From Samizdat to Educational Alternative
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 114-117, Note the Copyright!)
The first impetus for the Waldorf movement in Russia came towards the end of the 1980s during the transition between Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and Yeltsin’s “reforms”. It was a time of great hope and much change in the Russian education system. Even the Russian media at that time were strongly critical of Soviet Russian education which lacked variety and was strongly ideological, bureaucratic and technocratic. In 1990 Professor Dneprov became Minister for Education. Together with the “Dneprov Group” (named after him) he worked out a new education concept which formed the basis for the new Russian education legislation which is to this day highly thought of on account of its democratic and liberal character.
The borders opened at the end of the 1980s, making it possible to study and take on alternative education concepts at first hand. From September 1988 onwards there were in Moscow a “theoretical” and a “practical” group studying Waldorf Education. The former met in the home of Maria Skriabina (1901-1989), daughter of the world-famous Russian composer, the latter in the home of Svetlana Usatcheva. On 13 April 1989 the “practical” group opened Club Aristotle where a kindergarten, puppet theatre and craft groups for older children were set up, and where parents could get to know Waldorf Education. Regular public lectures formed an important ingredient in the club’s work. It was a place where all kinds of people could meet and get to know about Waldorf Education. At around the same time the first play groups were opened in St Petersburg after years of preparation. Many Waldorf teachers from Europe and the USA began to visit Moscow and St Petersburg regularly, and some even moved to live there, e.g. Jørgen Nielsen (Denmark), Colin Young (USA), Marion Fischbach and Ute Konovalenko (Germany). These people helped in founding the first Waldorf Schools.
From March to May 1990, 35 participants attended the first regular course on Waldorf Education in the Moscow Library for Foreign Literature. Discussions with Ernst-Michael Kranich (Germany) and Walter Liebendörfer (Sweden) led to the decision to set up a two-year full-time Waldorf teacher training course.
Building up the Steiner Waldorf teacher training seminars
Moscow’s Waldorf teacher training seminar started in 1990, initially within Moscow University, headed by Anatoly Pinsky who was helped by Vladimir Sagvosdkin. Later, further training courses for teachers from all over Russia were set up and run by the so-called Periodic Seminar led by Colin Young (USA) and Jørgen Nielsen (Denmark) that gives seminars at various locations. Graduates of these courses founded a number of Waldorf initiatives in various towns. In the winter of 1990/91 there were two courses for kindergarten teachers which led to the founding of a kindergarten seminar by Regina Hoeck (Germany). Meanwhile St Petersburg saw a widening of the circle of parents and teachers whose attention had been drawn to the education by the playgroups, educational conferences and public meetings. In 1992 the teacher training seminar and kindergarten teacher seminar was founded in St Petersburg, led by Nikolai Petersen and Marion Fischbach (Germany).
The early 1990s saw the beginning of a whole wave of new foundations of Waldorf Schools and kindergartens. Articles about the education were published in newspapers and journals and several documentaries were shown on TV. Many people attended courses and lectures in central libraries and universities, e.g. the Herzen University in St Petersburg, the universities at Ryasan and Tobols and the Psychology Faculty of Moscow University. Representatives of Waldorf Education were invited to the White House (Parliament). A congress on the education brought 700 people together in the former Communist Academy of Social Science. But critical voices were also heard. Problems were seen in the fact that the education did not teach a fixed quota of knowledge, that the class teacher taught most subjects to his or her class for eight years, that the frontal style of classroom teaching was used and that Waldorf Education did not always take account of the latest educational, psychological or scientific research.
First schools founded
The first Russian Waldorf Schools were founded in St Petersburg, Ryasan, Moscow, Shukovsky, Yaroslavl and Samara. Essential support in this was given by the Friends of Waldorf Education and Günter Altehage, a co-founder of the International Association for Waldorf Education in Eastern Europe (IAO). The very first school, “Island of the Cross” in St Petersburg, was set up with the help of Professor Ernst Schuberth (Germany). Marion Fischbach later founded the Centre for the Art of Education which houses not only a kindergarten and a school but also the kindergarten teachers’ seminar and a medical surgery with four doctors.
Legal, financial and political difficulties
In the mid-1990s, after the first phase of school foundations, the economic and political situation in Russia changed again. The climate became more hard-line, in fact, the liberal phase was at an end. Having functioned for several years, the Waldorf Schools for the first time came up against disagreements between the parents and the school authorities. Some of the schools decided to work as state schools and thus became bound by certain rules while others chose to remain financially independent of the state and thus found themselves facing severe economic problems. The 1992 liberal education legislation mentioned earlier guaranteed independent and state schools the same rights on paper. In order to be recognized, state Waldorf Schools now have to pass an inspection to gain their licence and be registered. To gain a licence a school must have premises that accord with state regulations; it must also be regularly inspected and show that its teachers are competent. For registration it must prove for three age groups that its pupils are at the same educational level as comparable children in state schools. Admittedly, there are as yet no overall Russian standards, so registration depends heavily on the local authorities of the 89 Russian regions. The lower classes (1 to 4) are tested mainly in the Russian language and in arithmetic, while in the middle classes (5 to 9) further subjects are also tested: physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, social studies and local studies.
After the political turn-around state teachers’ salaries were extremely low. By the end of the 1990s they had come up to 45% of other average earnings. A state teacher with 5 to 10 years experience in the classroom earns approximately $100 per month but meanwhile the cost of living in provincial towns has long since reached general European levels. This makes everything far more difficult for non-state Waldorf Schools which now face a real battle to remain open.
The political problems oppressing Waldorf Schools in Russia stem from the Russian Orthodox Church. The first articles attacking the education appeared in 1994, written by various representatives of the Church. The International Christian Seminar took place in Moscow in May 1994 attended by representatives of the Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches (in all more than 20 denominations). In Point 17 of the declaration issued by this seminar the Waldorf Schools were characterized as racist, occultistic, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic. By the end of the 1990s these attacks by the churches gradually began to abate.
Licensing and registration, economic bottlenecks and attacks by the Orthodox Church created a difficult situation for Waldorf Schools in Russia during the mid-1990s. Although very few schools had to close (Ekaterinburg and Kasan), the growth in numbers ceased.
How long should schooling last?
Pupils attend school for 11 years in Russia, leaving when they are 17. At 18 young men have to go for 2 years of military service unless they are going to university. Against the background of the long war in Chechnya, pupils and their parents are naturally anxious that they should go to university, so much value is attached to the school-leaving certificate. In the West a class teacher at a Waldorf School leaves his or her class after Class 8. A further 4 to 5 years then remain until the leaving certificate is acquired. In Russia, if the upper school begins with Class 9, this would hardly leave 3 years in which to prepare for the certification exams. The schools are therefore inclined to reduce the class-teacher period to 7 years, which is anyway something being discussed in the West as well.
The first school-leavers determine the ongoing fate of the schools
By the end of the 1990s the Waldorf Schools in Russia had reached a new stage. Among the first school-leavers, many in fact succeeded in gaining access to the best universities in Moscow. Now the ongoing fate of the schools as well as public opinion about them will rest firmly with the success of the next leavers. The question of the upper school is very significant in this connection. A great many further training courses for upper school teachers have been organized with the help of the IAO.
Meanwhile the Russian public appears to have lost interest in Waldorf Schools. Collaboration between the various schools has been increased by the foundation in 1997 of the Russian Federation of Waldorf Schools. The Periodic Seminar provides another platform for constant exchanges of ideas and experiences. In the coming years the Waldorf Schools in Russia will have to work hard at building the upper school and expanding and improving their curricula. On the one hand the Russian education authorities increasingly want to introduce subjects such as “patriotism” and “computer work” as early as Class 1. But on the other hand since the year 2000 Waldorf Schools have been benefitting unexpectedly from the new guidelines of the school reform in Russia which provide for a reduction in obligatory subjects and an expansion of foreign languages as well as various measures to help personal development in the education process, and also growing collaboration between parents and school, all measures which Waldorf Schools have been practising for years. However, since everything in Russia is always in constant flux, how long this peaceful period will last remains to be seen.
Not only were Waldorf Kindergartens and schools, seminars for teachers and eurythmists founded in the 1990s but also curative homes and training centres for those with special needs. Although the curative education work in Russia is concentrated around St Petersburg, Moscow and Irkutsk, initiatives are also beginning to work towards the founding of curative establishments in smaller towns as well.
A seminar for curative education and social therapy was founded in 1994 by Dr Angelika Gäch, Michael Schnell and Hans Dackweiler as well as other lecturers from Germany. Two groups of trainees have already passed through this seminar, and a third course is due to finish in October 2001. A total of about 90 individuals - for the most part teachers, kindergarten teachers, eurythmists and physicians - have thus been schooled in curative education. A fourth seminar course is planned which will train a group of curative teachers and another of social therapists who will be needed soon. The special classes in the Waldorf Schools and in the curative school in St Petersburg will soon be releasing many youngsters who will be in need of social care and therapy.
Since the early 1990s there has been a Waldorf Kindergarten in St Petersburg for children with special needs which was founded by Tatyana Platonova. Fifteen children play and learn there. Every class in the Waldorf Schools has several children with serious behavioural disturbances who are looked after by those who have passed through the curative education training.
Some curative teachers from the seminar have founded a curative school in St Petersburg where 12 children are receiving curative education and therapy at present. Eighteen blind children are also cared for there. The school increases each year by one or two classes, for the need is great.
The seminar for curative teachers has led to other foundations as well. An establishment for curative education and social therapy is growing at Chebaksary in central Russia, as are others in the Ukraine and Latvia. All these activities need friends from abroad who can accompany and advise on the work and, above all, help to alleviate the financial needs.
Here there is the Ita Wegman Training Centre for Curative Education with at present 16 students and 8 lecturers. Then there are the Raphael Curative School with 11 children and youngsters, and the school “Our House” with 8 children and 6 youngsters.
The Talisman Curative School was founded here in 1992 by Tanya Gerassimova and Tatyana Kokina. In 2000 this had 25-30 pupils in four classes. Since 1999 a village project in a rural setting has been in preparation where first 6 and later more of the young people who leave the school can join sheltered workshops. In addition to the Talisman School there is an extended family founded by Natasha Ragutsgaya in 1996 with 6 special needs children, and also another village initiative. Since 1996 Annelie Graefe from Finland has been running a curative education seminar in Irkutsk. Hitherto it has been housed in the Irkutsk Waldorf School, but from the summer of 2001 it will have its own premises.
Dr Sergej Lowjagin
Physics and mathematics teacher. From 1995 head of the “Parzival” publishing house which brings out books on Waldorf Education.
Dr Anatoly A. Pinskij
Founder and head of Waldorf School No.1060 in Moscow. Inter alia also chairman of the Working Group on Education Reform in the Russian Ministry for Education.