Here are the stories of some fathers who sent their children to Waldorf schools. Of course, not all Waldorf parents have similar experiences. Some families — parents and children alike — love their Waldorf schools. Still, stories such as the ones below raise red flags of concern.
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The following is excerpted from
“Why Waldorf Programs are Unsuitable for Public Funding”
by former Waldorf parent Dan Dugan.
For more, see
I enrolled my son in the San Francisco Waldorf School halfway through the sixth grade. I was very impressed with the school. I liked very much the way art is integrated into the curriculum in Waldorf ... When Roman History is studied, for example, students will draw and paint Romans, write about them, sing, dance, and act out plays about them.
One day while visiting the school, I browsed through some books by Rudolf Steiner that they had for sale. I saw some very strange things about “astral bodies" and "root races." I asked my son's teacher whether these subjects were taught in the classroom. She assured me that though the teachers studied Steiner, only Steiner's teaching methods were used in the classroom, and Steiner's philosophy wasn't taught to the children. I learned later that this is a standard disclaimer, and it is far from the truth. I should have known better, but I was so in love with the facade of the school that I looked the other way.
Over the year and a half my son was in the school, I became increasingly disturbed about three things:
1. Weird science. In a chemistry lesson, the teacher burned different substances ... No mention was made of oxidation or, for that matter, any chemistry at all. In a lesson on the physics of light, they were taught that...[w]hite light is a unity and cannot be divided into the colors of the spectrum ... I thought perhaps these mistakes were due to the ignorance of particular teachers, but when I obtained Waldorf curriculum guides, I discovered that the inadequate and erroneous science was part of the Waldorf system.
2. Racism. I was shocked to pick up a Steiner book for sale at the school and read: “If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense....” Why would a school in San Francisco in 1988 be promoting 1920s German racism?
3. Quack medicine. An "Anthroposophical physician" gave a lecture to the parents on "Anthroposophical medicine." It was classic quackery ... For example, Anthroposophical medicine doesn’t believe in germ theory, teaching instead that the real causes of infectious diseases are karmic or spiritual....
I started speaking up at meetings and lectures about these problems. I requested a meeting with the College of Teachers, the committee of senior teachers that ran the school. They were "too busy." Instead, a committee of three teachers was delegated to give me an ultimatum: "You don't have to believe what we believe, but if you are going to talk about your disagreements with the other parents, you will have to leave." We left.
It was all a very strange experience for me, and I decided to express my concerns to the other parents at the school by writing a couple of articles and distributing them to the school address list. I wanted to be sure of what I was talking about, so I bought some Steiner books, did research in the library, and attended more Anthroposophical lectures.
...Waldorf education started to move into public schools. A Waldorf school opened in the public school system in Milwaukee in 1991. Soon after, the charter school movement started up, and Waldorf charters started opening. My studies took on urgency. I felt obligated to use what I knew to oppose the use of public funds for this religious system....
Then the Internet appeared and changed everything. I was kicked out of the official Waldorf discussion list for being critical and bringing up embarrassing topics. Not one to be silenced, I started an alternative list called Waldorf-Critics.
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Here is an extended excerpt from
"Question: Who Was Rudolf Steiner? Answer: Who Is Asking?"
by former Waldorf parent Steve Galliford.
[To see the entire piece, go to
During the years my children attended a Waldorf school I was constantly curious about the ways things happened there. Eventually, I found that my questions might be answered more clearly if I learned more about the foundation of the pedagogy. So began many long nights studying Waldorf Education and Steiner via the Internet. At any Waldorf school anywhere in the world Rudolf Steiner is held in high esteem — in a pedagogy where authority is very important, no words are more important than those of the founder of this movement. In a Waldorf school when someone mentions, "Steiner says . . . " it means stop, listen and learn. The term is frequently used to illustrate a lesson for parents.
During the course of my research I noticed a disturbing pattern emerging at my children's Waldorf School. Problems arise . . . parents ask questions . . . parents become upset . . . parents take children out of the school. I wondered why. The Internet enables us to connect with hundreds of other Waldorf parents from different schools around the globe. To my astonishment I discovered similar disturbing patterns with many parents from other schools. Was this a coincidence or was there a logical explanation? Why are parents so often frustrated with events at Waldorf schools? Why do they feel their questions and concerns are not dealt with? Why do parents feel that these schools are not "nonsectarian schools" as is promised in Waldorf outreach material and handbooks? After joining a Waldorf school parents have many questions . . . what is all this we hear about karma and reincarnation? What do you mean by "soul work?" Why are prayers recited daily but called verses? What are these Anthroposophy study groups for parents? I thought Anthroposophy was not in the school? And . . .who was Steiner and what was his reason for founding the Waldorf movement?
The Internet is a marvelous tool. Many years ago while surfing the Net for information on Waldorf something bothered me. The wealth of information available was staggering and one could easily spend a lifetime studying. Always, however, as I made my way down the Internet alleyways of Steiner and Waldorf, acutely aware of the problems and miscommunication between parents and schools (our own school included), something was itching the back of my mind. During my many months of research families continued to leave our school and I saw the same pattern continue with families leaving other Waldorf schools. Why? Why would parents enroll their children in a school, full of excitement and good will, spend so much time and money for the school — only to leave upset? Many families . . . many schools. More research.
I began to understand that Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical followers are on a mission. This mission involves karma and reincarnation and is the foundation of Waldorf Education. The occult nature of Anthroposophy is clearly entwined in teacher training and the Waldorf curriculum. Anthroposophy and Waldorf are inexorably linked — they are one in the same.
During my research — for many reasons and like many other parents — we felt we had to pull our children from their Waldorf School. My research became more intense. I knew there must be an answer to the communication problem Waldorf schools experience. How can parents not see the Waldorf ? Anthroposophy/occult connection before they begin their Waldorf experience? In the back corners of my mind was the missing piece to the puzzle. Many in the Waldorf movement refer to Waldorf "communities." I suspected the problem had something to do with communication — the lifeblood of any real "community."
I decided to look at Waldorf School web sites. I had previously looked at a few sites (at one point we had considered moving to another Waldorf School). This time, however, my goal was to simply see what the schools themselves said about Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the movement. I imagined myself as a prospective new Waldorf parent looking at each school's site and what I might glean from information therein. Parents would want to know about the founder of the movement and could find this information here. Many Waldorf schools have web sites. If these schools are like our local Waldorf school their web sites are similar to their pamphlets and other promotional material. By perusing various school sites I should have an accurate picture of Steiner, his pedagogy and his connection to those schools. I looked at school web sites in the USA to find each school's description of Rudolf Steiner. I started with schools beginning with "A" and thought I might go until the "P's" before I found a pattern. I was wrong. I stopped at "D." Eleven Waldorf schools. The pattern was crystal clear.
While many schools use slightly different words to describe the pedagogy the message is always similar. According to the school web sites Waldorf is basically an arts based, nonsectarian education attempting to nurture the child in a gentle atmosphere. And who, according to these Waldorf schools, was Rudolf Steiner?
Incredibly, at each school web site there was no mention of Rudolf Steiner's connection or belief in Occultism, reincarnation, karma or soul work. In short virtually everything Steiner believed in and worked from and towards with regards to Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education — the essence of the man — is missing from these sites. Instead, from the sum of eleven Waldorf School web sites, we are told that Rudolf Steiner was a — teacher (mentioned 1 time), an architect (1), thinker (1), scholar (1), educator (5), artist (6) and a scientist (7).
This misrepresentation of Rudolf Steiner and his work seems to be at the root of the Waldorf communication problem. We find a much more accurate portrait of Rudolf Steiner at other sites on the Internet. Only a few Anthroposophy sites are needed to find a completely different description of the same man.
...Unfortunately, the facade of Waldorf Education is very appealing to parents and until recently very few people have demanded accountability.
How can Rudolf Steiner be described as an educator, a philosopher, an artist and a scientist by the Waldorf movement when the truth is he was clearly a turn of the century occultist? Anthroposophists know all about Steiner while new Waldorf parents had better do more than believe the public relations. At this point in time it is a case of buyer beware.
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The following is from a letter written by
former Waldorf parent Pete Karaiskos
addressed to the governing body at the
Waldorf school attended by his children.
For more, see
Dear Highland Hall College of Teachers,
I am in receipt of your letter dated June 24, 2005 (I assume you meant 2004). Your indictment of me begins with the statement "The College of Highland Hall Waldorf School has decided that the school cannot re-enroll [my daughter] for the 2004-2005 school year. This decision was made not because of [my daughter]'s behavior, but because of your behavior toward the class teacher and the school as a whole. The College sees that the class needs a space to heal after the past difficult year."
First, let me make it clear that I am proud of my behavior and of my integrity. Many parents and former parents have written and called me to thank me for my part in exposing the class teacher and for taking the heat from the school. One former parent expressed that only now that the teacher is no longer at Highland Hall, her child has felt the necessary closure required for healing.
...Your letter further states "You have repeatedly sent blind emails to community members making negative statements about the former class teacher, the Evaluation Committee, and members of the administration, in direct conflict with our communication protocol."
I pointed out the truth. The truth reflected negatively on the class teacher, the Evaluation Committee and the members of the administration — this is their fault, not mine. They are responsible for what happened. With regard to blind emails, I communicated in blind emails for the reason that not everyone I emailed to has given me permission to share their email address so I could not make those addresses public ... The emails went everywhere and that's the nature of email. People understand this and still I received messages from only four people asking to be taken off the email list during this entire process.
...Let's be clear about the communication protocol. It is a directive by the school — not a contract between the school and parents that requires parents to suspend their first amendment freedoms. In fact, parents are absolutely entitled to communicate concerns with other parents, other teachers, relatives, prospective parents, God, their dog, in whatever way they choose — whether in person, by phone, by email or by telepathy. Highland Hall has no right to (or expectation that they can) suspend basic human communication. I never agreed to this protocol, nor do I agree to the tenets contained within it. While perhaps not originally intended as such, it is being used to isolate parents so that parents who have a complaint are frustrated or otherwise coerced into silence. Many parents could have the same complaint about a teacher but if they are to follow this protocol each thinks they are the only ones complaining. This is wrong, unhealthy and immoral. The communication protocol is a way for Highland Hall to control information and is another obvious and shameful action on the part of the school.
...You further declare "Your recent blind copy email, inviting people to a website where you have made a number of negative comments about Highland Hall and specific individuals in the community, is an example of your behavior."
Yes, it is an example of my behavior that I am proud of. My efforts to open a place for free dialog among the Highland Hall community are much more honest and noble than what anyone at Highland Hall has done. Highland Hall has had a web site for years and despite repeated requests has never offered a forum for open communications among parents.
...Regarding "negative" comments, my comments aren't negative, the atmosphere at Highland Hall is negative and my comments describe and reflect this. No specific individuals were mentioned in my posts but as with any close community, most of us in the community have a good idea of who the players are. When I related my response to a private email, I was careful to remove references to individuals. It is curious that not a single parent has posted a positive comment about Highland Hall. For that matter, no teacher, board member, college member or administrator has made the slightest effort to challenge anything that I have said. That's because I always speak the truth.
...You state "You have also refused to meet with the group designated by the College to speak with your about your concerns and activities." I had to make a phone call to Highland Hall to find out what meeting this refers to. I am told it refers to one that was scheduled several months ago that I declined to attend after two other parents attended a similar meeting and were ambushed and humiliated by the "group". You expect me to welcome this sort of exchange? Your own actions have made this impossible.
You close with "Our decision only applies to [my daughter] and next year's sixth grade class. It does not apply to your other children at Highland Hall as long as you follow the guidelines of our communications protocol."
Why, I wonder does this only apply to [my daughter]? Why don't my public criticisms about Highland Hall affect the status of my other children? Could it be that [my daughter] has already decided not to return to Highland Hall next year?
...I had a lot of concern when I realized I would have to tell [my daughter] about your cruel and unnecessarily hurtful letter. I let her read it herself. When she was finished — she cheered and asked me if she could call her friends and tell them the good news! She is excited about leaving Highland Hall and the mind control and humiliation that comes with it.
...I understand why you don't like me rocking the boat. Clearly, this is not the boat I would have chosen if I knew at the beginning of this journey where this boat was headed.
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This is from
“We Don't Need No Steiner Education”
by Cassandra Jardine, education section,
The Daily Telegraph, 10-08-1997, pp 22.
For more, see
When David Gilmour, leader of the rock band Pink Floyd, turned to the education page of The Daily Telegraph last Wednesday, he was dismayed to read that the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship is hoping to secure state support.
"When I think of the horrific experience I had, struggling with my children's school, I felt I had to say something," he declared.
His four children from his first marriage attended Michael Hall in East Sussex, one of 26 Steiner schools in Britain. "I wanted them to have a less pressurised education than I had," he says. But he became disillusioned by the Steiner approach; two years ago, he sent his children to conventional schools.
Gilmour is not an outspoken man. But his children's education, he feels, went so badly wrong that he wanted to make his views public.
...Gilmour was brought up in Cambridge, where his father was a senior lecturer in zoology. He was sent to the Perse — "It was a very disciplined school which I didn't enjoy"....
He wanted his own children to have a more enjoyable experience, so when he and his wife separated, he fell in with her wishes and sent his children to Michael Hall. "But it soon became apparent that my children were neither happy nor learning.”
Several aspects of the Steiner system alarmed him. "Steiner believes that six to seven is the age at which to start teaching reading and writing. My son, Matthew, was frustrated by not being able to write his name at seven. When he left, aged nine, he could only just read."
Another central plank of the philosophy is that, between the ages of eight and 14, children should remain with the same teacher for the main lesson every morning. This is designed to promote continuity and works well if child and teacher get on. If not, Gilmour says, "it can be torture".
"The school had its good aspects, but overall, the system seemed slack. I found the children's knowledge was very patchy, and their school reports, which consisted only of praise, gave me little idea of how they were really doing."
...So concerned did he become that he took his children to be assessed by educational psychologists. The results shocked him. Matthew, when first examined in 1994, was judged to have an average IQ of 101 but was considered to be "seriously disabled in terms of literacy acquisition, with his reading and spelling lying a full three years below his chronological age".
Less than two years later, Matthew was retested. The educational psychologist found him to have "flourished" outside the Steiner system; his retested IQ was now 124.
...His three daughters, too, had fallen behind. Sarah, the youngest, was 14 when she was transferred to a conventional school. Her IQ is high, but she had to be put in a class of girls a year younger than she was, and still struggled. She has now caught up with her classmates....
Clare, 18, who has dyslexia, now attends a specialist college, while Alice, 21, left Michael Hall with one A-level in art. Unqualified for a British university, she is about to start college in America.
With a very self-motivated child or one who needs intensive nurturing, Steiner can do a good job," says Peter Gilchrist, one of the psychologists Gilmour consulted ... [But] the rigidity of Rudolph Steiner's 75-year-old philosophy can be problematic. "The system believes that children should take steps only when they are ready. Steiner teachers tend to assume any problems will all come right in the end and can be reluctant to acknowledge modern solutions. I once recommended that a child who had problems with motor skills should use a keyboard, but I was told that the writing had to come from within."
Most children, he feels, thrive in a system that exerts more pressure on them.
...Gilmour's children from his second marriage will go to mainstream state schools. They won't be as tough as the one that sent him into revolt — but they will teach the three Rs from the age of five.