Waldorf Education in the Public School System

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An article by Michael Caterer

First published in Star Weavings, Autumn/Winter edition 2012



“The compromises are great and many.” These were the first words of advice I was given when I asked a  dear friend and long-time early childhood teacher about Waldorf early childhood education in the Public School Stream.

Schools that run under this scheme are usually labeled as Streamed, Charter or Dual Curriculum schools. Essentially whatever the term or title, ultimately their goal is to share the rich and fulfilling Waldorf curriculum within a public school atmosphere. They are fairly new in the scheme of Waldorf education worldwide but Melbourne seems to do it well, having around five of these schools running successfully.

Over the years I have spent time observing in traditional Waldorf Prep and Kinder environments in Australia and New York. I am in my third year as Prep teacher at East Bentleigh Primary School in Melbourne’s southeast bayside.

After being given the position I began to think seriously about the nature of Waldorf education through the image I was given in my teacher training and which of the qualities could be amalgamated into the public system.

I began to ask myself, what is it all about? Is it purely aesthetic with beautiful wooden toys, softly coloured rooms, and beautiful architecture as the public view sees it? Was it about having a functioning, healthy College of Teachers or more about developing individual creativity within a community setting? Is a spiritual education only available in these purpose-built environments or could that essence be cultivated and respected in any format?

It became fairly clear and as a fellow teacher once said, “Give me a blackboard and some chalk and put me anywhere, a park, the beach, the bush and I will still achieve the intentions of Waldorf education”.

This teacher had taught considerably in Waldorf Schools and in a streamed school setting. To give an idea of an early childhood school environment in my case is one of having no assistants, up to twenty-three children and a classroom that is immersed within a building full of working classrooms. The room doesn’t flow into a beautiful garden and is not traditional as far as Waldorf environments go. Not wishing to compare the wonderful school setting with its kitchen garden, hand-made wooden play equipment, and appropriately coloured classrooms on merit with traditional tones of an independent Waldorf school, rather I am painting a picture that asks, are the compromises really too great? Is Waldorf in the public stream as important or arguably more important with the scope of diversity it can reach amongst the demographic?



If you spend some time in the streamed school environment you will see

that something exciting and new is forming


Are the teaching styles of Waldorf intended to flourish only for those who follow our views for healthy upbringing and education, by limiting or rejecting the use of TV/media sources? Or are we able to translate our anthroposophical views for education into a translatable context for anywhere?

For many children, this education is a gift above and beyond what they will ever articulate and without getting into esoteric knowledge we can simply speculate on the workings of destiny and karma in these educational circumstances. But as Eugene Shwartz puts it, “for the early years in particular, the karma is as much with the parents or more as it is with the children”.

This brings us to the source of the streamed school frontier. In the public school strata, we are looking at this word ‘community’ on a significantly diverse platform. Adult education becomes a focus in a non-dogmatic sense and begins to appeal to the cause of community building. Without direct anthroposophical content, a forum for parental voicing still emerges with rich and meaningful outcomes of sharing, living, and building the bigger picture together as a community.

With anthroposophical content as a foundation held by the teachers, we recognize and understand that the essence of Waldorf can still exist but has shifted by sharing it amongst the involved community.

On the flip side of the coin, few involved in Waldorf education are unaware of the negative or disparaging comments made in respect to Waldorf styles of teaching. On the whole, there is generally some form of rumour-based material by those opposing the philosophy of Dr Rudolf Steiner, the lack of understanding of this style of education has created an obscure view to public eyes. As we have seen for example with the Footscray city school’s case, a negative viewpoint that has had the strength to pull it down was based on this ill will toward the public view of the education. In comparison, we do not see the work of bio-dynamics, another stream of insight given by Dr Steiner being misunderstood as greatly as education. This poses a challenge in a new sphere of managing a healthy school community and continuing to evolve and transform Waldorf education and its image.

We can’t hide the fact that there are struggles with practicality at any educational institution and this is evident in all Waldorf schools. So it begs to question what compromises are there for not providing greater public access to this kind of education. Surely the basis of such compromise is in the greater cost?

Working-class families are able to access a feeling of belonging and purpose toward controlling their view of growth for their child’s education that doesn’t cost private school fees. That sounds like a fairly large waiver considering the difference in price and the weight of a healthy education.

If we are to successfully motivate ourselves in the vision for Waldorf education and even go as far as saying Dr Steiner’s view of Waldorf education then we should consider the importance of these streamed schools and their ability to refresh the view of an education system that is entering a new century of critical judgment.

If you spend some time in the streamed school environment you will see that something exciting and new is forming; a combined strength, a weight lifted, and a shared vision for Waldorf education in a community sense. From a teacher’s point of view, it forces us to be more aware of the damage of speaking in anthroposophical terms openly. It opens doors to the public and gives access to Waldorf topics in a language everyone can share.

So then the question shifts and now I ask myself, “Does Waldorf education in a public school hold the essence of what drew me to this style of teaching in the first place? Is it still what I hoped it would be? And can it continue to sustain what I perceive Waldorf education to be?”


(at the time of writing this Michael worked as a Prep teacher at the East Bentleigh Primary School.)

 Michael is currently a primary class teacher, adult educator and coordinator at Sydney Rudolf Steiner College

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