Public Waldorf Schools Work To Increase Diversity and Access To All Sectors Of Society
By Mary Barr Goral, PhD
For the past 25 years, access to, and diversity of, Waldorf education have driven my teaching, research, and service. It all started when I walked through the doors of the Rudolf Steiner School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although I had read about Waldorf education, nothing prepared me for how it “felt.” I arrived there in the fall of 1993 to conduct a qualitative research study on mathematics instruction in a Waldorf school. However, it wasn’t long before two very important realizations came to me. First, I could not solely focus my research on mathematics instruction; because the education I witnessed was so integrated and was indicative of best practices, I changed the study to be part of a growing body of knowledge on school restructuring and reform. Second, I knew to the depths of my being that this education had to be available for all children.
Public Waldorf schools respond to unique demands and cultures in a wide range of locations in order to provide maximum access to a diverse range of students. Schools work towards ensuring that students do not experience discrimination in admission, retention, or participation.
Possibly as an answer to this second realization, I found out about the Urban Waldorf School in Milwaukee. A visit was arranged and I was fortunate enough to see firsthand how the healing curriculum and pedagogy of Waldorf education was working in an inner city public school. Students were not only thriving socially, but academically as well. According to a study by Byers, Dillard, Easton, Henry, McDermott, Oberman, and Uhramcher (1996), students at Urban Waldorf went from having 26% of third grade students reading at or above grade level in 1992 to 63% at or above grade level in 1995. Although Urban Waldorf is now closed, its legacy and dream live on in our Public Waldorf schools and programs across the United States.
Ten years after researching Waldorf education in Ann Arbor, I had the privilege to take over a grant-funded project in Louisville, KY, called the Waldorf-inspired Cadre. The Cadre consisted of a group of public school teachers implementing Waldorf methods into their inner city classrooms. A second research project commenced, and after spending time in teachers’ classrooms and conducting interviews, I found that Cadre teachers were building exceptionally strong, inclusive classroom communities (Goral, 2009). One Cadre teacher commented that colleagues in her building thought she was given the “wellbehaved kids.” This was a testament to the fact that the curriculum and instruction, as well as her understanding of child development were working wonders with her students. Engagement through the arts was another theme that presented itself in the research, and through this enhanced engagement; students were happier and more willing to work hard on all aspects of their schooling (Goral, 2009).
Public Waldorf schools and teachers have the freedom and responsibility to creatively meet the developmental needs of the students with the most inclusive possible approaches for all learners.
Throughout the time working with teachers in the Cadre as well as in my current work as a consultant for Public Waldorf schools across the country, another issue dealing with access and diversity has presented itself. Teachers are asking for a curriculum that better meets the needs of the student population in their schools. Although the Waldorf curriculum is well-rounded and culturally enriching, it should be updated to make it more relevant for contemporary times. For one, we need to address the hidden curriculum, which refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and oftenunintended lessons, values, transmission of norms and perspectives that students learn in school (edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum/). An example of this might be the predominant use of the masculine pronoun in the telling of fairy tales, myths, and fables. Another example could be the lack of biographies told of women and people of color. These are just a few ways that we pass on unintended values and ideas to our students.
In addition to identifying the above issues, it is critical that we address the Eurocentric nature of the Waldorf curriculum. As we navigate the changes and unrest in our society, we owe it to our teachers and our students to more deeply study the problems and concerns facing our diverse country and world. For example, when studying astronomy in the middle school, we should note that a 365- day calendar was actually created by the Chinese astronomer, Guo Shoujing during the Yuan Dynasty, 300 years prior to its European counterpart, the Gregorian calendar. The Public Waldorf curriculum may be modified to reflect the student population in the school.
By increasing access and diversity to all sectors of society, students who attend our Public Waldorf schools have the opportunity, as the tag line on the Waldorf 100 website states, to “learn to change the world.”
■ References Byers, P. Dillard, C., Easton, F., Henry, M., McDermott, R., Oberman, I., and Uhramcher, B. (1996). Waldorf education in an inner city public school: The Urban Waldorf School of Milwaukee. Spring Valley, NY: Parker Courtney Press. Goral, M. (2009). Transformational teaching: Waldorf-inspired methods in the public school. Hudson, NY: Steiner Books.
■ Mary Barr Goral, Ph.D., began her career in education over 30 years ago. After teaching in the public schools in Bloomington, Indiana for eleven years, she received her masters and doctorate degrees in curriculum studies and math education from Indiana University. Mary taught in higher education for twelve years, and she currently works with Public Waldorf schools, coaching and training teachers through her educational organization, Transformational Teaching. Mary pioneered two other Waldorf teacher trainings, Great Lakes Waldorf Teacher Training in Milwaukee (started in 2002) and Kentahten Teacher Training, a regional teacher training in Louisville (started in 2005). She currently serves as Executive Director of Kentahten Teacher Training. Her book, Transformational Teaching: Waldorf-inspired Methods in the Public School, tells the story of teachers in Louisville who use Waldorf methods with their public school students. Mary served on the board of trustees of Rudolf Steiner College and is currently on the Advisory Board of the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education. She chairs the Alliance’s Task Force for Teacher Education, a committee working on standards for Public Waldorf teacher training.