Waldorf education is based on the principles of Anthroposophy by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner founded the first school in 1919 Stuttgart Germany to educate the children of the factory workers from the Waldorf Astoria Zigaretten Fabrik - hence the name. All kids, independent of social status or talent received the same instruction, which made the school a pioneer of social justice in education.
The goal of a Waldorf education is to develop free, but morally responsible individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence and creative capabilities. Factual knowledge, homework and tests scores receive less attention. Storytelling and experimentation are the main method of instruction, textbooks are being avoided.
Over the twelve-year curriculum, students learn math, literature, history and science as well as a wide variety of arts and hands-on skills. Elementary students paint, knit, weave and sculpt with wax. Older ones make patterns, books, pottery and sculpt in stone. Everybody learns to do music. First all play the flute, then some play string instruments and others join the choir.
Students play non-competitive games and learn to dance eurhythmy. They do organic farming and learn two foreign languages, which in the first years are taught through songs, storytelling and conversations. In grade 8 and 12 the entire class develops a classical drama which they perform in front of their parents and friends.
Waldorf uses a unique project based approach to almost all main academic subjects. Instead of repetitive schedules, a specific subject, such as history, math, science or even gardening dominates the first two hours in the morning for a period of 4-6 weeks. After that, a new subject gets the main focus.
Steiner also invented an experiential approach to science whereby students observe and later describe scientific concepts in their own words and drawings rather than learning about them in a textbook first. Waldorf schools therefore consider computers useful to children only in their teens, after they have mastered fundamental, time-honored ways of discovering information and learning.
In the spirit of personal development and empathy, competition and grades are being avoided. Teachers instead assess the student’s individual growth of character. Tests scores and grades are only slowly introduced to older students as they prepare for college and entrance exams.
Today there are over a thousand Waldorf schools in 60 countries, making it one of the largest independent school movements. Waldorf has become a recognized educational theory in Europe and its schools have received state funding.
Famous Waldorf parents include Clint Eastwood, Lenny Kravitz, the Forbes family and many parents from Silicon Valley’s tech sector despite Steiner’s critical view of technology and mass media. Steve Jobs once told a tech journalist who asked whether his children like the new iPad that they haven’t used it and continued: “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
Acclaimed psychiatrist William Glasser famously said that we learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, but 80% of what we experience. If we believe Mr. Glasser, one could argue that despite their low-tech approach, the experimental learning method of Waldorf education is exceptionally contemporary. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!