Dispatches from Deutschland


September 12, 2019


A few days ago, one of Germany's largest newspapers, Süddeutsche Zeitung, published an article about Waldorf education, "Waldorf hat den Charakter einer Sekte" {Waldorf Has the Character of a Sect}. Now an English translation has been posted at the Waldorf Critics discussion site. [See https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/32157.] Rudolf Steiner was a German nationalist, born in Austria. Germany is the heart of the Anthroposophical world; there are more Waldorf schools in Germany than in any other country. For Waldorf schools, bad press in Germany is very bad news indeed.

The article largely consists of reminiscences offered by Nicholas Williams, who attended a German Waldorf school as a student and later taught in three German Waldorf schools. Here are excerpts from the translation. (Andre Sebastiani posted the translation, for which he deserves full credit. I have made a few editorial adjustments in the translation, and I have added a few footnotes. - RR)

"Waldorf hat den Charakter einer Sekte"

[By] Bernd Kramer

Waldorf schools are celebrating their 100th birthday and critical statements about the pedagogy devised by the clairvoyant and occultist Rudolf Steiner in a quick process are rarely heard these days ... Nicholas Williams, born in 1981, knows the inside view well. He was Waldorf teacher in Baden-Württemberg — and he has since turned his back on the school...

[Statements by Nicholas Williams:]

My mother was a teacher at a Waldorf school; I graduated from Waldorf and later taught at three Waldorf schools myself. What I eventually experienced disturbed me: Things in the Waldorf schools are much more esoteric than I ever thought they would be. Waldorf has the character of a cult, and now I am convinced that Waldorf does damage day after day. Almost every Waldorf school has a hard core of believers who treat Rudolf Steiner like the founder of a religion [1].

I don't mean to say that everything Waldorf schools do is bullshit. Theatre projects, art, and horticulture are good, but that would also be possible in state schools, without all the ideological ballast. And, of course, Waldorf schools have some faculty members who are inspired by teaching young people and who are incredibly well-educated, well-read, and gifted as teachers. I have learned a lot from these people and benefited from them. But the great work they do is not because of Anthroposophy, but despite it...

I loved [being a Waldorf student]. The school had something slightly mysterious about it. It starts with the building: the twisty architecture, the slightly different shapes, the classrooms painted in different colors [2]. The school celebrated festivals [like Michaelmas]. These are distinguished by beautiful aromas, colors, and impressions [3].

[But] it was a bit strange for me as a student when a teacher asked each student in turn for our exact birthdates and hour of birth in order to make astrological calculations [4]...

When I finished my teacher training about ten years ago...[I had a chance to substitute for] my mother at her Waldorf school for a few weeks. I had very good memories of my schooldays and was looking forward to seeing some of my old teachers again ... I didn't experience much esotericism [among teachers at that Waldorf school]. The only strange thing for me was that debates among the teachers would end with someone quoting Rudolf Steiner [5]...

After I earned my doctorate, an acquaintance pointed out to me that teachers were urgently needed at her Waldorf school. I thought: Why not? I already had a little Waldorf experience and I was unsure whether I really wanted to join the state school system. It was at this [Waldorf] school that I really noticed what weird organizations Waldorf schools are.

I soon was a participant in so-called child conferences. In these, ten to fifteen Waldorf teachers sat together and discussed at length what might be going on with a particular child. One student, for example, was described as having blonde hair and brown eyes, which created an inner tension in her [6]... Another case involved a child who was a little jittery. In the course of the conversation, a colleague reached a conclusion: "This child is so restless because she did not have sufficient time receiving therapy from the angels between her last two incarnations." [7] Educational diagnoses at Waldorf are based on such a thing! Nobody had a serious therapeutic qualification at the school. This also applies to the pedagogical qualifications of the teaching staff as a whole: About half of the colleagues I met at Waldorf schools had neither completed a course of study nor did they possess any other state-recognised qualifications.

Nobody contradicted the assumptions made in the child conferences. There is an informal hierarchy at a Waldorf school, with those who are particularly devoted to Anthroposophy setting the tone [8]...

I quickly decided to do an internship at a state school after all. I did this for 13 months, then I had to drop out for health reasons. Afterwards, I took a post at a third Waldorf school ... [T]his school had a reputation for being less esoteric, and I was only supposed to teach in the upper school.

Nevertheless, the attempt went wrong. A colleague from my internship changed to this Waldorf school with me, and we were both completely perplexed when, at the beginning of the school year, we had to recite aloud a weekly saying from Rudolf Steiner's CALENDAR OF THE SOUL [9] in unison with the rest of the teaching staff. We were supposed to welcome the children with this. The spirit of the world, it strives on, revives in self-knowledge; and creates from the eclipse of the soul a fruit of the will. [10] Something like that. Rudolf Steiner considered himself not only a universal scholar, but also a poet before the Lord. I found it more of an embarrassment — my colleague and I were really physically uncomfortable, that's how cult-like this school seemed. But Anthroposophists [on the faculty] believe such words have a magical effect on children. Like magic spells. [11]

It soon became clear that Waldorf teaching would not be a fresh start for me. That's why I left that school late last year. Now, I work in research and adult education. From my point of view, a critical look at Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophy is certainly in order. If quotations from the Guru were used to start a debate but do not end it, and if science and religion were not mixed up with each other, I would welcome the debate. But I did not experience anything of the sort at Waldorf schools.

[9/12/19    https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/100-jahre-waldorfschule-erfahrung-kritik-1.4588339    This article originally appeared on September 7.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?".

[2] Many Waldorf schools are built in accordance with Rudolf Steiner's architectural guidelines, and the classrooms are usually painted according to Steiner's indications. [See "organic architecture" and "colors" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

[3] See "Festivals" on the page "Magical Arts".

[4] Astrology — including the use of horoscopes — is woven into Anthroposophical belief and practice. [See "Astrology" and "Horoscopes".]

[5] Among Steiner's followers, his word is almost always final. Steiner is revered as a great spiritual master. [See, e.g., "Guru".]

[6] Blond kids are considered highly evolved, but this should be reflected in blue eyes. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Racism".]

[7] Reincarnation is a key Anthroposophical tenet. Between lives on the physical plane, Anthroposophists believe, we live among angels and other spirits in the "higher worlds." [See "Reincarnation" and "Higher Worlds".]

[8] Concerning the internal organization of a typical Waldorf school, see the Appendix to "Faculty Meetings".

[9] This is a collection of spiritual verses or incantations, written by Steiner, corresponding to the changing seasons of the year. There is one verse for each week of the year.

[10] Perhaps this is a reference to the verse for the 24th week of the year: Unceasingly itself creating/ Soul life becomes aware of self;/ The cosmic spirit, striving on,/ Renews itself by self-cognition,/ And from the darkness of the soul/ Creates the fruit of self-engendered will.

[11] Such recitations are common in Waldorf schools. Indeed, the Waldorf school day usually begins with teachers and students reciting, in unison, prayers written by Steiner. [See "Prayers".]

— R.R.

September 13, 2019


Waldorf education is turning 100 years old — the first Waldorf school was established in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. Waldorf schools around the world are celebrating the anniversary, and there has been press coverage here and there — particularly in Germany. So, for instance, an interview with religious scholar Ansgar Martins, focusing on Waldorf education, recently appeared in the German national newspaper Die Welt {The World}. 

The child of a Waldorf teacher, Martins attended a Waldorf school as a student. Today, having become a leading German critic of Waldorf education, he is the author of the website Waldorfblog [https://waldorfblog.wordpress.com].

Here are excerpts from the interview in Die Welt. (I will work largely from a translation posted online by Andre Sebastiani [
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/32158]. I have edited the translation somewhat, and I have added some footnotes. — RR)

„Waldorf hat eine spirituelle Natur-Folklore erfunden“ 
{Waldorf Invented a Spiritual Nature-Folklore}

By Frederik Schindler

There are hundreds of Waldorf schools and kindergartens in Germany ... Today, however, people often forget what the [Waldorf] curriculum is based on.

WELT: ...According to founder Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schooling should be a "practical proof of the effectiveness of the Anthroposophical world view" [1]. What characterises the Anthroposophical philosophy?

Ansgar Martins: Steiner intended Anthroposophy to be "scientific" research in supersensible worlds [2] ... The aim of his reform projects was to adapt medicine, agriculture, and pedagogy to a new spiritual era of human development, made possible by Anthroposophy.

WELT: Are all [Waldorf schools] centers of esotericism?

Martins: Waldorf has developed a spiritual nature-folklore from invented traditions [3]. There are rituals of the seasons, angel pictures, felt figures of elves and dwarves, and last but not least the Anthroposophical expressive dance form, eurythmy [4] ... The educationalist Klaus Prange called Waldorf education "Santa Claus Pedagogy," in which mythical images are perpetually used without ever explicitly resolving what they stand for [5]. In addition, there are special seminars for the training of Waldorf teachers [6], where one deals in detail with Steiner's writings. A distinction has to be made between more liberal and more conservative educational institutions and readings [7].

WELT: The Waldorf Schools deny that they are "worldview schools" [8]. And according to a study from 2013, only one third of Waldorf teachers describe themselves as practicing Anthroposophists.

Martins: ...According to the study you mentioned, however, only one percent of Waldorf teachers describe themselves as "skeptical" of Steiner...

More and more people forget what the curriculum is actually based on. The Anthroposophical faith becomes diffuse superstition [in these schools] ... Anthroposophy was never explicitly taught [9] ... According to Steiner's conception, it is not the pupils but the teachers who are to travel a path of esoteric training in order to explore the earlier incarnations of their pupils [10].

WELT: ...How is Anthroposophy put into practice in the classroom?

Martins: ...Every morning, for example, students say a pantheistic "morning verse" about the "Spirit of God," which works in "world space" and "soul depths" and should give "strength and blessing" for learning. But it is never made transparent why this is recited [11].

Anthroposophy is implemented, among other things, in accordance with Steiner's doctrine that there is a specific age at which each subject should be learned [12]: Fourth-graders are ripe for Germanic mythology, so they carve runic staffs. Fifth-graders stand at the level of ancient Greece [etc.] ... Steiner imagines history as divinely guided evolution [13] ... This is how the curriculum is structured...

WELT: Rudolf Steiner is also known for his racist and anti-Semitic convictions. However, the "Stuttgart Declaration" of the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools from 2007 states that Waldorf Education is "stands against all forms of racism" [14]. Is this true?

Martins: In the original Waldorf curriculum..."ethnology and racial studies" was intended for the 7th grade. In the new edition of 2009 this remark disappeared without comment. Steiner certainly developed a racial theory [15], but much more formative for Anthroposophy is his conviction of the "spiritual mission of Central Europe" [16] and the corruption of the English-speaking West, which is controlled by "occult lodges" [17].

...On the whole, Anthroposophy is less anachronistic than it seems, rather it is unconsciously opportunistic. In 1933, people were convinced that they had always educated themselves to become a "people's community" [18]. Today, however, Anthroposophists are quite certain that Anthroposophy has always been against that [19]. Steiner's spiritual creation has always adapted with the times [20]. This has contributed to the spread of Waldorf education.

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] "The Waldorf School must succeed; much depends on its success. Its success will bring a kind of proof of many things in the spiritual evolution of humankind that we must represent ... Let us especially keep before us the thought, which will truly fill our hearts and minds, that connected with the present-day spiritual movement [i.e., Anthroposophy] are also the spiritual powers [i.e., gods] that guide the cosmos. When we believe in these good spiritual powers they will inspire our lives and we will truly be able to teach." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education II (Anthroposophic Press, 2000) p. 189.

For an introduction to the underlying Waldorf worldview, see "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).

[2] This research is untaken through the use of clairvoyance (which does not exist). [See "Clairvoyance".] The "supersensible" worlds are levels of the spirit realm. [See "Higher Worlds".]

[3] See, e.g., "Neutered Nature".

[4] Eurythmy is essentially Anthroposophical temple dancing. [See "Eurythmy".] "Eurythmy is obligatory. The children must participate. Those who do not participate in eurythmy will be removed from the school." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education VIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.

[5] Anthroposophy is brought into the classroom, but generally in unexplained, indirect ways. [See "Sneaking It In".]

[6] See "Teacher Training".

[7] There is some variation among Waldorf schools, despite underlying similarities. [See, e.g., "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".]

[8]  I.e., schools that promote a single worldview — in this case, Anthroposophy.

[9] See, e.g., the section "We Don't Teach It" on the page "Spiritual Agenda".

[10] Steiner taught that each human being lives many successive lives. [See "Reincarnation".]

[11] These verses are prayers written by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Prayers".]

[12] Steiner taught that each healthy child recapitulates the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole: The growing child rises through the levels humanity passed through during its long history.

[13] See "evolution" in the BWSE.

[15] See "Steiner's Racism".

[16] See "Germans, Germany" in the BWSE.

[17] Steiner's view of the English-speaking Western world is epitomized in his view of America. [See "America".]

[18] This was an objective of fascism, the political ideology that — in Germany — was embodied in Nazism.

[19] For the question of links between Anthroposophy and fascism, see "Symapthizers?"

[20] Such adaptation has been slow and grudging — and arguably it has occurred only on the surface. [For a primer on evaluating Waldorf schools, see "Clues".]

— R.R.

September 14, 2019



In recognition of the centenary of Waldorf education, we have been looking at some recent articles about Waldorf published in the German news media. While much press coverage acknowledging the anniversary has been uncritical — even, we might say, credulous — some articles have dug below the shining Waldorf surface. Here is another example.

From Süddeutsche Zeitung:

100 years of Waldorf

"The Waldorf School is 
strongly ideologically determined."

The educationalist Heiner Ullrich explains why there is more esotericism in Waldorf education than many parents suspect.

Interview by Bernd Kramer

On 7 September 1919, a Sunday, Rudolf Steiner spoke to parents and their children [at the opening of the first Waldorf school]. Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, a bourgeois alternative religion mixing Christian ideas with Far Eastern teachings, quickly made it clear that he had only limited faith in modern science. [He said] Waldorf teachers must become spiritual prophets [1] ... There are now more than a thousand Waldorf Schools around the world — many of which still strictly follow Steiner's strange worldview, as educationalist Heiner Ullrich says.

[Statements by Heiner Ullrich:]

[I]n the case of Waldorf education, it is critical to clearly distinguish between proven practice and dubious theory...

Steiner did not take the initiative [in creating the first Waldorf school]. He had hardly dealt with pedagogical issues previously. The tobacco entrepreneur Emil Molt had the idea for the school. He wanted to create a school for the children of the workers at his cigarette factory in Stuttgart. Molt was a supporter of Anthroposophy, so he asked Steiner [to create the school]. And suddenly, in addition to his many other roles...[Steiner] became a school reformer ... Within a few weeks he conceived his own pedagogy....

Steiner put together a faculty that consisted mainly of tranferees who were almost exclusively followers of his Anthroposophy [2]. They accepted guidance from Steiner because he was their ideological leader ... Steiner hardly referred to the reform pedagogical movement of his time. And when he did, he mostly rejected it. This is remarkable because Waldorf school are still misunderstood by many parents to be reformist progressive schools [3]...

The Waldorf School is strongly ideologically determined. Reform pedagogues like Maria Montessori [4] have focused on the active child and experimented a lot with forms such as free work. But Waldorf education is still predominantly top-down ... The class teacher leads in an autocratic way...

Anthroposophists like to think in terms of symbolic and holy numbers [5]. For them, human development takes place in seven-year-long stages [6], a concept that can no longer be justified at all scientifically or empirically today. In the first seven years, according to the Anthroposophical view, children develop by imitating their teachers. In the second seven years, accepting the authority of the class teacher is paramount. Only in the third seven years is allowance made for the children's autonomy.

[For instance] some Waldorf schools interpret their pedagogy to bar use of electronic media independently until the third seven-year period [7] ... [But today] radical media abstinence at school cannot be an appropriate pedagogical answer ... Along the way, Steiner had the idea that the class teacher should have priestly qualities [8]. The teacher should even recognize the child as a reincarnated spirit being that has already lived through several lives on earth [9]...

[M]ore than 90 percent of Waldorf teachers, according to their own statements, are still intensively occupied with Steiner's directives. Waldorf literature [10] contains quite esoteric ideas. There is even talk of a karmic connection between the class teacher and his class [11]. To this day, Anthroposophists represent the antique medieval teaching of the four human temperaments [12], which modern personality psychology has discarded...

[A]n approach [like Waldorf's] simply cannot be justified in light of today's expert knowledge, although Waldorf education claims quasi-scientific validity. But the authoritarian Waldorf culture shuts off reasonable discussion. A discussion about the right school methods becomes moot if Rudolf Steiner and his revelations are always held up as the final word [13]. We, the uninitiated [14], cannot question Waldorf practices, because we did not follow the meditative path to the knowledge of the higher worlds [15] that Rudolf Steiner prescribed to his spiritual disciples [16].

We should not generalize too much, however — there are differences among Waldorf schools [17]. Sometimes progressive new concepts are implemented, directed explicitly against conservative Steiner practices. That is the paradox of Waldorf education: On the one hand it is determined by an authoritarian discussion culture. The lasting truths of the founder Rudolf Steiner cannot be questioned. On the other hand, there are some liberal Waldorf educators who create quite remarkable innovations [18]...

Waldorf education stands for a deceleration of learning [19] and nevertheless it promises educational success [20] ... Today, this type of education concept appeals above all to middle-class parents, even those who otherwise have no contact at all with Anthroposophy ... Surprisingly, a prominent group among Waldorf parents are teachers at state schools [21]. In this respect Waldorf schooling has changed a lot over the past 100 years: It was founded in 1919 for the children of the socially disadvantaged; today it is highly selective. The Waldorf School is no longer attended by the children of factory workers, but by now the offspring of the privileged, educated middle classes can be found there.

[9/14/19    https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/100-jahre-waldorfschule-heiner-ullrich-1.4587198    This interview originally appeared on September 6. Translation by Roger Rawlings, leaning heavily on DeepL Translator.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] "[I]s it not ultimately a very holy and religious obligation to cultivate and educate the divine spiritual element that manifests anew in every human being who is born? Is this educational service not a religious service in the highest sense of the word? ... [I]t is not possible...to take a scientific viewpoint...to inspire us to become artistic educators of growing human beings. It is impossible to develop the living art of education out of what makes our times so great in mastering dead technology ... [I]t must be said that in a certain respect teachers must be prophets. After all, they are dealing with what is meant to live in the generation to come, not in the present ...  What must live in us is a prophetic merging with the future evolution of humanity. The educational and artistic feeling, thinking and willing of a faculty stands and falls with this merging." — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL — Foundations of Waldorf Education VI, September 7, 1919 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 16-22.

[2] As Steiner said to the Waldorf faculty, “As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... 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 STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

[3] See the section "Are Waldorf Schools Progressive?" on the page "Waldorf Now".

[4] Waldorf schools are sometimes described as being similar to Montessori schools, but in truth the differences are deep and wide. [See, e.g., "Ex-Teacher 5".]

[5] See, e.g., "Magic Numbers".

[6] “Perhaps the most original and significant component in Steiner’s educational philosophy is its conception of child development in seven-year stages.” — Robert McDermott, THE ESSENTIAL STEINER (Lindisfarne Press, 2007 ), p. 396. [See "Most Significant".]

[7] See "media policies" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).

[8] "We come to see ourselves as helpers of the divine spiritual world, and above all we learn to ask what will happen if we approach education with this attitude of mind. True education proceeds from exactly this attitude. The important thing is to develop our teaching on the basis of this kind of thinking ... [I]f this happens, then a teacher’s calling becomes a priestly calling, since an educator becomes a steward who accomplishes the will of the gods in a human being." — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION - Foundations of Waldorf Education XX (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 8-9. [See "Schools as Churches".]

[9] See "Reincarnation".

[10] I.e., publications about Waldorf education by Waldorf teachers and, more generally, by Anthroposophists.

[11] See "Karma".

[12] See "Temperaments".

[13] Indeed, Anthroposophists often operate as if quoting a relevant statement by Steiner should settle any dispute: Steiner's word on any subject is essentially the final word on that subject. [See, e.g., "Guru".]

[14] Anthroposophists — including many Waldorf teachers — typically consider themselves to be spiritual initiates: They think they possess spiritual knowledge that is hidden from the uninitiated. [See, e.g., "Inside Scoop".]

[15] See "Higher Worlds".

[16] See "Knowing the Worlds".

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

[18] Trying to determine where a particular Waldorf school stands on the Waldorf spectrum can be tricky. [For a primer, see "Clues".]

[19] See "Thinking Cap" and "Play - Isn't Slow Learning Best?" at Waldorf Straight Talk.

[20] The success of Waldorf education, judged by ordinary standards, is doubtful at best. Waldorf schools have often been academically weak. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf Schools".] This is one reason for the current crisis among Waldorf or Steiner schools in the United Kingdom. [See "The Steiner School Crisis".]

[21] Some teachers at state schools send their children to Waldorf schools, but of course most do not. All forms of education have faults, and individuals who possess close knowledge of the problems in one sort of education may look for alternatives. The danger is that people may choose Waldorf for their children primarily because of what it is not (e.g., it is not a public school overly focused on standardized tests) while neglecting to investigate what it actually is (i.e., it is a disguised Anthroposophical religious institution). [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".]

— R.R.

September 15, 2019


On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Waldorf movement, we've been reviewing some recent German media coverage of Waldorf schools.

Here are excerpts from another recent article, this time from Deutschlandfunk {German Radio}:

100 years of Waldorf schooling

Education as a Religious Cult

Rudolf Steiner is known as the founder of Anthroposophy — a worldview according to which there is not only a material world, but also a spiritual, supersensible world [1]. This is also the basis of the Waldorf School that Steiner opened one hundred years ago.

By Monika Dittrich

Waldorf schools can often be recognized from the outside. The school buildings are built in an Anthroposophical way, with organic forms and few right angles. In Waldorf schools there are no textbooks, no grades, and no sitting for exams, but gardening and handicrafts as well as theatrical performances take up a lot of space [2]...

Rudolf Steiner already defined all this when he founded the school one hundred years ago. His worldview, Anthroposophy, is not a subject in its own right — but it is the foundation of Waldorf education [3]...

Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 in what was then a Hungarian village ... He studied mathematics and philosophy in Vienna for a while. He studied Goethe [4] ... Then he joined the Theosophical Society, an esoteric association, "and there Steiner found a new meaning in life," says [professor Helmut] Zander [5]...

Steiner...spread the mystical ideas of the Theosophy as a lecturer.

In 1912 he broke with the Theosophical Society — because of a dispute with the President. This was the birth of Steiner's Anthroposophy. "Theosophy is the mother of Anthroposophy," said Zander...

At that time there were many Protestants who turned to Anthroposophy — and indeed this worldview contains much that is religious ... [Zander explains:] "There are many deep religious elements [in Anthroposophy]. Example: Steiner asserted how the world began and how it will end [6]. He made statements about the fate of man before death and after death through reincarnation [7]. He introduced Christ [8]...into Theosophy and made him a central element of Anthroposophy. This separates Steiner somewhat from Theosophy, in which Christ does not have the central position [9 Was He]."

Anthroposophists assume that behind the material things there is a spiritual, supersensible dimension in which initiates [10] can gain insight through so-called perceptions [11].

Rudolf Steiner has transferred this thinking to many practical areas of life [including education]...

"Steiner is not an educational reformer, but an ideological leader who was asked to found a school," says [professor] Heiner Ullrich ... "And with Anthroposophy, the Waldorf School is based on a worldview that has very strong esoteric traits. That basis is Rudolf Steiner's Anthropology, to this day," says Ullrich...

This includes, for example, this morning prayer that Rudolf Steiner planned for the first four classes [12]...to recite before the start of lessons:

The Sun with loving light 
Makes bright for me each day;
The soul with spirit power
Gives strength unto my limbs;
In sunlight shining clear
I reverence, O God,
The strength of humankind,
That thou so graciously
Hast planted in my soul,
That I with all my might
May love to work and learn.
From Thee come light and strength,
To Thee rise love and thanks.

...Rudolf Steiner has given the Waldorf teacher a special role. The teacher should not only be a mediator of knowledge, but also a kind of priest or pastor [13].

[Explains] Zander: "At its core, Steiner was of the opinion that [Waldorf] teachers are also initiates, a seers [14]. They have knowledge of higher worlds [15]. They know which reincarnations their pupils have behind them"...

Henning Kullak-Ublick of the Association of Independent Waldorf Schools replies that the aim is to perceive the pupils holistically [156:

"We are not only thinking beings — we are sentient beings and, at the same time, we also acting beings. And one could also say that Waldorf education tries — as it strives to bring science to life, as it strives to bring art to life — we try to approach the feelings of children, which could be described as religious feelings [17]. This means that the children discover a region in their soul, so that they can also look up to something that is above them [18]"....

[9/15/19    https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/100-jahre-waldorfschule-erziehung-als-religioeser-kult.886.de.html?dram:article_id=458074    This article originally appeared on September 6. Translation by Roger Rawlings, leaning heavily on DeepL Translator.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] According to Anthroposophical belief, the "supersensible" world lies beyond the reach of our ordinary senses. It is the supernatural world, the spirit realm.

[2] These are generalizations; some Waldorf schools diverge these standards. Some Waldorf schools, for instance, give kids grades.

[3] Waldorf schools rarely teach the students Anthroposophical beliefs openly and explicitly, but they almost always convey these beliefs in other, more roundabout ways. [See, e.g., "Sneaking It In" and the section "We Don't Teach It" on the page "Spiritual Agenda".]

[4] See "Goethe".

[5] For a chronology of Steiner's life, see "What a Guy". For the links between Theosophy and Anthroposophy, see "Basics".

[6] This is a simplification. For an overview (itself a simplification) of Steiner's account, see "historical narrative of Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.

[7] Reincarnation is one of the beliefs Steiner incorporated from Eastern religions. [See "Reincarnation".]

[8] Steiner identified Christ as the Sun God — the same god, dwelling on the Sun, who has been worshipped under such names as Hu and Ahura Mazda. [See "Sun God".]

[9] Anthroposophy is similar to Christianity in some ways, especially in its reverence for Christ. But the differences between Anthroposophy and traditional Christianity are large. [See "Was He Christian?"] So, for instance, Anthroposophy is polytheistic. [See "Polytheism".]

[10] I.e., spiritual insiders who are (or claim to be) privy to spiritual secrets hidden from the rest of humanity. [See "Inside Scoop".] Anthroposophists, including many Waldorf teachers, consider themselves initiates.

[11] I.e., the use of clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance".] Anthroposophists believe they can penetrate to supersensible reality by employing clairvoyant "perception."

[12] Steiner also wrote a prayer for older students. [See "Prayers".]

[13] See, e.g., "Schools as Churches". E.g., "The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life ... Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION - Foundations of Waldorf Education XVIII (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 24.

[15] According to Steiner, these are the supersensible worlds, the worlds that constitute the spirit realm. [See "Higher Worlds".]

[16] See "Holistic Education".

[17] Anthroposophists believe young children retain ties to the spirit realm, where the children lived before incarnating on Earth. Children are thus thought to be naturally religious. Waldorf schools try to preserve, and build on, children's natural religious faith. [See, e.g., "Thinking Cap".]

[18] Waldorf education is largely oriented to the spirit realm — the supersensible level of existence above the merely physical level (albeit these levels are conceived as being intimately interconnected). It is for this reason that Waldorf schools often scant merely Earthly knowledge — they do not primarily seek to give kids a good education, as this concept is usually understood. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] Waldorf representatives have sought to express the purpose of Waldorf education in various ways, such as these:

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

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

◊ “[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.

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

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

— R.R.

September 18, 2019


As the Waldorf movement reaches its 100th anniversary, critical attention is being directed toward it. Perhaps most important is the scholarly criticism (some favorable to Waldorf, some distinctly not) coming out of Germany, Waldorf's homeland.

We have looked at some recent German press coverage of Waldorf education. Here are excerpts from another such article, in this case published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung {The New Zurich Times}:

The world is good, beautiful and true — 
Free Waldorf School celebrates its 100th birthday 

Rudolf Steiner's Waldorf School celebrates its 100th birthday. The concept of human tripartism must find a way not to lose touch with world changes. A critical review on the occasion of the anniversary.

[By] Peter Reichel [1]

On 7 September 1919, Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical client, the industrial owner and director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, Emil Molt, opened the first Waldorf School [2] ... Germany's first privately organized alternative comprehensive school has proven successful and long-lasting. As controversial as it remains to this day, [the Waldorf movement] has certainly been successful ... With more than 1100 schools and over 2000 kindergartens in almost 70 countries, with the trend still rising...one can call it the largest free school movement on the Earth [3]. This should be commemorated with congratulation but also criticism.

A form of pedagogy with largely hidden Anthroposophical roots...[Waldorf schooling] is promoted as having no cramming, no corporal punishment, unmediated exposure to subject matter, performance oversight, and choice [4]. Holistic, artistic-human education is their credo [5] ... It has its ideological basis in the developmental concepts of Anthroposophy, Steiner's religious philosophy of life [6]. This provokes critical questions again and again, sometimes even fierce controversies. The movement has been accused of racism, Eurocentrism...and creating breeding grounds for measles epidemics [7]...

Anthroposophy denies the separation between empiricism and metaphysics [8]. It contradicts the Enlightenment, critical rationality, and scientific intersubjectivity — the foundations of the modern, secularized world [9]. [Steiner's embrace of] Christian mysteries, ritual consecration and meditation, belief in cosmic evolution and reincarnation — these do not lead to a critical understanding of the world [10]. Anachronistic and anti-Enlightenment, Steiner's spiritualistic hostility to science, his many ad hoc assertions, his speculative generalizations, his nebulous terminology, and his religious-pathetic language — these appear to be his intellectual ideals.

This strange-esoteric worldview [11] believes that it is possible to recognize or "see" the essence of the world — be it natural or social reality — in its essential spiritual underpinnings [12]. In everyday school life, however, [much of this remains hidden, so that] it is usually only in fleeting moments of creative self-forgetfulness that students lose the ground beneath their feet.

The relationship [of Anthroposophy] to National Socialism remains a contentious topic. Some Anthroposophists adapted and worked in the Nazi state, but [under the Nazis] the Stuttgart and Dresden [Waldorf] schools were closed, and others dissolved themselves [13]. The fact that the SS were interested in biodynamic agriculture, and that the spiritually oriented Rudolf Hess [14] was interested in Anthroposophy, did Anthroposophy more harm than good.

The second rise of the Anthroposophical Society [after the war] was initially overshadowed by [internal] legal conflicts ... But the expansion and differentiation of a now global movement was rapid ... [T]oday there are more than 10,000 Anthroposophical societies worldwide, there are Anthroposophical production sites in agriculture, the food industry, and pharmacology, and there are clinics, sanatoriums, cultural institutions, schools, and kindergartens ... The prophet and preacher [Steiner] were followed by priests, teachers, and producers in large numbers and with considerable success. They have turned an alternative philosophy of life into a "gentle" empire [15].

[The spread of Waldorf schools has been aided by] a plausible and popular Anthroposophical concept available for the guidance of pedagogical practice: the tripartism of man. In Anthroposophical language: [a human being consists of a] body (wanting, doing), a spirit (thinking), and a soul (feeling) [16] ... In Steiner's view, the promotion of these three components on an absolutely equal footing means that arts and crafts occupy a large space in the [Waldorf] teaching program [17]...

[Waldorf] pedagogy...distinguishes three phases of growth, each with a characteristic metamorphosis [18]: In the first phase, children develop their elementary "earth maturity" by playing and imitating [their elders — especially teachers]. Trust in the environment is to be strengthened through joy in it. The guiding principle is: "The world is good." The second seven-year phase is the time in which the child unfolds its "school readiness," and the relationship between class teacher and pupil is determined by "authority and submission." This phase is characterized by [dawning] artistic and pictorial abilities ... The motto is: "The world is beautiful." In the third and final phase of physical and mental development, "sexual maturity" is reached, and cognitive and subjective comprehension of the world takes center stage ... [T]he guiding concept is now: "The world is true" [19].

The supposedly universal nature of Waldorf education, however, repeatedly reaches its cultural limits outside the Euro-Atlantic area [20] ... To what extent [educational improvements in non-European nations] can be achieved by means of cultural adaptation and the transfer of Steiner's Eurocentric interpretation of the world, cannot be clarified here, but it must be asked.

...[We] could wish that [the Waldorf movement] would take responsibility for the children and young adults entrusted to it by being more open and self-critical in two respects: On the one hand, with greater openness towards the modern world ... [A]nd on the other hand, [with greater candor about] its own, time-bound origin in the esoteric Anthroposophical world and the life-reform movement inspired by it. If no such effort is made, the gap between the two will grow, the alternative-progressive power of the movement will weaken, and it will lose touch with external world change. To the detriment of both [21].

[https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/die-welt-ist-gut-schoen-und-wahr-die-freie-waldorfschule-feiert-ihren-100-geburtstag-ld.1505120    This article originally appeared on September 7. Translation by Roger Rawlings, leaning heavily on DeepL Translator.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] Dr. Reichel is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hamburg.

[2] The school was meant for the children of workers in the factory. The school took its names from the factory and its product, Waldorf Cigarettes.

[3] The number of Waldorf schools and kindergartens is difficult to pin down. Sometimes much higher totals are quoted (almost surely incorrectly); sometimes lower totals are given. [For a more or less reliable, pro-Waldorf tabulation, see https://www.freunde-waldorf.de/fileadmin/user_upload/images/Waldorf_World_List/Waldorf_World_List.pdf.]

[4] Waldorf schools vary; generalizations about them must be made cautiously. [See, e.g., "Non-Waldorf Waldorfs".] The variations probably have been increasing as more Waldorf schools are opened in far-flung parts of the Earth. Still, the influence of Anthroposophy remains, in most cases, fundamental.

[5] See, e.g., "Magical Arts" and "Holistic Education".

[8] Steiner's fundamental claim was that, chiefly through the use of controlled clairvoyance, his followers can gain objective knowledge of the spirit realm (which he said in imminent in the physical world). [See "Knowing the Worlds".]

[9] See, e.g., "Truth", "Materialism U.", and "Steiner's 'Science'", and the section "Rejecting Reason" in "Sympathizers?".

[10] See, e.g., "Everything".

[11] I.e., Anthroposophy. [See the entry for "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).]

[12] We can "see" essence through the use of clairvoyance, Steiner taught. But clairvoyance is almost certainly a delusion, which undercuts Anthroposophy and its applications — including Waldorf education. [See "Clairvoyance".]

[13] For this history, see, e.g., Dr. Peter Staudenmaier's BETWEEN OCCULTISM AND NAZISM (Brill, 2014).

[14] Hess (1894–1987) was deputy leader of the Nazi Party.

[15] Just as the number of Waldorf schools in the world is open to question, so is the size of the Anthroposophical "empire." Like Waldorf schools, many other Anthroposophical enterprises are small, and some pop into existence only briefly before disappearing again. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that Anthroposophy has made inroads in many spheres of human activity. Anthroposophists aspire to remake all human institutions in conformity with the Anthroposophical vision. [See, e.g., "Threefolding".]

[16] See "threefold nature of man" in the BWSE.

[17] Waldorf schools often use the motto "Head, Hearts and Hands." At a typical Waldorf school, the morning is devoted to academic subjects (thus ministering to the head), while the afternoon is devoted to artistic work (heart) and craftwork (hands). [See "The Waldorf Curriculum".]

[18] See "Most Significant". According to Waldorf belief, the three phases lead to the incarnation of three incorporeal "bodies": the etheric body at age seven, the astral body at age 14, and the "I" at age 21. [See "Incarnation".]

[19] The use of lovely mottos ("The World Is Good", "The World Is...") is only one of the many appealing gestures made by Waldorf schools. Much about Waldorf education is attractive, at least on first acquaintance. [See, e.g., "Upside" and "Glory".] Penetrating the pleasing surface can take work. [See, e.g., "Clues".]

[20] Steiner originally intended Waldorf education to be specifically applicable to German children in service to the German national mission. [See, e.g., "The Good Wars".] He saw German culture, and more generally central-European culture, as the pinnacle of current human evolution. [See "Central Europe" and "Europeans" in the BWSE.]

[21] Dr. Reichel concludes by politely pulling his punches. Anthroposophy certainly provides an alternative way of looking at reality, just as Waldorf schools provide an alternative form of education. But whether Anthroposophy and its applications, such as Waldorf education, are in any sense "progressive" is highly questionable. [See, e.g., the section "Are Waldorf Schools Progressive?" on the page "Waldorf Now".] It is more accurate to say that Anthroposophy and its applications turn their back on modernity; they are retrograde, not forward-thinking. [See, e.g., "Summing Up".] The real question is how much of humanity Anthroposophy and Waldorf will succeed in pulling backward. IMO.

— R.R.

NOVEMBER 9, 2019


From a message posted at the Waldorf Critics discussion site:

At Anthroposophie.blog, Oliver Rautenberg has written an article titled "'Strong slaps' - About Violence in Waldorf Schools". In it, he describes a seemingly endless list of reports of teacher violence in various German Waldorf schools. I was surprised at just how many there were, especially in light of recent attempts by French Anthroposophists to claim that Grégoire Perra [1] was alone in his criticism of Waldorf schools, a claim they had to change to a claim that he was the only critic in France, which of course is also not true...." — Margaret Sachs [2], November 8, 2019 [https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/waldorf-critics/conversations/messages/32209].

In his survey of teacher-on-student violence in Waldorf schools, Rautenberg reaches as far back as the founding of the first Waldorf school (1919, in Germany) and he carries his survey forward to the present day. He focuses primarily on German Waldorf schools, but he also mentions episodes of violence in Waldorf schools in other countries.

Here are excerpts from "'Kräftige Ohrfeigen' – Über Gewalt an Waldorfschulen" {"'Strong Slaps in the Face' — About Violence at Waldorf Schools"} [3]. Because of the exceptional importance of the topic — and the great controversy surrounding it — this will be an unusually long item for the Waldorf Watch News. (I will make occasional interpolations, marked by my initials, RR.) [4]

"Strong Slaps in the Face" — 
About Violence at Waldorf Schools

There are reports of violence in Waldorf schools — violence by teachers against pupils. Is this regrettable but "normal," because Waldorf schools mirror society at large? Or are there specific reasons for violence at these esoteric private schools, which are so often depicted as being soft and cuddly? [5]

One thing is certain: Waldorf Schools like to treat accusations of violence as an exclusively internal matter. They want to prevent these problems from becoming publicly known. If children and parents make an official complaint, they become the problem. They are intimidated, interrogated — and often simply expelled from the schools. From the Waldorf teachers' point of view, talking about violence seems to be worse than violence itself.

Violence is a Waldorf tradition - since the first Waldorf school

Teacher violence was already a topic at the very first Waldorf School: the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, founded by clairvoyant and occultist Rudolf Steiner. After returning home from a trip, Steiner found the school chaotic because teachers had slapped pupils in the face and parents were upset. Steiner gave instructions that the incidents should be kept secret:

Secrecy as a principle

"I've only been back for hours now, but I've heard so much gossip about who got a slap in the face, and so on; it's already boundless, such gossip spread by people, that it was terrible for me. No, we don't have to care if gossip leaks out through the cracks. We have hard enough skins to withstand that, but we should not contribute to it ourselves. 

"Let us remain silent about everything we do in school. Let us stick to a kind of school secrecy." (Rudolf Steiner, Conferences with the Teachers of the Waldorf School, 1920)  [6]

Was the foundation stone laid then and there to cover up violence at Waldorf schools? More about that later. Meanwhile, the actress and "crime scene commissioner" Karoline Eichhorn [7] remembers her school days at the Waldorf school in Stuttgart during the 1970s:

"We had really hard teachers. They beat us, put us in the cupboard and chained us to the heating." (Karoline Eichhorn, "Chained to the Heater — Actress Didn't Experience Stress at Waldorf School, but Violence", Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, 2011)

Down to today, cases of beatings at the original Waldorf school in Stuttgart have been revealed:

"Police have apparently received two complaints from parents of former Waldorf pupils. The accusation: bodily injury and ill-treatment of those under protection. (...) The teacher is even said to have threatened pupils not to disclose anything about the alleged assaults." (Stuttgarter Zeitung, "Attacks at the Waldorf School?", 2016)

RR: Rautenberg proceeds to catalogue a long list of violent episodes that have allegedly occurred in Waldorf schools throughout Germany. He breaks the list down by decade: 1970-1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Here are a few of the more recent instances [8]:

At the Waldorf School in Jena, parents report in 2011 of "physical assaults" by a teacher against their children. The school then terminates its relationship with the parents. (TLZ, "Jena Waldorf teachers want to fire pupils", 2011)

At the Gera Waldorf School in 2012, a teacher attacks a student and slams him against a wall. The pupil is nonetheless required to sit for a class test. He was taken to hospital with a concussion. When he then changes to a regular school, he is judged to be a year behind. (The World, "Teacher Hits Unpunctual Students Against the Wall", 2012)

At the Waldorf School Münster in 2015, a teacher slaps a girl in the face. An expert calls violence "a weakness of the [Waldorf] school system." The school was concerned that the "image of the school would be damaged." (Ruhr-Nachrichten, "Teachers Right to Slap Girls in the Face", 2015)

At the Waldorf Kindergarten in Berlin in 2016, parents reported their daughter's bottom had been beaten. This was followed by a "disgusting rushing tirade" against the parents from the the kindergarten teacher, who argued that the child "seemed to ask for severe treatment." (Lead Medium, "Waldorf Is Anything But Safe", 2016)

RR: Rautenberg alludes to a study that concluded violence of at least some types is more common at Waldorf schools than at other educational institutions:

Study: Violence at Waldorf Schools more frequent than at regular schools

There are few studies on violence at Waldorf schools. However, one study in 2010 concluded that [some types of] violence was more frequent at Waldorf schools than at other types of schools:

"As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported, according to the study certain forms of violence occur even more frequently in Waldorf schools than in state primary and secondary schools. There are hardly any crimes such as grievous bodily harm or robbery [at Waldorf schools]. The study shows, however, that pupils there are beaten and kicked more often. In addition, their property is destroyed more frequently." (Süddeutsche Zeitung, "More Violence at Waldorf Schools", 2010)

RR: Rautenberg proceeds to list reports of violence at Waldorf schools outside Germany. He cites instances in Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, and Great Britain. He then traces the Waldorf penchant for violence back to certain statements made by Rudolf Steiner. He quotes these:

"Under certain circumstances it may even be necessary to beat them a little." (Rudolf Steiner)  [9]

"If we are really convinced of karma [10], then when someone slaps us, we must not say: It is unpleasant for me that you give me this slap!Instead one would have to say: Who actually gave me this slap in the face? I myself, for I have done something in my former life that caused the other person to slap me, and I have no cause whatsoever to tell him that he is wronging me." (Rudolf Steiner)  [11]

RR: On the subject of karma, Rautenberg alludes to the belief — evidently common among Waldorf teachers — that some students have the karma to be bullied while others have the karma to act as bullies. Because karma should usually be allowed to play out, Waldorf teachers may hesitate to interfere when some kids are bullied by others [12]. Rautenberg quotes from a document attributed to a Canadian Waldorf school:

"Can the karma or destiny of a child be that of a victim or tyrant? ... For a child who becomes a victim, it must be the role and responsibility of the teacher to determine how much victim support is healthy so that the child can be strengthened by the experience [of being bullied]." (Alan Howard Waldorf School, "Bullying Presentation to Faculty", 1999)

RR: I will skip ahead, here, to the concluding section of Rauteberg's essay. (I will condense the section.)

Is the reason for this violence inherent in the role of the Waldorf teacher?

How can this violence be explained? Are teachers who are willing to believe a psychic [Rudolf Steiner] and his inspirations from "higher worlds" [13] mentally unstable? Is the violence caused by the special role of a Waldorf teacher, who has the task of recognizing and assisting the child's "karma"? [14] Is it due to insufficient pedagogical training? [15] ... Is a Waldorf teacher overburdened because he is the primary teacher for a group of students for a period of up to 8 years, and thus subject to enormous pressure and, often, criticism? [16] Is it due to the image of the "highly esteemed teacher," as Rudolf Steiner put it...a teacher who is like a king, almost like a god?...

"In the Waldorf school the teacher rules; he is king, absolute monarch and not bound to any constitution except his understanding of human nature, against which there is no appeal and no vocation." (Klaus Prange, "Education in Anthroposophy. Presentation and Critique of Waldorf Education", Bad Heilbrunn, 1985).

The answer seems to lie in an unfortunate mixture:

Overstressed teachers, some of them poorly trained, encouraged to overestimate their own abilities, embracing an attitude reminiscent of megalomania. Teachers who, as an insular "karmic community of fate," jointly run the school [17] and seal themselves off [from the outside world]. A closed belief system that does not accept criticism from the outside and looks upon any external involvement as interference [18]. And the image of the child as someone who is guilty from birth [19] and who needs punishment, including physical punishment, for his proper development.

[11/9/2019   "'Kräftige Ohrfeigen' – Über Gewalt an Waldorfschulen"   Translation by Roger Rawlings, relying heavily on Google Translate and DeepL Translator.    Rautenberg posted his essay on May 14, 2019.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] Grégoire Perra is a former Waldorf student who went on to become a Waldorf teacher. He is now one of the foremost critics of Waldorf education. [See "Grégoire Perra".]

[2] Margaret Sachs and her husband sent their children to Waldorf schools before becoming disillusioned with Waldorf education. Ms. Sachs has subsequently become a prominent Waldorf critic. [See "Our Experience".]

[3] Oliver Rautenberg is an influential German critic of Waldorf education and Anthroposophy. His blog is located at https://anthroposophie.blog

For the full text of "'Kräftige Ohrfeigen' – Über Gewalt an Waldorfschulen", see https://anthroposophie.blog/2019/05/14/kraftige-ohrfeigen-uber-gewalt-an-waldorfschulen/. Machine translation into many languages, including English, is available in a sidebar. (Such translation is far from perfect, but it may enable readers to glean the gist of a text.)

[4] For previous coverage of alleged abusive treatment of students at Waldorf schools, see, e.g., the entry for "abuse" in the Waldorf Watch Annex Index.

[5] See "Glory" and "Slaps".

[6] Two translations of this passage have been given in English-language Anthroposophical publications that recount Steiner's meetings with the teachers at the first Waldorf school. Here is the earlier of the two translations:

"I have only been back here a few hours and I have already heard a whole heap of gossip, about who has had his ears boxed, etc. There is no end to what the people are saying; I had quite a shock. Of course, it need not worry us if it comes out in other ways. We are thick-skinned enough for that. But we must not be the ones to tell them. We must hold our tongues about everything we do in the school. We must keep school matters private." — RUDOLF STEINER'S CONFERENCES WITH THE TEACHERS OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL IN STUTTGART, 1919-1920, Vol. 1 (Steiner Schools Fellowships Publications, 1986), p. 41. 

("Boxing" someone's ears means slapping or punching someone on the side of the head. "Box ... verb (used with object) to strike with the hand or fist, especially on the ear." — Dictionary.com, November 9, 2019.)

Here is the more recent of the two translations of the passage in question:

"I have been back only a few hours, and I have heard so much gossip about who got a slap and so forth. All of that gossip is going beyond all bounds, and I really found it very disturbing. We do not really need to concern ourselves when things seep out the cracks. We certainly have thick enough skins for that. But on the other hand, we clearly do not need to help it along. We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, that is, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 10.

[7] Karoline Eichhorn (b. 1965) attended the Waldorf school in Stuttgart. An actress, she has appeared in numerous films and television dramas. One of her famous roles was that of a crime scene investigator.

[8] See, also, "Child-Care Allegations auf Deutschland', November 7, 2019

"'I was told that some children were grasped by two educators by their hands and feet and held on the toilet seat for more than 30 minutes despite their resistance and screaming' ... Children are also said to have been dragged through the hall or garden of the school to the point of exhaustion, although they cried and defended themselves." — Berliner Morganpost, November 7, 2019.

[9] “Under certain circumstances it may be necessary to spank a child...." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 22.

[10] Karma is a fundamental concept in Anthroposophy and, therefore, in the thinking that underlies Waldorf education. [See "Karma".] Anthroposophists' belief in karma is related to their belief in reincarnation. [See "Reincarnation".]

[11] Here is a similar quotation as currently presented at a pro-Steiner website:

"Take a radical example [of karma]: someone has given another — me for instance — a slap in the face ... [How do we account for this?] I was here in a previous life, and so was he. I had, perhaps in that previous life, given him a reason to justify his present actions; forced him to do it, simultaneously directed him towards it ... [Hence] I, myself, delivered this slap because I have put him in this place, I have lifted the very hand myself which was raised against me." — Rudolf Steiner, "What Is Self Knowledge?", a lecture (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), GA 108.

[12] See "bullying" in the Waldorf Watch Annex Index.

[13] See "Higher Worlds". 

Steiner claimed to be clairvoyant, and he said he could communicate with the dead. [See "Clairvoyance" and "Steiner and the Warlord".]

[14] Here is a telling assertion by a prominent Waldorf teacher:

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

This conception of education places extraordinary pressures on Waldorf teachers because it requires them to do the impossible — to detect and steer something that does not exist (karma).

[15] See "Teacher Training".

[16] See "class teacher" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE)

[17] Waldorf schools are often — but not always — run collegially by the teachers, without headmasters or other administrators. [See "college of teachers" in the BWSE.]

[18] A core principle of Waldorf education, according to one authoritative body, is this:

"Freedom in Teaching: Rudolf Steiner gave curriculum indications that 'the teacher must invent the curriculum at every moment.' Out of the understanding of child development and Waldorf pedagogy, the Waldorf teacher is expected to meet the needs of the children in the class out of his/her insights and the circumstances of the school. Interferences with the freedom of the teacher by the school, parents, standardized testing regimen, or the government [emphasis added - RR], while they may be necessary in a specific circumstance (for safety or legal reasons, for example), are nonetheless compromises." — "Core Principles of Waldorf Education", Pedagogical Section Council of North America (January 2013), CREATING A CIRCLE OF COLLABORATIVE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP, edited by Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli (Waldorf Publications, 2014), p. 157.

Steiner instructed Waldorf teachers to reject such compromises. Indeed, he argued that Waldorf teachers will know they have gone in the wrong direction if they find themselves acting in ways that outsiders would recommend or praise:

"What is important is that we cannot be moved to make any compromises ... As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside. It will be impossible for us to avoid all kinds of people from outside the school who want to have a voice in school matters ... [But] when those people working in modern pedagogy praise us, we must think there is something wrong with what we are doing. We do not need to immediately throw out anyone who praises us, but we do need to be clear that we should carefully consider that we may not be doing something properly if those working in today’s educational system praise us. That must be our basic conviction." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 117-118.

[19] I.e., through the processes of karma and reincarnation, the child carries the effects of her/his misdeeds committed during past lives. The effects of past misdeeds constitute a major portion of the child's karma.

— R.R.

Addendum from Another Hemisphere


NOVEMBER 29, 2019


The Waldorf school movement is celebrating its centenary [1]. News media around the world have taken note. Articles extolling Waldorf have appeared in many newspapers and online — often based on uncritical acceptance of self-descriptions and claims emanating from within the Waldorf movement.

Here are excerpts from a fairly typical example. The following is from The Blue Mountain Gazette [New South Wales, Australia]:

Steiner Schools celebrate 100 years

Waldorf Steiner school inaugural Class of 1919

The Blue Mountains Steiner School [2] — along with nearly 3,500 other Steiner schools world-wide [3] — has celebrated 100 years of its educational program this year...

'Steiner' is named for the creator of the educational method, Rudolf Steiner [4], who set up the first school for children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria factory in Germany in 1919.

In the chaos after World War One, Steiner questioned the senselessness of war [5] ... He concluded that to meet the needs of the future, individuals needed to be educated differently.

He designed a school to meet the developmental stages of childhood [6] and to encourage the imagination and creative thinking [7]...

Mr Steiner's intentions for educating children have stood the test of time [8]... 

The Blue Mountains Steiner School is located on three hectares of Darug land [9] in Hazelbrook.

Students spend time in bush play [10], exploring their own capacity and limits, as well as developing skills in all the traditional streams such as mathematics [11]...

[11/29/2019    https://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/story/6498453/steiner-schools-turn-100/?cs=1432    This article originally appeared on November 28.]

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[2] The school, founded in 1983, is located in Hazelbrook, New South Wales. [See http://bluemountainssteiner.nsw.edu.au.]

[3] Highly inflated tabulations are often hawked by Waldorf spokesfolks. According to an authoritative, pro-Waldorf source, the actual number of Waldorf and/or Steiner schools in the world is a bit under 1,200. [See https://www.freunde-waldorf.de/fileadmin/user_upload/images/Waldorf_World_List/Waldorf_World_List.pdf.]

[4] Steiner also created Anthroposophy, the religion on which Waldorf education is based. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] Claiming to be clairvoyant, Steiner identified himself as an occultist. [See "Occultism".] The standard Waldorf curriculum embodies Steiner's mystical/occult beliefs, generally in muted form. [See "The Waldorf Curriculum" and "Principles at the Core".]

Steiner's supporters often describe him as a pacifist. Actually, Steiner was a German nationalist who supported German objectives in World War One. Following that war, he defended the actions of the Chief of the German General Staff, General Helmuth von Moltke, who was sympathetic with Anthroposophy. [See "Steiner and the Warlord".]

[6] There are three such stages, according to Steiner, each culminating in the incarnation of an invisible human body (supplementing the physical human body). The first stage ends around age seven, when the etheric body incarnates. The second stage ends around age 14, when the astral body incarnates. The third stage ends around age 21, when the "I" incarnates. [See "Incarnation".]

[7] According to Steiner, imagination is a precursor to — or an initial stage of — clairvoyance. Waldorf schools do not generally try to make kids clairvoyant, but they promote forms of imagination or "creative thinking" that are consistent with the Anthroposophical belief in clairvoyance. [See "clairvoyance", "imagination", "inspiration", and "intuition" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia (BWSE).]

[8] Waldorf proponents sometimes argue that because Waldorf education has lasted for a century, it is therefore a proven form of education. But longevity is not proof. Many things that are false or even injurious have "stood the test of time" by persisting for decades, centuries, or even millennia. Belief in witchcraft, for example, has persisted since time immemorial; but this does not prove that witchcraft is real. (Steiner, by the way, believed in witches, black magicians, and similar bogeys. [See "witches" and "black magic (magicians)" in the BWSE.])

[9] The Darug are indigenous inhabitants of Australia. The Waldorf movement is generally faithful to its roots in Germany and northern Europe, for instance by emphasizing Norse myths. [See "The Gods".] But as the movement opens schools in diverse locations around the world, it typically attempts to forge ties with the local populations and local traditions. This effort is often complicated by Steiner's racist teachings. [See, e.g., "Races" and "Differences".]

[10] I.e., playing in "the bush": playing outdoors, in nature. Steiner's followers tend to revere — but also fear — nature, considering it to be the abode of invisible "nature spirits" such as gnomes. [See, e.g., "Neutered Nature" and "Gnomes".]

[11] I.e., Waldorf schools also teach traditional academic subjects, such as mathematics. Unfortunately, however, Waldorf schools have often proven to be academically weak. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] Their focus tends to be elsewhere — on spiritual, mystical, or occult matters. The ultimate aim of the Waldorf movement is to promote Anthroposophy. [See "Here's the Answer" and "Waldorf's Spiritual Agenda".]

— R.R.

[R.R., 2019]