ACADEMIC STANDARDS AT WALDORF
“The Results Gave a Very Unfavorable Impression”
by Roger Rawlings
Afterword by Margaret Sachs
The curriculum at the Waldorf school I attended wasn’t primarily meant to educate us, at least not as the term “educate” is usually understood. We students did homework, and took tests, and wrote papers. We picked up some knowledge of standard academic subjects. Yet all of that was, in a sense, incidental. No one could have mistaken our Waldorf for a hotbed of intellectual excellence. Our teachers had different, overriding concerns: “From the Waldorf perspective, attaining knowledge is one purpose of the learning process, but just as important — and perhaps even more important — is to educate the heart and the will of the child, so that knowledge is joined with reverence and action.”  Reverence can be good, and action is necessary. But if the amount of real knowledge conveyed to Waldorf students is low, the genuine education of the students will suffer. You can’t be reverent toward something you don’t know, and you can’t act on information you do not possess.
The problem of low academic standards at Waldorf schools goes far back. The teachers at the first Waldorf worried that they were not preparing their students adequately for standard final examinations in the 12th grade. Asked what subjects should be dropped to make time for lessons with more academic content, Steiner answered, “Sadly, technology and shop, as well as gymnastics and singing. We cannot drop eurythmy or drawing. Religion will have to be limited to one hour....”  Later, Steiner added, “The question of final examinations is purely a question of opportunity. It is a question of whether we dare tell those who come to us that we will not prepare them for the final examination at all, that it is a private decision of the student whether to take the final examination or not.”  Weeks after that, when the exam results were in, he said, “We should have no illusions: The results gave a very unfavorable impression of our school to people outside.” 
Academic standards at my Waldorf were below par. I took math classes every year, for instance, and I always passed. But I never developed even the rudiments of mathematical literacy. Accept my assurance, please: This wasn’t a result of native stupidity. Waldorf came close to practicing social promotion. Although occasionally a student was held back, ordinarily we didn’t need to master much subject matter in order to proceed from grade to grade. The resulting harm to our intellects is hard to gauge. Waldorf was a private school, with selective admissions. Most of us were bright, and some of us were distinctly privileged, coming from homes bristling with encyclopedias, home libraries, magazines, newspapers, and parents who pressed us to excel. We had advantages. How much did Waldorf set us back? I know some Waldorf graduates who found themselves almost completely unprepared for college; others, like myself, made several false starts at higher education before gaining traction; and some marched straight through.
It is quite likely that today, some Waldorf schools put more emphasis on academics than they did before. But the schools cannot move very far in that direction unless they are prepared to reject Rudolf Steiner’s stated intentions. One way to evaluate the situation at a Waldorf school is to learn how much time the kids spend knitting, crocheting, making pottery, woodworking, gardening... Waldorfs emphasize such activities, which they consider important parts of the curriculum. If a lot of time is spent on these activities, and if that time is taken away from academic subjects, there is cause for concern.
Rudolf Steiner had little interest in helping children learn how to use their brains. He said that real thinking does not occur in the brain. “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....”  Real cognition, he said, is clairvoyance, which he located outside the brain. Just this side of clairvoyance, he said, are three types of thinking that are far better than brainwork or logic. “1) the Imaginative stage of knowledge, 2) the stage of Inspiration and 3) the stage of Intuition.”  But does such “thinking” really lead anywhere? Let’s say that a child imagines that s/he has invisible friends. S/he mulls it over and suddenly receives an inspiration: The unseen friends are the ghosts of the Pilgrim Fathers! This insight is so persuasive that afterwards the child is able to intuitively know that the Pilgrim Fathers are present at all hours of the day and night because they live nearby, on the Moon. The problem with such “thinking” is that it is based on no concrete facts of any kind. It all comes out of the child’s head. And, obviously, it can produce serious delusions. (In case you think I am going too far, consider some of the things Steiner knew, such as “[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 ... This is only one of the ‘cities’ in the universe, one colony, one settlement among many.” )
Steiner’s other strange doctrines include reincarnation. His followers believe that children come into the world with memories of past lives, especially memories of their most recent lives in the spirit realm. Steiner indicated that such memories should be preserved. An important goal at Waldorf schools, then, is to help young children to remain young, mentally, so that their pre-birth "memories" remain fresh. And, later, as the children grow older, they should be helped to keep any remnants of the “memories” and styles of “thinking” they had as young children. “This awareness [of life before birth] fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine ... In a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young.”  Notice where this leads: Steiner wanted to move children toward the development a mental power that basically boils down to clairvoyance: “[F]ormative forces that were active in the first years of life have withdrawn [i.e., they go to sleep as children age] ... If we bring them forth again in later life and imbue them with Imagination and Inspiration, we will then have the Intuitive powers of supersensible knowledge.”  “Supersensible” knowledge is information that we cannot get through our senses — we get it, theoretically, through psychic powers or, in a word, clairvoyance. If clairvoyance really exists, helping people to develop it would make sense. But since clairvoyance almost certainly does not exist, an educational program aiming at it is, at best, a colossal waste of time. (How can I say that clairvoyance is probably poppycock? Think of the “knowledge” Steiner gained through his “clairvoyance,” for example the moon fortress. Consider, also, that no carefully controlled experiment has ever produced evidence for the existence of clairvoyance. [For more on this matter, see "Clairvoyance".])
The crucial question for parents is whether children can be safely entrusted to teachers who accept Steiner’s beliefs. Waldorf students are directed away from logic and toward spiritual experience that is supposed to be self-evident — no proof required. It is questionable whether this is genuine thinking at all or merely a form of wishfulness. Here’s what a leading Waldorf educator has written: “To what extent will [a child’s] thinking become purely logical and colorless, unenriched by imagination, uninformed by experience? ... [T]he attempt [should] be made with our adolescents to preserve from the earlier stage of childhood those [intuitive] capacities which are natural to it, and to unite them with the new gift of intellectual thought. For this means to transform thought from what it is at present — the capacity for abstract hypothesis — into the capacity for self-evident spiritual experience.”  But forming abstract hypotheses is precisely what real, mature thinking is all about. You gather evidence, figure out what it seems to show, and then test your conclusions. This is thinking, reasoning, logic. It is what we all need. Yet it is what Steiner wants to steer students away from. (Consider again the case of a child who has the "self-evident spiritual experience" that s/he can commune with the Pilgrim Fathers. S/he has gone far astray, yet s/he is "thinking" as Steiner would have her do.)
Ask yourself what a child’s education should be accomplish. What do you want for your children? Should we teach children to live rationally in the real world, or do you want them to have unsubstantiated intuitions of unseen worlds? Waldorf schools often lean toward the latter. 
Conveying real knowledge about the real world was low on Rudolf Steiner’s list of educational priorities. The Steiner lectures in SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1986) present Steiner’s contention that students should not be required to learn too much. As the publisher puts it, "Too often [in other kinds of schools] a zealous attempt to impart information is substituted for the development of human faculties ... This can lead to overexertion of memory and inner exhaustion of the student...." [Ibid., rear cover.]
Clearly, it is wrong to exhaust students. But bear in mind that foremost among the “human faculties” Steiner wanted people to develop is clairvoyance. This is what Waldorf schools aim for, not any "zealous attempt to impart information." Don't burden children's minds with information; don't confuse the kids with facts; lead the students toward the development of clairvoyant powers. This, in essence, is the Steiner approach. [See "Soul School".]
I apologize for harping on this point, but it is fundamental. The "thinking" on which Waldorf education is based is clairvoyance, and the "thinking" toward which Waldorf education aims is clairvoyance. Unless you believe in clairvoyance, and believe that Steiner was clairvoyant, and want your child to potentially develop clairvoyance — unless you believe these things, you should not select Waldorf education for your child.
Certainly, if what you mainly want is for your child to get a good,, rational, academic education that prepares her/him for life in the real world, you should not select Waldorf education for your child.
Any Waldorf school that is faithful to Steiner will aim to develop unreal human faculties, too often as a substitute for providing a real education.
At the Waldorf school I attended, academics were distinctly subordinate to other considerations.
Our teachers took spiritual matters into account when awarding grades,
and sometimes these spiritual matters were paramount.
The following is from a newspaper account of a scandal that erupted at out school.
[See "The Waldorf Scandal".]
A former Waldorf student, Richard Walton, claimed to be clairvoyant;
he said his psychic powers put him in touch with "certain beings in the spiritual world."
Various teachers at the school believed him, and they began using him as a spiritual guide.
Walton's spiritual promise became evident while he was still a Waldorf student.
A poor student by ordinary standards, he was rewarded with superior grades at Waldorf.
"Richard Walton enrolled at Waldorf School about eight years ago as an 11th-grader. At his public high school...he had been, by his own admission, a 'low C' student. But at Waldorf, he found his abilities appreciated, especially by the school's headmaster of 25 years, John Gardner.
"'We have noticed there are some young people in this world who are not about to get with it academically...but who do have unusual abilities,' said Gardner ... 'This is why they get more of the top grades in the class.'
"...Walton laughed apologetically and told an interviewer that he was trying to pick his words carefully ... 'I would say I have a certain spiritual perspective ... I'm able to communicate with certain beings in the spiritual world.'" — John Hildebrand, "Waldorf School Head, 6 Aides Quit; Waldorf School is Rocked by Controversy", NEWSDAY (Long Island, New York), Dec. 31, 1978.
by Margaret Sachs
My daughter and son attended a Waldorf school. For many years, we were enthusiastic about the school in spite of many red flags. Ultimately, however, we became disillusioned, in particular by what we considered to be Waldorf’s low academic standards. When we first enrolled, we were told that taking children out of the school between the beginning of 1st grade and the end of 3rd grade could be a problem because many Waldorf students don't learn to read before the end of 3rd grade. But by the end of 3rd grade, we were told, Waldorf students are even with or ahead of students in other schools. That was not our experience, nor that of many other people I know.
When my daughter went from Waldorf 3rd grade to public school 4th grade, her new teacher told me she was two or three years behind grade level. Later in the year, she corrected that estimate and said that my daughter had been more than three years behind grade level. Walking around the public school classroom on parents' night, looking at the children's work, said it all. The children had written essays that were easy to follow, even with the occasional mistake here and there. Our daughter's essays were incomprehensible. She had made brave attempts to write words, guessing at the letters involved, but not succeeding in spelling a single word correctly. The other children's work was the result of four years of public education. Our daughter's was the result of four years of Waldorf "education." Our daughter worked extremely hard and, as she began to progress, she told us that she liked having grades and knowing whether she was learning how to do things right or not. When she finally started getting good grades in subjects other than art and PE, she took pleasure in her own sense of accomplishment.
During and immediately after our “Waldorf daze” (a phrase invented by a father who found similar problems at a different Waldorf), I knew several parents who had taken their children out of the school and shared with me the struggles their children were going through to try to catch up to the appropriate grade level. Then, some years later, when the Internet became popular, I discovered that people from Waldorf schools all over the world were having similar problems.
When my son, whom we had also sent to Waldorf, interviewed for high school at a private college prep school, the director told my husband and me that they had had three students from Waldorf in the past and that while they were all nice children they "didn't know anything" and needed a lot of remedial work.
While our daughter was at Waldorf, we became more and more aware that the academics did not meet our expectations. We believed, however, that the social and "spiritual" environment was healthy and compensated somewhat for what we considered the school's academic weaknesses. When we sent our daughter back to the Waldorf school a few years later at the beginning of her 10th grade year (for what we believed would be a better social environment), we and she learned the hard way about the dark side of Waldorf that we had not recognized in all those previous years. My description of that experience can be found at the PLANS Web site. I would recommend that you read all of the first-person accounts of Waldorf experiences posted at that site: http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles.html#FormerWal
Steiner's statements about the brain,
thinking, and knowledge are cause for concern
— both when they seem to make sense
and when they don't.
Steiner always meant something.
We have to decide whether we can accept
the esotericism in his meaning.
“When we think, we die continually.
That which dies in us, that which removes itself from life, that which becomes mineralized,
this it is with which the I draws us, this it is with which the I actually draws the sum of our thoughts."
— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 56.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the one in the book.]
For more on the Anthroposophical view of thinking and the use of the brain, see
Waldorf art, Waldorf perception,
Waldorf thought —
as it were.
Andy Lewis is host of the website The Quackometer.
Here are comments he posted in autumn, 2016,
responding to an article about a "no-homework policy"
in an American Waldorf school
I have done a little light editing.
"Any discussion of Waldorf Schools is incomplete without mentioning the founding philosophy of them. Steiner was a clairvoyant mystic whose visions told him that humans existed in a spiritual hierarchy with blue-eyed and blonde Germans being the most spiritually developed and intelligent. Through a process of karma and reincarnation the 'lower' races could improve and evolve toward the Aryan ideal. Steiner Schools are the spiritual midwiffery home of Steiner's occult beliefs known as Anthroposophy. The schools exist to help children incarnate from their previous existences into their new form. This process takes place over seven year cycles. This is the reason are not taught to read and write until their adult teeth arrive around year seven when their first major incarnation event happens.
"Parents are not told about the spiritual aims of the school. Anthroposophy can be best thought of as an initiation cult — you will told of more beliefs about Anthroposophy as you become deeper involved.
“[N]erve fibres in the brain go everywhere and eventually form onions within the skin ...
Below are the solid masses of the body, and above is the layer of 'humus' ...
From it grow all these onions that have blossoms in the brain ...
Ordinarily, it is assumed that the nerves do the thinking.
We can employ the nerves for thinking only be stealing their light, so to speak. "
— Rudolf Steiner, FROM COMETS TO COCAINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 101-103.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image on p. 102. ]
Waldorf teachers tend to use different methods,
aiming at different goals,
than other teachers elsewhere.
For guidance, Waldorf teachers tend to
rely on booklets — published by small Anthroposophical presses —
that offer Waldorf-friendly suggestions
To delve into the purposes and nature of Waldorf education
as described by Waldorf teachers themselves, see, e.g.,
"We Don't Need No Steiner Education"
by Cassandra Jardine,
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Oct. 8, 1997.
"When David Gilmour, leader of the rock band Pink Floyd, turned to the education page of The Daily Telegraph last Wednesday, he was dismayed to read that the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship is hoping to secure state support.
"...Gilmour was brought up in Cambridge, where his father was a senior lecturer in zoology. He was sent to the the Perse — 'It was a very disciplined school which I didn't enjoy' ... He wanted his own children to have a more enjoyable experience, so when he and his wife separated, he fell in with her wishes and sent his children to Michael Hall [a Waldorf school]. 'But it soon became apparent that my children were neither happy nor learning.'
"Several aspects of the Steiner system alarmed him ... 'The school had its good aspects, but overall, the system seemed slack. I found the children's knowledge was very patchy, and their school reports, which consisted only of praise, gave me little idea of how they were really doing.'
"...So concerned did he become that he took his children to be assessed by educational psychologists. The results shocked him. Matthew, when first examined in 1994, was judged to have an average IQ of 101 but was considered to be 'seriously disabled in terms of literacy acquisition, with his reading and spelling lying a full three years below his chronological age.'
"Less than two years later, Matthew was retested. The educational psychologist found him to have 'flourished' outside the Steiner system; his retested IQ was now 124.
"...[Gilmour's] three daughters, too, had fallen behind. Sarah, the youngest, was 14 when she was transferred to a conventional school. Her IQ is high, but she had to be put in a class of girls a year younger than she was, and still struggled.
"...Clare, 18, who has dyslexia, now attends a specialist college, while Alice, 21, left Michael Hall with one A-level in art. Unqualified for a British university, she is about to start college in America.
"...'With a very self-motivated child or one who needs intensive nurturing, Steiner can do a good job,' says Peter Gilchrist, one of the psychologists Gilmour consulted ... [Gilchrist] feels that the rigidity of Rudolph Steiner's 75-year-old philosophy can be problematic.
"'The [Waldorf] system believes that children should take steps only when they are ready. Steiner teachers tend to assume any problems will all come right in the end and can be reluctant to acknowledge modern solutions.'
"...Gilmour's children from his second marriage will go to mainstream state schools. They won't be as tough as the one that sent him into revolt — but they will teach the three Rs from the age of five." [http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/TelegraphGilmour.html.]
by Roger Rawlings
On April 29, 2009, I posted the following message at
I have edited it slightly for inclusion here.
Evaluating Waldorf education and its effect on students is complex.
The usual measures of a school are such things as standardized test scores, percentage of students who graduate, and percentage who go on to college (especially prestigious colleges). 
There is no insuperable reason why a Waldorf school might not do well by these measures. Steiner's antiscientific bias complicates things; his anti-intellectualism, as well. But a shrewdly designed Waldorf curriculum could have fairly high academic standards, if the faculty were willing to ignore or work around some of Steiner's stated intentions.
My own sense of things is that the academic performance of Waldorf students is almost beside the point. If a particular Waldorf school gave a good, solid academic education, but if it also inculcated the kids in mysticism — and especially if it did this without openly informing the students' parents — I would still oppose the school.
In reality, all Waldorf schools that abide by Steiner's intentions face big problems giving a academically sound education, but I would assign this secondary importance in evaluating the schools.
There are also tertiary issues, to my way of thinking. The bullying that crops up in Waldorf schools from time to time would fall into this category, in my view. (Bullied students and their parents might, of course, consider this a major problem and assign it greater weight.)
A further complication: The Waldorf school I attended was an elitist institution. It was a private school with limited funds for scholarships. (In US terms, a "private" school receives no tax revenues for its operations. Also, it can select students for admission rather than taking everyone from a defined geographic area.) Thus, many kids at the school came from families that were well-to-do. These kids had many resources available to them outside the school that enabled them to gain knowledge and skills not imparted within the school. Also, many of the students selected for admission were quite bright — probably well above average intelligence. As a result, many Waldorf graduates emerged from the school fairly well equipped for college despite the subpar education Waldorf gave them. The same situation may prevail at numerous other Waldorfs.
Also, because my school was private (i.e., implicitly prestigious), many students were accepted by excellent colleges — better colleges, I think, than College Board scores, etc., would warrant. Bear in mind, the transcripts for the kids came from Waldorf teachers; ditto, letters of recommendation, etc. The school was small, so the faculty could lavish considerable attention on such matters, with the clear purpose of improving the students' chances for college admission. (The prestige of the school was enhanced by its name: The Waldorf School of Adelphi University. We were located on the university campus, but otherwise there was little day-to-day connection between Waldorf and the U. But the name looked impressive.) At least some of these factors may prevail, in various forms, at other Waldorfs.
Despite all this, many kids emerged from our school confused, ill-prepared for college, deeply enshrouded in a mystical mindset, and simply unprepared for life in the real world. These are hard conditions to measure, however — in part because many Waldorf grads don't recognize these conditions, at least for a while, and some are defensive, especially those who wind up electing to travel down an Anthroposophical or other esoteric/occult road.
I don't mean that there is no way to evaluate Waldorf schools, or that the effort should not be made — I'm just pointing out some of the factors that, I think, would have to be taken into consideration.
Do some Waldorf alumni succeed in college because of their Waldorf schooling, or in spite of it?
Here’s an example. A press release in May, 2009, tells of a Waldorf graduate who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average at the University of California at Berkley. Surely Waldorf deserves some of the credit, right?
Well, probably not. The article states that the brilliant Waldorf alum had rebelled against Waldorf while a student there. “Emma Shaw Crane spent her teens riding horses and making mischief at her Waldorf school in Santa Rosa, [California] ... From preschool through the 12th grade, she attended Summerfield Waldorf School & Farm in Santa Rosa, where she frequently ran wild, but managed to keep up academically. She met her high school sweetheart while in after-school detention.”
The school evidently take prides in her achievements after graduation, but this pride would seem to be unmerited. Ms. Shaw appears to be brilliant, but Waldorf apparently did little to engage her brilliance — except, perhaps, by providing her with something to rebel against.
Parents should know that the main purpose of Waldorf schooling is not educational, as this term is normally understood, but occult. Waldorf faculties are supposed to help the gods fulfill what Steiner called the divine cosmic plan. Waldorf schools are on a messianic mission to save humanity. This is all well and good, perhaps — if Waldorf schools are really in a position to provide such a lofty service. But are they? Or are they engaged in a delusion? And what effect may this have on your children?
Rational education may easily fall by the wayside as Waldorf teachers work to "bring the spirit" to their students. Here is one statement Steiner made bearing on these matters; he begins by talking about a child learning the alphabet.
“What a child develops in his head, in his heart and soul, by having to learn a... b... c, is — spiritually speaking — a parasite in human nature ... [W]hen the letters of the alphabet, which are the product of advanced civilization, are imposed on the human being, this does engender a parasitic element ... [T]he spiritual can be brought to man without becoming poison. First you have the diagnosis, which finds that our age is infested with carcinomas, and then you have the therapy — yes, it is Waldorf School education ... [O]ne must regard education as medicine transposed into the realm of mind and spirit. This strikes us with particular clarity when we wish to find a therapy for civilization, for we can only conceive this therapy as being Waldorf School education.”
— Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 216-217.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on sketch on p. 216.]
Steiner's attitude toward the teaching and learning of the alphabet extended to the teaching and learning of virtually all other ordinary, real-world knowledge. When not deemed absolutely harmful, ordinary academic subjects are considered largely beside the point in Waldorf schools. The main purpose of Waldorf education is to spread Steiner's religion, Anthroposophy. Only in this way, Anthroposophists believe, can humanity be saved. "This strikes us with particular clarity when we wish to find a therapy for civilization, for we can only conceive this therapy as being Waldorf School education.” Civilization is infested with spiritual cancers. Waldorf schools aim to provide a cure. Steiner made this statement in November, 1914, with the world at war. But from an Anthroposophical perspective, spiritual cancers are just as widespread — perhaps, indeed, more widespread — today.
Here is an excerpt from
"Why Waldorf Schools Are Not Suitable for Public Funding"
by Dan Dugan
Waldorf teachers are different from teachers in any other kind of educational theory. It is expected that they will participate in a group spiritual life. "What is unique in these schools is the inner path of the teacher" wrote artist and Waldorf teacher Mary Richards. "The teacher's personal path is to enter into a consciousness of the human being and universe and to enter into teaching as a practice of this consciousness. A community is thus created among the teachers by the fact that they are students together and are connected through a meditative life" (Richards, 1980, p. 16).
Norman Davidson, Director of Teacher Training at Sunbridge College, the principal Waldorf teacher training program on the East Coast, explained:
"What we are offering is really a personal transformative experience. The student studies the world and human life fundamentally from an Anthroposophical point of view. He or she learns to experience things from a spiritual-scientific approach. At the same time, he or she is given the opportunities for artistic and practical activity that help effect an inner spiritual development." (Koetszch, 1996, p. 37)
The teacher training colleges are more like religious seminaries than teaching colleges. A letterhead from Rudolf Steiner College, the largest West Coast school, describes it as "A Center for Anthroposophical Endeavors."
The full-time teacher training program is a two-year course. The first year, called the "Foundation Year," is a survey of Anthroposophy, and is also offered to anyone interested in learning more about Steiner's philosophy.
...I can't help noticing the conventional designations of the courses. "History 102" is the life and work of Rudolf Steiner. "Psych 102" is about karma and reincarnation. These course numbers would look like a real educational program on a transcript, as long as the actual course titles were omitted.
The second year of teacher training addresses education, but students are required to have taken the Foundation Year first, or to demonstrate that they have equivalent indoctrination in Anthroposophy.
Rather than accepting modern knowledge,
Steiner drew heavily from myths and esoteric fantasies.
The image below represents the ancient Egyptian
outline of alchemy.
Note the spiral and lemniscate forms,
common in occultist texts.
For Steiner's views on alchemy,
[From Kircher's OEDIPUS AEGYPTIACUS.]
A MEMO TO WALDORF TEACHERS
Addressed Especially to the True-Blue Anthroposophists
Who Typically Form the Inner Circle at Waldorf Schools
(Originally posted in a discussion among Waldorf critics, this essay is couched in jovial lingo.
I have toned it down slightly for use here.)
Few, if any, Waldorf schools operate as I describe here.
Generally, they downplay academics far more than I propose.
So this is just a thought experiment, a hypothetical what-if.
Here's how to make your school seem academically respectable while still working toward your occult ends.
Thoroughly acquaint yourself with Steiner's teachings. You will want to slip these across to the kids (usually without their knowing it) as often as possible. But cut yourself some slack. Remember, "The moment we rise to the truths of the spiritual world, we can no longer speak of 'true' and 'false'...." — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 29. Since, broadly speaking, every "truth" Steiner ever voiced is a spiritual truth, nothing Steiner ever said — judged by this standard — is either true or false. So relax. If, for example, materialistic-thinking parents or public officials absolutely insist that kids be taught to read before age seven, go ahead, do it. Don't worry. You’ll have plenty of other opportunities to retard and skew the kids in other areas of the curriculum, both before and after their seventh birthdays.
Teach core academic subjects more or less straight — i.e., pretty much like they would be taught in materialist-minded schools. BUT absolutely load all other activities with Anthroposophy. In particular, make the arts — especially eurythmy, watercoloring, and the study of myths — as Anthropop as possible. You probably shouldn't be explicit about this — keep your mystery knowledge from the uninitiated — but otherwise go full out.
How much you can distort the content of academic subjects — "slipping across" Steiner stuff — will depend. Mainly, you need to be subtle, always keeping an eye on the school's reputation. That's the main thing, really. You're trying to help the school by projecting a false image, which means misleading the public, parents, and the students themselves. So be clever, i.e., tricky. The crafts curriculum can be a big help, here. Think of knitting, crocheting — you know, all the lowbrow stuff Waldorfs love to emphasize — think of these as providing flexibility for the school. When the kids seem to be more or less up to standard grade level with their academics, fool around with crafts to your hearts' content. But if the kids are way behind academically, or — even more crucial — if important tests loom over the horizon, cut back on the nonsense and use the time instead for cramming. These will be difficult periods for you, so keep them as brief as possible — cram knowledge into the students only for as long as needed to assure good test scores, then back off again and resume your esoteric pursuits.
I don't mean to downplay the problems you will confront. The cosmology you embrace — the phantasmagoric fantasy called Anthroposophy — is utterly at odds with truth. To be an Anthroposophist, you have to reject the findings of physics, chemistry, astronomy, botany, biology — that is, all real sciences and, indeed, all rational academic disciplines of every type. You think mankind's history is fundamentally different from what historians have learned, for instance. So every time you convey a true lesson to your students (i.e., every time you give them information that will help them to score well on standard examinations), it will tear at your gut. You would much rather convey Anthroposophical falsehoods (which to you are true), but these would get your students laughed out of any college classroom. So your task is indeed complex: You will try to tell your students the truth (which you consider false) so that they can get into college, but you will also try to slip across falsehoods (which you consider true) to enable your students to evolve in the ways Steiner laid out.
Science classes will present your biggest challenge. Here's what to do. Devote most of the science curriculum to straight, materialistic science, the kind taught in the real world. Inform the kids, truthfully, that this is the subject matter they will be tested on. Set high academic standards and enforce them. BUT reserve a small portion of the science curriculum for "advanced concepts," stuff that conventional science has not yet confirmed but that, you allege, it certainly will confirm eventually. Here, without naming Steiner or using the word "Anthroposophy," lay out Steiner's wacko "scientific" teachings, including his daffy views on astronomy, physics in general, and physiology. Tell the kids they won't be tested on this stuff, and tell them they probably should keep most of it under their hats since it is so advanced. But strongly imply that it is the real scoop, the inside dope. Those students who have ears to hear will know what you're driving at.
In all other areas of the academic curriculum, look for ways to squeeze in little hints of Steinerism without lowering academic standards. In literature classes, for instance, go heavy on myths and the works by spiritualistic-minded authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Milton, and Dante. Fill the kiddies' heads with mystical hokum while exposing them to apparently unobjectionable literature. Assign literary classics whenever possible; no one could object to these selections; then "interpret" them in uniquely Anthroposophical ways. Insist that the kids learn to write well-crafted papers, including, in high school, research papers. None of this will necessarily damage your ultimate Anthroposophical objectives. Remember, you're not trying to get the students to be able to recite Anthroposophical dogma — you're trying to soften up their souls, loosen their grip on reality, and plant deep within their psyches Anthroposophical seeds that will sprout and flourish in future years. So give the kids a real education while you also ensnare them in the toils of mysticism.
Whenever — in science classes or elsewhere — you openly present bits of Anthroposophical doctrines (usually without mentioning Steiner or Anthroposophy, of course), pretend that you are doing it for the sake of broadmindedness. This material is very cutting-edge, you can say; it is also (you can pretend) somewhat speculative. Act as if the Anthropop tidbits are just ideas for the kids to mull over, play with, maybe accept, maybe not. I'll stress again — be clear: Tell the kids this is not material they will be expected to master for standardized tests or for most college courses. But you should keep at your roundabout, sly efforts incessantly, year after year, working more and more clandestine bits of Anthroposophy into the curriculum, kindly luring the students into unconscious submission to occultism, even as — sadly — you also convey some real information about the real world.
The basic point to bear in mind at all times: A good occultist should be able to function successfully in the real world. S/he believes (consciously or not) the most outrageous rubbish, but s/he also knows how to fool the ordinary, beetle-browed, general population. In other words, each Waldorf graduate, ideally, should be able to function and succeed in ordinary undertakings — despite being, deep inside, more-or-less messed up. One of the big Anthropops associated with my Waldorf school, Dr. Franz E. Winkler, wrote "Our Obligation to Rudolf Steiner in the Spirit of Easter" (Whittier Books, 1955). By "us," of course, he meant Anthroposophists. "Our" obligation to Steiner, Winkler said (for the moment I’ll pretend to be an Anthroposophist) our obligation to Steiner is to succeed in the ordinary, outside world so that we are admired, so that people will want to think and act like we do, so that they will ultimately join us in uncritical allegiance to Steiner. (I'm paraphrasing.) Keep this golden idea always in mind.
I give further guidance on some of these points at http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/light-and-dark. Have fun. Despite little problems here or there, luring the kids toward nut-job Anthroposophy while also giving them what appears to be a real education is easier than it looks.
— Roger Rawlings
as it were
(i.e., posing for the camera
in a thoughtful posture).
[Public domain photo.]
AND A RESPONSE
After reading my “memo,” above, Pete Karaiskos posted the following reply at
Karaiskos is a former Waldorf parent with extensive knowledge of Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy.
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge what Waldorf teachers are ALREADY doing just right.
1) Eurythmy: Eurythmy IS Anthroposophy, according to Steiner. "It is the task of Anthroposophy to bring a greater depth, a wider vision and a more living spirit into the other forms of art. But the art of Eurythmy could only grow up out of the soul of Anthroposophy; could only receive its inspiration through a purely Anthroposophical conception." —Rudolf Steiner. "Lecture on Eurythmy", GA 279, August 26, 1923.
Waldorf teaches Eurythmy from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. It is REQUIRED of every student in every grade and is apparently worth 4 units in the high school... so it's pretty important. Waldorf teachers have already done an excellent job of hiding the spiritual significance of Eurythmy from parents. While students are usually wise to the fact that they are getting something weird (and generally begin to resist Eurythmy at some point) eventually the hypnotic droning and syncopation of the verses read to them glazes their eyes and prepares them for the spiritual infusion of Anthroposophy. Well done!
2) Creation Myths: Again, one of those recurring themes in Waldorf curriculum — exploring a variety of creation myths from early childhood through high school softens the Waldorf graduate's mind to Steiner's bizarre ideas about creation. Keeping the kids "open" to receiving Steiner's ideas without making it seem that Anthroposophy is involved AT ALL is something Waldorf teachers are doing well in this instance. Parents actually think it's about "diversity" — LMAO!
3) Racism: This is a tough one to teach and still fly under the radar. Good ways to teach racism have already been uncovered by Waldorf teachers. There is enough of this already starting as early as kindergarten — not allowing black crayons, for example. Dolls depicting angels are almost always blond with blue eyes. Actually TEACHING racism is done by dividing children by physical traits according to what Steiner called "temperaments" — then it's just a matter of showing the children how different groupings by physical differences are possible. This is brought to light in the Greek Olympic games around the 5th grade. By 10th grade physiology, it is quite easy for the "science" teacher to suggest that racial groups belong together and to connect this to blood types. Again, well done! 
4) Esoteric Christianity: Again, parents think what Waldorf teachers teach about the religions of the world is about diversity. But in truth, Waldorf teaches many strains of religious thought in order to challenge Christian and other religious concepts — EXACTLY as Steiner did. If kids were taught purely Christian ideas, for example, they wouldn't be prepared to accept Steiner's ideas about reincarnation. THAT'S why other religious streams are taught to Waldorf children, NOT because they are teaching diversity. But again, parents are happy to know their children are learning ALL the different major religious streams— they just don't realize that Anthroposophy is one of them. Slipping the Anthroposophical wool over the parent's eyes in the name of "diversity.” Genius!
— Pete Karaiskos
The following is a message posted late in October, 2010
My daughter is 5.10 years old [i.e., five years and ten months]. At age 4 we sent her to a Steiner school, where there was no numeracy or literacy whatsoever. It was our intention to continue within the Steiner system. Steiner schools deliberately avoid reading, writing, numeracy until the age of 7.
We moved to a new area in April this year when our daughter (J) was 5.4 yrs old. We decided to put her into a mainstream i.e. not Steiner, fee-paying school [Reception]. She started in Reception in April. Having never had any numeracy or literacy, she was now exposed to the normal curriculum in Reception. We did a lot at home too especially over the summer. She grasped the basic phonic scheme and is able to read by herself (Oxford Tree level 2). Numeracy was more difficult but she can count in order to 20. She is now in Year 1.
Her class tutor indicated at parents' evening (2 weeks ago) that J is not able to cope with Year 1 work. It is too advanced for her. She said that the gaps in her basic learning and understanding because of her delayed start mean that she cannot keep up. In addition to that, J, who used to love school (both the Steiner and Reception) has been saying for a few weeks that she finds it hard and cannot do the work, she gets a little upset and sometimes says she does not want to go as she finds the work "tricky". Her form tutor has taken to giving her Reception work sheets in class, which she CAN do and which she really enjoys.
We are faced with a dilemma. Do we continue her in Yr 1 and hope that the school helps to bring her up to speed, knowing that she cannot engage with the work she is being given? Or do we allow her to go back to Reception at a lower grade level (we've only had 6 weeks of it so we are near the beginning), so that she build a solid foundation? She may be ahead of the other kids in literacy as she has gone through the Phonics work books several times since April. She will fall back 1 year and lose her immediate circle of friends. She would love to go back to Reception as she has said so many times — long before it was on the agenda.
The school have suggested that a return would be sensible and would be more than happy to accommodate it.
What do you think? I am torn. I know that going back 1 year would be better for her educationally but a part of me resists it (probably because of the guilt associated with cocking it all up).
The school was made fully aware of J's Steiner background and said they would work with her. I'm not sure if I should be asking them to do more to support J in Year 1, rather than putting her back a year.
The other option is to change schools, something less academic or perhaps a return to the Steiner system. But we can't keep moving her around, stability is very important.
Steiner schools do not teach reading and math until children reach at least age seven.
This is because they want children to remain as long as possible in the misty “consciousness”
they brought with them from the higher worlds where they lived before birth.
The schools also wait until the "etheric body" incarnates at about age seven —
an event that is supposedly signaled by the loss of baby teeth.
Advocates of Steiner education claim that by the end of high school,
students at Steiner schools fully catch up with students at ordinary schools.
The truth is that many students discover that when they leave a Steiner school
— at whatever age or grade level —
they are far behind their contemporaries who were educated at non-Steiner schools.
Thus, children who leave Waldorf at the end of middle school or junior high
are likely to trail their new classmates in conventional schools.
"Far too many Waldorf students finish eighth grade with a decided weakness in the basic subjects."
— Waldorf teacher Richard Atkinson, Waldorf Clearing House Newsletter
(Waldorf School of Adelphi University, winter 1968), p. 14.
Likewise, many students who stay in Waldorf schools all the way through high school
enter college ill-prepared for standard college work.
As I have written elsewhere [see "Who Gets Hurt"],
Waldorf graduates often find that their Waldorf education has left them woefully unprepared for college.
I have known many Waldorf grads who dropped out of college, bounced from college to college,
and/or struggled mightily in their post-Waldorf educational endeavors.
Fundamentally, the Waldorf approach is anti-intellectual and oriented to a fantasy universe, not reality.
Waldorf grads often confront the painful realization that much of what they were taught is untrue
or, at best, irrelevant to real life in the real world.
Electronics and Ahriman
TVs and computers are potentially powerful teaching tools. They also pose dangers to kids who use them too much, especially if the kids are tuning in dimwitted entertainment programs and/or playing nasty shoot-'em-up computer games.*
Waldorf schools generally oppose TVs and computers: They urge parents to unplug them, keep the kids away from them. This may be wise, in some cases. But the Waldorf view does not reflect levelheaded caution — it arises from the occult belief in demons. I kid you not.
In theory, Anthroposophy is forward-looking, focusing on the future evolution of humanity. But in reality, Steiner’s brainchild is mired in backwardness: medievalism, demonology, and superstition. Anthroposophy is a form of Ludditism, averse to modern knowledge and modern methods.
Steiner taught that modern science is wrong,** modern technology is evil, and the modern world is dominated by the arch-demon Ahriman. Taking these lessons to heart, Anthroposophists often view computers with dread, seeing them as the handiwork of Ahriman. [See "Ahriman" and "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes".]
Centralized computer systems operated by governments and corporations can be dehumanizing instruments, limiting human freedom. But privately own computers (which are often more powerful than the mainframes of just a few years ago) can be liberating and empowering. Anthroposophists cling to the first of these truths while disputing the second.
Here are excerpts from the description of an Anthroposophical booklet about computers, taken from the website of the Rudolf Steiner College in early June, 2010: http://www.steinercollege.edu/?q=node/384.*** The booklet in question (38 pages long) is THE COMPUTER AND THE INCARNATION OF AHRIMAN, by David Black. The following is from the sales pitch for the booklet:
* Another problem sometimes ascribed to the dire influence of computers is multitasking. [See THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 7, 2010, p. A1.] But computers don't cause multitasking. Plenty of people use computers in a perfectly rational way, doing one thing at a time. And bear in mind that many people were multitaskers long before computers were invented — frenetic people, people with ADD, harried people. Multitasking is not caused by computers. And it certainly is not caused by an imaginary demon lurking inside computers.
Medievalism, demonology, and superstition.
** Steiner waffled on this point, a bit. After all, he called his own philosophy, Anthroposophy, "spiritual science". (He took the term from Theosophy, the source of many of his teachings.) But essentially he opposed “scientific simpletons” with their “scientific trash” and their “logical, pedantic, narrow-minded proof of things.” He deplored “primitive concepts like those...of contemporary science.” What is wrong with science? "[S]cience speaks under the influence of the demonic Mars-forces." Hence, "[W]hen we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons...we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity.” [• Scientific simpletons: Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 276. • Scientific trash: Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. • Pedantic proof of things: Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 240. • Primitive concepts: Rudolf Steiner, HOW CAN MANKIND FIND THE CHRIST AGAIN (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), p. 54. • Demonic Mars forces: Rudolf Steiner, “The Spiritual Individualities of the Planets” (THE GOLDEN BLADE 1966). • World-ruling divinity: Rudolf Steiner, "Concerning Electricity", ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET, No. 23/24, June 9, 1940.]
*** Do you notice a contradiction? What are Anthroposophists doing, putting their sacred truths in formats accessible only by demonic computers? Anthroposophists gingerly employ Ahriman’s vile contrivance in their battle against Ahriman. That is, like others who have thought they had a morally transcendent mission, Anthroposophists tend to believe that for them the end justifies the means. Then, too, because of schismatic tendencies within Anthroposophy — not all of Steiner's followers share the same understanding of his teachings — some are less worried about computers than others are.
— Roger Rawlings
Waldorf schools downplay academics to varying degrees —
some are better schools than others.
The school I attended tried to seem conventional,
teaching ordinary subjects in approximately ordinary ways,
and issuing grades and report cards.
This presumably reassured our parents, who did not experience
the subtle but pervasive Anthroposophical tenor of our days.
(Our school was located on the campus of Adelphi College.
When the college became a university, our school's name became all the more august.
We had been The Waldorf School of Adelphi College;
we became The Waldorf School of Adelphi University.
College admissions officers were, I presume, duly impressed.)
[These are from my eighth grade and tenth grade reports.
I don't remember being lethargic, but my teacher says I was,
so who am I to argue? I got a little better, I think.]
Looking at my old report cards (an embarrassing exercise), I notice how, again and again, I was given decent grades in classes that, really, I should have flunked (that is, I had learned almost nothing in those classes). But standards were low — and our teachers had more urgent priorities than conveying ordinary information or assisting us to master ordinary topics. The school went through the motions, grading our work and sending home report cards, but no one took the process very seriously. Consider the following, the grade and progress report given to me in eighth grade by our French teacher, Denise Coombs:
Madame Coombs (whom I liked; her son was my friend) was being more than generous. If I made any "progress," I can't imagine what it was. I took French every year prior to high school, but I never learned to speak French, nor to read it, nor to comprehend it when it was spoken to me. And yet I got reasonably good grades, year after year. The same was true in math classes and science classes — I got passing grades without learning much if anything. In a few classes, such as English and Latin, I received high grades and probably deserved them. But there's no way I deserved a B- in eighth grade French, or B+ in math (above), or A's in physics and chemistry. Even the C in German is questionable (I learned essentially no German until I spent a month in Germany, where learning a smattering of the language became a necessity — although, really, I only learned to translate German reasonably well decades later, when I studied German privately, alone, sitting here at home).*
Things were much the same for my classmates. We were rarely expected to actually learn the subjects we "studied." Getting fairly good grades was easy at our school, since our teachers were not primarily interested in providing a regular education. Some students were occasionally held back, either in a single subject or, sometimes, in all subjects — that is, they were required to repeat a year. How could this be, in view of the school's lax grading practices? How could any child flunk if grades were handed out so generously? Even at the time, I sensed that something strange was going on. Kids who were required to repeat a class or an entire year didn't seem to be particularly dull or uninformed — they may not have been the brightest kids in the school, but they were not obviously less bright or knowledgeable than many other students who sailed along unchallenged.
Knowing what I do now about Waldorf pedagogy, I understand that grades and promotion often had less to do with academic performance than with other considerations — distinctly unworldly ones. If our teachers followed Steiner's precepts, they made "clairvoyant" decisions about us, focusing on our "temperaments" and "karmas" and states of "incarnation." According to Anthroposophy, a being is "abnormal" if s/he fails to keep pace with the evolution of similar beings. An "abnormal" angel is an angel that does not keep pace with other, upwardly evolving angels. By analogy, an "abnormal" eighth grader is one who is not as spiritually evolved as his/her classmates. Therefore, this boy or girl really ought to stay in eighth grade until s/he becomes spiritually "normal." This is how Steiner urged Waldorf teachers to think.
Bear in mind, not all Waldorf teachers are devoted Anthroposophists, and I don't know for sure all the criteria my teachers used when awarding grades. Nor am I saying that my teachers used terms like "abnormal eighth grader" in their private deliberations. Still, the evidence suggests that the teachers at our Waldorf school operated as Steiner would have wanted them to operate, placing much less emphasis on academics than on other — deeply occult — considerations.
* Here at Waldorf Watch, you will find some material that I have translated from German to English and from French to English. This is work I have done long after graduating from a Waldorf school, and I have been able to undertake it largely due to factors unrelated to my Waldorf education. I have tackled private study of German, so that I would be more capable of reading Rudolf Steiner's works in their original form. Equally important, I have had the assistance of numerous friends who know German and French far better than I; I have also made use of online translation services that, crude as they are in their present form, have helped me prepare rough initial drafts of some translations; and — when translating Grégoire Perra's writings from French — I have had had direct contact with Perra, whose guidance was of course invaluable.
To examine how Waldorf schools create an Anthroposophical atmosphere
and lure students toward Anthroposophical beliefs, see, e.g.,
To examine how Waldorf schools extend their indoctrination efforts beyond students
to their families and to new faculty members, see
The following is from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
Q. “I just want to hear what kind of take Dopers [i.e., correspondents at The Straight Dope] have on Waldorf Schools ... My niece is in the 8th grade and has attended a Waldorf school since Kindergarten ... I would really like to hear what others here have to say before I pipe up.”
A1. “...if we're going to discount an educational tradition just because its underlying belief-system is whacky, well, heck...”
A2. “...The schools were started on a philosophy called Anthroposophy. This rejects modern medicine and psychiatry and promotes a belief in things like astrology and spiritual mysticism.
"But how much a school accepts this varies. One of the [Waldorf schools] in my town has all the teachers wear long flowing skirts everyday and talks a lot about reincarnation as plants. The other takes a gentler than average method of education, but doesn't get all into the woo.”
A3. “I have an anecdote about a friend of my mother's. He had his children in a Waldorf school, and worked out a deal where he would teach a semester of physics in exchange for a break on tuition (they had a semester of chemistry followed by a semester of physics).
"Sometime during his first week, he made a casual reference to the periodic table, and no one knew what he was talking about. He probed a bit, and discovered that they had spent an entire semester of 'chemistry' learning about the healing properties of different kinds of crystals. Even more disturbing, the administration was completely unaware that they were not learning mainstream chemistry (and were horrified when they found out, but still, it seems like the sort of thing that should come to the attention of a principal before the class is over).
"He ended up teaching both chemistry and physics for his semester, then withdrawing his kids from the school.”
A4. “Not teaching your children to read until they're older is a turn-off for me [Waldorf schools usually postpone reading until age 7].”
A5. “Statler schools are slightly better, but neither is especially charming or forgiving.”
A6. “...I went to one of these schools for two years of elementary school (after I'd learned to read). While I can't say for sure that it would have been the optimal place for me long term, it was certainly a delightful portion of my childhood. There was definitely a lot of woo going on (which annoyed me), but I was adequately educated...”
A7. “...My kids go to an ordinary public school and got that [math] starting in first grade. Not in a complex fashion, but the concepts.
“They started getting the concepts of algebra in 3rd grade.”
A8. “[I]t makes a huge difference if the child has a learning disability or some such issue. A huge difference. I'm afraid too many kids could easily get lost in the woo.”
A9. “...I have little faith in the public schools catching and correcting [learning] problems.
“Anyone considering one of these [Waldorf] schools can find plenty not to like about them, but the reading thing is seriously minor... “
A10. “...sounds like a better education than you'd get from the Full Gospel Pentecostal Day School...”
A11. "Bananas, celery, walnuts, grapes!"
A12 [the original questioner] “Thanks for the input. I have a niece who attends a Waldorf school and I am shocked at the lack of real core education. They sort of seem to pretend to have math and language, but my niece knows almost nothing for her age, it's tragic as she is a smart kid and my sister and her husband are shelling out all this money for her 'education'.
"When I was there for a visit earlier this year her teacher assigned my niece a biography of Turkey. A BIOGRAPHY. Of a COUNTRY. I was flabbergasted. I was sure my niece misspoke, but I looked at her papers and sure enough, he refers to what is a standard research paper on a country/culture as a biography. The teacher doesn't seem to know the definition of 'biography'. WTF? It still completely baffles me as I sit here and write it.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm pretty good at math, and tutoring her drove me nuts as her assignments just didn't make any sense. Often vital data were left out, making the problem unworkable, unless one assumed things which weren't given. Each and every time, it turned out that the teacher expected it to be assumed, because it was 'obvious'. It was maddening. Again, TIP OF THE ICEBERG.” [9-21-2011 http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=14281140]
SIX FACTS ABOUT STEINER EDUCATION
Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch
are closely connected to the essay on that page;
others are not — they provide general context.
 Lawrence Williams, Ed.D., OAK MEADOW AND WALDORF — see oakmeadow.com/resources.
Williams indicates that conveying knowledge is an important goal at Waldorf schools, even if other things are more important. Other Waldorf representatives ascribe even lower priority to knowledge and brainwork. Thus, for instance:
Overall, Waldorf schooling stands in opposition to "fact-based [i.e., knowledge-based] education." — Waldorf teacher Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Gryphon House, 2002), p. 26.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 688.
 Ibid., p. 712.
 Ibid., p. 725.
Efforts by Waldorf schools to justify their educational approach deserve careful scrutiny. Consider, for instance, an announcement put out by a Waldorf school in 2009: "Three New Studies Support Educational Methods Used in Waldorf Education" [waldo.villagesoup.com , March 3, 2009]. The piece cites two studies that advocate “free play” or “less work and more play” for young children, and a study that says the use of personal computers may hurt kids’ grades. Taken in moderation, the results of these studies are probably correct. But despite the headline, none of the studies explicitly addresses or praises the specific educational practices in Waldorf schools. At the most, such studies buttress arguments against excessively demanding schoolwork in all schools and over-reliance on technology in all schools. Clearly, however, reducing academic work for play time, and restricting computer use, could be harmful for children's education, if taken too far.
When a Waldorf school offers such “support” for itself, parents should proceed with caution. The subtext may be a rejection of high academic standards, intellectual development, and modern science and technology. (Waldorf schools are often deeply opposed to science and technology; see “Steiner’s ‘Science’”. For an examination of the sort of thinking Waldorf schools generally stress, as opposed to intellect, see “Thinking Cap”. Besides emphasizing play, many Waldorfs also emphasize crafts such as knitting, at the expense of academics; see "Clues".)
There are bound to be differences between Waldorf schools, on academic matters as well as other issues. And, of course, in evaluating schools, people will have varying perspectives, intentions, and standards. Here are three comments posted online late in April, 2009: • "As a teacher at a local high school, I can report that the students who come from these 'experimental' elementary and middle schools — Waldorf, Santa Barbara Charter, Open Alternative (that one is the worst!), are almost always poor readers, writers, and thinkers." • "I will agree with [the previous writer] that the worst prepared students that arrive at my classroom are Waldorf and Open Alternative; I will also add Montessori and Santa Barbara Middle School to that list." • "As a teacher at a local high school, I see the benefits of the solidly grounded pedagogy of schools like Waldorf, Santa Barbara Charter School and Open Alternative School. Besides often being top of the class, the students from all three of these schools are willing to express an opinion and back it with solid, well articulated facts." [http://www.thedailysound.com/opinion/042309cheri ]
Montessori schools are sometimes confused with Waldorf schools. Despite some superficial similarities, the two systems are quite dissimilar.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.
 Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 76.
 Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER SPEAKS TO THE BRITISH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 93.
 A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.
 THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 79.
 PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL, pp. 23-24.
 The Waldorf approach has many distinctive features. In criticizing a rationalist, Steiner once said: “He did not want any fairy tales told to children, or to teach children anything other than scientific trash....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. Mull that over for a moment. “Scientific trash.”
Steiner preferred fairy tales for the amazing reason that he considered them to be true. “Fairy tales are...the final remains of ancient clairvoyance, experienced in dreams by human beings who still had the power. What was seen in a dream was told as a story — for instance, 'Puss in Boots' ... All the fairy tales in existence are thus the remnants of the original clairvoyance.” — Rudolf Steiner, ON THE MYSTERY DRAMAS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 93. Mull that over for a moment. “ALL the fairy tales in existence...”
If a Waldorf school follows Steiner’s wishes, the academic content of the education may suffer in various ways. Waldorf schools often use few, if any, textbooks. One reason is that mainstream texts would introduce ideas foreign to the occult philosophy underlying Waldorf education. Another reason is that at Waldorfs, students may be diverted into “artistic” endeavors that are meant to have spiritualistic effects. [See “Magical Arts”.]
The Waldorf approach often entails having students create their own, handwritten lesson books. [See "Lesson Books".] Generally, these consist of text and pictures copied from the blackboard — that is, copied verbatim from the teachers. But sometimes a bit of individual creativity is allowed. The following is from a newspaper account published in February, 2009. I will withhold the name of the school and administrator in question:
There can be advantages to this approach, but there may also be clear disadvantages. The Waldorf school in question, here, may be excellent — I don’t know anything about the school beyond what the newspaper reports. But there are elements in the report that may cause concern. For Rudolf Steiner, the “inner life” is subjective spiritualism, based on clairvoyance. He emphasized art, as I have already mentioned, for occult, not aesthetic, reasons. And he de-emphasized science. Consider how much hard science a student may learn if s/he spends “science” study time reading “history, literature and biographies” and then creating a hand-lettered report, complete with time-consuming illustrations. When students are led to do such thongs as part of their "science" courses, how much time is spent actually studying science or working in a science lab?
 As I report elsewhere, the Waldorf school I attended was, in many respects, a bastion of privilege. Admission was selective, and many (but by no means all) of the students came from privileged backgrounds. Also, most of the students were quite intelligent. For these reasons, the faculty didn't have to worry much about how well we would do on standardized exams. The situation was somewhat like what Tony Judt has described concerning his education at Cambridge: "We were never taught with the specific aim of performing well on the Tripos — the Cambridge final examinations. My supervisors [or teachers] were supremely uninterested in public performance of any sort. It was not that they were indifferent to exam results; they simply took it for granted that our natural talent would carry us through." — Tony Judt, "Meritocrats" (THE NEW YORK REVIEW, August 19, 2010), p. 4.
 There are connections between temperament and race in Steiner’s teachings. They aren’t entirely straightforward (little in Anthroposophy is) but they strengthen the proposition that dividing children by temperament is akin to dividing them by race or nationality.
Steiner sometimes spoke explicitly of connections between temperament and race or nationality.1 Speaking of people in the past, Steiner said “[T]hey were interested in the color of the skin, in the racial temperament.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR AS BREATHING-PROCESS OF THE EARTH (SteinerBooks, 1984), p. 65.
"Racial temperament." These are Steiner’s words.
Steiner said that groups such as nations, peoples, and/or races have their own souls. One example: “[W]e can distinguish the Swiss Folk Spirit ... The Folk Spirit is something quite different from the people ... [It is] a spiritual Being....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 24. The soul or spirit of a people is not the people themselves; it is a spiritual being that has its own separate existence; it is a spiritual entity living in the spirit realm. From there, it guides the people who are under its sway.2
The soul of a group affects the temperament of the group — it does this through its “aura”: “Here lies the source of the multiplicity of types we meet with in Russia, Norway and Germany [for example]. The national characteristics are determined by that which works into the temperaments [i.e., the character of a nation is created by the aura of the national soul working itself into the temperaments of the citizens] ... National temperaments, therefore, vary in accordance with the extent of the interpenetration of the folk-aura.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF FOLK SOULS, p. 40. Different nations have different national temperaments, depending on how their souls’ auras penetrate them.
"Racial temperament." "National temperaments." These are Steiner’s words.
Our group souls make us what we are, more or less, and they assign us tasks we must undertake, more or less. "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 (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), pp. 141-142.
Our tasks are linked to our temperaments (note how Waldorf teachers assign tasks based on temperament), and our group souls assign us both our temperaments and our tasks. Of course, there are always individual variations. Steiner repeatedly said that racial evolution and individual evolution are different: A race may be moving in one direction, e.g., downward, but a member of that race may move in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, there is a link between race, task, and temperament. If you want to refuse the task assigned you by your racial soul, you have a big problem on your hands. You may be able to free yourself from your racial soul, but it takes work.3
To summarize: While the connection between temperament and racial identity is not simple, it is real, according to Steiner. The races have different soul qualities, different “characteristics.” Calling these temperaments is somewhat misleading, but the differences between races are real and important — according to Steiner (who was, as usual, wrong).
In reality, there are cultural differences between various populations, but there are no inherent, spiritual differences between nations or races. Talking about cultural differences makes sense; talking about national or racial temperament does not. The latter is racism.
1 Steiner said that a national group such as the Swiss is not the same as a race. “A nation is not a race. The concept of a nation has nothing to do with that of a race. A race may divide itself into many different nations; races are different communities from folk communities.” [THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS, p. 65.] You may notice a contradiction, here, typical of Steiner. Nations and races may not be identical, but Steiner contradicts himself when he says “The concept of a nation has nothing to do with that of a race.” Steiner himself explains how the concept of a nation is related to the concept of a race. What he means is that a race is larger than a nation: Many nations (such as the nations of Europe) may all be parts of the same race.
2 Each nation or group has it own soul, which definitely, really exists, according to Steiner. A race has its own soul, and the nations of that race have their own souls, sort of subsets of the racial soul. The Swiss, with their national soul, are just one nation within the European/Aryan/Caucasian race. In THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS, Steiner gives other examples of European nations with their own national souls: the Italians and the Russians. [pp. 197-199.]
3 The difficulty in separating yourself from your group is reflected in this: The group soul is the manifestation of a divine spiritual being, an Archangel. Such beings “bring the life of the individual and the life of broader groups of humanity — that is, peoples, races, and so on — into harmonious order ... A Fire Spirit or Archangel manifests in a folk-soul, governing the relationship between individual human beings and the whole of a people or race.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 92.
Some Waldorf schools refuse to issue report cards.
Steiner himself dismissed the idea of such reports.
“Progress reports? Giving in to someone like Mrs. X. (a mother who had written a letter to the faculty) is just nonsense."
— Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 408.
The Waldorf school I attended made use of report cards,
although often enough the process seemed purely pro forma:
Plenty of schools award grades for strange reasons, or for no good reasons at all.
Plenty have low academic standards, and grade inflation is a problem everywhere today.
Waldorfs stand apart in certain distinct ways, however.
Steiner said there is little reason to impart information to students, in the long run.
He said we are born with all the knowledge we need,
implanted in us before birth during life in the spirit realm.
[See, e.g., "Thinking".]
Please do not attach any particular importance to my own experiences or history
as a student at one particular Waldorf school.
Whether Waldorf schools in general are good
— and, especially, whether they would be good for you and your children —
depends on far larger considerations.
Gather as much information as you can about Waldorf schools in general.
Then, if you find yourself drawn to a specific Waldorf school,
visit it, look around carefully, ask probing questions —
and make you own decision about that specific school.