ACADEMIC STANDARDS AT WALDORF
“The Results Gave a
Very Unfavorable Impression”
◊ "Not acquisition of knowledge...but the life force is the ultimate goal of [Waldorf education].” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.
◊ "The Ofsted report [on a Steiner school] details five areas of inspection [including] quality of teaching, learning, and assessment ... each of which have been rated as inadequate…" — The Bristol Post, January 21, 2019.
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 we took tests, and we 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, and it persists down to today. The teachers at the first Waldorf school worried that they were not adequately preparing their most senior students for standard final examinations, needed to go on to higher levels of education. 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. Our 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 in the past. But Waldorf schools cannot move very far toward academic proficiency 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... Waldorf schools 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 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 enjoyed 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 become dormant 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 credible 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 Waldorf education works 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 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...." — SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION, 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 you 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 bogus human faculties, too often as a substitute for providing a real, academically sound 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. A former Waldorf student, Richard Walton, claimed to be clairvoyant; he said his psychic powers put him in touch with the spirit realm. Leading 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.
The school gave Walton "top grades" not because he had mastered various subjects (math, history, English), but because he was believed to possess "unusual abilities" — he could "communicate with certain beings in the spiritual world." He was believed to be clairvoyant.
Grades awarded in this way are meaningless, when assessed by ordinary, rational standards. But they reflect the values held highest in Waldorf "education."
Footnotes for the Foregoing Sections
(Scroll Down to Find Further Sections)
 Waldorf teacher Lawrence Williams, 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. But other Waldorf representatives ascribe low priority to knowledge and brainwork. Thus, for instance:
◊ “The success of Waldorf Education...can be measured in the life force attained. Not acquisition of knowledge and qualifications, but the life force is the ultimate goal of this school.” — Anthroposophist Peter Selg, THE ESSENCE OF WALDORF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2010)‚ p. 30.
◊ “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
◊ “A Waldorf school is...an organization that seeks to allow the spiritual impulses of our time to manifest on earth in order to transform society ... [I]t strives to bring the soul-spiritual into the realm of human life.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, “On Earth as It Is in Heaven”, Research Bulletin, Vol. 16 (Waldorf Research Institute), Fall 2011, pp. 21-24.
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 school 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 difficult 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 hazy thinking Waldorf schools generally stress, 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."
Montessori schools are sometimes confused with Waldorf schools. Despite some superficial similarities, the two systems are quite dissimilar.
"A different approach to child-centred education arose as a result of the study and care of the physically and mentally handicapped. Teachers had to invent their own methods to meet the needs of such children, because the ordinary schools did not supply them. When these methods proved successful with handicapped children, the question arose whether they might not yield even better results with ordinary children. During the first decade of the 20th century, the educationists Maria Montessori of Rome and Ovide Decroly of Brussels both successfully applied their educational inventions in schools for ordinary boys and girls.
"The Montessori method’s underlying assumption is the child’s need to escape from the domination of parent and teacher. According to Montessori, children, who are the unhappy victims of adult suppression, have been compelled to adopt defensive measures foreign to their real nature in the struggle to hold their own. The first move toward the reform of education, therefore, should be directed toward educators: to enlighten their consciences, to remove their perceptions of superiority, and to make them humble and passive in their attitudes toward the young. The next move should be to provide a new environment in which the child has a chance to live a life of his own. In the Montessori method, the senses are separately trained by means of apparatuses calculated to enlist spontaneous interest at the successive stages of mental growth. By similar self-educative devices, the child is led to individual mastery of the basic skills of everyday life and then to schoolwork in arithmetic and grammar." — "education." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 10 Feb. 2010.
 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 claurvoyant reports.
“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 chalkboard — 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:
“At [X] Waldorf School, all forms of the arts are completely integrated with every aspect of the curriculum, in line with Waldorf methodology, which emphasizes arts and the ‘inner life.’
“Art, music, handwork and woodwork are all part of a child's daily school experience at Waldorf.
“For example, students create their own main lesson books in all the academic subjects.
“If the topic is chemistry, they study the subject in a broad way that includes history, literature and biographies of chemists in addition to the laboratory science itself.
“‘Out of that, they create their main lesson book. They hand write and illustrate it, and that is one way that visual arts is worked into chemistry,’ says [Y], school administrator." [Calgary Herald, Feb. 12, 2009.]
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?
 See "The Waldorf Scandal".
[Waldorfish art, 21st century, R.R.]
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://www.waldorfcritics.org/personalstories.html.
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.
One reason homework is discouraged is because Waldorf-Steiner schools like to control the curriculum very tightly around Rudolf Steiner's occult beliefs. Parents are not allowed to let children read books, not because of a dislike of homework per se, but because they fear that reading will interfere with a child's soul development. There are always occult reasons behind the schools' structures and methods. Children are tightly controlled over their use of art media too. No black crayons. (Black being spiritually low.) Pastels and watercolours only. (Look at the artwork in the picture accompanying the article — these pictures are the same in every school worldwide.)
These occult beliefs are often obfuscated and hidden behind 'educationalist' rationales — as reflected in the article. I hope this helps you decide if Waldorf Schools are right for your children.
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
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, as does his more general anti-intellectualism. 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 our 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 graduates were accepted by excellent colleges — better colleges, I think, than the grads' College Board scores, etc., would warrant. Bear in mind, the transcripts for these graduates reflected grades awarded by Waldorf teachers; likewise, the official letters of recommendation sent to the colleges were written by the same Waldorf teachers. 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 every time a good college accepted one of the school's graduates. The teachers undoubtedly had this purpose in mind, as well. At least some of these factors probably 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 unequipped for life outside the Waldorf cocoon. 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.
* 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 need 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 OF BOOKS, August 19, 2010), p. 4.
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