Outcome and standards are not education

Erziehungskunst | What is the difference between education and a product? 

Jost Schieren | Products are subject to standards and norms which are intended to ensure comparable and predictable quality which never changes. The outcome is predetermined. Education, in contrast, is aimed at the human being. It is therefore an open process. The fixed adherence to outcomes by means of educational standards is an obstacle to the free development of the personality.

EK | What is education from the perspective of Waldorf education? 

JS | Waldorf education aims to support children in such a way that they can develop into free human beings. It chooses a holistic approach which does not separate children out and treats all subjects as being of equal value; which endeavours to address and promote the aptitudes, abilities and interests of the pupils in the best possible way. 

EK | What is education from the perspective of education studies? Where are the overlaps and contradictions? 

JS | Education studies as they are at the moment do not have a uniform concept of education. They are very heterogeneous and many of the things being done in German schools are also seen partly by education studies in a very critical light. The education system in Germany wanted by politicians is too one-sidedly cognitive and intellectual. It contains very little of an emotional and social education. Furthermore, an aesthetic and crafts education of equal value is absent while the STEM subjects are emphasised. 

EK | To what extent is the “image of the human being” important for the educational concept? 

JS | An image of the human being that is essentially economically determined means that aspects such as sustainability, ecological and social responsibility, the free development of the personality and the inspiring power of art play practically no role in the educational process. Here Waldorf has different priorities. 

EK | According to Rudolf Steiner, education should be free of state and economic interests. How can that be realised? 

JS | Steiner was concerned that the actors in the education process should determine their own actions to the greatest possible extent. This would guarantee the greatest possible quality in education. The room for manoeuvre of the Waldorf schools in Germany is relatively large if we compare it with the Netherlands, for example. But the price for that is that Waldorf schools only exist as private schools and thus tend to attract middle class parents. That was not the purpose and goal of the Waldorf school. It was meant to be a school for everyone. This is more important than striving for the greatest possible independence from the state. 

EK | What do you recommend in concrete terms, how should Waldorf schools position themselves with regard to this question? 

JS | I consider it to be a urgent objective that the unintended social selection of the Waldorf schools should be overcome. This objective should – if necessary – override the desire for greater independence from the state. 

EK | Do you see a contradiction between the goals of Waldorf education and state qualifications? 

JS | The pupils who go to a Waldorf school live in our society and will start and pursue their careers within it. Waldorf schools are obliged to prepare their pupils as best they can for life and a career in our society. For that they need qualifications which are fully recognised by society and for which they do not have to provide a justification. The intermediate school leaving certificate (mittlerer Abschluss) or higher school leaving certificate (Abitur) kick in relatively late in Waldorf schools. That may be painful but can be defended and the successful results of Waldorf pupils confirm that things work in this form. 

In contrast, I consider a separate Waldorf school leaving certificate to be a mistake which creates more problems for pupils than it removes. It is, furthermore, very important that not only those who are taking the higher school leaving certificate should be given optimum support but in the same way also those who are aiming for the intermediate school leaving certificate. Setting up Waldorf vocational colleges is a valuable step in this direction. 

The interview was conducted by Ariane Eichenberg and Mathias Maurer.