RETURNING TO

SQUARE ONE

Looking with Fresh Eyes


[The following items were originally posted,

in slightly different form,

at the online forum Waldorf Critics.]



I.


I have a modest proposal. I think it might be useful, occasionally, to go back to square one in order to review fundamental issues concerning Waldorf education. Newcomers, lurkers, perplexed Waldorf parents, and wounded Waldorf students, among others, would probably be grateful. Why do we criticize Waldorf education? What, fundamentally, is wrong with Waldorf? Everyone who gets involved with a Waldorf school is likely to realize that Waldorf schools are (how shall I put this?) strange. What is the basis of that strangeness? What are Waldorf schools all about?

Those of us who began participating on the Waldorf Critics site long ago (and some began here much earlier than I did) may be about talked out on such questions. But if we think of the needs of others, we may want to go back over the ground anew.

With that in mind, I’d like to submit, occasionally, some square one stuff. Having worked for the last few years on the Brief Waldorf/Steiner Encyclopedia and the Semi-Steiner Dictionary, I’ve had to attempt to explain Waldorf issues concisely and clearly. Possibly there might be some benefit in reproducing some of those explanations here.

So here is a brief (well, almost brief) exposition of the goals of Waldorf education, given chiefly in the words of Waldorf proponents and representatives. My own concise (and clear?) contributions come at the beginning and end of the list of quotations.


WALDORF EDUCATION: GOALS


Conveying knowledge to children, and preparing children for productive lives in the real world, are low on the list of Waldorf goals. Instead, Waldorf schools have occult, spiritual purposes. These can be described in various ways. Here are a few such descriptions, all coming from within the Waldorf movement:


◊ “One question that is often asked is: ‘Is a Waldorf school a religious school?’ ... It is not a religious school in the way that we commonly think of religion ... And yet, in a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious.” — Waldorf teacher Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Nova Institute, 2002), p. 134.

◊ “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...are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods ... [W]e 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 (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.

◊ “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., the gods], including the Christ, can find their home.” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.

◊ "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 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.

◊ “A Waldorf school is...an organization that seeks to allow the spiritual impulses of our time to manifest on earth in order to transform society ... [I]t strives to bring the soul-spiritual [i.e., the combined effects of soul and spirit] into the realm of human life.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, “On Earth as It Is in Heaven”, Research Bulletin, Vol. 16 (Waldorf Research Institute), Fall 2011, pp. 21-24.

◊ “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him ... [I]t is [the faculty's] task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information.” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.

◊ “The success of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner [said], can be measured in the life force attained. Not acquisition of knowledge and qualifications, but the life force is the ultimate goal of this school.” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.

◊ "Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostl, Introduction to RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.

◊ “[F]rom a spiritual-scientific [i.e., Anthroposophical] point of view child education consists mainly in integrating the soul-spiritual members with the corporeal members [i.e., integrating the invisible bodies with the physical body].” — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1998), p. 68.

◊ “This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment [i.e., incarnation and development]...what [the child] 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.

◊ “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.

◊ "Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy." — Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. xii.

◊ "[The] special contribution, the unique substance, mission, and intention of the independent Waldorf School, is the spiritual-scientific view of human nature [i.e., Anthroposophy].” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 4.

◊ "The reason many [Waldorf] schools exist is because of Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools." — Former Waldorf teacher "Baandje." [See "Ex-Teacher 7” — https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/ex-teacher-7.]

◊ “In the child we have before us a being who has only recently left the divine world. In due course, still at a tender age, he comes to school and it is the teacher’s task to help guide him into earthly existence. The teacher is therefore performing a priestly office.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 23.

◊ "I think we owe it to our [students'] parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another ... [W]hen we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education." — Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz, "Waldorf Education - For Our Times Or Against Them?" (transcript of talk given at Sunbridge College, 1999).

◊ "Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.

◊ "We certainly may not go to the...extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.


Waldorf schools are on a messianic mission in service to their religion, Anthroposophy. This — not conveying information about the real world to their students — is their chief purpose. [See “Mission" — https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/mission.] The schools attempt to cooperate with the gods, seeking to apply Anthroposophy so that the students can incarnate properly and fulfill their karmas. Educating the students in any normal sense is, at best, a secondary goal.

— Roger Rawlings





II.


As we saw during our first visit of Square One, providing a good education is not the top priority at Waldorf schools. But do the schools inflict any actual harm? Can kids be damaged by attending Waldorf schools? Here’s an admirably calm and reasoned answer:


HARM POTENTIALLY CAUSED BY WALDORF SCHOOLS


Individuals who become involved with Waldorf schools may be harmed in various ways. [1] A small minority may be victimized by physical abuse, bullying, or sexual mistreatment at the schools. [2] More common is the infliction of emotional and psychological damage, including the trauma of demonization and stereotyping. [3] The greatest harm typically done by the schools is subtle but nonetheless profound. The effect of lengthy immersion in the fantastical Waldorf/Anthroposophical worldview can be dissociation from reality; the line between truth and falsehood blurs, with the resulting danger that individuals may be drawn into the occult, phantasmagoric form of spirituality promoted by Rudolf Steiner and his adherents. [4] The primary victims are the students themselves, but other members of their families and even their teachers may suffer as well. [5]

Some victims reel away from the schools in pain and confusion; some bear wounds that last for many years or, indeed, throughout life. For some, their time at Waldorf was dreadful. [6] Yet the harm caused by Waldorf education may be, in some senses, worst for those who love their Waldorf experiences. The ultimate aim of Waldorf education is to lead students and their families into the cult called Anthroposophy. [7] When this project succeeds, people become entangled in a strange worldview — heretical from the perspective of the world's major faiths — that separates them from the real world and may make functioning in that world extremely difficult. [8] Even when individuals avoid full conversion to Anthroposophy, they may find that their Waldorf education has left them unprepared for productive life outside the Anthroposophical community. Waldorf schools tend to provide a poor academic education, in part because their aims lie elsewhere. [9] Upon leaving the schools, students may find that they lack the knowledge, skills, and qualifications to succeed in the ordinary spheres of life. [10]

Some students thrive in Waldorf schools, and some parents choose Waldorf schools for their children knowing the real nature of Waldorf education. [11] Some Waldorf graduates go on to successful careers in a wide array of fields. [12] Whether a child is harmed by Waldorf depends on many factors, including the length of time s/he is enrolled as a Waldorf student. The Waldorf curriculum is meant to encompass all the stages of childhood, in sequence, from beginning to end; only children who enter Waldorf very young and stay until the completion of high school receive the complete Waldorf treatment. [13] Moreover, there is some variation among Waldorf schools, and considerable variation among Waldorf teachers; these factors, along with the personal qualities of individual students, can lead to significantly different outcomes. Nonetheless, parents considering Waldorf schools would do well to carefully consider the criticisms leveled at Waldorf education before making a potentially crucial choice for their children. [14]


[1] See, e.g., "Who Gets Hurt?”

[2] See, e.g., "Slaps" and “Extremity”.

[3] See, e.g., "Nuts", "Races", and “Temperaments".

[4] See, e.g., “Reality and Fantasy”, “Truth”, and “Deception”.

[5] See "Moms", "Pops", "Our Experience", "Coming Undone" and the accounts written by former Waldorf teachers, beginning with "He Went to Waldorf”.

[6] See "Cautionary Tales”.

[7] See "Here's the Answer", "Spiritual Agenda", and "Soul School”.

[8] See, e.g., "My Life Among the Anthroposophists” and “Was He Christian?”.

[9] See "Academic Standards at Waldorf" and the entry in The Brief Waldorf/Steiner Encyclopedia for "Waldorf education: goals” [https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/encw-z].

[10] For an overview of problematic aspects of Waldorf education, see the series of pages beginning with "Help!"; also see "Aid and Comfort”.

[11] The schools tend to be secretive; only Anthroposophists are likely to fully understand and approve of the Waldorf approach. See, e.g., “Secrets”.

[12] The same can be said for graduates of almost any type of school. Even the worst schools sometimes have outstanding students and graduates. Critics of Waldorf education argue that some Waldorf graduates succeed despite of, not because of, their Waldorf schooling. See, e.g., the section "Waldorf Graduates" in "The Upside”.

[13] See "Who Gets Hurt?”, "The Waldorf Curriculum" and the section "We Don't Teach It" in "Spiritual Agenda”.

[14] See the reviews of Waldorf schools collected and posted at the Waldorf Review — e.g., http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/2012/05/portland-waldorf-school-reviews-by.html.



[R.R., in Century XXI]



III.


IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A WALDORF SCHOOL?


Is it possible to briefly characterize typical, representative Waldorf schools? Is there such a thing as a representative Waldorf school? What does the term ”Waldorf school” actually mean? Here’s one shot at an answer.


WALDORF SCHOOLS

(Steiner schools)

Broadly speaking, Waldorf schools are institutions that, to one degree or another, are run in compliance with the ideology of Rudolf Steiner. [1] They typically identify themselves as Waldorf schools, Steiner schools, or Steiner Waldorf schools, but in some instances they use wholly different names. Efforts are made to protect the Waldorf trademark, so that only genuine Waldorf schools can call themselves such, but on the other hand some Waldorf authorities argue that their movement is so amorphous as to defy definition. See, e.g., the rhetorical argument made by a Waldorf faculty chairperson: "'Waldorf education' does not exist" [2] — the point being that Waldorf schools vary greatly. [3] Still, Waldorf education certainly does exist as a distinct phenomenon that can be defined with considerable precision.

Generally, Waldorf schools follow a set curriculum that derives from the program established by Rudolf Steiner and his colleagues at the first Waldorf school, although variations can be found. [4] The common curriculum is geared toward the incarnation of three invisible, nonphysical bodies: the etheric body, astral body, and "I." [5] Each child's presumed karma and temperament are deemed crucially important, and the faculty's beliefs about these help steer the educational process. [6] There is heavy emphasis on myths, fairy tales, legends, and other spiritualistic stories, especially in the early grades. [7] Art is emphasized for its supposed spiritual effects. [8] Emphasis is placed on beauty, and there is usually an anti-intellectual, antiscientific ethos as promoted by Rudolf Steiner. [9] Subjects are taught at the "correct" time or developmental stage in children's lives: The students are thought to recapitulate human spiritual development, so that fourth graders, for instance, stand at about the level of ancient Egyptians, fifth graders at the level of ancient Greeks, sixth graders at the level of ancient Romans, and so on. [10]

Subjects are often taught using the "block" system: A subject will be taken up, studied for a few weeks, then set aside for many weeks or months. The most important class of the day is usually the "main lesson" — a long class focusing on the subject constituting the "block" of the moment. The main lesson usually comes at the beginning of the school day. Other classes and activities during the day are often keyed to the main lesson. Usually, main lessons are taught by "class teachers" — that is, teachers who take primary responsibility for a group of children and stay with them for several years, first grade through fifth, for example, or first grade through eighth, etc. This means each class teacher must present a great number of subjects at a great number of grade levels as the students pass from grade to grade. [11]

The schools do not, as a rule, explicitly teach students the tenets of Steiner's occult system, Anthroposophy. But there are numerous exceptions to this rule, and the schools subtly steer students toward an Anthroposophical perception of reality. [12] Students are encouraged to feel about things as their teachers feel about them, while factual knowledge about the world is minimized — emotion is a truer path than thought, Steiner said. According to Steiner, Waldorf teachers should be devoted Anthroposophists and Waldorf classes should reflect Anthroposophical teachings when the subjects being studied call for this.

The key truth about Waldorf schools is that they are disguised religious institutions, whose purpose is to enact Anthroposophy in the world and thus spread Anthroposophy. [13] The Waldorf approach is built on the occult doctrines of Rudolf Steiner, especially his mystical conception of human nature. [14] Steiner's religious teachings find their way into many classes as well as such activities as festivals that are, at root, religious observances. [15] Teachers and students usually begin each day by reciting, in unison, prayers written by Rudolf Steiner (these invocations are usually disguised as "morning verses"). [16]

This brief summary cannot do full justice to the subject of Waldorf schools. In effect, all of Waldorf Watch is devoted to producing a complete answer to the question, What are Waldorf schools? [To dig further into the answer, see, e.g., "Soul School”, "Academic Standards at Waldorf”, “Foundations", “Clues”, "Waldorf Now”, "Teacher Training”, “Today", "Report Card”, etc. Also see the entries for "Waldorf curriculum", "Waldorf education: goals", "Waldorf students", "Waldorf teachers", etc., in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]


[1] The ideology is Anthroposophy, an occult religion founded by Rudolf Steiner, who also founded Waldorf education. See the entry in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia for "Anthroposophy"; also see "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?

[2] S. K. Sagarin, THE STORY OF WALDORF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES (SteinerBooks, 2011), p. 147.

[3] See, e.g., "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs”.

[4] See "The Waldorf Curriculum”.

[5] See the entries for these terms in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia; also see “Incarnation”.

[6] See "Karma" and “Temperaments”.

[7] See, e.g., "The Gods" and "Sneaking It In”.

[8] See "Magical Arts”.

[9] See "Steiner's 'Science'", "Science", and "Steiner's Specific”.

[10] See, e.g., "Oh My Stars”.

[11] For an overview of Waldorf methodology, see “Methods”.

[12] See "Here's the Answer", "Spiritual Agenda", and "Sneaking It In”.

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

[14] See "Oh Humanity”.

[15] See "Magical Arts”.

[16] See “Prayers”.





IV.


WHAT THEY'RE SAYING


Rudolf Steiner is by far the most important figure in the Waldorf movement. Steiner schools are called Steiner schools for a reason. Still, Rudolf Steiner is long dead (he expired in 1925), and defenders of Waldorf education today sometimes argue that his influence has waned. So we need to consider statements made much more recently than 1925, statements both by Anthroposophists and by observers who have penetrated the enclosed Anthroposophical community. What can we learn? Have Waldorf schools truly distanced themselves from Steiner? Is Steiner really no longer the leading spirit in Waldorf schools?

We can begin with an inflammatory topic. Steiner was a racist. But surely Waldorf schools have been cleansed of all Steiner-like racism by now. No? No, evidently not. Not in all cases, at least.

Steiner taught, for example, that some races are less evolved than others. The highest race is white, he said. Black people are less evolved than white people. People who are white today used to have darker skins when they lived as members of lower races (we evolve upward through the races by reincarnating in higher and higher racial forms, Steiner taught). Surely this appalling, racist doctrine has been eliminated from Waldorf thinking today. No? No, evidently not. Not in all cases, at least.

The following is from a BBC news report in 2014: A parent is speaking about an event at a Waldorf school:

“There was diversity training at the school, and part of it was ticking boxes of which ethnicity you were. And four of the teachers ticked all of the boxes, and the trainer asked why on earth they had done that. And they said because they had been all those races. And all those teachers were white, so obviously they see themselves as the pinnacle.” [1]

Assuming the parent’s statement is true, we can conclude that those Waldorf teachers still accepted Steiner’s racial teachings as recently as 2014. [2] And if some Waldorf teachers were still doing so as recently as 2014 (89 years after Steiner’s death), it seems more than likely that some Waldorf teachers are still doing so in 2016.

Or consider another example. Steiner taught that Archangels (who are gods) oversee human groupings such as races. If you are black, your god is different from the god of white people, for instance. Moreover, the racial gods assign different tasks to the races they oversee, and they direct each race to live in a specific region upon the Earth, separated from the other races. Surely this appalling, racist doctrine has been eliminated from Waldorf thinking today. No? No, evidently not. Not in all cases, at least.

The following is from a play written for young Waldorf students to perform. The author is Eugene Schwartz, a leading proponent of Waldorf education, who has himself been a Waldorf teacher. In the play, the Archangels address Noah’s sons after the Flood has subsided:

"MICHAEL: 'Shem, to the North and West you must go ... You and your race shall become those who know.'

"GABRIEL: 'Japheth ... Go to the East ... You and your race shall become those who do.'

"RAPHAEL: 'Ham ... Go to the South ... You and your race shall become those who love.'"

The Archangels specify where each race should dwell (in the North and West, the East, and the South), and they assign each race a distinct mission (knowing, doing, loving). Using euphemisms, the play accords with Steiner’s racial teachings. Steiner taught that white-skinned people, living in the North and West (i.e., Europe), lead “thinking lives” (“Denkleben”), while yellow-skinned people, living in the East (i.e., Asia), lead emotional lives (“Gefühlsleben”), and black-skinned people, living in the South (i.e., Africa), lead impulsive lives (“Triebleben”). Steiner also said that blacks, who burn inside, have very powerful drives; he essentially endorsed the widespread stereotype of the time that blacks are sexually ravenous (which, in a manner of speaking, makes them “loving”). Schwartz generally echoes Steiner’s teachings on these matters, in a play written for third graders to perform. Euphemisms notwithstanding, this is horrifying, IMO. “You and your race… You and your race… You and your race…” If there was any justification for such thinking in Steiner’s time, there is absolutely none now. Schwartz published the play some years ago, in 1984, but it remains available online in 2016 at a site providing Waldorf instructional resources, the Waldorf Online Library. Evidently at least some Waldorf authorities continue to find the play acceptable today, in 2016. [3]

A few more points should be made. What are the implications of the divisions between races as they are presented in the play? Note that the two races not assigned to “know” are, implicitly, consigned not to know — they, the non-European races, must be seen as comparatively ignorant. By the same token, two of three human races are implicitly identified as being less able to “do.” They presumably lack skills, dexterity, competence. Not as individuals, mind you, but as races. Likewise, two of three human races are implicitly tarred as being less loving. Their hearts are comparatively cold, it would seem; they are less empathetic, less kind. Perhaps they are prone to the antithesis of love: hatred. Not as individuals, mind you, but as races. These are all horrid, grotesque, racist propositions. Encouraging young children to think in these ways is awful; it is wicked; it should never be done. Yet here we see it being recommended, in Waldorf education, in accordance with Rudolf Steiner’s racist doctrines.

We can hope that most Waldorf teachers today are not racists. Probably, indeed, most are not — at least, not consciously. Yet racism remains built into the thinking that undergirds the Waldorf worldview. Racism should be yanked out by the roots, not prettied up in cute little pageants for young children to enact. [4]


[1] See "BBC & SWSF".

[2] The parent does not say when this occurred; recently, it would seem, but perhaps a few years ago. Bear in mind, also, that the words attributed to the teachers are hearsay; we cannot be absolutely sure that the parent is telling the truth. How much trust we should place in the BBC is also open to question. But the parent’s statement is consistent with everything we know about Anthroposophical doctrines concerning race. I use the statement chiefly as a way to ease our way into a painful topic. In future installments of “What They're Saying”, I will chiefly present direct quotations from Anthroposophical texts.

[3] The play can be found in the Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 5, pp. 1-9. [See "Clearing House".] Because the play was written some years ago, we may hope that it does not represent Anthroposophical beliefs today. Yet Anthroposophical beliefs change very slowly if at all. Admitting that Steiner could be wrong about major issues is extremely difficult for Anthroposophists — it would call into question the very basis of their faith. Thus, the decision by the Waldorf Online Library to continue offering the play, without apology or demurral, in 2016 is troubling.

[4] For more on these very troubling topics, see “Steiner’s Racism”, “Races”, and “Embedded Racism”.





V.


WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

(CONT.)


In our last visit to Square One, we considered the highly contentious and distressing subject of racism as built into the thinking that underlies Waldorf education.

Let’s turn to other, less inflammatory issues. Steiner’s strange, occult, mystical doctrines concerning all issues, not just race, still suffuse Waldorf/Anthroposophical thinking today. Here are a few sample quotations from recent works by Anthroposophists and Waldorf educators, along with extremely enlightening commentary added by yrs trly. We will examine other quotations during other visits to Square One.

(One benefit of this exercise is that it provides practice in deciphering Anthroposophical prose, a taxing but necessary skill for parents who want to understand what Waldorf education really is. Adding to the task: To grasp what one Anthroposophist is saying, you often need to draw on knowledge you’ve gained by reading other Anthroposophists [1] or by consulting resources such as The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.)


Waldorf schools famously emphasize the imagination. Why?

“When a teacher gives imaginative pictures to a class each individual in the class can then transform these pictures into personal experiences which will form the foundation for a healthy and inspired relationship to knowledge. An education founded on imagination, as opposed to one that is a product of 'bits' of information [sic], permits children to develop flexibility in their conceptual lives. Education which is full of life and life's pictures is healthy education and acts as a seed for the future, both for the individual and human cultural and social life as a whole.” — Arthur M. Pittis, “Literacy, Not Just Reading”, an essay in WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Michaelmas Press, 1995), edited by Pamela Johnson Fenner and Karen L. Rivers, p. 73.

Steiner taught that true thinking is a “pictorial activity”: it involves forming mental pictures. He was right to some extent, but he was obviously wrong in a larger sense. Many concepts, including concepts in philosophy, theology, mathematics, etc., cannot be pictured. [2] Waldorf schooling aims at promoting clairvoyance, which is the alleged psychic power to form accurate mental images of spiritual truths or realities. This is what “pictorial activity” and “imagination” and “intuition” — words often used by Waldorf faculty — are ultimately all about: clairvoyance. But clairvoyance is a delusion, it does not exist [3]; and an educational program built on belief in clairvoyance is fundamentally flawed.

”Rudolf Steiner describes how, in our development after physical birth, we human beings go through further 'births': 'Just as we are enclosed within the physical sheath of our mother up to the time of birth, we are enclosed in an etheric sheath up till the change of teeth, that is, till about the seventh year.'" — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 51.

UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS is a particularly startling book. Published fairly recently (the revised edition came out in 2007), it accepts Steiner's occultist views and applies them to the interpretation of innocent children's drawings. It accepts the etheric sheath, incarnation, the "I", clairvoyance, etc. — a welter of occult nonsense — as truth. (The "etheric sheath" is akin to the "etheric body" [4], one of the three invisible bodies that Waldorf teachers believe develop during childhood.)

Here is a typical "insight" from UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS, giving the Waldorf slant on what a child means when s/he draws a house. The child, according to Strauss, is telling us about the process of human incarnation.

"In no other motif can one see the multiple experiences in the process of human incarnation as in the motif of the house." — Ibid., p. 58. [5]

A parent or teacher who follows the advice in this book will impose occult interpretations on a child's innocent activities, using these as the basis for misdirecting the child in ways that may be deeply, permanently harmful. [6]

“Waldorf education holds that development has a meaning which cuts across different time scales and different kinds of being. The mythical and religious content of the earliest grades bring the child to the same wellsprings from which humanity began its great journey into awareness. Myth and religion are the parents of art and science, delivered of them by that dubious midwife, philosophy. [7] Today art and science eclipse and usurp their elders, as if they were themselves characters in a Greek myth or tragedy. They have empowered us to stuff our world with facts and artifacts at rates whose increase may well prove pathological.” — Clifford Skoog, “Waldorf Education and Science”, in WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Michaelmas Press, 1995), p. 79.

This passage comes early in a chapter advocating the Waldorf approach to science. At its core, the Waldorf approach to science is antiscientific: Waldorf generally mistrusts science. Myth and religion play a far bigger role in Waldorf schooling; science, “facts,” and “artifacts” (the products of human brainwork and industriousness) are considered generally sick or “pathological,” according to Waldorf doctrine. There is some truth in the Waldorf position, but there is also a lot of fallacy and error in it. Waldorf schools try to steer students away from the real world and into the fantasy world of Anthroposophy. The “mythical and religious content" of Waldorf schooling is, ultimately, Anthroposophy. [8]


[1] To leap ahead, see “Today”, “Today 2”, and “Today 3”.

[2] See, e.g., “Steiner’s ‘Science'".

[3] See, e.g., “Thinking Cap”, “Clairvoyance”, and “Reality and Fantasy”.

[4] Steiner taught that the etheric body incarnates around age 7 (when adult teeth replace baby teeth), the astral body at around age 14, and the ego body or “I” at around age 21. [See “Incarnation”.]

[5] To dig further into some of the subjects raised in such statements, see, e.g., "Magical Arts”, “Nutshell", and “Underpinnings".

[6] Waldorf teachers have become notorious for making mystical interpretations of their students’ artwork. Here is the beginning of an article about Waldorf education:

“Ray Pereira could not believe what he was hearing. His son's teacher had just said his child had to repeat prep because the boy's soul had not fully incarnated. [paragraph break] ‘She said his soul was hovering above the earth,’ Mr Pereira said. ‘And she then produced a couple of my son's drawings as evidence that his depiction of the world was from a perspective looking down on the earth from above. ‘I just looked at my wife and we both thought, “We are out of here”.’"

[7] Why is philosophy “dubious”? Steiner is sometimes described as a philosopher, but actually he was a mystical occultist. [See, e.g., “Occultism”.] Intellect of the sort used in philosophy is almost always suspect in Anthroposophy and in Waldorf education. [See, e.g., “Steiner’s Specific”.]

[8] See, e.g., “Steiner’s ‘Science’” and “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?






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