Where Imagination Outshines Memorization

Waldorf Education in Public Schools

Educators adopt—and adapt—this developmental, arts-rich approach

by Laura Pappano

In the quest to fix ailing schools, should we slow down to move faster?

Just as the handmade, home-farmed foodie movement is transforming how consumers view processed food, is education’s equivalent—Waldorf-style schooling that favors hands-on art and personal exploration while shunning textbooks and technology—just what school reform needs?

It sounds counterintuitive for struggling students to spend class time on, say, knitting and drawing. Yet, a small but growing number of public schools are embracing Waldorf methods in hopes of engaging students in ways advocates say traditional approaches do not—and raising test scores along the way.

Once a private school model chosen by mostly middle- and upper-middle-class families for its child-centered, developmental approach to schooling, the number of Waldorf-inspired public schools has risen quickly, from a dozen in 2000 to 45 in 2010, with another 30 expected to open this year, according to the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, a non-profit membership group for public Waldorf schools. Many are charter schools.

“A lot of parents and educators are recognizing that what we are doing in traditional education is not working for kids,” says Caleb Buckley, board president of the alliance and director of the Yuba River Charter School. Founded in Nevada City, Calif., in 1994, Yuba River was the first public Waldorf charter school to open in the United States.

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