A man, (as in male or female) according to Steiner, is made of three interwoven forces which Steiner terms thinking, feeling, and willing. The human being with her three forces of thinking, willing and feeling exists both in a material world and a spiritual reality.
Because a man has these 3 interweaving forces, we cannot be educated through one-sided means. We can’t educate a child through intellect alone, nor can we educate through feeling alone, or willing alone. But, here we are in 2016. In modern life, we tend to look only at the material world and leave discussion about spirit out of dialogue about education. We separate the spiritual matters from the rest of life. As such most schools tend to educate strictly through one channel: the intellect, avoiding any notion whatsoever that man has a spirit. Through the idea of separation of church and state we conveniently leave that pesky matter of a man’s spirit to be dealt with somewhere other than school.
I’m not talking about the redemption of the soul here, religion or religiosity. Materialization is something Steiner railed against – the materialization of everything in the modern world, but especially this materialization of thinking. Steiner assumes that his audiences agree in the existence of a spiritual world beyond the physical world, though in some lectures, to some audiences he takes greater pains to prove this point. He spends most of his time trying to take his audiences well beyond just merely proving its existence. He leans more to how things work between the material world we see and the spiritual worlds we can’t see and how this knowledge of spiritual worlds can be applied to matters like schools in practical life.
To return to the thinking, feeling and willing, sadly, even in the realm of thinking, schools often do not do so well at training our children. Though educators would like to claim education as a science, most curricula don’t emphasize what would enrich the feeling realm and willing realm.
Occasionally, a school or curriculum may address a child’s feeling realm, especially if an arts program is rich with variety and is well-designed. Most schools are not investing enough in the arts or truly using the arts as a channel for learning. This is a shame because the arts are universal and can truly enrich the learning process through multiple modalities. Music, visual arts, performing arts, fine arts, practical arts. There are endless ways to express through the arts what lives in the human spirit, both heart and mind and allows us to work actively rather than passively with ideas, feelings, and what it means to be human.
Perhaps the most neglected of the three is that of educating the will. This use of the hands enables a human being to understand his physical world and his relationship to the world. Human hands need to work, to make practical things, to do meaningful tasks that produce tangible results in physical reality.
Watch a young boy or girl in a sandbox and how she plays. Watch a child building a model or with legos. A child is always naturally using the hands to fill, shape, mold, and make. Why? He does this to experience reality. Filling in test bubble answer sheets does not educate the hands or the body, or mind in how to perform useful work in the world. Our over-emphasis on standardized testing and school accountability has contributed to a chronic lack of meaning and real life experiences for children. This is like denying food and water for a growing child’s will. The education of the body in motion and the hands in space is just as valid and just as much a part of the human experience as thinking and feeling, but we so often neglect it, not allowing children even the chance to help with household chores or simple tasks. Without our limbs, we could not have survived the demands of hunting/gathering because we could have never learned to provide the food, clothing and shelter we needed to evolve. The lack of meaningful activity for the hands degrades the human being into something less than what we were intended to be in our fullness by this definition of man.
Further, the lack of overall physical bodily movement that many school children experience doesn’t contribute to physical wellness or overall healthy development and research points to how a lack of movement negatively effects both thinking and feeling. The absence of daily play time in kindergartens, diminishing recess time and the diminishing time allotted for physical education are all harming our children. These are all good reasons to consider school reform or as I suggest, take a look at what Steiner has to offer and consider how to free your children from these limitations.
In summary, Steiner tells us that a man is made up of his thought world, his feelings, and his deeds and an educational path must include all three to be complete. This is a key idea that forms the basis of Steiner’s education, also called Waldorf Education. In addition, Steiner defines many other aspects of the spiritual world and man’s spiritual development through the Study of Man, or what he calls Anthroposophy, or the wisdom of man.