It is thanks to Emil Molt that Waldorf schools exist today. The owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory opened the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart (Germany) on 7 September 1919 – based on the educational findings of Rudolf Steiner, which had been known since 1906.
A school for all children
With the «Unified Elementary and Secondary School», Molt wanted to help the children of the workers in his factory achieve the «universal human right to education» that had previously been denied. He entrusted Steiner with the development of the educational concept.
This concept did not envisage creating a school exclusively for workers' children or for the children of anthroposophists. The focus should simply be on the child. Their talents and developmental abilities – cognitive, artistic and manual – were to be encouraged.
As an alternative to the state system, a free school was thus created that accepted every child, regardless of social class, nationality, denomination, talent or gender.
Steiner's concept included this from the very beginning:
- joint lessons for boys and girls
- two foreign languages from the first year
- one-period lessons (block teaching)
- artistic organisation of lessons
- the combination of general and vocational education
«Steiner developed the concept of a general education school that would later bring together metalworkers or factory workers, doctors or lawyers on the same school bench from Year 1 to Year 12 without differentiation according to anonymous performance standards,» it says in the article «Waldorfpädagogik: Verbreitung und Motive im 20. Jahrhundert».
Even if Stuttgart was the starting point, Steiner gave his introductory courses in Waldorf education over the years in various European cities such as Dornach, The Hague, Bergen, Hamburg, Budapest, Lisbon, London, Oslo and Vienna. (Here you can find our video lecture series on «Steiner's education courses»)
14 years later, there were 17 Waldorf schools worldwide. In addition to independence from national borders, independence from the state education system was one of the original characteristics of Waldorf education.
According to the article, the authorities of the then German Reich were initially favourable towards Waldorf schools, but this changed from 1933 onwards. From 1934, the authorities imposed rigid admission bans. Between 1936 and 1941, the Waldorf schools were forced to close themselves and other schools.
Numerous Waldorf teachers subsequently emigrated to Switzerland, England or the USA, the report continues.