In Action

Waldorf Curriculum project: update

Martyn Rawson

The UK version has a revised curriculum for the UK and the American, Taiwanese and South African versions are working on their national version of the Waldorf curriculum. It is widely recognized that Waldorf curricula have to be regularly updated to take account of changing social and cultural developments the changing developmental tasks facing children and young people across the life course. In Germany the Richter curriculum has done just been updated and expanded to include new development and new perspectives. Those who cling to the idea that there is a unique, original curriculum -The Waldorf Curriculum with definite article and capital letters- fixed for all time like a fossilized insect in amber, have not understood something fundamental about Waldorf education. Curriculum is a pedagogical practice that has to respond to the learning and developmental needs of students in culturally appropriate and contemporary ways.

I’ve been made aware that Eugene Schwarz (among others) has circulated a paper in the US and UK (and perhaps other countries too) advertising a programme on curriculum, which of course, he is free to do. Unfortunately, this paper contains some inaccuracies that are misleading. I’d like to correct some of these statements because although I am not mentioned, I am almost certainly one of the people he is referring to.

It is not the case, as his paper claims, that a group of European experts at the Alanus University are re-writing the Waldorf curriculum for North America. There are a number of issues here that I would like to unpack:

  1. The Alanus University and Professor Jost Schieren has hosted the International Campus Waldorf series of talks on Waldorf education over the past three years. All the videos of these events are available on the website https://www.international-campus-waldorf.com/ . This series of lectures has given voice to a wide range of Waldorf teachers and teacher educators and has been a very valuable contribution to the current Waldorf discourse.
  2. I and several other speakers, including several from the US, have addressed the topics of decolonizing curriculum, diversity and inclusion and the history and culture curriculum.
  3. In one of my talks and in a paper I published with Kath Bransby in the Research Bulletin https://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/RB27_1BransbyRawson.pdf , published in the US, we outlined a new way of approaching curriculum that enables teachers locally to adapt their curriculum to changing circumstances and taking local geographical and cultural perspectives into account. So far from dictating a European perspective on curriculum, this model invites teachers to develop curriculum locally whilst maintaining the integrity of the Waldorf approach. It identifies three levels of curriculum; a macro level that offers an ideal-typical pathway of developmental themes that may be considered generally valid anywhere, a meso level of local cultural and geographical focus, and a micro level of the teacher planning lessons for her class. In my book Steiner Waldorf Pedagogy in Schools (https://www.routledge.com/Steiner-Waldorf-Pedagogy-in-Schools-A-Critical-Introduction/Rawson/p/book/9780367333980) I offer an approach that describes generative principles that are based on Steiner’s Foundations and which can be considered of general validity. These generative principles can be applied by teachers to create (and assess) their pedagogical practice. This approach maximizes the autonomy of teachers anywhere.
  4. It is true that I personally do not believe there is a single origin authentic curriculum that cannot be changed- a view that Steiner also had (see his talk to parents in January, 1921):

In the time since we began our work, we have carefully reviewed from month to month how our principles are working with the children. In the years to come, some things will be carried out in line with different or more complete points of view than in previous years. This is how we would like to govern this school-out of an activity that is direct and unmediated, as indeed it must be if it flows from spiritual depths… we are trying to develop an art of education on the basis of what anthroposophy means to us. The ‘how’ of educating is what we are trying to gain from our spiritual understanding. We are not trying to drum our opinions into the children, but we believe that spiritual science differs from other science in engaging the whole person, in enabling people to be skillful in all areas but especially in their dealings with people. This ‘how’ is what we are trying to look at, not the ‘what’. The ‘what’ is the result of social necessities; we must apply our full interest to deriving it from of what people should know and be able to do if they are to take their places in our times as good capable citizen. The ‘how’ on the other hand, how to teach children, can only come through a thorough, profound and loving understanding of the human being. This is what is meant to work and prevail in our Waldorf School (Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School, 1996, pp. 78-9).

Here we see that Steiner envisaged regular ongoing review of curriculum and teaching methods. There is no reason that this cannot continue today, indeed there is even greater need to do so.

  1. Waldorf UK (the association of Waldorf schools in the United Kingdom) developed a digital tool to help teachers plan and review their lessons, which also enables them to respond to statutory school inspections more securely. This involved revising the curriculum taught in UK because it had not been revised since 2014. In a cooperation with AWSNA, this tool is being explored by some schools in the US to see if the method is useful. If AWSNA schools adopt a similar tool it will naturally develop its own North American curriculum. The same tool is being trialed in Taiwan, where the Taiwan Waldorf curriculum is used. The same applies in several other countries.
  2. The UK curriculum review involved over 50 teachers, the Taiwan project has similarly involved teachers across all subjects and the Ci Xin school (a large school with around 1,000 students).
  3. The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education has established a project in which an expert group (Margareta van Raemdonck, President of ECSWE, Trevor Mepham of the Hague Circle and Martyn Rawson) are designing a common curriculum framework for use in 28 European countries. This outlines what is common and provides countries with guidelines for developing their local curriculum and presenting it in ways that state authorities can understand, which is a political necessity for the existence of European Waldorf schools. With state recognition, Waldorf school are far more secure from hostile political or medial influence. Once the editorial group has done its work, teachers in 28 countries will be consulted.

In an age of fake news, half-truths, news manipulation, and the business model of individuals selling their ‘expertise’ on Waldorf (the curriculum work in the UK, Germany  and Europe has always been on a ‘pro bono’ basis, or carried out as part of someone’s tasks within a Waldorf institution), it is important that communication within the Waldorf movement is reliable and trustworthy.

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