essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)

Can waldorf schools ditch ‘spiritual science’ and still be waldorf schools? Can they ditch what Rudolf Steiner taught and still call themselves waldorf or steiner schools? It’s question which has been discussed over and over again, here on this blog and elsewhere. (Only yesterday I wrote this, but I think I’ve written better and more in dept elsewhere.) Now I’m reading another newsletter from the pedagogical section of the Goetheanum. It’s available here [pdf]. On page 12 and onwards, this document describes the consensus — on what waldorf steiner education is — arrived at by a conference in Hague 2009. And it makes quite clear that waldorf cannot be just anything its proponents (or happy, but clueless parents) wish it to be:

Irrespective of their name and their rich, cultural diversity, they are all unified through several essential characteristics which are described below. Schools or kindergartens which do not reflect these characteristics don’t belong to the worldwide movement of Waldorf schools or Waldorf kindergartens.

The first characteristic mentioned is this:

The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”.

The basis of waldorf education — and all waldorf schools that want to call themselves waldorf schools — is Steiner’s Study of Man. You cannot ditch Study of Man and keep whatever cute parts of waldorf pedagogy that you fancy — nature, flute-playing, art (all these things people often believe are ‘typical’ for waldorf) — and that is how it should be. Waldorf actually means something, and I believe most waldorf critics would agree with the conference that schools, which don’t reflect the basic ideas specific to waldorf, do not — and should not — belong to the waldorf movement. (This said, I don’t agree with their rather optimistic description of waldorf education — lofty ideals with no foundation in the reality of waldorf. I don’t think waldorf institutions provide what is promised — many, if not all, fail to live up to the characteristics described.)

They continue to say (also on p 12):

Educators and teachers require teacher training in Waldorf education, and feel obliged to undertake a form of self-education which is appropriate to Waldorf education, as well as further continuing professional development.

On p 14, the distinctly anthroposophical art form, eurythmy, is listed as one of the marked characteristics of waldorf education, as well as is ‘[t]imetables, which are worked out, as much as possible, according to psychological-hygienic criteria’. On p 15, about the teachers:

Each colleague feels obliged to participate in the weekly pedagogical conference. This is the leading pedagogical body of the school or kindergarten and includes foundation work (the study of man/education), dealing with pedagogical questions, the observation of children …

That is, participation in anthroposophical studies and the very special practice of child study (also based upon anthroposophical ideas) is required. The aim of the weekly teachers’ conference is (among other things) to create ‘a common consciousness for the whole’.

They also explicitly remind us that not any school is allowed to carry the name waldorf.

Within the Pedagogical Section there is an organ responsible for the recognition of schools as Waldorf Schools and, for kindergartens as Waldorf Kindergartens. The legal right to this name is granted after the school or kindergarten has been recognized as such.

So — why would a school that only wants to pick the ‘nice’ parts perceived as ‘waldorf’ want to be associated with the waldorf movement? Waldorf isn’t about choroi-flutes or knitting or fairytales — it’s about Steiner’s Study of Man. Unless you agree with what’s in Study of Man, why would you want a waldorf school? I’m not even saying that Study of Man is bad — I could be saying that, but mind you, right now I’m not — I’m just saying it is essential to what waldorf is, while all those other pretty but superficial ornaments are not. You can have knitting, nature and gnomes in any environment, but only waldorf has Study of Man.


Edit: I recommend reading ‘Educating with Development in Mind’ by Christof Wiechert in the same newsletter, pp 4-9. ‘Thus we see how this psychology builds up the soul out of the starkest polarity imaginable: thinking as a faculty that originates in the time before birth and the will which strives towards the time after death.’ Then, on p 6 and on, he explains how forces at work, the etheric body, the change of teeth, the astral body, eurythmy (using the ether body). It’s ludicrous to think waldorf teachers (and those who direct waldorf education on a higher level, i e, the Goetheanum, teachers’ organizations, and teacher trainers) don’t take Steiner’s words seriously. They apperently do. They don’t think this stuff is too out-there to believe in.

8 thoughts on “essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)

  1. From a document about setting up a ‘holistic school’ by Dr Richard House of Roehampton University – Steiner teacher and frequent commenter:

    “Starting up a study group is very worthwhile – and a great place to start is to study Rudolf Steiner’s excellent and accessible lecture series The Kingdom of Childhood or his book The Child’s Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education. It is also useful from the outset to read together some of the anthroposophical (Steiner-inspired) literature on community building, as you will inevitably encounter ordinary human difficulties and challenges in the course of building your initiative. In this sense, participating in building a school is very much a personal-developmental path for everyone involved.”

    Here is the Kingdom of Childhood:

    “The need for a new art of education. The whole of life must be considered. Process of incarnation as a stupendous task of the spirit. Fundamental changes at seven and fourteen. At seven, the forming of the “new body” out of the “model body” inherited at birth. After birth, the bodily milk as sole nourishment. The teacher’s task to give “soul milk” at the change of teeth and “spiritual milk” at puberty.”

    Do they teach this in Leeds? At Frome? And if they even mention it – do the parents understand that they take this seriously? And the implications of taking this seriously?

  2. They don’t teach it (to the children, I mean). But they apply it. It’s the pedagogical foundation.

    (Just pointing it out to innocent passers-by. And to anthroposophists who think the claim is that these things are explicitly taught to children. That would be rare. It shines through, but that’s something else. The children are put through an education based upon this basis of… knowledge.)

  3. oh, I meant teach it to parents. In those study groups House suggests setting up. Perhaps it might be a good idea to set up a study group BEFORE beginning the consultation process.

    Notice he says:

    ‘ ..participating in building a school is very much a personal-developmental path for everyone involved.’

    Indeed it is. It has f* all to do with the children.

  4. yup, there it is again, the path.

    Re the teaching and not teaching, anthroposophy and that crazy tweet from Leeds Steiner school, there’ll be a post tonight. I’ve scheduled it for later.

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