Education as incorporation into the cosmos
In the practical implementation of Steiner’s educational scheme nothing is left to chance. All the dimensions of the educational reality—space, time, social community and objective world—are deliberately given a rhythmic structure. As in a ritual event, all forms of educational action are thus incorporated into a cosmic order.
The architecture of Rudolf Steiner schools reflects the striving to create a fully integrated learning environment. In many European schools one finds different expressions of the school of organic architecture initiated by Steiner. Here the ground plan of the school attempts to create a space in which the various architectural elements—proportions, acoustics, colouring, themes of the pictures, light effects and orientation—combine to stimulate the spiritualization of learning. Outside of Europe one finds schools in a variety of settings—in former Soviet public school buildings, in refurbished construction sheds or in shanties in the townships of South Africa.
In the classrooms, for example, the color of the walls develops from the first to the eighth school year following the colors of the spectrum, from red via yellow, green and blue to violet. The themes of the pictures in the classrooms are also oriented schematically by the sequence of narrative material used in the Waldorf syllabus, from the fairy tale to modern literature. In the primary section, the order in which pupils are seated in the class is determined by their temperament: phlegmatic and choleric characters sit on the outside with melancholy and sanguine temperaments in the center. During the teaching process, each group is addressed in turn with balancing impulses.
Like the premises themselves, the temporal dimension of the educational process is also structured rhythmically. The outlining frame is formed by the seven-year periods of development, or hebdomads that are marked by the birth of the new essential forces, e.g. when the adult teeth begin to grow and sexual maturity is reached. As we have already seen, education during each of the seven-year periods is addressed to a different part of the personality of the pupil, moving as it were from the outside inwards. Each seven-year period is dominated by a different method of learning and teaching, from the external activity of imitation via the internal process of emulation to formal and abstract independent thinking. (Unlike his model, Comenius, Steiner also subdivides each hebdomad into three further sections of two years each.)
In the course of the year, the beginning of the four seasons is marked by special celebrations harmonized with the Christian church year for which the pupils are prepared by learning relevant legends. Rhythms corresponding to the month are created by structuring tuition in the main subjects into four-week periods and by the monthly assemblies in which pupils present the results of their learning to the whole school audience. The weekly rhythm is punctuated by the recurrent recitation of the dedication. Each child in the lower grades (first to eighth years) must recite to the whole class the dedication contained in his class teacher’s report when morning classes begin on the day of the week on which he/she was born.
Painting classes always take place on Saturday and the teachers’ meetings on Thursday afternoon and evening. The rhythm of each single day is created in that the subjects oriented more towards theoretical knowledge are taught in succession before the artistic and practical activities. Each hour of teaching is generally structured in such a way that the first rhythmic phase appeals to the will of the child, the central phase to its feelings and a quiet concluding phase to thought.
The social world of the pupil is sharply divided into the ever-present proximity of the educating class- teacher and the specialized teachers who move in a more remote zone. The class-teacher is perceived as an authority that dispenses teaching in all the traditionally important school subjects; this is the shaping tuition in the Herbartian sense of the word. The basic form of this teaching is the moralizing narrative intended to serve as an example and the reproduction by the pupils in paintings or in writing of the pictorial and linguistic world with which they have been familiarized. Based on an intimate view of the essence of the child, the class-teacher prepares the annual educational character report.
At the start of the third hebdomad, a four-year secondary stage begins abruptly with a changeover to the principle of specialized subject teaching—from the primacy of the person and picture to the primacy of the subject and concept.