Movie: What is school?

This is not an ordinary transcript. It contains the full quotations of the abbreviated versions that are used in the movie … and more. Clicking on ‘+’ will reveal information about the author of the main quote, as well as some additional quotations and information about each topic addressed in the movie. Author information is provided once only, at first mention of the author’s name.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. – John Lennon

John Lennon was a British singer-songwriter and one of the founding members of the most commercially successful bands in the history of music, The Beatles. Less well known is that Lennon was also an activist who spent much of his time and money campaigning for social and political justice, and for peace – especially during the Vietnam War.

Sources: | Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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School was an unending spell of worries that then did not seem petty, and of toil uncheered by fruition; a time of discomfort, restriction and purposeless monotony. – Winston Churchill

What does education often do? It makes a straight cut ditch out of a free, meandering brook. – Henry David Thoreau

What’s the difference between a bright, inquisitive five-year-old, and a dull, stupid nineteen-year-old? Fourteen years of the British educational system. – Bertrand Russell

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality. – Beatrix Potter

It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. – Albert Einstein

Is it the filling of empty vessels?

Nobody can make anybody else learn anything. You cannot make them. Any more than if you are a gardener you can make flowers grow, you don’t make the flowers grow. You don’t sit there and stick the petals on and put the leaves on and paint it. You don’t do that. The flower grows itself. Your job, if you are any good at it, is to provide the optimum conditions for it to do that, to allow it to grow itself. – Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson is an English author, speaker and international advisor on education. He was knighted in 2003 for services to the arts. The above quote is from his Keynote Speech to the Music Manifesto State of Play Conference

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You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself. – Galileo

Every education is self-education and we as teachers and educators are only the surroundings of the child educating itself. – Rudolf Steiner

My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school. – Margaret Mead, Anthropologist

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn. – Albert Einstein

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences. – Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher

Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction. – Anne Sullivan

We have a cultural notion that if children were not engineered, if we did not manipulate them, they would grow up as beasts in the field. This is the wildest fallacy in the world. – Joseph Chilton Pearce, Author


Waldorf education is the art of awakening what is actually there within the human being. – Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and the founder of Waldorf education. For brief, but in-depth information about him, read Who is this man called Rudolf Steiner?

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. – Fred Rogers

Fred McFeely Rogers was an American educator, Presbyterian minister, songwriter, author and television host. He was most famous for creating and hosting a children’s television show: Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood that made him an indelible American icon of children’s entertainment and education, as well as a symbol of compassion, patience, and morality over the course of three decades on television. Rogers received numerous awards and some forty honorary degrees. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them. – Leo F. Buscaglia

Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance. – Joseph Chilton Pearce

Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don’t always know what it is. – John Holt

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play. – Abraham Maslow

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct. – Carl Jung

The developmental literature is clear: play stimulates physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development in the early years. Children need time, space, materials and the support of informed parents and thoughtful, skilled early-childhood educators in order to become master players. They need time to play for the sake of playing. – Jane Hewes

Play helps children develop intrinsic interests and competencies, learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control and follow rules, learn to regulate their emotions, make friends and learn to get along with others as equals, and experience joy. Through all of these effects, play promotes mental health. Over the past half century, in developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents and young adults. – Peter Gray

To a healthy child, playing is not only a pleasurable pastime, but also an absolutely serious activity. Play flows in real earnest out of the child’s entire organism. – Rudolf Steiner

What is gained through play, through everything that cannot be determined by fixed rules, stems fundamentally from the self-activity of the child. The real educational value of play lives in the fact that we ignore our rules and regulations, our educational theory, and allow the child free rein. – Rudolf Steiner

If a child has been able in his play to give up his whole loving being to the world around him, he will be able, in the serious tasks of later life, to devote himself with confidence and power to the service of the world. – Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf education offers children a wonder-filled meander through childhood, while nurturing, protecting and developing their true intelligence.

They run toward life, arms open … and life loves itself through their small bodies. Pressing themselves into the sand, sifting dirt, watching an inchworm measure a branch, reaching toward the black cat who looks at them through inscrutable green eyes … it is their biological imperative to reach toward life. We, their care-givers, must structure the way in which life reaches back, the way they are touched in return. – Sharifa Oppenheimer, Longtime Waldorf teacher and author of the book: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children.

I used to think Waldorf education the most undamaging education, but then the more I looked into it, I found it the most beneficial system we have. People ask, What will happen to my child in the world if he doesn’t learn to read and write very early? . . . The issue is that the child’s greatest strength for survival in a world of madness is to be whole, sane and in touch with the heart. The beauty of the Waldorf School is that it keeps children intact until they are ready to move out into the world as whole individuals. — Joseph Chilton Pearce, Author: The Magical Child, The Crack in the Cosmic Egg

If you introduce a child to too formal a curriculum before they are ready for it then you are not taking into account where children are in terms of their learning and their capacity to develop. There is no research evidence that shows that early access to formal learning does children any good and quite a lot of good evidence to show that it actually can do some harm. – Gillian Pugh commenting on a review of the British schooling system titled ‘Primary review: start formal lessons at six’.

Dame Gillian Pugh is Chair of the National Children’s Bureau in England. She is the former Chief Executive of the children’s charity Coram. She is widely published and has advised many governments on policies for children and families. She is President of the National Childminding Association, and recently stood down as Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education. She was awarded the DBE in 2005 for services to children and families. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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In every country of the world the pressure on children is increasing: school enrolment is gradually being moved to an earlier age, governmental curriculum is enforced for the first ten years of life, reading is taught at the age of three, competition is being intensified among the children, lots of tests, classes become more intellectual, less movement, no arts, no playing. – Peter Guttenhoefer

It’s all very misguided. They’re starting too early, and getting burned out. – David Elkind

Childhood is a most precious time and yet, in today’s world, little recognition – let alone respect and honour – is given to this short but critical time of human development. In a culture of ‘More, Better, Sooner, Faster’ no one is exempt from the pressures of keeping pace – particularly our youngest. It was during my first two years at home that I realised on a very personal level the importance of the first few years of childhood. As I educated myself on the infant and toddler, I despaired for the children who went into care settings that over-stimulated and undernourished. Most early education programs have been forced to accelerate the teaching of cognitive skills – which research is showing is inappropriate for these young children – while focusing less and less on their physical, emotional and social needs. – Jane McCoy

Early childhood isn’t merely a preparation for school, but an important stage of development in itself. – Sue Palmer

If children are taken or coaxed, however unwittingly, into unbalanced cognitive-intellectual learning at too young an age, it has quite possibly life-long consequences for both their all-round development and their attitudes and dispositions to learning. – Richard House

In our work on The Longevity Project, an 8-decade study of healthy aging, we were amazed to discover that starting formal schooling too early often led to problems throughout life, and shockingly was a predictor of dying at a younger age. This was true even though the children in The Longevity Project were intelligent and good learners. An over-emphasis on formal classroom instruction – that is, studies instead of buddies, or ‘staying in’ instead of ‘playing out’ – can have serious effects that might not be apparent until years later. – Howard Friedman

Education policy does not fail because children aren’t schooled early enough – it fails because children are hot-housed too soon and are in danger of stopping engaging with education systems altogether in later life. – Frances Laing

Although it is highly necessary that each person should be fully awake in later life, the child must be allowed to remain as long as possible in the peaceful, dreamlike condition of pictorial imagination in which his early years of life are passed. For if we allow his organism to grow strong in this nonintellectual way, he will rightly develop in later life the intellectuality needed in the world today. – Rudolf Steiner

A child does not have to be motivated to learn; in fact, learning cannot be stopped. A child will focus on the world around him and long to understand it. He will want to know why things are the way they are. He won’t have to be told to be curious; he will just be curious. He has no desire to be ignorant; rather he wants to know everything. – Valerie Fitzenreiter

Early childhood education in Waldorf focuses on developing fine and gross motor skills, relatedness, self-confidence, well-being and a joy in learning. 

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. – Aristotle

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist whose writings cover multiple subjects, including physicsbiologyzoologymetaphysicslogic, ethics, aestheticspoetry, theatre, music, rhetoriclinguistics, politics and government. He was taught by Plato and, in turn, taught Alexander the Great. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

While the above quote is attributed to Aristotle, it cannot be linked directly to any of his original texts. It is assumed to be an English adaptation of what Aristotle says either in his Politics, Book 8, or in Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, where he directs his attention to the education of youth … for the neglect of education of heart does harm to the political and social system as well as to the formation of a virtuous character.

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Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in. – Leonardo da Vinci

Insightful people are today calling for some form of education and instruction directed not merely to the cultivation of one-sided knowledge, but also to abilities; education directed not merely to the cultivation of intellectual faculties, but also to the strengthening of the will. … but it is impossible to develop the will (and that healthiness of feeling on which it rests) unless one develops the insights that awaken the energetic impulses of will and feeling. (It) is not that people instil too many concepts into young minds, but that the kind of concepts they cultivate are devoid of all driving life force. Anyone who believes one can cultivate the will without cultivating the concepts that give it life is suffering from a delusion. It is the business of contemporary educators to see this point clearly; but this clear vision can only proceed from a living understanding of the whole human being. – Rudolf Steiner


Waldorf education engages the whole child: head, heart and hands – in preparation for the whole of life.

The newer and broader picture [of language development] suggests that the child emerges into literacy by actively speaking, reading and writing in the context of real life, not through filling out phonics worksheets or memorising words. – From: Awakening Your Child’s Natural Genius, 1991, by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.

Thomas Armstrong is the Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development. He is an educator, speaker and award-winning author.

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Children learn something much more difficult than reading, without instruction: (they learn) to speak and understand their native language. I do not think they would or could learn it if they were instructed. I think reading instruction is the enemy of reading. – John Holt

There is no difference between living and learning … it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them as being separate. – John Holt

Literacy isn’t just a question of learning how to read and write, nor numeracy of learning simple arithmetical procedures. Both involve orchestration of a wide range of skills. – Sue Palmer

We are learning all the time – about the world and about ourselves. We learn without knowing that we are learning and we learn without effort every moment of the day. We learn what is interesting to us … and we learn from what makes sense to us, because there is nothing to learn from what confuses us except that it is confusing. – Frank Smith


In Waldorf education, literacy comes through hearing the fairy tales, legends and stories of the world. Children become deeply familiar with language before they learn to read and write.

The car plays a big part in children’s lives, with more events reached by car than walking. The main reasons children go by car is to go on trips with parents, to go to other people’s homes and to go to school. Whereas children tend to walk when they go out to play. This suggests that the shift from unstructured to structured activities for children is one of the causes of their decrease in walking and that letting children go out to play is one of the best things that parents can do for their children’s health. Outdoor play uses as many calories as organised activities and is more likely to be associated with walking. – Roger Mackett

Roger Mackett is Principal Research Associate and Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies at the Department of Civil, Environ & Geomatic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering Science, University College, London. He has written extensively on the important link between mobility and quality of life, with particular emphasis on children being allowed time to play (and walk), so as to combat the growing problem of obesity.

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Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education. – Luther Burbank

Today for Show and Tell, I’ve brought a tiny marvel of nature: a single snowflake. I think we might all learn a lesson from how this utterly unique and exquisite crystal turns into an ordinary, boring molecule of water, just like every other one, when you bring it in the classroom. And now, while the analogy sinks in, I’ll be leaving you drips and going outside. – Calvin, from Calvin & Hobbes comic

Our children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. – Wendell Berry 

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health. An environment-based education movement – at all levels of education – will help students realise that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world. – Richard Louv

There’s so much one can learn from the laws of nature – not just biology, but Einstein, Newton, physics. – Thomas Friedman

Children have a natural affinity towards nature. Dirt, water, plants, and small animals attract and hold children’s attention for hours, days, even a lifetime. – Moore and Wong


Reverence for nature is at the core of Waldorf education and time spent outdoors is an essential part of the Waldorf experience for students of all ages.

There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school. Even if you were untroubled by the methodological concerns I’ve been describing, the fact is that after decades of research on the topic, there is no overall positive correlation between homework and achievement (by any measure) for students before middle school – or, in many cases, before high school. More precisely, there’s virtually no research at all on the impact of homework in the primary grades – and therefore no data to support its use with young children – whereas research has been done with students in the upper elementary grades and it generally fails to find any benefit. – Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks about human behaviour, education and parenting. He is the author of eleven books and scores of articles. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Organised education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. That is not true. It is very close to one hundred percent false. – John Holt

Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears. – John Holt 

Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy – these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another. – John Gatto 

We learn because we want to learn, because it’s important to us, because it’s natural, and because it’s impossible to live in the world and not learn. Then along comes school to mess up a beautiful thing. – Peggy Pirro

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. – Martin H. Fischer

Children learn from all their experiences. Homework at Waldorf schools is developmentally appropriate.

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement. From: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink has written 5 highly successful books on business, management and work. They have been translated into 34 different languages and have sold 2 million copies.

– Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Modern civilisation makes the world uniform … the individual should never be sacrificed. – Rabindranath Tagore

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. – John F Kennedy

Waldorf students do not wear uniforms. They are encouraged to be themselves without slogans, images or labels.

All human beings are born with unique gifts. The healthy functioning of our community depends on its capacity to develop each gift. – Peter Senge

Peter Michael Senge is an American systems scientist who is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute, founder of the Society for Organisational Learning, and the author of several books on organisational learning. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein 

Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent – not a singular conception of ability. The future for education is not in standardising, but in customising; not in promoting groupthink and de-individuation, but in cultivating the real depth and dynamism of human abilities of every sort. – Ken Robinson

Waldorf teachers stay with one class for up to eight years, allowing the teacher to become intimately familiar with the strengths and talents of each child.

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship. – James Comer 

The question ‘What if my child does not get along with the teacher?’ often arises.

Problems between teachers and children, and between teachers and parents, can and do arise. When this happens, the College of Teachers studies the situation, involves the teacher and parents (and, if appropriate, the child) and tries to resolve the conflict. However, a Waldorf class is more like a family. If a mother in a family does not get along with her son during a certain time, she does not consider resigning or replacing him with another child. Rather, she looks at the situation and sees what can be done to improve the relationship. In other words, the adult assumes responsibility and tries to change. This same approach is expected of the Waldorf teacher in a difficult situation. In almost every case she must ask herself: How can I change so that the relationship becomes more positive? One cannot expect this of the child. With the goodwill and active support of the parents, the teacher concerned can make the necessary changes and restore the relationship to a healthy and productive state. – From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

The grading that results from examinations corresponds little to the final useful work of people in life. – Jean Piaget

Dr Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher known for his epistemological studies with children. He proposed a theory of cognitive developmental stages in which individuals exhibit certain common patterns of cognition in each period of development – comparable to the developmental stages identified by Rudolf Steiner decades earlier.

  • Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
  • com Archived article: The seer and the Scientist: Rudolf Steiner and Jean Piaget on Children’s Development by Steve Sagarin, 2009/02

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Standardised tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning. – Bill Ayers

There must be a way to educate young children so that the great human qualities that we know are in them may be developed. But we’ll never do it as long as we are obsessed with tests. At faculty meetings we talk about how to reward the thinkers in our classes. Who is kidding whom? No amount of rewards and satisfactions obtained in the small group thinking sessions will make up to Monica for what she felt today, faced by a final test that she knew she couldn’t do and was going to fail. Pleasant experiences don’t make up for painful ones. No child, once painfully burned, would agree to be burned again, however enticing the reward. For all our talk and good intentions, there is much more stick than carrot in school, and while this remains so, children are going to adopt a strategy aimed above all else at staying out of trouble. How can we foster a joyous, alert, wholehearted participation in life if we build all our schooling around the holiness of getting ‘right answers’? – John Holt

Scientific schooling uses precisely the same techniques as scientific management. Measure (test) everyone. Often. Figure out which inputs are likely to create testable outputs. If an output isn’t easily testable, ignore it. It would be a mistake to say that scientific education doesn’t work. It does work. It creates what we test. Unfortunately, the things we desperately need (and the things that make us happy) aren’t the same things that are easy to test. – Seth Godin

To control and sort young people for the sake of institutional efficiency is to crush the human spirit. – Ron Miller

The whole educational system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive … – Noam Chomsky 

If more testing were the answer to the problems in our schools, testing would have solved them a long time ago. – Bill Goodling 

Every hour spent on such exam preparation is an hour not spent helping students to become critical, creative, curious learners. – Alfie Kohn

Only on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ can people rise to the top by rote memorisation and answers to multiple-choice questions. The FINAL ANSWER to improving education is more than memorising facts for a multiple-choice test. Children today need critical thinking skills, creativity, perseverance, and integrity – qualities not measure on a standardised test. – Dr. Paul Houston

Our mechanical, industrial civilisation is concerned with averages and percents. The mental habit which reflects this social scene subordinates education and social arrangements based on average gross inferiorities and superiorities. – John Dewey

Waldorf children do not write exams in primary school. The class teacher observes, assesses and makes relevant recommendations. No child fails during these years.

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There is this story about a King and his trusted, though somewhat dull steward.  One day the King, having to leave his palace and venture on a journey of several months’ duration, asked his steward  to look after his beloved rose garden.  Unfamiliar with flowers and their care, the steward asked what his most essential task would be.

      Above all things, replied the King, Be sure that  the rosebush roots  receive enough water.

      Much to the King’s great surprise, he returned some months later to a rose garden  in which not one living plant remained.

      My instructions could not have been simpler! he cried to the shamefaced steward, What have you done?

      Exactly as you commanded, was the steward’s response.  Every day we pulled up the rosebushes to determine and examined their roots.  If the roots were dry we watered them well and returned the plants to the soil. 

      As the King knew well, there are other ways to determine if the roots are receiving sufficient water!  Wilting leaves, desiccated buds or withering flowers would all have been adequate indicators that water was needed.   And, above all, using these indicators would eliminate the need to destroy the plant in order to understand it. 

Educators active in the Waldorf school movement are convinced that most contemporary methods of assessment of children in levels K through Eight take the Pull Up The Roots approach.   With the zeal of the steward, they undermine the very abilities that they seek to evaluate.

      The Waldorf method of evaluation might be characterised as the Look At The Leaves approach.  To facilitate this indirect and qualitative assessment method, a variety of assessment instruments and methods are used.  Eschewing the graded quiz or the standardised test as the only objective methods, teachers work with a portfolio style approach that includes the child’s drawings, paintings, knitting,  facility of movement, musical skills, oral expressiveness, etc. as factors that are no less important than the more easily determined powers of cognition and verbal memory. 

     As the above criteria must make clear, the Waldorf assessment method is time and labour intensive in nature.  The final written, annual evaluations are only the final step in a process that goes on ceaselessly throughout the school year. 
– Eugene Schwartz 

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Waldorf teachers have a university degree, a post-graduate certificate of education and a 2-year certificate in Waldorf education. All Waldorf teachers are required to undergo ongoing training and mandatory biennial appraisals.

Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand. – Chinese Proverb

The exact origin of this quote is unknown. The idea is seems to have been first expressed in the writings of Chinese Confucian philosopher Xunzi. (312-230 BC) – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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How could youth better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? – Henry D. Thoreau

We teachers – perhaps all human beings – are in the grip of an astonishing delusion. We think that we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else. Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinarily good, and the listener extraordinarily experienced and skilful at turning word strings into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated. Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it. – John Holt

One must learn by doing the thing. For though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. – Sophocles

I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas. – Agatha Christie

Waldorf students don’t use textbooks for the first five years of school. They make their own! In fact, they continue to make lesson books in which they record what they learn throughout their school years.

In the words of Arthur Zajonc,

Waldorf education addresses the child as no other education does. Learning, whether in chemistry, mathematics, history or geography, is imbued with life and so with joy, which is the only true basis for later study. The textures and colours of nature, the accomplishments and struggles of humankind fill the Waldorf students’ imaginations and the pages of their beautiful books. Education grows into a union with life that serves them for decades. By the time they reach us at the college and university level, these students are grounded broadly and deeply and have a remarkable enthusiasm for learning. Such students possess the eye of the discoverer, and the compassionate heart of the reformer which, when joined to a task, can change the planet. – Arthur Zajonc

Arthur Guy Zajonc is a physicist and the author of several books relating to science, mind, and spirit; one of these is based on dialogues about quantum mechanics with the Dalai Lama. Zajonc is a Professor of Physics at Amherst College (USA), and President of Mind Life Institute. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class … I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. – Steve Jobs

By creating their own lesson books, Waldorf students come to ‘own’ the information and ideas that they study. 

The goal of Waldorf education is not to turn any student into a professional mathematician, historian or artist, but to awaken and educate capacities that every human being needs – contributing to the development of a well-balanced individual. As such, all students are taught a full complement of subjects throughout their high school years – giving them the benefit of a wide, comprehensive education regardless of ability or inclination. The aspiring scientist learns to appreciate the beauty of artistic endeavour while the budding artist discovers the inherent satisfaction of logic and reasoning.

The idea of separate subjects that have nothing in common offends the principle of dynamism. School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines … which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary. Excerpted from an article by Ken Robinson entitled Fertile Minds Need Feeding published by The Guardian.

Waldorf excels at teaching the sciences in a way that most scientists only dream students will be taught – through an active process of experimenting and hypothesising which ultimately leads to a discovery that’s just as novel and exciting for the student as any original discovery is for the world-class scientist. – Elizabeth Tanner

Elizabeth Tanner was a graduate of Waldorf, Princeton and, at the time, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University in genetics, microbiology, and immunology.

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Inviting students to use their imagination means inviting them to see things other than the way they are. And, of course, this is what the scientists and artists do; they perceive what is, but imagine what might be, and then use their knowledge, their technical skills, and their sensibilities to pursue what they have imagined. – Elliot Eisner

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. – John Dewey


To raise new questions, new problems, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination… – Albert Einstein

It’s essential that the school of the future teach music. The passion of seeing progress, the hard work of practice, the joy and fear of public performance – these are critical skills for our future. It’s a mistake to be penny-wise and cut music programs, which are capable of delivering so much value. But it’s also a mistake to industrialise them. Excerpted from Stop Stealing Dreams, by Seth Godin. The book can be downloaded, free of charge, at 

Seth Godin is an American entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker. He is the author of 17 insightful books that have been translated into 35 different languages. Squidoo, ChangeThis and Yoyodyne are among the business ventures he founded. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Our schools tend to refine intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions. For anyone to grow up complete, music is imperative. – Paul Harvey

Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul. – Plato

Second-grade and third-grade students were taught fractions in an untraditional manner – by teaching them basic music rhythm notation. The group was taught about the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes. Their peers received traditional fraction instruction. When tested, the students who were exposed to the music-based lessons scored a full 100% higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner. – Neurological Research, March 15, 1999 (Neurological Research is an international, peer-reviewed journal for reporting both basic and clinical research in the fields of neurosurgery, neurology, neuroengineering and neurosciences.) 

Swiss and Austrian researchers increased students’ music lessons from one or two to five a week while cutting back on math and language studies. After three years the students were as good at math as students who had stuck with the standard curriculum, and even better at languages. – The Economist, 1 June 1996, referring to the work of Maria Spychiger, then at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and ]ean-Luc Patry, from Salzburg University in Austria

We need people who think with the creative side of their brains – people who have played in a band, who have painted… it enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively. – Annette Byrd

Music gives us a language that cuts across the disciplines, helps us to see connections and brings a more coherent meaning to our world. – Ernest Boyer

Whoever has skill in music is of good temperament and fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools. – Martin Luther 

Music is about communication, creativity and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective. – Bill Clinton

Music and movement integrate the left and right sides of the brain, and are integral to the Waldorf curriculum.

Eurythmy – an expressive and harmonious movement art – is taught from nursery to high school at Waldorf schools across the world.

Dance in education has a significant impact on students: increased self-confidence, group social development and creative thinking – specifically originality, fluency and flexibility. – James Catterall / more …

Dr James Catterall is Professor Emeritus and past Chair of the Faculty at the University of California Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. – The Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics Journal

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Arts education – music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts – is one of the most creative ways we have to find the gold that is buried just beneath the surface. – Richard W. Riley

As astronauts and space travellers, children puzzle over the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and gremlins they make sense of the unreal. – Gretchen Owocki

Professor Gretchen Owocki teaches teachers how to teach literacy through play, at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan in the US. She has authored many books, including: Literacy Through Play and Make Way for Literacy: Teaching the Way Young Children Learn.

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Young children who engage in dramatic enactments of stories and text improve their reading comprehension, story understanding and ability to read new materials they have not seen before. The effects are even more significant for children from economically disadvantaged circumstances and those with reading difficulties in the early and middle grades. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, Richard Deasy, Ed

In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. – Lev Vygotsky

Ritual grew up in sacred play; poetry was born in play and nourished on play; music and dancing were pure play … We have to conclude, therefore, that civilisation is, in its earliest phases, played. It does not come from play … it arises in and as play, and never leaves it. – Johan Huizinga

The arts teach children to exercise that most exquisite of capacities, the ability to make judgments in the absence of rules. The rules that the arts obey are located in our children’s emotional interior; children come to feel a rightness of fit among the qualities with which they work. . . they must exercise judgments by looking inside them selves. – Elliot W. Eisner

From the earliest years Waldorf children are encouraged to try on different roles and to test the boundaries of what they imagine themselves to be.

In Waldorf education, the arts are not considered luxuries, but fundamental to human growth and development. 

Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture – literally a vision – in the minds of those who built them. Society is where it is today because people had the perception; the images and the imagination; the creativity that the Arts provide, to make the world the place we live in today. Excerpted from Eugene Ferguson’s book, Engineering and the Mind’s Eye / more …

Eugene Shallcross Ferguson was an American engineer, historian of technology and Professor of History at the University of Delaware. He authored two influential books: The Mind’s Eye: Nonverbal thought in Technology and Engineering and the Mind’s Eye. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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The very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians. – Grant Venerable, The Paradox of the Silicon Savior.

I believe that creativity will be the currency of the 21st century. – Gerald Gordon

Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. – Ken Robinson 

I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities … the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery and achievement. – Paul G. Allen

Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. It’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardising in the way we educate our children. – Ken Robinson


Arts education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate, the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence. – Joseph M. Calahan

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our heart sing. – Steve Jobs said this at the end of his speech at the iPad’s debut on 27 January 2010.

Steve Jobs was an American entrepreneur who is most famous for co-founding Apple Computers. Under his guidance, the company is responsible for pioneering several technologies that changed the face of computer electronics forever … including the iPhone and iPad. – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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Researchers found that for every hour per day spent watching specially developed baby DVDs and videos such as ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby’, children under 16 months understood an average of six to eight fewer words compared to children who did not watch them. – Aric Sigman

The age at which children start viewing screens and the number of hours watched per day are increasingly linked to negative physiological changes and medical consequences. There appears to be a ‘dose-response relationship’ with more hours per day linked to greater likelihood that negative effects will appear, often years later, in the child. – Aric Sigman

The introduction of home computer technology is associated with statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. – Jacob Vigdor

It’s much more difficult to help children focus their attention on academic study when they’re growing up in a world of instant gratification and digital quick fixes. – Sue Palmer

Everything in the past 30 years has speeded up. It’s about reacting quickly, but at a shallow level … text messages and computer games are about speed and instant hits, rather than more profound or detailed ways of handling information. – Michael Shayer

The greatest truth of our age: information is not knowledge. – Caleb Carr

… In a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytical tools, logic alone won’t do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others. – Daniel Pink

There are no computers in Waldorf nursery or primary schools. Technology is introduced in the learning environment from Class 7 onwards.

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Download a free copy of Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early education here.

Sport is an essential part of the Waldorf curriculum. Yet the approach to sport is fundamentally different from the way it is taught at conventional schools. There are no try-outs at Waldorf schools: any student wanting to participate is given an opportunity to practice, play and excel. There are no benchwarmers at games, either. All team members get to play. Contrary to what one would expect, Waldorf sports teams become powerful forces to be reckoned with – precisely because they are steeped in a spirit of generosity and inclusion.

Waldorf education sets the stage for deep and lasting friendships among students. Bullying is proactively dealt with and almost unheard of. 

The Waldorf curriculum has no room for stereotyping of any kind and often challenges students’ assumptions about themselves and others.

Love is higher than opinion. If people love one another the most varied opinions can be reconciled – this is one of the most important tasks for humankind today and in the future is that we should learn to live together and understand one another. If this human fellowship is not achieved, all talk of development is empty. – Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf education promotes multi-cultural awareness, diversity and inclusion.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi

This quote is attributed to Gandhi, but it is not known when or where he said it.

Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi was the preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. His name has become associated globally with peace and non-violence.

– Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

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What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them. – John Holt

The Waldorf curriculum actively involves students in community development work – encouraging them to become compassionate and productive citizens.

Festivals strengthen community, celebrate humanity’s connection to the rhythms of nature and speak deeply to children’s imaginations … leaving them with a rich store of memories.

This generous and diverse education awakens and educates capacities that give rise to well-balanced individuals who think independently – imparting purpose and direction to their own lives.

We learn about self-reliance when we get lost in the mall, we learn about public speaking when we have to stand up and give a speech … The act of actually figuring something out, of taking responsibility for finding an answer – this is at the heart of what it means to be educated … Quote excerpted from Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams, which can be downloaded, free of charge, at

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If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning. – Carl Rogers

Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Albert Einstein

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it – they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have lots of dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solution without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. – Steve Jobs

I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for one’s self. – George Washington Carver

All men who have turned out worth anything have had a chief hand in their own education. – Sir Walter Scott

During their penultimate school year, Waldorf students explore, build or produce something that interests them deeply. They plan, research and bring their project to completion, record their experience in a hand-sewn, leather-bound book, and do a public presentation about their project.

For her project, Lisa curated an art exhibition entitled, The Face of Johannesburg.

Christopher’s project culminated in him conducting the Rand Symphony Orchestra.

Athi built a go-kart.

Reabetswe isolated DNA from an onion and Danielle put together and performed a cabaret.

Julian designed and built a climbing wall on the school grounds.

Sebo studied the history and development of Zulu dancing and culture.

Luke bred four species of butterflies to demonstrate their lfe cycle.

The real-world endeavours of the Waldorf project year challenge students intellectually, 
emotionally, physically and artistically … profoundly impacting their development and their futures.

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To quote one of our children, who got her results yesterday: ’You’re given the syllabus and that’s what you learn.’ Is this really an education? This hoop-jumping culture is all down to that freedom-crushing behemoth, the league table. Academic league tables push for all young people to learn and perform in a certain way to meet a certain model of success. Young people find little opportunity to grow their own skills and interests, to find their own strengths and values. Thinking for yourself and knowing what you believe and what you’re good at is just as important as passing exams. This knowledge brings confidence, clarity and motivation, which in turn helps young people flourish at work when they leave school or university. So instead of ranking our schools by the number of A grades they churn out, we think it is time to measure them by their ability to produce self-aware, well-rounded young people capable of independent thought and able to make a positive contribution to society and the world of work, no matter what letters are printed on that results slip. – Excerpted from an article by British journalist Richard Addis, entitled League-table success based on jumping through hoops, published in The Guardian 23 August 2012.

It is a tragedy that, for most of us, school is not a place for deepening our sense of who we are and what we are committed to. If it were, think of the lasting changes it would have made. – Peter Senge

The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that. – Nagle Jackson

Michael Mount matriculants write exams set by the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). The school has maintained a 100% pass rate since inception.

The majority of Waldorf graduates go on to university. Their studies are fairly evenly split between the humanities and the sciences. More than half go on to study beyond their first degree. Like graduates from any other school, Waldorf alumni work in diverse environments in every imaginable profession.

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Download a survey of American Waldorf graduates here.

Quite simply, Waldorf students are taught to think for themselves. They are allowed to be themselves. They are not carbon copies. They are compassionate and resourceful self-starters, capable of innovating and leading. Capable, really, of changing the world. – William Bester

William Bester is the Administrator (equivalent to a Principal at a conventional school), at Michael Mount Waldorf School in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

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Being personally acquainted with a number of Waldorf students, I can say that they come closer to realising their own potential than practically anyone I know. – Joseph Weizenbaum

What I like about the Waldorf School is, quite simply, its graduates…They are interesting people. They can converse intelligently on almost any issue, because they have been taught to examine. They can be enormously sympathetic to almost anyone’s plight because they have been taught to tolerate. They can gracefully dance or score a goal because they have been taught to move. They can circulate among the various groups on campus and engage in a variety of activities because they have been taught to harmonise. – James Shipman, History Department, Marin Academy, San Raphael, California

Waldorf School graduates see behind the facts that often must be repeated or explained on examination. They are keenly interested in the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of the cell’s ultrastructure, but they know that Chemistry, Biology and Physics can’t tell them much about the nature of love… I feel certain that all Waldorf School graduates believe in the orderliness of our universe, and they believe the human mind can discern this order and appreciate its beauty. – Dr. W. Warren B. Eickelberg, Professor of Biology, Director, Premedical Curriculum, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York

Michael Mount Waldorf School

Nurturing conscious, creative, independent thinkers     |           Bryanston, Johannesburg, South Africa

Find out why this century-old educational philosophy is one of the fastest-growing independent education systems in the world, today.

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Based on a comprehensive, integrated understanding of the human being, a detailed account of child development, and with a curriculum and teaching practice that seeks unity of intellectual, emotional and ethical development at every point, Waldorf education deserves the attention of all concerned with education and the human future. – Douglas Sloan, Ph D, Professor (Emeritus) of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Waldorf education has been an important model of holistic education for (more than) a century. It is one of the very few forms of education that acknowledges the soul-life of children and nurtures that life. It is truly an education for the whole child … – Jack Miller, Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto

The importance of storytelling, of the natural rhythms of daily life, of the evolutionary changes in the child, of art as the necessary underpinning of learning, and of the aesthetic environment as a whole – all basic to Waldorf education for decades – are being discovered and verified by researchers unconnected to the Waldorf movement. – Paul Bayers, Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University

And from a Waldorf alumnus

This place has prepared you for life in a way that is unique, and rare, and remarkable; taught you things that the wider world regularly insists can’t be taught – artistic and musical ability, creativity, kindness – experiencing yourself as an integral part of something larger – part of seasons, and cycles, the ebb and flow of the natural world. – Ben Deily

Compiled by Therésa Müller, CEO, ZA Group – a Waldorf parent for 16 years.

Project assistance by Mandy Triaca, Michael Mount Waldorf School Communications – a Waldorf parent for 20 years.

Photographs by Premilla Mercott, Kevin Mark Pass, parents, teachers and staff

Narrated by Sheila McCallister and Paul Wright

Video production and animation by SP Studios


Tomorrow’s Child – Tony Clarke

Nocturne – Magnus Opus

Summer Breeze – Stephen Porter

Big Smiles – Tony Clarke

AmazonAir – James C. Earl

Giving Thanks – Edward Grenga, Charles Lawry, Douglas Stevens, Michael McMahon

Rolling Clarinets – Mauritz Müller, a former Michael Mount pupil


The beginning

© Michael Mount Waldorf School 2015