To the degree that this essay appears complete or polished, it masks the process by which I arrived at its conclusions. I set out to define Waldorf education simply by evaluating what Rudolf Steiner and others had claimed it was. At that point, I didn't realize that a ready, decent definition didn't exist. But the more I looked, the less I found.
I was simultaneously reading Owen Barfield and others, working toward an understanding of what Barfield calls "objectifying consciousness." And, one day, it struck me: to speak of "Waldorf education" is to indulge objectifying consciousness.
This realization led me to the following essay; it sent me on a search for what Steiner didn't say (see "Playing 'Steiner Says'"); and it led me to attempt to distill or characterize what it is that we mean when we talk about something called Waldorf education (see "What Makes Waldorf, Waldorf?"). These three essays constitute a whole; the other two appear here already, and this, the first, completes the group.
Waldorf education does not exist. It is not a “thing,” and it cannot necessarily be distinguished from good education anywhere. Because it does not exist, it cannot be found in the boxes we call Waldorf schools. To narrow its definition to identify it with schools named Waldorf or Steiner schools, or to identify it with a particular curriculum or technique is to reify Waldorf education in a way that may describe part of what is but necessarily ignores what may also be. What we call Waldorf education may perhaps be found in any school, or anywhere that teachers teach and students learn. There is no characteristic or quality that is unique to what we call Waldorf education that cannot potentially be found somewhere else. Waldorf education, as an idea or set of ideas, slips through the cracks of any structure erected to define it.
Just as Waldorf education has no definite boundaries, it also has no definite origin. We may describe Waldorf education, for example, as arising from the educational conceptions of Rudolf Steiner. But many (most? all?) of these conceptions--for example, the idea that, culturally, at least, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (the development of an individual mirrors in microcosm the development of the species)--may be shown to be older than Steiner and therefore not to originate with him. (Beyond inferences from Steiner’s work, the idea that “the” Waldorf curriculum must include Norse myths in fourth grade or Greek history in fifth grade--curricular practices common in Waldorf schools--is difficult to discover. It’s not in well-known lecture cycles that he gave on education, nor is it in The Study of Man and its correlates, nor may it be found in Stockmeyer’s or Heydebrand’s well-known descriptions of German Waldorf school curricula.) In particular, for the United States, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson contain in prototypical form many of Steiner’s ideas about education.
Emerson and the Waldorf Curriculum
Emerson’s essay “History”, for example, presents an encapsulated curriculum that mirrors closely the general curriculum of many Waldorf schools. His language, too, mirrors Steiner’s in addressing the intellectual and emotional maturation of one person as, in part, a recapitulation of the intellectual and cultural developments to be found in human history.
The following quotations from “History” demonstrate the correspondence that Emerson finds between history and individual growth and development. This evolution of ideas is presumably based on knowledge of ancient cultures or at least exposure to them. Someone who had never heard of the Greeks, nor been exposed to their cultural influence even in a dilute or adulterated form, could not be expected in ontogeny to recapitulate this aspect of a cultural phylogeny. On the other hand, as Emerson implies at the end of the first two quotations, the state of being Greek, in the sense of “the spiritual nature unfolded in strict unity with the body,” may be universally human even for those who do not name it by the same name as Emerson:
What is the foundation of that interest all men feel in Greek history, letters, art and poetry, in all its periods from the Homeric age down to the domestic life of the Athenians and Spartans, four or five centuries later? What but this, that every man passes personally through a Grecian period. The Grecian state is the era of the bodily nature, the perfection of the senses—of the spiritual nature unfolded in strict unity with the body. (123)In many Waldorf school fifth grades, when teachers claim students have achieved a grace and harmony of body and spirit that will soon be disrupted by the travails of puberty and adolescence, the class holds a Greek “Olympiad,” competing for laurels in javelin, discus and running races, striving as much for form and beauty as for victory. As well, Greek myths make up a significant portion of the literature of the fifth grade in many Waldorf schools.
The comparison between Emerson’s writings and Steiner’s is a study in itself. One more example will suffice here. For both Steiner and Emerson, the study of nature can guide and give meaning to personal experience. Neither means by nature what we might call “environmental studies,” although these would not be excluded; each means that symbolic meaning may be found in the reflective examination of the world around us.
It is essential that the secrets of Nature, the laws of life be taught to the boy or girl, not in dry intellectual concepts, but as far as possible in symbols. Parables of the spiritual connections of things should be brought before the soul of the child in such a manner that behind the parable he divines and feels, rather than grasps intellectually, the underlying law on all existence. “All that is passing is but a parable,” must be the maxim guiding all our education in this [elementary school] period. (Steiner, 1965, 33)Here is Emerson on the same topic:
I can symbolize my thought by using the name of any creature, of any fact, because every creature is man agent or patient. Tantalus means the impossibility of drinking the waters of thought which are always gleaming and waving within sight of the soul. …Every animal of the barn-yard, the field and the forest, of the earth and the waters that are under the earth, has contrived to get a footing and to leave the print of its features and form in some one or other of these upright, heaven-facing speakers. (127)Steiner’s thinking is often prefigured in Emerson’s, but this is not to say that they are the same. Toward the end of his essay “Education”, Emerson (1966) tosses in a towel that Steiner held onto like a bulldog: “I confess myself utterly at a loss in suggesting particular reforms in our ways of teaching.” (225) Steiner, in concert with Emil Molt and a host of others, set out to reform our ways of teaching in a myriad of concrete ways. But, while broad and systematic, few or none of these ways were as original as we might believe, nor were they meant to be particular to some schools and not others.
A Unique Method?
Separate from the ideas in or behind Steiner’s conception of education, we might describe Waldorf education as a particular method. When we define method, however--and certainly in the case of Waldorf education we are not talking about a collection of techniques or a bag of tricks, but a method in a larger sense--we omit important elements of Steiner’s thinking. As Michael Lipson, recent translator of Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, put it, somewhat cryptically, Steiner’s method is a “methodless method” that must be continually re-invented by each teacher for each student in order to be valid (Private communication, November 20, 1999). And if we use a more mundane definition of method, and speak of a particular curriculum or set of teaching techniques, Waldorf education still eludes capture. Schools that are not Waldorf schools and teachers who are not Waldorf teachers use, perhaps increasingly, techniques and conceptions of education identical to those propounded by Steiner, even though many of these teachers may never have heard Steiner’s name. “Looping,” in which one teacher stays with a particular class for several years, and block scheduling, in which one subject is studied intensively for a relatively brief time, are two such techniques. While no other school of which I know even approximates the curriculum found in a typical Waldorf school, there is nothing to prevent such adoption.
The Doctor Didn’t Say
One step toward recognizing that there is no such thing as Waldorf education is to realize that Rudolf Steiner himself rarely spoke or wrote about Waldorf education. The annotated bibliography of his collected works lists only a handful of references to “Waldorfschulpaedagogik,” “Waldorf School pedagogy.” He did speak and write at great length about education; how children grow and develop and learn, and how teachers may teach them. Further, in his work, Steiner claimed no particular originality. He did not see a discontinuity between what came before him and his own work. In his seminal pamphlet, The Education of the Child (1965), for example, Steiner quotes Jean Paul approvingly and at length. The sense one gets reading Steiner’s work, and this applies as well to his writings and lectures on matters other than education, is that ideas, like apples, lead an objective existence, and may be plucked by anyone. We might say that the “method” of Waldorf education is to learn to pluck these apples for oneself, as student or teacher, and not to rely on the authority of Rudolf Steiner to hand one already-picked apples. The analogy holds in that we may no more reify Waldorf education than we may divorce apples from the tree, sun, soil of their birth. Ideas, like apples, exist in and arise out of a context.
Staking a Claim
While I dispute the existence of “Waldorf” education, I do not dispute the existence of a group of schools that have chosen to identify themselves with the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart by calling themselves Waldorf schools, or to identify themselves with statements about education made by Rudolf Steiner by calling themselves Steiner schools. These schools have had a life of their own for more than seventy years in the United States, and have made a powerful claim on the ideas lumped under the term “Waldorf education.”
I cannot define or describe Waldorf education well, but I can investigate how others have defined or described it. I will begin outside the United States to include some of what Steiner himself said about what we now call Waldorf education. I will then focus on the strategies that writers and teachers in the United States have used to write about Waldorf education. (To see how Steiner’s conceptions of education made their way from Germany and Switzerland to the United States, see Ida Oberman’s study, 1999. Not available, unfortunately, is a similar account of the influence of British Waldorf schools and teachers on the United States. This is a study waiting to be written.)
Moreover, I should like to point out to you that the real aim and object of our education is not to found as many schools as possible… but our education concerns itself with methods of teaching, and it is essentially a new way and art of education, so every teacher can bring it into their work in whatever kind of school they happen to be… and I have declared that the methods can be introduced into every situation where someone has the good will to do it. (Steiner, R. The Roots of Education, p. 30)Some will acknowledge the validity of this passage but insist on a distinction between those who employ a “compromised” version of Steiner’s method (“Waldorf-inspired” schools or teachers) and “real” Waldorf schools that have deliberately dedicated themselves to this method. I maintain, however, that all manifestations of Rudolf Steiner’s educational ideas are necessarily compromised. Schools that see themselves as pure because they are independent of the potentially corrupting influence of government money may be compared with schools, like the Milwaukee Urban Waldorf School, a choice school within the Milwaukee public school system, that have made overt compromises to meet present requirements regarding the separation of church and state. (One of these compromises has been to eliminate the word “God” from a verse that children in the school say each morning.) The Milwaukee school’s compromise is a deliberate choice made in order to facilitate other educational objectives, especially the education of relatively poor urban children. Independent (non-public) Waldorf schools, on the other hand, have clearly chosen, if not so deliberately, not to serve poor and near-poor students like those who attend the Milwaukee school. This choice is also a compromise.
Three of a Kind: Strategies and Descriptions
A First Strategy: Waldorf Schools ARE Waldorf Education
Existing descriptions of Waldorf education can be characterized according to three strategies. The first and simplest is to let Waldorf schools stand for a description; what goes on in Waldorf schools is inferred to be, by definition, Waldorf education. Ida Oberman’s otherwise excellent history, Fidelity and Flexibility in Waldorf Education, 1919-1998, slips into this mode, examining the histories of Waldorf schools in Germany and the United States, implying that these add up to a larger history of Waldorf education. To further her discussion she uses the concept of a “cultural field,” a metaphorical container for Waldorf education. Just as the field is a metaphor, so too is Waldorf education.
Stephen Talbott also uses this first strategy in an appendix to the also otherwise excellent book The Future Does Not Compute. He asks, “What is Waldorf Education?” and answers with a description of the founding of the first school and a description of a generalized curriculum. (424)
If Waldorf education were a consistent and prescribed method and curriculum, these analogies might suffice--although their definition is circular. But what goes on in Waldorf schools varies from place to place and time to time. There is no single characteristic, in fact, without which a Waldorf school cannot exist, nor that defines a school as a Waldorf school. Mentally erase beeswax crayons, or a eurythmist, or even the morning verse. A school without these items could still fulfill Steiner’s wishes for the education of children, I believe. Waldorf education simply cannot be seen as the accumulation or collection of some (even infinite) number of defining characteristics. To indulge such a fragmented view is to give credence to a reductionism that Waldorf education stands against.
A Second Strategy: Pigeonholes
The second strategy is to pigeonhole Waldorf education according to some cultural or historical characteristic that, while real enough within a particular context, may not be necessary or sufficient to describe something larger called Waldorf education. Waldorf education is defined only partially if it is defined as a reform movement, for example. To the extent that authors acknowledge the contingency of such synecdochical definitions (definitions in which the part stands for the whole), they may be serviceable, if incomplete.
Henry Barnes and the Movement
Henry Barnes, author and long-time history teacher and faculty chairman at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, characterizes Waldorf education as a particular movement: “As one of the most rapidly growing yet least known independent, nonsectarian school movements in the free world today, Rudolf Steiner or Waldorf education should be brought to the attention of all serious students of education.” (323) This may be true, but Waldorf education is only “independent” [of public education in the United States] and only a “movement” in the here and now.
Barnes writes, “This article will briefly outline the history of the Waldorf movement and seek to give an introduction to the philosophy and methods that underlie it.” (323) Philosophy and methods sound promising; they may extend beyond consideration of Waldorf education as a movement. For Barnes, the philosophy is based on two major principles or insights. The primary or defining principle of Waldorf education is an image of the human being:
Behind the Waldorf curriculum, its methods of instruction, and all the many practical aspects one thinks of when one thinks of a Waldorf school today stands the idea of man and of child development from which they all spring. It is this idea that gives them meaning and, in the end, is the basis on which the [Waldorf education] movement will have to be evaluated and judged. (326)To speak of the education of a child necessarily implies a concept of what or who this child is. Historical examples abound, including Locke’s “tabula rasa,” Rousseau’s good “natural man” Emile, Jonathan Edwards’ very different “natural man” in original sin, and Dewey’s concept of the child in community. For Barnes, Waldorf schools attempt to educate according to Rudolf Steiner’s image of a human being:
In Steiner’s view, the human being can never be fully understood in terms of his heredity and the impact of his environment. Beyond them lies the essential core of human individuality, which cannot be defined in material terms. That central entity, the human ego, is perceived by Steiner to be supersensible and eternal, revealing itself by reflection in the personality who is active here in time and space. It is the educator’s responsibility to help this personality to develop in such a way that it can become a fitting vehicle through which the real ego can express itself. (326)
Note that Barnes refers to “educators” in the last sentence quoted, not to “Waldorf educators.” The virtual brand name “Waldorf” is a label attached after Steiner, not by Steiner. The label “Waldorf” represents an increasing objectification of ideas that were initially less defined and therefore more open to play and experiment than they often seem.
The words “in Steiner’s view” and “perceived by Steiner” are almost extraneous here. Steiner is certainly not the only nor the first person to speak of a human being as more than the sum of genes and environment. If he, and others who find the world this way, are correct, then inferences regarding education follow not from authority but from a perceived reality. Where reference to Steiner should be inserted in the quotation above is in the last sentence. “[For Steiner,] it is the educator’s responsibility...” Even here, Steiner is not unique, although his lectures and writings certainly constitute the most thorough and systematic approach to education from this perspective.
Barnes’ point is that the “supersensible and eternal” incarnate in the world, according to Steiner, gradually and in a specific fashion. Education, therefore, should be conducted in accordance with what is known about this process of incarnation. Hence, the methods and curricula derive from this view.
For Barnes, a second principle grows from the first; because the human self is seen to incarnate over a period of years, education must address this development, which is seen to occur in three broad stages lasting roughly seven years each. (Many writers on Waldorf education treat these as if they were universal, when Steiner himself made it clear time and again that he was describing something that was historically and culturally true, not true everywhere and for all time.) The method and curriculum similarly derive from these principles, and provide the particulars visible to any visitor to a Waldorf school, including instructional materials and subject matter. These will likely include relatively featureless rag dolls, beeswax crayons, watercolor paints, colored chalk, stories of Christian saints, Norse and Greek Myths, and any number of other things. But the rhetorical question still begs, does any of these make a Waldorf school?
Barnes’s consideration of methods and philosophy extends his definition beyond the merely synecdochical, but his discussion here speaks best to education in general, not to “Waldorf” education.
Ida Oberman’s history of Waldorf education also offers an objectified view. For her, “Waldorf” is a “unique” “German” “progressive” “alternative” “reform initiative” or “institution” which has “embedded” in it “an ideology, a belief system called Anthroposophy.” All of these descriptions may apply to “Waldorf education,” but each could change radically without disturbing Steiner’s contributions to ways of teaching.
Oberman locates sources for the curriculum of the first Waldorf school in Steiner’s intellectual biography, but, having shown its somewhat contingent nature, then treats it as an object to be relocated wherever “Waldorf” roots. Oberman shows how different people—Hermann von Baravalle, Marie Steiner and Ita Wegman—and different schools—the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, the Kimberton Waldorf School, and the Sacramento Waldorf School—adopt different strategies (“purity,” “accommodation,” and “evolution”), but not how curricula reflect their origins in Steiner’s work and in the time and place of their implementation.
Among the evidence for this point of view is Oberman’s insertion of the bracketed qualifier “Waldorf” into a quotation in which it did not formerly appear: “The faculty now active at the school have proven...their willingness to continue this [Waldorf] work, which represents the noblest of German cultural life for all to see.” (1999. Emil Molt and Duke Fritz von Bothmer, p. 134) It is clear that Oberman sees the work as “Waldorf” work, but this is her own objectification.
A Third Strategy: School Functions
A third strategy involves some function or group of functions that Waldorf education performs (is claimed to perform). If the difficulty of the last definition is that it is too narrow—what is does not define what else may be—the difficulty of a functional definition is that it is too broad. Good education of any kind will necessarily perform certain functions that cannot simply be claimed for, let’s say, Waldorf education. Waldorf teachers are not the only teachers to claim a developmental view of their students, nor the only to find some aspects of human individuality that cannot be attributed solely to the interaction of heredity and the environment. Further, it does not appear that there is some unique set of functions that only something called Waldorf education performs.
Eugene Schwartz’s Functionalism
For Eugene Schwartz, Waldorf education is a method, based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, who “begins with a qualitative intelligence that is unitary and suggests that the task of education is to multiply it. If [Howard] Gardner’s theory concerns itself with ‘multiple intelligences,’ then Steiner’s approach might be called ‘intelligent multiplicity.’” (151)
Further, Schwartz describes Waldorf education as a “‘will first’ pedagogy” or “methodology” that aims to “educate the child in accordance with principles that ask us to honor and work with the soul and spiritual nature of the youngster.” (157) While this sounds vague, it is only his introduction into a more specific examination of methods and techniques that teachers may use.
As for setting these ideas in a context as large as that of Barnes or Curran (see below), I don’t believe Schwartz sees this as a helpful goal; his more immediately practical goal is to show how Waldorf education can function to address the needs of children in a particular place and time. That is, he is concerned with the “will” education of children in wealthy industrialized countries.
A Look at the Map
Eugene Schwartz also approaches the function of Waldorf education by analogy. Like a map, Schwartz posits, a curriculum can be understood on three levels. The first, a global, geophysical map, remains valid for centuries. For Schwartz, Steiner’s description of child development is such a durable aspect of Waldorf education. Development itself may change, but only slowly. School subjects—history, math, and so forth—change more rapidly, and have been modified significantly over the decades since Waldorf education began. These are akin to a political map, which may change more rapidly. An up-to-date road map, however, must “come alive every day.” The clear advantage of Schwartz’ analogy is that it neatly allows for both relatively unchanging and continually changing aspects of Waldorf education. One danger of this view, however, is that agreement on the unchanging aspects of the map may be perceived as dogma—unchanging and therefore unquestioned. The history of geology shows, however, that while the earth appears to change slowly, our views and interpretations of that change can be revised radically from one year to the next. The notion that Waldorf education is a thing, however immaterial, has developed so surreptitiously over the past decades that we have not noticed the change. Our map has not changed much, perhaps, but we may be in danger of mistaking the map for the thing itself.
A Quality of Education
Each of the strategies outlined above makes Waldorf education into a thing, whether a material thing like a school, or an ideological thing like a movement, or a mental thing like a function. Not all writers on Waldorf education, however, resort to these three strategies. Those who perceive Waldorf education not as a thing but as a quality of education demonstrate a different possibility for description.
Peter Curran on Waldorf Education
Peter Curran, graduate of Bowdoin College and long-time history teacher at The Waldorf School of Garden City, adopts a strategy similar to Barnes’s in describing Waldorf education, but then ventilates it immediately to include, potentially, all schools, not a particular subset. Following his retirement in the late 1980s, Curran set down some of his ideas about Waldorf schools. Particularly, he believed that there were four “essentials,” “without which no school (by whatever name) is a Waldorf School and with which any school is a Waldorf School.”
I. …As each child’s consciousness matures, it recapitulates the cultural epochs of all Mankind. Waldorf education agrees with Emerson when he says that all children go through a Greek period and a Roman period, etc. There is, then, a proper time and method for particular subjects to be taught.Curran’s statement poses a realism to Barnes’s nominalism in that the enactment of these principles does not depend on the presence or absence of the name “Waldorf.”
II. Since no one destroys what one loves, reverence, awe and respect for the Earth should be fostered. An inkling of the spirituality of the Earth then comes into being.
III. The qualitative, as well as the quantitative, in all things should be equally developed.
IV. Above all, Man is known as a spiritual as well as a physical being.
Of Curran’s four principles, the first and last are potentially controversial, while the middle two may be found in many classrooms and schools. The first, the “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” statement, is probably the least familiar to most educators, and it may be the most dated, arising out of Aristotle’s “Great Chain of Being”. (See, for example, Lovejoy, 1936 and 1964) Few, if any, schools other than Waldorf schools today organize themselves around such a principle. Still, there is nothing to prevent them doing so if they choose. (Nor, if Waldorf schools found a different central metaphor, would they necessarily cease to be good schools.)
Last, some contemporary interpretations of the anti-establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might prevent Curran’s fourth principle from being overtly applied in public schools, but the concept is hardly unique among independent schools. Some Waldorf teachers may argue that principle four may be found in many schools, but that Waldorf schools mean something different by “spirit”. I’m not convinced of this, however, and, in any event, it needn’t be so.
Douglas Sloan’s “Education of the Imagination”
Douglas Sloan, retired Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, NY, worked diligently through writing and teaching to present an open-minded approach to Waldorf education. In Insight-Imagination, he describes Waldorf education sensitively in his discussion of a larger “education of the imagination.” (211)
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964) wrote of the “primacy of perception”: “all consciousness is perceptual, even the consciousness of ourselves… The perceived world is the always presupposed foundation of all rationality, all value and all existence.” (13) For Sloan, the faculty of “imagination” necessarily accompanies perception, without which we would live in William James’ “buzzing, blooming confusion.” For Sloan, imagination is not simply one faculty among others—empathy or cognition, say--to be strengthened through an enhanced curriculum. Imagination is the necessary wellspring of human experience of the world:
…it is only through imagination that we have any knowledge whatsoever. …The imagination, the image-making power of the mind …shapes our everyday perception of the world, for there is no perception separate from interpretation. (140)Similarly to Barnes, Sloan describes Waldorf education according to a conception of educational stages. After briefly examining Piaget with regard to stages, however, Sloan qualifies his statements: “Any conception of educational stages must… stand constantly ready to be reevaluated and revised in the light of new evidence from any field of research….” (212) For Sloan, Waldorf education does not approach a faith, nor was it created ready-made by Rudolf Steiner, to be preserved in perpetuity like a Colonial reenactment. “Such a conception of education must as a whole remain open and subject to revision….” (212) Waldorf education is an evolving model of educational thinking, research and practice, and must be created anew in each application if it is not to devolve into prescription or dogma.
Nancy Parsons Whittaker’s Open Door Policy
Nancy Parsons Whittaker is a translator of Steiner’s work into English and a founder and administrator of “www.bobnancy.com”, a website devoted to Waldorf education. The paragraphs that follow do not set forth a thing-like definition, but attempt to throw open the doors of a somewhat cloistered “movement”:
I believe that the educational movement Steiner founded drifted very far from its source the moment [the act of] founding schools became more important than examining the quality of education the children were receiving and working to really convey the approach to other teachers in all manner of schools and situations. What we call “Waldorf Education” has largely come to mean a set of curricula and specific ways of introducing specific subject matter. This has nothing (in my opinion) to do with the original intent, which was to convey the attitude, the viewpoint toward the children and toward society (any society) with which a teacher could fully meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of both the students and their community.A Necessary Lack of Definition
Any school is a Waldorf school if the intent of Steiner’s pedagogy is being met within its halls. What was the intent? The intent was to offer an education in a way that gave each child a fundamental, true introduction into the foundation of his or her society while at the same time enhancing that child’s ability to accurately perceive life around him or her without damaging the child’s innate capacity to be sensitively aware of the Creative Love behind the visible world (whatever that capacity might have been, whether large, small or nearly nonexistent—the teaching was not intended to train a student’s spiritual vision, just not to damage what already existed). The education was not intended to found schools separated from their society at large nor was it intended to model a particular belief system.
These goals can be met in a wide variety of settings, with an infinitely wide possibility of curricula, through the myriad possibilities of human personality.
I used to have a bumper sticker that read “Waldorf Education” on two lines, “Waldorf” above and “Education” below. I returned to long-term parking after a research trip to discover that someone had neatly sliced off the word “Waldorf”, who knows why, leaving a narrow bumper sticker that read simply: “Education”. I started to remove it but stopped. It’s still on my car.
Those who aim deliberately not to objectify Waldorf education can avoid the pitfalls of reification, synecdoche, or function. These writers necessarily leave Waldorf education undefined, and characterize it in refreshingly open terms. Waldorf education becomes not a thing, not a kind or brand of education, but a quality of education. And qualities, like colors, like the warmth of a heart, may expand boundlessly.
Steiner relates the following anecdote about his time in the Waldorf School: “Whenever I come to Stuttgart to visit and assist in the guidance of the school, I ask the same question in each class, naturally within the appropriate context and avoiding any possible tedium, ‘Children, do you love your teachers?’ You should hear and witness the enthusiasm with which they call out in chorus, ‘Yes!’ This call to the teachers to engender love within their pupils is all part of the question of how the older generation should relate to the young.” (1995)
We are all older than some and younger than others; we learn from some and we teach others. If we foster the relationship Steiner describes here, then we participate in an education that honors the memory of Rudolf Steiner.
Barnes, H. (1980) An introduction to waldorf education. In Teachers College Record, 81 (3), Spring 1980; pp. 322-336,
Curran, P. (1990) Unpublished typescript.
Emerson, R. (1966) Education. In Emerson on education: Selections, H. Jones (Ed.). Teachers College Press: New York.
Lovejoy, A. (1936 and 1964) The great chain of being: A study of the history of an idea. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) The primacy of perception and other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history and politics, J. Edie (Ed.) Chicago: Northwestern University Press.
Oberman, I. (1999) Fidelity and flexibility in Waldorf education, 1919-1998. Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Services.
St. Charles, Dorothy, interview by Alan Chartock, WAMC radio, 90.3 FM, Albany, NY, April 1994.
Schwartz, E. (1999) Millennial child: Transforming education in the twenty-first century. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.
Sloan, D. (1983) Insight-Imagination: The emancipation of thought and the modern world. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.
Steiner, R. (1965) The education of the child in the light of anthroposophy, G. & M. Adams (Trans.) Rudolf Steiner Press: New York.
Steiner, R. (1995) The fundamentals of waldorf education. November 11, 1921. In Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy 1: Nine Public Lectures. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.
Steiner, R. (1996) Why base education on anthroposophy? June 30, 1923. In Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy 2: Twelve Public Lectures. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.
Talbott, S. (1995) The future does not compute: Transcending the machines in our midst. O’Reilly and Associates: Sebastopol, CA.
Whittaker, N. (2001) Post to subscribers of the list server Waldorf@maelstrom.stjohns.edu., Feb. 11. Subscribe at http://www.bobnancy.com. Quoted with author’s permission.