WALDORF'S SPIRITUAL AGENDA
"We Don't Teach It"
Waldorf Schools and Freedom
THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION is one of a series of volumes that lay out the fundamental beliefs underlying Waldorf education. The editor of THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION quite rightly describes the book as being — by Waldorf standards — unusually frank.
“THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION is exceptional among Rudolf Steiner’s many lectures on Waldorf education for its breadth, depth, daring, and accessibility.” — Christopher Bamford, introduction to THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), a collection of Steiner lectures, p. vi.
Digging into the book gives us considerable insight to the spiritualistic agenda of Waldorf schools. One note of caution is in order, however: In this book, Steiner is more candid than usual, but he is also occasionally defensive and disingenuous. He sidesteps many issues, he uses euphemisms, and he gives a conventional gloss to many of his occult teachings. What he does not say, and what he only hints at, is at least as significant as what he states plainly.
[Anthroposophic Press, 2004.]
At the first Waldorf school, children were free to choose which type of religious instruction they would receive.
“The instruction in religion based on spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] is increasing [in the Waldorf School], and more and more children come to it. Some have even deserted other religious instruction to go to the anthroposophic religious lessons. It is quite understandable, therefore, that people should say that these anthroposophists are rather bad people, since they lead children to abandon their Catholic and Protestant religious lessons for the religious instruction based on spiritual science. We do all we can to discourage them from coming, because it is very difficult for us to find religious teachers in our own area. Nevertheless, despite the fact that we never planned on this instruction except in response to parents’ requests and the unconscious requests of children (to my great distress, I might almost say), the demand for anthroposophic religious instruction constantly increases.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 115.
Waldorf schools don't want to give Anthroposophical religious instruction, but the parents' "requests" and students’ “unconscious pleading” force their hands. We might entertain some doubts about the very great desire of Waldorf schools to turn students away from Anthroposophical religious teaching. But the main point to note at this stage is that, by Steiner's own admission, such a thing as Anthroposophical religious teaching exists. The clear implication is that Anthroposophy itself is a religion, standing as an alternative to Catholicism, Protestantism, and other mainstream faiths. [To investigate Anthroposophical religious instruction and practices in Waldorf schools, see "Schools as Churches" and "Waldorf Worship".]
According to Steiner, Waldorf teachers operate from the correct “spiritual point of view,” which involves such Anthroposophical doctrines as that human beings are "microcosms" of the entire universe or cosmos.
“Consider a Waldorf teacher’s attitude toward children ... [Waldorf teachers] see in a different way than do those who [do not have] the spiritual point of view ... We may rest assured that changes out in the cosmos will be somewhat conservative [i.e., gradual], but when it comes to transitions in human nature, from early childhood to the teens, then, ladies and gentlemen, the sun that rose before may not come up again. In this human microcosm, anthropos, such a great change occurs that we face an entirely new situation.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 123-125.
I realize that Steiner is hard to read. Here's a paraphrase: Waldorf teachers see children and the growth of children from the correct spiritual point of view. They know that changes in the universe occur only gradually, but in human beings changes sometimes occur quickly and dramatically. One such change occurs when a child passes through puberty. The child then moves to a new stage and cannot return to the prior stage. This is true even though changes in humans reflect the changes in the universe: a human being ("anthropos") is a "microcosm" of the universe, a small replica containing all that the universe contains. [See "The Center".]
To teach well, Stainer said, Waldorf teachers need to grasp Anthroposophy. Ideally, this means becoming clairvoyant and gaining direct knowledge of the higher, spiritual worlds. Not everyone can do this, of course, but non-clairvoyant individuals can at least follow the indications given to them by those who possess psychic powers.
“A few people in the world can develop such higher knowledge ... Everything these few discover, others can recognize through sound judgment and sound observation ... One can argue that, as teachers, we cannot immediately become clairvoyant. We cannot train in such methods. How can we manage teaching if we are first confronted with this complicated method of reaching spirit? “ — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 25.
The “complicated method” is the series of steps people should take to achieve occult initiation, according to Steiner. Initiation means gaining entry into the inner circle; receiving the secret knowledge possessed only by insiders. Steiner outlines the necessary steps in KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT; in essence, they are steps toward becoming clairvoyant. [See "Knowing the Worlds", "Inside Scoop", and "Occultism".]*
Steiner says that teachers do not need to be clairvoyant at first — such a requirement would put too heavy a burden on them. They need not "immediately become clairvoyant," but they should aim for clairvoyance eventually. Clairvoyance is a central goal for all of Steiner's followers, including Waldorf teachers. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Conscious".]
* The steps — a series of rather vacuous exercises — do not work, of course. They cannot. Their goal, clairvoyance, is unattainable. And this is a source of much potential pain for Anthroposophists. Steiner's followers must either admit, in the end, that they cannot attain their goal — or they end up deluding themselves that they have attained their unattainable goal, which means almost entirely severing their ties to reality. Thus Anthroposophy can be seen as a path leading either to severe disappointment or deep delusion.
A word about the word "occult": Steiner openly called himself an occultist and he affirmed his teachings as occult. [See "Occultism".] He was not talking about devil worship. He meant that he dealt in hidden, mysterious spiritual knowledge. He used the term "occult" to apply to things esoteric, supernatural, and secret.
A teacher who fails to attain full-blown clairvoyance can still be effective if s/he turns from intellect and relies on imagination, which might be termed limited or introductory clairvoyance: the ability to form true mental pictures.
”This teacher can be effective, even without clairvoyant vision of the spirit. Spirit is active there. You are working in active spirit when you believe in your own [mental] pictures. If you do not believe in your image [i.e., picture], but make up an image only through intelligence and intellectuality, you remain outside reality with your intellect and mind ... Spirit is productive and creative. And it is essential to become creative and to be at home in creating if we wish to be active in spirit.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 27.
Being spiritually active is central to Waldorf teaching; it is, in a sense, the whole point of being a Waldorf teacher: You become "active in spirit" and convey the effects of your spiritual activity to your students. Relying on intellect or the brain, on the other hand, is a grave error; it causes you to "remain outside reality." Steiner taught the the brain and the use of the brain cannot lead to true cognition or wisdom; true cognition is clairvoyance, which is not seated in the brain. [See "Steiner's Specific".] Disparaging the brain and its use is, surely, a dubious precept to place at the foundation of an educational system.
Clairvoyance stands in opposition to intellect or, as Steiner sometimes put it, clairvoyance builds upon intellect before leaving intellect behind.
“[W]e must approach clairvoyance through soul-spiritual methods, without damaging our bodily fitness through ascetic practices. And we can do this, because we have gained exact ideas through a hundred years of natural scientific development; we can discipline our thinking through natural science. I am not describing something that is antagonistic to the intellect. Intellectuality must be the basis and foundation of clear thinking. And we must build something that can lead to the spiritual world upon the foundation of this intellectuality.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 30-31.
Steiner zigged and zagged on the subject of intellect, sometimes denouncing intellect, sometimes acknowledging it. But his core conviction was that clairvoyance is the faculty we need if we are to attain truth. The problem in all this, obviously, is that clairvoyance is a delusion; it does not exist. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Steiner likewise was inconsistent about the natural sciences. He sometimes claimed that spiritual science, Anthroposophy, grew out of the natural sciences, and he sometimes said that the natural sciences will eventually confirm the findings of spiritual science. But far more often he described the natural sciences as the enemy of spiritual science. [See "Science".] And we should note that, in the decades since Steiner's death, the natural sciences have not confirmed spiritual science; instead, they have increasingly established truths that make spiritual science less and less plausible. [See "Steiner's 'Science'" and "Steiner's Blunders".]
What is wrong with intellect?
◊ “Today, at some point, we must experience the suffering that goes along with the realization that, as long as one is occupied solely with intellectual activity and observations, one lives in emptiness and mere images, remote from reality.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 23.
◊ “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophical Press, 1995), p. 233.
Sending children to a school that downplays the brain and intellect — what we might call intelligence — is not a step to be taken lightly. If Steiner was wrong about clairvoyance, imagination, and intellect, then schooling based on his doctrines may severely shortchange students. And, actually, contrary to Steiner's assertions, Waldorf schools — with their emphasis on clairvoyance and imagination — are more remote from reality than many other types of schools, schools that emphasize the importance of brainwork. We will return to this point.
Steiner was aware that outsiders may think that his followers are kooks and that Waldorf schools are devoted to a kooky cult, Anthroposophy. His defense was to say that Anthroposophy is indeed present in Waldorf schools, but this is fine because Anthroposophy offers the correct view of reality.
“It is true that many people may claim to have encountered many fanatics in the anthroposophic movement. But if they look at things more closely, they will find that the goal of spiritual science is to make knowledge universal and to spiritualize it ... If people have found fanaticism and dogmatism within the anthroposophic movement, this came from outside; it is not inherent in the movement ... Consequently, when someone says that there is some sort of cult behind Waldorf education, one in which people indulge all kinds of crazes, that individual should study the matter properly....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 134-135.
One may question whether Steiner was deceiving himself and/or his audience when he claimed that “fanaticism and dogmatism” are not inherent in Anthroposophy. The important point, however, is Steiner's clear admission that Waldorf schools are Anthroposophical. And, of course, parents may want to dig for answers once they realize that “many people” have found what they perceive as fanaticism, dogmatism, and cult-like behavior in and around Waldorf schools. [See, e.g., "Cautionary Tales".]
One criticism often made of Waldorf schools is that they lead children away from reality, failing to equip them for their real lives after graduation. Steiner denied that such is the case.
“The point is to educate children so that they stay in touch with society as it exists today. There is no point in saying that society today is bad. Whether good or bad, we simply have to live in it. And this is the point: we have to live in it, and so we must not isolate the children from it. Thus I was confronted with the very difficult task of carrying out an educational ideal without losing contact with modern life.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 91.
Many people who have been associated with Waldorf schools would question Steiner’s statement. Waldorf schools quite often say or imply that society — the world outside the schools — is desperately bad. Steiner himself often did so. Thus, for instance, he gave this description of modern people as seen from an Anthroposophical perspective:
“When we today — permeated even a little with anthroposophical consciousness — take a walk in the streets, we no longer see human people; rather we see [blind] moles that move about in the smallest of circles, circles into which they were placed, moles whose thinking is limited to these narrow circles, [and] cannot reach beyond them, moles who take no interest in what is happening outside these circles." — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 92.
Steiner generally taught that modern society — especially in America — is not merely degraded but actually demonic. In particular, he said, the terrible demon Ahriman holds sway in the modern world. This arch-deceiver is leading us toward doom.
◊ "Who stirs up nations against each other? Who raises the questions that are directing humanity today? — the answer is: the Ahrimanic deception [i.e., deceit caused by Ahriman] which plays into human life." — Rudolf Steiner, THE AHRIMANIC DECEPTION (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), GA 193.
◊ "[T]oday...the spirit-soul is asleep. The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world [i.e., the realm of Ahriman], in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos. We live in a time when people face the danger of losing their souls...." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115. [See "Ahriman". For more on Steiner's view of the modern world, see, e.g., "America" and "Steiner and the Warlord".]
The Waldorf perspective on modern life is stitched together from many occultist threads, such as belief in karma.
“[A]nyone who can look at human history with a certain intuition will perceive that in our time there are many who have very little inner joy. On the contrary, people are burdened by heavy doubts and questions in terms of destiny.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 53.
To understand such statements, it is helpful to know that in Anthroposophy, "destiny" is karma, the self-created fate that humans must fulfill in their earthly lifetimes. [See "Karma".] Also, in Anthroposophy, “intuition” is a term — like “imagination” — designating a stage of clairvoyance. Such doctrines are central of Waldorf teacher training. [See "Thinking" and "Teacher Training".] Here is a bit more about Steiner's vision of human destiny or karma:
“One does not merely train in a teaching method; we must also have our own ideas concerning the destiny of humanity, the significance of historical epochs, the meaning of present life, and so on.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 127.
The term “historical epoch,” as used in Anthroposophy, refers to the belief that humans are evolving through epochs or stages of spiritual development. "Cultural epochs," for instance, are periods of evolution since the sinking of Atlantis. (Yes, Atlantis. [See "Atlantis and the Aryans".]) All of this is tied up with karma or destiny, a subject Steiner returns to over and over, stressing its importance for Waldorf teachers.
“Only by adopting a spiritual standpoint can we become truly practical educators in the physical world. But this is possible only when teachers themselves have a philosophy of life — when their view of the world causes them to feel the deep meaning of the question of the universe and human destiny.” — Ibid., pp. 129-130.
The significance of karma for Waldorf education has perhaps been summarized best by one of Steiner's followers, himself a Waldorf teacher: “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” —Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
As for intuition, Steiner frequently made statements such as the following. Note that "intuitive perception" is virtually synonymous with at least one form of clairvoyance:
"The ether body [one of our three invisible bodies, according to Steiner] cannot be understood intellectually, but only through the imagery of intuitive perception. It would have great significance if teachers could come to understand the ether body. One should not use the excuse that teachers cannot all be expected to develop clairvoyance...." — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 94. [For more on our invisible bodies, see "Incarnation".]
Waldorf schools may seem progressive, putting emphasis on each individual child’s unique attributes — Steiner and his followers have often claimed this virtue for their approach — but actually the thinking behind Waldorf schools is extraordinarily backward, as for instance in the concept of “temperament.”
“We must enter more and more into what is personal and individual. Provisionally, we are helped by the fact that the children we educate have different temperaments. From the very beginning, a real understanding of temperaments has been very important for the education I am describing as practiced in a Waldorf school.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 79.
Classifying people according to the four “temperaments” (melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric) is an ancient practice long since discarded by science — but it is embraced in Waldorf schools, where it mingles with other occult concepts.
“We begin to comprehend children with a melancholic disposition only when we realize that they are affected most powerfully by their purely physical nature, and when we understand that melancholia is the result of an intense deposit of salt in the organism ... When we consider children of a more phlegmatic temperament, we must realize that they live less in the physical body and more in what I call the ether body; this is a more volatile body ... Sanguine children are especially difficult. The activity of the rhythmic system very much dominates in them ... Choleric children must be treated in yet another way. Choleric children are typically a step behind normal in development.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 79-82.
Such categorization, based on occult nonsense (“ether bodies,” and so on) obviously has the potential to inflict real harm on children. [See "Temperaments".]
Clairvoyance. Microcosms. Karma. Temperaments. These are key Waldorf beliefs. So is belief in "Anthroposophical medicine." By the standards of modern science, the alternative medicine practiced by Anthroposophists is little more than quackery. [See "Steiner's Quackery".] But, worrisomely, such medicine is used at many Waldorf schools. The key concept in Anthroposophical medicine is that the cause of physical conditions lies in the spirit realm. Thus, for instance, if a girl's "spiritual nature" becomes "separated" from her body, she will become anemic.
“Among girls, you might see a slight tendency toward chlorosis, or anemia, in the developing organism. The girl’s blood becomes poor, and she becomes pale. This is because, from fourteen to sixteen, the spiritual nature becomes separated from the organism as a whole.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 108-109.
The great danger in such thinking is that physical cures may be neglected if the cause of a condition is thought to exist in the spirit realm — and Steiner almost always located the causes of disease in nonphysical conditions. For instance:
“With pneumonia, the cause is always in the astral body [another of the nonphysical bodies Steiner said we have]; pneumonia can occur in no other way.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 60.
Such thinking leads to results like this, reported by a mother whose daughter became ill while attending a Waldorf school:
“The Anthroposophic doctor made a diagnosis: my child had lost the will to live. He announced one of the potential cures ... [W]e were to give our daughter red, yellow, and orange crayons to color with! I looked at my husband in disbelief. When the doctor instructed us to make the sign of a flame out of Aurum cream over my child’s heart at bedtime, I was dumbfounded ... He told us to apply the gold cream from below the heart upwards, towards the sky....” — Sharon Lombard. [See the section "Doctor" in "Spotlight on Anthroposophy".]
"[T]here are certain cosmic, suprasensory influences that work on human beings from the external world, and these affect the female organization [i.e., organism] more intensely between the tenth and twelfth year than they do the male organism. ” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 121-122.
Steiner often spoke of "suprasensory" or "supersenory" phenomena — he meant things that lie beyond the reach of our ordinary senses, things that can be perceived only through the use of clairvoyance. The most important suprasensory beings are gods. Anthroposophy, which is polytheistic, recognizes a vast panorama of gods. [See "Polytheism".] They are the source of the "cosmic, suprasensory influences that work on human beings." True-believing Waldorf faculties, by extension, consider themselves to be the instruments through which the will of the gods works on the students and reaches the wider world beyond.
"We [Waldorf teachers] 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.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
When Steiner spoke of "external" phenomena, he often meant the merely physical, the lowly stuff of the physical plane of existence. Here, however, he means the cosmos, the world outside the subjective human being: the world from which flow "cosmic, suprasensory influences."
Whether the distinction Steiner draws here between girls and boys makes sense is, at a minimum, open to debate. Girls and boys are physically different, of course, but Steiner is referring to differing receptivity to the gods' influence. Steiner taught that, generally, we alternate between female and male incarnations (female in one life, male in the next...), so ultimately we are all alike. But he also taught that being a member of one sex makes one spiritually different from members of the other sex during that lifetime. Females are more attuned to the cosmos, he said, and males are more attuned to the earthly. Therefore females and males should receive somewhat different forms of education, to the extent that, for instance, they should be given different reading materials or told different kind of stories. Arguably, then, a form of sexism has been built into Waldorf education from its founding. [See "Gender".]
The proper attitude for Waldorf teachers, Steiner said, is essentially religious. This may seem right to you, but do bear in mind that the religion involved in Waldorf schooling is Anthroposophy. Only if you approve of Anthroposophy can you truly approve of the religious attitude adopted by Waldorf faculty members. Very often the Waldorf perspective is clothed in attractive terms, but make sure you understand what those terms mean.
“If we have received children in religious reverence, and if we have educated them in love up to the time of puberty, then after this we will be able to leave their spirit free and interact with them as equals. Our aim is not to touch the spirit, but to let it awaken. When children reach puberty, we will best attain our goal of giving them over to freely use their intellectual and spiritual powers if we respect the spirit. We must realize that all we can do is remove hindrances from the spirit — physical hindrances and, up to a point, hindrances of the soul.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 56.
Sounds great. But what, specifically, does it mean? Steiner taught that we reincarnate. Each time we are born on Earth, we incarnate gradually — our spirit and our invisible bodies blossom only slowly. The spirit is different from the soul, and an important part the Waldorf teacher’s religious role is to “receive” children and guide them in such a way that incarnation occurs properly, with each invisible part of a child's spiritual nature awakening in its own time. [See "Incarnation".]
The fundamental purpose of Waldorf schooling, in other words, is not education as it is ordinarily understood, but occult reception of spiritual parts and powers. Some parents may approve of Anthroposophical occultism; others surely will not. But all students in Waldorf schools will be exposed to it, to one degree or another. You should subject your child to such schooling only if you truly understand, and embrace, the occult purposes enunciated by Rudolf Steiner and enacted by Waldorf faculties.
We should also note that, perhaps without meaning to, Steiner was describing a process of indoctrination. Waldorf students are not encouraged to use their own judgment until at least age thirteen or fourteen ("the time of puberty"). Prior to that, they are immersed in an atmosphere of "reverence" and "love" — they are immersed in an Anthroposophical ambiance that they are expected to accept without question or demurral. Such immersion — deeply emotional and spiritual, extending all the way through early and middle schooling — is likely to leave a deep, deep imprint on children. Hence, when the children are finally allowed to start thinking for themselves, their thinking will almost certainly run along the channels that have become so familiar to them: They will think and feel as their teachers have prepared them to think and feel. They will, in other words, lean heavily toward Anthroposophy and away from anything that contravenes Anthroposophy. This process may justly be called brainwashing. And it is the core of Waldorf schooling. [See, e.g., "Indoctrination", "Freedom", and "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".]
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
"We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [the gods] have done ... 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 [the gods] have done before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.
A question worth asking is how Waldorf teachers know what the gods did and what the gods want.
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Here is an explicit statement of the religious goal of Waldorf education:
“Waldorf education, which we at the Goetheanum [the Anthroposophical headquarters] are endeavoring to cultivate and carry into the world, sows in the child something that can grow and thrive from early childhood into old age. There are men and women who have a wonderful power in old age; they need only speak and the very tone of their voices, the inner quality of their speech, works as a blessing. Why, we might ask ourselves, can some people raise their hands and have an influence of real blessing? Our educational insight tells us that only those can do so who in childhood have learned to pray, to look up in reverence to another human being. To sum it up in one sentence, we can say that all children who rightly learn to fold their hands in prayer will be able to lift their hands in blessing in old age." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 1, p. 208.
What does this mean? Waldorf education is meant to teach children the proper religious attitudes and actions (specifically, how to pray) in order that they may grow up to be saint-like spiritual paragons who can offer blessings. The purpose of Waldorf education is ultimately to enable children to "rightly learn to fold their hands in prayer."
What is the right way to pray? The proper religious attitudes and actions are, from an Anthroposophical perspective, Anthroposophical attitudes and actions. Anthroposophy centers on the human being (Anthropos: man), and the correct form of prayer sketched here centers on a human being.
"[Children are taught] to pray, to look up in reverence to another human being." Steiner said that we all need gurus, human spiritual leaders in whom we can place absolute trust.
"[A spiritual seeker] would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral [i.e., soul] experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide...a Guru on whom he can strictly rely." — Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), lecture 12, “Occult Development”, GA 95.
For Anthroposophists generally, the great Guru is Steiner himself. [See "Guru".]
Waldorf education is fundamentally religious, and the religion involved — the right spiritual approach — is Anthroposophy.
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Here is another Steiner statement on the purpose of Waldorf education:
“This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment [i.e., incarnation and development] in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
Anthroposophy — which calls itself "spiritual science — is a religion having a mystical conception of mankind. To understand it, Westerners generally need to detach themselves from mainstream Judeo-Christian theology. Thus, for instance, karma and reincarnation are central to the Anthroposophical account of human life. We descend from "the spiritual worlds" (not Heaven) into life on Earth. Here we "unfold" the capacities we have brought down from the higher worlds. These are capacities bestowed on us by the gods (Anthroposophy is polytheistic) as well as those we have created for ourselves through the process of karma. During life here below, we seek to improve our capacities before returning to the higher worlds. Thereafter, having received further divine instruction up above, we will descend again to Earth (reincarnation) for another life during which we will again try to "unfold" and improve our capacities. According to Anthroposophy, this is the central task of spiritual evolution, through which we will gradually perfect ourselves so that we become gods. In the largest sense, "this is precisely the task of [a Waldorf] school" — fostering this spiritual process.
“One could say that Waldorf education has a hidden agenda. Its curriculum is described in terms common to public schools in general; arithmetic, writing, reading, geography, botany, handicrafts, history, and so on. But in Steiner schools the dimensions of these subjects are threefold: they are artistic, cognitive, and religious ... There is a continual interconnecting, a relinking, a re-ligioning, of one activity with another." — M. C. Richards, TOWARD WHOLENESS: RUDOLF STEINER EDUCATION IN AMERICA (Wesleyn University Press, 1980), p. 164. [Also see “Looking Into It”.]
“[A] former Waldorf instructor [has said]: ‘I heard in a faculty meeting that there were many important souls waiting to reincarnate in this century and that they would only be able to do so if there were enough Waldorf schools. By the end of the year I taught there I was completely convinced that Waldorf constituted a cultlike religious movement which concealed its true nature from prospective parents.’" — Meagan Francis,”What’s Waldorf?” (SALON, 5-26-2004).
"We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [the 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 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.
“[W]e must all be permeated with the thoughts:
“First, of the seriousness of our undertaking. What we are now doing is tremendously important.
“Second, we need to comprehend our responsibility toward anthroposophy as well as the social movement.
“And, third, something that we as anthroposophists must particularly observe, namely, our responsibility toward the gods. 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. We dare not for one moment lose the feeling of the seriousness and dignity of our work." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
“Thank the...[good Spirits] who gave [Emil] Molt the idea [of founding the Waldorf school]. The Gods will work further with what our Deed will become.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 48.
“[T]he teacher is not so much an instructor, as an artist, whose calling is more priestly than profane.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. x.
“[T]he gods allow their grace to flow down in the form of divine spiritual beings ... We come to see ourselves as helpers of the divine spiritual world, and above all we learn to ask what will happen if we approach education with this attitude of mind ... [A] teacher’s calling becomes a priestly calling, since an educator becomes a steward who accomplishes the will of the gods in a human being.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 8-9.
“[A]nthroposophic education grew out of the Anthroposophical Society ... [W]hat the gods have given, not what we have made, receives the greatest blessing and good fortune. It is quite possible that the art of education must lie especially close to the hearts of anthroposophists. ... [W]e can contemplate the mystery of the growing human being with sacred, religious feeling that evokes all the work we are capable of.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 193-194.
“The unfolding of the child’s being must fill us as teachers with feelings of reverence — indeed, we could speak of priestly feelings ... This mood of soul allows us to see the child as a being sent down to Earth by the Gods to incarnate in a physical body. It arouses within us the proper attitude of mind for our work in the school." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ROOTS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 60.
"[W]e feel direct contact with the spiritual world, which is incarnating and unfolding before our very eyes, right here in the sensory world. Such an experience provides a sense of responsibility toward one’s tasks as a teacher, and with the necessary care, the art of education attains the quality of a religious service. Then, amid all our practical tasks, we feel that the gods themselves have sent the human being into this earthly existence, and they have entrusted the child to us for education. With the incarnating child, the gods have given us enigmas that inspire the most beautiful divine service." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 161.
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FOR THEIR SAKE
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READ ALL ABOUT IT
From The Examiner:
In two years a publicly-funded charter high school in California increased it’s exit test scores in math by 36 percentage points and it’s English scores by 23. At the same time their enrollment exploded by 250%. How did they do it? They switched to a curriculum based on a modified model that has been used worldwide by the private Waldorf Schools for some ninety years ... I believe the modified Waldorf model should be further used, studied and expanded if it continues to yield these kinds of results. Actually, Waldorf is quite similar to the Montessori model developed by Maria Montessori, the 19th Century Italian physician, educator, and philosopher.
Waldorf Watch Response:
Do Waldorf schools use any methods that should be adopted by conventional schools? Perhaps. But if the resulting education would be similar to Montessori education (which is free of occultism), then what we need are Montessori-inspired schools, not Waldorf-inspired ones. Waldorf or Steiner schools are almost inescapably occultist — that is, their curriculums are based on outlandish, supernatural illusions. E.g., what concepts should geography classes teach? Rudolf Steiner’s answer, in part:
“With the students, we should at least try to...make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars ... [T]his is what we should achieve in geography.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press. 1998), pp. 607-608.
Steiner's beliefs — which are generally shared by Waldorf faculty — were occult, and he knew they should be withheld from most audiences. Yet he also believed that his occult beliefs should be conveyed, somehow, to Waldorf students. We should pause over this. So let's look at the same quotation again, but at greater length. Here, then, is the entire passage concerning islands that float in the sea. Steiner says students need to learn about "the spirit" of various subjects, but he says they should not be taught "about Anthroposophy," then he says they should be taught the Anthroposophical belief that islands "swim in the sea and [are] held fast by the forces of the stars," then he retracts this, then he affirms it in the abstract. He clearly wants students to accept his occult belief about islands and stars, but he vacillates out of fear that Waldorf will get a bad reputation. Nonetheless, he ends up affirming what Waldorf geography classes should "achieve". Let's see it again, at greater length:
“The students are about eighteen, and at that age it is best if they attain an overall understanding of history and art. We should give them an understanding of the spirit of literature, art, and history without, of course, teaching them about anthroposophy. We must try to bring them the spirit in those subjects, not only in the content but also in the way we present them. With the students, we should at least try to achieve what I have striven for with the workers in Dornach [site of the Anthroposophical headquarters], pictures that make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars. In actuality, such islands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside. In general, the cosmos creates islands and continents, their forms and locations. That is certainly the case with firm land. Such things are the result of the cosmos, of the stars. The Earth is a reflection of the cosmos, not something caused from within. However, we need to avoid such things. We cannot tell them to the students because they would then need to tell them to their [college] professors in the examinations, and we would acquire a terrible name. Nevertheless, that is actually what we should achieve in geography.” — Ibid., pp. 607-608.
People who innocently advocate Waldorf-style schooling need to face up to the truth about such schooling. Note that "the way we present them" means Waldorf methods, the methods some people say public schools should adopt from Waldorf. Tread carefully when considering such a step. [For a discussion of Waldorf methodology, see “Methods”.] If you doubt that Waldorf teachers lean heavily on Steiner and his doctrines, see "Teacher Training". Is this the sort of training that should, to any extent, migrate into conventional teacher education programs? A point of interest: FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, from which I have taken the quotation about islands and stars, is often required reading for Waldorf teacher trainees. Thus, a graduate of such a program is someone who, on being told that Great Britain floats in the sea, did not jump up shouting "This is crazy! Let me out of here!"
Would Waldorf geography teachers really tell their students that islands float in the sea? The answer depends on several factors. Those teachers who believe it, and who also accept Steiner's statement that such concepts are what we should "achieve in geography," might well do so. They might tell an entire class, or they might reveal the occult truth to a few trusted students who show signs of becoming Anthroposophists. But other teachers, whether or not they believe that islands float, might focus on the reality (one of the few true elements in the quotation we've seen) that "we cannot tell" the students such things, since it would damage the school's reputation. On balance, it seems likely that most Waldorf geography teachers keep the "truth" about islands and stars to themselves. But the question remains hovering in the air, and this is the potential worry about all Waldorf and Waldorf-like schools: Craziness may break out at any time.
P.S. It would seem that the Waldorf school in question should be commended for academic improvement, and indeed I have argued that Waldorf schools can set high academic standards for their students. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] But without more information, we can't be sure how well any particular Waldorf or Steiner school is performing. For example, an increase in English scores by 23 percentage points is surely good, but what absolute levels are we talking about? If students at the school used to score 50% (F), they would now be scoring 73% (C-). This would be a marked improvement but nothing to brag about. (Other factors that could affect apparent improvement at Waldorf school include whether some students receive after-school tutoring away from the school, or have access to educational software, or access to well-stocked libraries.) As for the increased enrollment mentioned in the article, this doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the quality of education provided, only the apparent appeal of such schools — which can be great, due to colorful classrooms, plenty of lovely art hanging on the walls, intriguing festivals, and so forth. [See "Magical Arts".] But much of this may work as superficial glitz, masking what really happens at the schools.
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WE DON'T TEACH IT
The news item above raises a central issue about what Waldorf schools teach. Do they or don't they teach Anthroposophy to the kids? No, Waldorf teachers almost always claim, we certainly do not. Look, Steiner himself told us not to:
"We should give them an understanding of the spirit of literature, art, and history without, of course, teaching them about anthroposophy." 
See? That proves it.
Well, not quite. On another occasion Steiner told Waldorf teachers the following:
"The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level." 
This is radically different. Here Steiner is saying that Waldorf teachers operate under a "directive" to translate their Anthroposophical knowledge "into a form you can present to little children." In this case Steiner is clearly telling Waldorf teacher to teach the kids Anthroposophy, as long as you put it in a proper form for children.
So we have a contradiction before us, which leaves us with the question: Do Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophy to the kids or not?
The answer is yes, the schools teach Anthroposophy, but they do it on the sly. [See "Sneaking It In" and "Clearing House".] Rarely do they spell out Anthroposophical doctrine chapter and verse. Rarely do they say Rudolf Steiner, using his exact clairvoyance, teaches us thus-and-so about the higher worlds of the spirit realm. They usually do not do this. They usually refrain for a couple of reasons:
1) As we have seen in the case of geography, islands, and the stars, Anthroposophical "knowledge" is often wacky. Embarrassingly so. So wacky that Steiner himself worried about revealing it:
"[W]e would acquire a terrible name."
(If the business about Great Britain doesn't convince you, I suggest that you consult pp. 30-31 of FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, where Steiner informs Waldorf teachers that the planets do not orbit the Sun. Instead, he says, the planets move in line with the Sun, three behind it and three in front of it.
"[I]t is not that the planets move around the Sun, but these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it.”
Note that on hearing this, none of the Waldorf teachers in the meeting stood up shouting This is crazy! Let me out of here!
Or you might look at p. 26, where Steiner tells Waldorf teachers that fire-breathing dragons — which he confuses with dinosaurs — once walked the Earth:
"Yes, those beasts, they did breathe fire, the Archaeopteryx, for example."
Note that on hearing this, none of the Waldorf teachers stood up shouting This is crazy! Let me out of here!)
2) Teaching Anthroposophy to the students' brains would be nearly worthless. Telling them Rudolf Steiner, using his exact clairvoyance, teaches us thus-and-so about the higher worlds of the spirit realm would threaten to defeat Waldorf's purpose. Waldorf teachers want to bring Anthroposophy to the students' hearts and souls, not to their brains (or only secondarily to their brains). They care much more about how students feel about things than how they think about things. This is what they mean when they say that they educate children's hearts along with their heads and hands. They want the students to feel about things as they themselves feel about things — that is, as Anthroposophists feel about things. You see, Steiner taught that thinking is damaging, and it damages Anthroposophy in particular.
“A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” 
(Having heard what he said about islands and planets and dragons, you may see why he didn't want his followers to think too much.)
Instead, Steiner said that the path to spiritual wisdom comes through our emotions:
"I...want you to understand what is really religious in the anthroposophical sense. In the sense of anthroposophy, what is religious is connected with feeling.” 
Waldorf teachers would kill Anthroposophy if they laid it out for the students as so many intellectual propositions. (They would also embarrass themselves and their school, since Anthroposophical doctrines are so silly. But we've been over that.) Thinking is merely physical; Waldorf teachers want their students to feel the truth of Anthroposophy. As Steiner (using his exact clairvoyance) said,
“[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real ... In the sphere of feelings, human beings cannot liberate [i.e., separate] themselves from the spiritual world.” 
Feel it, kids. FEEL it. If you feel the invisible spiritual beings around us, you will know the truth.
So. Do Waldorf schools teach the kids Anthroposophy? Not usually. As ideas, as concepts, as mere fodder for the brain — no, they usually do not teach it. But as feelings, as attitudes, as an orientation, as a deeply felt (and unexamined) disposition, absolutely, yes, they teach it. They immerse children in a well-nigh impenetrable fog of Anthroposophical images and feelings day after day, week after week, year after year. Steiner told Waldorf teachers:
“As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
And the same holds for Waldorf students. Who cares what they think? But as for what they should feel: As Waldorf students, you should slowly become true Anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in your innermost feeling.
Now I need to complicate the picture. When Waldorf students learn to feel as Anthroposophists feel, they also inevitably soak up some Anthroposophical ideas and doctrines, even if they are not fully aware of what is happening. [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".] The degree to which Steiner's ideas are voiced in the classroom varies from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Some schools and teachers are more scrupulous about leaving dogma outside the classroom; some are far less scrupulous. Thus, we get reports such as the following.
"[S]cience, social studies, and history theoretically were all explored and integrated into the curriculum, but always on a 'Waldorf' timeline and scale, and never in-depth. Additionally, the information imparted was often not accurate. For example, the children were taught that there were 4 elements — Earth, wind, fire and air, and that the continents were islands floating on the ocean...." [See "Ex-Teacher 5".]
These concepts (four elements, floating continents) are indeed among the gems of wisdom Rudolf Steiner left his followers.
When Anthroposophy streams into Waldorf classrooms, frustration and anger can result. One mother who sent her child to a Waldorf school has written this:
"It frustrates me when people deny that Anthroposophy is a religion and [claim] that the schools don’t teach Anthroposophy to children ... My daughter’s books [i.e., class books created by copying from the chalkboard] show that indeed she was taught Anthroposophy, in picture form as well as in written form. ‘The human being is like a little universe inside a big one. Sun, moon and stars find their likeness in mans head, trunk and limbs’; ‘The Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes and Undines are the earth's scribes’ ; ‘The body is the house of the spirit,’ etc. If you deconstruct the lessons, the curriculum and the pedagogy, you cannot ignore the fact that Waldorf is a mystery school, a magical lodge for juniors.” [Also see "Spotlight on Anthroposophy".]
A further complication. There is one portion of the Waldorf curriculum that amounts to straight-on, full-out immersion in Anthroposophical doctrines. Sadly, cruelly, it is a part of the curriculum aimed at the youngest students, those who are least able to think for themselves and thus, possibly, resist. Many of the stories told to Waldorf students in the lowest grades embody Anthroposophical theology. Indeed, the "Biblical" stories told to young Waldorf students often bear only the most tangential relation to the actual contents of the Bible. The stories are Anthroposophical, not Judeo-Christian.
In sum, we need to accept Steiner's word that, one way or another, "Anthroposophy will be in the school."