I thought Waldorf Was Just A Salad

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Apparently, there is a educational methodology called Waldorf education. According to Wikipedia, Waldorf education, "is a humanistic approach to pedagogy based upon the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy". OK, I understand all of that description except for anthroposophy which Wikipedia says, "is a spiritual philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development—more specifically through cultivating conscientiously a form of thinking independent of sensory experience." Oh. So, anthroposophy is BULLSHIT! Why didn't they just say so.

Well it seems that the Waldorf education model has been popular in private schools for a while but is now gaining traction in public schools as well. There are as many as a two dozen Waldorf schools in California. There is also a group that is suing them because they say that the Waldorf education method is based on his anthroposophy and there-by a religion.

What do you think?

Public Waldorf schools booming in Sacramento -- but are they legal?
By Melody Gutierrez


Published: Monday, Aug. 2, 2010 - 12:00 am

Sacramento is the epicenter of the debate over whether the Waldorf system – whose educational philosophy goes back 100 years – is appropriate for a public school.

Parent interest in Waldorf schools is exploding, with a wait-listed K-8 school in south Sacramento moving to a larger site this summer.
Sacramento City Unified School District officials say they recognize the growing interest in Waldorf-inspired education, which is primarily offered at private schools.

The district opened a second Waldorf – a small public high school – three years ago.

While enrollment climbs, the district faces a lawsuit this summer from a Northern California group that claims the Waldorf system cannot be separated from founder Rudolf Steiner's religious philosophy, making public Waldorf schools ineligible to receive taxpayer dollars.

The People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools filed the lawsuit in 1998, and after several appeals, a trial is set for Aug. 31 in Sacramento federal court.

"We are excited to finally make it to court," said Debra Snell, president of PLANS. "These schools are spreading like wildfire. It's a nationwide concern."

Art plays a key role

Tristen Bentley shrugs, his shaggy hair creeping into his eyes as he considered the question: What is Waldorf?

"It's like a big family," said Bentley, 14, who will enter his sophomore year at George Washington Carver School of Arts and Sciences, a Waldorf-inspired public high school in Sacramento.

Waldorf educators say, simply put, Waldorf is a holistic approach that focuses on a child's development and has art infused into the curriculum.

Bentley said he was attracted to the art focus but heard murmurs that Waldorf was religious-based. He says he knows now that it's not.
"That was my mom's prejudice when we came here," he said. "She's over it now."

After attending the academic magnet Sutter Middle School, Bentley chose not to follow his peers to McClatchy, West Campus and other high schools. "I like art, the sciences and the attention you won't get at the other big schools," he said.

George Washington Carver principal Allegra Alessandri said the school provides opportunities to Sacramento City Unified students who can't afford private Waldorf school tuition.

Besides George Washington Carver, the district has a popular K-8 school – John Morse Waldorf Methods School. The two schools are among two dozen public Waldorf schools in California. Several more are in the works, Waldorf educators said.

Public Waldorf high schools are rare, with Alessandri saying she believes George Washington Carver is the only one in the country. The school replaced a failing small school, America's Choice, which had one of the worst dropout rates in the state.

"That gave us a rocky start," Alessandri said. "We were overcoming gang and violence stuff. We inherited a bad reputation that we had to work through. It's attracting kids now."

She said the school will increase enrollment from about 200 students to 250 in the fall. She hopes to have 500 students in the next few years.
George Washington Carver ninth-graders take nine weeks of drama, art, gardening and poetry. Alessandri said the school is project-based and hands-on.

"We put all of our academic subjects in historical context of how they arose," she said.

'Anthroposophy' has critics

Skeptics of Waldorf methods aren't hard to find. One of the most vocal groups is PLANS, which filed the Sacramento suit. PLANS operates a website that posts comments from former Waldorf parents, teachers and students.

The website warns parents that "Waldorf schools are an activity of anthroposophy, a cult-like religious sect following the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner."

"All of us know that a Catholic-inspired school wouldn't fly, but many people aren't aware of new-age religions, so they sneak in the back door," said Snell, PLANS president.

Snell said she helped found a Waldorf-inspired charter called Yuba River Charter School in Nevada City. She said she liked the focus on art and that teachers stay with the same students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

"We are trying to make a point that it's easy for schools to be duped and people to be duped," Snell said. "We don't blame the schools for doing this. These people are really good and deny that this is religion."
The crux of PLANS' case centers on whether or not anthroposophy is a religion.

According to the Dictionary of World Religions, Steiner created anthroposophy to try to "develop a view of reality based on direct perception of the spirit world."

Alessandri said she looks forward to the case this summer and is confident the district will prevail. "Waldorf education is not religious education," she said. "This is a good solid education."

Morse gets new campus

In a cafeteria in south Sacramento in February, parents and teachers grew impatient. A woman began to sing and then dozens joined, continuing as Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond entered smiling. Raymond said John Morse would be relocating to the larger Alice Birney Elementary campus.

Morse, which turned away 51 students last school year, would be able to expand its K-8 program, which had been operating over capacity with 411 students. Alice Birney, which had been closed because of low enrollment, can hold 565 students.

"We still have a wait list in certain grade levels," said Morse principal Mechelle Horning. "We will eventually have two classes at every grade level."

That demand is seen at many Waldorf schools, educators say. According to Debra Lambrecht, an administrator of the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, there are 43 Waldorf-inspired public schools in the country, including 24 in California.

Those schools could become competition for private Waldorf schools.
Liz Beaven, an administrator at Sacramento Waldorf School in Fair Oaks, said the private pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school is seeing less than a 5 percent drop in enrollment for this fall, despite the economy.

"The charter and magnet schools have impacted enrollment (at private Waldorf schools)," Beaven said. "But we support healthy education for children. We believe that taking some of our methods and curriculum and making them more available for children is a positive thing."
At the private school level, where religion can be taught, Waldorf educators say their philosophy is not religion-based.

Private and public school teachers receive the same training, said Betty Staley, director of the high school training program at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks.

"We want (teachers) to knowwhat the philosophy behind Waldorf is, although it's not taught in the school," Staley said. "It's called anthroposophy and it's the philosophy of the human being. In public school, they would not ever mention the spiritual, but it's important for (teachers) to know it, so it's not a secret?
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