In this interview we talk to Henning Kullak-Ublick, representative of Waldorf German Association and Coordinator of Waldorf100 , about how a 100 years life pedagogy has evolved and adapted to the needs of each generation.
Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf education is based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner.
The principles of Waldorf education evolve from an understanding of human development that address the needs of the growing child. Waldorf schools integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.
When the first Waldorf school started, here in Stuttgart actually, because there was this cigarette factory called Waldorf-Astoria and this was a school for the workers of this factory. The founder of this school asked Rudolf Steiner if he would be ready to lead the school and to build it.
At those times this was a total revolution in school. For example, it was the first school in Germany which had coeducation, which had girls and boys is one class. This concept of not selecting or not pushing children out of the class but letting them repeat classes, that was also totally revolutionary at those times. So people were very suspicious and anxious to find out if this would work in the first place.
And then in a very short time the schools exploded, they had 700 children within no time at all, and they were totally overrun. Then more schools like this started to evolve. That was in Germany but very soon it went to England, America and other places.
Each one of these schools added new aspects to how Waldorf pedagogy could actually be brought into practice. Because one thing if you want to understand how this concept evolved, you actually have to take into account that there isn’t a finished concept in the first place, but the main focus is to really perceived the needs of children, the needs of the time to get into such a close relationship with the students.
The children actually tell us which is the curriculum, and of course we have a very basic curriculum through all these years and a very holistic curriculum: what we do in class one, is in relation with what is going to happen in class twelve, so you can get back to those experiences. So it’s a holistic concept but it’s very free concept which gives the teachers and the children a very strong possibility in the how to do it.
So you couldn’t really say that Waldorf pedagogy evolved in the sense that we had to change any concepts because the concept itself is changing.
But of course the conditions have changed a lot. I mean, in 1919 that was the first World War and people were very poor, they were starving in Europe, they were afraid of getting something like that again and they had different questions. And then we had the Nazi time when they were forbidden in Germany and they had to expand to other countries. And after the second War World when they came back in Germany there was a strong wave of founding schools, in the seventies.
In the nineties the people expected the school to be part of the ecological movement, to be part of peace movement and people expected the school to give the children the capabilities to go beyond that.
Nowadays it has changed again. Today people are very afraid of the whole development of the artificial intelligence, economic development, of this growing nationalism which is taking over again. People like Trump who sort of tries to address the instincts of people instead of the conscious human capabilities…
So the expectations today is that we give the children strength to be able to find their own human call which helps them cope with all these challenges and that was actually always in the focus, in the center of Waldorf pedagogy.
The conditions have changed, the parents have changed, but the children and the teachers are all still human beings, actually that’s something you will find all over the world.
There is a native American community from the Cheyene. They went around the world and looked for something which they could use to have their own traditions combined with the needs of today and they found Waldorf pedagogy.
When you go to China, they were looking for school that help the children develop their own human skills, the will forces, the emotional forces and the social forces, the thinking forces in a different way than just learning learning, learning, so they came to Waldorf.
In Kenya there is a school which was looking for something to have all the African traditions revived not in this pure tribal sense but in a human ethic way which is there for everybody. So Waldorf pedagogy in itself is very dynamic and once it’s a finished concept we don’t need it anymore.