Friday, September 19, 2014

A Brush with Steiner...

I've never worked in a Steiner/Waldorf centre and my reading about them is limited to some critical articles, hearsay, and brief mentions during my time at Uni.

Prior to starting a new job where a couple of the teachers indicated that they were either Steiner trained or strongly influenced, I read the classic 'Free to Learn' by Lynne Oldfield which, while very rosy in its portrayal of Steiner Education, offered me enough to hopefully build pedagogical bridges with my new colleagues

What I discovered was that the good stuff is easily recognisable and becoming quite mainstream in New Zealand. For instance:

The ideas around routine and natural rhythm are familiar to those who follow Pikler/RIE philosophies where following a child's natural cycles of eating, sleeping and playing rather than working to a time schedule offers a more respectful, relationship based way of working/learning with tamariki. Happy children, emotional stability, increased learning opportunities. Tick.

Candles, flowers, karakia, real plates and cups, natural wood etc all work towards setting the fixed points in the day/place as a ritual that is both magical and grounded - a point in learning itself rather than rushed through to get on with the next 'activity'.

Freedom of movement is again strong with Pikler/RIE as it is generally with what is now considered best practice in ECE. No high chairs or other restrainers and a hands-off approach to teaching that allows for natural physical development.

Another core philosophy that reflects the era of educational thinking that Steiner was exposed to is Free Play. There are numerous criticisms of this constructivist approach to learning learning, mainly based around the limitations on a child's knowledge-base when no intentional teaching is occurring. I've written oodles about this here on this blog. Yet Steiner does try to balance this position with daily teacher-led activities but unfortunately this fails spectacularly in my opinion. Moments of intentional teaching are tightly controlled experiences with no input from the children as to content and direction. For example, wet paper painting with primary colours only and puppet stories - they appear almost identical in any Steiner centre in any country and are a tightly controlled 'Steiner best practice'.

However, at the other end of the intentional teaching spectrum...

Steiner practice the concept of 'good work' whereby teachers model life in a functioning community - they bake food, garden, repair, clean etc - they keep pretty busy as teachers and the potential learning opportuniest are fantastic. I'm totally into this. Closely related to all this work in the gardens is celebrating the seasons and this is another example a practice that is becoming mainstream.

So we have beautiful natural centres, bake bread everyday, awesome gardens, festivals and the children roam free for most of the day....

but there's the homogenised learning experiences, no reading books, and no black or brown paints and pencils because they are inferior colours....  Steiner... 1930's Germany... a hippy take on contemporary eugenics ideas that proposed several stages of reincarnation to become a white person... oh dear.

Yes Steiner is very 'white and middle class'. He was essentially a fucking nutcase and gave us the educational version of Scientology complete with Atlantis, goblins and aliens, but he stole most of his educational ideas like all the great educationsalist did/do. Pikler, Tolstoy, Ferrer, Montessori, Froebel etc were all active in this period and their ideas merge in many areas. Yet Steiner has serious baggage, lots of it. The main problem with this baggage however is that the movement tries to keep it secret - the racism, the weird spiritualist take on Christianity or 'Anthroposophy' as he coined it which is deeply infused in all the teachings, the anti-science and technology stance...

So I'm not at all interested in claiming to be 'influenced by Steiner' - there's just  no need to be linked with all his bullshit. Take the good bits and call then your own,  I like a lot of what Steiner does - but I'm not 'Steiner influenced' - I seek best practice.

We're having some very interesting discussions at work and on a pedagogical level it's sweet.


Anonymous said...

Great post! This is pretty much how I see Steiner too. As a parent I very quickly lost interest in Steiner education when I realised the extent of the racism and secrecy. AS a teacher I am happy to grab the bits I like and leave all the crap behind. I am glad more people are critiquing Steiner! Hope the new job is going well!

ako said...

Thanks :)

Yes I was surprised how most of the stuff I've found on Steiner is so black and white - it's a love/hate thing. No one seems keen on looking at Steiner from a strictly pedagogical lens and critiquing the different elements of practice. Like I said in the post, there's plenty of good stuff within Steiner that we can all use for the benefit of our tamariki.

See ya!

Rosa Maria said...

i dont think you actually know what intentional teaching means....

Wonder is the catalyst for all understanding. Wonder brings us into a reverent relationship with all that is, creating a sense of belonging and bringing deep meaning to our existence. All teaching in the Waldorf classroom is intentional, serving multiple purposes at one time. Its methods have the underlying aim of nourishing the soul and spirit of the children, igniting their curiosity and sense of wonder, and deepening their understanding of themselves and their world.

Rosa Maria said...

Intentional teaching it is a term that is used to describe teaching that is purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate .
In this definition it is the word intentional that is important since it assumes that an intentional educator is someone whose actions:originate from careful thought and are accompanied by careful consideration of their potential effects. Thus an “intentional’ teacher aims at clearly defined learning objectives for children, employs instructional strategies likely to help children achieve the objectives, and continually assess progress and adjusts the strategies based on that assessment’. Epstein, 2007, One of the important things alluded to in this definition is that intentional teaching is not something that can simply be observed. This is because what determines whether an educator is engaged in intentional teaching is not necessarily what the educator is doing but the thinking, or the intention, that sits behind the educator’s actions. In practice, this means that an educator who is sitting on the side of the sandpit observing children’s interactions without interacting him or herself may be engaged in intentional teaching whilst an educator who has organised the children into a group and is reading them a story might not be. This is because, as Epstein points out (2007, p. 4), it is ‘the teacher who can explain just why she is doing what she is doing [who] is acting intentionally – whether she is using a strategy tentatively for the first time or automatically from long practice, as part of an elaborate set up or spontaneously in a teachable moment’.

ako said...

Kia ora,

Firstly, stop being such an uptight wanker. Is this your idea of a conversation? And you teach?!

Secondly, your first comment is truly beautiful, but seriously, i stopped believing at "Waldorf" because I know the truth: black people are inferior according to your guru and that's fucked up, don't you agree?

Secondly, you're absolutely right in your definition of intentional teaching. Yes you can intentionally observe. Yes an environment can be intentional in its provocations. Yes you can be reading to a group and not offer anything constructive...

Of course, as you say, it is not just the doing that defines an 'intentional teacher', but the intention to enable the construction of new knowledge without limitation - can you really say that Steiner willingly opens any door to honor the learning journey of a child?

I actually don't understand just what you are raging on about - your (or rather Epstein's) definition is spot on. So?

Do you actually believe that the 'objectives' of Steiner somehow aligns with this definition? That Steiner equates with some mystical freedom to learn?

Stieiner is dogmatic, homogenised, trapped in a 'cult of personality' and unable to accept criticism nor adapt to either local contexts or pedagogical development. It's an anachronism and it's a shame he died before the war was over because he might have dropped the eugenics bullshit.

There are some really really good bits and I outlined them above, but there is no way in hell I would use the label of Steiner when promoting them. He doesn't deserve it; nor do I want to be aligned with people like yourself.