Monday, September 29, 2014

Secular Waldorf :: Is that Possible?

The first time I heard the phrase "secular Waldorf," I thought to myself, "Gee, that sounds a bit odd." Then I thought about it a bit more and laid the question to rest.

When it came around again, I wondered some more, how could that be? I decided to investigate and looked up the definition of the word secular and upon googling it, this is what I found:
  1. 1.
    denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.
    "secular buildings"
    synonyms:nonreligious, areligiouslaytemporalworldlyearthlyprofane;
    "secular music"

"No religious or spiritual basis."


Waldorf education is not religious at all, there is no religious doctrine whatsoever.

Does it have a spiritual basis?

Oh my yes!

Let's look more closely...

Waldorf education is built upon and around the picture of the human being as one with a spiritual dimension. It's very foundation is the human being as a spiritual being.

Does a person have to be spiritual and embrace the spiritual inclinations of Waldorf education to send their child to a Waldorf school?

I'd say no, not at all.

Yet as a homeschool parent teacher, I'd say it is essential to recognize the  spiritual basis of Waldorf education and have an understanding of how it is woven throughout the curriculum, how it shapes every aspect of the curriculum.

Families of all sorts of religious and cultural backgrounds are attracted to Waldorf education. 

Some folks love the ways the arts are integrated into the curriculum, some love the connection to nature, natural materials and outdoor play. Some parents love the importance and focus placed on imagination and wonder. Some love the beauty of the classrooms.

Yet every single aspect of Waldorf education is based on the image of the human being as a spiritual being. From what is taught and when, to the stories that are told, to the role of song and movement, to the blessings sung at the table, to the introduction of the alphabet and the numbers. It all relates back to the picture of the human being as a spiritual being.

It's not just about the Festivals.

Waldorf teachers, and by this I mean to include Waldorf homeschool parent teachers as well, who have experienced some immersion in the teaching of Waldorf education, are awakened to the spiritual aspects of teaching, of working with the spiritual world, of doing our own inner work, as a catalyst for our teaching, of working with body, soul and spirit.

This is why it is so difficult to nail down specifics of teaching Waldorf education, because we begin with an understanding, a common picture of the child, and humanity and the world and each other and ourselves. This is an ongoing process of striving, growth and understanding, not something that can be defined and left alone as a static thing.

Then, through observation of the particular child in our care, study, meditation, faculty meetings (this is a challenge for us to create as homeschoolers and a good topic for another conversation) and our own work with the spiritual world, we find inspiration and creativity to bring forth what it is the child needs.

Waldorf education is a dynamic form of education in this way. 

There is nothing rigid or fixed about Waldorf education with this approach for it is based in an ongoing process of growth and understanding. When what stands behind the curriculum is penetrated, it all begins to make sense and offer possibility, not a fixed way of doing things.

One of the particular challenges of the homeschool parent is in being isolated at home and in using material that someone else has written without understanding why. When we understand the whys, the deeper underpinning of the curriculum, it is so empowering because with that understanding, we are free to chose to use it as presented, adapt it, or do something entirely different, yet with an understanding of why we are doing it.

Here's an example… when third grade came around, I balked at using the Old Testament stories. I did not really understand how they speak to the child at that age beyond the superficial explanation that it has something to do with the child's relationship to authority. So I researched it and did reading and spoke with other Waldorf homeschooling parents, bought the Live ed curriculum, and did the online course with Eugene Schwartz and then it was as if the light bulb went on! I saw how it had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with history and the development of the human being.

Over the year, with this new insight, I was able to decide which stories to tell and watch my child grow and become aware of himself in relationship to the world in a new way.

I might have given up and opted out of the Old Testament stories because I was uncomfortable with them. Something nudged me to look deeper and in doing so, my eyes were opened to the depth and breadth of the curriculum and its way of speaking to the child in just the right way at the right time.

I was able to look back upon my own life at the age and glean new understanding of what I went through developmentally at that age.

A comment from Rudolf Steiner on the importance of growth and dynamic Waldorf education:

" I would give anthroposophy a new name every day to prevent people from hanging on to its literal meaning.... We must never be tempted to implement sectarian ideas.. . . We must not chain children's minds to finished concepts, but give them concepts capable of further growth and expansion. "

When we attempt to separate the spiritual foundation from Waldorf education, separate it from the alchemical process of spirituality, from the process that imbues it with its quality of wonder and transformation, we are throwing the baby out with the bath water in more ways than one.

To define Waldorf education as secular denies its spiritual dimensions, "chains" us as parent teachers  and "chains the children's minds, to finished concepts," and denies a fundamental aspect of the human being.

Waldorf education as a process of growth and transformation is kindled with spirit.

When we separate Waldorf education from spirit, we don't have Waldorf education anymore.

Celebrate the Rhythm of Life 
Harmonious Rhythms ::  Parenting with Soul :: Waldorf Homeschooling


  1. Thank you for posting this Lisa. In the past year, I've been doing more research into the pre-Christian Gnostic world view which regarded the Earth as sentient, conscious, the Aeonic Mother -as the source of all life. Alignment with HER happens through syncing up with the rhythms of the Moon, Sun, and, of course, the Earth - and I find so much in Waldorf that is in alignment with this perspective.

  2. Although I guess one could say that this is not a secular perspective either!


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