An overdue change in direction?

By Mathias Maurer, April 2018

Waldorf Schools are facing a challenge to their educational policy in terms of both their artistic and practical crafts teaching. Klaus-Peter Freitag, executive director of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, provided the impetus for one of the thematic focal points of this issue in preparation for a congress.

Freitag comments: “It’s very easy to see that things for which there are not any grades and which are not the subject of examinations lose importance in school life. It’s seems much more important to be learning for the exams. The consequence of this is an observable, continual drop in young people’s motivation for school activities that are not directly related to any examinations.” The fixation on the attainment of national, official qualifications leads to a situation for many pupils and parents, whereby independent activity and personal involvement in their individual education process steadily decreases, especially in middle and upper school.

However, what has long been considered as an educational problem is, as it turns out, in reality a societal one: according to Freitag, this lack of commitment is due to a deficiency in teaching practical (life) skills, which can also be applied to everyday life. The individual potential of each pupil is never awoken and the effects in terms of their personal development that emerge through participation in practical, crafts and artistic activities are never experienced. Because, of course, within the framework of tests of cognitive performance, it’s impossible to say anything about it.

Rudolf Steiner’s educational maxim for Waldorf schools said: learn while working, work while learning. Parents like to refer to this in the class teacher period. However, as the exams draw nearer, the more nervously we look ahead to them. But they tend to primarily be a test of knowledge.

Steiner meant this in quite a radical sense: a person is not complete if they have two left hands, even if they have a lot in their head; especially as the connection between motor and cognitive skills has been scientifically proven by current research. Practical learning should therefore be treated as being on an equal footing with cognitive and artistic learning. A few Waldorf schools are resisting the ever increasing “academic orientation”, do not participate in this separation between head and hand and offer an integrated dual qualification that encompasses both study and work, that aims to bring together the creative potential that a person has for both learning and working. The most famous and oldest of these is the Hibernia School in Herne which has practiced this educational philosophy since the 1960s and which at the time led to much international attention. So where do we stand today in relation to this concept? Ask your children’s upper school teachers about it, discuss it at your parents’ evening. This issue aims to offer a contribution to the discussion.

Another thematic focal point (see the special section starting on page 45) does not deal with the alternative prospects for graduation at the end of a child’s school career but rather with the beginning of the latter. It is devoted to the correct age at which to enrol a child in school, a question now exercising many parents in respect of the approaching start to school and the choice of the correct school for their child. What child and adolescent psychiatrists, school doctors, childhood researchers as well as Waldorf teachers have to say about it could help you in marshalling your arguments with regard to your decision, whether it has already been taken or not.

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