There are texts that people who are interested in waldorf education ought to read, whether they’re parents, supporters, politician or perhaps even critics. This is one such document; it’s a statement by the ECSWE (the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education). It (the letter introducing to the principles) begins by explaining what a waldorf school is; it’s a school belonging to the waldorf movement’s official organisations and it’s a school that shares and works with a set of principles, some of which this document purports to outline. Already in the second passage, the importance of anthroposophy is emphasized and the view that the human being consists of ‘a body, a soul and a spirit’ is laid down. It is also stated, a little later, that waldorf teachers ‘study and research’ anthroposophy as a part of their work and development as teachers. (This pretty much belies the attitude of some schools that tend to want to distance themselves from anthroposophy and its necessity as a part of waldorf education.)
The principles themselves explicitly recognize that ‘[t]he educational activity in the schools and settings is informed by anthroposophy’ and continues to credit Rudolf Steiner (‘the scientist, philosopher and educator’, a description that perhaps does not do him full justice as it neglects to mention his role as a founder and leader of a spiritual movement).
Then comes a list of bullet points about waldorf education, claiming, among other things, that waldorf education ‘is inspired by observing and understanding the true nature of the growing child’, a statement I know critics would disagree with. It ‘provides nourishment for the body, the soul and the spirit’. It ‘seeks to enable a person’s unique potential to unfold.’
Further, waldorf education, it is said, does not select based upon nationality, belief, ethnicity (other factors are mentioned too); of course, the content of some of the literature the teachers might study is not acknowledged here, nor whether this content and the study of it could have any potential effects on how these issues are met in everyday situations in the schools. I wouldn’t expect it in a document such as this one. I’m only saying there are questions with regard to genuine inclusiveness of the ‘educational ethos’, whose answers may differ compared to when speaking only about issues of selection, which these schools don’t engage in. As for not selecting on the basis of social background, well, waldorf schools in many countries are private and cost money for the parents; naturally there’s an unavoidable element of selection to that (not that the schools are at fault for it).
Speaking about the school child, they say that an assessment takes place to determine the child’s readiness to begin school. They don’t say what this assessment consists of; does change of teeth matter more than willingness to read? Is there an assessment of the child’s spiritual and intellectual maturity based upon an anthroposophical understanding of the incarnation process? The seven year cycles? There certainly ought to be more to say about this, and even if we recognize that there are space constraints, a few hints would have been useful.
However, this point is what I find most interesting, and perhaps it could inspire discussion. I’ve made a screenshot of the relevant section, as the document does not allow easy copying.
Any thoughts about this? Seeing ‘rational, logical thinking’ mentioned first seems somehow inappropriate. And I wonder, too, about the ‘questions of life and meaning.’ But I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.
Further down, in the section about ‘teaching’, one notes that teachers should have ‘specialist training in the principles of practices of Steiner Waldorf education’, that is, in anthroposophical educational principles and practices. There’s also a reference to personal development and to ‘developing capacities for self-reflection’, although anthroposophy is not mentioned.
It’s also said that students are prepared so that they can enter the national education system at ‘points of exit’, but there’s nothing said about what these points are (thus it’s impossible to determine if what the ECSWE envisions is adequate).
Do read the document, and I would very much appreciate to hear your thoughts on it!