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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Schools and state government – a question of balance.

Only individuals who have attained a certain degree of inner freedom are capable of building a society in which freedom can be realised for all people. Forces of initiative, a love of freedom and a feeling of responsibility are integral factors for individual growth. Children must be given the chance to awaken these forces within themselves. This is only possible in an educational system which allows freedom, plurality, self-responsibility and autonomy to flourish. This means we must ensure the right of teachers to teach without hindrance, the right of individuals and groups to found schools, and the equality of state-run and independent schools both in questions of financing and of school inspection.

"Every child and young person shall have the right to education and teaching; this includes the right of the child to develop his or her abilities; within the framework of the constitutions common to all the member states and the legislation based thereon, the parents shall have the right to decide on the type of education and teaching to be given to their children of school age;"
European Parliament: Resolution on Freedom of Education in the European community (14.3.1984, I.1)

This UN resolution presupposes an understanding of the human being as the subject and not the object of development. If it is in fact to influence educational policies and lead towards a productive solution of the contemporary crisis in education, a number of reforms must be set into motion. More than anything our concepts of schooling and the place of schools in society will have to be rethought.

During the course of this century, we have often witnessed a brutal disregard for human dignity and human rights. Peaceful co-existence depends upon an ingrained respect for both of these. This in turn is only to be achieved when each individual exercises his or her right to personal development, sharpening faculties of self-determination and social responsibility. Alone these faculties can ensure the further existence of democracy.

Education must ensure that each individual has the possibility of fulfilling this inherent right. This is the basic tenet behind the idea of equal opportunity in education. It is however often understood as an argument supporting governmental control of education. But does the idea of equal opportunity demand state regulation of schools? More and more educators and human rights advocates are saying no. State government cannot ensure the rights of the individual by standardising both curricula and examinations. Different individuals have different needs. Only a wide educational spectrum can offer parents and children the possibility of finding a school which addresses their personal and individual needs.

A child growing up in a learning atmosphere where teachers and parents are free to exercise individual initiative and responsibility will learn to do the same. Governmental regulation cripples individual initiative. In education, it can only lead to beaurocracy in the classroom and to disinterested teachers and pupils. School autonomy has become one of the most heated topics in education today. The facts are clear. Autonomous schools are proving to be more effective both in raising the quality of education and in reversing the rising costs. And yet few governments are prepared to take steps in this direction. A monopoly once gained is difficult to dissolve, even when it becomes clear that it is obsolete.

Concerning state financing of independent schools one can raise the point that tax-moneys are first and foremost to be used for the good of those who have paid them and that no government has the right to use such moneys to protect ingrown interests. Governments can never be anything more or less than a viable expression of the rights of the citizens who have voted it in.

From all these considerations the following points are of importance for an education system.

- Equality of opportunity is not created by a uniformity of teaching contents, but by the fair distribution of the resources earmarked for education.
- Support for a wide spectrum of educational methods must become an integral part of public educational policy. This gives parents a genuine choice in their search for the proper institution to educate their child.
- Every school will aim at a characteristic style arising from the principle underlying their educational methods. Teachers will be continually prepared to reconsider their principles and to re-shape their enterprise.
- As pupils cannot express their wishes and aims explicitly during the early school years, they should be left free to arrive at whatever world view they later wish to adhere to. This innermost freedom is the aim to which the nurture and development of their individual potential and talents are directed from the first day of school.

Georg Kniebe