In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart owned by the industrialist, Emil Molt. The German nation, defeated in war, was teetering on the brink of economic, social, and political chaos. Steiner spoke to the workers about the need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life. This was expounded in his book “The Threefold Social Commonwealth” which proposed the idea of society based on the principles of Liberty in the cultural sphere, Equality in the rights or political sphere and Fraternity in the economic sphere.
Emil Molt asked Steiner if he would undertake to establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Steiner agreed but set four conditions, each of which went against common practice of the day:
1. that the school be open to all children,
2. that it be coeducational,
3. that it be a unified twelve-year school,
4. that the teachers, those individuals actually in contact with the children, have primary control of the school, with a minimum interference from the state or from economic sources.
Steiner’s conditions were radical for the day, but Molt gladly agreed to them. On September 7th 1919, the independent Waldorf School (Die Freie Waldorfschule) opened its doors.
Waldorf Education has its roots in the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). According to Steiner’s philosophy, man is a threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages on the path to adulthood: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
There are now over 900 Steiner (or Waldorf ) schools throughout the world. In these schools the education addresses the physiological, psychological and spiritual needs of the developing child. Art, science and practical skills development are integrated in the flexible curriculum which follows the different stages of a child’s development.
There are 19 kindergartens and 5 primary schools in Ireland and a growing interest to start up more.