Waldorf Pedagogy Around the Globe
As the centenary of Waldorf education is upon us, it is a good time to take stock and assess the development of the approach taken over the last hundred years. From its beginnings in Stuttgart, Germany, the Waldorf movement has steadily expanded and is now well represented on every inhabited continent and in an ever-growing range of cultural and geographic settings. From Central Park to Central Australia and from the Andes to the Himalaya, children are being educated in Waldorf schools and kindergartens. This expansion speaks to the continued relevance of Steiner’s pedagogical insights and their continuing attraction to parents all over the world.
The growth of Waldorf pedagogy is clearly an educational success story. After phases of expansion in Western Europe, North America, South America and Eastern Europe, the current focus of growth is in Asia. The expansion of Steiner pedagogy is impressive yet at the same time it is not without difficulties; I wish to highlight a few of these here.
The notion of expansion includes that of a point or “center” to expand from. This raises questions of the rela-tionship between the periphery and center. Is the center a focal point, a reference for growth? What is its influence, does it have “authority” or status, and (how) does this influence affect how Waldorf education adapts itself to new environments, situations, peoples, geographies and cultures? In short, how does Waldorf education travel? And with what does it travel? Does it move around the globe lightly, or does it take baggage with it?
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, spoke of an “ideal curriculum” (1919/2000, p. 164), a universally valid spiritual archetype based on the needs of different age groups. Over decades, a commonly accepted curriculum has been developed from Steiner’s indications. Steiner’s intention was for teachers to work with the “ideal curriculum” in a creative manner and to explore it dynamically, so they can respond adaptively to the students being taught; he called this “reading the child” (1924/1997, p. 79). An implementation of a Waldorfcurriculum without this adaptive process significantly narrows and constricts the nature of teachers’ work. Added to this are the many Waldorf traditions that have arisen over the years. When traditions from one continent and culture are transferred to another, tensions can arise between what is being taught and the situation or context it is being taught in. Here, again, creativity is called for in the way traditions are adapted from one culture to another.
This process of seeking to localize Waldorf education within new settings is one that many teachers have been working on for years. Recent work by Rawson (2017) is noteworthy in that it seeks to theorize this adaptation process. However, there is not yet an established body of research to indicate, for instance, how minorities experience Waldorf schools, or what possible guidelines there might be for the adaptation of the curriculum.
Areas which need attention can include the teaching of history, the use of literature, which festivals to celebrate, the relationship to place, seasonal references and so on. If these are taught with a Western or European focus in non-Western settings, there is a possibility of colonial thinking being normalized or valorized, regardless of good intentions. How might the curriculum look in countries which are not majority Christian, which are post-Christian, where European norms and traditions do not apply? How are diverse and local viewpoints to be made visible and acknowledged?
It is no longer just a question of Waldorf education moving from a “center” to the periphery. Over recent years, the periphery has come towards the center, and countries where Waldorf education has been longest established are themselves changing demographically as populations become progressively more diverse. This raises the question of how Waldorf educators need to respond to this transformation. The Intercultural Waldorf School in Mannheim is one answer to this question (Schmelzer, 2015).
As Waldorf education develops further, it needs to remain adaptive to all students and cultures, be these Indigenous, immigrant, or increasingly diverse. It needs to acknowledge and explore alternative histories, striving to be anti-discriminatory and anti-repressive while embodying a decolonial mind-set. In this way, I believe Waldorf education is working towards social justice and the renewal of society as Rudolf Steiner intended.
Auckland, New Zealand