Against the tide

Mathias Maurer

This happens every few weeks, to a greater or lesser extent. At some point enough is enough. “Alright,” his parents say, “then try another school. But you have to organise it yourself.” No sooner said than done. Daniel contacted the academic high school, spoke with the nice head teacher, did the “really hard” entrance exam, and failed because he did not perform well enough in maths, German and languages.

Why are Waldorf schools always faced with the preconception not just among pupils but also parents and the wider public that they are against performance? A soft education is fine in kindergarten or the class teacher period – but then the time comes when measurable performance should be demonstrated... With the start of upper school at the latest, the focus should move to the final exams.

Waldorf schools consciously do many things differently from other schools. They are not establishments for the communication of knowledge but use the developmental stages of the growing human being as a starting point as these can be substantiated in the anthroposophical understanding of the human being – so sometimes they seem to contradict the spirit of the times because they nail their colours to the mast of a holistic education and through their anthroposophical background can provide a more profound justification of their methods and teaching methodology than an education science steeped in empiricism.

The technocratic educational diktat à la Pisa has completely lost sight of the Humboldtian ideal of education. There is a permanent need to explain the Waldorf approach to justify swimming against the tide and counter the preconception of being “stuck-in-the-mud traditionalists”.  But it is worth the effort to keep on at this, to give the children the space to learn – not least because a surprisingly large number of Waldorf pupils manage to pass their final exams almost as a side-effect of their schooling.

Waldorf schools not only want to provide a good education; they are also concerned to take on social responsibility with their “education for freedom” without allowing themselves to be tied into the requirements of the state or the economy which say “This is how we need people for a particular function. So examine the people we need for us and make sure above anything else that they know and can do what we need...”.

Waldorf schools uncompromisingly place their faith in the potential that lives in each individual. All realms of society are given impulses by people who have found their task in life and can develop as personalities. That is why Rudolf Steiner emphasised that a society capable of facing the future needs free human beings and free schools.

Nothing more is said after the entrance exam. Daniel’s only comment: “If I keep getting headaches there it’s not for me.”