Relevant Education and Great Teachers – Part Three

Published November 13, 2016

[Editor’s note: The following is the third part of a ten-part series of reflections on education, presented by Wayne Weiseman. These remarks are reprinted from his Facebook site with his permission.]

The curriculum mandates that we use in a majority of our schools are as old and tired as the hills. Outside of a few examples, unique in their approaches to the growth process, we are skating on the thick ice of centuries of static form.

Today these mandates have reached their intellectual limits and the time has arrived for the sunlight to pierce the educational canopy of the climax forest and stir the dormant seeds of the next generation of theory and practice. All they need are the proper conditions to germinate and grow from the primal source that we have forgotten. There is so much more to the human being than repeating what has already been discovered. So, when I stand in front of my students and ask myself, “where do I go from here?” I know I must reach inside and find that primal seed of my humanity and “educate” – draw out of each one of those students the wisdom that they already possess in dormancy and help to activate it.

sunlight pierces canopy

Sunlight Pierces Canopy

I think what I need is a spiritual education. I need to accept wholeheartedly, my state of divine remembrance at every bend along the path of my life. It is a long and sometimes arduous road to uncover each layer of the internal landscape to get at the core. All the codes, symbols and systems that I live by in my daily life form within me an imprinted pattern which stamps it’s self on all my thoughts, words, emotions and actions.

The human mind is not some piecemeal object to be broken down and manipulated by media, electronics, scientific experimentation and the stultifying grip of the corporation. As an educator it is my personal duty to look into and nurture what is great within students at a time when the world is in crisis.

When I’m weak I believe that the current system is overwhelming and impossible to change! Therefore, I want to give up. I convince myself that the only route through the maze of the “system” is through doing it. Who cares if the students aren’t better human beings for taking my class. They passed the test and that’s all that counts. If you cant lick ‘em, join em, I say. But in my gut I know that at this point is when the hero must enter the battlefield and take responsibility to stomach all the consequences of revealing and putting into action his or her deepest beliefs about human progress and love. Care of people, care of earth, benevolent distribution of resources and yields generated from those resources. These are the ethics of permaculture that I try to live by.

I also try to remember Rudolf Steiner. He was an Austrian philosopher, educator, agriculturalist, architect, and a brilliant man of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose expertise was instrumental in creating Waldorf Education and Biodynamic Agriculture. Waldorf education is based on the interplay of cosmic and earthly processes of growth. He observed how forms metamorphose through time, guided by a spiritual force that endlessly and timelessly creates and recreates.

The Steiner universe is a non-linear, architectonically, dynamic interaction of relative shapes, forms, colors, textures, lines, geometries, infused with spiritual purpose. Steiner depicts a human being as containing a nerve-sense pole (located in the head), a rhythmic system (located in the heart, lung and chest area), and a metabolic pole (residing in the digestive organs and the limbs). The upper, or nerve- sense pole, is the realm of our thinking. The middle, or rhythmic, pole is where our feelings come alive. The metabolic pole and limb system is the seat of our will. Basically, the head, heart and gut. When these three loci of the human are in balance we are in a state of equilibrium. Disease arises when these three “poles” clash. Underpinning these three regions of the human being is an admixture of the four basic elements of life: earth, water, air and fire. These four elements have been depicted and understood in some fashion in almost every culture on this earth, from India’s Yogic philosophy through the Western alchemical tradition, to Steiner’s more contemporary system of Anthroposophy. In the educational sphere Steiner applied the four elements to the essential constitutions of the children we teach: melancholic (heavy or sad, of the earth), phlegmatic (cool, calm, composed, of water), sanguine (positive, optimistic, of air) and choleric (bad tempered, irritable, of fire). These elements of life are set out before the teacher when he or she enters the classroom. The array of temperaments expressed by the students can be confounding, and exasperating. But through rigorous and conscientious observation a palette of colors emerges for the educator-artist to set a diverse and balanced design to canvas.

Steiner applied the ideas of threefolding and the four elements to his work in social theory, medicine, agriculture and countless other dimensions of expertise. When one begins to appreciate the comprehensive, all-inclusive philosophy and practice encompassing Steiner’s thought and understanding, the leap into the educational sphere seems as natural as water maneuvering its way through the crevices of a healthy soil. The water filters into the topsoil and water table where it is held in suspension for plants to draw into themselves and utilize for their growth, nutrition and transformation.

I see Steiner’s perennial philosophy as nutrition for the soul of education and the soul of the complete human being metamorphosing through earthly time. As we wend our way through our discussions on the spirit and renewal of education, the vision of Rudolf Steiner colors many of my thoughts and beliefs. Steiner’s system is a whole system that incorporates learning on many levels: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. For now, by way of introduction, I will say only that I am inspired by what Steiner has synthesized for us. His teachings continue to support me as I attempt to shape an educational vision that will give meaning to life.

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