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Waldorf Pedagogy and Education Science

Waldorf schools are among the best-known and most commonly encountered institutions to arise from the progressive education movement. With the exception of Montessori schools, there is no other comparably significant alternative school movement in the world. Yet despite the successful and positive development of Waldorf schools, educational science has either barely taken account of the educational approach of Waldorf pedagogy, or - as in the case of German educational science - has often sharply criticized its theoretical found-ations.


Anthroposophy, which is both the foundation and the inspirational basis for Waldorf pedagogy, can also be seen as the problem preventing a more widespread acceptance of Waldorf pedagogy from the point of view of educational science. A neutral, research-based and objective scientific analysis of Waldorf pedagogy has foundered, to date, in the face of the theoretical challenge posed by anthroposophy. 


Turning Point: Empiricism


Even if, on the one hand, the theoretical foundations of Waldorf pedagogy are often questioned, refuted or ignored on the part of educational science, the practice of Waldorf schools has been the subject of extensive research within the past fifteen years. More than 100 empirical studies on Waldorf pedagogy have been carried out internationally, positioning Waldorf schools among the best-researched schools in the context of progressive education. In Germany, Heiner Ullrich collaborated with Werner Helsper on a comprehensive empirical study of the so-called “class teacher years” (grades 1-8). Ullrich’s students followed him by producing numerous empirical qualitative studies of Waldorf pedagogy. These are complemented by the more quantitatively oriented studies by Dirk Randoll, as well as further qualitative studies by Heiner Barz. Other large international empirical studies have taken place in Great Britain, Sweden, the USA and Switzerland. Overall, these studies of Waldorf pedagogy make for a good report card. On the basis of the measurement criteria for empirical education research, Waldorf schools have a competitive profile internationally. Former Waldorf students have an unusually strong sense of identification with their school, a high degree of satisfaction regarding their profession, a high level of social engagement, and are more likely than non-Waldorf peers with similar graduation levels to engage in professions which require autonomous thinking and creativity (such as teachers, doctors, engineers, and artists). Waldorf teachers, despite the fact that they are generally paid less and enjoy fewer amenities than public school teachers do, nonetheless strongly identify with their jobs, are highly motivated, and have a lesser risk of burn-out syndrome than is typical for teachers (Helsper 2007, Barz 2007, Randoll 2013, Liebenwein 2012).


Waldorf Pedagogy in an Academic Context


In addition to the increase in empirical research regarding Waldorf pedagogy, the past decade has also seen a pronounced change in Waldorf teacher education, which has, since 2007, become increasingly established in an academic context. In the course of academically oriented changes based on the Bologna Process, new BA and MA programs for Waldorf pedagogy have been developed and accredited. This development has furthered the emergence of a new scientific and research-based culture within Waldorf institutions. The groundwork for this movement was laid in the 1980’s by the Teachers College in Stuttgart, which initiated a colloquium of educational scientists and Waldorf teachers, who, to this day, continue to regularly submit publications and initiate discussions that make Waldorf pedagogy more visible within the scientific community. Since 2010, the Alanus University in Alfter and the Rudolf Steiner University College in Oslo have collaborated to publish the scientific online journal “RoSE” (Research on Steiner Education”), which is published biannually ( The contributions are chosen on the basis of strict criteria in a peer-review process, and they are usually published both in German and in English. The INASTE network, which brings together representatives from of all of these and further initiatives, belongs clearly within this context.


All the above-named publications, initiatives, research projects, and institutional developments demonstrate that Waldorf pedagogy is beginning a fundamentally new period of development in the 21st century. In its nearly 100-year history in the 20th century, it was focused on expansion through the establishment and further development of its pedagogical practice and the founding of new schools, while its pedagogical approach was affirmatively and often somewhat uncritically based on Rudolf Steiner’s work. With the beginning of the 21st century, a deep transformation has begun to take place, placing increasing relevance on scientific orientation and openness to research-based dialogue with general educational science, while continuing to cultive the unique and distinguishing richness of a Waldorf approach.


Jost Schieren 

Alfter, Germany

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