The Imperative Nature of Waldorf Education and its Potential for Impact
Coming back to school in the fall of 2013 after traveling to Israel for the first time, I was introduced to Amir Shlomian, the man who unintentionally inspired me to “rethink” Waldorf education. Amir founded the first bilingual Arab-Jewish Waldorf Kindergarten in Israel, which is very unique in the Middle East. When he presented at my school, The Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, I realized he had changed my understanding of Waldorf education. When he spoke, I realized I was not part of singular bubble, but part of a community with over 1,600 schools in 60 countries. This network is massive and I saw the potential. This made me rethink an education I had once thought was weird and cultish. It made me understand there was much more to the education than fairytales and eurythmy.
Two weeks after Amir’s presentation, I started my project Branches, aimed at trying to see if Waldorf education could be implemented as a resource for coexistence in Israel between Arabs/Palestinians and Jews/Israelis. After conducting extensive research on Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf pedagogy, I tried to connect Amir’s school, Ein Bustan with the Rudolf Steiner School to form a “sister school” relationship. I explained my idea with many teachers, showing the significance of a network that has the potential to give students a far better understanding of different cultures.
In the spring of 11th grade, I attended an event at the Anthroposophical Society in New York City where Shepha Vainstein spoke, who is the founder of ReGeneration. Her organization is an “interfaith non-profit seeding the Middle East with an educational philosophy that embraces life, learning, the arts, the earth and all the children.”
As my senior year began, my goal remained constant: to create a relationship with the Rudolf Steiner School and Ein Bustan. The goal was to find a way to connect with other Waldorf schools around the world, not only to exchange ideas, but to make an impact in communities, outside of Steiner’s bubble. That being said, my school along with many other Waldorf schools have exchange programs where students almost always go to European countries. The Euro-centric style of learning, although imperative, does not fully prepare students to go out into the world, like the education aspires children to do every morning during the morning verse. This poses the question of which world does the student look?
“I look into the world…”
In seeing the impact of Ein Bustan, I realized Waldorf education has the potential to impact countries and peoples all over the world, not just in Europe and North America, but in Asia, South America, Australia/Oceana, and Africa too. When Rudolf Steiner envisioned the world after the First World War, he saw a different kind of society that rethought the modern nation-state and its perpetuation of racism and conflict. I want to build a better world and I believe Waldorf education has the ability to make a large impact.
At the end of my senior year, I gave my senior project presentation about Branches and the cultural exchange I finally conducted with Ein Bustan. In addition, I documented through video, the research I compiled about the importance of Waldorf education in the Middle East, specifically, Israel. I interviewed many Waldorf educators and leaders in the movement. I showed why Waldorf education is important in the Middle East and how the education has the potential to reorient the minds of young children to think differently about the world, starting from a very young age. I believe the role of Waldorf education is to reorient the way individuals think — to rethink our world and to re-inspire individuals to make it better. The point is to challenge narratives, which was the whole reason why Steiner started the education in the first place.
The reason I founded Branches was because I wanted to re-inspire students, faculty, and parents to relook at this education and understand the potential it has not only to foster the organic development of children, but to make global impacts. This is a vision, one that should be on people’s minds. The infrastructure is already set up around the world with numerous organizations and thousands of schools. There are many organizations in Europe, such as the Freunde and the European Council for Waldorf Education who go into different communities and re-inspire humanity. The Freunde does work to help refugees and does emergency pedagogy, which helps children traumatized by war or other atrocities. The European Council helps Waldorf schools in Europe with pedagogy and financial assistance. This is a pedagogical philosophy of which I want to be a part. I see using this philosophy to help people and make an impact on people’s lives.
I did not want to go through my education or my life for that matter passively, but actively, taking every opportunity to not only better myself, but to impact the people around me in my community and around the world.
“Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet” — Barack Obama
Waldorf education needs to address real world challenges and no longer stand on the sidelines and expect students to talk about them. In this sense, we have to “rethink” Waldorf education and its role in this ever changing world.