Growing up in a hippie town, I always had some awareness of Montessori education methods. Many of my childhood friends attended a Montessori preschool in town. My parents, however, were always pretty wary of "drinking the kool-aid" on any particular philosophy, so we were public school all the way. Now that I have my own little darling, however, I am interested in how she can learn in the best possible way.
I first became knowledgeable about Waldorf education when I passed a Waldorf school on my drives around Nashville. I looked it up on Wikipedia: a child that is "free, morally responsible, and integrated"? Sign me up!
What I'm attracted to about both of these educational philosophies is that they emphasize the freedom of the child. They highlight the importance of discovery for learning, and the environment in which children learn is paramount. Objects for learning are chosen for beauty, simplicity, and utility. And, now that I have a baby, I'm thrilled to learn that both philosophies have branches that apply to infancy.
However, things start to get a little murky for me on a couple of issues. One is Waldorf's reliance on a semi-weird spiritual teaching called anthroposophy. In this line of thinking, humans pass through multiple lives and work in a sort of karmic cycle. Now, I'm open-minded and tolerant (I hope), but I'm also an orthodox Christian and don't believe that we are reincarnated into earthly bodies. I don't think this teaching is openly espoused in Waldorf education, but you have to wonder about how it seeps out from the underpinnings.
The bigger thing that bothers me about both systems is that they seem to have a pervasive air of exclusivity. By this I mean that their philosophies are incoporated into private schools, for which you need to fill out an application, be approved, and generally pay some kind of fee. My ethical compass tells me that I need to support our public schools, and add the resources of my family into that system to try to improve it. However, should this commitment be made on the backs of my children? A touchy question, to be sure. Especially in a place like Topeka, where the school district for which we are zoned seems to be a mess.
As I said above, I am a proud product of public schooling. But I'm also a product of a well-funded, smallish-city school system that doesn't have to deal with many of the problems that a larger metropolis faces.
What I'm currently trying to do is incorporate elements of Waldorf and Montessori education into my baby's environment and daily routines. I struggle, however, in feeling that I'm not an expert by any means. What do others think about this? It seems like a universal impulse to want to give your child the best, but what if that means another child suffers on account of your decisions?