Dr. Karl Koenig was an Austrian pediatrician and educator who fled the Nazi invasion of his own country and settled in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1939 with a group of young physicians, artists and caregivers. These people founded the first Camphill community with children having developmental disabilities. Dr. Koenig and his colleagues were inspired by Anthroposophy, the teaching of philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner, discussed below.
Dr. Koenig’s vision was to develop lively Camphill communities together with people who have special needs. His special gift was to understand and focus on the abilities of each person, not the disabilities. Through teaching and modeling, he turned this gift into an effective approach for improving the lives of people with special needs, an approach based on community members teaching and learning from each other through the experience of day-to-day living. The Camphill pioneers developed the goal and some of the methods for how the needs of each person could be met in a cooperative community, each member contributing his or her own special gifts and talents. This vision lives on and each new generation in Camphill strives toward achieving it.
The international Camphill movement consists of more than 100 communities in 22 countries. Camphill continues to work to create communities in which children, youth, and adults with special needs can live, learn, and work with others in healthy social relationships based on mutual care and respect.
Camphill was established in North America in 1959. Today, Camphill in North America consists of ten independent communities that are home to over 800 people whose daily lives are full of vitality and accomplishment. These communities serve and impact thousands of other people in the surrounding areas. The ten communities live and work on over 2,500 acres of land, which is cared for utilizing organic and biodynamic methods.
Rudolf Steiner, Ph.D., was born in Austria in 1861. He studied science and philosophy, edited Goethe’s scientific works, and developed Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy derives from two Greek words — anthropos, “human being,” and sophia, “wisdom.” As Theosophy (“Theo” and “Sophia”) means wisdom of God, or divine wisdom, Anthroposophy means “wisdom of the human being” or the wisdom that knows what it means to be human. In other words, it is a path of self-knowledge. Steiner considered Anthroposophy to be a science of the spirit.
In his Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, written in the last year of his life (1924), Steiner wrote: “Anthroposophy is a way of knowledge — a cognitive path — that leads the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.” Rudolf Steiner practiced this path, and his perceptions into the spiritual world, communicated in his books and lectures, laid the foundation and established the parameters of Anthroposophy.
Of the many activities arising from the work and writings of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education is perhaps most well known. It is a method and curriculum for child education that is based on Steiner’s ideas about stages of development. In the field of caring for people with special needs, the practices of Curative Education, Youth Guidance, and Social Therapy are based on Steiner’s ideas, expanded by Dr. Koenig. Biodynamic agriculture, Anthroposophical medicine and architecture; eurhythmy (speech made visible through movement); Anthroposophical organizational development; and many other art and therapy forms have their origins in the works and writings of Rudolf Steiner.