Learning to recognise the innate qualities of mineral, organic or synthetic materials and the ways in which they can be transformed into useful artefacts, or even works of art, is to unite oneself with the world. The skills required to do so enable young people to be both consequent and responsible in their deeds and in their thinking. But in order that this is so, the work must be real, relevant and rational. The Waldorf approach to crafts and technology is literally "hands-on" in the workshop, and is complemented by practical experience gained on the farm, in the forests, in industry, in old people's homes and so on.
During the transition over the last few decades in the developed world, from an industrial manufacturing economy to a society based on service industries and communications, a deficit has appeared ever more clearly in the field of education. Vocational training towards skills needed for manual trades and craftsmanship have largely been replaced by an education that has increasingly concentrated on the cognitive and intellectual training of young people. The fact has slipped out of our minds that all contemporary technical, economic and social change originates from the productive system of the farm and the craftguilds. Nowadays it is often not possible to follow the process of, say, the production of a pair of shoes, where the industrially manufactured components may be assembled in separate countries.
How does an adolescent experience the world around him or her? Whatever is perceived as the "present" (in teenage terms "modern") has its roots in events and processes that took place in the past. In the same way an adolescent can easily find a relationship to things he or she has made with their own hands, from beginning to end, instructed and guided by an experienced person from the preceding generation. The relationship to such objects becomes a practical and immediate one, mistakes that have been made, careless work that has not been checked - these have an immediate effect on the usefulness and the lasting quality of whatever it is one has made.
From the beginning of school, therefore, "hand, heart and head" are called upon to play their part in the process of education. Learning to write, to do arithmetic, and to read, i.e. finding one's way to the techniques demanded by our modern form of civilisation, can be an abstract sequence of drills. Here, rhythmic exercises lead to a flowing use of colour and form which find their end in the letters of the alphabet and also to a rhythmic grasp of number right down to the multiplication tables. The entire being of the first-year pupil is engaged in well-directed action, and understanding follows at a later stage. Sewing, knitting and crocheting follow this in handwork, and the fingers are trained in learning to play tunes on simple flutes or pipes.
In Class 3, the child awakens to how the world works. Practical projects such as ploughing, sowing, harvesting, and all the activities of original production lead to an appreciative understanding of what brings those things about which are the basis of our daily lives.
Further on in school (from Class 4 to Class 9) there is regularly opportunity for practical, productive work such as working with textiles or wood, doing pottery or making simple electrical appliances. The hands are trained to be skilful, the eye is schooled to observe exact relationships, correct measurements etc. Precision and application are qualities that these activities demand. Determination and the strength of will to transform a plan into a real, three-dimensional object also play their part. Children learn that the qualities of the materials determine the product as much as any abstract design plan. They also learn the appropriate use of tools. It is not now the teacher who corrects the young person: the materials and the realities of the finished object speak an extremely clear and unmistakable language. In this period of time, education moves from doing to understanding.
In the Upper School (age 14 to 18) the classroom becomes a workshop and the workshop becomes a space where not only craft skills are learned, but accurate, objective judgement of qualities is practised; where complex activities are planned, prepared and carried out; where aesthetics are matched to technique, where the meeting of form and content finds endless creative solutions.
Beyond the workshop young people have blocks of real work-experience, in forestry, farming, in industry and in social work. Here they are not only able to identify with and value different areas of working life, they also gain meaningful insights into social and economic realities.
Matthias Riepe / Martyn Rawson