100 Years of Waldorf Education
Teresa M. Woods, Ph.D.
Happy New Year! As we turn the page and start the journey into 2019, I recall how often I have heard the year 1919 (one hundred years ago) invoked over the decades among my Waldorf colleagues and friends. That was the year the first Waldorf school was founded in Stuttgart, Germany, and so this year we celebrate a full century of Waldorf education!
In 1919, Europe had been devastated by World War I (the supposed “War to End All Wars”). In an attempt to cultivate a healing society following the destruction, Rudolf Steiner founded an educational approach meant to nourish and educate children’s imagination, creativity, and individual freedom. He did this in response to a request by Emil Molt, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory, who wanted to provide such a holistic education to the children of his factory workers. Hence, the first Waldorf school (named after the factory) was founded in Stuttgart, Germany in September, 1919.
The school was progressive at the time for being the first comprehensive school in Germany. It was co-educational with boys and girls educated together in all the same subjects, it was open to all without achievement or aptitude selection, and it included students from a wide and diverse social spectrum.
Following the same model, other Waldorf schools sprang up throughout Europe, and the first one opened in the United States in 1928 (the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City). Although many Waldorf schools in Europe were shuttered during World War II, they reopened after the war. In 1990, I embarked on my own Waldorf training at the internationally-based Emerson College in England just as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved. My fellow trainees included numerous teachers from the former Soviet countries who later sparked a large increase of Waldorf schools in these regions.
See the timeline of 100 years of Waldorf education here: www.waldorf-100.org/en/waldorf-education/timeline/
Waldorf education is a strong world-wide movement, and we are connected to many schools, educators, students, and families across the globe through our appreciation of this educational approach. While each school creates its own unique character, we are unified by the Waldorf pedagogy in striving to develop students’ intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in integrated and holistic ways. Waldorf schools tend to be self-governed, and in many countries, state funds underwrite them while respecting their independence. In the United States, Waldorf pedagogies have been incorporated into many public charter schools, requiring innovation and integration with state standards and other requirements connected with funding by public tax dollars. Since the first U.S. Waldorf-inspired public charter was founded in 1994, there are now 53 such schools, with Mountain Song Community School being one!
The International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education has launched the Waldorf 100 initiative (www.waldorf-100.org/en/). Throughout the year, we will be sharing news, projects, and information about this active celebration of 100 years of Waldorf education.
Please enjoy Waldorf 100 – The Film.