character Christian education


Our Approach to Education
by Eberhard Arnold
Eberhard Arnold - Bruderhof

The educational fellowship of our children's community is founded on faith in the good Spirit at work in all people, and in a special way in all children. On the basis of this faith we stand for the autonomy of the child and of the children's community. By this we do not at all mean that all that a child may demand and do at the urge of his own impulses is to be called good. By autonomy we mean the awakening of the child by the Spirit, guidance to the calling of man, self-determination through the inner light, the fighting lordship of the good Spirit over all impulses, whether better or worse.

Thus our education has its source in trust in the good and genuine, which, with other and extremely dangerous powers, is within the child and develops into a powerful determining and guiding force. Ultimately it is trust in the voice of God which sounds in each child as the will to community, as joy in purity, truth and love. This trust shows itself in the daily round as respect and reverence for this which is alone essential in all children. Thus we see the fellowship of education as the mutual stirring up of the best that is at work in each person, but especially in the undeveloped soul. To us education is the awakening to that which is alone essential and ultimate, which comes to life in the depth of the heart. So coercive power and supervision are replaced by trust in the awakening guidance of the Spirit, which leads the child to test himself freely and courageously in the fight.

To such an attitude of mind all corporal punishment is a declaration of educational bankruptcy, only conceivable when the mental influences which are alone educational have failed. Of course, a certain use of force, in the widest sense of the word, will not always be avoidable, owing to the imperfection of the educators and their lack of spiritual powers. But, through the influence exercised by the Spirit on both educators and children, this is reduced to the very minimum. In its crudest form, corporal punishment, it is to be rejected in our education.

In spite of this there are, especially on this way of approach, very different degrees to which the child may be influenced. For children who are brought up in this Spirit very soon become extremely sensitive to any change of voice, any exertion of the will, or swiftly rising judgment, though these emotions of the educator may only appear as a change of intonation or a sharpened look. He must, however, speak without fear or uncertainty. Such powerful and definite speech often helps the child in his fight with himself much more than a weak and too patient acquiescence in his naughtiness.

Here, no two moments are alike. The educator must have the elasticity and adaptability necessary to do justice to the ever new situation. Only he who seizes the opportunity of the moment is the right one for the job. Within each child there is a change and alternation of conditions; of his willingness, of his capacity to assimilate, of his readiness for the fight and of his working strength.

For this reason alone no two children are alike, so that all attempts at a uniform education must lead in a false direction. We respect what is personal and characteristic in each child from the point of view of the super-personal; for this leads through the forming of the individual to community, which is above the individual, and so makes the individual of service to the whole. The special peculiarity of gift possessed by each child must be recognized and developed for his calling. This in essence always leads to wholehearted, loving service of the community of all, and so to the unity of special individual qualities. Thus justice to the individual, as the development of all his inborn possibilities, is the way of community education.

That which has not been given the child by birth, which does not arise within him through the awakening of his mental life, which is not given him by divine regeneration and rebirth, may under no circumstances be forced upon him. The guidance to the child's calling which is decisive for his whole life, the introduction to his practical vocation in the service of all, must be different with each child. Therefore it becomes a very significant duty for the work of education to see the equal value of all services and capacities of body and mind. One must recognize as early as possible whether a child is intended especially for physical work or mainly for mental activity, and what special kind of work fits his gifts. It is only when, from the start and all along the line, the mad conception is fought against that one activity or calling is of higher value than any other devoted work which is done for the benefit of the whole, that it will become possible for the child to develop his powers freely.

Even in the play of a very small child his peculiar nature and character is to be seen. Each real child loses himself in concentration on the object of his play. The gaze of the child as he drinks in the object in wonder is free from the distracted indifference and superficiality of most adults. The inner concentration with which he regards the thing shows that losing and forgetting of the individual ego which alone can lead to instinctive perception of the essential in the object seen. The child's play on the sand-heap or with clay leads even in the very earliest stage to a mastery and shaping of matter, which, in the case of children so gifted, soon shows itself as work of value in plasticine or paper, wood or metal; yes, shows itself amazingly early as artistic handicraft. From this it follows clearly that handicraft must play an important part in our educational community. In our children's community the teachers of practical handicraft and of sewing will always have as significant a place as the other teachers whose task is the awakening of mental interests through intellectual work.

Education is awakening. The deepest mystery of life in all its departments must be revealed to the children. Their instinct for the essential and divine in all things and behind all things must be made keen and strong. It is only possible to indicate here very generally the way to this awakening in some of the main school subjects.

Each real child lives in nature and with nature. To him the soul of the creation is everywhere revealed. It is an easy thing for the educator to direct the observant child to the creative power at work everywhere in nature: to show the mystery of the creation in the fact that it is one whole, an inter-relationship of mutual help--in which context the dark side of nature must dawn on the child as the destructive fight for existence. Love to the earth, joy in the stellar cosmos, enthusiastic interest in the mysteries of the atom world and of the organism is already living in each child and seeking to awaken as love to God and to the creative and re-creative Logos, Christ.

The child has the most vivid capacity for receiving impressions of all facts and happenings, and senses in his experience of them the mystery of their deep relationship. Therefore the wakening of children to historical fact, and especially to the movement of the Spirit throughout history, is given to each true educator by the child himself. From his observation of the events and facts of life around him, he recognizes the tension between the will to power, with its covetous desire, and the urge to love, which brings redemption and union: he knows this tension which constitutes the essence of history. For this reason the child is just as receptive for the history of literature and of thought, of art and of religion as for the apparently more concrete facts of history. The real child immediately grasps as truth that the known history of mankind is an interlude; that it has departed from its original source and yet is being led by God with absolute certainty to an ultimate goal, which must stand in the sharpest possible contrast to this interlude. It is not true that the child has no sense of the injustice and social guilt of our world; only children who have been artificially withheld from reality could be used to support this false view. In the child's longing for the life of the "street children," for friendship with "poor children," each observer is compelled to find the refutation of that false view. The awakening child knows of the division in man and of his fight against himself--the fight against his evil impulses, the fight for himself, for the true calling of man.

Thus the child can be awakened at a very early age to the mystery of man; for he knows the longing and the capacity for sacrifice of the human soul. He lives in faith in the future, and in the sensing of God as the sole possible discloser of this mystery. So the task of the educator is to awaken a most living interest, already latent in the child, in men and humanity. The mysteries of the first birth and of the later awakening of the spirit of the child, as well as its subsequent adult consciousness, and not least the mysteries of the second birth as the intervention of God in the human heart can be opened to each child through the man called to be an educator.

Through this ever-deepening understanding of the nature of man in the child who has been led to awaken, there dawns on him the destiny of man. The Son of Man, the expectation of his Kingdom and the reality of his Church come vitally close to the child. The community spirit comes to life in each rightly-guided child as social responsibility and the devoted will to work, as the development of all abilities, and as the overcoming of all privileges.

The method and direction of teaching in the educational fellowship of the children's community becomes clear from all this. Instead of accumulating facts and learning them by heart, the deep significance of the inter-relationship of these facts is opened to the child. Here the main thing is never the material in itself, neither the matter to be learnt nor the raw material to be formed into some concrete object. What matters is the creative, form-producing Spirit that masters this material. Here the way to the Spirit is not sought through matter, but the way of the Spirit to express itself in matter is grasped. Just because of this, in this way, material is really mastered.

Instead of taking many examples, one is here chosen--that of "religion"--which ultimately includes all others. The start is not made with finished religious matter. Neither the learning of the Bible and Christian dogmas nor the finished facts of any other religious confession can be the starting point. Behind the whole history of religion, as at the same time behind the whole history of art and economics, yes, behind all that is natural and historical, the Spirit is seen in surely guided teaching. For it alone gives form to the working of God which through it becomes living relationship and unity. Thus the child is able to sense in all subjects of instruction revelation, power, love and life. The child feels that that Spirit is living in each human being, in the whole history of mankind, in the peoples of the world and in each human fellowship, as well as in the whole creation.

In this approach to education Christ shines everywhere. He comes close to the child as the fulfillment of the religion of men of all ages, all cultures and all continents. Thus the Bible is opened. Thus the prophets and apostles are seen in the focus, Christ, as the peak of possibility, as the revelation of the humanly impossible. So the apostolic way of discipleship in its privilege-free, possessionless and homeless love to God and to all men is seen as the true human and super-human life. The special departments of religion, such as dogmatics and religious practice, are not learnt. But through the fact and working of the living God all departments of life are seen to be religious. In Christ and his love, in his Kingdom and his Church the fulfillment of all religious feelings and expressions is seen as the goal of the whole of nature and history.

In this way there arises in the children's community the free activity of the religious life itself. The children's community awakes as the working of the Church of Faith. It is something uniquely wonderful to be permitted to live in fellowship with such a children's community. The joy of the childlike sense of life, the worship of sensing God in nature, the whole context of the life of the children among themselves, the vital movement of its living rhythm, not least their amazingly powerful activity in loving work, and finally the peculiarly childlike character of their own gatherings of a religious nature are the signs expressing the very being of such a children's community. It arises spontaneously, again and again, that the children meet among themselves as an educational fellowship in the sense of the fellowship of faith.

One would delude himself utterly should he think that sorrow and struggle are not to be found in such a children's community. Of course the joyful fitting of oneself into the good of the whole, which is radiated from everything to each individual, comes into the forefront of the child's life. All the same, the life of the children among themselves is felt and experienced by them as practice in overcoming self, as strengthening and steeling of resistance to all that is bad. The very recognition and honoring of the good in others sharpens the sight for the fight against evil in them and in oneself.

There is no truly living education without complete universality. The children, as a group, sense this fact so deeply that again and again they feel urged and compelled to extend the children's community by winning more children for the fight against what is evil. The children seek to encompass in the circle of their life the often very different surrounding world of children and men. Thus the "Sun Troop" of enthusiastic children invades the outer territory of other children's worlds in order to experience with them fellowship in the fight of all with all.

All real children want to venture and fight. A trusting educational fellowship will therefore fetter as little as possible daring courage in climbing trees, in bridling, riding and grooming horses and in standing the test of other dangers.

In this freedom lies the best protection for the child. Real protection does not lie in careful supervision by anxious adults, but rather in educative guidance to instinctive certainty in each danger: ultimately to trust in a watchful care beyond our own power.

All this holds good in the struggle of the inner life. Trust in the mystery of ultimate guidance and help must lead the inner spiritual battles to victory without violence and coercion. The real child leans trustingly and frankly on his parents, leaders and educators. It calls for strong self-control and discipline on the part of the educators to respond to this trust with the free-hearted granting of freedom, which can only have its origin in the trust that springs continually from faith.

Thus, then, the fruitful education of a children's community is only possible where educators as well as children are part of a common life, which is led by the fellowship of faith in both to the true life of the Spirit. For this reason we are steadfast in our desire to accept and educate as many children as possible in our common life--preferably children from the poorest and most unhappy conditions--from their earliest childhood until they are fully capable of an adult calling.

We must begin our life task again and again with children. It is our experience that God's revelation of the mystery of the origin and ultimate goal of the world is most clearly seen in childhood. Horror of soulless, irresponsible sensuality, the fight against the soul-destroying mechanization of vocational work, rejection of the conscience-killing life of pleasure of our machine age, the contrast of the Church and of the Kingdom with the non-christian way of public force and violence, the liberating protest against the lie of society and business life--all this surges forth ever new from the childhood and youth which is led by the living Spirit to the life of spiritual unity and of loving work.

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character Christian education


character Christian education