It is not easy to achieve a mutually agreedview of media. We must strive to come to well-defined conclusions without creating any dogmas. We need to attempt a mutual sharing of viewpoints without creating any front lines. At parents' evenings two factions can form quickly: One group says “we are proper Waldorf parents – we do not allow television” and another group is convinced that “film and TV are a reality today, we have to teach our children to become sensible film consumers; some films are well-made and very educational.”
How to conduct such a meeting depends on the individual situation. In this essay I want to present my experience with parents and give suggestions for teachers on how to approach the topic.i
Common Ground: The Foundations of Human Experience
One of the basic requirements is that the teacher herself needs to be familiar with the topic, this is surely one of the basic requirements. She or he strives to supply enough information to everyone so that a real dialogue, rather than a clash of preconceived opinions, can come about. Part of the preparation is the study of “The Foundations of Human Experience”, particularly the role of living, imaginative pictures in child development between 7 and 14. It might be advisable to read one or two extracts with the parents.ii
Further, we need to focus on visual media and ask, “what is its quality, how does it affect the child?” Basically, the same aspects are applicable for TV and the cinema; however, in the cinema the sounds and images are of course a lot more powerful. What they have in common – to name just one aspect – is that when we are watching a film, the eye is “fixed” as it were, stuck in an unnatural state of immobility, in a kind of staring. (Buddenmeier, 1996) In contrast, the eye in the “normal” process of looking at something is incredibly active; it constantly moves up and down, from left to right and so on. It is up to the individual teacher how she wants to pass this kind of information on to the parents; it may be oral or in writing, a text to read at home or shared as a common activity at the parents' evening. All of this depends on the situation and the available time.
In order to move away from preconceived opinions, it can be helpful to have collective experiences and share observations. In the past, I have found it beneficial to read out part of a story to the group and to share what we have felt while listening. We then watched part of a film iii – preferably the same story again – and shared what we felt while watching. It is good to consider the children's age when choosing the story. For the parents of younger children we might choose a fairy tale; there are a number of films available. I once chose part of “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende for a grade two parents' evening. I presented both parts of the book and the film.iv For the parents of older children a scene from the Harry Potter series might be appropriate.v
Such a shared activity always leads to a lively exchange at parents' evenings and seminars, and the participants describe a variety of impressions. The difference between the inner images, which the listener creates when a story is read, and the ready-made, often “flat” images in films usually becomes apparent. I have noticed that certain core aspects of film are often ignored and not mentioned because adults are so used to them. These are the cuts – about 400 per feature-length film, the changing camera angles (Buddemeinber, 1996) and the soundtrack which is omnipresent in modern movies.vi While the camera angles dictates the viewers' viewpoints and makes of them “puppets of seeing” (Patzlaff, 2013, 32), the music connotes the feelings in a particular scene and thus makes of the viewers “puppets of feeling”. I specifically point to these aspects if the participants of the seminars do not detect them. The group then examines the film once more, especially with regard to camera angle and soundtrack.
Cartoons and Computer Animated Films
If there is enough time, it is also interesting to examine cartoons, particularly in regard to the missing soul qualities of the characters and the question of how human beings are presented.vii
Since the 90s there has been a profound change in the design and production of cartoons. Today it is possible to produce computer animated cartoons with compellingly realistic rooms, scenes, characters and sequences of movement in 3D.viii I suggest that the computer animated human-like characters in these films – as realistic as they may seem – appear somewhat soul-less. It might be interesting to discuss this statement with the parents.
Through such shared observations, as described above, it should become clear that
Watching films is contradictory to the aims of the Waldorf school because the technical make-up of films and TV hinders the creation of living, imaginative pictures in the children's souls which is one of the central aims of the Waldorf movement.
Watching films hinders children's healthy development, particularly children under the age of ten. Before ten, “the foundations of all skills and abilities are established. Whatever the child has missed in those years can never be repeated with the same depth and intensity. (Patzlaff, 2013, 86)ix
Discussing the Use of Media at Home
Sharing observations with the parents is a good foundation for a concluding discussion about the use of media. It is one thing to know about media and their consequences for human beings, but it is quite another thing to implement such insights into daily life. We need to discuss actual family situations. How far can we apply the new knowledge in our families and to what extent do we have to make compromises?x How do we handle the situation if the older siblings want to watch a programme which is unsuitable for the younger ones? What do we do about the neighbours' children who always at the same time go inside to watch Sesame Street or turn a birthday party into a movie afternoon? And how do we react if the grandparents want to watch a “beautiful nature programme” with their grandchildren? Furthermore, we need to be aware of our personal use of media. Do we manage to press the Off button on the TV? Self-education is of paramount importance in media-education. Our attempts to teach the children sensible ways through the media jungle can only be successful if we take our task as role-model seriously. Finally, children and adults need to find a counterbalance to the omnipresence of media.
It is important that such discussions are conducted openly. No one should have to fear voicing their thoughts and opinions. For such an open exchange, small groups are often more suitable than large plenary sessions. It allows people to contribute even if they feel shy to speak in a large group. Whatever was discussed in the small group can be reported back to the plenary and can serve as a foundation upon which the topic is expanded. Such discussions can lead to an increased awareness of the notion that although each parent makes their own decision about the use of media, each decision affects the class as a whole.
The process described in this essay might encourage parents to examine media more consciously, to consider the consequences of media use on children and to use them with critical awareness.
Ludger Helming-Jacoby, was a teacher for 33 years, five years in the state system on various levels and 28 years as a class guardian and English teacher at Waldorf Schools in Cologne and Lübeck, Germany. Retired in 2001. "At the moment I spend most of my time with my wife, renovating our more than a hundred year old house. I am also active as a mentor for younger teachers and as a visiting lecturer at teacher training institutions. I enjoy walking in the hills of the Pfalz region, visiting my grandson, reading, watching films, (I am very interested in movies!) doing a Spanish refresher course and have time for activities which had been put on ice during my class teacher years."
For an extended version of this essay see: Ludger Helming-Jacoby. Der goldene Schlüssel – Anregungen für Klassenlehrerinnen und Klassenlehrer. Flensburg 2012 It has also been published in “Lehrerrundbrief”, Nr.98, 10/2012.
Translated by Karin Smith
Literature on living, imaginative pictures:
Rudolf Steiner speaks in a number of lectures about the pictorial method of presentation. For example in the lecture series “The Kingdom of Childhood”, particularly on 12th, 13th and 19th August 1924. (GA 307 and GA 311). The significance of the pictorial element for the thinking process is explained in GA 309, Lecture 5. In another lecture, Steiner stresses that images from the spiritual world lay dormant in the children's souls. Living, imaginative pictures have the task to wake up those dormant images. If this does not happen, there are some grave consequences. (See GA 199, Social Forms, Lecture 16, Dornach, 11th Sepember 1920) This is the only lecture, as far as I know, in which Steiner speaks about this connection; it is further mentioned in “Education Towards Freedom” by Frans Carlgren, 3rd Edition, 2009. Floris Books: Edinburgh.
I highly recommend the essay by Jörgen Smit “Wie werden lebendige Bilder wirksam im Lebenslauf?”, a lecture held in Dornach in April 1983. See www.joergensmit.org. The editor would like to hear from you if you find an English translation of this lecture.
Gabriele Böttcher, Vom Bild zum Begriff, in “Erziehungskunst” 9/88 and Ludger Helming-Jacoby, Fragen an Bilder in Helming-Jacoby, Der Goldene Schlüssel, Anregungen für Klassenlehrkräfte, a shortened version has been pulished in: “Erziehungskunst” 12/2007. See: www.erziehungskunst.de
There is a wealth of literature on the topic of film and TV. Here is a list of publications which I find particularly helpful for independent judgment.
Buddemeier, Heinz (1996) Illusion von Film und Fernsehen auf Individuum und Gesellschaft. 2. Auflage. Stuttgart: Urachhaus
Patzlaff, Rainer (2013) Der gefrorene Blick. Erweiterte und aktualisierte Neuausgabe. Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben.
Jacques Lusseyran, Jacques (1993) Gegen die Verschmutzung des Ich. In: Lusseyran, Jacques, Ein neues Sehen der Welt, Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben.
The following publications are available in English:
Patzlatt, R. (2011) The Child from Birth to Three in Waldorf Education and Child Care. New York: Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.
Patzlaff, R. (2007) Developmental Signatures, Core Values and Practices in Waldorf Education for Children Ages 3 – 9. New York: AWSNA Publications.
Lusseyran, J. (2006) Against the Pollution of the I. Sandpoint, Idaho: Morning Light Press.
Rudolf Steiner talked about the cinema on 17th February 1917 in Berlin. (See GA 175) To summarise, he stated that the cinema leads people deeply into materialism. Furthermore, he said that the key point is not to keep away from such things – people need to move with the times they live in – but to create counterbalance by engaging in spiritual activity. In a lecture in 1923 he explained how the cinema makes people passive and weakens their inner activity. (Ilkley, UK, 5th August 1923, GA 307)
iThe focus of this essay is on the age group 7 to 14. In the course of the Primary School years, the questions concerning the use of computers, smartphones and mp3 gadgets move more and more to the foreground and will have to be addressed. I suggest that the methods described here can also be used for topics such as computers and mp3 players, but I recommend that the topic “computer” should be considered separately because it is connected to a very different set of questions such as computer games, virtual reality, social networks and so on. See: Erziehungskunst 11/2009. Neue Medien zwischen Realität und Fiktion. (www.erziehungskunst.de)
iiSee the recommended literature in the section “imaginative pictures”.
iiiWatching a film in the classroom will of course only give a faint impression of the impact of sound and images in a movie theatre.
ivThe Neverending Story is an interesting example because there is a publication about the making of the film available: Ulli Pfau. Phantasien in Halle 4/5. Munich. 1984.
vThe fight between Harry and Quirrel/Voldemort is particularly suitable. (Part 1, Chapter 17)
viThe soundtrack is part of the film's atmosphere and consists of the spoken language, the music and the background sounds. A profound change in soundtrack engineering has taken place since the beginning of the 1990s. Today, a major part of a film's post-production is the creation of an elaborate, digital and complex landscape of sound. The soundtrack has a subtle, sophisticated but largely subconscious effect on the audience. Some specialist writing on sound-engineering is available but, as far as I know, critical analyses are missing. The DVD series “Film-Sound” introduces the history and effect of soundtracks: Zweitausendeins-Versand: Rüdiger Steinmetz. Filme sehen und hören lernen. Teil 2: Wie Licht, Farbe und Sound die grossen Gefühle verstärken. Teil 3: Filmmusik.
viiThe design and production of cartoons has changed a lot in the last few decades. A striking example of this change is the film “Horton hears a Who” (2008). It was first released in 1970, both versions are available on DVD and can easily be compared. Furthermore, there is a compelling documentary about the making of the film on the 2008 version.
viiiSee: Helming-Jacoby, L. (2012) Der Goldene Schlüssel for anthroposical aspects in connection with films in 3D, particularly their weakening effect on the Self. An extended version of the essay is available on zeugnissprueche.de/golden_key.htm
ixThe Neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer adopts a clear stance in his publication “Vorsicht Bildschirm!” Stuttgart. 2005. He writes, “Screen media make children obese and sick, they have an adverse effect on the ability to concentrate and to acquire reading skills and they lead to increased violence.” His findings are backed up by numerous US and German empirical studies of children's brain activity while watching TV. However, Spitzer has a somewhat limited view of the human being because he essentially regards people under the aspect of brain activity and examines how far the functioning of the brain is affected by watching TV. Spitzer's work can be included in parents' evenings but in Steiner Waldorf schools it is important to place anthroposophical aspects at the centre. See Buddenmeier and Patzlaff.
xSee Heinz Buddemeier “Kinderfernsehen ist nicht für Kinder”, Rainer Patzlaff “Der gefrorene Blick” and Edwin Hübner “Medien und Gesundheit – Was Kinder brauchen und wovor man sie schützen muss”. Stuttgart. 2006. The three authors leave not doubt that compromises cannot be avoided in daily family life. However, I wonder if it makes sense to recommend such a compromise as “healthy balance” (50% “waldorflike” activities and 50% media use) and to promote it as the new media concept as Andreas Neider does in his book “Medienbalance”. Stuttgart. 2008.