“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is?
The children themselves are this book.” – Rudolf Steiner
Grauer School founder Dr. Stuart Grauer was a teacher and principal in the international schools of Switzerland when he first became inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner. The Austrian philosopher, spiritualist, and social reformer was the founder of the Waldorf Schools. Steiner’s first institute/cultural center was built in Dornach, Switzerland, nearby where Dr. Grauer was Principal of the International School of Basel, in the 1980s.
“Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically rigorous approach to education. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning,” according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
The Waldorf-relevant educational philosophy became embedded very naturally into the founding principles of The Grauer School. One of the first founding principles of Grauer, derived from Dr. Steiner, is that potential is not a significant part of our vocabulary—there is no known end to human knowledge or to what one can discover. So, at Grauer, we view potential as an unnecessary limitation. There are a good many more founding and sustained practices and beliefs at Grauer, which focus on the whole child and both the spiritual and artistic development of our students and that we believe match well with Waldorf schooling. “From the start, I was intrigued by the way Waldorf educators consider emotion and logic inseparable,” notes Dr. Grauer.
II. Waldorf Origins
The Waldorf tradition started in 1919, when Steiner was invited to lecture to the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. Out of these talks and later lectures at Oxford came the Rudolf Steiner schools. The first of them was known as the Waldorf School, and this later evolved into a worldwide school network.
Steiner’s intellectual pursuits were extremely wide-ranging and often esoteric, and many might not find a place in our 21st century, multicultural Southern California, independent school environment. Rudolf Steiner also founded a system of organic agriculture, that is currently re-emerging at many schools worldwide, including Grauer. But his theories that learning to read early could cause sclerosis or baldness might not fare well any more.
All the same, Steiner’s work through the Waldorf movement has helped schools like Grauer keep the focus on the child’s spiritual development—and we have learned a great deal about emotional development since Steiner’s days. For instance, Steiner focused on the child’s capacity to consciously notice, pay attention, and reflect on one’s own thinking, feeling, and willing, and this is akin to what is frequently referred to as mindfulness, a derivative of Buddhist thought.
Perception is not only innate, it is also continually learned. Steiner’s work encourages us to always incorporate a sense of love in our children’s classrooms, which we find empowering in this age of heavily regulated, standardized, institutionalized educational programming. Steiner dreamed big, but he most likely never dreamed of schools the size of today’s schools.
III. Waldorf Inspiration at Grauer
The Grauer School is guided and inspired by Waldorf principles, particularly those which are most universal, including:
–Regular learning in the out of doors
–Gardening (Grauer has 2 gardens, a greenhouse, a fruit tree orchard, and many flower beds in addition to our natural habitat corridor)
— Seasonal celebrations (at Grauer, these include Asian Lunar New Year, the student “winter formal” dance, and the GrauerPalooza spring arts festival)
–Circle seating, eye to eye level (which Grauer features in the humanities classes)
–A focus on the arts at all ages and across the curriculum
–Weekly gatherings of the whole school
–The inclusion of “handwork” (included at Grauer, and still an area that is growing fast in the Grauer middle school where students enjoy cooking, building chicken coops, gardening and the arts.)
–A focus on core values that tie directly into daily activities (“spirituality”)
–A particular focus on gratitude
–Nurturing Imagination: Folk and fairy tales, fables, and legends are integrated throughout the Waldorf curriculum (Grauer School literary selections range wider and in concert with collegiate expectations, but still emphasize development of creativity and imagination.)
IV. Beyond Waldorf at Grauer
Rudolf Steiner died in 1925. The schools he was helping create did not need to manage norms and expectations like grade point averages, league sports, and College Board scores, which The Grauer School regularly integrates into our programming, particularly at the high school level. So today’s programs need to be substantially different in order to support both our community and the developmental needs of today’s students.
Here are some typical, contemporary Waldorf features not used by Grauer:
- The use of eurythmy, which is a system of rhythmical physical movements to music used to teach musical understanding. (All Grauer students have musical instruction, both theoretical and ensemble. Our Justice Center, under construction, is intended to reinvigorate dance at school, among other performing arts.)
- Anthroposophy: a personal path of inner spiritual work that is embraced by Waldorf teachers (Grauer has its own methodologies for attending to students’ spiritual development.)
- Delaying learning to read (not relevant to middle and high school)
- Not using computers and other technology in the classroom until high school (Increasingly textbooks are accessed online, especially in high school. Grauer introduces computers and keyboarding in middle school and has developed many steps to regulate them.)
There are now about 134 Waldorf schools in the United States, about 1000 worldwide, and they have naturally taken on a shape and curriculum far from Steiner’s original visions and intentions, just as The Grauer School has continued to evolve in its 26 years.
Each Waldorf school is unmistakably individual, guided by general Waldorf principles intertwined with local, cultural, geographical, and political conditions which have their effect on the curriculum. For instance, the Norse mythology read to students in one nation might instead be Chinese mythology in another.
We have learned a great deal about teaching and learning in the 90 years since Rudolph Steiner was around. Hence, Grauer School features such as our expeditionary learning programs, emotional intelligence, and some of our STEM classes like Engineering Design are ones we find well suited to Waldorf.
V. The Transition from Traditional Waldorf to Grauer: “Confidence”
The Grauer School is dedicated specifically to the adolescent years and could not do what a Waldorf program does for elementary students. Similarly, Grauer has proven to be a natural next step for students entering the secondary school years in our area, which places a significantly greater emphasis on issues such as grades and technology (a trade-off with pros and cons). We interviewed some Waldorf-Grauer families.
One Grauer family of La Jolla, California, put three children through San Diego Waldorf and the mother was a board member. She states, “Transferring to Grauer worked very naturally. I was nervous about technology, and I didn’t know how well he’d do keeping up. He’d never had any grades before. I was amazed, and I’m still amazed at what The Grauer School does—that deep relationship with students. Waldorf’s anthroposophy is important, but methodology sometimes limits relationships. The Grauer teachers show real caring about the students’ wellbeing and growth, no façade. The kids feel safe. The transition was great. Waldorf kids are curious and enjoy learning, and they have a chance at Grauer to continue to open and be themselves, to try new things. The caring at Grauer shines through so much, with no underlying judgment, and the kids really feel it.”
Some Waldorf Schools go through elementary, others through secondary. What about the transfer to other schools? What is the best time to transfer to Grauer from Waldorf? One Grauer school mother and her husband put three children through Waldorf and she stated, “Based on my background not only as a parent but as an educator, 7th grade is the best time. My children simply said, ‘I want more.’ Moving over in 7th grade, they had an enormous amount to make up in math, but the Grauer teachers gave unsparingly and my oldest child is now taking one of the school’s most advanced math courses. We love the arts, and so we especially love that Grauer offers arts across the entire curriculum for their students. Realistically, there are not many spots available in 9th grade. I think a lot of parents are fearful about schooling outside Waldorf, but Grauer gives them confidence.”
Another Grauer parent of two children was a Waldorf school board member and he and his wife put two kids through a local Waldorf program. He explained: “Grauer exceeded our expectations as a natural step. It’s been nothing but positive. We didn’t know how it would go, for instance, our daughter hadn’t started computers or typing, but it was no issue at all. The clear engagement of the faculty members and Dr. Grauer really gave us confidence. As it turns out, she was able to transition remarkably smoothly. Her classmates themselves love talking about the smooth transition. The parent engagement at Waldorf felt like a lot to us after a time, and we’re thankful we don’t have to worry about that any more, Grauer is so professionally administered.”
VI. Conclusions and Prospects
Like Waldorf schools, The Grauer School still emphasizes the teaching of the whole child—head, hands, and heart. The Grauer School has been and continues to be deeply influenced and shaped by the work of a good many other educational geniuses including Socrates (“Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.”), John Dewey (“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”), Maria Montessori (“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ’The children are now working as if I did not exist.”) Albert Einstein (“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”), and various leaders of the world’s great spiritual traditions. As stated, we have continued to learn about teaching and learning since Rudolph Steiner’s days.
The Grauer School is hardly a proponent of all the prolific Rudolf Steiner said and wrote in his life. However, we are grateful and inspired in our efforts to advance and adapt the visionary work of the Waldorf School tradition, and a more compassionate college preparatory education in general, in the 21st century.
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