Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alternative Education

So I have been thinking about alternative educational programs for Jack. The two that come to mind immediately are Steiner’s Waldorf School and the Montessori system. Montessori schools are easier to find but there are some important differences between that system and the Waldorf which make the Waldorf ultimately more attractive, at least if one is looking to raise a creative and artistically developed child as I am.

I’m planning a future posting on the fascinating life and spiritual genius of Rudolph Steiner, so some of the basics of the Waldorf philosophy (named from a lecture Steiner gave to employees of the Waldorf Tobacco Company in Germany in 1919) may seem somewhat vague to the reader but whatever.

In early education based on the Waldorf philosophy, play is viewed as the work of the young child and the magic of fantasy is an integral part of how the teacher works with the child. The teacher incorporates storytelling and fantasy into the curriculum.
In Montessori there is a feeling that because young children have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, fantasy should be postponed until the child is firmly grounded in reality. The tasks and activities the children do are reality oriented.

Waldorf has an interesting approach to using toys to educate. In Waldorf, the value of toys is that theyhelp children to re-enact experiences from life as they actually happen. The less finished ( more suggestive) a toy may be the greater its educational value since it sparks the imagination. Toys in the Waldorf kindergarten may be rounds of wood, seashells, lengths of colored silk or cotton for costuming or house building, soft cloth dolls, all with a minimum of detail which allow for open-ended play to stimulate the imagination. Contrast this with the Montessori view that it is a mistake for children to amuse themselves with toys because children are not really interested in toys for long without the real intellectual interest of associating them with sizes and numbers.

Waldorf also stresses the socialization of the child as extremely important, ant to that end the classroom is structured with the teacher modeling good social behavior with children, joining together in activities, singing or games which assist in developing group consciousness, and by helping children humanistically work through disagreements. Montessori, in contrast places a high value on the child’s individual capacity for choice and children are free to move about the classroom at will and the day is not divided between work periods and rest or play periods.
Both Waldorf and Montessori accept the fact that a child naturally longs for rhythm and order in his world but they deal with it in quite different ways; Montessori classrooms have an emphasis on reality to free a child from his fantasies where the Waldorf classroom enhances the child’s world of fantasy and imagination because play on the surface leads to development underneath.

Personally, I appreciate the less ego-centric approach of Waldorf and the fact that it values consensus, communication and imagination over a more structured approach to learning. I also like the fact that ideally, a Waldorf teacher stays with a group of children for years, and is thereby able to adapt the learning process to an individual child’s particular talents. Ok, enough for now.


Anonymous said...

Call me about the Waldorf/Steiner stuff - when the wee woman was coming I did a lot of reading and research on this. And we have been looking into it down here for the fall. Steiner was a genius and mystic, but not infallible, as some of his more dogmatic followers seem to view him. Montessori stuff is also great. One negative is the high tuition. Plus, that you will have to put up with a lot of yuppie parents. In the case of Montessori more mainstram yuppie types; with Waldorf, the trustafarian 'artiste' type


Mark said...

Will do. I went to a lecture on Steiner Monday at the Open Center and was intrigued. I can't say I buy into his entire spiritualist structure but clearly the guy was quite thorough in his approach to life in general and educatoin and agriculture in particular. I think I need to do some more reading of his lectures and books. I also suppose I'd rather deal with artistic yuppies than the money grubbing banker types.

Anonymous said...

will be on the road to SA from 6-7:30 [your time], so i'll call u then. there is a whole archive of Steiner's lectures somewhere on line. many are not that helpul though as they are pretty unfocussed and rambling. Best books of his to start with are "Knowledge of Higher Worlds" and "The Philosophy of Freedom". Christopher Bamford is editor of Steiner Press and is also good to read. He seems to have been going in a more catholic mysticism direction of late, as evinced by his 'Parabola' articles anyway. And there is also our 'anonymous' friend from "Meditations on the Tarot" - he was Steiner's star pupil for a while, and although he eventually embraced catholicism he tried to retain and integrate what was good from anthroposophy into his faith, Peace, Kevin

Anonymous said...

K.I.S.S. What is so wrong with main stream?

Mark said...

Nothing at all. But I made Jack's mother a promise that I would raise him with something approximating her values, which were decidedly non-mainstream. Hence my search for alternatives.