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Education for Social Renewal

“Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings, who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.” Rudolf Steiner

In 1919 a German factory director, Emil Molt, approached Steiner to ask how children might be educated to prevent another catastrophe like World War I. Six months later Steiner responded by opening a school for the 256 children of the workers in Molt’s Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. Hence the names “Waldorf” or “Steiner” education. 



The impulse behind Waldorf education is cultural renewal–an impulse for the future that Rudolf Steiner felt could be fostered through a new understanding of the individual and community. It has a  universality and forward-looking perspective. 


Rudolf Steiner felt that children needed a balanced development of their capacities to be prepared as adults to contribute to cultural renewal, instead of to the ongoing dehumanisation of society. 


His aim wasn’t to inculcate in children any particular viewpoint or ideology, but rather to make them so healthy, strong, and inwardly free that they would become a kind of healing balm for society as a whole.  


The purpose of education, he thought, was to educate the whole human being so that thinking, feeling, and doing were integrated in such a healthy way the child would be sustained into adulthood. Through this education  they would be more likely to discover and implement solutions that furthered human development. 


Education should never be used to merely instill knowledge, which can be coldly abstract and destructive when separated from human values and a feeling for the humanity of other people.


“We shouldn’t ask: what does a person need to know or be able to do in order to fit into the existing social order? Instead we should ask: what lives in each human being and what can be developed in him or her? Only then will it be possible to direct the new qualities of each emerging generation into society. The society will become what young people, as whole human beings, make out of the existing social conditions. The new generation should not just be made to be what the present society wants it to become.”


Waldorf Education

Waldorf education strives to recognise and value each child as an individual with unique talents and needs. Children in a Waldorf school develop a strong sense of community because they spend eight years not only with the same classmates but also for many, with the same teacher. 


Children are to be motivated of themselves to engage in the world as teenagers and young adults-then they must have both the tools for success and a sense of purpose and efficacy to counteract the apathy and cynicism so rampant in today’s society.

Steiner was a pioneer in the area of developmentally based, nature/place based, age-appropriate learning, and many of his indications were later born out by the work of Gesell, Piaget and others. He sought to develop a balanced education for the “whole child,” one which would engage the child’s feeling and willing, as well as thinking, and would leave his or her spiritual nature acknowledged, but free. 


From preschool through high school, the goal of Waldorf education is the same, but the means differ according to the changing inner development of the child. 


One of the factors in the growth in Waldorf schools is due to the fact they help counteract the isolation common in life today, by helping parents connect with one another in community. For example, parents have opportunities to come together in play groups, craft sessions and workshops, study groups, assemblies, festival celebrations, class performances, through working bees and the schools’ biodynamic gardens. Steiner also explored new social forms for teachers, feeling strongly that schools should not be run by government appointees but rather a College of Teachers, where decision-making is a collaborative process based on consensus involving faculty, staff and parents. 


Today there are more than 1,200 schools, and 1857 kindergartens, located in 75 countries. There are also 500 curative (special education) centre and 60 teacher training institutes in 70 countries around the world. All based on Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical impulse.


Rudolf Steiner Bio

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) became a respected and well published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar, particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century he began to develop his earlier philosophical principles in to a methodical research of psychological and spiritual phenomena, which he called ‘Anthroposophy’ meaning ‘wisdom of the human being’. It is referred to as spiritual science. 


During his life Steiner wrote over thirty books and gave over 6,000 lectures across Europe. His visionary work led to innovative and holistic approaches in, education (Waldorf/Steiner schools), agriculture (Biodynamics),science, religion, economics, medicine, social renewal (Threefold social organisation), curative education, architecture, eurythmy, and the arts.


Today there are schools, clinics, farms, other organisations and practitioners around the globe enlivening their work based on his indications and principles. 


The General Anthroposophical Society which he founded in 1924, has branches throughout the world and its headquarters are located within the Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland.  

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