Why you may (or may not) like Waldorf education

5.1.14



Part of the controversy of Waldorf education stems from Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual beliefs - Anthroposophy. In other words, there is some underlying spiritual heebee geebee going on. And as a former student of Anthroposophy I can tell you this – it’s damn confusing.

So, if you ask someone in the Waldorf world to explain this spiritual reality, you are going to be looking back at a person who is struggling to come up with the words to explain said reality. If they aren't struggling, they have rehearsed their words. Read Steiner’s words for yourself, if you really want to try.

As far as I can tell, it’s harmless. Okay, what are the components of a religion? There is an idea of how the world came into being, the story of humanity, and where we are going and where we have been. There are rules or beliefs, and ideals on how we should live - and this background story, these ideas and stories, this “spiritual science” effects Waldorf education.

Waldorf teachers are not trying to indoctrinate your child into some cult. At least, that is not what I did. I just bought into a clever and creative educational model that I still find fascinating to this day.

I can’t speak for other teachers, but let’s use the analogy of theatre. Anthroposophy is the stage. The teacher is the director and the children are the actors. The play is the curriculum, and the props and costumes are the teaching materials. I’m going to argue that you won’t see the stage after a while; you’ll be too busy watching the performance.

But if the stage bothers you, chances are, you won’t enjoy the play.

There is also evidence that Rudolf Steiner was possibly a racist. Look, this argument will probably go on until the end of time, or until we can bring back Steiner from the dead and ask him some questions. We only have his words to go on, which if the Bible is any indication, simply means words can be interpreted nilly willy. Steiner advocates, I feel, just need to admit, they don’t know. He could have been racist, and you have to be okay with that.

On the other side, I rather liked that Waldorf education does not have any standardized, formal, bullshit testing. As a horrendous test taker myself, I have always questioned a test’s ability to reflect what I’ve learned or my intelligence.

But many schools, if not the gross majority, believe in testing. Although a cautionary tale regarding our culture’s zealous love affair with tests can be found here.

What Waldorf teachers do instead of testing is give each student a written evaluation. These provide more meat than the barebones ABC grading system which doesn’t really tell you about how your child is behaving, excelling at or enjoying in the classroom.  You gain a better sense of how other people see your child and how your child is in a school setting.

Another positive thing to consider is the artistic aspect of Waldorf education, particularly the story telling or story-focused curriculum. I was intuitively drawn to the Greek myths (when I was a child, I can’t believe I stole a library book on this), and later Norse mythologies (my favorite tarot cards). But I consider myself a natural born writer, with a constant love for all things creative. So this kind of work, movement and play was truly nourishing.

But I think it’s important to keep in mind what you like might be different than what your child likes. After all, it seems our children are here to challenge us and teach us in ways we cannot imagine. You may or may not be right, but that's life. I wish I would have trusted my gut more often, but I was swayed by what I thought was the right thing to do.

Lastly, check out TIME magazine’s 7 Tips for Choosing the Best School for your Child  and remember Waldorf schools around the world vary a lot. I hope this helps, and good luck!

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