Farewell, Württemberg

And to Its Waldorf School

The following is adapted from the Waldorf Watch News:

September 12, 2019



A few days ago, one of Germany's largest newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung, published an article about Waldorf education, "Waldorf hat den Charakter einer Sekte" {Waldorf Has the Character of a Sect}. Now an English translation has been posted at the Waldorf Critics discussion site. [See https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/32157.] Rudolf Steiner was a German nationalist, born in Austria. Germany is the heart of the Anthroposophical world; there are more Waldorf schools in Germany than in any other country. For Waldorf schools, bad press in Germany is very bad news indeed.

The article largely consists of reminiscences offered by Nicholas Williams, who attended a German Waldorf school as a student and later taught in three German Waldorf schools. Here are excerpts from the translation. (Andre Sebastiani posted the translation, for which he deserves full credit. I have made a few editorial adjustments in the translation, and I have added a few footnotes. — R.R.)

The architecture of a Waldorf school itself is special, as a glance at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School in Stuttgart shows.

Williams attended another Waldorf school, but the architectural style was similar. (Photo: dpa)

[Note the framed portrait of Rudolf Steiner at the top of the stairs.]

"Waldorf hat den Charakter einer Sekte"

[By] Bernd Kramer

Waldorf schools are celebrating their 100th birthday and critical statements about the pedagogy devised by the clairvoyant and occultist Rudolf Steiner in a quick process are rarely heard these days ... Nicholas Williams, born in 1981, knows the inside view well. He was Waldorf teacher in Baden-Württemberg — and he has since turned his back on the school...

[Statements by Nicholas Williams:]

My mother was a teacher at a Waldorf school; I graduated from Waldorf and later taught at three Waldorf schools myself. What I eventually experienced disturbed me: Things in the Waldorf schools are much more esoteric than I ever thought they would be. Waldorf has the character of a cult, and now I am convinced that Waldorf does damage day after day. Almost every Waldorf school has a hard core of believers who treat Rudolf Steiner like the founder of a religion [1].

I don't mean to say that everything Waldorf schools do is bullshit. Theatre projects, art, and horticulture are good, but that would also be possible in state schools, without all the ideological ballast. And, of course, Waldorf schools have some faculty members who are inspired by teaching young people and who are incredibly well-educated, well-read, and gifted as teachers. I have learned a lot from these people and benefited from them. But the great work they do is not because of Anthroposophy, but despite it...

I loved [being a Waldorf student]. The school had something slightly mysterious about it. It starts with the building: the twisty architecture, the slightly different shapes, the classrooms painted in different colors [2]. The school celebrated festivals [like Michaelmas]. These are distinguished by beautiful aromas, colors, and impressions [3].

[But] it was a bit strange for me as a student when a teacher asked each student in turn for our exact birthdates and hour of birth in order to make astrological calculations [4]...

When I finished my teacher training about ten years ago...[I had a chance to substitute for] my mother at her Waldorf school for a few weeks. I had very good memories of my schooldays and was looking forward to seeing some of my old teachers again ... I didn't experience much esotericism [among teachers at that Waldorf school]. The only strange thing for me was that debates among the teachers would end with someone quoting Rudolf Steiner [5]...

After I earned my doctorate, an acquaintance pointed out to me that teachers were urgently needed at her Waldorf school. I thought: Why not? I already had a little Waldorf experience and I was unsure whether I really wanted to join the state school system. It was at this [Waldorf] school that I really noticed what weird organizations Waldorf schools are.

I soon was a participant in so-called child conferences. In these, ten to fifteen Waldorf teachers sat together and discussed at length what might be going on with a particular child. One student, for example, was described as having blonde hair and brown eyes, which created an inner tension in her [6]... Another case involved a child who was a little jittery. In the course of the conversation, a colleague reached a conclusion: "This child is so restless because she did not have sufficient time receiving therapy from the angels between her last two incarnations." [7] Educational diagnoses at Waldorf are based on such a thing! Nobody had a serious therapeutic qualification at the school. This also applies to the pedagogical qualifications of the teaching staff as a whole: About half of the colleagues I met at Waldorf schools had neither completed a course of study nor did they possess any other state-recognised qualifications.

Nobody contradicted the assumptions made in the child conferences. There is an informal hierarchy at a Waldorf school, with those who are particularly devoted to Anthroposophy setting the tone [8]...

I quickly decided to do an internship at a state school after all. I did this for 13 months, then I had to drop out for health reasons. Afterwards, I took a post at a third Waldorf school ... [T]his school had a reputation for being less esoteric, and I was only supposed to teach in the upper school.

Nevertheless, the attempt went wrong. A colleague from my internship changed to this Waldorf school with me, and we were both completely perplexed when, at the beginning of the school year, we had to recite aloud a weekly saying from Rudolf Steiner's CALENDAR OF THE SOUL [9] in unison with the rest of the teaching staff. We were supposed to welcome the children with this. The spirit of the world, it strives on, revives in self-knowledge; and creates from the eclipse of the soul a fruit of the will. [10] Something like that. Rudolf Steiner considered himself not only a universal scholar, but also a poet before the Lord. I found it more of an embarrassment — my colleague and I were really physically uncomfortable, that's how cult-like this school seemed. But Anthroposophists [on the faculty] believe such words have a magical effect on children. Like magic spells. [11]

It soon became clear that Waldorf teaching would not be a fresh start for me. That's why I left that school late last year. Now, I work in research and adult education. From my point of view, a critical look at Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophy is certainly in order. If quotations from the Guru were used to start a debate but do not end it, and if science and religion were not mixed up with each other, I would welcome the debate. But I did not experience anything of the sort at Waldorf schools.

[9/12/19 https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/100-jahre-waldorfschule-erfahrung-kritik-1.4588339 This article originally appeared on September 7.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?".

[2] Many Waldorf schools are built in accordance with Rudolf Steiner's architectural guidelines, and the classrooms are usually painted according to Steiner's indications. [See "organic architecture" and "colors" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

[3] See "Festivals" on the page "Magical Arts".

[4] Astrology — including the use of horoscopes — is woven into Anthroposophical belief and practice. [See "Astrology" and "Horoscopes".]

[5] Among Steiner's followers, his word is almost always final. Steiner is revered as a great spiritual master. [See, e.g., "Guru".]

[6] Blond kids are considered highly evolved, but this should be reflected in blue eyes. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Racism".]

[7] Reincarnation is a key Anthroposophical tenet. Between lives on the physical plane, Anthroposophists believe, we live among angels and other spirits in the "higher worlds." [See "Reincarnation" and "Higher Worlds".]

[8] Concerning the internal organization of a typical Waldorf school, see the Appendix to "Faculty Meetings".

[9] This is a collection of spiritual verses or incantations, written by Steiner, corresponding to the changing seasons of the year. There is one verse for each week of the year.

[10] Perhaps this is a reference to the verse for the 24th week of the year: Unceasingly itself creating/ Soul life becomes aware of self;/ The cosmic spirit, striving on,/ Renews itself by self-cognition,/ And from the darkness of the soul/ Creates the fruit of self-engendered will.

[11] Such recitations are common in Waldorf schools. Indeed, the Waldorf school day usually begins with teachers and students reciting, in unison, prayers written by Steiner. [See "Prayers".]

— R.R.