Goethe's essay “The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject”1 and Rudolf Steiner's reflections on “Goethe and the Platonic View of the World”2 have inspired me to think about Kindergarten in a new way. The call to search for an active image of the children prompted me to become active as a “researcher”. Research, particularly “Action Research” has become popular in Waldorf Education in recent years.
Research in general, and experiments in particular, usually follow the three steps of preparation, implementation and conclusion. I was aware from the beginning, that my own research can only touch upon certain aspects, that neither completeness nor any final conclusion would be possible. However, I have nevertheless tried to explore some specific parts of the text.
[Human beings], with the impartiality of beings as it were divine, they are to seek and to examine not what comforts but what is. Thus the true botanist will not allow the beauty nor the use of plants to divert him; he will examine their formation and their relation to the rest of the plant kingdom. Just as they all are conjured forth by the sun's rays which shine on all, so shall he look upon them and cognize them with the same quiet gaze, taking the standards for such knowledge, the data to guide his judgment, not from himself but from the circle of the things which he observes.
If we observe an object as regards to itself and in relation to others, without directly craving or shunning it, with calm attention, we shall soon conceive a pretty clear idea of it and of its parts and relations. The more we practise such attention and connect things with each other, the better shall we exercise our native gift of observation. If in our action we are able to relate the information thus acquired to ourselves, we are called prudent men, and rightly.”3
Goethe's proposal surely still has its value today. It can help us, as inquiring teachers, to approach the children with an unobstructed inner openness. How often are we selective in our perception by only focusing on what is pleasant or indeed what is unpleasant for us?
I have to create an inner room which is empty of all previous experience and knowledge. This activity in itself allows my inner activity to come very close, in an almost intimate way, to the children. I then realize that through this strict inner practice, certain forms of play, which I did not previously notice, become visible.
For example, I observe the way the children move through the classroom during free play and notice some purposeful and some “meaningless” movement. This is nothing new; but what is new is the understanding that I can relate the purposeful elements to the “meaningless” ones by extending the length of my observation time; this is truly enlightening. Suddenly, I see certain events and processes in a new light and the true being of the children reveals itself more clearly. Something like a fabric emerges, appearing almost like a breathing structure. Another interesting aspect is the effect which the observations have on me: besides the patterns of movements, the children's physical dynamics appear quite clearly, almost like an image which moves between inner and outer focus.
In order to arrive at a more holistic picture, we might consider further aspects of research such as the toys, the topics of games or the collaboration between the children.
Without commenting I let the observation stand and reverberate. In this way, each child leaves a deep impression on me. What do I do now with these experiences?
Therefore we cannot be too careful, not to draw premature conclusions from experiment. It is precisely in passing from experience to judgement, or from a piece of knowledge to its application, that all the inner enemies of man wont to lie in wait, as in a mountain defile: uncontrolled imagination, impatience, precociousness, self-satisfaction, stiffness, specious thought-form, preconceived opinions, comfortableness, foolhardiness, fickleness of mind, and what not. These with their retinue lie in ambush and take unawares not only the man of the world in life of action, but the observer who in his quiet contemplation seems so remote from every kind of passion.4
I have mentioned above how I had to will myself to create an inner “empty” room, but still the enemies approached me quickly. How easily does preconceived terminology such as “weak lower senses”, “too strong in the head”, or “not able to connect deeply” enter our thinking. I do not want to belittle these concepts; I am aware that they stem from real observation and I use them myself. However, I do want to propose that teachers and educators dare to move into an empty or open room, to step towards non-prejudiced observation and perception without expecting any results.
The “breathing structure” I mentioned earlier, opens up a whole new dimension for me to approach the children's inner being and its manifestations. It allows me to leave my experiences stand in their own right; therefore true nature reveals itself in a more immediate manner and becomes more real as it were.
These descriptions sound quite unspectacular; almost banal. However, everyone who has entered open rooms knows, that there is quite a lot to endure and that the result cannot always be immediately grasped. Another crucial aspect of the opening of new approaches is, that time and space are created in order to perceive the child and accept her true being, just because I am looking at her. The image I have of the child can thus be nourished and enlivened through its true inner nature.
Such non-judgmental observation exercises can reduce all our personal models of education to a manageable amount because we focus our attention- for example on the “empty room” as described here -, and this in itself can have a liberating and relaxing effect.
The fact is, man delights more in the idea than in the thing, or rather, he only delights in the thing in so far as he presents it to his mind in an idea. It must somehow fit into his sense, his way of thinking. And he may lift his way of thought ever so far above the common level, he may purify it as he will; still, as a rule, it is but an effort to bring a multiplicity of objects into some palpable relation, which is not strictly speaking theirs among themselves. Hence the prevailing tendency to form hypotheses and theories, terminologies and systems, which we cannot even disapprove; they are an outcome of our constitution, of our very nature.5
Robert Walser's words “the truth abides in the everyday” helps me again and again not to be crushed by expectations – which I often put on myself.
It is often more effective to start a journey in the understated than to have overly high and overly lofty goals and ideals. If I manage to create an unintended gesture, I might be blessed with a magic moment, a moment which might be tender, fleeting and poetic. A new culture of questioning can emerge if the teacher is able to hold this moment in the balance. This culture of questioning approaches the task at hand with openness and therefore diminishes the danger to resort to unconsidered hypotheses and theories. It has also proven to be fruitful in the work with the parents because in this way a culture of mutual respect is practised.
To take the children's vital demand “I want to be seen” seriously; to accept their unfathomable interest for the world and their boundless energy, means to unite idea and perception. It is to connect to the child, to start a relationship with her.
This is a shortened version of Franziska Spalinger's chapter “Wesen und Erscheinung” in: Schiller, H. (2008) Wirklichkeit und Idee. Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben
With kind permission by the author
Edited and translated by Karin Smith
A similar paper has been published on www.erziehungskunst.de
1Published in “Readings in Goethean Science”, compiled by Linda S. Jolly and Herbert H. Koepf, Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, 1978
2GA 6, Chapter 4
3See footnote 1.
4See footnote 1.
5See footnote 1