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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Waldorf's Integrated Way of Learning

Art and movement blend into academics at this K-8 public school. Read the article.
Transcript

Waldorf's Integrated Way of Learning (Transcript)

Narrator: Movement and art integrate with learning at the John Moore School in Sacramento, California, one of the first Waldorf-inspired public schools.

Cheryl: Running through the mud, digging with their shovels, and singing to the teacher and really speak to Waldorf Education. It's always about stimulating the creativity and imagination of the child. What Waldorf methods are, essentially, is an integration of the arts into regular curricular areas.

Izabelle: With one, like sometimes we draw pictures, when we're done with this, she puts a letter inside some, and we try to figure out the letter.

Teacher: These are first-grade main lesson books. Where the princess was surrounded by faeries, the faeries that surround the princes turned into the letter F. And in this way, the children's imagination is woken up to the entire world.

Barbara: We have apples that we cut in half to find five seeds. We traced our hands with five fingers. We saw the five-pointed stars, so that we had science integrated with nature studies, and geometry and artistic work before it ever led to mathematics.

Students: Five!

Teacher: Good. Who wants to do the backwards one? Severin? Here it comes.

Students: Ten!

Teacher: Good work, first grade! Who wants to...

Narrator: Kids move to learn math, and social skills.

Vince: They were skipping through the room, following each other around in a chain. It's developing spatial awareness of what's happening in the room, and how they're working as a group.

Taylor: I like the John Moore School, how you get to play instruments, you get to do hand work, movement classes, you get to do all sorts of extra stuff as the schools is going to allow you to do.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.

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Credits

Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Malaika Costello-Dougherty

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Editor

  • Malaika Costello-Dougherty

Camera

  • Malaika Costello-Dougherty
  • Production Assistant

    • Doug Keely

    Narrator

    • Malaika Costello-Dougherty
    • Executive Producer

      • Ken Ellis

      Still Photography Courtesy of

      • Bart Nagel
      • Barbara Warren
      • © 2009
      • The George Lucas Educational Foundation
      • All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: In the fall of 2010, John Morse Waldorf-Inspired K-8 School moved to a new building and changed its name to Alice Birney Waldorf-Inspired K-8 School. Principal Cheryl Eining has also retired.

Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

David's picture

I was a little surprised and disappointed to see this featured in Edutopia, a publication I have come to know and trust as a valuable resource in the effort to transform public education. As objectively as the writer attempted to approach the topic (and a talented writer, I might add), the fact remains that the underlying philosophy and spiritual elements are absolutely vital components of the Waldorf educational model. Some more research prior to publication may have uncovered the following (from the Steiner College Mission Statement http://www.steinercollege.edu/files/pdf/admissions/CollegeCatalog.pdf):

"Founded on the spiritual scientific work of Rudolf Steiner, the College has as its mission to
provide programs that:

*awaken independent thinking and healthy judgment about the deepest issues of human
life,
*school powers of perception,
*cultivate and enrich artistic faculties,
*develop social sensitivity,
*strengthen capacities for practical life."

Here is a course description from one of the courses offered...

The Ontology & Epistemology of Waldorf Education 6 units

"Waldorf education is based on Anthroposophy, a transpersonal and phenomenological
world view. The ontology includes perspectives that view the human being as an
integration of spirit, soul, and body who is placed in
a natural world underlain with transcendent factors. It is necessary for the Waldorf
educator to grasp this view of the human being because Waldorf pedagogy arises
directly from this understanding. The curriculum and methods arise from an
understanding of this ontology."

Get this... Some of the teachers in the Edutopia video clip are Adjunct faculty at the Steiner College! .. I wonder if they, as leaders of the Waldorf movement, are able to simply divorce themselves from this foundational aspect of the "Waldorf Way" because it is publicly funded?

Last but not least.. another quote from the Mission Statement

"A further goal is to serve the broader educational community and bring Rudolf Steiner's contributions into the dialogue on education and other issues of global concern."

It would seem as though Edutopia has helped them to achieve this goal quite well.

John Muehlhausen's picture

Every educational attempt posits a philosophy and a spirituality, so the unavoidable task is to refine this basis towards truth, goodness and beauty. To think the task avoidable is to be left with a knee-jerk philosophy and spirituality instead of a considered one, which can't be a good thing.

I think that is Waldorf's primary message to public education: "You can't keep avoiding this issue."

Perhaps the tension, in the end analysis, is between a state that conceives of humanity as somehow spiritual and transcendent in the objective sphere, and a state that doesn't. The first would claim to be able to separate church and state nonetheless, and the second would doubt this claim. The first would make "in God we trust" a state doctrine while not pushing Islam or Presbyterianism, while the second would seek to take that phrase off of our money. The first would claim to be able to tell you whether Bouguereau is more beautiful than pornography. The first would claim to be able to tell you that eating a cow Really is not murder of a fellow mammal. Etc.

Ben Reynolds's picture

David,

I don't understand what your objection to the following goals is:
*awaken independent thinking and healthy judgment about the deepest issues of human
life,
*school powers of perception,
*cultivate and enrich artistic faculties,
*develop social sensitivity,
*strengthen capacities for practical life."
To me these seem like noble goals regardless of what they are founded on. If these are the outcomes, does it matter that they are inspired by Rudolf Steiner's work and philosophy (keep in mind that anthroposophy does not purport to be a religion). Furthermore, don't teachers have the right (and responsibility) to inform their teaching with a well-developed worldview even though it may be spiritual in nature?

Daniel F.'s picture

Ben, Agreed

For an educator to accept a view of the spiritual and transcendent qualities of children seems only to reinforce their moral obligations towards the well-being and proper education of their students.

David,

The class offered to educators, if that is the most radical one you can find, most likely is not that radical at all. Epistemology, in philosophical terms, is a description of how we know things. Anthroposophy suggests that some of the most important ways that we, as human and spiritual beings, know things is through imagination, intuition, and inspiration. In other words, creativity. See this link for why creativity sponsoring institutions are becoming more popular:
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativ...

Ontology is a description of what exists, and this is probably what concerns you most. Anthroposophy posits the existence of at least two levels of the soul in addition to a person's ego. The soul is something like the total of his consciousness (the ego and two levels of unconsciousness, roughly the four-dimensional body and dream states). The spirit is, roughly, that transcendent stuff that we strive for when we try to better ourselves and our society. However, in the larger philosophy of Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner, the transcendental level to the natural world is filled with proposed entities including angels and nature spirits. However, This material in its details, I assume, isn't taught to students as it would sound very close to religious doctrine. But it does seem to me that an educator would find it useful, not to mention possibly interesting, to understand the worldview that Rudolf Steiner was working with when he first designed Waldorf Education.

Additionally, the focus of Anthroposophy is phenomenology, or what follows from our direct experience of the world. What follows from MY direct experience of the world is that humans are more than mere biological machines, that the creativity of children is boundless and should be nurtured, and that the natural world is pregnant with a special beauty that I feel no shame in describing as "transcendent."

Anthroposophy, in its general outlines (which are intentionally less rigid than religious doctrine), is compatible with many religions. In a sense, since Anthroposophy doesn't explicity assume the existence of an absolute God, it is in a technical sense even compatible with atheism, especially if spiritual matters are thought of as practical metaphors and not literal or complete truths.

Furthermore, the endorsement of Rudolf Steiner's larger body of works contains a great deal of material as he was quite a prolific writer on both exoteric and esoteric subjects. For example, Steiner is credited as found Biodynamic Agriculture, which gave rise to organic farming. He was scientifically trained and built extensively upon many ideas first introduced by Goethe, the German writer and polymath. While some of his more esoteric writings are of a spiritual nature, it was Steiner's goal to articulate a "spiritual science" that was informed by not only empirical observation but also by creative insight, a discipline that carried a degree of scientific rigor despite its concern with materials generally held to be beyond scientific investigation.

In all fairness there have been documented cases of poorly trained (or just plain incompetent) Waldorf educators and administrators that do not fully understand the connections and distinctions between Rudolf Steiner's century-old writings, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. For example, some of Steiner's works could be interpreted as proposing racist ideas, although a careful consideration of his whole body of work would show that the man was not, in fact, a racist, merely influenced by trends in German anthropology in his time. This is not a problem with the Waldorf educational paradigm per se, but with teacher and administrator education.

The problem with Waldorf education, as I see it, is not in its founder or spiritual worldview, but in some Waldorf schools' neglect of basic competencies in mathematics and writing/literacy. Not all schools have this problem, but I would strongly advise parents to seek information and advice concerning how well children at the school are prepared if and when they transfer to other educational institutions.

Michael Longstreth's picture
Michael Longstreth
I'm a student teacher starting a career in elementary & secondary education

Personally, physical movement helps students learn (kinesthetic learners benefit). Whether students use art or activities that require students to stand up, stretch, acting out content in math or literacy instruction, and voting with your feet, a teacher can take note of the each student's learning style. Movement, when it is implemented in art allows students to create and use fine motor skills to learn. Although, art is very expansible, each branch of art requires students to use their skills in a new way. Moreover, movement is important and in Marzano's research he explains that the body needs to move for energy to flow through it, instead of allowing the student to remain stagnant at a table or desk. Likewise, the teacher should implement appropriate classroom management so that students stay focused on the purpose of moving around. Teachers must keep in mind that movement is a tool like computers, textbooks, ipads, and the internet. If each tool is implemented correctly and helps the student to learn, the tool is useful, on the other hand, if the tool does not suit the purpose or is not working, the teacher must modify the activity or do something else.

waldorfparentSandraL@gardencity's picture

As a parent of two high school boys who began attending a Waldorf School in the 3rd and 4th grades, I can honestly post that the education is a true blessing on the children. The reasons for their enrollment came after a long overdue decision to leave a "highly rated" public school district that was, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to adequately educate children about social growth and development issues important to my family. Additionally, I was told at the 1st grade parent conference that there was a problem because my son was coloring the apples instead of counting them. When I informed that my son loves to color and pointed out his great coloring skills, I was told that there would be no fostering of his creativity at this stage. The Waldorf School has truly led to a love of learning in my children and has provided a healthy balance of educational respect for social and personal growth . The educational experience is not easily explained as there is no direct classroom instruction on spirituality. The lessons are intertwined in a rich curriculum that embraces creativity and includes movement and hands-on learning that fosters an amazing experience for the students. They are more engaged. My kids often do not want to come home from school and ask to stay until dinner time. They have thanked me for sending them to this school since the beginning, and it has undoubtedly been a transformation in education for my children. There is no bullying, because the students do not tolerate it as a group and the bully either stops or leaves. There is no drug addiction, because the students do not consider that to be "cool". This education is phenomenal and I thank this website for the report.

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