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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Playing “Steiner Says”: Twenty-two Myths about Waldorf Education

To begin, two stories.

During my first year or two of teaching, our faculty meeting enjoyed the presence of two eminent European Waldorf teachers. My recollection is that one came from the U.K. and one from Germany, but that doesn’t matter. One appeared in the fall and one in the spring. The first, answering a colleague’s question, said, “You should never use tongue-twisters; they trivialize language.”[1] Heads nodded. The second, also in response to a colleague’s question, replied, “Of course, the best possible thing for that is to recite tongue twisters with your class.” Heads nodded again. And there we were, back where we belonged, on our own recognizance. Two experts, two apparently contradictory points of view. Presumably, both were based on considered interpretations of Steiner’s work.

Years later, just when I thought I would be moving on to university teaching, I found myself happily teaching a seventh grade. An otherwise bright girl, who later graduated high in her prep school class, could not multiply or divide fractions. I asked her why not. Her reply: “Because, whenever I try, I just see gnomes dancing and spinning on the page.” What? Somehow I had managed to teach in Waldorf schools for nearly twenty years without encountering “math gnomes,” and their relatives, including “King Plus” and “Queen Minus.” I had read Rudolf Steiner and Hermann von Baravalle on teaching math, and had no recollection of these gnomes or anything like them. It occurred to me that a lot of what we do in Waldorf schools each day—and sometimes have to explain or defend to colleagues or parents—has little or no basis in Steiner’s work. I’ve since said, seriously, that gnomes have better work to do than to teach little boys and girls about arithmetic operations.

Understandably, but not necessarily happily, Waldorf education is known primarily by its external characteristics or trappings, characteristics about which, surprisingly often, Rudolf Steiner himself had little or nothing to say. Or, what he had to say about teaching and learning is not what we find in practice today. Or, what he had to say leaves open many more possibilities than are available in practice today.

Researching what someone—Steiner—did not say is difficult. All one can do is read everything available, using a process of elimination to discover, for example, that Steiner’s work contains no references to math gnomes or their ilk. The possibility remains that someone, somewhere, will discover a previously unknown reference that substantiates a previously unsubstantiated claim. At that point, the task becomes to assess the validity of the reference—was it written by Steiner? Recorded and transcribed? Revised by Steiner or not? Recorded verbatim or as a note? A diary entry? Part of an oral tradition? In what context does this reference sit? Was it given as a specific indication and then generalized beyond its original intent? Is it helpful or harmful that this has happened? On what merit may we adopt or shun this claim about teaching and learning?
Hermit crabs have no shells of their own, so they crawl into shells abandoned by other critters. Similarly, U.S. Waldorf schools, unable or unwilling to find a comfortable home in the plural cultures of the nation, have a tendency to crawl into the shell of a German or central European culture—or a partly remembered, partly imagined notion of that culture. Alternately, U.S. Waldorf schools sometimes crawl into an English shell, following the lead and model of Michael Hall and other established English Waldorf schools, or taking their lead from Anglophone translations of Steiner’s work. I call this process of embellishing a foundational orthodoxy the “Hermit Crab Theory of Institutional History,” because, although I am not concerned with them here, it applies to institutions other than Waldorf schools.

An alternative to hermit crabbing, more challenging, is for Waldorf schools, as they grow and mature, to more consciously forge their own cultures. Each school would better serve its community. Schools would seem less superficially similar but could, in focusing on the essential, remain similar in ways that matter.

What follow are twenty-two myths about Waldorf education, beliefs and practices that we find in many, if not most, Waldorf schools in the United States. I have an even longer list—this is the sort of list that can never really end—but focus here on the most prevalent or most interesting items, or those that may be presented in such a brief essay.

Such a critique of Waldorf school practices immediately begs a central question: If Waldorf education is not to be known by its trappings and myths, where is its core? What is essential to teaching and learning in Waldorf schools? I have given this a lot of thought over the past few years, and will address this question in the next issue of the Bulletin. In the meanwhile, an excellent approach to such a question may be found in Susan Howard’s “The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education.”[2] It concerns early childhood teachers, but much of the content applies to all teachers. Howard’s method, too, may be fruitful for all teachers.

1. Alternative Education
Steiner’s view was both narrower and broader than what exists in the US today—a collection of small independent schools and an even smaller group of charter schools, in total probably serving no more than 25,000 students. (New York City public schools alone serve one million.) Steiner wanted to promote the development, on the one hand, of model schools, schools that would demonstrate to the world the validity of his method. On the other hand, he wanted to make this method available to whoever wished to implement it.[3] In the 1930s and 1940s, schools in the United States arose more according to this scheme, while today schools are seen largely as an alternative to mainstream or conventional education. The Steiner School in New York City was, with the Dalton School and others, an active member of the Progressive Education Association (PEA) in the 1930s. These schools banded together, for example, to restrict the showing of violent newsreels prior to the start of movies in Upper East Side movie houses. The school also held a number of workshops and lectures, both in conjunction with the PEA and alone, to introduce Steiner’s educational ideas to a broader audience. [4] The Waldorf School of Garden City was founded as a “demonstration school” on the campus of Adelphi University.[5] Further, as late as the 1970s, the Waldorf School of Garden City was a member of the Washington, D.C., based “Council for Educational Freedom,” a group that advocated, among other planks, work toward the separation of school and state. [6]

In the absence of an association like the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), and being low in numbers, it was more necessary for Waldorf schools in the early days to engage with other, non-anthroposophical educational institutions. Such engagement clarifies and strengthens mission and practice.

2. Artistic Teaching vs. Art Teaching
Too often, Steiner’s call for artistic teaching is misunderstood as a call for art teaching. Any subject may be taught and learned in a creative way. A teacher with a particular gift in an art may impart more to her students by offering a broad and deep experience of that art than she would by trying to be all things to all students. Little bits of too much produces dilettantes. Artistic teaching is required especially to teach math, science, and subjects that might otherwise easily lose their vitality.

By artistic teaching I mean teaching that approaches the creative core of any particular subject and that is truly educational and not merely instructive. A full treatment of what I mean by artistic teaching would include a full consideration of what Steiner describes in his work on teaching and learning, what is commonly called Waldorf education.

None of this is to say that teachers should not teach the arts, but that, in the rush to include everything, it is possible for teachers’ gifts to be shortchanged. My daughter’s teacher spent much time teaching her class to play folk music and perform folk dances. To do this, he necessarily reduced time given to the full spectrum of the different art activities normally found in Waldorf schools. My daughter may never play folk music again, or perform the dances she learned, but the experience of learning over several years from a master, of engaging in more than a cursory way in one art, strengthened her in a way for which I will always be grateful.

3. Black
Steiner’s remarks about black, in his color lectures, for example, are not represented in his education lectures. The idea of a prohibition on the use of black, in drawing or in clothing, cannot be found in his education lectures. Steiner himself wore black nearly every day. Children still loved him.

This is not to dispute the quality of black as a color or the idea that it may not be an appropriate color for young children to use. When teachers remove black, however, leaving white, pink, and brown in the box of crayons, they create a circumstance in which children with pink skin and brown hair, for example, can draw themselves and their families, but children with black hair cannot. Thoughtful teachers may remove all “earth” colors to induce children to draw with the colors of the rainbow, introducing black at the same time that they introduce other such colors.

4. Circle Time
Rudolf Steiner never spoke about circle time, and his descriptions of “main lesson” do not include corresponding concepts. “Circle time” is an educational phenomenon of the late 1970s and 1980s, especially in the U.K., in public schools in particular, brought into Waldorf schools by an unknown route. The Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School library contains a book from 1983, Everyday Circle Times, by Liz and Dick Wilmes.[7] It’s a fun book, with a faux Peter Max, feel-good cover, lots of pen and ink illustrations, and suggestions for tons of circle time activities. The school has lots of other books on circle time, including one celebrating 39 different religious festivals. Not one of these books has a connection to Rudolf Steiner’s educational work. A Google search and a search on Amazon.com yield more than 100 “circle time” titles going back to the early 1970s. Few of these references have anything to do with Waldorf education. Clearly, more schools that are not Waldorf schools have circle time than there are Waldorf schools. And it is likely that the form and content of circle time in a Waldorf school is different from elsewhere—like other practices, Waldorf schools adopt and adapt for their own purposes. There’s nothing necessarily or inherently wrong with circle time, but to claim circle time as a unique or necessary part of Waldorf school early childhood and elementary schools is clearly wrong. To believe that it originates in Steiner’s work is also wrong.

5. Consensus
Steiner has little to say about school decision-making and does not use the word consensus or its possible German correlates. When Henry Monges asked Steiner about the process for selecting General Secretaries for the Anthroposophical Societies in various countries, Steiner replied:
This is a further matter which I would not wish to lay down in any way by means of statutes for the various groups all over the world. I can well imagine, for example, that there are national Societies who will most certainly want to employ democratic procedures. I can also imagine that there will be others who will want to be thoroughly aristocratic in their approach... Thus I rather assume that the, shall I say, somewhat aristocratic method I have adopted with regard to appointing the Vorstand may well be imitated. In some quarters, however, this method may be regarded as highly undesirable, and in those quarters the democratic method could be used.[8]

Later, he adds that, because of “mutual recognition,” “...in practice there will be little difference between democracy and aristocracy.... Anyone who is expected to carry out a function must have freedom above all else.”[9] These words on choosing Society leaders translate easily to comment on much decision-making in Waldorf schools. “Consensus” is one form of democracy—republican representation is another, direct voter referendum a third, and we can imagine others—and as such is a valuable concept for making decisions. We should be clear, however, when we adopt this model, that this is a decision we make; we are not following Steiner’s commandment. And when others choose, in mutual recognition, a different model, we must acknowledge their right to do so.

Further, it is clear that we have work to do in implementing an understanding of Steiner’s work on social health. We acknowledge that teachers have the freedom to carry out their functions as teachers, but we are less clear about the role of school administrators and trustees. To take a hypothetical example, it is clear that teachers must be free to admit those students whom they believe they can teach. There is no consensus involved here. It should be equally clear that another administrative body—a rights administration, perhaps consisting of teachers, administrators, and others—must guarantee the rights of the applicant and her family to participate in a fair process, regardless of the final decision. Here, too, legal and ethical requirements reign, regardless of consensus.

6. Drugs
Steiner discusses the effects of drugs common to his time—caffeine, nicotine, even opium—but not marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, and so on. The spread of the use of these drugs, especially among teenagers, should be a prime concern of Waldorf schools, yet they are hardly better controlled or managed here than they are in other schools. Waldorf schools should be at least as concerned about teen drug use as they are about media exposure in the early grades. Schools have media policies that necessarily extend beyond school hours—imagine the parent of a young child saying, “Well, she wasn’t watching TV on school property.” The effects of drugs extend beyond the time of their use, and so should school drug policies. Since the 1960s we sometimes find it convenient to believe that teens “will” experiment with drugs. If this is our belief, we will find it true. If we choose to combat this view, we may count on some success.

7. Early Childhood Education
Few people know that the first school in Stuttgart had a kindergarten for only about 6 months during Steiner’s life; it ceased existence before he died, I believe, because the school needed the space as it grew. Further, Steiner’s educational lectures contain much about the development of young children but little about their actual education. Given his view of child development, it is easy to laud the growth of Waldorf early childhood programs, but their practices—silks, sing-song voices, rosy walls—cannot often be said to represent direct indications of Steiner himself. Consequently, we can imagine other forms of early childhood education that appear different but that equally fulfill Steiner’s intentions. Howard’s essay, referenced above, is a healthy look in the right direction.

8. Eight Years of Elementary School
According to Mark Riccio,[10] who has looked into records from Steiner’s time, an eight year elementary school was a state requirement in Germany and Switzerland, and so the eight year cycle was a compromise; Steiner would have preferred seven. Anyone who has been a class teacher of 8th graders, not that it isn’t fantastically rewarding, can imagine that these students are ready for a different educational form. Knowing this—studying Riccio’s work, for example—can inform middle school teaching in Waldorf schools.

9. Elementary School Admissions
Between 1930 and today, the age at which students were generally welcomed into first grade in Waldorf schools was delayed six months, from turning six by December first to turning six by June first. Steiner’s general description of school-entering age, having to do with losing milk teeth, refers to “the seventh year,” which begins on a child’s sixth birthday and ends on her seventh (a child’s first year occurs from birth until a first birthday). Older children may be easier to manage in first grade, but ninth grade-age students in an eighth grade class setting can present a real challenge. We live in a world in which an often unquestioned assumption is that earlier is better; we should not necessarily substitute the contrasting view that later is always better.

10. Faculty-Run Schools
Steiner simply never said that schools should be “faculty run,” and the first school in Stuttgart was not faculty run. Emil Molt footed the bill and Rudolf Steiner, who was not on the faculty of the school, was the Director. Steiner described the Waldorf School as “self-administered” (Eigenrat or Selbstverwaltung), not “faculty run.”[12] Literally, schools should take their own advice in self-administration.

Steiner is clear that administrators should be active teachers, not state ministers or civil servants, or even retired teachers.[13] Administration is not governance, however, or not all of it. For Steiner, administration dealt specifically with day-to-day pedagogical operation of the school—pedagogical practice, schedule, calendar—and not necessarily with other governance areas—funding, budget, and legal incorporation in particular. These areas as they are found in independent schools in the U.S. today were hardly conceivable in Germany after World War I. At different times in the life of the school, especially in its first years, different arrangements held sway from time to time. At no time, however, could the first Waldorf school be said to be, or intended to be, faculty run.

I also do not believe it is correct to say that Steiner’s role in the first Waldorf school was an exception—that he was an initiate and therefore could participate in a way closed to the rest of us. Nothing in his work leads to the conclusion that initiates can transcend rules in this way. The point is not, then, that he included himself as Director and attendee at faculty meetings as an exception, but that the possibility is open for schools today to include in faculty meetings (or college meetings) those who do not teach at the school but who add value to its community.

Further, U.S. schools have misinterpreted Steiner’s remarks about a “college of teachers,” or Collegium. According to Uta Taylor-Weaver and to Nancy Parsons Whittaker, the German use of Collegium translates as “faculty.”[14] The British, they say, see a college as an exclusive group; this was not Steiner’s intention. For schools to have a college separate from the faculty, and to have separate weekly meetings for these groups, can foster an exclusivity that Steiner opposed. (See also “Meeting Martyrdom” below.)

11. Festivals
Steiner spoke beautifully, powerfully, repeatedly, and in depth about religious festivals and their meanings. These lectures, however, occur outside the context of his educational lectures. It is not a bad thing that schools participate in annual festivals and rituals as described by Steiner except in two cases: The first is when these are represented as part and parcel of Waldorf education. They are not; as cultures and traditions change, and as schools are founded in non-Christian nations, it is appropriate that the festivals and rituals celebrated at a school will change, too. The second occurs when schools that are multicultural do not recognize this, and marginalize, say, a Jewish segment of the school population through representations of Christian festivals. It is appropriate to include many different festivals in the school, or to move all festivals outside of school hours, or, as in Austria itself, to leave festivals to the local community, separate from the school.[15] (I do not mean to confuse festivals with assemblies; Steiner favored periodic assemblies at which students could demonstrate what they had learned for their parents.)

12. Group Meditation
Group meditation, as practiced and modeled by Georg Kuhlewind, for example, seems not to have been part of Steiner’s repertoire. Steiner’s work on meditation makes it clear that this is largely an individual, private practice. It is not wrong for a group or community to practice group meditation, but it should be clear that this choice is not grounded in Steiner’s practice or indications. Teachers who balk at group meditation should have their views accommodated in a school community.

13. Holism
Again, a word that cannot be found in Steiner’s work. Also, a word that requires work to understand. A materialist—like James Lovelock, inventor of the computer models that are termed the Gaia hypothesis—can be a holist, as can someone who denies the existence of the material world. Holism exists in many forms. Using the word colloquially, on the other hand, can drain it of meaning.

14. Low Academic Standards
Steiner himself had a doctorate, no mean feat in 19th century Germany. A bracing quotation cuts to the quick:
The aim of Waldorf education is to arrange all of the teaching so that within the shortest possible time the maximum amount of material can be presented to students by the simplest possible means.[16]

Schools can work harder to implement “soul economy” and to demonstrate to parents and communities that there is no compromise between a good academic education and a Waldorf school education. This will not mean teaching more material sooner, chasing the local independent day school or aiming for high scores on a standardized test, but teaching more deeply and more consciously.

15. Math Gnomes
As Christine Cox demonstrates in her MSEd thesis,[17] math gnomes and other imaginative, anthropomorphic versions of arithmetic operations such as King Plus actually work against Steiner’s understanding of math teaching. Math, akin to other spiritual activities, which we may picture as belonging to Plato’s eternal “intelligible” or ideal realm, needs to be brought to earth through practical, real-world problems. Steiner advocates beginning to teach arithmetic with the operation of division by bringing a pile of pieces of paper or beans into the classroom.[18]
Math gnomes are an invention of Dorothy Harrer, based on verses by Margaret Peckham, both teachers at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York. These were written by well-regarded class teachers, but teachers who were stronger in the humanities than in math. The wisdom of Steiner and his student, von Baravalle, suggest we should expunge math gnomes from Waldorf school curricula.

16. Meeting Martyrdom
The first Waldorf School had close to 800 pupils and a commensurate number of teachers in its first few years of existence, yet it had only one faculty meeting per week. There was no inner circle, no separate College or Council—although there was an “extended faculty” that included those—we might call them subcontractors today—who taught at the school but were not committed to its mission. Most independent Waldorf schools today have separate faculty and College or Council meetings, in addition to “school” meetings of the early childhood, elementary school, or high school. This is not to mention the plethora of Board and school committees that dedicated teachers attend. Eugene Schwartz has recommended that schools cut in half the number of meetings they hold. Schools with fewer meetings demonstrate greater trust in the work of the faculty and staff and enjoy the fruits of these individual’s initiative.

17. Non-Competitive Games
Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but not based clearly on Steiner’s work, and more likely an outgrowth of the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s than a clearly anthroposophical point of view. Healthy competition is a part of the function of the spiritual sphere of the threefold social organism and could find its reflection in healthy competition in schools.

18. Notebooks, Main Lesson Books, Good Books
My suspicion is that notebooks—illustrated, decorated exercise books and textbooks—as found in Waldorf schools are part of German education in the 1920s and not unique to Waldorf schools. Steiner found the readers and textbooks of his age execrable and spoke against their deadening influence. This injunction, however, does not necessarily translate into a dictum to produce illustrated manuals for every main lesson, especially when students may spend hours decorating the borders of pages or slavishly copying a teacher’s notes. Similarly, it is difficult to know what Steiner would say about contemporary textbooks, including those written by Waldorf school teachers, which come in an increasingly broad variety.

19. Pedagogical Stories
Steiner is clear that nature and the world around us provide the raw material for all necessary “pedagogical stories.” Teachers do not have to include such characters as cute elementals or anthropomorphic frogs in order to create interest in the lessons they aim to impart through such stories; children see right through such concoctions. Instead, teachers should try to find the objective truth that they wish to impart in the truth of the world around them. Such an approach to storytelling brings us closer to Barfield’s “final participation,” wherein the inner truth of our metaphors and the truth of the world around us become one.

20. State Control of Schools
The U.S. has always enjoyed greater local control—through taxes, school boards, and local governments suspicious of centralized control—than any other modern nation. We do not have federal or state school inspectors, as Germany did in Steiner’s time, and schools belong to voluntary accrediting organizations. To turn away from engagement with local schools, public or independent, causes Waldorf schools to appear cloistered and out of the mainstream. Why not join with other independent schools—as the Steiner School in New York did in the 1930s—to promote good education for more children? Why not forge alliances with local public schools to share knowledge and resources and to combat the encroachment of such measures as “No Child Left Behind,” which few public school teachers or administrators endorse? The “Alliance for Childhood” provides a recent example of work in this direction.

21. Trademark of “Waldorf” and “Steiner”
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America has trademarked Rudolf Steiner’s name and the name “Waldorf” as these apply to school names:
Waldorf is a trademark name in the United States and is reserved for independent schools that meet the membership standards established by AWSNA. Only schools that have been accepted as Sponsored or Full Members of AWSNA may represent themselves as Waldorf schools or use the words “Waldorf” or “Rudolf Steiner” in their names or subtitles.[19]

The value of a professional association is undeniable, but Steiner is mum on the question of the protection or trademark, for schools, of his name or the name “Waldorf.” Another point of view might be that anyone courageous enough to pursue education along these lines might be allowed to use these names; that the danger of standardization and dogma is greater than or outweighs the danger of dilution or misrepresentation. Despite recent efforts by AWSNA to clarify the issue, it is difficult to understand how a fledgling or “new initiative” [Waldorf] school could be expected to grow to the point of sustainability, at which time AWSNA would recognize it and allow it to use Steiner’s name or the term “Waldorf” in its name. The dozen or so schools that pre-existed AWSNA between 1928 and 1980, the schools that created AWSNA, did not face this hurdle in their own development.

22. Waldorf Dolls
Steiner advocates tying knots in a handkerchief and adding inkblots to make a doll.[20] This is a far cry from the $56, natural material kits—available from Martha Stewart—from which we now produce our legions of “genuine” Waldorf dolls.


And here's a link to 9 more myths.
And a big one--the math gnomes!
And some on painting with children...
And the sing-song voice...

References

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). (2005) “Steps to Membership for Waldorf Schools.” Second revision, June. http://www.awsna.org/pdf/StepsMembership6.14.pdf

Cox, Christine. (2006) In Search of Math Gnomes: First Grade Arithmetic in Waldorf Schools. Unpublished MSEd thesis. Sunbridge College, NY.

Gardner, John. (1976) Freedom for Education. Council for Educational Freedom: Washington, D.C.

Howard, Susan. (2006) “The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education.” In Gateways, 51, Fall/Winter, pp. 6-12. Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America: Spring Valley, NY.

Riccio, Mark-Dominick. (2002) An Outline for a Renewal of Waldorf Education: Rudolf Steiner’s Method of Heart-Thinking and Its Central Role in the Waldorf School. Mercury Press: Spring Valley, NY.

Sagarin, Stephen. (2004) Promise and Compromise: A History of Waldorf Schools in the United States, 1928-1998. Unpublished dissertation. UMI Dissertation Services No. 3129024.

Staley, Betty. (1999) Interview by Stephen Sagarin, cassette tape recording, Great Barrington, MA, March 5 and 17.

Staley, Betty. (1998) “Introduction.” In Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner. Vol. 1: 1919-1922. Lathe, Robert, and Nancy Parsons Whittaker, trans. SteinerBooks: Great Barrington, MA.

Steiner, Rudolf. (2003) Soul Economy: Body, Soul, and Spirit in Waldorf Education. 16 Lectures, Dornach, 1921-1922. CW303. SteinerBooks: Great Barrington, MA.

Steiner, Rudolf. (2000) Practical Advice to Teachers. 14 Lectures, Stuttgart, 1919. CW 294. SteinerBooks: Great Barrington, MA.

Steiner, Rudolf. (1997) The Roots of Education. 5 Lectures, Berne, 1924. CW 309. SteinerBooks: Great Barrington, MA.

Steiner, Rudolf. (1996) The Education of the Child and Early Lectures on Education: A Collection. SteinerBooks: Great Barrington, MA.

Steiner, Rudolf. (1992) Towards Social Renewal: Basic Issues of the Social Question. Frank Smith, trans. Rudolf Steiner Press: Bristol, UK.

Steiner, Rudolf. (1990) The Christmas Conference for the Foundation of the General Anthroposophical Society, 1923-1924. Johanna Collis, trans. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.

Taylor-Weaver, Uta. (Undated) “Faculty Meetings--College of Teachers.” Accessed at http://www.bobnancy.com/bobnancy.html.

Whittaker, Nancy Parsons. (2001) Post to subscribers of the list server Waldorf@maelstrom.stjohns.edu. Feb. 11. Referenced with author’s permission.

Wilmes, Liz, and Dick Wilmes. (1983) Everyday Circle Times. Building Blocks: No city of publication specified.

[1] Steiner advocated speech exercises that are, in fact, tongue twisters. I don’t know the context in which one expert opposed their use. Perhaps he or she had observed this particular teacher in action, or believed the rhymes in use were not doing the job Steiner intended. In any case, context is necessary to understand a recommendation without implementing it as a prescription, from which it is a small step to orthodoxy.
[2] Howard 2006.
[3] Steiner 1997, p. 18.
[4] Sagarin 2004.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid and Gardner 1976.
[7] Building Blocks: No city of publication listed.
[8] 1990, pp. 89-90.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Riccio 2002.
[11] Staley 1999.
[12] Staley 1998, pp. xxiii-xxvi in particular.
[13] Steiner 1992, p. 12.
[14] Taylor-Weaver [Undated]; Parsons Whittaker 2001.
[15] I am indebted to Michael D’Aleo for describing his experience of community festivals in Austria.
[16] Steiner 2003, p. 118.
[17] Cox 2006.
[18] Steiner 2000, p. 7.
[19] Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) 2005.
[20] Steiner 1996, p. 19. Anyone who has actually tried to follow the directions Steiner outlines knows that this technique is almost impossible; it is intended as a “for instance” and not as a prescription.

8 comments:

  1. I just found this article through San Diego Natural Families Yahoo Group. I so appreciate what you wrote here. I have a three-year-old son, and hope to send him to our local Waldorf School. I love much of what I know of the school, but I often question what is essentially "Waldorf" and what is either a dilution of Steiner's message, or else a product of his time and culture that doesn't necessarily need to be held as sacred in today's American culture. For example, the left-handed thing. Our Waldorf school discourages left-handedness. Did Steiner know something we don't know about left-handedness or was he simply a product of his time on this one? Would we be better served to let that one go in the 21st century?

    It's like the story of generations of women who cut the ends off their roasts before cooking them because "it had always been done that way," only to eventually find out that great-grandma only did it because she didn't have a large enough roasting pan.

    Which practices are really worthy of keeping and who decides this?

    It was nice to see someone address the the status of gnomes and Christian festivals, for example, with something other than blind acceptance.

    So, thank you for the time you put into this post. A year and some change later, it's still making the rounds.

    Cheers!
    Alexis

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  2. Thanks so much for this excellent article. I think it is very difficult sometimes to sort out Steiner's indications from Waldorf dogma.

    One question I have for you is about the age of school entry. I understood that Steiner said that children should have seven Easters or seven springs before entering school. This fits well with my understanding of the incarnation of the etheric body being complete at age seven as well. Six year olds are at the pinnacle of their imaginative play (although it is true they are somewhat restless and fractious), it seems that they are best served by the home or Kindergarten environment. To me, it seems clear that children should be seven for most of first grade, 8 for most of second grade and so on. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this as I am often in the position of advising parents about first grade readiness.

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  3. Dear Lisa,
    I haven't come across references to Easters or springs; most of what I've read refers to "the seventh year," (cf., Balance in Teaching) which begins at age 6. I know that over the course of the 20th century, Waldorf school entry age in the U.S. increased by 6 to 9 months. My own experience with middle and high schoolers supports the younger entrance age--8th graders who "should" be in HS are not easy to deal with!

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  4. thanks for this small article, very interesting...i'm actually searching for more info on other waldorf schools that have reworked their festivals calendar to be multi-faith...do you have any information of people i could contact or particular schools doing this?

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  5. Dear Anonymous,
    If you can get in touch with the Wolakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation (I have a description of it elsewhere in the blog), they might have some info. Otherwise, I'd look to Waldorf schools in other parts of the world where a Protestant Christian view isn't dominant--Tokyo, Israel, Egypt, etc... Good luck!
    Steve

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  6. Thank you for this post. Thank you especially for being realistic and having a sense of humor.

    Best,

    Jennifer
    Your student for a brief time in the Elementary Ed program at Sunbridge and now mother of an almost 2 year old enrolled in a parent child Waldorf class.

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  7. HI Steve, I LOVE this post! I am newish to Waldorf and am homeschooling my 4 kids. I am trying to sort through the enormity of Waldorf education and feel glad to know I can let some of it go! I will search for a post of Steiner indicated necessities, if it is out there!
    Thanks,
    Meg

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  8. I'm all thumbs--I accidentally deleted this comment rather than publish it, but I was able to recover the text from my email:

    Katerina has left a new comment on your post "Playing “Steiner Says”: Twenty-two Myths about Wal...":

    Hi Steve, thank you so much for this post. I am at my third year of kindergarten teacher training and found your post very encouraging. I live in Britain and work in one of the most established schools in the country. I work as an assistant in one of the kindergartens and I often feel that some of the approaches and methods we use might be according to Steiner (well, after I have read your article, I question that as well - re festivals) but in my opinion they do not necessarily correspond with where the children are at in themselves at this particular time. I have been hearing more and more voices from my colleagues, especially from the younger generation expressing the same opinion. As for the independence of the state here in Britain, I think it is more complicated than elsewhere as the politicians here are determined to dictate how children should be taught and what and it is mostly visible in the Early years (i have just got home from a visit to mainstream school where four and five year olds were practicing writing sentences including punctuation for an hour). But we have begun some kind of co-operation by opening Steiner academies which receive state funding and it seems to be going ok. I am very much for state funding as I believe that our primary interest should be to offer the education we believe in to as many children as possible. Also, let's be honest, any private school where parents have to pay quite a bit of money for their offspring to go to school, will one way or the other make these children privileged among the others and I do not think that is a model Steiner would like to see. I am so happy I have found your blog and will be reading more...Thank you and warm regards from Britain (well, it just got cold again :-)

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Dear All,
Please keep remarks polite and succinct. Comment, debate, yes. Ideology, insults no. Thank you. Steve