Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address and discussion at the first official members’ meeting of the Independent Waldorf School Association
17 June 1921, Stuttgart
Ladies and gentlemen! 1This speech was revised by Rudolf Steiner himself for inclusion in the Mitteilungsblatt für die Mitglieder des Vereins Freie Waldorfschule [Newsletter for Members of the Independent Waldorf School Association], August 1921, Vol. 1. He did not, however, revise the discussion that followed. I call this first official meeting of members of the Independent Waldorf School Association to order. Before I go into the agenda, please allow me to welcome you most heartily in the name of the Board. Of course only a small number of the Association’s members are here today; we welcome all the more heartily those of you who are able to be here. We have 1,400 members, and not nearly that many are here, but it is a pleasure to see that a considerable number have come.
To begin with, ladies and gentlemen, there are some things that need to be said with regard to the development of the Waldorf School up to this point. We now have two school years behind us. From various publications that have already appeared, you probably know that in this Waldorf School which Emil Molt founded, we aspired to something that could really bring about something new in various directions as a result of new pedagogical and methodological viewpoints and as a result of a universal humanitarian way of thinking. We aspired to release new forces that are needed in the field of education in order to counter the forces of decline that are so apparent in our times. Understandably enough, something important must be done now in the realm of the educational system. Our task was not an easy one; in choosing the teachers, we needed to make sure that the spirit of a much-needed new pedagogical and methodological way of thinking, as we may call it, was alive and active in them.
In addition, the faculty first had to come to a common understanding of what our task would have to become as we got into the details of pedagogical and methodological activity. For this purpose, a pedagogical and methodological course was given prior to the opening of the school for the college of teachers as it was initially constituted. Instruction was then begun, attempting to take this course as a basis. In addition to this first somewhat longer pedagogical course, a shorter supplementary course was given before the start of the second school year, and a second supplementary course is taking place now before the third school year begins. 2Supplementary courses: See Rudolf Steiner’s Meditativ erarbeitete Menschenkunde (1947) (available also as the first four lectures, Stuttgart, Sept. 15, 16, 21, 22, 1920 in Erziehung und Unterricht aus Menschenerkenntnis, GA 302a), Balance in Téaching (Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1990) and Menschenerkenntnis und Unterrichtsgestaltung (Eight lectures, Stuttgart, 1921, GA 302), Educating Adolescents(Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Presas, 1996). On the various occasions when I as the educational director was able to visit the school in the course of these two years, it became evident — and I say this after a conscientious investigation — that in spite of all the difficulties that some individual teachers had to overcome in themselves — difficulties due in part to outer circumstances and in part to the difficulty of the task itself — it has become possible for the spirit that prevails in our school to take hold of the college of teachers ever more strongly. We have been involved in an ascending development, and the way in which this spirit of the Waldorf School has settled down among us to an ever greater extent leads us to hope that we will also be able to note an ascending development in the Waldorf School spirit in the school year to come. It has become evident that the new teachers who joined the old ones as the expansion of the school made it necessary have found their way into the spirit of the Waldorf School with astounding rapidity. In this connection, we can say that this spirit of the Waldorf School is becoming something more and more alive, something you discover and are touched by as soon as you come into the school.
In this connection, after properly assessing the situation, we have only good things to note; we can hope that by developing the spirit we aspire to we will gradually get to the point at which we can offer clear evidence that the Waldorf School will be able to achieve its goal. This is what there is to report about the spirit that prevails in the school and in the teachers’ conferences, about the spirit that was evident to me, as the one who had to verify it, in the attitude and way of thinking that prevails within the college of teachers. The college of teachers consists of its founder Herr Emil Molt and his wife in the role of patrons, so to speak, and of the people you know. By the very nature of the thing, the educational directorship has fallen to me, and I may say that in the teachers’ conferences that have been held in my presence and in the classes in which I participated, which happened quite often in the course of these two years, what I have just described has certainly been evident.
This is all that needs to be noted in brief about this side of things; however, there is something that needs to be presented from the other side. This is something that I believed to be fully justified in saying in all kinds of talks before the opening of the school and at the opening itself, namely that the Waldorf School will only really fulfill its mission if other such schools are founded very soon. With a single school, of course, we can provide nothing more than a model and a pedagogical and methodological example. I believe I am justified in telling you this. Of course we will be able to produce a model and an example of this sort, but in our times this can only be a beginning. What is needed now is to carry the spirit of which we have spoken into the entire educational system in the sense of the threefold social organism. This threefolding requires a truly free cultural life with regard to education. The spirit of which we have spoken can be achieved only through the broadest possible dissemination of the idea of the Waldorf School. The Waldorf School must have successors, and this depends of course on interest in the school developing in the widest possible circles. It may be said that the active cooperation of the members of the Waldorf School Association, and also of the parents, demonstrates an admirable degree of interest. Unfortunately, however, the idea of the Waldorf School has not excited interest in wider circles; interest there remains extraordinarily low. Apart from the single small-scale and very gratifying attempt that has been made within Central Europe, the Waldorf School has not found any successors, and there are very few movements afoot to get such successors started.
We can also say that the interest has not been as great as expected from another point of view, namely that it takes money for even one model school to thrive. We have had to set things up in a way that involves adding one grade a year. When the school was founded, it had eight grades; last year we added the ninth grade, and with the beginning of the third school year, which takes place tomorrow, the tenth grade will be added. In this way, we will expand the school upward each year so that eventually our graduating students will be able take the Abitur and go straight on to various colleges and universities. There is still time for all this, but this is how we imagine the school’s expansion to take place. Of course this requires constant additions to our physical space. In addition, our original idea, which was to found this school primarily for the children of associates of the Waldorf-Astoria factory, has broadened considerably. We have been getting more and more applications from all over the place; in this respect there is no lack of interest. Interest in increasing the size of the school, in expanding this one school, and in the spirit of the school is certainly already present. This is evident from the fact that we have students applying on all sides, and that most grade levels have several parallel classes.
The Board of Directors” report will mention the difficulties with regard to expanding the school. 3Because of a ruling on the laws governing primary schools, the Waldorf School had to reapply for approval in the fall of 1920. This was granted under the proviso that starting in the 1922/23 school year it, like other private schools, was not to admit a new first grade and would have to decrease the number of students in the first four grades. However, as an experimental school the Waldorf School was expected to win an extension to this deadline. The ruling was later repealed. We can see from all this that it is necessary to arouse interest in the school in a financial context. We really cannot say that the school has met with this interest in a financial sense. We encounter new financial worries each time an expansion becomes necessary. Already today the Board will present some of its concerns in its report to this official members’ meeting. While on the one hand we can report considerable satisfaction with the school’s spiritual progress, this must be balanced by reporting our concerns, which will increase greatly in the next few weeks. Naturally, the college of teachers cannot deal with these concerns; it already has a great deal to do in keeping up with the school’s spiritual progress. This is something that must be taken to the broader public in the right way in the near future. We simply must awaken interest in financially supporting the Waldorf School, or else even the model that a single school provides will not be able to develop in the appropriate way. It is to be hoped that if we succeed in raising the interest of the broader public in the spirit of the Waldorf School and its results, we will be able to meet our other need, namely to broaden the concept of the Waldorf School by founding other such schools as successors to this one. If this does not happen, establishing a model and an example is all that will be possible. This would certainly not do justice to the ideas and ideals of the Waldorf School movement.
This is what I wanted to present to you in my role as chairman of the Waldorf School Association.
From the discussion
E. Molt: I could not wish for a nicer task than to have to present Dr. Steiner with our heart-felt thanks for his loving leadership of the school. We know that we have him to thank for the successful growth of the school
Dr. Steiner: Ladies and gentlemen! I would like to thank Herr Molt for his kind words, and all of you for agreeing with them. I believe I may also express these thanks in the name of the entire college of teachers of our Waldorf School. There can be no doubt that to the extent to which this college of teachers has been successful in building up the Waldorf School, this has only been possible because the entire college of teachers is deeply imbued with the need for the idea of the Waldorf School, because each individual member of this college of teachers is enthusiastically involved with the idea of the Waldorf School. From this enthusiasm comes the strength to work at something essentially new. We can rest assured that in spite of many difficulties, this enthusiasm will endure, and as a consequence the strength needed by those of us who must provide for the Waldorf School and its spiritual progress will also endure. And in this sense, since you may be able to believe that we in this school are working out of pure enthusiasm for the idea of the Waldorf School, you will also be able to accept the promise I would like to make, in my name and in the name of my dear friends in the college of teachers, to you who have taken such a deep interest in the Waldorf School. Please accept our promise that we will in future continue to work in the way that you have seen and in a way that will satisfy you.
Someone expresses the wish to have a chance to see the Waldorf School.
Dr. Steiner: I believe you would not get much out of seeing the Waldorf School itself, and that the faculty would not be able to conduct a tour tomorrow morning. If it is possible for you to modify your wish, perhaps you could take part in the opening assembly here in the Stadigartensaal at 9:30 tomorrow, if there are not too many of you. Would it be possible for you to do this instead? I am sure the teachers will have no objections. And if you should wish to take a walk tomorrow evening after six o’clock, the members of the college will be glad to show you the building when school is not in session.
A member: Perhaps people can be allowed to visit the school on a certain day? The eurythmy lessons, for instance?
Dr. Steiner: Eurythmy belongs to our lessons, so the same objections would apply to it as to other classes. I would like to comment that the most that would be possible would be that we might decide to show visitors the empty school when the children and teachers are not there. There can be no question of visiting while school is in session. That is, such a visit could only take place after weighing it up carefully in consultation with those who hope to learn something by visiting the school — for instance, with people who want to see something of this school because they are trying to found a similar school elsewhere, because they themselves are doing something relevant to spread the idea of the Waldorf School. Seeing the school in operation would only come into question in infrequent cases of this sort. Of course we have already had many requests along these lines, but for purely pedagogical and methodological reasons it would not be possible to have it happen on a more general basis. Even a legitimate visit during a lesson is a cause of disturbance, a disturbance that is not justifiable in pedagogical terms. Anyone coming into the classroom disturbs the lesson. Sometimes there is a higher goal that justifies the disturbance, and we have to accept reasons of this sort. But we need to be sensitive to the fact that a lesson requires presence of mind and should therefore under no circumstances be subjected to visitation unless there is some urgent need.
I believe, therefore, that it is also the view of the other members of the college that the most we can allow is for you to see the classrooms, and even this would be burdensome at the moment. I can assure you that the classrooms will be well worth seeing once we are receiving a lot of financial support. But with regard to equipment that comes from endowments, people are probably much more likely to feel that they are getting their money’s worth if they go and look at other schools. We, on the other hand, would only be subjecting ourselves to the danger of having them tell us that they didn't see anything, that the instructional materials are anything but ample, and that they want their money back!
With regard to eurythmy, let me remind you again that we have done everything possible to demonstrate what eurythmy is like. We have organized events where people could see what the Waldorf children do in eurythmy, and I hope that these events will continue. These are opportunities for you to convince yourselves of what the Waldorf children can accomplish in eurythmy. For pedagogical reasons, it does not seem possible to me for us to make exceptions in the case of eurythmy to what applies to the rest of the lessons.
So far we have accommodated to the greatest possible extent any legitimate wish people might have to inform themselves of what is going on in the Waldorf School, and people have taken advantage of the possibility to see the school to an equally great and not always desirable extent.
In this regard, nothing healthy can come of it if visitation and our interaction with the outer world are governed by any directives other than those the directorship and teachers™ college of the Waldorf School see fit to issue. It does not seem possible to me for the school’s leadership to receive any such directives from an Association. The issue here is that only a proper decision of the teachers’ college can come into consideration in a matter like this, so it does not seem necessary to me to vote in the context of the Waldorf School Association on whether or not this should be permitted. How this matter is handled depends absolutely on the college of teachers. There has also been no motion to do otherwise.
... It does not work to have what I described in the first part, the spirit of the Waldorf School, on display for visitors. It has to be developed in the lessons, and this can be done only in the way in which it has been attempted so far. The only way in which the spirit of the Waldorf School can be presented to the public is through public testimonials of people who have children here, who are becoming familiar with our educational ideals; that is, through parents and others related to the school. There is no possibility of drawing attention to the spirit of the Waldorf School in any other way.
I can assure you that I know that this suggestion was made with good intentions, but in the past two years we have been accommodating on all sides. We must guard carefully against having people come who are merely curious. However, we will also continue to not turn away anyone who has legitimate grounds for getting to know the school.
Now that we have come to the end of our gathering, allow me to still express on behalf of the Board our hearty thanks to you for being willing to attend this first gathering. I hope the experiences you will be able to have will satisfy the interest you have demonstrated by being present here today. In this sense, I thank you in the name of the Board of the Waldorf School Association for being here today. Let me now call this first official members’ meeting to a close.