Would you like to visit a Waldorf school? 

It probably could be arranged. Don’t be surprised, however, if the school restricts visits to special days when most of the typical activities of the school will be hidden. 

On the special visiting days, the school will tidy up, put on its makeup, and greet you with a big — and possibly misleading — smile.

In this, as in all things, Waldorf schools are guided by Rudolf Steiner. Here is how Steiner responded to a request for a visit at the first Waldorf school. He was not speaking to hostile or even neutral outsiders; he was addressing members of the Waldorf School Association. But he did not want even these individuals — his allies, supporters of the school — to see what happens inside. 

Here is the exchange:


"Someone expresses the wish to have a chance to see the Waldorf School. 


[Steiner's reply:] “’I believe you would not get much out of seeing the Waldorf School itself, and that the faculty would not be able to conduct a tour tomorrow morning. If it is possible for you to modify your wish, perhaps you could take part in the opening assembly here in the Stadtgartensaal at 9:30 tomorrow, if there are not too many of you. Would it be possible for you to do this instead? I am sure the teachers will have no objections. And if you should wish to take a walk tomorrow evening after six o'clock, the members of the college will be glad to show you the building when school is not in session.’

“A member: Perhaps people can be allowed to visit the school on a certain day? The eurythmy lessons, for instance?

[Steiner's reply:] “’Eurythmy belongs to our lessons, so the same objections would apply to it as to other classes. I would like to comment that the most that would be possible would be that we might decide to show visitors the empty school when the children and teachers are not there. There can be no question of visiting while school is in session. That is, such a visit could only take place after weighing it up carefully in consultation with those who hope to learn something by visiting the school - for instance, with people who want to see something of this school because they are trying to found a similar school elsewhere, because they themselves are doing something relevant to spread the idea of the Waldorf School. Seeing the school in operation would only come into question in infrequent cases of this sort. Of course we have already had many requests along these lines, but for purely pedagogical and methodological reasons it would not be possible to have it happen on a more general basis. Even a legitimate visit during a lesson is a cause of disturbance, a disturbance that is not justifiable in pedagogical terms. Anyone coming into the classroom disturbs the lesson. Sometimes there is a higher goal that justifies the disturbance, and we have to accept reasons of this sort. But we need to be sensitive to the fact that a lesson requires presence of mind and should therefore under no circumstances be subjected to visitation unless there is some urgent need.

“’I believe, therefore, that it is also the view of the other members of the college that the most we can allow is for you to see the classrooms, and even this would be burdensome at the moment. I can assure you that the classrooms will be well worth seeing once we are receiving a lot of financial support. But with regard to equipment that comes from endowments, people are probably much more likely to feel that they are getting their money's worth if they go and look at other schools. We, on the other hand, would only be subjecting ourselves to the danger of having them tell us that they didn't see anything, that the instructional materials are anything but ample, and that they want their money back!

“’With regard to eurythmy, let me remind you again that we have done everything possible to demonstrate what eurythmy is like. We have organized events where people could see what the Waldorf children do in eurythmy, and I hope that these events will continue. These are opportunities for you to convince yourselves of what the Waldorf children can accomplish in eurythmy. For pedagogical reasons, it does not seem possible to me for us to make exceptions in the case of eurythmy to what applies to the rest of the lessons.

“’So far we have accommodated to the greatest possible extent any legitimate wish people might have to inform themselves of what is going on in the Waldorf School, and people have taken advantage of the possibility to see the school to an equally great and not always desirable extent.

“’In this regard, nothing healthy can come of it if visitation and our interaction with the outer world are governed by any directives other than those the directorship and teachers' college of the Waldorf School see fit to issue. It does not seem possible to me for the school's leadership to receive any such directives from an Association. The issue here is that only a proper decision of the teachers' college can come into consideration in a matter like this, so it does not seem necessary to me to vote in the context of the Waldorf School Association on whether or not this should be permitted. How this matter is handled depends absolutely on the college of teachers. There has also been no motion to do otherwise.

...[ellipsis in original]  It does not work to have what I described in the first part, the spirit of the Waldorf School, on display for visitors. It has to be developed in the lessons, and this can be done only in the way in which it has been attempted so far. The only way in which the spirit of the Waldorf School can be presented to the public is through public testimonials of people who have children here, who are becoming familiar with our educational ideals; that is, through parents and others related to the school. There is no possibility of drawing attention to the spirit of the Waldorf School in any other way.

“’I can assure you that I know this suggestion was made with good intentions, but in the past two years we have been accommodating on all sides. We must guard carefully against having people come who are merely curious. However, we will also continue to not turn away anyone who has legitimate grounds for getting to know the school.

“’Now that we have come to the end of our gathering....’"

From: "Address and discussion at the first official members' meeting of the Independent Waldorf School Association," June 17, 1921, in RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 97-100.

From the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

February 26, 2018


From [New York State, USA]:

Growing Up With Waldorf School

By Jaime Cone

On a recent Thursday morning the Ithaca Waldorf School (IWS) gave a tour of its facilities to about seven interested locals who, in the space of less than an hour, were treated to songs in French, Chinese dance, and the recitation of an ode to farmers. It was just another average morning at the school, which incorporates creativity into nearly every lesson.

With a new addition just completed in December, the Ithaca Waldorf School is now positioned to have a classroom for every grade level from kindergarten to eighth grade by fall of 2019, a scenario the school hasn’t seen since 2015. “We couldn’t have done that without the extra space, as our enrollment has almost doubled in the past three years” said Arabez Smith, assistant to the director and project coordinator of the new construction....

The school currently has 85 students, including those enrolled in the early childhood program, which is designed for children as young as three years old....

Part of the construction was the addition of the “Great Room,” a large, open room with wood floors and high ceilings where the school can hold assemblies and the students can perform plays. In the morning the children start their day by singing together in the room....

On Dec. 1, one of the first activities the students ever did in the Great Room was a winter spiral, a ritual where evergreen branches are laid on the floor in in spiral formation. As each child walks through the spiral he or she carries an apple with an unlit candle at the center. In the center the candle is lit, and the student walks back through the spiral again, the effect being that the room gradually becomes brighter and brighter....

Waldorf Watch Response:

A few comments on various matters may be in order.

1. Tours of Waldorf schools can be informative and even dazzling. But if you are told you are seeing "just another average morning at the school," you probably should be skeptical. You will be observing teachers and students who know they are being observed; quite possibly, they will have spent some time preparing to be observed. Waldorf schools, like all sorts of institutions everywhere, like to put on their best faces when visitors arrive. There's nothing necessarily nefarious about this, but you do need to bear it in mind. And you should realize, too, that Waldorf schools have a long history of concealing much from outsiders. For these reasons, a tour or two of a Waldorf school may not tell you much. [See, e.g., "Secrets" and "Visits".]

2. The Waldorf movement is international, and by some measures it is large. Many highly motivated Anthroposophists work hard to promote Waldorf education worldwide. There are about 1,100 Waldorf schools in the world. On the other hand, many Waldorf schools are tiny. Notice that the Ithaca Waldorf School, with its new, expanded facilities, has a grand total of 85 students. The school intends to expand further, if it can — just as most Waldorf schools do. But a typical Waldorf school is a fringe institution representing a fringe movement. You should consider this carefully before sending a child to a typical, small Waldorf school. Small schools have some advantages, but they also have some significant disadvantages. And these disadvantages can be magnified if a school is part of a fringe, mystical movement — as Waldorf schools are. [See, e.g., "Advice for Parents" and "Clues".]

3. Starting the day with song is a lovely idea. But you should know that, at a typical Waldorf school, many of these songs are hymns, and they are accompanied by prayers recited in unison by students and teachers. These prayers were written by Rudolf Steiner, and they contain elements of the Anthroposophical faith. While Waldorf representatives almost always deny it, the truth is that Waldorf schools are, generally speaking, disguised religious institutions, and their religion is Anthroposophy. [See, e.g., "Soul School" and "Schools as Churches". To read some Waldorf prayers and hymns, see "Prayers".]

4. The religious nature of Waldorf education infuses virtually everything that occurs at the schools. Consider the "winter spiral" ceremony conducted in the Ithaca great room. This event is common at Waldorf schools, and it is essentially a religious ritual. It is usually conducted in a darkened room, in a solemn, reverent manner. In truth, it is an observance of Advent. You may, of course, choose to send your child to a religious school. Many parents make this choice. But in the case of Waldorf schools, make sure you understand the sort of religion practiced there. And if you encounter a strange aura of denial within the school, masking the spirituality discernible within, put your guard up. If you suspect an effort at deception is being made, you may be right. [See such entries in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia as "Advent", "Spiral of Light", "denial", "secrecy", and "occult, occultism".] 

— R.R.

April 25, 2018


From The Hereford Times [Hereford, UK]:

Steiner school keeps good Ofsted rating

[by] Rebecca Cain

A STEINER school in Much Dewchurch has maintained its good Ofsted [Office for Standards in Education] rating.

An Ofsted Inspector visited Hereford Steiner Academy in March for a short inspection after the school was judged to be good in July 2013.

The inspector said the school continued to be good and said "leaders seek continuously to make the school the best it can be”….

In 2008, the school became the first Steiner Waldorf school in the UK to become a state-funded academy.

The inspector said leaders have worked with the local authority to review the strength of the school’s safeguarding arrangements and the policy now fully reflects current government guidance.

Ms Hayes said weaknesses in the system remain which, while these do not put pupils at risk, mean that essential information is not readily available to those who may need it.

Waldorf Watch Response:

While one major Steiner school in the UK has made news by failing to satisfy Ofsted safeguarding standards [see, e.g., news accounts from April 19 and April 14], the Hereford Steiner Academy apparently demonstrates that passing Ofsted inspections need not be an insuperable barrier. Much depends, of course, on the thoroughness of the inspection in each case.

Whether Steiner or Waldorf schools should accept state funding and submit to state-defined standards has been a controversial issue within the Steiner/Waldorf movement. Some proponents of the movement fear that the unique characteristics of Steiner education will be eroded in the effort to satisfy educational authorities. Becoming a "free school" in the UK or a "charter school" in the USA may mean submitting to standards and rules that would undermine the Steiner approach.

Any inspection or even visit by outsiders can be a cause for worry within the Steiner/Waldorf movement. The problem has been felt within the movement from the beginning. At the first Waldorf school, founder Rudolf Steiner sweated out various inspections. As he said during one faculty meeting:

"Yesterday, I was sitting on pins and needles worrying that the visitors would think the history class was too religious. We should not allow the history class to be too religiously oriented. That is why we have a religion class. The visitors seem to have been very well-meaning people. Nevertheless, had they noticed that, they could easily have categorized the Waldorf School as being too anthroposophical and of bringing that into the classroom.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 655.

Steiner often claimed that the Waldorf school did not teach the students Anthroposophy, and this claim is often repeated by spokespeople for the movement today, applying it to Steiner and Waldorf schools generally. But Rudolf Steiner's words, above, do not actually support this denial. Steiner was not worried that the visitors would see that a Waldorf history class was imbued with Anthroposophy; he worried that they would think it was imbued with too much Anthroposophy. This is quite different. Steiner was implicitly acknowledging that classes in a Waldorf school will be Anthroposophical to at least some degree.

On other occasions, Steiner was even more open (with his teachers, in a meeting closed to outsiders) about the importance of Anthroposophy in Waldorf education. Thus, for instance, he said this:

“The older students often mentioned that we emphasize that the Waldorf School is not to be an anthroposophical school. That is one of the questions we need to handle very seriously. You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people would say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.

Anthroposophy "will be in the school," Steiner says. When will it be present? "[W]hen it is called for by the material itself.” In other words, whenever Anthroposophists think their belief system has something "objective" to say about any given subject, then Anthroposophy will be brought into the classroom. And, given that Anthroposophists think their belief system contains the ultimate truth about all subjects, this means Anthroposophy will be brought into the classroom on a regular basis. [Concerning the universal applicability of Anthroposophy, see, e.g., "Everything".] Of course, not all Waldorf teachers are Anthroposophists, but a great many are, and Steiner said that they all should be:

"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINERp. 118.

Steiner did not require Waldorf teachers to leave Anthroposophy at the door before entering the classroom. Instead, he instructed them to frame Anthroposphy in terms children can understand. So, for instance, he said the following to one Waldorf teacher:

“The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINERpp. 402-403.

Anthroposophy is present in any genuine Steiner or Waldorf school — that is, it is present in any school that follows Rudolf Steiner's directives. Anthroposophy is brought into the Steiner/Waldorf classroom "when it is objectively justified." It is brought into the classroom in "a form you can present to little children," a form that transforms "anthroposophy into a child’s level.” Anthroposophy may be toned down; it may even be hidden from prying eyes. But it will be present. "We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people would say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school...."

The pervasive presence of an occult belief system in Steiner/Waldorf schools may, indeed, cause difficulties during inspections and visits by outsiders.

As for Ofsted safeguarding requirements, these are hardly onerous. Here is how they are summarized in an official Ofsted document:

"Ofsted uses definitions of the term ‘safeguarding’ from statutory guidance.

"Safeguarding children is defined in Working together to safeguard children as:

"• protecting children from maltreatment

"• preventing impairment of children’s health or development

"• ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care

"• taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes" — Guidance, OFSTED SAFEGUARDING POLICY, updated 8 March 2018.

We should hope that any school, Steiner or otherwise, would be able to meet these minimal, clearly sensible standards. The question regarding Steiner/Waldorf schools becomes whether any of the doctrines or practices of Anthroposophy are injurious, or whether the general effort to lure kids toward Anthroposophy may injure them. [For more on these matters, see, e.g., "Slaps", "Extremity", "Indoctrination", and "Who Gets Hurt".]

— R.R.

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, 
use the underlined links, below.


Christmas : Waldorf-style

extremity : love, out of bounds

fairy tales : their use in Waldorf schools

gender : boys and girls

holistic education : the "whole child"

if only : wishing, hoping...

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

PR : efforts to "re-brand" Waldorf schools

pseudoscience : at Waldorf schools

Q&A : informed opinions, and others

spiritual syllabus : in the open

star power : astrology Waldorf-style

this very day : Waldorf and Steiner schools pledging allegiance


Waldorf priests : doing their duty

BBC & SWSF : on the air


— Page created by Roger Rawlings