Waldorf schools are a fairly new phenomenon in our country. They first appeared in our educational system in the school year1992/1993 and since their foundation have expanded. Nowadays, we can see a Waldorf school or at least its scion almost in every city. Their popularity among parents increases and although they struggle for their existence, they somehow manage to keep their status of a state school. To an uninitiated observer, such a school type seems very creative and child friendly. Many positive aspects cannot be denied but there are always two sides to everything.
Unfortunately, not many critical essays were written on the topic of Waldorf education, although some aspects are fundamental and should be publicly disclosed. The aim of this paper is to focus on the aspects and help parents as well as the teachers themselves to direct their attention to Waldorf thought context which is not openly presented. If parents consider enrolling their child in a Waldorf school, they should be highly aware of the fact that it is not only the school itself and its nice methods that are apparent and very alluring at first glance, but principally, it is the lifestyle that accompanies it.
Waldorf schooling is not for everyone, especially not in the 21st century. Their rejection of technological devices or even of some scientific theories of knowledge should be transparent. People often choose it on account of their own often unhappy childhood but such a decision is not for us but for the children we love and want the best for. According to one Czech proverb which declares that “It is never too late for a rectification”, the child psychologists do not agree in the case of Waldorf education.
When there appears a serious problem, parents along with the psychologist are to react speedily. It is too late to start thinking about a change of school in primary class five. In such case, the best solution, according to specialists, is to stay and complete the whole Waldorf school. A child would have too many problems and serious difficulties to adapt to an ordinary school system. Such a decision could even worsen the whole situation. If the result of an elementary school choice, which is crucial for the future studying attitude of our children fails, it can lead into a disaster.
If, (especially Waldorf) schooling fails due to either misunderstanding and misuse of the philosophy or due to insufficient education of teachers who explain certain aspects in the wrong way, the result equals psychological problems of the child, the reluctance of education, thus school in general and as the icing on the cake could be the sleepless nights and nausea of the whole family. One should always get the opportunity to learn the pros and cons of the matter as we are all aware of the great vulnerability of children.
Historical background Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the first Waldorf school in Germany in 1919, based the curriculum of Waldorf school on unique elements of art in which the students learn subject matters stimulate through an amount of different representations. His pedagogy is designed for the students’ developmental growth. He created a whole system in which teachers themselves govern the school and along with the parents and supporters of the school, they create a community based on the aspects of Anthroposophy (a school of thought that grew out of Theosophy), a spiritual path from which Waldorf school springs and is devoted to.
Steiner himself describes the initial process of the whole idea of Waldorf school as follows. “The first idea was to provide an education for children whose parents were working in the Waldorf Astoria Factory, and as the Director was a member of the Anthroposophical Society, he asked me to arrange this education … and so, in the first place, the Waldorf School arose as a school for humanity as such, fashioned, it could in fact be said, out of the working-class… ere then, we have an educational institution arising on a social basis, that seeks to found the whole spirit and method of its teaching upon Anthroposophy. ” (Rudolf Steiner, A Modern Art of Education p. 88) Waldorf Schools and Religion Waldorf schools are often called free Waldorf schools and they are also said to be non-religious. Such facts do not entirely correspond with the definition of Anthroposophy – a philosophy created by Steiner. Waldorf education itself is grounded on Anthroposophy although such a fact is not often publicly proclaimed.
The definition of Anthroposophy given by Rudolf Steiner in 1923 is following: “an association of people who would foster the life of the soul, both in the individual and in human society, on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world. ”(Rudolf Steiner lecture on Color and the Races of Humankind 1923, London) Such a definition discloses the religious implication of Anthroposophy. “The life of the soul” could be also suggested as a religious term as well as the “spiritual world”.
Steiner’s allegation of “true knowledge“in the definition evokes the idea that no other philosophy might be true and thus can Anthroposophy be viewed as a sect according to some definitions. Despite the fact that Waldorf schools deny being religious or occultist, many common sources define Anthroposophy as a religious movement. Encyclopedia Britannica defines Anthroposophy as “a movement based on the notion that there is a spiritual world comprehensible to pure but accessible only to the highest faculties of mental knowledge” (http://www. ritannica. com, 20/11/12) The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines Anthroposophy as “a 20th century religious system growing out of theosophy and centering on human development. ” (http://www. m-w. com/cgibin/dictionary, 20/11/12).
The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy interprets Anthroposophy in a similar way and names it “The Christian and occultist movement associated with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) emphasizing the cultivation of spiritual nature and the way to gain spiritual awareness of a higher world” (Oxford, 1994, p. 5) Anthroposophy is not only involved in education but we can recognize this philosophical direction in several other activities including healing dance – eurhythmy, the arts, medical practice, health and hygiene, biodynamic agriculture, banking and financial consulting, publishing, the anthropological Society and also a formal Church called The Christian Community. (http://www. waldorfcritics. org, 6/12/12). Criticism of Waldorf Schools
Education or schooling of our children should certainly be objective as much as possible without occultist practices. We should educate independent human beings able to view their lives with freedom, able to search for verifiable information themselves without penalties. Freedom of choice should be the right for every individual. One should not be excluded or asked to “leave” when asking “inconvenient” or “suspicious” questions.
The evidence is not only found in personal experience of many people, but there are several commentaries about obscure theories and indefinite views described on a website for non-sectarian schools called PLANS. We can find a number of such websites that criticize similar matters but PLANS seems to be working with dedicated researchers, people who used to work very closely for the Waldorf schools and whose first great impression of the whole system reached alarming proportions after several years inside the system.
Many a reader may raise objections against their criticism but since there are always the same asked questions and repeatedly occurring the same problems that harm, we should not make light of this problem. One should be aware of the fact that it is not a common criticism of an ordinary school system and its problems. Students as well as their parents naturally face everyday unpleasant situations that appear at school due to many common factors.
Such ordinary problems often emerge from misunderstanding of two sides, student’s negative attitude towards their studies and similar problems. In Waldorf schools there certainly arise the already mentioned problems as well but what makes the two educational systems different is the fact that people involved in the common educational process do not usually set up, generally speaking, groups against the system or organizations searching for precise fundamental questions about the nature of certain practices of the system itself.
The following quotation from the website can sketch a broad outline of PLANS to clarify their activities. |”Welcome! People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS) is a world-wide network of former Waldorf parents, teachers, students, | |administrators and trustees who come from a variety of backgrounds with a common goal: to educate the public about the reality behind Waldorf’s| |facade of progressive, arts-based education. Waldorf is the most visible activity of Anthroposophy, an occultist sect founded by Rudolf Steiner| |(1861-1925). (www. waldorfcritics. org 4/12/12) | The statement about the “most visible activity of Anthroposophy“might be one of the crucial points that may cause the everlasting confusion in understanding of “who they actually are”. There are certain signs that most decidedly catch the observer’s eye and facilitate Waldorf schools. It is always the choice of colours, natural materials and pictures that often portray angels or such spiritual beings. Symbolism is used across the whole Waldorf educational system.
These indications and signs often lead the outside observer to a conclusion that Waldorf school uses religious devices to present itself. Nevertheless one of the official definitions of Waldorf school found in Webster Dictionary states that: “Waldorf education (also known as Steiner education) is the largest independent alternative educational movement in the world. It is based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements.
The approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals and to help every child fulfil his or her unique destiny, the existence of which anthroposophy posits. Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures. ” (www. merriam-webster. om 9/1/13) In the definition the reader does not receive any information about religious or occultist practice in Waldorf education. The whole characteristic of the school seems unique, interesting and at first sight describing an ideal type of school. Many a parent prefers such a school and there is no wonder that the description attracts parents who want to have an independent, creative child that is voluntarily seeking knowledge. The last sentence of the definition is nevertheless crucial and to an educated and experienced teacher, it probably foreshadows further questions.
At this point it is essential to emphasize that particularly the Czech Waldorf school collegial structures are made up of often non- teachers or of teachers who reached the high school education only. A further sample of the text written by Debra Snell, the President of the association PLANS summarizes, through her personal experience, the feelings and thoughts of majority of people who happened to be a part or came into contact with the Waldorf education. ”My personal experience with Waldorf was very confusing.
Instead of the progressive and liberal alternative school I was led to expect by the school’s promotional materials and staff, I discovered a rigid, authoritarian environment that seemed to be rooted in a medieval dogma that I did not understand. When, in an effort to make sense of things, I asked questions about this, I found Waldorf teachers to be strangely defensive”. “I was stunned to arrive at the conclusion that the education of children — at least as I use the term “education” — did not seem to be the school’s most important focus and objective.
But what was? ” “I began to ask questions. What is Anthroposophy? Why don’t teachers allow students in the preschool through the early elementary grades to use black crayons in their drawings? Why do students use the wet-on-wet watercolour painting technique exclusively for so many years? Why is mythology taught as history? Where is the American flag, and why don’t Waldorf schools teach civics lessons in America? In a school system that promotes itself as “education toward freedom,” why do students copy everything from the blackboard?
Why do Waldorf teachers talk in high voices and sing-song directions to their classes? Why must the kindergarten room walls be painted “peach blossom”? Why is learning to read before the age of 8 or 9 considered unhealthy? Why do so many Waldorf classes have problems with bullying, and what is the school’s policy for dealing with this? Why are teachers always lighting candles? ” (www. waldorfcritics. org 4/12/12) Snell points out existing questions and facts many parents begin to sense when explanations to their questions start being vague or ambiguous.
Every question is worth answering especially a question of a parent or a child. Unfortunately many parents who place their children to Waldorf school often get a recommendation to leave when asking too much. Why are not the answers obvious and logical? Why do not the parents receive any straight explanation? There have been many similar questions asked by parents all over the world and as we can see, while browsing the internet and other sources such as debates and newspaper articles, very often such questions stay unanswered.
No matter which country the Waldorf school backers come from, their experience and feelings are very similar. They wish to find clear answers, which is not a simple task, but generally one could be satisfied at least to gain some basic awareness and knowledge of the facts why at all we shall ask these questions. There are so many controversial issues, such as writing in capital letters only until the age of eight, as well as not learning to read until a certain time, the prohibition of electronic devices such as a CD, DVD player, a computer or the lighting of candles to attract the good spiritual forces.