Here is a wonderful TED lecture by Ken Robinson. It represents, I believe, what many people think they're getting with Waldorf education. I don't happen to agree that Waldorf delivers what they promise, but that's besides the point - the video is excellent.
I have very much enjoyed this video. This is part of the reason I was drawn to Waldorf, but also to schooling at home (as I live in a place with limited options).
Mothering an Autumn (08) , a Spring (11) , and another Autumn! (Nov. 2013)
Taking what works and leaving the rest
I think Waldorf aligns itself with some of these ideas - non-academic education for example. I would tend to agree with Robinson's assessment of ADHD - the map was very interesting and kids can't help but have a lot more stimulus today than earlier times - no matter how sheltered one may try to keep them. To me, the inability of some kids to focus on their lessons says a lot about how the lessons are presented. I agree that pupils must be intellectually stimulated by the material they are learning. I don't agree that it needs to be "boring" or presented in a boring way. To be honest, I rather like the way this video was presented - it was fun to watch, delivered a lot of information and probably wasn't too expensive to produce. It may sound Ahrimanic, but I don't see anything wrong with this type of presentation - even for Waldorf kids. Waldorf teachers use chalkboards elaborately... the leap to an animated white board isn't that big.
Where Waldorf fails, according to this video, is the grouping by "age" (and I would also add that in Waldorf there is also further grouping by temperament and other criteria). The "production line mentality" model fits Waldorf very well - the kids all copy the exact same words off the chalkboard, paint exactly the same pictures, each grade is at the same level for every Waldorf school throughout the world. You could move from a 3rd grade in a USA Waldorf school to a 3rd grade in the UK or Australia without missing a beat. Waldorf children are batched by age ("date of manufacture" in the video). Despite their disdain for standardized testing, Waldorf schools are very standardized.
Robinson talks about "divergent thinking" which is something Waldorf wants to claim. But is that what's happening in Waldorf - or is Waldorf actually attempting to get kids to abandon logic sometimes. Sure, it's important to encourage kids to look at a question from many different angles, but is Waldorf asking them to consider the right questions? Questions that require critical thinking? I suggest they are not. When Robinson talks about kindergarteners scoring 98% for divergent thinking - and scoring worse and worse as they get older, I can't help but think about Waldorf kindergartens in which children are not even acknowledged when they ask questions. Is this really a good start for children who we hope might become divergent thinkers? Waldorf isn't about opening up education - it's about closing down education. Their Anthroposopically-based disdain for media is one example.
Here's another wonderful Ted Lecture - that demonstrates what I'm talking about. It discusses world population growth - perhaps one of those "boring" subjects Ken Robinson was describing. But watch what happens when animation is employed. Also, notice the brilliant use of visual aids in the form of Ikea boxes and small models. Couldn't Waldorf students benefit from this type of presentation? Why should Steiner's stuffy ideas about Ahriman and technology keep kids from experiencing the progress we've made in education today?