In considering the beginnings of Waldorf education — now a movement of over 300 schools worldwide — one may well be astonished to find that Rudolf Steiner preferred to convey its revolutionary thrust by word of mouth rather than by means of the printed page. Over a period of almost six years (1919-1924) Steiner, traveling widely in Germany, Switzerland, France, Norway, Holland, and England, gave some 200 lectures on the Waldorf approach, speaking to small groups of qualified teachers as well as to large public audiences.
Important seeds had been planted in Steiner's early years through his own experiences as tutor and teacher. In 1907 he formulated his views on education in an essay entitled Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy. It was not until twelve years later, soon after the first World War, which left Middle Europe shattered, morally depleted, and financially in ruins, that Steiner answered the call from Emil Molt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, to found a school initially intended for the children of the factory workers.
Three mighty courses of fourteen lectures each (The Study of Man, Practical Advice for Teachers, Discussions with Teachers, August-September 1919), given over a period of two weeks to a group of twelve young, able, enthusiastic teachers, launched the bold venture that was to grow into a strong movement with schools in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Steiner became the director of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart. He was tireless in giving his time and strength, entering into every detail of the curriculum, the work in the classroom, the life of the students; he counseled teachers, visited classes, and advised parents, all this in spite of a host of other commitments in such fields as medicine, agriculture, and social renewal.
In studying Rudolf Steiner's educational work, a careful distinction should be made between the courses given to the first teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, who were well prepared through a sound basis in anthroposophy, and those given to public audiences often without the slightest background in spiritual science.
Steiner emphasized that the Waldorf approach was a great deal more than the application of methods of teaching; this new art of education was born out of a solid anthroposophical foundation, out of a knowledge of the growing child as body, soul, and spirit. Today it would be said that Waldorf education is holistic, that it aims at unfolding the capacities of hand, heart, and head in the child according to the stages of child development.
The three lectures published here were given in 1923 to the original teachers of the Waldorf School, who had received four years of intensive training and practice under Steiner's personal guidance. They should be read with this background in mine; their original and sometimes startling message will then be understood more readily. For beginners, it may well be advisable first to work through Steiner's written work and some of the earlier public lectures, for example, A Modern Art of Education, fourteen lectures delivered in August 1923 in Ilkley, England, or The Renewal of Education, fourteen lectures given to Swiss teachers in April and May 1920 in Basel, Switzerland, or Spiritual Ground of Education, four lectures given at Manchester College, Oxford, England, in August 1922. It should be mentioned that many invaluable indications on education will also be found in Steiner's lectures on the social question, the arts, medicine, curative education, and the sciences.
Serious readers will readily become aware that Steiner's comprehensive teachings are undogmatic in character. They are indications, seeds that parents or teachers or anyone genuinely interested in the development and well-being of the child can make their own and verify through experience. Rather than encountering a number of easily applicable educational recipes, they will find themselves engaged in a process of discovery in the realm of childhood and adolescence.
Rene M. Querido