(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 64-65, Note the Copyright!)
By the end of the Second World War everything in France, as in other European countries, was so completely destroyed and wrecked that the only thing left to do was rebuild. At that time Waldorf Education was virtually unknown, not least because of its foreign name.
Nevertheless a few German-speaking individuals from Alsace wanted to found a Waldorf School in France, so they set up the Ecole Saint-Michel which opened its doors on 1 October 1946 in Strasbourg. There had actually been one class in Paris in 1924, founded by the young eurythmist Simone Rihouet, but it had not lasted.
In 1950 Henriette Bideau, who was at the time the German teacher at the French gymnasium for the children of military personnel at Baden-Baden, Germany, founded the Art of Education Association. She translated some of Rudolf Steiner’s basic works on education into French and published among other things a curriculum for French Waldorf Schools. On this basis another school was founded at rue d’Alésia in Paris. This was an interesting and difficult venture, for how was the Waldorf School to adapt to the French situation? To this day the question has lost none of its topicality.
In 1957 a third school was founded at Chatou, near Paris, where a teacher training seminar was then established in 1968. Meanwhile the premises in Paris had become too cramped, so the whole school moved to Verrières-le-Buisson in 1977. Two more schools were founded during that pioneering phase, each with its own distinctive concern. The one at Laboissière-en-Thelle was a boarding school and included an upper school, which was not the case with the others. And the specific intention of the one at La Mhotte was to be a rural school.
A second wave of foundations followed during the 1980s: Pau, Colmar, Lyon and Troyes, but only the school at Colmar included an upper school. The one in Lyon had the lower and middle school, whereas the one at Pau remained very small and the one at Troyes consisted only of a kindergarten.
A number of further initiatives arose in the 1990s, mainly in southern France, but their prospects at present are poor. This has to do with the history of education in France as a whole which is still strongly influenced by the Jacobin tradition of a centrally organized and controlled education system. The accusation of being sectarian, which makes the life of Waldorf Schools in France difficult, is a logical consequence of France’s extreme centralization and the continuing tension between state and church regarding education.
Waldorf Schools and the Ministry for National Education
The first three Waldorf Schools grew slowly and in due course a connection was built up with the Ministry for National Education which led to a contract with the state in the 1980s. This covered not only the possibility of some subsidization, but also a number of stipulations which are making the life of the three schools difficult. Although efforts had been made to adapt the Waldorf methods to the situation in France it had become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to be guided by the state curriculum. Since 1997 the Paris schools have been accused of not fulfilling the state’s stipulations covered by the contract. In consequence several changes were made which led to interesting questions with regard to the content and method of lessons. For several years all the schools in France have been working on re-shaping the middle school. Study of the French language has to be especially cultivated and takes up a great deal of time and attention.
Strong attacks by the state against France’s Waldorf Schools have led to a new need to negotiate a tricky path between adaptation to circumstances and preservation of one’s own identity.
If the Waldorf Schools are to survive...
The French Steiner School movement is small and is experiencing financial problems, public opinion is against the schools, politicians are afraid to support them even if they would like to do so, the media have done little to enlighten people, and indeed prospects are not bright. Yet the movement has many parents, friends and teachers who want to support Waldorf Education and work hard to see it continue. What can be done?
Waldorf Schools must be refounded as “method schools” and their plans must be communicated to the public at large. The Federation of Waldorf Schools in France is at present involved in intensifying its discussions with the Ministry for Education and is convinced that it is worth not giving up. This was confirmed by the France’s Minister for Education, Jack Lang, in a letter of 24 July 2001. He wants to continue with the dialogue.
The first curative education establishment on an anthroposophical basis opened in Burgundy in 1954. By the year 2000 a further 11 establishments had been founded some of which are geographically very far apart. France has few large curative education schools or homes, but many small “foyers” caring for 6 or 7 individuals. Their running costs are completely covered by state subsidies, and the children are sent there by a commission of the state. In most regions this commission has a member who is an anthroposophical curative teacher, for it is important to see to it that the curative education and social therapy impulse stands in the midst of the country’s social life. In 1999 an establishment for children was investigated and the ensuing report was partially negative especially with regard to Waldorf curative education there. In the same year a short documentary on a “foyer” for adults was shown on TV, again with a tendentious commentary. Although there have been no more direct attacks since the beginning of 2000 the overall atmosphere remains burdened. However, the many and varied actions with public support and in the public arena that have been going on for years remain a real support for curative education in France.
Teacher of German and Music at the Steiner Waldorf School at Chatou. Member of the Hague Circle and the Federation of Waldorf Schools in France.
Music teacher in curative education. From 1984 director of the home “Les Fontenottes” at St Julien-du-Sault.