Waldorf for the 21st Century
Anthroposophists in general — and Waldorf faculty in particular — tend to be secretive. But increasingly today they recognize the need to explain themselves, if only partially. Steiner’s texts are far more readily available today than they once were, and there is a growing body of literature describing — and advocating — Waldorf education. Examining this literature can be highly revealing. Occasionally, you will find straightforward statements of Anthroposophical beliefs. More often, you will come upon occultist terms that are used without a frank presentation of the underlying creed. And sometimes you will find apparently innocuous statements that have been carefully calibrated to conceal more than they reveal. You may agree with at least some parts of what you read, or you may find that looking below the surface reveals occultist concepts and practices that you abhor. In any event, acquainting yourself with Steiner’s doctrines should enable you to comprehend the works of modern Anthroposophists in a way that would be difficult if not impossible without such preparation.
Let’s examine a few examples. I will quote from some recent books by Anthroposophists, and I will offer a brief comment on each quotation. I will also provide links to relevant pages on this site. The overarching theme of this exercise should quickly become apparent: The mysticism that infected Waldorf education in the past continues to lurk within it today. Rudolf Steiner's occult preachments are being promoted today with as much fervor as they were Steiner's own day, if not more. What you are about to read represents the Waldorf belief system as it exists now.
Here are the main books I will quote from, along with their publication dates. All of them have been released since 1995, and all should still be readily available.
WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000).
MILLENNIAL CHILD: Transforming Education in the Twenty-first Century (Anthroposophic Press, 1999).
UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007).
UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Gryphon House, 2002).
WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Michaelmas Press, 1995).
I will also quote from some other recent sources.
OK. Examples. In an effort to clarify the Anthroposophical jargon, I will place central concepts in bold type.
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.
Statements like this, using impressive terminology to express admirable purposes, are common in Waldorf public relations efforts. What do they actually mean, however? What, for instance, is "imagination" as conceived in the Waldorf universe? Rudolf Steiner taught that true thinking is a “pictorial activity”: It entails the formation of 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. [See, e.g., "Steiner's 'Science'".] 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 members — are ultimately all about: clairvoyance. But clairvoyance is a delusion, it does not exist; and an educational program built on belief in clairvoyance is fundamentally flawed. It steers students and their teachers into fantasy realms, while loosening their grip on factual information about the real world (denigrated by Pittis as mere "'bits' of information"). Rather than providing a real education, Waldorf schooling directs its victims toward mysticism and falsehood. [See, e.g., “Thinking Cap”, “Clairvoyance”, and “Reality and Fantasy”.]
"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," one of the three invisible bodies that Waldorf teachers believe develop during childhood. Until incarnation, the body is enclosed in the sheath. [See “Incarnation”.])
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. [To dig into some of the subjects raised in such statements. see, e.g., "Incarnation", "Magical Arts", "Nutshell", and "Underpinnings".]
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.
“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. 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, 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. [See "Science".] Myth and mysticism play far bigger roles 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. [See, e.g., “Steiner’s ‘Science’” and “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”]
(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”.])
When he was a child, Jack Petrash was taught “about the benefits of asbestos.” Later, of course, asbestos was identified as a carcinogen. On this basis, Petrash argues that schools should not place too much emphasis on teaching children facts.
“This [e.g., society’s changed understanding of asbestos] is the obvious flaw in fact-based education. Whether we were taught about the solar system, the Soviet Union, or computers, much of what we had to learn in school is now outdated.” — Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Gryphon House, 2002), p. 26.
Waldorf schools tend to be allergic to facts; Waldorf schools promote an occult perspective that is deeply at odds with factual reality. Steering children away from a rational perception of the real, factual world does them a grave disservice. Of course, “facts” can change — new discoveries can be made, new insights can be gained. But the way to deal with this is not to downplay facts, it is to remain abreast of the latest discoveries. Children need to be told the truth and equipped with the rational skills needed to perceive the truth. Waldorf schools tend to nudge kids in a very different direction. [In addition to some of the essays I mentioned above, see, e.g., “Steiner’s Blunders”, “Truth”, and “Manifestations”.]
The Waldorf aversion to facts — that is, an aversion to knowledge as it is commonly understood — can be traced to Steiner's doctrines. Virtually all Waldorf attitudes and practices can be traced to those doctrines. Discussing the way Waldorf teachers should approach their work, Steiner said this:
"The Science of the Spirit [i.e., Anthroposophy] teaches us the art of forgetting ... All memorized matter should disappear from the mind to make room for an actively receptive spirit." — Rudolf Steiner, quoted by Eugene Schwartz in MILLENNIAL CHILD (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), pp. 150-151.
Memorization is, of course, not the end-all and be-all of education, but it certainly plays an important role. Memorizing some things (such as multiplication tables, or rules of grammar, or important historical dates) is necessary: The mind must be furnished with information. Steiner did not deny this, absolutely; but he argued against brainwork generally, including memorization. He taught that real knowledge comes from clairvoyance. The things the spirit should receive, according to Steiner, predominantly consist of "living thoughts" internalized by human beings before incarnation on the Earth. In effect, such thoughts are Anthroposophical doctrines — that is, Steiner's own mystical teachings. [See, e.g., "Thinking" and "The Waldorf Curriculum".]
“The human being is marked among the creatures of the earth by the capacity to experience him/herself as a self-enclosed being, as an ‘I.’ However, this distinction has been purchased at a price. That price is separation. We find ourselves living in a state of separation from nature, from other human beings, even from ourselves. This condition can be felt as a painful exile. It begets in us the desire to unite with that from which we are separated. A great longing for wholeness lives in our souls.” — Philip Wharton, “Festivals, Seeds of Renewal”, in WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide, p. 143. The author adds, “We can learn to experience ourselves in the world, the world in us.” — Ibid., p. 144.
These comments come in a chapter discussing the festivals celebrated at Waldorf schools. The “I” is one of three invisible bodies that, according to Steiner, fully incarnated human beings possess. [See “Incarnation”.] This is an esoteric or occult concept, having central importance in the religion of Anthroposophy. We have uniques spiritual identities, our "I's," which cause us to feel separate from the cosmos around us. To heal this sense of separation, Waldorf schools sponsor festivals such as the observance of Michaelmas. These festivals are colorful and attractive, often staged with trappings that may seem nondenominational. But at root they are religious observances. [See the section of festivals in "Magical Arts".]
Likewise, the idea that we can find “the world in us” is the Anthroposophical belief that human beings are microcosms, containing everything of value in the universe. [See “The Center”] Our separation from the cosmos is thus an illusion. One way to express the purpose of Waldorf schooling is to say that it seeks to overcome the illusion of separation; it seeks to guide the individual soul into conscious connection with the multiple gods revered in the Waldorf religion: Anthroposophy. [See "Polytheism" and "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]
Wharton’s exposition of Waldorf festivals is rooted in Anthroposophical concepts, and it hints at the real agenda: leading students toward initiation in Steiner's (i.e., Waldorf's) occult belief system. [See, e.g., “Inside Scoop”.]
“The equinox is for us a turning point, a change in the relation of light and darkness in the world around us. On September 29th the autumn festival traditionally known as Michaelmas is celebrated. This festival is named for the Archangel Michael, conqueror of the powers of darkness, the harvester of the deeds of human souls. It is at this time that the image of Michael with the dragon appears before us as a mighty imagination, challenging us to develop strong, brave, free wills, to overcome love of ease, anxiety and fear. This demands inner activity, a renewal of the soul which is brought to consciousness in the Michaelmas festival, the festival of the will.” — Karen Rivers, “Michaelmas”, in WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide, p. 145.
This is another reference to a Waldorf school festival, in this case what is often called the Fall Festival. Notice the odd use of the word “imagination” (whenever you find Waldorf schools using a word in a strange way, you should look for underlying Anthroposophical doctrines ). “Imaginations” are the mental pictures Steiner advocated, produced by clairvoyance. "A mighty imagination" is a glorious, true, clairvoyant image, according to Anthroposophical belief. At Waldorf schools, students are led toward the goal of developing clairvoyance through emphasis on imagination, dream, myth, fantasy, etc. The goal is erroneous, but Waldorf schools gear many of their activities toward it.
Other points to notice: The “autumn festival” (like most Waldorf festivals) is essentially a religious ceremony (this one celebrates St. Michael); the “freedom” advocated by Waldorf schools boils down to freely following the tenets of a specific religion, Anthroposophy; the “will” is a faculty emphasized in that religion. [See, e.g., “Magical Arts”, “Freedom”, and “Will”.]
As for Michael: In Anthroposophical teachings, he is the Archangel of the Sun. He is a warrior god, fighting the forces of evil or darkness, symbolized as "the dragon." Michael serves under the Sun God, Christ. His greatest antagonist is the Sun Demon, Sorat (the Antichrist). However, Michael also fights against the terrible demon Ahriman ("the dragon" discussed in Anthroposophy is generally Ahriman). [To look into some of these Anthroposophical beliefs, which we find at the core of Waldorf thinking, see, e.g., "Michael", "Sun God", "Evil Ones", and "Ahriman".]
"The ‘four temperaments,’ first described by the classical Greek physician Galen...may be understood as the solution to the challenge of integrating the etheric body with its physical counterpart ... Rudolf Steiner attempted to describe them in terms of the fourfold human being 'Where the bearer of the I [Ego] predominates, a choleric temperament results. Where the astral body predominates, we find a sanguine temperament. Where the etheric or life body predominates, we speak of a phlegmatic temperament. And where the physical body predominates, we have to deal with the melancholic temperament.’ ... One of the most important characteristics of the Waldorf method is the degree of consciousness with which it works at helping these higher bodies integrate.” — Eugene Schwartz, MILLENNIAL CHILD, pp. 185-186.
Waldorf schools tend to segregate children on the basis of the four “temperaments.” The classical view of temperament, originating with the ancient Greeks, is false and was discarded by science long ago, but Waldorf schools often cling to such thinking. [See, e.g., "The Phlegmatic Sits by the Window".] Schwartz is to be praised for at least laying out some Anthroposophical doctrines clearly. According to Waldorf belief, people have four bodies (three of them invisible), and these are associated with the four temperaments. [See “Incarnation”.] Also, “one of the most important characteristics of the Waldorf method” revolves around these fantasies: working with the etheric body, astral body, and "I" of each student. [See the entries for these terms in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] If these bodies existed, this might be commendable; but because they don't, it isn't.
Belief in the four temperaments and the four "higher bodies" is important for the Waldorf method. At best, then, the Waldorf method is a waste of time. At worst, the Waldorf method sucks kids into a severely irrational vision of the world and themselves. [See, e.g., “Humouresque”, "Double Trouble", and “Waldorf Now”.]
“1) There’s a proper time and method for particular subjects to be taught. The child recapitulates the cultural epochs of humankind. 2) Reverence and respect for Earth is fostered. 3) Qualitative as well as quantitative dimensions in all things should be developed. 4) Above all, human beings are spiritual as well as physical beings.” — Peter Curran, TAMARACK TALK, tamarackwaldorf.org. Also see WHAT IS WALDORF EDUCATION?, a collection of essays by Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), pp. 21-22. The wording is slightly different, but the meaning is the same.
Like many pro-Waldorf statements, this one may seem to pass muster, at first. But dig a little, and you find Anthroposophical occultism. “Cultural epochs” are phases of mankind’s spiritual evolution, as described by Steiner — who knew all about it thanks to his “exact clairvoyance”. [See "Epochs" and "Exactly".] Moreover, children mature according to a process that recapitulates human evolution — which began during Old Saturn and will reach almost unimaginable heights during Future Vulcan. [See "Matters of Form".] Therefore, there is just one “proper method” — it is the Waldorf method, which is the occult Anthroposophical method. Hence, the Waldorf curriculum tends to be strictly structured with little or no room for individual explorations by the students. Kids are not encouraged to follow their own interests. Instead, all the children at a given grade level are expected to march essentially in unison. They are recapitulating a certain stage of human evolution; accordingly, they will be given what they need at the "proper time." All fourth graders stand at the level of the ancient Egyptians, for instance; all fifth graders stand at the level of the ancient Greeks; all sixth graders stand at the level of the ancient Romans; and so forth. [For overviews of the Waldorf curriculum, see "The Waldorf Curriculum", "Basement", and the entry for "Waldorf Curriculum" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]
"In its drawings the child describes for us different conditions of consciousness, which are parallel with those of the cultural epochs. Time divisions within the first seven years [of a child's current Earthly life] show this phenomenon in a larger context." — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation, p. 20.
Here we have the concept of cultural epochs tied explicitly to varying forms or conditions of consciousness. [See the entry for "conditions of consciousness" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] This is central Anthroposophical dogma. Mankind is following a path laid out by the good gods and implemented by the secret "White Lodge." We gradually ascend from a nearly comatose stage of early evolution to an extraordinarily advanced stage when we will become God the Father. [See, e.g., "Everything" and "The White Lodge".]
This evolutionary path entails gradually moving from one form of consciousness to another. People used to be clairvoyant; most people have lost this power today; but in the future we will have it in spades.
"Rudolf Steiner...shows the stages of humanity in the course of the history of civilizations, passing from 'dream-like clairvoyant' visions to a conscious perception of the surrounding world ... Are not children's drawings also impressions, 'footprints' on the path to human maturity?" — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS, p. 18.
As always, note the precise words used by Anthroposophists. "Human maturity" is something very different from the ordinary maturity attained by an ordinary individual. Here's what lies behind the statement we have just seen:
"[W]e shall have gradually achieved the transformation of our own being into what is called in Christianity ‘the Father.’” — Rudolf Steiner, THE LORD’S PRAYER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007), p. 17.
“Must teachers be clairvoyant in order to be certain that they are teaching in the proper way? We may, indeed, need only the ‘clairvoyant’ faculties that we are already using without being aware that we possess them ... The teacher's faculty [of clairvoyance] must be cultivated and brought to a stage of conscious awareness on the part of the teacher.” — Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000), p. 17.
Schwartz later adds,
“Earlier in this book I spoke of the ‘everyday clairvoyance’ which allows us to perceive the activities of the ‘higher bodies’ of the human being without our necessarily being endowed with the degree of spiritual insight necessary to see the bodies themselves.” — Ibid., p. 34.
These quotations return us to subjects we’ve already touched on: clairvoyance, our invisible bodies, and the like. There’s no need to dwell on these matters except to stress that, indeed, occultism is basic to Waldorf schooling. You might contemplate what it would mean to have your child “educated” by people who think they are clairvoyant and who think your child has invisible bodies. Can true education be established on the basis of delusions? [See, e.g., "Occultism", “Underpinnings”, "Basement", and “What We Are”.]
“When a school is based on a spiritual conception of the human being, a more diverse set of values become important ... Sometimes the important spiritual lessons at a school are not actually spoken; they simply are lived ... And yet, there are times when spiritual matters need to be addressed more specifically.” — Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION, pp. 138-142.
Many people of faith would find little to quarrel with in these sentences. But all parents considering Waldorf schools should bear several points in mind: Whether or not you are religious, Waldorf schools are religious — and their religion is the occult worldview called Anthroposophy. According to Steiner, Waldorf teachers are in effect priests, ministering to their students. [See "Schools as Churches".] Anthroposophy will be in the schools, Steiner said, and such Anthroposophical beliefs as polytheism, astrology, karma, reincarnation, and so forth, will either be presented openly or they will form an unspoken basis for virtually all events and classes at the school. “Important spiritual lessons” will either be spoken aloud or fervently implied; in either case, they will be present. That’s what Waldorf schools are about. They are not primarily about giving kids a good education as that term is commonly understood. [See "Here's the Answer".] Before sending your child to a Waldorf school, you should make sure that you understand the school’s intentions. Learning about those intentions can be difficult. Steiner instructed Waldorf teachers to keep many of their beliefs and practices hidden from outsiders — among whom he counted students' parents. But because you love your children, you should make the effort. [See, e.g., “Faculty Meetings”, “Discussions”, “Secrets”, and “Prayers”.]
Waldorf advocate Eugene Schwartz argues that parents should give mythological rather than rational answers to children's questions such as "Why does the sun turn red when it sets?" He offers this model answer:
"All day long, Mother Sky watches with joy as her child, the Sun, runs over the world, shedding light and giving warmth, and playing hide and seek with his friends, the clouds. When the day ends, Mother sky calls the sun home...." — Eugene Schwartz, MILLENNIAL CHILD, p. 187.
Schwartz's model answer is on the mark, as a presentation of the way Waldorf teachers often talk to young students. It is attractive in some ways, charming in some ways, and comforting in some ways. It is nonsense, however, and this should give us pause. Granted, young children need comfort, and they love fairy tales and myths. But bear in mind that Steiner said that all fairy tales and myths are true; he said that beings such as gnomes and fairies really exist. He also taught that the Earth, the planets, the sky, etc., are alive; he advocated astrology and horoscopes (when understood in his own way); he generally embraced ancient ignorance in preference to modern knowledge. Children in Waldorf schools may remain immersed in a deeply unrealistic, esoteric conception of reality long after leaving the lower grades. If Waldorf schools work as Steiner intended, the children will never emerge from this conception — rather, they will be converts to his religious teachings. [See, e.g., "The Waldorf Curriculum", "Thinking Cap", "Oh My Stars", "Oh My Word", and "The Gods".]
"This is an essential 'technique' of Waldorf education; at every seven-year developmental phase the teacher works intensively with one of the child's higher bodies, slowly weaving its activities together with the member [i.e., higher body] worked on in a previous stage of growth. What is distinctive about the Waldorf method is that it perceives the validity of each approach in the course of time, as a particular 'higher member' is dominant in effecting growth and maturation." — Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century, p. 35.
Much of what we have already seen is recapitulated here. Waldorf teachers operate on the basis of esoteric fantasies that they accept as truths: they think human beings have more than one body, for instance, and they think that humans evolve or grow in accordance with a series of seven-year-long phases. [See "Most Significant".] All of this derives from ancient mysticism. Steiner adopted the concept of multiple bodies from Theosophy, which adopted the idea from earlier occult teachings. (Remember, for Steiner ancient ignorance is better than modern knowledge. [See "The Ancients".]) Likewise, Steiner subscribed to the ancient idea that seven (7) is a magic number — specifically, it is the number of perfection. [See "Magic Numbers".] Anthroposophy is full of enumerations centered on seven and other numbers believed to possess occult powers or meaning. All of this is bunk, yet it forms the basis on which Waldorf students are "educated." Mystics might wish to send their kids to a Waldorf school. All other parents should think twice (or seven times twice). [See, e.g., "What We Are", "Waldorf's Purpose", and "Horoscopes".]
"Children's first drawings follow a cosmic movement that knows neither the outside nor inside ... Soul processes find their expression in the realm of colour ... The drawings illustrate transitions and overlapping of the most varied realms of perception." — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation, p. 71.
Parents of Waldorf students need to recognize that teachers at their kids' school may assess the students based on dreams, "clairvoyance," horoscopes, and other forms of occult voodoo. [See "Dreams", "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", and "Horoscopes".] The thesis of UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS is that children may be comprehended through the occult indications discernible (by mystics) in the kids' artwork. Steiner taught — and Waldorf teachers believe — that children are born with memories of their past lives. [See "Thinking Cap".] Waldorf teachers try to help children preserve those memories, fending off at least to some degree the "narrowing of consciousness" that comes with full Earthly incarnation:
"The narrowing down in the perception of cosmic realms through the acquisition of selfhood — the process of becoming an 'I' — resembles an incapsulating of the soul." — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation, p. 52.
As we have seen, Waldorf education tries to correct the separation of the self from the mystical cosmos.
Parents of Waldorf students need to recognize these things, and they should ask themselves whether they accept these things.
Waldorf teachers may look for signs of the students' past lives, karma, evolutionary status, level of incarnation, and so forth, in their class work. A teacher may decide, for instance, that a student is incompletely incarnated, judging (as we have seen) from a mystical interpretation of details in drawings and paintings. Here's one such incident:
"Controversy regarding the Steiner educational system surfaced in Australia in July 2007 when a number of parents contacted the media with concerns over whether the Steiner education system was based on a holistic or spiritual model. One parent, Ray Pereira, reported that he could not believe what he was hearing from the school faculty. His son's teacher had informed him that his child had to repeat prep because the boy's soul had not fully incarnated. She said 'his soul was hovering above the earth,' 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'." — Aron Raphael, CULTS, TERROR AND MIND CONTROL (Bay Tree Publishing, 2009), p. 114.
Waldorf beliefs can astonish the rational mind. (Recall Eugene Schwartz arguing that teachers need to be clairvoyant.) The Waldorf curriculum is largely centered on such occult fantasies as the gradual incarnation of invisible bodies. We may be inclined to think that, surely, Waldorf teachers really don't believe such things. They don't believe, surely, that occult truths are revealed in dreams, horoscopes, or even children's drawings. Surely.
But they do believe these things.
"Children's drawings make visible the path of incarnation." — Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation, p. 84.
Unless you want your children judged on the basis of mystical delusions, you should not send them to a Waldorf school.
Steiner taught that we have evolved through phases "on" Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon — and we will proceed to Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan. Such teachings are still accepted by Anthroposophists today.
"On the Sun, the human beings again emerged from their sleep. The previously developed Saturn consciousness was present in them as a predisposition. First they again developed it from this germ. One can say that on the Sun man repeated the condition of Saturn before ascending to a higher one. However, it is not a simple repetition which is meant here, but one in another form." — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), "On the Formation of the Earth", GA 11. The Kindle edition of COSMIC MEMORY (2010) is available now. "In the best tradition of ancient wisdom literature, Cosmic Memory reconstructs, from the akashic record, events that span the time between the origin of the Earth and the beginning of recorded history."
To understand what Steiner meant about evolutionary phases on Saturn, etc., see "Everything", "Matters of Form", and/or "The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia". "Saturn," "Sun", and "Moon" were evolutionary stages of the entire solar system; they were not the orbs that we see in the sky today (although the orbs that we see in the sky today are related to our evolutionary stages). It's complicated. And very mystical. And it lurks in the thinking upon which Waldorf schools stand.
Herman V. Baravalle, WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA (Parker Courtney Press, 1998).
Hermann von Baravalle, INTRODUCTION TO PHYSICS IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Waldorf School Monographs, 1959).
Hermann von Baravalle, RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR (St. George Books, 1960 revised edition).
Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND THE WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989).
Pamela Johnson Fenner and Karen L. Rivers, WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Michaelmas Press, 1995).
John Fletcher, ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987).
John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975).
John Fentress Gardner, EDUCATION IN SEARCH OF THE SPIRIT (Anthroposophic Press, 1996).
Werner Glas, THE WALDORF SCHOOL APPROACH TO HISTORY (Anthroposophic Press, 1963).
Elizabeth M. Grunelius, EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND THE WALDORF SCHOOL PLAN (Waldorf School Monographs, 1966).
A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956).
Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Gryphon House, 2002).
Eugene Schwartz, MILLENNIAL CHILD (Anthroposophic Press, 1999).
Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000).
Michaela Strauss, UNDERSTANDING CHILDREN'S DRAWINGS: Tracing the Path of Incarnation (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2007).
Roy Wilkinson, THE CURRICULUM OF THE RUDOLF STEINER SCHOOL (Robinswood Press, 1990).
Roy Wilkinson, THE INTERPRETATION OF FAIRY TALES (Henry Goulden Books, 1986).
Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to his Spiritual World-view, Anthroposophy (Temple Lodge Publishing, 2001).
Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION (Hawthorn Press, 1993).
Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION: The Waldorf School Approach (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996).
Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING ENGLISH (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1976).
Roy Wilkinson, THE TEMPERAMENTS IN EDUCATION (Forest Row, 1977).
Franz E. Winkler, OUR OBLIGATION TO RUDOLF STEINER IN THE SPIRIT OF EASTER (Whittier Books, 1955).
It is important to realize that proponents of Waldorf education have varying degrees of knowledge concerning Waldorf schools' spiritualistic purposes. Some proponents are deeply committed occultists who know Anthroposophical doctrine quite well; some are far less knowledgeable; and many fall somewhere in-between.
It is also important to remember that Steiner's followers often take pains to disguise their beliefs from outsiders.
For these reasons, publications promoting Waldorf schools run the gamut from the openly occult to the apparently innocent. The works of Roy Wilkinson provide a useful case study. A longtime Waldorf teacher, Wilkinson wrote a series of curricular guides for Waldorf teachers. Some of these are largely free of occult concepts. But in other publications, Wilkinson revealed his distinct commitment to Steiner's doctrines. Consider, for instance, the titles THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION and RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to his Spiritual World-view, Anthroposophy. In the latter, Wilkinson lays out Anthroposophical ideology clearly. His topics include occult initiation, higher worlds, karma, reincarnation, the four temperaments, seven-year cycles, spiritual evolution, and so forth — a litany of Anthroposophical beliefs. He hails Steiner as the herald of a new age, and he explicitly ties Steiner's pronouncements to Waldorf schooling. Discussing human incarnation, for instance, he says
"Thus we have marked periods of seven years and the advent of these different forces should be taken into account in education, as it is in the Rudolf Steiner schools." — RUDOLF STEINER: An Introduction to his Spiritual World-view, Anthroposophy, p. 37, emphasis added.
— Roger Rawlings
Here is an image of the hierarchies of thinking or consciousness as conceived within Waldorf schools; Steiner sketched it in the form of a caduceus, and ancient symbol for healing. We do not need to think for ourselves, Steiner taught: Real thinking has already been done by other, higher beings. All we have to do is receive such thinking in the form of "living" thoughts.
“A living thought comes to us: Just as my thought is alive, so too the force that lives in and drives the plant seed must be inwardly alive. Soon this thought becomes for us a raying out of light." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 400.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on b&w image on p. 401.]
At the bottom of the caduceus: ordinary day consciousness, associated with the astrological symbol for the Earth; ascending, to the left, the Moon, and to the right, Jupiter; at the first intersection, "picture consciousness"; ascending, to the left, Venus, and to the right, the Sun; at the second intersection, "sleeping consciousness"; ascending, to the left, Saturn, and to the right, Vulcan (no symbol); at the top, "deep trance." If wisdom lies within, planted in our unconsciousness by the gods, then the goal is to climb toward trance. When they can, Waldorf schools try to start children along this circuitous path, away from ordinary consciousness. The powers of the stars and planets are taken seriously: Astrology is never far below the surface in many Waldorf schools. [See, e.g., "Waldorf Astrology".]
Since I keep recommending it, I thought I'd provide some brief information on Heiner Ullrich's book Rudolf Steiner (London: Continuum, 2008), by one of the foremost German scholars studying Waldorf today. (For the German readers, I also highly recommend Ullrich's 2011 biography of Steiner, which contains extensive critical appraisals of Waldorf and other facets of anthroposophy.) He is an excellent example of how wide of the mark many anthroposophist perceptions of their critics can be. Far from a defender of conventional education systems, Ullrich is an expert on alternative educational models. That is exactly what drives his critiques of Waldorf. His general outlook can be characterized as appreciating a number of Waldorf's achievements in practice while emphasizing its highly problematic theoretical basis.
Ullrich's English-language book is essentially a compendium and summary of his several decades of research on Waldorf and its anthroposophical underpinnings. He praises Waldorf for a variety of reasons while also offering substantial criticisms. Ullrich is very good at putting Waldorf’s putatively innovative characteristics into the crucially important context of the history of alternative education. He notes that several central aspects of Waldorf schooling stand in direct opposition to standard principles of progressive education (he’s particularly good on Waldorf’s teacher-centered approach to pedagogy).
While noting the “striking parallels” between Waldorf and other early twentieth century instances of reform pedagogy, community schools, etc., Ullrich notes that Steiner had virtually nothing to say about these other projects, and observes that the parallels are accompanied by decisive divergences as well. “To this day Steiner’s followers stress the fundamental difference between progressive education and Waldorf Schools; the similarities are only superficial and largely coincidental.” (34)
Ullrich is perceptive on the unsatisfactory nature of existing research on Steiner and anthroposophy (121-23), and he’s excellent on the breaks and discontinuities in Steiner’s life and work and the ways these are elided in anthroposophical accounts. In a brief but insightful discussion, he is also harsh on “polemical critics of anthroposophy” (122) as mirror images of Steiner’s followers; all of this makes scholarly analysis of Steiner's ideas very difficult. He concludes that “only a small number of studies can be viewed as attempts at critical research on anthroposophy which adhere to adequate scholarly standards.” (123)
The book includes a very good extended disquisition on the ways in which Steiner’s worldview meets the criteria of pre-scientific thought (127-35). Then there’s a detailed comparison and contrast of Waldorf and other Weimar-era alternative educational models (140-54); here again Ullrich emphasizes the many differences between Waldorf pedagogy and progressive education.
Ullrich's basic motif is to contrast Waldorf’s “dubious” foundations with its impressive successes. Despite its fundamentally misguided underlying principles, he thinks many Waldorf schools in practice do some things quite well. He also thinks the time for ideological critique of Waldorf is past, and that the efforts by some Germanophone Waldorf representatives toward dialogue with educational scholars since the 1990s have shifted the terrain; the task now is to explore concrete details of how Waldorf schools actually function, what their real effects are, and so forth.
The book argues that educational scholarship can learn from Waldorf on a variety of these issues, though Ullrich also points out that there are matters on which Waldorf’s approach is inseparable from its anthroposophical foundations and where Waldorf and alternative education advocates must simply part ways. (He also notes, of course, that Waldorf schools could learn from other schools, both alternative schools and public schools, on a range of issues.) He says that external appraisals of Waldorf pedagogy have so far been text-based, and what we need now are empirical analyses focused on what actually happens in the schools.
Ullrich is not particularly sanguine about the notion that Waldorf schools today are wisely leaving the outmoded aspects of Steiner's original model behind. He writes: “Within the broad spectrum of Waldorf Schools, most adhere to the traditional model of the original Stuttgart school in a more or less unchanged form.” (223) That is grounds for considerable concern. The book assembles a range of informative analyses that can be very useful and thought-provoking for admirers and critics of Waldorf alike. As other listmates have suggested, it can be a good idea to ask your local library to order a copy of the book, which makes it available to a wider readership.
I enrolled my son in the San Francisco Waldorf School halfway through the sixth grade. I was very impressed with the school. I liked very much the way art is integrated into the curriculum in Waldorf. Drawing, calligraphy, music, dance, and drama aren't separate subjects, but part of the regular lessons. Students hand-write and illustrate their own books for every subject. Subjects are taught in blocks that last several weeks. When Roman History is studied, for example, students will draw and paint Romans, write about them, sing, dance, and act out plays about them.
One day while visiting the school, I browsed through some books by Rudolf Steiner that they had for sale. I saw some very strange things about "astral bodies" and "root races." I asked my son's teacher whether these subjects were taught in the classroom. She assured me that though the teachers studied Steiner, only Steiner's teaching methods were used in the classroom, and Steiner's philosophy wasn't taught to the children. I learned later that this is a standard disclaimer, and it is far from the truth. I should have known better, but I was so in love with the facade of the school that I looked the other way.
Over the year and a half my son was in the school, I became increasingly disturbed about three things:
1. Weird science. In a chemistry lesson, the teacher burned different substances and the students drew and described the qualities of the flames, smoke, and ash. No mention was made of oxidation or, for that matter, any chemistry at all. In a lesson on the physics of light, they were taught that Newton was wrong about color and Goethe was right. White light is a unity and cannot be divided into the colors of the spectrum; the colors are merely an artifact of the prism. I thought perhaps these mistakes were due to the ignorance of particular teachers, but when I obtained Waldorf curriculum guides, I discovered that the inadequate and erroneous science was part of the Waldorf system.
2. Racism. I was shocked to pick up a Steiner book for sale at the school and read: "If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness" (Steiner, 1981, p. 86). Why would a school in San Francisco in 1988 be promoting 1920s German racism? They would, I thought, have to be some kind of cult to be so out of touch with reality.
3. Quack medicine. An "Anthroposophical physician" gave a lecture to the parents on "Anthroposophical medicine." It was classic quackery, claiming to be scientific but ignoring science in favor of cult beliefs, namely, Steiner's seemingly authoritative pronouncements. For example, Anthroposophical medicine doesn’t believe in germ theory, teaching instead that the real causes of infectious diseases are karmic or spiritual, and that the presence of microorganisms is only a symptom.
I started speaking up at meetings and lectures about these problems. I requested a meeting with the College of Teachers, the committee of senior teachers that ran the school. They were "too busy." Instead, a committee of three teachers was delegated to give me an ultimatum: "You don't have to believe what we believe, but if you are going to talk about your disagreements with the other parents, you will have to leave." We left.
"Can you really dance your name?" It's a question that is familiar to anyone who, like this author, is a former student of a Waldorf school. It doesn't come right away, but it is almost inevitable, once a sufficient level of familiarity has been reached in a conversation. After all, it's part of the general stereotype that people in Germany have about Waldorf schools, whose unusual educational philosophy is based on the ideas of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
And no matter what his or her school experience was like, every former Waldorf student finds the question a little embarrassing — because the answer is indeed, yes, you can dance your name. Waldorf schools do indeed teach eurythmy, an expressive art form where people dance to music or poetry, waving their arms around while doing so.
Sometimes — and this is probably something former students should keep to themselves — the pupils wore dresses and green or purple veils while performing their dances, even at the age of 17. They are also generally unwilling to demonstrate their eurhythmy skills to the curious; many former Waldorf students are just happy to have that part of their lives behind them.
Nevertheless, it's a good question. It condenses the image of Waldorf schools into a single sentence. In the general imagination, these schools are seen as different. They are regarded as somehow promoting creativity, but it is doubtful whether the children will ever use all the things they are taught. The question is also often accompanied by a sense of astonishment. Do these schools really manage to produce students who successfully earn the high-school diploma that they need for university, despite having been required to do such crazy things as eurhythmy? How is this possible?
That, in a nutshell, is the paradox of anthroposophy, the spiritual philosophy founded by Steiner. On the one hand, anthroposophists appear to be a relatively wacky Christian splinter group. On the other hand, the ideas of anthroposophy penetrate deeply into contemporary German society, and not just because of Waldorf education.
Many things that are part of everyday life for middle-class Germans, such as alternative medicine, biodynamic agriculture and natural cosmetics, are heavily influenced by Rudolf Steiner's thought. Household names in Germany which have connections to anthroposophy include the Demeter association of biodynamic farmers, which includes 4,200 farms around the world, the Weleda group of pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, which was established by Steiner himself and currently has annual sales of €238 million ($295 million), the ethical bank GLS and the DM drugstore chain.
Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925), the father of anthroposophy, wasn't just one of the great eccentrics of German cultural history. He also became a philosopher whose ideas crossed over to the mainstream, and whose Goetheanum building in Dornach, Switzerland is a pilgrimage site today. It isn't easy to reconcile the two sides of Steiner.
...Steiner studied science and the humanities at various universities, and he became the publisher of the scientific writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He worked at times as a tutor, researcher, editor and book publisher. Politically, he was left of center, and he worked for Germany's Social Democratic Party. He was also interested in anarchism and led a bohemian lifestyle.
Anthroposophy is also the extension of the 19th-century German Goethe cult into contemporary Germany. Perhaps the fixation on Goethe explains why Steiner's spiritual philosophy, unlike other contemporary movements such as the George-Kreis (George Circle) around the writer Stefan George, has endured to this day.
...Steiner later gave a vast number of talks on every topic under the sun (with the notable exception of sex). Some of the lectures include dubious ideas about, for example, Africans. There were 5,965 lectures in all, and supporters recorded most of them in shorthand and wrote them up. Some 308 of his books are displayed on a wall in Wolfsburg, with such disparate titles as "How to Know Higher Worlds" and "On the Nature of Bees."
...Anthroposophy attempts to blend together Christian mysticism, science, Goethe's ideas, German idealism and all kinds of mysterious occult knowledge into an academic model for studying the supernatural. Steiner claimed that he had done this with the help of the so-called Akashic Records, a sort of immaterial global memory, through which he believed he had achieved "spiritual perception."
...Steiner's world was not unlike ours. The German Empire was in the midst of the industrial revolution, which was shaking society with its constant barrage of new discoveries. Science had launched a fundamental assault against religious convictions, the perception of time and space was changing and the relationship between the sexes was beginning to shift. The world, in other words, was in turmoil.
...[I]t is mainly the educated middle class, old and young, that appreciates Steiner ... It is the same social class that regards Waldorf schools as a kind of refuge from the multicultural reality of German cities: Working-class families and parents of Turkish descent rarely send their children to Steiner schools.
When Ted and Joan Shores* began researching schools near their home for their 4-year-old daughter, Clair, they settled fairly easily on the local Waldorf school.
...But the seemingly idyllic mix of a holistic education for their daughter and a supportive community for their family quickly soured: Clair began to be bullied by an older, bigger boy at school, and none of the staff seemed to notice. Though Clair was coming home in tears and no longer wanted to attend school, teachers dismissed Joan's concerns, she says — even when she'd witnessed the bullying herself. "Our lead teacher kept asking what Clair's bedtime was, while insisting she never saw bullying at school," Joan says. "She would never address the behavior of the other child." (When called for comment, a representative from Clair's school said that no one had time to answer questions.) Instead, the teacher suggested to a frustrated Ted that he "read his Steiner." Clair's teacher was referring to Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).
...[A] growing group of parents, teachers and students who've left the Waldorf system are troubled by the way the schools interpret Steiner's philosophies. Waldorf "survivors," as they very seriously call themselves, accuse Waldorf schools of encouraging a cultlike loyalty to Steiner's philosophy, which was founded on racist and anti-Semitic beliefs and which incorporates a host of unconventional educational methods ... [T]he critical parents object not so much to the philosophies, they say, as to the administrators and teachers' lack of frankness about just what is in the curriculum, and why.
...When my children first began entertaining themselves long enough for me to plot out their educational future via the Internet, I sought out alternatives to the local public school.
...The more I read online about Waldorf schooling, clicking from virtual tour to virtual tour of beautiful classrooms and beautiful toys, all surrounded by beautiful pink-cheeked children, the more enthusiastic I got ... [F]rom the outside, Waldorf did the best job of fulfilling my educational fantasies.
...Waldorf is as much a lifestyle as it is an education, with the school's philosophies lapping into home life: Parents are often asked to enforce rules about television watching and to keep a "media free" environment for children in lower grades (no TV or computers, period). Parents also receive guidelines for packing school lunches (an Olympia, Wash.-area Waldorf school's handbook states that lunches must be packed in a basket, not a lunch box, with two cloth napkins and a ceramic cup). Mary Hammond*, a Santa Rosa, Calif., mother of two, says the Waldorf school application she filled out asked questions about how long she'd breastfed her children and how much television she and her husband watched. In many ways, says Hammond, who eventually decided that Waldorf's mandates were too strict for her children, "I felt like I was on trial to see if we'd 'fit in' with the community before we even started there!"
Former Waldorf parents criticize their schools for not fully explaining these practices — or how deeply they connect to Steiner's spiritual worldview. "Anthroposophy is the foundation of everything that happens in a Waldorf school, but it's veiled," says Dan Dugan, secretary of the Waldorf watchdog group People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS). "It isn't taught directly to the children, but to the knowing eye it is everywhere."
John Holland — a creative marketing consultant and former Waldorf parent in Berkeley, Calif., who has created OpenWaldorf.com, a resource site for parents, educators and others interested in Waldorf, Steiner and Anthroposophy — agrees. "The key to understanding Waldorf is Anthroposophy," says Holland.
...Holland argues that the religious basis of a movement is not the problem, but the lack of disclosure about its religious roots is. And since Waldorf's whole philosophy is based on a set of religious values, Holland says, there is no real way to separate Anthroposophy from the Waldorf curriculum. "It's a closed system," he says. "The timing of when certain things are taught, the subject matter itself, all is dictated by Anthroposophy ... I tell people that Anthroposophy is the DNA of Waldorf education."
...Holland thinks these issues could be resolved if Waldorf educators and administrators would simply be honest about the inherent racism and anti-Semitism of some of Steiner's philosophies. A simple acknowledgment of Steiner's less-than-politically-correct viewpoints, along with a unified statement denouncing those viewpoints, is all Holland believes it would take for Waldorf schools, teachers and supporters to rise above accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.
He also points out that the ultimate goal of Anthroposophy is to lead children through the stages of reincarnation, which blurs the line between education and religion to an even greater extent. Nancy Frost*, a former Waldorf instructor, concurs: "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," she says. "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."
...As for me, the pink-cheeked, wholesome-child fantasy was almost enough to sway me, and I considered trying to get over my issues with Anthroposophy, as I presume many parents do. But ... Waldorf probably won't work for families who don't uphold its values at home — and the idea of trying to uphold a value system I don't believe in unnerved me. There's a certain relief in the low expectations of me as a public-school parent: I'm not expected to believe in much of anything besides overpriced fundraiser merchandise ... When my children began to attend the local public school, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they didn't start obsessively coloring within lines or raising their hands to speak at the dinner table. They may not be playing with wooden toys every day, but they're learning, they're happy, and they're still relatively innocent — and that's good enough.
* Names marked with an asterisk (*) have been changed.
Earlier on this page, I quoted Waldorf advocate Eugene Schwartz.
Here are two items from the Waldorf Watch "news" page
giving information about services offered by Mr. Schwartz.
(In part, the items repeat some material we have already seen.)
I offer a response to each offering.
An offer from January, 2011:
February 27, 2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of Rudolf Steiner’s birth. In conjunction with this, Eugene Schwartz has created a unique multi-media ‘Online Journey’ that will both deepen and broaden our understanding of Steiner’s contributions to the modern world ... This online course will be six hours of audio and visual content ... Although these presentations are meant to be an introduction to the life and work of Rudolf Steiner, long-time students of Anthroposophy will find new insights as well ... The fee for the online course is $35.00 ... MillennialChild.com Members receive a 50% discount on the course fee.
Waldorf Watch Response:
I don’t usually reprint advertisements here, but I will make an exception in this case. Eugene Schwartz, an Anthroposophist, is a skilled and articulate advocate of Waldorf schooling. In addition, he has a penchant for being at least marginally more forthright than many other Anthroposophists when addressing the general public.
Schwartz is fully committed to Steiner’s occult doctrines and to the spiritual agenda of Waldorf education. As he famously said on one public occasion:
"That's why I send her to a Waldorf school. She can have a religious experience. A religious experience. I'll say it again: I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience." — Eugene Schwartz, "Waldorf Education — For Our Times of Against Them?" [http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/schwartz.html]
Schwartz may have regretted his candor on this occasion — he was subsequently demoted within the Waldorf community.
Schwartz has said that good teachers need to be clairvoyant, and he accepts as real such fantasies as the invisible “higher bodies” described by Steiner.
“Must teachers be clairvoyant in order to be certain that they are teaching in the proper way? We may, indeed, need only the ‘clairvoyant’ faculties that we are already using without being aware that we possess them.” — Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION: Schools for the Twenty-First Century (Xlibris Corporation, 2000), p. 17.
Schwartz later adds,
“Earlier in this book I spoke of the ‘everyday clairvoyance’ which allows us to perceive the activities of the ‘higher bodies’ of the human being without our necessarily being endowed with the degree of spiritual insight [i.e., heightened clairvoyance] necessary to see the bodies themselves.” — Eugene Schwartz, WALDORF EDUCATION, p. 34.
Understand that no matter how appealing Schwartz’s writings may seem, they are an invitation into occultism. Clairvoyance is the key requirement and goal of Anthroposophy: Rudolf Steiner claimed to possess it, and he laid out steps his followers should take to develop similar abilities — that is, he laid out a path toward occult initiation. See, e.g., Steiner's book HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS (Anthroposophic Press, 1994). The distressing part of all this is that clairvoyance and the "findings" of clairvoyance are delusions, delusions that Schwartz embraces. [See "Clairvoyance". Newly claimed "evidence" concerning ESP may or may not have a bearing. See "ESP".]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1999.]
“Millennial Child” is both the title of a book Schwartz wrote and an organization devoted to the Waldorf movement. “Become a Member of MillennialChild.com. Receive a free download of a CD of your choice, and 20% discounts on CDs and Webinars. Join by the month or by the year, and you will help support our efforts to offer free teaching resources and information about Waldorf education worldwide.” [http://millennialchild.com/index.html]
Another offer from January, 2011:
To understand today's children, Eugene Schwartz contends, we must understand the millennial rhythms of reincarnation described by Rudolf Steiner, and also recognize the significance of the assumption of ‘personal karma’ that occurs around age twelve and a half. In this rich lecture, Eugene also discusses the ‘Three A's’ that signal the approach of a new kind of child: ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and Adoption.
Waldorf Watch Response:
It is almost impossible to overestimate the extent to which Waldorf teachers depend on the words of Rudolf Steiner. To understand almost anything, they think, one needs to understand what Steiner said about it.
The most direct way to learn what Steiner said is to buy some of his books and read them. Steiner’s language is so opaque, however, that most people find his books almost impenetrable. For this reason, relying on commentators who explain Steiner is often helpful. Here at Waldorf Watch, I offer my services, for whatever they may be worth. At the other end of the spectrum, Anthroposophists such as Eugene Schwartz offer a decidedly different take on Steiner.
Schwartz is prolific, affable, and accessible. He has written some books as well as various online essays. [See, e.g., http://knol.google.com/k/anthroposophy-and-waldorf-education-the-web-as-will-and-idea#]
Schwartz also offers CDs expressing his views. The quotation, above, describes one of them. The price for such CDs at MillennialChild.com is $18.50 (plus shipping).
If you’re prepared to shell out a bit more, you can talk to Eugene Schwartz personally, on the telephone. The rates are $25 for a half-hour chat, or $40 for a full hour. [http://millennialchild.com/consulting/phone.html]
You may want to hurry. I don't know how long these offers will last.
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.” 
Assuming the parent’s statement is true, we can conclude that those Waldorf teachers still accepted Steiner’s racial teachings as recently as 2014.  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 he said 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” (in German, 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 he said 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 the second decade of the 21st century. 
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. 
 See "BBC & SWSF".
 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.
 The play can be found in the Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 5, pp. 1-9 [see "Clearing House"] and at MillennialChild.com. I last checked these sites on January 28, 2017. The play was still offered, with its offending racial language intact, on that date.
“I am an esotericist who has found that anthroposophy was what he was looking for 25 years ago, probably much like it was for Plotinus when he met Ammonius Saccas, the Alexandrian, back in 233 CE, when he was 28 years old. I didn't find my Ammonius until I was 37, which interestingly coincided with the second moon nutation, which seems important for some reason.” — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20540]
“Waldorf Schools should be purely private, without any hint of aggrandizement toward gaining public funds for their further development. This is where the whole [Waldorf] movement went wrong. Seeking tax-exempt status and other perks for their continuation has proven to be a wrong move. This is what has caused the science of the spirit [i.e., Anthroposophy] to be made the property of public materialism. People apparently saw that Waldorf schools should get the same rewards that other private schools get, and so they went forth.
“They failed to consider that the science of the spirit meets no laws of tax exemption. If you believe in it then go ahead, and expect to make the sacrifice; even without pay.” — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20561]
Birth Certificate & 9/11
“I never had an issue with Obama's birth certificate until it became such a cause for concern. Apparently, pressure caused him to finally produce it, which made me wonder why it wasn't easily on record from before. Now this is really disturbing...and makes me wonder where was he born? How did he run and get elected to the Senate, etc.?
“As for Building 7, well we all known they finally produced a classic ‘popular science’ report back in 2007, which I'm sure [Frank Smith] considers the last word, and 'case closed'. Give us a break!"* — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20736]
* Note to the future: Steve Hale made these comments in 2011, the same period in which I am writing. Hale allies himself with rejectionists and conspiracy theorists who have claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Similarly, Hale suggests that Building 7 at the World Trade Center (the site of the terrorist attacks in 2001) did not collapse due to the fires created by the hijacked airliners that smashed into the twin towers. Hale does not accept the clear and compelling evidence that indeed the building collapsed because of the fires — he, like other conspiracy theorists, prefers other, implausible explanations. (Most alternative explanations involve elaborate governmental conspiracies and cover-ups, for which there is no real evidence.) Frank Smith is an Anthroposophist with whom Steve Hale has often debated. — R.R.
Niceties of Debate
“BTW, since I have to run now, when you say LOL Oy!, here is what I have to say: ‘stick it up your ass, Diana :)’
“Goodnight, and sleep tight."* — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20786]
* Diana Winters is a Waldorf critic with whom Hale often debated.
Jews, Indians, Atlantis
“Spiritual science demonstrates that evolution involves reincarnating in the various eras of time, and amongst the various cultures dedicated to evolution.
“The Jews specifically refuse to evolve, and that is why they take on an increasingly more regressive look. Yet, it can also be shown that their pilgrimages to Jerusalem have the effect of making them see. Thus, the desire to go to Jerusalem makes a Christian out of a Jew. And that is why they feel the need to go there.
“Even the red semite descendants of Atlantis, who lived completely isolated for 12,000 years, were redeemed when the Anglo-Aryan came across the pond just 400 years ago, c. 1607, Jamestown, Va. It was all about the wars and the frictions created when a three-dimensional view of the world came into contact with the 'three venerations' of the true indigenous population of America. Thus, they were forced to see another way.
“And the descendants of the Fifth Sub-Race of Atlantis live again in order to evolve to the next stage. Now, it is a matter of convincing these Jews about what it means to evolve. The Messiah indeed did come to Israel for the Hebrews two thousand years ago, but they won't even talk about it today....
“For the most part, Jews will say that it never happened. In spite of the detailed reports of the Sadducees, they find it more convenient to say that the gospels of Christ are merely political tracts designed to give the gentiles an equal place as the chosen.
“And the Jews will have nothing to do with that. They believe that the covenant with Jahve makes them the permanent and inseparable chosen people of the earth. And that is just plain Egotism of the worst kind.” — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/18689]
“Steiner stuck his neck out...and also told the truth about how the Jews rejected the Messiah at the turning-point of time. Does that also make sense, Pete, or should Rudolf Steiner grovel in his grave to suit you? The Jews today live in an old-world mentality which rejects the Christ as ever having appeared on earth.
“So, guess what gets to be their destiny? They get to fight the Arabs who have the same affliction as they do. And what is that?”* — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20577]
* Pete Keraiskos is a Waldorf critic with whom Hale often debated.
Why the Moon Landings Did Not Happen
“Frank, first picture a fist in your ignorant face. Then, give some consideration to the fact that the moon is now a superhardened, vulcanized sphere that exists for the purpose of providing a necessary counterweight for earth evolution. Sun and Moon are the electromagnetic poles for the earth, which lies in the shadow zone; life in the valley of the shadow.
“Thus, the moon is effectively sealed off and impenetrable since the mineral kingdom was passed over to the earth during the Lemurian Epoch, about fifty thousand years ago. It was turned into a burnt-out husk when the mineral element was poured over to the earth, and the earth, in turn, passed its fine etheric constitution to the moon. What was to be the original Eden condition of earth evolution now exists on the moon.
“Lucifer and Ahriman were instrumental in conducting the passing over of the mineral kingdom to earth, but also wanted to withhold a portion for themselves. When they couldn't put it back on the sphere in which they evolved as Archai spirits of the Old Moon evolution, they stuck it in the moon's etheric body, and created the Eighth Sphere.
“But the short of it is that the moon is an impenetrable sphere where the Law of Repulsion resides in support of its effective counterweight for the earth." — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20267]
Niceties of Debate (Cont.)
"Whatever Diana. And didn't Pete just post a bit of crap about moron beauties who didn't have a clue about the importance of math in modern culture? Gee, it was on a 'youtube' for all of us to view; even Val, if she was a member. Does that make sense, Diana?
“I'm sure you watched it, unless your Verizon account went defunct. Thank God for Dan in straightening you out.
“Here is yours for better internet communications with the hiccups :)” — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20775]
Jews (Cont.), and the Niceties of Debate
"Really Mike, well do you live on planet Earth? Do you pay attention to certain issues related to Israel and Palestine? As such, do you have any awareness of the Jewish denial of Christ in our present age?
"You see, the Jews have a gospel, called the Old Testament, which they only believe a certain part of. Making sense? And when it all came to a certain conclusion, they were made to believe that Christ didn't actually incarnate on earth. Still making sense? And, based on that denial, they still don't believe today. Except for those that do, which I account for. Get it.
"What part of fucking understanding don't you get? The Jews have a particular interest in Christ the Messiah because it is their own testimony that they refuse to believe. And there are consequences for such refusal, like their inordinate materialism and subscription to old antiquated laws, which demonstrates they are a regressive culture.
"Christianity is a fact, and if you want to call me a racist then you're as ignorant as the man you give testimony to." — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/27688]
As you might expect from what we have seen, Steve Hale is controversial, even among Anthroposophists. One controversy revolves around his views on the Holocaust. Some critics have said that Hale is a Holocaust denier. Others have said that he refuses to tell whether or not he thinks the Holocaust occurred. Here is a statement in which he refers to the Holocaust, although his emphasis is on what he calls Jewish guilt, and one reading of the passage is that he is merely paraphrasing Bondarev.
"What Bondarev says is that the Jews denied the Christ when the actual event occurred, and have been denying Him ever since. As such, they have become a completely regressive culture, steeped in mammonism and the greedy hording [sic] of the little piece of land called Israel. And by denying the fact that Christ, The Messiah, actually came to earth in realization of the Old Testament Law of Moses and the Prophets, they unwittingly invited the being Ahasurus in replacement. Thus, 666 years before Gondeshapur, the Jews invoked the Anti-Christ with the decision to let Barabbas go and crucify Jesus. And their terminal guilt has galvanized over the course of these past two thousand years in the form of a denial that is worse than the holocaust itself. And this denial continues to plague humanity today." — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/27182]
Hale is at least tentatively open to the suggestion that millions of European Jews took their own lives; they were not killed by the Germans.
"So, could six million Jews have all had the same desire to kill themselves rather than suffer the atrocities of the Nazi regime? Or rather, what would the effects be of potassium cyanide being dispersed to the extent of killing some six million Jews, if the estimates are correct?" — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/14390]
Challenged repeatedly by other discussion participants to say whether or not he denies the Holocaust, Hale persistently declined to answer.
The ultimate flaw in the thinking of all Anthroposophists is belief in clairvoyance. Anthroposophists believe in clairvoyance because it is the essential precondition and tool for their faith. This is unfortunate, because clairvoyance does not exist. But Steve Hale, of course, claims otherwise.
"This delimiter [nominalistic thinking] still holds sway in academic psychology, which is far removed from recognizing a soul and spirit in man. Even the concept of an astral body and an etheric body is foreign to this domain, and that is truly sad.
"Equally sad is to here, with conviction, that clairvoyance does not exist. Well, it certainly does exist..." — Steve Hale [httpe://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20603]
"Steiner read from the akashic record [a celestial storehouse of knowledge]; the finest research tool there is for gaining access to events as they actually occurred. That is why the description is so detailed from 'The Fifth Gospel' [Steiner's addition to the Bible].
"Thus, facts from the spiritual world, in this case, accessing the akashic record, are obtained by the clairvoyant, and then submitted in the best possible form of expression to the non-clairvoyant for assimilation, one way or the other, which is an inner process of soul and spirit. Many will reject these communications outright, which is equally an inner process of the same." — Steve Hale [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/20881]
◊ "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.
◊ “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers too will know that it is their 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.
◊ “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.
◊ "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 Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents, and Teachers (SteinerBooks, 2017), p. 4.
◊ “[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.
◊ "The reason many [Steiner or Waldorf] schools exist is because of the 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", 2006. [See "Ex-Teacher 7".]
◊ "If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
◊ “This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment 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.
◊ “The task of education conceived in the spiritual sense is to bring the Soul-Spiritual [i.e., the combined soul and spirit] into harmony with the Life-Bodily [i.e., the etheric body]." – Rudolf Steiner, STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), pp. 19-20.
A note about URL's (Web addresses) and links to them: These may become outdated. Owners of websites may remove pages, change their locations, etc. I work to maintain the URL's and links at my own websites, but I cannot control what happens elsewhere. If any URL's or links I present here prove to be outdated, I apologize. They were all current when I wrote the various essays at my sites, and perhaps with a little Internet sleuthing you may be able to find materials that otherwise seem to have vanished.