The connection between Steiner Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy

by Kevin Avison (Steiner Waldorf Schools’ Fellowship)

Steiner Waldorf schools came about through the inspiration and tireless work of Dr Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, who was born in 1861, developed a deep connection with the natural world and a form of what he called spiritual perception. This provided the foundation for his subsequent study and involvement in a very wide field of cultural, scientific, medical and agricultural activities. Unusually for someone claiming Spiritual insights, Steiner dedicated himself to subjecting these to scientific and philosophical analysis. Although he became much sought-after as a teacher and lecturer, his abiding concern was to promote individual freedom. He did much to encourage others in taking initiatives to build more healthy, humane and culturally lively societies. One of these initiatives was a school, originally intended mainly for the children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette factory, established in Stuttgart in 1919 during the near collapse of Germany following the Great War.

Steiner called his philosophy, ‘Anthroposophy’ – ‘spiritual science’ – and this stands as the foundation of what is distinctive about Steiner Waldorf schools. At the core of this lives a recognition of the unique spirit inherent within every human being and a concern that education should provide the essential capabilities and nurturing for each to achieve their fullest possible potential. This central principle informs the aim to create environments of holistic learning imbued with respectful relationships regardless of belief, ethnicity or similar facets of human difference.

The schools aim to support the maturation of children and young people comprehensively: a healthy development of useful and necessary skills and capacities; a strong feeling for ethics informed by a social-emotional intelligence; and a purposeful individuality (in Steiner’s terms: “body, soul and spirit”). The Steiner Waldorf curriculum, its subjects and methodology seek to work with the grain of development in its pupils and to promote enthusiasm for life-long learning. The Steiner Waldorf Schools’ Fellowship exists to support its members and work educationally to promote radical and enlightened pedagogy everywhere.

Although certain of Steiner ideas were of a religious nature, founded in an evolutionary concept of Christianity, Waldorf teachers come from every cultural, religious and non-religious background. The wider ideas of Steiner’s Anthroposophy are not directly relevant to the schools and those who work for the education do not necessarily subscribe to these or every other aspect of Steiner’s thought. One of the essential principles of the original Free Waldorf School, as it was called, was that those working with the young people should develop their own thinking, research and practice based on their experience in the classroom. Much has been evolved and elaborated since Steiner’s death in 1925. Thus what is now called the “Waldorf Movement” is really a collaboration of educators, pupil, and others, continually modifying and seeking to improve the curriculum and teaching methods in line with the needs of the children before them and the realities of time and place. There are over one thousand schools world-wide and in every continent (except Antarctica!). There is a separate Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain (ASGB) established to preserve and develop the heritage of Steiner’s thought, membership of which is entirely a matter of personal choice.

Anyone wishing to find out more about the latter can go to www.anthroposophy.org.uk