Deep in the Heart

She Hits the Trail

From the Waldorf Watch News:

JUNE 27, 2020



In theory, Waldorf schools can evolve. They can change with the times and improve. In theory.

But in reality, Waldorf schools today remain much as Waldorf schools have ever been. At the core, Waldorf schools remain wedded to the belief system propounded by Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner: the occult faith known as Anthroposophy [1]. The degree of commitment to Steiner's doctrines may vary to some degree from one Waldorf school to the next [2], but overall the Waldorf movement remains deeply tied — and devoted — to Anthroposophy.

One result is that Waldorf schools continue to disillusion and alienate. When outsiders or newcomers begin to comprehend what the Waldorf movement is really all about — when they realize what Anthroposophy teaches — they are often shocked, astounded, and repelled. And sometimes they write exposés, detailing their experiences within Waldorf walls [3].

Recently, another such exposé has appeared. It decries the troubling characteristics of Waldorf schooling that other reports have disclosed previously. The author of this latest report is Jennifer Sapio, who taught for three years at a Waldorf school in Texas before resigning this year.

Sapio's essay is long, and it deserves to be read in its entirety. You can find it at the website Age of Awareness. But for now, as an introduction, here are excerpts. I have appended some supplementary footnotes of my own.

Waldorf Schools Are Inherently Racist Cults

Or, why I wouldn’t drink the kool-aid.

[By] Jennifer Sapio, PhD

...After earning my PhD in 2017 and applying to 68 institutions of learning, I frantically accepted the one job I was offered, at a Waldorf school in Central Texas. However, I very soon observed a disconnect between what parents understand is being offered by the school and what teachers are discussing inside the faculty meetings...

Parents are told about a “holistic approach to child development,” in which students do handwork, play string instruments, and study cultures from around the world [4] ... The average family enrolled at a Waldorf school probably doesn’t know much about the founder of the movement, Rudolf Steiner [5], his...“spiritual science” [6], or his writings which range from...disputing contemporary psychology and physics [7], to travelogues detailing trips to other planets [8].

When I was hired, I knew nothing about Rudolf Steiner...

During a conversation at my final interview, one of the faculty members asked if at least I would be okay with saying a “verse” to commence and conclude faculty meetings [9] ... I thought that would be the extent of the compliance required of me...

However, I discovered that much more was required of me philosophically, morally, and spiritually [10] ... [A] “Master Waldorf Teacher” who [gave us a presentation] said, “if you are not on board with this kind of spiritual striving, then you should find somewhere else to work.”

What seemed to be valued was not years in the classroom, experience or expertise...but rather adherence to the philosophies of a White twentieth-century thinker’s [11] spiritual ideology. Being able to speak in Steiner’s vocabulary of “astral bodies” [12] and “Ahrimanic forces” [13] was essential to inclusion in the good graces of the faculty body ... When I suggested that we bring the latest research on a topic like classroom management or child development into the conversation, I was told, “Rudolf Steiner was clairvoyant, and when you find the truth, there’s no improving on it” [14]. There was no room for disagreement or alternate perspectives in a community founded on the value-judgment that Steiner’s ideas about education in 1919 were essentially infallible [15].

...[I]ncreasingly the requirements for my adoption of anthroposophical values became part of the “other duties as assigned” in my contract. Reading Rudolf Steiner’s philosophical texts...was a required part of my work as a teacher at the school.

In our required readings, I found hateful, illogical, and disgusting concepts about race [16], Euro-centrism [17], and vaccines [18], to name a few...

I read about Steiner’s “folk souls” [19] — his theories about the hierarchies of human evolution [20] — in order to see in Steiner’s own words what he thinks about the “black and yellow races,” and let me tell you, it’s revolting. He writes that humans are on an evolutionary journey through reincarnation [21] and that as souls are refined and purified, they move “up” from the African to the Asian and finally to the European races:

Diagram 3 from Rudolf Steiner’s “The Mission of Folk-Souls”

I read about Steiner’s rejection of Eastern philosophies [22] and his prioritizing of Western European knowledge, which explains why many students at Waldorf schools still read a high-German medieval romance [23] in eleventh grade rather than Toni Morrison. No amount of organizing diversity conferences for Waldorf teachers will ever fix this fundamental problem in the foundation of the schools’ pedagogy [24].

Finally, during the time that I was a part of a Waldorf school, they were repeatedly in the news. Unfortunately, it was because they have been identified as the “worst” school in Texas as far as vaccine compliance is concerned, a direct result of Steiner’s belief that childhood illness is part of each human’s “karma” [25]. Thus, Waldorf schools are a magnet for anti-vaxxers, a particularly troubling correlation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

When the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing — between my work and my integrity — became increasingly difficult to tolerate, I reached out to my supervisors, one of whom is a Person of Color. We talked about how problematic I found what I was learning about the Waldorf school movement, about Rudolf Steiner, and about his spiritual program of anthroposophy. I was assured that there were a variety of interpretations, and that the good outweighed the bad [26].

But really we were all complicit in the white supremacist mission that is Waldorf education globally [27]...

The complicity was guaranteed by a few factors. The same kind of bullying and gaslighting and “us versus them” tactics as are used in other religious (ie. cultish) environments apply in this case, too [28].

As I had been warned, indeed there are verses chanted during faculty meetings. We all stood and listened as a passage was recited about heavenly archai [29] sharing a drop of wisdom with us. Okay, I kept saying to myself, it’s just a pretty piece of literature, right? But. I. Stood. Up. During. Those. Prayers. For. Almost. Three. Years...

The Waldorf movement in the United States is experiencing a transition, as [Waldorf] teaching centers [30] are not attracting the candidates that are needed to fill jobs in Waldorf schools. So, traditionally educated teachers have been filling these posts across the country [31], leading schools to greater and lesser degrees away from their anthroposophical roots ... But in some Waldorf schools, there is an effort underway to purify the “core values” of the community, to reassure the community that anthroposophy is at the center of the school, and to close ranks and go on the defensive about all things Steiner. I was told that there was a “sickness” in the school that could only be cured by my acquiescing to this indoctrination [32].

At the Waldorf school where I worked, it wasn’t enough to be a good teacher. You must become a “Waldorf teacher” [33]. Waldorf becomes not the name of a school, but a group that you join, an identity that you become...

...[T]here is something insidious about the bait and switch tactic of a school that attracts the world’s progressive secular humanists into its folds, and swears as it is inculcating spiritual ideology (at least in the faculty body, if not indirectly in the student and parent body as well) that it is not [34]. The legalese of offering a pedagogy based in Steiner’s spiritual anthroposophy (his racist, colonialist project) but technically not calling it a religious school is difficult for me to reconcile [35]...

[I submitted] my resignation.

[6/27/2020 Dr. Sapio's essay was originally posted on June 13.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes

[1] See "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).

[2] See "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".

[3] See "Former Waldorf Teachers, Et Al".

[4] See "crafts", "music", and "world cultures" in the BWSE. Concerning the "holistic" nature of Waldorf schooling, see "Holistic Education".

[5] See "What a Guy".

[6] See "spiritual science" in the BWSE.

[7] Despite sometimes claiming to affirm the findings of modern science, Rudolf Steiner in fact built an antiscientific bias into Anthroposophy. [See "Science".]

[8] See "planetary migrations" in the BWSE; also see "Planetary Humans".

[9] Such "verses" (which are also recited in Waldorf classrooms) are usually prayers written by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Prayers".]

[10] See, e.g., the sections "The Indoctrination of Teachers" and "Progressive Involvement Outside Teaching" on the page "Indoctrination".

[11] I.e., Rudolf Steiner's.

[12] Steiner taught that three invisible bodies incarnate during the first 21 years of life; the astral body is the second of these invisible bodies, incarnating around age 14. [See "Incarnation".]

[13] Ahriman, as described by Steiner, is an arch-demon. "Ahrimanic forces" are the powers and/or minions of Ahriman. [See "Ahriman".]

[14] I.e., Rudolf Steiner knew ultimate, timeless truths because of his marvelous clairvoyant powers. Another newcomer to Waldorf teaching was once told the same thing, in these words:

“Steiner had exceptional powers, he saw the future, he knew the truth. If you truly need to learn, you need to study and follow Steiner. Steiner is all anyone ever needs to know.” [See "Ex-Teacher 5".]

[15] To understand how Steiner is perceived by his followers, see "Guru".

The Waldorf movement is often described as a cult primarily because of its devotional focus on Steiner and his gnostic teachings. If this description is true, then the primary members of the cult are the true-believing members of the faculty. Waldorf students are rarely taught Steiner's doctrines in so many words, but Anthroposophical beliefs and inclinations are conveyed to the students in other, more subtle ways. [See, e.g., "Sneaking It In".]

[16] See "Steiner's Racism".

[17] See "Europe" and "Europeans" in the BWSE.

[18] See the discussion of vaccines and vaccination in "Steiner's Quackery".

[19] These are shared souls possessed, Steiner taught, by all members of a race, nation, family, etc. [See "folk soul, folk spirit" in the BWSE.]

[20] Steiner taught that humans evolve from low racial forms (black) to high racial forms (white). [See "Races".]

[21] See "Reincarnation".

[22] While Steiner generally affirmed the superiority of Europe and its races, he drew some of his concepts (such as karma and reincarnation) from Eastern belief systems.

[23] See "Parzival" in the BWSE.

[24] See, e.g., "Embedded Racism".

[25] See "Karma".

[26] Waldorf faculties, like Waldorf student bodies, often include members of multiple ethnic groups. How individuals respond to Steiner's racial teachings can be a deeply personal and difficult question, calling for contemplation, perhaps prayer, and — at least occasionally — rationalization or denial. [For an overview of Steiner's racial teachings, see "Races", "Differences", and "Forbidden".]

[27] Historically, there have been distressing links between Anthroposophy and extreme right-wing (fascist and/or white supremacist) movements. [See "Sympathizers?"]

[28] Several former Waldorf teachers have described such conditions. See, e.g., "Ex-Teacher 2" and "Distress".

[29] Anthroposophy is polytheistic. [See "Polytheism".] Steiner taught that there are nine ranks of gods. Archai are gods of the seventh rank — low enough to have an immediate interest in human affairs.

[30] See "Teacher Training".

[31] Almost from the day of the first Waldorf school opened in 1919, the Waldorf movement has faced a shortage of Anthroposophically trained teachers. But the ideal has always been to staff Waldorf schools exclusively with Anthroposophists. So, for instance, Steiner once said this:

"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

Steiner's followers have continued to take this position. Thus, we find statements such as the following:

"Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.

[32] The effort to keep the Waldorf movement tightly bound to Anthroposophy is evident in many segments of the movement. This helps account for the evident intention to indoctrinate non-Anthroposophical faculty members such as Dr. Sapio.

[33] I.e., an Anthroposophical Waldorf teacher. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]

[34] See, e.g., the sections "Subtle Indoctrination of Students in All Subjects", "Disguised Anthroposophic Rituals", and "The Indoctrination of Parents" on the page "Indoctrination".

[35] The truth is that genuine Waldorf schools (those that adhere most closely to Steiner's vision) are religious institutions, the religion being Anthroposophy. [See "Schools as Churches".]

— R.R.

Waldorfish art