Reviewed by Rebecca Hipps

In a world of increasing violence and destruction, many parents and educators are asking, “How can we raise children with the resilience needed to face such challenges? How can we help our children become confident and compassionate contributors in society?” In his new book, Education for Nonviolence: The Waldorf Way, Dr. Torin Finser examines the source of evil and terror, identifying its root within the human soul. If human nature has the capacity for both goodness and evil, Dr. Finser argues that educators and parents must be concerned with educating not just the intellect of each child, but the entire soul. He describes, “In this case, the source of evil is in the human soul, the psyche, the inner life of a person. The life of emotions, of anger, fear, and envy are real forces that work their way outward from within. If one is to get at the root of evil, one has to begin with the soul” (21).

In Waldorf Schools, teachers loop for many years with their classes, providing an opportunity for the teacher to know his/her students more deeply. In striving to see each child holistically, teachers are able to deliver instruction that meets the specific needs of each child. Dr. Finser outlines the holistic methods and values infused into Waldorf Education all over the world, aimed at educating and liberating human capacity. These developmentally sound practices educate children to not only be ready for college and careers, but for life in a complex and challenging world. He goes beyond just describing these practices, but analyzes how each builds strength and resilience within the soul. Some of the values and methods he shares include:

  • Overcoming human passivity and apathy with selfless sacrifice
  • Building character and resilience by exposure to a wide variety of subjects, practical skills, cooperative games, and interdisciplinary learning
  • Establishing deep, long term relationships between classmates, parents, and teacher through multi year “looping”
  • Providing children with opportunities to process learning through multiple modalities, including movement and the arts
  • Limited exposure to media, giving more time for extended time outdoors and unstructured play
  • Understanding female and male specific needs and offering activities and relationships that serve in building strong mental health and sense of self, preventing self destructive choices
  • Experiential learning, through rich sensory experiences
  • Helping adolescents come to understand the human condition through in depth study of history and biographies
  • Focusing on “wholeness” in teaching; educating the “head, heart, and hands” of each child
  • Creating healthy learning environments full of truth, beauty, and goodness

In my experience working in public, charter, and private schools, I have seen first hand the endless programs handed to schools with the goal of “character education” or “bully prevention.” I believe, as supported by Dr. Finser’s book, we truly need to take a look at our schools holistically and ask, “How are our programs and methods enriching and developing the souls in front of us each day?” In doing so, it becomes clear that rote learning, prepackaged programs and excessive standardized testing will do little in building the traits and strength of character our children to need to become successful adults.

Dr. Finser states, “The quality of instruction and the collective experience in what we call “school” makes all the difference. Too much abstract information, rote learning, and boredom can inoculate a child toward further education. Awakening curiosity and imagination, real problem solving, meaningful projects and critical thinking can become lifelong resources that are transferable work situations even years later. Far too much emphasis has been placed on the transfer of information and retention assessment. Too little attention is given to the art of teaching and how children are more successful when taught in age-appropriate ways” (135).

An overhaul is needed in the values and priorities of our schools to empower educators and parents to really see and reach the human beings in front of us. Dr. Finser concludes his book with an important document, “A Bill of Rights for Children.” This outline of rights serves as a powerful guide for schools and families to consider whether children’s needs are being met. He argues that as children are often unable to advocate for themselves, vote, or make decisions that impact their learning, the adult community around them has a responsibility to protect their innate needs.

Education for Nonviolence: The Waldorf Way, is a crucial book for our time. Dr. Finser eloquently identifies the unique practices in Waldorf Education that enable students to grow into well balanced, confident, influential adults in society. This book is a must read for all school administrators, teachers, and parents looking to connect more deeply with the needs of our children and prepare them to face the increasing challenges of modern society.

Education for Nonviolence: The Waldorf Way is available here.

Rebecca Hipps is a Class Teacher at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, MD.

Torin M. Finser, PhD, is Chair of the Education Department at Antioch University New England. He has been an educator for three decades and has been a keynote speaker at international conferences and throughout the United States. He has also served as an organizational consultant for many schools with special emphasis on leadership development. He is the author of numerous books, many of which have now been translated into foreign languages and are read all over the world. They include School as a Journey (1994); School Renewal (2001); and Organizational Integrity (2007).