university of stockholm dumps waldorf teacher training program

University of Stockholm dumps Waldorf teacher training program: not up to standards of higher education

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Earlier this year, when the Stockholm Institute of Education (a teacher training college) merged with Stockholm University, the university also took over the responsibility for the Waldorf teacher training program and courses included in the Institute of Education. The Waldorf program had been arranged in co-operation between the teachers’ college and Rudolf Steiner College. Rudolf Steiner College was really the most influential power in this partnership. Being under the umbrella of a public college endowed the Anthroposophists with an aura of prestige and credibility that they had previously only dreamt of. This dream has suffered a rude awakening.

The faculty decisions

Once the merger was carried through, the University of Stockholm took over the responsibility from the Institute of Education. The university now had to evaluate whether the courses and programs fullfilled the requirements regarding academic and scientific quality, the Waldorf program being no exception. In June 2008, the faculty board of the natural sciences department, after evaluating the curriculum and the course literature of 11 Waldorf teacher training courses, declared that the Waldorf courses did not meet the acad­emic expectations.[1] The board wrote in the official decision:

The board decides not to approve of the curricula of the following courses [list of the 11 courses excluded] on the grounds that

– the courses do not include the prerequisite amount of theory on the subject and the subject theory which is incl­uded does to a large extent lack a scientific foundation,

– the literature used as course material does, to an all too large extent, rest upon a foundation which is not scien­tific.

A few weeks later, this board decision was a decisive factor when the university’s board of teacher edu­cation decided to terminate the Waldorf teacher training program and co-operation with the Rudolf Steiner College.[2] The board decided that while the program was immediately terminated, all the students already enrolled in the program would be allowed to finish their studies, and that the students who had applied and been accepted to start the program this Autumn would be offered the opportunity to apply to other courses at the university.

In the media—the the Waldorf proponents react

The university’s decision prompted a group of Anthroposophists (and fellow travelers) to write a piece for one of the Swedish newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet.[3] The article is signed by a number of prominent Anthroposophists, a few people from their unofficial fan base of half-celebrities and a few other people—one of the signatories is Bo Dahlin, an Anthroposophist researcher with an Anthroposophically funded research project), and bears the title “Pedagogical diversity threatened.”

How is the pedagogical diversity being guaranteed, they ask, now that Stockholm university ditched the Waldorf program. There is, they claim, an educational crisis in Sweden, and the decision means that Waldorf people aren’t in the position of helping to solve it any more, now that they aren’t welcome at university level teacher training. Moreover, this decision is a threat to Waldorf education, and “a sign of the times.” They then voice concern that this has all happened because of the “bologna-process” (a claim later refuted by the university’s president) which seeks to standardize education—measuring quality through quantity rather than “real” quality, according to the Waldorf people.

Waldorf education won’t fit into this process, although it is in all parts an international movement. The unique thing about this [Waldorf] teacher training is that it merges higher education with personal development. This happens throught the continous cognitive inquiry, with scientific stringency as well as with handcraft skills, and through letting self-reflection and critical scrutiny be the red thread guiding the training program. The starting point being that a good education includes the whole personality.

This, above, is an excellent example of anthro-speak, designed to confuse and seem positive but with little meaningful content for the general outsider who lack the knowledge to interpret concepts such as “scientific stringency” and “personal development” against the underlying religious philosophy, Anthropo­sophy.

Now this pedagogy is threatened. In the end, this will mean that one of the very few alternative pedagogies has been denied its right to exist.

That is of course far from the truth, and again an example of how Anthroposophists exaggerate their own importance. As Peter Staudenmaier noted on the Waldorf Critics discussion list,[4]

The notion that there are very few alternative pedagogies is quite mistaken. In reality, there are very many altern­ative pedagogies, and Waldorf has historically been hostile to them rather often, though it has also borrowed from them at times. It seems to me that many Waldorf proponents’ misunderstanding of and mis-recognition of their own movement’s relationship to various alternative pedagogical traditions is emblematic of Waldorf’s frequent oblivi­ous­ness about its own history.

Also worth noting is, of course, that just a few years earlier there had been no other Waldorf teacher train­ing than Anthroposophical private initiatives, and apparently—unfortunately—they managed, even then, to produce a large number of Waldorf teachers, among whom many helped (in the opinion of the author, who attended Waldorf) to screw up the education of a great number of children through the years. Anthroposophists again:

The important questions are: how is parental right of choice being considered and how is development of the free schools ensured? And how will Swedish teacher education be able to meet the community’s demands on pedagog­ical diversity?

As Diana Winters notes, this talk about “diversity” is merely nice-sounding baloney, [5]

… they’re trying to guilt trip folks into worrying that ”diversity” is threatened. No one wants to be seen as opposed to diversity. Glad that the reply counters this baloney, replying that ”diversity in education” is actually secondary compared to simply providing some kind of basic quality standards.

Keep in mind the hypocrisy of this concern – Steiner folks aren’t the slightest bit interested in “diversity” in educat­ion, they believe they’re the only ones who are doing it right. If they had control of the funding, they’d cut off everybody else. [emphasis in original]

They then mention a decision made in the late 90s, when the government seems to have decided that Waldorf teacher training ought to gain access to the higher public education system and be incorporated into the usual teacher training. From 2002 and onwards, Waldorf teachers were then trained at the Institute of Education in Stockholm, as well as at the Rudolf Steiner College. The authors claim that this co-operation was a happy arrangement for all involved parties. They then refer to the research report by Anthroposophist Dahlin (who also signed this piece). Stockholm University never­theless decided to ditch Waldorf training without asking the Rudolf Steiner College for their opinions, they note disappointedly.

There’s a debate in society about the works of Rudolf Steiner, which the president of the teacher training faculty board and the dean of the natural sciences faculty referred to. It is true there is such a debate.

Not that there is much of a public debate about this in Sweden, but it seems the Anthroposophists like it to appear as if there is. Then, naturally, Steiner the occult “scientist” is simply one among many great minds whose ideas have been questioned at one point or another:

The same can be said about, e.g., Freud, Darwin, Friedman, Marx, Montessori, Freinet, and other theoreticians who were prominent profiles in modern pedagogy and other sciences.

Critical debate is an important part of societal reformation. It has contributed to the abandonment of the mono­lithic viewpoint which formerly dominated Swedish educational politics.

Stockholm University rises to judgment on questions to which there are no right answers and where there can be no unified position, more precisely issues on how children and the young learn to live in the world of today and tomorrow.

From the decision emanates an air of something that is dangerous to human freedom. The keyword is science, and this presupposes [the need of] scientific quality in all areas, at the expense of everything unscientific.

The supreme judges of science accord themselves with dictatorial powers, even on issues where there can be no right answers from science, such as how to best ensure the opportunity for young people to grow and mature.

In this area of knowledge, different perceptions of life and different ideals play a part.

Then they invoke all the positive aspects of Waldorf (which really wasn’t a question the university faculties adressed in the first place—they made a decision to keep or ditch the Waldorf teacher program, based on the scientific level of the courses and reading material, and not on Waldorf pedagogy generally): the individual approach, the aesthetic side, etc. They refer to the research results of Dahlin once again. These results spoke loudly in favour of Waldorf, according to the debaters. They also refer to some survey showing that Austrian Waldorf schools are very good.

The main motive for terminating the [Waldorf] teacher training seems to have been deficits in the course literature. It was said to be unscientific. But literature at the Rudolf Steiner College is not used dogmatically, instead it is used as a foundation for a inquisitive discussion, and the Waldorf-pedagogical work on [personal] development is about testing the hypotheses that the methodology rests on.

This unfortunate decision of Stockholm University may be the end of a 90 year old educational tradition. The polit­ic­ians responsible for this must answer the question: how will pedagogical diversity and the freedom of choice of parents be guaranteed?

The future looks grim, and Anthroposophists have the solution,

Increasing problems in all areas of society pose new demands on the education and fostering of children. Waldorf pedagogy has much to offer.

The university’s president, Kåre Bremer, replies

The Anthroposophists’ article prompted the president of Stockholm university to pen a reply and voice his support for the decisions of the university faculties. Kåre Bremer wrote, on his blog,[6]

As Stockholm university took over responsibility for the teacher training programs from the Institute of Educat­ion it also took over the Waldorf teacher training program. The curriculum and the course literature have been discussed by the board of teacher education and the natural sciences faculty board. The boards don’t criticize Waldorf pedagogy as such, but the literature employed doesn’t live up to the scientific standards of the University. Thus, the board of teacher edcuation has decided to that the co-operation around the Waldorf teacher training program will terminated. Proponents of [Waldorf] education protested against this decision in SvD [Svenska Dagbladet, see above] yesterday. The decision of the University was also reported on Dagens Eko [transl. note: news radio]. This issue has nothing to do with the bologna-process, however, as was implied by the debaters in SvD. It is the faculty board’s responsibility to guarantee the scientific quality of education, and actually, “rise in judgement against,” as it was put in the letter to press, the content of the education which the University delivers, and this literature doesn’t live up to the expectations. I totally agree with the decision of the board, having acquainted myself with the literature. Parts of the content are not only scientifically untenable, they are simply untrue.

Representatives of the faculty boards respond

The dean of the faculty of natural sciences at the university and professor of bio-chemistry, Stefan Nordlund, and the president of the teacher training faculty board and professor of pedagogy, Anders Gustavsson, chose to respond to the Waldorf proponents by a letter to the editor which was published by the same newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet.[7] In the article “Rudolf Steiner-courses don’t fulfill require­ments” Nordlund and Gustavsson first address a couple of misconceptions (namely that this issue had anything to do with the European development regarding the bologna process (which was adressed by the university’s president too), and the Waldorf defenders’ perception of a trend towards quantifiable results etc within university environments), then go on to clarify, explain and counter the main arguments,

Contrary to this, the [pro-Waldorf] writers place freedom, diversity and scientific pluralism, which they say they are protecting.

In our opinion, the article is founded on an unfortunate misunderstanding. The main objective of the position taken by Stockholm university is to enhance diversity and freedom in the education of teachers, in order that they will be able to work within different traditions of knowledge and [with] scientific results.

The background to the decision is that the evaluation of the course curricula, which are included in the [Waldorf] teacher training, and which are arranged at the Rudolf Steiner college, showed that these courses don’t live up to the expectations in regard to the factual knowledge obtained.

Concretely, the investigation showed that a remarkably large part of the course literature was Rudolf Steiner-based, and that much of the scientific literature that teachers normally study wasn’t covered.

Considering the university’s requirements regarding versatility and diversity this is bound to be problematic, and it is with this in mind that the university made its decision.

They then say that while the pro-Waldorf writers emphasized diversity in education (i.e., diversity among schools for kids), this wasn’t the issue the university had to address.

They also say that it is a responsibility of universities and colleges to provide teacher training-programs to ensure that the school system is supplied with teachers who have good educational backgrounds.

At the same time, it is the responsibility of universities and colleges to guarantee that these programs keep a high level of quality and that they rest upon a scientific foundation.

Another newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, featured an interview with Nordlund:[8]

– The literature listed in the curriculum conveys wrong conceptions of the natural sciences, worse than mumbo-jumbo, states Stefan Nordlund.

– In parts, the students’ course literature is not simply unscientific. It is in fact dangerous, and it conveys miscon­cept­ions which are worse than muddled. We are supported by the department of natural sciences as well as the department of humanities in taking this position.

Further comments

Later, Nordlund and Gustavsson also commented the board decisions, as well as the debate that ensued, at the university’s web site.[9] The article states that, in connection to the natural sciences faculty board’s decision, the dean of the faculty of natural sciences presented an evaluation of the situation and this included the conclusion that the conditions weren’t such that an amendent of the curriculum and the literature lists—to ensure that they meet the quality standards—seemed possible. They also say that their opinion has nothing to do with Waldorf pedagogy as such, but solely with the quality of the courses. One main problem with the Waldorf courses was that they taught facts which were wrong, facts the teachers were later going to teach their students. There was, obviously, a problem with the factual subject matter, and not just the with the lack of scientific foundation regarding the pedagogy-related content.

Then, funnily enough because they’re actually countering the article Dahlin et al wrote in defence of Waldorf, they’ve managed to dig out a quote from Dahlin’s own “research” to prove their point. Dahlin et al complained that the university’s decision restricted educational freedom, diversity, etc. Nordlund and Gustavsson writes that it repeateded evidence has shown that Waldorf teacher programs lack versatility, diversity and openness. Dahlin himself has written, and they quote him, that problems in Waldorf teacher programs include closemindedness and dogmatism resulting from the kind of “holistic” approach which attempts to hold the answers to all and every sort of question and issue; he also wrote that the negative effects of this include secterianism and dogmatic seclusion. Apparently, in 1995, there was also an official investigation of the Rudolf Steiner College, and the same problems were mentioned in the report. The report from 1995 apparently had also stated that Waldorf teachers’ literature didn’t rest on scientific grounds. Representatives at the Institute of Education also criticized the Waldorf training program as late as 2006.

Nordlund and Gustavsson conclude that it is the university’s decision and its demands on quality which serve the purpose of ensuring the diversity, freedom and openness—aspects that have repeatedly been shown to be amiss at the Waldorf teacher training programs.

In an article in the September issue of student magazine Gaudeamus (no 4/2008) Nordlund answers some of the criticism which has been directed at the university by the Waldorf proponents. He says,

All education at university level must, according to laws regulating higher education, rest on scientific found­ations, and that is not something I made up.

Caroline Bratt and Gunnar Sjölin of the Rudolf Steiner College are disappointed; they feel they didn’t get a chance to learn what they needed to do better to pass. Nordlund replies,

If RSH [the Rudolf Steiner College] does have a qualified staff they ought to know very well which parts of the course literature have be removed. This, for me, is a closed chapter.

Caroline Bratt tells Gaudeamus about how university employees have told her that the Institute of Edu­cat­ion’s approval of the Waldorf program doesn’t say much about the quality of the Waldorf program, but reveals more about the standards applied by the Institute. Implicitly, that there were serious quality issues all along, and that Bratt and others making a point of getting into the Institute of Education is irrelevant to the case at hand.

Gaudeaumus quotes Nordlund from the minutes of the faculty board meeting,

It is not, according to our assessment, possible to amend the suggested curricula’s content and literature in such a decisive manner that they could be approved and, at the same time, that they would be able to keep what are the specific characteristics of the Waldorf aim and direction.

Thus, without the wacky parts, there’s no Waldorf. And, with the wacky parts, there will be no university courses or programs.

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[1] The minutes from the meeting can be viewed at http://www.science.su.se/polopoly_fs/1.34837.1320940125!/FNprotokoll_080604.pdf

[2] Documents [retrieved 2013-02-19]: http://www.su.se/polopoly_fs/1.44518.1320917373!/Kallelse_komplett18juni.pdf and http://www.su.se/polopoly_fs/1.62815.1323166419!/menu/standard/file/Protokoll_LUN_18_juni_2008.pdf.

[3] View the article at http://www.svd.se/opinion/brannpunkt/artikel_1607985.svd.

[4] http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/5732

[5] http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/5693

[6] http://blogs.su.se/kbrem/Utbildning/kbrem-opRH2Vg6.

[7] View the article at http://www.svd.se/opinion/brannpunkt/artikel_1616723.svd.

[8] http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=147&a=820515.

[9] http://www.su.se/pub/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=11258&a=48280.

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