Results of Waldorf Education

By Windsong School
Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Today I visited the Sandpoint Waldorf School to attend their alumni panel.  Several former students were on hand to take questions about the results of their Waldorf education.   Most of them were high school or college students.  They sat in front of an audience of about forty adults, with a smattering of Sandpoint upper grades students.  The questions started right off the bat: Were you able to fit in at the public high school?  Were you well prepared?  Did technology present a problem for you? Do you think your Waldorf education provided you with an advantage, or a disadvantage?

Many of the panelists told about a transition to high school that was overwhelming to a degree – high school seemed scary, really big, and unmanageable.  I found myself thinking that I felt this way too, though I did not enter high school from a Waldorf school, but from a large public middle school.  I wondered if at that time I was capable of the same level of introspection these students were displaying – and I realized that even if I were, I certainly would not have been able to sit in front of an audience and speak about it with even a fraction of the poise and well-spoken clarity of these students.

One strong theme emerged during the discussion: These young people felt they did have unique strengths that they attributed to their Waldorf education.  They spoke about stunning their high school teachers with their unique attitude toward learning, namely, that they would participate even if their grade didn’t depend on it.  That they were not “point driven” but curiosity driven.  One student noted that she felt “disabled” by her AP courses – that in a sense they degraded her style of inquiry and intellectual engagement by putting a heavy emphasis on teaching students how to “play the game”.  They also noted that many of their academic skills, especially in math, atrophied during high school.

It was also clear that these students knew the value of community and had the necessary skills to participate socially wherever they went.  They felt their peers often lacked this ability, especially when it came to forming relationships with adults, such as teachers, coaches and other mentors.  They said that in the Waldorf school relationships across the grades were the norm, whereas in high school most of their peers were largely unaccepting of anyone outside their group.

They observed that they often mystified their peers because they wanted to try.  They wanted to strive for the sake of improving themselves, and they were not threatened by others’ successes, but regarded others’ strengths as providing a pathway for emulation and thus self improvement.

Each of the students felt that they were able to “handle” public high school well – and that they carried their Waldorf foundation into high school with them.  In many Waldorf elementary schools computers are used only in the upper grades, if at all.  The students felt that their learning curve was “steep” – they had a lot to learn but they were able to learn it very quickly.  Most took a typing class or a computer skills class in high school and felt that was sufficient to bring them “up to speed”.  They also noted that, unlike many of their peers, they used technology (such as calculators) as a crutch, rather than as “stilts” – they could get by without their “crutch”, and did not feel dependent.  One young man told of his experience in calculus class – he did the calculations for his tests “in his head” (mental math is valued in Waldorf education) and was able to calculate more quickly than the students using calculators.  His teacher doubted his ability to be quick and accurate and challenged him to an ongoing “race” through the term – which he won!

The students all spoke of excelling in athletics (many Waldorf students do not join after school sports teams until the upper grades) and using sports to quickly connect with their new peers in high school.

After attending the panel I spoke with a friend about my hope that my children can attain the same level of self knowledge, confidence and flexibility.  I wondered if their current education can help them develop these capacities.  She remarked that hardly anyone is satisfied with the current state of education – and yet true reform doesn’t seem likely.  Perhaps it is because we love the devil we do know more than the devil we don’t.  So, I encourage you to visit a Waldorf school if you are able to – and become a little more familiar with this particular “devil”.


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