Reversal of Acceleration Trends in Waldorf Schools

HANNO MATTHIOLUS
and CHRISTA SCHUH

(From A New image of Man in Medicine (vol. III): "Individuation Process and Biographical Aspects of Disease" (p 83-101), Ed: Schaefer K E, Stave U, Blankenburg W. Published 1977 by Futura Publishing Company Inc, 135 Bedford Road, P.O. Box 418 Armonk, New York 10504-0418. Put on this page with the kind permission of the publishers.)

The human body and human development have shown remarkable changes in the last 100 to 150 years. Originally these changes were particularly evident among civilized peoples, but presently they appear in the teenagers of almost every country of the world. If we compare the bodies of people of past centuries - even going as far back as the early Middle Ages - with the contemporary situation, we immediately notice a striking difference in size. People have grown considerably taller and are continuing even further in this direction.

It is especially characteristic of this phenomenon that terminal growth is reached more quickly than in earlier days. The standard height of the Royal Guard of Friedrich Wilhelm the First (1688-1740) was 170 cm; today someone of that height ranks in the bottom third of normal company. 

The circumstance of more rapid growth along with the attainment of larger terminal height is coupled with an increasingly earlier appearance of puberty. Development proceeds in such a way that sexual maturity is attained at earlier and earlier age levels. At one time it was only the north-south variance in sexual maturity that received any attention; by now, the discrepancy between the late developing northerners and the early developing southerners has long since been overshadowed by the long-term trend of acceleration. The same is true in this regard for the difference between urban and rural populations. The view of prolongation and acceleration described here has long been current, but it was not presented with all its ramifications until 1935 by the Leipzig physician Koch.

The significance of these phenomena cannot be summed up in a few words; it goes far beyond superficial problems, such as early readiness for sexual contacts and heightened sensitivity to school-related stress. Practically all authors who have turned their attention to these questions share the certainty that physical manifestations cannot be seen in isolation from psychic and mental ones. Whether they stand in a positive or negative relation to one another has not been clarified with any degree of certainty in the scientific literature.

To be very sure, the negative aspects of acceleration appears very clearly. On the basis of their observations, several authors (Eller 1959, Decker 1954, Hoppe 1954) reached the conclusion that accelerated teenagers make a more alert, intelligent, and assertive impression. In contrast to this, however, Engelmann (1955) explains a greater tenseness and heightened tendency toward conflict as the result of the fact that psychic development lags behind physical development.

Along these same lines, Grimm (1966) writes: "It is of special importance that early developers, who impress the layman with their physical precocity, are frequently more unstable [than their contemporaries]", and Laurer writes: "Statistical studies done at the University of Marburg´s psychiatric clinic from the specific point of view of child psychiatry have found that it is above all the accelerated personality which is subject to neurosis" (Heymann 1955).

Ernst Probst makes the following comments on the situation: 

"It is striking, moreover, that especially among gifted children comparatively many reach puberty late or slowly. Apparently they have so many talents capable of development that it takes a relatively long time for these talents to form a relatively harmonious unity. We have so many reports on the development of outstanding personalities who did not reach maturity until a late age that we must not overlook this phenomenon. On the other hand, among the ungifted we find more frequently early developers with all the outward signs of the adult male or adult female but without a corresponding mental maturity. Is it possible that everything reaches completion quickly where there is not much present to reach completion? It is true that many of these early developers show a fairly detached attitude towards simple problems relating to occupation and daily life. But when more complicated situations have to be comprehended and mastered in a practical fashion egocentric and infantile characteristics again come to the fore" (Heymann 1955).
The last two sentences quoted offer a possible explanation for the differences of opinion already mentioned between Eller (1959), Decker (1954) and Hoppe (1954) on the one hand and Engelmann (1955) on the other. All these authors describe the interplay of physical-physiological and the psychic-mental aspects in their conclusions.

The purpose of the present study is to contribute to the investigation of causal factors in the changes taking place in the physiological area. It presents surveys of the occurrence of menarche in young girls from two specifically different groups of school children in order to approach the phenomenon of acceleration from a direction that, to the best of our knowledge, has not yet been investigated. 

In the survey, we used the retrospective method, i.e. we asked for the exact year and month of the first menstrual period and on this basis calculated the age of menarche by reckoning back to the date of birth. Although the status-quo method is frequently used today, we believe that we have obtained especially reliable results in our case: first, since the first menstrual period occurred, at the most, a few years previously, and second, because in the case of uncertainty, more precise questions were always asked until precise information was obtained. 

1175 of the schoolgirls questioned attended Waldorf (Steiner 1919) schools, i.e. schools in which Rudolf Steiner´s pedagogy forms the basis of instruction. The survey was conducted at schools in Baden-Württemberg: specifically at two schools in Stuttgart and one each in Heidenheim, Tübingen, Reutlingen, Pforzheim and in Engelberg near Schorndorf. The control group consisted of schoolgirls from public schools in Nürnberg. The relative proportion of pupils from elementary schools, regular high schools, and the gymnasium was chosen in such a way that it is readily comparable with a set of groups from the Waldorf schools. 1118 public school pupils were included in this study.

In order to derive the varying results in both groups exclusively from the different types of schooling, we broke these groups down further according to the pupil´s family size, place in the sibling sequence, place of domicile and fathers occupation. We arranged the father´s occupation schematically into five classes, borrowing data from the Statistics Bureau of the City of Stuttgart as well as from tables in Coerper et al (1954).

  1. Skilled and unskilled workers, civil servants, salaried employees.
  2. Middle-level civil servants and salaried employees, artisans, master artisans technicians.
  3. Higher-level civil servants and salaried employees.
  4. Self-employed tradesmen, salaried employees, and civil servants in leading positions.
  5. Professional people.
We divided place of domicile into:
  1. city
  2. town
  3. country

Results

The evaluation of our data proceeded in the following manner: first we calculated the average age of menarche in both sets and then we determined to what degree this average age depended upon the different parameters (number of children in the family, position in the sibling sequence, fathers profession and place of domicile). We found the average age of menarche for Waldorf pupils to be 13.25, i.e. thirteen years and three months, with a standard deviation of .03; we found the average age for the pupils in public schools to be 12.63, i.e. twelve years and seven months, with the same standard deviation of .03 (Table I). 


TABLE I
AVERAGE AGE OF  MENARCHE 
Frequency
Mean
Standard
Deviation
Sq.
Waldorf Schools
Public Schools Nürnberg
1175
1118
13.25
12.63
0.03
0.03
1194.51
1244.39


Within the individual Waldorf schools, variations did not exceed .17, within the public schools .54. These statistics show that the figure for intermediate school (Hauptschulen) pupils proved to be the lowest, for gymnasium pupils the highest. Regular high schools (Realschulen) were in the middle. Both sets show a good standard distribution (Table VI). After the t-test, the average figures obtained show a significant variation at .01; they also still show a significant variation at .001.

In both sets, the breakdown according to individual parameters shows that the average exhibits no clear dependence on the parameters chosen (Tables II, III, IV and V).
 



TABLE II
AVERAGE AGE OF MENARCHE: HOME LOCATION
Home 
Location
Frequency
Mean
Standard
Deviation
Waldorf Schools
1
2
3
366
533
41
13.22
13.28
13.27
0.05
0.05
0.15
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg
1
2
3
1018
34
66
12.63
12.53
12.77
0.03
0.23
0.13



 


TABLE III
AVERAGE AGE OF MENARCHE: FATHER´S PROFESSION
Profession
Frequency
Mean
Standard
Deviation
Waldorf Schools
1
2
3
4
5
23
230
325
73
283
12.91
13.21
13.25
13.21
13.34
0.27
0.07
0.06
0.11
0.06
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg
1
2
3
4
5
133
581
239
56
108
12.51
12.57
12.72
12.95
12.75
0.09
0.04
0.07
0.14
0.10



 
 


TABLE IV
AVERAGE AGE OF MENARCHE:
NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN THE FAMILY
No. of
Children
Frequency
Mean
Standard
Deviation
Waldorf Schools
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
145
327
238
130
63
19
8
9
0
1
13.11
13.23
13.25
13.40
13.34
13.61
13.59
13.12
-
13.50
0.08
0.06
0.07
0.10
0.14
0.20
0.43
0.28
-
0.00
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
268
458
255
86
23
17
5
1
3
1
1
12.47
12.70
12.58
12.81
12.72
12.57
13.67
13.58
12.22
12.83
14.17
0.07
0.05
0.07
0.12
0.21
0.17
0.45
0.00
0.37
0.00
0.00



 


TABLE V
AVERAGE AGE OF MENARCHE: BIRTH ORDER
Birth
Order
Frequency
Mean
Standard
Deviation
Waldorf Schools
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
475
360
162
64
24
11
1
2
1
13.20
13.29
13.39
13.20
13.12
13.16
12.42
12.71
11.67
0.05
0.06
0.08
0.14
0.24
0.30
0.00
0.29
0.00
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
19
11
644
314
118
21
9
5
4
2
0
0
1
12.53
12.78
12.77
12.69
12.87
12.43
12.71
12.83
-
-
14.17
0.04
0.06
0.10
0.20
0.37
0.52
0.37
0.75
-
-
0.00



 
 


TABLE VI
STANDARD FREQUENCY DISTRIBUTION OF MENARCHE
Age
Percent
Number
Waldorf Schools*
8.50
9.00
9.50
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.50
12.00
12.50
13.00
13.50
14.00
14.50
15.00
15.50
16.00
16.50
17.00
17.50
18.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.30
0.07
2.24
3.29
9.20
11.14
19.45
13.84
15.26
6.06
4.56
1.20
0.90
0.07
0.22
0.00
0.07
0
0
0
4
1
30
44
123
149
260
185
206
81
61
16
12
1
3
0
1
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg**
8.50
9.00
9.50
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.50
12.00
12.50
13.00
13.50
14.00
14.50
15.00
15.50
16.00
16.50
17.00
17.50
18.00
0.07
0.07
0.37
1.18
0.96
5.53
6.19
16.36
11.20
20.27
7.74
7.96
2.65
1.11
0.66
0.07
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
1
1
5
16
13
75
84
222
152
275
105
108
36
15
8
1
0
0
0
0


*Menarche occurred in 1175 subjects.
Menarche did not occur in 162 subjects

**Menarche occurred in 1118 subjects
Menarche did not occur in 239 subject 


The percental breakdown of age of menarche also corroborates the averages already found. For 50 percent of the Nürnberg schoolgirls menarche occurs between the ages of 12.6 and 13.0, whereas for 50 percent of the Waldorf girls, it occurs between 13 and 13.6 (Table VII). 


TABLE VII
PERCENTAGE DISTRIBUTION OF MENARCHE
Age
Percent
Number
Waldorf Schools*
8.50
9.00
9.50
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.50
12.00
12.50
13.00
13.50
14.00
14.50
15.00
15.50
16.00
16.50
17.00
17.50
18.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.30
0.37
2.62
5.91
15.11
26.25
45.70
59.54
74.79
80.25
85.42
85.61
87.51
87.58
87.81
87.81
87.88
0
0
0
4
5
35
79
202
351
611
796
1000
1081
1142
1158
1170
1171
1174
1174
1175
 
Public Schools
Nürnberg**
8.50
9.00
9.50
10.00
10.50
11.00
11.50
12.00
12.50
13.00
13.50
14.00
14.50
15.00
15.50
16.00
0.07
0.15
0.52
1.69
2.65
8.18
11.37
30.73
41.93
62.20
69.93
77.89
80.55
81.65
82.31
82.39
1
2
7
23
36
111
195
417
569
844
949
1057
1093
1108
1117
1118


*Menarche occurred in 1175 subjects.
Menarche did not occur in 162 subjects

**Menarche occurred in 1118 subjects
Menarche did not occur in 239 subject 


Since the two groups differ somewhat according to year of birth - the members of the Nürnberg groups were born between 1955 and 1963 those in the Waldorf groups between 1952 and 1962 - we also made the percental breakdown according to year of birth in order to avoid mistakes which might arise. The results did not vary for any of the years of birth. Figure 1A and 1B show that 1960 is relatively frequent as the year of birth for both sets.
 

Fig 1A

Percentage distribution of menarche in public schools and Waldorf schools for the total group.

Fig 1B
Percentage distribution of menarche in public schools and Waldorf schools for those born in 1960.
 

Discussion

The results of the study reveal a significant difference in the average age of menarche in groups of schoolgirls who differ solely according to the school they are attending. We were able to eliminate other influences which might have affected these figures and which were even described as doing so in the literature, because we found either no connection whatsoever between these factors and our investigation, or such a slight one that we could exclude any influence on the total result in our evaluation.

The difference in the average for both sets is, therefore, all the more important, since the figure which was obtained for the public schools agrees with those figures presented in other recent studies; in some cases, these latter figures are even lower. For example, Richter (1973) gives an average age of 12.3 years for the pupils in Görlitz; Huber (1973) obtained a figure of 12.7 in Western Austria. Robert and Dann (1975) found an average of 12.79, similarly Frisch´s figure (1973) of 12.5 is considerably less than 13, and Litt and Cohen (1973) even give an average figure of 12 years. Ten years ago, Wurst (1971) in Bavaria already found 12.6 to be the average. Another investigation we conducted years ago, in which we compared girls of the same average age from a Waldorf and a public school, also shows the later maturation of Waldorf pupils. 

In comparison with the findings given in all the literature, the figure obtained in the Waldorf schools takes on a relatively isolated position. In considering the reason for this difference, an investigation of the theories advanced for the cause of acceleration up to now can be crucial. All these theories are based on differences in exogenic factors. Thus, changes in and increased rates of metabolism since the invention of the incandescent lamp in 1879 and the incandescent gas mantle in 1884 have repeatedly been adduced. The effects on the metabolism of carbohydrates and oxygen were studied, and it was concluded that increases in height and acceleration had their source here. But there is obviously no difference in the two groups of girls we have described stemming from this source.

A second theory emerges from the observation that the whole phenomenon of increase in height and acceleration in cities is more clearly visible and more prominent than in the countryside. This led to the assumption of an urbanization trauma, a thesis which is advocated in particular by the pediatrician Rudder (1960). As obvious as this theory may appear to be at first glance, it is, nevertheless, apparent that the long-term trend of acceleration found today occurs not only in the areas of large urban concentration, but in the countryside as well. The differences in the growth process and in individual rhythms that existed between city and countryside are diminishing more and more as a result of the widely observed trend of acceleration: a long-term trend is becoming increasingly prominent. Thus, we too were unable to detect any influence of domicile in either set, especially since all the girls attend schools in the city without regard to their domicile; in other words, they are all subjected to urban influences.

We were not able to assign the same importance to influences stemming from family size as that found in the descriptions by Roberts and Dann (1975), for example, nor to the position in sibling sequence. It also turned out that the father´s occupation did not influence the acceleration processes in either group. We did not investigate the relationship to menarche of size and weight found by various authors, since they are all in agreement her; it was of no consequence for our research because there was no significant difference in size and weight between the two sets of groups

Again and again, reference is made to improved present-day nutrition. Experiments have demonstrated that an ampler diet leads to an increase in weight, but not in terminal growth. Nutritional experiments conducted during times of food scarcity, including war and postwar periods, prove that the malnourished organism does show an interesting compensatory growth when nutrition is improved, but only up to a certain point. After that point is reached, additional improvement in nutrition is not linked to any growth in size. Excessive compensatory growth after a long illness is another very interesting occurrence, but it does not explain the phenomenon of acceleration. 

The influence of diet seems to be related to qualitative factors: there have been repeated indications that an increase in protein intake promotes growth to a certain extent; in particular Ziegler´s studies (1966) in Zürich of sugar metabolism in humans have indicated that an especially interesting connection may exist between sugar metabolism and occurrences of acceleration. All these explanatory attempts, however, play no role when we consider the differences between Waldorf pupils and pupils in public schools. The same is true for Nold´s theory (1965) that genetic traits are more prominent in illegitimate children than in their parents - that is, that there is often much less individuation process.

As we have mentioned, none of these theories can be adduced to explain the time difference in menarche between pupils in public and Waldorf schools, since in this regard both groups were exposed to identical exogenic factors. It is interesting to point out, in addition, that the termination of acceleration postulated by Dann and Roberts (1973) apparently is confirmed by the study of Nürnberg schoolchildren. Oster (1954) found that schoolgirls in Nürnberg had an average menarche age of 13 1/2 years. In 1970 he obtained a figure of 12 2/3 years, which is only approximately two months later than our Nürnberg figure.


Summary

It is the intention of the present study to indicate that when acceleration occurs, we must not only consider exogenic factors, light metabolism, nutrition, etc, but also take into account the fact that education - in other words, the attention paid to the child's psyche and mind - plays an essential role. Stress caused by a one-sidedly intellectual education and by an emphasis on memorization, such as is customary in public schools today, appears to force acceleration, whereas a more arts-oriented approach to learning, which addresses itself to all the young person's potential talents, promotes a harmonious development. 

It is certain that a long period of growth and an extended childhood represent an uniquely human privilege, and that the human being's creative powers and his free development are based upon this gradual process of maturation. Any curtailment of this development threatens man's specifically human qualities; the more quickly development reaches its conclusion, the more rigid is the adherence to a fixed behavior, as we are continually learning anew from the animal kingdom. As the guiding principle of all child care and education, we should keep in mind that the nobler and more outstanding an organism a creature tends to be, the longer it takes to develop and reach its fulfillment. Schopenhauer already called attention to this; gradual growth is the precondition for higher development.

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