(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 60-63, Note the Copyright!)
In 1923, before the first school was founded in the Netherlands, Rudolf Steiner was asked what such schools should be called in this country. He suggested “Free School”. To date there are 94 schools with this designation in a country with the relatively small population of fifteen million. And now, in the year 2001, having existed here for 78 years, this relatively small education movement has just accomplished a gigantic step.
Because the legislature could no longer tolerate the exceptional status of the Free Schools their structure has had to be fundamentally altered. The curricula have been rewritten, the middle school redrafted and the upper school newly structured. In fact, the new structure had to ensure that all the cut-off points had to fit in with a twelve-year schooling period. The new structuring of the upper school was crucial to ensuring their continued existence. There are now some very large Free Schools in the Netherlands, e.g. in Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden, which are educationally entirely independent. Their upper schools have a combined total of well over 1000 pupils. These upper schools are run as a single school.
What is the result of these reforms?
The restructuring involved a learning process for all those involved who faced the task of extricating the impulse of the Free School from its form. So they had to ask themselves which forms determined the content or the impulse. The Dutch Federation of Waldorf Schools was wise enough to undertake only the organization of the whole process while leaving the actual work to well-coordinated working groups of teachers, colleagues from the educational advisory service and members of the teacher training seminar. This led to an overall activity which was carried strongly by the schools themselves. Parents were informed about the new form in a number of publications after they had first been asked their opinion as to the direction the schools should take in the future. The whole process was concluded within the time allotted, and we now stand at the beginning of a year in which the new structures will begin to function. Will it still be possible to work out of the true spirit of the Free Schools and be creative for the good of the children?
What’s going on there?
It is often asked whether something of the education provided within the Free Schools has any effect outside them. Do they have any bearing on general discussions about education policy? On the one hand, mainstream schools are becoming more friendly and open, but on the other hand in the matter of providing an education that is in keeping with the inner human being a much more chilly climate is developing.
On the one hand a great deal of the way the Free Schools’ work has been adopted elsewhere, e.g. the inclusion of handwork, music, the way foreign languages are taught and the idea of the main lesson book. Yet on the other the abyss widens in the way even the final artistic element is pushed from pupils’ grasp by the impersonal chatter of the computer where schools in large cities are gradually being taken over by the law of the street.
All this is reflected in public opinion. Formerly there was respect for different ways of doing things (1950) and for a while the Free Schools were regarded as quite trendy, so that one was considered modern if one sent one’s children there (1960-80). But now, although the schools are respected by those who know them well, there is ignorance among the great majority of the population (the Free Schools account for about 1% of all schools) and downright enmity especially from media circles. There is a kind of semi-conscious suspicion that “something fishy” goes on in the Free Schools. Having to defend themselves against various accusations which keep reappearing in different guises is a great nuisance for the schools.
The fact is, of course, that there are things wrong with the Free Schools just as there are wherever one is working with children, since the very nature of the game is development. It cannot be overlooked, however, that mistakes made in the Free Schools are emphasized more strongly by the media than are those made in mainstream schools. Nevertheless, herein lies the opportunity to prove that in the long run it will be the quality of education provided by the Free Schools which will decide matters.
A good deal of freedom but also a drop of bitterness
To many the word “Holland” suggests visions of unlimited tolerance and liberality towards whatever is different. And this is indeed true of the country. The Free Schools are fully subsidized; the teacher training seminar is so well received that those holding its diploma can also teach at mainstream schools; and even eurythmy has been recognized since 1982 as one form of dance given in the schools; in fact, the eurythmy training is also subsidized by the state.
What is not so obvious is that a clever educational bureaucracy exercised by the Ministry for Education has often kept both teachers and parents thoroughly out of breath as they struggle to handle countless tiny measures connected with inspections, the “test and results culture”, or conditions for founding new schools which it is now impossible to fulfil (and which are indeed the very reason why no new Free Schools are being founded any longer).
Nevertheless, we are on the way to integration. Hollands’ educational landscape can no longer be imagined without the Free Schools.
The first such school opened its doors at The Hague in the autumn of 1923. It was the first Waldorf School outside Germany and was founded out of enthusiasm for a renewal of culture through spiritual science. The founding teachers asked Rudolf Steiner in Stuttgart for permission to set it up. Two names stand like stars at its beginning, or like a vessel and its contents: Pij Drooglever-Fortuyn (1873-1959) who made sure that it would happen, and Daan van Bemmelen (1900-1982) who went to Stuttgart to fetch the burning torch of an education that is fitting for the inner human being.
There have been curative education and social therapy establishments in the Netherlands since 1930. To date there are twenty-eight. Like the Free Schools, these establishments have also been undergoing great structural changes in recent years. “Individualization” and “Care Tailored to Needs” are two mottos put out by the Dutch government which have been redesigning curative education in the Netherlands and calling for new social forms.
Care tailored to individual needs
This concept has an important bearing on individualization. The starting point is the need of the person requiring care to be given it, but what is offered must fit the need. Tailoring care to individual needs sounds simple: offer only what this particular individual needs. But in practice it is not at all easy to realize this. The possibilities are still very limited, although they are developing rapidly.
Households geared to people
Financially the tailoring of care is expressed most clearly in the realm of households geared to people. It means that instead of being attached to the institution giving the care, the financial means are transferred to the person receiving it. Individuals, or their parents, receive a specific sum, depending on the need, with which they can “purchase” care wherever they wish. However, most subsidy monies still flow direct to the institutions.
Inclusion of the person receiving care as well as his/her relatives
The parents and/or the individual receiving care are included in the decision-making as to what care is needed. In the case of children the parents’ responsibility is recognized by the care establishment who consult with them rather than completely taking over the care. Parents are invited to pass beyond the entrance hall and go right to their relative’s bedroom. In the case of adults it is becoming more and more frequent for the person to be present during the discussions and for their objections and wishes to be listened to very carefully. For this to happen there has to be a good understanding with the parents and the person receiving care.
Establishments form networks
From the point of view of the care-giving establishments, “Individualization” and “Care Tailored to Needs” means that they have to collaborate more with one another; even a fusion can some-times be useful. Surprisingly, individualization of care brings with it an extension of care possibilities. It is not that the establishments grow larger but rather that networks of smaller initiatives are formed. Frequently a network will set up an advisory centre where people can consult about their questions and which will endeavour to find answers regarding the care.
New forms of care
Careful co-ordination between available care possibilities and the type of care needed often shows that care away from home is not necessarily always the best, especially in the case of children. Recently therefore there has been an increase in the availability of day placings combined with the possibility to stay over night and where families can receive educational advice. You could call this “drop-in curative education”, and a course is being designed to train teachers in this new capacity. The state is exercising pressure to adapt residential places to other forms of care, the policy guideline being that over the course of several years about 30% of places should have been changed to other forms of caring: for adults, for example, small houses where four or five can live together, if necessary with carers.
Another new development in Holland is the need for a combination between farming and care. There is a new concept “the care farm” which covers a renewal in agriculture as well as in care work. Anthroposophical social therapy has always included this combination of care and farming.
Society at large is very interested in the experience that has been gained in these situations. The Dutch Association for Curative Education and the Biodynamic Agriculture College have joined forces to develop a training for colleagues in these integrative farms. The authorities are financing this project.
Such progressive individualization of care and targetted planning are aspects of the spirit of the age. It is an exercise in developing a genuine interest in the other person and this involves entering into a relationship in order to let the action arise out of the situation that ensues. This calls for new forms of community building or, to use a better term, solidarity.
Unfortunately, the disadvantages of increasing bureaucracy are also clearly to be felt. The new guidelines, budgets tied to individuals and so on generate a flood of paperwork, so that social chaos threatens with a vengeance. Establishments have to be creative in their administrative methods and develop the ability to tolerate uncertainty. The same goes for those who work there as they are expected to develop new attitudes and skills.
TRUIDA DE RAAF
Teacher at The Hague for 30 years. Since 1999 a member of staff at the Education Section at the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland.
Truida de Raaf
Advisory work for curative education and social therapy establishments. Teacher at a college.