Reginaldo Howard Commemorative Fellowship formulation

Waldorf education : "Waldorf is by no means a worldview"


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The Alanus University for Art and Society is located directly behind Bonn. Architecturally, the campus in the valley near Alfter is extremely ambitious. You will look in vain for the heavy, curved lines that were a hallmark of Waldorf in the past. Large, cubic cubes dominate here, in which the art students' studios are located, an exhibition is currently being opened in the foyer, and business administration students doing eurythmy can be seen through a large window.

The Alanus University is Waldorf - but different. Professor Jost Schieren, who is the dean of teacher training here, invites critics of Waldorf education again and again. To be open to outside influences has long been the reality of Waldorf, he says.

ZEIT ONLINE: In Elmshorn near Hamburg, half of the high school graduates from a Waldorf school have passed the Abitur. Like all other high school graduates in Germany, they had to do a large part of the preparations at home and independently. Does this show that Waldorf is not fit for the digital school of the future?

Jost Schieren: You cant say it like that. A general survey from the time of the school closings is still pending, but according to what I was able to observe in my environment, many Waldorf schools reacted very quickly and at a low-threshold level, and homeschooling went surprisingly well and professionally.

ZEIT ONLINE: This does not correspond to the Waldorf cliché, after concentrating mainly on knitting and name dancing. Is that perhaps no longer the case? Is Waldorf no longer critical of technology?

Sheer: As is well known, the focus is on creative and artistic engagement with simple materials and means, but during the Corona crisis many schools managed to combine distance learning with Waldorf education. For example at a Waldorf school in Oakland, California, where I am involved in teacher training. The teachers set up a drive-in, parents were given handicraft kits with plasticine and colored pencils and instructions. Since the school is in a focal point, they combined the whole thing with a food distribution. Even eurythmy seems to work digitally. One of my teacher training students said that her students filmed and exchanged movement performances they had developed themselves with their smartphones.

TIME ONLINE: And yet it was not just since the incident in Elmshorn that the accusation has been raised that Waldorf education is not up to the demands of the German Abitur. Especially not in times of Corona.

Sheer: This is proven not to be true. Statistically speaking, Waldorf schools have an above-average high school diploma. You can't see it across the board: There is probably not one Waldorf answer to Corona. I take what happened in Elmshorn very seriously. I have my own questions about the security systems in the Waldorf area. One problem is that Waldorf schools do not have a director. If the school community is not strong enough, then the individual teacher who fails or is simply bad has more weight. And because this is about Waldorf, the case is being discussed even more intensely in the media.

Jost Schieren

is professor for school education with a focus on Waldorf education. He is the dean of the educational science department at the Alanus University in Alfter near Bonn and heads the master's degree in pedagogy. He attended high school himself and discovered Waldorf education while studying philosophy. He published the "Handbook of Waldorf Education and Educational Science" (2016). Most recently he published: "Children, Children! - Perspectives on child development, support and pedagogical attitudes" (2019).

ZEIT ONLINE: The first Waldorf school in Stuttgart was founded more than 100 years ago, there are now hundreds of Waldorf schools and daycare centers across the country, but people still freak out when it comes to Waldorf. Why is that?

Sheer: Parents who send their children to a Waldorf school have high hopes for this. If they are then disappointed by concrete experiences that they have with their children at a single Waldorf school, then it hits them hard and the disappointment is quickly generalized. When something goes wrong in a mainstream school, parents blame the teachers. When a problem arises at a Waldorf school, the whole system is quickly called into question.

ZEIT ONLINE: Reform pedagogy has produced very many different approaches to school. For example Froebel or Montessori. But why does it always get so emotional, especially when it comes to Waldorf schools?

Sheer: The Waldorf School is one of the most widespread reform schools today - even though it has a background in Steiner's anthroposophy that is not easily accessible. When Waldorf is spoken of, it is therefore often about more than just pedagogy, it is about anthroposophy, the suspicion of the Weltanschauung school is in the room. This is a sensitive point.

ZEIT ONLINE: So, in your opinion, is Waldorf not a worldview at all?

Sheer: No, absolutely not! In Waldorf schools, the focus is on the child, not the system or an ideology. In this sense, anthroposophy does not contain any dogmatic teaching either. It is remarkable that Rudolf Steiner himself, when he founded Waldorf education, dealt very defensively with a lot of anthroposophical content. He firmly said that the Waldorf school should not be a school of ideology. He did not see anthroposophy in Waldorf education as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. Anthroposophy, with its view of the world and of people, is intended to help understand children better and to make a good school. If this does not work, then it has no value. So Steiner's Waldorf School does not come from an ideological program, as many believe top down justified. He attended the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart once a week and knew every student. He has Waldorf education as a work in progress developed. In conferences with the teachers he has repeatedly emphasized how important the concrete relationship between students and teachers is.