Master teacher, experienced administrator, and parent of five Kathleen Young has been mentoring our teachers at the Ashwood Waldorf School for many years. On Monday evening, November 4, Kathleen met with parents and staff to put Waldorf education in context, and, as far as possible, “in a nutshell.” The evening was lively, and several parents volunteered to continue the conversation at a later date with an eye to becoming advocates for the school in our wider community.
Waldorf’s four original fundaments were coeducation, an integrated 1–12 curriculum, administration by the teachers, and no connection with government.
Rudolf Steiner created Waldorf education in 1919 in the wake of the First World War with the intention educate students for peace. The education was a cornerstone of Steiner’s larger vision for social renewal.
Waldorf pedagogy is based on seven-year cycles of human development. Do human beings develop differently now than in 1919? Is the Waldorf curriculum still relevant today? Is it relevant for different cultures? There is an explosion of Waldorf schools worldwide, particularly in China.
When family and friends ask us why we send our children to a Waldorf school, we need to try to understand what motivates their questions. What do they really want to know?
Parents at the meeting shared a number of specific questions they’ve encountered:
- “What’s wrong with the public schools?” There are very good public schools here, and most of my friends send their children to public school. It is hard to invite a conversation about Waldorf education without seeming judgmental/critical of those who choose public education. The public schools offer iPads for every student; what’s wrong with that?
A parent suggested reframing the question: “Not, ‘What is Waldorf education?’ but ‘What is public-school education?’” Public education tends to rush children, to push them, to encourage conformity. Overemphasis on testing and early use of technology has been called the “Race to Nowhere.” Waldorf education is about allowing children to develop at their natural pace.
- “Why do Waldorf schools introduce reading so late; isn’t earlier better?”
Kathleen said that we prepare children to read well when it is time for them to read. We work on “literacy readiness” in kindergarten, first, and second grades. Reading is an abstract activity. Are early readers actually decoding language, do they love to read, are they reading worthy literature? If children are pushed to read before their physical development supports this, their ability to think critically in later life is compromised. A parent suggested that it’s easier to explain “later” reading once a parent sees their children successfully master reading. Experienced parents can share their experiences of these milestones with new parents and parents of younger children.
- “What about technology? Will Waldorf students be at a disadvantage if they don’t become familiar with it early?”
Kathleen said that current brain research supports the Waldorf approach. Technology affects young, growing minds differently than it does those of adolescents and adults. Technology robs younger children of part of their humanity and intelligence. Their ability to think critically is compromised. A parent quoted a tech guru who said, “Learning to use a computer is like learning to use toothpaste.” Technologies change quickly, and bright, curious Waldorf grads are more than likely to be able to master the latest when they need to.
- “What is so different about Waldorf education that makes it worth the financial sacrifice?”
Kathleen stated that Waldorf education is no longer an “alternative” type of education. Waldorf educators and parents are now in the vanguard. The issue of testing is hotly contested, “nature-deficit disorder” is the latest syndrome, Waldorf can model an education that nurtures the development of confident, balanced young people whose worldview is shaped through an understanding of how other people think. Education in music, languages, and the fine and practical arts gives children the confidence that they can do anything. Betsy Morrell noted that Waldorf is a classical education, offering activities that were once considered an integral part of any well-rounded pedagogy. Parents want their children to love learning and enjoy their natural curiosity.
If you would like to learn more about how to explain why you have chosen Waldorf education, contact Judith Soleil to speak with her about Ashwood’s Parent Ambassador program.