Alan Williams (Cert Ed Course)
An Investigation into
Steiner Education and Curriculum
with reference to the
Steiner, or Waldorf
Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian, (born in 1861 died 1925), his philosophy reflected his out look on life. He is seen by his advocates as being almost a guru, his interest in Science. Sociology, Psychology, Education,
Architecture and Spiritualism coloured his philosophy to life, as well
he was approached by the owner of a cigarette factory (Waldorf-Astra),
Steiner decided that
He decided that a new type of education system was required based on the following points:
A) " That it must recognize the inner development of the child and seek to nourish it with appropriate experiences at each stage, through a wide - ranging curriculum.
B) Foster the child's experience of rhythm through a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual work during the day, and a celebration of the seasons throughout the year.
C) Allow social learning in the classroom where sensitivity and tolerance are recognized as truly human values.
D) Treats all subjects as inter - dependent, so that science, art and crafts weave a meaningful whole with the human as the focus.
E) Emphasize the human relationships of the child and the teacher in unstreamed, mixed classes of diverse back grounds and abilities.
F) Nurture all the
faculties of the child, artistic,
practical, intellectual as complementary aspects of a spiritual whole.
Whilst I agree
with the ideas behind his intentions I have misgivings about the way
been interpreted by the Steiner Education system, (set up after he
especially points b and f. Why should a child's sense of rhythm be so
to him to place it at its position in the list, ( or am I
Steiner and if I am doing so how much misinterpretation is occurring in
Point F is Steiner speaking in his "Anthroposophy" way of seeing the world which is the underlying philosophy to Steiner theories of education. Anthroposophy or Spiritual Science is an amalgam of Spiritualism,
Reincarnations and Catholic beliefs. Each Steiner teacher must have studied and taken into their inner self Anthroposophy before they are allowed to teach.
Steiner set-up the school and also designed its curriculum.
Curriculum as it's known in Steiner
Education. At the
believes that Steiner said or would have said "that everything is open
review in Steiner Education and must be held up for inspection and that
should welcome change". This did not come across at the
position of the
The staff of the
school wish to be seen by their pupils as
taking the position of role models, and feel as though they should act
and aunts towards their charges. This relationship with the children is
about over the eight years that each Steiner teacher spends with the
class, before handing over to more specialist members. These class
responsible for the main lesson of the day. This is carried out in the
and lasts for two hours. The afternoons are devoted to handicrafts or
Waldorf curriculum is broadly based on the inner spiritual needs of the
at different stages in their physical development which Steiner links
child's mental development. He states that formal learning should not
place until the child has lost its baby teeth (7-8),. I do not feel
is any problem with this part of his theory as several countries in
Steiner sees Three Stages in a child's development.
I) The first seven years - imitation
3) Rational judgement
The babe in arms is
seen to be at its must absorptive age.
From birth they have to learn to stand, walk, talk and think. Steiner
that the first seven years the etheric body has put forward all the
activity of which it is capable, in order that it may build up a second
physical body which is genetically not linked to the child's parents.
This of course
is Steiner speaking out of ignorance having little knowledge of
results in some confusion in interpretation among his follower's who
he is linking it to physical change and not to genetic changes. Piaget
that this period in a child's development is that of preoperational
- 7 years). The child develops his ability to construct symbols, use
and engage in imaginative and make believe play. At this stage the
through a period of preconceptual thought, in which they have
ability to understand the nature of classes and class membership. The
goes on later to a period of intuitive thought, in which they are
learning concepts and principles as problem solving. The concepts and
principles are derived through experience with concrete objects.
"The five year old child's learning the concept of a square for example, must come into contact with many exemplars and nonexamplars of this concept before S/he will acquire the concept. Furthermore once s/he has acquired the concept s/ he is limited in their use and manipulation of objects or the mental manipulation of once experienced or remembered objects”.
The Steiner syllabus
for this age range is based on
painting and drawing. To quote the syllabus "the child should be
to the plastic-sculptured forces, by means of painting or drawing”.
The Steiner philosophy
is rather complex and 1 have found
it difficult to understand terms such as consonance and diconsonace
are used as a means of defining the experience that a child develops by
of colour. The children at this stage are actually carrying out work,
in line with Piaget's theory They are practicing preoperative skills.
Writing in the Steiner
curriculum is developed out of
drawing. Steiner argues (and I feel this is correct), that letters
evolved out of
picture writing, and uses this as the basis for the child's
conventional writing. Steiner states that "if a chi1d is introduced to
conventional writing he will become prematurely senile"! How he can
this assumption I find absolutely amazing he states that in the child's
year the child should be able to write in a very simple script form,
dictated, I would question whether children of this age are capable of
recording the dictated words of the teacher, as these are abstract
a 5-7 year old.. The state school system would slowly introduce the
the alphabet and the sounds and shapes of letters involved. Flash cards
used with pictures which relate to the principle letter and the sound
by that letter, which is also related to a word such as apple. Steiner
that in order to learn a letter the child must first picture the shape
letter in their mind’s eye before they are asked to sound it and then
walk the shape of the letter on the floor. Whether this helps them to
I do not know, but I would have thought that anything which aids in the
learning process is useful, most teachers however employ several
methods to get across learning.
The Steiner curriculum
approaches reading by introducing
the children to Roman Capitals and there should be no aim at
By completion, I take that to mean the complete alphabet.
developed by letting the children repeat stories told to them by the
Steinerists believe everything that is good is developed by the
that this must be good for the child. This certainly a cause for
that it more or less gives carte blanche to teach the
anything! This puts the teacher in a very powerful position in what the
delivers in a lesson is immediately taken in by the children without
questioning and not only is used in their speech development but also
their opinions based on those of the teacher.
of course teacher-centered learning rather than learning which should
on the child's own experience of life. The state system trained teacher
encourages the child to talk about their own experiences rather than
Knowledge of the
child's native land is also taught at
this stage. The rationale for this is that the child is gradually
into their environment and their position in it. This is carried out by
the awareness of the child by telling the child fairy stories from
land. Steiner believes that the fairy tales are a very important means
teaching children to develop their inner being. I would argue that it
is more important
to develop the whole child by suitable real experiences than by trying
develop something that is intangible which he calls the spirit.
Anthroposophy is used to justify a strange attitude to the teaching of
mathematics, This system of teaching mathematics works from the premise
man looks at the whole and then sees the component parts afterwards,
probably correct. Steiner then issues a statement which I find
" the adult brain is formed by the way arithmetic is learnt
childhood, and whether man's later thinking will be of the kind that
synthesises or is merely atomistic, depends very much on the earliest
instruction which he receives in arithmetic". I can see no
for a statement of this type, nor can I find any work which confirms
statement outside of the Steiner movement. It makes one wonder whether
another piece of knowledge passed down to him from the beings on the
The methods involved in the teaching of arithmetic are those of counting through rhythmic movement, running, clapping and jumping. These are also used in infant education in the state system in this area. Other methods are also used in state schools to supplement this number games, finger games they also use simple pieces of apparatus such as counters, number balances, blocks etc. I did not notice this type of equipment in the classroom that we visited and can find no reference to the use of equipment at this level in the literature I've read.
One area of the
Steiner curriculum that I do agree with is
the starting of two foreign languages at this point in the child's
The child at this time is constantly acquiring new knowledge and it
to be sensible to teach foreign languages along side the child's native
Some schools are now starting to do this in the public area of
around the age of seven. The Steiner schools in this country teach
French by means of games, songs and poems and encourage simple
between pupils and teachers. Grammatical skills are not taught until
Another subject specific to this type of education is Eurythmy.
Eurythmy is concerned
with every aspect of speech and
music providing n discipline in the study of both. Steinerists feel
this a far more beneficial effect in that it not only provides physical
but once more is seen as a way of developing the spirit. It really is
as movement and dance in the state system but is wrapped in the
concept of human development. The purpose of movement and dance as
our schools is very similar to that put forward by Steiner. Both
believe that it allows the child to become aware of their bodies. The
in rhythms and transforms the movements of the body to the rhythm e.g.
to dance. The state system also states that it makes the child develop
of spatial awareness, a statement I would have expected to find in the
curriculum but did not. Steiner also claims a therapeutic effect for
which I don't doubt as music and movement is used as a treatment
process by the
considered to be vital to the development of a child's "soul powers".
That is the sense of what is beautiful and what is not. This is
what the teacher chooses to play for the children. The teacher again
control over what is considered suitable for the child to listen to. I
like to know whether the children are fed a diet of essentially one
music or whether all types of music are examined.
Children at this stage in their development also learn to play a musical instrument usually a small flute of the penny whistle type or a violin. They are also taught to sing at the same time as they learn their flutes. This I feel is a good point in the Steiner curriculum learning to play musical instruments in the state system is done after school and after the parents have paid for these lessons.
Musical appreciation I
consider to be an important part in
the development of an individual due to its therapeutic effect at
stress and the way in which it can move the listener emotionally. Taste
music is also a very personal thing and should we as adults be
tastes in music on to our children?
taught, at this stage is only knitting which is carried out by both
Steiner once again gives very grand reasons for the teaching of
as the beneficial and awakening of influences on the faculties of the
mind. Psychologists today would probably argue that the children would
their manipulative and fine motor skills rather than enhancing their
capabilities by this exercise.
Harwood describes this stage in the child's development (4-7 in age),
the time of fairy tales where the child's imagination is at its highest
The Heart of Childhood - Imagination
that a transition occurs at around
this age. The most prominent physical change being the loss of the milk
this time the child's imagination develops along with a readiness for
formal learning. During this time the child begins to develop their
more consecutive patterns of thought.
Between the ages of 6 - 9 years the Steiner curriculum contains the same subjects as that of the first class. But there are additions in each subject area, with drawing and painting from which the children were taught how to inscribe capital letters now leading into non-capital script writing . Dictation is once again seen as being an important part of the child's learning to read and write. The fairy stories give way to the telling of fables and animal stories. Steinerists see the telling of these stories and legends as bringing humility to the child. These fables picture the human being as striving towards "completion" the aim of every Steiner devotee. Personally I can see that, the telling of Aesop's fables will be of use as part, of the development of a child's moral education but religious education also focuses on this area of the curriculum . This type of lesson is also used to introduce grammar which is then taught in a National Curriculum form in the later years, e.g. in a more formal way. But at this stage the children are introduced to the concepts of verbs, adjectives and nouns. My daughter who is ten informs me that they also learnt these concepts at this age as well as paragraphs, direct speech and punctuation so once again Steiner schools are not, too far away from the state system at this age.
subtraction, multiplication and division are continued, but using
numbers. Steiner believes that, the lose of the
first teeth is a vital stage in the development of the child. That at
age of 7-8 this occurs, once this has happened then multiplication
be taught. One of the methods used by the teachers is once again that
allowing the children to move rhythmically and in beat by clapping and
in order to help them remember each set of tables. Music continues as
children are now taught crochet and needle work. The third class
the above subjects but has two additional subjects, lessons in
practical life which replaces
knowledge of homeland, and gymnastics.
THE THEORY OF CHILD DEVELOPMENT AS SEEN BY PIAGET WITH REFERENCE TO STEINER'S THEORY.
Piaget and Vygotsky in
By attempting to
understand how children learn to think
Piaget placed great emphasis on experience, Vygotsky placed his weight
the argument, for language which accompanies the experience. All these
agree that speech affects the child's power to think, not the ability
understand mathematics which is the premise of Steiner's theory of
that when young children begin to speak, their speech is linked
actions and occurs only as the child handles or paints tangible objects
are actually present. Later in their development words provoke
visual experiences, and later still they have a symbolic meaning
them and are used in place of objects. Each child, from this point,
increasingly capable of planning his own actions in the future. At this
the child has achieved the first liberation of thought from the
contact, and is reaching towards amore liberated thought pattern.
believes that the child arrives at, this point through the experiences
the child by their class teacher, not by the child exploring the world
feels that as the child reaches the age of 7-9, a period which he
concrete operations, where the child begins to manipulate relationships
objects and set objects. The child can produce a mental image of a
actions and begins to realize rational terms such as brighter,
or fatter. They are able to refer to the relationships between two or
objects and not absolute qualities. The child is then able to reason
whole and its parts simultaneously, grasping concepts from rules or
descriptions of the most important aspects to it. He, however still
some experience with concrete examples of these important attributes.
the child who is at pre-operational level a child at this stage of
operations will need one, or occasionally a few, examples of a concept
has a greater facility for generalizing and handling the abstract.
child develops, thinking in abstract. terms is still limited, in that
thought skills of conceptualization and hypothesis are only
in some cases possibilities.
Piaget and his co -
workers provided the basis which is
used to justify the activity methods and practical experiences which
carried out in the primary schools of this country. Galperin (1957)
this view as he considers learning to involve the stages of performing
physical operation, verbalizing this (initially out loud) and finally
it by a mental operation.
reading the statements by Piaget and those of
My personal view is
that Steiner education at this stage concentrates
too heavily on the imaginative aspects of development, such as those of
music, and less on conceptual elements, such as mathematics, science
technology, which are seen as destroying the imagination.
Steiner curriculum 9-11 years
Von Heydebrand who carried on Steiner's work after his death expresses
(probably Steiner's) that it is around this time when the child firsts
detached from their surroundings. They become more self conscious, and
life more inward and independent.. The child's powers of consciousness
life. The child starts to look at their role models and the world from
different viewpoint. She puts forward the view "that the child wishes
revere that which they loved in a childlike way, but needs to feel that
reverence is justified". She sees this as being a vulnerable stage in
child's development, and the child requires gentle support from their
in order to be " protected from disappointment into which, in the
of grown-ups, he can so easily fall at this age".
curriculum at this age has to meet the fact that children are
stronger ego. Myths succeed the fairy stories Firstly those of
German origin which contain examples of the development of the ego and
completion of heroic deeds. These are followed by the introduction of
myths which provide a preparation for Greek history and the knowledge
philosophy which they gave to the world. Grammar is introduced in the
The children are now
being allowed to develop their own
art work. Prior to this they have been guided or have even copied that
the teacher has shown them. It is at this level when the children
should be capable
of beginning to work out their own creativity. The observation of
forms is now utilized in the form of drawing that the child carries
children should also draw and copy objects, as by now they have
inwardly the activity of the forms themselves. Although I have no
training in art and very little skill in it
, I would question the theory of
development of children 5-7. People develop manipulative skills by
and practice, by the training of the eye and memory. Copying may teach
physical skill but will do little for development of the imagination of
individual, which seems to be at odds with Steiner's theory of
this time are led from writing stories and descriptions to composing letters, both informal and formal. Tenses are
also introduced and are used to illustrate different parts of a verb.
children should able to see the relationship between prepositions and
to which it belongs. The myths of the Icelandic and German sagas are
provide this material for writing and reading. During this year the
are taught the difference between active and passive forms of the verb.
reporting of the written word or conversation is also considered to be
important. skill which the child must master as part or their
education. Emphasis is also placed on the child being able to
between their opinion and those of others. During the writing of
punctuation is introduced. The myths of
study is introduced. It is stated in the Steiner curriculum that the
now achieved a greater objectivity in his own being". The animal
is examined but always in its relationship to man. The teacher compares
physiology of each animal to that of man. They see man as being the
a separate creation rather than a product of evolution, which is not
curriculum. Steiner education holds fast to the Catholic beliefs of
creation and that instead of man evolving from the apes, the apes
man, even though it has been proven that this is not so. I feel that we
not teach mistruths, so obviously wrong and will have to be unlearnt if
child chooses to take G.C.S.E. or A level Biology. The plant kingdom is
taught until all of the animal kingdom has been covered.
Steinerists feel that this is very important time in the maturation of a child. The physical development of the body is rapid. At this point, I would once again like to quote from the Steiner curriculum .
moves with natural grace by means of a muscle system which is
nourished by the rhythmically moving blood stream ; now the young boy
grasps his skeleton while he is passing over as it were from the
muscles to the
sinews and then to the bones. His movements lose rhythm and grace and
angular, unskillful and uncontrolled. The child grows into the "colt"
stage and does not know what to do with his limbs.
I I see this
is the case with regard to the physical development required to play
types of sport, but not with regard to the mental development of the
Piaget terms this stage as that of formal operations when the
develops the capacity for abstract thought. Steiner sees this stage as
the start of rational judgment. This third stage adolescence is
the correct cultivation of critical judgment. It is at this point that
becomes possible for the pupil to use thinking as an objective
other features are also present in the adolescent psyche : firstly a
valuable idealism : and secondly a vulnerable sensitivity about one's
and inner experiences which may require protection if the child is to
normally. This is once again not too far away from the thinking of
education at this stage continues to build on and reinforce previous
English continues to concentrate on the development of business skills by the production of business letters and composition, however these remain similar in style and content to those carried out in the third class. During this time the folklore of several different races provides the material for reading and story telling. The teacher at this time should also be developing the children's " truly plastic perception through speech of the forms of expression for desire, wonder, surprise and so forth". The children should then be taught to form sentences describing their needs which are then compared in order that the child has an insight into the" plastic quality of language" yet, another definition I find difficult to understand. I take it to mean the expansion of the child's vocabulary.
Roman period and the
influence of Greco -Roman culture
until the 15th century. Following on from this is the history of
either French or German and Latin or
and gymnastics continue, with apparatus such as parallel bars and rings
The rest of the curriculum at this stage continues with music and handiwork.
The important changes to the curriculum are that Sciences are taught as separate subjects Physics, Chemistry, but Biology is still taught as Nature study.
This approach to
science education I feel is at best
described as General Science in that it seems to be taught as a
subject within a loose framework.
W.C. Hall (1972), would agree with this approach. He asserted that Science is “one and undivided in its principles and methods" and stated that "many of the concepts of science are common to all areas”. Another unnamed correspondent identified that the control experiment is used only by biologists and listed a set of concepts which he claimed could not be shared by the three separate disciplines, Whilst yet another correspondent argued that elementary biology was in a scientifically primitive state and should be taught as a Nature-story the method adopted in Steiner Education . This last comment I found illuminating Steiner may be right to teach biology in this way. The correspondent later goes on to say that biology cannot be compared with physics as this uses advanced mechanisms such as theory-building and hypothesis testing.
the present time . Steiner
feels that when children leave school
the pupils should carry with them a picture of the history
and the effect, of modern technology e.g. the invention of the steam
had on present day society. The Blake school still uses this as an
feels that they should be using the growth of Communications, Transport
Information Technology instead.
"When a pupil is set
forth into life he should take
with him a picture of man as the completion of the kingdoms of nature,
as a microcosm (
German and French continue by means of literature and folklore, the study of metre and poetry are also examined.
continues as in the seventh class.
Gymnastics with apparatus continues.
"The thinking power and capacity of judgement are now fully awakened, and the demand for food of thought and an outlet for action in tasks which can be accomplished only by use of reason and logic (need to be fulfilled ). The relationship which a boy or girl forms consciously and freely with his surroundings demands a constant contact with practical life and with the achievements of modern technique. The rich and versatile soul-life which the boy hides even more than the girl needs to be satisfied by pondering over deep human problems. These problems should be introduced and discussed in lessons, for each one-sided judgement leads into a blind alley. To overcome the many difficulties and handicaps of this age, which is rich in riddles, wonders and surprises, but where consciousness only slowly masters the surging life activities, the teacher should give lessons with imagination, enthusiasm and artistic feeling”.
Ninth class At this time some children will transfer to the study of G.C.S.E. Mathematics, English and English Literature.
Nature of man is continued.
The children also study heat and mechanics( with reference as to how a locomotive operates), and electricity, magnetism and sound are taken into account to show how the telephone works. The motion of the stars is examined, and the Doppler effect discussed with the students. The optics of telescopes are also considered with reference to their use to astronomers.
This is an experience that I can imagine as being hallucinogenic if this does in fact come about! Is this an example of yet another aspect of anthroposophy of expanded consciousness which Steiner claims is a product of his theories?
consists of making all types of items from cushions to other domestic:
which are now designed by the pupil. Painting is carried out in order
children can produce posters and book covers in preparation for
skills of book -binding.
Gymnastics with Apparatus continues along the "Turnen" lines, a set of exercises developed for the German army, and use Indian clubs and various other large pieces of apparatus eg. rings, vaulting horses etc. Exercise without apparatus develops from a vertical fall in an upright. position and then overcoming the fall by jumping, swinging running and walking. Skills more akin to those required for martial arts rather in keep fit.
This is an example of what the German child would study I've used this as an example of how most of Steiner education seeks to reinforce Steiner's beliefs and does not allow the child to determine its own set of beliefs. The British schools study suitably selected works from English literature such as the Celtic legend of Tristan and Isolde , Chaucer and Shakespeare which are used once again to reinforce the Steiner idealism.
Gymnastics with apparatus continues using the "Turnen" method. Gymnastics without apparatus is concerned with spatial awareness this point, .
Land surveying and Technical Mechanics are introduced at this time. This takes the form of simple land surveying and technical mechanics looks at the principle of the screw.
Another new subject is First Aid a subject that I feel every child should be taught and that it should be included in the National Curriculum.
end of year ten the pupils leave the
The problems of the Steiner Curriculum is firstly that the underlying Philosophy of Anthoposophy clouds most of the learning. This results in a very unscientific form of science being taught, most of which would have to be unlearnt if examinations at G.C.S.E. or A level are taken, order to fit in to this philosophy.
Curriculum is taught in more or less its original
form at the
The curriculum has very little relevance to today's world, producing children who may be confident and "whole persons" but have no qualifications apart from G.C.S.E. Mathematics, English and English Lit., on leaving this school. This means that if any of them wish to go on the Higher Education they have just two or three years to take another set of G.C.S.E.s in sciences or arts as well as two or three A Levels, which is a lot to ask any child at this age.They are also poorly equipped to enter the employment market unless they are prepared to take on a craft apprenticeship, if they can find one.
to me that the
stages of development put forward by Piaget are not rigid, unlike those
Steiner, rather they should be viewed as
in a slow orderly
progression of development. Ausubel (1968) puts forward the theory that
"an individual child's state of readiness is reflective of his genetic
inheritance, incidental experience, general intellectual stimulation
educational background”. Research carried out by
be of interest is that the class teacher remains with their class for
years as many of the educational constrictions attributed to the
learning can be attributed to the child's training history. For the
is easier and more helpful to evaluate entering behavior than it is to
to evaluate the more general, more ambiguous and less applicable
define developmental stages, a point that Steiner teachers should score
on, due to the time that they spend with their class. The state teacher
rely on reports, tests or comments from
teachers as to a child’s progress rather than knowing their charges
However the fact that the teacher has so much power over their pupils
feel, rather dangerous in that in the child's formative years it, seems
the pupil has more respect for the teacher than it has for its parents.
Jesuits believe that if they are given a child at the age of seven they
then produce the man. Steinerist’s must also believe in this statement
by proving the example of what they feel is right the Steiner trained
indoctrinates the child into the belief of Steiner regardless of what
parents beliefs are and this may well lead to conflict at home. The teachers
put forward the case that you do not
send your child to a Waldorf school unless you believe in Steiner.
having lunch at work I asked one of the lectures about Steiner
admitted that he knew very little about it, but the woman who he was
lunch with, a lecturer from the C.F.E. in Plainsmill, said she had sent
her children to the Steiner school in
The day on
which this letter was received by the School
all those children whose parents had signed this letter were suspended.
to say these parents
withdrew their children from the school.
It would seem that holistic education is not about developing free-thinking persons but about developing persons who hold only the narrow Steiner views of life.
Finally I have my own criteria for assessing schools -- would I send my daughter there? In this case, definitely NO.
Anderson and G.W.Faust, Educational
Psychology, 1975, Dod, Mead and Co.
also like to acknowledge JB for his time in helping me to resolve some
issues arising from the
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