BBC’s Chris Cook asks a good question, “Is Waldorf education worth public money?” I can’t speak for England, but I can say for the US, there is a fair amount of Waldorf charter schools receiving public funding. After all, there is an Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.
I remember asking one of my teacher trainers about a Waldorf charter school that was starting up around the time I was graduating. She said she didn’t consider it to be a “real” Waldorf school since charters cannot teach or bring Anthroposophy into the classroom. Essentially, Waldorf-inspired or charters can only focus on the methods, but not the meaning behind them.
So, what makes Waldorf education, Waldorf education?
Is Waldorf a religious school? If it is then they cannot and should not receive public funding. That would be like having a Catholic-inspired or Catholic charter school. Another way to look at this is, if we talk about, say, Shaolin Kung Fu. If you take away the Buddhist aspect to the discipline, is it still Shaolin Kung Fu? I would wager a lot of kung fu that is practiced today in the US lacks any spiritual training or element, but it still looks like kung fu, more or less.
I think if Waldorf-inspired or Waldorf charter schools are completely devoid of Waldorf trained teachers, then I think we can safely say the religious aspect to these schools are absent. But once you start getting teachers or administrators who have studied Steiner and have been through the training, the influence of Anthroposophy can become a real issue - and in the case of public funding, a conflict of interest.
Even for a teacher who is well-aware of the dated, controversial and eccentric material that Steiner presents, I think it would be hard for that teacher to not carry that knowledge into the classroom because we were trained to do so. We were trained to see the children as choleric or phlegmatic. We talked about fairies and gnomes as very real elemental creatures that influence our world. Karma was a complicated topic with lectures on reincarnation and the effects of past lives.
To the everyday person these subject matters seem loony. And this is why so many parents are concerned about Waldorf, and why many are call it a “cult”. Trained teachers are not told to teach the children Anthroposophy, but it inevitably comes in – otherwise, why would they teach us Steiner’s spiritual science at all?
At the time of training, all of this seemed mind-boggling and rather like you are getting a glimpse into the cosmic profound. Now, I think how impressionable and open-minded I was. I wanted to believe in something, and I found it. This is not a bad thing, but ultimately it became a bad thing – for me. I didn’t fit whatever mold they thought I should be. And that shook the foundation of what I was previously taught, and I’ve never been the same since.
If, however, we took away the occult in Waldorf education, we do have a really compelling education. Back to the basics. Creative. Fun. Light. Imaginative. I think Steiner did give us something wonderful in using stories as the framework to the curriculum.
What do you think? Should Waldorf charter schools receive public funds?