I am considering Waldorf based education for my 3- year old daughter, and I have done some but not a lot of reading. One of my first questions in exploring this option is whether or not Waldorf can adopt new ideas and evolve as more is learned about child education. I hear about original ideas, and I like many of them, yet I also feel it is important for ideas to evolve over time and not remain fixed in a particular time/place. How does this work within Waldorf?
I would maybe suggest looking into Waldorf charter schools. There you have the methods of a Waldorf school, but because it is publicly funded, the school also adheres to state standards. This may help with some of your concerns.
I think it's all up to the faculty at your particular school and your particular teacher. Change, should it occur, would likely be very slow as it is with any consensus based organization. And some things will never change in a Waldorf school like the focus on play-based activities in pre-K, Kindergarten, and even into first grade a little bit. Low-media is also a value that will not go away. So, if the New York Times publishes a story about the amazing neurological benefits of a certain computer game, you won't find Waldorf schools implementing it in their grade school but the faculty might be open to using it in middle school and up. Certainly a long discussion process would take place. So, if you are hoping for nimble reaction to new insights I think you will be disappointed. However another way of looking at this is that Waldorf has been impervious to educational fads.
If there is already something about Waldorf that doesn't suit you, ask a lot of questions about it at your local school and then make your decision assuming that it probably won't change while you are a parent. If this is a more ambiguous concern, I would ask other parents how change happens at your school. I think you will find that it is a deliberative process that involves the PTA and the faculty, but hardly ever occurs if it is just one or two parents advocating for a change. Hope that helps! jax
Thank-you for your thoughts on this. I do not have a particular school in mind or a particular issue. My question is more general, since society's understanding of child development and education evolve over time. While I do not think that education needs to incorporate the latest fad, I think there is value in having the freedom to evolve philosophically. Like I wrote, I have only recently started reading about Waldorf education, yet I see very specific recommendations for particular products, like German crayons or fairy tales or a certain way of painting. I ended up with the first impression that the philosophy had very specific roots in a particular place from a particular time. I see value in rootedness but wondered to what degree it was dogmatic and stationary. Are there new Waldorf theorists/philosophers? Or is Steiner the only one? Is it generally acceptable to disagree with his thoughts on particular issues, or do schools closely follow his lead? Are there new Waldorf theories of education or are they the same ones from the early 1900s?
That being said...I find that there are many popular educational philosophers whose ideas correspond with Waldorf. I'm thinking of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences for one. William Ayers and Sir Ken Robinson both have ideas that mesh with Waldorf. In a broader sense, I think that much of the current scientific research also support the Waldorf approach...here I am specifically thinking of the studies that actively discourage media exposure in children, and studies on classroom design that turn the prevailing idea of educational architecture on its head. They find that the usual classroom, with few windows and florescent lights, actually produce more distracted and even aggressive behavior in children.
So none of these people/studies say to support Waldorf by name, but their ideas certainly go along with the Waldorf method. Clear as mud?
With regard to "new theorists," one of the truly great things about Waldorf is that these "new theorists" are the teachers themselves! Because of it's collegial structure within (and across) schools, there is a great capacity for what in other domains might be called "active research." So, instead of a model where you have colleges of education and the professors within them coming up with new theories and insights and disseminating them to practitioners, the collegial structure of Waldorf encourages teachers to share locally, then create school-level norms, and eventually through conferences and books and journals the new ideas are disseminated. The potential limitation, as you point to here, is that people will talk to themselves and not "hear" insights that come from other sources. However, an interesting thing is happening with Waldorf teachers and current research in neurodevelopment. They pay attention to it a lot because what current research tends to reveal is how the mind and the body are not as separate as we usually assume them to be and that good education will speak to the integral aspects of the human being. There are probably many more ways to use current neurodevelopment research to create a sound and developmental education that seeks to grow the many "intelligences" of the human being. I very much hope that such a form could be created and disseminated more widely into the public school system. I think in many ways it would look like a Waldorf school.
I also think the unique trappings of Waldorf schools are taken to be more determinative than they have to be. For example, German crayons are not recommended because they are German but because they are made out of beeswax and because of their shape. They allow students to rub pages with color more easily than the narrow and pointed Crayola crayons. Also, the block crayons are good for children who aren't ready to hold a pencil-like implement. Watercolor painting is encouraged because of the "color experience" that can be had by fluidly mixing colors and also by how easily it "self-corrects" so that kids can enjoy their painting without getting overly frustrated by how it is turning out. The first time I tried wet-on-wet watercolor I thought I could just go ahead and paint. But water will go anywhere it wants and I discovered that I couldn't control the form of my trees without being careful about how much I was dipping my brush and therefore how much water I was adding to the page. Because I am not an artist, I got a very good sense of the discipline and focus that is being developed within a young child who is trying to make a simple painting of a tree. If you ever get a chance to see some of the middle grades watercoloring, it is amazing to see how all these elements are controlled and they are able to make clearly defined people and animals in clear and bold colors.
If you are interested, I encourage you to seek out such participatory experiences so that you can gain a better understanding of the "whys" behind Waldorf. You're probably right in that the "theory' is not terribly open to change. Waldorf teachers believe young children learn through play in a loving environment, children around the age of 7 learn through their bodies and their feelings, and that this approach should be built upon holistically until around the age 14 when students should be asked to apply their own reasoning to bigger questions using a more analytical standpoint. That is not to say that analysis doesn't happen earlier but in a Waldorf school learning about a lion, for example, would involve painting one, and hearing a story about one, roaring like one in a song, and learning about its habitat and what it eats in the context of a story and artwork. In a different type of school, learning about a lion might come from a textbook or encyclopedia where the student might also draw a picture of a lion but might just as well make a paper collage of lion pictures clipped from National Geographic. This report might include charts or lists of facts about lions and their habitat. It is also a report that might be written at home as homework and then presented to the class along with presentations of other animals the class is studying. Within this one example it is easy to see the differences in how learning is approached. In a Waldorf school, all of the children would learn about lions together in the classroom. It is a social and experiential approach as opposed to one designed for the acquisition of facts. The child in the mainstream classroom would probably come out of their activity knowing more facts about lions - not a bad outcome either. But how long will this knowledge be retained? In a day and age when our cellphones can tell us everything we need to know about lions, how much does it matter that we have retained various facts from 3rd grade? I think it is far better to develop an inquisitive and searching attitude towards subjects that interest us. Basically, to learn to love learning. I think educational forms that are deep + wide + social can set a person up for developing this orientation within themselves and the discipline to master facts will come naturally. I am not saying love of learning can't come from the more mainstream approach - clearly it does - but what if writing reports like that is the main (or only way) of engaging with subjects? If we want to encourage divergent thinking, I am not sure this is the best way to go about it. I think kids need to know that every topic can be accessed from various viewpoints.
Ha! I have just surprised myself with how much I have written! All in all, I think Waldorf education is best understood as art or practice rather than theory because the developmental theory itself is rather basic. It's the creative implication of what one does after viewing human beings in this way that provides the opportunity for change and innovation. What do you think, Knittygritty? I am only speaking from parent observations but evidently I have quite a few of them! :)
Wow...what a great question. It's so general, though -- I find myself wondering what research you are particularly thinking of, and how you think the education should change to accommodate this?
Every primary teacher my children have had seems to be changing and developing the education by trying new things. For example, my younger child is now learning about early Chinese culture in 7th grade, the older learned computer programming in 8th grade, and there is an online forum as part of a social studies course set up in 11th grade for the first time this year. Those seem to me exciting developments. In addition, many schools are breaking away from the 8-year class teacher period to develop strong middle school programs with their own circle of teachers. This is gradually happening at my school at well, and I am hoping the pace keeps up.
In addition, there are journals in England and the USA and Germany and probably elsewhere as well dedicated to research within the Waldorf movement. Rawson's Educational Tasks & Content of the Steiner Curriculum (http://www.steinerbooks.org/detail.html?id=9781900169073) redefined the curriculum substantially in comparison to earlier curricular guides, and I know of at least one book that tries to completely rework the pedagogical basis from the ground up.
On the other hand, as knittygritty and Jacquelin mentioned, other aspects of the pedagogical philosophy are likely to remain pretty stable, partly because much recent research confirms such things as that play and imitation are healthy bases for early child education.
So ... back to the question: what kind of a shift might you be longing for?
I work in the public school system and have recently been attending meetings about the new common core standards that will be implemented next year. These are being introduced in nearly every state, so public schools across the country will have the same common core.
I found it interesting that the new standards lean in a decidedly more Waldorf direction. Teachers are being instructed to find the individual learning styles of their students and incorporate them all into their lesson plans. Students should have the opportunity to draw, sculpt, role play, write, etc to fully understand the lesson. Experiential learning is now key--instead of learning about physics by reading about a rollercoaster, students should build a rollercoaster or take a trip to ride one. In addition, the new core hopes to boost critical thinking skills. Student are asked to verbalize the strategies they used to solve problems. There should be less telling by the teacher. Instead, the teacher should provide the students with a wide variety of problem-solving strategies and then allow the students to independently choose which strategies to use on a given problem.
Honestly, I think an effective teacher already uses this approach in the classroom, but it's encouraging to me that all teachers will now be held to these standards. It seems that people are beginning to realize that the holistic approach to education, which Waldorf schools have always implemented, really does nurture students and allow them to grow.
Someone wise told me once that society's understanding of child development and education evolve over time, but children stay the same.
While you and I played fairly freely outside instead of attending an academic preschool, and our kids do the opposite, biologically they are not different from us.
In different times, adults demand different things from children, but their development is bending into adult needs only by force.
Your question is one that I wondered myself. I guess we live in a fast moving society and it was hard for me when I sensed dogmatic-ness...(excuse my english) in Waldorf as I researched it.
But really I was looking for a safe haven for my kids. I didn't like the direction our public school was taking. More hours on academics, spending money on ipads for each student, when I would have liked an art teacher... So I picked the "best out there" option.
Ok, kind of weird that they all copy the teachers drawings, but hey, at least they believe drawing is a valuable skill, not a waste of hours that could have been used in academically sound activities like reading-apps on ipad... So I picked Waldorf.
I later realize, that copying teachers drawings are well planned methods that carry all kinds of great learning in them, and that my son absolutely loves it. he doesn't come home feeling oppressed by having to draw the same with everyone, but extremely exited to have learned a new drawing skill and spending rest of the day implementing that skill on his own drawings out of his own creativity.
My kids teacher is a great fun modern pesonality, that has washed away my fears. And besides, I don't feel any need for the philosophy to change. Waldorf is a particular philosophy that certain people are looking for and its a great solid option for the ever changing other options available.
I don't even have the fancy words in english to express myself, so I don't know why I'm writing this reply, read Jacquelin's reply again if you need to, it was great. You could also come talk to my son who has experienced both traditional school and Waldorf and he can, because this is what he does all the time, draw you examples of how same thing can be learned so differently.
He once drew a paper with the typical school like chart where you had empty lines with -an ending, and he explained that in other schools you have to fill this chart with the words they have told you end with -an. And another paper he proudly presented had an -an-house where you will together collect all the -an words you can remember from the long story your teacher just told. I have no idea if his teacher invented it, or if some other waldorf guru did, or maybe steiner himself, but my son loves it, and knows to appreciate it.
I'm really enjoying reading all this. I do think childhood is timeless. Do schools need to evolve? Yes, and they do. Each teacher brings something new.
Mothering an Autumn (08) , a Spring (11) , and another Autumn! (Nov. 2013)
Taking what works and leaving the rest
In this post, Steve highlights several Waldorf "myths" that show how the idea of Waldorf has changed with the perceptions and needs of parent and teachers through the years:
There is a follow-up post that details more "myths," too.
A good book to read is The Story of Waldorf Education in the United States. http://www.steinerbooks.org/detail.html?session=19e1adba0f8df93f6bb3157c0392d7d0&cat=13&id=9780880106566 I look forward to reading the article above when I get the time, which I see is written by the same person.
Mothering an Autumn (08) , a Spring (11) , and another Autumn! (Nov. 2013)
Taking what works and leaving the rest
knittygritty, thanks for sharing Steve's article. I met him last fall and thoroughly enjoyed our conversations.
Steve Sagarin probably addresses this in one the blog posts, but Steiner did understand that human beings and their institutions do evolve. Yes there are universal principles, but there is no need to replicate the conditions of 1925 in our contemporary schools. For example - I've heard teachers remark that over the last couple decades 1st graders no longer seem able to take naps in school. So the pace of modern life has changed, but there's no way to force children to nap if they don't have that impulse, so teachers have adapted to doing things differently. In the high school computers are not off-limits just because there were none in Steiner's time. Steiner thought that understanding the technologies of the day was a very important task. I believe high school students are ready to use computers as a tool and learn to be the master of the technology rather than the other way around ;)
James 12/04 & Cecelia 4/07
I went to a public school here in NC, and we took naps on mats spread throughout the classroom during 1st grade. I'm not sure how many of us slept, but we had the quiet time set aside with the lights out... but that was 1983-1984, so I was 6 then turned 7.
As for my daughter's Waldorf school... Last year in 1st grade they had a quiet time to nap, but not all of them did. Now in 2nd grade, it's more like a quiet activity time for free choice inside such as board games etc. Her birthday falls a few months earlier than mine, but in 1st grade she was 6 then turned 7 as well.
Wendy - aspiring Waldorf handwork teacher, computer geek's wife ,
mom to former 2lb preemie (now 9) & 3x