April 2014

The Question of Gender in Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy

Gene Campbell, Program Director
Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy - distance

A recent keynote address given by Nancy Blanning, a long-time Waldorf early childhood educator delivered at the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto, The Wonder of Boys, after the book by the same name by Michael Gurian, has proven to be controversial in its content within the Rudolf Steiner Centre faculty.  It has raised the issue of gender’s relevance within Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy.

This issue is one that belongs to the wider community within the global movement and invites stimulating collective dialogue as it will have profound effects upon our future direction.   In the spirit of healthy debate within the Waldorf movement, I wish to offer these thoughts:

Steiner said relatively little on the topic of gender and yet he placed it squarely within the context of his anthroposophical picture of the human being as far back as 1894.   In Philosophy of Freedom: Chapter 14 Individuality and Genus, Steiner states:

“Man, however, makes himself free from what is generic.  For the generic features of the human race, when rightly understood, do not restrict man’s freedom, and should not artificially be made to do so.   What is generic in him serves only as a medium in which to express his own individual being.”  

“The tendency to judge according to the genus is at its most stubborn where we are concerned with differences of sex.  Almost invariably, man sees in woman, and woman in man, too much of the general character of the other sex and too little of what is individual.” 

“Determining the individual according to the laws of his genus (race, people, nation, and sex) ceases where the sphere of freedom (in thinking and acting) begins.”

Note by Steiner in a later edition of the same book:

“Immediately upon the publication of this book (1894), critics objected to the above arguments that, even now, within the generic character of her sex, a woman is able to shape her life individually, just as she pleases, and far more freely than a man who is already de-individualized, first by the school, and later by war and profession.  I am aware that this objection will be argued today (1918), even more strongly.  None the less, I feel bound to let my sentences stand, in the hope that there are reader who appreciate how violently such an objection runs counter to the concept of freedom advocated in this book, and who will judge my sentences above by a standard other than the de-individualizing of man through school and profession.”

As spiritual scientists, we are continually seeking to understand the patterns being revealed to us in our work as Waldorf teachers.  Steiner has offered us constitutional types for early childhood, temperaments for grades, and soul types for high school in addition to his anthroposophical picture of the human being formulated in the threefold and fourfold human as tools in our search for meaning.  All of these he intended us to apply equally to both genders.   If these are being used diligently in our child study, in what way are we judging them to be inadequate for our work?

If we can observe a pattern that even one member of the opposite sex could also express, to what degree would it be valid to attribute that pattern to gender?  Are we able to eliminate the variable influences of culture (an environmental factor) to legitimately attribute it to gender (an inherent factor)?

Clearly, these are broad strokes in a debate that has spanned generations and clearly is on-going within the movement.   If you would be willing to offer any comments or insights to broaden our perspective, we would be most appreciative.



  Apr 04, 2014 11:20AM
I am grateful to colleagues who help me be more conscious of how I view others. How else can we create an education of which we are proud?

Thank you Gene!

  Jul 21, 2014 12:21PM

Continuing research from Gene Campbell:

On the Astrosophy Research Center website, they have posted the following as the last sentence under Steiner's bio:
"Above all, Steiner considered 'race, folk, ethnicity and gender' to be general, describable categories into which individuals may choose to fit, but from which free human beings can and will liberate themselves."

  Jul 16, 2015 05:31AM
David Clair
The research shows the whole story cleared. the above scene is described by some facts that we are facing. Help With Dissertations UK 

  Jan 28, 2016 04:47AM

  Jun 05, 2016 17:57PM
Lori Kran
Great beginnings to a crticial, long-term conversation for Waldorf educators. If you're going to the Summer 2016 AWSNA conference in Detroit, and you are looking for a workshop, consider mine: "Girls Throw, Boys Sew: Uncovering the Social Construction of Gender in the Classroom."

  Aug 12, 2016 21:06PM
Chatham Reflections

Add a Comment

Please enter the text that you see in the image below: