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  THE SCHOOLS THEMSELVES  















There are many Waldorf schools in the world today, sprinkled across the continents. The schools are not all identical, by a long shot. Still, they all trace their origins to Rudolf Steiner and the first Waldorf school, which he established in 1919. There are enough similarities between the Waldorf schools in operation today to allow us to make many general observations about them.


A few of the schools, especially in Europe, are fairly large, having scores of faculty members and several hundred students. Most Waldorf schools, however, are of more modest size, and some are quite tiny.


Waldorf schools (also called Steiner schools and/or Steiner-Waldorf schools) are usually pleasant places with earnest, committed faculty and staff. There is usually a faint but palpable spiritual or even mystic atmosphere, although usually no particular theology is openly professed. Green values, with reverence for nature, are usually in evidence. There is almost always much art in and around the schools: paintings, drawings, sculpture, instrumental music, choral music, dance...


Academic pressures are usually light, as the schools focus as much attention on emotional and spiritual development as on brainwork. There is usually much playtime, especially in the lower grades, along with craftwork of various kinds, including knitting, crochet, woodworking, and the like. School days often pass pleasantly.


A familial feeling is often achieved. Students get to know one another, and their teachers, well. The same small group of students may remain together for many years — ideally, all the way from kindergarten through high school. Likewise, the same teacher(s) may lead a particular group for many years: from first grade through fifth or eighth grade or (on rare occasions) through twelfth grade.


Subjects are usually studied in a set order, according to the Waldorf belief that there is a correct time for each. The order corresponds to the Waldorf conception of the stages of childhood development. There are three such stages, with the major turning points coming around ages seven and fourteen. Waldorf teachers try to shepherd their charges through these important transitions. The teachers offer themselves as role models, hoping to inspire both the admiration and love of their students. They seek to gradually fortify the students so that, having been well led, the children eventually develop the capacity to think for themselves in the final years of schooling.


All of this is more or less as Rudolf Steiner intended, and most of it derives from his specific directives. Most of it reflects Steiner's mystic conception of human nature. [See "Oh Humanity".] The three stages of childhood development, for example, are actually three phases of incarnation. [See "Incarnation".] In Waldorf belief, human beings have four bodies, three of which are invisible. A human is born with a physical body; at age seven, the "etheric body" (an envelope of formative forces) incarnates; at age fourteen, the "astral body" (an envelope of soul forces) incarnates; and at age twenty-one, the "ego body" or "I" (individual spiritual selfhood) incarnates.


Underlying the Waldorf belief in incarnation is a belief in reincarnation. Steiner taught that humans live alternating lives in the spiritual and earthly realms. [See "Reincarnation".] During these lives, we evolve toward spiritual perfection, a process that includes working out one's karma. [See "Karma".] Humanity's great guide along the upward path of evolution is Christ, who in Waldorf belief is actually the Sun God. [See "Sun God" and "Prototype".]


Usually, very little of this is openly explained to parents before they enroll their children in a Waldorf school, and sometimes much of it remains hidden even after enrollment. Rudolf Steiner's teachings are embodied in the mystical system called Anthroposophy, which forms the foundation of Waldorf education. Anthroposophists believe that they are occult initiates who possess divine wisdom that others do not possess and are unprepared to receive. Thus, they are often secretive about their purposes and practices — properly so, in their view. [See "Inside Scoop".] Not all Waldorf teachers are full-fledged Anthroposophists, but many are, and they observe Steiner's admonition to preserve occult knowledge from those who are not ready for it. [See "Secrets".]


Rudolf Steiner claimed that he attained occult wisdom through the use of clairvoyance. In particular, he claimed to employ "exact clairvoyance," which enabled him to gain virtually unchallengeable knowledge of spiritual matters. [See "Exactly".] He stipulated that Waldorf teachers should be true Anthroposophists, and he said they should either develop their own powers of exact clairvoyance or accept the guidance of their colleagues who have developed it. He called this form of exact clairvoyance the "Waldorf teacher's consciousness." [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]


Stated in the broadest terms, the chief objective of Waldorf education is to spread Anthroposophy. However, in accordance with the need to preserve occult secrets, this objective is usually pursued subtly, indirectly. [See "Sneaking It In".] Rarely are Waldorf students taught the doctrines of Anthroposophy in so many words. Instead, guided day after day, month after month, year after year by the same small set of teachers, they gradually come to see the world much as their teachers see it, which is generally as Rudolf Steiner saw it. Thus, Waldorf schools usually do not explicitly teach Anthroposophy to the students, but the schools lead students down the path toward Anthroposophy. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] Few Waldorf students graduate from school as Anthroposophists — most may have only the foggiest idea what Anthroposophy is — but most will graduate having internalized attitudes and beliefs that may cause them, later in life, to devote themselves to Rudolf Steiner and his teachings. [See "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".]


Restated at the personal level, the objective of Waldorf education is to shepherd students through the process of incarnation and spiritual development so that they may, sooner or later, find spiritual truth — i.e., the doctrines of Anthroposophy. [See "Soul School".] The hope is that the children will do this "freely" — Waldorf schools claim to promote human freedom. [See "Freedom".] Thus, in theory, Waldorf students are led to think for themselves and make their own free life choices. However, in Anthroposophical belief, any choice other than Anthroposophy is wrong and may lead to the loss of one's soul. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] Moreover, critics allege that Waldorf students are effectively — albeit subtly — indoctrinated through the long years spent in an Anthroposophical milieu, and this negates the possibility of actual freedom. [See "He Went to Waldorf".] Indoctrinated students generally travel down the paths established for them by their internalized belief system, implanted in them through a subtle years-long process.


Virtually all classes and activities in Waldorf schools are keyed to the schools' spiritual purposes. A few quotations from Rudolf Steiner make this plain: 


◊ "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." 


◊ "As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 


◊ "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, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.”  



With their primary attention devoted to occult spiritual matters, Waldorf teachers may or may not provide a sound education for their students. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] Usually, Waldorf faculties harbor a fundamental mistrust of modern science and scholarship, which are so much at odds with Steiner's mysticism. Still, depending on individual circumstances, some students may graduate having attained a reasonable level of literacy and real-world knowledge. And, again depending on individual circumstances, some may come away more or less unscathed by their teachers' occult beliefs. [See "Who Gets Hurt".] Parents should realize, however, that if they select Waldorf schools for their children, they may be subjecting them to risks unlike those found in ordinary, secular forms of education. [See "Advice for Parents".] child who succumbs to Anthroposophical indoctrination may be woefully unprepared for real life in the real world; deep mental and emotional problems may result.


To see how the Waldorf curriculum is geared to Anthroposophy, see "The Waldorf Curriculum" and the essays that follow it ("Oh My Word", "Magical Arts", "Mystic Math", etc.). To look into methods used by Waldorf teachers, see "Methods". To see how Waldorf teachers are trained, see "Teacher Training". To see how Anthroposophical attitudes and inclinations are surreptitiously conveyed to Waldorf students, see "Sneaking It In." For indications of the problems, sometimes quite unusual, that can disrupt the pleasant tenor of Waldorf school life, see "Cautionary Tales", "Mistreating Kids Lovingly", and "Indoctrination".

— Roger Rawlings













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[R. R., 2009.]





















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WALDORF SCHOOLS/COMMUNITIES


Christmas : Waldorf-style

extremity : love, out of bounds

fairy tales : their use in Waldorf schools

gender : boys and girls

holistic education : the "whole child"

if only : wishing, hoping...

more on education : quotations about education, religion, health...

PR : efforts to "re-brand" Waldorf schools

pseudoscience : at Waldorf schools

Q&A : informed opinions, and others

schools themselves

spiritual syllabus : in the open

star power : astrology Waldorf-style

this very day : Waldorf and Steiner schools pledging allegiance

visits : welcome?

Waldorf priests : doing their duty

BBC & SWSF : on the air