Forgetting the rush: examining the founding of a Steiner school through the lens of slow education

Year: 2017

Author: Bak, Tao

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Large enough to be fleetingly familiar, but small enough to lack the weight to generate a distinct narrative of its own, Steiner education (also known as Waldorf education) has often been associated in the public mind with a progressive, innovative, and to some extent hippie sensibility (Sagarin, 2011). Prior to the 1970s, Steiner education tended to be associated with humanist, artistic and, to some extent, bohemian influences. More recently, it is associated with having an emphasis on creativity, as well as a green, environmentally and socially conscious orientation. The latter has not entirely replaced by the hippie label, but captures some of the ecological and social sensibilities inherent in the educational approach since its inception by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919. While the echoes of the counter-culture movement remain evident in the slow food and living movements, it is only in recent years that the notion of 'slow' has been taken up formally as an idea within education itself. Slow scholarship has been gaining interest in higher education (Berg & Seeber, 2016), while slow schooling has been gaining some traction over the past decade, most notably in the UK (Holt, 2002). In both cases, the notion of 'slow' is mobilised to push back against the pressures accompanying the performativity and accountability agendas inherent in current education policy and practice (Connell, 2013).

Focussing on the founding of the Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School (MRSS) in 1970s Victoria, this paper explores some of the ways in which Steiner education represents a tradition of slow, as a clustering of social, pedagogical, and environmental values, in the face of external educational pressures. Steiner educators in the 1970s were to some extent aligned with the broad shift from instruction to education based approaches within schooling, and were often seen as ahead of their time in resisting the excessive focus on testing, particularly in the progressive state of Victoria (Mazzone, 1995). This paper draws on interviews with founding members of the MRSS, along with literature examining the slow movement more generally. The notion of slow is utilised both as metaphor and a set of values. The notion of slow, I argue, has useful contemporary resonances and can serve to illuminate not only experience and meaning of a particular alternative practice, in this case Steiner education, but also provide a useful lens to view characteristics of the past and of the present mainstream educational landscape.