Here's the Answer
To the Question
What Are Waldorf Schools?
Waldorf or Steiner schools operate in accordance with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school in 1919. Steiner was an occultist who claimed to have precise knowledge of the spirit realm thanks to his "exact clairvoyance." He laid out his spiritual "discoveries" in such books as OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. He called his body of teachings "Anthroposophy," a word (pronounced an-throw-POS-o-fee) meaning knowledge or wisdom of the human being. Steiner claimed that Anthroposophy is a science, although in fact it is a religion involving prayers, meditations, reverential practices, and spiritual observances. 
Waldorf faculties usually acknowledge that their educational approach arises from Anthroposophy, but they usually deny that they teach Anthroposophical doctrines to their students. In a restricted sense, this may be true in many cases. But in a larger sense, it is false , and we have Steiner’s word for it. Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said:
“You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way [in a Waldorf school] because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” 
Since Anthroposophists believe that their doctrines are the great, universal Truth underlying all other knowledge, they think that the presence of Anthroposophy is “justified” at virtually every point in every subject studied. Devout Anthroposophical teachers may be circumspect about it, bringing their beliefs into Waldorf classrooms subtly, covertly — but they bring them.
Although Steiner himself sometimes said — especially when speaking in public — that Waldorf schools do not teach Anthroposophy to the students, he sometimes said just the opposite in private, when speaking with Waldorf teachers. Thus, for instance, he once chided a Waldorf teacher for failing to frame Anthroposophy in a form that young students could grasp:
“The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” 
Giving Waldorf teachers a “directive” to bring Anthroposophy down to a child’s level is, of course, quite different from directing Waldorf teachers to leave Anthroposophy out of the classroom. Despite denials, Waldorf schools certainly do try to teach the kids Anthroposophy or at least to shepherd them toward it.
Not all Waldorf teachers are deeply committed, uncompromising Anthroposophists, but Steiner said that they all should be:
“As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
Indeed, one of the most important facts about Waldorf schools is that they are meant to spread Anthroposophy:
“One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Waldorf education is meant to usher students toward true spiritual life, which is inherently Anthroposophical:
“As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” 
Waldorf teachers serve as priests in a religion that recognizes many spiritual powers or gods (plural, gods: Anthroposophy is polytheistic). The goal of Waldorf schooling is not so much to educate children as to save humanity by leading it to Anthroposophy. Waldorf teachers consider themselves to be on a holy mission:
◊ "The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life." 
◊ “We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds ... Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work.” 
◊ “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” 
In sum, the goals of Waldorf schooling are inseparable from the goals of Anthroposophy, although Waldorf teachers generally deny this, for fear of a public backlash:
“[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." 
What is Anthroposophy? It is a religion:
"[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." 
"It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." 
"Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious." 
Steiner wasn't concerned that the history class was religious; he worried that outsiders might think it was excessively religious. That there will be some religious content in a Waldorf class goes without saying. Waldorf schools, you see, are religious institutions, with "a religious element" introduced into "every subject." And the religion the schools champion is Anthroposophy.
Hence Steiner was able to say to Waldorf students:
“[D]o you know where your teachers get all the strength and ability they need so that they can teach you to grow up to be good and capable people? They get it from the Christ.” 
Take care when Steiner and his followers refer to "Christ." They do not mean the Son of God worshipped in regular Christian churches; they mean the Sun God, the divinity of the Sun known in other faiths by such names as Hu and Apollo.  This need not detain us at this moment, however. The key point for us now is to recognize Steiner's admission that Waldorf teachers are true believers; they believe that they draw their authority from a god. Their work as Waldorf teachers is religious. Even when encouraging their students to love beauty, their purpose is fundamentally religious.
“We must, in our lessons, see to it that the children experience the beautiful, artistic, and aesthetic conception of the world; and their ideas and mental pictures should be permeated by a religious/moral feeling." 
So, to wrap this up: Waldorf schools are covert religious institutions. They exist to spread the religion created by Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophy. They go about this task cautiously, secretively — but they go about it. Sending a child to a Waldorf school means sending her/him to an institution where many, if not all, of the teachers are true-believing Anthroposophists who would like to lead the child and the child's family toward the "true spiritual life" — that is, spiritual life as understood in Anthroposophy.
Footnotes for the Foregoing Sections
(Scroll Down to Find Further Sections)
 See, e.g., “Sneaking It In”.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.
 Rudolf Steiner, ibid., pp. 402-403.
 Rudolf Steiner, ibid., p. 118.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.
 Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 24.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 33.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
The worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters.
Essentially a cathedral, it serves the role of mother church
for the Anthroposophical movement.
[Public domain photo, downloaded December, 2015.]
WHAT ACTUALLY GOES ON
"[T]he world from which the soul descends [at birth] has no spatial forms or lines, [but] it does have color intensities, color qualities ... [It] is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.” — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Magical Arts".]
Steiner was quite clear about the importance of Anthroposophy for Waldorf schools:
“It is obvious that knowledge of the human being must be the basis for a teacher's work; that being so, teachers must acquire this knowledge for themselves, and the natural thing will be that they acquire it through Anthroposophy. If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
Steiner's followers today still base Waldorf schooling on Anthroposophy. Here is the description of a course offered by Rudolf Steiner College, a training center for Waldorf teachers: "The Philosophical Foundations of Waldorf Education (7.5 credits). Waldorf education is based on Anthroposophy, a transpersonal and phenomenological world-view [sic]. It is necessary for the Waldorf educator to grasp this view of the human being because Waldorf pedagogy arises directly from this understanding. The curriculum and methods arise from an understanding of this ontology." — Rudolf Steiner College 2011-2012 Catalogue.
To examine OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE in some detail,
To consider how the Anthroposophical "view of the human being"
suffuses Waldorf schooling, see "Oh Humanity: The Key to Waldorf".
What Anthroposophists Believe, in Brief
The Anthroposophists on a Waldorf faculty believe that human evolution began during a period called Old Saturn. In the diagram shown here, Old Saturn is represented by the sphere on the upper left.* Following life on Old Saturn, we evolved on Old Sun (the second sphere from the left) and then Old Moon (the third sphere), becoming more densely physical as we proceeded. Each of these phases was a long developmental period during which the entire solar system manifested in a new, more evolved form. We are now in an intensely physical phase called Present Earth (the fourth sphere).
The main spheres in this sequence — numbers one through seven — are the ones that constitute a large V. But hanging below Present Earth is a phase that Anthroposophists generally do not like to discuss — it is the dreadful Eighth Sphere, a place or phase analogous to Hell. [See "Sphere 8".]
In the future, those humans who do not descend to the Eighth Sphere will move upward to Future Jupiter (the fifth sphere), then Future Venus (the sixth sphere), and finally Future Vulcan (the seventh sphere). These virtuous humans (white souls, chiefly Anthroposophists) will become less and less physical — and more and more spiritual — at each stage. [See "Future Stages".]
For Rudolf Steiner's followers, the things I am describing are gospel; they comprise the history of humanity as described by their guru. [See "Guru".] Following our life on Future Vulcan, we will continue evolving through five additional phases, but these will be so wondrous that even Steiner himself could scarcely describe them. Consequently they, like the Eighth Sphere, are usually omitted from Anthroposophical accounts.
The entire course of our evolution is guided by numerous good gods as well as good magicians and spiritual sages, people like Christian Rosenkreutz and other members of the White Lodge. [See "White Lodge".] But our evolution is opposed by the evil gods, black magicians, and other malefactors. Our ultimate victory in this saga is not guaranteed, but Anthroposophists believe it will come if we accept Steiner's teachings and act upon them. Humans are so beloved of the gods that, indeed, the entire universe was created for our benefit, and — indeed! — the gods actually worship us: We are their religion.
When we attain our ultimate fulfillment, we will become God the Father.
Let that sink in.
Waldorf teachers rarely explain such matters explicitly to their students or even to the parents of their students, but this is what they believe, and this belief system colors all their actions. They don't care very much about ordinary education — they see themselves as priests shepherding young souls toward evolutionary perfection. Among other things, this means helping students fulfill their karmas. It also means lovingly aiding brown, red, yellow, and black students to improve spiritually so that in future incarnations they may return as members of higher (whiter) races. This is what Steiner taught.
* Old Saturn was not the Saturn we see in the sky today; Old Saturn was the first incarnation of the entire solar system. The Saturn we see in the sky today is a remnant of Old Saturn, Steiner taught — Saturn is a planet that preserves some of the essence of the first incarnation of the solar system.
Old Sun was the second incarnation of the solar system. Old Moon was the third. And so on.
(Repeating Some Key Points
While Adding Some New Ones)
When speaking in public, Rudolf Steiner often claimed that Waldorf schools are not meant to teach Anthroposophy to the students. He said, for instance,
“We are not interested in imposing our ‘dogmas,’ our principles, or the content of our world-view on young people ... We are striving to include in our instructional methods a way of dealing with individual souls that can originate in a living spiritual science.” 
In one sense, this is true enough. The intellectual content or “dogmas” of Anthroposophy may not usually be taught, in explicit declarations, to students at Waldorf schools. But in another sense, Steiner’s claim hinges on a distinction without a difference. If Waldorf pedagogy arises from “a living spiritual science” (i.e., vibrant, active Anthroposophy), then the “individual souls” of the students are continually being worked upon by Anthroposophy. The students may not learn the terminology of Anthroposophy, but they will likely absorb Anthroposophy’s day-after-day, class-after-class effects.  Indeed, this is the purpose implicit in Steiner's statement.
Steiner came close to saying as much, on a different occasion, when he explained “[W]e believe that spiritual science differs from any other science in filling the entire person.... ” 
A little set of logical deductions: a) If children are to be worked upon by living spiritual science (Anthroposophy), and if spiritual science fills the whole person, then the children will be filled by spiritual science. b) If students will be filled with spiritual science (Anthroposophy), then a clear function of Waldorf education is to spread Anthroposophy. The spreading can occur by pouring spiritual science into the students (with or without explicating the dogmas), or by arousing parents’ interest in the schools (perhaps explicating a few dogmas, probably a little at a time), or both. Remember what Steiner said:
“One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one [i.e., one of the most important functions of the school was to spread Anthroposophy]. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” 
Waldorf students are not "taught" Anthroposophy, perhaps; but they are "filled" with it. A distinction without a practical difference.
Steiner was reasonably candid about the importance of Anthroposophy to Waldorf schools.
“The anthroposophical movement is the basis of the Waldorf School movement.” 
Still, he continued to maintain that Waldorfs don’t teach Anthroposophy.
“[W]e had to create our curricula and educational goals on the basis of a true understanding of the human being, which can only grow out of the fertile ground of anthroposophy. Then we would have a universally human school, not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination.... ” 
It is impossible to know whether Steiner believed his own statements, but we can usually understand his meaning. In this case, his position was that Anthroposophy is not a philosophy or denomination. It is spiritual science. It is objective truth. It represents “true understanding.” Thus, Steiner could argue that a Waldorf is “not a school based on a particular philosophy or denomination,” because he defined Anthroposophy as being neither of these things. But whatever label we put on it, Anthroposophy is the basis of Waldorf education, and the beliefs or "findings" of Anthroposophy are often shockingly esoteric, occult, or simply bizarre.
Steiner himself sometimes undercut his claim that Anthroposophical dogma is not taught at Waldorf schools. As we have seen previously (some points bear repeating), he once admonished a Waldorf teacher in these words:
"The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level." 
Note that Steiner did not say that the teacher had erred in presenting Anthroposophy in class; he only said that the teacher had not presented Anthroposophy in a form the students could grasp.
The reality is that Anthroposophy is presented in Waldorf classes, usually in disguised form, but sometimes openly. And Waldorf students should learn not to complain about this.
“You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth ... Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” 
Since Steiner promoted Anthroposophy as the key to human wisdom, he was here effectively acknowledging that Anthroposophy will pervade every subject in the Waldorf curriculum. When will Anthroposophy be “called for by the material”? Almost always.
Footnotes for "Discomfort"
 RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 26.
 In an account of my own experiences as a Waldorf student, I put it like this: “Imagine being educated by a group of dedicated but secretive Catholics or Communists or Mormons or Fascists — or secretive members of any ideological group: For year after year, you are taught to think and speak and act in accordance with the group's ideology, but you are never told precisely what that ideology i, and you are never shown any of its central texts. That's what going to Waldorf was like.” I liken the process to brainwashing. [See “I Went to Waldorf”.]
 RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 79.
 Ibid., p.156. (I am intentionally repeating this quotation.)
 Ibid., p.162.
 Ibid., p.186.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 402-403.
 Ibid., p. 495.
The following statement is from a Waldorf school's website: "Steiner's philosophy, which he named Anthroposophy, can be applied to all walks of life and provides guiding principles for [our] teachers' work. It is important to note, however, that Anthroposophy itself is not taught to the children." [10-9-2010, http://www.michaelhouseschool.com/rudolf_%20steiner.htm.]
This disclaimer, phrased one way or another, is made almost universally by Waldorf and Steiner schools. We base our work on Anthroposophy, but we don't teach Anthroposophy to the kids. How reassuring do you find this? Consider an analogy. Imagine that a school says "All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children." Would you be reassured? Would you send your child there?
Teach the Kids Anthroposophy
There's something else we need to add, concerning the analogy we have just seen. The truth is that what Waldorf schools actually say, implicitly, is this: "All of our methods are based on voodoo. And we do teach voodoo to the children (sometimes, anyway)."
Consider the following.
Speaking to Waldorf teachers about optional Anthroposophical religious instruction offered to students, 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.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 46.
The crucial point to grasp, here, is that Steiner contradicted his professed intentions and explicitly directed Waldorf teachers to inculcate Anthroposophical doctrines among the students. [See "Basement".] Bear in mind that such explicit Anthroposophical instruction would 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” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 46-47. 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.
Several of Steiner's books have titles containing the word "occult": AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS, OCCULT HISTORY, and the like. To many people, this must seem extremely strange, and perhaps frightening. “Occult” is a worrisome word, even if we use it precisely as Steiner intended — that is, referring to truth or knowledge that is hidden.  Basic to the Waldorf worldview is the notion that most real knowledge is hidden, and it can be discovered only through the process of occult initiation, which involves developing powers of "exact" clairvoyance. We might pause over this proposition. Do you agree that we live in a universe populated by vast numbers of mysterious gods? Do you agree that the gods have hidden from us precisely the knowledge that we need? And do you agree that only clairvoyant initiates such as Rudolf Steiner can make this knowledge known? If you decide to associate yourself with a Waldorf school, you need to agree to all these strange concepts.
Steiner unashamedly identified himself and his followers as occultists. Bear in mind, the people who, by and large, run Waldorf schools today are Steiner's followers. Here are a few of Steiner's statements affirming occultism:
◊ “You see, if we want to progress in occultism, we must do many things that run contrary to the ordinary course of events.” 
◊ “In occultism, we learn to grasp life more earnestly, we learn to perceive that the things which are not palpable, which cannot be observed by the senses, are still a reality.” 
◊ “In occultism, we can continue the sentence, ‘Of the Tree of Life man shall not eat’, by adding the words, ‘and the Spirit of Matter he shall not hear.’" 
◊ “[I]n occultism we call the Moon the ‘Cosmos of Wisdom’ and the Earth the ‘Cosmos of Love.’" 
◊ “Now the spiritual beings who are given off from the Second Hierarchy and sink themselves into the kingdoms of Nature, are those beings whom in occultism, we designate as the Group-souls of the plants, the animals — the Group-souls in the single entities.” 
◊ “In occultism, we distinguish also the state of warmth which is not simply a state of matter in vibration, but a fourth substantial state.” 
◊ “In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions, in so far [sic] as by actions we understand everything which proceeds from any kind of activity connected with his hands; secondly speech and thirdly thoughts. Everything which in this sense he accomplishes with his hands brings about its karmic results in his next earthly existence.” 
Footnotes for "Occultism"
"Occult means 'hidden' or 'mysterious ... It ceases to be 'occult,' however, once one has mastered it." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 2.
 Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990) p. 88.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 249.
 Rudolf Steiner, CHRIST AND THE HUMAN SOUL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2008), p. 63.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), p. 95.
 Rudolf Steiner, COMPILED LECTURES BY RUDOLF STEINER (Health Research Books, 2007), p. 34.
Note that Health Research Books is not an Anthroposophical publisher, but it offers various Anthroposophical texts, among a wide array of books espousing alternative visions. Approaching Anthroposophy on a tangent is sometimes helpful — there may be less intentional obfuscation and deception. It is always advisable, however, to proceed to the offerings of true Anthroposophical publishers — such as Rudolf Steiner Press and Anthroposophic Press — to be sure you are receiving the real lowdown.
Concerning the hierarchies of spiritual beings or gods, you might consult THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1928). A sample:
"Other Beings, however, were also present in a certain way, in the former solar system, of which ours is the successor. But these Beings did not rise so high as the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; they stopped on lower Stages, they had come over in a condition when they still had to pass through a certain development, before they could be creatively active, before they could offer sacrifice. These Beings are those of the Second threefold Hierarchy ...The Beings of the Second threefold Hierarchy are: the Kyriotetes or Dominions or Spirits of Wisdom; then the so-called Mights, Dynamis (or, as Dionysius, the Areopagite, and after him the Teachers of the West call them, Virtutes, Virtues), or Spirits of Motion, and the Spirits of Form, who are also called by the Teachers of the West — Potentates, which mean Powers." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES, lecture 5, GA 110.
Concerning group souls of animals, plants, and even minerals, you might consult THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1982). A sample:
"We know that man is that being in our cycle of evolution who has an individual ego here on the physical plane — at least during his waking life. We know further that the beings which we call animals are so conditioned that — speaking loosely — similarly-formed animals have a group soul or group ego which is in the so-called astral world. Further, the beings which we call plants have a dreamless sleeping consciousness for the physical world here but they have group egos which dwell in the lower parts of the devachanic world; and, finally, the stones, the minerals, have their group egos in the higher parts of Devachan. One who moves clairvoyantly in the astral and devachanic worlds has intercourse there with the group souls of the animals, plants and minerals in the same way as here in the physical world he has intercourse during the day with other human souls or egos." — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS ON MAN, lecture 10, GA 102.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1973), p. 98.
 Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 17, GA 93a.
Also see the page
What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education but also attempted to lure students into occultism: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there?
We can go a step further and reframe the question like this: What if a Waldorf school provided an excellent education and also attempted to lure students into occultism but frequently failed in this attempt: Would you feel comfortable sending your child there? Would you be willing to gamble that your child would be one of the fortunate students who were unharmed?
The only safe Waldorf schools would be ones that completely renounced the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. But then they wouldn't be Waldorf schools.
Surely the saddest thing about the Waldorf movement is that it consists of so many good people who work to promote so many good things. A nurturing environment! Yes! Outdoor play! Yes! Wholesome snacks! Yes! Art! Yes! Personal attention! Yes! Nature, organic foods, spiritual aspiration, loving kindness, reverence, sweetness, beauty... Yes, yes, yes!
There is so much goodness within the Waldorf movement. And yet the movement is fatally flawed. It is based on Rudolf Steiner’s deeply irrational occult doctrines.
Learning that Waldorf education is hollow and destructive takes a long time, usually. Most of the people who are now prominent critics of Waldorf schooling were once deeply involved in the Waldorf movement, deeply committed to it.* But a day of realization came for each one. They realized, one by one, that they had been lied to, misled, manipulated, cheated. A day came when truth shone through the mists of Waldorf occultism. A day came when they understood that Steiner and his followers are occultists. (“In occultism we differentiate in man firstly his actions...” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM, lecture 17, GA 93a. In occultism we.) A day came when they realized the full horror of Steiner’s pledge that “Anthroposophy will be in the school.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.
Waldorf schools can be inspiring — in them you find art, and reverence, and kindliness, and high ideals. So it is easy to get swept away. Only, later, you may penetrate to the truth. Waldorf education is rooted in occultism. “In occultism we...” — Rudolf Steiner.
The sad truth is that, no matter how high the aspirations, any movement rooted in occultism is erroneous, flawed, false. It poses grave dangers. It leads us away from reason, and reality, and truth.
* I can’t list them all; I don't know them all. But here are a few names: Dan Dugan, Diana Winters, Steve Galliford, Maura Kwaten, Margaret Sachs, Pete Karaiskos, Debra Snell, Grégoire Perra, and — what’s his name? — oh, yes, Roger Rawlings. And others... A growing list of others who have staggered away from the Waldorf movement, wounded but finally aware.
"In the year 1907 Rudolf Steiner published the collection OCCULT SEALS AND COLUMNS ... [T]he seven Seals and Columns decorated the Lecture Hall at the Congress of European Sections of the Theosophical Society, held in 1907 in Munich, where Rudolf Steiner and his pupils were responsible for the arrangements ... The designs of the seven Columns were afterwards reproduced in fully plastic form in the great wooden pillars supporting the large dome of the first Goetheanum [the Anthroposophical headquarters]." — George Adams, note in Rudolf Steiner's VERSES AND MEDITATIONS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), pp. 227-228.
Discussing this seal, Steiner said:
“In earlier times, men also had group souls [i.e., shared souls] ... These group souls were originally in the astral world and then descended to live in the physical body. When one investigates the original human group souls in the astral world, one finds four species from which humans have sprung. Were one to compare these four kinds of beings with the group souls that belong to the present-day animal species, one would find that one of the four is comparable to the lion, another to the eagle, a third to the cow, and a fourth to the man of ancient times before his ego had descended. Thus, in the second picture, in the apocalyptic animals, lion, eagle, cow and man, we are shown an evolutionary stage of mankind.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), p. 52. [See "Four Group Souls".]
"Rudolf Steiner designed seven columns. Each column was related to one of the traditional seven planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn) and to the corresponding type of metal (gold, silver, iron, mercury, tin, copper, lead). The seven different capitals of the columns [bore] two-dimensional emblems [of the planets] ... The same sequence was also represented in [bas] relief in seven different types of metal ... [They] can be regarded as pictorial or sculptural representations of the types of spiritual influence the planets exert on the earth." — H. van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 93.
Depictions of the seals and columns can be found is books such as the following:
[Anthroposophic Press in 1972.]
[Health Research Books, 1969.]
[Mercury Arts Publications, 1987.]
While emblems of the sort we have been discussing are openly displayed in various Anthroposophical buildings, they are unlikely to be prominent in most Waldorf schools — they are too overtly occult. Other mystical symbols, however, are frequently used in Waldorf schools. Among these are the decorations that are often hung from Christmas trees erected in the schools. These symbols are shown on the cover of the following Steiner text, published by the Anthroposophic Press in 1967:
According to Waldorf belief, these emblems have the following meanings: The pentagram (shown at the top) is the symbol of man; below that is the Tao, symbolizing divinity as apprehended on Atlantis; then the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and end) bracketing Tarok, symbolizing ancient Egyptian occult knowledge; then the triangle, symbolizing man's three spiritual members; and finally the square, representing the fourfold nature of man. [See "Christmas".]
In addition to creating a form of education based on his occult doctrines, Rudolf Steiner also created a form of medicine — "Anthroposophic medicine" — based on those doctrines. Anthroposophic medicine — which by mainstream standards is little better than quackery — is often practiced in and around Waldorf schools. This is, in itself, a reason to be leery of the Waldorf movement.
Medicine is a complex subject. Delving into it deeply, here, would take us far from our central subject, which is the nature of Waldorf education. You can get an inkling, however, by pausing over the title of a single Steiner text. THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD was published by Rudolf Steiner Press, in 1967, and distributed by the Anthroposophic Press:
If you want to explore Anthroposophical medicine, you might examine the following:
"Doctor" — a section of Spotlight on Anthroposophy
Also see items touching on
at the Waldorf Watch Annex
With Every Fiber
When speaking in public about Waldorf education, Steiner usually denied that his educational policies contain a religious agenda. Yet if we look just a little below the surface, we can find the truth. Consider the following remark made by Steiner:
“Imagine that we wanted to convey a simple religious concept — for instance, the immortality of the human soul — to a class of young children. [Steiner suggests using the analogy of a caterpillar that doesn’t die but becomes a butterfly.] ... A Waldorf teacher, an anthroposophically oriented spiritual researcher, would not feel, ‘I am the intelligent adult who makes up a story for the children’s benefit,’ but rather: ‘The eternal beings and powers [i.e., the gods], acting as the spiritual in nature, have placed before my eyes a picture of the immortal human soul, objectively, in the form of the emerging butterfly. Believing in the truth of this picture with every fibre of my being, and bringing it to my pupils through my own conviction, I will awaken in them a truly religious concept.’” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 1, pp. 49-50.
Such a teacher would not be explaining a religious concept in an objective, dispassionate manner. S/he would be fervently conveying one of his/her most deeply cherished religious beliefs. S/he would be attempting to "awaken" a similar "conviction" in the students. This is proselytizing.
To delve into particular issues and subjects
concerning Waldorf education and Anthroposophy,
you might dip into
For tips on what to look for
when visiting a Waldorf school,
For an introductory overview
of all things Waldorf,
see "Returning to Square One".
Waldorf students draw lots of geometric mandalas — Steiner found mystical meaning in geometry. He said, for instance,
“Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.” [See "Mystic Math".]
Steiner's occult universe is elaborate and highly structured. Compared to reality, however, it is simplistic.
[To delve into Steiner's "clairvoyant" descriptions of humanity's past, present, and future, see "Everything" and the essays that follow it — beginning with "Prehistory 101". One of those essays, "Matters of Form", includes a summary of human evolution as described by Steiner.]
Waldorf schools can be extremely attractive. You have to look closely to see what they actually are behind their charm and allure. They are Anthroposophical dream factories, places of fantasy, occultism, and phantasmagoria. Children raised in the warm, loving fantasy world that Waldorf schools often provide may feel comfortable and secure — but they may have little hold on reality.
Waldorf schools aim to immerse their students in an Anthroposophical atmosphere day after day, week after week, year after year, with the result that the kids' thinking, and attitudes, and perceptions, and preferences, and dreams are often deeply influenced. The kids usually don't learn Anthroposophical doctrine, chapter and verse. Yet they often come away bearing the imprint of Anthroposophy on their hearts and minds.
As a Waldorf alumnus who has canvassed other Waldorf alums, I can attest that many kids leave Waldorf schools accepting, more or less consciously, such Anthroposophical doctrines as these (the list is partial and a bit repetitive, as Waldorf beliefs tend to be). Having attended a Waldorf school myself for 11 years, I emerged firmly convinced of the following:
◊ numerous spirit beings (ranks of gods) exist, and some people can perceive them directly
◊ spiritual phenomena (archetypes) are more real than physical phenomena
◊ spirit worlds exist and can be studied objectively
◊ the natural world is a place of illusion (maya)
◊ science is faulty and unreliable
◊ modern technology is faulty and wicked
◊ the arts have spiritual — even magical — powers
◊ intellect and the brain generally do not bring us truth
◊ imagination and intuition are preferable to intellect and the brain
◊ ESP or clairvoyance is real
◊ meditative exercises improve the soul
◊ the stars and planets have esoteric powers (astrology)
◊ humans are evolving, but not in the way Darwin described
◊ various forms of "earth spirits" or "nature spirits" exist
◊ there are deep and significant differences between races
◊ the ancients were wiser than modern humans
◊ dreams can be reliable sources of knowledge
◊ it is possible to commune with spiritual beings and with the dead
◊ we are subject to karma or fate or destiny, which we make for ourselves
◊ we develop through a succession of lives (reincarnation)
◊ myths and indeed fairy tales are generally true
◊ unlike the brain, the heart does not lie
◊ Christ is extremely important, but churches generally misrepresent him
◊ some people develop special powers that give them access to hidden (occult) knowledge
◊ Waldorf schools are unique, pure refuges in a nasty, violent world
Not all Waldorf graduates hold such beliefs, and most of these beliefs are not the sole property of Anthroposophy. Still, it seems clear that Waldorf schools often draw their students toward acceptance of Anthroposophy or at least what we might call Anthroposophy-lite: spiritual yearnings, attitudes, and conceptions that are consistent with Anthroposophical teachings.
Perhaps you subscribe to some of the beliefs I've listed here. They are not all pernicious; some may indeed be true. But some are clearly false, and the overall effect of such a constellation of esoteric conceptions is to weaken a child's grip on verifiable reality, luring her or him toward a vision that, at least arguably, is unreal and unsupported. But at this moment we need not debate whether the Anthroposophical worldview is true. My point here is that Waldorf schools — despite their assurances to the contrary — actually do lead children into the nexus of Anthroposophical belief. This is, ultimately, their purpose. If we stipulate that schooling should prepare students for productive lives in what is usually called the real world, we must recognize that Waldorf schools have a different aim.
For an expanded version of this list,
see, e.g., "I Went to Waldorf".
To Tell or Not to Tell
Steiner often urged Waldorf teachers to conceal much from outsiders.
"We should be quiet about how we handle things in our school, we should maintain a kind of 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." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 10.
But on other occasions, he urged more openness:
“If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education must be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it. [paragraph break] An old German proverb says: Please wash me but don’t make me wet! Many projects are undertaken in this spirit but you must above all both speak and think truthfully. So if anyone asks you how to become a good teacher, you must say: Make Anthroposophy your foundation, for only by this means can you acquire your knowledge of the human being.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
Spiritually Safe Structures
When they can afford to do so, Anthroposophists build Waldorf schools and other Anthroposophical structures in a Steineresque style, employing organic forms and nonstandard doors and windows. If they cannot afford to erect entire buildings in this style, they often equip their buildings with fittings constructed according to Steiner's principles. They try to avoid right angles wherever possible (it is often not possible), and they are usually careful to avoid constructing peaked arches, which Steiner said are the mark of the arch-demon Ahriman.
“Anti-Christian influence is directly visible in Moorish architecture with its arches that run up into a point instead of being rounded. This is the mark of Ahriman. In architecture Ahriman worked as the Antichrist when he replaced rounded Romanesque arches with horseshoe and pointed arches.” — Rudolf Steiner, ARCHITECTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 153.
Anthroposophical architecture is expensive and difficult to build, but Steiner's followers elect it when they can. Ideally, Waldorf schools embody forms that invoke the beneficent spiritual powers while deflecting the destructive efforts of demonic powers such as Ahriman. Below is a large Waldorf school in Germany:
Words of Fervor
To really grasp what goes on in Waldorf schools, it is necessary to become familiar with Anthroposophical terminology. Below is a statement in which Steiner tells Waldorf teachers to bring religious fervor into the classroom.
The statement alludes to several Anthroposophical concepts. Let's review them quickly before handing the microphone to Steiner:
◊ "Astral bodies" and "etheric bodies" — these are invisible bodies that Anthroposophists believe children develop in addition to their physical bodies.
◊ "Animal forms" — Steiner taught that animals evolved downward from us, we did not evolve upward from them. Animals are incomplete in themselves, each animal supplying just a single tone to the music of the spheres or the music of creation.
◊ "Musical understanding" — Steiner taught that human beings are the symphonic fulfillment of the creative words spoken by the gods.
◊ The "world composer" — this is not God or Jehovah as usually understood, but the creative spirit that Steiner taught initiated evolution.
◊ "Go beyond the intellectual view" — Anthroposophists believe that the brain and its operations, such as intellect, provide no real knowledge; real knowledge comes from clairvoyance.
◊ "World mysteries" — Anthroposophists believe that real knowledge is occult, hidden, mysterious (and that they possess such knowledge, whereas you and I do not).
◊ "Education must not come from accumulated knowledge" — Steiner and his followers reject most findings of science and modern scholarship; they think they find knowledge within themselves because of their clairvoyant powers; knowledge that is merely accumulated in the brain (memory) is "dead," they think.
There are more bits of Anthroposophical doctrine in the statement, but what I have laid out here is probably sufficient. The main point is that Steiner urges Waldorf teachers to operate as priests, with religious fervor, bringing into the classroom the "streaming down from above" that is the beneficence of the gods. (Remember quotations we saw at the top of this page: "The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office." And "[W]e are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.”)
Okay. Here is Steiner reiterating the religious nature of Waldorf schooling:
“We must apply a musical understanding to the astral body. I gaze into the human being, and out toward the myriad animal forms. It’s as if we were to take a symphony where all the tones sound together in a wonderful, harmonious, and melodious whole and, over the course of time, separated each tone from the others and juxtaposed them.
“As we look out into the animal world, we have the single tones. As we look into the human astral body and what it builds in the physical and etheric bodies, we have the symphony. If we go beyond an intellectual view of the world and have enough cognitive freedom to rise to artistic knowledge, we develop an inner reverence, permeated with religious fervor, for the invisible being — the marvelous world composer— who first arranged the tones in the various animal forms, and then created the human being as a symphony of the phenomena of animal nature. This is what we must carry in our souls as teachers. If I understand my relationship to the world in this way, a true enthusiasm in the presence of world creation and world formation will flow into my descriptions of the animal forms. Every word and gesture in my teaching as a whole will be permeated by religious fervor — not just abstract concepts and natural laws.
“Such things show us that instruction and education must not come from accumulated knowledge, which is then applied, but from a living abundance. A teacher comes into the class with the fullness of this abundance, and when dealing with children, it’s as though they found before them a voice for the world mysteries pulsating and streaming through the teacher, as though merely an instrument through which the world speaks to the child.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), pp. 64-65.
Waldorf teachers bring into the classroom primarily themselves; They offer themselves to the students as superb models of human completeness. They bring not knowledge or information, as such, but their own subjective sense of occult empowerment. They present themselves as the expression of "the world" — they offer the kids "a voice for the world mysteries pulsating and streaming through the teacher." The central focus of Waldorf education is not on the child but on the self-affirming Anthroposophical teacher. The teacher, as an individual, disappears; s/he, magnified, becomes an instrument "through which the world speaks." The "mere" teacher, magnified, becomes the self-selected voice of the gods. Waldorf "education" is a closed loop of Anthroposophical self-affirmation.
The Fundamental Flaw:
The Waldorf system depends on clairvoyance. A leading Waldorf educator, Eugene Schwartz, has written the following:
“Must teachers be clairvoyant in order to be certain that they are teaching in the proper way? We may, indeed, need only the ‘clairvoyant’ faculties that we are already using without being aware that we possess them ... The teacher's faculty [of clairvoyance] must be cultivated and brought to a stage of conscious awareness on the part of the teacher.” 
Schwartz extends his theme with these words:
“Earlier in this book I spoke of the ‘everyday clairvoyance’ which allows us to perceive the activities of the ‘higher bodies’ of the human being....” 
(By "higher bodies" he means etheric bodies, astral bodies, and ego bodies — invisible parts of the human constitution; or, to speak more sensibly, fantasies.)
The idea that teachers should use clairvoyance, and that everyone has nascent clairvoyant abilities, is consistent with the emphasis Steiner put on this psychic power:
◊ “Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite for the discovery of a spiritual truth....” 
◊ “[E]xact clairvoyance...is in effect an imperative requirement of our age. Clairvoyance, which is the basis of the modern science of initiation, has always existed.” 
◊ “Along with exact clairvoyance, you must also achieve something I refer to as ideal magic.” 
The problem all this creates for the Waldorf movement is enormous. Clairvoyance is a delusion; it does not exist. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Thus, Waldorf schooling depends on a power that is a mirage, a chimera, a pipe dream. Or, to put this more plainly, there is no basis for the Waldorf approach. Waldorf depends on clairvoyance, which does not exist.
For more on these matters, see, e.g., "Exactly",
Footnotes for "The Fundamental Flaw"
 Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000), p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 34.
 Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 1, GA 99.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 27.
 Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 18.
Here is a more complete version, and an extension:
“Along with exact clairvoyance, you must also achieve something I refer to as ideal magic. This is a kind of magic that must be differentiated from the false magic practiced externally, and associated with many charlatans ... If, however, people want to enter the spiritual world — in other words, want to attain ideal magic — they must not only intensify inner thinking so that the recognize the second level of existence, but they must also free their will from its connection to the physical body.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 18-19.
Here, as usual, Steiner says that a certain mystical phenomenon — in this instance, magic — really exists, and he can tells us about it, but we must not confuse it with the false forms and reports that can be found in other quarters. [See "Magic".]
“If while on Earth you are receptive to the illumination that comes from Spiritual Science [i.e., Anthroposophy], then you are truly helping on the leadership of [the Archangel] Michael ... [T]his is the true ‘ideal magic’. It is the true ‘white magic’ as it was called in olden times....” — Rudolf Steiner, MAN’S LIFE ON EARTH AND IN THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS (Health Research, 1960), lecture 6, GA 218.
Steiner taught that the archangel Michael has spiritual authority over own historical period. [See "Michael".]
Anthroposophists aspire to be wonderfully, powerfully clairvoyant, like Steiner claimed to be. Primarily, they pursue this goal by performing spiritual meditations and exercises prescribed by Steiner, especially those given in the book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. This is the how-to guide of the Anthroposophical movement, the chief text in which Steiner told his followers how to "do" Anthroposophy. Attaining clairvoyance like Steiner's will enable them to know the hidden spiritual worlds, or so Anthroposophists believe.
Here's something to cogitate about, perhaps. Rudolf Steiner published KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT in 1904 — more than a century ago. Many people have read it and tried to the follow the directions given in it, directions on how to become clairvoyant. Now, ask yourself: Why isn't the world today aswarm with people who are clearly, demonstrably clairvoyant?
It's puzzling, no?
But bear in mind that when you step inside a Waldorf school, you will meet many individuals who (probably secretly) believe they are clairvoyant. So here's a second question we all need to address: Do you want such people to educate your children?
To explore the contents of
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT,
see "Knowing the Worlds".
We should return to the matter I alluded to in the section "To Tell or Not to Tell", above. The matter I have in mind is something called telling the truth.
Anthroposophists — including Waldorf teachers — often conceal their real purposes and practices. They do this for what they think is an excellent reason. A crucial doctrine of Anthroposophy is that the deepest wisdom is "mystery" wisdom — it is occult, hidden. Only initiates should have access to the "truths" of mystery wisdom; the rest of us are unequipped to handle it. [See "Inside Scoop".] Thus, Anthroposophists think they are acting properly when they withhold certain kinds of information from outsiders.
Even when dealing with "truth" that stands at a lower level than "mystery wisdom," Anthroposophists often want to withhold it. Steiner explicitly instructed Waldorf teachers to keep the general public in the dark, as when he said this:
"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...." — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 10.
A more dramatic — and shocking — example:
"Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings [i.e., some people are subhuman] ... [W]e do not want to shout that to the world. Our opposition is already large enough ... We do not want to shout such things out into the world.” Ibid., p. 650.
Steiner taught that some people are not truly human but are demons in disguise. He also said that some people stand at, or sink to, a level below the human stage of development. [See, e.g., "Secrets".]
So Waldorf faculties want to keep mum about various matters. We may see the results as dishonesty; Waldorf teachers generally see it very differently. True-believing Waldorf teachers think they are serving the Truth — that is, Anthroposophy — in all of their actions, and thus they typically deem their actions virtuous. They may even believe some of the denials and claims that they regularly make. They may believe that, truly, Anthroposophy is not a religion; and, truly, Waldorf schools do not promote Anthroposophy; and, truly, Waldorf schools foster freedom. They would be mistaken in all of this, but they would be honestly mistaken. Like Steiner, Anthroposophists often have an odd relationship with truth. Indeed, becoming an Anthroposophist requires one to detach from the truth — the real universe — and enter a fantasy realm instead. From within that fantasy realm, perception may be quite blurred. For this reason, the ultimate victims of Anthroposophy's distortion of reality are Anthroposophists themselves — they convince themselves that what is false (Anthroposophy) is true, and what is true (verifiable objective knowledge) is false. Membership in any mystical cult usually depends on willing self-deception, and such self-deception is central to Anthroposophy. [See "Fooling (Ourselves)", "Deception", and "Why? (Oh Why? Oh Why?)".]
Anthroposophists may be well-intentioned, caring, compassionate people who are entirely sincere in all that they undertake. The Anthroposophists who serve on Waldorf faculties may be especially well-intentioned, caring, and compassionate. But none of this excuses what Waldorf teachers do to youngsters. An informed adult may make a conscious decision to join a cult. But children are in no position to make such a choice, and Waldorf schools do not present them with such a choice. Instead, Waldorf schools immerse children in an Anthroposophical atmosphere, persistently and intensively. When this immersion lasts long enough, the ultimate result — whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously recognize this — is to pull children toward Anthroposophical occultism. This is what Waldorf schools are set up to do; this is the outcome Waldorf schools are designed to achieve, whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously recognize this.
Teaching the Kids Prayers
Q. If Anthroposophy is a religion, where are its churches?
A. Virtually every Anthroposophic structure is, in effect, a church — including each Waldorf school.
Here is Rudolf Steiner speaking to teachers at the first Waldorf school:
“Let us think of a prayer. The children should, when asked to learn a prayer, be urged to be in a mood of devotion. It is up to us to see to this. We must almost feel a horror if we teach the children a prayer without first establishing this mood of reverence or devotion. And they should never say a prayer without this mood.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS - Eight Lectures Given to the Teachers of the Stuttgart Waldorf School (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.
Why do Waldorf teachers teach children prayers? Because they deem themselves to serve as priests.* And Waldorf schools thus become, in effect, churches — places of devotion, reverence, and worship.
See "Schools as Churches"
* Steiner often said that Waldorf teachers are, in effect, priests. So, for instance:
"The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life ... Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, p. 23.
And what religion is practiced in Waldorf churches by Waldorf priests? Anthroposophy.
"[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 706.
“Waldorf education takes a spiritual view of what it means to be a human being, and is grounded in a path of personal development called anthroposophy, developed by Rudolf Steiner. We do not see ourselves as a religious school, however, and students are not taught any particular religious or spiritual doctrine.” — Washington Waldorf School, "WWS at a Glance", downloaded February 19, 2011.
When Waldorf faculties make such statements, they may be telling the truth — as they understand it. On other occasions, when saying things of this sort, they may be quite consciously trying to mislead the public. But let’s be charitable and assume that most such statements by Waldorf schools are sincere. Where does this leave us?
Statements of this sort arise from a number of factors. For starters, Anthroposophists almost always deny that Anthroposophy is a religion. This denial is untrue, but it provides the essential first line of defense for Waldorf schools. If Anthroposophy is not a religion, then Waldorf schools are not religious institutions even if they teach Anthroposophical doctrines to the students. But Anthroposophy actually is a religion [see “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”], so this line of defense fails.
The second level of the Waldorf defense — often invoked sincerely — is that the schools do not teach Anthroposophy to the kids, so therefore the schools do not function as not religious institutions even if Anthroposophy itself is a religion. But this denial, too, is flawed. Many Anthroposophical doctrines do indeed get imparted to Waldorf students [see “Spiritual Agenda” and "Sneaking It In"]. Generally this occurs through an indirect process of suggestion and implication, rather than through direct instruction — but it happens. If you were to observe this Waldorf class or that Waldorf class, on this day or that, you might detect little religious or esoteric content. But gradually, over time, such content makes itself felt among the students. The atmosphere in a Waldorf school is usually redolent with religious feeling, and the school year is punctuated by the celebration of religious festivals [see “Magical Arts”]. The schools may not openly profess their faith, but they enact it, and this certainly has an effect on most students, especially those who attend the schools for many years.
One more point needs to be made. Many students' parents and even junior faculty members are quite unaware of the religious nature of Waldorf schooling, at least initially. Thus, they may accept the prayers recited by Waldorf students as pretty “verses,” nothing more [see “Prayers”], and they may consider the celebration of such festivals are Michaelmas to be merely quaint seasonal festivities. But if so, they are fooling themselves. The inner circle within most Waldorf faculties is aware that virtually everything that happens at a Waldorf school has occult, spiritual significance. When Waldorf representatives deny this, we should not be taken in [see “Soul School”]. The deception and, indeed, self-deception practiced in Waldorf schools should not cloud our eyes.
Let’s return to a summary statement given by the founder of Waldorf education.
"It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.
In Passing, In Full
A note in passing: Steiner is hard to read. His use of language was far from perfect — his statements are tangled and obscure in the original German, and English translations are sometimes even worse. For this reason, I often trim Steiner's statements, aiming for clarity. But lest you think I have twisted Steiner's meaning, let's do a quick survey. I trimmed some of the quotations used earlier in "Here's the Answer". Here are some of the same statements again, this time without any excisions. I think you'll agree that I did not misrepresent Steiner or his meaning.
Here is Steiner addressing the teachers at the first Waldorf school:
"As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside. It will be impossible for us to avoid all kinds of people from outside the school who want to have a voice in school matters. As long as we do not give up any of the necessary perspective we must have in our feelings, then any concurrence from other pedagogical streams concerning what happens in the Waldorf School will cause us to be sad rather than happy. When those people working in modern pedagogy praise us, we must think there is something wrong with what we are doing. We do not need to immediately throw out anyone who praises us, but we do need to be clear that we should carefully consider that we may not be doing something properly if those working in today’s educational system praise us. That must be our basic conviction.
"To the extent that I feel in a very living way what it means to you to have devoted your entire person to work of the Waldorf School, I would like to say something more. As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling."
Addressing the same audience:
"We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds. With such a task, we must be conscious that we do not work only in the physical plane of living human beings. In the last centuries, this way of viewing work has increasingly gained such acceptance that it is virtually the only way people see it. This understanding of tasks has made teaching what it is now and what the work before us should improve. Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by ﬁrst reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work. I ask you to understand these introductory words as a kind of prayer to those powers who stand behind us with Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as we take up this task."
A statement Steiner made in a faculty meeting:
"When the school was founded, we placed great value upon creating an institution independent of the Anthroposophical Society. Logically, that corresponds quite well with having the various religious communities and the Anthroposophical Society provide religious instruction, so that the Society provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do."
Also from a faculty meeting:
"The other problem is that you are often too anthroposophical, like Mr. X. Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious. We should not allow the history class to be too religiously oriented. That is why we have a religion class. The visitors seem to have been very well-meaning people. Nevertheless, had they noticed that, they could easily have categorized the Waldorf School as being too anthroposophical and of bringing that into the classroom."
Note that the words "anthroposophical" and "religious" are virtually interchangeable in this quotation. Steiner tells a Waldorf teacher he is "too anthroposophical" and Steiner worries that visitors will think a history class is "too religious." Steiner does not tell the teacher to leave all Anthroposophy out of the classroom, he just tells him to tone it down a bit. His attitude toward the religious content of the history class is the same: He doesn't say there should be no such content, only that there shouldn't be so much of it that outsiders will become concerned. If that were to happen, the outsiders would conclude that the Waldorf school is "too anthroposophical." You see, to be too Anthroposophical is to be too religious, and to be too religious is to be too Anthroposophical. The words "anthroposophical" and "religious" are virtually interchangeable. Why? Because Anthroposophy is a religion. Steiner and his followers usually deny this. But sometimes we catch them admitting it.
Here is the full passage about goblins or gnomes:
"There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth, especially places little touched by living growths, places, for instance, in a mine which have always been of a mineral nature. If you dig into metallic or stony ground you find beings which manifest at first in remarkable fashion — it is as if something were to scatter us. They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder. The important point is that they do not fly apart into a certain number but that in their own bodily nature they become larger. Even when they reach their greatest size, they are still always small creatures in comparison with men. The enlightened man knows nothing of them. People, however, who have preserved a certain nature-sense, i.e. the old clairvoyant forces which everyone once possessed and which had to be lost with the acquisition of objective consciousness, could tell you all sorts of things about such beings. Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes, and so forth. Apart from the fact that their body is invisible, they differ essentially from man in as much as one could never reasonably attribute to them any kind of moral responsibility. What one calls moral responsibility in man is entirely lacking in them; what they do, they do automatically, and at the same time it is not at all unlike what the human intellect, intelligence, does. They possess what one calls wit in the highest degree and anyone coming into touch with them can observe good proofs of this. Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man, as every miner can tell you who has still preserved something of a healthy nature-sense — not so much the miners in coal mines as those in metal mines.
"The different members of these beings can be investigated by occult means just as in the case of man when we distinguish his members as physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego and what is to evolve from them as spirit-self, life-spirit, and spirit-man. In his present phase of development man consists essentially of the four members first named, so that we can say that his highest member is the ego or ‘I’ and the lowest is the physical body."
Here is the passage about maintaining school confidentiality. (You'll see that I actually omitted the worst part: the slapping of students.)
“Well, we certainly need to be clear that we do not have a bunch of angels at this school, but that should not stop us from pursuing our ideas and ideals. Such things should not lead us to think that we cannot reach what we have set as our goals. We must always be clear that we are pursuing the intentions set forth in the seminar. Of course, how much we cannot achieve is another question that we must particularly address from time to time. Today, we have only just begun, and all we can do is take note of how strongly social climbing has broken out.
"However, there is something else that I would ask you to be aware of. That is, that we, as the faculty — what others do with the children is a separate thing — do not attempt to bring out into the public things that really concern only our school. I have been back only a few hours, and I have heard so much gossip about who got a slap and so forth. All of that gossip is going beyond all bounds, and I really found it very disturbing. We do not really need to concern ourselves when things seep out the cracks. We certainly have thick enough skins for that. But on the other hand, we clearly do not need to help it along. We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, that is, 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. There are people who like to talk about such things because of their own desire for sensationalism. However, it poisons our entire undertaking for things to become mere gossip. This is something that is particularly true here in Stuttgart since there is so much gossip within anthroposophical circles. That gossip causes great harm, and I encounter it in the most disgusting forms. Those of us on the faculty should in no way support it.”
And here is the complete passage about people who are not really human. It is long, but it deserves to be read. It shows us a side of Anthroposophy that is usually kept well hidden.
"That little girl L.K. in the first grade must have something really very wrong inside. There is not much we can do. Such cases are increasing in which children are born with a human form, but are not really human beings in relation to their highest I [i.e., the highest human non-physical body]; instead, they are filled with beings that do not belong to the human class. Quite a number of people have been born since the [eighteen-]nineties without an I, that is, they are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon. There are quite a large number of older people going around who are actually not human beings, but are only natural; they are human beings only in regard to their form. We cannot, however, create a school for demons.
"A teacher: How is that possible?
"Cosmic error is certainly not impossible. The relationships of individuals coming into earthly existence have long been determined. There are also generations in which individuals have no desire to come into earthly existence and be connected with physicality, or immediately leave at the very beginning. In such cases, other beings that are not quite suited step in. This is something that is now quite common, that human beings go around without an I; they are actually not human beings, but have only a human form. They are beings like nature spirits, which we do not recognize as such because they go around in a human form. They are also quite different from human beings in regard to everything spiritual. They can, for example, never remember such things as sentences; they have a memory only for words, not for sentences. The riddle of life is not so simple. When such a being dies, it returns to nature from which it came. The corpse decays, but there is no real dissolution of the etheric body, and the natural being returns to nature.
"It is also possible that something like an automaton could occur. The entire human organism exists, and it might be possible to automate the brain and develop a kind of pseudomorality. I do not like to talk about such things since we have often been attacked even without them. Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings. Nevertheless, these are facts. Our culture would not be in such a decline if people felt more strongly that a number of people are going around who, because they are completely ruthless, have become something that is not human, but instead are demons in human form.
"Nevertheless, we do not want to shout that to the world. Our opposition is already large enough. Such things are really shocking to people. I caused enough shock when I needed to say that a very famous university professor, after a very short period between death and rebirth, was reincarnated as a black scientist. We do not want to shout such things out into the world."
A related consideration: Even in uncut form, these quotations are "out of context" because I have not included all the sentences that came before and after. This is always a problem when quotations from any source are offered. How much of the surrounding text should be included? Every quotation is always "out of context" unless it is presented within the entire surrounding text. But does this mean the entire paragraph, or the entire chapter, or the entire book? Only by reproducing an entire book could we completely avoid taking a quotation out of context, but clearly reproducing whole books is impractical. So, again, I invite you to check me. Go to the books from which I have drawn the quotations and decide for yourself whether I have monkeyed with Steiner's meaning. I'm confident you will find that I have presented Steiner's meaning truthfully.
[R.S. by R.R., 2015.]
Rudolf Steiner is, in several senses, an invented, mythic figure. Steiner invented this figure himself, portraying himself as a towering, clairvoyant, spiritual savant. And his followers have enlarged this already-imposing, stupendous caricature. Rudolf the man has disappeared behind multiple veils of myth-making and hagiography. Steiner is the greatest of all spiritual masters, the wisest of gurus, the most profound of philosophers, the most far-seeing of geniuses, the most polymorphous of polymaths.
Despite all his many claims on our attention, Steiner is virtually unknown to the wide world beyond the narrow bounds of Anthroposophy.
"If, as his followers claim, Rudolf Steiner is a genius in twelve fields, why do we not come across his name in colleges, in scholarly writings, and in the popular press? Experts in each of the fields in which he worked — including history, philosophy, science, art, social sciences, education, and Gospel commentary — seem equally unaware of his work ... Steiner's contributions in these fields have not been rejected so much as ignored ... As interesting as the results of Steiner's clairvoyance may be...it is the clairvoyance itself which accounts for the significance and neglect of his teachings and works. For many observers, the idea of someone tracking souls, reporting on Atlantis and on the historical function of spiritual beings such as Lucifer, Ahriman, and The Archangel Michael, tends to cast a suspicious shadow over [Steiner's contributions]." — Robert A. McDermott, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Books, Anthroposophic Press, 2007), pp. 1-5.
Steiner the man recedes within this shadow — which for his followers is not a shadow at all, but a brilliant, coruscating aura, a polychromatic searchlight-beam of transcendent illumination. But one way or another, for skeptics and for true-believing disciples, Steiner the man all but passes from sight.
For historians, of course, determining who Steiner was — as a man, as an individual human being — is important. But for the rest of us, perhaps this is not such an urgent matter. Especially if we are primarily interested in Waldorf education, then the mythic figure has far more relevance than the deceased individual behind the figure. Who is the "Steiner" in Steiner education? Who is this almost phantasmal presence who still presides within the precincts of Waldorf (or Steiner) schools? This "Steiner" is the myth, not the man; it is the accumulated store of occult preachments to which Anthroposophists, including many Waldorf teachers, still defer today.
Steiner's teachings are more important than Steiner himself. But even here we face a dilemma. Much of what Steiner said, or evidently said, is of dubious provenance. Many of the books ascribed to Steiner — including the books dealing most directly with Waldorf education — consist of transcripts of Steiner's lectures, statements, conversations, and even casual remarks. Steiner's devout followers, determined to preserve every scrap of wisdom proceeding from their great guide, made and preserved these transcrips. Are the records of Steiner's words entirely accurate? Almost certainly not. Are they mostly accurate? Possibly. Probably. The very fervor of the faithful who flocked around Steiner gives us something like a guarantee: The goal was to record Steiner's wisdom, not to distort it. Probably.
So "Rudolf Steiner" is a phantom, now; he is an idea; he is, for his disciples, an ideal. We can't see him as clearly as we might wish. We can't even know, with complete assurance, what he said, or meant to say, or was heard to say.
This is the "Rudolf Steiner" we will deal with, primarily, here at Waldorf Watch: The mythic figure. And after all, this is the "Rudolf Steiner" who counts. This is the mighty silhouette looming over Waldorf schools (Steiner schools). This is the radiant master standing at the focal point of Anthroposophical reverence. "Rudolf Steiner" is a phantom, an imagined hero, a fabulous invention. His countenance wavers within the mists; he words flitter on the shifting winds. But he is The One. He is the myth at the center of the Anthroposophical / Waldorf cosmos. He is the Waldorf / Anthroposophical Guru. And Anthroposophists today tend to embrace the words of their guru as virtual gospel, even if they do not always understand Steiner's intended meaning with complete clarity. [See "Guru".]
Don't Be Misled
Waldorf schools are spreading far and wide.
But so is misinformation about them.
The following items are from the Waldorf Watch News page.
The Actual Essence
From The Borneo Post:
The Waldorf School of the Peninsula does not lack in funds, nor is it a low performing school ... The Waldorf School subscribes to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks ... A teacher at the Waldorf school, who was formerly a computer engineer, teaches fractions by having the students cut up food.
Waldorf Watch Response:
One of the most creative things about Waldorf schools is their ability to describe themselves without mentioning their actual purposes or beliefs. The author of this story in The Borneo Post seems not to have been told about Anthroposophy; there is no reference to it in the article. This is typical of much press coverage of Waldorf schools — reporters working on deadline interview Waldorf representatives, quote or paraphrase them in good faith, and move on to the next assignment, none the wiser.
What is the actual essence of Waldorf education?
“If...we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
As for what this means in practice, there are various ways to put it. They all boil down to affirming the mystic doctrines of Anthroposophy, such as:
◊ “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers too will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information....” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.*
◊ “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” — Waldorf teacher Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.
◊ “Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 4.
◊ “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
* Cramming kids with information — that is, teaching them things — is indeed low on the list of Waldorf priorities. Look at what Easton's colleagues identify as Waldorf goals in these very passages.
Compared to Regular Schools
From the Charlotte Observer:
One morning near the end of my trip to Beijing last month, I picked up a copy of the China Daily to find this headline, "Schools that educate the whole child." It was the story of a new style of schooling that's becoming popular in China — schools that, according to the article, "emphasize interdisciplinary learning, creative thinking, and aims to develop a child into a free-spirited, morally responsible and integrated individual."
The schools, called Waldorf Schools, were based on principles developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. But to most Americans, they would look a lot like many U.S. public schools.
Waldorf Watch Response:
Don't believe everything you read. Some reporters and columnists write about Waldorf schools without possessing any real knowledge of them. And others write with the intention of misleading readers about the occult basis of Waldorf schooling. [See "Secrets" and "Occultism".]
A Waldorf school would resemble a typical American public school only if
◊ public schools began each day by having students recite, in unison, prayers written by Rudolf Steiner [see "Prayers"]
◊ the purpose of the lower grades was to slow down the development of young children [see "Thinking Cap"]
◊ the purpose in most grades was to help students incarnate their invisible bodies [see "Incarnation"]
◊ the "whole child" was considered to have invisible bodies, twelve senses, both a spirit and a soul, a karma, an astrological identity, etc. [see "Holistic Education"]
◊ computers were considered conveyances of the demon Ahriman [see "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes"]
◊ festivals having esoteric meaning were periodically staged [see "Magical Arts"]
◊ the schools' conception of freedom was distinctly Germanic and restrictive [see "Freedom"]
◊ the teachers tried to help the kids fulfill their karmas [see "Slaps"]
◊ the students were divided according to the four classical temperaments [see "Temperaments"]
◊ the kids were taught knitting in order to improve their teeth [see "Waldorf Wisdom"]
If, if, if...
Actually, any resemblance between Waldorf schools and public schools tends to be considerably less than skin-deep.
As for the "popularity" of Waldorf schools in China: Anthroposophists seek to open Waldorf schools in all countries, in order to spread Anthroposophy. But so far there are very few Waldorf schools in China, and the number of students in them is miniscule compared to other forms of education. (And it will be interesting to see what the Chinese authorities do when the religious nature of Waldorf education becomes clear to them. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"])
Here is an editorial from the news page,
posted several years after the items above:
August 5, 2020
FREED OF STEINER
The Association of Waldorf Schools in North America (AWSNA) seems to have taken a small step toward distancing themselves from Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner. At least, they have issued a statement disassociating themselves from any racist statements Steiner may have made .
Devout disciples of Steiner — a cohort that includes many leaders of Waldorf schools — generally look on him as a nearly infallible sage . For them, it is nearly unthinkable that Steiner could have been wrong about any important subject. Even entertaining such a possibility would, for them, open terrible prospects. If Steiner was wrong about one subject, perhaps he was wrong about other subjects, too. And in that case, the entire edifice of Anthroposophy — the spiritual system at the heart of the Waldorf movement — might come apart. For Steiner's followers, this would be a catastrophe. Their entire worldview, the teachings that give their lives meaning, could crumble to dust.
Outsiders are often surprised to learn what Steiner's followers believe. Here are a few examples, assertions Steiner made that his followers generally embrace as truth. Steiner claimed to be clairvoyant , and he said he could teach his followers to develop their own clairvoyant capacities . Steiner claimed that, due to his extremely high clairvoyant powers, he was able to probe the "higher worlds" above earthly existence . He likewise claimed that he could divine much of the occult lore of the nine ranks of gods who control the operations of the cosmos . Then, too, he said he could peer behind the veil of nature to understand the "nature spirits" — such as gnomes and undines — who dwell there . He could explain the workings of karma  and reincarnation . He could trace human evolution from its beginning in Old Saturn  to its future magnificence in Future Vulcan . And so on .
If Steiner was wrong about the human races, could he possibly have been wrong about some of these other matters? Or could he even (oh no!) have been wrong about all of them? What, in short, if Anthroposophy is poppycock? Whither Waldorf then?
Of course, not all Waldorf schools in existence today are run by dyed-in-the-wool, true-believing Anthroposophists. Not all Waldorf teachers embrace Steiner's occult beliefs. Some Waldorf schools already function without relying absolutely on the guidance provided by Rudolf Steiner . So it is possible (just barely) to image that the Waldorf movement could remain viable even if Waldorf leaders were someday to utterly renounce Steiner and all his works. (Don't hold your breath. Such a renunciation is not in the cards yet, and it may never be. But we can contemplate it, at least as a thought experiment.)
Would Waldorf education, wholly cleansed of Steiner's mysticism, be successful? Would Steiner-free Waldorf schools provide a good education?
The single greatest problem with Waldorf schools is that they tend to indoctrinate students in a soft form of Anthroposophy . Indeed, luring kids toward Anthroposophy is the underlying raison d'être of the Waldorf movement . Clearly, if Anthroposophy were wholly removed from Waldorf schools, then this problem would be resolved.
But an aftereffect of this problem would likely remain. Much of the Waldorf approach relies on hazy, feel-good methods . These methods are attractive, even alluring. They may be intuitively appealing to many parents, especially those with spirit-tinged countercultural leanings. But these methods are based more on wishfulness than actual knowledge of psychology, child development, or educational principles. In the ethereal Waldorf view, children are pure, innocent spirits newly arrived from the beyond. Childhood is thought to be a sort of golden interlude between a spiritual prenatal existence and pragmatic, earthly adulthood. Kids should be given plenty of free time for unstructured play. They should be raised in a warm, hazy atmosphere of art and imagination and myth. They should be shielded from the hurly-burly modern world with its whiz-bang technologies and whirring, flashing gadgetry. Children should be relieved of the need to master academic subjects or to begin absorbing the findings of modern science and scholarship. Even the study of reading, writing, and basic arithmetic should be postponed. Children should be cosseted, swaddled in soothing fantasies, and infantilized .
The Waldorf vision of childhood may feel right to many people, but whether it is right is a different matter. Waldorf teachers rarely consult the latest research about childhood education; they are rarely even aware of it . Instead, they follow a pattern of schooling set down by a mystic (who was not a professional educator) a century ago. This pattern arguably served children badly from its inception, and it almost certainly serves them worse now, in the twenty-first century. Are children raised in the Waldorf way likely to be prepared for real life in the real world? Are they likely to be ready to begin real schooling, if for any reason this became expected of them? Or are they instead starting down a path leading, at least potentially, toward woolly mysticism and otherworldly impracticality? Even those of us who share some Waldorf values (respect for nature, for instance, and love of art, and a deep concern for child welfare) might well worry for today's Waldorf students .
The problems with Waldorf schooling would certainly be alleviated if Steiner and Anthroposophy were wholly eliminated from Waldorf culture. Perhaps some Waldorf schools would then migrate toward the mainstream until they became essentially indistinguishable from other mildly "alternative" forms of education — arts-intensive charter schools, say. But what this means, really, is that Waldorf schools might become more or less okay if they ceased to be Waldorf schools.
And we should bring this discussion back into the realm of probability. Steiner and his doctrines are so fundamental to Waldorf schooling that in all probability they will remain present, to some degree, as long as Waldorf education exists as an identifiable movement. And this means that the otherworldly miasma within Waldorf walls will retain its Anthroposophical hues. Waldorf will remain a process that eases kids (and perhaps their parents) toward the occult faith promulgated by Rudolf Steiner.
The single greatest problem with Waldorf schools will probably remain the single greatest problem with Waldorf schools.
— Roger Rawlings
Footnotes for this Editorial
 See "Stepping Away from Steiner?", July 26, 2020.
 See "Guru".
 See "Exactly".
 See "Knowing the Worlds".
 See "Higher Worlds".
 See "Polytheism".
 See "Neutered Nature".
 See "Karma".
 See "Reincarnation".
 See "Old Saturn".
 See "Future Stages".
Waldorf students are rarely taught these doctrines in so many words, but they are nudged toward receptivity to such ideas, for instance in the myths they study [see "The Gods"] and the prayers they are required to recite [see "Prayers"].
 See "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".
 See "Indoctrination".
 See "Here's the Answer".
 See "Methods".
The techniques used in Waldorf schooling are based on Anthroposophical beliefs, such as belief in the incarnation of the so-called etheric body at age seven. [See "etheric body" in the The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] If Anthroposophy were removed, the ideological justification for these techniques would melt away. Whether the techniques could be justified on other grounds is, at best, moot.
 See, e.g., "childhood" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia. Also see such pages as "Thinking Cap", "Incarnation", "Glory", "The Waldorf Curriculum", "Academic Standards at Waldorf", and "Play - Isn't Slow Learning Best?"
Children certainly should be protected and treated gently. But we may inflict great harm even while we try to be kind. The purpose of education is to help children learn to apprehend, and function in, reality. Children love make-believe and fantasy, and satisfying their desire for these is fine — up to a point. But we should not lead children into labyrinths of fantasy from which they may not be able to escape. The fantasies promoted in Waldorf schools tend to be reiterated and elaborated year by year until they become a full worldview: the dreamscape of Anthroposophy. Hypothetical Steiner-free Waldorf schools would no longer lead children toward Anthroposophy per se, but they might well continue to lead children into mystical and metaphysical confusions that could hamper them throughout life.
Rudolf Steiner downplayed the importance of the brain and brainwork. [See "Steiner's Specific".] The educational system he created is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-rational. [See, e.g., "Reality and Fantasy".] If future "cleansed" Waldorf schools were to continue embodying these biases, they might continue to hurt students in the same ways Waldorf schools arguably hurt them now. [See, e.g., "Who Gets Hurt?" and "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".]
 See "Teacher Training".
 For a defense of Waldorf schools — and a rebuttal — see "Into the World".
We have considered, above, what Waldorf schools might be like if they cut their ties to Steiner.
But we need to ask whether followers of Steiner are ever likely to take such a step.
Won't their devotion to Steiner prevent them from contemplating anything of the sort?
Here is a message, posted by historian Peter Staudenmaier
at the Waldorf Critics discussion page, that bears on this question:
We've talked a lot in recent weeks about organizational aspects of anthroposophist institutions, and I thought some here might be interested in a recent article that examines this question in depth. It is co-authored by historian of religion Olav Hammer, who has produced excellent critical scholarship on Steiner's movement, and anthroposophical insider Karen Swartz. The interplay between their perspectives yields an especially useful analysis. The article is Karen Swartz and Olav Hammer, "The Show Must Go On: Corporate Narratives in the Anthroposophical Society" International Journal for the Study of New Religions 11 (2020), 91-117.
The chief focus of the article is on Goetheanum fundraising campaigns and annual appeals to donors from 1999 to 2019. It offers illuminating background on the Anthroposophical Society's chronic financial problems. One of the article's main arguments is that the organization cares much more about preserving Steiner's legacy than "such mundane concerns as a balanced budget." (113) As Swartz and Hammer note, "A state of permanent (financial) crisis seems to lie inherent in the organization" (110). They also observe that "The organization is in so many ways connected to the figure of its founder that his intentions (whether real or imputed) need to be respected at nearly any cost." (108) This dynamic is noteworthy at other anthroposophical organizations as well.
Some of the most perceptive assessments come from their attentive reading of fundraising appeals sent out by the anthroposophist leadership over the last two decades. Their findings show that "the organization is linked to its past and to an ideological agenda that makes it resistant to change and therefore finds it difficult to overcome its organizational challenges." (112) This is not a distant historical phenomenon, but an ongoing and conspicuous element in Steiner's far-flung movement today. Those endeavoring to modernize Steiner organizations will need to heed these dynamics. Greetings to all,
NOTES RE WALDORF WATCH OVERALL
A note about URL's (Web addresses) and links to them: These may become outdated. Owners of websites may remove pages, change their locations, etc. I work to maintain the URL's and links at my own websites, but I cannot control what happens elsewhere. If any URL's or links I present here prove to be outdated, I apologize. They were all current when I wrote the various essays at my sites, and perhaps with a little Internet sleuthing you may be able to find materials that otherwise seem to have vanished.