Jonathan Angus

Project Title: Steiner/Waldorf Education and the Irish Primary Curriculum: A Time of Opportunity

Name: Jonathan Angus

Supervisor: Doireann O Connor

Abstract:

This is the tenth academic year in which the significantly revised Primary School Curriculum is being employed in the classrooms of Ireland. The curriculum overview provided by the Department of Education and Science (D.E.S.) is broad and idealistic, identify the general aims of primary education as:

To enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her potential as a unique individual,

To enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society,

To prepare the child for further education and lifelong learning

[D.E.S., 1999]

When the Steiner teachers and school officials who were at the heart of the initiative for recognition researched the curriculum, there was found at the very outset a fundamental parity with the basic ideas of Steiner Waldorf Education, a virtual equation of the three primary aims with those of the Steiner Waldorf schools [Ni Gharbhie, 2007]. In The Educational Tasks & Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, editors Richter & Rawson have pulled together the most comprehensive reference book on the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum to date. In this document, the tasks of Steiner Waldorf education are summarised as follows:

Fostering healthy development in each individual child

Enabling children to realise their potential

Helping children to develop the skills they need to contribute to society

[ Rawson & Richter, 2003]

Or, to quote directly from Rudolf Steiner on his view of education:

“Idealism must work in the spirit of its curriculum and methodology; but it must be an idealism that has the power to awaken in young, growing human beings the forces and faculties they will need in later life to be equipped for work in modern society and to obtain for themselves an adequate living.” [Steiner, 1985]

In February of 2008, the D.E.S. provisionally agreed to sponsor the establishment of two new primary schools working out of Steiner Waldorf educational principles. One of these, Raheen Wood Steiner National School, will take the place of Raheen Wood Steiner School (formerly Cooleenbridge Steiner School) which operated independently for 22 years in East Clare, and has a current enrolment of more than 100 children. The other, Mol an Oige, had 30 children after three years of existence [Walse, 2008], though that number more than doubled by the beginning of the new school year.

The demand for multidenominational schools is growing. Currently, 98% of the schools in Ireland are patroned by the local bishop of either the Roman Catholic or Anglican Church. The two new Steiner schools, like Educate Together schools before them, are “parent initiated” schools, and there is a higher than usual level of parental participation in their operation. [Educate Together, 2004] It is conceivable that parents in other areas of the country, exercising their right to educational choice, will call for the establishment of more Steiner Waldorf schools.

Lifeways Ltd, as the new patron body for Steiner Waldorf education in Ireland, applied to the D.E.S. to recognise these two new Steiner Waldorf National schools ‘to deliver the national curriculum using Steiner Waldorf methods’. More than any other concern, the question of how and if this could be achieved was discussed by D.E.S. officials before granting provisional recognition [D.E.S. , 2006 - 2008]. I propose to look in depth into how the achievement of this goal can be practically realised. I believe that this question is the most essential for the development of Steiner Waldorf education in Ireland today.

This project is concerned with showing the veracity of a specific alternative pedagogical approach, and its potential as part of a national scheme of diversified education. To provide a full background to the educational ideas underpinning the approach variously known as Steiner schools or Waldorf schools (and from this point forward in this document referred to as SW schools), it will be necessary for me to explore the philosophical perspective of the movement’s founder, Rudolf Steiner. It is my intention for this project to be more than a philosophical one, however; I wish to create a fully realisable operational document. I would like to think as well that this research may prove useful to educators within the mainstream, who wish to creatively rethink their work with children.

A key aim of this research will be to reconcile the SW picture of an eight year primary curriculum (originally based upon a continental model) from the age of 7 to 14, inclusive, with the Department of Education’s definition of primary age, which includes only the first six years of this phase of life, plus the two infant years preceding.

It is my intention to outline the pedagogical practices and curriculum during the ‘class teacher years’, as it has been implemented historically in SW schools, and then to explore the question of how great a durational scope should these key themes encompass within the modern Irish context, and within what specific age range in childhood. I will then be in a position to recommend ways in which the primary school curriculum can be approached from a SW perspective.

How can Steiner’s pictures of the development of consciousness; the cultivation of a sense for beauty, goodness and truth; and other laws of metaphysics be employed to enliven teaching practice?

How can the traditional sequence of themes in SW education be reconciled with the Irish national curriculum?

What are the disconnects between the two approaches? How must the SW curriculum be adapted? Are there any ‘irreconcilable differences’?

What can be learned from the experience of state/independent school partnerships in other countries?