Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher who turned his attention to education at the end of the First World War. Like many of his contemporaries, Steiner was shocked at the carnage of that war and at the unimaginative response to it by political leaders. He asserted that both were the result of mis-education, and that a better world could be created only if schooling were refashioned upon wholly new principles.
He gratefully accepted an offer from the Waldorf Astoria company to establish a school for the children of its workers, and thus to put his ideas into practice. The first Waldorf school was opened in Stuttgart in 1919; there are now over 1000 schools world-wide, and their number is growing at a rapidly increasing rate. Clearly, Steiner’s ideas have great relevance to the educational needs of our global society.
Steiner observed that most education of his day was directed solely towards the pupils’ intellectual faculties. Not only were their minds guided along very narrow channels, but vital areas of feeling and will were wholly ignored. He therefore outlined a curriculum that would enliven the whole human being, not simply the intellect. With remarkable clarity and insight, he charted a person’s development from earliest childhood to adulthood, and selected subjects at each stage to meet his or her intellectual, emotional and volitional needs. Since the first Waldorf school was established, teachers have found his indications remarkably helpful and profound, and the curriculum remains highly pertinent to today’s child.