How do Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy Relate to Each Other? Part 2

The second in this four-part series looks at the differences between presenting anthroposophy to a group of practicing Waldorf teachers or to a public audience with a general interest in Waldorf Education. Part 1 of the series can be found here.

Because Waldorf Education has grown out of anthroposophy, there are at least two very different groups it may be targeted to: firstly, Waldorf teachers who practice this form of education and require the relevant training and professional development; and secondly, those who have a general interest in but not much previous knowledge of anthroposophy. Specific conditions apply to the latter and one needs to present and explain Waldorf Education to them very differently from how one would present it to anthroposophically versed members of the Waldorf community. Consequently, there is no one right way of presenting Rudolf Steiner’s educational ideas and considerations—one needs to consider carefully whom one is addressing.

Back Then …

Rudolf Steiner’s essay of September 1919, “The Pedagogical Basis of the Waldorf School” (in GA 24: Renewal of the Social Organism), is a good example. He refers to this essay himself as “in essence, a summary for the public of everything that was addressed in our course” (Steiner GA 300a, Faculty Meeting of September 25, 1919). By “course” he meant the preparatory seminar he gave for the prospective teachers of the first Waldorf School (Steiner GA 293–295). The two texts vary widely in content and style: the essay is mostly about pedagogical questions, with references to the specific “understanding of the human being” that underlies Waldorf Education, while the teachers’ course interweaves pedagogical questions more intensely with general anthroposophical knowledge.

Therefore, depending on the audience’s familiarity with the topic, analysis of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical texts requires a distinction between two if not three kinds of texts: the lectures addressed to the community of Waldorf teachers and the notes from conversations Rudolf Steiner had with the participants; the lectures to members of the public who were interested in education; and the essays he wrote for public readership.

It is only when we consider the third and, in part, the second kind of text that we realize how much Steiner refrains from explaining anthroposophical content directly. Instead, he focuses mostly on presenting Waldorf Education in relation to the history of consciousness or to philosophy, and on child and youth development, the school curriculum, and the corresponding subject-specific teaching methods based on his experience of the pedagogical practice in the Waldorf School.

However, whenever he speaks to Waldorf teachers, or about their professional development, he always includes essential anthroposophical themes. These presentations were therefore no “esoteric theoretical construct” (H. Zander) but were about selflessness, intuitiveness and other faculties that teachers need to develop. Anthroposophy can therefore be seen as the original source of Waldorf Education because it constitutes the first and true inspiration for generations of Waldorf teachers and their pedagogical practice.

… and Now

Today, in the age of the internet, we live with social media, Telegram, YouTube, Meta, Instagram etc. where content spreads like lightning, without restriction or protection, and where everything is always accessible to everyone and content tends to be only superficially perceived and evaluated. It has therefore become considerably more difficult to keep in mind the situation and interests of specific target groups. We cannot expect anything to be read or understood at a deeper level. This is precisely why we need to be much more aware, cautious, and responsible in how we bring Waldorf Education to the public.

There is a profound difference between presenting pedagogical topics and questions to the public versus active Waldorf professionals. If one addresses the public—be it in a podcast, video, essay, lecture, or another form—one needs to use comprehensible terminology and relate to topical issues whilst steering clear of deeper and more specific anthroposophical questions. There is no need to answer questions no one asked. Presentations should be prompted by current educational or social challenges and needs. What can we contribute to resolving them? I assume much is being done in this respect in every single Waldorf School. Other potential topics include well-known Waldorf-specific approaches to media education, intercultural education, inclusive education, preventative and salutogenic teaching methods, secondary prevention in Trauma Education (applied particularly in conflict areas around the world), and integrative approaches such as learning and practical work, learning in a farming context, etc. These are of course not exclusive to Waldorf Education, but Waldorf Education can enrich them by contributing original and essential approaches.

Since, due to the complexity of today’s challenges, problem solutions and crisis management strategies (whether in healthcare, ecology, politics, or economics) can only be tackled in interdisciplinary ways, we would do well to emphasize anthroposophical activities that arise from the connection of education with medicine or with agriculture. Experience has shown that this transdisciplinary or holistic aspect of anthroposophy also awakens interest outside the Waldorf community. If we confront a public audience with anthroposophical jargon, if we dogmatize or proselytize, or present anthroposophy as a creed or ideology, we disrespect our listeners and go against its true intentions.

The same applies to parents’ evenings. The parents of Waldorf students are not usually interested in anthroposophy but in their child’s healthy development and concrete learning progress. It goes without saying that we do not teach anthroposophy in Waldorf schools. An exception to this rule is when high school students ask about Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy and are interested to hear more.

It is different when Waldorf teachers work together in their faculty meetings. Although these meetings are often attended by teachers who have no Waldorf training and are not familiar with anthroposophy, they are a central institution of ongoing professional development and therefore a good opportunity to engage more deeply with anthroposophy in relation to pedagogical questions. In this situation we need to summon the courage to broach anthroposophical topics because they belong to the professionalization of Waldorf teachers—they promote self-reflection and enhance the quality of teaching. A few things need to be considered, however: anthroposophical content should not be discussed in an abstract way but within the pedagogical context; it should be discussed openly and in a non-authoritative, collegial atmosphere; and it requires a rational, critical but open approach and should never be seen as dogma or some kind of religious belief.

Because of the different backgrounds of student Waldorf teachers, it is difficult to present generally valid guidelines. Students range from very young people who have only just left school, to highly motivated and experienced teachers who have worked in Waldorf schools for some time, to Waldorf parents with varying degrees of interest in anthroposophy. In principle, one needs to be cautious with anthroposophical spiritual topics and respect the general educational background of listeners. But it is equally important to create the conditions for engaging with them openly and in a practical and scientifically reflected way.

Translated from the German by Margot M. Saar

Part 3 of this four-part series will appear in our next issue and discuss how core anthroposophical topics are included in Rudolf Steiner’s presentations on education.

Drawing by Anuck, 5 years, Kassel

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