(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 168-169, Note the Copyright!)
Mexico is a land of contrasts with its impressive pre-historic buildings and works of art from the Mayan and Aztec cultures which only came to an end when the Spaniards marched in during the sixteenth century. The theocratic lifestyle resembling that of Egypt thus did not become a thing of the past until relatively recently, and its after-effects have not yet entirely disappeared. Geographically Mexico belongs to North America but it is counted as part of Latin America on account of its Spanish national language, so it can truly be said to be a land lying between two worlds.
Being half-Jewish, Juan Berlin (1913-1987) had to flee the Nazis and leave Germany in 1940, and it was in Mexico that he found a safe haven. Having himself entered the first Waldorf School as a pupil in Stuttgart in 1921 and having later, as the school’s secretary, witnessed its tragic closure by the National Socialists in 1938, he brought to his new homeland the vision of founding a Waldorf School there. Side by side with his successful career as a chemist during the course of which he became a co-inventor of the medicine cortisone he translated Rudolf Steiner’s works into Spanish and trained teachers in Waldorf Education.
The first Waldorf School founded by him in Mexico City in 1957 soon had to close for economic reasons. In 1971 he founded an experimental and publicly recognized school based on the Waldorf curriculum which had 6 classes and also catered for under-privileged children, and which grew to encompass 400 children in four years. Having initially been supported by the Ministry for Education it was suddenly closed down in 1975 for political reasons. Then Waldorf Education perished in Mexico as the military dictatorship grew.
But Juan Berlin did not give up. In 1979 he founded the association Antropologia Integral. Under its auspices seminars on education and art took place with the collaboration of several teachers from the second Waldorf School and others from abroad. In 1980 an art centre for children was added which a year later was turned into a Waldorf Kindergarten.
A school at the foot of the volcano Xitle
In 1986 a new venture was launched to start a single Waldorf class in Mexico City, this time without applying for recognition by the Ministry for Education. Two years later that school moved to another part of the city where a friend had lent a plot of land with a building. The land consisted of volcanic rock from the nearby volcano of Xitle, and when preparations were under way to begin setting up a new school building some people were noticed close by who were busy breaking up some of that rock. The pieces were bought and carried to the school plot with the help of parents, pupils, friends and teachers and used as foundation material for the kindergarten. The old building was gradually demolished as the new one grew until it was finished in 1994 in accordance with the rules laid down by the Ministry for Education. The Ministry recognized the school in 1996.
Schools come and go in Chiapas and at Cuernavaca
The Waldorf School Pequeño Sol (Little Sun) was founded at San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas in 1987. It had already existed as a state school, and when it had to close in 1992 it continued once more as a state school. The Escuela Waldorf de Cuernavaca was founded in 1989 and today reaches up to Class 9. After a dispute between some parents and the teachers a group of parents set up a new school in 1990, the Villa Educativa Altair, but this was closed down in 1997.
A group working on anthroposophy which meets twice a year is planning to set up a co-ordination office for Waldorf Education, a kind of federation of independent Waldorf Schools. About 100 persons attended a meeting in this connection.
Doing what is required in Mexico
State primary schools in Mexico run from Class 1 to Class 6 and the Waldorf Schools have adapted to this rhythm. Most pupils then move on to other schools, so during the final year they are prepared for this transition. The exception is the Escuela Waldorf de Cuernavaca which runs to the end of Class 9.
Every school in Mexico is obliged to carry out certain official ceremonies, for example the Ceremonia a la Bandera (Mexican Flag Ceremony) which takes place every Monday morning at the start of the school day. The children sing the national anthem and pass the flag from hand to hand. To be registered or indeed tolerated the Waldorf Schools have to act in accordance with the Ministry for Education’s wishes in such matters.
The schools are not well known in Mexico, partly as a result of their prohibition in the 1970s. In more recent years noticeably more parents are seriously searching for educational alternatives which offer a more humanistic approach and also more artistic work than the traditional schools.
Studied Waldorf Education and Bothmer Gymnastics in Mannheim, Germany. Class teacher at the Centro Educativo Goethe in Mexico City.