Finding Something Better
Over the years I have had many experiences with Waldorf education, from sharing a house with a Waldorf teacher and her 9 year old daughter, to student teaching in a Waldorf school. This is a compilation of my experiences with Waldorf and my opinions about it.
Over the years I have been drawn to Waldorf Education many times. From the start, like so many people, I was in love with its beautiful classrooms and unique artwork. Even after I had misgivings, I kept on going back to it in hopes that my bad experiences were aberrations. Sadly, this was not the case....
...I went to Waldorf because I was looking for something different. I wanted something that honored the child and saw them as more than a test score; something that educated their soul as well as their mind. At the time of my first Waldorf experience I was an elementary education major with a BS in Earth Science, a MS in Environmental Education and a minor in Comparative Religious Philosophy. I found traditional education horribly lacking in science and social studies, not to mention boring in its methods...
I pushed hard to do my student teaching in the [Waldorf] school. This was not an easy feat since both the school and my university didn’t want me to do it, yet I managed to spent 8 weeks as a student teacher at this new school. To be honest, I did see some wonderful things; beautiful classrooms, art work, story time...but I had a problem with Waldorf’s way of handling academic subjects. Waldorf educational philosophy states that focusing children's learning on intellectual endeavors too soon distracts from their physical, spiritual, and emotional development, so reading, writing, and math are not taught at all during preschool. Instead, emphasis is placed fantasy, imagination, storytelling, rhyming, and movement games ... When anything academic is taught, it is sugar coated and washed clear of any analytical thought so as not to force the "little ones" into thinking too hard.
...I wanted to teach children to learn to think for themselves; to analyze, synthesize, and extrapolate information as opposed to simply regurgitating it the way it is done in more traditional settings. What I soon found out was that children were simply regurgitating in the Waldorf settings also. Only instead of taking a standardized test or filling out a worksheet, in Waldorf it was copying a drawing or memorizing a poem. Although this was esoterically more pleasing to the casual observer, in essence it was still superficial learning.
...[S]cience, social studies, and history theoretically were all explored and integrated into the curriculum, but always on a “Waldorf” timeline and scale, and never in-depth. Additionally, the information imparted was often not accurate. For example, the children were taught that there were 4 elements — Earth, wind, fire and air, and that the continents were islands floating on the ocean....
Worse in my eyes than not teaching accurate facts in the classroom was the reality that children who had interests in things that were not part of the Waldorf curriculum for their age were not only not allowed to learn about those interests at school, but their parents were encouraged, (dare I say “pressured”) to not allow them to pursue their interests at home either. Their parents were told that exposure to anything non-Waldorf would hurt their development....
...If a child had a question that required deeper study, such as, “Greek myths are really cool. Where did the Greek people live?”... [t]hey weren’t given a straight answer. They weren’t shown a map of Ancient Greece, or photos of its ruins, or of it today ... I was told that such information was too overwhelming for them, and that giving them the answers to their questions or teaching them the skills they needed to answer their questions on their own, would be forcing too much on them....
The longer I spent at the school, the more I saw what I considered an attack on the intellect and personal needs and interests of a child.
Here are some examples that were burned into my memory forever. A first grade boy, loved numbers. He had a firm grasp of numbers ... Yet he was forced to sit and draw numbers and then animals to go with those numbers (one dog, two cats...) during math time ... [T]his one child, (and in all honesty some of his peers), was far beyond it and was bored ... I was told that it was OK for him to be bored....
...I was once berated for over an hour because a preschooler drew a happy face ... Twenty years later I still remember the teacher screaming at me, "I can not believe an educator like you would allow such a thing... What in your right mind would make you think that such a thing would be allowed?!?!?"
Later, the same child was "caught" drawing a heart ... The school's way of handling this was to ask the parents not to bring the child to non-Waldorf activities until she was older.
Another time a sixth grader asked me how the copy machine in the office worked. Before I could even open my mouth, a teacher ran over to the child, and told him that there was a gnome asleep in the box....
I must state that I felt then, and still do, that by boring these children, and/or not honoring their personal interests, questions, and abilities, we were stunting their emotional and academic growth even more....
What I saw as a lack of honoring of personal interests inhabited everything. Only certain colors were used at certain ages, only certain materials for certain groups. No black, no lines, no exceptions. I hated seeing the joy in a child’s face fade ... None of these rules made sense to me. Yet when I asked why they were there, the only response I received was that there was a higher meaning to everything and I was not “enlightened” enough to understand.
...[A]lthough the teachers believed that everything from the color crayon a child used at a certain age, to the knowledge that they were exposed to, had to be completely controlled, they could be left utterly alone on the playground. It was explained to me that this was because “The angels watched over and protected them” while they were playing ... Once, when a child was in tears because the other children kept on pushing her off of a stump they were playing on, I tried to teach conflict resolution skills to the group and was, once again, admonished by the staff. I was told that all of the children were “working through” things and needed to be left alone. Eventually the bullying got so bad that it permeated every part of the child’s school day. Yet still the teachers would not intervene. The child became sullen and withdrawn....
My experience at that Waldorf School lasted only 8 weeks, but still 23 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday. I left my student teaching position there confused and angry. How could anything so beautiful to look at, be so deceiving? I hated Waldorf and my stomach turned whenever it was mentioned even casually at a party. When people spoke of how kind, how multi-modality, how integrated, how beautiful, …. My blood pressure rose. At first I tried to explain what I knew to be the truth, but no one would listen.
As time went on though, I started to wonder if what I had experienced was truly Waldorf; "Maybe it was some strange misinterpretation of it. Maybe..." ... Not being certified yet to work in the public schools in my new state of residence, I applied to work as an aide in a Waldorf School. Yet what I experienced at this new school was exactly the same as what I experienced in the school I student taught at. Beautiful surroundings, yet crazy academics, non-honoring of the child’s individual needs and interests, letting children bully each other…I left within a few months.
A few years later I moved again ... [A]s luck would have it, I ended up sharing a house with a Waldorf teacher and her 9 year old daughter. I didn’t want to...but this room was the only one I could afford. I had been looking for weeks and knew that I had no other option....
...As I was walking in with my first box of things my new housemate confronted me about my belongings. She was upset that I had so many books and made it clear that I had to keep them locked away in my bedroom! After that first encounter everything I did seemed to be horrible in her eyes. She didn’t like the medicine I took; it was made in a lab. I needed to go to anthroposophical doctor and use only natural medicines. She didn’t like the clothes that I wore; they weren’t all cotton and dyed with natural dyes. She didn’t like me talking on the phone even though it was in the kitchen and belonged to the house; the phone was a tool of [the devil] Ahriman....
...[T]here were teacher gatherings and study groups at our house often ... [A]ll the teachers were passionate and really believed in what they were doing. It soon became obvious to me that...what I had hoped was a misinterpretation of Steiner’s philosophy was in actuality the perfect implementation of it. As far as the outright distortion of scientific or historical facts in the Waldorf curriculum, I was asked, “Whose facts are they? How sure are you that yours are true?” ... For many of the teachers, the only science or history they knew were what they learned in their Waldorf teacher training courses. Then came the statement that clarified all their misinformation for me. I was told, “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.”
This brings me to another problem I have with Waldorf Education. It is religious in nature. Not that being religious in nature is wrong, but I think parents need to be aware of the fact that Waldorf Schools ARE teaching religion....
...The almost outright ban of media in any form for preschool and elementary children, especially TV and computers, can sound wonderful to the average parent, most of whom are all too aware of the problems that too much exposure to the mass media will bring, but for the Waldorf educator it has a much deeper and important meaning. They believe that Steiner stated that such things embody a materialistic spirit named Ahriman who alienates the human being from his spiritual roots.
...The gnomes that permeate Waldorf schools, craft fairs and publications are not just a return to a fanciful lost world of childhood, they are beings that are truly believed in and are used in a variety of ways. They can displace teachers' and students' emotions and reactions, they can evade children's questions about the world and how it works, they mystify children asking questions about things like sex, violence, illness or death. They can even be threatening and confusing since children who don't see gnomes often feel like there is something wrong with them....
... I know now that what [Waldorf schools] present to the world is a beautiful façade that is covering their new-age beliefs, only one of which is a fear of the intellect. For a parent who believes in Anthroposophy, a Waldorf school will be a heaven-sent. For parents who are willing to overlook the religious concepts and themes for the beautiful setting and art-based curriculum, a Waldorf school might be fine also. But parents should be told that their children will be taught religious beliefs while they are in a Waldorf school. They need to know what these religious beliefs are, and they need to know that they will take precedence over their child’s individual needs and interests. Parents also need to know that their children will not be academically on par with many of their peers unless they take to breaking with Waldorf guidelines and teach them academics at home.
...I can also fully state that the Waldorf view of the child as a little waif, only interested in fantasy play and pretending, that needs to be sheltered from the cruel hard world until the very last moment, is the polar opposite of mine. I see the child as a budding person, interested in all that is around them, with their own individual interests, strengths, learning styles and needs. I believe in working with the whole child not just their artistic, verbal and kinesthetic modalities. I believe in following a child’s natural interest in the world around them and helping them learn to use their strengths and interests to their highest potential.
To read this article in its entirety, please visit
Waldorf education is based on the "clairvoyant seeings" of a man named Rudolf Steiner. Steiner believed that the purpose of education was to help the soul fully incarnate into the human body. According to him, certain things like "specific colors" or "learning to read" helps or hinders this incarnation. When you are considering putting your child in a Waldorf school, the people showing you around will talk about how everything they do is "developmentally appropriate" Most people assume that what they mean is that they follow the developmental needs of each individual child, or that they use the most up to date research on brain development, but in reality their definition of this term is that concepts are taught at the age that Steiner deemed appropriate for helping the soul on its journey through incarnation. Everything that they do is based on this belief, and teaching or exposing a child to something, (such as reading before third grade), is banned from the classroom and parents are pressured against the exposure at home.
When you go to a Waldorf school, you will be given a lot of information on art, movement and music being integrated into the core curriculum. It will sound wonderful. Here is how and why they do such things:
Color- Only certain colors are allowed to be used at certain grade levels. This is because Steiner deemed these specific colors necessary at the specific ages. He believed that the colors possess powers that will help the child's developing soul in its journey into the new body.
Music- like with color, there are Steiner deemed songs and notes that are to be used at certain ages to help the child's soul in its reincarnation journey.
Dance- A certain kind of dance called Eurythmy is taught to children. The movements are believed to be a sign language to communicate with the spirit world.
Art - wet on wet paintings and block crayon drawings are taught to young children because the work they produce is very much like the spirit world that Steiner believed the children just came from. As a child ages, they are allowed to put lines into their work, to represent the fact that they are growing into this world of hard lines and straight edges.
Additionally, here are some other important beliefs of Waldorf education that they don't tell you about:
Bullying- Waldorf educators believe that when children are bullied, or are bullying someone, it is because they are working through issues from previous lives. Therefore they belief it is important to leave bullies and the ones they are bullying alone or else their incarnation into this body will not be complete.
Four Temperaments- Children are broken into 4 temperaments choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. The temperament a child is decided when they first enter the school and dictates how the teacher interacts with them. Everything, from where they sit in the room, what questions are asked of them, and what kind of work they receive are all based on this label.
Technology and academics- Waldorf educators believe that a materialistic spirit named Ahriman, who alienates the human being from his spiritual roots, inhabits technological things like TVs, and computers. Although primarily seen as a negative figure in Anthroposophy (The religion that Waldorf education is based on), Ahriman does have positive contributions. One of these is to bring about intellectual development. This is why Waldorf educators believe it is important to keep children away from away from early intellectual endeavors. They believe that when a child’s intellect develops too quickly by their standards, their soul is hardened by Ahriman.
I'm sure other posters will try to tell you that everything I wrote is untrue. So don't take it all from me. Do your own research. Here are some links to get you started. I would put more, but YA only allows 10 links. Contact me privately if you want more links.