The Well Trained Mind and Waldorf

(here is another old post of mine from my yahoo group, Waldorf at Home. This one comes from a thread about Waldorf and classical education. I would like to call it “so-called classical education” – see my quote at the end of this entry!)
While not wishing to be offensive here, I am amazed that anyone who has delved into Waldorf and Classical (by which I mean Well Trained Mind approach – there are also other approaches called Classical ) could find anything in common between the two ways of educating children other than the fact that they do indeed work with children!  I should think the title to Bauer’s book gives a good clue as to how different it is from Waldorf – Waldorf is anathema to anything having to do with “training” of a mind! I have looked in Susan Wise Bauer’s work extensively – articles she and her daughter have written plus the Well Trained Mind plus their language arts book – they are as different from Waldorf as one could get! I was so appalled by the mechanistic approach WTM takes to language arts that it actually inspired me to write my own language arts book!

What on earth have they in common? WTM teaches academics to kindergarteners, does not teach via art, does not teach via the body, does not explicitly work from a spiritual perspective, has a totally different view of the developing child and human being…. Its methodology is organized according to beliefs about the different stages a child goes through – but these stages and the implications of them are as different from those in Waldorf as one could get! In Waldorf the curriculum is crafted according to developmental changes in the child – why Old Testament  stories are given in third grade, why physics in 6th, why Parzival in 11th arise out of what is happening on a physical, soul, and intellectual level in the child.

I’ll give some examples – Page 67 (WTM) “Remember, you want the child to read quickly, easily, early. Many children are ready to learn long before they have the muscular coordination to write. Why delay reading until the muscles of the hand and eye catch up?” Why indeed.

Page 79 “Spelling is the first step in writing. Before you can put a word on paper, you have to know what letters to use”. Diametrically opposite to the Waldorf approach which is not merely “whole word” (mainly) in orientation – but whole sense of the sentence, paragraph etc.

Page 85 “try to give the child simplified versions of the original literature that he’ll be reading in the higher grades…” In Waldorf one would never water down literature – either you read it to the child in confidence that the power of what you are reading will speak on some level to the child or you wait until s/he is capable on his own to read the work.

Page 235 “A classical approach first explains the properties of brick, wood,concrete, plaster, steel; then teaches the prospective builder to read a plan; and only then sets him on the task of house building”. Classical goes from part to whole – it is absolutely intrinsic to Waldorf that one goes from whole to part.

I could go  on…. and I have no wish to embarrass anyone or poo-poo anyone’s choices – but let’s be really clear. Classical and Waldorf go together like oil and water! Which doesn’t mean one can’t take from wherever one wants when creating one’s own homeschool. But let’s be really clear on the foundational basics of the methods of education being discussed – they are about as far apart as one could get! Their very orientation, their very ideas as what a child is and how he learns and what and how he should learn are poles apart.

Here is a quote from author Barry Sanders which I use in my language arts book, Living Language. This quote tells me that those modern people who claim to base their educational methodology on what was does in Greece during the Classical period have missed a rather fundamental component to the Ancient Greek ideas on education:
The Ancient Greeks called education mousike, Modern English “music”, because they danced and clapped and sang out loud their mathematics and poetry and rhetorical exercises. Aristotle makes no distinction between rhythm and education, between motion and emotion. In both cases, one is “moved”.

Posted on October 10, 2006 in General Homeschooling

  • Mamma1420/ClassicalMamma says:

    While you are entitled to your own opinions concerning The Well-Trained Mind, there are a few errors in your post.
    1. Jessie Wise is Susan Wise Bauer’s mother. Jessie Wise is a former elementary school teacher, principal and former pioneering homeschooler who now is an educational consultant and speaker.
    “WTM teaches academics to kindergarteners, does not teach via art, does not teach via the body, does not explicitly work from a spiritual perspective, has a totally different view of the developing child and human being…. Its methodology is organized according to beliefs about the different stages a child goes through – but these stages and the implications of them are as different from those in Waldorf as one could get!”
    Quote from pg. 24 of The Well-Trained Mind: “Don’t make K-4 students dig for information. Fill their mind and imagination with images and concepts, pictures and stories. Spread knowledge out in front of them, and let them feast.”
    It is suggested to prioritize reading, writing, grammar and math but it doesn’t say that this should be the end-all. My WTM first grader does art two times a week, a nature journal (as recommended in WTM) and art appreciation/history (also recommended in WTM). Check pages p.207-217 for Art and Music suggestions and resources. Our homeschool is based on The Well-Trained Mind and we’re having a blast.
    Oh and your language arts book is very expensive. Jessie Wise wrote The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and it retails for $29.99 at major bookstores. We use it and love it. It has been very effective.
    Although I have never heard of the Waldorf Education, I will check it out. I just wanted clarify some facts about The Well-Trained Mind, lest anyone get the wrong impression based on your post.
    Please forgive if I have trespassed

  • I originally planned to use TWTM with my daughter, but due to life’s not-so-little changes, decided it would take too much planning and prep time for me at this stage, and while it would achieve the educational goals I have for the long term, TWTM isn’t really up her alley for the short term.
    I decided, for this year, to try to find a pre-packaged curriculum that would suit her learning style and interests and still be open to my own needs to supplement. After all, no curriculum or syllabus has everything for every family.
    I agree with you, Donna, that TWTM and Waldorf are very different. However, I feel that this can be dependent upon the family. After all, a more relaxed WTM family could implement each of the suggestions Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer have come up with without stepping on their children’s spirits or making things overly “school at home”. (It sound like your other comment, Jessica, has been able to do this in her home!) On the flip side, all too many of the WTM users I know personally try to pack way too much into young kids’ homeschooling journeys, leaving the kids overwhelmed and the moms burned out. That is what I fear, I personally would do! I’d try to do it all, and I don’t have the time or energy right now. Hopefully in the future. For now, I have chosen to use Oak Meadow (which I spotted in your other post, will comment there with something I hope will give you a chuckle) and will supplement with the super-helpful reading lists from WTM.

  • Marsha says:

    As a parent who has examined both Waldorf and classical modes of education (several expressions of classical, in fact, The Well-Trained Mind being just one) I see a good amount of overlap – particularly in the early years. Use of folk tales, consideration of the whole child, and the desire to present beauty and creativity in human expression are all areas where I see commonalities between the two. There are others as well – including, at least in the case of The Well-Trained Mind’s approach, highly creative handwork in almost every subject.
    As with most things where it’s tempting to adopt an A vs. B stance, closer examination shows far more commonality that might at first be apparent.

  • Kimmy says:

    It was very helpful to have this presented clearly for those looking at different paths to help our children grow. As a family I think Waldorf will be in accord with our parenting style and our spirituality. Formally unschoolers who learned fast that we all seem to seak boundrys and daily rituals we are looking to go in a different direction but one that honors the child and the needs of everyone in our home and thus the world.
    I have also learned that I need to dig a great deal deeper to find the “whys” and was wondering if you could share your thoughts on the best book for this?

  • Donna says:

    Dear Kimmy,
    If you go to the Resources page on my web site you will find a list of books about Waldorf education. Any one of them will help you find some answers to the “whys” behind Waldorf education.
    However, if you want a comprehensive guide to Waldorf education and how one might work with it in the home situation, then I have to humbly suggest one of my books, The “Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers” available from the Bookstore on my web site. The purpose of this book is precisely that – to explain why and how things are done in Waldorf schools and then help parents figure out how to adapt this to meet their own individual circumstances at home.
    Best wishes on your homeschool journey!

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