I WENT TO WALDORF
by One Who Endured It
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From ages seven to eighteen, I attended a strange school that was devoted to a secretive, mystical belief system. I’m talking about the Waldorf School in Garden City, New York. The curriculum of the school was based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, a European mystic who, among other troubling pronouncements, prophesied a worldwide racial apocalypse. Being a student at that school was a weird experience, yet today there are perhaps 1,200 allied Waldorf schools worldwide, which means that large numbers of children are repeating, in one form or another, my schoolboy experiences.
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) believed in a hierarchy of spirit worlds that are inaccessible to normal human senses but that can be perceived through clairvoyance. Having served for some time as leader of the German Theosophical movement, in 1912 Steiner established his own religious system, which he dubbed Anthroposophy.  Like Theosophy, Anthroposophy is an amalgam of spiritualistic beliefs gleaned from around the world.
In 1919, Steiner was invited by a supporter — the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany — to establish a school for the children of the factory’s employees. The institution Steiner created became the prototype for all the Waldorf schools that have followed.
Steiner's intentions for Waldorf schools were definite. Staffed by true believers, the schools should promote Anthroposophy — although the ties between the schools and the religion should be concealed from most outsiders. Here are a few tantalizing statements Steiner made about Waldorf education; he made these statements chiefly in private, addressing his supporters:
◊ “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.” 
◊ “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” 
◊ “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
◊ “[We] need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and...anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth ... Anthroposophy will be in the school.” 
◊ "[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." 
The Waldorf school I attended was a lovely place, with caring teachers, and pleasant, carefully selected classmates. For the most part, I enjoyed my years there. The school was small: twenty or so students at each grade level. The ambience was close and comfortable. As Steiner would have wanted, our school was a religious institution that hid its faith from outsiders. The school projected the image of a nonsectarian, arts-intensive preparatory academy with a progressive curriculum. This appearance undoubtedly led many parents to enroll their children without realizing what they were letting them in for: covert spiritual training leading to Anthroposophy. Even after enrollment, families found Waldorf’s disguise hard to penetrate. We students memorized no passages from holy books, we sang from no hymnals. Yet a subtle mystical atmosphere suffused the school. There was a pervasive but unspoken spiritualistic vibe in almost every lesson, in almost every activity. If it was hard for most parents to detect, we students all felt the vibe to one degree or another. It was in the air we breathed, it defined the tenor and subtext of our days. Ultimately, it shaped and colored our educations more effectively than if priests were delivering sermons to us.
The mystical core of Waldorf was kept well hidden — only rarely did anyone get a clear glimpse of it. But on a single, dramatic occasion, the core was startlingly exposed. This occurred several years after I graduated — and long before I’d fully grasped what had been done to me at the school. In early 1979, THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article about my alma mater: “‘Psychic' Ex-Student's Influence Shakes Waldorf School.”  Coming upon the article in a library, I was galvanized. THE TIMES revealed that a former student from the school had started claiming to possess paranormal powers — he could converse with beings in the spirit world, he said. Shockingly, several teachers and staff — including the headmaster, the former headmaster, and the high school principal — accepted his story and began deferring to him as a clairvoyant sage. As a result, they ceded control of the school to the young man and his “spiritual contacts.” The bewitched teachers sought supernatural guidance from the young seer in matters large and small, ranging from curricular issues to deciding what records could be played at school dances. When word of this remarkable administrative arrangement inevitably leaked, the occult beliefs of the school’s leaders emerged, fleetingly, into plain view. [For the TIMES article and other reports, see “The Waldorf Scandal”.]
The scandal nearly ripped the school apart. Scores of parents, appalled to learn what had been going on, yanked their kids out. The school seemed doomed. Nevertheless, after considerable tumult leading to the firings and/or resignations of those who were most deeply implicated, the school survived. It is still in business today, graduating class after class. I don’t know how little or how much the school has changed since my day (I attended from 1953 till 1964), or since the great upheaval in 1979. That’s not my point. I want to offer an account, here, of my experiences as a Waldorf student so that parents may understand what to look out for if they consider sending their children to such a school. Some Waldorf schools may hold Steiner at arm’s length; others cling to him tightly. In either case, check to be sure that you understand and approve the real, if covert, agenda of the school you are considering.
Ours was a school of secrets. Our teachers — most of whom I admired — did not spell out their spiritualistic goals for us. Nonetheless, Waldorf’s curriculum was designed to artfully shape us in conformity with Steiner’s mystic beliefs. It is only now, in long retrospect and after considerable research, that I can give a clear account of how and why it was done.
The educational process at Waldorf was circumspect and subtle. Instead of teaching us explicit doctrines, the Anthroposophists on the faculty tried to lead us by indirection. They sensitized us to the supernatural, and then they worked, quietly, to nurture in us a feeling of intuitive connection to the spirit realm. Their conception of that realm was largely determined by visions Rudolf Steiner claimed to have attained through clairvoyance. The resulting "educational" system is in fact devoted not to education as such but to occult spiritual training; in a word, indoctrination; or, in another word, brainwashing. The Anthroposophical creed is polytheistic, occult, gnostic; it is populated by innumerable spiritual, superhuman, and subhuman beings (gods, masters, demons, gnomes, phantoms), invisible presences working for good and for ill; it is woven with belief in karma, reincarnation, astrology, magic, initiation, clairvoyance; it is built on an esoteric cosmic narrative entailing spiritual evolution and degeneration, multiple worlds and planes, mighty combats and cataclysms and victories and defeats... Anthroposophy is a religion, although its practitioners call is a "spiritual science;" it is a belief system that must be judged heretical from most orthodox religious perspectives; it is a faith that few parents would choose for their children. Yet the ultimate purpose of Waldorf schooling is to shepherd children toward Anthroposophy.
Waldorf schools are the outreach arm of Anthroposophy; they are stalking horses for an occult sect. But hush. “If that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck."
Our school days were pleasant — mellow and tranquil. There was scarcely any unruliness or rude behavior at Waldorf. Pranks and mild rebelliousness were not completely unknown, but they were rare. (Incorrigible troublemakers were weeded out during the application process or they were expelled.) Arriving at the school each day was like entering a refuge from worldly turmoil. The morning began with a prayer, although no one called it that — we called it a "morning verse." In the lower grades, after reciting the "verse," we had classes about myths and Bible stories (Steiner believed that myths are true clairvoyant reports of the spirit world, whereas the Bible is almost true, needing to be reinterpreted in light of his own teachings). Interspersed with these supernatural lessons, there were classes in math and geography and history: regular subjects, although they were trimmed and modulated in ways we did not understand. We had no textbooks — we copied lessons written on the chalkboards for us by our teachers. The school's library was small — only the Waldorf worldview, and texts that might seem to confirm it, were available to us. Reading was not emphasized or, indeed, taught in the lower grades. We had no “Weekly Reader,” no “Dick and Jane.” Nor were modern teaching aids used, things such as movies; there was something repugnant, even evil, about them, although we were not told what. We laid our heads on our desks and listened as our teachers recited or read to us — often tales of the magical or mystical. Norse myths, in particular, were stressed — the mythology of Germany and northern Europe. The gods of many mythic traditions accompanied us throughout our Waldorf years. Anthroposophy teaches that virtually all gods, of virtually all mythic traditions, are real beings, immanent presences. [For more on the importance of myths, especially Norse myths, in Waldorf schooling, see "Oh My Word" and "The Gods”. Waldorf graduates are sometimes surprised to learn that the ancient gods are not historical figures; see, e.g., "Sneaking It In".]
At various times of the day, we knitted, and crocheted, and painted, and played simple woodwind instruments in unison. Sometimes we merely gazed about while our teachers spoke. (We did not take notes, and we were rarely tested. We didn't have to study much.) The teachers urged us to imaginatively identify with whatever we studied or saw — to feel the life-force coursing through a tree, or absorb an eagle’s noble spirit, or experience the meaning of a boulder. In art classes, we were taught to produce misty watercolors having no straight lines or clear definitions. The images we created were otherworldly, bearing no resemblance to ordinary physical reality, yet completely unlike the stick-figure cartoons kids often produce. The teachers didn’t say so, but our paintings were in effect talismanic representations of the spirit realm as described by Steiner. [See "Magical Arts" and "Wet-on-Wet".]
In dance classes, we performed “eurythmy,” a form of bodily movement that looks a bit like slow-motion modern dance but that was actually intended to teach us the proper stances to manifest spiritual states of being — calling upon influences from our past lives and preparing the basis for our future lives. [See "Eurthymy".] We did eurythmy while manipulating therapeutic copper rods and holding our pelvises strictly still. We were made to feel that eurythmy had an especially strong spiritual component. Our teachers didn’t need to articulate their beliefs about such matters; their tone of voice and facial expressions conveyed the seriousness of the tasks they set us. The eurythmy instructors made a particularly powerful impression on us. Sometimes we did eurythmy for our parents during school assemblies. These performances were almost invariably solemn, freighted with spiritual significance. In my class’s first public eurythmic performance, coming in about the third or fourth grade, we enacted the creation of the world — the emergence of light, the separation of light from darkness, the separation of dry land from the waters, and so on. We portrayed angels and archangels and the fulfillment of God’s commands. I played the role of God Almighty.
By the time we reached the upper grades, our spiritual conditioning was fairly well advanced and the curriculum became somewhat more conventional. We had a few textbooks now — although sometimes these were simple collections of primary texts: historical documents from US history, for instance, with little editorial commentary. Our teachers told us what to make of the texts. As in the lower grades, history classes were primarily recitations of exciting tales, with legends and myths intermixed. In language classes, dictionaries and grammars became permissible, and we started, tentatively, to write short essays and stories in our own words rather than simply copying out what the teachers presented. [For more on literature and history interaction at Waldorf, see "Oh My Word". For more on copying — the "curse" of Waldorf education — see "His Education".] In art classes, realism was increasingly permitted, and our dancing now included some ballroom instruction. Math, foreign languages, and a few other subjects became electives: At the fringes of the curriculum, we could choose which courses to take. But the longest, most important classes of each day — called "main lessons" — were still compulsory: All the kids at each grade level took these classes together.
So things changed, a little, as we moved up through the grades, but Waldorf’s essential nature remained. Throughout most of each day, throughout most of the curriculum, the spiritualistic vibe persisted. Eurythmy persisted. Misty watercoloring persisted. Norse myths persisted. We sat through lessons on the shortcomings of science and the failings of modern technology. Our math classes were infused with Platonic idealism: The numbers, operators, and geometric figures we worked with were, we learned, rude shadows of their true, perfect counterparts residing in an ideal, supersensory region. In literature classes, we read carefully selected novels having themes consistent with Anthroposophy,  interspersed with works of supernatural and even theological content: THE ODYSSEY, THE DIVINE COMEDY, PARADISE LOST — and, naturally, an anthology of myths from around the world, featuring (naturally) Norse myths. Most of the works assigned to us were literary classics, and as such they were perfectly defensible as high school reading matter. Our reading list was, in fact, impressive; most parents would be delighted if their kids were assigned any one of these works, and at Waldorf we read several such. But bear in mind what these works meant to us. From the earliest grades on, we had been fed a steady diet of myths and fabulous supernatural tales. Each new supernatural story built on the others, confirming us more and more in the otherworldly perspective our teachers wanted us to adopt. Gods and giants and fairies and goblins and demons and angels and cyclopses and... They were real to us, or nearly so. They danced attendance on us, and we on them. 
In brief, our teachers were astute in choosing class materials that would support Anthroposophy, if only tangentially, without raising parents’ suspicions. The crucial element was the commentary given to us in class by our teachers, who imparted a slow Anthroposophical backspin to everything. It is amazing how much can be conveyed in a few choice words by true believers who hold positions of authority. We read no critics, we received no outside views. (Imagine. What if most of the tales and texts presented during your schooling were mystical, spiritualistic, and/or religious? And what if the interpretations of these works given by your teachers conformed to the beliefs of a strange, mystical, spiritualistic cult? Your education would largely amount to indoctrination in that cult's vision of reality. Such was our education.)
Intimations of the great beyond were subtly, recurrently present in most of our high school studies — and Christ became increasingly central. Our headmaster guided us in reading spiritualistic essays: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s SELECTED WRITINGS, for instance, and Thomas Carlyle’s ON HEROES AND HERO-WORSHIP. I still have my copies of these books, in which I see that I dutifully underlined passages honoring Christ and praising “Christianism.” Our teachers rarely acknowledged their interest in Christ, explicitly, but His overwhelming significance for them was hard to miss. We were encouraged to read disguised Christian parables by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who were members of a coterie known as the Oxford Christians. Our high school chorus, which consisted of all the kids in the high school, rehearsed and performed holy music, including (during my senior year) Handel’s “Messiah.” The central event of each “nonsectarian” year at our school was the Carol Sing on a December evening. Students, parents, faculty, and alumni filled the candlelit auditorium, which for the evening became a kind of chapel. The Sing was our community bonding experience. It was unmistakably reverent (all the carols were traditional birth-of-Jesus songs — no secular ditties about Santa Clause or reindeer or snowmen), and it always culminated in “Silent Night” — which most of us sang in English but some sang in contrapuntal German.
Christ was important at Waldorf, but He was Christ as reinvisionejd by Rudolf Steiner. He was not the Son of God worshipped in Christian churches; He was the Sun God, the same god known in other traditions by such names as Ra, Apollo, and Baldr.  We not told none this, directly. We had to absorb the "truth" from the misty atmosphere of the school — or wait to absorb it later in life, or in a later incarnation. Anthroposophists are patient. Mankind's future evolution, as foreseen by Steiner, runs for millennia. [For more about Christ, see "Sun God" and "Was He Christian?". For more on Waldorf Christmases, see "Christmas". For our future evolution, see "Future Stages".]
The effects of Waldorf’s educational program gradually accumulated in our heads and hearts. After I had been at the school only a few years, the notion of trying to see the world clearly had lost almost all meaning for me. Everything seemed to me symbolic rather than concrete — although what the symbols stood for was vague. Everything had its hidden deeps.
A booklet written by our headmaster, John Fentress Gardner, throws light on the worldview that Waldorf encouraged. (Some readers may want to skip this paragraph; it is dense with the sort of jargon that Anthroposophists often affect.) Mr. Gardner discusses “the art of education developed in Waldorf Schools.” The booklet includes such statements as the following:
“Is not the contrast between mountain and sea a cause as well as an image of deep contrasts in the moral experience of mankind? Mountains define, but by the same act they also divide. They teach integrity, but may go further to instill antipathy.” 
The language is more elevated than any that our teachers would have used with us, but the message is very familiar to me: Nothing is simply what it is, it is always something else, something higher, or lower. Moral and spiritual lessons abound; the actual, physical world has value only to the extent that its points us away from itself. Accordingly, we must not conceive that a mountain is merely a towering mass of rock and earth — it is a manifestation, a lesson, an image bearing on our moral experience. Insisting that all phenomena represent (in ways that must be hermetically divined) esoteric precepts, Anthroposophists cause phenomena to recede into a multi-layered, oracular haze. Mr. Gardner also writes,
“Understandably, many teachers today [at conventional secular schools] do not recognize that the world-content has something to give, through completely experienced thought, to every power of the human soul. Their training has not led them to appreciate that within each of its facts the apparent world conceals many levels of truth....” 
Properly trained teachers at Waldorf schools don’t make that mistake: They always direct attention away from the “apparent world” to the many concealed “levels of truth” in order to empower the human soul. They have their eyes on what lies beyond — real or otherwise. And that is the key: real or otherwise. Peering deeply, seeing beyond superficial appearances can be, of course, wise. Indeed, it may be considered the essence of wisdom. But you must see what is really present in the phenomena you study — you must not imagine “hidden truths” that are mere figments of your own imagination. Steiner's followers often commit precisely the error of substituting fancies for facts. They “perceive” occult states and events that do not actually exist. They fantasize, and they lure students into their fantasies.
I should stress that not everyone at our Waldorf school was an occultist. Most of the students, lots of the parents, and even a fair number of the teachers seemed to be regular folks. And there were a few apparent fence-sitters, teachers and parents who seemed to sense something spiritually alluring about Waldorf without fully committing themselves to it. But among the faculty, undeniably, there were also the others, the true believers: individuals who always seemed to be trying to peer through the thin veil separating the physical realm from the spiritual (as they might have put it). They were serious individuals, mainly, who sometimes got faraway looks in their eyes — yet they also had a sort of steel in them, a sense of sureness. They possessed holy secrets, keys to cosmic truth.
Sometimes some of the secrets were partially revealed. Surprisingly, at least a few of the secrets seemed to involve race. During twelfth grade, my class was taught biology by our headmaster, Mr. Gardner. I don’t know what credentials he had in biology, if any, but because he was headmaster, his authority was unquestioned. He commanded respect — he was tall, dignified, articulate — a dominant male whose word was not to be doubted. Still, I remember being troubled by a lecture he delivered one morning. Mr. Gardner laid out for us the overarching structure of the family of man. He explained that the various races stood at different levels of moral development — each was forging its own destiny. He said these things sympathetically, with no hint of condescension. Yet the vibe was in the room that morning: The terms he used were more metaphysical than biological. The oriental races, he said, are ancient, wise, but vitiated. The African races are youthful, unformed, childlike, he said. Standing near the center of humanity’s family are the currently most advanced races, the whites, he said. [He was giving us a modified version of Steiner's views: See "Steiner's Racism" and "Lecture".]
I also remember a lesson our class received from another of our teachers, Hertha Karl, who taught both German and “earth science.” Her background is, to me, a closed book — but of all the Waldorf faculty, she made the least effort to disguise her devotion to Steiner. She drew figure eights on the chalkboard and lectured us about "lemniscates": the mystic interaction of the "telluric" and "etheric" forces, which is the basic structure of nature, she said. During one day's main lesson, she veered off topic to warn us never to receive blood transfusions from members of other races. All of us were white. Frau Karl taught us that blacks and Orientals have blood types that are physically different from ours, and receiving such inferior blood would harm us. The moral once again seemed to be that for Anthroposophists, racial identity has great significance.
There is no way for me to prove that Mr. Gardner and Mrs. Karl made the remarks I have attributed to them. All I can do is offer my solemn oath that I have carried clear, consistent memories of those remarks throughout my life. (Some of my own classmates have told me that their recollections confirm mine.) If my memory has grown dim or betrayed me in any particulars, nonetheless I am confident that my account of these two lessons is, in its essentials, accurate. Years after leaving Waldorf, I learned that the things Mr. Gardner and Mrs. Karl said are largely consistent with Steiner’s doctrines. If I had known this at the time, perhaps my teachers’ remarks would not have startled me enough to burn such lasting impressions.
Because all the students in my class were white, Mr. Gardner and Mrs. Karl (also white) presumably felt free to speak to us about race in invidious terms. Today, Waldorf schools seem to be fairly well integrated — and I trust the faculties are free of racial bigotry. But I wonder how those faculties reconcile integration with the racism that infects Steiner’s teachings. I hope that teachers at Waldorf schools no longer engage in open discussions of superior/inferior races, and I doubt that the word “Aryan” (which Steiner used often) is spoken aloud much now. But if Anthroposophists today are more cautious about repeating Steiner's racial teachings, they rarely repudiate those teachings in clear, unequivocal terms. [For more on Steiner and race, see "Races" and "Forbidden".]
I had been at Waldorf virtually my entire life, which meant that what I saw and heard there generally seemed normal to me. And I believe my allegiance to the school deepened with each passing year. Still, around the time I became a senior, certain things started to strike me as a bit odd. Certainly, those biology and botany lessons bothered me (the mid-1960s was the civil rights era, after all — surely we supposed to know better than to talk about “inferior” races). And I started paying attention to other, harder-to-pinpoint oddities. Occasionally our teachers would casually refer to angels or other supernatural beings as if they were objective, verifiable phenomena, as real as trees or planets or electrons. Indeed, they sometimes spoke of such beings as if they were perceptibly present. What to make of that? Having put in so many years at Waldorf, I was strongly disposed to believe in the supernatural — but how could our teachers sound so sure? And then there was this: From time to time, faculty members would reverently utter the name of Rudolf Steiner — always reverently. I knew that in some undefined way Steiner was the font of wisdom at Waldorf, but beyond that, things were indeterminate. 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 is, and you are never shown any of its central texts. That's what going to Waldorf was like.
Actually, information of all kinds was kept from us, not just the ideological sort. As I have said, Waldorf’s curriculum wasn’t primarily meant to educate us, as that term is usually understood. We did some homework, in high school, and we took occasional tests, and we wrote papers now and then. We picked up some knowledge of standard academic subjects. Yet all of that was, in a sense, incidental. No one could have mistaken Waldorf for a hotbed of intellectual excellence. Our teachers had different, overriding concerns. Waldorf’s priority was to quietly condition our souls and hearts to receive spiritual influences. To that end, our teachers subtly encouraged us always to move toward the light and away from the dark (in all its meanings). Those of us who were most susceptible to this understated manipulation were powerfully affected. I won’t violate the privacy of my former schoolmates, so I’ll speak only for myself. To my ultimate regret, I was a dutiful and submissive schoolboy, not wholly credulous, but nearly so. For me, Waldorf’s impact was thrilling. I developed esoteric yearnings — I was eager for revelation — I longed for things transcendent, for supernal beauty and grandeur. The expectation of these blessings grew in me for years and sustained me. But then, gradually, a reaction set in. It became increasingly pronounced as I progressed through high school. I was pained that the world, and I, fell so far short — always, it seemed, so far short. Dreams of the transcendent remained just that — vague, alluring dreams, perpetually out of reach. Longing for the unobtainable is a prescription for frustration, or desperation. I continued to long — perhaps more than ever — but I came to feel that my longings were becoming a burden.
I was a member of the student council. During my junior year, at my urging, the council asked Mr. Gardner to tell the student body more about Rudolf Steiner and his philosophy. There was a growing suspicion among some of us that our teachers had a clandestine agenda rooted in Steiner’s tenets. Despite being such a square — I ultimately was student council president and a graduation speaker — I felt the suspicions sharply. You see, I had a couple of private peepholes onto events behind the scenes. My mother was Mr. Gardner’s secretary. Although she never intentionally betrayed to me any of Mr. Gardner's confidences, she inevitably dropped a few tidbits about the man and his beliefs — not very informative, but enough to pique my curiosity. I also had an even more direct source of inside information. Mr. Gardner took a special interest in me. We had several private conversations. Once he gave me what amounted to fatherly advice on a range of subjects, including self-presentation (dress more formally) and premarital sex (don't). Once he asked me whether he should fire the school’s Latin teacher, and he quickly added “Don’t think about it with your brain” — I should give an instinctive response, not a considered reply. (Which raises the question, what organ should be used for thinking, if not the brain?) Once he questioned me about evolution and then conducted an extended private colloquy with me on the subject. Taking his cue from Steiner (whom he did not mention), he explained that some contemporary peoples and animals had not evolved upwards from less developed forebears but are actually the degenerate remnants of earlier, higher life-forms. Earth’s evolutionary scheme is complex, he informed me, with some species, races, and individuals rising, and others receding. I came away from our discussion feeling reasonably confident that he and I were among the upward-movers.
The student council asked Mr. Gardner to address the high school: to tell us about Steiner and then take our questions. He did so, reluctantly, and most circumspectly. As I now know from reading many of Steiner’s books, Mr. Gardner omitted a great deal: Steiner’s belief in karma and reincarnation, for instance; also his belief in Atlantis, and goblins, and Lemuria, and Ahriman, etc. [For these subjects, see the relevant entries in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] Mr. Gardner sidestepped such things. Instead, he told the assembled students that Steiner had been a wise teacher, a spiritualist with extraordinary insight. He said Steiner’s insights into the arts helped lay the foundation for our arts curriculum, and that Steiner’s scientific insights had, among other things, led to the development of a particularly productive form of organic gardening. He said Steiner was enormously perceptive and aware. Then somehow he let slip that Steiner could see spirits with his naked eye — which caused a few gasps and giggles from the students, but only a few. (I now suspect this “slip” was intentional: Mr. Gardner was hinting at the talent we all should cultivate when sufficiently evolved: clairvoyance, the basis of Steiner’s insights and wisdom.) Beyond that, he told us little. He said Waldorf’s purpose was obvious: to educate and improve us. Steiner’s educational principles were certainly invaluable, he said, but then he added that it would do us no good to delve into Steiner’s writings at our age — we were too young to grasp them. The right way to learn about Steiner, he told us, was to form study groups when we were older, and then with like-minded seekers we should read and discuss as many of Steiner’s books as caught our interest. Overall, Mr. Gardner ducked our questions, giving us essentially a one-word answer: Wait.
The scandal of the ‘psychic’ ex-student broke in the late 1970s, more than a decade after I graduated. But as I read and reread the TIMES article, I thought of people I had known during my Waldorf years — classmates and teachers. Mr. Gardner was named in the article: He had resigned. Also named were my class advisor/math teacher, my history teacher/soccer coach, and a librarian I remembered. One person tangentially involved in the scandal went unmentioned in the article. My class’s homeroom teacher during the elementary grades was Carol Hemingway Gardner, John Gardner’s wife. She was a tender, motherly woman — I think every kid in the class loved her. I was sorry to think of her following her husband into disgraced retreat. I still remember her fondly, although I now realize that she — in the gentlest manner possible, and I’m sure with pure motives — began my introduction to the mythic/religious visions of Anthroposophy. The class history printed in our 1964 yearbook includes the following:
“In the third grade we began our study of the Bible, and put on a play about Joseph’s coat of many colors ... Besides the three R’s, the fourth grade was occupied with the study of Norse myths. The high point of the year was the building of Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, out of paper. The fifth grade, where we learned about Greek and Egyptian myths, was our last with Mrs. Gardner.”
Mythology lay much closer to the heart of our curriculum than did science. Our study of science, such as it was, occurred in the context of a pervasive antiscientific bias. In high school physics and chemistry classes, we tried to duplicate, step by meaningless step, preprinted "experiments" spelled out as if they were recipes. Science classes seemed designed to be as dull and off-putting as possible. [For more about science instruction at Waldorf schools, see “Steiner’s Science" and “Lesson Books”.] The shortcomings of science were conveyed to us in many ways. Our physics/chemistry teacher recommended the book SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW, which aims to debunk science and the scientific method. I read it and reread it. Our headmaster assigned us the book THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY, which became the subject of our senior discussion meetings (meetings in which teachers spoke a lot and students very little). The book’s subtitle is “Perfection Without Purpose”; the thesis is that a technologist’s “preoccupation with facts...blocks his approach to that more spiritual wisdom which cannot be reduced to mechanics.” Spiritual wisdom, and the ways science and technology block it, were our focus. The meetings reiterated and underscored several lessons that we, as longtime Waldorf students, had already absorbed deeply: We should doubt “facts” (i.e., physical phenomena), mistrust our senses and brains, see through the pretensions of scientists and engineers, and follow our heartfelt intuitions instead. Mr. Gardner himself generally led each meeting.
All in all, science meant little to us. “Truth,” for us, tended to be a metaphysical rather than an empirical concept. Thus, the line between verifiable truth and woolly speculation became blurred. Our school’s library had space in its scanty collection for books on flying saucers, dragons, yetis, and other undocumented phenomena, generally presented as if they were not merely plausible but almost certainly real. One of our science teachers directed me to ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS, by crypto-zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. The author of that tome argues for the probable existence of numerous fabulous beasts — including various types of apemen. Heuvelmans chastises scientists for failing to credit anecdotal reports about such creatures. To my young mind — and presumably the minds of other Waldorf students — such books seemed conclusive. Of course the world is thronged with fabulous, mythical, legendary beings. Of course science is blind and the mythopoetic imagination sees truly. And thus all the myths we heard and studied in class were confirmed, and we were led farther and farther from a rational appreciation of reality.
This brings us to a crucial issue. For Steiner and his followers, the truest thinking is not rational cognition or brainwork, which they deem dry and un-heartfelt. The form of “thinking” Steiner advocated is more akin to emotion than to cool, rational conceptualizing, and it often leads to complication or even mystification rather than to clarity. Ask yourself whether this is what you want for your children. Steiner taught that we must regain our ancient powers of clairvoyance, raising them to new, higher levels of spiritual insight. We must open outwards through "imagination," which Steiner taught is form of clairvoyance. According to Steiner:
“Essentially, people today have no inkling of how people looked out into the universe in ancient times when human beings still possessed an instinctive clairvoyance ... If we want to be fully human, however, we must struggle to regain a view of the cosmos that moves toward Imagination again....” 
We must return to clairvoyance, which is imagination. On this path, intellect and the brain are mere way stations; our true goal is to transcend them, reaching new, higher or "exact" forms of clairvoyance. As Steiner said on another occasion:
“I have described...how the intellectual is further developed into conscious, exact clairvoyance ... Through such a higher consciousness — imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness — man may reach in self-knowledge beyond his intellect and know himself as part of the supersensible [i.e., supernatural] world .” 
As for the intellect, we must leave it behind.
“The intellect destroys or hinders.” 
As for the brain itself, it has little if any value.
"[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition." 
Actual cognition, according to Steiner, is clairvoyance.
Ask yourself, please, whether this is what you want for your children. A form of schooling that devalues the brain and its workings. A form of schooling oriented to the fantasy of clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance", "Exactly", and "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]
Some students at my Waldorf school did not succumb to the covert spiritual Waldorf agenda. Those with thick skins, or high innate levels of skepticism — or who attended for only a few years — came through relatively unscathed. Other students were affected in varying degrees. I’d guess that a small but not insignificant minority were essentially won over: Waldorf gave them what their souls seemed to need, and they entered into a long-term commitment. After graduation, they came back year after year for the reunions and Carol Sings and special events, and they contributed to the annual fund-raising appeals, and they did what they could to further the school’s mission. Some eventually became dedicated, Steiner-studying Anthroposophists.
I escaped that fate, but it was a near thing. During my eleven years at Waldorf, I stood quite close to the fire, and I was drawn to its warmth — yet I pulled back. My nearest approach to full allegiance came during the excitement and nostalgia of graduation day. On that June morning, I considered myself profoundly religious (although I could not list the Ten Commandments nor quote more than a few short Bible verses). I thrilled to the knowledge that the world is more spirit than physics, more ideal than actual. I was vain, moralistic, priggish, innocent, shy, racially bigoted, and (confusingly, for a kudo-swollen student) utterly lacking in self-confidence. I was judgmental yet uncertain. I had no patience with science and its shallow half-truths. I prized imagination over intellect, sensibility over sense. I was right about everything, always — don’t even ask. (Please, don’t ask.) I had only superficial knowledge of the US economy and the major political issues in the wide world — and I didn’t care. Everything that I saw outside the school seemed to be beneath me. I was directionless. I had no career ambitions, no academic focus, no marketable skills. I had precious few social skills. I longed for a beauteous, buxom Aryan mate. (Few real girls approximated my fantasy. Marilyn, where are you? I never dated much.) I half-yearned for easeful death, or better yet a crusade, or salvation. I dreamed of writing a book titled GOD that would reconcile all the world’s religions. I dreamed of becoming President of the United States. I dreamed of performing — I wasn’t sure what — something — a titanic, stupendous something. But I had no intention of lifting a finger. I was on hold, waiting... In other words, I had been brainwashed, with a thoroughness and intensity I could not fathom. (Call me the Manchurian Schoolboy.) And, I should add, I was — without quite realizing it — deeply unhappy. Thank God, I was deeply unhappy. As the realization of my dejection slowly dawned on me during the following years, I became motivated to try to comprehend my condition and then to repair it. Even so, only gradually was I able to fight my way down from the fog in which (metaphorically speaking: only a metaphor) I levitated and at long last find my footing in reality. It took me more than twenty years to fully deprogram myself.
I would not want others to undergo that long, wearisome struggle. If you contemplate sending your sons or daughters to a Waldorf school, work hard to learn precisely what the school’s curriculum and goals are. How much of the curriculum entails copying from the chalkboard? Is creation of "lesson books" given too much emphasis? Is discussion encouraged? Is dissent allowed? Are prayers ("morning verses") mandatory? What sorts of books are in (or banned from) the library? What sorts of textbooks, if any, are used in class? Are science courses taught straight, or with a mystical bent? Ask what role myths and legends play in the curriculum. Ask who Rudolf Steiner was. Ask for his views on evolution. Ask about clairvoyance. Bring out lists of Steiner quotations that raise questions for you, then ask those questions. [See, e.g., "Say What?"] Try to learn how deeply committed the school is to Steiner’s doctrines. [See "Advice for Parents" and "Clues".] As I indicated earlier, not all Waldorfs are completely alike. Some may distance themselves from Steiner’s racism, for instance. The problem, however, is that Steiner’s entire system is built on his clairvoyant, mystical “insights” (which include his racist “insights”). A Waldorf school cannot wholly rid itself of Steiner's mysticism unless it wholly renounces Steiner — in which case it ceases to be a real Waldorf school. Halfway measures may be possible — affirming some of Steiner’s mystical teachings while rejecting others — but mysticism would necessarily remain entrenched in the curriculum, while some of the “truths” that gave that mysticism its justification would be absent. The resulting pedagogy, tacking among an expurgated set of Steiner’s teachings, would inevitably lose much of its coherence and rationale.
Jewish parents may want to take special precautions. Steiner was arguably not a rabid anti-Semite. But any Jewish parents who are considering a Waldorf school should think carefully about Steiner’s racism and the emphasis he placed on Christ. Evaluate, too, Steiner’s comments about the historical role of Judaism, such as the following:
“[T]he best thing the Jews could do now would be to merge into humankind generally…so that the Jews as a people would simply disappear … [T]he mission of Judaism is no longer needed in human development.” 
You also may want to investigate the debate over possible ties between some Anthroposophists and Nazis. [See "Sympathizers?"]
All parents of all backgrounds who consider Waldorf schools for their children should press persistently for honest answers from the schools about their policies and underlying philosophy. If you mistrust any answers you receive, send your kids elsewhere. Their lives are in your hands.
— Roger Rawlings
Waldorfish art, R.R.
Norse myths — the mythology of Northern Europe, including Germany — are emphasized in Waldorf schools because Rudolf Steiner said those myths give a remarkably accurate view of human evolution.
“No other mythology gives a clearer picture of evolution than Northern mythology. Germanic mythology in its pictures is close to the anthroposophical conception of future evolution.” — THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, p. 17, synopsis of lecture 7.
Steiner claimed that the gods depicted in myths — Norse myths particularly — are real spiritual beings. The ancients knew these gods as well as we know our neighbors today.
"Odin, Freya, and all the other figures in Nordic mythology were not inventions; they were experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 198.
Bear in mind that Steiner was not saying that ancient people deceived themselves, seeing gods that were not really there. On the contrary, Steiner taught that ancient people — possessing natural clairvoyance — had a truer view of reality than many modern humans have. Remember a quotation we saw previously:
“Essentially, people today have no inkling of how people looked out into the universe in ancient times when human beings still possessed an instinctive clairvoyance ... If we want to be fully human, however, we must struggle to regain a view of the cosmos that moves toward Imagination again....” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 256.
The racism in Steiner's doctrines reaches its nadir in the prediction of an impending race war.
"[T]he transition from the fifth cultural epoch [i.e., the present] to the sixth cultural epoch cannot happen differently than as a violent fight between white mankind and colored mankind in the most varied areas. And world history will consist of those events that will lead to these battles between white and colored mankind, until the great fight between white and colored mankind has been brought about.” — Rudolf Steiner, DIE GEISTIGEN HINTERGRÜNDE DES ERSTEN WELTKRIEGES - KOSMISCHE UND MENSCHLICHE GESCHICHTE SIEBENTER BAND (Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1974), p. 38, translated by Roger Rawlings, 2010.
Steiner taught that the various races of man stand at different levels of spiritual development. The whites, and only the whites, hold the promise of a bright future for humanity.
“On one side we find the black race, which is earthly at most. If it moves to the West, it becomes extinct. We also have the yellow race, which is in the middle between earth and the cosmos. If it moves to the East, it becomes brown, attaches itself too much to the cosmos, and becomes extinct. The white race is the future, the race that is creating spirit.” — Rudolf Steiner, VOM LEBEN DES MENSCHEN UND DER ERDE - ÜBER DAS WESEN DES CHRISTENTUMS (Verlag Der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, 1961), p. 52.
I would hope that racism is not present in Waldorf schools today. But it remains present in Steiner's teachings — his followers have failed to categorically renounce Steiner's racism. And as I have said, racism became explicit in the Waldorf school I attended.
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
I quote from an online posting,
then I offer a response.
From Yahoo Answers:
I am going into year 12 this year, I have previously attended a Steiner school for my high school years. I love steiner school and I believe in their education system, but they do not offer a high school certificate or an ATAR (Australian version of SAT). I would like to get a design bachelor at university after I finish high school, so I was thinking of going to a local college to get my High School Certificate and an ATAR. This is a big dilemma because I do love the school I'm at but I feel as we are the first year 12 group going through in the state it might limit my opportunities for later on in life. I would love some ideas or other perspective on my situation, thanks.
Waldorf schools are easy to love. They tend to be small and cozy, with caring teachers and lovely surroundings. There is minimal academic pressure, plenty of spare time for play, lots of lovely art, an emphasis on imagination, an embrace of green values extending to nature walks and gardening... What’s not to like?
The deeper questions, however, are 1) Do the schools provide good educations, and 2) What effects do the schools’ underlying occult beliefs have on the students?
There is a deep moral concern, as well. The schools often pursue their occult objectives without the explicit permission of the students’ parents. Often, indeed, the schools fail to inform the parents about these objectives. [See, e.g., “Our Experience”, “Coming Undone”, "Ex-Teacher 3", “Advice for Parents”, and “Spiritual Agenda”.]
A final point. Waldorf schools often promise to prepare students for college and for productive lives in the working world. Far too often, however, this promise proves to be empty. [See, e.g., "Academics at Waldorf" and "I Went to Waldorf".]
The primary purpose of the Waldorf educational movement is promoting Anthroposophy. Here's how Steiner put it when addressing Waldorf teachers. Note that he did not say that the Waldorf school must succeed because children deserve an excellent education. And he didn't say that Waldorf must succeed in order to prove the value of new educational techniques. He said that Waldorf must succeed in order to "prove" Anthroposophical doctrine.
"The Waldorf school must succeed; much depends on its success. Its success will bring a kind of proof of many things in the spiritual evolution of humankind that we must represent.
“...Let us especially keep before us the thought, which will truly fill our hearts and minds, that connected with the present-day spiritual movement are also the spiritual powers that guide the cosmos. When we believe in these good spiritual powers they will inspire our lives and we will truly be able to teach." 
Spiritual evolution is a central Anthroposophical doctrine. The "spiritual powers" are the many gods recognized by Anthroposophy. The "present-day spiritual movement" is Anthroposophy itself. As devotees of this movement, Waldorf teachers must "believe," and by their faithful actions they must create a "proof" of the doctrines of their faith.
In brief, Waldorf teachers serve the "gods," and in this service they work to promote the "true" religion: Anthroposophy. Remember:
“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 schools are meant to spread Anthroposophy.
But what are the "things in the spiritual evolution of mankind" that Waldorf schools are meant to "prove"? To the extent that the schools aim to confer benefits on the students, those benefits represent occult doctrines. I discuss many Anthroposophical doctrines in other essays elsewhere here at Waldorf Watch. For the moment, perhaps the following will suffice. Anthroposophy entails belief in reincarnation, and the supernal "model" of human development given to us by our forefathers, and the activities of two demons, Lucifer and Ahriman. Steiner says that human beings grow in accordance with two guides: 1) the supernal model and 2) our own spiritual natures. People today, having been weakened by Lucifer and Ahriman, have difficultly forming their physical bodies. Weak humans therefore rely heavily on the model, whereas stronger humans remember their own spiritual natures and develop in accordance with those natures. Waldorf schools should work to strength all students so that they can develop correctly.
"Man, we must say, when he is born, receives something like a model of his human form. He gets this model from his forefathers [living in the spiritual world]; they give him the model to take with him into life. Then, working on the model, he himself develops what he afterwards becomes. What he develops, however, is the outcome of what he himself brings with him from the spiritual world.
"...[M]an in his earthly evolution has not remained as strong as he was pre-disposed [sic] to be before the onset of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences. Therefore he cannot form his physical body of his own accord when he comes down into the earthly conditions. He is dependent on the model, he needs the model which we see growing in the first seven years of human life. And, as he takes his direction from the model, it is but natural if more or less of the model also remains about him in his later life. If, in his working on himself, he is altogether dependent on the model, then he forgets — if I may put it so — what he himself brought with him. He takes his cue entirely from the model. Another human being, having stronger inner forces as a result of former lives on earth [reincarnation], takes his direction less from the model; and you will see how greatly such a human being changes in the second phase of life, between the change of teeth and puberty.
“This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” 
This is precisely the task of a "true" school. Waldorf schools are meant to promote Anthroposophy by enacting and "proving" its doctrines.
“A humanity that thinks materialistically will produce frightful beings in the future ... We have two streams today, a great [i.e., huge] materialistic one which fills the earth, and the small spiritual stream which is restricted to but few human beings [think of Steiner and his adherents] ... All materialistically thinking souls work on the production of evil race-formations ... Just as older conditions which have degenerated to the ape species seem grotesque to us today, so do materialistic races remain at the standpoint of evil, and will people the earth as evil races. It will lie entirely with humanity as to whether a soul will remain in the bad race or will ascend by spiritual culture to a good race.”
— Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 150.
[A] former Waldorf instructor [has said]:
"I heard in a faculty meeting that there were many important souls waiting to reincarnate in this century and that they would only be able to do so if there were enough Waldorf schools. By the end of the year I taught there I was completely convinced that Waldorf constituted a cultlike religious movement which concealed its true nature from prospective parents."
When I enrolled at the school, it was associated with Adelphi College. Our headmaster had convinced Adelphi that interesting new educational methods would be demonstrated at the school. When Adelphi became a university, the prestige of attending Waldorf grew — we could then boast that we attended The Waldorf School of Adelphi University. But Adelphi cut its ties to the school after the scandal. The school now has a different name.
Our teachers generally did not openly profess their Anthroposophical beliefs in class. They hinted and implied, but they usually stopped short of outright, explicit declaration. Undoubtedly, they thought their circumspection was the correct path. In retrospect, however, questions of honesty inevitably arise.
Years after my class graduated, some of our teachers published works in which they openly professed their beliefs and allegiances. Thus, for instance, our headmaster saluted Rudolf Steiner in print as a spiritual savant, a “high master.” — John Fentress Gardner, YOUTH LONGS TO KNOW (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 217. In the same volume, Gardner referred to himself as longtime “worker in the field of anthroposophy” [p. 210], and he affirmed various core Anthroposophical doctrines, such as belief in clairvoyance [p. 37].
Likewise, Joseph Wetzl — who was my class’s main-lesson teacher during grades 5-8 — devoted part of his retirement years to translating Anthroposophical texts. In the preface to one translation, he referred to “Spiritual Science, called Anthroposophy which has been arrived at through the genuine supersensible insights [i.e., clairvyoance] of the seer-scientist Rudolf Steiner.” — Jospeh Wetzel, preface to Otto Fränkl-Lunborg’s WHAT IS ANTHROPOSOPHY (St. George Publications, 1977), p. 7.
Gardner, Wetzl, and other true-believing Anthroposophists on the faculty of our school certainly spoke of their beliefs sometimes, in some venues, even in those far-off days when they were central powers within the school. Indeed, early versions of some of their later publications were circulated in those days. But generally they kept their secrets; they worked to promote Anthroposophy and to convey its "benefits" without clearly spelling out their beliefs for the students or for the students' parents. They doubtless thought they were doing the right thing, practicing Anthroposophy without preaching it, as it were. Yet the result was to create an Anthroposophical institution that operated largely by stealth.
[Anthroposophic Press, 1994.]