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- The Reunion. On Intuitive Observation in Educational Situations
The Reunion. On Intuitive Observation in Educational Situations
An essay about intuitive observation in educational situations.
This essay was written after a reunion of a primary school class in Alkmaar, in the Netherlands, on 8 April 2017. After forty-seven years this class, at a certain stage with forty-six pupils, came together again. At the age of twenty-five I was their teacher. In 1969 I taught them when they were ten years of age and in 1971 I once again was their class teacher when they were twelve years old. I had never met anyone of them in this period of forty-seven years.
The reunion was perfectly organised and meeting up with all these people, now aged seventy-five, was a mere joy. I experienced many moments of inner silence about which I kept thinking the following week. The way in which I observed ‘my pupils’ as adults appeared to be a growing source of inspiration. All feed-back, all anecdotes, all changes in their outward appearance, all biographies, all quirks of fate, all voices, all trivia, kept occupying my mind for weeks. Some days after the reunion, somewhat too late unfortunately, I found a box somewhere in my attic filled with essays written by my pupils about my wedding ceremony in a church in Amsterdam. They, as children aged twelve, had witnessed the ceremony. They had come by bus from Alkmaar to Amsterdam to see how their teacher was married on 17 April 1970. I sent all essays back to their lawful owners after forty-seven years. They were stunned to see their own handwriting as children.
Initially I had the feeling of having met the parents of these children. It took some time to combine the vivid recollection of the children with the 57-year-old adults that were now standing in front of me. I became aware of a field of force that, in a certain sense reaching far beyond any human influence, helps shape the human biography. It is a field of force that, completely by itself, carries out a metamorphic process in the human body, soul and spirit. It is true that the human personality, while growing up, gradually fills in its future life, but the mould, the matrix, has been given at the moment of birth and cannot be changed.
Every educator is confronted with some tension that exists between educational ideals and the contribution of the child himself. In other words: education is not ‘filling a vessel but igniting a fire’, as was said in ancient Greece.
Every teacher must be a kind of soothsayer when parents ask about the future of their children and another school must be advised. What a boon it would be if the teacher was granted some insight into this enigmatical external field of force. Only a strongly developed intuition and a clear view can be of some assistance here. During this reunion I wondered which forces I had been able to mobilize in order to get some insight into the future of my pupils at that moment in the past.
Musing about an answer to that question I discovered that I, as a teacher of only twenty-five years of age, had done almost everything from a compass that I would like to define as ‘intuition’. Many books had I studied at the Teacher Training College in the sixties, but with the benefit of hindsight all this knowledge had played a minor role in the teaching process with these children. In this essay I would like to elicit nine areas that have played an important part in my approach of this challenging situation of a classroom filled with forty-six pupils aged twelve. Of course in those days I would not have been able to write a text like this but unconsciously these nine aspects played an essential role. Only after forty-seven years I seem to be able to give word to this process.
This experience made clear to me that it is of overall importance to recognize and to develop these dormant intuitive capabilities with which any human being is born. This development can be stimulated or be hampered in the process of education. Too much rationality, too much weighing and measuring, too much ICT, too much materialistic thinking, can paralyze these intuitive powers and then every child, every human being will feel that it has been given stones instead of bread. At certain moments every human being longs for a look behind the veil of the physical reality in which we live. In order to be able to do so we need well-trained senses that can perform their tasks in an intuitive way.
At the end of the day human beings benefit from powerfully steering their boat of life and not just sit passively waiting what will happen. This active steering in one’s own biography is a tremendous process which can provide real joy if the senses have gone through a thorough intuitive training and can tell him what to do next. Only then can they be mobilized to witness this exciting trip to the defined targets. This does not only pertain to the relationship between child and educator but also to all other situations of life in which something has to be decided.
In the following nine views I try to extend a helping hand to further develop one’s own intuitive capabilities in educational situations.
The saying: ‘Respect the child, it can become anything’, I have always understood as an advice and not as an imperative. I do not like orders and prohibitions. I rather like giving space to unexpected quirks of fate or bolts from the blue. Respecting the child means to rein in one’s own pursuits and thus giving space in which the child can develop himself in safe and secure surroundings.
The attitude of the educator towards life defined by respect is somewhat similar to a riverbed. In close cooperation between the river and its bank a beautiful and natural balance may arise. The water rushing down from the mountains does not yet know how it will be led, but the banks at the lower reaches know more. These banks offer the rushing water a riverbed in which it can gradually flow to the sea in a more controlled way.
Just as the earth can offer a fitting riverbed to the river that runs down from the mountains, the educator can open up to what has come down from the spiritual world in the shape of a child. During the daily educational process the educator can decide how this riverbed can or must be adapted to the benefit of the developing child.
In that sense education is also listening to one’s own intuition. The young child continually asks unspoken questions. The trick is to notice these silent questions and answer them if possible. If these questions are really answered the child will get the chance to become who he or she already is. Every child is born on earth with an invisible rucksack filled with interesting stuff. It is really great when educators manage to have a peek in that rucksack. Parents who have more than one child can be impressed by the character differences among their own children. All these different rucksacks in one family, or in one classroom, confront educators with riddles in their own right. These riddles force the educators to further fine-tune their senses. Children usually do not feign. They are open to the world. They are usually more themselves than adults. This unconscious openness may be understood as a helping hand from the child extended to the educator. Many chances are offered. The main aspect of this exciting process lies in the possibility to notice this extended helping hand. If the educator continually trains his senses, and perhaps there are more than the usual five, the possibility may arise to observe the total contribution of the child to its own upbringing. On the carrier wave of love the educator gets what is needed at that particular moment.
Many a time I did not give the lesson that I had carefully prepared the previous day because at that particular moment in my class the input of one or more pupils seemed to me so important that I changed the subject altogether. Such a change was usually not noticed by the pupils. I picked up what unexpectedly was thrown before my feet and turned it into a lesson. This resulted in almost magical cooperation between pupils and teacher leading to a pleasant harmony in the group.
A wonderful means to further train one’s own intuitive observation is the knowledge of the four elements as the ancient Greeks described. These four elements, earth, water, air and fire, become clearly visible in any child if the observer has trained his own perceptive skills. These four elements can also be called ‘solid’, ‘liquid’, ‘gaseous’, and ‘heat’. Each child reacts in its owns way to outward incentives. This reactional pattern depends on its preference towards one of these four elements.
If the earth element dominates the child will be somewhat more broody than other children. This child reacts in a serious and profound way to all kinds of emotions. This child prefers dark colours, such as brown and black. In class the teacher certainly knows that a question asked by such a child is important and must be answered. From a physical point of view these children are slim, even bony. The thinking element dominates. One or two faithful friends is sufficient for them. This situation is called the melancholic temperament.
If the water element dominates we may notice that the child, as it were, spreads in all directions. There is no clear awareness of space and time. Frequently they are late. These children are beacons of peace and quiet in class because they are not quickly disturbed when something out of the ordinary occurs. They are often too fat, too heavy. The metabolic system dominates. They enjoy food, especially sweet food. This situation is called the phlegmatic temperament.
If the air element dominates the child makes us think of a butterfly. Mental concentration is a problem. Every now and then something else comes up. These children love colour and variety in everything. One slice of bread is preferably covered with four kinds of jam, if they get the chance. When a birthday must be celebrated they invite the whole class, if they get the chance. Friendships are shallow and often short-lived. This situation is called the sanguine temperament.
If the fire element dominates we see a child that is full of energy and wants to really work. They must be kept busy all day long, especially from a physical point of view. The muscled body urges them to be active all the time. They are born leaders due to which they often land up in a row with another classmate. Honesty and faithfulness are important to these children. This situation is called the choleric temperament.
Some understanding of the four temperaments, here very briefly described, may help the educator to have a peek in that invisible rucksack. In the first place it is important to be able to notice these characteristics, which in itself is not an easy task. We only see what we know, also in this case. The four temperaments occur in every child, but one usually dominates. In adults the four temperaments also occur but then, we may hope, the four are better balanced. The four temperaments are of equal value and hereditarily influenced.
Another surprising tool to have a look into that invisible rucksack is the child’s drawing. A number of characteristics that indicate the child’s developmental stages in the way he makes his drawings are the following: the human figure, the house, the sun, perspective.
In the case of the so-called ‘tadpole man’ we see that the human figure is represented by a head provided with two legs and two arms. The chest with heart and lungs is absent. Such a figure betrays that the faculty of thinking is still connected with the metabolic processes. The child represents himself in such a drawing and is not yet able to produce clear thoughts.
Initially the house is drawn in a transparent version of reality. The interior is completely visible. Sometimes there is a flight of steps leading to an upper floor or attic. Later on the house has a real front. We cannot look inside anymore. While growing up the child closes himself up from the outside world. An inner world of himself is no longer accessible to his educators.
In a representation of a tree we may notice a threefold image: roots, trunk, branches. The same threefold image can be found in the child: limbs, chest, head. The drawing of the tree tells us how the child experiences life at that particular moment. Firmly rooted perhaps or vulnerable to weather influences and too thin.
The sun usually appears somewhere at the top of the paper. Sometimes adorned with a halo of rays or just with a simple yellow circle. The sun represents the extent to which the child is aware of himself. His steadily growing self-awareness is drawn on paper in the shape of the sun.
Perspective in drawings appears only at a later stage, from the age of nine, ten, eleven. The child wants to create a certain depth in his drawing. Some assistance from an adult is necessary. This need for perspective arises when the child is able to objectify his surroundings. Only if there is enough space between the observer and what is observed in three dimensions can perspective be drawn on a two dimensional piece of paper. Many a time I have taught pupils in primary education how to create some depth in their drawings. The moment when pupils ask for help while drawing perspective indicates that they are able to objectify the world from that moment on. They are no longer in their proverbial paradise, but have been thrown out of it.
The educator may feel a certain deference to the laws along which the child develops himself. The whole of creation has apparently been organised along these lines. No human hand has played a part in this process.
When we as educators want to train our intuitive observational skills we can also have a look at the way the human race has developed itself over the centuries. The hypothesis that the child develops himself according to the developmental stages which the human race as a whole has experienced, has a certain appeal to me. The child while growing up repeats all these stages in this view. The examples above indicate and clarify this concept. The sun e.g. occurs in paintings as an independent item only after the Renaissance. Then the sun is not anymore surrounded with a semi-sacred halo, but is represented as a celestial body. Perspective also occurs only during the Renaissance. In those days it was quite a struggle to get a three-dimensional image onto the two-dimensional paper. In the same way children struggle with perspective around the age of eleven.
Not only can we see these stages in the history of art. Also in the development of our memory we can observe this repetition phenomenon. Initially there is the so-called local memory. External objects, statues e.g. remind people of a certain event. Stage actors link their lines to certain spots on the stage to memorize what they have to say. In the same way lesson related objects in the classroom can support memory abilities of the pupils. The next step is rhythmical memory. Large literary works such as the Finnish ‘Kalevala’ or the Greek ‘Odyssey’ were memorized in a certain rhythm. The last stage in this development is internalised memory. Nothing moves or sounds: everything is done ‘in the head’.
This threefold historical concept can be found in the initial reading lessons in class. First the whole class reads in chorus a text from the blackboard. Next pupils can walk in the rhythm of the spoken text if a poem is recited. Then pupils read aloud but individually. Finally the pupils read in silence, although many a time we can see their lips still making the sounds. Reading silently only occurred from the fourth century A.D. according to contemporary sources.
By studying the developmental stages of mankind and the growing processes of each individual child we will be impressed by the enormity of this process and we will able to unveil some of the secrets of our life on earth.
A continued study of the above mentioned threefold image of the human being of head, chest and limbs can be of some help for the educator. The head is characterized by a certain rest. It can move but in a very limited way compared to the limbs. The head is linked to all thinking activities and to carry out that task properly it should be cool. A hot head cannot think properly. The nervous system is abundantly represented in the head. As a castle the skull protects the precious weak brains. The formative activity of the brains has a destructive effect upon the vitality of the body. The ancient Greeks ascribed this field of action to the god Apollo and in the Old Testament, in Genesis, the Tree of Knowledge is mentioned. This tree represents these rational qualities of human thinking. We carry this proverbial tree in ourselves.
The limbs can be defined in a completely different way. The limbs are moving all the time and can be considered to belong to the so-called lower pole of the human body. Comparatively there is more blood in this lower part than in the head where the nervous system dominates. The lower pole, where the biblical Tree of Life is situated, regenerates the human body whereas the upper pole, the head, depletes available energy.
In between these two poles the heart and the lungs are situated in the chest and harmonise the two influences, from the upper and the lower pole, rhythmically.
All this knowledge may come in handy in our daily routine with children. Especially when young children are involved a proper alternation of Apollonian and the Dionysian activities in class is essential. Sitting still at the desks must be varied with some moving activities. Arithmetic can be done in our heads, but we can also clap or stamp the tables of multiplication e.g.
Up till now I have tried to describe how the educator can train his understanding of the child and how newly acquired knowledge can be used.
Successively I discussed: Firstly: the importance of having respect for the child. Secondly : how the educator can shape a riverbed in which the child can really develop himself. Thirdly: how the educator can develop his own intuitive powers. Fourthly: how temperaments influence behaviour. Fifthly: how the child expresses his own developmental stage in his drawings. Sixthly: the hypothesis was discussed that the child repeats the developmental stages of mankind. Seventhly: attention was drawn to the developmental stages of memory. Eighthly: some light was shed on the soul qualities of thinking-feeling-willing linked to the head, the chest with heart and lungs, and the limbs together with the metabolic system.
Finally, in the last part of this essay I would like to pay some attention to the so-called chakras, which are the senses of the soul that are invisible to everyday perception, but nevertheless form a reality to be reckoned with. These organs may be looked upon as ‘serving hatches’ through which human energy passes into the outside world and at the same time ‘gateways’ through which the outside world enters the human being. They mediate between the inner world of the soul and the outer world of and around the physical body.
In Asian cultures much has been known about these chakras since many centuries. Only recently have people from the western cultures started to show some interest in this part of the human being. Some knowledge of chakra-psychology can help educators in their work.
I limit myself to discussing the seven main chakras that are located between the tailbone and the crown. These seven chakras may be considered as seven levels of contact between educator and child. In the chart below the sequence starts at the tailbone where the first chakra is located and ends at the crown where the seventh chakra can be found. The other five chakras can approximately be located as follows: chakra two: lower abdomen. Chakra three: navel. Chakra four: heart. Chakra five: throat. Chakra six: between the eyebrows.
On the left hand side of the chart the characteristics related to the teacher are mentioned. On the right hand side the characteristics of the pupil can be found. In the middle section the fields of action of each chakra are mentioned.
How the Seven Main Chakras operate in relation to the Teaching Process
Question: Where is your main challenge as a teacher?
© Henk van Oort
Some knowledge of this chakra system can be an important support for the teacher on his quest to find a solution to all kinds of pedagogical or methodological problems. Only when it has become clear from which chakra layer the pupil reacts can the teacher offer an adequate response. The teacher can feed the chakra functions by offering related subject matter in the lessons. Of course a human being is a unity. All subareas are active in cooperation with the others, unfortunately sometimes resulting in an inextricable knot.
In the nine sections of this essay I have tried to describe how the educator can train his own senses so that the child can be observed in a far better way than is usually the case. If the educator manages to really activate his own senses in an intuitive way children will be better understood.
During my work as a teacher and as educator of my own three children I have always aimed at listening as intently as possible to what the child, consciously and unconsciously, wants to tell me. In that way I give as much space as possible to the child to support his own upbringing. Educating children is making yourself superfluous. As soon as the child is able to master a subarea of his own life the educator should step back and let the child run things in his own way.
Metaphorically speaking I met sometimes a modest brook, a brawling river, a still though deep running water, an idyllic lake, a sky high endless wave to name a few of all the children I have met in my teaching life so far. All these children with their own rucksack filled with biographical secrets gave me the impression that I had to solve their riddle, from hour to hour, from day to day.
Only by continually educating our own senses we may take for granted that the right solutions can appear at the right moment.
Having been presented with such a penetrating and instructive image of my own work during a class reunion is a marvellous experience. Many thanks for all feedback after forty-seven years. It sheds light on the human phenomenon and on each individual biography at the same time.
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Henk van Oort – Bergen N.H. - January 2018
Please check the English Course for Teachers and School Staff at Pilgrims website.
Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.
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