As I mentioned in my last posting, I am among a group of parents setting up a new Waldorf kindergarten in Budapest’s notoriously proletarian Újpest district. And I also mentioned that some of the neighbors are hostile to the idea. Reasons vary. Some people just hate little kids. Others resent what they see as prissy middle-class families moving in on their turf. Others bear their teeth at anything “alternative” (“Why can’t you just send your kids to the same state-run kindergartens that warped us?”).
Whatever. We don’t have the time to stick each and every one of them on the couch and heal their neuroses. We have a job to do. And an important job, at that.
Waldorf education is hard to describe to people who know nothing about it. And even if you are involved with it as a parent, it takes years to really understand what the teachers and the schools are trying to do. It’s not just another alternative education system (like Montessori, or parochial school). The easiest way to describe Waldorf education is to say that its aim is to aid a child in unfolding its true nature as a human being. This is the exact opposite of standard education, which treats the child as a tabula raza. Standard education strives to make the child into a “product”. In centuries gone by they wished to create the perfect bureaucrat. Now they want to create the perfect corporate employee.
Rudolf Steiner started his education theory on the basis of the Menschenbild, i.e. a nuanced spiritual, mystical understanding of what a human being really is. Going from there, his intention was to create an education system that aided the child to realize itself and to unfold all the phases of its being, and not to mold it into a product that happens to be what the Powers That Be want at that particular moment in history. I have half-jokingly (which means half-seriously) referred to it as “initiatory education,” because it emphasizes teaching subjects at that particular time when a child’s development is ready to assimilate it, rather than arbitrarily deciding when the system wants the child to learn something. This way of education, along with the emphasis on learning through doing and learning through creating, gives the child a series of awakening experiences, which build the learning into its being, rather than than just remaining intellectual concepts.