“ How can we improve matters if we know nothing of the human being? All the ideas for improving education may be inspired by the best will in the world, but they possess no knowledge of the human being.”
- Rudolf Steiner: The Kingdom of Childhood (p. 3)
“The first thing to be done is to discover the true nature of the child and then assist him in his natural development. “
- Maria Montessori: The Secret of Childhood (p. 136)
The true north and south of education was established over a century ago by these two geniuses—Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori. Each established educational pedagogies that thrive to this day in countries around the world— Steiner schools are called Waldorf Schools, Montessori—well, Montessori Schools.
In some ways, these two giants couldn’t have been more different. Steiner a German-Austrian mystic philosopher, Montessori an Italian physician. One leaning to the fantasy life of children and kindling the imagination, the other to mastering the practical tasks of life and developing the intellect through the senses. (This a simplistic summary). But both agreed that without a clear vision of what a human being is and specifically, who children are and how they change with each developmental stage, all education is doomed to fail the deepest needs of the children, teaching only obedience, compliance, right answers and no time for questions or matters of the child’s soul.
Montessori’s insights came from astute observation of children in various settings. Steiner’s came partly from some early spiritual revelations. He begins his study of children in the time before they’re born.
"At birth, the spirit, descending from the spiritual world into the material world, is suddenly transported into a completely different world, with the new experience of having a body to carry about, acts as we see the child act.” (This and succeeding quotes from The Kingdom of Childhood, pp 7-8)
Pause here a moment. Yesterday talked with my daughter and she entertained me with the latest stories of mischief from my 4 ½ year old granddaughter Zadie. We’re amassing quite a collection. On one hand, we love it that she’s such a spirited little bundle of energy, but it does make parenting—and even grandparenting—challenging sometimes. Our adult self calmly dispenses advice, “Make wise choices. Think before you act.” Dream on! Then it escalates to “Why would you do something like that? Do you see how this makes us feel?!” And then sometimes on to “ZADIE!!! What the f…!!!!!”
Now back to Steiner. He offers some comfort in his next two paragraphs. (Though according to my skimpy research, he himself never had children and one can only wonder how fascinating he would find his son or daughter when they put his cell phone in the toilet to see if it would float.). But for those of us raising or teaching spirited children, the good news is “It’s healthy! It’s a good sign! Enjoy!”
“In so-called 'good children,' their bodies have already become quite heavy and the spirit cannot properly take hold of the body. Such children are quiet, they do not scream and rush about. They sit still and make no noise. The spirit is not active in them because their bodies offer such resistance.
In the less well-behaved children who make a great deal of healthy noise, who shout properly and give a lot of trouble, the spirit is active. It is making use of the body. You may even regard the wild screams of the child as most enthralling. Everything about this child, even the worst naughtiness, is fascinating." (Boldface mine)
In short, naughty is the new good. In your face, Santa!