Into the World

A Review

Questioning the Claims









[Waldorf Publications, 2019]




◊ BOOK REVIEW ◊




I.



INTO THE WORLD is an important book, one that deserves close scrutiny. It purports to show, objectively and factually, the success of Waldorf education.


Released in 2019 by Waldorf Publications, INTO THE WORLD is subtitled "How Waldorf Graduates Fare After High School". The book's authors aim to demonstrate the value of Waldorf education by showing how well Waldorf graduates have done in their post-Waldorf pursuits. According to promotional material on the back cover, the book analyzes "responses of more than 1,000 alumni who graduated from some 40 Waldorf high schools spread across North America ... Perceptive responses from graduates pay ample tribute to the effectiveness of their Waldorf education."


An impartial, factual report on the strengths and weaknesses of Waldorf education would surely be valuable. Everyone interested in Waldorf education — proponents and critics alike — would benefit from reading it.


Be cautious, however, about accepting the arguments advanced by INTO THE WORLD. Waldorf Publications is housed at the Research Institute for Waldorf Education. Note the "for." The Institute strives to make the best case possible for Waldorf education. The Institute is scarcely an impartial observer; indeed, it does not pretend to be. On its website, the Institute describes itself this way:


"The Research Institute for Waldorf Education is an initiative working on behalf of the Waldorf movement." [1]


The Institute works "on behalf" of Waldorf. It is, in effect, a promotional arm of the Waldorf movement; it is an advocacy group. The Institute's "research" largely consists of gathering bits of information that might possibly be interpreted (or perhaps misinterpreted) as substantiating the Waldorf approach and its underlying ideology, Anthroposophy. This is not real research. It is not scholarly work aimed at developing new knowledge that might lead us in new directions. It is, instead, a systematic program of rationalization, designed to bolster a predetermined set of conclusions.


INTO THE WORLD is a tendentious — and ultimately unreliable — book that aims to beat the drum for Waldorf schooling. Read it, by all means. But be cautious.


Reasons for caution start appearing at the very beginning of the book. Here are the opening lines of the book's Introduction:



"INTRODUCTION


I look into the world

In which the sun is shining,

In which the stars are sparkling,

In which the stones repose;

Where living plants ate growing,

Where sentient beasts are living,

Where human souls on earth

Give dwelling to the Spirit.


"With these or similar words of translation, a growing number of children and adolescents in Waldorf schools around the world begin each day. The verse, originally written by Rudolf Steiner at the founding of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart [Germany] one hundred years ago, summons students to look into the world and notice its various marvels, then look into their own being as they invoke strength and blessing 'for learning and for work.'" [2]



This opening is misleading. The "verse" quoted is actually a prayer, and the authors of INTO THE WORLD have omitted the second half of the prayer. Here is the complete text of the prayer, in a slightly different translation:



"I look into the world;

In which the Sun shines,

In which the stars sparkle,

In which the stones lie,

The living plants are growing,

The animals are feeling,

In which the soul of man

Gives dwelling for the spirit;

I look into the soul

Which lives within myself.

God’s spirit weaves in light

Of Sun and human soul,

In world of space, without,

In depths of soul, within.

God’s spirit, ‘tis to Thee

I turn myself in prayer,

That strength and blessing grow

In me, to learn and work." [3]



Note that the students who recite this "verse" explicitly address God ("God's spirit"), and they explicitly say that they turn themselves to God in prayer ("God’s spirit, ‘tis to Thee/ I turn myself in prayer"). The students are praying. The "verse" is a prayer.


Waldorf schools are religious institutions. [4] They exist to advance the religion created by Rudolf Steiner: Anthroposophy. [5] But these realities are generally kept hidden from outsiders. Rudolf Steiner himself urged Waldorf teachers to disguise the real nature of their work. So, for instance, during a Waldorf faculty meeting, Steiner said the following about the sort of "verse" quoted by the authors of INTO THE WORLD:


“We also need to speak about a prayer. I ask only one thing of you. You see, in such things everything depends upon the external appearances. Never call a verse a prayer, call it an opening verse before school. Avoid allowing anyone to hear you, as a faculty member, using the word ‘prayer.’” [6]


But the verses Steiner wrote for the opening of the school day are distinctly prayers. Steiner frequently told his followers to deceive outsiders, and many of his followers continue to follow this directive today. [7]


Perhaps the authors of INTO THE WORLD have unimpeachable motives. Perhaps deceit is the farthest thing from their minds. But at the very start of their book, they give readers a powerful reason to become skeptical. Readers need to approach this book with considerable caution.







II.



Much of INTO THE WORLD consists of testimonials gathered from former Waldorf students. As should be expected, most of these testimonials are glowing (although, to their credit, the authors include some complaints about Waldorf "deficiencies"). Here are samples of the praise Waldorf grads are quoted as heaping on their alma maters:


◊ "Waldorf education cultivated my creativity, my drive, and my willingness to persevere to get work done."


◊ "Empathy, imagination, creativity, passion for learning new things: I have all the skills that are the most essential, rare, and useful [thanks to Waldorf]".


◊ "I credit my Waldorf education with a degree of critical thinking and mental elasticity that has been very useful in my professional life."


◊ "My [Waldorf] education supported me in my audacity to question."


◊ "I do think the Waldorf approach encourages a creative mind."


◊ "Just as my college education followed naturally from my time in Waldorf school, my career has followed naturally from my college education. I am happily employed in the field I trained for, and I use skills learned in Waldorf school every day."


◊ "Waldorf education instilled the freedom and independence to pursue what is meaningful to me, and to find creative ways to make alternative professional choices work." [8]


Glowing commendations like these appear to confirm, almost precisely, the self-image that Waldorf schools like to project. Indeed, they are surely the sorts of endorsements pro-Waldorf "researchers" would want to elicit. We are informed that Waldorf schools cultivate creativity, they foster imagination, they develop an inclination for unorthodox approaches — Waldorf grads go forth into the world filled with positive energy, confidence, and resilience.


It's a pleasing picture. We might ask, however, for some substantiation. We might ask for the dots to be connected. How does Waldorf achieve these things, if in fact it does? How do the alums know that their successes result in any degree from Waldorf's influence? What is the specific, causal connection between Waldorf practices and students' successes — months or years later — in college and — years or decades later — in the world of work? Why aren't these successes attributable to other influences, dating either from the time when the students were still at Waldorf, or from periods coming after Waldorf had receded into the past? (Influences from parents, priests or rabbis, non-Waldorf cultural or social organizations, college teachers, fellow college students, work associates...) INTO THE WORLD leaves much of its argument vague and unexamined; it leaves most of it unproven. [9]


Waldorf schools undoubtedly do, generally, leave an imprint on their students. Kids who graduate from Waldorf schools are sometimes praised for having “interesting minds.” They are “original” thinkers; they "think outside the box.” This sounds fine, and it would seem to support the claim that Waldorf schools prepare students to make original, free choices during their adult lives.


But what Waldorf grads typically display is not so much originality as the result of an unconventional form of mental training. Waldorf students are taught to rely on their imaginations and intuitions, to “feel” more than “think.” Ultimately, Anthroposophists believe in clairvoyance, not rational thought, and the effects of this belief can infect the consciousness of students educated by Anthroposophists. [10] Whether or not the Waldorf grads quoted in INTO THE WORLD know it, their statements often echo terms (such as "imagination") that, in Waldorf/Anthroposopical usage, have mystical denotations quite different from ordinary usage ("critical thinking," for Anthroposophists, is distinctly not intellectual analysis). [11] The confidence with which Waldorf graduates are often armored may serve them in good stead, but it also may fracture upon contact with the real world outside Waldorf walls. Often, this confidence is based on little more than a sort of protective flattery lavished by Waldorf teachers on their charges. [12]


American Waldorf schools have produced some distinctly successful graduates, such as the actress Jennifer Aniston and the credit-card executive Kenneth Chennault. Sometimes these celebrities attribute at least part of their success to Waldorf. And, as the testimonials in INTO THE WORLD indicate, many other Waldorf grads also look back on their Waldorf years fondly. But it is unclear whether Waldorf education actually deserves credit for the the success any of these individuals have enjoyed. Graduates of all sorts of schools may attain considerable success in life. And, by the same token, graduates of all sorts of schools can "fail," one way or another, in life. A child educated in a small, underfunded, poorly equipped rural public school may, years later, attain startling success in a chosen field. By the same token, a child from a prestigious, rich, superbly equipped private school may struggle through life after graduation and leave no discernible mark on the world.


Many factors may be involved, and they may be almost impossible to disentangle. Innate capacity is certainly a central issue — how smart, talented, or energetic an individual is. So is the quality of a child's home life — the love, encouragement, and guidance provided by parents. (This indeed may be a far more important factor that the sort of school a kid attends.) So is the array of extracurricular resources a child may benefit from — libraries in the home and community, civic organizations in the community, resources in nearby cities, and so on. (I can speak here from experience. I attended a Waldorf school. [13] As I neared graduation from that school, I realized that I was woefully unprepared for college. But our school was situated in a suburb of New York City. I made a concerted effort to begin availing myself of New York's cultural and educational riches. In addition, my parents supplied me with a large number of publications — magazines and newspapers, chiefly printed in New York — that opened windows to the world for me, windows that Waldorf had kept closed. To the degree that I wound up with anything like a solid pre-college education, I believe it was primarily thanks to these extracurricular assets, not to my Waldorf schooling.)


If a Waldorf alum becomes a success in later life, the question may be whether s/he attained this success because of Waldorf of in spite of Waldorf. In considering this, we might review some of the "deficiencies" Waldorf graduates attribute to the Waldorf schools, according to INTO THE WORLD. Generally, these deficiencies corroborate the criticism often made, that Waldorf schools do not prepare their students for real life in the real world. [14] Here are a few:


◊ "There should have been more hands-on guidance for college preparation."


◊ "Would have loved to be challenged more [academically] ... [In] English classes at college, the critiques were hard [i.e., more demanding than I was prepared for]...."


◊ "[N]ot prepared for...math, bio, and chem classes."


◊ "[U]nprepared for the workload and academic rigor...."


◊ "I don't think I was prepared enough with practical study skills, goal setting, task management, importance of networking and organization."


◊ "I graduated Waldorf without crucial skills to succeed in college."


◊ "[Waldorf] lacked educational merit." [15]


The authors of INTO THE WORLD should certainly be commended for including such negative appraisals in their pro-Waldorf book. If nothing else, this gives the book at least the appearance of being even-handed. But the authors do not sufficiently face up to the implications of such criticisms expressed by former Waldorf students. Indeed, the harshest of these comments (Waldorf did not provide needed skills, it lacked educational merit) undercut the very thesis of INTO THE WORLD — they suggest at least the possibility that Waldorf education is fundamentally flawed.







III.



INTO THE WORLD seeks to make an objective, factual case for the value of Waldorf education. It argues that Waldorf schools prepare students for success in life — in college and in careers. But while attempting to make this case, the book skirts the central problem with Waldorf.


The central problem is this: Waldorf schools exist for the purpose of promoting the occult religion created by Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner, the religion known as Anthroposophy. [16] The schools aim to usher students toward this religion. Proponents of Waldorf education almost always deny this purpose, yet it is all but undeniable. [17] The Waldorf curriculum [18] and Waldorf methods [19] are geared to this purpose. The tenor and spirit of the Waldorf education manifest this purpose — they usually do so subtly, but they almost always do so perceptibly. [20]


To put it harshly, Waldorf schools aim to indoctrinate — brainwash — their students.


I must immediately qualify this statement, burnishing away some of the harshness. Waldorf schools almost never teach Anthroposophical doctrines, in so many words, to their students. They almost never aim to convert the students, openly and overtly, to Anthroposophy. But they generally seek to usher students along a path leading to Anthroposophy. They inculcate Anthroposophical attitudes, feelings, and views so that students may decide, in later life, to become full-fledged Anthrosophists. [21] Indeed, it seems probable that a high percentage of new converts to Anthroposophy worldwide come from within the ranks of Waldorf graduates. If you did not attend a Waldorf school, I'd suggest you ask yourself how many of your old classmates are today Anthroposophists. The answer is most likely none. On the other hand, if you did attend a Waldorf school, I suspect the answer to the same question would be at least a few.


Once again, I'll speak from experience. I was a Waldorf student, starting in second grade and continuing through 12th grade (the senior year of high school). When we were at school together, none of my schoolmates evinced strong, conscious devotion to Anthroposophy. We wouldn't have understood Anthroposophical doctrine even if it had been clearly laid out for us. But in the years since graduation, several of my old schoolmates have become full-fledged Anthroposophists, while others have moved distinctly in that direction (I'd call them ninety-percenters, or in other cases eighty-percenters, or...). Indeed, some of my old schoolmates are now devoted promoters of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education. (One is an author of INTO THE WORLD.)


I submit it is extremely unlikely that any of these individuals would have wound up inside the ranks of Anthroposophy if they had not attended a Waldorf school — that is, if their Waldorf teachers had not ushered them along the path leading to Anthroposophy.


Not all former Waldorf students become thoroughgoing converts to Anthroposophy, of course. Indeed, probably only a small minority do so — although most kids in Waldorf schools are likely swayed toward Anthroposophy to at least some degree (they may eventually become seventy-percenters, or sixty-percenters, or...). Students differ in their responsiveness to the Waldorf approach [22], and some Waldorf schools proselytize more than others do. [23] But the fundamental fact remains: When Waldorf schools function as Rudolf Steiner intended, they serve to spread Anthroposophy. [24]


While Waldorf schools almost always deny that they convey Anthroposophy to their students, in reality Anthroposophical indoctrination is near the core of their mission. Steiner made clear the role Waldorf schools play in spreading Anthroposophy when he said the following, for instance:


“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.” [25]


Anthroposophy is spread through Waldorf schools, Steiner says. The is "one of the most important facts" about Waldorf — the schools have served to enlarge the ranks of Anthroposophy.


In public, Steiner usually said that Waldorf education is not Anthroposophical. But in private, when addressing Waldorf teachers, he sometimes said the opposite:


"We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” [26]


Since Steiner's followers believe that Anthroposophy is the great Truth underlying all other knowledge, they think the presence of Anthroposophy in the Waldorf curriculum will be “justified” at virtually every point in every subject studied. True-believing Waldorf teachers may be circumspect about it, bringing their beliefs into the classroom subtly, covertly, but they do bring them. And, indeed, the subtlety of their technique means that rather than openly teaching kids what they want them to learn, they furtively slip their beliefs across. They do this in class after class, day after day, month after month. This is covert indoctrination.


Anthroposophy will be in the school, Steiner said. Anthroposophy is in the school — it is the central rationale for every true Waldorf school that exists. No survey of Waldorf education, such as INTO THE WORLD purports to be, provides an accurate assessment of Waldorf schooling unless it emphasizes this central reality. Success in college, success in a career — these are not the goal or effect of Waldorf pedagogy. Waldorf education is, ultimately, about just one thing: Anthroposophy. If a book about Waldorf education sidesteps this reality, it loses almost all of its potential worth.







IV.



INTO THE WORLD is packed with data. There are lists, tables, and charts. There are quotations, analyses, a bibliography, and appendices. The apparatuses of scholarship bedeck these pages.


Whether the book makes a convincing case for Waldorf education is, however, doubtful.


Consider the following: The book's authors gathered responses from 1,066 recent graduates of "all 39 Waldorf high schools in North America." In addition, they conducted "face-to-face interviews with 22 Waldorf graduates." [27] These are tiny totals. Waldorf schools have been in operation since the first one opened, in Germany, in 1920. Today there are about 1,200 Waldorf schools operating worldwide; there are Waldorf schools on all continents except Antarctica. [28] Research aiming to evaluate the effectiveness of Waldorf education needs to cover far more students in far more parts of the world than are considered in INTO THE WORLD.


Granted, the authors of this book aimed to survey only students who have graduated from Waldorf high schools, not all kids who have ever spent time in Waldorf classrooms. But even so, a sample of about a thousand grads from about forty North American schools is clearly insufficient. The largest network of Waldorf schools is to be found in Germany, where there are currently 245 Waldorf schools all told. Clearly, we cannot draw many conclusions about Waldorf education without extensively surveying German Waldorf alumni.


INTO THE WORLD is also hampered by other methodological faults. The authors did their work in "partnership with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA)." [29] They worked, in other words, as allies of the very schools they proposed to examine.


Moreover, when "inviting" Waldorf schools to participate in the survey, the authors told the schools just what they were after: to learn how "our graduates" have fared since graduation, to highlight aspects of Waldorf schooling that "work well" and those that "need review and revision," and to publish the results "in time for the celebration" of the Waldorf centenary. Thus informed, "each school completed its own demographic survey." [30]


The bias of the project is clear, as is the questionable reliability of the information provided by the schools, whose reputation clearly was at stake. The participating schools were recruited not into an objective, rigorous study but into a celebratory, distinctly pro-Waldorf enterprise. Knowing that no impartial, skeptical outsiders would press them, officials at these schools may well have felt free to fudge when framing their responses — perhaps just a little, or perhaps more than a little. In any case, the survey seems to have lacked effective controls.


Crucially, the authors acknowledge a glaring weakness in the replies they accumulated:


"[A]t least some Waldorf schools...[had] not developed a comprehensive program for tracking and staying touch with their alumni." [31]


Hence, even schools that wished to be entirely candid may have lacked the sort of of information the survey needed. The basis for the entire project was thus weakened, perhaps severely so.


Yet another methodological fault is reflected by the 22 personal interviews conducted for the survey. This was a miniscule sampling. Moreover, it was almost surely a skewed sampling, giving inordinate weight to the views of a few chosen individuals questioned by biased interlocutors. Although the overall survey spanned 39 Waldorf high schools, interviewees were selected from just seven schools. Moreover, the schools themselves (interested parties) selected the alumni to be interviewed [32], and the questioning in 20 cases was done by just one individual, who was deeply imbedded in the Waldorf movement. In the other two interviews, she was assisted by another deeply imbedded Waldorf partisan:


"Several interviewees were referred to us by their graduating schools, others were approached directly by the interviewer, Connie Stokes, who was assisted in two interviews by Liz Beaven. Both women are veteran Waldorf teachers, school administrators, and parents of Waldorf alumni. They relied on their professional and personal networks to locate some of the interviewees." [33]


There is virtually no hope that interviews conducted in this way could be objective or truly informative.


Real research is conducted by disinterested outsiders. It entails intensive preliminary preparation, including extensive reading and analysis of previous research. It is scrupulous, probing, and impartial. It selects interviewees randomly, and carefully avoids tipping them off beforehand. It makes every effort to weigh all evidence and all opinions, from every perspective, without bias. It has no vested interest in outcomes. It does not have an allegiance to any side.


The survey conducted for INTO THE WORLD can be faulted on all of these grounds.


INTO THE WORLD is, in some ways, an impressive book. Its authors may have intended to provide unimpeachable evidence in support of the educational system they advocate. But the book is grievously flawed. It is irrelevant to a fair-minded evaluation of Waldorf education. For that, we would need neutral education experts to step forward, conduct objective, wide-scale surveys, and weigh all the evidence, pro and con. Only then might we approach a final judgment on Waldorf schooling. INTO THE WORLD falls far short of that goal.







V.



The final chapter of INTO THE WORLD offers three overall conclusions. I will quote them in brief, then I will offer a few responses.


"[Here are] three major conclusions arising from this study...


"First, Waldorf alumni recognize that their education has guided them in cultivating a meaningful outlook and that it is designed to be a 'preparation for life'...rather than solely an academic preparation...


"Second, recognition by Waldorf graduates of the collaborative, community-oriented tendencies cultivated in them at school matches up with the kind of professions a majority of them chose...in the fields of education, health services, and social services...


"[T]his is our third conclusion — we see that the same elements of Waldorf education that count for a majority of alumni as among its greatest assets are the very one that pose the greatest challenges for a small minority...." [E.g., for the minority, "Waldorf's rich, pluralistic introduction to life and learning led to difficulties in choosing a single path during adulthood."] [34]


One thing that is immediately apparent from these conclusions is the authors' intense pro-Waldorf bias. Any effort at scholarly objectivity seems to have dropped away. The authors say Waldorf alumni "recognize" the great "assets" bestowed by Waldorf. They say Waldorf offers a "rich, pluralistic" approach "cultivating a meaningful outlook" along with "collaborative, community-oriented tendencies," the value of which is denied only by "a small minority" of graduates. The authors even manage to twist the criticisms of this minority so that they become reflections of the "assets" praised by the majority.


These conclusions require close examination. Here are some evaluative comments, noting specific matters of significance along the way.


◊ The authors say Waldorf eduction is "designed to be a 'preparation for life'." This is a curious, and apparently quite cautious, formulation. Designing something for a particular purpose is not at all the same as creating something that actually achieves this purpose. Waldorf education may be designed to prepare students for life (presumably this means productive, fulfilling adult life), but does Waldorf education actually achieve this objective? INTO THE WORLD claims that it does. Indeed, this is the thesis of the book. But the book does not actually show that Waldorf education provides such preparation. Rather, the truth of this thesis is essentially assumed — it is, in effect, postulated — both at the beginning of the book and here at the end. (Some Waldorf grads clearly dispute this thesis, but they are dismissed as a "small minority" who somehow misunderstand Waldorf's virtues.)


◊ The "preparation" provided by Waldorf is linked to the "meaningful outlook" promoted by Waldorf. What is this outlook? In a word, it is Anthroposophy. As I argued previously, Waldorf schools seek to usher students along a path leading to Anthroposophy. The meaning of life, from the Waldorf perspective, is to be found in Anthroposophy. While most Waldorf graduates do not march out into the world waving the banners of Anthroposophy, they generally carry within themselves at least some portions of Waldorf's "meaningful outlook" — they generally have begun traveling down the road that may eventually take them to full, conscious acceptance of Anthroposophy.


Waldorf education is essentially religious, and the religion involved is Anthroposophy. Consider the following statements, all made by Waldorf teachers:


◊ "[I]n a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious.” [35]


◊ "[W]hen we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education … [W]e are schools that inculcate religion in children.” [36]


◊ “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., the gods]...can find their home....” [37]


◊ "Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” [38]


◊ “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” [39]


◊ "Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy...." [40]


Such statements help clarify the "meaningful outlook" promoted by Waldorf education.


◊ INTO THE WORLD hints at the academic deficiencies of Waldorf schools — in what again seems to be very careful wording, the book says Waldorf education does not provide "solely an academic preparation." In fact, Waldorf schools have long had a reputation for low academic standards, which suggests these schools may not provide a good education in any normal sense. [41] Although INTO THE WORLD argues that Waldorf education equips graduates to excel in worldly pursuits — first in college, then in careers — in reality, such pursuits are almost irrelevant from a devout Waldorf perspective. Waldorf's focus lies elsewhere — it is otherworldly, it is Anthroposophical. The deficiencies mentioned by the "small minority" of disgruntled Waldorf alumni reflect this problem — most of the criticisms quoted in the first part of this review focus on the perceived academic failings of Waldorf education. But the authors of INTO THE WORLD contrive to convert the alums' criticisms into backhanded compliments. [42]


The book is generally correct in saying that Waldorf schools foster "collaborative, community-oriented tendencies." Waldorf schools tend to be small, self-enclosed collectives, generally cut off from the wider world. Among other things, the schools' media policies tend to reinforce such isolation: Waldorf students are expected to refrain from using electronic devices — computers, smartphones, and so on — during school hours but also outside these hours. Exposure to the outside world is thus severely restricted. [43] The primary reason Waldorf schools turn inward is that the Waldorf worldview radically differs from most other views. To flourish, Waldorf communities need isolation — the members need to be shielded from ideas, conceptions, and knowledge that would call their worldview into question, or perhaps overturn it altogether. In this sense, Waldorf schools often resemble small religious sodalities that intentionally shun influences from the outer world, influences that are feared for their potentially corrupting effect.


Because the Waldorf view is essentially religious, it has a strong moral component. From the perspective of many adherents, this may be a sufficient justification for blocking out antithetical views and practices. Like most other religions, Anthroposophy stresses the need for moral conduct. [44] Waldorf students are schooled in this attitude, if not in the specific Anthroposophical doctrines on which it is based (such as belief in karma). [45] As a result, a substantial set of Waldorf graduates seems to gravitate toward service professions, intending to bestow kindness on others. This is surely meritorious. At least some of these graduates are able to enact this moral impulse within Anthroposophical networks — they may teach in Waldorf schools, work in Anthroposophical medical establishments, staff Anthroposophical charities, and so forth. Thus, the effective isolation of school years may extend into, and perhaps to end of, adulthood. (A particular form of Anthroposophical charity work is undertaken in residential collectives called Camphill comminities, where services are provided for individuals having developmental difficulties. [46])


When the authors speak about "a majority of [Waldorf] alumni," bear in mind that they are working from a very small sample. They cannot, in fact, tell us much about the majority of people who have graduated from Waldorf schools — their survey was not nearly this extensive.


Bear a couple of other points in mind, also. The authors worked through a Waldorf educational organization, AWSNA, and they solicited responses from the very schools they were purportedly studying. For these reasons, the sample they worked from was almost certainly skewed. Neither AWSNA nor the individual schools within AWSNA were likely to put the authors in contact with Waldorf grads who would excoriate the schools. Such grads exist, and indeed a few of the grads contacted had critical things to say — but for the most part, the most outspokenly critical Waldorf graduates seem absent from the authors' survey.


And, crucially, non-graduates are essentially unrepresented in the survey. Kids who graduated from Waldorf schools presumably found the schools at least bearable — they were able to stay to the end. But many other students left, for one reason or another: They withdrew or were expelled. These students might well have interesting insights into shortcomings of the Waldorf system. There is reason to think turnover is high among Waldorf students, and this turnover that may result — at least partially — from some students' rebellion against the covert, spiritualistic Waldorf agenda. [47]


Waldorf's "rich, pluralistic" curriculum exposes students to a wide array of subjects without going in any of them deeply. [48] Steiner created Waldorf education to help German students fulfill what he called the German national "mission." Steiner said this mission involves comprehending matters from multiple directions. [49] Today, Waldorf schools all around the world use essentially the same curriculum Steiner devised, even in schools situated far from Germany, in places having no direct cultural ties to Germany. This foundational Waldorf curriculum is pluralistic in some ways, drawing from art, mythology, and other cultural contributions from many lands. The reason for this is religious: Anthroposophy is a faith stitched together from multiple world religions. [50] The Waldorf worldview, in this sense, is multicultural. But the Waldorf worldview is also distinctly hierarchical. White Europe — and especially Germany — stands at the pinnacle of of human evolution, according to Steiner. [51] Consequently, one criticism often leveled at the Waldorf approach is that it is, at its roots, racist. [52] Waldorf schools today generally take pains to minimize any racist legacy persisting in their practices, but some of this legacy nonetheless remains. [53] Praising Waldorf for its "rich, pluralistic" approach amounts to gilding several features of Waldorf's history and current practices that may in truth deserve censure, not praise.



The three conclusions offered by the authors of INTO THE WORLD reveal, once again, the deeply biased nature of the book. The authors seem determined to present Waldorf in the most favorable (perhaps falsely favorable) light no matter what. Some basic problems in Waldorf thinking and practice are glossed over, while others are given strained interpretations meant to convert them, oddly, into points in Waldorf's favor. A close examination of the three conclusions only reinforces the doubts readers should rightly have about the reliability of the book and its argument.







VI.



Gathering positive testimonials about almost any human institution — as INTO THE WORLD does with Waldorf education — is usually easy. People tend to be loyal; they tend to defend institutions in which they have been deeply involved. Their egos are, to one degree or another, on the line. They identify with these institutions, at least to some extent, and they know that other people identify them with these institutions. So self-regard, allegiance, and defensiveness can kick in. It's human nature. People raised in the Muslim faith tend to stay Muslim. People raised in Christian denominations tend to stay Christian. People born in America tend to love America. People born in Russia, or China, or Brazil, tend to grow up as patriotic Russians, or Chinese, or Brazilians. And so on. It's human nature.


There are exceptions, of course — some individuals become rebels and critics, and some institutions become widely detested. But, as a general rule, the pattern tends to hold. In particular, it tends to hold with regard to schools. Students often heed the popular injunction to "be true to your school," and alumni — perhaps becoming nostalgic for their childhoods — may feel this impulse all the more strongly.


The inclination to defend one's former school may be especially strong among Waldorf graduates. Kids who attend Waldorf schools usually understand that they are enrolled in an odd sort of school. They usually know that most other kids attend very different sorts of schools. They may, indeed, endure taunts from neighborhood children who attend bigger, better-known schools. They may be put on the spot, challenged to explain why their parents send them to Waldorf. They face a choice, then. They can agree with outsiders that Waldorf is a strange place, kooky and perhaps even ridiculous. Or they can boldly assert, with or without evidence, that Waldorf is actually a superior institution — small, selective, exceptional.


After students graduate from Waldorf schools, the challenge of defending Waldorf may intensify. In fact, it may become a lifelong challenge. What's done is done. Waldorf alums undeniably went to Waldorf schools — they can't undo this reality now. So they can go through the rest of their lives shamefaced about their Waldorf history, or they can assert pride in this history. No one should be surprised if many of them assert pride rather than shame.


Of course, for many people involved with Waldorf schools, questions of embarrassment and shame may never arise. They may not care a bit if some outsiders think Waldorf schools are weird. Many Waldorf students genuinely enjoy their school experiences, and many Waldorf grads may look back with genuine fondness. Waldorf schools can be very pleasant places. Academic pressures are often low [54], and Waldorf teachers tend to be caring and supportive. [55] There is usually a strong emphasis on beauty and art in these schools. [56] The ambience is often (or may often seem) free and easy. For younger students, there is usually plentiful time and scope for free play. [57] Older students are often allowed to undertake unstructured studies of various sorts, and they are encouraged to think outsider the box (or outside the norms of society at large, anyway [58]). For the most senior students, Waldorf schools tend to reward or at least tolerate a certain degree of idiosyncratic, individualistic behavior. [59] Famously, Waldorf schools profess a deep devotion to human freedom. [60]


All in all, Waldorf schools can be exceptionally pleasant places.


But this leaves open a crucial question: Do Waldorf schools, pleasant as they may be, provide a good education? Surprisingly, this question — which stands at the center of INTO THE WORLD — is very nearly irrelevant from the Waldorf perspective. In general, Waldorf schools are far less concerned with ordinary, practical education than with other matters. So, for example, one of Steiner's foremost apostles has written the following:


“The success of Waldorf Education...can be measured in the life force attained. Not acquisition of knowledge and qualifications, but the life force is the ultimate goal of this school.” [61]


Not knowledge. Not qualifications. Not, we might add, a real education.


The purpose of Waldorf schooling, by this account, is to convey "life force" [62] by implementing Rudolf Steiner's marvelous, healthful insights on the students' behalf. Other proponents of Waldorf education have made the same point in somewhat different words. So, for instance, a respected Anthroposophist has written this:


"[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... [Waldorf] teachers...know that it is their task to help the child make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual members [i.e., components of his soul and spirit] to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information and knowledge...." [63]


Again, we learn that Waldorf education is not focused on "information and knowledge." Waldorf schools do not, in other words, aim to provide what most people think of as a good education.


Various Waldorf teachers have attempted to explain, in what they hope are acceptable terms, just what Waldorf schools are do aim for. Here are a few of their efforts [64]:


◊ “[F]rom a spiritual-scientific [i.e., Anthroposophical] point of view child education consists mainly in integrating the soul-spiritual members with the corporeal members [i.e., integrate the soul and spirit with the physical body]." [65]


◊ “A Waldorf school is...an organization that seeks to allow the spiritual impulses of our time to manifest on earth in order to transform society ... [I]t strives to bring the soul-spiritual into the realm of human life.” [66]


◊ "The reason many [Steiner or Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools." [67]


◊ “From the spiritual world the human being comes into earthly incarnation ... [T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma ... The teacher is an intermediary and his task is to guide the incarnating individualities into the physical world....” [68]


◊ “Waldorf education is centered around the Christ as a Universal Being [69] ... Rudolf Steiner speaks of the Christ in the present time as dwelling in the etheric world surrounding the Earth ... Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” [70]


◊ "In one sense...Waldorf teachers are bound in absolute terms to a definite educational philosophy, curriculum and didactic method; in another they are completely free agents, albeit within the 'law' of Waldorf methodology ... Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." [71]


Statements like these open a window onto the Waldorf mindset, the mindset that Waldorf schools seek to promote and spread. In a word, this mindset is Anthroposophy. Proponents of Waldorf education almost always deny that Waldorf schools press Anthroposophy on the students, but in truth they do just this. They immerse kids in a mild form of the Waldorf/Anthroposophical mindset, a form that they deem suitable for youngsters. Consider the following. Rudolf Steiner once upbraided a Waldorf teacher in the following words:


“The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 402-403.


Note that Steiner did not criticize the teacher for bringing Anthroposophy into the classroom. Instead, he criticized the teacher for not making Anthroposophy accessible to the students.


Anthroposophy is integral to Waldorf. It is, in fact, Waldorf's raison d'être. Waldorf schools seek to indoctrinate their students in a form of Anthroposophy the kids can assimilate. [72] This process is usually subtle and even enjoyable — students are rarely given the impression that they are being forcibly herded in an objectionable direction. [73] Nevertheless, it is indoctrination, and it is the most important issue to confront when evaluating Waldorf schooling.







INTO THE WORLD is an important book. But it is deeply flawed. It omits or skirts matters that must be considered in any complete and accurate exposition of Waldorf schooling. The book is more akin to canny public relations than to objective scholarship. Published by a pro-Waldorf organization — one that describes itself as "an initiative working on behalf of the Waldorf movement" [74] — INTO THE WORLD is essentially a PR position statement issued in advocacy of Waldorf schooling. The book is worth reading. But very little within it can be accepted at face value.














Wet-on-wet watercolor by a Waldorf student.

[Courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]









ADDENDUM






INTO THE WORLD presents an essentially one-sided, promotional vision of Waldorf schooling. It offers survey results that, on balance, make Waldorf look very good. But there are other visions, other surveys or round-ups that you should take into account.


You might consult, for instance, the items listed under "Personal Stories of Former Waldorf Parents, Students, Teachers, Administrators" at the website of People for Legal and Nonsectarian schools. [75] You might visit the page "Cautionary Tales" at Waldorf Watch. [76] You might read the multitudinous statements (declarations of praise and condemnation, plaudits and gripes) gathered at the site The Waldorf Review. [77] These are controversial websites — don't place implicit faith in them, any more than you should place implicit faith in the authors of INTO THE WORLD. But as counterweights to INTO THE WORLD, they deserve attention.




What would you find, if you gathered all the available testimony about Waldorf, the pro and the con, the positive and the negative? Here is my effort at a broad summary:


Parents and students who've written about their firsthand experiences at Waldorf schools often praise Waldorf faculties — or at least some members of Waldorf faculties — for being devoted and caring. They express real affection for many Waldorf teachers.


On the other hand, numerous reviewers (parents and students) complain that Waldorf schools fail to provide a good education. This implies a wide-scale failure by Waldorf teachers. Deficiencies are reportedly greatest in the early grades. Waldorf schools generally acknowledge that they begin academic instruction later than other types of schools do. Waldorf proponents claim that Waldorf students eventually catch up with, and even surpass, students at other schools. But various reviewers challenge this, asserting that Waldorf students remain behind throughout middle school and even high school.


Waldorf preschool programs are generally described as lovely, warm, and nurturing. Some reviewers argue that preschool is the best part of the Waldorf curriculum; some suggest sending kids to Waldorf nursery schools and kindergartens, then transferring them elsewhere. Others say transferring is a problem, though, since Waldorf preschool provides almost none of the academic preparatory work found in mainstream preschools.


Waldorf education is sometimes represented as being progressive, and some reviewers express surprise — even shock — when this seems disproven in practice. [78] Waldorf teachers often rely on old-fashioned approaches, such as requiring young students to sit quietly while listening to recitations delivered by their teachers. Often in art classes, all the children are required to copy a single image presented by the teacher — there is little room for individual expression. In higher grades, teachers write text on the chalkboard — the students are told to copy this, verbatim, into their lesson books. [79]


Parents and students heap praise on certain beloved Waldorf teachers, but they also level sharp criticism at some other Waldorf faculty members. Various reviewers complain of teachers who have few if any real qualifications, teachers who evidently did not attend — or graduate from — college, and teachers with an unbending commitment to Anthroposophy. Because Waldorf class teachers [80] often stay with the same group of children for many years (often from first grade through fifth or eighth grade), the qualifications and attributes of individual teachers is especially crucial in Waldorf schools. If your child is fortunate enough to be in a group enjoying the attentions of an outstanding educator, all may be well. But if your child's class teacher is below-average, long-term problems may result.


Numerous reviewers say relations between Waldorf teachers and students' parents can be strained, perhaps more so than in other schools. Waldorf schools encourage or even require parents to do volunteer work, and some parents sit on committees or boards holding real power within the schools. Thus, parental involvement is usually extensive, and a sense of community may be fostered. Nonetheless, sundry parents report feeling shut out by Waldorf teachers and administrators in various ways. [81] Waldorf teachers are often given free rein to conduct classes according to their own preferences and intentions, with little or no supervision. Teachers with bright dispositions, lively minds, and loving hearts may thrive in this system, and their students may benefit commensurately. But in other cases, problems reportedly arise: Teachers may become autocratic, inflexible, and unresponsive to the concerns of both students and parents.


Waldorf administrations come in for heavy criticism. Many reviewers describe various Waldorf schools as disorganized, leaderless, and even dysfunctional. Sometimes the fault is ascribed to incompetent administrators, and sometimes it is ascribed to organizational arrangements lacking sufficient numbers of administrators. [82] Either way, according to a large number of reviews, Waldorf schools often suffer from a lack of effective management. This, along with concerns about the quality of the education provided and worries about the schools' allegedly hidden spiritualistic purposes, causes many families to leave. Reviewers indicate that drop-out rates at Waldorf schools are often high.


A major source of concern is that Waldorf schools are often far more immersed in Anthroposophy than they acknowledge. After a family commits itself to a Waldorf school, the parents may eventually conclude that they have been deceived, induced to send their children to a school that has unexplained esoteric beliefs and practices. Some reviewers report feeling that they have been lured into the outer circles of a cult. The countercultural, New Age, "spiritual" ambience perceptible in many Waldorf schools can be one of the great attractions of these schools. Beauty and idealism are often apparent during initial visits to Waldorf schools, and some families find the schools' implicit promises fulfilled over time — they are glad they found Waldorf. But other families become alienated. Some parents report deciding that they were misled, and they worry that their children have been subjected to something like occult indoctrination. Some point to the contents of the students' lesson books as evidence.


A surprising but prevalent complaint mentioned by multiple reviewers is that Waldorf schools often allow bullying and other abusive behaviors among students and even staff. Lack of discipline is often cited, paired with failure to adequately supervise students during recesses or even in class. [83] Less common, but equally worrisome, is that some reviewers report racial prejudice, taunting, and discrimination in at least some Waldorf environs. [84] The treatment of students with special needs in Waldorf schools is also a subject of controversy. Numerous reviewers indicate that Waldorf schools are singularly ill-equipped to assist such students, while a few reviews claim just the reverse. [85] Some reviewers accept the Waldorf claim that individual differences are honored in these schools, but many others report that students are stereotyped and subjected to one-size-fits-all processes — as if all children of a given age are essentially alike, for instance.


Reasons for liking Waldorf seem to be about as diverse as reasons for disliking it. Reviewers who affirm Waldorf seem to be split between those who do not apprehend the Anthroposophy in Waldorf, and those who are attracted to the Anthroposophy (vague as that occult Germanic faith apparently seems to many). Parents and students who rebel notably include those who catch on to the covert Waldorf agenda, to one degree or another, and become aggrieved.





That's my good-faith effort to summarize a broad array of reports, reviews, essays, postings, letters, and other documents written by current and former Waldorf parents and students. Is it accurate? Can you rely on it? Or have my own biases distorted my understanding? [86]


I invite you to dig unto these questions. Read INTO THE WORLD, read the contents of the websites I mentioned above, read any other relevant materials you can find — and draw your own conclusions. [87] You can do better than INTO THE WORLD. (You can do better than Waldorf, as well.)


— Roger Rawlings










ENDNOTES





[1] See "About Us", http://www.waldorfresearchinstitute.org/aboutus.html.


[2] INTO THE WORLD (Waldorf Publications, 2019), p. v.


[3] Rudolf Steiner, quoted in PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 47.


This is the prayer written for older students to recite. Steiner wrote a different prayer for younger students. It, too, is undeniably a prayer. In it, the students address and praise God:


"I reverence, O God,

The strength of humankind,

That thou so graciously

Hast planted in my soul...

From Thee come light and strength,

To Thee rise love and thanks."

— PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN, p. 45.


For more on prayers written by Steiner and/or used in Waldorf schools, see "Prayers".


[4] See "Schools as Churches".


[5] See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"


[6] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 20.


[7] See "Secrets".


[8] INTO THE WORLD, p. 77.


The definitions of "success" and "failure" used here are obviously open to question. Generally, INTO THE WORLD implicitly focuses on worldly success and failure: attaining or failing to attain favorable outcomes in society at large. To at least some degree, such success or failure is measured by the standards of the society itself. Clearly, there are more important types of success and failure than mere worldly success or failure, but these would be far more difficult to measure by the sort of survey conducted for INTO THE WORLD.


[9] We should also note that in ostensibly praising Waldorf, the grads are essentially praising themselves. They are boasting. E.g., "I have all the skills that are the most essential, rare, and useful." These former Waldorf students credit themselves with many admirable qualities (such as "my creativity, my drive, and my willingness to persevere to get work done"), which probably should give us pause. Bragging can be a signal of various problems, including underlying insecurity. (People who are genuinely confident rarely need to assert that they are confident. People who possess genuinely admirable qualities rarely need to insist that they possess such qualities.)


[10] See “Thinking Cap” and “Steiner’s Specific”.


[11] See the entry for "clairvoyance", "imagination' "inspiration", "intuition", and "critical thoight" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).


[12] See "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".


[13] See "I Went to Waldorf". (For my post-Waldorf experiences, see "My Sad, Sad Story". The title of this second piece is, as I hope is obvious, ironic.)


[14] See "Discussions", "Our Experience", and "Coming Undone".


[15] INTO THE WORLD, pp. 97-99.


Clearly, at least some Waldorf students do not find that Waldorf prepares them well for college. This comports with my own observations and experiences. I have known several Waldorf grads who found college almost impossible — Waldorf had left them extremely unprepared. Yet some Waldorf graduates do well in college — if not immediately, then after a while. This was my own experience — I struggled with college for a few semesters, dropping out of one college and transferring away from another. But eventually I found my footing. This occurred when I was able to move well beyond my Waldorf habits and learned the practices and mental disciplines that college work required.


All in all, it would seem that INTO THE WORLD errs when it suggests that Waldorf provides a good college-preparatory education. If, in some cases, it may seem to do so, in other cases it certainly does not.


[16] "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"


INTO THE WORLD suggests that Waldorf education helps prepare students for successful careers. But in fact Waldorf education is not primarily concerned with life in the physical universe, much less the pursuit of worldly careers. The Waldorf vision is distinctly otherworldly — it is religious. You may or may not find Anthroposophy to be a religion you can embrace, but in either case you should realize that entry into Anthroposophy is almost utterly divorced from (and may even be antithetical to) the pursuit of a worldly or practical career.


Some Waldorf graduates have certainly had successful worldly careers, but this may owe almost nothing to their Waldorf experiences. Indeed, when a former Waldorf student enrolls in college, spends several years at the college, receives a college degree, and then enters into a career where s/he excels — after all that, it is probably more accurate to say this individual is a college graduate than a Waldorf graduate. Four or more years have passed since s/he left Waldorf, and s/he has now pursued intensive studies in a wholly different (and doubtless more pragmatic and intellectually instructive) form of education. This latter education, a college education, will usually prove far more influential and valuable in any subsequent career than long-ago Waldorf education will likely do.


Waldorf's influence will likely persist at the emotional/psychological level, particularly with regard to spiritual matters (religion, Anthroposophy). But Waldorf will probably have far less impact at the intellectual level (where it was not aimed), particularly with regard to worldly matters.


[17] See "Here's the Answer".


[18] See "The Waldorf Curriculum".


[19] See "Methods".


[20] See "Waldorf's Spiritual Agenda" and "Soul School".


There are, of course, differences between individual Waldorf schools. In describing the purpose of Waldorf education, I am describing the aim as established at the first Waldorf school, which was overseen by Rudolf Steiner himself. The true Waldorf schools that have followed — those Waldorf schools that have striven to remain faithful to Steiner's vision and directives — have pursued the same aim. Other, nominal Waldorf schools may have vacillated to one degree or another, perhaps due to factional disagreements, perhaps for other reasons. But Steiner's vision remains central throughout the overall Waldorf movement. Indeed, many parts of training to become a Waldorf teacher consist of instruction in Anthroposophical beliefs and practices. [See "Teacher Training".]


True, committed Anthroposphical Waldorf teachers deem Anthroposophy to be the Truth, and naturally as educators they want their students to move toward truth rather than toward falsehood. Therefore, even when they do not consciously intend to proselytize, such teachers almost inevitably nudge their students (repeatedly, earnestly) in the direction of Anthroposophy.


[21] See the section "We Don't Teach It " in "Waldorf's Spiritual Agenda".


[22] See "Who Gets Hurt?"


[23] See "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".


[24] See "Serving the Gods".


[25] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 156.


[26] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.


Addressing the same teachers, Steiner explained that the goals of Waldorf education are the same as the goals of Anthroposophy. But hush!, he added. Don't let outsiders see strong, clear ties between Waldorf and Anthroposophy:


“[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." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 705.


[27] INTO THE WORLD, p. 17.


[28] See the World Waldorf List, https://www.freunde-waldorf.de/fileadmin/user_upload/images/Waldorf_World_List/Waldorf_World_List.pdf. I consulted the list on April 23, 2020.


Claims made for the total number of Waldorf schools tend to vary widely, but the World Waldorf List — giving the total as 1,182 — seems to be the most authoritative tabulation.


[29] INTO THE WORLD, p. 16.


[30] Ibid., p. 15.


[31] Ibid., p. 17.


[32] These were all, evidently, students who liked Waldorf well enough (or whose parents liked it well enough) to stay all the way to the end. A truly informative survey would include randomly selected students who left Waldorf, for whatever reason, before 12th grade graduation. Testimony provided by such students might be instructive. But a survey that confines itself to graduates is necessarily tendentious. Every student who graduates is, to some degree, a success story. A survey dealing only with graduates must be, then, a parade of success stories. When such a survey reaches happy conclusions, it may doing little more than moving in a tautological circle: Kids who succeed in Waldorf schools generally have good feelings about Waldorf schools.


Of course, if a survey of Waldorf grads makes a compelling case that these grads do well in college and in their careers, then the argument in favor of Waldorf is considerably strengthened. But showing that the grads have indeed done well (which may be quite different from hearing grads say they have done well) would be difficult — it would require more evidence than INTO THE WORLD provides. And bear in mind, even in this book's distinctly pro-Waldorf survey, a number of Waldorf graduates are quoted as voicing sharp criticisms of Waldorf education (see part 2 of this review). No, these graduates say, Waldorf did not prepare me for success in college or in the world of work.


At least anecdotally, we have extensive evidence that many families are deeply disappointed with Waldorf education. [See, e.g., "Complaints".] Many break away from Waldorf schools — the parents remove their children, who therefore never become Waldorf grads. Then, too, the schools often expel certain students who are judged refractory or otherwise unsuited for Waldorf. Overall, turnover in Waldorf schools seems to be quite high. [See, e.g., "Complaints 2" and "Complaints 3". For my own report on turnover among my Waldorf class, see "Who Gets Hurt".] Numerous former students have said that Waldorf schools failed them, and numerous parents report that they regret sending their children to Waldorf schools. [See, e.g., "Our Experience" and "Coming Undone".] An evenhanded survey should certainly include testimony from such disgruntled former members of the Waldorf community, evidence centering primarily on students who did not graduate from Waldorf.


[33] INTO THE WORLD, pp. 115-116.


[34] Ibid., pp. 194-195.


[35] Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Nova Institute, 2002), p. 134.


[36] Eugene Schwartz, “Waldorf Education — For Our Times Or Against Them?” (transcript of talk given at Sunbridge College, 1999).


[37] Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.


[38] Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents and Teachers (SteinerBooks, 2017), p. 4.


[39] Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.


[40] Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. xii.


[41] See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".


Waldorf schools generally claim to educate the whole child — "head, heart, and hands." [See "Holistic Education".] In practice, based on Anthroposophical beliefs, this means emphasizing soul and spirit while downplaying intellect. Steiner inveighed often against academic learning, intellect, brainwork, and indeed the functioning of the brain. [See "Steiner's Specific — Thinking Without Our Brains".] Steiner indicated that the brain does not produce thoughts — at most, it receives thoughts beamed down by the gods. Students thus do not need to learn to use their brains for purposes of thinking. As a Waldorf teacher has written, brains are analogous to radio receivers, meant to pick up the gods' broadcasts:


"[T]he brain acts as a mirroring ground upon which [the gods'] thinking can manifest ... [I]t mediates between the spiritual and physical world just as a radio mediates between the broadcaster and the listener ... The brain does not produce thoughts." — Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 16.


We surely must doubt whether a true system of education can be based on such premises.


[42] It takes ingenuity to twist criticisms so that they seem to be, really (if interpreted just so), commendations. But this game can be played both ways. If we posit that the criticisms of Waldorf are correct, then we could pretend that any commendation of Waldorf is really a criticism seen from a different (offbeat, skewed) angle. The authors of INTO THE WORLD want to assert that the truth clearly resides in commendations of Waldorf — they seem determined to praise Waldorf no matter what — but precisely the opposite perspective is equally, if not more, plausible.


[43] See "media policies" in the BWSE.


[44] See "Morality".


[45] See "Karma".


[46] See "Camphill" in the BWSE.


[47] See, for instance, the Afterword to "Report Card":


"Waldorf schools are consistently evasive about the anthroposophical underpinnings of their pedagogy ... [This] may contribute to the unusually high rates of attrition and turnover at many Waldorf schools." — Peter Staudenmaier.


[48] See "The Waldorf Curriculum".


[49] See "The Good Wars".


[50] See, e.g., "Buddhism", "Veda", "Zoroastrianism", "Old Testament", and "Was He Christian?"


[51] See "Central Europe" and "Germans, Germany" in the BWSE.


[52] See "Steiner's Racism".


[53] See "Embedded Racism".


[54] See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".


[55] See "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".


[56] See "Magical Arts".


[57] See "Play - Isn't Slow Learning Best?"


[58] See the discussion of Waldorf students' "interesting minds," in part 2 of this review.


[59] See "Upside".


[60] See "Freedom".


[61] Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.


[62] See "life force" in the BWSE.


[63] Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.


[64] We have seen a few of these previously, in abbreviated form. [See part 5 of this review.]


[65] Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1998), p. 68.


[66] Roberto Trostli, “On Earth as It Is in Heaven”, Research Bulletin, Vol. 16 (Waldorf Research Institute), Fall 2011, pp. 21-24.


[67] Former Waldorf teacher "Baandje", 2006. [See "Ex-Teacher 7".]


[68] Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.


[69] According to Anthroposophy, Christ is the Sun God. So, for instance:


"Christ, the Sun God...was known by earlier peoples under such names as Ahura Mazda, Hu or Balder.” — Anthroposophist Margaret Jonas, Introduction to RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 5.


See "Sun God".


[70] Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.


[71] Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.


[72] See "Indoctrination".


[73] See "Sneaking It In".


[74] See the first part of this review: The website of The Research Institute for Waldorf Education describes the institute in these words:


"The Research Institute for Waldorf Education is an initiative working on behalf of the Waldorf movement."


[75] See http://www.waldorfcritics.org/personalstories.html.


[76] See https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/cautionary tales.


[77] See, e.g., http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/2012/05/.


[78] Waldorf generally relies on practices and theories laid out more than a century ago by an individual with no background as a educator — Rudolf Steiner.


[79] See "Lesson Books".


[80] A Waldorf class teacher takes primary responsibility for a group of Waldorf students of the same age, teaching them all of the major subjects they study. S/he starts with the kids when they are young (first grade, say) and stays with them for several years as they grow up, continuing to teach all of the main subjects studied year after year. [See "class teachers" in the BWSE.]


[81] Rudolf Steiner indicated that Waldorf teachers should supplant parents as the most important adults in children's lives. While this is not usually stated openly at Waldorf schools, it may account for much of the tension that frequently arises between teachers and parents.


[82] Many Waldorf schools attempt to operate under the collective control of the faculty, with no chairpeople, principals, or other administrative officers.


[83] While few parents seem to realize it, Waldorf teachers generally believe that children must be free to enact their karmas. If one child is fated to be a bully, and if another child is fated to be bullied, the kids should be allowed to enact these destinies.


[84] Steiner indicated that humans evolve upward through a series of racial forms, extending from the darkest and lowest to the whitest and highest. This belief is rarely if ever spelled out in Waldorf schools today, but at least some Anthroposophists evidently still accept it as truth. Whether such beliefs influence the behavior of Waldorf students is, however, an extremely contentious issue. Most Waldorf spokespeople have stoutly denied the existence of racism in Waldorf schools.


[85] In Anthroposophical belief, afflictions are often the result of karma or astrological influences, and usually they should be left untreated. However, Steiner indicated that in some instances, at least, humane intervention is warranted.


[86] See "So? Can You Trust Me?"


My own opinion is that Waldorf schools can be considerably worse than my good-faith summary suggests. (I'm summarizing what others have said, not what I think.)


[87] For further reading suggestions, see "Links".