Silicon Valley executives, Waldorf parents in general, and lately more and more education researchers, recognize the value of the holistic, hands-on, developmentally appropriate Waldorf approach to education.
“The importance of storytelling, of the natural rhythms of daily life, of the evolutionary changes in the child, of art as the necessary underpinning of learning, and of the aesthetic environment as a whole–all basic to Waldorf Education for the past 70 years–are being ‘discovered’ and verified by researchers unconnected to the Waldorf movement,” observed Paul Bayers of Professor Columbia Teachers’ College.
On any given day at Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm Harbor a student in the 5th grade, for example, may be immersed in the ancient Greek culture as they write compositions and illustrate in their main lesson books what they have learned from the Greek myth told by the teacher, work on freehand geometric drawing in math, practice their four-needle knitting in handwork class, speak and write German led by their native speaking German teacher, play violin in the strings class, and enjoy a vigorous games class outdoors. It is a balanced day in which students move between concentrated mental work, practical handwork, outdoor physical activity and immersion in the arts. At the end of the day they are invigorated and empowered, not burned out.
Peter Nitze, Waldorf and Harvard graduate, and Director of an aerospace company, explained the importance of hands-on learning like this: “If you’ve had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket ship or learn a software program you’ve never touched. It’s not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can’t do. Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t anybody?”
In a 2005 survey of Waldorf graduates, 94% of the graduates reported having attended college and 88% reported having completed or being in the process of completing a college or university level degree at the time of the survey. In college, twice as many Waldorf students chose to study science, including both the life sciences and the physical sciences, as did their non-Waldorf educated peers.
While this may seem counter-intuitive given the heavy focus Waldorf places on the arts, it is not. Art and science both require keen observation and perception skills, vivid imagination, creativity, problem-solving and attention to detail. In fact, Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.
One 2006 Waldorf graduate recalled how her high school years prepared her for college:
“In high school, I gained a foundation in real knowledge that is already evident in college. This is true in math and science, not just in art and history. In chemistry at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I can explain to my classmates what happens when a particular acid and a particular base mix because we mixed those chemicals in our chem lab…in 10th grade. Other students learned about acids and bases from textbooks, or their lab experience wasn’t meaningful, and so they can’t picture what happens. Classmates and dorm friends constantly ask me how I know what I know—it’s not that I know more facts than they do, but that I have remembered what I learned and I know how to connect facts to relate them to what I’m doing. I know how to seek out my professors to get their help (which many of my classmates don’t even think to do) because my high school teachers were always present and helpful…I was able to find my place at a large school—RIT has 15,500 students—because I had made my place at this small school.”
The survey suggested that Waldorf school graduates share three predominant characteristics:
Although there is not yet a Waldorf high school in the Tampa Bay area, alumni from Suncoast Waldorf School tell similar such stories. They stand out as students who have a love of learning, are socially well-adjusted, have a strong sense of aesthetics and a moral inner compass.