“The important thing for us 
to remember is the 
diversity of children ... 
Such diversity can be traced 
to four fundamental types, 
and the most important task 
of the educator and teacher 
is to know and recognize these 
four types we call 
the temperaments."

— Rudolf Steiner





Categorizing Students Hurtfully

Waldorf schools often reject modern science and medicine.
Their interest in an ancient theory of temperament 
is one predominant example.
According to the ancient Greek physician Galen,
there are four primary bodily fluids or "humours":
blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile.
Depending on which fluid is predominant 
in a person's body, s/he has 
one of four "temperaments":
sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, or choleric.
Science rejected Galen's teachings long ago;
Waldorf schools still cling to them.


Let’s look at a lecture by Anthroposophist Hermann von Baravalle, who was a follower and acquaintance of Rudolf Steiner. He gave the lecture to Waldorf teachers in the USA. Titled "The Four Temperaments", the lecture is included in von Baravalle’s book WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA. [1] The concepts it outlines have profound importance because they may be applied by Waldorf teachers in every class and every subject area. And, I might add, the lecture is as interesting for what it does not say as for what it does.

Von Baravalle begins with the sensible argument that parents should not autocratically set preconceived goals for their children: A minister, for instance, should not insist that his son become a minister. Parents and teachers must, instead, be sensitive to each child’s inner nature and treat her/him accordingly. Well and good.

But then von Baravalle begins to give “practical” guidance to the Waldorf teachers in his audience. He says that students can respond to their teachers in two ways: They can have immediate reactions, and they can form lasting impressions. He then divides students into four categories: 1. those who are susceptible to both kinds of reaction, 2. those who are more susceptible to immediate reactions, 3. those who are more likely to form lasting impressions, and 4. those who are resistant to either type of reaction. [2] It’s a neat little schema, and at first blush it seems logical. Two ways to react; four possible combinations; the math is undeniable (“There are mathematically only four combinations that could occur with these two criteria” [3]); so it must be true. 

But look where von Baravalle goes next. Having established an apparently reasonable system for categorizing students, von Baravalle labels the students:

1. students who have a choleric temperament

— they have both kinds of reactions

2. those with a sanguine temperament

— they lean towards immediate reactions

3. kids with a melancholic temperament

— they are prone to lasting impressions

4. kids possessing a phlegmatic temperament

— they resist both kinds of reactions [4]

Von Baravalle does not inform his audience that these four “temperaments” are adaptations of a discredited ancient Greek medical theory. [5] Von Baravalle avoids mentioning Anthroposophy (although he does refer to Anthroposophy’s main man, Rudolf Steiner), and he does not try to explicitly integrate the concept of temperaments into a larger Anthroposophical framework. He does not explain that, according to Steiner’s doctrines on karma and reincarnation, our situations in this life result from our actions in past lives. A mournful melancholic child, for instance, may be atoning for errors committed during past lives, in which case s/he should be allowed to remain sad in order that s/he may work out her/his karmic needs. Von Baravalle simply says that there is no point, for instance, in trying to cheer up a deeply melancholic student. If a teacher tries to gladden a melancholic, the child would recoil; the child's reaction would be “How could the teacher be so superficial with this talk of joy or fun? I can’t stand it anymore.” [6] Children have their temperaments for a reason, and Waldorf teachers should respect the inborn characteristics of each student.

Von Baravalle’s (i.e., Steiner’s) approach is to accept the melancholic child’s destiny. So, there will be no joy or fun for that kid. Here we begin to see the dangers in Steiner’s/von Baravalle’s simplistic categorization of students. While von Baravalle speaks of treating each child as an individual, simplistic categorization undercuts that fine ideal. “You have four distinct challenges from your class” — the four types of students. [7] In other words, if there are, let’s say, twenty kids in a Waldorf class, von Baravalle does not urge the teacher to treat them as twenty different individuals: He urges the teacher to treat them as members of just four groupings. Granted, there are shadings within each grouping, and both Steiner and von Baravalle gave lip service to individualism, but the underlying tenet is that a child is characterized by her/his temperament; s/he belongs in a particular group because of his/her ingrained characteristics; and therefore s/he is quite different from members of any of the other three groupings. Under this system, students are treated as members of various batches, not primarily as individuals.

The essential "tool" Waldorf teachers attempt to use for making decisions about students is clairvoyance. Believe it or not. Clairvoyance, a faculty that does not really exist. [See "Clairvoyance" and "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".] Relying on such a phantom tool guarantees that Waldorf teachers very often make the wrong decisions, failing to truly comprehend their students' personalities and needs. [8] Even if the idea of temperament as employed in Waldorf schools made sense, the Waldorf system would be a mess. But, in fact, the idea of temperament as employed in Waldorf schools is fundamentally erroneous. The theory of four humours producing four temperaments is an example of discarded science, an idea that once seemed credible but that has long since been supplanted by more accurate concepts. That is, it has been supplanted almost everywhere except in Waldorf schools, where ancient errors are often mistaken for up-to-date wisdom. [See, e.g., "The Ancients".]

Von Baravalle inadvertently reveals the impersonal and prejudicial nature of the four-temperament approach when he lists not only the psychological characteristics of each category of students, but also their physical traits, the dangers to which each category is prone, and the best educational approach to take with each category. I’ll summarize briefly:

1. Cholerics are very attentive and critical. Most cholerics are boys. They may have high shoulders; they often seem bony. They may turn into bullies or become prey to tantrums. According to von Baravalle: “To handle cholerics, give them challenges ... Choleric people show themselves best in emergencies.”

2. Sanguines are appreciative and “want to be with you.” They are “harmoniously built;” they do not find their bodies to be encumbrances. They are in danger of drifting through life unconstructively. “They can be handled well with the books that they make in the Waldorf schools, reflecting what is learned in diagrams."

3. Melancholics are not quick; they yearn for depth; from this depth, they may derive “an ethical impulse.” “They do not like being called to the [chalk]board.” One typical group of melancholics consists of “junior high school girls who suddenly grow thin and tall with slumping shoulders.” Melancholics may be moody, given to headaches, unfriendly, and worried about their health. “For these melancholic children biographies are a wonderful thing ... They see that they are not the only people in the world who have suffered.”

4. Phlegmatics are extremely sensitive to the atmosphere in the classroom. Confusion makes them tense. They often have rosy cheeks and may be overweight because they do not expend much energy. They may be in danger of “becoming dull and uninterested in the world.” “For the phlegmatic children there is one thing that suits them well: the arts, painting, music, eurythmy.” [9]

Pause a moment to let some of the foregoing sink in. Choleric kids should be given challenges; but other students should not? Sanguines can be “handled” by having them focus on their class books; but other students should not? Melancholics should be offered the cold comfort of knowing that their suffering is not unique; but their suffering should not be alleviated? Phlegmatic children should be herded in a single direction, toward the fine arts (not the humanities or physical sciences or social sciences or sports or math or...).

One of Anthroposophy’s worst characteristics is its insistence on categorizing people. This evil is most evident in the racial hierarchies Steiner repeatedly described. [10] The same pernicious tendency can be found in the distinctions Steiner drew between true humans and “people who are not human beings.” [11] We see the same evil again here, in the separation of innocent children into preconceived, unreal categories. This is another form of unwarranted discrimination, as harmful as any other. And bear in mind that physical appearance is deemed a significant indicator. Cholerics are bony, sanguines are well-proportioned, phlegmatics may be overweight, and so on. This is stereotyping of the most primitive, and potentially damaging, sort.

Consider one final quotation, this one taken from a different von Baravalle lecture (bearing the unintentionally ironic title, “How to Treat Children as Individuals”): 

“If...the teacher has cholerics in front of him, in the first row, something like a short circuit could easily occur...the course of instruction would be flowing exclusively between the teacher and them. In making the seating order, therefore, it is better to have the cholerics sit on one side ... [T]he melancholics may be seated on the opposite side ... [T]he sanguines...feel at ease in the front rows ... The phlegmatics like to have some distance [so they sit in the back]....” [12]

Here we see the literal, physical segregation of students based on a spurious ancient system of categorization infused with occultism. It is deplorable. Deciding that Aryans should sit in front and non-Aryans in back would be worse, but it would arise from a similar enthusiasm for senseless discrimination. (Yes, Steiner used the term "Aryan" to describe a human race — see "Atlantis and the Aryans". And, indeed, Steiner taught that Atlantis really existed. This, in and of itself, indicates the quality of the "knowledge" on which the Waldorf approach is based.)

Most importantly, consider the effects of the "humours/temperaments" system on the children. Imagine being slotted as a melancholic — thereafter, your teachers never seem to care whether you (unlike other kids in the room) are enjoying yourself. Or imagine being adjudged a phlegmatic and pressured into eurythmy, when your actual talents may be for math and physics. Time and again, under the Waldorf system, children will be misjudged, and they will be treated in ways that wholly overlook their actual, individual attributes.

Von Baravalle’s advice is tantamount to child abuse, pressing students into abstract groupings and forcing them in predetermined directions without any valid reason for doing so.

Here is a colored rendering of a sketch Steiner made, 
showing the body types of the four temperaments.
Reading left to right: 
“The melancholic children are as a rule tall and slender; 
the sanguine are the most normal; 
those with more protruding shoulders are the phlegmatic children; 
and those with a short stout build so that the head 
almost sinks down into the body are choleric.” 
(Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 34. 
[R.R. copy, 2010.]

Waldorf teachers may try to peer clairvoyantly into their students' souls, but this delusional approach produces nothing except the teachers' own esoteric imaginings. In any event, Waldorf teachers often base many of their assessments on more superficial factors, such as body type. 

Dividing children into four fallacious categories may seem merely silly, not a cause for great concern. But even in cases where the teachers refrain from bandying terms like "phlegmatic" and "sanguine" in the presence of the students and their parents — even then, real harm may be inflicted. "Choleric" children will eventually come to realize, consciously or not, that they are given license to express anger, whereas most of their classmates are discouraged from it.* So the "choleric" kids will increasing behave as "cholerics" are expected to behave — they will be molded by the unspoken stereotype imposed on them by their teachers. Members of the other three groups of students will likewise be affected, gravitating toward the behaviors and self-images that their teachers think are appropriate for them. Thus, eventually, all the children in the class may be shaped — and misshaped — by an ancient set of falsehoods, employed without rational justification by a self-deceiving faculty.

In Waldorf schools, delusions of one sort or another (or, often, delusions of many sorts) shape the reality. The harm to children can be deep and long-lasting.

* Waldorf teachers seek to help choleric kids, like all others, to overcome the deficits cause by their temperaments. But generally they do not try to change a child's temperament, which is deemed to be a reflection of karma and/or divine will. So, just as melancholic kids are indulged in their mournfulness (they are not urged to cheer up), choleric kids are indulged in their anger (they are not urged to be jolly), etc.



Perhaps we should hear more from The Man. Did von Baravalle really understand Steiner on the subject of “temperaments”? Here are comments Rudolf Steiner made to the teachers at the first Waldorf School [13]:

 Addressing a Waldorf teacher about her students, Steiner said: “[Y]ou have few choleric or strongly melancholic temperaments [among your students]. Those children are mostly phlegmatic or sanguine ... You can get the phlegmatic children moving only if you try to work with the more difficult consonants. For sanguine children, work with the easier consonants.” [14] The grade level here is not specified, but these were apparently young children, learning consonants. Steiner prescribes different activities for children having different temperaments.

 A teacher asked Steiner: “I believe I have perceived a relationship between the phlegmatic children and a deep voice, the sanguine children and a middle tone, and a higher voice with the cholerics. Is that correct?” Steiner answered: “In general, it is true that phlegmatics have lower voices...." [15] Thus, according to Steiner, temperament is manifested in the physical body — in this case, the vocal cords.

 A teacher: “How can we have such differing opinions about the temperament of a child?” Different teachers made different assessments of the students in the school. Steiner replied: “We cannot solve that problem mathematically ... In judging cases that lie near a boundary, it is possible that one person has one view and another, another view ... The situation is such that when we see and understand a child in one way or another, we already intend to treat it in a particular way. In the end, the manner of treating something arises from an interaction. Don’t think you should discuss it.” [16] This is a particularly unhelpful answer. Steiner leaves the puzzle for each teacher to solve, without discussion. Evidently without realizing it, Steiner comes close to invalidating the entire concept of four temperaments by saying that each teacher can make up his/her own mind, at least in cases that lie near a boundary (and perhaps in other cases as well: “when we see and understand a child in one way or another....”). In practice, this would mean that some kids would be put in one category by some teachers, and in other categories by other teachers. This is chaotic and senseless.

 Steiner: “In cholerics, you will generally find an abnormally developed sense of balance (Libra) ... In sanguines (Virgo), in connection with the sense of balance and sense of movement, the sense of movement predominates. In the same way, in melancholics (Leo) the sense of life predominates and in phlegmatics (Cancer) the sense of touch predominates physiologically because the touch bodies are embedded in small fat pads.” [17] Alarm bells should be loudly ringing by this point. Steiner associates temperaments with the signs of the Zodiac. Indeed, astrology is often just below the surface in Waldorf schools. [See "Astrology", "Star Power", and "Waldorf Astrology".] When Waldorf teachers mix temperaments with astrology, they are compounding the irrationality of their approach, adding one type of fallacy to another. No decision made about any child following this approach can have any merit.

 Steiner: “We should always correct left-handedness. However, in this connection [i.e., learning to play the piano], we should also take the child’s temperament into account so that melancholics give the right hand preference. You can easily find a tendency with them to play with the left hand. We should emphasize the left hand with the cholerics. With the phlegmatics you should see to it that they use both hands in balance, and the same is true for sanguines." [18] Fallacies are piling up. Temperament, body type, astrology, handedness... The clamor of the alarm bells is almost deafening.

 Finally, reflect on this statement by Steiner: “In my lecture today [‘Deeper Insights into Education’], I mentioned that we need to find our way past the temperaments. The goal of my lecture was to show how to come to an inner understanding that lies beyond people’s temperaments.” [19] What is going on here? Is Steiner suddenly reversing course, disavowing his previous statements about temperament? Not quite. He recognized that dividing kids into four clearly differentiated categories is difficult, as we have seen. But his larger point is that temperament lies near the surface, and there are deeper springs that determine human nature. To really understand a child, Steiner says, a teacher must look deep — past temperament to such things as karma, incarnation, the condition of soul and spirit... Temperament remains a key in Waldorf pedagogy [20], but true Anthroposophical "insight" seeks to delve to more profound layers. [To review the Anthroposophical conception of human nature, see, e.g., "What We're Made Of" and "Our Parts". To consider how this conception affects Waldorf education in general, see "Holistic Education".]

Did von Baravalle understand Steiner's views on temperament? Evidently. But bear in mind that when Waldorf teachers try to understand their students, they work from a broad set of mystical concepts, with temperament providing just one element in the overall picture. When Steiner presided at the opening of the first Waldorf school, he delivered a series of lectures describing his occult vision of humanity. These lectures are generally recognized as the basis of Waldorf education. They have been published under such titles as STUDY OF MAN and  THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE. In them, you will find such statements as 

"...[T]he Consciousness Soul, the Comprehension Soul and the Sentient Soul ... These are the actual components of the human soul. Today, if we wish to speak about the human soul and how it lives in the body, we must speak about these three aspects. If we wish to speak about the human body, we must speak of the sentient body (the least perceptible body, which we also call the astral body), the etheric body and the coarse physical body, which we can see with our eyes and which conventional science dissects. Thus, we have before us the complete human being." [21] [To go into such matters, see "Oh Humanity".]

Steiner understood, at least sometimes, that the four-temperament paradigm is superficial. He urged his followers to go deeper. Yet Waldorf teachers today continue to divide students into the four temperamental groupings. The publications and lectures of Anthroposophists continue to make reference to the four temperaments. Here, for instance, is a passage from a book by a Waldorf teacher, a book focused specifically on Waldorf education in the 21st century. The author calls on Steiner, as Anthroposophists almost always do: Steiner remains their ultimate source of wisdom:

"The ‘four temperaments,’ first described by the classical Greek physician Galen...may be understood as the solution to the challenge of integrating the etheric body with its physical counterpart [the etheric body is one of three invisible bodies that incarnate during childhood, according to Steiner; the others are the "I" and the astral body] ... Rudolf Steiner [said] 'Where the bearer of the I predominates, a choleric temperament results. Where the astral body predominates, we find a sanguine temperament. Where the etheric or life body predominates, we speak of a phlegmatic temperament. And where the physical body predominates, we have to deal with the melancholic temperament.’” — Eugene Schwartz, MILLENNIAL CHILD: Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), pp. 185-186.

Once a fallacy gets embedded in the Waldorf system, it becomes virtually irremovable. It remains, and its harmful effects perpetuate themselves. Such is the case with the four temperaments. Belief in these temperaments attaches itself to the other fallacies that constitute the Waldorf worldview, ranging from astrology to the three invisible human bodies. A sprawling structure of falsehoods and wild imaginings results, and it forms the basis of Waldorf education. [For more about the temperaments as conceived in Waldorf schools, see "Temperaments".]

Belief in the four temperaments is just one of the errors that distort Waldorf education. At some Waldorf schools, temperament may be downplayed; at others, it may be given great importance. In either case, belief in the four temperaments is both insidious and damaging. And it continues to work its mischief in Waldorf schools today.

 —  Roger Rawlings

Footnotes for the Foregoing Sections
(Scroll Down to Find Further Sections)

[1] Hermann von Baravalle, WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA (Parker Courtney Press, 1998).

[2] Ibid., pp. 97-98.

[3] Ibid., p. 97.

[4] Ibid., p. 102.

[5] See Mark Grant, “Steiner and the Humours: The Survival of Ancient Greek Science,” British Journal of Educational Studies, Mar. 1999.


[7] Ibid., p. 102.

[8] Many Waldorf teachers think they are clairvoyant, but some do not. Steiner said that the ones who are not clairvoyant should take guidance from those who are. 

"Not every Waldorf teacher has the gift of clairvoyance, but every one of them has accepted wholeheartedly and with full understanding the results of spiritual-scientific investigation [i.e., the use of clairvoyance]. And each Waldorf teacher applies this knowledge with heart and soul...." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 205.


[10] See Selected Quotations, on this Web site.

[11] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998, p. 650.


[13] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998). This is a particularly valuable book, telling us in Steiner’s own words how he wanted things to be done at Waldorf.

[14] Ibid., pp. 80-81 — June 12, 1920.

[15] Ibid., p. 90 — June 14, 1920.

[16] Ibid., p. 90 — June 14, 1920.

[17] Ibid., pp. 90-91 — June 14, 1920.

[18] Ibid., pp. 345-346 — May 10, 1922.

[19] FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 687 — October 16, 1923.

[20] See, e.g., WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Michaelmas Press, 1999), edited by Pamela J. Fenner. “Practical” advice about temperaments includes the following: 

“If you put on a play, you should cast the characters according to the temperaments of your students. You might, for example, ask your cholerics to play Julius Caesar, and you might cast your sanguines as the messengers, since they would enjoy running in and out with the news. The melancholics love philosophical roles ... The phlegmatics, on the other hand, like the parts where they can sit and think, removed from the central action of the play.” — pp. 65-66.

[21] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 82.


The most liberal or enlightened interpretation of the doctrine of the four temperaments is that each individual possesses a unique mixture of temperamental influences. Thus, instead of four types of individuals, there may be a wide spectrum of individuals. Anthroposophists sometimes stress this interpretation, although on other occasions — as we have seen — they indicate that the four temperaments are distinct, firm classifications that in Waldorf schools should determine seating arrangements, study assignments, and so forth.

Here is the a publisher's description of the book THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS:

"From personal spiritual insight [i.e., clairvoyance], Rudolf Steiner renews and broadens the ancient teaching of the four temperaments. He explains how each person's mixture of temperaments is shaped, usually with one dominating. Steiner provides lively descriptions of the passive, comfort-seeking phlegmatic; the fickle, flitting sanguine; the pained, gloomy melancholic; and the fiery, assertive choleric. He also offers practical suggestions for teachers and parents in addressing the differing manifestations of the temperaments in children, as well as advice intended for adults' personal development." [Rudolf Steiner Press, 2008.]

“The important thing for us to remember is the diversity of children ... Such diversity can be traced to four fundamental types, and the most important task of the educator and teacher is to know and recognize these four types we call the temperaments...sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric ... We can always find that the characteristic constitution of each child belongs to one of these classes of temperatures ... In this way we can divide a class into four groups, and you should gradually rearrange the seating of the children with this goal in mind.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (SteinerBooks, 1997), pp. 13-15.

Steiner repeatedly indicated that children 
fall into four defining categories
and they should be segregated on this basis:

“In Waldorf education, we greatly value the ability to enter and understand children according to their temperaments. We actually arrange the classroom seating on this basis. For example, we try to determine which children are choleric and place them together. Thus, the teachers know that one corner contains all the children who tend to be choleric. In another, the phlegmatic children are seated; somewhere in the middle are the sanguines; and somewhere else, the melancholics are in a group.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 139-140.




Robert A. McDemott's THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Press, 2007) is an influential Anthroposophical tome, often cited by Steiner's adherents. In it, McDermott identifies the theory of temperaments as one of two primary pillars of Waldorf schooling. The first pillar is the occult belief in seven-year cycles of spiritual manifestation and growth. [See "Most Significant".] As for temperaments:

"A second important contribution of Steiner's educational teaching is his theory of temperaments, clearly explained in a booklet, The Four Temperaments. Steiner refers to a temperament as 'the characteristic coloring of the human being':

'We speak chiefly of four types, as you know: the sanguine, the choleric, the phlegmatic, and the melancholic temperament. Even though this classification is not entirely correct in so far as we apply it to individuals — in individuals, the temperaments are mixed in the most diverse way; so we can only say one temperament predominates in certain traits — still we shall in general classify people in four groups according to their temperaments.'" — THE ESSENTIAL STEINER, pp. 396-397.

The great problem with these two pillars of Waldorf education is that they have no basis in fact or truth. They are constructs of occult falsehood. Grasping this allows us to see Waldorf education for what it is: an edifice consisting of delusions. McDermott moderates the falsity of the Waldorf approach, somewhat, by stressing that "in individuals, the temperaments are mixed in the most diverse way." When a Waldorf teacher accepts this proposition, s/he may treat students as individuals more than as members of four strictly separate categories. This is surely a step in the right direction (although it vastly complicates the task of following Steiner's directives on the proper treatment of kids in the four categories). But the advance is minor. Calculating that little Johnny is, for instance, quite phlegmatic but also a bit melancholic with a trace of the choleric — making such a judgment about a child would seem to respect the child's individuality, but because the basic concepts (phlegmatic, melancholic, choleric) are faulty, the judgment itself has no real merit. The child has not been given one of four false labels, which is good — simplistic, false discrimination has been largely avoided. But, instead, the child has been typed with three false labels. Johnny may be the only child in the room deemed to have his particular mix of temperaments, but still he has been judged in terms of archaic, false categories. There is no real gain. 

Steiner himself said that temperaments can become intermingled: 

"In reality, a melancholic child is never purely melancholic; the temperaments are always mixed." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 83. 

This is what Steiner said happens "in reality." But he also said that such intermingling should be minimized, for example by careful seat assignments in classrooms. 

“The temperaments that are next to each other merge into one another and mingle; so it will be good to arrange your groups as follows: if you put the phlegmatics together it is good to have the cholerics on the opposite side, and let the two others, the melancholics and sanguines, sit between them.” — Rudolf Steiner, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers, translated by Catherine Creeger, contributor Roberto Trostli (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 72. 

Waldorf teachers thus should take steps to minimize the possibility or magnitude of any mergers. In general, Steiner taught that merging one thing (nation, race, temperament, etc.) with another is almost always wrong.`

"To a class teacher in a Steiner school the children can never be an undifferentiated group of children. They are his children [sic] and he will know the temperaments of all of them and how they can be dealt with. Children as a matter of course should be dealt with according to their temperaments, and an imaginative and observant teacher will grasp the sometimes subtle differences as his experience grows." — Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), p. 395.

A Waldorf guide on how to treat children.
The four types of children are specified,
and specific guidance for working with each type 
is offered to the teacher.

The chart comes from Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson's booklet THE TEMPERAMENTS IN EDUCATION. Originally issued in 1977, the booklet has been reissued by the Rudolf Steiner College Press (1997) and is still used in Waldorf schools today. Note that the rules are often (not always, but often) mutually exclusive — when dealing with a particular child, using an approach aimed at one temperament may preclude using an approach aimed at a different temperament (e.g.,using "shock tactics" would usually preclude asking a "personal favor"). Thus, the child must be handled as a member of one or another of the four categories, not as an amalgam.

Other, more recent Anthroposophical texts concerning the four temperaments include Magda Lissau's THE TEMPERAMENTS AND THE ARTS (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2003) and Marieke Anschutz's CHILDREN AND THEIR TEMPERAMENTS (Floris Books, 1995).

"Rudolf Steiner’s concept of education...is deduced from anthroposophical neo-mythology and has a metaphoric character. In the light of his interpretation of the microcosm [i.e., the human being], education takes the form of growth and metamorphosis — the educator is a gardener and a person who moulds others. From a belief in reincarnation stems the image of education as an aid to incarnation and spiritual awakening — the educator becomes a priest and a leader of people’s souls. The theory of the four temperaments leads on to the educational task of harmonization — the educator then being understood as a master of the healing art." — Heiner Ullrich, "Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)", PROSPECTS: the Quarterly Review of Comparative Education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIV, no. 3/4, 1994, p. 555-572.) 

   Sanguine    Socially Aware    Caring    Superficial    Spring    Nerves    Air  

  Choleric    Selfless    Leadership    Destructive    Summer    Blood    Fire   

  Melancholic    Considerate    Understanding    Self-Pitying    Autumn    Bones    Earth  

  Phlegmatic    Reliable    Faithful    Lazy    Winter    Glands    Water  

This is extracted from a summary 
of the four temperaments 
and their related phenomena
as presented in 
(Michaelmas Press, 1999), p. 62.
As of October, 2016, the book 
was still listed at 

Although Steiner urged Waldorf teachers 
to look beyond temperaments, 
he strongly affirmed the existence 
of the four temperaments.

"What would the world be without the temperaments — if people had only one temperament? The most tiresome place you could imagine! The world would be dreary without the temperaments, not only in the physical, but also in the higher sense. All variety, beauty, and all the richness of life are possible only through the temperaments. Do we not see how everything great in life can be brought about just through the one-sidedness of the temperaments, but also how these can degenerate in their one-sidedness? Are we not troubled about the child because we see that the choleric temperament can degenerate to malice, the sanguine to fickleness, the melancholic to gloom, etc.?

"In the question of education in particular, and also in self-education, will not the knowledge and estimation of the temperaments be of essential value to the educator? We must not be misled into depreciating the value of the temperament because it is a one-sided characteristic. In education the important thing is not to equalize the temperaments, to level them, but to bring them into the right track. We must clearly understand that the temperament leads to one-sidedness, that the most radical phase of the melancholic temperament is madness; of the phlegmatic, imbecility; of the sanguine, insanity; of the choleric, all those explosions of diseased human nature which result in frenzy, and so forth. Much beautiful variety results from the temperaments, because opposites attract each other; nevertheless, the deification of the one-sidedness of temperament very easily causes harm between birth and death. In each temperament there exists a small and a great danger of degeneracy. With the choleric person there is the danger that in youth his ego will be determined by his irascibility, by his lack of self-control. That is the small danger. The great danger is the folly which wishes to pursue, from the impulse of his ego, some kind of individual goal. In the sanguine temperament the small danger is that the person will lapse into fickleness. The great danger is that the rising and falling tide of sensations may result in insanity. The small danger for the phlegmatic is lack of interest in the outer world; the great danger is stupidity or idiocy. The small danger in the melancholic is gloominess, the possibility that he may not be able to extricate himself from what rises up within him. The great danger is madness."  — Rudolf Steiner, THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN TEMPERAMENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), translation by Frances E. Dawson.

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen. 

(The Waldorf movement is large, and the occult teachings on which it is 
based are embodied in a sprawling array of books, pamphlets, 
lecture transcripts, and related documents. 
An adequate critique must be, itself, fairly sprawling.)

Steiner taught that physical form and appearance reflect inner realities. The dangers inherent in this simplistic idea should be obvious.

"What every person does instinctively when confronted by any being possessed of a soul, is what the occultist, or spiritual scientist, does in respect of the entire world; and 'as above, so below' would, when referring to man, be thus explained: 'Every impulse animating his soul is expressed in his face.' A hard and coarse countenance expresses coarseness of soul....— Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Health Research, 1972), pp. 91-10.

For more on the temperaments as conceived in Waldorf schools,

please use these links: 



To explore the "most significant" Waldorf educational precept

— the idea that children develop in seven-year phases —

see "Most Significant"

You may also be interested in Steiner's

views concerning "Horoscopes"

Honoring Each Child’s Individuality 

Waldorf teachers have ample opportunity to get to know their students well. Waldorf schools are often small, and the teachers typically see the same groups of students year after year. 

Certainly Waldorf teachers strive to understand their students, and they usually think they attain clear knowledge of the kids in their charge. But, unfortunately, the screen through which they view their students consists of false concepts that inevitably distort and conceal the truth. 

In accordance with Anthroposophical tenets, Waldorf teachers think that children can be differentiated by age, sex, temperament, race, and astrological sign, among other factors. The real character traits of the students tend to disappear in the fog produced by such Anthroposophical misconceptions. 

Do all students of the same age stand at the same level of spiritual/mental/emotional development? Do they all have essentially the same needs and interests? The Waldorf approach answers yes to these questions. [See, e.g., the section “Year by Year” on the page "Waldorf Curriculum".] The kids are differentiated by such false factors as the four temperaments, but differentiation sometimes gets swept aside by other false factors, such as the notion that all children of a given age stand at essentially the same level of human advancement (fifth graders are at about the level of the ancient Greeks, sixth graders at the level of the ancient Romans, and so on).

Do boys and girls have inherently different minds due to gender? Should children of different genders be taught different things in different ways? Rudolf Steiner said so. [See, e.g., the section “Sexism” on the page “Clues”.] 

Is the ancient doctrine of “temperament” correct? Can children be divided into the four classical “temperaments” (phlegmatic, melancholic, choleric, and sanguine)? Waldorf schools typically do this. [See, e.g., “Temperaments”.] 

Are the differences between races more than skin-deep? Do children of each race have significantly different mental, emotional, and bodily natures than the children of other races? Do children of different races stand at different evolutionary levels? The Anthroposophical answer is yes. [See, e.g., “Races”.] 

Is astrology for real? Does the astrological sign of a child have any meaning? Does a child born under one astrological sign have different character traits than a child born under another sign? The Waldorf belief system affirms astrology. [See, e.g., “Waldorf Astrology”.] 

Possibly you agree with the Waldorf/Anthroposophical perspective in one or two of these matters. But do you agree on all of them? Do you recognize that, to put this mildly, contemporary scholarship and science cast grave doubt on all of them? 

One problem with these Waldorf metrics is that, arguably, they are all utterly false. Another problem is that they stereotype children. It is wrong to judge human beings based on race, or sex, or “temperament,” or astrological sign... Pigeonholing people according to these categories is discriminatory and demeaning. If you judge a child to be a “choleric,” for instance, you are stereotyping the child, not seeing her or him as a distinct individual. 

Now, granted, if you use all of the Waldorf metrics together, each child in a group may be labeled differently than any other child in that group. A “white choleric male Scorpio” would thus be distinctly differentiated from a “black sanguine female Aries.” 

Moreover, we could admit shadings to the picture. Thus, we could say that a child may chiefly exhibit one temperament while also bearing traces of other temperaments. Maybe a child is mostly phlegmatic, for instance, but with a large admixture of melancholia and a trace of choler. Likewise, kids within an astrological sign were born on different days, so they would have different horoscopes — we could acknowledge these differences. And some children are born of mixed-races parents, so we could adjust our racial evaluations accordingly. Taking such distinctions into account, we could “individualize” children in these ways. 

But such individuation would be severely, damagingly false. Making subtle distinctions between nonexistent temperaments (choleric, sanguine...) is nonsense — these temperaments do not exist, so positing subtle shadings between them merely compounds the nonsense. The same problem applies to all the other Waldorf metrics. You cannot learn the truth about an individual human being by judging that person based on false stereotypes. But, in effect, this is what the Waldorf approach requires. 

Waldorf teachers have ample opportunity to get to know their students well. But the Waldorf approach almost invariably thwarts this effort. The Waldorf approach cannot produce accurate, true portraits of individual human beings in all their marvelous, unique complexity. Within the Waldorf worldview, human individuality tends to disappear in a fog of mystic error.

[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1944.]

In Anthroposophical discourse, 
"mysteries" are hidden spiritual truths.
Steiner claimed to comprehend 
such occult matters,
and to varying degrees he shared 
the fruits of his occult investigations 
with his followers.


[Albrecht Dürer].

Details, art created

by Waldorf students.

[Courtesy of 

People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]


Here are relevant Internet messages.

I cannot wholly vouch for any messages 

except those I wrote myself.

Still, messages such as the following 

may be informative.

I have edited some messages slightly for use here.

Let's start with a message dated June 21, 2009.

Subject: The Temperaments

My three children went to a Waldorf school. Waldorf uses the temperaments as one of its many child-management tools. For instance, children of like temperament are often seated together, so that they can "see themselves" and develop accordingly. It works better to have a choleric kid bumping heads with another choleric kid instead of with a weepy melancholic. The phlegs bore one another into action. The melans get fed up with one another's whining. The sanguines have to learn to tamp down the chatter to get anything done.

My children are: Phlegmatic, Melancholic, and Sanguine-Choleric, so I got to experience four temperaments in three kids. Deciding what to do on a family outing was an interesting experience, I can tell you. [1]


On July 1, 2009, at an online discussion group, 
Diana Winters quoted Steiner 
and then offered a comment:

"Temperament is connected, to a remarkable degree, with the whole life and soul of a person's previous incarnations." — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), pp. 60-61.

Virtually every Waldorf teacher "works with" the temperaments in understanding and instructing his or her students. If temperament derives from past lives, then this makes pretty clear that Anthroposophy guides the teacher's daily interactions with the children.

Parents should be just as concerned about this sort of crackpot manner of relating to school children as by the question of whether Anthroposophy is taught, directly or indirectly, in the Waldorf curriculum. Arguably, in the early years when subject matter per se is not the focus of the school day, this sort of thing is even more determinative of the child's experience in the school. [2] 


I replied to Diana Winters:

I agree.

Making this even more worrisome is that, since the four temperaments (an ancient and entirely outmoded concept) are bunk, every decision a Waldorf teacher makes concerning temperament is bunk. Also, since there is no reasonable way to assign children to the four temperament categories, Waldorf teachers necessarily make the assignment irrationally. Part of this irrationality will often be reliance on clairvoyance, which itself is bunk.

So what we have is bunk cubed (bunk x bunk x bunk). Yet all this superbunk has real consequences for children — harmful consequences. Children are segregated: "If...the teacher has cholerics in front of him, in the first row, something like a short circuit could easily occur ... the course of instruction would be flowing exclusively between the teacher and them. In making the seating order, therefore, it is better to have the cholerics sit on one side ... [T]he melancholics may be seated on the opposite side ... [T]he sanguines...feel at ease in the front rows ... The phlegmatics like to have some distance [so they sit in the back]...." — Hermann von Baravalle, WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA (Parker Courtney Press, 1998), p. 91.

For those who don't know, von Baravalle was an associate of Steiner's — a leading Anthroposophist, he taught at the first Waldorf school and later worked to spread Anthroposophy in America.

In Waldorf schools  kids are treated differently, assigned different seats, and given different tasks based on their supposed temperaments. This is nasty and hurtful — it can scar kids for life. And it is all based on utter bunk. (And it is a nice emblem for all of Waldorf education, which is generally and pervasively based on occult bunk.) [3]


Diana later added this:

The temperaments are thought to apply particularly to school-age children in the 7- to 14-year range. Earlier than that, the orthodox view is that the temperament cannot be definitively ascertained because the child under 7, whose "etheric body" has not yet been born, still "lives in" the temperament of the mother or parents. With the birth of the ether body at around age 7 or change of teeth, the child's temperament comes into its own. Some will argue with this formulation, however, and insist that temperament can be discerned even earlier.

After the age of 14, the temperament would still predominate but the child should be integrating the four "members" (physical, etheric, astral, and Ego) and thus should be sort of "outgrowing" their original temperament. Ideally the adult is a nice balance of all four temperaments with none dominating in an observable fashion.*

There is lots more to the legends and lore of temperaments, of course — that's just a skeletal structure of how it works. Each "age" of a person's life also has a corresponding temperament, for instance, IIRC childhood should be "sanguine" in general. Eras of history have corresponding temperaments, etc. [4]

* "Observable" is the crucial word, here. If, ideally, adults move toward temperamental balance, still — according to Anthroposophical teachings — each adult usually exhibits one of the four temperaments, much as children do.

[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995.]

From the publisher:

"Dr. Childs shows how we can recognize the temperaments in others, as well as in ourselves, and how to understand the ways in which they function. Understanding their influences can boost personal development and help improve interpersonal relationships ... [T]his book features fascinating discussions of the relationships between adults of various temperaments. Childs reviews matters of compatibility in partnership, family and workplace situations ... Also included is a section on the temperaments of children, along with helpful and practical advice on dealing with individual issues."

In addition to classifying people by temperament,

Steiner affirmed other faulty approaches, such as studying

the shape and size of skulls: phrenology.

As he often did with occult subjects, he claimed that

phrenology as commonly practiced is wrong

but that a correct and reliable version is possible —

and could be explicated by you-know-who.

In fact, however, no form of phrenology is valid.

[Image from Terence Hines' 


(Prometheus Books, 2003).] 

◊ "Phrenology - the study of the conformation of the skull as indicative of mental faculties and traits of character ... Phrenology enjoyed great popular appeal well into the 20th century but was wholly discredited by scientific research." — "phrenology." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 11 Jul. 2010.

◊ “Although there will always be a great deal to be said against the charlatan phrenology that is commonly practised, a genuine phrenology really should be studied by anyone who wants to form his conclusions correctly about moral defects. For it is indeed most interesting to see how moral defects which are connected with karma are forces of such strength that they manifest themselves quite inevitably in deformations of the physical organism.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 68.

I often generalize about Waldorf schools. 
There are fundamental similarities among Waldorf schools; 
I describe the schools based on the evidence concerning 
their structure and operations 
in the past and — more importantly — in the present. 
But not all Waldorf schools, Waldorf charter schools, 
and Waldorf-inspired schools are wholly alike. 
To evaluate an individual school, you should carefully examine its stated purposes, 
its practices (which may or may not be consistent with its stated purposes), 
and the composition of its faculty. 

— R. R.

[R. R., 2010.]

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


For parents considering sending kids to a Waldorf school

Detailed pointers on evaluating a Waldorf school

Reverence, wonder, and the aftereffects of straining for them

One family's story [external link]


Classroom discipline and...

Some positive elements, but also...

A parent's cry


Court case

A father asks for guidance

Looking at a Parent Handbook

Unjustly assailed

An inquiry into the “success” of Waldorf schooling


Can a Waldorf school cleanse itself?

Examining a problem that began with the first Waldorf School

An overview and a parent's personal report [external link]


You may also want to consult a few essays 
posted elsewhere at Waldorf Watch:

A guide for students and parents

Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Some of the illustrations used here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely related to the contents of the pages 
on which they appear; 
others are not 
— the latter provide general context. 

Clairvoyance, as described by Steiner.

[R.R., 2009.]