Creative Approaches to Tuition: Accessible to All Tuition, a review by Beth Henderson


The first Waldorf school was established nearly 100 years ago to serve the needs of workers children at a cigarette factory in Stuttgart Germany. Deep in the ethos of Waldorf education is a desire to serve all who seek a holistic, spirit filled education regardless of race, religion or socio-economic class. Beth Henderson, Class of 2013 and now the first grade teacher at the Halton Waldorf School, researched the practical realities and philosophic implications for running inclusive tuition adjustment programs in Waldorf schools. Here is her research.

The Three-Fold Social Order and Tuition Adjustment Programs in Waldorf Schools

In the aftermath of the first world war, Rudolf Steiner gave talks and wrote about how a healthy and stable society can be built by creating a social order with three distinct foundational structures: an economics based on brotherhood, politics that respect and uphold equal rights for all, and cultural freedom, including work, education and spiritual practices. Within this three-fold social order, the Waldorf education movement is a crucial platform for helping the proper social climate develop, in which humanity can consciously build a society founded on these three ideals. In this paper I will look at how the Tuition Adjustment programs employed by some of the Waldorf schools in Ontario are an important step in working toward Steiner's social order, and how it is essential that the administrators of these programs have a conscious understanding of that social order to be effective into the future.

There is a moral consciousness awakening across the globe, changing the quality of human interaction with each other and with the earth. It is important that these pockets of social change are celebrated because:

The gradual dismantling of the state educational and economic apparatus could well develop from small beginnings.... New institutions could be practically merged with existing ones by building upon what already exists. Through this building, the dismantling of the unhealthy elements [of society] is induced (Steiner ch3).
In order to change our dysfunctional social structures into healthy and sustainable ones we have to have a solid picture of what a healthy society will look like. Here is a brief explanation of the social structure that Steiner outlines in his works:

Steiner's economic structure is founded on the ideal of brotherhood, also called associative economics. There are many instances in which humanity is already developing the structures, and making the individual choices, that put associative economics into practice. Guerilla Gardening is an important social movement in which people are reclaiming abandoned spaces, growing food and beautiful flowers on land that gardeners do not have legal rights to. Co-ops like Bob's Red Mill – where the owner gave his successful company to his employees – are becoming more common. These embody the principle that the “associative economy [is] based on fellowship and conscious relations between the producers, consumers, and distributors of a given sector” (Lamb 2004, 119).

Economic Sphere

These associative economic practices are firmly rooted in the reality of our dependence on environmental health for survival. They recognize our mutual interdependence for the things and ideas each of us brings to the table with a compassionate acknowledgement of everyone's intrinsic value as a human being.

Political Sphere

The political structure is founded on the premise of equal rights for all. Every human life is acknowledged by safeguarding these inalienable rights that are recognized in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Globally, human society has been working towards the goal of achieving equal rights for all for well over a century. Slavery is outlawed in most of the world, and the Civil Rights, Feminist, and Marriage Equality movements have seen a lot of success over the years. Under Steiner's social structure, the economic sphere to become the protectors of the rich and powerful because they have no vested interest in the economic sphere could not corrupt the organizations and people who are mandated to protect the rights of every individual. The only purpose and interest in which “politics” can be properly employed is to protect the rights of individuals so that they can each live their lives in freedom.

Cultural Sphere

The cultural sphere comprises everything that a human being freely chooses to do with their life. This includes the work they do, how they spend their time, what spiritual practices they engage in, and what type of education their children are raised in. Every individual is free to develop according to their abilities and inclinations. Each “child and each generation brings messages and impulses of social renewal from the spiritual world” (Lamb 2004, 11). Individuals brings these new forces to society through developing their own capacities, and society benefits from having a constant stream of new ideas and approaches to improve the human condition with the earth.

In his book The Basic Issues of the Social Question Steiner insists that every individuals' personal development needs to be separate from economic life because when people “grow on their own foundation, [they] unceasingly supply economic life with the strength which it cannot produce within itself”. Only with this free development can the economy be structured “in a manner which is beneficial to humanity” (Steiner, Summary). Many of our social ills today stem from having a single unified governing structure that is tied to an economy based on growth and competition, not fuelled by self development and creative solutions.

I interviewed administrators at four local Waldorf schools about their Tuition Adjustment Programs (TAPs). One of the schools is a well-established school that has enjoyed hard-won financial stability over many years. The other three schools are much smaller and credit their TAPs with bringing them financial stability. All the schools I interviewed have been, in some measure, inspired by the work of Bob Monsen and Mary Roscoe, executive members of the Institute for Social Renewal. Monsen & Roscoe created a program titled “Accessible To All (ATA) Tuition Adjustment Program” (Monsen & Roscoe 2005) which is inspired by Steiner's social order. For years Monsen has travelled extensively around the United States, holding workshops and giving personal attention to the need for Independent Waldorf schools to find sustainable funding that enables them to open their doors to students of all economic backgrounds. Approximately ten years ago one of the schools I interviewed sent a request to Monsen for a workshop on his ATA Program at their school. This request was inspired by a passionate parental plea for a different way of thinking regarding budgets and tuition. All four of the schools I spoke with attended Monsen's workshop, and all of them adopted and implemented some of the program's suggestions.

Accessible Tuition for All

The ATA program employs an associative approach that helps build a sense of community through personal conversation. In Waldorf pedagogy it is understood that the students are educated as much from who the teacher is as a person, as from the lessons s/he brings into the classroom. Every one who teaches the students, as well as community in which the students live and attend school, is an integral part of this learning ground. That's why it is paramount that, as much as possible, all members of the community act with integrity and authenticity, operating out of “ the same spiritual and social understanding that underlies the education” (Monsen & Roscoe, 5). Students “can readily sense discrepancies between what they learn and experience in the classroom and what the adults in the school community— teachers, staff, and parents—are saying and doing” (Lamb, 37). These discrepancies may be inevitable, but students sense and respect when the adult community surrounding them is striving to live out of these ideals. This integrity in action is how the students come to see and understand what makes up a healthy community.

In a more egalitarian society, Waldorf education would be readily available to all families who wished to partake in it, but charging tuition is a necessary compromise under current social structures. Ensuring the Waldorf education movement's economic independence is essential for its success. Across the globe, governments and big business are increasingly setting the agenda for educational goals. Through standardized testing legislation they have successfully implemented an ineffective one-size-fits all approach to education that inculcates “self-interested behavior, materialism, nationalism, and intellectualism into the rising generations” (Lamb 2004, 114-115). This approach to education perpetuates their existence but is pulling the engaging, inspiring, and creative elements out of our public education system. In his book The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, Gary Lamb (the vice-president of the Institute for Social Renewal) states the case for keeping Waldorf schools economically independent much more thoroughly and eloquently than I can here, but the importance of sustainable funding for Waldorf schools cannot be overstated. In essence, charging tuition keeps these schools free to pursue their curriculum according to their own methodology. Their not-for-profit charitable organization status allows them to be as affordable as they can however, private school is still
expensive, and there are many families who are not able to afford full tuition rates.

Monsen & Roscoe's work is geared specifically toward widening the accessibility of Waldorf education to more families who would like to choose it, in spite of their economic situation. As they state in the ATA's mission statement:

One of the main challenges for Waldorf schools in North America is finding a way to include children from all economic levels in society while maintaining Waldorf schools as independent and self-administered... Our task is to work in a manner that is consistent with the goal of becoming a source of social change. (p. 6)

The ATA has been a cornerstone for the continuing financial independence of several of the Waldorf schools in Ontario, while increasing accessibility across the economic spectrum. This increased accessibility has also increased the economic diversity within each school's community. Without this economic diversity in the community's population Waldorf schools couldn't be as effective in their mission for social change because students would be educated in a bubble of wealthy privilege, insulated and cut-off from a huge demographic of our society. The TAPs give schools the opportunity to allow families not economically well endowed to attend the school of their choice, while maintaining the freedom to work within the methodology and curriculum that founded them.

In the ATA program, each school trains conversationalists to work with families applying for tuition adjustment in order to reach a consensus. The consensual nature of the process is very important because it puts both the families and the school on an equal footing, where the solution must meet the needs of both the family and the school. This method of reaching agreement is a key foundation in Steiner's associative economic model, where there is “the free initiative of the doer on one side, and the free appreciation of those others who require his efforts on the other” (Steiner, ch3). Strictly economically speaking, the school is bending to meet the needs of the families they serve, and the families being awarded tuition adjustment are working to make their children's education a priority in theirs.

All of the schools I spoke with start their TAP process with a request to the families applying to undergo a financial analysis. Most of the schools use third-party financial analysts, and at least one school made the conscious decision to switch their service request from a large financial firm to a local firm, keeping the costs lower for the families and improving communication so that services are more tailored to the schools' needs. In three of the four schools this financial analysis considers a family's whole financial picture, including debt, expenses, lifestyle, personal needs, etc. Once the financial analysis is complete, each family is invited into the school for a conversation where the need for a tuition adjustment can be weighed and the award is eventually decided.

The ATA program created by Monsen & Roscoe has been instrumental in helping the schools I spoke with make or modify their own TAPs, but it has both strengths and weaknesses. The programs were built through hard work and honest, authentic communication by people on all sides of the equation: parents, administrators, boards of directors, and anthroposophists (among others). This work strengthens the community. It also encourages a transparency in the way that the school conducts its business. This builds trust. But while the consensus approach to tuition adjustment is theoretically ideal, in practice it is an extremely resource intensive way to do things. Some of the schools found that they were spending upwards of 300 hours each year on this process. The strain on resources created by this practice was too much for it to be functional over the long-term, and in spite of the schools' openness and transparency, there was also a discomfort with the subjective nature of the conversational process.

In the consensus-building paradigm of the ATA, the tuition adjustment awards were dependent on the volunteer conversationalist a family spoke with. This led to some families paying less than they could, depending on their ability to inspire empathy in the conversationalist, and some families were paying more than they should, because of their willingness to economically prioritize the well-being of the school and their children's education. In one school, bad feelings developed among the parental body over indications (through rumor and gossip) that some families received a better deal than others. Some also felt that describing their debt and personal expenses in such detail was an intrusion on their privacy. In response to these issues, this school created a more objective process that employs a simplified financial analysis that looks at only three criteria: the cost of living in the area, size of the family, and income. Based on these criteria the analysts are able to determine how much disposable income a family is likely to have, and the school is able to set the tuition adjustment award accordingly. The family's personal economic life choices never come into the equation. This school still engages in conversations with each family who applies for their TAP, and they actively explore options if a family feels an award is insufficient for the support they need to choose Waldorf education. This structure upholds the associative nature of the economic relationship between the school and families, and it supports the individual freedom of each family to choose their economic priorities.

The importance of respecting the privacy of families applying to TAPs, and giving them the freedom to make their choices regarding their personal economic priorities, cannot be overstated. In the course of my research I became aware of one family of six who decided not to send their children to Waldorf because they felt that the school's approach to their financial need was too invasive and prescriptive. The family willingly underwent the detailed scrutiny of their finances, but when it came time for the consensus-building conversation, the school recommended that if the family was interested in Waldorf education for their children they should be willing to make it a priority and forego family vacations and home renovations. Under the ATA model, conversationalists have to be able to “inspire parents to contribute to the well-being of the school and to consider the support of the school as a priority in their lives” (Monsen & Roscoe, 11). This approach is effective with everyone who is able to align the school's well-being with their own interests, but in practice, there are opportunists who are more interested in getting a better deal on their children's education than on the school's continued well-being. I believe that the prescriptive approach that the family of six experienced was an effort by the conversationalists, likely developed out of some challenging experiences, to ensure that each family is honestly giving as much as they economically can to the school. But their prescriptions lie beyond the scope of associative economics. Muddling the economic and cultural spheres in this way poses the danger of exacerbating the very social problems that the ATA was designed to help overcome.

Because Waldorf schools currently have to function in a unified society under social structures that don't recognize the distinctions between associative economics, political rights, and cultural freedom, it is essential that all the people engaging in the processes of the TAPs have some understanding of the ideals toward which they are striving. It is not enough to believe in the social mission of Waldorf education alone. Of the administrators I spoke with, few were consciously aware that their TAPs were inspired by the ideas of Steiner's three-fold social order, but if the continued development of each TAP is to align with this social order then those who guide the programs need to have a clear understanding of its underlying impulse. There is very little in our current social structures that can help us build a healthy society. As Steiner states:

The forces of the times are pressing for knowledge of a social structure for mankind that is completely different from what is commonly envisaged. Social communities hitherto have, for the most part, been formed by human instincts. To penetrate their forces with full consciousness is a mission of the times. (Steiner, Appendix)

In the beginnings of the TAPs, it was enough for the schools to rely on Monsen's understanding of the social order. This carried them through the creation and implementation of the programs. However, as the programs expand and are modified through the schools' experiences, administrators, and all individuals working towards a better world, need to bring their full consciousness to the direction in which they develop.

Steiner believed that positive social change is going to manifest through humanity's recognition that a sustainable way of life is possible and necessary; conflict and upheaval work against the cause of the social movement (Steiner ch3). Educating our children so that they can develop their natural capacities according to their abilities and inclinations, along with giving them a sense of social responsibility and interconnectedness with the world they live in, is an essential foundation to building a better and healthier society. Waldorf education has at its center the social mission of giving its students exactly this type of inner foundation. That is why the Tuition Adjustment programs are such an important platform toward a more just society. Making our schools accessible to people from all economic strata serves not only to promote the very freedom that we espouse, but also promotes the worldview that is foundational to our work. People need to be encouraged and supported in making conscious choices with their lives, and they need to have the freedom to make those choices as they see fit.

Gregoire, Darlene. Toronto Waldorf School. Conducted on April 25th, 2013.
Soltan, Rebecca. London Waldorf School. Conducted on May 1st, 2013.
Tracy. Trillium Waldorf School. Conducted on April 24th, 2013.
Victoria. Halton Waldorf School. Conducted on April 23rd, 2013.
Lamb, Gary. “The Social Mission of Waldorf Education”. AWSNA, 2004.
Lamb, Gary. “Aligning Pedagogy and Finance in a Waldorf School”. Pulication date unknown Retrieved from /csr/about/ aligningpedagogyandfinance.pdf. Accessed May 6th, 2013.
Monsen, Bob & Mary Roscoe. “Accessible To All (ATA) Tuition Adjustment Program” (Revised February 9, 2005). Retrieved from
Accessed April 30th 2013.
Steiner, Rudolf. “Basic Issues of the Social Question”. Retrieved from Accessed from April 22nd- May 10th, 2013.