When we look at the evolution of human civilisation, we can see that although much has been gained, many things have been lost. Individual freedom has emerged, but its price has been the loss of social integrity. Spheres of individual and social reality, once intimately entwined, have grown separate. Waldorf education regards bringing these three realms of human experience – science, art and religion – into a new relationship with one another as the central challenge facing education today.
Let us suppose that a number of different people pass by a flowering field in springtime. Very different questions, emotions and feelings will spring from the impression they have all taken in. Some of these people may wish to sort out the variety of impressions they have taken in, they may want to name and identify the plants or to consider the biotope as a whole, others may rush for pastels or water colours, paper and paint brushes and try to capture the impression artistically. Yet others may feel moved by the feeling of wonder at the miracles of creation which are greater than anything man can plan or carry out. Or they may feel a little of all these together.
All of us have innately all three tendencies within us: the wish to understand the phenomena we meet, the inclination to do artistic work, the need to turn to the divine powers who have brought the world and ourselves into being. We can call these tendencies scientific, artistic and religious. They are developed in different degrees in each one of us.
Modern civilisation applies different criteria to these aspects of human experience. Scientists or artists who have made a name for themselves are more respected in society than those who devote themselves to some smaller task. All three tendencies have their proper place within the human soul and all of them are equally justified. A human being will grow all the closer to becoming a truly human being the less he or she only develops one of these three inclinations to the detriment of the others, or the more he or she strives to give attention to what is still undeveloped within. Art, science and religion are the three pillars on which all civilisation rests. Their significance for education and all human development is undisputed.
In the course of every lesson, Waldorf education takes particular care to interweave the elements of scientific discernment, of the practice of art and aesthetics and of reverent discovery. The way these elements are weighted in the actual lesson must of course be in accord with the development of the children themselves at any given point. It is plain that the scientific attitude will grow in importance as the last years of schooling approach; in kindergartens, astonishment and reverence will have an important part to play which will then recede somewhat – without being neglected – when the children grow to be of school age. Preparing lessons for the coming day, a teacher sill, however, always have to give his mind to a proper proportioning of these aspects.
In his book "Die Schule neu denken" (Rethinking schooling), the well-known German educationalist Hartmut von Hentig emphasises the problem of intellectual lopsidedness in present-day education. Under the heading "Taking Refuge from Thought in Mere Knowledge" he considers the consequences of introducing computers into the classroom and then comments: "Henceforth, knowledge will be divorced from quality, from criteria. It may now be simply something no-one wishes or even needs to know ... and yet it will bear the name of knowledge. Knowledge has ceased to be anything that changes a person. Above all, it has ceased to be a whole."
To find a new way of creating a wholeness in the consciousness of the individual requires a form of thinking that has turned away from mere abstraction, thus freeing itself to become inwardly mobile and to achieve an artistic creativity. It can then rise to an awareness of human responsibility for the world and towards all fellow-members of humanity, to what one may well call an ethical or moral sense of responsibility.