Waldorf education ...

... places the child at the centre of all educative efforts. It enquires into the gifts and potential available in each child, and tries to nurture and develop these. It tries to help the child unfold his or her full potential, to care for children in the community context in which they grow up, and to prepare them for the tasks facing them in the modern age.

History of Waldorf education

The Founding of the First Waldorf School in Stuttgart

After World War I, within the framework of activities of the Threefold Social Organism, the board of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, lead by Emil Molt, decided on April 23rd, 1919, to found a school for the children of the factory workers. They asked Rudolf Steiner to take on and lead the education. Emil Molt had already been caring for the education and welfare of his employees. He gave them the opportunity to take classes during the workday and attend lectures by Rudolf Steiner and Herbert Hahn. He also had houses where they could go to recuperate and a worker’s newspaper called, “Waldorf News.”

Just two days after the board’s decision, Rudolf Steiner had developed a concept for the school with help from Emil Molt and Karl Stockmeyer. By May 13th they had the permit for the school and on May 30th Emil Molt bought a suitable building with his own money. The building had been a restaurant in Stuttgart called, “Uhlandshoehe.” Based on suggestions from Rudolf Steiner and E.A. Karl Stockmeyer, the first faculty of teachers was formed. Their average age was 32.

On August 20th, Rudolf Steiner began a training course for the new teachers. In the mornings he gave lectures on, “A general study of man as the basis for pedagogy” (“Study of Man” GA 293) followed by lectures on method and didactic questions (“Practical Advice for Teacher” GA 294). In the afternoons they had conversations about pedagogy, in a seminar format (“Discussions with Teachers” GA 295). On September 7th, 1919 after only five months of preparation, the school was opened with a celebration.

A week later, classes began for 256 children in eight grades with twelve teachers: Elisabeth Baumann-Dollfus (Eurythmy), Paul Baumann (music and gymnastics), Johannes Geyer (class teacher), Herbert Hahn (German, history, French and religion), Caroline von Heydebrand (5th grade and foreign language), Hertha Koegel (4th grade), Hannah Lang (3rd grade), Leonie von Mirbach (1st grade), Friedrich Oehlschlegel (6th grade), Walter Johannes Stein (administration, literature and history), E. A. Karl Stockmeyer (7th and 8th grade) and Rudolf Treichler sen. (7th and 8th grade). During the first year the following teachers joined: Elisabeth von Grunelius (Kindergarten), Eugen Kolisko (School doctor, English, Naturkunde), Berta Molt (handwork and bookbinding), Edith Röhrle (Eurythmy), Helene Rommel (handwork), Karl Schubert (Förderklasse?) und Nora Stein von Baditz (Eurythmy). Friedrich Oehlschlegel left.

To begin with, Emil Molt had thought of the Waldorf School as a work-school. On the one hand it would provide a basic education for underprivileged children and on the other it would be the actualization for, “The Free Spiritual Life.” Largely independent from the normal state-run education or economic pressures, the teacher was to have the freedom to develop a lesson, which at its roots would meet the developmental needs of the students.

New methods of teaching included coed classes from varied socio-economic backgrounds, block courses, no standardized testing, a strong focus on the arts, Eurythmy, woodwork and handwork for boys and girls, two foreign languages from the 1st grade on and no textbooks. The children are also not failed and forced to repeat a grade and a class has one main teacher who stays with them from 1st through 8th grade.

Courses on education

Emil Molt’s request to Rudolf Steiner fell on well-prepared ground. Rudolf Steiner was very familiar with educational practice. He had worked as a private tutor in a family, a remedial teacher and a lecturer for the Working Men’s Educational Institute in Berlin, and had already spoken and published on educational matters. (among others GA 34, S. 309 f.; GA 55, S. 118 f.; GA 60, 8th Lecture).

After the founding of the first Waldorf School in 1919 Rudolf Steiner was asked increasingly to speak about his educational ideas in Switzerland, in Holland and in England also. In these countries he conducted 8 more comprehensive courses on education with teachers from the Waldorf School, (among others: Caroline von Heydebrand, Hermann von Baravalle, Walter Johannes Stein, Ernst Blümel, Julie Lämmert, Karl Schubert, Erich Schwebsch); as well as many talks and courses in Germany, the growing public interest is documented by in April 1924 in Stuttgart 1,700 participants.

Between 1919 and 1924 Rudolf Steiner gave around 200 lectures for teachers, parents and people with a general interest in education, wrote a number of essays and conducted conferences with the college of teachers of the Waldorf School (GA 296–311), which show in varied ways that for him it was not about an alternative way of teaching but about enlivening the daily educational practice through the understanding of the individual development of the pupils in their social and cultural environment, and also about enhancing the intellectual productivity of the teachers in any given situation through understanding human development. These presentations were supplemented by courses in individual subjects such as linguistics, physics and astronomy (GA 299, 320, 323).