Rudolf Steiner on Education


A Key to Steinerthought

This is the third installment in a series of essays

examining the foundations of Waldorf education.

The previous installments are

Foundations” and “Underpinnings”.

“Now I am lost,” said Rudolf Steiner. “I don’t understand anything anymore.”

He didn’t mean it, of course. He was trying to shock the teachers at the first Waldorf school, trying to bring them to order.

Steiner’s followers, including Waldorf school faculty, have generally treated him as a nearly infallible spiritual sage. This was so in the past, and it is so today. Devout Waldorf teachers typically comb through his words, seeking guidance on all matters, great and small. Indeed, most of the books ascribed to Steiner are not the direct product of his pen — they are transcripts of various lectures he delivered and discussions he led. Convinced that his words were precious gems, devout followers painstakingly wrote down as many of his utterances as possible, and Anthroposophical presses have issued the results in a vast array of overlapping anthologies.

But despite the reverence Anthroposophists extend to Steiner, differences of opinion — sometimes sharp and bitter — can be found in Anthroposophical ranks. [1] Cliques formed early in the history of Steiner’s movement, and they persist today. The statement I quoted, above, led to a discussion of the cliquishness among Waldorf faculty. During a faculty meeting, a teacher had said that the faculty “would like a special Sunday service for teachers only.” [2] Steiner wasn’t sure he liked the idea, especially if the teachers tried to design the service themselves. When a teacher pressed the point, Steiner became exasperated

“Now I am lost. I don’t understand anything anymore. A sacrament is esoteric. It is one of the most esoteric things you can imagine ... [T]he group would have to be united ... In esoteric things, people should be united in the content.” [3]

Steiner knew that his followers were not completely united even on what was, to him and to them, the most important of all matters, esoteric spiritualism. He also knew that only the inner circle of Waldorf teachers understood, to any significant degree, his esoteric agenda — teachers outside the circle, and most parents, were in the dark. [4] So, he said, an esoteric religious ritual

“might be too difficult to create out of the faculty and too difficult to care for within the faculty as a whole [i.e., including those not in the inner circle]. Let us assume [i.e., for the sake of argument] that you all are in agreement. Then, we could only accept new colleagues into the faculty who also agree.” [5]

Steiner wanted Waldorf teachers to be Anthroposophists [6], but he knew that Waldorf schools would sometimes need to hire outsiders, when no initiates with the required skills could be found. So trying to develop a special esoteric service for faculty members would present many problems, ranging from trying to find unanimity among the faculty’s inner circle, to trying to find a ritual that would not alienate non-Anthroposophists occupying the outer circle.

The discussion of esotericism branched out. A teacher asked about esoteric studies. [7] Steiner replied:

“As you know, I gave [i.e., published or presented] a number of such studies years ago, but I had to stop because people misused them. Esotericism was simply taken out into the world and distorted. In that regard, nothing in our esoteric movement has ever been as damaging as that. All other esoteric study, even in less honorable situations, was held intimately [i.e., kept secret]. That was the practice over a long period of time. Cliques have become part of the Anthroposophical Society and they have set themselves above everything else, unfortunately, also above what is esoteric.” [8]

This is a truly fascinating statement, for several reasons. Note that Steiner speaks to Waldorf teachers about “our esoteric movement.” This is the key to comprehending Waldorf education. The Waldorf movement is the spearhead of an esoteric movement.

Another point of interest we can find in these words of Steiner's is this: The great man comes close to admitting that he once made a mistake. He generally avoided any suggestion that he was fallible — he tended to claim that he possessed profound occult secrets that enabled him to see to the heart of almost any issue. [9] The “studies” he published were books he actually wrote, such as OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE [10], in which he laid out many of his esoteric doctrines. He took a lot of heat, afterwards. Critics lambasted him for claiming to have direct clairvoyant knowledge about mystical “realities” and for describing his weird system as a form of “science.” But the damage didn’t end there. Schisms and squabbles developed among his followers, who interpreted his words in various ways. There was just no end of grief. Eventually, Steiner was forced to the realization that he should have kept the secrets secret, as other esotericists before him had done “over a long period of time” (i.e., almost forever). So, later, when it came time to decide whether esoteric studies should be openly presented at Waldorf, Steiner said no. Esotericism would be in the school, but behind the scenes, not presented openly, not honestly. [11] Steiner urged Waldorf teachers to learn from the most damaging episode in the history of “our esoteric movement.” Keep mum. Don’t let outsiders know what we’re actually doing here in our attractive little school.


Star Power

Steiner knew that some of his beliefs would strike most people — including, perhaps, even some of his followers — as absurd, so he told Waldorf teachers to treat these beliefs as secrets. For instance, Steiner said that the Earth’s continents swim in the seas and are kept from knocking into each other only because the stars control them.

“[T]he continents swim. The question is, of course, why they don’t bump into each other ... All fixed land swims and the stars hold it in position.” [12]

He made this claim in two different faculty meetings, but he also cautioned the teachers:

“[W]e need to avoid such things. We cannot tell them to the students because they would then need to tell them to their professors in the examinations, and we would acquire a terrible name. Nevertheless, that is actually what we should achieve in geography.” [13]

A Waldorf geology teacher trying to benefit from this guidance might be excused for feeling confused: If a concept is kept secret, it can hardly be “achieved” — to achieve the knowledge, the secret would have to be revealed. Depending on interpretation, Steiner here flashed either a red or a yellow light for Waldorf faculty members. A teacher should aim to convey a bizarre understanding of geology, but without voicing it aloud. How can this be accomplished? By indirection, if at all — by hints, quiet suggestions, quiet propaganda. This is how Waldorf schools often operate, promoting occultism on the sly.


Green Power

On other, less numerous occasions, Steiner flashed a green light, allowing Waldorf teachers to openly profess Anthroposophical doctrines. Let’s stick with the powers of the stars. Steiner said that astrology can be brought into the classroom.

“In discussing the zodiac, you should begin with the mammals, represented by Leo; then birds, Virgo; reptiles, Libra; amphibians, Scorpio; fish, Sagittarius ... When you teach animal geography, you need to consider the zodiac ....” [14]

Whether astrology is openly promoted at any particular Waldorf school is, of course, up to the faculty there. But, according to Steiner, teaching kids to see the world in terms of the zodiac is just fine.

Astrology colors all sorts of subjects, according to Steiner:

“Reproductive cells are produced in human virtue of the fact that the terrestrial effect...[is] destroyed, ruined. This process allows the organism to become receptive to the work of the cosmos. Cosmic forces can now work into the organism from every direction. These cosmic forces are initially influenced by the reproductive cells of the other sex....” [15]

“Cosmic forces” are, for Steiner, the influences from the heavens, including the astrological power of the stars and zodiac. We can reproduce only because physical, earthly forces are nullified, allowing cosmic forces to control our sexual processes. Specifically, the white portion of a female’s eggs, albumen, comes under the influence of the heavens. To understand, we must ignore science.

“Natural science will never comprehend the nature of albumen ... [E]xtraterrestrial — and not terrestrial — forces can influence it.” [16]

This is sex education, Steiner-style. Would such concepts ever emerge in a Waldorf classroom? Consider the title of the book in which these passages occur: EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS. Bear in mind that editors at an Anthroposophical publishing house chose this title, recently. In this sense, the title tells us about beliefs in the Waldorf movement today, not just decades ago when Steiner still walked the Earth.


A Is For...

Almost any Anthroposophical doctrine, no matter how bizarre, may be present in a Waldorf school, either explicitly or implicitly. Let’s look at a few more examples, then move on to other Waldorf issues. Like many mystics, Steiner referred to “Akasha,” a spiritualistic universal ether sometimes considered equivalent to starlight. Steiner claimed that he knew almost everything about almost everything because he could clairvoyantly consult the “Akashic Record” or the “Akashic Chronicle,” a sort of celestial encyclopedia written on Akasha. Thus, a Waldorf teacher once asked Steiner, “In geology class, how can we create a connection between geology and the Akasha Chronicle?” [17] Steiner’s answer was long and circuitous, but significantly it did not include anything like “Never mention the Akasha Chronicle in class” or “The Akasha Chronicle? Are you nuts? There ain’t no such thing.” Instead, Steiner discoursed on geology as understood occultly (thanks, implicitly, to the Akasha Chronicle), and said:

“We can show that the British isles have risen and sunk four times and thus follow the path of geology back to the concept of the ancient Atlantis ... [W]e should not be afraid to speak about the Atlantean land [i.e., Atlantis] with the children. We should not skip that ... The only thing is, you will need to disavow normal geology since the Atlantean catastrophe occurred in the seventh or eighth millennium.” [18]

Akasha. Atlantis. These are among the pseudo-phenomena Steiner discussed in all seriousness with Waldorf teachers. Along the way, he often stressed the need to reject real science (in this case, “normal geology”), embracing occult claptrap instead. I do not remember that any of the teachers at the Waldorf school I attended ever mentioned the Akashic Record to my classmates and me. But the existence of Atlantis was an article of faith for at least some of them. Steiner firmly asserted that there was such a place as Atlantis and that the Aryan race emerged from it. [19] If such topics are not discussed openly in a particular Waldorf school, they probably inform the thinking of at least some of the teachers there.

“[W]e are still working out what is necessary for the fifth post-Atlantean age [i.e., the fifth age since Atlantis sank], especially in terms of education.” [20]

Note the title of the book in which this statement occurs: PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS.



In evaluating the sort of education kids may receive from a Waldorf school, it is helpful — if not absolutely necessary — to understand the tenets of Anthroposophy. Consider the following. Speaking to Waldorf teachers about Anthroposophical religious instruction,* Steiner said,

“You should also certainly include the fact that human beings raise themselves to the divine in three stages. Thus, you have to give the children an idea of destiny, you then slowly teach them about heredity and repeated earthly lives through stories. You can then proceed to the three stages of the divine.” [21]

The crucial point to grasp, here, is that once again Steiner strayed from his professed intentions and explicitly directed Waldorf teachers to inculcate Anthroposophical doctrines among the students. Bear in mind that such explicit Anthroposophical instruction was meant to occur only in optional religion classes. Still, it was — and remains — close to the heart of the Waldorf enterprise.

What are the three stages of the divine? They are the stages of “angels,” “higher gods, the archangels,” and “time spirits” [22] — but these details are less important than realizing that Waldorf schools are meant to promote the religion that Steiner created. The Waldorf religion includes such doctrines as karma (“destiny”), reincarnation (“repeated earthly lives”), and polytheism (“higher gods”), which may or may not appeal to you. But this is the sort of thing true-believing Waldorf teachers want to promote. Usually they will promote it quietly, indirectly. Sometimes they let children opt out. But sometimes the Waldorf belief system emerges from behind the curtain and takes a bow center stage.

(To consider instances in which Anthroposophical occultism is openly presented in Waldorf classes generally, not just in optional religion classes, see, e.g., "Spiritual Syllabus" and "Out in the Open". The practices revealed there run counter to the professed policies at most Waldorf schools, and they may even violate Steiner's intentions. But they do occur, perhaps more often than we would like to think.)

* At the first Waldorf school, this was "free" religious instruction — children, with the permission of their parents, could opt for it or skip it.



Let’s turn our attention to the role of the teacher, as conceived by Steiner. Waldorf schools should be literally authoritarian, Steiner said, especially in the lower grades.

"[Students'] souls are open to consciously receiving what works on them from teachers on the basis of a natural, unquestioned authority." [23]

Naturally, teachers must be vested with authority. But note Steiner's precise phrase: "unquestioned authority". Steiner wanted students to look on Waldorf teachers as ultimate, unchallengeable communicators of truth: The kids should sit down and attentively, unquestioningly listen. And the parents of Waldorf students should support the teachers in this role. But wait. Who will the teachers replace as authorities? The parents themselves. Steiner put it this way when addressing Waldorf parents:

“Much of what the parents can contribute to supporting this authoritative strength, to enabling their child’s teacher to be the authority he or she must be, can have its source in something as simple as the fact that the school is taken seriously, with a certain ceremonial seriousness. A lot of sifting out goes into choosing teachers for the Waldorf School, and they are people you can have confidence in. And if you do not understand something, rather than wrinkling your nose at it right away, it is important that you trust in the great overriding principle [i.e., authority] in which you yourself believe.” [24]

Once again, Steiner gives us a lot to chew over in this statement:

A lot of “sifting out” occurs during the hiring process at Waldorf. What is sifted out? As we have seen, Steiner knew that Waldorf schools might sometimes need to hire outsiders, teachers who do not subscribe to Anthroposophy. But the goal he had in mind is quite different.

“As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [25]

The careful sifting Steiner describes consists of hiring Anthroposophists whenever possible, and refraining from hiring teachers who would overtly oppose the Anthroposophical coloring of Waldorf education. One of my favorite teachers, long ago, slipped into our Waldorf school's faculty because no candidate more suitable could be found. But he was soon let go — the headmaster explained to him that he was too anchored in the physical, animal realm. [26]


Parents - I

Parents should have confidence in Waldorf teachers. Why? Because of the sifting process, which produces a staff consisting, primarily, of Anthroposophists. Do the parents understand what this means? Those who do understand and who want an Anthroposophical education for their children should, by all means, feel confidence in Waldorf teachers. But all other parents should take warning. To paraphrase Steiner: Waldorf is a school of spiritualistic purposes where we will try to lead your kids down the pathways of occultism. Welcome in! (Now please don't interfere as we work on your children.)


Parents - II

Parents should take the school seriously, which means approaching it with “a certain ceremonial seriousness.”

Oh, please. Give us a break. Should parents approach their local public schools with “a certain ceremonial seriousness”? Isn't constructive criticism a wiser attitude? Not at Waldorf schools, thank you.

What sorts of schools should be approached ceremonially, with unwavering faith in the authority of the teachers? Religious schools, specifically those that espouse a religion that the parents embrace. Waldorf parents who are not Anthroposophists should be suspicious if they are required to show this high level of deference to a nonsectarian preparatory school (which is how Waldorfs often misrepresent themselves). [27] The ceremonies of Waldorf education are fundamentally religious, and the religion is Anthroposophy. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?" and "Waldorf Worship".]


Parents - III

If parents do not understand something, they should not expect much clarification. Steiner told Waldorf teachers to keep quiet about what happens inside the school. To protect the reputation of the school, they should talk to no outsiders, including parents — with the sole exception that they may answer parents’ questions about their own kids.

“We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise....” [28]

Students should sit down and keep quiet, and to a large extent so should their parents. We are the authority figures. You believe in authority, don’t you? So step aside while we work our magic on your children. (And remember, we consider you an outsider.)


Parents - IV

Who impedes the children’s moral/spiritual progress? Among others, parents:

“Given the difficult, disorderly, and chaotic conditions of our time, it might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one’s care soon after birth.” [29]

Let that sink in. The “moral” thing would “almost” be for Waldorf teachers to remove children from parents’ control "soon after birth". Few parents would accept such a proposition, of course. But only those parents who are prepared to accept the underlying tenet — that Waldorf teachers embody wise “authoritative strength” in ways parents cannot — should consider Waldorf schools for their children. All other parents should look for different types of schools.

o 0 O 0 o


Anthroposophist Roy Wilkinson authored a book he titled RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION. [30] The book sets forth Rudolf Steiner's prescriptions for childhood education, specifically Waldorf education.* Here are some excerpts, along with a few quotations from other volumes that present the articles of Waldorf belief.

The first two chapters in RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION summarize Steiner’s life and work — they are generalized prefatory stuff, so we can skip them here.


[We Need Spiritual Thought] The title of chapter three, "The Necessity of Spiritual Thought", gives a clear preview of what is to come. “Spiritual thought” is clairvoyance, and for Waldorf teachers it is the highest form of thought. Waldorf schools don’t try to teach kids to be literally clairvoyant, but they attempt to lead them in that direction, since “spiritual thought” is a human necessity. Waldorf teachers generally believe that we are surrounded by “supersensible” worlds and beings, places and spirits that can be detected only by using clairvoyance.

“In former ages, men were aware of supersensible [i.e., supernatural] worlds. They had direct contact with the beings of these worlds and received guidance and inspiration from them.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 16-17.

You see, humans used to have clairvoyance. But we lost it. But thanks to Steiner, we can get it again — better than ever.

“In our modern age spiritual vision has been lost and the former disciplines [spiritual practices] for obtaining it are no longer applicable.”— Ibid., p. 17.

Fortunately, new and improved spiritual practices are available today, through Anthroposophy. Steiner called Anthroposophy “spiritual science,” although it is actually a religion — and it permeates Waldorf education.

“In theological terms, one could say that to study spiritual science is to acknowledge God; to educate is to recognize and further the divine intentions.” — Ibid., p. 18.

Note the term "theological." Studying Anthroposophy can best be described in theological terms; it is an acknowledgment of God (although Anthroposophy is actually polytheistic, acknowledging many gods). Waldorf teachers draw on their theological study of Anthroposophy to guide their students. They think they are furthering the “divine intentions” or, as Steiner once said even more clearly when describing the work of Waldorf teachers:

“[W]e are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods.” [31]

* Bear in mind that Wilkinson is presenting his own interpretation of Steiner's preachments. Wilkinson is widely influential throughout the Waldorf movement, but other Waldorf authorities may have somewhat differing views on at least some points. Wilkinson says he has distilled Steiner's thought [see p. 153]; the statements he makes are generally meant to represent Steiner's thinking rather than his (Wilkinson's) own. For the sake of argument, and for this occasion, we may tentatively accept them as such.


[Oh, the Humanity] Chapter four discusses human nature, as conceived by Steiner. Waldorf teachers believe that human beings are creatures of astrological powers and reincarnation.

“In his physical structure he [i.e., man] has the impress of the Zodiac; in his organs [man has the impress of] the planets.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 23-24.


“Man is a citizen of two worlds. His existence alternates between periods in a supersensible world and periods in the physical [world].” — Ibid., p. 24.

Reincarnation. (We pass through many lives, alternating between the spirit realm and the physical realm.)

Waldorf teachers believe that people have both souls and spirits (the latter are higher than the former).

“Soul and spirit descend into a physical body but they do not come naked from the spiritual world. They bring ‘karma’ with them in accordance with past experiences from previous lives on earth.” — Ibid., p. 25.

We create our karma by our behavior. When we die and, later, when we are reincarnated, we take up our karma or destiny and try to work on it further. Waldorf teachers try to help their students with this. (“[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.) If you think your children need occult assistance with their karma, maybe a Waldorf school would suit you and your family. But otherwise...

(Waldorf teachers also believe that, in addition to a soul and spirit and a physical body, each person also manifests three nonphysical bodies: the etheric body, the astral body, and the “I”. — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 26-27. We don’t need to delve into these doctrines, now. You simply need to know that this is the sort of thinking Waldorf schools harbor.)


[Tasking] Chapter five, "The Tasks of Education", tries to explain what Waldorf schools aim to accomplish. It boils down to providing priestly guidance.

Here's how Waldorf schools look at young children:

“In the child we have before us a being who has only recently left the divine world. In due course, still at a tender age, he comes to school and it is the teacher’s task to help guide him into earthly existence. The teacher is therefore performing a priestly office.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 36.

To be fair, this single quotation doesn’t, by itself, prove that Waldorf schools are religious institutions. But it is suggestive — so much so, let’s go into the matter at greater length, dipping briefly into a different Anthroposophical text. The following is from THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, specifically from a section titled “The Priestly Nature of Teaching”. [32] To follow what follows, you need to know that, according to Steiner, the growing child releases her/his "etheric body" at about the time s/he loses baby teeth: “The human being is molded anew with the change of teeth....” [33] Releasing the etheric body is difficult, a struggle. (You may find that reading the following is also a struggle. Steiner had a hard time expressing himself clearly. If all you get from his words is a general impression of occult nonsense, that may be sufficient: Occult nonsense is what Waldorf teachers accept as wisdom):

“If we observe the struggle unfolding in the child before us...then, as teachers, we also develop a religious mood. [Steiner said that young children are naturally religious; observing them, Waldorf teachers find their own faith strengthened.] But, whereas the child with a physical body develops the religious mood of the believer, the teacher, in gazing at the wonders that occur between birth and the change of teeth, develops a ‘priestly’ religious attitude. [Children are believers, Waldorf teachers are their priests, as it were.] The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life — not with a sacrificial victim to be led to death, but with the offering of human nature itself, to be awakened to life. Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world. This...forms a second organism [the etheric body] from the being that came to us from the divine spiritual life.

"Pondering such things awakens something in us like a priestly attitude in education. Until this priestly feeling for the first years of childhood has become a part of education as a whole, education will not find the conditions that bring it to life [i.e., education that is not guided by Anthroposophy is spiritually dead] ... A complete educational method...must flow from the whole human nature...the whole that deeply and inwardly experiences the secrets of the universe.” [34]

Waldorf teachers function as priests, dealing with the "secrets of the universe.” They gain knowledge of these “secrets” through through the occult springs of wisdom inherent in human nature, springs that they plumb with their gnostic "science" (i.e., religion), Anthroposophy. One result of their investigations is a new form of education for the young: Waldorf education.


[True Spirituality] One central task of the Waldorf teacher is to help children manifest their spiritual natures and fulfill their destinies during their lives on Earth. A related task is to create a school environment that expresses true spirituality.

Steiner taught that most churches or other overtly religious institutions do not embody true spirituality, but Waldorf schools do (or at least should).

“As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” [35]

To be truly spiritual, a school needs to be staffed by Anthroposophists. A Waldorf school also needs to be independent of outside influences.

“True spiritual life, of which education is a part, cannot be subject to the state, nor can it be dictated to by the economic life.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 40.

The actual or true spiritual life cannot be “subject to the state.” Waldorf schools avoid state control if they maintain their formal independence and, more essentially, their spiritual independence. If they submitted to state control, they would run serious risks — for instance, they might be required to give their students more or less ordinary (i.e., real) educations while cutting back sharply on the occult conditioning of young minds. (Waldorf schools generally shun standard textbooks, which would expose the students to modern knowledge. (“I have nothing against using a textbook, but all of them are bad.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 284.)

Waldorf schools can hardly escape the effects of “the economic life” — they require financial support just like any other schools. The objective for Waldorfs, on this score, is to receive any needed money without selling out (i.e., becoming untrue to their occult tasks).


[The Seven-Year Stages] Chapter six of RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION digs into the developmental stages that children pass through. Steiner posited three such stages, which are 1) from birth up to the age of seven, 2) from age seven to age fourteen, and 3) from fourteen to twenty-one. Not all children age at precisely the same speed, but two clear “staging posts” mark the transitions between stages:

"The figures given are approximate since there are always variations. Seven and fourteen are quite distinct staging posts marked by the change of teeth and puberty respectively.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 41-42.

It’s certainly good that Steiner occasionally acknowledged individual variations. For the most part, he tended to categorize children in ways that deny individuality. He divided children by temperament, for instance [see Humouresque]. And, as we see here, he divided them into three stages of development, positing significant differences between, for instance, children who are under approximately seven years old and those who are over that age. Whether these latter divisions make sense will perhaps become evident as we proceed.


[Birth to Age Seven] Let's stay with chapter six and examine the three stages in some detail.

“In the first seven-year period the child cannot be taught in the accepted sense. He should be more-or-less [sic] left to himself, particularly in the very early years.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 42.

This runs counter to typical practice nowadays, when children begin receiving education very early, in Head Start and other programs.* There is a mystical reason behind Steiner’s view (of course — there always is). Steiner taught that children are born with innate connections to the spirit realm. Because of this, Waldorf teachers try to keep children young for as long as possible, minimizing earthly education as long as possible. [See “Thinking Cap”.] Steiner claimed that children before the age of seven are essentially asleep, dreaming, even when they are technically awake.

“The child is not ready for school until the change of teeth [i.e., age seven] ... He is best left in a gentle dream-like existence for as long as possible.” — Ibid., p. 45.

Anyone who has actual experience with six-year-old boys, to cite just one age and one sex, may doubt this description of the early childhood years. Six-year-old boys who race around, raising a ruckus, finding endless opportunities for mischievous fun, may not really live "in a gentle dream-like existence." (Think of Dennis the Menace. I'm allowed to say this because I was once a six-year-old boy.)

“The best thing for these early years is to stimulate the imaginative faculty by the provision of suitable toys and by the telling of suitable stories such as the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm.” — Ibid., p. 45.

If an educator in an ordinary school system made this remark, it might not occasion much discussion. But knowing that Steiner said such things, we should at least note that according to him, imagination is an important faculty that can lead to the development of clairvoyance. He taught that all fairy tales are basically true because they contain the clairvoyant observations made by ancient peoples who still possessed a “natural” form of clairvoyance that modern people have largely lost. Clairvoyance, dreaming, spiritual-remembering, imagination — these are the sorts of “thinking” emphasized by Steiner. [See, e.g., "Thinking".]

* Some portions of the Waldorf approach may work well, although their success may be almost accidental. In Finland, which has a public school system generally judged excellent, instruction in reading and math is postponed until children reach age seven; before that, play is emphasized. These methods are comparable to Waldorf strategies. But Finnish public schools are in most other ways wholly unlike Waldorf schools. The occultism at the basis of Waldorf education is wholly absent from the Finnish system. Indeed, the Finnish model (secular, public, rational, and scientific) is virtually the antithesis of Waldorf, and its success provides virtually no evidence supporting the Waldorf approach overall. The methods employed in Waldorf education may sometimes be sensible, but their value is greatly diminished — and perhaps eliminated — by the senseless rationale on which they are based: Anthroposophy.


[Seven to Fourteen]

“From the sleeping and dreaming life of early childhood there is now a certain awakening. Forces which were at the basis of the physical body are set free and re-appear transformed into forces of spirit and soul. It is these that the educator must work with, even to promote the physical [development of the child].” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 45-46.

You can see how Steiner essentially asserted that children move forward in a sort of lockstep, as members of groups rather than as distinctive individuals. At about age seven, when the baby teeth fall out, a change of consciousness occurs and the forces within the children are redirected to "forces of spirit and soul". As we have already seen, Steiner taught that we have both spirits and souls. Waldorf teachers focus primarily on these ("It is these that the educator must work with"), not the students’ brains. The work of Waldorf teachers is essentially spiritual or religious, not in any normal sense educational.

“In the early years [i.e., until age seven] the child was an imitator. Now [seven to fourteen] he becomes a follower [sic: this seems to be a distinction with very little difference]. As yet he has no use for logic or demonstrations of proof but he needs ‘humanity’ ... [H]e has a longing for authority. He demands of adults the ability to believe in them, to feel instinctively about his teacher or whoever is concerned: ‘Here is one who can tell me things about the world because he is connected with it. He is a mediator between myself and the whole universe. I, myself, am not yet of that world.’ The teacher is the natural guide. The child looks up with reverence. The teacher says a thing is good, true and beautiful, and the child accepts it.” — Ibid., p. 46.

There’s a lot to chew over, here. Even up to age 14, a child has no use for logic — according to Steiner, s/he really doesn’t have much of a brain yet. This is, if I may so express it, absurd. Children who have gone to a regular school are using their brains, thinking logically (at least sometimes), and connecting to the real world far earlier than age 14.* Of course, they are still children, irrational in many ways (as indeed adults are), but Steiner clearly sold them short.

Steiner said that children want adults to be authority figures, which may or may not be true, depending on the child and the adults involved. And Steiner especially identified teachers — not parents, not clergy members — as the “natural guides” for children. Children look at them "with reverence." The child is not yet really incarnated upon the Earth (“I, myself, am not yet of that world”), and adults — especially teachers, most especially Waldorf teachers — are the “mediators” between the children and “the whole universe.” This is breathtaking, but it is what Steiner often said. And remember what Steiner also told Waldorf teachers:

“[I]t might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one's care soon after birth." [29 redux]

Parents, you should be told that Waldorf teachers think of themselves as the invaluable guides for your children. Actually, they think they function as priests, as we've seen. Waldorf teachers believe they know occult secrets, so they think they are far wiser than you. They think they know what is best for your children, and you don’t. If they could, they would relieve you of responsibility for your children “soon after birth.”

Thus, Waldorf teachers want to steer your children into religious, obedient attitudes, while continuing to downplay brainwork:

“[T]he teaching must be — as already indicated — imaginative, lively, full of pictorial imagery so as to develop feelings of wonder and reverence. Concepts and definitions at this stage will restrict the mind.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 51.

If imaginative, lively instruction sounds good, and if wonder and reverence seem good, ask yourself if a child of 11, say, will really be damaged by "concepts and definitions." What sort of education can possibly occur without concepts and definitions? Only one that is extremely vague and mystical. The "wonder and reverence" Waldorf schools aim for is geared to occultism — such things as etheric bodies, polytheism, karma, and reincarnation. And remember that some of this reverence is supposed to be directed at Waldorf teachers themselves. If you do not share Steiner’s occult beliefs, and if you do not think your children should revere occultist teachers, you should be very uncomfortable about what we have just now seen.

* Remember that Steiner and Wilkinson are a bit approximate about these ages. They tell us that intellect generally blooms only in the third stage of childhood, after age 14. But they also acknowledge that some sorts of intellect become active a bit before 14. Thus, for instance, "At eleven and twelve the child can form intellectual concepts of cause and effect." — Ibid., p. 51. Despite such concessions, the Waldorf view underestimates childhood intelligence. Most children start to understand cause-and-effect relationships long before 11 or 12. (If I steal this cookie, I will be punished. (Unless I don't get caught.))


[Fourteen to Twenty-One] Steiner puts “the beginning of conceptual thinking” and “the awakening to sex” at this stage, the third stage of childhood [RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 52]. Once again, Steiner is unrealistic — kids are able to handle concepts far sooner, and they often awake to sex far, far sooner. (I can say this because I was a boy, and I can remember that long before 14, my friends and I wondered a lot about what might be called the concepts of the birds and the bees.) But let it go.

“The adolescent needs to have plenty of substance in his soul (acquired in early years) which he can think about when thinking forces develop after puberty [i.e., after about age 13]. Otherwise he drifts and latches on to [sic] all sorts of nonsense. Teachers of adolescents must have answers to the fate of humanity [! sic], the importance of historical epochs, the meaning of present day events, etc., i.e. a philosophy of life.” — Ibid., p. 53.

You can see how important it is to start a kid at a Waldorf school while s/he is still very young. Enroll her/him in Waldorf kindergarten, if at all possible. Or start with Waldorf pre-Kindergarten programs, if you possibly, possibly can. If you don’t, by the time a child reaches adolescence, s/he won’t have “plenty of substance in his soul (acquired in early years)." The earliest grades at Waldorf schools are supposed to instill Anthroposophical attitudes, feelings, and beliefs, cultivating them in young hearts and minds. Later, these attitudes, feelings, and beliefs will become the content of Anthroposophical concepts: “the fate of humanity" (Steiner’s forecast of human evolution), “the importance of historical epochs" (these are periods of history since the sinking of Atlantis — yes, Atlantis), "the meaning of present day events". The soul substance leading to these concepts can only be supplied by Steiner and his followers, the ones who are privy to "secrets of the universe.” Accept no substitutes.

So there you have the three stages of child development, all of them defined by and worked over by occult Anthroposophical doctrines.


Chapters seven and eight deal with health and the temperaments. We can skip them here — I cover these topics in my essays “Steiner’s Quackery”, “Humouresque”, and "Temperaments". Please check these out.


[Morality] Chapter nine is titled “Moral Education”. All schools should try to direct children toward morality and good citizenship. But at Waldorf schools, this goal is, of course, linked to Steiner’s religious doctrines, such as polytheism. A quick glance, then we’ll move on. (The chapter itself is quite brief.)

“The beginning of moral education (as well as religious [sic: religious education]) lies in the cultivation of the feeling of gratitude ... It is a matter of saying ‘thank you’ not only to fellow human beings but also to the higher powers....” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 65.

The prayers of gratitude and entreaty written by Steiner for Waldorf students [see “Prayers”] address God, but here we see once again that the Waldorf belief system is polytheistic, acknowledging multiple gods: the “higher powers" of the spiritual hierarchies. [See "Polytheism".] Waldorf students are supposed to thank them. How? Through prayers and reverence. Religion. Anthroposophy.


[Behavior] Chap. 10 is also brief. It deals with discipline. Two short quotes:

“If there is one persistent offender in a class, he might be made to feel ashamed in front of his comrades. If the offense continues, it becomes a matter of deliberation and possible action by the whole College of Teachers.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 69.

This sounds better than the corporal punishment Steiner sometimes discussed [see “Slaps”.] At Waldorf schools, the “College of Teachers” is usually the inner circle of the faculty — those teachers who are devoted to Anthroposophy, studying it and discussing it with one another. At some Waldorf schools, the term may apply to the entire faculty.

“Generally speaking, the class teacher arrangement, whereby one teacher is closely connected with a particular class over a period of eight years, has advantages when it comes to dealing with behavioural problems. The class teacher knows the children very well, and they know him (or her). If the teacher studies the temperaments of the children, he [sic] will acquire a useful means of exercising control.” — Ibid., p. 70.

At Waldorf schools, one teacher may have primary responsibility for a group of students for many years. My first "class teacher" shepherded my class until fifth grade, then she was replaced by a teacher who took us through eighth grade, after which we had a "class advisor" who steered us through high school. Whether or not this "class teacher arrangement" is good, any benefit is severely reduced when Waldorf teachers rely on the outmoded, empty concept of "the temperaments of the children" to try to understand and control their students. [If you haven't done so already, see “Humouresque”, and "Temperaments".]


[Parents] Chapter 11 of RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION deals with homework and school organization. Dull. We’ll skip it, except to note this concerning the relationship between teachers and parents:

“It is preferable for school and home to share the same ideals or at least for the parents to be sympathetic to the strivings of the teachers. It is of great importance that the teacher keep parents informed of what is happening in the school.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 76.

This sounds good, yet it is often violated in practice. “It is preferable" for parents to grasp and support the school’s aims, more or less. But this is not required, and indeed, as occultists, Anthroposophists may need to keep the uninitiated parents uniformed. Steiner himself often encouraged such secrecy. I'll repeat a point I made earlier; parents really need to think about this carefully: Steiner told Waldorf teachers to treat parents as outsiders and tell them nothing except for answering specific questions about their own children:

“We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children.” [36]


[Teachers] Chapter 12 provides some additional information about the role of Waldorf teachers.

“A feeling of reverence toward pupils, even thankfulness that they [i.e., teachers] have been given the opportunity of educating them is the right attitude for teachers in which to approach their tasks. It is a religious one....” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 79.

Waldorf education requires a lot of reverence, and it runs in both directions, up to the teachers and down to the students. Waldorf education is "religious" — the kids should have a religious attitude, and so should the teachers.

In this regard, Waldorf teachers should study some of the central holy texts of Anthroposophy.

“For self-development or self-education...the teacher is recommended to turn to a book such as KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS.” — Ibid., p. 80.

In the pages of that book, Steiner explains how to become clairvoyant and thus gain direct knowledge of the worlds of the gods. [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Working on clairvoyance is the key form of "self-development or self-education" for Waldorf teachers. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]

The impact a teacher may have on students can be quite surprising. Steiner said that each student has one of four temperaments, as we have seen. There can be a bit of variety, since each individual has elements of all the temperaments. Still, each kid can be classified as exhibiting one of the four temperaments, more or less. And so can each teacher.

“[T]he teacher also has a temperament and that temperament can affect his pupils. For instance, a choleric person [i.e., teacher], with his sudden outbursts, may frighten children and cause them to feel anxious. This is an immediate result but long term [sic] damage is also a possibility. Disturbances in the circulatory and rhythmic systems may manifest themselves [in a pupil] thirty or forty years later. A melancholic person [i.e., teacher] is one living within himself with very little outflowing warmth. Under his influence the soul life of the child may be chilled and his breathing become irregular. Digestive disturbances and diseases of the blood may follow. In the case of a teacher with a phlegmatic temperament the likelihood is that the child will not be sufficiently stimulated. The phlegmatic [teacher] displays a certain indifference to the world and the effect on children is a dulling of brain activity in later life, possibly nervous troubles and neurasthenia [a “disease” discussed in Steiner’s day but now generally dismissed as imaginary]. The sanguine teacher lives in fleeting impressions. He does not help the child to concentrate, with the result that later there is a lack of zest and vital forces.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 81-82.

Certainly the disposition of a teacher — her/his his moods, attitudes, character flaws and strengths — can affect children deeply. But don’t worry too much about anything Steiner said in such matters. He was pushing his extremely faulty form of medicine [see “Steiner’s Quackery”]. The temperaments as he described them do not exist. The same goes for such phantoms of his imagination as the "rhythmic system" — it is fictitious. Still, we might wonder why a Waldorf school would employ any teacher who is prone to “sudden outbursts" or who produces “very little outflowing warmth," etc. However, under Steiner’s scheme, all four temperaments have drawbacks, and all humans fall into these four categories, so schools must accept teachers who have these limitations. The great ideal for Waldorf teachers is not possession of any particular temperament but devotion to Anthroposophy. To repeat one of Steiner’s most essential quotations (it cannot be repeated too often, IMO):

"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [25 redux]

o o 0 o o

Use this link to proceed to

the second half of "Basement".

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[1] One example: The Waldorf school I attended nearly ripped itself apart when faculty cliques formed. The primary issue was whether teachers should openly espouse spiritualism in class. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".] I have been told, but cannot prove, that threats of physical violence were made, and that some faculty members went into hiding.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 303.

[3] Ibid., pp. 304-305.

[4] Steiner considered students’ parents to be outsiders. I will return to this point later in this essay.

[5] Ibid., p. 304.

[6] Waldorf’s “staff consists of anthroposophists.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. Steiner overstates the case for most Waldorf schools, but his intention is plain. (By "staff," he meant faculty. American schools nowadays distinguish between faculty and staff, but Steiner did not make this distinction. Indeed, he generally indicated that Waldorf faculty should handle administrative or staff functions on their own.)


[8] Ibid., p. 305.

[9] In preparing the 1925 edition of his most important book, Steiner wrote

“OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, now to be published in a new edition, is after all an epitome of anthroposophical Spiritual Science as a whole ... The outline as presented fifteen years ago has in no way been shaken. Inserted in its proper place and context, everything that I have since been able to adduce becomes a further elaboration of the original picture.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), p. 12.

Steiner was, according to Steiner, right all along, about everything. [See "Everything".]

[10] The book has been published in varying editions and translations, with varying titles including AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophical Literature Concern, 1922) and AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997).

[11] For public consumption, Steiner often denied that Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophical doctrines to students. But speaking to Waldorf teachers, he said

“Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.

Since Anthroposophy contains the ultimate “truths” for Steiner and his followers, bringing it into class will almost always be ”objectively justified”. The presentation of Anthroposophical “truths” is often indirect and covert, but it occurs. [See, e.g., "Unenlightened" and "Sneaking It In".]

[12] Ibid., p. 617. [See "Steiner's Blunders".]


[14] Ibid., pp. 659-661.


[16] Ibid., p. 123.

This is part and parcel of Steiner’s repeated rejection of science — he faulted science for seeking natural, physical explanations for phenomena instead of recognizing extraterrestrial or, in this case, astrological causes.

“Natural science will never comprehend the nature of albumen as long as it endeavors to find in the organic molecule a structure that is simply more complicated than that which occurs in the inorganic molecule.” — Ibid., p. 123.

Reading Steiner requires patience and broadmindedness. “Simply complicated” is a ridiculous formulation — what Steiner means is that the organic molecule differs from the inorganic in actually being less complex, which opens it to extraterrestrial influences.

“The molecule of albumen does not tend toward greater complexity, however, but toward the dissolution of mineral structure, so that extraterrestrial — and not terrestrial — forces can influence it.” — Ibid., p. 123.

None of this has much scientific validity.


Steiner taught that information is inscribed on Akasha through spiritual science.

"What has been inscribed into the Akasha-substance through spiritual science would never had been there if this science had not existed on the earth." — Rudolf Steiner, SELF-TRANSFORMATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 139.


[19] See "Atlantis and the Aryans".

[20] Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 24.


[22] Ibid., pp. 46-47.

[23] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 4.

[24] Ibid., p. 197.


[26] I received this account, recently, in private correspondence with the teacher and his wife.


“Waldorf schools are non-sectarian [sic] and non-denominational [sic]. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life.” [, Frequently Asked Questions, Are Waldorf Schools Religious? (I last checked this on Oct. 28, 2006.)]


[29] Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.

[30] Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION (Hawthorn Press, 1993).


[32] Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997).


◊ “During the first seven years of life, the organism was a product of earthly forces and a kind of model. As such it is cast off, just as we get rid of the body’s outgrowths by cutting our nails, hair, and so on. The human being is molded anew with the change of teeth just as our outer form is perpetually eliminated. In this case, however, the first being, or product of physical heredity, is completely replaced by a second, who develops under the influence of the forces that the human being brings from pre-earthly life. Thus, during the period between birth and the change of teeth, the human hereditary forces related to the physical evolutionary stream fight against the forces of a pre-earthly existence, which accompany the individuality of each human being from the previous earthly life.” — THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, p. 22.

◊ “Ordinarily, one speaks of ‘religious’ relationships today in the sense of a consciously developed adult religion. Relevant to this is the fact that, in religious life, the spirit and soul elements of the adult rise into the spiritual element in the universe and surrender to it. The religious relationship is a self-surrendering to the universe, a prayer for divine grace in the surrender of the self. In the adult, it is completely immersed in a spiritual element. The soul and spirit are yielded to the surroundings. [paragraph break] “To speak of the child’s body being absorbed by the environment in terms of a religious experience thus seems like we are turning things around the wrong way. Nevertheless, it is a truly religious experience — transposed into the realm of nature. The child is surrendered to the environment and lives in the external world in reverent, prayerful devotion, just as the eye detaches itself from the rest of the organism and surrenders to the environment. It is a religious relationship transferred to the natural realm.” — Ibid., pp. 22-23.

Clear now?

[34] Ibid., pp. 23-24. Steiner made these remarks on April 9, 1924.

[35] Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.