Waldorf Teachers Talking It Over
Numerous small presses have created subject guides for Waldorf teachers. They have also released expositions/defenses of Anthroposophical thinking for general readers. If you are considering a Waldorf school, you probably should get some of these publications and study them. In the age of the Internet, finding such materials is much easier than it was in the past.
Often, however, such books sugarcoat the occult doctrines behind Waldorf schools. The best way to dig into Waldorf practices and beliefs is to read Steiner's own words. The old saw is correct: Go to the horse's mouth. Virtually all of the thinking behind Waldorf schools derives directly from Rudolf Steiner himself.
Here are statements Rudolf Steiner made during discussions with teachers at the first Waldorf school. They give us insights into the atmosphere that still prevails in many Waldorf schools today. Is this what you want for your child?
Background: Many of the statements deal with "temperament." Steiner accepted the ancient, false idea that all people exhibit one of four “temperaments”: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, and choleric. There is no scientific basis for this obsolete idea, but many if not all Waldorf schools today embrace it.
Steiner also accepted the idea — which comes from Theosophy — that human beings have four bodies, the physical body plus three invisible, nonphysical bodies: the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego body or “I”. There is no scientific basis for this idea, either. Yet it, too, is accepted in many if not all Waldorf schools.
Some of the following quotations are so full of Steiner’s weird jargon as to be all but impenetrable if you are not well-versed in Anthroposophy. If the words seem meaningless to you, just let them roll over you to get a feeling for life inside Waldorf schools. You can find explanations for Steiner’s terms elsewhere at Waldorf Watch. [See the Encyclopedia and Dictionary].
Entering a Waldorf school often means entering a different universe. The classes often provide covert instruction in Steiner’s occult doctrines — for instance, a class on the Egyptian pyramids may refer to the esoteric “knowledge of the universe” that (according to Steiner) Egyptian mystics possessed, including knowledge of human evolution. The Waldorf approach could be all right, if the point were to convey accurate historical knowledge to the students (that is, if Steiner truly understood what the ancient Egyptians knew and thought). But it is a form of indoctrination if the point is to sway the students and lead them to Anthroposophy (that is, if Steiner primarily wanted to impose his own occult interpretation on all subjects taught to the kids). In most Waldorf schools, most of the time, the unspoken objective is generally to sway the students and lead them to Anthroposophy. [See "Sneaking It In".]
Steiner taught that ancient peoples had clairvoyant powers that gave them truths that modern science lacks. Thus, for teachers who follow Steiner's lead, ancient ignorance largely replaces modern knowledge. [See "The Ancients".] Anthroposophical “truth” has roots running fair back into ancient ignorance, and such "truth" finds little or no support in modern science or scholarship. Some of Steiner’s doctrines may seem attractive, but few have any real connection to truth.
DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS:
Elementary School: Don’t Forget Races
"[I]n the initial school years you should have a number of fairy tales available. These must be followed by stories from the animal world in fables; then Bible stories taken as general history, apart from the actual religion lessons; then scenes from ancient, medieval, and modern history. You must also be prepared to tell about the different races and their various characteristics, which are connected with the natural phenomena of their own countries. After that you must move on to how the various races are mutually related to each other — Indians, Chinese, or Americans, and what their peculiarities are: in short, you must give the children information about the different peoples of the Earth. This is particularly necessary for our present age.
"...During the session Rudolf Steiner had written up the following summary on the blackboard:
"1. A fund of fairy tales
"2. Stories from the animal realm in fables
"3. Bible stories as part of general history (Old Testament)
"4. Scenes from ancient history
"5. Scenes from medieval history
"6. Scenes from modern history
"7. Stories of the various races and tribes
"8. Knowledge of the races"
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), pp. 23-24.
Teaching youngsters about cultural differences would be one thing; teaching them about racial "characteristics" and racial "peculiarities" is something quite different. Here we see Steiner laying out a school curriculum that leads to "Stories of the various races and tribes [and] Knowledge of the races."
For Steiner's racial doctrines,
see "Steiner's Racism".
For more on the meaning of fairy tales
as used in Waldorf schools,
see "Fairy Tales"
Clairvoyant Vision and the Soul World
"The plant realm is the soul world of the Earth made visible. The carnation is a ﬂirt. The sunﬂower an old peasant. The sunﬂower’s shining face is like a jolly old country rustic. Plants with very big leaves would express, in terms of soul life, lack of success in a job, taking a long time with everything, clumsiness, and especially an inability to finish anything; we think that someone has finished, but the person is still at it. Look for the soul element in the plant forms!
"When summer approaches, or even earlier, sleep spreads over the Earth; this sleep becomes heavier and heavier, but it only spreads out spatially, and in autumn passes away again. The plants are no longer there, and sleep no longer spreads over the Earth. The feelings, passions, and emotions of people pass with them into sleep, but once they are there, those feelings have the appearance of plants. What we have invisible within the soul, our hidden qualities — flirtatiousness, for example — become visible in plants. We don’t see this in a person who is awake, but it can be observed clairvoyantly in people who are sleeping. Flirtation, for example, looks like a carnation. A ﬂirt continually produces carnations from the nose! A tedious, boring person produces gigantic leaves from the whole body, if you could see them."
— Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS , p. 128.
Some of this may seem cute; some may seem attractive. But "seeing" such things depends on clairvoyance.
Is there a particle of sense in it?see "Fairy Tales"
For some of Steiner's views
Invisible Bodies and the Temperaments
"In spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] we divide the human being into I-being, astral body, etheric body, and physical body. In an ideal human being the harmony predestined by the cosmic plan would naturally predominate among these four human principles. But in reality this is not so with any individual. Thus it can be seen that the human being, when given over to the physical plane, is not yet really complete; education and teaching, however, should serve to make the human being complete. One of the four elements rules in each child, and education and teaching must harmonize these four principles.
"If the I [our highest invisible body] dominates — that is, if the I is already very strongly developed in a child, then we discover the melancholic temperament. It is very easy to err in this, because people sometimes view melancholic children as though they were especially favored. In reality the melancholic temperament in a child is due to the dominance of the I in the very earliest years.
"If the astral body rules, we have a choleric temperament. If the etheric body dominates, we have the sanguine temperament. If the physical body dominates, we have the phlegmatic temperament.
"In later life these things are connected somewhat differently, so you will find a slight variation in a lecture I once gave on the temperaments. In that lecture I spoke of the temperaments in relation to the four members of the adult. With children, however, we certainly come to a proper assessment when we view the connection between temperament and the four members of the human being as I just described. This knowledge about the child should be kept in the back of our minds as we try to discover which temperament predominates through studying the whole external bearing and general habits of the child."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 14.
For information about invisible bodies,
see "What We're Made Of"
For Steiner's doctrines
Fathers, Mothers, and Invisible Bodies
"[T]he father-principle works very strongly in the physical body and the I, and that the mother-principle predominates in the etheric and astral bodies. Goethe divined this truth when he wrote the beautiful words:
"From my father I have my stature [connected with the physical body] and the serious conduct of life [connected with the I], from my dear mother my happy nature [connected with the etheric body] and joy in creative fantasy [connected with the astral body].
"There is extraordinary wisdom in these words. What lives in the human being is mixed and mingled in a remarkable way. Humankind is an extremely complicated being. A definite relationship exists in human beings between the I and the physical body, and again a relationship between the etheric body and the astral body. Thus, the predominance of one can pass over into the predominance of another during the course of life. For example, in the melancholic temperament the predominance of the I passes into the predominance of the physical body, and in a choleric person it even cuts across inheritance and passes from the mother element to the father element, because the preponderance of the astral passes over into a preponderance of the I."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 61-62.
For some of Steiner's views on
mothers and fathers
of Waldorf students,
see "Faculty Meetings"
Temperaments, Nations, Secrets
"It is possible to speak of a folk temperament in a real sense. Nations really have their own temperaments, but the individual can very well rise above the national temperament ... For example, it would be wrong to identify the individual Russian of today with the temperament of the Russian nation. The latter would be melancholic while the individual Russian of today is inclined to be sanguine ... The Italian folk-spirit has a special relationship to air, the French a special connection with fluids, the English and American, especially the English, with the solid earth, the American even with the sub-earthly — that is, with earth magnetism and earth electricity. Then we have the Russian who is connected with the light — that is, with earth’s light that rays back from plants. The German folk-spirit is connected with warmth....
"Question: Should the children know anything about this classification according to temperament?
"This is something that must be kept from the children. Much depends on whether the teacher has the right and tactful feeling about what should be kept hidden. The purpose of all these things we have spoken of here is to give the teacher authority."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 63-64.
For Steiner's doctrines
about folk souls and race souls,
see "Steiner's Racism",
and "Four Group Souls"
"Question: What should one really tell children about the building of the Egyptian pyramids?
"It is of course extraordinarily important for children too that you should gradually try to present them with what is true rather than what is false. In reality the pyramids were places of initiation, and this is where you reach the point of giving the children an idea of the higher Egyptian education, which was initiation at the same time. You must tell them something about what happened within the pyramids. Religious services were conducted there, just as today they are conducted in churches, except that their services led to knowledge of the universe. Ancient Egyptians learned through being shown, in solemn ritual, what comes about in the universe and in human evolution. Religious exercises and instruction were the same; it was really such that instruction and religious services were the very same thing."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 169-170.
For Steiner's teachings
see "Inside Scoop"
For his teachings
see "Evolution, Anyone?"
Karma, Reincarnation, and Temperament
"[C]hildish temperament is actually connected with karma, how in the child’s temperament something really appears that could be described as the consequence of experiences in previous lives on Earth. Let’s take the concrete example of a man who is obliged in one life to be very interested in himself. He is lonely and is thus forced to be interested in himself. Because he is frequently absorbed in himself, the force of circumstances causes him to be inclined to unite his soul very closely with the structure of his physical body, and in the next incarnation he brings with him a bodily nature keenly alive to the conditions of the outer world. He becomes a sanguine individual. Thus, it can happen that when someone has been compelled to live alone in one incarnation, which would have retarded the person’s progress, this is adjusted in the next life through becoming a sanguine, with the ability to notice everything in the surroundings. We must not view karma from a moral but from a causal perspective. When a child is properly educated, it may be of great benefit to the child’s life to be a sanguine, capable of observing the outer world. Temperament is connected, to a remarkable degree, with the whole life and soul of a person’s previous incarnation."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 60-61.
For an exploration of karma,
Medicine, Mysticism. and Mushrooms
"Mystics in the Middle Ages were aware of certain relationships to the soul world that led them into deeper aspects of medicine. You ﬁnd, for example, that a definite group of plants is associated with a quality of soul; mushrooms and fungi are associated with the quality that enables a person to reflect, to ponder something, the kind of inner life that lies so deeply in the soul that it does not demand much of the outer world for its experience, but “pumps,” as it were, everything out of itself. You will also ﬁnd that this soul quality, most characteristic of mushrooms, is very intimately associated with illnesses of a headache nature; in this way you discover the connection between mushrooms and illnesses that cause headaches."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 137-138.
For Steiner's medical teachings,
Insanity, Stupidity, Rage
"If the melancholic temperament becomes abnormal and does not remain within the boundaries of the soul, but rather encroaches on the body, then insanity arises. Insanity is the abnormal development of a predominantly melancholic temperament. The abnormal development of the phlegmatic temperament is mental deficiency. The abnormal development of the sanguine is foolishness, or stupidity. The abnormal development of the choleric is rage."
— DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 55.
For more on the
"temperaments" and their
importance in Waldorf education,
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch News:
"An introduction to our Waldorf inspired playroom. It is still very much incomplete and a work-in-progress. We’ve divided the room up into main sections, which we’ll be covering in later posts: The play frame, The reading corner, Home corner, The bird table. The walls have been kept plain white, with illustrations (Elsa Beskow scenes), posters, calendars and accessories providing colour. The floor is rather brightly hued, albeit well cushioned, with play mats, with floor cushions brought in for reading. We have very little plastic in the room, but couldn’t quite part with the Lego table, which still contains boxes of Lego, alongside the gnomes and wooden play furniture."
Waldorf Watch Response:
Many people take inspiration from various elements of the Waldorf lifestyle. Waldorf schools and Waldorf communities emphasize art, wooden toys, homemade bread, green values, play (rather than academics), dreamy myths and legends, natural fabrics, and so forth. Some parents and teachers try to use Waldorf methods without first investigating the reasons for them — that is, Waldorf/Anthroposophical doctrines. There are multiple dangers. The Waldorf approach makes little sense without the foundation of the Waldorf ideology. For instance, Waldorf schools usually put off teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic until children turn seven. This deprives kids of the benefits of early childhood education, thus depriving them of instruction that research shows can confer lifelong benefits.
At a fundamental level, Waldorf turns its back on the modern world, rejecting much that is wrong with contemporary society along with much that is good in contemporary society, such as modern knowledge. Of course, shielding children from the worst of modern culture (violence, graphic sex, excessive materialism, etc.) is obviously desirable. Certainly children need to be loved and protected. But the rejection of modern life can go too far, becoming a retreat into fantasy, an almost willful blindness. Children need to be given preparation for leading well-rounded lives in the real world, not dream lives in fantasy worlds.
The Waldorf approach is not simply an effort to give kids safe, "natural," play-filled childhoods. It is meant to preserve young kids' natural clairvoyant ties to the spirit realm and to assist the incarnation of the kids' "etheric bodies." Unless you believe in clairvoyance and etheric bodies, none of this makes sense. Adopting Waldorf methods means depriving children of real benefits (such as the advantages of early childhood education) in exchange for entirely fictitious, nonexistent benefits (clairvoyance and etheric bodies). Likewise, you should realize that the sweet myths told in Waldorf schools are, according to Waldorf belief, true accounts of the spirit realm, and the cute little figures such as gnome dolls that surround Waldorf children are, according to Waldorf belief, representations of beings that really exist and that really surround us at all times.
You may elect to tell your children Waldorf-style myths without intending to convey Waldorf beliefs, and you may surround your children with gnomes and other fantasy characters without intending to teach the kids that such beings really exist. And maybe this will work out for you and your children; maybe no great harm will result. But if you use materials supplied by Waldorf schools or Waldorf homeschooling services, etc., you may well be unintentionally introducing your child to an unearthly, occult viewpoint that can remain rooted in the child's heart and mind for many years, perhaps for a lifetime, with potentially debilitating effects.
Waldorf focuses on "higher worlds," imaginary spirit realms, not the real world. The Waldorf approach often fails to prepare kids for real lives in the real world — and this can be a severe disservice to the children you love. [See, e.g., "Spiritual Agenda", "Methods", "Beings", "Thinking Cap", "Coming Undone", "Neutered Nature", "Incarnation", "Failure", "Occultism", and "Academic Standards at Waldorf".]
You should also know that many of the more appealing components of the Waldorf approach are offered to the general public with the intention of snaring the unwary. The Waldorf movement is quite prepared to co-opt all parts of your life and your family's life. You can, for instance, buy such books as THE WALDORF BOOK OF BREADS, THE WALDORF SCHOOL BOOK OF SOUPS, THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, THE WALDORF ALPHABET BOOK, THE WALDORF SONG BOOK, THE WALDORF KINDERGARTEN SNACK BOOK, etc. There are Waldorf guides to parenting, the spiritual role of the wife, "common sense" education, spiritually acceptable toys, and the like. Tread carefully.
WALDORF ALPHABET BOOK
[Bell Pond Books, 2005]
SOUL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH HANDWRITING —
The Waldorf Approach to the Vimala Alphabet
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007]
MAKING WALDORF DOLLS
[Hawthorne Press, 1005]
THE WALDORF SCHOOL BOOK OF SOUPS
[Bell Pond Books, 2007]
THE WALDORF BOOK OF BREADS
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2009]
THE WALDORF SONG BOOK
[Floris Books, 1987]
THE SECOND WALDORF SONG BOOK
[Floris Books, 1993]
THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY
[Living Arts Books, 2012]
THE WALDORF KINDERGARTEN SNACK BOOK
[Bell Pond Books, 2005]
WALDORF STUDENT READING LIST
[Michaelmas Press, 1998]
THE SPIRITUAL TASKS OF THE HOMEMAKER
[Temple Lodge, 1998]
HEALING STORIES FOR CHALLENGING BEHAVIOUR
[Hawthorne Press, 2008]
HEAVEN ON EARTH - A Handbook for Parents
of Young Children [Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006]
Rudolf Steiner encouraged Waldorf teachers to think they are far better equipped to guide their students trough childhood — helping the kids to develop properly — than the kids' parents are. Thus, for instance, Steiner made statements such as the following:
◊ "You [Waldorf teachers] will have to take over children for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education given them by their parents."— Rudolf Steiner, THE STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 16.
◊ “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.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.
Waldorf faculties are generally quite prepared to think that they are wiser, better guides than their students' parents are. Waldorf teachers are quite prepared to call the shots in virtually all areas of your family's life. Thus, the teachers at one Waldorf school told one another, typically, that their students return from holidays in "poor condition" because the kids' parents do such a poor job filling in for the school:
"During a holiday, the school no longer provides the structure of the day for them [i.e., the children], and many parents are hard-pressed to create on their own a necessary routine, rhythm, and harmony." — Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter, Winter 1971-72 (Waldorf School of Adelphi University, 1971), p. 6.
The Waldorf teachers in this instance decided they could counsel their students' parents on the following matters (if not more):
"[M]ealtimes, manners, chores and work around the house, discipline, toys, parties and games, the social life of boys and girls in the junior high and high school years, coping with media [i.e., controlling the amount of time kids spend with TV and radio], and celebrating the festivals [i.e., supervising the observance of seasonal/religious observances such as Christmas, Michaelmas, etc.]." — Ibid.
In the newsletter from which I am quoting — a newsletter written by Waldorf teachers for Waldorf teachers — this list is said to have been "chosen" by the parents. Whether the choice came after a lot of advice and steering from the teachers is not explained. In any event, the teachers accepted the list and prepared to work with it. Undoubtedly, some parents would indeed be happy to let a Waldorf faculty make key decision for them in all these areas. But one question that arises is whether a Waldorf faculty is actually competent to make such decisions. The other important question is whether you would want Waldorf teachers to make such decisions for you and your family.