Some MYTHS about Waldorf education continue to straggle on ...
By Joan Jaeckel
((1))MYTH: Waldorf education is based on religion or some new age notion of spiritual truth (and did I mention quackery?). FACT: Waldorf education’s curriculum, methods and attitudes are best described as based on objectivity that comports with the most interesting and useful research questions and ideas of our time. Waldorf education is based on evolutionary consciousness, humanly-moral values and social and environmental ecology.
Yes, (shockingly) Waldorf educators like many if not most people who care about people and the planet hold a “spiritual” worldview. Simply means that there are things going on in the universe that affect us, which we account for, even if we don’t (yet) fully understand how it all works or why. Not afraid to say this since, obviously, concepts like “ideas”, “morality” and ”ecology” are not material objects but words for spiritual concepts. Heck, even gravity is an invisible force which we don’t understand. How does consciousness work? Cognitive scientists want to know. Let’s not pretend in our schools that all the questions have been settled once and for all by either traditional religion or traditional science.
As a matter of fact the process of being “educated” is inner development. Even when we try our damndest to pull the education rabbit out of the Scranton hat we know we’re only fooling ourselves. The real deal is invisible.
Furthermore, the institution of public education itself is based on a spiritual worldview. Public education holds the spiritual worldview that every child has the right to an education. Waldorf education holds this same worldview. In a nutshell, the contribution that Waldorf education wishes to make to 21st Century learning could be described like this:
“We hold this truth to be self-evident that every child is a mysterious and unique individual hell-bent on manifesting the gift he or she wishes to give to the world. Education’s job is to help him or her know that this is so, to find it, and to acquire the mental discipline, the social-emotional sensitivity and the practical skill-sets to become fit to be it, live it, give it”.
((2))MYTH: Waldorf education violates the principle of separation of church and state, when it is practiced in public schools, because its spiritual world view of evolutionary consciousness, humanly-moral values and social and environmental ecology interweave every lesson. FACT: And this is bad, why? U.S. institutions, ideally, embody a spiritual worldview or truths. Our spiritual worldview or truths include “all men [humans] are created equal” and the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The principles of freedom, democracy and equality interweave all of our U.S. institutions. Despite this spiritual worldview we continue to consider ourselves a secular society. As a matter of fact these spiritual truths are so fragile and evaporative that they don’t even really exist at all … except in practice. We do freedom, do democracy, do equality.
With the claim, “these truths are self-evident”, America took an objective, moral and evolutionary stance about the value and dignity of human existence, human life and human aspiration. These are “spiritual” truths, a spiritual worldview, because they were not discovered in a lab using the traditional scientific method. No one sat in a bathtub, noticed his ass displacing water and yelled “Eureka!” These spiritual truths became suddenly obvious. It simply occurred to a critical mass of humans one fine day that “we hold these truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident”. Self-evident = obvious, “proof” not possible. No one can convince you of their truthfulness and reality. You either see it or you don’t. If we wish, we could say that Steiner had his eureka moment when he realized that every human has the capacity for a Eureka moment. Everyone can expand their mind, develop an inner moral compass, and live to give their gift - regardless of their social station in life.
Our current victories and crises are all victories and crises of the spirit. Human beings possess the capacity to evolve through personal inner spiritual effort. Best of all, anyone can do it and it costs nothing. Waldorf education proposes that having an inner life going on in your head is simply human and not religious any more than “the pursuit of happiness” is religious. Viewing each student as a gift to unwrap rather than a problem to solve is the educational magic wand we have been looking for these 25 years since “A Nation At Risk”. Committing to personal inner development of our innate human intelligence is Waldorf’s big eureka-moment idea. Scientists call it neuroplasticity. Is that so wrong?
((3))MYTH: Steiner’s so-called “spiritual science” is an oxymoron and his anthroposophy is a cult. FACT: Describing what he does, Rudolf Steiner repeatedly said “I don’t teach. I relate what I have inwardly experienced”. He called his process of investigation “spiritual science” because he used the invisible tools of thinking, imagination, inspiration and intuition to explore the invisible properties of reality. That’s all Steiner’s anthroposophy is. Him bad. No wonder Steiner so admired Albert Einstein (that very very bad religious nut) and his theory of relativity which equates invisible energy with visible matter.
From this perspective, every human being who thinks, who has feelings, and who does stuff is a spiritual scientist – especially if we stop and look back at moral consequences. That’s not religiosity. It’s being responsible. Waldorf education is part of a larger societal evolution towards “stumbling on happiness” and living “lifestyles of health and sustainability”.
We have safely landed in supra-consciousness land. The story of human moral aspiration and the story of material evolution have met up. It is no longer controversial to see science and spirituality skipping down humanity’s ongoing quest for meaning and knowledge together. It’s time our educational system mirrors this relationship. We need an educational HYBRID that allows the smarts of both science and life's mysteries to co-exist and co-evolve. Given that public education has given all children a right to an education, how will we shift public education in modern times to give all children a meaningful education? That is THE question.