In the Midst of Norway’s Cultural Life
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 86-87, Note the Copyright!)
Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual-scientific work in Central Europe came to the notice of several Norwegians early in the twentieth century. Between 1908 and 1923 he was invited to lecture in Norway on eight occasions. On 23 and 24 November 1921, during one of those trips, he gave two lectures on education in Oslo - or Kristiania as that city was called until 1924.
Soon afterwards the first attempt was made to found a Waldorf School in Norway but, as we learn from a letter, “the venture came to nought because the number of children was insufficient”.1 Conrad Englert (1899-1945), a young man from Switzerland, was among the audience during those two lectures in 1921. Steiner had already asked him to teach at the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany, but he had refused, no doubt because he felt he was lacking in life experience. But now he became the central figure in the process of founding a school in Norway. The Rudolf Steiner-skolen opened its doors in Oslo on 1 September 1926 at Number 10 Oscarsgatan with 12 pupils, 4 boys and 8 girls. The number increased to 21 during the course of that school year (in Classes 1, 3 and 4). Signe Roll (later Wikberg, 1894-1979), a Norwegian who had taken the eurythmy therapy training at Dornach, Switzerland, was the teacher responsible for the school. She had hoped that Conrad Englert would become a permanent colleague, but as soon as the school opened he left for Switzerland where he had been asked to help build up the school in Zurich. Lessons continued at the Oslo school until 1936 when it had to be closed down on account of various difficulties. Gulle Brun (1899-1988) and Vult Simon (1902-1988) then ran a Waldorf Kindergarten in Oslo, thus maintaining continuity until the war was over.
The Waldorf School at Bergen was opened in 1929. Lessons for a small Class 1 began in a house in the Kalvedalen quarter of the city with Borghild Thunold (1900-1981) as its teacher. Two years later she was joined by, among others, Ernst Sørensen (1903-1972), Nils Gustav Hertzberg (1913-1995), Sissi Tunæs (1905-1979) and Jørgen Smit (1916-1991). With an increasing number of creative teachers who joined in the 1930s and 1940s, lessons at the school reached a high standard both in subject matter and educational skill despite the poverty of its material circumstances which meant it had to keep on moving from one rented house to another. During the 1940-45 German occupation it led what almost amounted to an underground existence.
The new beginning inspired by a Swiss teacher
After the end of the war, a new school was founded in Oslo in 1945 on the initiative of a younger generation of teachers for whom, once again, Conrad Englert had provided the inspiration. He had left Zurich in 1936 where-after he remained in Oslo until his death there on 1 December 1945. In addition to his work as a writer he had also given many lectures.
The “Englert Trainees” made up a culturally productive bunch of teachers at Bergen and in Oslo. They searched for and found forgotten treasures from Norway’s cultural heritage: fairy tales and songs. Following the tradition of the people’s colleges of the North where the living word was cultivated they wrote plays, poems and stories, composed music, put on plays and operas with the children, and wrote and spoke about Waldorf Education in a professional way. Some regularly published articles on art and culture in the press and gained recognition as accomplished writers. They always represented spiritual values and were quite capable of uttering scathing commentaries on phenomena of materialistic decadence. Until the mid-1970s anthroposophists made a considerable impact on Norway’s cultural life for which they were admired but also sometimes feared.
The turning point of 1970
In many ways the year 1970 brought a turning point for the schools in Norway. The school at Bærum opened in 1971 and became the first in a great expansion of the Waldorf School movement in which approximately one new school opened in each of the years between 1971 and 2000. This growth was helped by a new law on private schools passed by parliament on 6 March 1970 after 6 years of preparation. Up to 1970 the schools at Bergen and in Oslo had received no support from the state except for small amounts granted by local boroughs. The new law meant that 85% of running costs would be borne by the state while the schools remained responsible for their own infrastructure. The subsidies thus covered 65% of overall costs.
That period also brought changes to the length of schooling. In accordance with the legal requirements Waldorf Schools had run up to Class 7 but in 1967/68 schooling was made obligatory up to Class 9, so the schools were duly extended. The first Class 12 concluded at Bergen in 1980 and the next in Oslo in 1981. After lengthy negotiations with the authorities an agreement still in force today was reached whereby the ungraded report received by pupils at the end of Class 12 together with the result of their year-long project is valid for university entrance if the standard reached in specific subjects is sufficient.
1 In a letter of March 1925 Conrad Englert wrote to Walter Wyssling in Zurich reminding him that attempts had been made three years earlier to found a school in Norway. From “Correspondence between C. Englert and W. Wyssling” in “Mitteilungen der Züricher Waldorfschulen”, Nr. 59, May 1976, p.12.
Curative work in Norway was started in 1938 by Solveig Nagel at Hellström. This is now the Grånly Foundation at Toten in southern Norway. A curative initiative also began in the northern part of the country.
From the beginning children in need of special care were integrated within the Norwegian Waldorf Schools, so curative education also formed part of the daily work of the schools. Signe Roll who had founded the first school in 1926 was among the teachers who devoted much energy to the curative aspect. Once the school reopened she continued to help countless children with learning difficulties. Gradually people realized that children with learning difficulties could be better helped in a school of their own. The Hestafibel Curative School was therefore founded but had to close in the mid-1970s for political reasons involving pressure by the authorities to integrate children with learning difficulties in mainstream and independent schools. From then onwards efforts were made to establish special classes within Waldorf Schools. This was successful at Hedemarken in 1982 and at Skojold near Bergen in 1988.
Waldorf teacher. Waldorf teacher training seminar in Oslo. Activities in the Anthroposophical Society and in an anthroposophical publishing house.
Active in developing curative education and social therapy training and in the cultural life of Helgesetter.