A group of educators says if the Oakland school district permits them to open a charter school in East Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood this fall, they will blend the unorthodox pedagogy of a traditionally private Waldorf School with methods used in public schools for low-income children and English learners.
It’s unlikely to happen, at least this year. Oakland Unified’s charter schools office is recommending against the opening of the Community School for Creative Education (for the second time). The reasons behind the denial are outlined in a 50-page report posted on a committee agenda for tomorrow night.
The Community School for Creative Education wouldn’t be the first public school built upon the Waldorf model, an approach to learning developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919 that places much emphasis on the child’s imagination and overall development (and which doesn’t require children to read until the end of third grade, the same year OUSD officials say they expect all kids to be able to read).
Still, the model doesn’t have much of a history in low-income communities with large numbers of English-language learners – a fact that seemed to worry Oakland’s charter schools coordinator, David Montes de Oca and others on the panel who reviewed the charter proposal.
Montes de Oca writes that the proposal left him unclear about how, exactly, the Waldorf model would be adapted to meet the needs of English learners — or how it would be blended with Open Court, the language art curriculum used by Oakland’s non-charter schools (as stated in the charter school’s petition), or what its core curriculum would look like.
Another challenge for public schools using the Waldorf model is the adaptation of anthroposophy, the Steiner philosophy on which Waldorf schools are based; critics say its presence in public schools, however small, violates the separation between church and state. A San Francisco Chronicle article from 2000 reported that one group, People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, filed a federal lawsuit in Sacramento to that effect (which, I’m told, is still pending).
Referencing a 1995 guidebook titled “Waldorf Education: A Family Guide,” Montes de Oca wrote he was unclear which festivals or other aspects of Steiner’s philosophy – if any – would be celebrated in the new Oakland charter school:
Additional Celebrations outlined in the guide book include “The Christmas Festival” and “The Day of the Holy Kings”. Festivals of Easter and Passover are described as “the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death.” Rudolf Steiner is quoted here in the guide book. “Festivals are meant to link the human soul with all that lives and weaves in the great universe. We feel our souls expanding in a new way during these days at the beginning of spring… It is at this time of year, the time of Passover and Easter, that human souls can find their lives…in the innermost core of being, a fount of eternal, divine existence.”
Celebrations such as May Day are described in which the May Pole Dance is performed. “Eventually the celebrations were emancipated from their ‘pagan’ origins and large May poles, cut from the tallest trees which could be found, were erected in England’s public squares or occasionally before churches, to ward off evil spirits that might abound at this time, during the transition between darkness to light”. The guide book includes descriptions of the Celebrations of the Pentecost, occurring “50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus, celebrated on Easter,” and the Celebration of St. John’s Tide associated with the Summer Solstice and John the Baptist….
… Little to no evidence has been provided in the charter petition or in the petitioner interview responses indicating critical thought having been given to the modification of Festivals and Celebrations necessary to accommodate a public school setting.
The Oakland school board doesn’t vote on the matter until Wed., Jan. 27, but it would come as a great surprise to me if the trustees went against the charter office recommendation and approved the school. Most of the trustees seem to have a neutral-to-negative stance on opening new charter schools.
Do you think a Waldorf-inspired public school has a place in Oakland?