• Waldorf Schools - What Is Their Purpose?


Q. What are Waldorf schools all about? Why did Rudolf Steiner launch the Waldorf school movement?

A. Waldorf schools are an outreach arm of Anthroposophy; their essential function is to enact and spread Anthroposophy. To be an official Waldorf school, an institution needs to receive accreditation from a Waldorf agency such as the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America. Most Waldorf schools bear the title "Waldorf," but some are called "Steiner schools," some are called "Steiner Waldorf Schools", and some have different names altogether.

To understand the nature and purpose of Waldorf education, it is best to go back to the words of the founder, Rudolf Steiner. • “One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” [1] • “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, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” [2] • “You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth [in our classes], and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school....” [3]

Waldorf schools are not primarily interested in conveying information or knowledge to children — what most people would consider education. Instead, Waldorf schools endeavor to aid the gods (Anthroposophy is polytheistic) by ushering children into Earthly existence where they can incarnate their four bodies and fulfill their karmas. Here are statements by Steiner and some of his followers on these matters: • “[W]e must all be permeated with the thoughts: First, of the seriousness of our undertaking ... Second, we need to comprehend our responsibility toward anthroposophy ... And, third, something that we as anthroposophists must particularly observe, namely, our responsibility toward the gods." [4] • “Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being develop and mature at different times.” [5] • "[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” [6] • “The success of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner [said], can be measured in the life force attained. Not acquisition of knowledge and qualifications, but the life force is the ultimate goal of this school.” [7]

Waldorf schools and faculties often disguise the real nature of their undertaking. Rudolf Steiner instructed Waldorf teachers to keep quiet about what happens in their schools. “[D]o not attempt to bring out into the public things that really concern only our school ... We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school....” [8] The fundamental reason for this is that Anthroposophy consists of "occult" or hidden knowledge. The Waldorf belief system entails keeping spiritual secrets from anyone who has not been initiated into Anthroposophy. [9] This is offset, to some degree, by the desire Anthroposophists feel to spread the "gifts" of their faith to the world at large. There is, therefore, a tension within Anthroposophy, and this is often reflected at Waldorf schools. The schools exist because of Anthroposophy, but deciding how best to fulfill their mission varies from school to school and from teacher to teacher.


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[1] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.

[3] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.

[4] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.

[5] Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5. The four bodies are the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego body. The latter three are invisible. See, e.g., "Incarnation".

[6] Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.

[7] 
Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.

[8] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 10.

[9] The two central texts of Anthroposophy are Steiner's books AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE and HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS — A Modern Path of Initiation. "Occult," as Steiner used the term, means hidden. Occult knowledge is hidden knowledge, and occult science is the method of attaining this knowledge. Occult science is Anthroposophy; another term Steiner used is "spiritual science." Initiation is gaining admission to the inner circle of a secretive group or society, or gaining access to hidden knowledge, occult knowledge. HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS explains the process for doing this within Anthroposophy. Steiner's followers generally believe that they possess privileged knowledge and that the opinions and knowledge possessed by everyone else are far less valid. This is why many Anthroposophical books bear the notice: “No person is held qualified to form a judgment on the contents of this work, who has not acquired — through the School of Spiritual Science itself or in an equivalent manner recognized by the School of Spiritual Science — the requisite preliminary knowledge. Other opinions will be disregarded....” [See, e.g., the books SECRETS OF THE THRESHOLD, COSMIC AND HUMAN METAMORPHOSES, WONDERS OF THE WORLD, THOUGHTS ON EASTER, and INNER NATURE OF MAN AND LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH.] The School of Spiritual Science is a central Anthroposophical institution located in the Anthroposophical headquarters, the Goetheanum. See “The School of Spiritual Science”.