The increasing influence of the Steiner approach


Original article posted on Tia Sáng (by Nguyen Thu Huong): click here to read

There are approximately more than 2000 kindergartens, 1000 schools of various grade levels, 700 children centers, and countless parents and homeschooling programs that are using the Steiner approach.

In 1919, Steriner founded the first Waldorf school in Stuttgard, Germany, where he directly trained teachers and practiced his educational philosophy. After the first World War, Adolf Hitler shut down the school due to the fear of the free and passionate people the Waldorf school could make out of their students. During this period, a few pioneers in education moved the Waldorf school to the US. The first school in the US, Rudolf Steiner school, was founded in 1928 and has been active to date.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrain educator and philosopher. After a long period editing works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1882-1886), Steiner published his book “The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World-Conception”. Steiner was heavily influenced by Goethe as well as Arthur Schopenhauer’s idea of the will. In 1897, Steiner wrote “Education in the Light of Spiritual Science”, which became his philosophical foundation for schools, teacher training and teaching.

Steiner education places importance on three basic human elements: thoughts, emotions, and will.

Especially different from traditional schooling, Steiner presented detailed practice in teaching to help the child develop the will from birth to adulthood. He believed the child was born with a very strong will, which made up the energy to nourish passion, so that the child always had the will, aspiration and determination to do something useful and succeed in doing so. The teacher’s mission was to nurture and develop this will through multi-sensory activities.  Each child is a fearless and happy individual

Traditional schooling currently uses competition, rewards and punishment to reach certain expected results: the final purpose lies outside the child, in what is approved by others, career success, fame, social status and political and economical power.

If traditional schooling follows materialism, then Steiner education follows idealism. On education and idealism, Krishnamurti wrote: “The purpose of education is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women who are free of fear; for only between such human beings can there be enduring peace.”1

Similarly, Steiner’s view of the child was beyond nationalism built by and for institutions instead of human development. Each child was considered an individual of humanity instead of a citizen that would join the workforce and the economy.

In order to escape and rise beyond fear, authority and traditional customs, the individual must reach a state of understanding his or her self, knowing his or her passion, ability, and behavior. This is realized by teaching methods in Waldorf/Steiner schools, where educators reject authority over their students right from the moment the little child takes the first step. Teachers only play the role of guides so each student can learn with pleasure, discover a variety of subjects, from crafts, painting, sculpture and drama, to language, math, science, and from there find their own strengths and passions. The personality of the teacher, the space that the teacher actively creates so that the child is free to express him/herself, to freely choose, and the true respect that the teacher gives each individual student, make up the effective method to add one more brick every day to create fearless and happy individuals.

No competition, no rewards, no punishment

The special aspect of these schools is that there are no textbooks and there is a complete absence of competition, rewards and punishment.

With the thought of education aiming at the individual finding the individual person, seeking inner strength, building motivation from within, from personal passion instead of letting the child find and depend on external motivation, Steiner education builds schools with teachers who do not judge, compare, or compete from kindergarten to high school.

The absence of authority, rewards and punishment can easily cause chaos; so why are students at Waldorf/Steiner schools highly disciplined? The answer is love that creates discipline from within every student. Waldorf/Steiner schools are always full of love and warmth from classroom design to communication between teachers and students, and to each parent and each member working in school.

Due to all of these differences, Steiner schools cannot have thousands of students; instead, the number of students in each classroom is approximately twenty and each teacher teaches the same class for at least several years to fully understand, connect with, love and help each child grow.

While graduating seniors from the general education of Vietnam and even many developed or other developing countries don’t know what they want or which school to choose, Steiner education has achieved spectacular results: Steiner high school students choose careers for no other reason than personal passion. The list of former students of Steiner schools includes many people with many achievements and important contributions in professions that require high creativity such as designers, architects, film makers, musicians, artists, aerospace engineers,…2 A study and comparison of creativity (Torrance Test of Creative Thinking Ability) of Steiner students and public school students (the sample was based on 1,165 students from England, Scotland, and Germany) showed that Steiner students’ creativity scores were higher than those of students attending public schools.3

Starting from erasing judgment and nourishing imagination

At Steiner schools, teaching and learning never focus on knowledge but they have all activities and methods to nurture the child’s will, ability and desire to work during each developmental stage.

Kindergarten: Children are allowed to live in a dreamlike and poetic environment full of love, which holds back and erases the sense of judgment to nurture imagination, where children do not yet need to know the real world of chaos and are kept far away from any reward, punishment or competition. Like a tree’s roots must be deeply rooted in the soil to ensure the widest foliage, the child is bathed in the folk tales of his or her people in his or her own mother tongue.

Đứa trẻ được dung dưỡng cảm xúc trong từng môn học, để thích học và học bằng toàn bộ con người chứ không chỉ bằng tư duy logic, tư duy trừu tượng.

Elementary school: The child’s emotions are nourished in each subject to enjoy learning and learn with their whole being. During the period of 7-12 years old, children acquire knowledge through and think in images; this is not the stage of abstract thinking.

Steiner elementary school subjects do not focus on abstract thinking. Children learn through real experience and real contact; even addition and subtraction are also learned with the whole body and connected to beauty. Steiner believed that beauty creates emotions in the mind, thereby awakening thinking and nurturing the will.

Upper grades: Children learn using logical and abstract thinking; scientific problems are studied with critical thinking. In particular, students do not study science but pratice science in laboratories and workshops no less than studetns in large universities, pursuing science projects lasting months. Art subjects, up to this point, have reached the professional level; the students’ artworks have reached the level of an artist, a sculptor, or a musician in the symphony orchestra.

Upcoming article: Steiner kindergarten education.

1 Krishnamurti, Education and the significance of life.
3 Research report “The Comparative Status of the Creative Thinking Ability of Waldorf Education Students: A Survey”, Ogletree & Earl J, 12/1996 (studies in England, Scotland, and Germany).