What is Waldorf homeschooling? Is it an impulse? Is it a form? How do we do it?
These are all big questions. To begin to consider them, we must first distinguish between impulse and form if we are to really be able to look at Waldorf homeschooling through a fresh lens, for impulse and form are two different things.
What is behind what we have come to know as “Waldorf education” – the core essence of which consists of Steiner’s deep insights into human development – is often called an impulse. As such, it is a driving force seen as coming from the spiritual stream which manifests when a form – or a vehicle for that impulse – arises, so that the impulse may take physical shape on the earthly plane. Without a form, an impulse would remain nothing more than one’s good intentions in the spiritual realm. Very nice, but it’s not going to get the job done. Form is what’s needed, an action step.
The Waldorf classroom eventually arose as a form for the Waldorf educational impulse when Emil Molt approached Steiner and asked him to create a school for the children of the workers in his factory. Steiner has been waiting to see what form this impulse would take. When approached, he gladly obliged, and the Waldorf school movement was born.
The Waldorf classroom is one form. Waldorf homeschooling is another, completely different form, unto itself. Waldorf homeschooling is not “diluted Waldorf education”. It provides a different venue through which the principles and practices of the Waldorf impulse may be carried. Both forms draw upon the same impulse, yet each acts as a valid and unique vehicle for bringing forth the Waldorf impulse in a way that is enlivening, and makes sense for those individuals who have the good will and initiative to work out of it.
We often forget that the impulse of Waldorf education was in existence long before the founding of the first Waldorf school. Steiner’s earliest ideas on education are noted in his founding essay on anthroposophical pedagogy, The Education of the Child in Light of Anthroposophy, which was published in 1907. This was twelve years before the first Waldorf school opened in 1919. As homeschooling parents, we owe it to ourselves to read and study this important lecture, for it reflects the impulse in a pure, raw state – free of form and structure.
If we go back even earlier in Steiner’s life, we learn that he tutored a home-bound boy for six years, from the time the boy was 10 until he was 16. This was from 1884 until 1890, close to 30 years before the first Waldorf school. Steiner was all of 23 years old at the time. Can we all just imagine ourselves in his place for a moment?
Regarding this experience, Steiner said, “Destiny brought me a special pedagogical task”. This home-based educational work left quite an impact on his life, and clearly influenced what was later to become the foundation of the Waldorf impulse. By Steiner’s own admission, this experience became a “training” of sorts to him, an opportunity to penetrate physiology and psychology. It was here, in working with an individual child in his home, where he came to the insight that “education and teaching must become an art”, based upon true knowledge of the human being”.
If one reads Steiner’s thoughts on his work with this boy, one can easily see the seeds of Waldorf education being planted and germinating, even way back then.
As Waldorf homeschooling parents today, we must be “Renaissance men and women”. It is not enough for us to simply take what is offered in a Waldorf classroom, and do our best to “make it our own”. We all understand the concept that “school is not home”, and so naturally, certain adjustments are needed in working in a home-based setting. What is really needed, however, is that we take this all one step further.
We need to take a stand in our own form.
It’s time to pick up our sword and shield, and first make a commitment to go back to the source, the true watering hole – Steiner’s deep insights into human development – and to strive, as Steiner has suggested, to allow ourselves to become “inwardly transformed”. In this process, we may be able to better envision and develop curriculum content that is truly genuine and heart-centered – that can truly meet the needs of our children, where they live – rather than simply following a prescribed formula of some kind, or attempting to replicate the elements of an entirely different form with which we share no personal connection.
We owe it to our children to at least try. After all, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Brenda is the founder of Waldorf Family Network, a grassroots initiative serving homeschooling parents inspired by the Waldorf educational impulse since 1999, and the director of Michaelmas Farm, a working farm and developing center for cultural renewal located in north central Massachusetts. Her background includes formal study in social work, energy healing, anthroposophy and the arts, biography work, and biodynamic agriculture. Brenda and her family have been on the Waldorf path for many years. She and her husband are the parents of two beautiful young adults, now ages 18 and 16, who are both college-bound in fall 2012. In addition to working on her farm, Brenda is most passionate about cooking, writing, and working with families and groups.
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