Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is a fascinating character from the turn of the 20th century. A champion of the natural philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Steiner had original ideas about social reform, organic farming, architecture and education that it seems we are only now catching up with. He created anthroposophy and strove to gain a full experience of the spiritual world through meditation, inner development and a moral, individualistic and free lifestyle.
"To be free is to be capable of thinking one's own thoughts – not the thoughts merely of the body, or of society, but thoughts generated by one's deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one's individuality."
His most well know legacy is the Waldorf Education system. Named for the first school (1919), located at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, there are now over 2,500 schools and nurseries in 60 countries. Steiner believed that there are 3 stages to childhood and that each stage should be addressed with different teaching methods. He emphasized through all stages the importance of combining artistic, social and academic elements along with imagination, critical thinking and practical learning.
We visited the Toronto Waldorf School in Richmond Hill for a weekend farmer's market and took a look around the facilities. The forest playground and camp-like art buildings allow for a natural environment, cloistered away from urban sprawl. Founded in 1968, the exterior of the circular building hearkens to Steiner's architectural masterpieces, the first and second Goetheanums (the centre for the anthroposophical movement). Located in Dornach, Switzerland, both the first (burnt down in 1922) and second incarnations used organic shapes and turned away from the right angles of more traditional architecture. Steiner sought to find inspiration for his shapes on the spiritual plane rather than in visible reality. In walking through the interior of the Toronto Waldorf School, I did find did find it a bit more reminiscent of a set from A Clockwork Orange than the beautiful undulating curves of Steiner's buildings, but perhaps filled with eager individualistic minds, the cinderblocks would loose their oppressive bent.
We left curious about about Steiner's systems and it seems that a little research only opens more doors. Here are the posted tenets of the Toronto Waldorf School to get you started:
-The Right Thing at the Right Time
-How to Think, Not What to Think
-Appreciation of Individuality
-Commitment to Culture & Community