The focus of this conference will be on transformation and creativity. In an age of standardized testing in which teachers and pupils all over the world are required to work towards measureable, comparable, pre-defined goals, our focus on creativity and transformation presents a clear contrast and an alternative. The roughly 17,000 hours that a pupil spends in school offer innumerable opportunites for learning and development: with respect to the learning of foreign languages, the basis of a lifelong relation to other languages and cultures will be established during these years. Foreign language lessons using traditional school textbooks, following a standard curriculum and driven by teaching to national exams will inevitably lead to a different relation to a foreign language and culture than an approach based on tapping into pupils‘ creativity and offering them a broad range of possiblities for individual growth and transformation. Waldorf education is based on the conviction that pupils have the right to these possibiliites.
Fortunately, there have been educators and scientists from all over the world who from very different perspectives have also been calling for more humanistic and creative approaches to education. For instance, through both neurological and educational research there is an increasingly clearer understanding of the far-ranging significance of the affective dimensions of learning: students who are genuinely moved by what they are doing learn far more and remember more of what they have learned. Such affective engagement is also crucial in terms of developing an intrinsic motivation to continue to learn. This may seem rather obvious to us as teachers, but with respect to educational research this was certainly not considered obvious in the past. In the largest educational meta-study ever conducted, based on the evaluation of 50,000 other studies, John Hattie concluded that it is the quality of the relationship and the nature of the personal interaction between teacher and student that is by far the most decisive factor in shaping all learning and as a result of these findings he and others have called for a fundamental re-evaluation of many current educational tenets (Hattie, 2012). In our own field of foreign language teaching, the continued growth of the so-called humanistic methods, whose most prominent spokesman, Prof. Alan Maley, has joined us for this conference, is also a further sign that alternatives to standardized, test-driven curriculums continue to be sought and developed.
Where do we as Waldorf teachers stand in these ongoing discussions between the proponents of normative curriculums and rigid testing and those who are calling for creative, humanistic alternatives? What does Waldorf Education, shortly before its 100th anniversary, have to offer in this current debate?
II The Radical Origins of Waldorf Education
Let us first remember that the first Waldorf school that when it was founded in 1919 was created for working class children, the children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. The delegation of employees who came to Emil Molt to ask him to found such a school told him that they had no illusions about what they were going to be able to achieve in their own lives, but they wanted their children to have more chances than they had had. The first Waldorf School was thus not planned as a school for the elite, as it is often seen today, but for those children who had previously had no choices. It consisted of a unique mixture of such children together with the children of parents belonging to the large anthroposophical movement which existed in Stuttgart at that time. In considering the historically class-driven structure of the entire German educational system, this mixture can only be understood as a far-ranging transformation of educational thinking. Thus the fact that these working class children were then, for instance, also given the opportunity to learn two foreign languages from the 1st grade on, was not only a revolutionary idea with respect to foreign language learning, but in this larger context can also be seen as a radical social and cultural act.
In the courses for teachers directly preceding the opening of the first Waldorf School, Steiner explains that his vision of the Waldorf teacher is that of an educational artist. This is an idea in which he also draws on perspectives which others had developed before him, most notably, Goethe and Schiller. What is new is that this is not only expressed as an ideal, but becomes very concrete: the basis of a teacher's artistry is concretely tied to a deepened understanding of the nature of the child and developing enhanced perceptual and intuitive faculties. His concept of artistry in teaching is also concretely tied to a specific understanding of a methodology which addresses the dynamic and fluid nature of learning processes; the ‚breathing‘ within a lesson, achieving a balance between cognitive, emotional and will processes, between memory and imagination. Maintaining this dynamic balance is viewed as an artistic process dependent on a teacher’s attentively sensing and responding to her pupils along with a complete openness to the ‚pedagogical moment‘ . This is clearly a highly challenging art to learn, requiring faculties which need to be continually practiced. If one thinks about the many years of constant practice required to learn the art of playing the violin or the art of painting, it becomes apparent what attaining artistry in a field actually entails. And naturally even for an accomplished artist it requires continual work to maintain the highest technical standards and to continue to develop interpretative maturity. It is, in the end, a lifelong task requiring constant attention and unceasing personal development. Thus placing Waldorf teaching in the domain of artistry, can also be viewed as a radical educational act.
Finally, Steiner makes clear in these first courses that the vision at the heart of Waldorf education is an understanding of teaching as a spiritual and moral task based on the realization of a direct connection of the spiritual in human beings to the spiritual world.He asks his teachers to teach with the consciousness that each of their pupils had incarnated to be able to do what they could not do in the spiritual world and that a teacher's ultimate task is to enable them to harmoniously integrate their physical bodies into their spiritual beings and existence. Viewed from this perspective, the opening of the first Waldorf School can also be considered a radical spiritualact.
And it is in this larger context of the radical social, educational and spiritual sources of Waldorf Education that I would like to look more specifically at transformation and creativity in teaching.
III An Ancient Sufi Story
I would like to begin by trying to explore the concept of teaching as an art. In considering what Steiner says in different lectures, it is evident that he does not mean singing a song, or reciting a poem with a class. These are undoubtedly worthwhile things to do, but this is hardly what Steiner understood as the artistry of the teacher. In order to become more concrete here, I would like to offer two contrasting and revealing examples.
What true teaching means appears to be an age-old question. One of my favorite pedagogical stories, a traditional Sufi story, illustrates this:
Abu was a young Sufi teacher. One day he rowed with his boat over a large lake. While rowing he sunk into a state of quiet contemplation and thus almost didn’t hear the distant spiritual song of a young woman who was a Sufi pupil. As he then gradually noticed her singing he realized that this pupil wasn’t singing this particular mantra exactly correctly and he thus felt the duty as a conscientious and passionate teacher to help this pupil. So he rowed with great intensity to the island from where he could hear the young woman singing and was filled with the thoughts of his own great teacher who had taught him this mantra so wonderfully.
After he reached the island and introduced himself to the young woman he began immediately with his instructions regarding the true way of singing this mantra. His pupil was unendingly thankful. They spent many hours together practicing the words and the tone of this mantra, so that she could learn it by heart.
After the young woman had stopped making any mistakes in her recitation, the teacher departed and rowed off again over the sea filled with the proud feeling of having helped her. From a distance he could still hear the song of his pupil when he suddenly realized that she was now singing it again incorrectly in the same way she had before. While he was thinking about whether he should row back to her he noticed to his amazement that her song was getting louder and louder.
As Abu then turned around, he saw her walking on the water following his boat. When she reached him, she begged him ”My teacher, please teach me again how to sing this Mantra in the correct way – I have forgotten everything that you taught me!”. Abu, however, was speechless (in Meixner 2001, 7 my translation)
There are a number of different levels one could address in this story. Let us start with the most obvious: as teachers we are naturally familiar with the phenomenon of teaching our pupils something that we’re sure they have learned and then we find out in the next homework assignment or the next test that they haven’t learned it at all. If it’s any consolation, this phenomenon seems to exist for Sufi masters as well. At the same time, if we look at our own experiences as learners, I’m sure we can find examples in different areas where the same thing happened to us. So in that sense it is not hard to identify with both characters in this story. What you think you taught is not necessarily what is learned and what you think you learned is not necessarily what was taught.
If we go a level deeper, the end of the story opens up another perspective on what also happens in this story. This young pupil who had sung incorrectly and was so thankful to have been corrected, became so distressed when she forgot what she had just learned that she walks on the water to reach her teacher! In other words she has reached a stage of development, far higher than the Sufi teacher who so patiently and passionately taught her how to sing the mantra “correctly” At the end he is speechless. Because she forgot the words? One has to hope not. At that moment he had just realized that she had walked on water. What had he not seen before? What had he not heard before?
It is a wonderful example of something we do all the time; listening and already knowing, correcting with the assumption that we already have the answers. Because Abu was immediately sure that he had to fix something, he stopped listening. At the same time, he taught his pupil with great enthusiasm and the best of intentions. It is not hard to see ourselves, is it? The effect of his entire attitude, including his enthusiasm and high pedagogical intentions, is that he doesn’t actually listen to, or perceive who he has before him. He is in his own mental representation, in his past, and thus cannot be open to the present - or the future. Perhaps that moment at the end when he is suddenly speechless becomes a first moment of openness and presence, the beginning of his own creative transformation. In any case, this moment presents a chance for learning and development.
IV Oliver Sacks and the World of the Simple
I would now like to look at a second example which in different respects presents a striking comparison. It is a situation described by the famous neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. Many of you will be familiar with his wonderful books which should be required reading for every teacher. Sacks has had quite a remarkable life and perhaps the most important incident in his entire career can be traced to a situation he describes when he writes about one of his very first cases. He writes about this case in the book, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” It is in the section of the book called “The World of the Simple” and the chapter is about a young woman named Rebecca.
When he first met Rebecca she was 19 years old and lived in the mental institution where Sacks had his first job. Her IQ was less than 60. She had a cleft palate and could barely see. She had severe cognitive and motor deficits and, for instance, would spend hours trying to put a foot into the wrong shoe. She could only speak very haltingly, a few bursts of words at a time. Despite years of attempts to teach her, she was wholly incapable of learning to read or write. She was called a moron, or a fool. Sacks writes,
When I first saw her – clumsy, uncouth, all-of-a-fumble- I saw her merely, or wholly as a casualty, a broken creature whose neurological impairments I could pick out and dissect with precision: a multitude of apraxias and agnosias, a mass of sensorimotor impairments and breakdowns... and concepts similar to a child of eight. A poor thing I said to myself (Sacks 1990, 180).
He did notice that she was very close to her grandmother and could listen for hours completely entranced to her grandmother reading stories in a beautiful reading voice. This struck him as surprising, but he didn´t make the connection that this didn´t fit to any of his other impressions. He then describes how he was wandering outside on a sunny day:
...it was a lovely spring day – with a few minutes in hand before the clinic started, and there I saw Rebecca sitting on a bench, gazing at the April foliage quietly, with obvious delight. Her posture had none of the clumsiness which had so impressed me before. Sitting there in a light dress, her face calm and slightly smiling, she suddenly brought to mind one of Chekov's young women – Irene, Anya, Sonya, Nina-seen against the backdrop of a Chekovian cherry orchard. She could have been any young woman enjoying a beautiful spring day. This was my human, as opposed to my neurological, vision (Ibid.).
He goes up to her and she begins talking in odd single words phrases –
'spring', 'birth', 'growing', 'stirring', 'seasons' 'everything in its time' (Ibid.).
He is immediately reminded of the Old Testament:
I found myself thinking of Ecclesiastes: 'To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant . . .' (Ibid.)
He then compares her here to the way she had appeared to him during the neurological and psychological testing where she had done so miserably and he comes to the realization that all this testing was expressly designed to bring out deficits and losses. Thus what he hadn´t discovered through the tests was her ability to perceive the world of nature as a coherent, intelligible, poetic whole and that her inner world was in this respect composed and coherent.
Our tests, our approaches, I thought as I watched her on the bench-enjoying not just a simple but a sacred view of nature ,- our approaches our “evaluations” are ridiculously inadequate. They only show us deficits, they do not show us powers, they only show us puzzles and schemata when we need to see music, narrative, play, ...(Ibid. 181).
He now sees her in a very different light and they grow increasingly close: “As I continued to see her, she seemed to deepen, or perhaps she revealed her depths more and more.” Then her grandmother died and she was frozen with grief. He tries to help her, arranging vocational classes and workshops for people like her. And then, after a while, she tells him one day
'I want no more classes, no more workshops. They do nothing for me. They do nothing to bring me together' (Ibid. 184).
They try to figure out what she could possibly do instead and then she says:
'I must have meaning. The classes, the odd jobs have no meaning. . .What I really love is the theatre' (Ibid. 185).
They enrol her in a special theatre group which she loves and in which she does amazingly well. Acting composes her, she becomes “a complete person, poised, fluent, with style in each role.”
And Sacks goes on to write that theatre soon becomes the focus of her life and that if one sees Rebecca on stage, “one would never even guess that she was mentally defective.” And he concludes with the following realization:
It was perhaps fortunate that I chanced to see Rebecca in her so-different modes-so damaged in the one, so full of promise and potential in the other-and that she was one of the first patients I saw in our clinic. For what I saw in her, what she showed me, I now saw in them all (Ibid. 182).
Sacks’ various books are about what he then discovered in his different patients; people who had often remained completely hidden behind the masks of severe neurological problems. He also remains connected to many of those patients over decades and follows up on what happens to them in the course of their lives. One is often reminded of Steiner´s injunction to always consider the long term effects of education 20, 30, 40 years later. These remarkable neurological case studies can also be seen as models for pedagogical case studies
VSeeing and Listening as Spiritual Science
What do these two stories reveal about the nature of creativity and transformation? There is obviously much that can be said here. I would like to first focus on the qualities of perception.
Sacks sees Rebecca in the spring light outside – something wholly new and unexpected – and there is suddenly the association with Chekov’s characters; he hears her halting, poetic speech and his immediate association is with the imagery and language of the Old Testament. During these moments she emerges for him from the shadows of her diagnosis and he then realizes how he and medical science view their patients. What Nietzsche calls the look of "cold, grey eyes" kalte graue Augen is suddenly transformed and he begins to perceive her and then his other patients differently.
I believe this process is closely related to an essential dimension underlying Waldorf teaching. The reports of those first teachers who worked directly with Rudolf Steiner show very clearly that it was, above all, in the development of such perceptual faculties that Steiner saw the finest possibilities of realizing the goals of Waldorf education. One of these teachers, Erich Schwebsch,writes:
For Rudolf Steiner all that mattered was perceiving and grasping the individual presence of the spirit in every human being. Even in the smallest aspect an entire Being is present. And the educational task that Rudolf Steiner gave to us as teachers was to learn to recognize the presence of the spirit in those individual pupils that life has presented us with (Schwebsch 1953, 19 my translation).
He then concretely explains what this meant:
He taught us to see the child – to have an artistic understanding and view of the gestalt, rhythm, colours, intensity of all that expressed itself in and through the child's being and behavior. At those points that we were able to do this it was like seeing for the first time. Through such experiences which were a new way of knowing that freed us, new pedagogical instincts were developed. Steiner didn't try to impart to us a pedagogical tradition, – he opened our eyes (Ibid. 20).
What Schwebsch describes here is perhaps intrinsic to the nature of all spiritual science – a selfless attention to what is there – eineselbstlos intentionale Zuwendung.
Where do the sources for such acts lie? I believe they are based on a deep interest in the other and an openness and receptivity for the most serious questions. In the Sufi story, Abu had no questions; he heard her song and knew exactly what he had to do and how to do it. Whereas at the moment Sacks sees this highly deficient person looking beautiful in the sunlight and listens to her poetic depiction of spring, something fundamental changes within him and he beginsto question his previous conclusions. This leads him to question the very nature of diagnosis and the way he has always viewed his patients. Finally his entire training and profession is perceived in a new light. This transformation of his perception of her has also transformed something within him.
From this moment on, he begins living with these questions. He begins to perceive differently and, most importantly, he begins to act differently - as does she. She then begins to take her life into her own hands and at one point says to him that she doesn't want to do the vocational therapy at the hospital any longer. It is in the course of their ensuing discussion that the idea of her acting in a theatre group is first advanced; an idea which later leads to an existential choice, one that would enable her to express and reveal dimensions of herself that would otherwise have remained untapped, unheard and unseen.
VI The Self as Will
What is driving this change in each of them? It is evident in such transformations that we are deeply in the realm of the deed and of the will; these are not mere words. We are in the realm of the Self, and I would like to suggest that it is the higher selves of both Sacks and Rebecca that can be sensed as the driving force in each of them.
The concept of a higher self, distinct from our everyday ego, is fundamental to Anthroposophy and to Waldorf Education. It is most clearly revealed not in one’s talents, in what comes most naturally, in that which, at first glance, seems the most obvious, but rather in the will that drives a person to reach that which is not yet there, not easily attainable and yet vitally important for them. In Sacks’ case perhaps this can be seen in his continual overcoming of his own self-described highly introverted and reclusive nature. In Rebecca's case it is clear that she has an extraordinary amount to overcome in order to reach the point that is described at the end.
There is another dimension that also becomes apparent here. They each need the other to make these developments. The psychologist Viktor Frankl expressed something that I think is very appropriate in this context:
In serving a cause, or in the love for another, a person fulfils himself. The more he responds to this calling, the more he gives himself to his partner, the more human he is and the more he becomes himself. He can only become himself to the degree that he can forget himself (Frankl 1977, 18 my translation).
This relation between selflessness and the self is most evident in the developments that Sacks makes with respect to the transformation of his personal and professional manner of being and in the nature of his subsequent commitment to his patient. Yet if one looks at what Rebecca comes to do as an artist, entering into the lives of other characters and performing these roles for an audience, I think comparable processes may also be present for her. What these developments clearly have in common is that such steps can't be 'taught'. They can only be made by the persons themselves. At the same time, they also require the other person. This puts teaching into a different light.
VII Teaching Foreign Languages in Waldorf Schools
I would like to end by coming back to the concrete realities of Waldorf foreign language teaching and posing three questions. At the beginning of this lecture I spoke about the radical nature of Waldorf Education. It is clearly both a central and a radical element of Waldorf teaching that we are asked to think of the largest questions, questions referring to an entire life, at the same time that we try to teach our lessons. This relationship between the whole and the concrete is a fundamental one and it can also be understood as a rhythmical process. This is not only an esoteric principle– it's very grounded in our experience in the here and now. One of the traditions of great cultures is that ideals should be concretely lived, that the potter is someone who tries to live with the great eternal questions while at the same time she is making her pot. My first question is thus: What does this mean when both are present in a language classroom - the specific work to be done and this underlying relation to the whole of a child, to an entire life? In your methodology groups this week when you explore different ways of teaching foreign languages in your classrooms throughout the world, I hope and trust that this question and relation will be present and addressed.
I would like to briefly raise two further questions that are closely tied to the theme of this conference. The first has to do with drawing a distinction between training and practice. There is a fundamental difference between the two and that difference lies at the heart of this conference. What they have in common is a regularity, one is constantly repeating something – again and again. Training is clearly goal-oriented. For example, you train at the fitness studio in order to strengthen your muscles; you're not doing it for an intrinsic joy of lifting weights, but because you are focused on reaching that goal. There is obviously nothing wrong with that.
In school our pupils are also often training for goals, perhaps most obviously for central exams in the upper school. They will repeat certain things over and over so that in the exam they can do them as well as they can. However, also much earlier than that our pupils are often being asked to train for tests, for dictations, for exams, etc. I don't want to say this is wrong: I just want to draw a distinction between what training and practicing can offer.
Anyone who has learned to practice – an instrument, a craft, meditation - knows that the conscious and continual practice of this activity can lead to something fundamentally different. The violinist, the carpenter, the meditator, have in common that through this practice they have become transformed. What they have practiced has entered deeply into their bodies, their entire movements and their wills. It also has become part of their emotional lives and the way they think.
The most beautiful description of the transformative qualities of practice that I know of is the classic work by Eugen Herrigel “Zen and the Art of Archery“ which many of you are probably familiar with. From the perspective which Goethe offers us, we can say that through practice new perceptual organs can be developed. Such developments occur because one‘s entire attention is focused on the work at hand, not on an extrinsic goal. Thus, the next question I would like to raise is this: How can we find ways to offer our pupils such chances to experience different forms of true practice in foreign language lessons?
The last question I want to raise refers to the creation of a sense of wonder, those moments in which pupils are genuinely astounded or moved - presented with something they have never experienced or imagined before. What Abu suddenly realizes when he sees his pupil walking on water and what Sacks comes to understand when he sees Rebecca in the spring light are testaments to the power of such moments. They are often highly creative moments and they may become transformative ones as well. It's obvious that this is going to be very different in a 1st grade, a 6th grade and a 12th grade. It's also evident that this is not going to happen in every lesson for every pupil! Nevertheless, it is essential to realize that Waldorf education offers us both rich possibilities and the freedom to look for such moments. What matters most is that this matters to us. My third question is thus: How can we create more of such moments of wonder in the lower school, in the middle school, in the upper school?
Let us look this week in our methodology courses for contents and methods in which such experiences become possible for our pupils. And in our artistic courses let us look to develop those instruments of voice, gesture and expression, those capabilities of creativity and improvisation, in short, our own artistry as teachers - which will also contribute to making such experiences possible for our pupils. As we have seen, it lies in the very nature of such developments that we will need others to make them, so let us enjoy the fact that there are so many of us here from so many different places to take such steps together.
Peter Lutzker is professor of Waldorf pedagogy at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart, Germany. He studied music and literature in the United States and in Germany. He taught English at Waldorf Schools in Germany for 25 years and has also been active in training and educating foreign language teachers in Europe, Asia, and the United States. He has published numerous articles and several books about language and foreign language teaching including The Art of Foreign Language Teaching: Improvisation and Drama in Teacher Development and Language Learning.
Frankl,Viktor E.: Das Leiden am sinnlosen Leben. Psychotherapie für heute. Freiburg: Herder, 1977.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London: Routledge, 2012.
Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens. Munich: O.W. Barth, 1982.
Meixner, Johanna. Das Lernen im Als-Ob: Theorie und Praxis ästhetischer Erfahrung im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Tübingen: Narr, 2001.
Sacks, Oliver. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. N.Y.: Harper, 1990.
Schwebsch, Erich. Erziehungskunst aus Gegenwart des Geistes. Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1953