WHAT IS WALDORF EDUCATION?
Waldorf Education is a worldwide independent school movement developed in Europe nearly 100 years ago by Austrian philosopher, social reformer, and visionary, Rudolf Steiner. Today, Waldorf Education is represented across the globe, with about 1000 schools and nearly 2000 early childhood programs in over 60 countries. In Waldorf Education, the learning process is essentially threefold, engaging head, heart, and hands—or thinking, feeling, and doing. This is the basis out of which Waldorf teachers work to nurture and engage each child through a curriculum and methodology that integrates academics, arts, and practical skills.
Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. He later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of spiritual-scientific investigation for the modern 20th-century individual.
His background in history and civilizations coupled with his observation in life gave the world the gift of Waldorf Education. It is a deeply insightful application of learning based on the study of humanity and humanity’s developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.
Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined “three golden rules” for teachers: “to receive the child in gratitude from the world it comes from; to educate the child with love, and to lead the child into the true freedom which belongs to man.”
Rudolf Steiner first introduced Anthroposophy, (from Greek “wisdom of man”) in the early decades of the twentieth century. Anthroposophy is a worldwide spiritual movement based on the work of Rudolf Steiner with applications in almost every field of life. Work arising from Steiner’s insights continues to this day in many practical fields, encompassing arts, science, education, farming, medicine and social matters. The most popular of these practical realizations, Waldorf Education, has its visible results in schools all over the world. While anthroposophy forms the theoretical basis of the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools, it is not taught to the students.
The works of Rudolf Steiner (about 30 books written by himself or with collections of his own writings, and 6,000 lectures grouped into 270 volumes) have been published. There is absolutely nothing secret in Anthroposophy. It is not a religion and it has no cults. It is cultivated individually, in open study groups and in the institutions where it is practiced.
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory’s owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory’s employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions:
The school should be open to all children.
It should be coeducational.
It should be a unified twelve-year school.
The teachers, those who would be working directly with the children, should take the leading role in the running of the school, with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns
Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for the prospective teachers, die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) was opened September 7, 1919.
Waldorf education is a unique and distinctive approach to educating children that is practiced in Waldorf schools worldwide. Waldorf schools collectively form the largest, and quite possibly the fastest growing, group of independent private schools in the world. There is no centralized administrative structure governing all Waldorf schools; each is administratively independent, but there are established associations which provide resources, publish materials, sponsor conferences, and promote the movement. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) is the organization which fulfills this function in the United States.
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives”. The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands”. The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and balances academics subjects with artistic and practical activities. Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students; they learn through their thinking, feeling and willing. Most Waldorf schools only introduce testing and grading in the upper grades when students are preparing to move on into a more traditional classroom.
Some distinctive features of Waldorf education include the following:
Academics are de-emphasized in the early years of schooling. There is no academic content in the Waldorf kindergarten experience (although there is a good deal of cultivation of pre-academic skills). The letters are introduced artistically in first grade. The children learning to read from their own writing in grades 2 or 3.
During the primary school years (grades 1-8) the students have a class (or “morning lesson”) teacher who stays with the same class for (ideally) the first eight years of their schooling.
Certain activities, which are often considered “frills” in traditional schools, are central in Waldorf schools: art, movement, handwork, music, cooking, gardening, and foreign languages (usually two in primary grades), to name a few. All children learn to play recorder and to knit. There are no “textbooks” as such in the first through fifth grades. All children have “main lesson books”, which are workbooks (journals) which they create, with the teacher’s guidance, for each lesson block. They essentially produce their own “textbooks” which record their experiences and provide a record of what they’ve learned. Upper grades use textbooks (usually only in math) to supplement their main lesson work. Upper grades also write research papers, finding their own source materials.
Learning in a Waldorf school is a non-competitive activity. There are no grades given at the primary level; the teacher writes a detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year.
The use of electronic media, particularly television, by young children is strongly discouraged in Waldorf schools. Social interaction and discovery through play (imaginative exploration) are strongly encouraged.