A contradictory balance sheet
Discussion of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogics in educational circles has remained marked until the present by the paradox of practical acceptance and theoretical ignorance. While educational scientists, with few exceptions, failed to take note of Steiner’s educational work and that of his successors until the 1980s, leading program specialists and practitioners of the New Education in Germany noted on a visit to the first free Waldorf School in Stuttgart in the 1920s that this creation of Steiner was inspired by the same reforming spirit. The international union of the New Education, founded in 1921 as the World Education Fellowship, only admitted the Rudolf Steiner schools as members of the German language section in 1970, thus putting an end to fifty years of splendid isolation. In the meantime, they have become increasingly visible among the schools of the New Education in Germany as the true alternative to state-run or denominational schools.
In view of this development, intensive study and discussion of Steiner’s pedagogics have been in progress in educational circles in Germany for the past ten years or so.23 However, positions are highly controversial: they range from enthusiastic support to destructive criticism. One side emphasizes the meaningful practice of all-round education designed to meet the needs of the child and overlooks the extra-sensory anthropology of Steiner. The other side directs destructive criticism at this occult neo-mythology of education and warns against the risks of resulting indoctrination (in a world-view school); in the process, it loses an unprejudiced view of the varied practice of the Steiner schools. This position of ideological criticism is further confirmed by the assertion of the anthroposophic educationalists that all the norms and forms of their educational practice are systematically deduced from the cosmic anthropology of the master.
Can any solution be found to this fundamental paradox of Steiner’s pedagogics—the creation of a beneficial practice on the foundation of a dubious theory? We assume that the systematic basis for the surprisingly stimulating and effective educational practice of the Steiner establishments must not be sought in the simple truths of anthroposophic doctrine, but rather in the versatility of the related educational views, metaphors and maxims. Steiner’s pedagogics hold firmly to the principal perceptions of modern common sense educational theory since Comenius and Pestalozzi. The concept of genetic teaching and learning (in the developmental phases of education once the child’s abilities have been formed and in the unfurling of cultural knowledge), the postulate of an all-round educational syllabus (appealing to the head, the heart and the hands, and the principle of joint learning and action (involving the concept of a heterogeneous class in each year throughout the school system and also in the organization of a varied school life) are examples of this.
This classical educational dogmatism is an area of consensus between the teachers, educators and parents involved in the practical aspects of education in Steiner establishments. Unlike the more manifest forms of dogmatism of other pedagogical experts of the New Education (Montessori, Neill, Geheeb, etc.), the educationalists in Steiner schools and kindergartens show an unmistakable resolve to adopt an orthodox, personalized and non-sectarian aim of self-improvement or development. It is therefore significant that a number of leading Steinerites in Germany have opened a dialogue (always an agreeable event) with educational scientists in the course of which their pedagogical anthropology and the norms and forms of their education are compared with the concepts and models of the human sciences and with their research standards. 24
As a consequence of the broader worldwide expansion of Steiner education, even outside the European cultural area, and as a result of the dialogue which has recently been opened with educational scientists, new forms of more depersonalized further development and implementation of the elements of Steiner’s educational thinking may be possible. In the last resort, the practice of this system of education with its broad spectrum of artistic and handicraft learning potentials, a caring attitude to children and the many opportunities for conscious participation in community tasks is far too important to be left to the unquestioning adepts of Rudolf Steiner.
Heiner Ullrich (Germany). Studied German and French Language and Literature and Education at the Universities of Frankfurt, Freiburg, Tubingen, and Heidelberg. Became a secondary school teacher before joining the Institute of Education at the University of Mainz as an educational scientist, academic director since 1991. Interested in the theory of