Design of the Site
A hopeful reading of history (and we all need causes for hope) is that, over the course of centuries, mankind has been striving to free itself from ancient ignorance and superstition. Success has been incomplete, and — punctuated by many lapses and reversals — it has come slowly. But, gradually, fitfully, progress has been made. And because we have learned that progress is possible, we may hope that progress will continue into the future.
Waldorf Watch attempts to shine the light of reason into one small corner of mental darkness — it deals with Anthroposophy and its chief embodiment, Waldorf education. The site's scope is thus small. Yet Waldorf Watch is a part of the larger, necessary movement promoting reason and sanity. And as such, the site might be seen as offering a sort template that is applicable far beyond the constrictive, delusional vision propounded by Rudolf Steiner.
Here, in broad strokes, is the design of Waldorf Watch. Conceptual elements — outlining the template — are identified, along with examples of these elements as they appear at the site. (There is some overlap between categories, and many pages at the site have been omitted from the list for the sake of brevity.)
This design is implicit in the site, it is not a strictly imposed structure — it has not dictated my own editorial choices, nor does it restrict the choices available to readers. As an Internet publication, Waldorf Watch is, in a sense, shapeless: Visitors to the site may navigate through its pages in any order they like. The design suggests just one navigational route. Other routes are suggested by the site's Table of Contents (which includes many more pages than are listed here), and by the the sidebar appearing on all pages at the site.
Mankind faces far larger challenges than those posed by Anthroposophy and Waldorf education. And I do not suppose that anyone working on those larger challenges will turn to Waldorf Watch to find a guide for action. Still, I hope that in its small way, this site may contribute to the ultimate liberation of humanity from ignorance and superstition.
— Roger Rawlings
* Care must be taken to avoid mere anecdote and ad hominem argumentation.
Some Reasons for Reason
A friend of mine once chided me, saying that my work at Waldorf Watch mocks the religion embraced by Steiner’s followers. I didn’t argue the point, because there is some truth in it. (Although we should remember that Anthroposophists claim their system is a science, not a religion.) I do laugh at Steiner and his teachings, at least sometimes. Absurdity is absurd, which means it is funny.
But of course there is a lot that is not funny at all about Anthroposophy, especially when it is surreptitiously woven into Waldorf education. Anthroposophy caused me a great deal of confusion and pain, when I was young, largely because it was imposed on me without explanation or permission. (My parents, like so many Waldorf parents, did not know what Waldorf is designed to do — spread Anthroposophy.)
If I were to describe what I try to do at Waldorf Watch, laughter or mockery would not be at the center of the description. I think that, in the largest sense, I try to stand up for rationality, sanity, and clarity. I try to fight for decent treatment of children, particularly in their educations. I oppose a form of education that is mired in mysticism and occultism; I argue for helping children to see reality clearly, and to think about it rationally.
All of this is just a small part of the enormous, pressing need facing humanity today: to finally break free from the superstitions and ignorance of the past. The Earth is in real peril, especially from climate change, and also from related destructive practices (including religious extremism, terrorism, militarism, etc.). These problems, I would argue, arise from our ignorant, self-destructive tendencies, most of them rooted in the past.
If I knew how to end climate change today, I would do it — I would forget Waldorf and focus entirely on environmental issues. But that’s not my area of expertise. So instead I work on one little corner of human foolishness — Waldorf, Anthroposophy — and I try to help cure it. My notion is that if everyone did the same in their own areas of expertise, we could move humanity forward a long distance, and possibly save the planet.
I am horrified by human ignorance — demonstrated, for instance, in [fill in the blank].* How could anyone vote for that man? How can we be so foolish, so self-defeating? So I try to work against human ignorance; and focusing on education seems to me a good way to do this. I know that my efforts are puny, and I know that I may not succeed even in the modest goal of weakening the Waldorf movement. But I do the best I can, and I try to remain hopeful.
And I am extremely grateful for the work done by others, such as Grégoire, and Alicia, and Dan, and Diana, and Margaret, and Andy, and Peter, and Pete…
(One tiny bit of encouragement I offer myself is this. If there are 1000 Waldorf schools in the world, and if each Waldorf school has — let’s say — about 300 students, then there are about 300,000 kids in these schools. Trying to save 300,000 children is obviously worthwhile, I think. Moreover, each of these kids has one or two parents, and perhaps some siblings, and also friends, and cousins, etc. And the schools have faculties, and support staffs, and alumni, and applicants for admission... So the total number of people in and around Waldorf schools may be several times more than 300,000. Two million, maybe? Possibly even more than that? Five million? Ten million?** Even the most extreme estimates of the size of the Waldorf universe represent just a tiny portion of the Earth’s total population. It’s a drop in the bucket. But working on behalf of even this tiny portion is worthwhile, I think. Any one life assisted out of the darkness is worth the effort.)
* I mentioned an event that troubled me, but many other examples would do just as well. Search through the new on any given day; you'll find examples aplenty.
** I intentionally erred on the high side, here — perhaps wildly high — in order to accommodate the claim often made by Waldorf spokesfolks: that the Waldorf movement is large and rapidly growing. In reality, many Waldorf schools are quite small. But we must not underestimate the danger posed by Waldorf. (The Waldorf school I attended was set up for about 25 students at each of 14 grade levels, kindergarten through high school. Full enrollment at our school, then, would have been about 350 students. Some Waldorf schools today are larger than this; in a few cases, much larger.)
The following is the beginning of a “Forum” commentary in the latest issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (Feb., 2017). I have highlighted a few key phrases.
Humanity’s capacity to behave rationally has been called into question by recent political events in the US and elsewhere.* But we must remain committed to at least trying to live sensibly. A pressing case in point: People are going to have to make a lot of rational decisions about environmental issues, and we will need to do this soon.
From the magazine, p. 8:
Of all the potential actions in Donald Trump’s forthcoming presidency, none will have more long-lasting effects than those on climate change. Just four days after the Paris climate agreement went into force — the first comprehensive global deal to reduce heat-trapping pollution — the U.S. elected a president who has called climate change a hoax, and vowed to “cancel” the Paris agreement. Trump has said he would block the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce utilities’ heat-trapping gas emissions and is at the heart of the U.S. commitment to the agreement. And he promises to reinvigorate the fossil fuel sector, just when global energy production is moving rapidly in the opposite direction, toward clean, inexpensive, renewable sources.
Not only would this agenda be disastrous for climate, it would actually undermine Trump’s ability to achieve his own primary goals. First, climate change is not like other issues that can be postponed from one year to the next. The U.S. and world are already behind; speed is of the essence, because climate change and its impacts are coming sooner and with greater ferocity than anticipated. This year, 2016, will be the hottest on record by a large margin, and 2015 and 2014 had set the previous records. Extreme weather events such as heat waves and heavy downpours are becoming more frequent and severe, as are related fires, droughts and floods.
Warming is also causing sea level to rise at increasing rates. At high tide, ocean water stands in the streets of coastal cities such as Miami and it taints groundwater. The coastal threat of increasingly destructive hurricanes is growing, too. The costs of these increasingly common events are reaching into the billions of dollars. Most frightening is that there likely are tipping points in the climate system — thresholds beyond which unstoppable feedbacks kick in. We don’t know exactly where such points-of-no-return are until we’ve passed them. Every year that we delay action we increase the risk of crossing dangerous thresholds and commit our generation and our children’s to more devastating outcomes.
The entire commentary is available at https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/climate-trumps-everything-no-matter-who-is-president/ .
I doubt that we have the ability to destroy all life on Earth. But we appear to be trying. We almost certainly have the power to destroy — or severely damage — ourselves and all the major forms of life that we care about and depend upon. Perhaps we should choose a more rational course of action.
It’s just a thought.
* There is nothing new about this, of course. It has been called into question umpteen quadzillion times before, by quadzillions of irrational, destructive and self-destructive human actions. We are a marvelous species, capable of great and wondrous works. But our record so far — the chronicle of human history — is blotted and smudged by the plenitude of woes we have inflicted on ourselves.
It’s hard to say exactly why we are destroying our home planet. It doesn't seem entirely rational, does it? It doesn't seem like something a sane species would do.
Some environmental destruction can certainly be ascribed to capitalism — although the Soviets, who were anti-capitalist, had a worse record of environmental destruction. We might ascribe the assault on the environment to industrialization, although factories don’t have to be destructive (think of clean energy and eco-friendly manufacturing), and some ecological destruction occurred long before the industrial revolution began (think of the ancient Romans plowing salt into the earth to utterly destroy the living places of their enemies).
A lot can be ascribed to pure greed, I think. We want what we want, and we want it now — and to hell with the consequences. But wanting things is not always wrong, of course. Lots of people live in poverty, so for them almost any action that might alleviate their suffering can seem justified (think of the slaughter of elephants in Africa, and the burning of forests in eastern Kentucky and in Brazil — awful things, in themselves, but understandable if they put food on impoverished families' tables). We must not blame the poor for their desperation, surely. Still, human greed is a real, and often malevolent, force. We want what we want — now. And we can scarcely believe that anything we do, in our own little lives, can have much impact on the enormous, ever-bountiful Earth. (So we dump waste into the oceans until giant islands of plastic debris form in mid-Pacific, and we plow and plow and plow the Great Plains until they become a dust bowl.)
Why, in a previous message, did I point my finger at “religious extremism, terrorism, [and] militarism”? The connection between these and global warming is not obvious or direct, and other human failings are equally at fault. Still, I think the connection runs deep. The nexus is ignorance and irrationality, I think.* Fortunately, these problems have a solution (unlike, perhaps, our deepest cravings, which may be built permanently into our natures). We don’t innately prefer ignorance, I think; we are born ignorant, but our natures do not compel us to remain ignorant. If we can be given knowledge, and if we can be shown that knowledge is more productive and helpful than ignorance, maybe (just maybe) we will opt for knowledge. And that, clearly, would be a rational choice. Just as we can acquire information, we can learn to be rational; we can learn the process of carefully, systematically thinking things through. Our brains are marvelous; they have the capacity to be logical. We just need to learn how to use our brains.
Considered in this light, religious extremism, terrorism, and militarism can be recognized as being interrelated, and we can see them as products — at least in part — of ignorance. Consider killing in the name of God, for instance. Killing for God should be a complete nonstarter, IMO, yet people have been killing for Him from time immemorial. Agnostics like me should be horrified, since we doubt that God even exists. (How can killing be justified in the name of a being who may be imaginary?) But people of faith should be more horrified, because such slaughter implicates the Deity in the most horrific of crimes. (How can killing be justified in the name of a God who really exists, assuming that He is a loving God?) Yet we have done it, and done it, and done it…
Ignorance and irrationality (and greed, and blood-lust, and, and...) lie at the root of many of our troubles. Yet a cure for at least some of these difficulties is at hand, if we only choose to accept it. Education. Real, rational education. Knowledge. Real, rational knowledge.
(And that, at its deepest level, is what Waldorf Watch is all about.)
* "Ignorance" and "irrationality" are loaded terms. They can certainly seem insulting. But I don't mean them that way; I don't mean to belittle anyone. We all lack information (we are all "ignorant") until we acquire information, a process that in the modern world generally begins in schools. Similarly, we all tend to have untrained minds (our brains are all "irrational") until we learn how to discipline our thinking. This, too, is something that generally begins in schools. Education can be a wonderful thing. Sensible, real education can provide the information and mental training we need if we are to live sensibly.
— Roger Rawlings
In July, 2020, a former Waldorf student — coming from a family that consists almost entirely of Anthroposophists — left a message on the Waldorf Critics discussion site, seeking advice. She said she had become disillusioned with the Anthroposophical worldview that her family still embraced. This was causing strains within the family, and she wondered if anyone had any helpful advice for her. Among other questions, she asked, "What strategies have you discovered for maintaining a kind and respectful relationship with your family?" [See "Help for a Former Student?", https://groups.io/g/waldorf-critics/message/32050.]
I wrote two replies that, I realized later, more or less summarize my approach to the work I have done here at Waldorf Watch. Possibly these replies may be of use to anyone contemplating the creation of a similar website.
Here are my replies, edited slightly for use here: