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The Possibility of an Unbiased History of Steiner/Waldorf Education?



In many respects, and certainly with regard to his educational ideas, Rudolf Steiner was a child of his time. Trust in the natural goodness of the child that became more and more central, belief in an evolutionist development of both individuals and humanity as a whole, the emphasis on a holistic education realised through a community of teachers, parents and children; all of these were ideas that Steiner shared with other key figures of the progressive education movement, which began in the late nineteenth century. In line with the existing historiography on progressive education (Reformpädagogik) in general, historical research on the figure of Steiner, and particularly on the development of the schools and the educational system named after him, is characterised by paying considerable attention to the years of foundation in the interwar period on the one hand and to current practices on the other, in that way largely neglecting the developments during the second half of the twentieth century.



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1 Or named after the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart for whose workers’ children Steiner established the first school. In the literature the terms ‘Steiner education’ and ‘Waldorf education’ are used interchangeably. Except for in the title, we have chosen to use consistently the term ‘Waldorf education’ when writing about Steiner's educational ideas and/or achievements.

2 Oelkers, Jürgen, Reformpädagogik. Eine kritische Dogmengeschichte (Weinheim/München: Juventa, 1996) and Depaepe, Marc, Simon, Frank and Van Gorp, Angelo, ‘The canonization of Ovide Decroly as a “saint” of the New Education’, History of Edcuation Quarterly, 43, 2 (2003), 224–49.

3 Van Gorp, Angelo, Tussen mythe en wetenschap. Ovide Decroly (1871–1932) (Leuven: Acco, 2005).

4 The German quotations are translated by the authors.

5 See, for example, Carlgren, Frans, Erziehung zur Freiheit. Die Pädagogik Rudolf Steiners (Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 2009). The central idea of anthroposophy, as founded by Steiner, is the postulation of the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world that is accessible by direct experience through inner development.

6 See Imelman, Jan Dirk and van Hoek, P.B.H., Hoe vrij is de Vrije School? Een analyse van de antroposofische pedagogiek (Nijkerk: Intro, 1983) or Wagemann, Paul-Albert and Kayser, Martina, Wie frei ist die Waldorfschule? (München: Heyne, 1996).

7 The bulk of other books published on this occasion confirms the general historiographic trend – a focus on the figure of Steiner and current anthroposophic practices.

8 Lindenberg, Christophe, Rudolf Steiner – Eine Biographie. Taschenbuchausgabe, Sonderausgabe zum 150. Geburtstag Rudolf Steiners (Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 2011).

9 More than 1,000 independent Waldorf schools, 2,000 kindergartens and 650 centres for special education located in sixty different countries all over the world, together with an even larger number of non-recognised Waldorf-based schools, academies and homeschooling environments. See Waldorf World List (Berlin: Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners / Dornach: Pädagogische Sektion am Goetheanum / Stuttgart: Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, 2013).

10 This involves communities where people with and without disabilities live together in the spirit of anthroposophy.

11 Hamre, James S., Continuity and change: 100 years–Waldorf College (1903–2003) (Iowa: Waldorf College, 2002). The addendum on ‘Waldorf Pioneers’, which contains twelve brief biographical sketches of deceased persons for whom buildings have been named, is revealing in this connection.

12 Hofrichter, Hansjörg, Waldorf: The Story Behind the Name (Stuttgart: Pädagogische Forschungsstelle beim Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, 2002).

13 Oberman, Ida, Fidelity and Flexibility in Waldorf Education, 1919–1998 (Stanford: Stanford University, School of Education, 1998).

14 De Coster, Tom, Simon, Frank and Depaepe, Marc, ‘Alternative education in Flanders, 1960–2000: transformation of knowledge in a neo-liberal context’, Paedagogica Historica. International Journal of the History of Education, 45, 4–5 (2009), 645–71.

15 Cuban, Larry, How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1880–1990 (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993) and Tyack, David and Tobin, William, ‘The grammar of schooling: why it has been so hard to change?’, American Educational Research Journal, 31 (1994): 435–79.

16 Dahlin, Bo, ‘A state-independent education for citizenship? Comparing beliefs and values related to civic and moral issues among students in Swedish mainstream and Steiner Waldorf schools’, Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in Religion and Education, 31, 2 (2010), 165–80.

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
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