12th September 2008

Steiner Education

posted in Books, Opinion |

I just finished reading a book entitled “An introduction to Steiner Education: the Waldorf School” by Francis Edmunds. The reason why I read it, is that the kindergarten we have chosen for our daughter happens to be a Steiner school, and I wanted to better understand the underlying thinking.

I am not going to try summarizing Steiner education here (see the book, which I think gives a fairly good overview), but I just want to share with you an excerpt of the book which I felt particularly interesting:

Introduction to Steiner Education: The Waldorf School

[…] Waldorf education is based on man as a threefold being. That he thinks, feels and wills, that he is head, heart and limb, is taken to be obvious. Event that he consists of body, mind […] and spirit […] is widely accepted. Yet it can hardly be said that these distinctions have entered deeply into educational practice. There the intellectual approach has grown more dominant at all levels. […]

The headwise approach, as we have called it, has serious consequences. Is the child brainy, will he be able to pass exams, are questions that weight greatly on parents. The non-exam child, the child in whom heart and limb do not keep pace with the head, comes to be looked on as inferior. Art and the crafts play second fiddle. Thus all the three phases, infant, child and adolescent, are pressed forward intellectually and this has consequence for the whole life. The clever ones are extolled, but where are the artists and the craftsmen who embellish life and give it greater quality? They are rare to find.

But the effects of overemphasis on head and brain learning go further than this. We see how children in the kindergarten lose their spontaneous genius for play. They grow restless, are bored or get uncontrolled, and then they need adults with their thought-out games and learning devices to engage and entertain them. What belongs properly to the first years of schooling is pushed down prematurely into the pre-school years. That means drawing the children into their nervous system, making them ‘heady’ too soon; but that in turn also means robbing them of their early powers of imagination, the source, if allowed to play itself out naturally, of greater creativity in later life. Then, as is seen so clearly in public life, we arrive at adults who fall short of demand, who cannot enter with imagination into the problems, mainly human problems, that confront them, and therefore cannot arrive at the needed solutions.

I personally completely agree with this analysis, although I reckon it may be seen as extreme and likely controversial. But I would be really interested to know what you think about this. Are our schools indeed too “intellectualizing”, or do you think it is just a normal evolution of the 21st century in which we live?

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