Today my brother in law sent me a radio interview of this Brazilian journalist who is (was?) in the United States and got to know a Waldorf school in the Silicon Valley. He speaks as if it is the latest thing, which was a bit comic, since there are Waldorf schools in Brazil since before I was born. Anyway, this triggered me to write something about this very unconventional teaching method, which I post here now.
I know the Waldorf method (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education) from a school in my town (my mother knows some kids who study there and got the chance to visit the school and go to some of the students’ events) and also because schools like this exist in Austria. From what I could understand so far, this is an unconventional education method: the kids are free to do what they want, there are no clear distinction on the subjects (math, physics, history, etc) and no tests, and they learn music, painting, agriculture, etc. Maybe you (and me!) can learn more from this Wikipedia link. Like all things, this has a good and a bad side. Here is Austria, there is a general prejudice against students from these schools, I’ve heard from more than one person. In general, they think that these students are less prepared for a higher education, such as a university, which is not untrue after all. An evidence of that is the final examination of high school. From what I understand, here there are no entrance examination to the university, you just need to present this final examination from your school to prove you are apt to follow the courses. It turns out that the exams from Waldorf school (if there are any) are not accepted. You must take the exam somewhere else. Maybe this is because these schools will not evaluate the exact abilities a university is interested that its students have.
In the end, the idea of a school where kids are free might sound good, but I am not sure if I would let a kid of mine study in such a place until he/she is 18. Maybe until the are 3… I think that the abilities the Waldorf school proposes to develop, team work, self-teaching, creativity and other, can be very well learned in “regular” schools. Me and lots of friends are here to prove we have turned out just fine. Also, almost all of us were able to go through higher education courses without major difficulties. Which I think would be a bit harder (of course not impossible) for Waldorf school students, who will suddenly have to get used to exams, deadlines and a competitive environment.
Something that is more or less related to this is a book I am reading from a neurologist. The chapter I am currently reading is about this girl who is retarded, and has cognition and motor coordination problems. He tells how she fails drastically on the exams made in his office, and how she looked incapacitated but how she looked like a completely normal girl when he met her at the park, appreciating the spring. And how she even recited some poems to him. Also, her motor skills seemed perfectly well when she was dancing. Then he discuss these two functions of the brain, a “schematic” and “narrative” (artistic) one. For me it’s like “regular” schools tries to develop this schematic ability, of solving problems and algorithms, while Waldorf schools focus on the other side, the creativity and artistic.
The problem I see in putting a kid to study in this Waldorf education scheme until he/she is 15 years old is that, in case this person decides to follow a “scientific” career, this is made more difficult from that fact that he/she was used to another type of education. On the other hand, if the kid decides for an artistic career, the math and history learned in school will not be an obstacle.