(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 84-85, Note the Copyright!)
Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia. Although by its neutrality it has been endeavouring to stay aloof from world politics since the middle of the nineteenth century it is nonetheless closely linked with the other countries of Europe, especially its immediate neighbours Norway and Finland.
Waldorf Education took root in Sweden relatively early on. Lectures and courses on the education given first by teachers from England and later also by experienced individuals from Germany and Switzerland led to the opening of the first class of the Kristofferskolan in Stockholm by Karin Modin and Emarie Widakowich in 1949. Thereafter another class was added each year. All this had been preceded in the 1930s by eight years of endeavour in Stockholm to build up a school there, but it had had to close in 1939 for lack of interest. At first the Kristofferskolan led a rather secretive life. Indeed it was almost by chance that permission had been obtained to open an independent school at all since Sweden’s Social Democratic government regarded both education and the church as matters to be run by the state. Until the mid-1970s people continued to hark back to ideals originally expressed in 1593 during the time of the Reformation: “Sweden is become as one man; we have one Master and one God.”
Introduction of the standard state school
As Sweden developed into a social state that was intended to become the “home of the people” in which everyone is equally supported via all kinds of contributions, a standard school was introduced experimentally in several boroughs in 1950. This became the standard primary school for all in 1962. The Minister for the Church and Education at the time expressed the hope that this new regulation would help Sweden become “one people, one youth and one school”.
Owing to the complete lack of state subsidies it was only the constant sacrifices made by parents and teachers that enabled an independent school to be kept going. Soon after 1962 the small number of still running private schools had to close, except the Kristofferskolan which thus became the only independent school in the country. By 1975 only two more Waldorf Schools had been founded, in Göteborg and Järna. Another initiative battled against a local ban at Norrköping which, however, was found to be in contravention of Sweden’s national education laws and could thus be overturned. This proved to be the beginning of a wave of new school foundations. The Social Democratic party and government passed a resolution stating that the standardization of Sweden’s schools should not be taken to an extreme that would preclude the founding of schools which did not depend on the state and which were “run in accordance with a carefully thought out and desirable educational idea”. Thus it gradually became possible for the Kristofferskolan to receive a small subsidy from the state and be first tolerated and then wanted as an experimental school. In the end the state and the city of Stockholm granted a considerable sum of money for the construction of a new school building.
Stepping into the public arena
Initially that new school building displeased the authorities in charge of school architecture. But this in turn awakened interest on the part of other independent architects and educationists who felt that the artistic culture of the country could not tolerate the introduction of a uniform style of school architecture. This controversy drew attention to the school building, and the new artistic impulse represented by Arne Klingborg, Erik Asmussen and Fritz Fuchs suddenly became a focus of interest in the public arena. Thereupon it became obvious that in its intention to develop an art of education and its appreciation of artistic activity as such, Waldorf Education met with the approval of broad sections of the population. To this day it is the artistic impulse in particular that many accept and understand despite the fact that education experts not too infrequently express disapproval or scepticism regarding the anthroposophical view of the human being which underlies Waldorf Education.
Resistance leads to break-through
In 1976 the Riksdag decreed that Waldorf Education should be thoroughly investigated and evaluated. A research group set up by the University of Uppsåla spent three weeks observing lessons in many classes and evaluating in particular the work of the upper school. The impression gained by the group was mainly positive and the standards attained were judged to equal those in state schools. Since then the report received by pupils leaving after Class 12 has counted as certification for university entrance. Pupils can obtain any necessary further qualifications by attending relevant university courses.
After a change of government in 1976 a committee was set up to consider the financing of independent schools. Frans Carlgren, a teacher at the Kristofferskolan, was invited to become a member of that committee. In close collaboration with the other Waldorf Schools, of which there were now several, he helped arrive at an initial solution: the term “Independent School” received public recognition. However, the new Social Democratic government was unwilling to implement the Riksdag’s resolutions fully. The turnaround only came after some forceful intervention on the part of several leading newspapers had been followed up by Olof Palme’s forceful expression of his own opinion.1 But even so the funds allocated by the state were still insufficient. In 1991 the teachers of the Norrköping school made a public protest by withdrawing their labour while parents took over the daily supervision of the children. This affair once again caused a stir, and after the ensuing public debate the government raised the contributions to independent schools considerably while allowing Waldorf Schools to continue administering their own affairs and shaping their own curriculum.
Parents free to choose schools for their children
More protests by the Waldorf Schools led in 1998 to a parliamentary resolution to treat all pupils equally regardless of whether they attended mainstream or independent schools. So now all pupils receive the same support under the motto: “Let the fees go with the pupil.” This finally made it possible for parents to decide freely which school they wished their children to attend, and since then the number of independent schools has increased considerably. Since 1989, contacts between Waldorf Schools and the education authorities have been cultivated by the newly-founded Waldorf Schools Federation which in the year 2000 encompassed 33 of the total 41 schools.
1 Olof Palme, b.1926, long-time prime minister of Sweden, was assassinated in 1986.
Mikaelgården, founded in 1935, was the first curative education establishment founded on anthroposophy to be set up in Sweden and the Saltå Home began to take in its pupils as they grew older. Attached to this are a biodynamic farm and several workshops. Solberga and Mora Park were founded in 1945 and 1953. All these establishments are located at Järna. Curative establishments founded on anthroposophy only began to be set up elsewhere in the 1950s. By 2001 there were 42 curative education and social therapy establishments all over Sweden with a concentration around Järna. Since the 1960s there has been one curative education and one social therapy training, both now in the form of a 4-year course.
In addition to Waldorf Education, anthroposophical work with special needs children, young people and adults has come to be much admired by public opinion in Sweden. Compared with other countries in Europe, Sweden is prepared to finance a relatively high standard of living for people with disabilities. However, there are some strings attached. During the 1950s curative establishments on the basis of anthroposophy were regarded as “too small”, so that the state saw them merely as substitutes for larger homes. But by the end of the 1970s they had come to be regarded as “too large”. In both instances parent initiative meant that the places were able to continue as they were. In the end the authorities were convinced by the teachers’ attitude to their work, which meant that they wanted to serve the people in their care without committing themselves politically and without wanting to make financial gains.
Waldorf and curative teacher. Secretary to the Swedish curative movement. Chairman of the Swedish “EKO Bank”.
Built the upper school at Kristofferskolan in Stockholm. From 1976 to 2000, teacher at the Rudolf Steiner Seminar at Järna.