listen!

You’ve got to listen to this: Albert Steffen, in 1961 — to Steiner’s 100th birthday –, remembers Rudolf Steiner in a recording. Even if you don’t know a word German, listen! — only a minute or two, but don’t miss it. The voice. He sounds like a ghost. But strangely, because I don’t think I consciously thought they sounded like ghosts, he reminds me a lot of my waldorf teachers telling the children fairytales. I mean, I never thought about how much they sounded like the voices of dead spirits hovering somewhere over ground. But when I heard Steffen, I thought, ‘well, what a ghost-like voice, what a spooky articulation’, and then it occurred to me: it is so familiar. Not that I haven’t heard (e g, on youtube) this peculiar auditory phenomenon since my childhood, but not in this pronounced way; it hasn’t stood out as much. Maybe it’s because the recording is old, and Steffen was an old man; he spoke like an old man from an other era, and now (augmented by that intonation — or lack thereof — that  anthroposophical intonation) it sounds so ancient to us. Yet, at the same time, not ancient at all — they spoke like that, and it wasn’t many years ago. The old Steiner women (and men); especially the older ones, and there were many of them. That’s how they sounded. I hear them talk about elves and gnomes and tell fairytales and all kinds of stories (and occasionally imparting some piece of dubious knowledge or wisdom, no doubt) in that kind of voice.

10 thoughts on “listen!

  1. Do you suppose that this is this part of Waldorf teacher training – when reciting a fairy tale (most are scary to children in the first place!) not to interact with the children and having a ghost -like voice?

    It sounds like this made the hair on your neck stand up – listening to this man!

  2. Neat.
    It’s always fun to hear voices from long ago. I admit I was a little disappointed, though, because it didn’t sound very old or far away to me … I guess I’m old, too.

    One of our kindergarten teachers – the only one who was European – spoke this way. She was Swedish, so I suppose it’s not a coincidence if this is how your teachers sounded, too, Alicia. She was obviously imitating people whom she herself had spent a lot of time listening to.

    >It’s really highly interesting what he says, but the effect of the voice is like that of a sedative. I lose focus.

    Ronald Reagan spoke that way. We were all a bit hypnotized when he was president.

    I don’t understand German, but I wish I did. I really love how it sounds.

    What is he saying, by the way?

  3. Margaret:
    >Do you suppose that this is this part of Waldorf teacher training – when reciting a fairy tale (most are scary to children in the first place!) not to interact with the children and having a ghost -like voice?

    Margaret, yes, it is. This is explicitly taught. I have not had formal Waldorf training, but I had a lot of direct instruction from those who had, and this indeed deliberate, a deliberately slow, low-pitched, soothing monotone, as free of inflection as possible. Yes, it’s like a disembodied ghost. Teachers are directly taught to interact with the children as little as possible when telling a story. I told stories in the kindergarten (I was an aide), and while the teacher had to admit I was very good at it, she was frequently scolding me not to answer questions or allow discussion to get underway. I was instructed to deliberately ignore questions if possible, or if the children were very persistent or very excitedly discussing it, to try to distract them.

    The idea – to cast it in as positive a light as possible – is that the story transmits “occult truths” or “archetypes,” a notion that isn’t meant exactly in the Jungian sense, though it’s related. The teacher aims to remove the personal element as much as possible. Story telling isn’t an occasion for bonding or warm personal interactions between the teacher and children. The children should just take in the story and the occult truths will “live in” them. This effect can be ruined, it is thought, if the children understand the story consciously or intellectually. So whereas in another classroom it would actually be a goal for the children to understand the story, to think about the meaning of the story and discuss it, in a Waldorf classroom the goal is the exact opposite and often all questioning and discussion are squelched.

    Most frequently, a child would simply ask the meaning of a word. I was taught to go on speaking as if the question had not been asked. If it was really impossible to ignore the child, I was supposed to maybe repeat a line or two of the story as if that explained it. Anything but *actually* explain, in other words. Or a child might say, “Why did he do that?” or some other basic question trying to make sense of the plot or the characters. I was supposed to just utter some irrelevant exclamation like, “How about that!” or “Why did he do that, indeed …” “Isn’t that something!” “Why did the wolf eat Little Red Riding Hood?” “Yes, the wolf ate Little Red Riding Hood.” Like that. (Can really make a kid crazy …)

  4. Thank you Diana, It seems as if the INTENTION of Waldorf is to impose the Anthroposophical beliefs of the teacher onto the child.

    How unfortunate not to follow the natural learning path of childhood!

  5. ‘It sounds like this made the hair on your neck stand up – listening to this man!’

    Well, not really that bad! It was familiar, and I think it’s a quite silly way to talk (as is speech formation) and is spooky because that’s not how people talk, but I was never afraid of the teachers because that’s how they told stories. Sometimes for other reasons, but not that. That kind of thing was entirely normal in this environment.

    ‘One of our kindergarten teachers – the only one who was European – spoke this way. She was Swedish, so I suppose it’s not a coincidence if this is how your teachers sounded, too, Alicia. She was obviously imitating people whom she herself had spent a lot of time listening to.’

    Interesting! In addition, the more Steiner trained the teachers, the more they spoke like this, so I guess there’s something to it.

    ‘What is he saying, by the way?’

    He’s talking about his memories of Steiner. What Steiner did and said, how he related to people, his becoming ill in his last 1/2 year alive. His carving the Repr of man statue. His activities with children, in the waldorf school, et c.

    As for the talking, there’s speech formation, which is also a cause of this, I assume. It’s a really strange way of speaking and reciting.

    ‘… often all questioning and discussion are squelched.’

    I don’t think it ever happened, I mean questioning or discussion. Not in kindergarten. Maybe there could have been something of it in school, but I can’t remember. Probably not a lot, in any case.

    ‘(Can really make a kid crazy …)’

    I think kids stop asking eventually. Perhaps even stop listening alltogether.

    ‘How unfortunate not to follow the natural learning path of childhood!’

    They think they do just that… and that other pedagogies don’t. I think they honestly believe that what they do is in accordance with what’s truly ‘natural’. Huge problem.

  6. The children who ask such questions have already been intellectualized (at home), the Waldorf teacher thinks. Had the child been raised correctly or been handled correctly at home, the child wouldn’t ask a lot of questions. A child doesn’t “naturally” ask a lot of questions, per Steiner, only a child who has been artificially “stimluated” too early – by the parents – is in this heated intellectual state where all these questions are swirling around in their brain. The teacher is trying to help the child get back to that natural state – the natural state of childhood, per anthroposophy – in which he/she doesn’t really think about things, doesn’t really have much brain activity, just receives and enjoys sensory impressions and allows “forces” to enter his/her psyche that he/she will only understand intellectually later. (MUCH later, like decades.) Steiner said small children were like sacks of flour, which if something presses against it leaves an impression, a form, that lingers; the sack of flour doesn’t have any questions about the impression it received … The teacher truly thinks that discouraging the questions is in the child’s best interest. (They’re “saving childhood.”)

    This is completely kooky, of course. Even if they were right (which they’re certainly not, but even if they were) that it’s not normal or natural for children to be curious about the world and to ask adults questions about it, if a child is already doing so, clearly trying to turn back the clock is absurd.

  7. This is EXACTLY the information that parents need to hear/understand about the intention of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education!

    It is a natural state for children to be curious about the world and ask questions.
    It is an unnatural state for a child not to be curious.

    Since the young child is continually ‘testing’ reality to gleam information about what is real and what is not – I also want to reemphasis that fairy tales are intimidating and scare young children. Couple this with not having the ability to ask questions and get clarity? Cruelty!

  8. It’s interesting because I have a feeling that Steiner himself was not such a child. Even by his own account, he seems to have been a quite curious kid.

    ‘… I also want to reemphasis that fairy tales are intimidating and scare young children.’

    Just as a sidenote (you already know what I said on the other thread, obviously), I think that’s not quite right; I don’t think ‘fairy tales are intimidating and scare young children’ — I can concede that ‘SOME fairy tales are intimidating and scare SOME young children’, and I’m not even sure it’s a majority who’s being intimidated and scared. Maybe it’s 2%, maybe it’s 7% — I don’t know, but I just don’t believe it’s that many, and I don’t think it’s a fact that children, in general, are scared.

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