Sydney Rudolf Steiner College Course – and the History of Human Consciousness

Sydney Rudolf Steiner College Course – and the History of Human Consciousness
An in-depth conversation with Dr Fiona Campbell College Lecturer

Q & A with Dr. Fiona Campbell, researcher, artist, educator and college lecturer, and the College Education Coordinator, Emilia Salgado

Q: Fiona, you’ve been involved with the College for quite a while. What’s your background and what do you hope to bring to our students?

Yes, I’ve been with the college about 25 years, on and off. I started in 1994 as painting tutor, back when it was Parsifal College, then took on a big lecturing role with Evolution of Consciousness in 1996. Susan Haris bequeathed me her Destinymodule and Biographical Phases, so I had a big role at the college until 2001, when I left to pursue other ventures. But I came back in 2006 and have been doing  a little teaching here ever since.

My background? I come from a family steeped in Anthroposophy and grew up with it: I have three Steiner teachers in the family. After university, I went to Emerson College in England and trained as a Steiner teacher, but found myself using a lot of art in my classes, so went to Tobias School of Arts and Therapy, near Emerson, and became an artist and art therapist. When I came back to Australia, I joined Parsifal College while continuing to work as an artist and therapist privately. However, my field is now tertiary adult education – learning and research development.

I have two main aims in my courses: first, to bring the content in the most creative and experiential way that I can, so that Anthroposophy acts as a dynamic, living force in the world, not as a fixed body of knowledge to be handed down; and secondly, to stress the role of thinking in all that we do. People sometimes associate Steiner education with working out of your feeling life – it gets confused with intuition –  but Anthroposophy is essentially a theory of knowledge, so we must learn to think properly – to think in a dynamic and creative way, so that Steiner’s philosophy doesn’t just become a rulebook that no one wants to challenge or question. Questioning and exploring through questioning is everything. But we must have to ability to do this with fluidly but also with clarity. I don’t see thinking and creativity as opposed to each other, but one and the same. I have a PhD now, on creative thinking, so I do know this is possible!

There are two aspects to this subject: one is history, naturally, but the other is consciousness. Without understanding what consciousness is and how it has changed over the whole history of the humanity, we can’t understand the past and, therefore, our future. So, we spend a lot of time in the course investigating events and cultures from ancient and medieval times through different worldviews, to show how our way of seeing and thinking about the world, even the way we perceive colour, has changed radically over time. I try to use an evidence-based approach, rather than saying “Steiner says …” so I draw on a wide range of sources. But I also like to spend time on current affairs and where we are heading into the future.

Q: In our Certificate in Rudolf Steiner Education, our students do a few deep philosophical descents going further into anthroposophy and the philosophy of Steiner education. First, they cover Goethean Science and then History of Human Consciousness. How are these studies relevant to contemporary teachers?

Through studying Goethean Science, we learn to see the world with new eyes, particularly nature, but Goethean inquiry can be applied to human life and community, once you learn the basic approach. Goethean Science studies the phenomenon of nature and its essences, not just its outer forms, so a Goethean approach trains our perceptions but also makes them more responsive, so that our way of constructing concepts becomes more flexible. This is very important for Steiner teachers. It keeps their teaching practice fresh. When you want to bring a class lesson on lions, say, you always want to work in an open-ended way, describing everything about the lion, not giving a fixed definition or closed concept to the children, so that they understand that a lion is part of a dynamic living network of life, not just a separate discrete object, like a photo on a wall.

The study of changing consciousness and how we see these changes revealed through historical people and cultures from the past is foundational to the Steiner curriculum. Without this subject, you can never really understand how the Steiner curriculum works and what it means, and then it is in danger of becoming a system of rules rather than an education of potentiality.

Q: This is the proclaimed year of Steiner education renewal. What do you think are the pedagogical challenges Steiner schools face?

Renewal itself is its biggest challenge. I could talk a lot about this, but I believe, essentially, Steiner education must learn to be more future-oriented, which means not just adapting to the changing times, but to find ways to constantly reinvigorate and transform itself to meet the major challenges of our age and beyond. For me, I see this renewal coming through more openness and recognition that other pedagogical approaches also have something to offer; through more professional development for teachers that pushes boundaries (for their own renewal and wellbeing) and, above all, a research culture, where people are not afraid to challenge long-established practices in Steiner education that may be outdated for our time and our children with evidence-based research. 

Q: You’re also very interested in creative thinking. I sat in on your recent lectures on the History of Human Consciousness and I enjoyed, as did others, how you are open to debate and critique of Anthroposophy. We had some great exchanges. Encouraging free thinking is one of the many talents you have. How do you think educators can bring about creative thinking in the classroom? What can teachers do?

It comes back to what the teacher is in herself. If she or he is openly curious, open to being challenged and to change, to learning continually from her peers and from the children, then this is reflected in her thinking process, and comes out in the way she brings the class lesson. It’s not about the content, but the way it’s brought. Creativity comes from the thinking and the way you see the world. However, modern life promotes a fixed, analytical way of thinking and seeing, one that is more interested in products than in the processes of becoming. It’s hard to overcome this and takes conscious effort and training to do so. Creative work, really creative work, not just painting beautiful pictures – they serve another purpose – helps here. Sometimes a creative conversation is enough, an open exchange of ideas, such as you experienced in the recent course, Emilia, to help understand other perspectives and become more “cognitively flexible”.

But it is a challenge! If I may promote my work here, I do offer a program for teachers and professionals for becoming more creative in the way they think which focuses on the process of thinking, not on ideas or content. I’ve been giving workshops and presentations on this the past year. I hope to offer it as a package in the future, maybe through the college? People can find out more about this and also view some of my artworks and writing at my website, https://paintedspace.wordpress.com/

Q: What do you enjoy about teaching at the College? What do you hope you impress upon this new and emerging generation of Steiner educators?

Perhaps the thing I’ve always enjoyed the most, is being able to constantly reinvent the subjects I teach, to reflect that I’m always changing and striving to change. Each time I present a subject is different to the way I did it in previous years – this is what I really enjoy. And meeting new students – so often they are the catalysts for this change and make me think twice about what I’m teaching. Students help me question myself and my teaching methods. Many years ago, a student jumped up in during a lecture I was giving and said: that’s crap! Absolute crap! And that was a catalyst for me to really look at myself and how I was teaching. I realised that I was just quoting Steiner and had not done the work myself. And I think that is important for Steiner educators, to have the ability to stop and really observe yourself; be reflective and reflexive, so that we don’t become habitual in the way we teach or respond in meetings or in our interactions with our children and colleagues. Again, it comes back to learning to continually see our work and other people with new eyes, each day – and to learn to think.

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