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Waldorf Education: Four Successes and Four Failures (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 1, 2012

Success #4: Children Begin Learning without Technology

Technology, including television and computers, are frowned upon in Waldorf schools during the early years of education, and parents are encouraged to ban these digital devices at home as well. Instead, children are encouraged to indulge in free play that nurtures the imagination and interactions with other students. The lack of media exposure may also reduce attitudes of consumerism in younger kids.

Failure #1: Children Not Taught to Read Until Permanent Teeth Sprout

According to Waldorf methodology, children are not taught to read in these schools until around ages seven or eight, or specifically, when their permanent teeth sprout. Instead, in the early primary years, oral storytelling and play time are emphasized.

Some parents and educators have voiced concern that the delay in teaching basic reading skills could put children behind in their studies, especially if they were to transfer to a non-Waldorf institution. Test scores for second-grade students in Waldorf schools do tend to lag behind scores of children in the same grade in public schools.

However, A New Zealand study conducted in 2009 found that Waldorf children do catch up in their reading skills by age 10. Sebastian Suggate of the Department of Psychology of the University of Otago compared public school and Waldorf students and found that by age 10, there was “no difference in reading achievement between children who had been given early instruction in reading and those who had not.

The delay in teaching reading can also mean that children with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, are not diagnosed until a later age.

Failure #2: Steiner’s Spiritual Worldview Passed to Teachers, Students

Steiner developed his educational model based on his spiritual philosophy known as anthroposophy. This philosophy subscribes to reincarnation, spirits on the earth and utilizing the inner self to serve community. While anthroposophy is not taught as a religious course in any American Waldorf school, it is a core part of teacher training.

Some parents believe their children are infused with New Age ideas at Waldorf that may run contrary to their own spiritual beliefs. Other parents believe that the prevalence of anthroposophy in the classroom is hidden from them. Still others believe that anthroposophy interwoven into the education makes Waldorf religious schools based on occult theory, as expressed by The People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS), which was formed by former Waldorf parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

Failure # 3: Bullying Issues Not Addressed

Bullying is a tragedy that occurs at too many schools, and Waldorf schools are not immune to bullying. While no quantitative study has been conducted to compare the prevalence of bullying at Waldorf vs. traditional schools, there are a handful of “Waldorf survivor” groups, where former Waldorf students and parents come together to heal from their traumatizing Waldorf experiences.

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