Why a Waldorf Education Matters

By Tenaya Morkner-Brown, SacWaldorf Alum ’14

Growing up attending a Waldorf school, I heard every day from my father how fortunate I was to have a curriculum that emphasized music, art, gardening, and movement as strongly as subjects such as math and science. I often responded to this daily reminder with a reluctant sigh and reassurance that I knew how lucky I was – but it was not until I left the Waldorf bubble that I was able to honestly reflect on the true value of my education.

Arriving at college, I was Tenaya Morkner-Brown, SacWaldorf Alum '14intimidated by peers who seemed to have AP credits and high SAT scores that allowed them to test out of introductory classes. I became anxious that my skills would not translate to a ‘real’ academic setting.

One of the guiding principles of Waldorf education is that a child should be educated through ‘head, heart, and hands.’ While I understood the importance of this mantra, I feared that perhaps I spent too much time knitting and not enough time taking rigorous tests or listening to boring lectures.

However, I quickly realized that I was much better equipped than my classmates to take on the academic rigor and critical thinking that college classes require.

While sewing a leather messenger bag or casting a silver ring may seem divorced from use to anyone other than an aspiring craftsman, I attribute my academic success to those very skills. Arduous hours spent designing a pattern and punching holes in hard leather taught me the importance of building a strong foundation of research before delving into an argument in academic papers.

Creating molds and melting silver into elegant forms taught me how to look beyond the shiny exterior – to wonder at how something is made, and investigate ways to improve it.

While these skills informed my academic success, that is not to say I did not also learn from old-fashioned math and English classes that we are of course required to take. (In fact, I wrote more essays in one year of high school than any of my peers were required to in all of high school!)

I highlight these experiences only because they are the classes that can often be viewed by outsiders as superfluous and irrelevant to success in the ‘Real World.’

Still, I did not fully understand how special my educational journey as a Waldorf Lifer truly was until senior year of college. I took a class called School and Society in which we learned about federal legislation that shapes public school curriculum such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

These policies attempt to create accountability by requiring standards to be met through testing in order for schools to acquire federal funding. I thought about how quickly a child’s curiosity and eagerness to learn could be snuffed out by such rigid understandings of intelligence.

I wondered how different my life could have turned out if I had not had such a nurturing and supportive environment in which my unique skills were coaxed and celebrated.

As I move forward into adulthood, I have no doubt that I will have many more instances throughout life to gain a deeper understanding and newfound respect for the education that Waldorf provides.