WHAT A GUY
Sanctifying Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner invented Waldorf education as well as the mystical system upon which it is built, Anthroposophy. He laid down the principles of Waldorf education, and he directed the implementation of those principles in the day-to-day operations of the first Waldorf school. Today, he remains the central figure in the Waldorf movement — he is the indispensable man, the founder, the guiding light.
One way to comprehend Steiner's preeminent role in Waldorf education is to consult the works written about him by his admirers within the Waldorf movement. Consider, for instance, the booklet RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR.  It was written by Hermann von Baravalle, an Anthroposophist who was a close associate of Steiner's. Von Baravalle taught at the first Waldorf school, where he participated in faculty meetings run by Steiner. Later, he was instrumental in bringing Waldorf education to America.
RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR goes well beyond hagiography; it describes Steiner as virtually a flawless paragon, nearly godlike in his perfection. This, indeed, is how Steiner is often portrayed by the advocates of Waldorf education.  In Waldorf schools, when teachers utter Steiner’s name, the tone is usually reverential. Discussions between Waldorf faculty members often center on the proper interpretation of statements made by Steiner. When a quotation from one of Steiner's books or lectures is produced, argument tends to end: The final word has been given, and that word is Steiner's.
In RUDOLF STEINER AS EDUCATOR, von Baravalle writes this:
“Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian philosopher and educator, is outstanding in our age and universal in his perceptions and achievements.” 
Von Baravalle continues,
“A member of the faculty of the new school [i.e., the first Waldorf school] described the opening day...September 7th, 1919, as follows: ‘The celebration lasted from morning to night. Humor and gaiety stemmed from Rudolf Steiner ... How untiring this man was in all varieties of human response! To such a man children are greatly attracted ... Parents and pupils...were present. Rudolf Steiner was constantly surrounded. He had a kind word for everyone — a different remark for each individual person. Even to the youngest he seemed to make himself understood.’” 
There is little intentional humor in Steiner’s works, and the role Steiner usually assumed — and was accorded — was that of an unchallengeable savant delivering pearls of wisdom, not a conversationalist eager to hear what others had to say. But von Baravalle would have us believe otherwise:
“One of Rudolf Steiner’s outstanding characteristics was his ability to listen to another person. And the other person, whether in conversations, in discussions or in faculty meetings, felt thoroughly understood and at ease. Workmen for whom he held special courses and discussions...as well as personalities representing many different walks of life, expressed almost identical reactions: ‘He is our kind. He speaks our language.’ Rudolf Steiner’s answers to the frequent requests for advice that came to him were the outcome of this careful listening ... His personal concerns were submerged to the point of non-existence; [his] answers were wholly unbiased simply because they arose out of the specific issues and life situations themselves. The facts spoke, not he.” 
According to this account, Steiner was both a great listener and a highly empathetic man of the people — he was "our kind." Note, however, that his role was to provide answers — he was the font of wisdom. The people around him sought his insights (they made "frequent requests for advice"), and he — the focus of everyone's attention — dispensed sagacity, as if from on high.  It was proper for Steiner to position himself above others because he virtually transcended individual existence: “His personal concerns were submerged to the point of non-existence ... The facts spoke, not he.” His answers, in other words, were transparently, transcendently true. He was, in this sense, a spiritual exemplar. Who wouldn't want to receive guidance from such a selfless, far-seeing sage?
After discussing the stages of childhood development as posited by Steiner , von Baravalle returns to the subject at hand: Rudolf Steiner in his role as peerless educational authority. Von Baravalle pursues this aim primarily by giving quotations from Steiner. Some of them are, to non-Anthroposophists, shocking. Let's look at a few.
Steiner: “In the Waldorf School what a teacher IS is far more important than any technical ability he may have acquired in an intellectual way. The essential thing is that the teacher not only love children, but also love the methods he uses and in fact, the whole school procedure.” 
Love of children is undeniably a virtue. But what about the rest of this statement? Stressing “what a teacher IS” surely means that the teacher must possess the proper values and wisdom — which to Anthroposophists can only mean that s/he must be an Anthroposophist or at least a fellow traveler. The rest of the statement bears this out. A Waldorf teacher need not possess “any technical ability...in an intellectual way” — that is, the teacher doesn't need to have mastered ordinary educational techniques or, perhaps, even the intellectual content of the material to be taught. But s/he must be wholly committed to the Waldorf approach (s/he must “love...the whole school procedure"). In other words, the Waldorf teacher must be wedded to the Waldorf system. S/he cannot explore non-Waldorf approaches or implement classroom strategies that diverge from Steiner's guidance. S/he must unwaveringly follow Steiner’s dictums. The important thing is not what s/he knows, but what s/he IS: i.e., s/he must be a follower of Rudolf Steiner. As Steiner once asserted,
"As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” 
Waldorf teachers today still, by and large, accept this proposition. Thus, one has written,
"Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs. 
Steiner: “Any attempt to improve the methods of education should consist in modifying the intellectual element which has become over-dominant since the fourteenth century ....” 
The "improvement" Steiner means here is his own contribution. He "improved" modern education by essentially overturning it. Waldorf education is deeply anti-intellectual. Waldorf teachers need not possess "technical ability...acquired in an intellectual way," and in their classroom work they should downplay intellect among the students. Steiner frequently advised again "over-dominant" intellectuality or, more generally, brainwork. 
Waldorf education has spiritual goals, not primarily educational or intellectual goals.  Children sent through Waldorf schools are not taught much about the real world, but they are nudged toward mystical imaginings and cloudy, dreamlike visions.  By all means, Waldorf teachers should minimize "the intellectual element." Waldorf schools are often, consequently, weak academically, while the arts are promoted for their supposed spiritual effects. 
Steiner was an intellectual — he made his living by peddling the products of his busy brain. But the educational system he devised de-emphasizes the importance of the brain. He taught,
"[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.” 
Steiner: “As much as I appreciate the achievements of experimental and statistical methods in education, I also know that they are a symptom of the loss of direct inner contact between human beings. We have become alienated to what is inwardly human....” 
Some of this is just Anthroposophical jargon. No one can know the inner reality of anyone else; there is no such thing as “direct inner contact between human beings.” But put that aside. Note the gist of the statement. As so often, Steiner declares his opposition to objective, scientific knowledge (“statistical methods in education”). Even more startlingly, he expresses opposition to “experimental...methods in education” (he "appreciates" such methods, but they are symptomatic of serious modern ills).
We might observe that, in 1919, Waldorf education itself was an experiment. From an Anthroposophical perspective, however, Waldorf education is firmly rooted in the will of the gods — as relayed by Rudolf Steiner — and thus it is not at all uncertain or questionable. As Steiner once said,
“Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods.” 
Steiner claimed to understand "what is inwardly human" — that is, the human soul and spirit — and his new form of education was meant to address this inward human essence. If he was correct about mankind's inner essence, then perhaps Waldorf schooling may be spiritually beneficial. But if he was not correct (and we have many reasons for doubting his correctness), then Waldorf schooling may be purposeless, or worse.
Waldorf representatives today still accept Steiner's view of the "inwardly human," for instance in statements such as this (identifying the basis of Waldorf education):
"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. 
We should circle back, briefly, to the beginning. Von Baravalle's booklet proceeds from this premise:
“Dr. Rudolf Steiner...is outstanding in our age and universal in his perceptions and achievements.”
All of Steiner's perceptions and pronouncements are treated as being virtually unquestionable. Steiner was noble, his teachings are noble, and the results of his teachings — in particular, Waldorf education — are ennobling. Consider, for instance, what Steiner had to say about the arts.
Steiner: “The artist does not bring the divine to the earth by letting it flow out into the material world, but rather raises the world into the sphere of the divine.” 
This is the key to the arts-based Waldorf approach that, at least initially, can seem so attractive.  The arts at Waldorf schools are meant to raise children's souls into the divine sphere. As Steiner said,
“This is what gives art its essential lustre: it transplants us here and now into the spiritual world.” 
But, again, note that the success of this enterprise in Waldorf schools depends on Steiner being correct about human spirituality and the divine.
Waldorf schools are, in essence, churches.  The teachers consider themselves to be priests, and they seek to guide their students toward divinity as propounded by Rudolf Steiner.  The schools usually do not openly describe themselves in such terms; families who opt for Waldorf schooling are often surprised when, eventually, the spiritual beliefs and purposes of the Waldorf approach become apparent.
Waldorf schools are well practiced in disguising themselves , but sooner or later the disguise may slip, and then the question for a family becomes whether to stay — whether the school you chose remains attractive to you after its real character is exposed. Your answer will largely depend on whether you can accept the occult beliefs on which the schools are based. 
Von Baravalle tries to present Steiner — the man Anthroposophists revere — in the best possible light. For von Baravalle and his fellow Anthroposophists, Rudolf Steiner was virtually flawless: a saint, a great spiritual master, very nearly a god. If you enter a Waldorf community, you will be expected to adopt this attitude or, at the very least, to express no opposition to it.
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002.]
[Health Research, 1972.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1987.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1993.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1968.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005.]
[Anthroposophic Press, 1996.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983.]
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995.]
Waldorf schools are well practiced in disguising themselves, but sooner or later the disguise may slip, and then the question becomes whether to stay — whether the school you chose remains attractive to you after its real character is exposed. Your answer will largely depend on whether you can accept the occult beliefs on which the schools are based. Here are some examples. Anthroposophists take statements like the following quite seriously. They believe these things. Can you?
“[T]he moon today is like a fortress in the universe, in which there lives a population that fulfilled its human destiny over 15,000 years ago, after which it withdrew to the moon together with the spiritual guides of humanity ... This is only one of the ‘cities’ in the universe, one colony, one settlement among many ... As far as what concerns ourselves, as humanity on earth, the other pole, the opposite extreme to the moon is the population of Saturn.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 93.
“Buddha...became for Mars what Christ has become for the earth ... The Buddha wandered away from earthly affairs to the realm of Mars ... [T]he Buddha accomplished a Buddha crucifixion there.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (SteinerBooks, 1985), pp. 72 & 207.
"[W]e see...groups of human souls in their descent from pre-earthly into earthly existence wander to regions situated, for example, in the vicinity of volcanoes, or to districts where earthquakes are liable to occur ... [S]uch places are deliberately chosen by the souls thus karmically connected, in order that they may experience this very destiny [i.e., fulfill their karma]... [They think] 'I choose a great disaster on earth in order to become more perfect....'" — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS, Vol. 2 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974), pp. 226-227.
“[Science] sees the heart as a pump that pumps blood through the body. Now there is nothing more absurd than believing this....” — Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 126.
“There are beings that can be seen with clairvoyant vision at many spots in the depths of the earth ... They seem able to crouch close together in vast numbers, and when the earth is laid open they appear to burst asunder ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes and so forth ... Their nature prompts them to play all sorts of tricks on man.... ” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-3.
“With the students, we should at least try to...make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars. In actuality, such islands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophical Press, 1998), p. 607.
"Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, ORDEALS OF THE SOUL, REVELATIONS OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 119.
I prefer to think that Steiner was sane. This keeps our attention on his statements, not on him as an individual. After all, we cannot really know him. He is gone, we cannot interview him, we cannot quiz him. But his doctrines are still with us. We can read his statements. We can form our opinions of those statements.
Another view is certainly possible, however. Steiner may not have been sane; he may have been out of his mind. Certainly his doctrines describe a universe quite different from verifiable reality.
Steiner said he had his first spiritualistic experience when he was a young child, between the ages of five and seven. He claimed that the soul of a dead relative visited him. Biographer Gary Lachman writes,
“Although he hadn’t met her before, Steiner could tell that she looked like people in his family. She then spoke to him, saying, ‘Try now, and later in life, to help me as much as you can.’ ... It eventually came out that a close relative had committed suicide on the same day that Steiner had his vision.” 
Seeing invisible beings and hearing inaudible voices are often judged, with good reason, to indicate mental imbalance of one sort or another. If Steiner truly believed he had seen a ghost or spirit — if he was prone to such delusions — then it is possible that he suffered from mental problems all his life. In that case, his decision as an adult to turn to occultism becomes comprehensible — esoteric theories may have enabled him to get a grip on the visions that haunted him. Some of his biographers acknowledge the possibility that he was a bit deranged. Describing the young Steiner’s obsessiveness, Gary Lachman writes,
“Such unhealthy pursuits — at least from the point of view of the average person — may indeed be the start...a ‘schizophrenic’ personality....” 
Where does this get us? The two chief possibilities are that Steiner’s “clairvoyant” visions were intentional lies told by a sane charlatan, or they were the hallucinations suffered by an unfortunate psychotic.* The practical difference, for us, is slight. Steiner set forth an amazing array of bizarre propositions, insisting that they are the truth. They are anything but that. They are falsehoods that Steiner himself either did or did not know to be false.
The only thing that really need concern us is that Steiner's occult visions form the basis of Waldorf education. Unless you find good, solid sense in Steiner's strange pronouncements, you will not ultimately find good solid sense in Waldorf schooling.
[To review more of Steiner's pronouncements, see, e.g., "Say What?" and "Wise Words". To consider how such pronouncements underlie Waldorf pedagogy, see, e.g., "Oh Humanity". To see how Waldorf teachers slip many of Steiner's beliefs into the lessons they teach, see "Sneaking It In".]
* The third major possibility is that ghosts and spirits really exist, and Steiner really was able to perceive them. Many people believe in ghosts and spirits, after all, and the ability to perceive them — which Steiner identified as clairvoyance — cannot be wholly discounted. The problem here is that despite mankind's long fascination with these possibilities (that ghosts and spirits exist, and that some people are really clairvoyant), no solid evidence for them has ever been produced. Go back to the list of Steiner's pronouncements, above. Steiner claimed to perceive a vast number of things for which there is simply no evidence. Indeed, in many cases, the evidence that we do possess tends to undercut Steiner: It demolishes his assertions. This is a large topic, of course, and I delve into it at length on other pages here are Waldorf Watch. For our purposes at this juncture, it is perhaps sufficient to repeat this point: Unless you find good, solid sense in Steiner's strange pronouncements, you will not ultimately find good solid sense in Waldorf schooling.
Here is a brief summary of Rudolf Steiner’s life: 
Here are two thumbnail biographies of Rudolf Steiner:
First, from THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:
Rudolf Steiner, (born Feb. 27, 1861, Kraljevi?, Austria—died March 30, 1925, Dornach, Switz.), Austrian-born spiritualist, lecturer, and founder of anthroposophy, a movement based on the notion that there is a spiritual world comprehensible to pure thought but accessible only to the highest faculties of mental knowledge.
Attracted in his youth to the works of Goethe, Steiner edited that poet’s scientific works and from 1889 to 1896 worked on the standard edition of his complete works at Weimar. During this period he wrote his Die Philosophie der Freiheit (1894; “The Philosophy of Freedom”), then moved to Berlin to edit the literary journal Magazin für Literatur and to lecture. Coming gradually to believe in spiritual perception independent of the senses, he called the result of his research “anthroposophy,” centring on “knowledge produced by the higher self in man.” In 1912 he founded the Anthroposophical Society.
Steiner believed that man once participated more fully in spiritual processes of the world through a dreamlike consciousness but had since become restricted by his attachment to material things. The renewed perception of spiritual things required training the human consciousness to rise above attention to matter. The ability to achieve this goal by an exercise of the intellect is theoretically innate in everyone.
In 1913 at Dornach, near Basel, Switz., Steiner built his first Goetheanum, which he characterized as a “school of spiritual science.” After a fire in 1922, it was replaced by another building. The Waldorf School movement, derived from his experiments with the Goetheanum, by 1969 had some 80 schools attended by more than 25,000 children in Europe and the United States. Other projects that have grown out of Steiner’s work include schools for defective children; a therapeutic clinical centre at Arlesheim, Switz.; scientific and mathematical research centres; and schools of drama, speech, painting, and sculpture. Among Steiner’s varied writings are The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894), Occult Science: An Outline (1913), and Story of My Life (1924).
— "Rudolf Steiner." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 21 Nov. 2012.
Next, from THE SKEPTIC’S DICTIONARY:
The Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was the head of the German Theosophical Society from 1902 until 1912, at which time he broke away and formed his Anthroposophical Society. He may have abandoned the divine wisdom for human wisdom, but one of his main motives for leaving the theosophists was that they did not treat Jesus or Christianity as special. Steiner had no problem, however, in accepting such Hindu notions as karma and reincarnation. By 1922 Steiner had established what he called the Christian Community, with its own liturgy and rituals for Anthroposophists. Both the Anthroposophical Society and the Christian Community still exist, though they are separate entities.
It wasn't until Steiner was nearly forty and the 19th century was about to end that he became deeply interested in the occult. Steiner was a true polymath, with interests in agriculture, architecture, art, drama, literature, math, medicine, philosophy, science, and religion, among other subjects. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Rostock was on Fichte's theory of knowledge. He was the author of many books and lectures with titles like The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity (1894), Occult Science: An Outline (1913), Investigations in Occultism (1920), How to Know Higher Worlds (1904), and "The Ahrimanic Deception" (1919). The latter lecture describes his "clairvoyant vision" of the infusion of various spirits into human history and reads like the memoir of Daniel Paul Schreber. He was also much attracted to Goethe's mystical ideas and worked as an editor of Goethe's works for several years. Much of what Steiner wrote seems like a rehash of Hegel. He thought science and religion were true but one-sided. Marx had it wrong; it really is the spiritual that drives history. Steiner even speaks of the tension between the search for community and the experience of individuality, which, he believed, are not really contradictions but represent polarities rooted in human nature.
His interests were wide and many but by the turn of the century his main interests were esoteric, mystical, and occult. Steiner was especially attracted to two theosophical notions: (1) There is a special spiritual consciousness that provides direct access to higher spiritual truths; (2) Spiritual evolution is hindered by being mired in the material world.
— Robert Todd Carroll, “Rudolf Steiner”, THE SKEPTIC DICTIONARY
(Wiley, 2003), http://skepdic.com/steiner.html.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that despite the enormous importance attached to Steiner by his followers, Steiner is largely unknown outside the small circle of Anthroposophy. The item I have quoted from THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA is that reference work’s entire entry on Steiner.
We might also note that there are slight disagreements about the dates of various events in Steiner's life. Further research should resolve such issues, which do not, however, seem to affect the overall picture.
A German edition of Steiner's THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM
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