The Arts and Practical Skills

• Art •
• Choir •
• Clay •
• Ensemble •
• French •
• Handwork •

Waldorf teachers believe that the human being is not just a brain — but a being with heart and limbs — a being of feeling and will, as well as of intellect. To ensure that education does not produce one-sided individuals, crippled in emotional health and volition, these less conscious aspects of our human nature must constantly be exercised, nourished, and guided. Here the arts and practical skills make their essential contribution, educating not only heart and hand but, in very real ways, the brain as well.

The sixth grader who, as part of the class study of Roman history, has acted Cassius or Calpurnia, or even Caesar himself, has not only absorbed Shakespeare’s immortal language but has learned courage, presence of mind, and what it means to work as a member of a team for a goal greater than the sum of its parts. The ninth grader who has learned to handle red-hot iron at the forge, or the senior who caps years of modeling exercises by sculpting a full human figure have gained, in addition to a specific skill, self-discipline and the knowledge of artistic form.

Students who have worked throughout their education with color and form; with tone, drama, and speech; with eurythmy as an art of bodily movement; with clay, wood, fiber, metal, charcoal, and ink (and, ideally, with soil and plant in a school gardening program), have not only worked creatively to activate, clarify, and strengthen their emotions, but have carried thought and feeling down into the practical exercise of the will.

When the Waldorf curriculum is carried through successfully, the whole human being—head, heart, and hands—has truly been educated

Revised for this website, this article by Henry Barnes, former chairman of the board of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, originally appeared in the October 1991 issue of Educational Leadership Magazine.

If you’ve had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket ship-or learn a software program you’ve never touched. It’s not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can’t do. Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t anybody?” – Peter Nitze, Waldorf and Harvard graduate, and Director of an aerospace company