswald. He is married and has two children.




(1) Steiner, Rudolf: "The Spirit of the Waldorf School". Anthroposophic Press. 1995. tr. R. Lathe, N.Whittaker. p.30.

(2) Steiner, Rudolf: "Faust, der strebende Mensch". GA 272. p. 310 (Available in English as "Anthroposophy in the Light of Goethe's Faust". SteinerBooks. 2013. tr. B. Channer.)

(3) Steiner, Rudolf: "How can Mankind Find the Christ Again?" Anthroposophic Press. 1984. p.70. tr. F. Dawson, G. Hahn.

(4) Steiner, Rudolf: "Esoterische Betrachtungen karmischer Zusammenhänge". Band III. Lecture 10. p.151. (Available in English as "Karmin Relationshops. Esoteric Studies. Volume 3. Rudolf Steiner Press. 2002. tr. G. Adams, D. Osmond)

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