Saturday, December 04, 2010

"Waldorf Homeschooling": Oxymoron? Or New Paradigm?

Is it possible to "do" Waldorf homeschooling? Or is Waldorf a term that only applies to schools?

Typically, we hear the word "Waldorf" in conjunction with schools. Members affiliated with
AWSNA have the right to use the term in their schools' names. Unaffiliated schools (typically public) must follow special rules regarding usage of the term. We may also think of the “first Waldorf school” in Stuttgart when we hear this term. Rudolf Steiner did develop this educational approach to be used in a classroom setting. And folks who have been around homeschooling for any length of time will often hear the comment that “the home is not a school.” I agree. At home, you are not going to get a classroom experience — no matter how beautifully lazured your walls are, how amazing your chalkboard drawing is, how “true to Waldorf” your lesson plans are, how well you have that fairy tale memorized, or any other particular element we tend to associate with Waldorf education. On the other hand, homeschooling offers many advantages that even the best Waldorf school cannot provide. Of course, there will always be trade-offs. Your local Waldorf school probably teaches Eurythmy and a foreign language — which you may or may not be able to provide.

Over the past several years, my approach has been not so much to imitate the Waldorf classroom, but rather to study Steiner directly, focusing on his indications regarding the developmental stages, and then striving to apply those concepts to the home learning environment in a practical manner. This helps one to get away from comparing one’s self to the local Waldorf school — typically a self-defeating endeavor, and yet commonly engaged in by those of us who have spent any time involved with Waldorf school
s. Apples cannot be compared with oranges; both are fruit and perhaps sweet, but will look, taste and feel different.

So is a new term desirable? Shall we call ourselves Steiner Stay-at-Homers? Anti-establishment Anthroposophical
home educators? Much too cumbersome! The term Waldorf is the most easily recognized, of course, and as long as we don't incorporate or form a board of directors, a loose use of the term amongst home educators will most likely be tolerated. In the strictest sense of the word, however, I don't like to use the term "Waldorf" since the application of Steiner's ideas to a school environment is not something for which I aim.

What many people do not realize is that Rudolf Steiner actually used the term "curriculum" in three different ways. He spoke of the "established curriculum,"
that which we would call the mainstream approach to education found in most public and private schools. He identified the "ideal curriculum" as that which is informed by a deep understanding -- in his case, an anthroposophical understanding -- of human development. And finally, he spoke to his teachers of what he called "our Waldorf curriculum." He explained that "our Waldorf curriculum" must always bear in mind the "ideal curriculum" while also recognizing the need to answer to the authorities in regard to the "established curriculum." Even in the early part of the 20th Century, Steiner had to contend with inspections by the German educational authorities. He was a practical man, recognizing that implementation of the "ideal curriculum" would not be tolerated by the establishment.

Many of us, especially those with a previous relationship to a Waldorf school, come to this method of homeschooling assuming that the class model is what we must imitate in order to "do Waldorf." However, by understanding Steiner's definition of the three curricula, I would posit that not only is this a false assumption but also one
that frequently causes undue stress, frustration and self-doubt. Of course, one can find many useful ideas within the traditional Waldorf classroom which may or may not be applicable to the home learning environment. But more valuable insights may be gained by studying Steiner's work, understanding the phases of human development (as well as the sub-phases and the needs of those phases), and most importantly, by closely observing his own children. Understanding how and why the Waldorf curriculum is designed to meet these developmental stages will also be helpful. Awareness of all of these can then be mindfully brought to your particular home life and the unique needs of your family.

For home educators, simply realizing that the curriculum of Waldorf schools — which are based on the first Waldorf school — are actually
founded on a compromise of what Steiner himself considered the "ideal," will hopefully bring a new sense of freedom to those on this path. Since many Waldorf home educators tend to hold themselves to the imagined standards of a Waldorf classroom, understanding the three curricula and the freedom they have to work within the realm of the "ideal curriculum," if they so choose, can provide a liberating shift in perspective.

Sources: Lecture Twelve, September 3, 1919, and Lecture Thirteen, September 4, 1919, Practical Advice to Teachers, Rudolf Steiner.

Sandi Russi has been home educating "Waldorf" style since 2002. She founded Waldorf-Inspired Sacramento Homeschoolers (W.I.S.H.) in 2003 and Wholistic Learning Resources in 2010. Sandi enjoys working with homeschoolers, presenting workshops, writing, and providing resources.

This article is copyright 2010 by Sandra Russi and should not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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