What are the basic principles of the Waldorf Educational System?

Waldorf Educational System
Many parents are no longer comfortable with sending their children to traditional schools. Between the increasing violence, the drug abuse, the lack of individual attention for each student, and other problems that arise, they may have ample reasons. The educational system doesn't seem to give much thought to creating quality human beings anymore. Many people feel that modern schools are only preoccupied with turning our youth into 'replacement parts' for worn out adults in the industrial production machine for supplying our consumer society. With these points in mind, they look for alternatives.

One of these alternatives is the Waldorf educational system. Created by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in 1919, the Waldorf system is currently the world's largest alternative educational movement, with over a 1000 schools in 60 different countries. Steiner's vision of the human being, and of children in particular, was based on his studies of the German philosophers Goethe and Nietzsche, of Madame Helena Blavatsky's Theosophical movement, and of other spiritualist sciences and educational systems. From this varied and peculiar background, Steiner formed the Anthroposophical Society, whose beliefs and theories are apparently not directly taught as part of the schools' curriculum.

The Waldorf schools divide the child's life into 3 stages. During the first seven years of life, children must acquire knowledge of how to use their bodies, learning through play and following the examples of others. The basic concept taught to this age group is that 'the world is good'. From 7-14 years of age, kids are told that they should exercise their creativity, their emotional and intuitional aspects, and develop skills in the arts and in social activities. However, it is also in this period that the Waldorf system also begins to teach reading, writing and basic arithmetic. For children in this age bracket, the guiding ideal is that 'the world is beautiful'. From 15 to 21, the students are taught to use their intellect and apply idealism in their choices. This age group is taught based on the concept that 'the world is true'.

During all 3 of these phases, the goal is to orient children's development so as to train body, soul and spirit into a single integrated, well-rounded character, with a high degree of social competence, self-confidence and capacity to communicate. Academic abilities and the capacity to memorize vocabulary and patented answers in order to pass exams are not perceived as healthy indicators of personal growth. With this in mind, testing of students is based on the quality of their individual development, not on the quantitative values of test scores.

Another aspect of Steiner's views on human nature which is applied in the Waldorf schools is that of 4 classes of psychophysical characteristics, or temperaments. The 'melancholic' person is generally sad, gloomy, sensitive and introverted. The 'sanguine' individual is optimistic, more superficial and not very serious about anything. 'Phlegmatic' people are calm, stoic, with little emotional expression. The 'choleric' child is irritable, agitated, and likes to take risks. While each individual has a combination of these behavioral categories, alternating continuously in response to changing situations in life, one trait usually predominates. Each group is seen as having different needs, requiring different techniques with which to aid their learning process. The Waldorf system gives personalized attention to each type of child.

These differences of vision and technique contribute to occasional difficulties for Waldorf schools to get government approval and financial backing, when they have to compete against the vested interests of traditional education. Often, these schools must begin as private institutions, with the families of the pupils paying for all operating costs. Even so, this educational system is receiving more and more acceptance worldwide.

There is a certain controversy about the spiritual basis of the techniques and the curriculum used in the Waldorf schools. The fundamental 'sciences' behind the teaching methods are sometimes considered to be too unconventional and 'esoteric' when compared to those accepted by society at large. Yet these very differences of opinion are seen by many parents as being valid reasons for choosing this option for their children's education. Another factor that influences some parents' choice is the long list of famous or respected creative professionals who have been educated within the Waldorf system, including authors, musicians, politicians, businessmen, and actors (such as Rutger Hauer, Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Aniston). It's safe to say that the parents of these successful ex-alumni of Waldorf schools must feel they made the right choice in their children's education.

Author: David Michael (Teres'polis, Brazil)

Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice