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Rudolf Steiner was born in Kraljevec, a place on the Croatian and Hungarian border in 1861 and died in 1925 in Dornach, Switzerland. Rudolf was a very influential philosopher whose work has played a significant role in influencing the present culture in the western world. Rudolf worked with various scholars, artists, scientists, doctors, religious ministers industrialists and teachers to transform what we can now term as civilization (Childs, 2006). Most of Steiner’s contributions can be seen in the Steiner schools, architecture, medicine and Biodynamics. It is also believed that his famous studies of the spiritual investigations led to anthroposophy which is termed as "wisdom of the human being." When Johann and Franziska fell in love and wanted to get married, the Count did not give them permission to do that, what made Steiner’s parents leave their positions in the family of Count Hoyos and find employment somewhere else.
The departure of his parents from his birth separated him from other kids, especially boys of his age. This separation caused the boy to feel an enormous yearning for books and studying (Steiner, 2004). The rich historical background that Rudolf had together with his civilized ways of life gave rise to the Waldorf schools. The Waldorf schools are particularly concentrated on the learning process, especially on the humanity study and how it can be useful in developing consciousness of oneself and the world that surrounds us. According to Steiner, the external conditions presented to men are changing at a very high rate, however, despite these changes, the internal conditions of humanity are intact and they are not changing at all. Most importantly, the stages of human development strating from childhood are very natural and have not been affected by any changes in the society.
Rudolf Steiner’s Beliefs about Education and the Role He Played in the Creation of Waldorf Schools
In relation to the studies by Steiner & Seddon (2004), Rudolf Steiner was very committed to his studies and by the time he was twenty years old, he had proved himself to be a distinguished mathematician, linguist, scientist, classical scholar and historian. While in university, Rudolf paid a lot of attention to Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics. After writing a philosophical thesis, Steiner was awarded a doctorate and decided to concentrate on the scholarly and literal circles. In addition, Rudolf had an interest in the rich political and social life in Vienna (Childs, 2006). In the 1890s, while working with the Goethe archive in Weimar, he edited all the scientific works of Goethe and he also worked in collaboration to finish complete Schopenhauer’s works edition. While working in Weimar, he had an opportunity to meet various prominent figures both from the artistic and cultural world. Steiner published his first significant work Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: a Philosophy of Freedom in 1894. This piece of scholarly article by Steiner is currently perceived as one of the vital works in Foundational Anthroposophy (Lachman, 2007).
Currently, it is estimated that we have over eight hundred Rudolf Steiner schools or commonly referred to as the Waldorf schools around the world (Stewart Copinger Easton, 2000). The Waldorf schools are very well established in most countries in Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia. In other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia, successful presentation of the schools has been made and it is expected that with time the schools shall be introduced in these regions. Rudolf Steiner’s beliefs and techniques for running and managing educational systems have made it possible for the Waldorf schools to become long time success and thus distinguished them from the constant reforms that were introduced in the educational systems in the 21st century (Lachman, 2007). As Rudolf was studying, he was being tutored privately. Therefore, it is believed that he was able to form and understand various ideas and methods that would be the most appropriate in teaching. As the ninetieth century came to an end, Rudolf believed that the dawn of the twentieth century education was overshadowed by the science subjects; Rudolf believed that those science subjects should have had a spiritual baseline instead of material facts (Wilkinson, 2002).
The objectives that Rudolf opted, that would be found in the science subjects, led to the foundation of the firm by the name Weleda which promoted and produced herbal and homeopathic medicines (Richards, 2009). Being a charismatic and intellectual person, Rudolf was always burnt by the urge to set up a government that would be just, fair and compassionate toward its citizens. That urge led him to forming up the Threefold Social Order from which he anticipated that the worlds of economics, culture and politics would receive noticeable significance and in this system, Rudolf believed that each person would get the respect that they deserved. The movement was a success at first but with time it started receiving a lot of opposition from the opposing political groups that were far much well established than it.
Similarly, the Threefold Movement was riven by the internal divisions that arouse within the movement (Steiner & Seddon, 2004). This made Rudolf ensure that even if all his ideas were to die, the Stuttgart school would survive. It is in this school that he offered very special courses for teachers and took upon himself to supervise the buildings within the school. Rudolf would meet various children’s parents and got to know the very children in the school. It should be noted that when Rudolf's movement was a success, he met a group of German industrialists from Stuttgart who wanted their factories to be merged to form an economic unit that relied on the idealistic principles of Steiner. Among these industrialists was the Waldorf Astoria - cigarette factory owner who requested Steiner to establish a school for his workers’ children (Steiner, 2006). It is because of this school established in Waldorf, most of the Steiner’s schools are referred to as the Waldorf Schools.
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How Waldorf Education Works
Childs (2006) asserts that Rudolf Steiner had a strong belief that a school system should be established in a way that it keeps pace with the constant changes that a child faces as they develop physically, emotionally and mentally (Moore, 1997). Steiner believed that a school should be an instrument that assists a child to identify their full potentials. At the same time, a child should not be forced to fulfill the goals that were favorable to the society or the parents. A child should be left to participate in the activity they find interesting, i.e. what the child is intrinsically motivated to do. Rudolf Steiner came up with a systematic approach that was entirely based on the extensive experience he had gained while training as a tutor, and what he had studied in spiritual science or anthroposophy (Stewart Copinger Easton, 2000) and (Richards, 2009).
Some of the key points that Steiner ensured that the Waldorf schools followed in the elementary school included: encouraging the children under the age of seven to play, tell stories, draw, learn about nature and all the natural things and to stay and enjoy the home environment. Those children under the age of seven should not be taught to read (Steiner, 2004). Rudolf Steiner suggested that you should teach a child to write before teaching them how read. Changing a child’s teacher is discouraged by Steiner; a single teacher should be let to carry out teaching in a specific class for seven years. A link between the science subjects and the art-based subjects should be identified, in addition to this; Steiner suggested that throughout the learning process, a child should be encouraged in a way that would make them enthusiastic about what is taking place in the class. The children should be given moral directions and certain beliefs should be discouraged from being taught. Lastly, learning as a process should be encouraged for the sake of it, we should not only motivate learners to learn and study because of the exams that they have to undertake at the end of the course (Steiner, 2003). Rudolf Steiner suggests various activities to be presented to children at various levels of learning.
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According to Steiner, during the first seven years of life, a child is forming and growing physically and most of the time they spend in an imaginary world. To inculcate a learning tradition in them, stories and pictures should be used. At this stage, the teacher should allow creative and imaginative play since it is considered to be the best weapon a child is able to use in order to distinguish themselves in the adult life. At this level, the teacher should ensure that the environment presented to the child allows them time to play. The teacher should also encourage children to play and exercise their imaginative abilities by learning to develop ideas without being given any assistance. Steiner suggests that at this stage, it is essential to give children home chores and tasks to ensure their mind develops adequately. In addition to this, activities that are artistic and creative in nature balanced with singing games, story telling and play times are very vital for a child.
Steiner believes that children within the six-year bracket should be assigned chores that are garden and house-based. Some of the chores include sweeping, cooking, gardening, building cubbies, modeling, painting and drawing (Steiner & Seddon, 2004) and (Steiner, 2000). From these activities, the child’s interest is molded and they manage to make their own constructive decisions about building and construction. From this study, Steiner education is after nurturing the senses of the children and the teacher is supposed to assist the child by providing the necessary rhythm and components of the duties and tasks being performed by the child. Steiner believes that this is the age at which children are coming up with they ways through which they can learn to interact with each other amicably and socially and participate in fundamental activities in life. Through playing together, children can develop significant interpersonal skills. The teacher's role at this stage is to encourage relationships amongst the children through various tasks and play (Wilkinson, 2002).
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Steiner education lays an emphasis on what should be done once a child enrolls into the elementary school (Richards, 2009). At this stage, the teacher is expected to play a very significant role till the child graduates to the next learning level. The advantages of this commitment are obvious since the relationship between the child and the teacher become or can be compared to that in the child’s family. From this stage, the teacher together with the child is supposed to start a long academic journey and this implies that the teacher is involved in the learning process as the learner (Steiner, 2008). One of the core roles that the teacher should play at this juncture is to ensure that the child’s needs are understood and the child is given the assistance needed to nurture him/her appropriately presenting the spirit of community and sharing in the class environment. All these can only become possible if the environment in the class is structured in a way that encourages each person to work towards the set goal. Steiner suggests that the learning which takes place at this stage is as significant as that which takes place in the academic world.
In the elementary classes, all the subjects being taught are given an artistic introduction. From this introduction, the development of creative abilities, imagination and creative thinking is stimulated by the implementation of different of ideas. Unlike the lecture methods that are very dry and rote learning, this method, helps children reach higher levels in all the academic disciplines they are studying. Oral communication and its mastery is an integral part of the learning process. Retelling, listening, illustrating and making plays enrich the imaginative mind of the child and assist them in mastering language. Writing and reading are taught in class one. The first step that a child takes is writing by using the letters that are associated with meanings, e.g. the letter M represents Mountains, the letter W stands for waves, etc (Steiner, 2007). On the other hand, comprehension of numbers by children is enhanced by referring to real and concrete life experiences and doing such tasks as measuring and counting out aloud. At this stage, the introduction of games such as chess is very healthy since it helps children develop their analytical thinking.
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Steiner believed that educators had a major task of preparing children for the life and the world ahead. This preparation is done by nurturing their inner and social development and providing care that can be considered right at all levels, i.e. physical, emotional and mental (Steiner, 2005). This is the right education and the one that was offered to the first Steiner school built for the cigarette factory workers’ children in 1919 in Stuttgart. A lot can be emulated by our current school curriculums to make them suitable for children. Steiner developed a curriculum that was flexible and would fit any arising issue.
The education that is inculcated into teenagers depends highly on the perception that has been given to the current tumultuous life phase. Some scholars have viewed adolescence as the phase in which there is extreme rebellion among the youth which should be quelled, otherwise it may get out of hand (Steiner & Seddon, 2004) and (Steiner, 2000). For some, the high school years are considered as a preparation period for colleges and careers in future. This is the reason why most of our high schools tend to have assembled treatment centers, armed camps and other facilities to prepare children for real world. However, there is a different scenario in the Waldorf high schools; the teachers in these institutions consider adolescence as something more than what just meets the eye (Moore, 1997). This stage is recognized as the period that is very essential for the development of a human being and it is at this stage that a profound transition to the inner powerful forces takes place. It is at this stage the changes in children are more drastic than at any other stage.
The curriculum in the Waldorf high schools is structured in a very conscious manner and it is geared towards encouraging adolescents to generate ideas and helping them see that life is meaningful and very important. The curriculum is very clear as it tries to avoid the habits of the mind that are considered destructive and fatal. To realize this, the Waldorf high school curriculum is set in a way that the minds of the children are sharpened, especially in terms of observation. For instance, during the class in chemistry, the students are expected to give clear and precise comments about the happenings in an experiment (Childs 2006). In other disciplines such as English, the students should note the colors of the objects they are using in class etc. after they have trained well in observation; such a skill is expected to be transferred into the ideal world. For instance that student who is well trained in observation will notice when things are different, e.g. when his/her friend is not feeling well or when he/she is feeling down. According to Steiner, good mastery of observation as a concept is considered as the first step in creating a positive impact.
In the Waldorf high school, much attention is paid to the adolescent as he/she is given all the assistance needed as they enter the adult life. The teachers recognize all the pressures and ideals at this stage and give adolescents the necessary support. The teachers help inculcate meaning into the young adult in relation to the world and himself or herself (Richards, 2009). The student is taught various things that can be done to change the world and make it a better place. Similarly, the Steiner high schools are used to prepare the students for the world ahead, a world of adulthood and career. This is done in a better and comprehensible manner than it is done in the public and private high schools. It should be noted that the studies undertaken in the elementary level are magnified in the high school; this implies that those seeds that were sown several years ago are observed as they transform into beautiful flowers (Richards, 2009).
The flexible curriculum has been set up in all Steiner schools all over the world and, in fact, most public schools are trying to introduce it into their systems. This is because Steiner education encourages the development of thinking that corresponds to a specific age (Steiner, 2004). The Steiner education teachers are geared towards forming and creating a learning environment that displays love towards learning of each specific child, this is a thing that can be incorporated into the public schools. It is also of utter essence to admit that the Steiner system did not believe that the children should be rushed into learning, they should be given ample time to savor and enjoy their childhood. This is a thing that is unheard of in the public education systems. Adults want to force ideas and beliefs into the minds of the children instead of letting them develop slowly (Moore, 1997).
Steiner understood the adolescent age was a very critical age; it meant that the students should be given the support and encouragement that was needed to go through the transition successfully. This has been adopted by public schools as they have come to realize that there is more than what they have assumed for a long time to be present in the adolescent stage. It should be understood if we are going to have a future that is bright and a generation that knows and understands the world we are living in. The adaptation of the Waldorf schools system is the way forward. It is evident that a number of public schools are collapsing because they do not look at the adolescent student as a person being faced with a lot of problems (Steiner & Seddon, 2004) and (Steiner, 2000). What they do is ignore the transition that the student is facing. At the end, we have students who are rebellious and arrogant since no one helped understand what they were experiencing as normal and what they could do to pass through it successfully. Teaching and understanding the students as they are being prepared for the life ahead is the only solution to a lot of problems that are being encountered in the public schools.
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Rudolf in ensuring that the schools became a success and their objectives were achieved came up with a curriculum specifying a number of suggestions that should be included in some of the subjects to be taught in school. Some of the specifications made were in geography, history, languages, mathematics, literature, sciences, gymnastics, music, handwork and various disciplines that were taught at the school in Stuttgart. As brought to our attention by Wilkinson (2002), some of the suggestions made by Rudolf several decades ago are applicable to our present schools and have proved to be very fundamental for teaching some of the mentioned subjects to learners in schools.
Presently, there exist some of Steiner schools, and from their characteristics it can be said that they are very different from the other schools. This at least remains as an exhibit of the work carried out by Rudolf Steiner. The Steiner schools as they are commonly termed as have very unique distinctive approaches to educating young children and learners. The aim of this approach is to ensure that each child at a specific stage grows and enjoys vividly the experiences he or she gains. A balanced mechanism and approach is presented at each level ensuring that the child develops holistically. The heart, academic and social perspectives, head and hands of a child are given the complete facets of a program that ensures learning has taken place effectively (Steiner, 2003).
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