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Waldorf School

Waldorf Schools were developed for Emit Molt of the Waldorf Astoria Tobacco Company in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner. They use a re-iterative curriculum that addresses subjects on three levels: the intellect (as in lectures), the heart (as in the artistic and feeling aspects of the subject), and the hands (the practical application). Art, music and language are integrated on a level appropriate to the developmental stage of the child to illuminate the curriculum.

The Waldorf approach to schooling, and the Anthroposophy movement behind it, have been criticized as sectarian, cultish, and of little practical value for most people's later life, by some critics.

From the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA)[1],

Waldorf Education ... An Introduction By Henry Barnes

When children relate what they learn to their own experience, they are interested and alive, and what they learn becomes their own. Waldorf schools are designed to foster this kind of learning.

Waldorf Education has its roots in the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). According to Steiner's philosophy, man is a threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages on the path to adulthood: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.

In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The German nation, defeated in war, was teetering on the brink of economic, social, and political chaos. Steiner spoke to the workers about the need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life.

Emil Molt, the owner of the factory, asked Steiner if he would undertake to establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Steiner agreed but set four conditions, each of which went against common practice of the day: 1) that the school be open to all children; 2) that it be coeducational; 3) that it be a unified twelve-year school; 4) that the teachers, those individuals actually in contact with the children, have primary control of the school, with a minimum interference from the state or from economic sources. Steiner's conditions were radical for the day, but Molt gladly agreed to them. On September 7,1919, the independent Waldorf School (Die Freie Waldorfschule) opened its doors.

Today there are more than 800 Waldorf schools in over 40 countries. In North America there are over 150 schools affiliated with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, and several public schools using Waldorf methods to enrich their teaching. There are also over 50 full-time Waldorf teacher-training institutes around the world; of these eight are in the United States and one in Canada. No two schools are identical; each is administratively independent. Nevertheless, a visitor would recognize many characteristics common to them all.

Revised for this publication, this article by Henry Barnes, former Chairman of the Board, Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, originally appeared in the October, 1991 issue of Educational Leadership Magazine.

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