May 20-31, 2018


Here is a collection of items that appeared on the Waldorf Watch "news" page from May 20 through May 31, 2018. The items appear in reverse chronological order: newest first, oldest last. To find a specific item, scroll down the page.

I am the author of the Waldorf Watch commentaries, editorials, and explanatory notes you will find here. In them, I often generalize about Waldorf schools. There are fundamental similarities among Waldorf schools; describe the schools based on the evidence concerning their structure and operations in the past and — more importantly — in the present. But not all Waldorf schools, Waldorf charter schools, and Waldorf-inspired schools are wholly alike. To evaluate an individual school, you should carefully examine its stated purposes, its practices (which may or may not be consistent with its stated purposes), and the composition of its faculty. 

— Roger Rawlings

May 31, 2018



The travails of the Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley, UK, have be developing for months. Yesterday we looked at a report from The Watford Observer. Here are excerpts from an article in The Hemel Gazette [Johnson Publishing, UK]. This article provides some additional information — and perhaps some corrections — to what we saw yesterday.

I have added some footnotes that may be informative.

Controversial Rudolf Steiner School 

set to close this summer?

by Ben Raza

A troubled school has admitted to parents for the first time that it could close before the start of the next school year. Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley has emailed parents after suffering a double blow, with another failed Ofsted [1] inspection plus the school’s struggles to find insurance after July....

Problems at Rudolf Steiner School date back to March 2016, leading to government threats to close the school. [2] But while school leaders are appealing against those moves they have long claimed to be confident that the school would remain open. This is the most explicit admission that Rudolf Steiner could be forced to close imminently.... 

[The] latest Ofsted inspection took place on May 10 and was the sixth visit over the last 18 months. [3] The report says the school has failed to meet the necessary standards for safeguarding, handling of complaints, and quality of leadership. [4]

And it says that the school’s leaders have “potentially put pupils at risk” with their recruitment policies. 

Criticisms include: “The lack of rigour and inaccurate recording amount to more than administrative errors. 

“They are indicative of leaders’ continuing failure to take their responsibilities seriously. 

“Despite intensive training and previous inspection findings over a long period, staff continue to make the same mistakes....” [5]

Last week the Gazette exclusively reported Rudolf Steiner’s problems getting insurance for 2018-19. 

Now the school have told parents that this may prove to be the “decisive factor....” [6]

[5/31/2018    This story originally appeared on May 29.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1]  This is the UK government's Office for Standards in Education. The office describes itself this way: "Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages." [See]

[2] See, e.g., Waldorf Watch news items dated May 9 May 2April 28April 19, and April 14, 2018.

[3] The article in The Watford Observer indicated that there had been four inspections since December, 2016. [See the Waldorf Watch news item for May 30, 2018.]

[4] Although Steiner/Waldorf schools generally attempt to provide a safe environment for students, several factors may militate against achieving this objective. [See, e.g., "Slaps" and "Extremity".] According to the Steiner/Waldorf belief system, students need to be free to enact their karmas. Moreover, there is a belief that guardian angels usually provide all the protection children need. Beliefs of this sort may lead to laxity on the part of Steiner/Waldorf faculty. [See the entries for "karma" and "guardian angels" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

Leadership in Steiner/Waldorf schools may likewise be complicated by the schools' belief system. Often, Steiner/Waldorf schools attempt to operate collegially, with little or no clear lines of authority or leadership. Organizational confusion can result. [See, e.g., "My Life Among the Anthroposophists - Part 2".] Moreover, the chief criterion for hiring of facutly and staff is often allegiance to Anthroposophy (the Steiner/Waldorf belief system), not proven competence to fill a specific position. Teachers are often hired principally because they embrace Rudolf Steiner's doctrines. "Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166. [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".] If a school is run by a disorganized group of teachers whose primary qualification is that they are Anthroposophists, leadership problems may become inevitable.

Even when a Steiner/Waldorf school adopts a conventional organizational structure, difficulties may arise if the "leaders" have their eyes primarily on the spirit realm (as conceived in Anthroposophy), not on the requirements of the present world or the society in which a school exists. Faculty and staff at Steiner/Waldorf schools often feel that they serve a higher purpose and higher laws, so they may operate as if ordinary rules and regulations do not apply to them. The consequences for the educational success of a Steiner/Waldorf school may be severe. [See, e.g., "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] “Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy ... The first Waldorf School had formidable growing pains and internal dissensions, and Steiner died while it was still in the midst of them ... Learning about all the good things that may be expected to happen in a Waldorf School is a relatively easy task. Coping with the way things actually turn out is more difficult.” — Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), pp. xii-xiii. [See "His Education".]

[5] Steiner/Waldorf teachers often find themselves in a bind. Their practices derive principally from Rudolf Steiner and his teachings, and as such these practices are deemed virtually sacrosanct. They cannot be changed — or any changes must be slight. However, as judged by outside authorities, Steiner/Waldorf practices may often be judged as errors. When Steiner/Waldorf teachers persist in these "errors," they may seem obdurate, even perversely resistant to correction. But from a Steiner/Waldorf perspective, these teachers may be simply upholding established, and honored, traditions.

Thus, in at least some cases, Steiner/Waldorf teachers may fail to learn from inspectors because they fundamentally disagree with the inspectors. Of course, in other cases, Steiner/Waldorf teachers — like most human beings — may simply be stuck in their habits and within the limits of their capacities.

[6] To operate legally in the UK, a school must have insurance. If the school in Kings Langley loses its insurance and is unable to secure new coverage, it will be required to shut down.

— R.R.

May 30, 2018



Some Steiner schools in the UK receive favorable inspection reports. [See, e.g., "Elmfield rated 'good' by inspectors".] But following a series of failed inspections, the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley appears to be on the ropes. The following is from The Watford Observer [Hertfordshire, UK]:

Rudolf Steiner School 

in Kings Langley 

could close in July


[by] Nathan Louis

A troubled school has revealed to parents for the first time that the school could close this summer.

Parents at Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley [RSSKL] were sent an email at the end of last week which stated that the school could be forced to shut in July if new insurers are not found.

The email also comes off the the back of news that the private school has failed another Ofsted inspection.

Inspectors visited the school in Langley Hill on May 10 this month but key findings revealed that safeguarding of pupils and quality of teaching remain not met....

The letter written on behalf of the school's trustees, said: "The school’s insurers have indicated that they will not be in a position to insure the school after the current period expires at the end of July. Alternative insurance options are being sought as a matter of urgency. A school cannot operate without insurance so this may prove the decisive factor. If new insurance is not found, this will render the tribunal process irrelevant and the school will have to close...."

The trustees are calling an emergency general meeting of the RSSKL Association which will be held on June 5 at 6.30pm....


◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley — one of the leading Steiner schools in the UK — has been fighting hard to stay alive. It has retained top-flight legal counsel and it has instituted various other measures. But today, apparently, it is staring into the abyss.

We might expect that, with its survival at stake, the school would take advantage of failed inspections to make needed changes — in reality or at least in appearance. But evidently it has not yet succeeded in doing so. Perhaps this will change.

The school's inability to get insurance is a new, ominous wrinkle. If insurers decide the school is an unacceptable risk (as apparently they have now done), the end may indeed be near, no matter what other steps the school takes.

For previous coverage of events at RSSKL, see Waldorf Watch news items dated May 9 May 2April 28April 19, and April 14, 2018. 

I will report further developments as they occur.

— R.R.

May 29, 2018




Three messages posted today at the Waldorf Critics discussion site provide additional insight into the turmoil within the Anthroposophical movement, reported here previous. [See the Waldorf Watch news item dated May 24, 2018.]

From historian Peter Staudenmaier:

The events in Dornach in March have been a major topic of discussion among European anthroposophists. The board members who were defeated represented the more liberal faction among the Goetheanum leadership, which suggests that part of what happened may have involved a backlash by more hard-line anthroposophists. (The NNA report dismisses this interpretation, but that is to be expected.) … The budgetary crisis is even more acute than the NNA report reflects; and the membership is both aging and declining. 

This situation illustrates one of the chief ironies of anthroposophy today, a movement / organization divide that is common in esoteric contexts. Even while parts of the anthroposophical movement continue to flourish, from Waldorf to biodynamics, the formal organizational structures appear increasingly weakened and anachronistic. It is a precarious moment for Steiner's followers. For those among them hoping to make their founder's teachings relevant to the contemporary world, this would be a good time to stand up and speak out critically against the parts of his legacy that remain stuck in a different time.


From Swedish blogger — and former Waldorf student — Alicia Hamberg:

They also (if I'm not mistaken) dismissed the accusation that local Swiss members had wished for, and achieved, this result because they could mobilize their members in large numbers to come to vote (which has to be done in person). This while members worldwide would have preferred another result, suggesting that local hard-line anthros stand against a more diverse membership worldwide. I'm not sure about that but, obviously, to reject the notion that local members can more easily mobilize — and make their viewpoints win, thus possibly a minority viewpoint winning over an actual majority of the members — by saying that "oh well, but there were also some people from France and Germany...", is a bit silly. Naturally, if a large enough bunch of local members want a certain result, they can make it happen.


And another message from Staudenmaier:

I agree with Alicia. Aside from the Swiss members, there may also have been a sizeable German contingent involved in the outcome (though other German anthroposophists have been supportive of a more open approach for years now). For whatever reason, Swiss anthroposophists harbor a significant proportion of deeply reactionary figures who view Steiner as a defender of ostensibly traditional values and European esoteric mysteries and what not. A remarkable number of the anthroposophical conspiracy theorists and racial ideologues and Holocaust deniers etc. that we have discussed on this list come from Switzerland. 

But Alicia's other point is just as important. The recent turmoil in Dornach is an indication that the future direction of the movement remains undecided. If anybody thought of anthroposophy as a monolith, these events demonstrate otherwise. If there is a "more diverse membership worldwide" — which seems entirely possible to me, though you wouldn't always be able to tell from English-language anthroposophical discourse these days — then they have an opportunity to take a stand against their backward-looking companions. This, of course, will require coming to terms with anthroposophy's still unacknowledged past. 


◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

A little background information may be helpful to some readers.

1. Anthroposophy is the spiritual movement — the religion — established by Rudolf Steiner. An offshoot of Theosophy (Steiner had been a Theosophist), it combines elements of gnostic Christianity with teachings from Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and other spiritual faiths and traditions. [See the entry for "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia. Also see "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]

2. The General Anthroposophical Society is the central organization of Steiner's followers, founded in 1923. (Its predecessor, called simply the Anthroposophical Society, had been established in 1913.) The Society is headquartered at the Goetheanum, in Dornach, Switzerland. 

Rudolf Steiner had held no formal position within the original Anthroposophical Society, although all of the Society's work was essentially based on his teachings. Upon the reconstitution of the Society in 1923, Steiner assumed a formal leadership role.

Steiner said that Waldorf schools should not become formally associated with the Society, although individual faculty members could (or should) become members. Keeping formal separation between the schools and the Society was smart public relations, he said. “[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 705.

3. Designed by Steiner and named for the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Goetheanum is essentially a cathedral. The main hall has a large pipe organ, a mystical ceiling mural, pillars adorned with occult/astrological symbols, and colored glass windows bearing occult/religious imagery. The building also houses a monumental statue of Christ, Ahriman, and Lucifer sculpted under Steiner's direction.

In naming his headquarters for Goethe, Steiner brushed a coat of respectability over the occult purposes of Anthroposophy. There are connections between Steiner's teachings and Goethe's, but there are also significant differences. Admirers of Goethe do not, generally, subscribe to Anthroposophy. 

The current Goetheanum, built of concrete, replaced the original Anthroposophical headquarters, a wooden structure (also called the Goetheanum) that was destroyed by fire. Anthroposophists claimed that the fire was set by their enemies — an act of arson — but no proof for this claim was ever produced. [For more on the Goetheanum, see "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]

The second Goetheanum.

[R. R. sketch, 2013, based on an image

on p. 10 of GOETHEANUM 

(Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961).]

4. NNA is the Nexus News Agency, an Anthroposophical outreach organization. NNA describes itself thus: "NNA is an international news agency covering news and events from a perspective which incorporates the spirit and spiritual understanding as they relate to the development of new paradigms in every area of life – be it current affairs, politics and society, civil society, ecology, education, economics, agriculture, the arts or the sciences." [See]

— R.R.

May 28, 2018




From a book by a pair of Waldorf teachers, aiming to explain Waldorf education to a general audience:

Perhaps one of the most important tasks of education in our times is to establish a healthy relationship with nature ... Merely knowing that nature needs to be respected is not enough. This knowledge must permeate our will ... The Steiner Waldorf method of teaching is itself ecological ... Children are very sensitive to the atmosphere of place, a damp, dark hollow in the earth, a wide stretch of shining wet sand, a snowy forest. They do not remember the outer detail and can scarcely describe it, but they know how it felt. Whenever children have an intense experience of natural phenomena, say a cold wind, a frightening dog, stinging nettles, a moon hiding behind the clouds, what lives on in their memories are complex vivid pictures bound up with the child's own feelings and reactions. Such pictures are common to the language of fairy tales in which the natural world often takes personified form, with elemental beings inhabiting the different realms of earth, air, water, and so on. Here, too, we hear of the whispering wind, the laughing waters of the stream, the wise old owl ... To be told on these special occasions when the sky is filled with sunlight and rain that the fairies are baking, explains nothing in adult terms but [for the child] creates an indelible mood of magic. To be told that the rainbow is caused by light refracting through raindrops is neither plausible to a child nor particularly inspiring.

— Christopher Clouder and Martyn Rawson, WALDORF EDUCATION - Rudolf Steiner's ideas in practice (Floris Books, 2003), pp. 87-92.

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

Advocates of Waldorf education expend considerable energy attempting to make the Waldorf approach seem sensible. They offer sweeping statements about the mindset of children; they paint vivid word pictures; they latch onto contemporary buzz words; they tone down or sidestep the actual content of Rudolf Steiner's educational dicta. When they succeed, they produce texts that, at least on first reading, cause few alarm bells to ring. The quotation above is not a bad example of sensible-seeming pro-Waldorf prose.

But a second, closer reading may indeed set off peals of alarm.

Consider what Clouder and Rawson wind up saying. Don't tell young children the truth about rainbows (or other natural phenomena). Tell them pretty falsehoods that will create a mood of magic. Give the kids vaguely memorable but emotively powerful mental pictures, such as those produced by fairy tales.

Don't tell the truth. Tell fairy tales instead. "The fairies are baking."

This is an utterly shocking educational approach. And, of course, I have oversimplified, misrepresenting Clouder and Rawson, at least a little. Waldorf education does not actually oppose the truth — it is based on a mystical, fantastical conception of the truth, a conception in which telling kids fairy tales amounts to telling them the real, magical, transcendent truth.

In describing nature as it appears in fairy tales, Clouder and Rawson say that "the natural world often takes personified form" in fairy tales. Thus, the "realms of earth, air, water, and so on" are represented in fairy tales by "elemental beings." In other words, the creatures in fairy tales — fairies, gnomes, and the like — are merely fictional representations of real natural processes. Ultimately, the "mood of magic" produced by apparent fantasies (the fairies are baking) leads children to a genuine appreciation of the real natural world.

This may sound very nearly reasonable. But if I was unfair to Clouder and Rawson, above, they are being unfair to us, here. They are practicing a certain sleight of hand on us. Their book is about "Rudolf Steiner's ideas in practice" — Steiner's preachments as put into practice in Waldorf schools. Well, what did Steiner actually say about these matters?

Steiner did not say that elemental beings are mere fictional representations. He said that elemental beings (otherwise called nature spirits or fairies) are real. He said that elemental beings actually exist. He said gnomes really dwell deep in the ground, undines really exist within water, and so on. They are real. [See "Neutered Nature" and "Beings".]

And what did Steiner say about nature? He said that nature is the outward expression of the elemental beings. Clouder and Rawson turn things around when they suggest that the elemental beings merely represent nature. In fact, according to Steiner, nature represents the elementals. And nature consists of four fundamental "elements" (earth, air, fire, and water) because these are the outward garb the four basic types of elemental beings (gnomes, sylphs, fire spirits, and undines) [See the entries for these terms in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

And what did Steiner say about fairy tales? He said fairy tales are true. He said fairy tales present the true clairvoyant visions ancient peoples attained and then reported in story form. When interpreted in accordance with Anthroposophy, fairy tales reveal spiritual truths. [See "Fairy Tales".]

This is the "magic" that Waldorf education seeks to evoke for young children. It is the clairvoyant, spiritual truth as conceived in the Waldorf worldview. According to this way of thinking, rainbows really are produced by fairies high above who are weaving their magic. This is how the universe really works, from a Steiner/Waldorf point of view.

Steiner did not deny that, at a prosaic level, talking about sunlight being refracted by raindrops may make sense. He said that older children should be exposed to the concepts of prosaic, physical science. But these older kids should come to such concepts carrying in their hearts a mood of magic, a mood deeply internalized during their earliest Waldorf years, when they were immersed in fairy tales and myths and fables. Students should, in a sense, never really wake up from the fantasies of childhood — because these fantasies are ultimately true, Steiner said. [See, e.g., "Thinking Cap" and "Steiner's Blunders".]

Occasionally Steiner's followers write more candidly than Clouder and Rawson did in the quotation we have been considering. Here is a statement that appears on the back cover of NATURE SPIRITS, a collection of Steiner lectures published by the Rudolf Steiner Press in 2000:

“In ancient times, when people had a natural spiritual vision [i.e., clairvoyance], human beings communed with nature spirits. These spirits — which are also known as 'elemental beings' — became known as fairies and gnomes ... It is Rudolf Steiner's contention, based on knowledge attained through his own highly-trained clairvoyance, that this aspect of traditional 'folk wisdom' is based on spiritual reality ... Without developing [a] new relationship to these beings, humanity will not be able to bridge the gulf that separates it from the spiritual world. For the nature spirits can be of great assistance to use in this goal, acting as 'emissaries of higher divine spiritual beings' [i.e., the gods].”

This is the "reality," the "truth," that Waldorf education is ultimately meant to serve. This is the ethos in which it is wrong to tell young children that rainbows are produced by sunlight refracting through raindrops; this is the ethos in which it is better, and truer, to tell the kids that "the fairies are baking."

In a real education, young children would be helped to see how wonderful nature really is. They would be helped to appreciate that sunlight and raindrops combining to produce brilliant colors in the sky is an exciting, comprehensible phenomenon. They would receive real information that would help them to love reality. But this is not the goal of Waldorf education. Waldorf is built on falsehoods involving clairvoyance, elemental beings, a pagan panoply of gods, and other fabrications. These are what what students receive when they are exposed "to Rudolf Steiner's ideas in practice." The fairies are baking.

— R.R.

May 26, 2018



From NYMetroParents [New York, USA]:

Green Meadow Waldorf School 

Announces Forest Preschool 

for 2018 School Year

TreeAnne McEnery, administrator at Green Meadow Waldorf School (GMWS) announced that the nearly 70-year-old school is opening a forest preschool in September on its 11-acre wooded campus. The forest preschool will serve children from ages 2-5.... [1]

Forest preschools have a long history in Europe and have exploded in popularity in the US since about 2008. Outcomes of attending a forest preschool or forest kindergarten, which allow for several hours of outdoor play and work each day, have "been shown to have a positive impact on children's development, particularly in the areas of balance and agility, but also manual dexterity, physical coordination, tactile sensitivity, and depth perception."

[Green Meadow's] new forest preschool will be almost exclusively an outdoor experience, in all weather.... 

“We can't wait to launch our forest preschool program next year," says McEnery. "All our early childhood programs incorporate ample outdoor time, but a forest program has several unique components that we know will benefit our youngest students and interest parents who want to prioritize their children's connection to nature.”

[5/26/2018    This story originally appeared on May 23.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

Waldorf programs for young children almost always place great emphasis on nature. Waldorf preschool and elementary-school classrooms often have "nature tables" on which natural objects — leaves, rocks, twigs — are displayed. Animals are sometimes brought into class — rabbits, salamanders, hamsters. The kids are told many stories about animals and other denizens of the natural world — real creatures as well as imaginary ones. And the children are led outdoors for many activities, including nature walks. Often, the kids are sent outdoors to play in virtually any weather, rain or shine, hot or cold.

There is much to be said in favor of teaching children to understand and respect nature. Humans are rapidly destroying natural habitats all around the globe, driving many forms of life to extinction. Surely, we must stop. The fate of the planet hangs in the balance. If children learn to love and protect nature, they might play a role in preserving life on our home planet. [2]

Forest preschools may have many virtues. But, then again, they may also have many shortcomings.

Preschool programs at Waldorf schools often deny children basic academic preparation for first grade and the grades beyond. Such preparation is integral to most preschool programs elsewhere, but it is distinctly lacking from most Waldorf preschools. [See the Waldorf Watch report for May 20, 2018: "Playing, Learning, and Dreaming".] As described in the NYMetroParents item, above, forest preschools may help with such things as balance and depth perception. But they may not be strong on the three R's (reading, writing, and 'rithematic). Waldorf forest programs will almost always be weak on the three R's.

Another point needs to be stressed. The "nature" celebrated in Waldorf schools is often a place of fantasy, not reality. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, taught that nature is the domain of invisible "nature spirits." There are four main types of these spirits, Steiner said: gnomes (who dwell in the earth), sylphs (who dwell in the air), undines (who dwell in water), and fire spirits (who dwell in fire). [See "Neutered Nature".] When Waldorf teachers who believe Steiner take children outdoors, they are taking them into the world of gnomes, sylphs, undines, and fire spirits. Or so they think.

A general term for all four types of nature spirits is "fairies." Rudolf Steiner's faithful followers actually, literally, affirm the existence of fairies. And in accordance with this belief, they look on nature as an actual, literal fairyland. Here are a few quotations from a book about fairies, written by a Waldorf teacher:

◊ “That fairyland and its denizens should be as much a concern of scientists as they have long been of poets and painters and storytellers was one of Steiner’s deep convictions. For he was a close observer of their [i.e., the fairies’] life and work, and it was clear to him that they were of profound importance to the earth.” — Marjorie Spock, FAIRY WORLDS AND WORKERS (SteinerBooks, 2013), p. 3.

◊ "Four races of Little People (as tradition also calls fairies) serve the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. [3] Gnomes are the caretakers of the earth realm. Undines or water spirits [are] wielders of fluids. Sylphs are the element of light and air. Fire-spirits reign over processes of heat." — Ibid., p. 6.

◊ "It is no easy feat for people of our time to see the fairies. Yet there are four professions which offer their practitioners unique opportunities to know them. Farmers, fishermen, foresters and miners work not just at the threshold of fairyland but well inside it, in the heart of Nature where the Little People carry on their labors. [4]" — Ibid., p. 34.

◊ "It is wise, on encountering a fairy, not to be too overeager in one’s scrutiny. Little People — like those other innocents, animals and children — have an intense dislike of being stared at. They love to stare at us, of course, but will turn away at once and disappear the moment we return the favor. They have grown shy in the face of our disbelief in them.” — Ibid., pp. 36-37.

Fairies are hard to see. But they are out there, in the natural world, all around us. If you believed in them more — and if you remembered not to stare — you might see them.

Are you aghast at these beliefs? Are you agog? You should be. Yet Waldorf teacher Marjorie Spock is entirely serious about these matters. She really believes in fairies. You see, she has the existence of fairies on good authority. Rudolf Steiner said that nature spirits really exist. He said the following about gnomes, for instance:

“A gnome is only visible to someone who can see on the astral plane [5], but miners frequently possess such an astral vision [6]; they know that gnomes are realities.” — Rudolf Steiner, FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 27, GA 93a.

So, to see fairies, not only must you believe, and remember not to stare — you must also develop clairvoyance. But that's not an insuperable obstacle, according to Waldorf belief. Steiner claimed that clairvoyance is real. He claimed to be clairvoyant himself. And he claimed he could teach others to be clairvoyant. [7] 

Fairies. Higher worlds. Clairvoyance. Not all Waldorf teachers believe such things. But many do. The ones who have studied and embraced Steiner do.

Teaching children to respect and defend nature is one thing. Teaching kids to believe in fairyland is something else altogether. Waldorf schools tend toward the latter.

Here's the problem. Children and adults who know and understand nature may help to protect and defend the Earth's natural systems. Children and adults who believe, instead, in fairyland are far less likely to play a constructive role. Their heads are in the clouds. They have lost track of reality.

Welcome to Waldorfworld.

◊ • ◊

[1] Ms. McEnery's first name is indeed Tree-Anne; see It's a fine name, IMO.

[2] Disclosure statement: I love nature. My wife and I live far out in the country, in a heavily wooded landscape. We think climate change is the greatest danger confronting humanity. 

[3] Waldorf thinking is backward in many ways. Belief that there are four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) is one example. [See the entry for "elements" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

[4] I.e., these people work in nature and therefore they learn to see fairies. (Farmers, fishermen, etc., may be surprised to learn this about themselves. But Steiner indeed taught that members of such occupations often are able to perceive nature spirits.)

[5] In Anthroposophical belief, the astral plane is the soul world — it is the lower of two "higher worlds" that exist above the physical world. Above the soul world is the spirit world, Steiner taught. [See "Higher Worlds".]

[6] Astral vision is clairvoyance. Steiner claimed to be clairvoyant, and many Waldorf teachers think that they, too, are clairvoyant. They are fooling themselves. [See "Clairvoyance".]

Contrary to Anthroposophical belief, miners rarely claim to be clairvoyant (as far as I know).

[7] See "Knowing the Worlds".

— R.R.

May 25, 2018



From an advice column in The Guardian [UK]:

[Message from a reader]

I’m against private education but the local Steiner school looks the best option for my son. What should I do?

I’m considering sending my son to a Steiner school ... I conclude that our local state schools won’t serve him as well ... I feel conflicted because I don’t generally approve of the idea of private education. It seems elitist and intentionally insulates children from those who can’t afford to go....

[Answer from the columnist]

There are many benefits of going to a state school, from the friends your son will make, to how it will help him understand the world around him ... A local [state] school would benefit from having you and your son as active members, but you need to see this as beneficial for him for it to really work....

Part of your anxiety stems from being unhappy with the government’s approach to education. But there have also been issues around the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian founder of the [Steiner] schools in the 1920s, whose offensive theories on race described non-white people as less intellectual than their Caucasian counterparts — which stands in stark contrast to the schools’ reputation for tolerance. Reports have raised concerns about bullying and racism in private Steiner schools; the schools strongly denied this, but such fears can arise out of being insulated from a diverse community by not opting for a mainstream school — as well as from government scrutiny....

— Poppy Noor

[5/25/2018    This column originally appeared on May 24.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

Rudolf Steiner's racial teachings have indeed long been a matter of concern. If we define racism as the belief that some races are higher or better than others, then we must conclude that Steiner promoted racist views. [See "Steiner's Racism".] Thus, for instance, Steiner wrote this:

"A race or nation stands so much the higher, the more perfectly its members express the pure, ideal human type." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 149.

Steiner schools today usually make a concerted effort to appear racially tolerant. This appearance may truly reflect the views of the teachers and staff. There are problems, however. Few Anthroposophists have explicitly denounced Steiner's racial views; instead, efforts are usually made to rationalize or minimize those views. But the result is that racism lingers at the base of the Steiner belief system. Steiner taught that Archangels are gods two levels above humanity. [See "Polytheism".] And he said that each Archangel oversees one large human grouping — a family, a tribe, a nation, or a race. This god is the "soul" of that group, and it gives meaning to the lives of the members of the group:

"[A] very real family and national Group Soul, and racial Spirit is at work in the life of a family, a people or a race. Indeed, in a certain sense, the separate individuals are merely the executive organs of these family Group Souls, racial Spirits, and so on ... In the truest sense, every individual receives his allotted task from his family, national, or racial Group Soul." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, p. 142.

Unless Anthroposophists reject Steiner's theology — his teaching about the gods — such racist thinking will remain embedded in the belief system upon which Steiner schools stand. [See "Embedded Racism." Not incidentally, we should note that KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT is one of Steiner's key texts, laying out some of his primary teachings. See "Knowing the Worlds".]

The problem of bullying — or, more generally, abuse of students — has also been persistent in Steiner or Waldorf schools. It may be traced to the Anthroposophical belief in karma. [See "Karma".] If we arrive on Earth bearing a karma that must be discharged, then the circumstances in which we find ourselves may need to be accepted as our karmic due. An illness that you contract, or an "accident" that befalls you, may in fact be a necessary and even beneficial product of karma.

"[T]he law of karma answers the great human question: why are children born into such widely differing conditions? For instance, we see one child born to wealth ... And we see another child born to poverty and misery ... How then does the law of karma answer these riddles? ... [W]hen a child is born, it is not for the first time: he has been on Earth many times before [creating his karma, his destiny] ... [I]t is this great natural law of cause and effect which we see, carried over into the spiritual realm, as the law of karma." — Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), p. 55.

It may be, then, that some children are born with the karma to be bullies, while others are born with the karma to be bullied. This notion, in any case, has been widely embraced in the Steiner/Waldorf community, leading teachers to stand back when they see kids bullying one another — karma must be allowed to play out. In recent years, efforts have been made to offset or correct such thinking, but they have met with only partial success. As in the case of racism, Anthroposophical beliefs about karma are woven deep into the underlying Steiner/Waldorf worldview and they are, therefore, extremely hard to alter. [See, e.g., "Slaps". For a consideration of other forms of student abuse in Steiner/Waldorf schools, see, e.g., "Extremity".]

The question of public vs. private education is extremely important. Many parents see problems in public schools, and they understandably search for alternatives for their children. One reality to bear in mind, however, is that not all alternatives are better. Some are distinctly worse. A system of schooling having racist beliefs and the doctrine of karma at or near its roots may certainly fall into the latter category.

Columnist Poppy Noor argues that families should stay in public school systems, both for the benefit of their children and for the benefit of the community. If a public school has problems, work to fix them. This should be easier than trying to change the thinking in private schools that embrace esoteric belief systems. 

Arguably, the ideal of free, universal, nonsectarian education is one of the great glories of modern democratic societies. Indeed, it may be one of the crucial principles on which such societies depend. Abandoning this ideal — or allowing sectarian schools to enter the public system — may prove extremely damaging in both the near term and the long term, both for individual children and for society as a whole.

— R.R.

May 24, 2018



The inner life of the Anthroposophical community — including the Waldorf community — has often been turbulent. From its beginning, Anthroposophy has been riven by factions and schisms. There have been doctrinal disputes, power struggles, and personality clashes. While striving to show a placid, beatific face to the world, Anthroposophists have often drawn their daggers when facing one another. This is only to be expected, perhaps. After all, Anthroposophists are human beings, sharing in the virtues and faults of humanity at large. While aspiring to cosmic transcendence, Anthroposophists live here on Earth, coping with life and its challenges pretty much like everyone else — imperfectly — humanly.

Reports of turmoil and struggle have sometimes emerged from within Waldorf schools. Thus, for instance, a former member of a Waldorf school board has given this description of the teachers at her Waldorf school:

"I used to watch the Waldorf teachers at parent gatherings ... The teachers would stand on the stage with their arms around each other, singing songs in rounds, while parents beamed. 'How lucky we are to have this school,' was the mantra. Personally I was amazed by the teachers' performance as they presented a 'real' sense of unity between them. Amazed because behind closed doors, they were all backstabbers. Seemingly insecure people competing for the top position on the Anthroposophical dog pile. It was never pretty. There was a lot of acting out, both blatant and passive (aggressive)." — Debra Snell. [See, e.g., "Coming Undone".]

Similarly, an aggrieved Waldorf teacher has written the following:

"[T]hree years of productivity and relative peace were followed by a period of discord ... I remember several occasions when the work of the College [the school's executive committee] ground to a halt for weeks or even months because of implacable bees in the bonnets of one or two members. I remember other occasions when good people left the school because they couldn’t stand it anymore ... Between them the school's managers and their protégés had turned the Rudolf Steiner School into a place where I didn't want to be [anymore]." — Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), pp. 102-115. [See "His Education".]

Now a news account has emerged from within the Anthroposophical community, detailing struggles at the headquarters of the Anthroposophical movement. The events there are of little interest to outsiders (two members of the executive council were expelled), but they loom large for Anthroposophists. The news account issued by the Nexus News Agency — an Anthroposophical outreach service — is long, detailed, and somewhat tendentious. I will reproduce just a few excerpts, and I will add some footnotes that may help clarify matters for outsiders:

A vote and its consequences

By Christian von Arnim

The official statement from the annual general meeting of the worldwide General Anthroposophical Society (GAS) [1] at the Goetheanum [2] in Dornach, Switzerland was terse: “The meeting also refused to affirm the extension of the period in office of the two executive council members Paul Mackay [3] and Bodo von Plato [4]”....

As well-informed sources made clear, there was dismay in the executive council [5] about the decision of the AGM [6] not to follow its recommendation to reaffirm Mackay and von Plato in office....

Others were less restrained and accused the Swiss Anthroposophical Society [7] — or, more precisely, its executive council — of having lobbied against the affirmation of the two GAS executive council members by unfair means....

What this vote was clearly not about was a new dispute about the constitution of the GAS or the fundamental direction of the society, as happened around the turn of the millenium and in the noughties when the society was riven with an internal conflict stoked by a vocal splinter group. That conflict ended in the courts and with the expulsion of the members of the latter group....

The disappointment is palpable in Swiss circles that the council of the Swiss society has been publicly turned into the scapegoat for the vote against Paul Mackay and Bodo von Plato.... [8]

[I]t was not just the Swiss executive council which rejected a proposal from some in the group of general secretaries of national societies that they should present a united front in support of Paul Mackay and Bodo von Plato at the AGM — because there was no such unity....

There was also criticism of the overly emotional and sometimes less than objective argumentation which sometimes also turned personal....

[A] question remains about the failure to inform members who were unable to attend the AGM about anything else that happened at the meeting. Reading some of the notices, also in reports to the members of national societies, one might well conclude that the affirmation of Paul Mackay and Bodo von Plato was the sole item on the agenda. Not a word about the report of treasurer Justus Wittich on the severe hole in the Goetheanum finances — possibly a subject which is just as serious with just as much relevance for the long-term future of the society. [9]

[5/24/2018   This story originally appeared on May 23.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Footnotes:

[1] The General Anthroposophical Society is the central, formal body of the Anthroposophical movement. Anthroposophists are not required to join, and membership has fluctuated over the years.

[2] The Goetheanum is a large building (in effect, a cathedral) that serves as the headquarters of the General Anthroposophical Society. Located in Dornach, Switzerland, the Goetheanum — named for the German poet Goethe — was designed by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]

[3] Born in 1946, Paul Mackay studied Anthroposophy in England and Germany. He has been active in Anthroposophical banking and in Anthroposophical medicinal/cosmetic manufacture. He became a member of the Executive Council of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum in 1996.

[4] Born in 1958, Bodo von Plato studied Waldorf education in Germany, Austria, and France. Having been a Waldorf teacher in Paris, he developed and led the cultural impulse research center at the Friedrich von Hardenberg Institute for Cultural Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.  He became a member of the Executive Council of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum in 2001.

[5] I.e., the central administrative committee of the General Anthroposophical Society.

[6] I.e., the Annual General Meeting.

[7] There are arms of the General Anthroposophical Society in many countries. Like the GAS, the national arms have their own executive councils.

[8] The Swiss Anthroposophical Society may exercise particular influence at the Goetheanum, since the building is in Switzerland. However, the Nexus News Service indicates that opposition to Mackay and von Plato came from other quarters, as well.

[9] Some of the strains within the Anthroposophical movement are caused by the movement's sometimes-precarious financing. There is a perpetual need to generate sufficient funds to support the GAS and various Anthroposophical initiatives, including Waldorf education.

— R.R.

May 23, 2018



Today's quotation posted at The great [sic] Rudolf Steiner Quotes Site:

"At the present time, one regards every man as intelligent, even as if he were wise. However, that is not the case. One can be intelligent and have the most stupid thoughts. The greatest foolishness is thought out very intelligently. Especially if one looks at a large part of contemporary science, it must be said: This science is actually intelligent in all areas, but it is certainly not wise."

Source (German): Rudolf Steiner – GA 353 – Die Geschichte der Menschheit und die Weltanschauungen der Kulturvölker – Dornach, May 10, 1924 (page 214)

Translated by Nesta Carsten-Krüger

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

This quotation touches on a subject we have discussed here recently: the relationship between Anthroposophy and modern science. Although Rudolf Steiner sometimes said that there are no real contradictions between Anthroposophy (which he classified as a spiritual science) and the modern physical sciences, he in fact harbored a deep hostility to modern science. There is a fundamental conflict between Steiner's teachings and the findings of modern science. The universe described by "spiritual science" — in particular the description propounded by Rudolf Steiner — is utterly unlike the universe described by modern physical science — built on the insights of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and others. [See, e.g., "Science" and "Steiner's 'Science'".]

Modern physical science is wrong. That's part of what we can find in today's quotation. But Steiner's words are also interesting at a deeper level. Steiner meant his statement one way; we may read it another way.

"One can be intelligent and have the most stupid thoughts." Steiner presumably meant that it is possible to be quite intelligent and yet to disbelieve his teachings — a smart person may stupidly accept the modern physical-scientific description of reality instead.

Steiner's followers will read his words as he meant them. But many other people nowadays would be inclined to turn Steiner's words around. They would agree that a smart people can believe stupid things, but one example that would likely spring to mind is Anthroposophy itself. [1] A smart person may fall under Steiner's sway — but how can this be? Why would any intelligent person accept Steiner's phantasmagoric, irrational teachings?

It's a deep question, touching on many deep yearnings in the human psyche. We would all like to think that our lives have meaning. We would all like to think that we matter. We would all like to think that life is more than a series of random, serendipitous accidents. We would all like for life to be more fulfilling, more meaningful, more magical than that. Steiner was one of the many seers and prophets who have volunteered to answer our questions and satisfy our yearnings.

The chief problem with believing Steiner is that he requires us to reject virtually all real knowledge. If we are to believe him, we must reject real knowledge, and established facts, and the testimony of our own senses.

Steiner did not just oppose modern physical science; he rejected most modern scholarship of all stripes. He said we need a wholly different mindset than the kind of thinking used by "so-called educated people." Steiner said the following, for instance:

"The time must come when [we] take up the irksome task of [getting beyond] the way thinking is taught by the so-called educated people in the universities." — Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 92.

The "so-called educated people" — these were his real opponents, he knew. Steiner stood against education as it is usually understood; he stood against modern knowledge, as university-educated people understand it. [2] The knowledge found in universities is, he knew, ultimately incompatible with his own teachings:

"The kind of life and thinking emanating from the Universities started the trend towards abstraction — towards what was subsequently to be idolised and venerated as the pure, natural scientific thinking which to-day invades the customary ways of thought with such devastating results."  — Rudolf Steiner, “Spiritual Emptiness and Social Life” (THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1954), GA 190.

Actual knowledge, such as that found in universities, is "devastating" for "customary ways of thought." The customary ways come to us from out of the past; they are suffused with superstition, fantasy, and ignorance. [See "The Ancients".] But Steiner embraced those antique ways of thinking, turning to them to develop his fantastical belief system, Anthroposophy. We must reject factual, knowledge-based, university-based thinking, Steiner said:

"Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today...." — Rudolf Steiner, BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 1, GA 178.

The "so-called educated classes" (that is, college graduates) and the "so-called educated people in universities" (that is, college professors and students) — Steiner set himself up in opposition to these people, people who actually pursue and may even possess actual knowledge about the actual universe. Steiner wanted us to accept a different way of thinking instead. He want us to accept his way of thinking — his dreams and fantasies and falsifications.

Come to Anthroposophy, Steiner urged. All that is required is to repudiate rationality, and knowledge, and real education.

So, yes, it is possible to be quite intelligent (as Steiner was) and yet think the most stupid thoughts (such as the doctrines of Anthroposophy). Steiner was, in this sense — and quite contrary to his intended meaning — completely correct.

[To delve more into the question why intelligent people might fall for Steiner's falsehoods, see, e.g., "Why? Oh Why?", "Fooling (Ourselves)", and "Inside Scoop".]

— R.R.

◊ • ◊

[1] If you are unacquainted with Steiner's teachings and the many bloopers they contain, you might take a gander at "Steiner's Blunders".

[2] Steiner's repudiation of regular, rational education has clear implications for the sort of education he founded: Waldorf education. [To consider the actual nature of Waldorf "education," see, e.g., "Here's the Answer", "Soul School", and "Spiritual Agenda".] Waldorf education is ultimately religious. [See "Schools as Churches".] This may appeal to you. But make sure that you understand the particular religion on which Waldorf is based: Anthroposophy. [See "Is Anrothroposophy a Religion?"]

May 21, 2018



From Cowichan Valley Citizen (British Columbia, Canada):

Sunrise Waldorf School teacher 

honoured for STEM


Lisa Hitch, a Grade 8 teacher at Sunrise Waldorf School, was named May 4 as a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)....

Hitch is one of 64 teachers across Canada in three categories to get these awards but she is one of only two in British Columbia. Her award honours “outstanding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics teachers that help develop the culture of innovation Canada needs today, and in the future,” according to the government’s website about the awards.

In Waldorf schools, a teacher takes a class from Grade 1 all the way through to Grade 8, so this is Lisa’s eighth year with this class....

Sunrise Waldorf could be called a “low-tech school” — no computers in class — but Hitch still uses inquiry-based methods to help students find the extraordinary in the ordinary. They learn to gather, process and analyze information, moving from wonder to observation to concepts....

And, she uses a program she herself brought to the school, called cyber civics, in which students learn how to retrieve, analyze and use online information, including how to critically evaluate search results and properly cite sources....


◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

It is certainly possible for Waldorf teachers to excel. It is even possible for Waldorf science teachers to excel. And when they do so, they certainly should be commended.

Waldorf teachers often face special obstacles, however — obstacles that may make their jobs unusually challenging.

One major obstacle is the principe that, in Waldorf schools, providing students with a good education is only a secondary objective. Enacting the occult essence of Anthroposophy is considerably more important. Thus, one Waldorf spokesperson has written this:

"Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.

In making this assertion, Gilbert Childs echoes Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education. The most important requirement and objective for a Waldorf teacher is to be a true Anthroposophist. Thus, for instance, Steiner said the following:

"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.

Fidelity to Anthroposophy can cause Waldorf teachers to reject much of modern scholarship and research, especially the findings of modern science. Anthroposophy is a gnostic religion [see "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] that describes the cosmos — including the Earth and its inhabitants — in terms that are utterly unlike the descriptions produced by modern, rational inquiry [see, e.g., "Everything"]. For this reason, science education in Waldorf schools is often quite weak. [See, e.g., the Waldorf Watch news item for May 11, 2018: "The Limitations of Science at Waldorf Schools".]

We should pause to acknowledge that not all Waldorf teachers are devout Anthroposophists. Waldorf schools sometimes hire non-Anthroposophists when they can't find enough true disciples of Rudolf Steiner to teach all subjects and all grades. But the goal is to hire Anthroposophists — which means hiring individuals who give only secondary priority to teaching.


If Waldorf science classes are often weak, the Waldorf approach to modern technology is similarly constrained. Notice that Sunrise Waldorf School "could be called a 'low-tech school' — no computers in class." At a typical Waldorf school, there would usually be few if any computers anywhere on campus — in the classrooms, in the offices, or anywhere else. There would also typically be no televisions, no movie projectors, no overhead projectors — few if any electrical, technological gizmos of any kind. The reason may shock you. Anthroposophy posits the existence of numerous demons. One of the worst is Ahriman. [See "Ahriman".] Anthroposophy teaches that technological devices allow Ahriman and his minions to incarnate on Earth. So, for instance, a leading Anthroposophist has written this:

“[T]he whole computer and Internet industry is today the most effective way to prepare for the imminent incarnation of Ahriman ... The net of ahrimanic spider beings developing out of the internet around the earth...will serve [Ahriman] particularly effectively and offer him extremely favorable potential to work.” — Sergei O. Prokofieff, "The Being of the Internet"; see, e.g., The Philosophy of Freedom, downloaded 2/10/2018.

Again, assertions like this echo Rudolf Steiner, who was fearful of science and technology in most of their forms:

“Everything that has arisen in recent times in the way of materialistic science and industrial technology is of an out-and-out ahrimanic nature.” — Rudolf Steiner, GUARDIAN ANGELS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 55.

Ms. Hitch has evidently found creative ways to help her students deal with the Internet (which they presumably do at home). Still, any teacher who is true to Steiner should be extremely wary of cyber technology — perhaps more than is rationally justified — and s/he might well convey this wariness to her students — perhaps more than is rationally justified.

[For more on the Waldorf view of computers, the Internet, and so on, see, e.g., "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes".]

We should hope that math instruction in Waldorf schools is not pervaded with occult beliefs. After all, two plus two equals four even among Anthroposophists. 

Still, a strange, mystical vibe often exists in Waldorf math classes. Anthroposophy contains many numerological inclinations. Steiner taught that various numbers have profound spiritual significance. 

"Two is called the number of revelation ... Four is the sign of the cosmos ... Five is the number of evil ... Seven is the number of perfection ... [etc.]" — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), pp. 32-44.

While such beliefs may not be explicitly taught in most Waldorf math classes, nonetheless a spiritual atmosphere often prevails.

"It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.

[For more on these matters, see "Magic Numbers" and "Mystic Math".]

We should comment on at least one more topic raised in the Cowichan Valley Citizen article.

The article initially identifies Ms. Hitch as an "8th grade teacher," but it later says that she has shepherded a group of students from first grade through eighth grade ("In Waldorf schools, a teacher takes a class from Grade 1 all the way through to Grade 8, so this is Lisa’s eighth year with this class"). It is, indeed, common for a Waldorf teacher to stay with a group of students this way. The practice is sometimes referred to as "looping" (at the end of one year, the teacher loops around and teaches the same students the next year). Sometimes a Waldorf teacher stays with a class through fifth grade, sometimes through eighth grade, and sometimes — in rare cases — s/he stays with the class all the way through twelfth grade.

One advantage of looping is that the teacher should get to now her students very well, and thus she should be able to tailor her work to meet their needs.

But there are also disadvantages. A student who dislikes that particular teacher is in for a long, difficult journey. Moreover, even when students and teacher get along well together, that sole teacher will have an enormous influence in the lives of those kids. Inevitably, the kids will wind up hearing and learning primarily just one point of view — that one teacher's point of view. And if that teacher is an Anthroposophist, then all the years controlled by that teacher may amount to Anthroposophical conditioning of the students. Not to mince words, those years may amount to Anthroposophical indoctrination. [See "Indoctrination".]

And then there's this. In the Waldorf system, a teacher who stays with a group of students year after year is expected to teach that group all of their main subjects: math, science, history, geography, literature, and so on. Consider what this means. One teacher will teach essentially all subjects in first grade, and then s/he will teach essentially all subjects in second grade, and then in third grade, and then, and then, and... No teacher is truly qualified to do this. If a teacher is especially good at science and math, s/he is likely to be less qualified to teach history, for instance, or literature. And it is extremely doubtful that she is truly qualified to teach any subjects, even her best subjects, at all grade levels. The Waldorf system ensures that at least some subjects will be taught badly, probably at several grade levels. By cramming, and working overtime, a teacher may contrive to stay more or less ahead of her students year after year. But it will be a strain. And inevitably the teacher will wind up trying to teach material that is s/he has not truly mastered. The Waldorf system ensures that at least some subjects — perhaps many subjects at multiple grade levels — will be taught badly.

— R.R.

May 20, 2018



From The Suburban Times [state of Washington, USA]:

Planting the Seeds for 

Early Childhood Learning


Early childhood education is a necessity when it comes to having a well-developed child. Education happens in many ways through a school system as well as the work that is done by parents at home. Developing a love for learning early is important so that the child looks forward to the learning process. Learning can take place in numerous ways and should be adapted when needed to a child’s learning speed and abilities....

Early childhood education can be extremely rewarding for the child, educator and parents because it is setting up a foundation that is meant to last a lifetime. This foundation must be nurtured and built carefully to allow it to set well....

Bright Water Waldorf School in Seattle on Capitol Hill says, their kindergarten has play at its heart. "Through longer periods of free play, children develop social skills and creative problem-solving, such as how to build a silk-and-wood fort together, or how to dress a doll to keep it warm. Play is balanced with more structured activities, such as watercolor painting, felting, preparing a snack, and counting games, all in a predictable rhythm. Teachers strive to show behaviours and speech worthy of a child’s imitation. These activities and new family relationships enrich a child’s young life, and build a bridge for the whole family between home and school"....

[5/20/2018   This story originally appeared on May 18.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

Early-childhood education — preschool instruction intended to ensure that children are ready for the beginning of formal schooling in first grade — is indeed highly important. Kids who start out behind their peers in first grade may stay behind, or fall even further behind, as formal education proceeds. For these children, school can become a torment, and its benefits may remain out of reach. This can produce seriously damaging long-term (sometimes life-long) consequences.

Preschool programs that emphasize play may certainly help children in many ways. But if these programs scrimp on preparation for academic instruction — things like basic preparation for reading, writing, and math — the children may emerge ill-equipped for regular schooling. Waldorf preschool programs often scrimp in precisely these ways. Despite the reference to "counting games" in the item above, Waldorf schools generally hold that kids are not ready for basic academics until they are at least seven years old.

According to Waldorf belief, young children should be kept in a dreamlike state of consciousness. Toddlers have an innate connection with the spirit realm, Waldorf doctrine holds, and this connection should be maintained as long as possible:

“Childhood is commonly regarded as a time of steadily expanding consciousness.... Yet in [Rudolf] Steiner’s view, the very opposite is the case: childhood is a time of contracting consciousness.... [The child] loses his dream-like perception of the creative world of spiritual powers [i.e., the spirit realm and its gods] ... This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine. ... [I]n a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young." — A. C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.

Waldorf schools actively attempt to slow the maturation of their students. This is done in order to preserve youngsters' connections to the gods. Rudolf Steiner told Waldorf teachers to think of their efforts as an extension of what the gods did for children before sending them down for Earthly incarnation:

"We [Waldorf teachers] will be conscious that physical existence here is a continuation of the spiritual, and that we, through education, have to carry on what has hitherto been done by higher beings [i.e., gods] without our participation. This alone will give the right mood and feeling to our whole system of teaching and education, if we fill ourselves with this consciousness: here, in this human being [i.e., the student], you, with your action, have to achieve a continuation of what higher beings have done before his birth." — Rudolf Steiner, STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 17.

The connection to the gods will be broken, Steiner said, if young kids are taught to think rationally. Dreams, and imagination, and play (imaginative activity) are far more helpful for young children, he indicated. Rationality can be damaging to the young. Instead, children need access to the true images implanted in them before birth by the gods:

“You will harm him [i.e., the student] if you are educating him rationalistically [i.e., emphasizing rational thought or intellect], because you are coercing his will into what he has already done with — pre-natal life [i.e., life in the spirit realm before incarnation on Earth]. You must not introduce too many abstract concepts [i.e., rational or intellectual thoughts] into what you bring to the child. You must rather introduce imaginative pictures ... In educating we take up again in some measure the activities which were carried out [by the gods] before [our] birth ... The spiritual Powers [gods] have so dealt with us that they have planted within us this image activity [i.e., access to true imaginative pictures] which works in us after birth. If in our education we ourselves give children images we are taking up this cosmic activity again."  — Rudolf Steiner, STUDY OF MAN, p. 39.*

Because of their concern about the harm that can befall children if they are not handled properly, Waldorf schools are usually eager to receive even the youngest children into Waldorf early-childhood programs. Waldorf teachers typically think they understand children far better than other adults do. (Waldorf teachers understand the connections between infants and the gods, for instance, and they know that rational education can harm the kids.) They want to undo the influence parents have had on their children. Steiner urged Waldorf teachers to see their task in this light:

"You [Waldorf teachers] will have to take over children for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education given them by their parents." — Rudolf Steiner, STUDY OF MAN, p. 16.

It would be best, perhaps, if Waldorf teachers could take control of children almost immediately after the kids arrive on Earth. Speaking to Waldorf teachers, Steiner said this:

"[I]t might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one's care soon after birth." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.

Waldorf programs for very young children can be attractive. Their emphasis on play can be charming. But parents should understand the real nature of these programs before enrolling their children in them. 

— R.R.

◊ • ◊

* This is hard going. Here is the gist of this passage in a somewhat clearer translation:

“You will injure children if you educate them rationally ... We must see that [correct] thinking is a pictorial activity [i.e., an imaginative process] which is based in what we experienced before birth [i.e., in our previous lives in the spirit realm] ... To take this into our own feelings, namely, that education is a continuation of supersensible activity before birth, gives education the necessary consecration.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 61-62.

To delve into the sort of thinking Steiner advocated, see the discussion of "living thoughts" in "Thinking".

Steiner's prescriptions for the education of young children are encapsulated here:

"Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 103-104.

For previous items from May, 2018,