When the first Waldorf school was founded, well-off households might possess one telephone. Newspapers and magazines were widespread and there was a cinema in each town. German radio was officially opened in 1923. At the time that the Waldorf schools were banned by the Nazi rulers, the first television channels began to broadcast short programmes. From the 1950s onwards, televisions began their conquest of the living room. During this period Waldorf teachers critically and defensively investigated the effects of this new medium on children. But when in the 1980s the personal computer entered the household, there were not a few Waldorf teachers who acquired a C64, for example, to show their pupils how a computer is programmed. The schools began to develop introductory computer science lessons. The guide here was the fundamental demand made by Rudolf Steiner that people should understand the principles of the machines and processes that surrounded them: “That has an effect on the security with which a person sees the world around them.” (GA 294).
With the start of the 1990s, digital mobile communications and the Internet spread explosively. That led to a great public debate about the extent to which the work in schools could be improved using the Internet and learning software. The “Connected Schools” (Schulen ans Netz) initiative did just that – the Waldorf schools too received their Internet connection. Initial concepts were developed how network technology could be integrated into teaching methodology.
In early 2000, the great let down came: a series of “technology model schools” locked their computers back into the cupboard because the great educational expectations of the new machines had not been fulfilled. Since Waldorf schools had used computers only in a very cautious way, they were hardly affected.
In 2007, the iPhone came on the market and combined in a pocket-sized device digital mobile communications with the Internet. This device fundamentally changed people’s everyday lives, including behavioural problems in children and young people which teachers have to deal with. Economic and political interests are pushing these devices into schools.
That also produces enormous pressure on Waldorf schools.
Many Waldorf teachers are watching this development and are thinking about how it might be countered through education. There has been a growing echo to their thoughts since 2010. The Waldorf colleges of teachers are currently considering how they can implement a meaningful media concept.
In 2017, the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy set up a chair for media education which, on the one hand, is working on proposals relating to general and teaching methodology in media education and, on the other, is training young teachers to use it. The new technologies not only present a challenge to Waldorf education to develop a sustainable media concept but also to remember its spiritual foundations and understanding of the human being.
In the things it already does well it should seek to obtain a new understanding of these foundations and in those it does less well it should seek to apply them.
About the author: Edwin Hübner is a professor at the Freien Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy. He is the author of several books on the subject of media education.