There are over a thousand Steiner (or Waldorf) schools worldwide.
One of the important aspects of these schools is that each is independent and, except where local legislation dictates a commonality of curricula, independent of government school guidelines.
The administration of education, from which all culture develops, must be turned over to the educators. Economic and political considerations should be entirely excluded from this administration. Each teacher should arrange his or her time so that he can also be an administrator in his field. He should be just as much at home attending to administrative matters as he is in the classroom. No one should make decisions who is not directly engaged in the educational process. No parliament or congress, nor any individual who was perhaps once an educator, is to have anything to say.
Steiner or Waldorf education cannot be, as should be obvious from the above quote, a 'system', so each school, and in fact each class level within each school, may do things in different ways. What is common, however, is the educational underpinning of the education which is based on Rudolf Steiner's pedagogical and spiritual views of the human being.
Importantly, Steiner places great emphasis on the being and formation of the teacher:
As in other educational settings, these views are not taught to the students, but rather inform how, when and why certain things are introduced. An important consideration in the overall concern is reflected in Steiner's statement that
This is especially important given the educational climate that seems to want to inverse principles from one where healthy social conditions arise from education to one that views human beings as, effectively, no more than 'cogs in the ecomonic machine' (to which also the political sphere has fallen into subservience). In Steiner's Threefold Social Order, such was already highlighted with quite an astounding and deep statement with important ramifications:
This, of course, is being increasingly undermined by National Standardised testing pushed onto communities by governments as a consequence of a report that emerged from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1999. Therein, its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) basically sets out uniformity, and unfortunately all too many countries have taken it up even though pedagogically unsound. In contrast, Steiner's pedagogical views encourages a development of each human being to fully engage in the world... within the context of apt developmental stages, overly briefly outlined below.
Of noteworthy mention is Frank Furedi's Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating (2011), where he writes (p 215-216):
It should perhaps be obvious that Steiner's views reflects an educational philosophy that is fundamentally based on a view of the human being as spiritual, and that fully respects the authority of the teacher-as-educator. Further, it sees for education a task that is to serve the human being, rather than be at the service of the state or its economic development. These latter will, in any case, benefit and develop according to the proper development and education of individuals, grounded in an understanding of human striving (i.e., valued history).
Notes on Christianity, Buddhism and Islam
It should probably be obvious from some of the other pages on this site of the central importance of understanding Christ. Steiner schools, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not, are based on an anthroposophical understanding of the human being, which includes an understanding of the spiritual hierarchies, forces, and their development and manifestation through human history and pre-history.
There is an important and positive role played by the Buddha, both during his earthly incarnation as well as in his role in our own journeys towards earthly incarnation and our post-death ascent.
There are, however, other forces and being that need to be understood, and some of these are not only those who work with Christ, but also the counter luciferic and ahrimanic forces. As also included on the page On Lucifer - Christ - Ahriman, Steiner responds to a teacher's query about Allah thus:
Steiner is clear also on the differences between particular forces or spiritual beings that may impact on our own development (for good or ill) and our common humanity irrespective of our genetic make-up.
He similarly does not circumvent important considerations within Christianity. Steiner can be seen as being critical to the protestant's focus on Jesus in contradistinction to Christ (elsewhere he is similarly critical of the Society of Jesus for similar reasons):
These are not insights that are, of course, taught to students, but at the same time they do inform questions that arise for us as teachers when looking at history and reflecting on its unfolding.
Practical applications of Steiner's pedagogical principles
From the 23rd January 1923, only weeks following the destruction of the first Goetheanum in Dornach, Steiner gave a series of talks in Stuttgart (collected as Awakening to Community, GA 257, p.10), in which he mentions that:
Continuing the same set of lectures to the same audience a few weeks later (13th February 1923, p. 67-68), Steiner mentions that 'it is possible to be a first-rate Waldorf teacher and a poor anthroposophist', with the comment, however, that
The Pre-School Child - the 0-7 year old child and education:
When this time is not able to be spent within the family home, the kindergarten seeks to provide an environment that is rich in natural materials, simple and natural shapes, and that in many ways becomes an extension of the child's home.
No formal tuition is engaged in per se. Rather, the child emulates that presented by the engaged adult, whether this be preparing food and cleaning, working in the garden, creating rich imaginative stories, or repeating tales from the vast repertoire of humanity's creative genius.
A home-like environment in which the child imitates. Attention to details and an extremely healthy setting is therefore necessary.
Development of the limbs and a careful pre-natal care for the etheric or rhythmic body. Repetition and regularity of daily and weekly rhythm therefore carefully maintained.
The Class Teacher Period - the 7-14 year old child and education: teaching during the second phase of the incarnating child
Schooling begins with the child turning seven. There are of course small differences in development (properly speaking, the manner in which incarnation takes place), and some children will be ready for the independence and the active imagination required either a little earlier or later.
The teacher (and other adults) is here the authority for that which is presented to them.
There are general guidelines for each year level that reflects typical maturation and incarnation. For example, class one is typified by a world of fairy tales and a world animated by nature spirits; class two by the kingdoms of nature and people's direct relationship with it (hence the frequent inclusion of stories of St Francis of Assissi); class three by the creative authority of the divine, characterised principally by stories from Genesis and Moses in the Torah. It is also during class three that most children will experience a particular awakening to a sense of self different to the first usage of the self-referential 'I' that occured when three years old; class four by an outer expression that begins organised co-operation, and characterised by nordic and viking tales; class five by the vast episodic sagas in Indian, Egyptian and Greek ancient cultures; class six by a sense of complex formalised order in the Greco-Roman empires; class seven by the rich tapestry of European mediæval transformation and the chilvalry and courage of service; finally, class eight by an awakening to individuality and human endeavours transforming the world from the Renaissance to the industrial age.
Human history in its rich complexity is presented in ways appropriate to the developing child. A sense of beauty and richness enriches the pre-natal astral body.
The sense of adult authority provides for a world that is felt to be safe and in which one can grow. Choice is therefore either limited, or excluded, providing instead a rich basis for the development of imagination in both school-work and games.
The High School Period - the 14-18 year old adolescent and education: teaching during the third phase of the incarnating child
As for the previous developmental period, one may focus discussion on the adolescent, the teacher, and the materials covered: the more formal curricula.
The nature of the growing human being instructs how, when and why things are presented in particular ways. A key distinction between the former period and this one is in the nature of the authority of the teacher. Now, the subject matter presents its own richness via the engaged teacher who maintains a passion for the subject. A passion does not mean an animated presentation, but rather and simply a deep love for the areas in which a shared discovery is enucleated and unfurled.
This is the time in which the developing individual will begin to make independent judgements. Insights gained are connected to the world around them, and the inquiring mind begins to make connections through understanding. Over the course of this period, beginning insights will lead to judgements, that will further lead to concepts increasingly generalised and abstracted, leading to wisdom-filled ideas that, enriched, become motivating ideals.
Some key curricula contents of a Steiner High School working with the suggested guiding principles will see class nine students engaged in spending some time with our communities' various needs, whether this be with nursing-home elderly, the destitute, or those in life's other nadir points, in addition to working on a farm; class ten students will engage in surveying, during which not only a mapping of the land's physical characteristics will be carefully observed, but also its biosphere; class eleven students will work not only with projective geometry, but also turbines and the art of paper making; and class twelve students will take on a major project and philosophy. All this whilst having maintained classes in Eurythmy, in History, in Chemistry, Physics and Biology, in English (or rather, the national tongue) and a foreign language, in Mathematics, in Geography, and in Art and Music.
An active engagement in one's thought-life and the development of different ways of seeing, feeling and doing. A care for the pre-natal 'I' or Ego of the student.
A school programme of instruction and engagement that actively seeks to engage every student in the seven liberal arts and sciences presented in their modern equivalent.
Main Lesson and structure of the day in the Class Teacher period and in the High School
The day itself is organised in ways still peculiar to Steiner education in which the Main Lesson, ideally the first two hours of the day, sees the same subject investigated in-depth over approximately three consecutive weeks. Not all subjects have, however, a Main Lesson - some, such as the more practical ones such as crafts, farming, music, sports, foreign languages, and theatre are ideally tabled during the afternoon.
Apart from the general welcoming or greetings and the morning verse (and, in the youngest classes, an incoming into the school and and the Main Lesson work through morning circle), the educational day opens with the Main Lesson - no announcements, organisational or administrative duties, and certainly no other teaching or support/remedial reading or equivalent takes place prior to this important opening to the school day. In a sense, the beginning of the day shines the light of consciousness that will spiritually blossom the germination of the night's sleep upon the seeds from the fruits of the previous day's Main Lesson.
Steiner/Waldorf Teacher Education
Various parts of the world have distinct requirements for teaching in general, so the following is irrespective of other requirements that may need to be met. Specific Steiner/Waldorf teacher education takes a variety of forms, in part depending on the age of the students. As can be expected, this is divided into three sections: teaching the pre-7 y.o. or first stage of childhood; teaching the 7-14 y.o. or second stage of childhood; and teaching the 14-21 y.o. or third stage of childhood. Adult education for the post-21 y.o. has further distinct needs.
In every case, what is not only expected of the teacher-in-training, but also worked on within the course, is a combination of a deepening understanding of the anthroposophical view of the developing human being; a development of one's own meditative, imaginative and reflective life; and actively developing one's creative artistic engagements, whether this be in music, the visual arts, or movement.
Nevertheless, individual schools will employ (subject to local regulatory constraints) individuals who are considered to best fit both the class(es) they are to teach, and, other things being equal, those able to fit in and reflect the specific school 'being'. In the teaching of the 14-21 y.o., a deep passion for the subject to be taught becomes of primary importance.
Computer usage and ICT
Perhaps I can pre-empt this brief section by quoting Steiner:
The question that needs to be asked of each phase of childhood that is not (for example) 'how can computers best be used?', but rather 'what is it that this (or these) children need in their unfolding development?'. Certainly there will come a time, during the third phase of childhood (ie, at some stage in the High School years), that part of the answer will include an understanding and usage of computers (as well as, for that matter, combustion and electrical engines).
There remains, in any case, a clear distinction that is to be made between information and communication technology and computer science / technology. For the sake of clarification, included an extract from a response I made to a bureaucratic enquiry as to a school's manner in which ICT is addressed:
Steiner/Waldorf Educational Resources
The books that follow are some amongst those that are considered essential in terms of, specifically, the pedagogical sphere. These are in addition to the three more general ones I mention on the Spiritual Science page.
essential Steiner/Waldorf education reading:
Steiner, Rudolf Study of Man (also re-translated as Foundations of Human Experience)
Steiner, Rudolf Education of the Child
Stockmeyer, E. A. Karl (ed) Rudolf Steiner's Curriculum for Waldorf Schools ← essential for teachers
recommended Steiner/Waldorf education sites (these also happen to be where I currently work):
Melbourne Rudolf Steiner Seminar (teacher training and adult education)
Little Yarra Steiner School (K-12 school in Victoria, Australia)
for other Anthroposophical pages within this site:
Anthroposophy tab on the home page