Waldorf alumni. A form of school with developmental tasks

October 2021

The Corona crisis shows how important social contacts and community are – especially for adolescents. In the past months, they have clearly experienced the limits of digital learning in remote lessons and learned that an educational institution is more than just a place where knowledge is imparted and where pupils are prepared for entry into the world of work. But what exactly is school supposed to do? In the study We went to a Waldorf school (published by Beltz Juventa), former Waldorf pupils provided information about their time at school and its influence on their later life. In the following interview, co-editor Professor Dirk Randoll talks about surprising results, confirmed prejudices and the challenges for Waldorf schools in the future.

Dirk Randoll

Erziehungskunst | You conducted a study on former Waldorf pupils. What were your questions and what did you want to find out?

Dirk Randoll | In 2007, my colleague Professor Heiner Barz from the University of Düsseldorf and I conducted and published a first comprehensive survey among former Waldorf pupils. We wanted to build on the content of that study, but also look at current issues such as the use of new media in the classroom. Our questionnaire, which was answered by almost 3,000 alumni, comprises eleven open questions and 81 questions with predefined answer options in the areas of “School and professional biography”, “Time at the Waldorf school”, “Shaping the future of school and society” and “Biographical developments after school”.

EK | How did you interview the alumni?

DR | The survey was coordinated by the Educational Research Centre at the German Association of Waldorf Schools and was conducted online. The survey was made possible financially by the Software AG Foundation, among others. In evaluating the survey, we were particularly interested in the responses of the so-called “millennials”, i.e. those aged 18 to 39 at the time of the survey, who make up a good 60 percent of the total sample.

EK | What were their key answers?

DR | The alumni particularly emphasise the community experience, the social togetherness and the many friendships they were able to make during their time at school. In addition to the respect and recognition they received at the Waldorf school, they particularly appreciate the numerous opportunities to develop their own personalities, for example through the promotion of their creativity and social skills, as well as the possibility to work on meaningful learning content free from pressure to perform. It is therefore not surprising that almost 90 percent say they would go to a Waldorf school again if they had the choice. Three quarters of those surveyed would also send their own offspring there.

EK | Which prejudices about Waldorf schools were confirmed?

DR | Waldorf schools are fee-based, which is why they are often accused of not being equally accessible to all children. In principle, however, Waldorf educational institutions are open to all young people regardless of origin, religion or financial background. School fees are sometimes adjusted to the parents’ salary. Nevertheless, public schools are always thought of as being for the educated elite. And indeed: Waldorf schools are mainly attended by pupils whose parents make high demands on their children’s education. Almost 80 percent of the alumni surveyed graduated from the Waldorf School with the Abitur, which is far above the national average of just under 48 percent. On the other hand, the alumni rate the school’s support of their own media competence as rather below average, which confirms the widespread cliché of a media-critical attitude at Waldorf schools.

EK | How could this cliché be countered?

DR | A lot has already been done in recent years in dealing with new media in the classroom. Both the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy and Alanus University are working hard to develop teaching concepts for media education at Waldorf schools. The topic is also increasingly coming into focus in teacher training. Elsewhere – for example at intercultural Waldorf schools or at the newly established action education-oriented institutions – access is being created for pupils who cannot or do not want to take the Abitur. However, there are still far too few of them.

EK | Which results surprised you the most?

DR | What surprised me most, apart from the high proportion of graduates with the Abitur, was the frequency with which tutoring is used at Waldorf schools, especially in upper school. This points to a change in learning culture, which the alumni in the study also clearly name: whereas up to class 10 they had time for their own, exploratory learning, in the higher classes it was mainly about learning prescribed and reproducible content for state qualifications. It was also remarkable to me that over 97 percent of the respondents came from a German-speaking home. Especially since the impulse of the Waldorf school was originally quite different: Rudolf Steiner envisioned a school in which working-class children would be taught together with the children of academics without distinction.

EK | How does the time at the Waldorf school affect the biographical development of the pupils?

DR | Half of the respondents state that anthroposophy plays a role in one form or another with regard to their current attitude to life and values – for example in their diet or the upbringing of their own children. Compared to the population as a whole, former Waldorf pupils are not only more often involved in voluntary work or politics, but also more often take up social or artistic professions.

EK | What should Waldorf schools definitely do differently from the alumni’s point of view?

DR | For the alumni, in addition to teaching media competence, recruiting young teachers who are qualified in terms of subject matter and teaching methodology is one of the central challenges facing Waldorf schools. The revision of the eight-year class teacher principle in its traditional form, the handling of performance requirements as well as the preparation for life after school are also essential according to most respondents. In addition, many would have liked a more critical engagement with Rudolf Steiner’s writings or with anthroposophy during their own school years, as well as a greater openness to current issues in society, culture, politics and science.

EK | So what would be among the tasks of the German Association of Waldorf Schools?

DR | I see this as creating the necessary framework conditions for the further development of Waldorf education. On the one hand, it is important to build on proven practice, and, on the other hand, to try out new things. For example, it can be helpful to look at other, alternative educational approaches and actively seek dialogue with their representatives.

Mathias Maurer conducted the interview

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