The Essential Nature And Task Of Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) Schools
One of the most frequently criticized aspects of conventional schooling in India is that it is not child-oriented, but rather goal-oriented. Children are made to learn the three R’s at a ridiculously young age, and the passing of exams at the end of each school year seems to have become the main consideration. Children have very little time for play, as they have to spend long hours doing homework and preparing for exams. There is a great deal of stress and strain, not just for the children but for their parents as well. For many, childhood is not a time for fun and enjoyment, but of fears and tears. Moreover, most of the subjects taught in school are totally irrelevant, and tend to alienate the children from the real world. The educational approach is one-sided, and addresses only the head and the thinking capacity of the child. And even that is not done in a satisfactory manner because, instead of teaching the child to think independently and to develop the capacity for logical thought sequence, the syllabus demands learning by rote, through mere habituation, which involves an unintelligent memory. Creativity is stifled, which results in a mind-boggling mediocrity in adulthood. Competing in studies may result in rivalry, selfishness and even ruthlessness at a later stage. With an over-emphasis on thinking, the other forces of the children’s soul, like feelings and active involvement in daily life, are left almost untouched. Subjects like music, singing, dancing, painting, drawing, nature and environment, which nourish the children’s deepest soul qualities and make them love the world they live in, are not given due importance, nor are subjects which involve the limbs in a positive and productive manner, like handicrafts and gardening or even a certain amount of farming activity. In many conventional schools, especially in the private schools, there is very little scope for children to learn about the great culture and wisdom of our country. Most children may have read the latest “Harry Potter” book, but how many have read the children’s version of the Mahabharata? Ask a child to sing you a song and in most cases the song will be from a Hindi film, seldom a folk song or a classical one. Dancing has been reduced to the gyrations seen in films, and that in spite of the fact that India has seven classical dance forms, more than any in the world! How many trees, flowers or birds can the average child recognize and name? What does the child know about the movement of the heavenly bodies; can he/she recognise any of the myriad star constellations in the night sky?
No wonder then, that many parents and teachers in India are seriously thinking in terms of finding an alternative to conventional education. Fortunately, there are several alternative forms of schools, which are prevalent in our country today, to choose from. One of them is Rudolf Steiner or Waldorf Education. Although this education has originated in the west, it is based upon a real and spiritual understanding of the stages of child development. At the center of this form of education is the Universal Child, independent of race or religion, caste or creed.
The Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf School Curriculum may be modified to suit the life and conditions of any country in the world, where the school is established. It is rooted in the local culture and traditions and thus each school is unique, because it reflects what lies in that particular place, be it its Geography or History, Language or Literature! In India there are now three Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf Schools, which have successfully modified the original Waldorf Curriculum to meet the needs of that particular region in which they are founded. Here is a brief account of the origins, nature and task of Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf Education:
1. Origin & Current Implications Of Waldorf Education The first Free Waldorf School was inaugurated in Stuttgart in September 1919. Its founder, Emil Molt, owner and chief director of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, had started on an industrial training programme for adults shortly after the First World War, and was now keen to start a school for the children of his factory employees. He felt that the social question was a question of human dignity and ethics, which in turn was ultimately a question of education. Rudolf Steiner took over the leadership of the new school, which was to be a model and would have wide-reaching social influence. The Waldorf Schools were expected to meet an acute social need and thereby contribute to the fulfillment of a public duty.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was an Austrian philosopher and reformist. He had studied at the Technical Institute in Vienna and had worked at the Goethe-Schiller archives in Weimar, Germany, to publish the scientific works of Goethe. Steiner was also active in the Theosophical Society, lecturing and writing on a variety of subjects from a spiritual point of view. He was the founder of Anthroposophy, a path of knowledge and a spiritual science. In his 1907 work “The Education of the Child from a spiritual-scientific viewpoint” he showed how a new form of child education could develop on the basis of his views. Then, from 1919 until his death in 1925, he worked with the teachers of the first Waldorf School on the practical points of this education. Today there are over 800 Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner schools worldwide. In India there are three – SLOKA Waldorf School in Hyderabad, TRIDHA Rudolf Steiner School in Mumbai and DIKSHA Waldorf School in Secunderabad.
Structure Of The Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner School
Classes according to the age groups, differentiations and furthering of abilities:
Waldorf /Steiner Schools can and should be organised according to their local conditions. In most cases there is a Kindergarten within the school; in some schools there may be classes for children with special needs. All children are taught in their respective age groups without any child having to repeat a class. From Class One to Class Eight the children have the same class teacher who teaches most subjects during the two-hour Main Lesson, but from Class Nine onwards there are specialised Subject Teachers, and the children may be divided into groups according to their abilities. In general, children work on the same curriculum, regardless of their abilities, social background or professional goals. This is a unique form of social co-education and demands a special method of teaching so that the able children have enough challenge and the slower ones do not feel neglected. There is no selective segregation of abilities up to Class Eight and experience shows that this system does not damage the learning ability, but that it develops social skills to a high degree. This helps in coping with late developers and in practice also supports the theory that that learning ability is less dependent on hereditary forces and much more on the skills of educational methods and the ability to awaken dormant forces in the growing child
The Time Table: The day begins with MAIN LESSON in Waldorf /Steiner schools. In Main Lesson, which lasts for about two hours, the teacher teaches the same subject over a period of three to four weeks, known as a block, in a total immersion method which helps in the concentration, deepens the understanding of the subject and makes use of the natural rhythm of learning. There are no textbooks - the subject is explored through narrating, writing, reading, painting, drawing and even by acting it out. The artistic element is very strong as it stimulates the imagination and the feeling. Children are encouraged to do their own research and make projects on the subject, which they compile and illustrate in their Main Lesson books. These are good substitutes for textbooks. The Main Lesson is followed by a break, after which subjects which need regularity are taught: foreign/second language, art, music, handicraft, Eurythmy, dancing, singing, clay-modelling, woodwork, gardening, sports, etc.
Reports, Exams, Transition Into Vocational Life:
Waldorf/Steiner schools do not give reports in the form of marks or grades, but through the teachers’ verbal/written assessment which describes the child’s temperament, his/her behaviour, strength and weakness, general progress in the various subjects throughout the year and ends with a small verse which the class teacher composes individually for each child, in order to help the child during the coming year, almost like a prayer. This form of report is accepted by other schools or institutions, which the child may change over to, but if a mark-sheet is needed, the Waldorf teacher will readily oblige.
The secure, protective space of the lower and middle school, which must be maintained for valid pedagogical reasons, gradually opens out in the upper school in order to prepare the pupils for the board exams. The Waldorf/Steiner School may decide to go up to Class Seven with the Class Teacher and then spend the next three years preparing the pupils for the Class Ten exam.
The Rudolf Steiner Curriculum For Waldorf Schools In India Dr Rudolf Steiner prepared a series of pedagogical courses for the first group of teachers of the first Waldorf School. These consisted of the following topics:
Study of Man
Practical Advice to Teachers
The Education Seminar.
These courses culminated in the three lectures, which Dr. Steiner held on September 6, 1919 known as the Curriculum Lectures, which contain the entire Waldorf Curriculum for Classes One to Eight. During the first year of the school these lectures were further elucidated, supplemented and completed. For subsequent classes new courses were added and extended still further.
It had been Dr. Steiner’s original intention to work out the entire curriculum systematically, in written form, since the original had been delivered orally to the teachers. However, he did not manage to fulfill this task. Shortly after his death in 1925, one of the original teachers, Dr. (Miss) Caroline von Heydebrand, together with several of her colleagues, undertook the task of compiling all the instructions and indications on Education and the Waldorf Curriculum and publishing them. This most valuable manuscript was made available for the first time in 1925.
Since that time many additions have been made to the original manuscript, based on the notes taken by Dr. Erich Gabert and Dr. Karl Schubert during Rudolf Steiner’s lectures and courses, and these have been published in 1955 by E.A.Karl Stockmeyer, under the title “Rudolf Steiner’s Curriculum for Waldorf Schools”. This book is used by Waldorf Teachers the world over because it provides them with the original guidelines pertaining to the subject matter in Waldorf Schools from Class One right up to the end of the school.
It goes without saying that a great many changes have taken place in the last eight decades and the teachers are expected to take that into consideration without losing sight of what the original Waldorf Curriculum contains.
The Rudolf Steiner curriculum for Waldorf Schools is based upon a real understanding of the child. At each stage in the life of the growing child certain soul-forces and abilities specific to that particular stage unfold within the child. The Waldorf curriculum introduces subjects and topics, which correspond to each stage of the development, thereby meeting the needs of the children and providing them with the right nourishment for their soul. Although the first Waldorf curriculum was prepared for the Waldorf School in Germany, it is nevertheless universal in its approach and content and can be modified to suit the cultural, social, geographical and historical conditions of any country in the world.
The various cultures of the world differ greatly one from the other, but there is one unifying factor and that is the spirit of our times. The whole world has passed over into a new millennium and is thus part of one common world history. The Waldorf curriculum is one, which looks to the future, towards which the whole of humanity is evolving. It is a curriculum with great spiritual insight and practicality at the same time. It is also very contemporary, based as it is on the being of the child in its entireness.
Here an attempt is being made to adapt Rudolf Steiner’s original Waldorf curriculum for Waldorf/Steiner schools in India. It has to be used in conjunction with the original Waldorf curriculum and further enhanced by the teachers’ own knowledge, experience and imagination. The voyage of discovery, both for the teacher and the pupils, begins in Class One. The magic years right up to Class Seven or Eight are called the Class Teacher period because ideally the same teacher remains with the class during these years, teaching all subjects of the Main Lesson. If the Class Teacher works systematically and methodically with the Waldorf curriculum, the pupils will have a sound and basic knowledge of all subjects which are taught in conventional schools, in addition to subjects taught in Waldorf schools only e.g. Astronomy, Geology, Climatology, etc.
Moreover, Waldorf pupils will have the added advantage of having learnt each new subject at the right stage in their development.
In principle, the Waldorf schools are not very different from the Gurukul institutions in ancient India. Then too, the Guru did not teach the children until the change of teeth, and the pupils learned subjects, which enhanced and balanced out the three-fold aspect of thought, feeling and will-activity. They learnt how to think, and at the same time how to use their hands in a creative and productive way. Conventional school education in India today, with its economic considerations, its emphasis on early learning and its one-pointed goal of passing exams and getting good jobs, was introduced to our country during the colonial rule but intensified during the subsequent years to the point that school children today are heavily burdened with excessive information which is of little use in the real world. School becomes a burden, physically due to the weight of the books and mentally because of the added baggage of irrelevant information, leaving no room for real knowledge and independent, creative thinking. By its very nature, conventional education has the tendency to make the child selfish and ambitious.
Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner Education creates within the child awareness for its surroundings, for nature and Ecology. The subjects are taught according to the Waldorf Curriculum, bearing in mind the local conditions and the cultural and social aspects, which correspond to the original indications. A lot of thought has to be put into this, in order to find the balance between that which is set in the original curriculum and that, which is chosen as its substitute. When introducing a new subject, it is important to note that one goes from the whole to the parts; from the real and the practical to the abstract; from where one is to the distant places; from the known to the unknown.
Let us begin with a summary of what the original Waldorf Curriculum contains.
Main Lesson Subjects:
Indian and world literature:
Beginning with Fairy Tales in Class One and moving on to Fables, Sagas, Myths and Epics. Later on, it has the inclusion of scriptures of various World Religions, Biographies and Classics. Drama and Poetry is taught throughout the school years. It is very important that the pupils are acquainted with their own culture as well as the culture of foreign lands. One has to be well versed in one’s own world, its traditions and literature, as that instills a sense of pride and self esteem in the growing child, and establishes a basic value system. On the other hand, World literature is also essential as it opens the children’s minds and makes them cosmopolitan. They learn to become tolerant of that which is unknown, or even strange to begin with, and to appreciate both worlds, their own as well as that others. That is the real universal element in Waldorf/Steiner Education, education towards freedom. It is positive globalisation.
From ancient cultures right up to modern times, local, national and global.
Beginning with Home Surroundings, then moving on to the study of one’s city, then the state, the country, the continent and finally the whole world. The study includes general Geography, landscapes, ethnography, folk culture, the nature, flora and fauna, economics, etc. It should be as complete a study as possible.
In the lower classes the teacher narrates simple nature stories. Then the children learn about animals, then plants and finally minerals and geology. This also includes practical gardening, Environmental Studies and Ecology.
The Human Being:
In the middle school, one begins with health and nutrition, the Digestive System, Anatomy, the Skeletal System and the study of the Senses.
Again in the middle school, there is an introduction to Physics, Chemistry, Biology, later on Geology, Meteorology, Climatology (the study of climatic changes and atmospheric phenomena), and basic Astronomy.
Counting and sums with whole numbers to begin with, the four rules – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – then on to fractions, decimals, Geometry, Algebra, simple and compound interest, keeping in mind all that is taught in the conventional schools.
Language of Instruction And Additional Languages:
How can the original Waldorf Curriculum be modified to suit the general conditions prevailing in India today? The first question is that of the language of instruction. In towns and cities in India, which have a cosmopolitan population, it makes good sense to have an English medium Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner School. The two other languages taught from Class One onwards would then be the national language Hindi and the state language ( Marathi in Mumbai, Telugu in Hyderabad, Tamil in Chennai, etc.) In the case of vernacular medium schools, the language of instruction would be of the state, and the other two would then be English and Hindi. At a later stage, one may introduce Sanskrit.
Board Of Education
Once the Indian Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf school decides which Board of Indian Education it wishes to incorporate, whether ICSE or CBSE or SSC, etc., it is important to hand in an application for registration and recognition to the local authorities and also study the syllabus thoroughly, so that it is woven into the studies in the upper classes. Moreover, when a child leaves a Waldorf school midway for whatever reason, he/she should be able to make the transition to another school, conventional or otherwise, smoothly. Children have to be prepared for the final school-leaving exams, which ideally should be within the Waldorf school itself.
Language of Instruction –
Speaking, Narrating, Retelling, Writing, Reading And Numbers:
The main subject matter here is Fairy Tales. They provide the basis for the introduction to the letters of the alphabet, as well as for language comprehension. These Fairy Tales have a magical element; they often begin with “once upon a time”, and end with “and they lived happily ever after”. In between they have the most amazing characters doing unbelievable, magical things. Kind fairies, clumsy giants, nasty witches, princes and princesses, enchanted forests and fabulous palaces. Fairy Tales delight the children and do wonders for their imagination. It is important to strike a balance between Indian and foreign Fairy Tales. There are many to choose from. India has a vast treasure chest of Fairy Tales in all the states. The famous Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which originate in Germany are well known in India and have a universal appeal. Then one can look even further and find some lovely ones from other continents – Africa, far-east Asia, South America, etc. It is entirely up to the class teacher to use his/her discretion for making a balanced choice, with a good variety.
The teacher may also use as subject matter the traditional Cradle Tales of Ancient India, which include the Cycle of Krishna, stories about Krishna’s childhood, which are very endearing to this age group and conjure up the mood of glorious ancient India.
Nature stories introduced in this class have to be about plants and animals which are within the children’s realm, which are likely to be seen in their immediate surroundings.
India has an old tradition of teaching Maths through chanting and recitation, which has been neglected in conventional schools. The concept of ONE, as being the largest number containing all numbers until infinity, features prominently in Indian traditions. The Waldorf method of introducing numbers to the children for the first time is in perfect harmony with the age-old Gurukul teaching, and it would be advisable for the teachers to acquaint themselves with both, the ancient and the modern methodology. This way one brings not just the quantity inherent in the numbers but, most importantly, the quality. Numbers take on a divine as well as a material significance. Children are led into understanding the significance of each number as it occurs in the world around them, to begin with the numbers as something very real. The Waldorf path, and indeed the child oriented one, is to go from the whole to the parts, from the known to the unknown and from the concrete to the abstract. This method is not unknown in the ancient Vedic system.
The main subject matter in this class is Fables and Legends, Saints and Animals. One may begin with the popular fables of Aesop, which are known the world over, and then move on to Indian Fables from the “Panchatantra” and from the Buddhist “Jataka Tales”, which are very much part of the Indian tradition.
The legends of saints in connection with animals is very important at this stage, as the human aspect in its sublime form is brought into relation with the animal nature, both of which reside in the human soul. There are legends of Christian saints, like St. Francis of Asissi, who had a most wonderful, compassionate way with animals, or the Hindu saint, Sri Ramana Maharshi of Arunachala, Tiruvanamalai, who could tame even wild tigers through his love and reverence for all living beings. It is important to include saints from several religions, as India is a multi-religious society. There are also several women saints, both in the Christian tradition as well as in other religions, who must find a place in the curriculum, in order to create a balanced picture of sainthood. However, care should be taken not to overfeed the children with too many stories.
In this age group, the children have for the first time a more clear picture of their identity, they see themselves as individuals within the family and the society, they begin to question certain aspects of their life, even begin to have glimmers of doubt (am I really my parent’s child?) and in a way feel themselves exiled from their home, from the paradise, which they have enjoyed hitherto. Thus it is good to introduce stories, which have this theme of exile and wandering in the world, as they appear in the Old Testaments of the Bible and in the great Indian Epic Ramayana. One may begin with the Bible story of creation in Genesis, as it forms the basis of three world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It continues with the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Paradise. The story of Noah’s Ark and the great deluge is also very important, because it is similar to the story of Manu and the seven Rishis, both of which are introduced in this class. It also shows the teacher that there is a common origin to world mythology. All these stories correspond to the inner soul experience of the children in this age group, and they can identify with them very well.
The creation stories from Indian tradition are introduced in conjunction with the stories of the Ten Avatars “Dasavatara” of Lord Vishnu: Matsya (fish); Kurma (tortoise); Varaha (wild Boar), etc. The seventh Avatara of Lord Vishnu is that of King Rama, the ideal human being. Ramayana relates the story of Rama’s exile and wanderings in the forest with his dutiful wife Sita and his faithful brother Lakshman, their meetings with various beings who help or harm them, with Hanuman the monkey-god who helps Rama to wage a battle against the demon king Ravana and rescue Sita, and finally the home-coming to their kingdom and their palace in Ayodhya. This epic is highly inspiring for the children and it gives them lessons in valour, justice and righteous living. They understand the real meaning of “Rama Rajya”. It is important that stories with such themes are told to our children without preaching, as they instill in the young minds virtues, which are rooted in the Indian culture and are important for life. Children need such role models from their own culture with whom they can identify.
In this class, measurements are introduced in Maths. The linear dimensions of Noah’s Ark, from the Bible, is a good way of introducing lengths, widths, depths and heights: linear measurements. To begin with, one can measure with the help of the parts of the body: span, stride, ell, etc., and by measuring what is in the classroom. One can also spend some time learning about traditional Indian weights and measuring units, which are still in use in the villages of India.
These measuring units are in harmony with the human physical dimension. Later one can proceed with the British measuring system, which has also retained the human body as its standards of measurements, and finally the Metric system which is the most abstract of them all and which is currently in use in India and in most countries of the world.
The four rules of Maths are continued, with more complicated problems and in statements. The multiplication tables are practised daily, as is also mental arithmetic.
Farming and House Building
These two basic subjects are introduced to the children in Class Three. This is done in a lively manner, with field trips to complete the epoch. It is recommended that the teacher introduce the children to various trades and crafts, which work with traditional methods and tools in India. It helps the children to see Farming in a wider perspective, and to appreciate its importance for the country, because the real India is out in the villages and fields, a fact that is little recognised by the urban population.
Farming gives the children an opportunity to connect with Mother Earth, and to experience the unity that is inherent in the entire life-process. Children follow the rhythm of nature, the seasons, the sun, moon and planets, and how all these have an effect on the world of plants and animals. They see how grain is cultivated, they take part in the various processes like sowing the seed, they see the shoots grow and help with harvesting, they actually perceive the processes by which the life-giving grain, vegetables and fruits are transformed into their daily nutrition. They see the importance of cattle on the farm as a source of manure and milk, they get to know the other farmyard animals and they learn to love and revere them. The children learn in a very real way how to value nature, the important role played by ecology, the need to keep a clean environment. At this stage the children are also introduced to the various arts and crafts as well as traditional occupations related to the farm and field: spinning, weaving, pottery, basket making, bamboo work, blacksmith, etc: Occupations, which make use of the hands in a skilled manner. The children learn how to appreciate works of art and thus become aesthetically aware, they see the dignity of manual labour and the permanence of handcrafted articles, which are used in daily life. All this goes to show that a lot can be achieved in the child’s moral upbringing by actually doing things together and observing things being done, rather than preaching about it.
In the House Building epoch, India provides a vast treasure-chest for the teacher, and full use must be made of the great diversity of houses and huts, country cottages and city buildings, which are found in the different parts of the country. Emphasis must be paid to the forms and the materials used, and how houses by the sea differ from those in the hills or in the desert. It cannot be emphasised enough that everything, which is taught, has to be done within reasonable limits. Although the possibilities are countless, the teacher has to use balance and discretion in the choice of teaching material and not get carried away. Also the need for children to participate actively in the lessons is of utmost importance in order to create a healthy exchange of ideas and to enable the children to think in an independent and creative way. Children’s interest is to be kept alive without resorting to sensational tactics. Homework may be given at this point, but it should be done in order to encourage the children to find out more about the given subject. Simple project work may be introduced.
The indication for this class is “scenes from ancient history”. In the original curriculum, the main subject matter is stories from Norse Myths, mythology of the Nordic-Germanic folk. These tales have their origin in the Edda, and it is possible to get simplified versions of this tale, e.g. “Myths of the Norsemen” by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin Books), which include the creation story, Yggdrasil the World Tree, the gods Thor, Odin, Loki, and so on. This set of tales belongs to world literature and can be introduced in India too, as it has relevance in comparative mythology. There are many motifs, which are close to those in Indian myths, and one can find many similarities in the gods and goddesses of the two cultures. The main difference, however, is that the Norse tales have the RAGNAROK - “Twilight of the gods”, which is to say that the ancient folk gods of the Norse people gradually disappeared from their collective consciousness, having been replaced by a new religion, Christianity.
In India, the gods of the people are very much alive. They experience no “twilight” as such, but dwell side by side with subsequent religions. Although the Norse Myths are not directly connected to Indian folklore, they are important from the point of view of the stage in the child’s development and correspond well to their soul content.
The main topic from Indian literature at this stage is the great Indian epic, the “Mahabharata”. There is a certain similarity here with the Norse myths, because Mahabharata also has great human drama, culminating in the inevitable battle at Kurukshetra, and the end of the old world order. However, the episode from the Mahabharata, the conversation between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna, which is the sole content of the sacred “Bhagavad Gita”(song celestial), one of the most divine books in the entire history of humankind, should be saved for Class Five. The reason for that is because it has a certain maturity and subtlety, which is better suited for older children.
The Mahabharata, as retold by C. Rajagopalachari (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Books) may be used, as it is written in a simple yet profound way. The original Mahabharata comprises of 18 volumes, containing 100,000 double verses (couplets). The Bhagavad Gita is contained in the sixth volume, Bhishma Parva, chapters 25 to 42, with 700 couplets. Dr. Rudolf Steiner has given two lecture cycles on the Bhagavad Gita.
In Class Four, Fractions are introduced in Maths for the first time. The reason again is that children at this stage in their lives do not live so confidently in the belief that there is perfect unity in the world, but that they begin to experience it as being fragmented too. Gradually, form drawing gives way to freehand Geometry, with emphasis on accuracy.
Animal Study (Zoology):
This subject is introduced in Class Four and it corresponds well with the other subjects. Now the animals are studied singly, within the reality of their habitat and in their characteristics, and mainly those found in India. The three archetypal animals, which correspond to the thought process, the rhythmical process and the metabolic process in the human being, namely the eagle, the lion and the cow/bull respectively, are studied as an example of the three-fold nature, in addition to some others, as suggested in the original curriculum. As always, it is the total immersion method, that is to say, the subject is introduced in an artistic manner as well as through the clarity of thought and is explored in a myriad of ways: through stories, poems, drawing, painting, clay-modelling, etc. The teacher speaks to the heart of the children and that in turn stimulates their imagination and their interest.
The very first time that formal Geography is introduced in Waldorf Schools is in Class Four, under the title “Home Surroundings”. This is in keeping with the heightened awareness of their environment, which children experience at this stage in their development. Here, children are made aware of their immediate surroundings, whether in a village or a city, and this association includes all possible aspects of that place: its origin, its cultural diversity, its society, its history, its geography, its trade and industry and /or farming, the configuration of its surface and its natural resources. One begins with a simple diagramme of the classroom, then of the school, then a map of the immediate surroundings and finally a detailed but freehand map of the actual area/village/city in which the school is located. It is really up to the teacher, what is introduced within the confines of this subject, and how much work is put into its preparations. There is tremendous freedom for the teacher in the choice of material used, and in the manner of its presentation. There are no textbooks used in the Main Lesson, and children have the possibility to learn over and above what is taught in class. This makes the children eager for more knowledge, and they retain this longer and better than in conventional education, where the emphasis is on book information.
Now we arrive at the stage in child development, which Rudolf Steiner refers to as “heart of childhood”. The so-called crossing of the Rubikon has been accomplished, the first confrontations of the “I and the World” feelings and the connecting doubts and fears are now over, and the children enjoy a balance and harmony, within themselves and with their surroundings. The main subject introduced at this stage is Greek Mythology. The Greek Myths are better known that the Norse Myths, and many expressions in the English language have their origin in these myths, e.g. Sword of Democles, Herculean task, Narcism, etc.
As mentioned before, now is the right time to introduce the Bhagavad Gita, the Song Celestial. This is the most widely read book in India and has influenced the thoughts, feelings and deeds of generations of Indians. It is also very well known in foreign countries.
Whereas Lord Rama is the ideal man, Lord Krishna is the perfect man. Both are Avataras of god Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trimurti, the seventh and the eighth in the Dasavataras respectively.
Interestingly enough, the ninth Avatara is believed to be Lord Gautama Buddha. In Class Five the children learn about Budhha, about his life and his religion of Buddhism. The children are able to understand the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path, the message of compassion and of living in the Golden Middle way.
Two more cultures which are introduced at this stage are the Ancient Greek Culture and the Ancient Persian Culture, the pre-Islamic culture and religion of Zarathushtra and his inspiration from Ahura Mazda, the God of the Sun. Egyptian culture is no more, but Zoroastrianism exists as a religion in India with a population of about 70,000 Parsis and Irani Zoroastrians, and the children have the opportunity to get acquainted with it closely, even if non-Zoroastrians are barred from entering the Fire Temples. There are a number of good books to choose from, both for the ancient Egyptian epoch as well as for the epoch of Zarathushtra. It was during the ancient Persian epoch that farming and animal husbandry was introduced for the first time in history, and the culture which was made possible though the use of fire. It seems that Class Five has too many subjects in Main Lesson, but if the teacher prepares the lesson well in advance, and is able to separate the essential from the non-essential, it is possible to cover the entire portion easily.
Now the emphasis is on Decimals, and all sums related to it. Maths problems become more complicated, and mental Arithmetic is increased. Formal Geometry is now introduced for the first time, with instruments. Children are encouraged to make patterns in colours, using the most basic principles of Geometry.
Plant Study – Botany:
In Class Four it was Animal Study, now in Class Five it is Plant Study (Botany). The children learn all about the various kinds of plants, as well as the different parts of the plants and their functions, root, shoot fruit, stem, but always in their entirety, never dissected or removed from their source. Children learn to recognise the most well known plants and trees and flowers, to characterise them and to appreciate their contribution to the evolution of the Earth. They can also be taught the significance of trees and plants which are sacred and used in rituals, like the Tulsi, Peepal, Neem or Babul. But it is not enough to have rites and rituals, children need to love and cherish their environment. Children who learn about plants in this manner also understand the need to protect nature and all living beings, they have a natural feeling for ecology, which is imbibed not just by ritualistic worship but by regarding it as a living entity which has to be protected, nurtured and allowed to thrive.
Geography in Class Five concentrates on the country itself. India is more than a country, it is like an entire continent with diverse languages, ethnic groups, traditions and cultures, religions, landscapes, flora and fauna, land configuration, etc. First of all, it is important to give a unified picture of the entire country, so that the children really understand what the much-used expression “unity in diversity” actually means. This way they will also come away from stereotypes and wrong names like “Bhaiyas” and “Madrasis”, which are commonly used, and also derogatory terms. The children will love the country of their birth, and be truly proud to be part of this great culture, without being arrogant or nationalistic. Children, who are rooted firmly in their own culture, learn to appreciate and respect other cultures of the world.
How important, then, is the task and the responsibility of the Class Teacher. If early education is imparted in the correct manner, with the right understanding, it dispels all ignorance and bias, giving our society adults who can think for themselves, fight for various rights, protect the environment and generally build a civil society. Another world is indeed possible.
In the original Waldorf Curriculum, Class Six has to deal with the rise of the Roman Empire and its influence on the known world. Roman culture has given the world the modern concept of law and order, modern warfare, Latin language as well as jurisprudence, so to study about the Roman Empire is significant in the context of the development of the modern world. Also, the beginning of the Christian era coincides with the growth of the Roman civilization. Early Indian history can be introduced at this stage, keeping in mind the level of the conventional syllabus. Foreign invasions, which have influenced Indian culture, can also be studied. This is to show that one can see a certain segment of history positively or negatively. Foreign invasions by themselves are always associated with battles, death and destruction. But they can also bring about a positive change, bringing in new impulses, which could have an enriching effect on the old culture. It is important to give the children a balanced picture, to show them both sides of the situation. Such an approach makes them open-minded and gives them the opportunity to decide for themselves, what is right and what is wrong.
This is a good time to introduce biographies of great men and women who have made a positive impact on India and also on the world in general.
In Maths the focus is now on percentage interest, simple rules of banking, stocks and shares and dealing with money in general. Here again, keeping in mind what is being taught in the conventional schools, bringing it to the children through Waldorf methodology. Children will learn that money can be made to work for a variety of issues, and that it can be used positively. (Money can corrupt, but only if one allows it to!)
The focus here is on the Continents, in this case Asia. A general view, rather than detailed information, combined with lively encounters, can awaken an interest in the countries neighbouring India. Important is also to show how India has influenced the cultures and religions of Asian countries. Children really should know the difference between the various countries of South Asia, South-East Asia and Far-East Asia.
Minerology and Geology:
This subject is entirely new in the Waldorf Curriculum, and it doesn’t even feature in the syllabus of conventional schools. It is the study of the Earth’s surface, and also what lies beneath it. Which are the various rock formations, how were they formed, what are the movements of the earth’s plates and how were the various landscapes created through that. This is also an occasion to make an in depth study of various geological phenomena like earth quakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides. One can also look at the various gems, precious and semiprecious, and metals, which lie underneath the earth. This should be accompanied by field trips to make observations.
For the very first time, formal science is introduced in the form of Physics. The subjects are Mechanics and Sound. It may be quite useful to consider the use of mechanics in daily life, which is very innovative in rural India, e.g. in wells, farming and building. In sound too, one can introduce the “Chladni Plate”, as well as the sounds of various musical instruments, how the wind sounds differ from the string or percussion, how sound is created in simple, everyday articles like water in glasses (Jaltaran), and so on. Always start with things known, and move to more sophisticated devices. Experiment with all forms of sound, allow the children to be creative in finding new expressions of sound in the world around them, make the theme of sound a real one.
At this stage the children have entered puberty and are very curious about the wider world they live in. They are ready to explore and discover, which is why the Waldorf Curriculum introduces the Age of Discovery. The voyages of explorers, who travelled far and wide in order to discover new lands, to ply trades with foreign people as well as to spread their religion and culture, have changed the world. It is important to emphasise the heroism, courage and sense of adventure of these early explorers, both from the East as well as from the West, who set out into the unknown, risking life and limb. It is equally important to see the less human aspects like slavery, subjugation of native peoples and the destruction of ancient civilisations in the name of progress. Children at this age are old enough to debate these matters with a sense of justice and compassion, and to look more closely at the theme of human rights. Here one can introduce inventions like printing, gunpowder, etc. and their consequences, both good and bad, for the development of our world.
This is a good time to encourage the children to work independently on chosen projects with reference work, and to present these in class. They will learn to be innovative and self-reliant. The teacher has to ensure that the entire class participates, and should eliminate all traces of competition. Children are very different from one another and it is to be expected that some will work better than others; each child should be encouraged to do his/her best.
All Maths subjects taught in Class Six should continue, with more and more complicated problems. Now Algebra is introduced for the first time, in an imaginative manner, according to the teacher’s ability. Teachers are also not the same, some are more creative than others, some better equipped for teaching one subject, others for other subjects. Like in the case of children, each teacher has to do his/her best, with the right intentions. Planimetry is introduced here.
This year the teachers introduces the joint subjects is Physics, Light and Heat. This is taught in the classroom, unless the school has a well-equipped laboratory. One teaches the scientific basis of Goethe’s and Newton’s theory of light and colour, since both are known. Also the ancient Indian method of viewing light and colour in connection with the sounds can be briefly touched upon. Experiments with prisms, lenses, etc. are conducted by the teacher, then by the children. They have to make the right observations and put them down in their main lesson books in clear sentences. There are good books written by Waldorf teachers about these topics, the most well known one being by Mackenson.
In Class Seven, Chemistry is introduced for the very first time, the topics being Combustion and Crystallisation. One begins by asking the children to bring all kinds of materials into class. The teacher burns each one of them and they observe exactly what happens. Observation, and describing precisely what has been observed, is of utmost importance. This enforces telling the truth in life.
Geography and History to continue:
The continents of Europe and Africa are crucial in the voyage of discoveries and may be studied jointly at this stage. The globe will be quite well known by now, and the children have the possibility to see the various oceans in comparision to the continents. (The solid-water ratio of the Earth is similar to that of the Human body.) Navigation, wind currents, directions and also basic Astronomy, as related subjects for the voyage of discovery, are also introduced.
Basic Astronomy begins with the rotation and the revolution of the Earth, the movement and phases of the Moon, and the relative “movement” and position of the Sun in the course of the year. Gradually the rhythm of the other planets of the Solar System – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – are also introduced. Soon the children will be able to recognize the planets as they appear in the sky after sunset, during the night and before sunrise. This is also the time to teach them how to recognise the most prominent star constellations and the brightest stars as seen in the sky above the northern hemisphere. The teacher has to learn everything first and be completely sure of the subject matter, before bringing it to the children. Children must learn the names of the planets, stars and constellations in English as well as in the Indian terminology. Stories connected to the stars and planets from Indian and Greek mythology, e.g. Bhakta Dhruva (the Pole Star Child) or Andromeda, should be told, as also the significance of various aspects of planets and constellations, which determine the many festivals and fairs in India. All this will enlighten the children and make them interested in the world they live in, including the heavens.
Health and Nutrition:
This is yet another topic to be introduced in Class Seven. It is very basic, because food is a very integral part of our daily rhythm. One introduces the various foods, which are eaten in the different states of India, including the cultural and Geographical aspects of diet and nutrition.
A few points about Ayurveda and health food would be useful knowledge for the children, as there is a general tendency in urban India to eat “junk” food. Besides that, it would be possible to discuss the benefits of eating at fixed times and at the proper dining place (and not in front of the T.V.!) One discusses the merits of food substances like vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, etc. and makes a corresponding chart. This would also be a good time to create some recipes and prepare an entire meal, to be enjoyed in class.
Next comes the question: what happens to the food, which we eat? This is why the Digestive System of the human body is introduced at this stage. A detailed diagramme of the entire digestive system has to be drawn and the step-by-step stages of metabolism are also taught.
One also has to respect the sentiments of the children in class, as there are some who are vegetarian and others who are not. It would be foolish to make remarks like “non-vegetarian food is healthy” or “vegetarians love animals”. One has to be objective in the presentation of this topic.
We have now arrived in the final class of the Class Teacher’s cycle in the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner School, Class Eight! If the Class Teacher has taught all the Main Lesson subjects in the right manner, not leaving out anything, then the children at this stage will have a sound knowledge of the entire curriculum, and that should correspond well with the level reached in this age group in the conventional schools. Indeed, it has often been observed that the children from Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner Schools know more subjects than the children in the same age group in other schools. What has hitherto been taught has been in a general way, by the class teacher, taking all aspects into account. From Class Nine the pupils will have specialist teachers for all subjects and the work will become increasingly academic in nature, leading towards tests, marks and board examinations. In some schools the pupils have the Waldorf Curriculum up to Class Seven and then start preparing from the Eighth Class for the first board exam in Class Ten.
This topic is continued from the previous years. The persons chosen should be men and women of stature and substance, both Indian and international. Pupils should be encouraged to choose their own historical personalities as a project study, and present these to the class.
Good classics, Indian and foreign, ancient and modern, may be used. Emphasis is now on the beauty of the language. Creative writing, poetry and prose, essays and reports should all be included. The most important is of course the Class Eight Drama. The teacher chooses a suitable play for the class, delegates the roles and begins rehearsals at the beginning of Class Eight. Roles should be given from a pedagogical point of view and not on merit or talent. The lead role does not necessarily go to the most talented, but rather to the pupil who needs to represent that particular character, or to a pupil who may be very shy, etc. By now the teacher knows the pupils in the class so well that the right choice will be made. One should however also be open to take into consideration the pupils’ wishes, if necessary. The play will be performed as a final production, with costumes, makeup, music, lighting, everything, to the public at the end of the school year. It may even be a good idea to go on a one or two week excursion and practise the play away from the school.
Well, the world is now the topic of study. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is but a family). A brief summary of the different continents, countries, and then a more detailed study of one country from each of the continents, could also be made. A study of the so-called “new world” countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, etc. and their increase in populations through migration could also be a topic for discussion. Project work continues with pupils being made to choose a country of their choice and presenting it in great detail to the class.
The nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with the many innovations and revolutions (industrial revolution, Marxism, freedom from Colonialism and slavery, etc. are of great importance for this class level. In India the freedom struggle and the various great thinkers who contributed to the reform of Indian society e.g. Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Vinoba Bhave, Swami Vivekananda, J.Krishnamurthy, etc. have relevance for this age group, as the pupils can have an insight into the transformations within the society and how these people struggled for freedom and human rights, and how these struggles influenced people in other countries far and wide.
Introduction to Linear Equations and Steriometry, besides continuing with compound interest, and more complex figures and problems in Geometry and Algebra are the suggested topics for this age group. Once again, it is important also to refer to the corresponding books in conventional schools. The Waldorf approach is such that one can introduce just about any subject in class, but it has to be done with imagination and an artistic feeling.
Now is the time to introduce Electricity and Magnetism. This is taught with all accompanying experiments, and pupils are encouraged to construct small electro-magnetic devices like the electric motor and the dynamo. Using a bit of imagination, one can make this subject come alive in such a way that the pupil would even consider doing some electrical work in the classroom. Here one has to use caution! If the teacher is unable to deal with higher forms of Physics or Chemistry, there is no harm in requesting another teacher to help out in Main Lesson. Sometimes one can do this also on an exchange basis.
Introduction to Organic Chemistry at this stage is very important. Also the Symbols and Numbers and relative weights of elements are learnt in Class Eight.
What has been described so far are mainly the subjects in Main Lesson in the Waldorf School, from Class One to Class Eight, (the Class Teacher Years). In addition to these subjects, there are the “daily” subjects like foreign languages, religion, Eurythmy, dancing, singing, music, handwork, needlework, knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, woodwork, metalwork, pottery, basket weaving, gardening, sports, gymnastics, additional painting, drawing and sculpture. The time table has to be prepared in such a way that it balances the subjects of the head, (academics), the heart (art) and the limbs (practical work).
This is an attempt to create a Curriculum for the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner Schools in India.
In the June 2004, SLOKA WALDORF SCHOOL in Hyderabad will have Classes One to Seven; TRIDHA RUDOLF STEINER SCHOOL in Mumbai will have Classes One to Five and DIKSHA WALDORF SCHOOL in Secunderabad will have Classes One to Three.