In the world of specialized subject teaching, we once again encounter an ordered cosmos. This systematic order results from the concept of educational concentration and genetic classification of the themes or contents. Here, Steiner’s pedagogics link up with the cultural phases of Herbart and of the Herbartians, while placing this scheme in its own anthropological context. In this pedagogical syllabus, the development phases of the child are genetically synchronized with epochs in the history of mankind.
At each age level, specific narrative material is intended to form the general focal point for all the other contents of the school year. This process begins in the first school year with fairy tales, fables and legends and moves on through tales from the Old Testament, local stories of gods and sagas, the mythology and history of the Greeks and Romans, the medieval period and the age of discovery to modern cultural history in the eighth school year. These organic structures will be found in all the subjects taught in Rudolf Steiner schools, including musical and handicrafts training.
The example of teaching the natural sciences clearly shows that a modern ecological education can be founded on this genetic principle. Teaching about nature begins for the six to nine year-old child, who is still living in a state of magical-animist union with nature, by appealing to its feelings; through pictorial forms of narrative, a basic mood of sympathy with the manifestations of nature is to be preserved for as long as possible. From the third school year onwards a physiognomic view of nature is imparted to the child who now thinks in naive-realistic concepts: on the basis of the anthroposophical notion of an all-embracing unity, the animal world is viewed as an extension of man or man as a compact manifestation of the animal kingdom, while the plant world is seen as the soul of the earth made visible and active in man. The sensation of cosmic unity and the observation of the morphological relationship between all living things is supplemented by caring action—from the planting and tending of the school garden through tuition in gardening to practical experience of biological and dynamic agriculture and forestry. Rather than a mere theoretical concept, co-responsibility for nature must become a matter for active participation so that the deep-rooted links between man and nature can be experienced personally by the pupil.
From the seventh school year onwards, starting out from the world of solid matter, a gradual introduction is made to the abstract causal-analytical dominant knowledge of modern physics. Natural scientific training in the Rudolf Steiner school is thus all-round environmental education. It attempts to keep the bond between man and nature alive in pupils for as long as possible and to restore that bond in their later thought process through educational knowledge of nature. With that aim in view, systematic points of contact certainly exist with contemporary natural philosophical contributions to the problem of ecological education.
To sum up, the external form of practical pedagogics in the Rudolf Steiner schools (and kindergartens) shows a manifest fellowship with the initiatives of the New Education which were adopted at the same time. All educational goals and measures of education and tuition are intended solely to promote the growth of the child and adolescent personality. The Steiner school stands out among the New Education schools primarily through its particularly high degree of spatial, temporal, social and conceptual systematization and the ritualization of educational and teaching practice. Unlike the situation which prevails in the largely demystified and plural world of the state schools, education and tuition regain the character of a ritual, i.e. at one and the same time an aesthetic, moral and—last but not least—religious dimension. This metaphysical impulse of Steiner’s pedagogics stems directly from the anti-modernist world-view of anthroposophy.
An overwhelming success
One of the most striking trends on the educational scene is the constant growth of international demand for Rudolf Steiner schools and kindergartens. In the past two decades, they have developed from the role of an outsider to become the leader of the international movement for a New Education. Since its inception in 1919, the Steiner school model has made its way from Germany via the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Australia to the great cities of Latin America and Japan. Today, it is moving back to the reform-oriented states of Eastern Europe. This astonishing history of success is reflected in the statistics given in Table 1.