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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.”1.


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.



Towards the Child
Early Childhood Education


During the early childhood years, the child is surrounded by a homelike environment which

encourages imaginative free play and artistic activity. Steiner recognized that the young child learns primarily through example and imitation, with an emphasis on the importance of movement, rhythm, fairy tales and oral language. Steiner felt that it is not healthy for children to concentrate on cognitive skills such as reading, writing and maths until the body has reached a certain level of maturity, freeing the forces of growth for cognitive work. 

This change is signified by many signs, including the eruption of the adult teeth and for example  the child’s ability to reach over its head and touch the opposite ear. Children are carefully evaluated for readiness for first grade, and most schools request that children turn six before the Class period at school starts.


The Primary school ( classes 1-8) Education is an art. 


The curriculum subjects are presented in an enlivened, pictorial way as Steiner indicated the child learns best when information is artistically and imaginatively presented. It is preferred that the same teacher stays with the children from first through Class eight teaching the “main lesson” subjects, which include language arts, mathematics, history and the sciences. Main lesson is taught during the first two hours of the morning in blocks of three to six weeks per topic. Students create their own “main lesson books” as artistic records of their learning, rather than using textbooks or worksheets.

 During the rest of the day, specialist teachers fill out the curriculum with foreign language, orchestra and instrument tuition, singing, arts, crafts, gardening, eurythmy (a speech and movement art), physical and outdoor education through excursions and camps. 

Teachers work strongly with rhythm. Daily, weekly, yearly, seasonal inform and shape practice along with their deep understanding of the developing child in relation to the primary rhythm of 7 year life cycles. 



The Waldorf High School


The adolescent’s emerging powers of analytical thinking are met and developed in

the Waldorf high school, where subjects are taught by specialists in their fields. The role

of the teacher is seen as helping the students to develop their own thinking powers. A key

to this process is presenting students with an immediate experience of phenomena, such as

hands-on experiments or primary sources in literature and history–instead of pre-digested

work from textbooks or anthologies. 


‘The rapidly changing psychological nature of the adolescent is addressed through each year’s studies being tailored to the central “questions” that live in the hearts of the students of that grade’. –Rahima Baldwin Dancy 



Waldorf schools are nonsectarian, but maintain that the human being consists of more than the physical body and a set of learned behaviours. However in recognizing a spiritual dimension to the child’s nature, some critics believe the Waldorf method crosses over into the realm of religion and belief. Rudolf Steiner, however, was completely against setting up any form of dogma and encouraged people to test out his ideas against their own experiences, and never to accept them as a faith or as a doctrine.


1.Rudolf Steiner, “Addresses and Articles 1915-1921,” from The Threefold Social Order, 

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