Yes, Sunday Books is apparently on “summer” time and today instead. Summer is about relaxing, so please excuse the island time on The Parenting Passageway this week. I hope you all are having a relaxing summer as well.
This chapter is about the esoteric view of the human being and its value in education. Many of you who read this blog and are familiar with Waldorf Education are also familiar with how Rudolf Steiner viewed the human being in esoteric terms. Steiner writes in many different terms for many different audiences. He started in academic philosophy, wrote for workers and artists and for the public intellectuals, and later went on to write for a group of Theosophists who at that time of the era of World War One in Germany were searching for spiritual renewal from the East and many of the terms Steiner used were from Ancient Hinduism in order to fit in with that audience. He broke with this group ten years later, but the terms have remained. (Poplawski makes a differentiation between the terms of Sanskrit and the terms Steiner used with the group of theosophists but it has been described to me in many lectures through my Foundation Studies that these are similar and used during this time period in Steiner’s writings).
(If you are Christian and having trouble with this esoteric view, all I can say is that whilst this chapter describes how Rudolf Steiner saw the body, soul and spirit of the human being using his terms, religious traditions have always discussed this. I am Christian, and the Christian church has known and understood this for centuries. Here is a link for my Christian readers and there are many more articles if one chooses to search: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Eastern-Orthodox-1456/2010/12/Body-soul-spirit.htm. This is how, based upon my religious tradition, I work with my own children in my own homeschool – I consider the body, the physiological processes that make up the body and then the soul with its parts of the inner eye (the nous) and its passions (the “irrational part”).
So Steiner saw the human being as a physical body that is shared with also the mineral kingdom, an etheric body of life forces that also are akin with the plant kingdom with its physical form and life forces, the astral body which we share with an animal kingdom where the animals also have a physical body with life forces but also passions, desires, will, consciousness. Lastly, the human being as an “I” is seen as Steiner by our spiritual self, which is a source of discernment, insight and conscience. Poplawski points out that varying religious traditions talk about what happens to the “I” after death.
Poplawski moves on to talk about the development of the human being in seven year cycles. The infant is born with a body, the life forces, the soul and the spirit, but these unfold according to developmental stages. The physical body develops slowly, the life forces of an infant are intertwined with those of its mother. As these life forces become more independent from the mother, then the child becomes ready to develop memory and thinking at this time, which is why in Waldorf Education academics formally begin in the grades. (Although I would also add this makes sense according to childhood development according to other schools of thought in education and psychology as well).
Poplawski points out that the intertwining in the first period of the life forces is primarily dependent upon the mother but that during the second seven year cycle, the forces there are shaped by the emotional and moral life of the community around the child. Poplawski also points out that this is the time to think still about protection of the child from harsh realities of adult life.
Poplawski points out that the third seven year cycle is the realm of adolescence and that many children are being rushed into this cycle even though they are younger. As the mother of an almost twelve year old, this particularly resonates with me. Poplawski writes:
Between ages seven and fourteen, the child should be allowed to mature and develop at an unpressured pace, particularly in his feeling life. For this the child needs to be protected, held, and directed by his parents and teachers in their roles as loving but firm authority figures. The child will then feel safe to experiment in a playful and innocent fashion, instead of being thrust too early into the more complex and confusing realm of grownup love and hate, the extremes of agony and ecstasy and trauma. Media and commercialism are the most common culprits in stealing the innocence of children in stable families. In broken families, the
children are afflicted as well by parental tensions and conflicts. Too early an exposure to these influences and experiences can desensitize the child and maim his or her later ability to tackle the complex issues of human relationships with equanimity and common sense.
With the onset of adolescence, the feeling nature is released from the physical and etheric bodies and gradually becomes able to deal with the challenges of a more complicated emotional and social life. Parents and other adults around the child need to slowly relinquish the often uncomfortable role of authority figure that they have played. Virtually all traditional cultures have recognized the spiritual reality of the maturation of the child’s astral body and have marked this in “coming
of age” ceremonies. While these have largely disappeared in our culture, the Jewish bar mitzvah and Hispanic “sweet sixteen” celebrations are remnants of this tradition. Not until age twenty-one, though, is the individual fully accepted as an adult.
(Carrie’s note: I think Poplawski is referring to the tradition of the Quinceneara in many Hispanic families and cultures, which is at age fifteen, not sixteen!)
We help the child develop through a steady rhythm, through being warm and loving, through consistent mealtimes and bedtimes, through protection from adult stresses and by providing a life that is simple. The adult must work on themselves so they are not providing emotional outbursts in front of the children. (Hard work!!) A wholesome and whole foods diet is also important. Clear and firm boundaries on behavior is also seen as extremely important in Waldorf parenting and education. Boundaries are needed for a child to grow in a healthy way. This can be very difficult for parents in this day and age who do not have a clear relationship to authority themselves.
For the older child, it is the unfolding soul that needs protecting. A child of
ten, or even of thirteen, is not ready to deal with the world of “drugs, sex, and rock and roll,” though in many instances this world may have already been thrust upon her. The attention and vigilance required of parents to create this protection for children and early teenage children is great and also time-consuming. Parents must stand not only as role models but as authority figures in providing guidance to their children. Being an authority figure does not mean being authoritarian.
Parents need to stay interested in what their children are interested in and maintain an active dialogue with them and their friends. But parents need to recognize that their primary role is not to be their child’s buddy, but rather to be a source of higher judgment that sets reasonable standards of behavior and follows through to see that they are observed.
We want to promote that which is true and good in the life of the grades aged child, and to protect children before the age of 14 from entering adolescence too soon. Being in nature, cultivating a relationship to the arts and handwork and music is important. Sports that are intensive can be more of a drain than a help. Chores and doing work for others, and being part of helping in a community is also extremely important. Older children need the experience of caring for the poor, the aged, the young, the disabled and the ill.
Finally, each family needs a clear set of behavioral and moral standards that are made explicit, that are taught to the children, and that are modeled by the adults. Manners, civility, consideration of others, truthfulness and honesty, the treatment of all family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers with respect, and speech that is civil and free of profanity are all part of this. There is a coarsening today in speech, behavior, and morals that can be redeemed only by conscious
and concerted efforts within each family.
Religious instruction and practice can also be important for a child, even if the parents themselves are not motivated in this direction.
Poplawski talks about how the adolescence needs space, and one or two wholesome activities to do…but how not to overdo activities. The adolescent also needs even more time from parents to be at hand and vigilant as he or she explores the world.
This all can sound demanding and perhaps can induce guilt in some parents, but Poplawski writes:
Fortunately, raising a child is not an exact science. There is a built-in forgiveness
factor and hence some room for flexibility. Make more time for your children,
especially as they grow older. Take frequent looks at your family and its life together.
Ask whether you meet your own standards of civility, of morals, of spirituality.
Finally, protect your children from losing their childhood prematurely—neither
you nor they will regret it.
This is a lot of food for thought, and I would encourage you to read this chapter for yourself and see what resonates with you. This is available as a free ebook at the Waldorf Library on-line.