The Results of Waldorf Education

What, really, are the results of a Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) education?

One may feel that the brochures make Waldorf look excellent, and that the goal of “Education Towards Freedom” is very sound. One may be impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of teachers in a Steiner school, and admire both the academic and artistic work of the students. But it is good to hear from people outside the Waldorf movement, who have worked together with—or in some other way have had experience of—Waldorf graduates and who have an objective professional basis for judging whether this form of education really accomplishes its goals.

The following three short articles, coming from California, New York, and Europe, respectively, offer just this kind of professional and objective evaluation.

The Waldorf Grade School

James Shipman
History Department, Marin Academy
San Rafael, California

[Explanatory Note: The Marin Waldorf School ends at Eighth Grade. A number of its graduates have done on to the Marin Academy—not a Waldorf school—for their secondary education.]

What I like about the Waldorf School is, quite simply, its graduates. As a high school teacher at Marin Academy, I have seen a number of students who come from your program, and I can say that in all cases they have been remarkable, bright, energetic and involved.

One of my duties is to teach World Civilizations to incoming 9th graders, so I tend to be one of the first people who encounter a Waldorf graduate. My course is not like the standard History of Western Civilization course, but rather requires the student to investigate the deeper aspects of the world’s cultures. For example, we are not so much interested in the chronology of Chinese emperors and the dynasties to which they belonged; instead we want to explore and understand the principles of Taoism and Confucianism and how these underlying philosophies helped to shape the Chinese culture. We aren’t so much interested in memorizing names and dates as we are in understanding what motivates people, and why they make the choices they do.

I find the Marin Waldorf graduates to be entirely willing to undertake this sort of investigation. They are eager to learn. They do not complain when I assign, for example, a passage from the Bhagavad Gita and then ask them what they think. I deed, that is what I find most remarkable about Waldorf kids: they have been taught to think; thinking is an “ok” activity for them to engage in. I think they intrinsically understand the difference between thinking about an issue and merely memorizing “the right answer” for the test.

I think they intrinsically understand the difference between thinking about an issue and merely memorizing "the right answer" for the test.

Waldorf students are not simply bookworms, however. In fact one could find Waldorf kids completely involved in the theatre, the arts, music and sports here at Marin Academy. What I see here is an integration of the faculties—mental, emotional, physical and spiritual—which, when coupled with the overtones of personality, unite to form unique individuals. Marin Waldorf students to me are interesting people. They can converse intelligently on almost any issue, because they have been taught to examine. They can be enormously sympathetic to almost anyone’s plight because they have been taught to tolerate. They can gracefully dance or score a goal because they have been taught to move. They can circulate among the various groups on campus and engage in a variety of activities because they have been taught to harmonize.

We use the word “wholistic” or “whole person” to describe the kind of person I have outlined above. Whatever the term used, it is apparent to me that the Marin Waldorf School consciously turns out calm, centered and confident students. For my part, I deeply appreciate the school’s efforts, because based on their work, I get to enjoy those students who come to Marin Academy. It is with humility that I note that Waldorf students allow me and my colleagues to influence them.

It is as if somewhere in their early years of schooling they somehow got the idea that learning is a lifelong enterprise.

The Waldorf Graduate: A Personal Reflection

Dr. W. Warren B. Eickelberg
Professor of Biology
Director, Premedical Curriculum
Adelphi University, Garden City, New York

[Explanatory Note: Most, though perhaps not all of the students referred to here as “Waldorf graduates” had their high school years in a Steiner school.]

The 1986-7 academic year will mark my thirty-fourth year of teaching at Adelphi University. When I began, no biologist knew what a gene was and now we manufacture them. When I entered the building, there were but a dozen antibiotics, and now they number in the thousands. Thirty-four years ago many of the biological sub disciplines did not even exist and much of what we taught then would now be incorrect. The minds of men and women have opened for us new vistas to view; the hands of men and women have given us new technology, but the souls of men and women remain the same, always searching for the answers as to whom we are, why we are here, and what our destiny is.

As there have been changes in academic content and technology, so the typical undergraduate student has changed. I lived with and experienced the job-oriented World War II veteran. I remember well the recall to active duty of many for the “peace action” in Korea. I sat through the “teach-ins” and the campus strikes of the Vietnam era. I lived through the revealing anatomy of the miniskirt, the drabness of the dark blue jean phase, the demands by the students to develop their own curricula, the reorientation of learning by professors and administrators, the establishment of obviously immoral sex mores, the decline in admissions standards, and the unique and possibly devastating effect that the medium of television has had on young people. Without any doubt, my past three decades have been marked by change, change, and ever more change.

Throughout this dynamism of activity where values were under attack and standards of behavior were challenged, from time to time there would be a unique stabilizing influence in my classes: a Waldorf School graduate. And they were different from the others. Without exception they were, at the same time, caring people, creative students, individuals of identifiable values, and students who, when they spoke, made a difference.

And they were different from the others. Without exception they were, at the same time, caring people, creative students, individuals of identifiable values, and students who, when they spoke, made a difference.

Let me share with the reader some of these features so that you too might see the difference. Almost without exception, every Waldorf School graduate showed concern for the embalmed animals we use for dissection in Comparative Anatomy. I was always as ked if the animal died painlessly, and they further questioned as to how. The Waldorf School graduates of the fifties, and of today, still show a unique reverence for life, and they regard an experimental animal, whether dead or alive, in a special way… not just as another reagent or piece of equipment to use in a laboratory exercise. Whereas most students are surprised to see the giant liver of a shark, it is always the Waldorf School graduate who sees this massive organ filled with oils as the result of a unique plan to give the animals buoyancy.

When describing geologic time, I have often told the true story of a man whose calculator could record the number 9.9 x 10^99. He discovered that even the estimated number of atoms in the universe or the volume of our known universe in cubic millimeter s could not begin to approach this order of magnitude. It was a Waldorf student who found an article suggesting that the chances of two human beings, other than identical twins, being genetically alike would approach one out of 1 x 10^6,270, and thus concluded that indeed each person is a unique and specially created individual.

We know that the atoms in every cell of every living being are found in the stars and the intergalactic gases and that we all make up a Community of Matter. As we in science view the universe from its creation to its predicted end, man may seem, astronomically speaking, rather insignificant, but any Waldorf School graduate will remind each of us that Man is still the only astronomer.

Once, when I was discussing the decreasing gene frequencies of Blood Type B from Siberia through western Europe, it was a Waldorf student who related this fact to the invasions by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. It has been said that historians see civilization as a stream through history, and the stream is often filled with blood, loud shouts, killing, and discoveries. It is the Waldorf School graduate who sees the stream, but also focuses on the banks where there are people who love, raise children, build homes, write poetry, worship, and carve statues.

Waldorf School graduates see behind the facts that often must be repeated or explained on examination. They are keenly interested in the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of the cell’s ultrastructure, but they know that Chemistry, Biology, and Physics can’t tell them much about the nature of love. They see, in embryology, a fetus developing a compound called prostaglandin, enhancing the mother’s response to oxyticin so that labor can begin, and they see this as a reflection of a guided universe. I feel certain that all Waldorf School graduates believe in the orderliness of our universe, and they believe the human mind can discern this order and appreciate its beauty.

Research on Waldorf School Graduates

Excerpts from an article in Der Spiegel, December 14, 1981
Translation by Renate Field

[Explanatory Note: Der Spiegel is a German weekly newsmagazine, somewhat analogous to our Time or Newsweek.]

Waldorf Schools, generally reputed to produce “beautiful souls” weakened for the tasks of real life, actually do quite the opposite, say results of a study which could even correct the evaluation of Gesamtschulen (twelve-year schools which include both those students preparing for college and others as well).

During the current school year, 32,000 students are being educated outside the state school system in 72 Free Waldorf Schools—according to the pedagogical concepts of the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. They attend a school which, according to the aims of their founder, aspires to transmit not only knowledge and ability but also content helpful for life and a perspective on life’s purposes. Their school day does not follow the 45-minute beat of strict timetables, but runs according to the rhythm o f “blocks” and, during the first eight years, with strong artistic emphasis. Their career is not accompanied, year after year, by reports, marks and promosions, but is free of selection¹ and pressures of grading—a tempting perspective surely, but for many parents hardly a realistic one or an adequate preparation for the battles of life.

This view is now being shaken by a scientific study of “The Educational Background of Former Waldorf Students”—the first empirical research of the Waldorf movement.

Three independent scientists, paid by the Bonn Department of Education, interviewed 1,460 former Waldorf students born in the years of 1946 and ’47 and came to a prevailingly positive result in favor of the Waldorf schools. Their students have achieved, so the examiners have discovered, “an educational plateau well above average”.

The results appear to be formulated conservatively. For it is just this achievement of the Waldorf schools that holds surprises for the educational policy-makers. Twenty-two percent of the students polled passed the Abitur ² at their own Waldorf school—even back in the years 1966 and ’67, almost three times more than in the state schools. Moreover, 40 percent of those polled, who had “never attended any other school than a Waldorf school” from grade 1 through 13, passed the Abitur.

These statistics appear even more significant when the conditions under which the exams were taken are considered—for instance, the fact that “the Abitur does not lie within the interests of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy” as stated by Stefan Leber, Board member of the Association of Waldorf Schools.

Practically speaking, this means that the students are taught according to Waldorf guidelines during their 12 years at school and are not specially prepared for the diploma examination. Only in the voluntary 13th year³ is the curriculum oriented toward the requirements of the state schools and the Abitur. On top of this, the exam itself was “an altogether unfamiliar Abitur given under strictest conditions: all tests came from outside the school; the exam was monitored by a state team of examiners.” Proponents of the conventional school system must be irritated by such results, because, after all, the Waldorf School is a Gesamtschule (see definition in the first paragraph) of the purest type. Nevertheless, it is now proven, says Bernhard Vier, who headed the research team, that “among the students who were taught for 12 years on a nonselective basis, an even higher percentage are able to pass the Abitur.” All this, says the educator, “the academicians have never wanted to believe possible.”
The Waldorf students showed a preference for occupations in the educational and social fields (20 percent), in the medical (12 percent), and in the artistic/linguistic field (12 percent); legal and technical professions were “underrepresented” (see note 4). The graduates obviously took their incentives for professional choice from the Waldorf values. Success, prestige, recognition, and career potential, and income played at best a subordinate role. As “personally especially important” in making their decision, the graduates named above all their own inclinations and abilities, independence and interest, then followed social and altruistic aspects.

The Waldorf students showed a preference for occupations in the educational and social fields (20 percent), in the medical (12 percent), and in the artistic/linguistic field (12 percent)

1. A term used for the policy of allowing only the fittest to continue and leaving the others behind.

2. An examination whose equivalent in the United States would allow a student to skip introductory courses and, in effect, start college as a sophomore.

3. The U.S. and German school systems are different from one another. American Waldorf schools have no voluntary 13th year; nor, of course, do the students have to take an Abitur examination.

4. Available American statistics are somewhat different. In 1986 Kimberton Waldorf School made a survey of its own high school alumni. Of those responding, 23% were active on corporate or private business; 22% had entered scientific, technological, or medical professions; and 16% had become educators. The remaining responses showed that 16% were active in the arts, theatre or journalism, and 10% had gone into law.

Compiled by the Admissions Office
Kimberton Waldorf School
Kimberton, PA 19442, USA

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