The Core Principles of Public Waldorf Education Seven Reflections Winter 2017 News from the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education
By Liz beaven, Ed.D.
During the September meeting of our Alliance Board of Directors, discussion turned to our Core Principles and our goal of having every member school actively exploring their alignment with them. Seven Board members and Advisors were invited to reflect on their relationship to, or interpretation of, one of the Core Principles. The assignment was open-ended, and each author took a unique path in fulfilling it. The results follow in seven short essays that offer individual, often personal, reflections. These essays do not represent an official Alliance statement or definition of the Principles; rather, they are offered in hopes of sparking thought and reflection in individual teachers and in faculty studies and discussions at Alliance schools.
Like many ideas, work started on identifying those principles essential to Waldorf education in several places around the same time, as a number of Waldorf educators sought to address shared goals including: What is it that makes an education “Waldorf”? What is the essential core of philosophy, beliefs, methodology and other defining characteristics, without which Waldorf education would lose its identity? What distinguishes Waldorf education from other progressive approaches, such as Montessori and Reggio Emilia—and, importantly for our dialogue with other educators—what do we hold in common? What distinguishes the enactment of Waldorf education in this country in its traditional independent school settings and in the growing, diverse, Public Waldorf sphere?
To offer a little context, the tension between fidelity and compromise sits at the heart of these questions. At the very beginning of Waldorf education in 1919, Rudolf Steiner noted that compromises would be necessary in order to bring this new art of education to life and form. Of interest today, these compromises included questions of assessment and accountability, an ongoing challenge for all Waldorf educators and a particular question for those in the sphere of public education. As we have expanded a Waldorf approach into more diverse settings and grappled with the requirements of public mandates, tension between fidelity and compromise has been our constant companion. How far can one travel from a core of foundational philosophy and practice before the result becomes unrecognizable and should no longer be identified as “Waldorf education”—public or private? These questions led to development of principles by the Pedagogical Section Council of North America, by AWSNA, and by the Alliance.
In the Alliance, these questions drove the development of a Path of Membership, which will engage all schools in essential processes of self-study and peer review, founded on an examination of the Core Principles, and will ultimately allow qualified schools to use the name “Public Waldorf.” It will be helpful and important for each school to demonstrate the practice and incorporation of each Principle. Where has the school encountered obstacles or been forced to make compromises? We know that compromise is inevitable—in fact, it can be argued that there is not and should not be such a thing as a “pure” Waldorf school due, to its self-reflective, adaptive, evolving nature—but are we making compromises with full consciousness of their impact and cause? Of equal importance to the issue of compromise is the need to innovate and adapt to widening circles of schools in different settings and with diverse populations, plus the changes needed to remain relevant in a time of rapid societal change.
We trust that the seven essays will spark conversation, ideas of how to view or approach each Principle, and an examination of what fits and does not fit for a particular school. I found it a fascinating exercise to read each one in succession and, as I read, to clarify or challenge my own responses.
Charlie Burkam, Board Treasurer, reflects on Principle One, addressing the nature of the human being, which lies at the very heart of Waldorf education. We view each individual as a non-irreducible self comprised of a unique past, present, and future, and with multiple aspects including the physical, intellectual, social, emotional, moral, spiritual, and practical. As a teacher and school administrator, I found my work was enriched, deepened, and made more significant by this view, as it gave rise to an understanding that my impact for good or ill could be profound.
Board member Jeff Lough considers Principle Two, addressing child development. Again, this principle is absolutely essential to Waldorf education, however and wherever it is practiced, working with, rather than pushing against, the lawful developmental arc of each child. In our results-driven age of “hurry, hurry,” time for childhood and respect for child development both appear to be endangered. The coherent model of child development that weaves throughout Waldorf education helps us to provide children with an integrated approach that considers where they have come from and where they are headed.
Daniel Bittleston, Board Advisor, takes a broad view of Principle Three, the high ideal of social change through education. Daniel looks at several ways that Waldorf education supports the development of individual capacities that our students will need in order to be active, engaged members of a diverse and international society. Through the years, and through many conversations with teachers, I believe that this ideal of social change is a major motivator for many of us in our work—through our work with individual children and within a school community, we can shape and influence society and the future for the good. Despite attempts to reduce or standardize the impact of the individual teacher, education remains a quintessentially human activity, a fact that is reinforced and supported by Principle Four, which emphasizes the quality and centrality of human relationships in Waldorf education.
Board member and Pedagogical representative Hellene Brodsky-Blake addresses the foundational importance of healthy human relationships from the warm perspective of the kindergarten, noting the enduring bonds that are established between students and teachers, and some of the many ways relationships between all groups within a school community are supported and strengthened in multiple areas of our schools.
Mary Goral, Board Advisor, takes on Principle Five, addressing our aspirations towards greater access and increased diversity in our schools—students, faculty, staff, and parents—and the resulting need for a rigorous examination of our curricular materials, assumptions, language, and school culture. This Principle may well represent the greatest challenge and richest opportunity for learning as we slowly expand the reach of Public Waldorf education into wider circles. There is much to research, discuss, and understand from our experience to date. In this Principle, the tension between fidelity and compromise can be clearly seen. This topic will again be a theme of our January conference. Speaking personally, I know it has presented enormous requirements to self-reflect and, hopefully, to grow over the past few years.
Rainbow Rosenbloom, Vice President of the Board, adds his thoughts on Principle Six, addressing collaborative leadership. Rainbow has seen many schools in action and chooses to consider aspects of collaborative school leadership, primarily the principal or executive director, and some of the considerations for inclusion, process, self-knowledge, and clear communication that are required for effective leadership.
Our personal reflections are rounded out by Advisor to the Board Amy Bird, as she ponders Principle Seven, addressing schools as learning communities. Amy notes the many, frequent, and possibly unavoidable opportunities our schools offer for ongoing learning and inner development. This certainly resonates with me; I am daily grateful that I found a career in Waldorf education that, no matter which role I held or hold, demands that I learn, reflect, expand and challenge my thinking, feeling, and doing. As Amy so clearly stated, there can be no assumptions, no getting comfortable in this work. We trust that you will find these personal interpretations thought provoking