Steiner school: what it is, what teaching method it uses and where we can find them

In the Steiner school, the boy’s education aims above all at enhancing his feelings, will and intelligence. This educational method, which today has found new social confirmation and is still appreciated as a good alternative to the traditional school, was born from anthroposophy applied to pedagogy . The father of this philosophy is Rudolf Steiner , Austrian mathematician, philosopher and scholar of the first half of the 20th century.

Who is Rudolf Steiner 

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 in Kraljevic (former Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Croatia). In 1879 he began his studies in mathematics and science at the University of Vienna, also attending courses in literature, philosophy and history and dealing in depth with studies on Goethe, of which he became a collaborator and of whom he was responsible for the edition of scientific writings. In 1891 he graduated in philosophy with a thesis on themes of gnoseology, which was published in his first book “Truth and Science” in 1892. In 1894 he published the ” Philosophy of Freedom “.

From 1902 he began an intense activity as a writer and lecturer in the Theosophical society: in 1913 he founded the Anthroposophical Society. In addition to about thirty written works of a philosophical and anthroposophical nature , Steiner leaves about 6 thousand shorthand texts on various fields of knowledge, in particular:

  • medicine
  • agriculture
  • architecture
  • economy
  • pedagogy

He died in 1925 in Dornach (Switzerland) where he had built, first in wood and then in concrete, the Goetheanum , his ‘sanctuary’ for research and scientific and artistic activities based on anthroposophy.

Steiner and anthroposophy 

L ‘ anthroposophy is a spiritual and philosophical journey also known as the’ Spiritual Science ‘.

The word anthroposophy derives from ancient Greek and means ‘wisdom of the human being’. It is a discipline based on the teachings of Steiner, who believed he could study the physical reality and the spiritual dimension in a scientific and unitary way, identifying them as “a single divine manifestation in continuous evolution”. This discipline governs the whole Steiner world and has conditioned all his knowledge

Steiner and medicine 

Steiner’s anthroposophical medicine spread after the First War, first in Switzerland and Germany and then throughout Europe. Steiner lays the foundations of his philosophy together with Dutch doctor Ita Wegman.

It can be defined as a pseudo-medicine, since it is not based on the experimental method, the basis of modern science. The Steinerian principles have no scientific basis and would rather be similar to metaphysics: pharmacological preparations have the same scientific value as homeopathy preparations .

Is Steiner medicine effective? 

There is no evidence of the efficacy of anthroposophic medicine . In the 1980s, anticancer products that had long been produced in anthroposophic laboratories became widespread: the most common is a mistletoe extract  . But there is no scientific evidence and studies about the real effectiveness of this extract in treating cancer, other than a spiritual improvement or a placebo effect.

Steiner and the economy 

Steiner founds the social concept of Tripartition of the Social Organism . In practice, he thinks of the social organism in similarity to the natural organism, which is the human being.

The human organism would remain healthy as long as each structure maintains its autonomy, while interacting with the others, while a pathological condition occurs when a structure unduly leaves its own sphere to encroach on that of the others. Similarly, social malaise occurs when one of the subsystems is atrophied or enslaved to the others.

Steiner and architecture 

An example of his vision of architecture is the seat of anthroposophy is the Goetheanum , the building named after homo universalis Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Even today it is the seat of the Universal Anthroposophical Society.

The Goetheanum: architecture and nature

As in nature in this large reinforced concrete building there are no 90 ° angles or perfectly straight lines. The compositional elements conceived by Rudolf Steiner can be comparable to those that make up the great natural architectures, such as a coniferous forest with roots, stems and foliage, and the sky.

Steiner and biodynamic agriculture 

L ‘ Biodynamic agriculture was born in 1924 during a conference organized by German farmers, who invited Rudolf Steiner, as a philosopher, researcher and founder of anthroposophy, to debate about the first trials with which it was sought a response to emerging problems from chemical agriculture that was gaining ground.

The foundations were therefore laid for the new holistic conception of agriculture : an agriculture that works in relation with the surrounding environment, with the Earth and with the cosmos, the planets and constellations.

For biodynamic agriculture a plant is a living organism as well as the humus-soil system, the compost , the animal, the planet, the planetary system.

Steiner and pedagogy 

The  Waldorf education is an educational approach pseudoscientific  spread first in Germany and Switzerland and then across Europe in 1919.

It is based on anthroposophical thought, which considers the harmony and development of the person to be of primary importance in the tripartite division between body, soul and spirit.

Steiner himself writes: “ The worst that can be given to children are definitions, rigidly limited concepts since they cannot grow, but the child grows together with his organism. The child must have plastic concepts that constantly change their shape as they become more mature. Living concepts are obtained only if it is introduced in so far as it is living in nature in the world. He thus acquires mobile concepts and his soul can grow into a body that grows like nature ”.

The Steiner school

The schools, called Waldorf schools, were born in a period of great changes and revolutions in the early twentieth century, including in the pedagogical field. The traditional teaching method, based on the degree of notional knowledge assessed by grades, was questioned to embrace new ways of teaching children and young people.

In the years following the end of the First War, around 1919, Waldorf schools were created both in Germany and in other countries: in 1929 there were Steiner schools in Basel, Budapest, London, Lisbon and New York.

During the National Socialist period the Waldorf schools were suppressed and in 1934 a decree of the Ministry of Culture and Education prohibited the establishment of new first classes.

Today the schools with Steinerian pedagogy are spread all over the world and cover the educational span that goes from pre-kindergarten up to 18 years. There are also institutes of curative pedagogy with the Steiner method.

According to an official report of 2019 there are 1182 Waldorf schools worldwide, of which 804 in Europe.

Why are they called Waldorf schools 

The Steiner method schools are called Waldorf schools because the first was founded in Stuttgart on 7 September 1919 at the request of Emil Molt, director of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, who wanted to create an educational institution for the children of the factory workers.

The pedagogical movement owes its name to the cigarette factory.

In the first school, Rudolf Steiner himself took on the role of teacher trainer and spiritus rector of the institute.

Steinerian and traditional school: the differences 

We briefly explain what are the main differences between traditional and Steiner teaching.

  • The traditional education aims to bring out the cognitive and intellectual skills in the school curriculum,
  • The teaching Steiner aims l ‘ integration of the physical and spiritual components of the child, regardless of the levels of knowledge as needed and required.

Steiner school: educational cycles

According to Steiner, the educational path consists of three cycles:

  • the first:  from birth to seven years
  • the second : from seven to fourteen
  • the third : from fourteen to twenty-one

The first cycle up to 7 years 

In this first cycle, the child must live in a good world, full of imagination and stimuli from the external environment.

In this phase of life, play represents an indispensable means of knowledge for interacting with the physical world, learning the manual skills and activities of adults.

Second cycle from 7 to 14 years 

In the second period of life (from 7 to 14 years), during the bodily evolution of the boy, the pedagogical address points to the knowledge of the aesthetic sense and the world of feelings .

In this span of life, with the beginning of school education, sociality is strengthened, the development of symbolic and creative learning, autonomous and conceptual thinking and the search for beauty.

Third cycle from 14 to 21

In the third cycle the boy becomes a man. The school aims to stimulate ” the abilities of logical thinking and abstract reasoning, the search for truth that elevates the spirit and combines imagination and intellect in the search for one’s own future in the world “.

Steiner school: theory of temperaments 

The theory of the four temperaments was taken up by Steiner in the pedagogical field to frame the character of human nature : the 4 temperaments represent the components that influence the manifestations and behaviors in a different way during the span of life.

  • the physical body (matter)
  • the etheric body (the spirit)
  • the astral body (passions and ideals)
  • the I (self-consciousness)

The role of the educator 

The educator of the Steiner school has the task of keeping the different temperaments of each individual boy in balance , allowing the forces present in them to manifest and evolve freely.

The role of the teacher, as described by Steiner himself, is to put the seed in the child: ” As a seed that is thrown into the earth in autumn and spring reappears in the plant, so what is sown in the eight- or nine-year-old child reappears. in the forty-fifth or fiftieth year of life ».

According to the Steinerian conception, pedagogy is an art to which the teacher arrives starting from a vocation. Steiner’s teachers work according to an ideal of education : they do not have the objective of forming a perfect child, but rather of continually adapting the subject of teaching to a deeper understanding of the pupil’s individuality .

Steiner school: teacher training 

In every European nation today there is an official Steiner training body, in addition to the main training center located in the Pedagogical Section of the Goetheanum.

In addition to the traditional university training foreseen for their teaching field, teachers must also achieve specific training in Steiner pedagogy . The curriculum for teachers is usually three years with an extended internship period to be performed at a Waldorf school.

Throughout the teaching period, they are also required to continue training and refresher courses.

Steiner school: the lessons 

The conduct of the lessons is designed following a succession that respects the season and the moments of passage of nature. Furthermore, there is a careful organization of the learning environments , made with natural and healthy materials because sensory perception improves through beauty.

In addition to the lessons is very developed social life , the representations theater  inside the school are usual, as well as  concerts  performed by the class orchestras. There is no shortage of parties, essays and exhibitions of the works carried out during the lessons.

The subjects and the time 

Daily schooling in the Steiner school begins with the main course which usually lasts for almost two hours. The main course is called epoch and concerns the same subject, in the following disciplinary areas: Italian, mathematics, art, history, science, geography, drawing of forms.

The lessons of the other subjects are then given:

  • two foreign languages
  • music
  • eurythmy
  • art and craft lessons
  • gym
  • manual work
  • I sing

Practical subjects 

From the sixth class are also added craft activities such as carpentry, physics and chemistry, gardening. In the upper classes you can find teaching of weaving, surveying, ceramics, binding, technical mechanics, computer science. Acting and theater are offered for all educational cycles.

The teacher 

The main teaching, in the first eight years of school, is given by a single teacher who acts as a guide. The lesson of the class teacher must meet and nourish the emotional sphere of the child.

During the high school years, on the other hand, distinguished teachers of the subject alternate. At this age, the in-depth study of the didactic contents aims to strengthen the conceptual aspect and develop an autonomous capacity for judgment.

The most important pedagogical work recommended by Steiner “is what every teacher can do on himself so that a profound relationship, a current of thoughts and feelings is established between him and his students”.

The student notebook 

The students draw up a notebook of the time, which represents the most important study tool: the content is first dictated, then collectively elaborated and created by the student himself.

The votes

The Waldorf school wants to give an organic education to the child and do not give grades or judgments. There are also no failures in the school curriculum.

Up to the eighth grade (3rd grade), no end-of-year evaluations are given : in their place a profile of the student is drawn up in the report card that reflects the study method and character and also contains advice on how to continue the study .

Steiner school and Montessori in comparison 

The Steiner and Montessori teaching methods belong to the same movement of revolt against the traditional school that began to spread at the beginning of the 20th century and which was interrupted during the nationalist regime to reassert itself in recent times. But they are two extremely different approaches.

  • the Steiner method  is linked to the moral dimension, with reference to the anthroposophical vision of existence. Steiner was not a pedagogist, but a philosopher, who had an overall vision of the world, of which pedagogy is only one aspect.
  • the Montessori method proposes a scientific path, in which the child is in direct contact with the real functioning of the world, with materials and narratives that allow a knowledge of reality as an organic system: cosmic education . Maria Montessori believes in the fact that the child learns independently and leaves a specific educational gaze based on freedom, autonomy and trust. In the Montessori school the school cycle is identical to that of the traditional school.

Steiner and Montessori: points in common 

  • Votes are not used
  • Children are left free to learn and not judged
  • To become a Montessori teacher there are specific training courses and constant refresher courses.

The Steiner school today in Italy 

Currently, about 65 preschools are active in Italy , of which 4 are dedicated to children under the age of three, 30 first cycle schools and 2 high schools. The pupils are around 4000 and the teachers around 500.

How much does the Steiner school cost?

In Waldorf schools a solidarity principle based on human encounter applies. Before accepting the registration, it is necessary to have an interview with the child’s family . This interview has the purpose of verifying the possibility of the family to pay the full tuition or if there is a need for a reduction.

All parents of students enrolled in the Steiner school must participate either economically or if it is not possible to cover the entire tuition also by carrying out supplementary activities. Parents and teachers are also expected to bear all management costs through tuition, donations, sponsorships and other contributions.

In Milan, the Waldorf school costs an average of 400 euros per month in the first seven years to reach around 3 thousand a year in the other two age groups.

Steiner school and Catholic religion 

All Steiner-Waldorf schools are secular and apolitical . The sacred representations that are sometimes encountered in classrooms have nothing to do with the purpose of catechesis or indoctrination.

They address the universally human, respecting the religious, social and cultural formation of all.

Steiner school and learning difficulties 

In principle, children who are differently gifted in the intellectual, social, emotional and motor spheres are taught in the classroom along with all the other children.

The Steiner school is a school for all children , even for those with certification for learning difficulties. Inside some there is also anthroposophical curative pedagogy with staff trained to welcome children with disabilities.

Steiner school and compulsory vaccination 

It seems that in Steiner schools there is no obligation to present vaccination certification, because it is not a traditional school.

This was therefore a reason of new interest for no vax, who prefer to rely on this free choice to stay rooted in their ideas.

However, the first fines were issued to the school management of Waldorf schools, so be careful, it seems that this trick is no longer valid .

Criticisms of the Steinerian method

Waldorf schools have come under severe criticism in recent years, especially in Britain, France and Spain.

  • Ineffective pedagogical method , not very neutral, but closely linked to anthroposophy
  • Not allowing the use of technology for many parents is a limitation and a step backwards
  • Teaching children to write and read only after the age of 7 can be a limit, especially in the first years of school. Unlike traditional schools that encourage early development of the child, the Waldorf method is in fact the opposite: it believes that accelerating the stages of growth is harmful and that it compromises the future of school and life.

In recent years, criticism has increased from parents who have entrusted their children to Waldorf schools. In Britain Waldorf schools are kept under observation and inspected.

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