Waldorf Education: Four Successes and Four Failures

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Updated on Aug 1, 2012

If you’re considering a Waldorf education for your child, it’s important to weigh all the pros and cons to make sure it’s a right fit. Here’s a little background: the Waldorf education model began in 1919, when Rudolph Steiner was asked by the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Germany to start a school for the children of the factory workers. The school constructed by Steiner quickly grew to encompass other children, and a new pedagogy was quickly born. Today, there are more than 1,000 Waldorf schools globally, with around 160 located in the United States.

While many parents and teachers are enthralled with the unique approach to education Waldorf offers, others are significantly concerned about some of Steiner’s philosophies. Not sure if this is the right academic choice for your child? Read on to explore both the successes and failures of a Waldorf education.

Success #1: A Worldly, Humanitarian Education

Waldorf views education as a far greater responsibility than simply reading, writing, and arithmetic. In a Waldorf school, children are taught the importance of social responsibility, peace, respect, and compassion.

The success of this education philosophy can be seen in various Waldorf campuses around the world, and most poignantly, in areas where tremendous racial tensions exist. During the South African apartheid regime, the local Waldorf school was one of the rare examples where Caucasian and African students attended classes together. Today, at the Harduf Kibbutz Waldorf school in Israel, Jewish and Arab students and faculty learn from each other.

In an Australian qualitative and quantitative research study conducted by Jennifer Gidley and published in 2005 in the Futures Journal, about 75% of the students surveyed could envision “positive changes in both the environment and human development,” as well as socio-economically.

Success #2: “Looping” Builds Relationships

The Waldorf model encourages children to remain with the same teacher all the way through the primary grades of school until they head to high school. Theoretically, by spending eight grade years with a single adult mentor, children build long-term relationships and feelings of security. When students or parents have a conflict with the teacher, they are encouraged to work out their differences, building conflict-resolution skills in the process. In addition, the teacher theoretically should truly understand how each child learns and can personalize the lessons to specific learning styles.

With that said, some may argue that looping is a disadvantage, as there are certain drawbacks inherent in looping, and a growing number of Waldorf campuses are decreasing the amount of time looped.

Success #3: Learning through Art

The Waldorf model infuses the arts with academics all the way through the primary grades and into high school. The arts are part of nearly every lesson, using drama, music, dance (specifically called eurythmy, which a form of dance that all children and teachers participate in for the purpose of expressing the “art of the soul”), crafts, and visual arts to illustrate what the children are learning. For example, typical textbooks are not found in the Waldorf classroom. Rather, each student draws and creates a personal book that exemplifies the lessons.

The artistic emphasis certainly shines through in the Waldorf students. According to research conducted by Earl Ogletree that analyzed students in both Waldorf and traditional schools, those in Waldorf schools scored higher on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking Ability. While not all children may thrive in this type of learning environment, this philosophy is a perfect fit for students who have an artistic and creative inclination.

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