on learning

Got this via facebook. It’s interesting. Of course, waldorf people would take this stuff as validation that waldorf is on to something. That aside, let’s ignore that, what he says is interesting (he isn’t talking about waldorf, by the way).

STANDARD: Sie sagen, um nachhaltig zu lernen, braucht das Hirn vor allem Begeisterung. Aber kann Lernen ohne Druck überhaupt funktionieren?

Gerald Hüther: Die Hirnforschung kann inzwischen zeigen, dass sich im Hirn nur dann etwas ändert, wenn es unter die Haut geht. Das Hirn ist kein Muskel, den man trainieren kann, indem man viel übt. Im Hirn passiert immer erst dann etwas, wenn derjenige, der lernt, das für sich selbst als wichtig beurteilt. Denn nur dann lässt man sich davon berühren, dann gehen die emotionalen Zentren an. Und immer dann, wenn im Hirn diese emotionalen Zentren aktiviert werden, wird eine Art Dünger ausgeschüttet. Der düngt gewissermaßen das Dahinterliegende, was man im Zustand der Begeisterung an Netzwerken aktiviert hat. Und das führt dazu, dass man immer das, was man mit Begeisterung lernt, auch so gut behält.

Listen to the video, it’s more extensive than the transcribed parts of the interview.

As for waldorf, don’t assume that waldorf allows children to develop their enthusiasm or interests. It doesn’t. (Just had to say that.) Perhaps it doesn’t have a few of the flaws that mainstream schools have, but it has other flaws instead. A major one is: holding children back.

90 thoughts on “on learning

  1. * Would you say it the experience of “all” Waldorf students that the education *does not* allow development of their enthusiasm and interests?

    * Why does Waldorf education hold children back?

    * Do we have any objective data available on the academic abilities of Waldorf graduates compared with mainstream school graduates, or on vocational/professional accomplishment post school?

  2. * no. I’m sure for some kids waldorf offers what they are enthused in, because their interests coincide with what waldorf can and will offer.

    * it’s inherent in the philosophy.

    * that is sorely lacking. Some studies have been discussed in previous blog threads and elsewhere online.

  3. I assume from this comment that you are saying that there are certain areas that Waldorf education favours, and for students who are interested in these areas they may find their interest and enthusiasm encouraged. Can you give some examples of what areas are encourages and, perhaps more interestingly, those areas that are not (areas that might actually be discouraged for students)?

    It is a shame that you cannot cite a specific study on the long-term outcome of Waldorf education. If we could look at the data and see that there was some clear academic or vocational deficit in adult graduates of Waldorf education, then we might be able to find a clear causal link. Criticism of the teaching methods (which may appear to be “holding children back”, or “leaving children be” as adherents might prefer to describe it) is not really adequate unless it can be clearly shown that adults perform below average after graduation.

  4. 1) eurythmy and wet-on-wet painting, for example

    2) it’s a shame there aren’t any good, reliable long term studies, but it’s hardly my fault. Other, smaller studies have, as I already said, been discussed in other threads already. They vary significantly in scope and in quality.

  5. Btw — read about waldorf education, will you. Delaying reading, writing and other academic pursuits is part of the philosophy and part of the practice. Knowing that, it should be pretty clear waldorf holds kids back. What long-term studies have to do with that is beyond me, although I certainly think such studies would be valuable in many other respects.

  6. “If we could look at the data and see that there was some clear academic or vocational deficit in adult graduates of Waldorf education, then we might be able to find a clear causal link.”

    Well, since Waldorf schools entered the “charter” school system, they have been required to collect data (which is great news). Presumably, these schools should be performing better than their private counterparts. The data from Waldorf charter schools is not good… most are performing far below average and are struggling to maintain their charter school status.

    As observers of Waldorf, we are faced with an obvious question… Where are all the Waldorf graduates – who are supposed to be changing the world? Waldorf has been at it for 100 years – they have 1000 schools… yet where are the great grad students of Waldorf? Waldorf, has only a handful of graduates that have made some renown achievement… and of those, most are theatrical people – actors and actresses. Where are the Waldorf grads who are going to make a difference in the world?

  7. There’s that list, Pete, of famous waldorf grads making a difference in the world. Hilarious reading…

    But, yeah you posted some stuff recently on critics, didn’t you? About the ‘success’ of the charters. Perhaps something for Beckett to read. Comments here on some smaller austrian and dutch studies appeared here not long ago, as well as being discussed elsewhere. (Google!)

  8. The Dahlin report from 2006 study shows that fewer Waldorf students continue to university studies. An Austrian PISA study shows weaknesses in math, like a dutch study which is rather thorough. There are some indications that waldorf students show more interest in learning later in schools, and have a less results-oriented approach to learning. My conclusion is that so far no reasonably reliable studies have shown that waldorf is equal to (or better than) mainstream education. On the contrary, there are worrying indications that they in general perform below national standards. However I wouldn’t say that there is definitive “proof” that waldorf schools are worse than mainstream schools. But delaying subjects which are part of a normal curriculum puts the burden of proof on the shoulders of waldorf educators, I think. If there is, I haven’t seen it yet. But I’m prepared to be surprised ;-)

  9. Thank you Ulf. Spectacularly, the Dahlin report was commissioned by anthroposophists to get results they needed. In the light of that, the bad results are even more intriguing. The study was quite flawed though; hardly reliable.

  10. I am aware that Waldorf education does not teach reading and writing until a child has reached a certain age, older than in mainstream schools. I have met a number of Waldorf students and graduates and have yet to see any evidence that this practice has held them back in any way. Of these individuals, vocational and academic accomplishments seem perfectly in-line with people from no Waldorf backgrounds.

    This is why I want to know if there is any long-term data on this, as my personal experience is unlikely to be objective.

    In the Waldorf system, I understand that the method is designed to allow children to develop at a slower pace and that there are clear arguments for why this approach is used. It seems to me that whilst children may be behind national averages in the short term, as is logical, we can only evaluate if this method is effective or not by looking at where these children have ended up in later life.

    The idea of allowing “children to be children” is compelling for me and I have not seen any detrimental effects of this approach in my own experience.

    I am trying to get some objectivity here, as both sides of this particular debate seem to provide argument without much evidence. It is good that there are some studies being done.

    “As for waldorf, don’t assume that waldorf allows children to develop their enthusiasm or interests. It doesn’t. (Just had to say that.) Perhaps it doesn’t have a few of the flaws that mainstream schools have, but it has other flaws instead. A major one is: holding children back.”

    Alicia, with respect, these statements seemed somewhat blanket and subjective, which was the reason I commented. I was trying to work out where you were coming from. I know a number of Waldorf students who speak very highly of their experiences, and the encouragement they received to pursue many different interests (no mention of Eurythmy or wet on wet painting).

  11. What makes you think that because they prevent children from pursuing academic interests they ‘allow children to be children’ any more than other types of education would do? You’re simply repeating the PR buzz.

    Also, with due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from this blog where I’m coming from re this.

    No, if you don’t enjoy eurythmy, wet-on-wet painting and these typical waldorf activities, you won’t be ok in waldorf. Presumably the people you’ve met did.

  12. Actually, all I said was that the idea of allowing children to be children was compelling for me. Nothing to do with any PR I’ve heard. That principle stands regardless. A Waldorf approach, (at least in principle), seems to be more in line with that compared to mainstream schools.

    From what I have read of this blog, I can’t to work out where you stand with all this. Please forgive any assumptions that I may have made, but it seems that you may be:

    * Into Steiner’s work, though in a very sensible, grain of salt type of way
    * Anti Waldorf education
    * Perhaps had a bad personal experience at a Waldorf school…?

    “No, if you don’t enjoy eurythmy, wet-on-wet painting and these typical waldorf activities, you won’t be ok in waldorf. Presumably the people you’ve met did.”

    There are some presumptions here that are inaccurate. I was interested in what Eurythmy was and asked a group of young adults from a local Waldorf school about it, they gave me a little background about what they did, and told me they mostly hated doing it. They still spoke very highly about their education as whole whole. No mention of wet-on-wet painting.

  13. I wonder how many parents really look at what type of education they are choosing for their child? Its expensive and time- consuming to drive them to a school away from home, they must really be convinced about the benefits. It’s a big investment to make without researching the pros and cons.
    The children are kept home from school by parents on the day of the sats tests so I guess they know the relults wouldn’t be great. It is not academic attainment they are interested in.They are buying in to something else.

  14. Actually, what you’ve written is standard waldorf pr talk. That’s the picture of waldorf — almost verbatim — you get from waldorf websites. The stuff you wrote in the comment about children being children. I gather that appears ‘objective’.

    I’m sorry, I simply don’t have the time right now. Why don’t you read a few posts here and see for yourself? Ulf gave you a good answer about the studies. That’s what you wanted to know, wasn’t it? Perhaps someone else has something to add; I’d be grateful.

  15. I think if a long term study showed Waldorf graduates did consistently worse professionally/vocationally this would presumably not bother parents-as that is not their primary concern when they are choosing a school. They are more concerned with the colour of the paint on the walls and the sewing skills on offer.

  16. Now I remember why I rarely engage with either Waldorf people or Waldorf critics. Both seem so utterly fixated on their particular bias, that it’s almost impossible to get anywhere with any kind of reasoned thinking. It is most disheartening that one cannot even write a simple sentence without it being misinterpreted by such bias.

    One thing I’ll say for the Waldorf folks, for all their pseudo-science and wishy-washy notions, in my experience, they don’t come across bitter.

  17. You know what Beckett — I could see this coming. I’ve been through this before — the ‘neutral’, ‘objective’ observer (in reality often a waldorf parent or teacher) who comes along, from nowhere, demanding to have answers. Then, getting them (Ulf gave you what you asked for even if I didn’t), wanting more, then it’s suddenly not about research anymore but about me as a person. Sorry — not playing that game again. Not interested.

    This is not a waldorf information service. I am not on call to answer your queries be it about waldorf or me as a person. Read the blog, discuss things by all means. But you can’t come here demanding swift answers on any questions you might have. I simply don’t have the time — as I told you and said sorry about in a previous comment — and I won’t play stupid games with you. Because all you came here for was to copy paste waldorf pr material — believe me, we’ve seen that stuff before — and end up doing what you just did, because you only sought to verify your prejudices about critics. Don’t think you appear any fairer for faking prejudices about waldorf folks at the same time. Who’s going to buy that? I’ve talked with quite a few pro-waldorf people. It’s occasionally both interesting and rewarding even when I don’t necessarily agree. But I’m fed up with people who think they have to fake where they stand, what they believe and why they come here.

  18. Am finally on an actual computer and not a phone. (Don’t worry about spelling, Helen, I’m sure my phone comments this afternoon/evning were atrocious…)

    Helen — on the topic of what would bother parents — I think what you mentioned would bother many parents. I know it would have bothered mine. They were absolutely convinced that waldorf did what it claimed to do — offer the same academic opportunities that other schools did, just with some extra things (nicer wall-colours among them;-)). It was always the intention to get that. Not going on to university to become something, a doctor, a lawyer, whatever, was absolutely unthinkable. They would not have bought an education that didn’t give such opportunities. And, to be fair, I think quite a few anthroposophist parents feel that way too. They may want their children to develop at a different pace (a pace which I doubt is helpful, as there’s so much to catch up on later) but they don’t want to deprive their children of chances — for example to go on to higher education. Many, if not most, were educated themselves. This may be different today — parents may value other things now. I don’t really know.

    ‘I wonder how many parents really look at what type of education they are choosing for their child? Its expensive and time- consuming to drive them to a school away from home, they must really be convinced about the benefits. It’s a big investment to make without researching the pros and cons.’

    I’ll tell you what we did! We bought a house closer to the school. Before that, we’d been going on the underground train from central stockholm (a long way), then the parent who followed me took the train back to the city to work… for over three years. We did not use the car. Then we bought the house. To be closer to the school. Then it failed completely six years later and both me and my brother ended up travelling to the city to go to school, i e, in the opposite direction…

    But yes, of course, people are convinced of the benefits. They’re very convinced until they realize that the benefits sometimes come at a staggering price.

    There weren’t any alternatives back then, though, so I’m not sure what they were supposed to have done, to be honest. I know mother read books about waldorf and steiner and all of that (I think there was more pride and less hypocrisy around anthroposophy back then), but of course all of it was ‘pro-waldorf’ material. This was decades before the internet. And, although internet must be quite helpful in getting another perspective than the official waldorf side (at least when things go wrong, people start looking and then they find!), I wonder how often it makes any difference. And if it would have, in my case, had it existed (and had the political situation been the same as it was then: no free schools, only state schools). I doubt it very much.

  19. I genuinely want to know what studies have been done and I thank you for the pointers. Actually, it is about the research.

    I do not appreciate being accused of spouting PR. This I find disturbing, and to be honest, this tells me very quickly what the tone and level of this blog is about. Alicia, it is clearly on record, you took one of the points that I made and, it seems, immediately made up your mind about where I was coming from.

    I certainly did not come here for an argument. I understand that perhaps you have to deal with a lot, but you are putting your thoughts out here on the internet, so this is to be expected. If you write public criticism of something, what do you expect? If your criticism comes across as subjective opinion, then perhaps that does indeed open you up to personal attacks.

    Before you get dismissive, or make assumptions about where I am coming from, please read the words exactly as they are written.

    You people have absolutely no idea about who I am, or where I am coming from, and likewise I have no real idea about you. I can therefore only read and respond to statements exactly as they are written.

    I am not faking where I stand, not in any way. I’ve not even said where I stand. Nor am I asking for information about Waldorf education as such, I can go directly to Steiner for that. I have an open mind and want to see evidence to back up statements.

    If I ask for objective information to back up a statement, and only receive what “appears” to be opinion, then there is very little for me to work with.

    In my experience, this is true of the majority of both Waldorf people and their critics. A complete lack of any serious intellectual vigour.

    If there is no factual argument, and the comment section is littered with snide opinion, then perhaps one could be forgiven for assuming that some emotion is in play here, bitterness was just the first word that came to mind – I apologise for not giving it more thought.

  20. ‘I do not appreciate being accused of spouting PR. This I find disturbing, and to be honest, this tells me very quickly what the tone and level of this blog is about.’

    It’s not an accusation. Much of what you posted (supposedly describing waldorf education) is stuff straight off of waldorf school websites and PR material provided by the waldorf movement. That is hardly my fault. It’s content I’ve discussed a million times before.

    ‘Alicia, it is clearly on record,’

    I’m sure it’s on every kind of record, even the Akashic record. I’m not sure why that should worry me.

    And, for your information — I’ve been ‘putting [my] thoughts out here on the internet’ for years, have lots of readers every day, and I know what I can expect. I also know what people can’t expect of me.

    Addendum: that’s it from me as far as Beckett’s comments go. If anyone else wants to continue discussing waldorf pros and cons with her, be my guest.

  21. Beckett wrote:
    “Actually, all I said was that the idea of allowing children to be children was compelling for me. Nothing to do with any PR I’ve heard. That principle stands regardless. A Waldorf approach, (at least in principle), seems to be more in line with that compared to mainstream schools.”

    Really? All the children I know enjoy the freedom of plopping down in front of the TV once in a while… or dressing fashionably… or looking something up on the computer if they are interested in learning about it (no need to wait to ask their Waldorf teacher). Children I know seem to LOVE plastic figures that actually resemble someone. They love dinosaurs and firetrucks, model airplanes, football and yes, video games. With the Waldorf approach, children are allowed none of those freedoms. I think your idea of what “being” a child entails is suffering miserably my friend.

  22. Pete, I was specifically asking if there had been any conclusive study as to whether the Waldorf approach of not teaching reading and writing until later (than mainstream schools) had any impact on vocational and academic abilities of Waldorf graduates, i.e once they complete education in the Waldorf system.

    I added that the idea that “children should be allowed to be children” as a principle, was something I find personally appealing (without any objective statement about what this might mean, or where it might come from). I don’t follow how this leads on to your comment about TV and toys and I don’t see how you could possibly know what my idea of being a child is from the statements I have actually made.

    Why so many assumptions?

  23. Pete, watch out ;-) There are too many similarities with some of the antics of the former AT-list members. If Becket was really interested in what s/he says, s/he would have answered my post long ago. I see no reason to continue this pseudo-discussion. Let it rest in peace.

  24. While we’re here, waiting for Godot, I actually think the interview, which was the initial point of the post, was kind of interesting. Surprisingly to some, perhaps, I don’t think Hüther is wrong; I think he’s basically right. I just don’t think he’s recommending waldorf.

  25. “An argument isn’t just contradiction…An argument is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition.” – MP

    Well, perhaps this is not the place for me to get any insight in dialogue. It seems like you guys might have defaulted to crusading. Perhaps you’ve had to deal with so much criticism (of your criticism) that it’s easier to shoot first.

    FWIW, I am a prospective Waldorf parent, looking into various schooling options for my child. I have done extensive research into Waldorf education and into the works of Steiner. Based on personal impressions of a local Waldorf school, it is very appealing, and the philosophy behind the system seems to be far better than what is available in the mainstream system, at least this is currently where my thinking sits.

    I have had the opportunity to speak with graduates and I have heard only positivity about their education (with the exception of having to do Eurythmy). I have also followed up (through these students) on what other graduates have gone on to do after school and the results seems to be fairly normal, from trades, arts, family through to university studies in the sciences, doctorates etc. This is of course anecdotal, but does provide some weight to the decision making process.

    But, it is not enough. I also need to know if there is any evidence-based criticism on the system. I want to know what does and does not work. I have looked through some of the critics forums and information available on the internet, but have not been able to find very much in the way of objectively verifiable proof of Waldorf’s flaws, or even much healthy debate. Most of the discussion seems to be mostly subjective, fuelled by emotion, crusading from both sides and indeed, pseudo-argument. Whilst it is fairly easy to see bias, it is not so easy to find those without it. Again, this is on both sides.

    From the critics, it is difficult to get any real insight when there does not seem to be many critics willing or able to enter a serious merit-based discussion. I would appreciate any links/pointers here. The Waldorf folks on the other hand, appear to be well meaning and are consistently able to provide reasons for their various principles.

    Again, anecdotally, there are stories of individuals having had bad experiences with Waldorf (as might be true in any schooling system), and these cannot of course be discounted. I have however, found many more positive stories than negative ones.

    Ulf, thank you for pointing me to the studies. I did acknowledge that I appreciated the pointers, although I did so indirectly. I will be reviewing these.

    One serious lack that the Waldorf philosophy shows is that, whilst many of the insights and guiding principles can be validated or falsified (educational outcomes, student abilites, etc.), there are aspects which simply can’t be falsified, such as the more “spiritual” sides of the philosophy. I see that this is why Anthroposophy has been classified as a pseudo-science. Even though there does appear to be reasons behind every practice, these reasons are not always objectively measurable to those not familiar, and open to Anthroposophical ideas. This however, does not speak to whether the outcome of Waldorf education in itself is good or bad. As mentioned, subjective evidence suggests that the outcome is indeed very good.

    It would be much easier if Waldorf proponents and critics alike might be able to say something like (as an example):

    “Waldorf education does not actively teach reading and writing until late in primary school. This is because the Waldorf system asserts that reading and writing is better taught later in the childs development and that children learn these skills better, later. If this assertion is true, then we should see no significant difference, or perhaps above average abilities, in the student, after graduation. If this assertion is false, we should see consistently below average abilities after graduation….and here is the evidence.”

    Instead I only seem to be able to find these kinds of subjective, crusading statements, and either no desire or no ability to engage critically.

    So I find myself defaulting to a pragmatic approach and simply talking to graduates. The proof may after all, be found in the pudding.

    I am aware that Waldorf education might differ from country to country and from school to shool. I am in the southern hemisphere and my impression is that there are some quite marked differences in the schools here compared to the more traditional Waldorf of Europe. Advice has been to take each school on it’s own merits.

    The burden of proof of effectiveness may be on Waldorf education, but one might also ask if there is any conclusive evidence to suggest the mainstream approach works any better, in the context of the entire education process. Are critics providing alternatives or is the mainstream education system considered the best there is, I wonder?

    As a parent, I see the mainstream school system as being outdated and deeply flawed. This video does a good job of explaining my views http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

    I understand that this comment is off topic from the original post, and that I may have offended Alicia. I am sorry for that. I will continue to look for dialogue (and Godot) elsewhere.

  26. I weighed in judiciously yesterday on why parents choose Waldorf.
    I happened to walk past the Kindergarten yesterday just as the little ones were being collected at lunchtime, as I do often. And I always ask myself why people have chosen this for their children, if not for the woolly hats and biodynamic food. The hand-dyed wool hangs on the line outside and the wooden toys are on the lawn.
    I can’t believe that all these parents have read Steiner and decided they want an education based on his ideas.
    I suppose many parents opt out at age 4 and decide to use the local primary, but I also suppose most of the children beginning at the Waldorf school have gone through Kindergarten first, otherwise it would be a shock for them to suddenly find themselves in a Waldorf classroom.
    As has been pointed out here before, the attainment for Waldorf graduates should be proportionally higher than average, since parents who choose Waldorf have must have been prepared to invest and care enough to consider something off the mainstream track for their child.
    It has been shown (I think) that a child’s attainment at school is directly related to the level of engagement from her parents, so perhaps parents believe that should their child not be provided with top quality academic teaching, they will compensate by being supportive at home.
    I also wonder if the lack of respect for the teaching profession generally (at least here) contributes to people’s lack of concern about turning their backs on mainstream education.
    Just wondering.

  27. My parents were also determined we should do well academically, and even were slightly hippyish but I still can’t imagine them considering sending us to Waldorf, had there been a school nearby. Perhaps parents have to be open to spirital ideas, as yours must have been to read Steiner, Alicia.
    I wonder was your mother aware of Steiner first and sought out a Waldorf school beacause of that, or did she know about the school and then read the books?

  28. Helen — of course the environment is one reason people choose waldorf. They do want these things rather than the plastic crap. And you’re right about respect for the teaching profession, but, then again, perhaps that lack of respect has to do with the fact that the teacher training has been deteriorating for decades — I’m talking about Sweden now. It’s not good enough. That is no excuse for waldorf, of course, but may contribute to why people don’t trust state schools to provide a decent education and thus start to look for alternatives.

    ‘Perhaps parents have to be open to spirital ideas, as yours must have been to read Steiner, Alicia.’

    No, not really. My father was not very involved at all (he helped with practical things, but didn’t interfer much with my mother’s choices), my mother knew about (some of) the spiritual stuff — it wasn’t her thing but the only choice was between waldorf and state school and she emphatically did not want state school. (I know this strikes non-Swedes as rather baffling, but in Sweden, at this time, the educational landscape was 99,9% state school. You had no choice but to send your child to the nearest local state school, which one was decided for you, no choice whatsoever. Then there were a few waldorf schools, one quite snobbish old private school (where I later ended up; it was splendid), a couple of private boarding schools and a few schools for foreigners, i e schools with another language than Swedish. That was the extent of it — there was no choice.) So she took the spiritual side of it as a part of the parcel, thinking it wasn’t such a huge thing. It might not seem really objectionable if you know they aren’t ‘preaching’ it to the kids. She found state school mentally impoverished and dreadful. To a certain extent she was probably right. And she very much liked the aesthetics, all the stuff around, so to speak.

    ‘I wonder was your mother aware of Steiner first and sought out a Waldorf school beacause of that, or did she know about the school and then read the books?’

    She was aware of the schools first, but from another country, where they were more tightly controlled in that students had to sit state exams. I don’t know exactly which books she read; they all ended up in the bin. I know a few titles were written by other anthros about waldorf education and then there were some things by Steiner.

    Beckett — I’m not the least bit offended. I’m simply not interested in providing ‘information’, advice or in saying the things people want me to say. I only write about or discuss what I enjoy writing about or discussing. There are many other critics who take a different approach; who are in this to be useful and make a difference and advice people about things. Perhaps you could join the critics list, for example.

  29. Yes, it depends what the alternatives are.
    And standards in teacher training has been in decline as you say. We did a lot of child psychology but I never heard the word pedagogy before this blog, I swear.

  30. I have a feeling that in English, the word ‘education’ is often used in the same way we’d use ‘pedagogy’. Am not sure though. Pedagogue is used synonymously with teacher in swedish, but (of course) with the words in swedish ;-)

  31. I really do think though that the standard of education would have to be proven to be very bad indeed before people would turn against Waldorf, simply because of the aesthetics.
    The idea of your child growing up in a natural, wholesome environment without trashy gadgets, make- up, adult style clothes etc is a beguiling one, and one that maybe some parents are prepared to strive for at almost at any cost.
    Assuming of course that they either don’t know about or are not bothered about the disturbing aspects of the movement.

  32. “Pete, I was specifically asking if there had been any conclusive study as to whether the Waldorf approach of not teaching reading and writing until later (than mainstream schools) had any impact on vocational and academic abilities of Waldorf graduates, i.e once they complete education in the Waldorf system.”

    There may, indeed, be little or no noticeable difference – assuming the child doesn’t have an undiagnosed learning disability. In those cases, of course, the children can miss out on YEARS of help in Waldorf environments.

    “I added that the idea that “children should be allowed to be children” as a principle, was something I find personally appealing (without any objective statement about what this might mean, or where it might come from). I don’t follow how this leads on to your comment about TV and toys and I don’t see how you could possibly know what my idea of being a child is from the statements I have actually made.”

    LMAO… Well, if you promote the Waldorf approach, then you are promoting THEIR ideas of what being children is supposed to be. Waldorf RESTRICTS childhood, it doesn’t enhance it – in ANY way.

  33. “So I find myself defaulting to a pragmatic approach and simply talking to graduates. The proof may after all, be found in the pudding.”

    Well, if you’ve ever made pudding, you know there’s always a huge mess to clean up afterward. That’s exactly the case with Waldorf. For every student that actually graduates, dozens of students have entered the system and left. When you interview Waldorf grads, you are talking to the “success” stories, not a REAL picture of what has happened in that environment. Waldorf grads are the ones who have had every sense of critical thinking stripped from them. They are always amicable… they wouldn’t have survived otherwise in the bullying Waldorf environment. They have no sharp edges, no uniqueness… they seem like they’ve come out of a cookie-cutter IF they survive.

  34. Good observation, Pete. You’ll likely get another picture if you talk to the graduates than if you talk to some of those, like me, who quit. Those who actually stayed 12 years were probably those who were most content, adapted most easily and were best suited for waldorf education and the social environment of the waldorf school.

    The others, like me, left.

  35. Of course Waldorf enhances childhood in SOME ways. Pete.

    1) There is for example more oral storytelling than in most other schools. I think that’s a significant enhancement.

    2) And I’ve seen a Waldorf teacher organizing nature experiences the other teachers didn’t offer their pupils. This wasn’t a Waldorf school (seems like quite a few Waldorf teachers work in mainstrean or other free schools, you might wonder why?). Anecdotal evidence, but enough to suggest that there might be some enhacements …

    3) One very striking difference found in the Dutch dissertation is that while pupil’s relationship with their teachers usually deteriorates in the later school years, it is more positive in Waldorf schools. Comes at a price though, the same study strongly indicates that Waldorf is a bad choice when it comes to reading, writing and math. But here we have rather strong statistical support for Waldorf offering something ordinary schools don’t provide. Now you might argue that those who didn’t fit in or got the rotten apples among the teachers left, but surely there has to be a counterargument to that …

    Interesting to try the role of the Angel’s Advocate for once ;-)

  36. I don’t know how any parent could read this and still risk sacrificing the welfare of their child to Waldorf.
    Parents can read to their child themselves, and go for Nature walks. Why ask a school to do that for you?

  37. Ulf — Now, this is complicated. Are you sure that’s the angel’s advocate or the devil’s? I enjoy both roles, occasionally. Especially the latter. Depending on context. The second point you make, albeit correct, suggests you may be the gnomes’ advocate. Or wait… they don’t want people in the forest. I’ll have to think more about this.

    But, yes, number 1 is basically true too. (Or so I think.) Number 3 confuses me. The interpretation of these results. I think it’s about waldorf teachers having an entirely different role than teachers in mainstream schools. Teaching all subjects (almost).

    Helen — I think it’s because parents want their children’s time in school to be spent meaningfully. Even if it’s true that they can read to their children and take them on nature walks. To some, it doesn’t seem meaningful to spend day in day out filling in exercises in dimwitted and utterly uninspiring printed workbooks. They actually believe that stories and nature and painting and music and prettier walls, whatever, are better for the child’s development — intellectually as well as emotionally. They think mainstream education is poor and uninspiring. Children do spend a lot of time in school, after all. Parents are away at work, they don’t have much time to do all the things they feel they should be doing, and think perhaps it’s good if the school offers a few of these things they value.

    No matter what you choose, you end up sacrificing something — and choosing mainstream education, you can surely sacrifice your child that way too.

  38. I realize I’m cynical… and sure there’s oral storytelling… but WHICH stories? Rainbow Bridge? 7-year Wonder Book stuff? Grimms? Mother Holle? Parcifal? Myths? The oral storytelling tradition in Waldorf is often corrupted by the intention to infuse Anthroposophically compatible themes in the stories.

    It’s like Hansel and Gretel – The candy-covered package is just a cover-up for the evil inside.

  39. Grimms, yes. Myths, yes. Other old folk-tales. Parcifal, I though they did that with older kids? Not sure what wonder book is. Googled, it’s not familiar to me.

    The thing that bothers me more about this is that they — some schools at least — tell the same tale over and over, the same tale for a week or so.

  40. Learning depends as does intelligence on the environment the child is being raised and to a lesser extent exposed to through social and educational influences.

  41. Hmm perhaps the gnomes have some gold to pay my fees as a lawyer? Then I would of course have to listen to my clients’ wishes before I choose my arguments … While waiting for the gnomes to pay up I think it is good critical thinking AND a good rhetorical strategy to identify also the Strengths and Opporunities of Waldorf. Not only the Weaknesses and Threats, in the traditional four SWOT-boxes. So here is an updated list of Strengths:

    1) The auditory channel. There is an important qualitative difference between telling and reading aloud. Even parents could tell much more. Listening in a group of friends adds another social and cultural dimension. Generally I think Waldorf has a strong case when it comes to using the auditory modes of learning (no you don’t need to remind me of the lack of using the eyes to read books). And while I agree with some of the things Pete and Alicia says about this, most schools are still way behind Waldorf here.

    2) Nature. To Alicia’s arguments above, I’ll add the social dimension (Full disclosure; working at summer camps was the most inspiring and meaningful job I have ever had). Being in in the wilderness around a campfire at night with your friends is different from what parents can offer, even if they have time, money and a good relation to nature.

    3) The role of the teacher. As Alicia says, here it gets complicated. But it is certainly different, and I have strong anecdotal evidence that for SOME pupils the Waldorf attitude can be helpful, especially on a personal level.

    4) Fast and slow. Pete’s and Alicia’s observation that Waldorf teachers can spend a whole week on a single story is actually evidence for something potentially very positive. Often pupils have less than one second to answer questions by the teacher (there are some horrifying research here). A classroom culture like that does not promote either critical thinking or deeper understanding. I’m not saying Waldorf always has the best “tempo”. But sometimes you need andante, largo or even stillness.

    Legal disclamer: I will not be held responsible for any damage to the offspring of parents who might interpret the viewpoints above as a recommendation to choose a Waldorf school. Readers are advised to consider Helen’s observation that much of the above can be practiced in the relative safety of your own family. And that, as Shane says, not all learning happens during school hours.

  42. 1 though 4 are not original to waldorf education. You have merely demonstrated your lack of experience in education. The difference is the occult connection to anthroposophy. Teaching in waldorf schools has little to do with personal growth. It focuses on fitting the waldorf/steiner paradigm.

  43. They aren’t original, it’s just that mainstream education fails.

    Waldorf might fail too, of course. I think there’s going to be a difference when waldorf teachers are no longer committed anthroposophists (as most of them used to be). When they ‘don’t know much about anthroposophy’ even (or find anthroposophy silly even though they want to pick and choose from waldorf practices). Anyway. I think it must make a difference to the emphasis put on these things when teachers believe that fairytales and myths contain higher truths and that there’s a ‘spiritual’ (oh dear, sorry, *that* again) side to nature. The seriousness with which they approach these things will be (probably is) lost.

    As for 1-4.

    1) auditory learning was never my thing, but I did enjoy the tales and myths. I have nothing against the Grimm fairytales in general, but I know from previous discussion on critics that quite a few of the americans seem to find (any?) cruelty in fairytales unacceptable. I personally still don’t understand why. Apparently american children start to cry and suffer trauma very easily. At least that has been my impression ;-) As far as I can remember, that never happened in reality (I’ve heard it does happen to american children in waldorf schools; they start to cry from the fairytales — I can but conclude that either they tell different tales there or these children are more sensitive than when I was a child). On the contrary, the emotional scope (in want of a better word) of these old tales is what makes them still able to capture the interest of children. Offering just cute fluff is quite a shitty way to protect one’s child, in my opinion. But that’s me.

    2) yep. I could say much more about that, but on the other hand, I have no idea how waldorf compares to mainstream schools in this regard; and I’m not sure how waldorf works now that it’s more a part of the public system, as a free school, than it was back then. Suffice to say, perhaps, that, for better or worse, waldorf teachers were committed to more than just running a school. As were the parents. Perhaps these days it’s just the about the curriculum and there no other aims or expectations.

    3) agreed, I think. Although it’s certainly not a straightforward matter.

    4) I guess there’s a middle ground… between rushing children and boring them ;-) (Side note: I remember that the same stories returned, but I don’t remember that the same story was told for a week. It’s something I’ve read others report. One thing I do remember from school was that the next day a couple of students were to retell the tale the teacher had told the day before.) That said, personally I wasn’t bored by the stories or the myths or anything of that kind. At least not all the time. Boredom had to do with other things, mostly. Stillness is not the issue.

    (Of course the gnomes have gold, Ulf. Stashed in burrows. You must find them and offer your services and they will pay you! It’s a bit tricky, it involves going to the right places at the right times of the day and pay attention to things or they won’t show themselves to you, much less reveal where their gold is.)

  44. I don’t want to discuss this in depth atm but Ulf – I had some idea that Waldorf (Steiner) would be more culturally rich than it is. The reality is so different from the idea.

  45. Agree, Melanie. You might notice that Art isn’t on my list. I would rather put that in the Threats and Weaknesses boxes. What is promoted as Art is rather easy to debunk as limiting and disciplined spiritual exercises. Which could open a Pandora’s box of questions about karma and the “R”-word …

  46. So, mr Dog and I went to the forest but didn’t meet even one gnome. Apparently mad humans are scaring them away. What strikes me about nature is this: most people seem to go there to run or to exercise. They don’t go there to just *be*. They go there to… I don’t know, keep fit, keep fat off, look good, wear shiny pants, and so forth. And has that increasingly become the reason to bring children out in the forest too: to combat the obesity epidemic (or whatever the media would call it)? If so, that’s kind of a poor reason. Kind of a boring reason. Sorry, that’s off topic. But the more I think of it, when people talk about kids not getting sufficient time outdoors, it’s always about: they’re getting fat. That’s not good. Much less about what it does to their minds. I’m not saying exercising is bad (although for some hysterical people it might very well be), or that children shouldn’t be going to the forest for hard exercise (maybe they should, what do I know), I’m just thinking: perhaps there’s something more to being in nature than that? (of course, in my opinion, what they do wrecks it all, but then… that’s me.) Does it matter what people say is the reason children need to get outdoors? Does it matter (to the kids themselves?) if the focus is almost entirely on physical health? (To be the devil’s advocate, perhaps it IS healthier for the mind to wander around aimlessly looking for gnomes and fairies?)

  47. Depending on how atrocious the art education in a mainstream school is, art *could be* on the list of things speaking for waldorf. But then mostly because mainstream education is crap. In some cases. Overall, I don’t know — although I suspect waldorf compares badly. I’m saying *could be*, not that it is. Frankly, I know very little about art in grades 1-6 in mainstream school. And even less about what state schools do.

    For what it’s worth, and despite my opinions (ie, that art in waldorf was tedious and repetitive and I didn’t enjoy it), my mother still maintains, I believe, that it was superiour to what my brother got. Which was basically nothing. (They filled in these… I don’t know what they’re called, but ‘drawings’ where the contours are already printed, so you just colour them… with — the horror!! — plastic pens with artificial colours in them!!!! Oh yeah. That really is some kind of aesthetic low-point.)

  48. both of you – my daughter, who is 10 and has never been to a Steiner school (she’s at a village CofE state primary) showed me a short piece of writing yesterday. She described walking by the river here, sitting in her special place, the birds, the sound of the water, the contemplative quality of her experience. She goes there just to ‘be’ – although she usually takes a picnic.

    It was how I felt at her age and long afterward too. And I must have said this many times, though she didn’t comment until now, and in her own way.

  49. Oh, that’s exactly the kind of thing — I can’t express myself, I don’t find the words, but that’s a whole other way of being in nature than what these exercise buffs manage. (I suspect there’s a different between the countryside and the cities; in the country, children have more easy and more independent access to nature, and some of them will be able to find these eperiences for themselves.)

  50. you find the words all the time!

    Even in a city a park is good, we had many hours with the squirrels in ours in London. Which is why hearing about Sao Paulo is scary (there are apparently no green spaces). But to be surrounded by nature as we are here is a tremendous gift for children, even if they don’t say.

    Having said that I wish I had a magic portal to the British Museum.

  51. Magic portals are always useful.

    I rarely see any children out alone — without parents — here. Not in the local ‘forest’ (though that’s understandable, it’s tricky to get there safely), but not even in the park. I used to walk mr D in the forest where I grew up (or where we moved when I was seven) until my parents moved in 2010. I never saw any kids out alone there either. They have become entirely dependent on parents being able to take them out, it seems. (It’s not my impression it was this way when I grew up, but then… waldorf parents are rarely over-protecting in that way…) Difficult to find time for that; it’s just the weekends, and then there are lots of other things to do and take care of. But in the countryside, I guess children can roam around free, as they wish, more or less.

    (It is quite lovely.)

  52. This reminds me of something I once read, and which has inspired my work with children ever since. Especially at therapeutic summer camps and treatment homes. It was something like this: “Americans are obsessed with character building. So they send their kids to summer camps, confident that they will return home stronger and healthier. At a safe distance from the anxiety and demands of their parents, the children can just sit quietly at a lake. Their fishing-rod might give you the impression they are fishing. In reality they are enjoying the opportunity to do absolutely nothing.”

    It could have been Fritz Redl. See for example http://bit.ly/JWMNfX I have to find that quote again!

  53. If you have good memories from childhood of the countryside, or maybe the sea, it can remain with you throughout life. I think we are just being helped to enjoy simple pleasures if we are introduced to them during childhood.
    I miss living by the sea and always return to it when I can, also enjoyed camping holidays and want my children to appreciate these things too.

  54. Same goes for books and stories. To be able to instil a love of reading in a child is not difficult, but only requires a little time. My guess is not many Waldorf educated children come from homes without books…

  55. Ulf — that’s exactly to the point! Character building, by the way, seems like some kind of cult too. I’m sure the madness is transparent to some, if not many, children.

    Helen — yep. Although (and I know that ‘simple pleasure’ is a concept and you’re supposed to take it for what it is, not necessarily ‘simple’)… watching TV or going to the bars and clubs on a saturday night are far more simple pleasures, to my mind.

    ‘My guess is not many Waldorf educated children come from homes without books…’

    That’s my guess too (and it’s certainly true for when I went to waldorf, although it might be different today).

  56. ‘watching TV or going to the bars and clubs on a saturday night are far more simple pleasures, to my mind. ‘
    Love that definition!

  57. Just was thinking about all the things my comp managed to put me off for many years netball, hockey, (all sport actually), but most sadly,Shakespeare and Dickens. I guess anything can be a turn-off if the teacher is inept or even malicious.
    I never returned to team sports, but recently came to appreciate plays again.

  58. I eventually refused to take part of any kind of sports activities at all. I just didn’t do it. I still don’t. I walk a lot, but team sports, never ever. Can’t blame malicious teachers — sports teachers were just not my kind of teachers. Sports wasn’t my thing…

  59. Interesting! In 1976 Bruno Bettelheim initiated a renewal of interest in interpretations of fairytales with “The uses of enchantment”, since then mostly practiced in psychology by Jungians. But this is an old trade … Perhaps these interpretations, like a Rorschach test, tell more about the interpreter than the subject for study?

    But back to the original post, about Gerald Huether’s video! I wasn’t very successful in understanding his german, but some of his wisdom passed the language barrier, entered my brain through my ears, found some overlapping previous ideas there and expanded these into wider NEURAL CONNECTIVITY PATTERNS. That’s how Huether himself might have described the process.

    Here is an article in both german and english describing his ideas about brains and education: http://bit.ly/hBlcTu

    I am absolutely overjoyed for finding support in the video for a pet theory I have about schools, that using more of pupil’s own QUESTIONS, would make education more meaningful and powerful. I’ll spare you the details, but on a general level this is certainly nothing new or unique. The real challenge here is in the implementation. And many teachers already try to make the best they can of such ideas.

    I think Huether’s ideas about education could be boiled down to this: “Give children more space for inner-directed learning. Allow them to find joy and passion in discovering knowledge. Use less external pressure to perform”.

    I am less than impressed by how Huether links neuroscience to education and psychology. Perhaps I’m mistaken, he might have done that more convincingly elsewhere.

    Finally, does anything of this apply to Waldorf? Could they or mainstream schools make use of his and similar ideas?

    I’m sure there are links between Huether and the German idealistic/romantic/goethean tradition that also nourished Steiner’s spiritual science. And that Waldorf schools could use Huether at least for marketing puposes. I suggest, however, that they will miss the Opportunity (remember the SWOT-boxes) to develop their own pedagogical practice in these respects. It’s more likely that this will proceed in mainstream and other alternative schools. What do you think?

  60. everyone wants to link neuroscience to everything. It’s like the coolest science around. If the appreciation of a particular work of art can’t be substantiated by neuroscience then it doesn’t exist. (It’s like these ridiculous assumptions – this is a past pet topic of mine — that criminal responsibility will cease to exist when neuroscience proves this or that. It won’t of course. The conception of man in law is every bit as unscientific as the conception of man in anthroposophy — and will most likely continue to be so for the forseeable future. To the chagrin of some people. Sorry for off topic.)

    ‘I am absolutely overjoyed for finding support in the video for a pet theory I have about schools, that using more of pupil’s own QUESTIONS, would make education more meaningful and powerful.’

    How could it not? I think it’s obvious. That is my uneducated intuition speaking, of course.

    ‘Finally, does anything of this apply to Waldorf?’

    I think it could, but don’t think it does.

    For example, if using students’ own questions more, you need teachers who have sufficient knowledge themselves — otherwise, I don’t think teachers can or even dare to do this. In a way, you venture into unknown territory and you’ve got to know not just what’s on the path but also beside it (trying to envision an area of knowledge with the help of silly metaphors here…). You’ve got to be prepared for unexpected questions and discussions. Studies in anthropsophy is plainly not enough if we’re talking about facts. Not that mainstream teachers are more daring.

  61. Well some of them are! One of my teacher friends said, after sending his pupils on journeys of inquiry guided by their questions about a powerful story: “What is so fun about working in this way is that you can’t predict where you will end up!” Please don’t inform the Swedish school authorities ;-)

  62. I feared such teachers didn’t exist anymore!

    (I barely dare to say this, because it will inevitably sound as though I’ve sided with the devil, but these school authorities aren’t all, 100% good, are they…? Control down to the detail isn’t either, is it?)

  63. There are some innovative (dare I say “daring” public school teachers. My sister made this list: http://www.vcoe.org/Portals/VcssoPortals/sc/Impact%20II/2011%20Impact%20II%20Spread.pdf
    As you can see, the people listed here were able to reach out to private industry to help fund projects that benefit their students. Not that this is a specific example of letting children guide the lesson, but it does indicate teachers who are willing to think outside the box.

  64. It’s all good and well, but — and this is surely a side-note, so don’t mind me! — no money in the world can change anything if teacher training isn’t good enough (or the right persons are attracted to become teachers). Which, sadly, it isn’t. It’s just my hunch (and it’s not very informed, I must admit) but in Sweden, I don’t think money is the problem — the schools certainly have funding — but that teacher training has been allowed to deteriorate. In addition to that: political reforms in education, sometimes reforms that weren’t very clever. I guess there *is* money to fix things — but not enough knowledge.

    I’m not sure the private industry ever helps fund any projects in public schools in Sweden. For private schools (ie, free schools or similar to charters) to accept donations, that might be possible. Not that it’s a bad idea (I personally think it could be a pretty good idea), but some people, I’m sure, would think so, for political reasons. (It’s sometimes difficult to think outside some kinds of boxes. In this country.)

  65. The role of the teacher at Christchurch steiner seems to be focused on fitting the child comfortably into the waldorf/steiner/anthroposophical paradigm, no matter just where the child is at both socially, environmentally, academically and spiritually.

  66. I guess the New Zealand educational policy in Shane’s link above is partly informed by the views of John Hattie, now at Melbourne Uni. What is interesting to this discussion is that they are both in stark contrast to Hueter’s views. What you might simplify as “outer-directed” teaching is highlighted as a most important factor for pupil’s learning. Hattie has research on 83 million pupils to back up his claims …

  67. Yes, that’s all very reasonable. Yet, somehow, people like Hüther, with his tinge of german idealism, are far more interesting. I can’t even say why. But, in a way, they talk about something different than these, er, utility minded folks.

  68. You can also argue, even from a utility point of view, that knowledge gained with “passion” as Hüther advocates, probably last longer and will be put to use for more than just passing exams. More “inner-directed” learning might not show all it’s strengths in relatively short-term quantitative evaluations.

    And just to make sure I’m not upsetting Shane again with my lack of experience in education; of course there is much more to both Hattie’s research and to education in New Zealand than what fits into the simplified contrast between inner- and outerdirected teaching. Or should we say between german idealism and anglo-saxon utilitarism?

  69. I’ll happily sport my complete lack of experience in education; I have less experience than Steiner. Anyway — perhaps some children need ‘outer-directed’ learning more, while others can benefit from Hüther’s model.

    My impression from ‘standard’ german education, though, is that it’s VERY far from the ideas Hüther promotes. Learn for tests, follow instructions, do not question (too) much. My brother went through the german education system. One can’t say it wasn’t successful; it was. But it is a bit extreme. (In many ways the opposite of waldorf.)

  70. Ulf, you have not upset me. That’s the good thing about the Kiosk. A place to look in to other ideas and I am happy to discuss anything from “our” [Māori] perspective. The link I left you shows I guess, how I was trained. One could see why I am offended by waldorf/steiner pedagogy. Religion has no place in our schools we are a secular society by and large but of course we have our exceptions.

  71. I don’t actually know much about how teachers are trained here, but I imagine that the (mainstream) training aims* at something similar to what the NZ link described. That is probably a good thing to have as a foundation. As far as I can see, that’s the basis, but doesn’t exclude other perspectives, such as reflecting upon some of the things Hüther does. It does clash with waldorf however — where the children are not allowed to learn certain things they’re passionate about simply because they’re the ‘wrong’ age.

    *clearly, the goals and the reality are two different things, and teacher training has been criticized for its lacking rigour and quality.

    Edit: and, yes, to connect to what I said earler, I find that dry, utility based perspective quite boring, regardless of usefulness — but I would never go through teacher training!

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