A Teacher's Son

Now a Critic

The following is adapted from the Waldorf Watch News:

September 13, 2019



Waldorf education is turning 100 years old — the first Waldorf school was established in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. Waldorf schools around the world are celebrating the anniversary, and there has been press coverage here and there — particularly in Germany. So, for instance, an interview with religious scholar Ansgar Martins, focusing on Waldorf education, recently appeared in the German national newspaper Die Welt {The World}.

The child of a Waldorf teacher, Martins attended a Waldorf school as a student. Today, having become a leading German critic of Waldorf education, he is the author of the website Waldorfblog [https://waldorfblog.wordpress.com].

Here are excerpts from the interview in Die Welt. (I will work largely from a translation posted online by Andre Sebastiani [https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/32158]. I have edited the translation somewhat, and I have added some footnotes. — R.R.)


„Waldorf hat eine spirituelle Natur-Folklore erfunden“

{Waldorf Invented a Spiritual Nature-Folklore}

By Frederik Schindler

There are hundreds of Waldorf schools and kindergartens in Germany ... Today, however, people often forget what the [Waldorf] curriculum is based on.

WELT: ...According to founder Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schooling should be a "practical proof of the effectiveness of the Anthroposophical world view" [1]. What characterises the Anthroposophical philosophy?

Ansgar Martins: Steiner intended Anthroposophy to be "scientific" research in supersensible worlds [2] ... The aim of his reform projects was to adapt medicine, agriculture, and pedagogy to a new spiritual era of human development, made possible by Anthroposophy.

WELT: Are all [Waldorf schools] centers of esotericism?

Martins: Waldorf has developed a spiritual nature-folklore from invented traditions [3]. There are rituals of the seasons, angel pictures, felt figures of elves and dwarves, and last but not least the Anthroposophical expressive dance form, eurythmy [4] ... The educationalist Klaus Prange called Waldorf education "Santa Claus Pedagogy," in which mythical images are perpetually used without ever explicitly resolving what they stand for [5]. In addition, there are special seminars for the training of Waldorf teachers [6], where one deals in detail with Steiner's writings. A distinction has to be made between more liberal and more conservative educational institutions and readings [7].

WELT: The Waldorf schools deny that they are "worldview schools" [8]. And according to a study from 2013, only one third of Waldorf teachers describe themselves as practicing Anthroposophists.

Martins: ...According to the study you mentioned, however, only one percent of Waldorf teachers describe themselves as "skeptical" of Steiner...

More and more people forget what the curriculum is actually based on. The Anthroposophical faith becomes diffuse superstition [in these schools] ... Anthroposophy was never explicitly taught [9] ... According to Steiner's conception, it is not the pupils but the teachers who are to travel a path of esoteric training in order to explore the earlier incarnations of their pupils [10].

WELT: ...How is Anthroposophy put into practice in the classroom?

Martins: ...Every morning, for example, students say a pantheistic "morning verse" about the "Spirit of God," which works in "world space" and "soul depths" and should give "strength and blessing" for learning. But it is never made transparent why this is recited [11].

Anthroposophy is implemented, among other things, in accordance with Steiner's doctrine that there is a specific age at which each subject should be learned [12]: Fourth-graders are ripe for Germanic mythology, so they carve runic staffs. Fifth-graders stand at the level of ancient Greece [etc.] ... Steiner imagines history as divinely guided evolution [13] ... This is how the curriculum is structured...

WELT: Rudolf Steiner is also known for his racist and anti-Semitic convictions. However, the "Stuttgart Declaration" of the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools from 2007 states that Waldorf Education is "stands against all forms of racism" [14]. Is this true?

Martins: In the original Waldorf curriculum..."ethnology and racial studies" was intended for the 7th grade. In the new edition of 2009 this remark disappeared without comment. Steiner certainly developed a racial theory [15], but much more formative for Anthroposophy is his conviction of the "spiritual mission of Central Europe" [16] and the corruption of the English-speaking West, which is controlled by "occult lodges" [17].

...On the whole, Anthroposophy is less anachronistic than it seems, rather it is unconsciously opportunistic. In 1933, people were convinced that they had always educated themselves to become a "people's community" [18]. Today, however, Anthroposophists are quite certain that Anthroposophy has always been against that [19]. Steiner's spiritual creation has always adapted with the times [20]. This has contributed to the spread of Waldorf education.

9/13/2019 https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article199890164/Waldorfschulen-Religionswissenschaftler-sieht-spirituelle-Naturfolklore.html The interview origiannly appeared on September 11.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] "The Waldorf School must succeed; much depends on its success. Its success will bring a kind of proof of many things in the spiritual evolution of humankind that we must represent ... Let us especially keep before us the thought, which will truly fill our hearts and minds, that connected with the present-day spiritual movement [i.e., Anthroposophy] are also the spiritual powers [i.e., gods] that guide the cosmos. When we believe in these good spiritual powers they will inspire our lives and we will truly be able to teach." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education II (Anthroposophic Press, 2000) p. 189.

For an introduction to the underlying Waldorf worldview, see "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).

[2] This research is untaken through the use of clairvoyance (which does not exist). [See "Clairvoyance".] The "supersensible" worlds are levels of the spirit realm. [See "Higher Worlds".]

[3] See, e.g., "Neutered Nature".

[4] Eurythmy is essentially Anthroposophical temple dancing. [See "Eurythmy".] "Eurythmy is obligatory. The children must participate. Those who do not participate in eurythmy will be removed from the school." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education VIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.

[5] Anthroposophy is brought into the classroom, but generally in unexplained, indirect ways. [See "Sneaking It In".]

[6] See "Teacher Training".

[7] There is some variation among Waldorf schools, despite underlying similarities. [See, e.g., "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".]

[8] I.e., schools that promote a single worldview — in this case, Anthroposophy.

[9] See, e.g., the section "We Don't Teach It" on the page "Spiritual Agenda".

[10] Steiner taught that each human being lives many successive lives. [See "Reincarnation".]

[11] These verses are prayers written by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Prayers".]

[12] Steiner taught that each healthy child recapitulates the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole: The growing child rises through the levels humanity passed through during its long history.

[13] See "evolution" in the BWSE.

[14] See https://www.info3-verlag.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Frankfurt_Memorandum_English.pdf.

[15] See "Steiner's Racism".

[16] See "Germans, Germany" in the BWSE.

[17] Steiner's view of the English-speaking Western world is epitomized in his view of America. [See "America".]

[18] This was an objective of fascism, the political ideology that — in Germany — was embodied in Nazism.

[19] For the question of links between Anthroposophy and fascism, see "Symapthizers?"

[20] Such adaptation has been slow and grudging — and arguably it has occurred only on the surface. [For a primer on evaluating Waldorf schools, see "Clues".]

— R.R.


Waldorfish art, by R.R.