Global Citizenship Considered

In this paper I undertake a critical analysis of approaches to education that claim to foster “ideas and predispositions toward global citizenship”.1 The idea of global citizenship has drawn increasing attention over the last decades as globalization has become an ever more prominent topic of research, critical analysis and debate.2Global citizenship (or GC) is not, however, an easy notion to grasp – it is defined in different ways by different authors, is accepted by some as a valid construct while others reject it as a convenient label for a set of attributes that, even if they do have any validity, could apply only to a very select slice of the global population. This paper will engage and analyse a number of different perspectives on global citizenship and it will do so by considering how GC is discussed in the field of international education and – more specifically – in literature arising from research into Waldorf education.

In the context of international education, Richard Bates3 takes – from a sociological perspective – a rather sceptical approach to the notion of GC and to its purported benefits. James Cambridge and Jeff Thompson4 engage with GC from the perspective of international education research. They outline the ideological roots of international education and discuss how these have tended to shift toward more pragmatic aims as an increasing emphasis on market-based globalization has influenced educational policy and practice worldwide. Yong Zhao5 sees GC as essential to focus on as part of a paradigm shift in education that, he argues, is crucial if education is to address the needs of the 21st century learner. Harriet Marshall6 has focused a good deal of attention on the terminological complexities surrounding GC discourse as well as on the normative and “instrumentalist agendas at play within global citizenship education”.7

In this paper I introduce into this ever-increasing body of literature discussing GCE an analysis of Waldorf education.7 Waldorf education is currently under-theorized in its own right8 as well as in the context of both international education and GCE research. My reasons for introducing Waldorf education into discussions about GCE in an international education research context include the following.

In professional terms, a significant area of my work over the past two decades has been in Waldorf teacher education, both nationally and internationally. I have contributed to the professional development of Waldorf teachers in the UK, USA, Canada, China, Northern Europe, Scandinavia and South Africa. In this capacity I have taken steps to understand both theoretical and practical aspects of this educational approach9 and how it has contributed to the development of its learners. Waldorf education has – since its origins in Germany in 1919 – spread around the globe, and it continues to expand its international presence every year. Recent figures indicate that there are now 1092 schools in 64 countries as well as 1857 Waldorf kindergartens in over 70 countries10. In China alone the presence of Waldorf schools and kindergartens has mushroomed since 2004 (when the Chengdu school was first founded) and already consists of “60 Waldorf schools and more than 400 kindergartens that are solely or partly practising Waldorf education.”11

Whereas this burgeoning internationalization of WE is perhaps one of the features that might justify its consideration in an international education research context, I have taken a more specific focus on GC for this present inquiry (and am aware that a presence internationally of an educational approach does not in itself mean that it is therefore an example of international education as this term is currently defined in the literature – a point I will discuss further below).

International Education and Waldorf Education: Cultivating Global Citizenship

Common ground that is shared by both IE and WE is in explicitly stated aims of supporting the development of global citizenship. However, whereas the notion of global citizenship has received attention by researchers in several fields,12 it has not been adequately theorized in a WE context. Despite the fact that many Waldorf schools make explicit reference to supporting the development of GC in their publicity material13, what the “ideal” or “type”14 of GC being “imagined” in a WE context remains unclear. One aim of this paper is, therefore, to seek greater clarity for how WE might be defining and supporting the development of GC.

Another reason for discussing WE in an international education (IE) context is the following. Both WE and IE emerged out of the “ashes of World War I”,15 and although their raison d’être differs in some ways, the fact that schools exist today that combine aspects of both these approaches16 points to perceived, and it can be assumed practical, crossovers and synergies between IE and WE. This paper will seek to identify some of these synergies, as well as some of the differences, between IE and WE – and it will do so through the lens of GCE.

I will begin my inquiry by further clarifying the concept of international education, as I am aware that my inclusion of WE within or in relation to this field would benefit from further clarification. I will then turn my attention to the notion of global citizenship in order to establish a basis for considering WE in relation to existing literature about GC and GCE. I will – in order to narrow an otherwise unwieldy undertaking – employ a taxonomy developed in a GC research context as a tool to evaluate how global citizenship is “imagined”, understood and fostered in a WE context. But to begin with, is it justified to bring a discussion of WE into an IE research context?

The Concept of International Education

In her book Introduction to international education: International schools and their communities Hayden17 describes the term international education as an “umbrella term”, i. e., one that encompasses any approach to education that is non-national in focus and is aimed at the cultivation of international mindedness and other related attributes. Discussions around what is included in (or what lies outside) the IE umbrella continue apace.18 It can be found that the ‘in’ or ‘not in’ discussions are sometimes focussed on questions of a schools’ raison d’être,19 at other times on its curriculum,20 its context, its type and approach to accreditation,21 or any combination of these. Hill also makes a distinction between an international education and an international school and states that “they are not necessarily one and the same”.22 This distinction invites a broadening of discussions around IE to include educational approaches that could be seen to be outliers in debates about international schools (in their ‘pure sense’ as described, for instance, in Hill’s continuum)23 but which may, nonetheless, have a contribution to make to international education research. Brunold-Conesa24 takes this approach, for instance, in considering Montessori education in relation to IE and GCE.

Thompson25 provides a significant contribution to the discussion about what is, and what may not be, considered IE when he indicates that under the IE “umbrella” we can find global citizenship education, development education, education for international understanding, education for sustainable development and intercultural education. From this perspective, the fact that Waldorf schools state (as one of their aims) that they support their pupils to become global citizens indicates some initial – although at this point tentative – relation to the international education umbrella, at least in the terms outlined by Thompson.

With regards to the origins and raison d’être of international schools and of Waldorf schools, Hayden,26 Hill27 and Bunnell28 (amongst others) have given overviews of the former, and Dahlin29 and Wember30 provide a discussion of the latter. Whereas some distinct differences between IE and WE emerge from these accounts of ‘origins’, there are also congruences between their overarching aims and approaches. These will receive closer scrutiny in dedicated sections of this paper, when they are discussed in terms of GC. This leads me to the next section of this study. If GC is placed in the center of this inquiry it is important to consider how GC is defined in current research and academic discourse. It will only then be possible to turn attention back to WE and consider how this educational approach might be using this term and fostering GC for its pupils.

Global Citizenship: Perspectives

The notion of global citizenship is by no means uncomplicated. There is, for instance, a lack of agreement on its definition, and even on its validity as a meaningful term31 and as an educational aim.32 This paper will not allow for a comprehensive review of literature addressing the theme of GC due to its size and the scope of the topics that it seeks to address. Instead, a brief survey of literature addressing GC and GCE will be followed by a deeper engagement with the meta-perspective offered in a typology developed by Oxley and Morris.33

In his article “Is global citizenship possible, and can international schools provide it?” Bates34 argues that it is not strictly possible – in legal terms – to be a global citizen, as there is no such thing as a global state that can grant citizenship in formal terms.35 He acknowledges metaphorical validity to the notion of GC but also draws attention to the dual features of citizenship – i. e. that it is “both a statement of belonging and a mechanism of exclusion”.36 Considering GC in economic terms, Bates37 (after Robinson 2004) identifies three tiers of global society and grants the likelihood of realizing the mobility and transnational opportunities associated with GC to the first tier. Bates’ critique of the notion of GC highlights issues of marginalization and elitism as fostered by current economic and political influences that either support or constrain mobility in societies around the world.

In “Education for Global citizenship”, Schultz38 engages with the notion of GC by linking it to various forms of “global economic participation”.39 Schultz proposes three categories of GC: neo-liberal, radical, and transformational. Neo-liberal GC focuses on positioning individuals for optimal participation in the dominantly neo-liberal economics and ideologies that give emphasis to market economics, private property rights and free trade. This type of GC has global mobility as an ideal and defines it as the ability to form economic and social relationships unconstrained by national boundaries and the ability to pursue the benefits of life chances availed through access to markets and entrepreneurial opportunities.40

Radical GC focuses on calling people to critical response and action against the institutions – particularly financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank – that are complicit, in “social oppression and economic destruction”.41 Radical GCE is aimed at fostering informed activists who can be engaged in redressing some of the social conflicts arising from policies and practices that take a narrow, and largely econocentric, approach to the notion of globalisation. The third type of GCE discussed by Schultz is the transformationalist view. This form of GCE is aimed at cultivating inclusion in broad terms – not only in economic terms but also in terms of cultural and social inclusion, environmental awareness and peace. This type of GCE advocates for an awareness that spans both the “local experience” and the “global experience”.42

In Mapping Global Citizenship43 Stein suggests types of GC that concur in many respects with those of Schultz, with some notable differences. She considers GC in terms of entrepreneurial, liberal humanist,anti-oppressive, and incommensurable positions, looking at the characteristics of each of these in how they provide and circumscribe “certain possibilities for knowing, being and relating”.44

Stein describes the entrepreneurial position in terms that are not that different from the neo-liberal category identified by Schultz.45 The emphasis from this position is on education that prepares individuals for “economic acuity”46 – to be able to engage in a de-politicized, market centric, competition for jobs in a global labour market. Prevalent in this position is the tendency (linked to neo-liberal ideologies) to assume that the entrepreneurial position is a prerogative for all people, regardless of their socio-cultural context. Critics of this position point out that the competitive, market economy that lies at the basis of this position is responsible for the marginalization of significant numbers of people in both the global North and South47 and that realizing any degree of entrepreneurial GC is actually only a possibility for a very select few.

Stein characterizes the liberal-humanist position in terms of its emphasis on critical self-examination, a recognition of ties to other humans, and “the ability to imagine oneself in the other’s shoes”.48 Intercultural understanding is a key emphasis in this position. Dangers that might arise in the cultivation of the liberal-humanist position are that intercultural understanding is achieved through well-intentioned education, development projects or cultural immersion that might actually carry with them unexamined “Westernizing” interpretations of development.

The anti-oppressive position that Stein articulates has resonances with Schultz’s radical category of GC: “it tends to advocate for more equitable distribution of resources, cognitive justice, and more horizontal forms of governance, and aspires to radical transformation of existing structures, up to and including their dismantling.”49 This position problematizes notions of GC where they are seen to be Eurocentric and imperialistically cosmopolitan in their colouring. In seeking to redress these tendencies, some authors suggest changes to the language of GC to avoid the types of problematics that arise from its potential imperialist associations. Some of these include “globally informed collectivism”,50 “trans-border democratic citizenship”,51 “trans-local relationalities”,52 and “globally oriented citizens”.53

The fourth position that Stein articulates is the incommensurable position. This position obtains its name from the comparison to the other three positions and the assumption that their education and political outcomes can be pre-defined and thus achieved through intention, planning and rational forethought.54 This position is critical of a “Eurocentric cosmopolitan ordering of the world and its presumed hierarchy of humanity”,55 which features in positions such as the neo-liberal56 and entrepreneurial. The incommensurable position does not seek to reconcile differences in culture, world outlook, or other significant difference manifest in different societal contexts – it does not seek to bind difference into common epistemological and ontological frames of reference (which all too often are those of white, Eurocentric origin). Rather this position seeks to “recognize different modes of existence as both co-equal and indispensable, rather than as indications of lack, inferiority or insufficient evolution”.57 Key to this position is the invitation that it offers to its proponents to stay in the liminal spaces evoked by incommensurability, in order to realize the possibility that “different ways of knowing […] may be incredibly generative”.58

Oxley and Morris59 have made a very constructive contribution to the GC literature by developing “the most comprehensive taxonomy to date”60 of GC and GCE’s multiple conceptions. Marshall61 suggests that such typologies could “act as useful tools for engagement with empirical research of global citizen education practice”62 – a point also made by Oxley and Morris who propose that their typology is just such a “powerful tool” for evaluating and analyzing GCE curricula.63 I take these proposals as the basis for the use of Oxley and Morris’s typology in the following analysis of how GC in a WE context might be being understood and fostered. Prior to undertaking this analysis, however, a few words about existing research into WE are necessary at this point.

Waldorf Education and Global Citizenship

There has been a degree of academic discourse regarding WE (see Gidley,64 for instance, where a number of publications are cited65), although strikingly little has been written about WE and its relation to IE, and sparse attention given to how GCE is addressed in WE – either theoretically or practically. Dahlin writes “There is a great amount of secondary literature on WE […] but systematic empirical research on Waldorf education is relatively scarce, considering that Waldorf schools have existed for many decades and in many different parts of the world”.66 There thus appears to be a discrepancy between stated aims of Waldorf education (as found on school websites, for instance, many of which make reference to global citizenship as an educational aim) and research literature about WE, where sparse references to GCE appear. Some contributions to this modest – but gradually developing – area of research and publication include contributions from Bo Dahlin, Jennifer Gidley, Neil Boland, Martin Ashely, and Philip and Glenys Woods, as well as from David Mitchell and Douglas Gerwin.67

The aims of this paper are (as stated above) to contribute to the questions:

  • How might global citizenship be understood from a Waldorf education perspective?
  • How does GC in a WE context differ (and relate) to how GC is discussed in the context of international education?

Because of the relative lack of research literature into how GC is understood in a WE context, I propose that a taxonomy such as the one developed by Oxley and Morris can be an initial step toward shedding some light on this question.

Potential Limitations of This Study

There are some potential limitations to this approach that are worth highlighting at this point.

Firstly, as WE does not tend to explicitly define GC, any links between WE literature and Oxley and Morris’s taxonomy discussed below can only be indicative – they will not be definitive. Secondly, the approach I am taking gives prominence to Oxley and Morris’s taxonomy, which is only one interpretive lens for examining notions of GC and GCE in the context of WE – others could be included, but that would go beyond the bounds of this paper.

A third limitation to this study is that the following evaluation will be based on interviewing existing research-derived literature (and where possible peer-reviewed articles) about WE and will not engage at this stage with empirical research based on direct input from Waldorf educators, students or graduates (though much of the literature derives from these sources). Nor will there be sufficient space to go in depth into a discussion of how this more theoretical engagement with WE is realized in different Waldorf schools – an important step for further study. I am, in light of this latter point, following Wember’s distinction between Waldorf schools and Waldorf education and am for the time being focusing on the principles of the latter in this paper.68

One final limitation worth mentioning is that WE is complex and is liable to misrepresentation if not addressed thoroughly,69 and space will not allow the degree of critical consideration that the subject of GC in WE warrants. The following considerations should thus be seen as an initial step only; they will leave questions unaddressed and will no doubt evoke new ones, which will require further critical consideration.

Waldorf Education and Global Citizenship

Waldorf Education and Cosmopolitan GC

Oxley & Morris identified eight conceptions of GC in their typology. These types are clustered into two groupings – one under the heading cosmopolitan and the other under the heading advocacy. Cosmopolitan types of GC include political, moral, economic, and cultural forms of GC. Advocacy types of GC include social, critical, environmental, and spiritual forms of GC.70 Details and descriptions of each of these forms of GC can be found in Oxley and Morris71 and will be given, in abbreviated form, below.

Using this taxonomy and existing research literature on WE, is it possible to gain some insight into how GC might be being cultivated for Waldorf students?


Political GC “focusses on the relationships of the individual to the state and other polities, particularly in the form of cosmopolitan democracy”.72

Empirical research undertaken in a variety of contexts indicates that WE is successful in fostering ongoing interest and engagement with political issues and does so in ways that seem to differ from some non-WE settings. Research findings indicate that a significant proportion of non-WE educated students are more likely to experience ‘early closure’ and loss of interest in political and social issues73 than are their WE peers. Dahlin reports that Waldorf students tend to develop a more transformationalist and activist social and political engagement than do their peers in non-Waldorf schools, and he cites a number of different studies and contexts from which these findings are drawn.74 Interest in politics was generally seen to increase as students progressed in the higher grades/classes in WE. Dahlin indicates that it is yet to be determined to what degree these particular types of political orientation arise due to curriculum factors, to pedagogical approaches, theoretical principles of WE or the influence of parents and other contextual factors on the young persons’ development.75 He notes, however, that studies undertaken to date indicate significant attributes of political GC being cultivated in WE.76

Of deep significance for a consideration of GC in a WE context is the underlying influence of Steiner’s social and political philosophy (which is not explicitly taught in Waldorf schools but is, rather, implicit in its founding aims and core principles). These are described in some detail in Steiner Waldorf education, Social Three-Folding, and civil society: Education as cultural power,77 in Dahlin78 and in Wember.79 In essence, Dahlin describes WE as being founded in, and developing from, a particular view of the human being and of the way in which the individual human being situates themselves in the social realm (be it local or global);

According to this view a democratic society is characterized by making it possible for each individual to develop his or her own innate potential and then allowing society to develop in accordance with the abilities and creativity that is released in this way. This means that the future development of a truly democratic society is, actually, unpredictable. The logical consequence of this idea is that schools are to develop the inherent positive abilities of all children, without considering what the state and/or economical agents currently believe that the nation needs.80

In this passage it can be seen that a radical element in WE arises from Steiner’s social philosophy, which advocates for three relatively autonomous social spheres; the state or judicial sphere, the economic sphere and the cultural sphere (wherein education is situated).81 These underpinning ideas of Steiner’s are contrasted and discussed at some length in Dahlin’s article and are compared to other social philosophies that relate to (or differ from) them82. Suffice it to say that a deeper evaluation of political GC in the context of WE necessitates a consideration of Steiner’s proposals for a reorientation of the social realm in quite fundamental ways. The fact that in most parts of the world WE and Waldorf schools do not operate in such a socially “three-folded” milieu is likely a factor in the struggles and compromises that can be encountered by teachers, parents and governors of these schools.

Many educational initiatives have come to focus on developing graduates who are optimally prepared to compete in a global “war for talent”, which has become quite a focus in political discourse and education today.83 IE has, for example, not been immune to this influence despite its ideological and strong value-based origins.84 Hugh Lauder states that “the idealism that initially motivated the IE is being overtaken by the economic and social class interests that have been structured by globalization”.85 In contrast to these developments in IE, it could be suggested that WE resists, lags behind, (or simply fails?) in promoting itself as an education for the future political elite. Though this may be surmised, studies of WE indicate that it can be as successful as other educational approaches in student achievement, if not more so if a holistic assessment is undertaken.86 Success in the global job market would need to be considered as a contingent outcome of WE and not a primary intention of its educational approach. Furthermore, the fact that several authors have noted an increased interest in politics and issues of a political nature as WE students get older attests – at least in these initial considerations – to some success in cultivating political GC in WE.


Moral GC considers “the ethical positioning of individuals and groups to each other, most often featuring ideas of human rights”.87

WE’s founding ideals88 evidently contained key elements that were aimed at the development of moral and ethical values. The first Waldorf school was initiated on the request of Emil Molt, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. Molt wanted to provide an education for the children of the workers in his factory because he realized that the “German school system at that time would provide no further possibilities for these children”.89 This is because of the social segregation in German schools in 1919 between girls and boys and between different social classes. The founding of the Waldorf school, based on the educational ideas of Rudolf Steiner, was radical for its time in that it arose because “a capitalist wished to pay for a comprehensive school for children of all social classes”90 and ethnic backgrounds, and it was for both genders to be educated together in the same classes. These roots of WE were set down long before questions of globalization or the notion of GC arose in the latter decades of the 20th century, and in fact the strong emphasis on “individualism and freedom” and education as a “force for social change”91 was radical for its time.

A core aim or raison d’être for Waldorf education was thus to develop an approach to education that was directed toward “that which was universally human in all people, regardless of ethnicity, class, religion or gender […] it was to be a school for humanity”.92 The potential misunderstandings of this aim are discussed by Dahlin in the section from which this quotation comes. WE was not aimed at denying the distinctiveness and uniqueness of individuals or their contexts – it was not the intention that WE would be a set of uniform educational practices, methods, approaches that would apply to all people in all places regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural, class or gender differences. That such tendencies have, in fact, arisen in the international growth of Waldorf schools93 does not detract from the question of WE’s raison d’être but is more of a manifestation of homogenizing trends that can be seen to occur in any number of educational approaches over time.94

Has WE been able to stay true to its initial aims as an education for all? This point is frequently raised both in and outside Waldorf circles. The answer to this question, however, varies from country to country and even from locale to locale. In brief – WE is accessible to some as a fully fee paying school (which restricts access on economic grounds to some students), to others as partial-payment schools, and in some cases the education is funded by the state (charter schools in the US, academies in the UK). This question, in other words, is only answered with specific contexts in mind – a task that goes beyond the bounds of this paper.

It is essential when discussing moral GC in a WE to address the fact that Rudolf Steiner has periodically been critiqued for being racist or making statements in the context of WE’s educational philosophy that have been interpreted as being racist. Periodically these accusations show up in articles in the press, which invariably demonstrate a lack of rigorous engagement with either theoretical foundations of WE or with existing responses to such accusations.95 A formal investigation into the claims and accusations of Steiner-promulgated racism was held in the Netherlands in 2000,96 and it was concluded that they were unfounded as a result of a comprehensive survey of Steiner’s statements (in over 89000 pages of text).97 Dahlin has translated a statement of Steiner’s which can be considered to directly address the question of his views on race; “[A] person who today speaks about the ideal of race, nation or tribe … speaks of degenerating impulses of humanity […] because through nothing will humanity bring itself more into decay, than if the ideals of races, nations and blood were to continue” (GA 177, 220).

In terms of moral GC, there is definitely a case to be made that WE contributes to its development (a point also made by Oberski & McNally98 and Gidley).99


Economic GC considers “the interplay between power, forms of capital, labour, resources and the human condition, often presented as international development”.100

Several applied aspects of WE could be seen to be contributing to the development of economic GC. These include work experience placements, volunteering work, charitable work and fundraising initiatives that run in virtually every year of a child’s schooling. Nevertheless, if economic GC emphasizes maximizing employability and positioning graduates to be competitive in the global marketplace,101 WE does not appear to place great import on this aim – but this has never been one of its primary objectives. Wember lends credence to this statement when he points out that WE has never been intent on turning “pupils into something”.102 He elaborates on this statement by saying that from a WE perspective it would be inappropriate if demands from business (i. e. the economic sphere) were to drive the aims of education; if “the Ministry of Education were to try to ensure that the ‘products’ wished for by the economic system or science were provided as the output of the schools”.103 Many schools and education systems (particularly in the UK) have adopted just this approach, and “it is the economic agenda that dominates UK global citizenship education policy”.104 IE has not, it would seem, been immune to the increasing attention given to employability and credentialism for better global positioning of its graduates.105 In contrast, a central principle in WE is that education should basically support the developing capacities of the students such that the young people can realize the tasks that are nascent to them, which they set forthemselves as they mature and which are expressed when the young person is ready to take these on.106 The human being is, from this perspective, emergent, and should not be forced or fixed into particular pathways, and certainly not with economic ends in mind. There are echoes of this approach in Hahn’s pedagogical indications107 and in IE in its more foundational and ideological orientations.

With regards to economic GC in a WE context, it is my experience as a parent of two children educated in a Waldorf school that economic literacy could be given greater attention. However, this said, it would be important for economic literacy to be cultivated in tune with WE’s core principles, to engage with economic literacy in the manner of such scholars as Bell (1978) and those economists who have striven to implement Steiner’s indications for economics to be considered in right relation to a (relatively) autonomous political sphere and an equally independent cultural sphere.108 This would ensure that a type of economic GC could be cultivated in line with WE’s distinctive core principles.


Cultural GC “focusses on the symbols that unite and divide members of societies, with particular emphasis on globalisation of arts, media, languages, sciences and technologies”.109

A very strong emphasis is placed in WE on educating the imagination, the creative and aesthetic capacities, and not just on educating the rational and discursive faculties.110 Steiner’s recommendations for education, which have informed WE since its inception, are discussed as being similar (though not the same) as those of Dewey and Pestalozzi, where an emphasis is placed on the education for the whole human being “head, heart and hand” and on fostering a balance between practical, academic and artistic engagement and capacity. This principle of educating the whole human being does not only mean that the education should include academic subjects, artistic subjects and practical subjects but that in each subject area the whole human being should be engaged in the learning process (thinking, feeling and doing). These aims are realized to a large extent in many Waldorf schools and continue to be a distinctive feature of WE, though realizing them does not come without its challenges.111

Cultural GC in a WE context can be seen to be enhanced through a number of different ways. The teaching of foreign languages is core to WE principles – and not just for the potential functional or pragmatic gains (such as international mobility later in life) but for the pedagogical, cognitive and developmental benefits of learning a second (and in some cases a third) language. WE shares this emphasis on language learning with IE and would also acknowledge that learning a second language “not only promotes sensitivity, respect, tolerance and empathy, but by so doing, gives students access to a broader range of input, experiences and perspectives”.112

Foreign exchanges and the hosting of foreign students for extended stays in a host country’s Waldorf school are a key element in fostering intercultural awareness. These features are combined with curricular elements in which local geography features directly as an area of study in the early years, which is then followed by an international focus in later years. This latter is approached through a pedagogical technique often employed in WE, i. e. that of project-based learning wherein each student choses a country to study (one that they are interested in, have some connection to through family or extended social networks, or out of curiosity) and develops a project on that country. Presentations of projects include preparation and sharing of cultural features of the country studied (food, clothing, music etc.).

It seems, from these very initial considerations of cosmopolitan types of GC that WE contributes to their development. But it does so with less emphasis on instrumentalism, pragmatism, and “global positioning” than it does on the development of the whole human being. Ideological aims could, perhaps, be seen to be at the fore of WE, and in many respects WE has this in common with IE – at least in foundational terms. I will take up this point again in the final section of this paper and discuss it further.

Waldorf Education and Advocacy GC

In terms of advocacy types of GC, a study of WE literature in the light of Oxley and Morris’s taxonomy reveals the following:


Social GC focuses on “the interconnections between individuals and groups and their advocacy of the people’s voice, often referred to as global civil society”.113

Gidley reports on her research into the views and visions of Waldorf-educated senior secondary students in Australia that their “‘positive preferred futures’ were strongly focused on social futures in contrast to the wider youth futures research, which demonstrated a stronger focus on techno-fix solutions”.114 In a separate article, Gidley115 includes Steiner and elements of WE in a far-reaching and extensive study of educational thinkers and initiatives that aim for radical changes to education. Gidley writes in her conclusion to this article that

As a species we have achieved a peak in terms of scientific and technological development, yet the damage we have done to the earth in the process has brought the whole notion of growth into question. Alternatively, the word progress could mean a growth and maturing of consciousness and moral/ethical/spiritual values through the nurturing of love, life and wisdom, rather than information acquisition and consumerism, which are primarily geared toward material progress.116

Gidley’s focus on education for love, life, and wisdom may strike some contemporary educationalists as overly idealistic. However, Gidley’s extensive research combined with her personal experience as a Waldorf teacher evidences a strongly social emphasis for education where more instrumentalist and operationalist tendencies have dominated in recent years, accompanied by an ever more influential “audit culture”.117 From a reading of Gidley, it can be surmised that WE falls into a category of educational approaches that address ‘globalization’ not in neo-liberal, entrepreneurial118 and market-centric terms but in social terms, and even world-oriented terms – a perspective that seeks to re-evaluate the role of the human being, human-relations and human values as core to social interactions. In this regard, GC in a Waldorf education context can perhaps be best seen to relate to Stein’s liberal-humanist and incommensurable descriptions of GC.119


Critical GC focuses “on the challenges arising from inequalities and oppression, using critique of social norms to advocate action to improve the lives of dispossessed/subaltern populations, particularly through a post-colonial agenda”.120

Senior secondary students educated in Australian Waldorf schools share with their non-Waldorf peers grave concerns for environmental issues, social justice causes and conflict but (paradoxically) do not seem to express feelings of disempowerment. Instead, they articulate “a strong sense of activism to create more positive futures”.121

Dahlin122 reports on research undertaken in Sweden that sought to evaluate Waldorf students’ critical and creative abilities when presented with complex social issues. The tasks set for the students inevitably brought to light both implicit and explicit beliefs and values. The students had to make their own interpretations of the problems they were presented with (“real events drawn from the daily press”).123 The study compared Waldorf students and Swedish state school students by evaluating their responses to the problems set. Data was analyzed both qualitatively and statistically.124 A similar study was undertaken in Norway by Trond Solhaug.125 The two studies revealed similar trends. Waldorf students scored higher on “social engagement, as well as on interest in social issues and participation in non-parliamentary political activity”.126 The state school students, on the other hand – and in contrast – scored higher in factual knowledge and in parliamentary political activity. Though perhaps there are only indications of the degree to which critical GC is revealed in these studies, due to a lack a direct usage of ‘Critical GC’ as terminology in WE contexts I am only drawing inferences at this point – which require further investigation.


Environmental GC focuses “on advocating changes in the actions of humans in relation to the natural environment, generally called the sustainable development agenda”.127

Gidley speaks of WE in terms of an education aimed at fostering an understanding of the “interrelatedness of all things”128 and, further, refers to this as a way of knowing, not merely a mental construct. The prominent place that environmental awareness and action take in WE is further elaborated in Gidley,129 an aspect of GC that emerges from interviews with students at school in Australia.

In his article Here’s What You Must Think About Nuclear Power, Ashley130 describes in some detail how WE fosters an understanding of nature and of the environment over time. Ashley’s research focus on “early closure”131 gives strong indications that early closure can be seen to be a feature of those educational approaches that teach environmental issues (and the complex ethical and moral questions they raise) to students when they are too young to adequately incorporate them into their thinking, into their emotional life or into their sense of agency. Ashely proposes that Steiner was “many years ahead of his time”132 in his understanding of linking child development with curriculum and the importance of teaching the right subject at the right time – in Ashley’s words “holding out against early closure”.133

Mathisen and Tellmann134 provide numerous examples of how WE seeks to avoid the “cold, detached and heartless”135 thinking that can arise when abstract knowledge precedes and precludes “tactile, sense-related, imaginative experience”136 as the basis for learning. The authors of this article repeatedly speak of pedagogical approaches in WE for developing “love” for other beings and features of the natural world – an “outcome” noticeably absent in many educational contexts which have tended to sacrifice capacities such as love through an increasing focus on quantifiable outcomes and global positioning. A sense-based, open-ended and interactive approach to studying nature that is characteristic of Waldorf methods is described by Mathisen and Tellmann in the following passage:

The appearance of a single phenomenon speaks out and awakens the experience that every being is a riddle, an enigma that may open a window to the general laws in nature. The riddles that the beings in nature represent, each with their characteristic traits and beauty, are not to be solved by the teacher and not to be solved immediately. They may, however, spur the imagination and ignite an inkling of the hidden being in the factual phenomenon.137

Through these very few indications of how environmental awareness might be being fostered as an aspect of GCE in WE it can be gleaned that WE strives to avoid an overly abstract and premature introduction to the causal/mechanistic levels of environmental events and seeks rather to cultivate empathy, imaginative awareness, open-minded and relational understanding of the “more-than-human” world and their place in it. Reference to the notion of the “hidden being” in the phenomena leads to considerations of spiritual GC and how WE might contribute to its development.


Spiritual GC considers “the non-scientific and immeasurable aspects of human relations, advocating commitment to axioms relating to caring, loving, spiritual and emotional connections”.138

This is a highly significant element in WE, and though WE is “non-denominational” in its approach it is described as being “holistic” and “spiritually based”. What does this mean? The use of the term “spiritual” in the WE context needs some quite careful consideration if it is not to be misinterpreted.139 Gidley states that at a time when the metanarratives of modernity have been through the deconstructive process of post-modernity, and a values vacuum has emerged for today’s youth, WE “provides an approach which fosters a reinvention of human values to reincorporate the sacred”.140 She relates this aspect of WE to Thomas Berry’s post-critical naiveté, the participative consciousness described by Morris Berman (and, incidentally, by Owen Barfield in similar terms) and a postmodern spirituality articulated by David Tracey.141 Dahlin states that Steiner’s “spiritual educational anthropology […] was the sine qua non of his indications for an educational approach that, though related to other progressive educational impulses, differed to these due to the emphasis he placed on the developing human as comprising of body, soul and spirit”.142 Here again a challenge is likely presented to the modern reader due to the materialistic modes of thinking that have dominated cultural life for several centuries and which tend to read and interpret “spiritual” to mean “mystical” or “metaphysical” and thus (by implication) not grounded and substantive as notions derived from modern science. If modern (analytical and reductive) science does engage with the notion of “the spiritual” and descriptive accounts of spiritual experience, these are regularly re-interpreted as arising (caused by) psychological, anatomical, neurological or biological events which are themselves not experienced.143 Oberski presents a range of perspectives on the “spiritual” as it emerges in a variety of contexts, not the least in the Declaration of Human Rights and how educators address and interpret indications for education to address spiritual development as part of its core process. Oberski has taken significant steps to clarify what is meant by “spiritual” in a WE context in his article “Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom as a Basis for Spiritual Education?”144 Oberski’s main points need not be reiterated here as they are available to the interested reader. However, he comes to the conclusion that

Steiner-Waldorf schools embody a form of education based explicitly on a thoroughly developed understanding of thinking and spirit. In the twenty-first century it is becoming once more possible to talk about spirituality and to acknowledge that one important aim of education is to foster healthy spiritual development. Steiner-Waldorf education has, for almost 90 years, attempted to foster such development, not through a narrow instrumentalism, nor through religious indoctrination, but through a holistic education based on intuitively derived knowledge of the developing human being.145

Reference to a “holistic education” in the preceding passage has clear parallels with how IE is described in, for instance, Hayden & McIntosh.146 The authors of this article turn to the work of Ron Miller147 and apply Miller’s definition of holism in trying to get to the bottom of how this term might be understood in an IE context. Miller’s definition of holism dovetails remarkably well with how “holism” is defined in WE, which we have seen emerging in many of the sections of this article, albeit through the lens of GCE. The notion of “spirituality” – apparently common to both WE and IE148 has, perhaps, received more explicit and nuanced attention in research addressing the former – particularly in several publications by Gidley.149


The preceding considerations of how GC might be considered in a WE context must be seen as only initial forays into this area of inquiry. Given that global citizenship is a contentious term and is difficult to grasp, and given that many Waldorf schools use this term in articulating their educational aims but do not define it or link their understanding of it to published research on GC, this study sets off into uncharted territory. Comparing GC in a WE context to how GC is discussed in an IE context also has no precedent – at least not to my knowledge.

A number of questions arise in light of these initial reflections. Has the literature about WE that has been selected for this analysis been chosen with enough criticality … or have only affirming studies been selected? Has Oxley and Morris’s taxonomy been a useful tool for analysis, or does such a tool lead to the pitfall of forcing the shoe to fit the foot by finding (or even forcing) correspondences between the types of GC described in the taxonomy and attributes drawn out of WE research? Has a focus on GC in the context of WE diluted possibilities for considering in more detail how WE and IE differ or relate to each other in terms of their aims of fostering GC for their students? I can but state an awareness of these questions and that it has been my intention to avoid the limitations that they raise.

The several authors and researchers cited in this paper generally agree that global citizenship is not a status or identity that is defined by firm and fixed boundaries. Rather, global citizenship is discussed in terms of the attributes, orientations and/or values that orient and equip individuals (“citizens”) for living in a world that increasingly encompasses global concerns. These two words “individual” and “global” are troublesome – to say the least.150 Several authors note that individuality can all too easily become defined in a narrow, self-serving way – as a person upskilling themselves to have the best chances in the global competition for talent, for example.151 Other authors note that “individuality” (a person’s unique skills and talents) can easily get lost in approaches to education that risk increasing homogeneity due to the importation and exportation of educational standards, contents and qualifications,152 sometimes referred to as “educational imperialism”;153 the increasing attention given to standardized high stakes testing and international educational ranking schemes;154 and the spread of a “global monoculture underpinned […] by Western scientific positivism”.155

Ideologically, WE and IE both set out to support the emergence of the individual, the unfolding of talents and values, and they are thus wary of having these talents and values predetermined or prescribed by notions of employability and what the job market requires. Some authors note that IE has, however, been increasingly influenced by notions of maximizing “global economic participation”.156 WE, though ideologically oriented toward the education of the whole human being and integrative education, is also not immune to the trends in education, which have steered it toward an audit culture driven by credentialism. Some Waldorf schools decide to follow national systems of education (with their state-prescribed, high-stakes testing regimes in their final years of schooling). This is an area of some contention in WE, and several alternatives have been devised so that studies in the final years of WE can work at the university-entrance level while staying true to the holistic, integrative and experiential approach that are core to WE157. Finally, it has been noted that principles of WE are not always realized in Waldorf schools – a situation that is not unique, however, to this approach to education.

Oxley and Morris’s taxonomy allows for some initial indications of how GC might be understood in a WE context to emerge. Some of these are shared between WE and IE (as noted in the previous sections) while others are quite unique to WE. Among those attributes of GC in a WE context that I think deserve much closer attention is the emphasis placed on a “right” separation (or relative autonomy) between the political, economic and cultural spheres within the social organism. If realized, this feature alone would foster a kind of “cosmopolitan” GC that is not yet represented in current GCE discourse. Coupled with the considerations of ontological (Gidley) and epistemological (Oberski) factors which inform WE (discussed above in considerations of “advocacy” GC), WE has a contribution to make to current discussions around GC and GCE. This is, I suggest, particularly the case when it becomes more and more apparent that the kinds of social and environmental challenges that we now face will not respond to mere “tweaks” in existing educational approaches but will need more fundamental changes to education in both national and global contexts. Initial indications suggest that WE warrants further consideration and research as a potential contributor to these challenges.