The Key to Waldorf
In 2009, education authorities at the Anthroposophical headquarters said this about the lectures in question:
"The basis of Waldorf education is a study of the human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled A GENERAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE HUMAN BEING or STUDY OF MAN." — Pedagogik-Goetheanum, PDF, 2009.
Clearly, this key collection of lectures bears looking into. So let's look.
Below you will find numerous passages from the fourteen lectures, along with commentary by myself. I will work from one of the newer translations: THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996). Here is part of what the publisher says about this book:
"This course on education contains some of the most remarkable and significant lectures ever given by Rudolf Steiner ... Any teacher who wants to teach in a way that encompasses the whole child certainly needs a functional understanding of what Steiner presents here ... Steiner gives his most concise and detailed account of human nature in these lectures, which are absolutely essential for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Steiner's spiritual science ... THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE is the [sic] most important text for studying and understanding the human developmental and psychological basis for Waldorf education." [http://www.steinerbooks.org/detail.html?id=9780880103923]
So, let's walk through THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, front to back. These are the words of Rudolf Steiner, explaining the Waldorf mission; he was addressing faculty members upon the opening of the first Waldorf school:
1. “We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds. With such a task, we must be conscious that we do not work only in the physical plane of living human beings. In the last centuries, this way of viewing work has increasingly gained such acceptance that it is virtually the only way people see it. This understanding of tasks has made teaching what it is now and what the work before us should improve. Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 33.
Despite the usual Waldorf claims to the contrary, Waldorf schools are clearly religious institutions. And the religion involved is, of course, Anthroposophy. Note that the Waldorf teachers Steiner addressed were engaged in "a moral spiritual task;" their work began with a recognition "from the very beginning" of the "connection...between our activity and the spiritual worlds;" and the teachers were to work in the "service" and in the "name" of the "spiritual powers" — i.e., the gods recognized by Anthroposophy.
Waldorf aimed to improve education, which in other schools had sunk to functioning only on the "physical plane" of existence. Waldorf intended to bring spirituality back into education. Waldorf teachers were undertaking work that can only be classed as religious — serving, and working in the name of, the gods.
2. “It is our duty to see the importance of our work. We will do this if we know that this school is charged with a particular task. We need to make our thoughts very concrete; we need to form our thoughts so that we can be conscious that this school fulfills something special. We can do this only when we do not view the founding of this school as an everyday occurrence, but instead regard it as a ceremony held within Cosmic Order. In this sense, I wish, in the name of the good spirit whose task it is to lead humanity out of suffering and misery, in the name of this good spirit whose task it is to lead humanity to a higher level of development in education, I wish to give the most heartfelt thanks to this good spirit who has given our dear friend Mr. Molt the good thoughts to do what he has done for the further development of humanity at this time and in this place, and what he has done for the Waldorf School ... [W]e are united with him in feeling the greatness of the task and of the moment in which it is begun, and in feeling that this is a festive moment in Cosmic Order ... We wish to see each other as human beings brought together by karma, who will bring about, not something common, but something that, for those doing this work, will include the feeling of a festive Cosmic moment.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 34.
Waldorf education is intended to ceremonially serve the "Cosmic Order" — in other words, the gods and their plan. This is a religious intention, tied to the particular doctrines of Anthroposophy such as the belief that the gods are assisting humans to evolve to ever "higher levels of development." In this instance, the higher development will be in the sphere of education: Steiner asserts that Waldorf teachers have been brought together by their shared karma, and the result — the founding of the first Waldorf School — is an occasion of importance for the entire universal order.
Emil Molt was owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory in Stuttgart, Germany. He recruited Steiner to create a school for the children of the factory workers. This became the Waldorf School, and Steiner education has carried the designation “Waldorf” ever since. The "good spirit" Steiner praises is that manifestation of benevolent divinity — the very spirit of Anthroposophy — that spoke directly to Emil Molt (according to Steiner). Steiner had earlier stated clearly that Waldorf teachers are to work in the name of not one God but many gods, for indeed Anthroposophy is polytheistic: Waldorf teachers honor "the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work." [p. 33] Thus Steiner vested the opening of the Waldorf School with the highest spiritual significance — the teachers were on a holy mission in compliance with the divine powers of the universe.
3. “We want to be aware that physical existence is a continuance of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [i.e., gods] have done without our assistance. Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 37.
Steiner repeatedly insisted that Waldorf teachers work in the service of the gods. Parents need to understand this clearly when deciding whether to send children to Waldorf schools. True Waldorf schools, where Steiner's vision is still upheld, are polytheistic institutions where the faculty think they are on a messianic mission. Steiner stated and restated the Waldorf mission in the lectures we are considering and elsewhere, for instance in Waldorf faculty meetings:
“Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods....” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education, VIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
Note that Waldorf education absolutely requires belief in these concepts: "Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware...." You may find much that seems attractive in Waldorf schools (green values, emphasis on the arts, avoidance of technological gadgetry, and so on), but Waldorf will ultimately be a good fit for you and your family only if you can embrace, and bow to, the proposition that Waldorf teachers are the instruments of an overarching pantheon of gods and their divine plan for human evolution. These are fundamental Waldorf beliefs.
4. “The task of education, understood in a spiritual sense, is to bring the soul-spirit into harmony with the temporal body. They must be brought into harmony and they must be tuned to one another because when the child is born into the physical world they do not yet properly ﬁt each other. The task of the teacher is to harmonize these two parts to one another."— Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 39.
You might think that the task of a school is to educate children.* But this is not the primary goal Waldorf faculties aim for. As explained by Rudolf Steiner in this, his most important exposition of Waldorf schooling, the key task of Waldorf education is to help children to incarnate properly — that is, help the children to achieve a proper fit between the various components of their beings. Anthroposophists believe that humans have both souls and spirits; the "soul-spirit" or "spirit-soul" is the combination of these invisible components. True-belieiving Waldorf teachers think their job is to "harmonize" their students' soul-spirits with their etheric bodies (also called life bodies or temporal bodies: these are the lowest of three invisible bodies that incarnate during childhood, according to Steiner). Ultimately, all of a child's invisible components (soul, spirit, etheric body, astral body, and ego body) need to be harmonized with the student's physical body; thus is successful incarnation achieved.
If you do not subscribe to the mystical beliefs of Rudolf Steiner and his followers, you may ultimately conclude that Waldorf teachers spend a great deal of time trying to do things that have no real meaning while failing to focus on the real purpose of education, which is to give kids the knowledge and skills they need in order to lead productive lives in the real world.
* Steiner says that the purpose of Waldorf schooling "understood in a spiritual sense" is to help kids with their incarnation on Earth. Does this mean that the purpose of Waldorf schooling understood in an educational sense might be to give kids a good, solid academic education? No. Academics are generally low on the list of Waldorf priorities. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] The purpose of Waldorf schooling is primarily spiritual, not academic. Waldorf schools are really, beneath the surface, Anthroposophical churches. [See "Schools as Churches".] You might like the idea of sending your child to a school that is primarily spiritual. But you should understand that the religion enacted in Waldorf schools is Anthroposophy. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] Unless you can accept the occult doctrines of Anthroposophy, the spiritual nature of Waldorf schooling will ultimately be alien — and quite likely unacceptable — to you.
5. "Our attitude in teaching would be incomplete if we were not aware that human beings are born to have the possibility of doing [on Earth] what they cannot do in the spiritual world. We must teach in order to bring breathing into the proper harmony with the spiritual world. In the same way, human beings in the spiritual world cannot accomplish the rhythmical changes between sleeping and waking that they can accomplish in the physical world. Through education we must regulate this rhythm so that human beings properly integrate the temporal body into the soul-spirit." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 44.
Here Steiner states again that the central goal of Waldorf education is, to a significant extent, assisting children to incarnate successfully, so that the physical body and the soul-spirit are harmonized ("human beings [must] properly integrate the temporal body into the soul-spirit"). This dictum is tied to several other occult Waldorf beliefs. Steiner taught that we alternate between lives in the spirit realm and lives in the physical realm, achieving in each realm things we could not achieve in the other. We move back and forth between these realms through the process of reincarnation and also through the process of sleep. Every night, according to Waldorf belief, the "astral body" and the "ego body" or "ego" leave the physical body and travel into the spirit realm. The "etheric body" stays behind with the physical body.
Steiner taught that a fully incarnated human has four bodies: 1) the physical body, 2) the etheric body (an envelope of formative forces that incarnates around age seven), 3) the astral body (an envelope of soul forces that incarnates at around age fourteen), and 4) the ego body or ego (or "I" — one's divine spiritual selfhood, which incarnates around age twenty-one). Every night, the astral body and ego travel to the spirit realm while the physical and etheric bodies remain earthbound. “[W]e go to sleep at night, setting forth with our ego and astral body, leaving behind the body of our waking life...until we re-awaken.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Man as a Picture of the Living Spirit” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), a lecture, GA 228. Here, in a copy of a sketch by Steiner, the ego (yellow) and astral body (green) are shown returning to the etheric body (blue) and physical body (outline) in the morning. [R. R., 2011. I have changed the colors from Steiner's original sketch.]
Beliefs such as these are foundational in Waldorf education. When considering a Waldorf school for your child, you should carefully decide whether you think these are the kinds of beliefs that should control the educational process. In true Waldorf schools, they do control the educational process.
A quick aside:
How can Waldorf teachers keep tabs on their students' soul-spirits, astral bodies, and other invisible components? Through clairvoyance.
"[W]e must work to develop this consciousness, the Waldorf teacher’s consciousness [disciplined clairvoyance] ... Such an experience of the spiritual is difficult to attain ... We must realize that we really need something quite specific, something that is hardly present anywhere else in the world, if we are to be capable of mastering the task of the Waldorf school ... This is possible, however, only if we have a clear understanding of what humanity has lost in this respect, has lost in the last three or four centuries [clairvoyant power].* It is this that we must find again." — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Press, 1983), p. 21.
* Steiner taught that life in the modern world has deprived people of their natural clairvoyant abilities, but he said his followers can gain new, heightened clairvoyance. And he said such powers are needed in the field of education.
“The method applied [in Anthroposophy] can be designated as 'exact clairvoyance' ... It is a clairvoyance that we apply consciously in matters of everyday life, a clairvoyance that awakens genuine faculties of knowledge and perception in the human soul. By these faculties, one becomes able to see beyond the things of the external world that have set their stamp on the civilization of the last three or four centuries ... The anthroposophical method of research [exact clairvoyance]...provides the basis for an art of teaching and education." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), pp. 205-207.
Back to THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE:
6. "[T]hose psychological concepts formed from the knowledge of the fourth post-Atlantean period are today more or less without content and have become clichés in the realm of understanding the soul. If you look at a modern psychology book, or at anything to do with psychology, you will find it has no true content. You have the feeling that psychologists only play with concepts." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 49.
Steiner generally opposed all authority except his own. Thus, the "psychological concepts" of modern times are false. Only he, with his teachings that so thoroughly run counter to modern science, gives us the real scoop — according to himself. As for "the fourth post-Atlantean period": Steiner taught that Atlantis really existed, and all subsequent historical periods date from the time when Atlantis sank; we currently live in the fifth such period, drawing heavily from the fourth. "Modern psychology" is wrong, Steiner assures us — modern psychologists "only play with concepts," such as terms and ideas dating from the fourth post-Atlantean period. For truth, we must turn to Anthroposophy, the glorious spiritual flowering of the fifth post-Atlantean period.
In formulating such propositions, Steiner poses a problem for us: Either modern science and scholarship provide truth, or he — as font of Anthroposophy — provides truth. Which is it? How can we choose? Here's one approach, unintentionally suggested by Steiner himself. Steiner believed in Atlantis. This baseless belief suggests just how true Steiner's teachings really are. Atlantis is a fiction, nothing more. [See "Atlantis and the Aryans".] The foundation of Waldorf education is the rejection of modern scientific knowledge about the world and about human nature, substituting for them various mystical fantasies: Atlantis, reincarnation, the soul-spirit, astral bodies, clairvoyance, and the like. The basis of Waldorf education is no real basis at all — it is an assemblage of falsehood and delusion.
7. "Thinking is a picturing of all our experiences before birth or before conception. You cannot come to a true understanding of thinking if you are not certain that you have lived before birth. In the same way that a mirror reflects spatial objects, your present life reflects your life between death and a new birth, and this reflection is your pictorial thinking." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 51.
Waldorf schools emphasize imagination. What they mean by "imagination" is a form of clairvoyance. Steiner disparaged the use of the brain, as we will see; and he denigrated intellectual thought.* For him, true "thinking" is the formation of pictures that come to us from our lives "before birth or before conception." Thus, truth comes to us from the spirit worlds where we lived before our current incarnation; it does not come from the use of the brain, except insofar as the brain works as a sort of receiver for the pictures or "imaginations" that Steiner also sometimes called "living thoughts." These are distinct from the dead thoughts that our physical brains produce on their own, especially when messing around with the dead concepts of natural science. Steiner's view — which undergirds Waldorf education — is essentially mystical, anti-scientific, and anti-intellectual. For most forms of education, use of the brain is paramount. Not so at Waldorf schools. Waldorf education is based on mysticism; true-blue Waldorf schools are generally run by mystics; and ultimately these schools are likely to fully satisfy only families consisting of mystics (mystics whose particular beliefs conform to those promulgated by Rudolf Steiner).**
* Steiner began his public career as a secular intellectual. His professed views shifted markedly after he pronounced himself an occultist and joined the ranks of Theosophy. [See "What a Guy".]
** Individuals who have not yet understood what Waldorf schools are really all about may also be satisfied — at least until the truth about Waldorf is revealed.
8. "Blood is truly a 'very special fluid.' Were we able to remove it from the human body so that it would still remain blood and not be destroyed by other physical agents (which, of course, is not possible in earthly conditions), it would whirl up as a vortex of spirit. Blood must be destroyed so that we can hold it within us as long as we are on the Earth, until death, so that it does not spiral upward as spirit. We continuously create blood and destroy blood — create blood and destroy blood — through inhaling and exhaling." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 57.
Quoting Goethe on the nature of blood (it is "a very special fluid"), Steiner here expresses views that led him to some truly objectionable conclusions. Arguing that blood embodies spiritual essence, Steiner taught that people of different races stand at different levels of evolution, and this is reflected by differences in their blood. The upward trajectory of humanity, Steiner said, involves evolution through a hierarchy of racial types, beginning with the lowest and darkest and ending with the highest and whitest. Mankind will ultimately evolve to a level at which racial differences disappear, Steiner said, but until that stage is reached humanity should avoid exogamy or race mixing. Mixing blood from different racial types caused humans to lose their capacity for clairvoyance, he said. Waldorf schools are unlikely to admit they affirm such doctrines today, and many Waldorf teachers may indeed find racism abhorrent. Nonetheless, some Waldorf students have reported receiving racist instruction in class. Some white students, for instance, have said that their Waldorf teachers warned them against receiving blood transfusions from members of darker races. [For more on these matters, see, e.g., "Steiner's Racism", "Races", "Differences", and "Blood". For Steiner's views on the spiritual nature of blood, see his lecture "The Occult Significance of Blood" (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1967.) Concerning racist instruction that I myself received as a Waldorf student, see "I Went to Waldorf".]
By the way, it is of course fully possible to "remove blood from the human body" and have it "remain blood." This is done all the time in hospitals and blood clinics. Steiner is speaking to us out of the depths of his ignorance. If some people early in the twentieth century believed him, no one now, in the twenty-first century, has any good reason to do so.
9. "Physiologists believe that they are on to something when they speak of sensory and motor nerves, but they are actually only playing with words. They speak of motor nerves because people cannot walk when certain nerves are damaged, for instance those in the legs. They say someone cannot walk because the nerves that set the legs in motion, the motor nerves, are paralyzed. In truth, that person cannot walk because he or she really cannot perceive his or her own legs. Our age has of necessity become lost in a series of errors so that we can have the opportunity to work our way through these errors and become free human beings." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 58.
Here again we see Steiner essentially rejecting modern knowledge. Talk of "sensory and motor nerves" is just "playing with words." The cause of paralysis is totally different from what physiologists think; it is a matter of perception, not of damage sustained by the physical body. The gods have arranged for us to live in a world of falsehood and evil so that we may reject these things and thus rise to new heights of glory. We cannot be "free human beings" until we reject the "errors" of modern science and follow Steiner's occult lead instead. The "freedom" Steiner offered — which is still stressed in Waldorf schools today — is essentially freedom from the modern mindset and the findings of modern science. [See "Freedom" and "Science".]
Steiner stressed the importance of perception, the highest forms of which are, he said, types of clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Exactly".] Steiner's claimed use of clairvoyance led him to extraordinary misunderstandings. Thus, concerning nerves and the brain, he said
“[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 60.
Concerning the heart, he said
"You now find the heart described everywhere as a kind of pump that pumps blood throughout the organism ... [But] the heart does not pump; rather its movement is due to the influence of the living movement of the blood." — Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION, Foundations of Waldorf Education, IX (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 33.
The thinking behind Waldorf schools values the "freedom" to believe Steiner's falsehoods. The potential implications of those falsehoods for health and healing are, as should be obvious, dire. [Thus, for instance, Steiner totally misunderstood the physical function of the heart. His medical teachings, arising from such ignorance, amount to dangerous quack medicine. See "Steiner's Quackery".] Steiner was right that we must choose between truth and falsehood, and between good and evil; but he was totally mistaken as to where the truth and virtue may be found.
10. "The beautiful structure of the outer cortex [of the brain] is, in a sense, a degeneration. It represents more of a digestive system in the outer portions of the brain. People need not be particularly proud of the mantle of the brain; it is more like a degeneration of the complicated brain into a more digestive brain. We have the mantle of the brain so that the nerves having to do with cognition can be properly nourished. The reason our brain is better developed than an animal brain is that we can feed the brain nerves better. Only in this way, namely, that we can feed the brain nerves better than animals can, do we have the possibility of more fully developing our higher cognition. However, the brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition; they are only the expression of cognition in the physical organism." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 60.
Rudolf Steiner taught that real thoughts come to us from our lives before birth [see statement #7, above]. The brain is generally insignificant, he said: It does not create thoughts, it only receives them. Steiner was particularly dismissive of the brain's outer cortex, the seat of intellect and reasoning. But ultimately he was dismissive of the entire brain. He claimed that real knowledge comes through the use of clairvoyance, of which imagination (the formation of pictures based on pre-birth experiences) is a first stage. And clairvoyance, he said, is not seated in the brain but in nonphysical organs of clairvoyance.
As for the particulars of Steiner's statement #10 — they are nonsense. There is no "digestive brain;" the outer cortex is certainly not degenerate; and cognition certainly does occur in the "brain and nerve system." As usual, believing Steiner would require us to dial down our brains and gullibly accept arrant falsehood. The question for parents of school-age children is whether to send your kids to a school built on the proposition that the brain has no real connection to cognition — i.e., the perception of truth. This is, clearly, a deeply damaging proposition to place at the basis of an educational system.
11. "[T]here is a tremendous difference between the development of will and that of thinking. If you particularly emphasize the development of thinking, you actually direct the entire human being back to prenatal life. You will injure children if you educate them rationally because you will then utilize their will in something they have already completed — namely, life before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 62.
Here Steiner continues his denigration of thinking, especially for young children. He taught that the will is a separate human faculty, and he urged Waldorf teachers to give more importance to the development of the will than to the development of thinking. This advice applies especially to the first seven years of a child's life, before the etheric body incarnates: Steiner said that children up to the age of seven live primarily in the will. To stress the development of thinking, he said, would be to send kids backward into their lives before birth (when they formed the thoughts that would later reach them during the earthly lives). Kids have finished the "life before birth," so "You will injure them if you educate them rationally."
Does any of this make sense to you? Keep reminding yourself: These teachings constitute "the basis of Waldorf education."
12. "If you bring children as many living pictures as possible, if you educate them by speaking in pictures, then you...direct the children toward the future, toward life after death ... We sow pictures in the children, which can become seeds because we cultivate them in bodily activity. As we as educators develop our capability to act through pictures, we must continuously have the feeling that we work upon the whole human being, that we create a resonance in the whole human being when we work through pictures. To take this into our own feelings, namely, that education is a continuation of supersensible activity before birth, gives education the necessary consecration. Without this we cannot educate at all." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 62.
Here Steiner says that children should be given "living pictures" — that is, products of imagination that give form to "living thoughts," the thoughts that come to us from our pre-earthly lives. We have covered some of this ground previously. The main thing to note at this stage is the distinctly religious nature of Waldorf education. Note that Waldorf schooling is directed "toward life after death," and it should have "consecration." On other occasions, Steiner said that Waldorf teachers work as priests, and this is what he meant.
"The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XVIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 23.
Despite the usual denials, Waldorf education is clearly religious, and the religion involved in Anthroposophy.
13. "In teaching, we bring the child the natural world, on the one side, and on the other, the spiritual world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 63.
We would not need to dwell on the point, except that Waldorf schools usually deny the obvious truth: Waldorf education is mystical, spiritual, religious. In part, Waldorf education leads children into "the natural world," but it also leads them to "the spiritual world." The latter goal belongs to religious education, not ordinary schooling. Virtually all classes and activities at Waldorf schools are, at root, religious. Steiner let this cat out of the bag over and over:
◊ "It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XVI (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.
◊ "[A] religious atmosphere can be created in every lesson and subject. Such an atmosphere is created in our school." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XIV (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 184.
◊ "This is what we must carry in our souls as [Waldorf] teachers ... Every word and gesture in my teaching as a whole will be permeated by religious fervor." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XVIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 65.
◊ "To develop whole human beings and to deepen them in a true religious sense is considered one of the most essential tasks of Waldorf education." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XVII (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 169. [For more on this, see "Schools as Churches".]
Seen in this context, the question for religiously inclined parents is whether they want to allow Waldorf teachers to "bring the child...the spiritual world," or whether they want to reserve this task for themselves or their clergy. To whom do you want to entrust your child's religious instruction?
Of course, the question is different for secular, nonreligious parents. The question then is do you want to send your child to a school that pretends to be nonreligious but that actually aims to "introduce a religious element into every subject"?
14. "When the germinal living will [i.e., the creative power of the will] turns toward nature, it experiences something quite different from those natural laws based upon what is dead. Because you still carry many ideas that have arisen from the present time and the errors of modern conventional science, you will probably have difficulty in understanding [what I am saying]. What brings our senses (in the full spectrum of the twelve senses) into relationship with the outer world is not of a cognitive, but of a willing nature." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 66.
Here Steiner repeats various core elements in his teachings: The will is more important than the brain or thinking; physical reality is essentially dead; modern science, attending only to the "dead" functioning of the physical world, is erroneous. If you train your will, however, then when you turn to look upon nature, you will see something different from what science sees: You will find, below the surface, the living forces of the spirit realm. (For instance, you will see gnomes and fairies.)
Perhaps you are a spiritual person. Perhaps you believe that all of nature is infused with spirit. This is fine. But if you consider Waldorf education for your child, make sure that you are comfortable with the specific doctrines preached by Rudolf Steiner and generally embraced by Waldorf schools. Many of these doctrines involve the spirit realm, but many others involve the temporal world here and now. Thus, for instance, do you agree that here and now, in the temporal world, we have twelve senses? When Waldorf schools talk about educating "the whole child", this is one of the things they mean. As we have seen, the Waldorf belief system includes belief in souls, spirits, etheric bodies, astral bodies, and ego bodies. In addition, it includes belief in twelve separate senses. And its view of the whole person includes other strange concepts that we will get to presently. Understand that if you send a child to a Waldorf school, s/he will be entering a realm of many strange, occult beliefs — and you will be expected to accept these beliefs or at least not object when teachers operate on the basis of these beliefs.
15. "[We] read in Plato that the actual basis of seeing is the reaching out of a kind of tentacle [from the eye] to the things seen ... Human beings, due to the position of their eyes, are able to allow these supersensible arms [i.e., the 'tentacles'] to touch one another. That is the basis of the supersensible sense of the I. Were we never able to touch right and left...we could never achieve a spiritual sense of our Self." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 66-67.
The "I" is another name for the ego body or ego; it is divine human selfhood. Like us, plants and animals have etheric bodies, Steiner taught; and animals have astral bodies, like ours. But only human beings have "I's". Many of Steiner's doctrines are meant to reassure his followers that, yes, as humans, they are very special beings, beloved of the gods. It is too bad, then, that Steiner hangs so many of his doctrines on obvious hooey. Here, he accepts Plato's ancient error about how we see things (by extending invisible tentacles or arms out of our eyes). "That is the basis of the supersensible sense of the I." So, there is no basis for belief in the "I," because we do not have invisible tentacles or arms extending out of our eyes. Too bad.
By the way, "supersensible" is one of Steiner's favorite words. It means beyond the reach of our ordinary senses. Supersensible things (think of supernatural things) can be perceived only with clairvoyance, according to Steiner. But clairvoyance is a delusion; it doesn't exist. Too bad.
16. "If the evolution of the Earth did not include human beings, then most animals would not exist. A major portion of the animals, particularly the higher animals, arose within earthly evolution only because human beings needed to use their elbows (of course, I speak here only pictorially). At a particular stage in their earthly development, human beings, to develop further, needed to rid their nature, which then was much different than it is now, of the higher animals. We can perhaps comprehend this cleansing if we imagine how, in a mixture in which something is dissolved, the dissolved substance precipitates and falls. In the same way, human beings in an earlier stage of development were one with the animal world, and then the animal world precipitated out." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 69-70.
Steiner liked to blow his followers' minds, and they seemed to enjoy it — the odder his doctrines, the more his followers embraced them. On the subject of evolution, Steiner taught that we did not evolve from animals; rather, animals evolved from us. Or, more precisely, animals are the descendants of beings who branched off from the human line of evolution. Unable to keep evolving alongside us, they remained behind at lower levels of development. (They were once our close relations, standing at the same level of evolution as ourselves. But then they "preciptated out" of our line of evolution, falling behind us as we moved ahead.) It almost goes without saying that there is essentially no evidence for Steiner's version of evolution; indeed, the fossil record contradicts Steiner at almost every turn.
You might wonder whether Waldorf students are taught Steiner's backward evolution. Usually they are not. Usually Waldorf teachers hold their cards close to the vest and do not lay out their Anthroposophical beliefs for the students in so many words. But, sometimes, they yield to the impulse to tell their students the "truth" — i.e., Anthroposophical beliefs. At the Waldorf school I attended, the headmaster laid out the concept of backward, Steiner-style evolution for all the students in the high school during a memorable gathering one Friday afternoon.
17. "Farm wives are much more aware than city women that yeast has a certain meaning in baking bread, even though only a small amount is added. They know that bread could not rise if they did not add yeast to the dough. In the same way, earthly development would have long ago reached its final stage were the Earth not continuously fed with the forces of human corpses, the forces released by the human spirit-soul at death. The forces that earthly development continuously receives through the acceptance of human corpses, that is, the forces contained in those corpses supports the evolution of the Earth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 70-71.
Sometimes the best comment is no comment. We should just read Steiner's words and meditate.
18. "The human soul is a stage upon which not simply a human, but a cosmic process plays out. Today, that is difficult for many people to understand. However, unless you penetrate such views, it is impossible to be a good teacher." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 77.
Steiner insisted that Waldorf teachers must accept his spiritual doctrines. Otherwise, "it is impossible to be a good teacher." In other words, Steiner said that Waldorf teachers must be uncompromising Anthroposophists.
"As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education, VIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.
Not every teacher in every Waldorf school is in fact an Anthroposophist, but Steiner said they all should be.
As to what Steiner meant by the "cosmic process" playing out in human souls, he was talking about the divine plan for human evolution developed by the gods. As we evolve, the cosmos itself evolves, and the gods themselves are elevated. Waldorf teachers must understand such things.
"[W]e are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods....” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education, VIII, p. 55.
19. "The [physical] body is part of the stream of genetic heredity; it carries inherited traits and so forth. The soul is that part of prenatal existence most closely connected to the body. However, what is spiritual in modern human beings exists only as a tendency. (In human beings in a distant future, it will be different.) So here, where we wish to lay the foundation for a good pedagogy, we must take into account what is present only as a spiritual tendency in human beings of the present developmental era. We should be very clear about which human tendencies are present for a distant human future." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 80.
Spiritual evolution is a central tenet in the Waldorf belief system. Human beings are evolving to higher and higher levels of spiritual consciousness. We are not yet extremely spiritual ("what is spiritual in modern human beings exists only as a tendency") but we will rise higher ("in a distant future, it will be different"). In our current review of THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, we have touched on some of Steiner's evolutionary concepts. Taken as a whole, these concepts provide the central rationale of Anthroposophy: They define the meaning of life, which is to climb higher and higher in the future, until we gain the absolute summit of spirituality. Someday, we will be higher than the nine rank of gods; someday, we as the tenth rank will become God. Steiner's forecasts for our glorious future sometimes cross the line into what some people of faith would consider blasphemy:
"[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” — Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD’S PRAYER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 17.
Maybe you can accept Steiner's religious teachings, maybe you can't. But the point to grasp is that such teachings are essential to Waldorf education. Waldorf teachers must accept these teachings if they want to "lay the foundation for a good pedagogy." Assisting humanity to rise to higher levels of spiritually: This is the ultimate, religious purpose of Waldorf education.
20. "I have already mentioned in another context that we each have our personal spiritual guide who is a member of the hierarchy of Angels, and that standing above that are the spirits of the Archangelic hierarchy who become active when we go through the gates of death. Thus, we immediately have an existence in relationship to many [sic], because many of the Archangels are active in our existence." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 81.
One of Steiner's more pleasing doctrines is that each of us has a guardian Angel. Angels, in the Waldorf belief system, are gods only a little more spiritually advanced than human beings. Each Angel (otherwise known as a Son of Twilight) has responsibility for one human being. A step higher than Angels are the gods called Archangels (also called Spirits of Fire). Each Archangel has responsibility for a group of human beings, such as a nation or race. Archangels exercise their powers chiefly while we live in the spirit world between Earthly incarnations. Altogether, Steiner taught, there are nine ranks of gods, extending upward toward the Godhead. Some of this may sound comfortingly familiar: angels, archangels. Yes, we have heard of these. Maybe Anthroposophy isn't such a strange religion after all. But don't jump to conclusions. Do you believe in a multitude of gods instead of a single One and Only God? Do you believe in reincarnation and karma? Do you believe in spiritual evolution (and backward evolution)? Do you believe in gnomes and fairies? Do you believe that the gods of the Norse myths really exist? Do you believe that there were two Jesus children whose souls merged? Do you believe that Christ is the Sun God? These are Anthroposophical beliefs. These are doctrines that devote Waldorf teachers generally accept as Truth. (Remember that the book we are reviewing lays out "the basis of Waldorf education".)
21. "...[T]he Consciousness Soul, the Comprehension Soul and the Sentient Soul ... These are the actual components of the human soul. Today, if we wish to speak about the human soul and how it lives in the body, we must speak about these three aspects. If we wish to speak about the human body, we must speak of the sentient body (the least perceptible body, which we also call the astral body), the etheric body and the coarse physical body, which we can see with our eyes and which conventional science dissects. Thus, we have before us the complete human being." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 82.
We have not yet catalogued all of the parts of the "whole human being" as described by Steiner. In this passage, Steiner mentions various parts that we haven't discussed previously. The picture he paints is quite complex (and it grows hazy, because he sometimes contradicted himself). But at least on some occasions he gave the following summary of the whole human constitution:
"The body consists of: (1) the actual body [i.e., the physical body], (2) the life-body [i.e., the etheric body], (3) the sentient-body [i.e., the astral body]. The soul consists of: (4) the sentient-soul, (5) the intellectual-soul, (6) the consciousness-soul. The spirit consists of: (7) spirit-self, (8) life-spirit, (9) spirit-man. In the incarnated human being, 3 and 4, and 6 and 7 unite, flowing into one another. Through this fact the nine members appear to have contracted into seven members." — Rudolf Steiner, REINCARNATION AND KARMA (Anthroposophic Press, 1962), "How Karma Works", GA 34.
If you want to pursue this subject further, you might look at "What We're Made Of" and "Our Parts". Bear in mind that the total picture is even more complex than suggested here. In the passage I have quoted just now from REINCARNATION AND KARMA, Steiner does not, for instance, mention our twelve senses, our temperaments, our astrological signs, our racial identities, etc. You can pursue all of these subjects, if you're of a mind to. For the purposes of our current study of THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, it is perhaps sufficient to note that Waldorf pedagogy rests on an extremely strange conception of human nature, one that finds almost no confirmation in real science or medicine, or in mainstream religious faiths.
22. "The etheric body lives in our physical body, completely forming and permeating it. However, it is beyond imperceptible to the external senses." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 83.
The previous statement, #21, led us into some deep and mirky waters. It might be helpful to step up onto dry land and make a clear, rational comment. Except for the "actual" or physical body, all of the nine major components of human nature as outlined by Steiner are "beyond imperceptible to the external senses." To see them, Steiner said, we need to become clairvoyant. But there is a problem (we return now to a basic point, which bears repeating). Belief in clairvoyance is difficult if not impossible to justify — no conclusive evidence for clairvoyance has ever been produced. Indeed, clairvoyance is almost certainly a delusion, a product of human self-deception, a trick some people play on their unwary selves. And, therefore, the invisible components of human nature listed by Steiner are almost certainly not just "imperceptible to the external senses," they are almost certainly nonexistent. They do not exist. They are occult fantasies. And yet belief in them is necessary, Steiner said, in order to educate children well.
Let me suggest a radical thought. Perhaps Steiner had no idea what is necessary in order to educate children well. If Waldorf education requires us to believe a boatload of doctrines that are wholly unsubstantiated, not to say absurd — if so, then perhaps Waldorf education is a hollow sham.
It's just a thought.
23. "[T]he teacher must touch all [of the] forces of the soul to regulate and order them. We must work with just what occurs in the depths of human nature when we wish to work in education.
— Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 89.
Using somewhat different terms than we saw previously (see the commentary on statement #21), Steiner identifies the mental/emotional/spiritual states associated with the nine major human components, and he stresses that teachers must bear these in mind to do their work properly ("We must work with [these]...when we wish to work in education"). So, again we see that Steiner's occult teachings are central to Waldorf schooling. Even more important, we see again that Waldorf schooling is aimed more at the soul than at the brain. Waldorf teachers aim to "regulate" and "control" their students' "forces of the soul" — they aim for the spiritual/soul reformation of their students. This is another way to describe the way in which Waldorf teachers try to function as priests ministering to their students.
24. "Why do artistic activities affect the formation of the will particularly strongly? Because first, practice is based upon repetition, and second, what people receive through artistic activity always gives them joy. People enjoy art again and again, not just the first time. Art has a quality that can excite people not just once, but can time and again directly give them joy." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 93.
Waldorf schools are often pleasant places, at least on first acquaintance. There is much art and beauty, and there is a desire for joy, in the schools. Walking through the door of a Waldorf school can be seductive: You enter a lovely, colorful environment full of art. You should understand, however, why the arts are stressed in Waldorf schools. As you may guess by now, the purpose is spiritual. The arts are seen as a vehicle for receiving the gods and for rising to the gods. Steiner taught that the arts literally take us into the spirit realm.
“This is what gives art its essential lustre: it transplants us here and now into the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted in THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961), p. 25.
Virtually everything that happens in Waldorf schools has a mystical purpose. The main challenge for any parents considering a Waldorf school is to understand the form of mysticism found in Waldorf schools, and then to decide whether such mysticism is acceptable for themselves and — even more important — for their children.
25. "Animals have much more sympathy with their surroundings and are more integrated into them and therefore are more dependent upon climate and season and so forth than human beings. People have a personality because they have more antipathy toward their surroundings. That we can separate ourselves from our surroundings through unconscious antipathy gives us an awareness of our individual personality." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 97.
In Anthroposophy, a sharp line is drawn between human beings and animals. Anthroposophy (the word means "human wisdom") celebrates the human being and it claims that we humans are actually the spiritual center of the universe.
"The entire created universe has been brought into being so that the human being might come into existence." — Anthroposophist Ronald E. Koetzsch, "Anthroposophy 101".
These beliefs require Anthroposophists to denigrate the capabilities of animals, so that the animals seem far inferior to ourselves. Thus, Steiner said that animals have no memory, for instance.
“To attribute memory to animals is an error ... It is natural enough to think of memory when a dog recognizes its master ... Yet in reality the recognition depends not on memory ... Surely, one might [think], since the dog grieves when its master goes away, it must retain some memory of him ... [But] the animal’s behaviour implies the absence of all memory.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), pp. 46-47.
All of this is flattering to the human ego, setting us up far above all other earthly creatures, but it has little basis in fact. (Animals certainly have memories. Squirrels, for instance, have prodigious memories, memorizing the locations of hundreds of nuts buried for the winter.) Children who are brought up to accept Anthroposophical concepts are led farther and farther away from a true comprehension of the natural world, including their own natures. Note, for instance, that an Anthroposophical sense of "individual personality" requires an attitude of "antipathy" toward nature. Waldorf schools often place emphasis on nature, because the created universe is thought to harbor spiritual presences. But at a deeper level, Steiner taught that we must reject nature. [See "Neutered Nature".]
26. "Conventional science thinks that it has exact concepts and mocks what anthroposophy gives. Science has no idea that the concepts derived from anthroposophy are more exact than those in normal usage because they derive from reality and not from simple word play." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 101.
As we have seen, Steiner generally derided and rejected the real sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, and so on). He claimed that his own teachings represented a higher, truer form of science — "occult science" or "spiritual science". In reality, however, there is nothing truly scientific about Anthroposophy. It hinges of clairvoyance, which does not exist. As a result, Steiner's teachings — which form the basis of Waldorf education — are an enormous catalogue of blunders and falsehoods.
27. "The human being must 'conquer' reality ... Reality is not in the surroundings, nor in appearance, but ﬁrst arises through our 'conquering' reality, so the last thing we arrive at is reality. In principle, true reality is what human beings see at the moment they can no longer speak, namely, in that moment when they go through the gates of death." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 105.
As we have seen [statement #25], Steiner said it is important for humans to have "antipathy toward their surroundings." Here we see a similar proposition: We must "conquer" reality. In one sense, of course, this is true, if by reality we mean the appearances of things around us. Appearances are often false; we must get past them. But at a more telling level, Steiner's statement is false. We must find and affirm reality, not reject it.
Note the deep strain of negativity in Steiner's teachings. He denies the truths of science; he quarrels with modern scholarship; he rejects most experts and authorities. His teachings are deeply negative, despite their seeming affirmation of spiritual states and powers. Steiner offers us no real benefits in our present, real lives. He holds out only a phantom promise of fulfillment in death — "that moment when [we] go through the gates of death" — and in the lives he said (offering no real evidence to support his claim) we will lead after death.
Steiner affirmed death over life, future phantom lives over our present real lives. The relevance of these matters for Waldorf education is that children who are taught by Steiner's devotees are often led in the wrong direction: away from reality.
28. "Say that you wanted to make a table [i.e., diagram] of the life of the I [i.e., the ego or ego body] in the [physical] body, and you made it in the following manner:
"I. Waking — Pictorial Cognition
"II. Dreaming — Inspired Feeling
"III. Sleeping — Intuitive Willing
"Then you would not be able to understand why the intuition people instinctively speak of arises more easily in the pictorial recognition of everyday life than in inspired feeling, which is closer. However, if you correctly draw this...if you draw it in the following way, then you will more easily understand these things.
"You would then realize that pictorial cognition enters inspirations in the direction of Arrow 1, and arises again from intuition (Arrow 2)." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 117-118.
We have seen how Steiner advocated "pictorial thinking" — imagination, clairvoyance — and disparaged rational thought or the use of the brain [see, e.g., statement #7]. Mystics often affirm subjective states. They mistake feelings, intuitions, dreams, and the like, for true perceptions, while usually rejecting rational thought and its conclusions. We find this attitude in Steiner's teachings, and a child who is sent into a Waldorf school will encounter this attitude persistently. Devote Waldorf teachers (those who embrace Anthroposophy) often accept dreams, intuitions, astrological portents, and other forms of delusion as guides for their actions. The consequences for their students can be — to say the least — worrisome.
In the Waldorf belief system, imagination, inspiration, and intuition are three forms of clairvoyance or spiritual perception. We can develop these forms of consciousness to a high degree in this life, Steiner taught — and leading children toward this achievement is an underlying goal of Waldorf schools. For now, Steiner said, few people except his followers and himself have attained high levels of these forms of consciousness, but in the future all humans will attain them (or, at least, all humans who continue to evolve properly will attain them). We will all possess true imagination when we evolve to Future Jupiter, then we will all possess true inspiration when we evolve to Future Venus, and finally we will all possess true intuition when we evolve to Future Vulcan. [See the entries for "Jupiter consciousness," "Venus consciousness", and "Vulcan consciousness" in THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA.]
29. "You must...seek children’s will and feeling in their senses. For this reason we emphasize so strongly that we must continuously act upon the children’s will when we educate them intellectually. Into everything children see, into everything they perceive, we must also incorporate will and feeling, otherwise we will deny the children’s sensations." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 126.
Steiner made careful distinctions between thinking, willing, and feeling, and he laid out indications for teachers to follow in guiding children to develop all three intertwined capacities. De-emphasizing ordinary thought, he laid special emphasis on feeling and willing (and he claimed, as usual, that most scholars and scientists misunderstand these matters). He taught that we find truth more through feeling and emotion than through cogitation, and (drawing from Goethe) he considered the exercise of will essential to the process of perception. He was right about some of this, but perhaps not for the reasons he recognized. One can wholly affirm his views only by willing oneself to do so; you can "perceive" what he perceived only if your emotional needs lead you to willfully project desired qualities onto the objects of perception. In other words, a great deal of self-deception is involved in Steiner's approach. [See "Steiner's 'Science'", "Fooling (Ourselves)" and "Why? Oh Why?"]
The implications for the education of the young are chilling. Waldorf teachers are expected to "continuously act upon the children’s will," steering them to "see" what their teachers want them to see. "Into everything children see, into everything they perceive, we must also incorporate will and feeling...." It is one thing for Waldorf teachers to delude themselves that they can perceive "nature spirits," for instance; but it is something else for them to steer children toward the same delusions. Note that Steiner says that when they educate kids "intellectually" — that is, when they present ordinary information in a more or less ordinary way, comprehensible to that benighted organ the brain — Waldorf teachers need to modify the instruction by emphasizing will, feelings, and sensations. Brain and intellect must never be allowed to do their work unimpeded; in Waldorf education, subjective states must always intervene, preventing the brain from functioning as it otherwise could.
30. "[T]he nervous system has an unusual relationship to the spirit. It is an organ that, due to the functions of the body, always tends to decay and become mineralized. If, in a living human, you could separate the nervous system from the remaining elements of gland-muscle-blood and from the bone element (you could, though, leave the bone system together with the nervous system), you would already have a corpse in a living human being. Dying occurs continuously in the human nervous system. The nervous system is the only system that has no direct connection to the spirit-soul." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 129-130.
The central portion of THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE is largely devoted to Steiner's subtle exposition of various states and functions that have no basis in scientific fact. They are his own inventions, but he presses them on Waldorf teachers as essential to their work. Spending a great deal of time on them, here, would be pointless. It may suffice simply to point out how in statement #30 Steiner reiterates what he often said, that the nerves (and the presiding organ of the nerves, the brain) are deleterious. They are continually dying; they exist in the sphere or deadliness, the dead material world; they are divorced from the spirit-soul or the spirit realm. Take another look at statement #10, above: "[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition." This is Steiner's refrain; it is his central, deeply damaging psychological/educational proposition. The brain is destructive, uninformative, deathly. A more harmful idea to place at the base of an educational system would be hard to devise.
31. We have touched on Steiner's teachings having to do with the human senses, nervous system, brain, will, and emotions. On all of these topics, Steiner's teachings stand apart from, and often in opposition to, scientifically established facts. Here Steiner enumerates for us the twelve human senses [see statement #14]. He categorizes them in terms of the three major faculties/states he has discussed: will, feeling, and thought:
"First, we have the four senses of touch, life, movement and balance. These senses are primarily permeated by will. Will acts through these senses in perception ... The next group of senses, namely smell, taste, sight and temperature, are primarily senses of feeling ... [T]he sense of I and the senses of thought, hearing and speech are more cognitive senses, because the will in them is more the sleeping will...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 142-45.
Usually, people speak of five human senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell), which is perhaps too simplistic. But Steiner's additions (senses of life, sense of I, sense of thought...) have little meaning outside his occult, mystical framework. In coming up with twelve senses, Steiner was clearly padding. He did this sort of thing often, because he liked to produce lists that ended in what he considered mystically significant numbers, such as 3, 4, 7 (the sum of 3+4) and 12 (the product of 3x4). The result is that often, as in this case, his lists tend toward vacuity and otherworldliness. Here are the connections between our twelve senses and the twelve signs of the zodiac — i.e., the connections between Steiner's doctrine and astrology:
Waldorf teachers are expected to take Steiner's guidance on these — and virtually all other — matters. The troubling implication for Waldorf education is that Waldorf schooling is predicated on a conception of human nature that is to a great extent untrue; in other words, Waldorf schooling is inseparable from Steiner's occult doctrines.
32. "You know that the stage of life under consideration for teaching as a whole is the ﬁrst two decades. You also know that the entire life of children in these ﬁrst two decades is divided into three parts. Until the time of the change of teeth, children have a certain character that they express in their desire to be imitative beings. Children try to imitate everything they see. From the age of seven until puberty, everything the child wants to know, feel and do is based upon a desire to receive it from authorities. Only after puberty do children begin to want to relate to their environment through their own judgment." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 147-148.
This has been called Steiner's most significant educational insight. But there are many things wrong with it. The "insight" is this. As they mature, children pass through three distinct phases, each lasting seven years: from birth to age seven, from age seven to age fourteen, and age fourteen to age twenty-one. During the first stage children are imitators, during the second they want to follow authorities, during the third stage they begin to formulate their own ideas.
Note how this stereotypes children, failing to treat them as individuals. Instead, each child is thought to be essentially the same as all other children of the same age. But this is clearly false. Children mature at very different rates; some kids are ready for academic work, for instance, far earlier than others; some become physically mature far later than others; and so forth. But in Waldorf schools, these individual differences are largely overlooked.
More critically, Steiner's conception of three phases of childhood is built on his stated belief that children develop four bodies, only one of which is visible. As we have noted, Steiner said the "etheric body" incarnates at around age seven, the "astral body" around age fourteen, and the "ego body" around age twenty-one. The entire Waldorf curriculum is geared to this fallacious mystical belief.
As for "the change of teeth" — Steiner said the replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth signals the incarnation of the etheric body. This event is given enormous importance in Waldorf schools. Kids are not supposed to be taught reading or arithmetic until it occurs — whether or not they are intellectually precocious and ready, possibly even ravenous, for intellectual stimulation. This is just one example of the ways Waldorf schools can thwart and stunt personal growth. Only after age fourteen do children start to have the capacity to think for themselves, Steiner said.
Anyone who actually knows children will immediately see how false Steiner's simplistic scheme is. And notice this: Steiner was saying that at least until they reach puberty, Waldorf students should be firmly under the control of their teachers. Up to the age of seven, the kids will imitate their teachers; then up to the age of fourteen, they will take orders from their teachers. The teachers' control may loosen slightly thereafter — i.e., in high school — but children who have been subordinate to their mystically inclined teachers throughout early and middle childhood will generally find thinking for themselves, especially thinking rationally for themselves, quite difficult. They have be molded. They have received a subtle occult indoctrination. Their course in life has, often, been set.
This, at least, is the result Steiner aimed for.
33. "Until the time of the change of teeth, children want to imitate. Until the time of puberty, they want to stand under authority, and then they want to use their judgment in the world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, pp. 155-156.
Steiner repeated himself a lot. Here he repeats the belief that children pass through three distinct phases, with all children of a given age being essentially alike. Note what he also says. During the first two phases, children "want to imitate" and they "want to stand under authority." Only after beginning the third phase do children want to "use their [own] judgment." But, clearly, this is untrue. Many very young children want to use their own judgment, many adolescent children want to imitate others, and all children of all ages show the entire range of possible human reactions and attitudes. Steiner's schema is full of holes.
We should dwell again on a central point: Steiner vests Waldorf teachers with immense authority, and he requires children to accept this authority. At least until age fourteen, children should imitate their teachers and accept their directives; they should accept Waldorf teachers as essentially unquestioned supervisors and models. Likewise, the parents of Waldorf students should yield to the authority of their children's teachers. Steiner went so far as to say it is too bad that Waldorf teachers cannot remove children from their parents' care and assume total control "soon after birth."
◊ Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said “Given the difficult, disorderly, and chaotic conditions of our time, it might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one’s care soon after birth.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, Foundations of Waldorf Education, XIV (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.
◊ Toning things down only slightly, he also told the teachers "You will have to take over children for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education given them by their parents." — Rudolf Steiner, THE STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 16. (The translation of the same lecture in the text we have been using, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, tones things down even further. Still, Steiner is quoted as saying that parents often do not understand what children need, whereas Waldorf teachers do know. Parents are negligent, but Waldorf teachers may be able to repair the damage. "We will be able to correct much of the neglect of the ﬁrst period of life when we receive the children at school." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education, I, p. 36.)
Once again we find Steiner making gross generalizations about groups of people, in this case groups of adults. Not all parents neglect the real needs of their children, and not all Waldorf teachers understand children better than the children's parents do. In fact, any Waldorf teachers who believe Steiner's fallacious mystical preachments — as so many of them do — surely understand children very poorly if at all.
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