Rudolf Steiner on Education


A Key to Steinerthought

This is the third installment in a series of essays

examining the foundations of Waldorf education.

The previous installments are

 “Foundations” and “Underpinnings”.

“Now I am lost,” said Rudolf Steiner. “I don’t understand anything anymore.” 

He didn’t mean it, of course. He was trying to shock the teachers at the first Waldorf school, trying to bring them to order. 

Steiner’s followers, including Waldorf school faculty, generally treat him as a nearly infallible spiritual sage. They comb through his words, seeking guidance on all matters, great and small. Indeed, most of the books ascribed to Steiner are not the direct product of his pen — they are transcripts of various lectures he delivered and discussions he led. Convinced that his words were precious gems, devoted followers painstakingly wrote down as many of his utterances as possible, and Anthroposophical presses have issued the results in a vast array of overlapping anthologies. 

But despite the reverence Anthroposophists extend to Steiner, differences of opinion — sometimes sharp and bitter — can be found in Anthroposophical ranks. [1] Cliques formed early in the history of Steiner’s movement, and they persist today. The statement I quoted, above, led to a discussion of the cliquishness among Waldorf faculty. During a faculty meeting, a teacher had said that the faculty “would like a special Sunday service for teachers only.” [2] Steiner wasn’t sure he liked the idea, especially if the teachers tried to design the service themselves. When a teacher pressed the point, Steiner became exasperated “Now I am lost. I don’t understand anything anymore. A sacrament is esoteric. It is one of the most esoteric things you can imagine ... [T]he group would have to be united ... In esoteric things, people should be united in the content.” [3] 

Steiner knew that his followers were not completely united even on what was, to him and to them, the most important of all matters, esoteric spiritualism. He also knew that only the inner circle of Waldorf teachers understood, to any significant degree, his esoteric agenda — teachers outside the circle, and most parents, were in the dark. [4] So, he said, an esoteric religious ritual “might be too difficult to create out of the faculty and too difficult to care for within the faculty as a whole [i.e., including those not in the inner circle]. Let us assume [i.e., for the sake of argument] that you all are in agreement. Then, we could only accept new colleagues into the faculty who also agree.” [5] Steiner wanted Waldorf teachers to be Anthroposophists [6], but he knew that Waldorf schools would sometimes need to hire outsiders, when no initiates with the required skills could be found. So trying to develop a special esoteric service for faculty members would present many problems, ranging from trying to find unanimity among the faculty’s inner circle to trying to find a ritual that would not alienate non-Anthroposophists occupying the outer circle.


The discussion of esotericism branched out. A teacher asked about esoteric studies. [7] Steiner replied: “As you know, I gave [i.e., published or presented] a number of such studies years ago, but I had to stop because people misused them. Esotericism was simply taken out into the world and distorted. In that regard, nothing in our esoteric movement has ever been as damaging as that. All other esoteric study, even in less honorable situations, was held intimately [i.e., kept secret]. That was the practice over a long period of time. Cliques have become part of the Anthroposophical Society and they have set themselves above everything else, unfortunately, also above what is esoteric.” [8] This is a truly fascinating statement, for several reasons. Note that Steiner speaks to Waldorf teachers about “our esoteric movement.” This is the key to comprehending Waldorf education. The Waldorf movement is the spearhead of an esoteric movement. 

Another point of interest we can find in these words of Steiner's: The great man comes close to admitting that he once made a mistake. He generally avoided any suggestion that he was fallible — he tended to claim that he possessed profound occult secrets that enabled him to see to the heart of almost any issue. [9] The “studies” he published were books he actually wrote, such as OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE [10], in which he laid out many of his secrets. He took a lot of heat, afterwards. Critics lambasted him for claiming to have direct clairvoyant knowledge about mystical “realities” and for describing his weird system as a form of “science.” But the damage didn’t end there. Schisms and squabbles developed among his followers, who interpreted his words in various ways. There was just no end of grief. Eventually Steiner was forced to the realization that he should have kept the secrets secret, as other esotericists before him had done “over a long period of time” (i.e., almost forever). So, later, when it came time to decide whether esoteric studies should be openly presented at Waldorf, Steiner said no. Esotericism would be in the school, but behind the scenes, not openly, not honestly. [11] Steiner urged Waldorf teachers to learn from the most damaging episode in the history of “our esoteric movement.” Keep mum. Don’t let outsiders know what we’re actually doing here in our attractive little school.


◊ [Star Power] Steiner knew that some of his beliefs would strike most people — including, perhaps, even some of his followers — as absurd, so he told Waldorf teachers to treat these beliefs as secrets. For instance, Steiner said that the Earth’s continents swim in the seas and are kept from knocking into each other only because the stars control them. “[T]he continents swim. The question is, of course, why they don’t bump into each other ... All fixed land swims and the stars hold it in position.” [12] He made this claim in two different faculty meetings, but he also cautioned the teachers: “[W]e need to avoid such things. We cannot tell them to the students because they would then need to tell them to their professors in the examinations, and we would acquire a terrible name. Nevertheless, that is actually what we should achieve in geography.” [13] A Waldorf geology teacher trying to benefit from this guidance might be excused for feeling confused: If a concept is kept secret, it can hardly be “achieved” — to achieve the knowledge, the secret would have to be revealed. Depending on interpretation, Steiner here flashed either a red or a yellow light for Waldorf faculty members. A teacher should aim to convey a bizarre understanding of geology, but without voicing it aloud. How can this be accomplished? By indirection, hints, quiet suggestions, quiet propaganda. This is how Waldorf schools often operate, promoting occultism on the sly.


◊ [Green Power] On other, less numerous occasions, Steiner flashed a green light, allowing Waldorf teachers to openly profess Anthroposophical doctrines. Let’s stick with the powers of the stars. Steiner said that astrology can be brought into the classroom. “In discussing the zodiac, you should begin with the mammals, represented by Leo; then birds, Virgo; reptiles, Libra; amphibians, Scorpio; fish, Sagittarius ... When you teach animal geography, you need to consider the zodiac ....” [14] Whether astrology is openly promoted at any particular Waldorf school is, of course, up to the faculty there. But according to Steiner, teaching kids to see the world in terms of the zodiac is just fine. 

Astrology colors all sorts of subjects, according to Steiner: “Reproductive cells are produced in human virtue of the fact that the terrestrial effect...[is] destroyed, ruined. This process allows the organism to become receptive to the work of the cosmos. Cosmic forces can now work into the organism from every direction. These cosmic forces are initially influenced by the reproductive cells of the other sex....” [15] “Cosmic forces” are, for Steiner, the influences from the heavens, including the astrological power of the stars and zodiac. We can reproduce only because physical, earthly forces are nullified, allowing cosmic forces to control our sexual processes. Specifically, the white portion of a female’s eggs, albumen, comes under the influence of the heavens. To understand, we must ignore science. “Natural science will never comprehend the nature of albumen ... [E]xtraterrestrial — and not terrestrial — forces can influence it.” [16] This is sex education, Steiner-style. Would such concepts ever emerge in a Waldorf classroom? Consider the title of the book in which these passages occur: EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS. Bear in mind that editors at an Anthroposophical publishing house chose this title, recently. In this sense, the title tells us about realities in Waldorf schools today, not just decades ago when Steiner still walked the Earth.


◊ [A Is For...] Almost any Anthroposophical doctrine, no matter how bizarre, may be present in a Waldorf school, either explicitly or implicitly. Let’s look at a few more examples, then move on to other Waldorf issues. Like many mystics, Steiner referred to “Akasha,” a spiritualistic universal ether sometimes considered equivalent to starlight. Steiner claimed that he knew almost everything about almost everything because he could clairvoyantly consult the “Akashic Record” or the “Akashic Chronicle,” a sort of celestial encyclopedia written on Akasha. Thus, a Waldorf teacher once asked Steiner “In geology class, how can we create a connection between geology and the Akasha Chronicle?” [17] Steiner’s answer was long and circuitous, but significantly it did not include anything like “Never mention the Akasha Chronicle in class” or “The Akasha Chronicle? Are you nuts? There ain’t no such thing.” Instead, Steiner discoursed on geology, wandered away from the subject of Akasha, and said: “We can show that the British isles have risen and sunk four times and thus follow the path of geology back to the concept of the ancient Atlantis ... [W]e should not be afraid to speak about the Atlantean land [i.e., Atlantis] with the children. We should not skip that ... The only thing is, you will need to disavow normal geology since the Atlantean catastrophe occurred in the seventh or eighth millennium.” [18] 

Akasha. Atlantis. These are among the pseudo-phenomena Steiner discussed in all seriousness with Waldorf teachers. Along the way, he often stressed the need to reject real science (in this case, “normal geology”), embracing occult claptrap instead. I do not remember that any of the teachers at the Waldorf school I attended ever mentioned the Akashic Record to my classmates and me. But the existence of Atlantis was an article of faith for at least some of them. Steiner firmly asserted that there was such a place as Atlantis and that the Aryan race emerged from it. [19] If such topics are not discussed openly in a particular Waldorf school, they probably inform the thinking of at least some of the teachers there. “[W]e are still working out what is necessary for the fifth post-Atlantean age [i.e., the fifth age since Atlantis sank], especially in terms of education.” [20] Note the title of the book in which this statement occurs: PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS.


◊ [Divine] In evaluating the sort of education kids may receive from a Waldorf school, it is helpful — if not absolutely necessary — to understand the tenets of Anthroposophy. Consider the following. Speaking to Waldorf teachers, Steiner said, “You should also certainly include the fact that human beings raise themselves to the divine in three stages. Thus, you have to give the children an idea of destiny, you then slowly teach them about heredity and repeated earthly lives through stories. You can then proceed to the three stages of the divine.” [21] The crucial point to grasp, here, is that once again Steiner strayed from his professed intentions and explicitly directed Waldorf teachers to inculcate Anthroposophical doctrines among the students. What are the three stages of the divine? They are the stages of “angels,” “higher gods, the archangels,” and “time spirits” [22] — but these details are less important than realizing that Waldorf schools are meant to promote the religion Steiner created. That religion includes such doctrines as karma (“destiny”), reincarnation (“repeated earthly lives”), and polytheism (“higher gods”), which may or may not appeal to you. But this is the sort of thing true-believing Waldorf teachers want to promote. Usually they will do it quietly, indirectly. But sometimes their agenda becomes plainly visible.


◊ [Authority] Let’s turn our attention to the role of the teacher, as conceived by Steiner. Waldorf schools should be literally authoritarian, Steiner said, especially in the lower grades. Students' "souls are open to consciously receiving what works on them from teachers on the basis of a natural, unquestioned authority." [23] 

Naturally, teachers must be vested with authority. But note Steiner's precise phrase: "unquestioned authority". Steiner wanted students to look on Waldorf teachers as ultimate, unchallengeable communicators of truth: The kids should sit down and attentively, unquestioningly listen. And the parents of Waldorf students should support the teachers in this role. But wait. Who will the teachers replace as authorities? The parents themselves. Steiner put it this way when addressing Waldorf parents: “Much of what the parents can contribute to supporting this authoritative strength, to enabling their child’s teacher to be the authority he or she must be, can have its source in something as simple as the fact that the school is taken seriously, with a certain ceremonial seriousness. A lot of sifting out goes into choosing teachers for the Waldorf School, and they are people you can have confidence in. And if you do not understand something, rather than wrinkling your nose at it right away, it is important that you trust in the great overriding principle [i.e., authority] in which you yourself believe.” [24] 

Once again, Steiner gives us a lot to chew over in this statement: 

A lot of “sifting out” occurs during the hiring process at Waldorf. What is sifted out? As we have seen, Steiner knew that Waldorf schools might sometimes need to hire outsiders, teachers who do not subscribe to Anthroposophy. But the goal he had in mind is quite different. “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [25] The careful sifting Steiner describes consists of hiring Anthroposophists whenever possible, and avoiding any teachers who would overtly oppose the Anthroposophical coloring of Waldorf education. One of my favorite teachers, long ago, slipped into our Waldorf school's faculty because no candidate more suitable could be found. But he was soon let go — the headmaster explained to him that he was too anchored in the physical, animal realm. [26] 


◊ Parents should have confidence in Waldorf teachers. Why? Because of the sifting process, which produces a staff consisting, primarily, of Anthroposophists. Do the parents understand what this means? Those who do understand and who want an Anthroposophical education for their children should, by all means, feel confidence in Waldorf teachers. But all other parents should take warning. To paraphrase Steiner: Waldorf is a school of spiritualistic purposes where we will try to lead your kids down the pathways of occultism. Welcome in! (Now please don't interfere as we work on your children.)


◊ Parents should take the school seriously, which means approaching it with “a certain ceremonial seriousness.” Please. Should parents approach their local public schools with “a certain ceremonial seriousness”? Isn't constructive criticism a wiser attitude? Not at Waldorf schools, thank you. 

What sorts of schools should be approached ceremonially, with unwavering faith in the authority of the teachers? Religious schools, particularly those that espouse a religion that the parents embrace. Waldorf parents who are not Anthroposophists should be suspicious if they are required to show this high level of deference to a nonsectarian preparatory school (which is how Waldorfs often misrepresent themselves). [27] The ceremonies of Waldorf education are fundamentally religious, and the religion is Anthroposophy.


◊ If parents do not understand something, they should not expect much clarification. Steiner told Waldorf teachers to keep quiet about what happens inside the school. To protect the reputation of the school, they should talk to no outsiders, including parents — with the sole exception that they may answer parents’ questions about their own kids. “We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise....” [28] Students should sit down and keep quiet, and to a large extent so should their parents. We are the authority figures. You believe in authority, don’t you? So step aside while we work our magic on your children. (And remember, we consider you an outsider.)


◊ Who impedes the children’s moral/spiritual progress? Among others, parents: “Given the difficult, disorderly, and chaotic conditions of our time, it might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one’s care soon after birth.” [29] Let that sink in. The “moral” thing would “almost” be for Waldorf teachers to remove children from parents’ control "soon after birth". Few parents would accept such a proposition, of course. But only those parents who are prepared to accept the underlying tenet — that Waldorf teachers know best, embodying “authoritative strength” in ways parents cannot — should consider Waldorf schools for their children. All other parents should look for different types of schools. 


The survey of Waldorf education I have given up to this point reflects my own conclusions. To partially right the balance, I’ll now turn to Anthroposophist Roy Wilkinson and his book RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION [30], which consists of important statements Steiner made about education, selected by Wilkinson. I can’t reproduce the entire book, obviously, so my own judgment will still come into play — I will be selecting from Wilkinson’s selections. Also, I will toss in some clarifying statements from other books. Still, I will be turning over much of the control to Wilkinson, who was one of Steiner's most devoted adherents. So let’s see some of what Wilkinson offers us from Steiner. 

The first two chapters in RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION summarize Steiner’s life and work — they consist of Wilkinson’s words, not Steiner’s, and they are generalized prefatory stuff, so we can skip them here. 

◊ [We Need Spiritual Thought] The title of chapter three, "The Necessity of Spiritual Thought", gives a clear preview of what is to come. “Spiritual thought” is clairvoyance, and for Waldorf teachers it is the highest form of thought. Waldorf schools don’t try to teach kids to be literally clairvoyant, but they attempt to lead them in that direction, since “spiritual thought” is a human necessity. Waldorf teachers generally believe that we are surrounded by “supersensible” worlds and beings, places and spirits that can be detected only by using clairvoyance. 

“In former ages, men were aware of supersensible [i.e., supernatural] worlds. They had direct contact with the beings of these worlds and received guidance and inspiration from them.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 16-17. You see, humans used to have clairvoyance. But we lost it. But thanks to Steiner, we can get it again — better than ever. “In our modern age spiritual vision has been lost and the former disciplines [spiritual practices] for obtaining it are no longer applicable.”— Ibid., p. 17. Fortunately, new and improved spiritual practices are available today, through Anthroposophy. Steiner called Anthroposophy “spiritual science,” although it is actually a religion — and it permeates Waldorf education. “In theological terms, one could say that to study spiritual science is to acknowledge God; to educate is to recognize and further the divine intentions.” — Ibid., pp. 16-17. Note the term "theological." Studying Anthroposophy can best be described in theological terms; it is an acknowledgment of God (although Anthroposophy is actually polytheistic, acknowledging many gods). Waldorf teachers draw on their theological study of Anthroposophy to guide their students. They think they are furthering the “divine intentions” or, as Steiner once said even more clearly when describing the work of Waldorf teachers: “[W]e are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods” [31]


◊ [Oh, the Humanity] Chapter four discusses human nature, as conceived by Steiner. Waldorf teachers believe that human beings are creatures of astrological powers and reincarnation. “In his physical structure he [i.e., man] has the impress of the Zodiac; in his organs [man has the impress of] the planets.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 16-17. Astrology. “Man is a citizen of two worlds. His existence alternates between periods in a supersensible world and periods in the physical [world].” — Ibid., pp. 16-17. Reincarnation. 

Waldorf teachers believe that people have both souls and spirits (the latter are higher than the former). “Soul and spirit descend into a physical body but they do not come naked from the spiritual world. They bring ‘karma’ with them in accordance with past experiences from previous lives on earth.” — Ibid., pp. 16-17. We create our karma by our behavior. When we die and, later, are reincarnated, we take up our karma or destiny and try to work on it further. Waldorf teachers try to help their students with this. If you think your children have bad karma that needs occult assistance, maybe a Waldorf school would suit you and your family. But otherwise... 

(Waldorf teachers also believe that in addition to a soul and spirit and a physical body, each person also manifests three nonphysical bodies: the etheric body, the astral body, and the “I”. — Ibid., pp. 26-27. We don’t need to delve into these doctrines, now. You simply need to know that this is the sort of thinking Waldorf schools harbor.)


◊ [Tasking] Chapter five, "The Tasks of Education", tries to explain what Waldorf schools aim to accomplish. It boils down to providing priestly guidance. 

Here's how Waldorf schools look at young children: “In the child we have before us a being who has only recently left the divine world. In due course, still at a tender age, he comes to school and it is the teacher’s task to help guide him into earthly existence. The teacher is therefore performing a priestly office.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 36. 

To be fair, this single quotation doesn’t, by itself, prove that Waldorf schools are religious institutions. But it is suggestive — so much so, let’s go into the matter at greater length, dipping briefly into a different Anthroposophical text. The following is from THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, specifically from a section titled “The Priestly Nature of Teaching”. [32] To follow what follows, you need to know that, according to Steiner, the growing child release her/his "etheric body" at about the time s/he loses baby teeth: “The human being is molded anew with the change of teeth....” [33] Releasing the etheric body is difficult, a struggle. 

You may find reading the following is also a struggle. Steiner had a hard time expressing himself clearly. If all you get from his words is a general impression of occult nonsense, that may be sufficient: Occult nonsense is what Waldorf teachers accept as wisdom: 

“If we observe the struggle unfolding in the child before us...then, as teachers, we also develop a religious mood. [Steiner said that young children are naturally religious; observing them, Waldorf teachers become more religious also.] But, whereas the child with a physical body develops the religious mood of the believer, the teacher, in gazing at the wonders that occur between birth and the change of teeth, develops a ‘priestly’ religious attitude. [Children are believers, Waldorf teachers are their priests, as it were.] The position of teacher becomes a kind of priestly office, a ritual performed at the altar of universal human life — not with a sacrificial victim to be led to death, but with the offering of human nature itself, to be awakened to life. Our task is to ferry into earthly life the aspect of the child that came from the divine spiritual world. This...forms a second organism [the etheric body] from the being that came to us from the divine spiritual life. [Paragraph break] Pondering such things awakens something in us like a priestly attitude in education. Until this priestly feeling for the first years of childhood has become a part of education as a whole, education will not find the conditions that bring it to life [i.e., education that is not guided by Anthroposophy is spiritually dead] ... A complete educational method...must flow from the whole human nature...the whole that deeply and inwardly experiences the secrets of the universe.” [34] 

Waldorf teachers function as priests, dealing with the "secrets of the universe.” They gain knowledge of these “secrets” through their gnostic “science” (i.e., religion) Anthroposophy. 


◊ [True Spirituality] One central task of the Waldorf teacher is to help children manifest their spiritual natures and fulfill their destinies during their lives on Earth. A related task is to create a school environment that expresses true spirituality. 

Steiner taught that most churches or other overtly religious institutions do not embody true spirituality, but Waldorf schools do (or at least should). “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” [35] To be truly spiritual, a school needs to be staffed by Anthroposophists. 

A Waldorf school also needs to be independent of outside influences. “True spiritual life, of which education is a part, cannot be subject to the state, nor can it be dictated to by the economic life.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 40. The actual or true spiritual life cannot be “subject to the state.” Waldorf schools avoid this if they maintain their independence. If they submitted to state supervision, they would run serious risks — for instance, they might be required to give their students more or less ordinary (i.e., real) educations while cutting back sharply on the occult conditioning of young minds. 

Waldorf schools can hardly escape the effects of “the economic life” — they require financial support just like any other schools. The trick for Waldorfs, on this score, is to receive any needed money without selling out (i.e., becoming untrue to their occult tasks).


◊ [The Seven-Year Stages] Chapter six of RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION digs into the developmental stages that children pass through. Steiner posited three such stages, which are 1) from birth up to the age of seven, 2) from seven to fourteen, and 3) from fourteen to twenty-one. Not all children age at precisely the same speed, but two clear “staging posts” mark the transitions between stages: "The figures given are approximate since there are always variations. Seven and fourteen are quite distinct staging posts marked by the change of teeth and puberty respectively.” — Ibid., pp. 41-42. 

It’s certainly good that Steiner acknowledged individual variations. For the most part, he tended to categorize children in ways that deny individuality. He divided children by temperament or humour [see “Humouresque”] and, as we see here, he divided them into three stages of development. Whether these latter divisions make sense will perhaps become evident as we proceed.


◊ [Birth to Age Seven] Let's stay with chapter six and examine the three stages in some detail. “In the first seven-year period the child cannot be taught in the accepted sense. He should be more-or-less [sic] left to himself, particularly in the very early years.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 42. This runs counter to typical present-day practice, when children begin receiving education very early, in Head Start and other programs. There is a mystical reason behind Steiner’s view (of course — there always is). Steiner taught that children are born with innate connections to the spirit realm. Because of this, Waldorf teachers try to keep children young for as long as possible, minimizing Earthly education as long as possible. [See “Thinking Cap”.] Steiner claimed that children before the age of seven are essentially asleep, dreaming, even when they are technically awake. “The child is not ready for school until the change of teeth ... He is best left in a gentle dream-like existence for as long as possible.” — Ibid., p. 45. Anyone who has actual experience with six-year-old boys, to cite just one age and sex, may doubt this description of the early childhood years. (Think Dennis the Menace. I'm allowed to say this because I was once a six-year-old boy.) 

“The best thing for these early years is to stimulate the imaginative faculty by the provision of suitable toys and by the telling of suitable stories such as the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm.” — Ibid., p. 42. If an educator in an ordinary school system made this remark, it might not occasion any discussion. Knowing that Steiner said these things, we should at least note that according to him, imagination is an important faculty that can lead to the development of clairvoyance; and he taught that all fairy tales are basically true because they contain the clairvoyant observations made by ancient peoples who still possessed a “natural” form of clairvoyance that modern people have largely lost. Clairvoyance, dreaming-sleeping-spiritual-remembering, imagination — these are the sorts of “thinking” emphasized by Steiner. [See, e.g., "Thinking".]


◊ [Seven to Fourteen] “From the sleeping and dreaming life of early childhood there is now a certain awakening. Forces which were at the basis of the physical body are set free and re-appear transformed into forces of spirit and soul. It is these that the educator must work with, even to promote the physical [development of the child].” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, pp. 45-46. 

You can see how Steiner essentially asserts that children move forward in a sort of lockstep, as members of groups rather than as distinctive individuals. At about age seven, when the baby teeth fall out, a change of consciousness occurs and the forces within the children are redirected to "forces of spirit and soul". As we have already seen, Steiner taught that we have both spirits and souls. Waldorf teachers focus primarily on these ("It is these that the educator must work with"), not the students’ brains. The work of Waldorf teachers is essentially spiritual or religious, not in any normal sense educational. 

“In the early years [i.e., until age seven] the child was an imitator. Now [seven to fourteen] he becomes a follower [sic: this seems to be a distinction with very little difference]. As yet he has no use for logic or demonstrations of proof but he needs ‘humanity’ ... [H]e has a longing for authority. He demands of adults the ability to believe in them, to feel instinctively about his teacher or whoever is concerned: ‘Here is one who can tell me things about the world because he is connected with it. He is a mediator between myself and the whole universe. I, myself, am not yet of that world.’ The teacher is the natural guide. The child looks up with reverence. The teacher says a thing is good, true and beautiful, and the child accepts it.” — Ibid.,pp. 45-46.] 

There’s a lot to chew over, here. Even up to age 14, a child has no use for logic — according to Steiner, s/he really doesn’t have much of a brain yet. This is, if I may so express it, absurd. Children who have gone to a regular school are using their brains, thinking logically (at least sometimes), and connecting to the real world far earlier than age 14. Of course, they are still children, irrational in many ways (as indeed adults are), but Steiner clearly sells them short. 

More important, note the elevated position Steiner claims for Waldorf teachers. They should be authorities looked upon with “reverence.” They — not parents, not clergy members — should be the “natural guides” for children. What’s going on here? A Waldorf school is geared to spiritual training. The child, as understood (or misunderstood) by Steiner, is still more linked to the spirit realm than to the physical world: “I, myself, am not yet of that world.” Waldorf teachers — not parents, not clergy members — are the “mediators” between the children and “the whole universe.” This is breathtaking, but it is what Steiner often said. And remember what Steiner once told Waldorf teachers, “[I]t might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one's care soon after birth." [29, redux] Parents, you should be told that Waldorf teachers think of themselves as the invaluable guides for your children. Actually, they think they function as priests, as we've seen. Waldorf teachers believe they know occult secrets, so they think they are far wiser than you. They think they know what is best for your children, and you don’t. If they could, they would relieve you of responsibility for your children “soon after birth.” 

Thus, Waldorf teachers want to steer your children into religious, obedient attitudes, while continuing to downplay brainwork: “[T]he teaching must be — as already indicated — imaginative, lively, full of pictorial imagery so as to develop feelings of wonder and reverence. Concepts and definitions at this stage will restrict the mind.” — Ibid., p. 51. If imaginative, lively instruction sounds good, and if even wonder and reverence seem good, ask yourself if a child of 11, say, will really be damaged by "concepts and definitions." What sort of education can possibly occur without concepts and definitions? Only one that is extremely vague and mystical. The "wonder and reverence" Waldorf schools aim for is geared to occultism — such things as etheric bodies, polytheism, karma, and reincarnation. And remember that some of this reverence is supposed to be directed at Waldorf teachers themselves. If you do not share Steiner’s occult beliefs, and if you do not think your children should revere occultist teachers, you should be very uncomfortable about what we have just now seen. 


◊ [Fourteen to Twenty-One] Steiner puts “the beginning of conceptual thinking” and “the awakening to sex” at this stage. — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 52.]Once again he is unrealistic — kids are able to handle concepts far sooner, and they often awake to sex far, far sooner. (I can say this because I was a boy, and I can remember that long before 14, my friends and I...) But let it go. 

“The adolescent needs to have plenty of substance in his soul (acquired in early years) which he can think about when thinking forces develop after puberty. Otherwise he drifts and latches on to [sic] all sorts of nonsense. Teachers of adolescents must have answers to the fate of humanity [! sic], the importance of historical epochs, the meaning of present day events, etc., i.e. a philosophy of life.” — Ibid., p. 53.

You can see how important it is to start a kid at a Waldorf school while s/he is still very young. Enroll her/him in Waldorf kindergarten, if at all possible. Or start with Waldorf pre-Kindergarten programs, if you possibly, possibly can. If you don’t, by the time a child reaches adolescence s/he won’t have “plenty of substance in his soul (acquired in early years)." The earliest grades at Waldorf schools are supposed to instill Anthroposophical attitudes, feelings, and beliefs in young hearts and minds. Later, these will become the content of Anthroposophical concepts: “the fate of humanity" (Steiner’s forecast of human evolution), “the importance of historical epochs" (these are periods of history since the sinking of Atlantis — yes, Atlantis), "the meaning of present day events". The soul substance leading to these concepts can only be supplied by Steiner and his followers, the ones who are privy to "secrets of the universe.” Accept no substitutes. 

So there you have the three stages of child development, all of them defined by and worked over by occult Anthroposophical doctrines. 


Chapters seven and eight deal with health and the temperaments. We can skip them here — I cover these topics in my essays “Steiner’s Quackery”, “Humouresque”, and "Temperaments".


◊ [Morality] Chapter nine is titled “Moral Education”. All schools should try to direct children toward morality and good citizenship. But at Waldorf schools this goal is, of course, linked to Steiner’s religious doctrines, such as polytheism. A quick glance, then we’ll move on. (The chapter itself is quite brief.) “The beginning of moral education (as well as religious [sic: religious education]) lies in the cultivation of the feeling of gratitude ... It is a matter of saying ‘thank you’ not only to fellow human beings but also to the higher powers....” — Ibid., p. 65. The prayers of gratitude and entreaty written by Steiner for Waldorf students [see “Prayers”] address God, but here we see once again that the Waldorf belief system is polytheistic, acknowledging multiple gods: the “higher powers" of the spiritual hierarchies. [See "Polytheism" and “Rankings”.] Waldorf students are supposed to thank them. How? Through prayers and reverence. Religion. Anthroposophy.


◊ [Behavior] Chap. 10 is also brief. It deals with discipline. Two short quotes: 

• “If there is one persistent offender in a class, he might be made to feel ashamed in front of his comrades. If the offense continues, it becomes a matter of deliberation and possible action by the whole College of Teachers.” — Ibid., p. 69. This sounds better than the corporal punishment Steiner sometimes advocated [see “Slaps”.] At Waldorf schools, the “College of Teachers” is usually the inner circle of the faculty — those teachers who are devoted to Anthroposophy, studying it (hence “college”) and discussing it with one another. At some Waldorf schools, the term may apply to the entire faculty. 

• “Generally speaking, the class teacher arrangement, whereby one teacher is closely connected with a particular class over a period of eight years, has advantages when it comes to dealing with behavioural problems. The class teacher knows the children very well, and they know him (or her). If the teacher studies the temperaments of the children, he [sic] will acquire a useful means of exercising control.” — Ibid., p. 70. At Waldorf schools, one teacher may have primary responsibility for a group of students for many years. My first "class teacher" shepherded my class until fifth grade, then she was replaced by a teacher who took us through eighth grade, after which we had a "class advisor" who steered us through high school. Whether or not this "class teacher arrangement" is good, any benefit is severely reduced when Waldorf teachers rely on the outmoded, empty concept of "the temperaments of the children" to try to understand and control their students. 


◊ [Parents] Chapter 11 of RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION deals with homework and school organization. Dull. We’ll skip it, except to note this concerning the relationship between teachers and parents: “It is preferable for school and home to share the same ideals or at least for the parents to be sympathetic to the strivings of the teachers. It is of great importance that the teacher keep parents informed of what is happening in the school.” — Ibid., p. 76. This sounds good, yet it is often violated in practice. “It is preferable" for parents to grasp and support the school’s aims, more or less. But this is not required, and indeed, as occultists, Anthroposophists may need to keep the uninitiated parents uniformed. Steiner himself often encouraged such secrecy. I'll repeat a point I made earlier; parents really need to think about it carefully. Steiner told Waldorf teachers to treat parents as outsiders and tell them nothing except for answering specific questions about their own children: “We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children.” [36]


◊ [Teachers] Chapter 12 provides some additional information about the role of Waldorf school teachers. “A feeling of reverence toward pupils, even thankfulness that they [i.e., teachers] have been given the opportunity of educating them is the right attitude for teachers in which to approach their tasks. It is a religious one....” — Ibid., p. 79. Waldorf education requires a lot of reverence, and it runs in both directions, up to the teachers and down to the students. Waldorf education is "religious" — the kids should have a religious attitude, and so should the teachers.

In this regard, Waldorf teachers should study some of the central holy texts of Anthroposophy. “For self-development or self-education...the teacher is recommended to turn to a book such as KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS.” — Ibid., p. 80. In the pages of this book, Steiner explains how to become clairvoyant and thus gain direct knowledge of the worlds of the gods. [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Working on clairvoyance is the key form of "self-development or self-education" for Waldorf teachers. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]

The impact a teacher may have on students can be quite surprising. Steiner said each student has one of four temperaments, as we have seen. There can be a bit of variety, since each individual has elements of all the temperaments. Still, each kid can be classified as exhibiting one of the four temperaments, more or less. And so can each teacher. “[T]he teacher also has a temperament and that temperament can affect his pupils. For instance, a choleric person [i.e., teacher], with his sudden outbursts, may frighten children and cause them to feel anxious. This is an immediate result but long term [sic] damage is also a possibility. Disturbances in the circulatory and rhythmic systems may manifest themselves [in a pupil] thirty or forty years later. A melancholic person [i.e., teacher] is one living within himself with very little outflowing warmth. Under his influence the soul life of the child may be chilled and his breathing become irregular. Digestive disturbances and diseases of the blood may follow. In the case of a teacher with a phlegmatic temperament the likelihood is that the child will not be sufficiently stimulated. The phlegmatic displays a certain indifference to the world and the effect on children is a dulling of brain activity in later life, possibly nervous troubles and neurasthenia [a “disease” discussed in Steiner’s day but now generally dismissed as imaginary]. The sanguine teacher lives in fleeting impressions. He does not help the child to concentrate, with the result that later there is a lack of zest and vital forces.” — Ibid., pp. 81-82.


Certainly the disposition of a teacher — her/his his moods, attitudes, character flaws and strengths — can affect children deeply. But don’t worry too much about anything Steiner said, above. He was pushing his extremely faulty form of medicine [see “Steiner’s Quackery”]. The temperaments as he described them do not exist. The same goes for such phantoms of his imagination as the "rhythmic system" — it is fictitious. Still, we might wonder why a Waldorf school would employ any teacher who is prone to “sudden outbursts" or who produces “ very little outflowing warmth", etc. However, under Steiner’s scheme, all four temperaments have drawbacks, and all humans fall into these four categories, so schools must accept teachers who have these limitations. The great ideal for Waldorf teachers is not possession of any particular temperament but devotion to Anthroposophy. To repeat one of Steiner’s most essential quotations (it cannot be repeated too often, IMO): “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [endnote 25 redux]


◊ [Subjects] The remaining chapters present specific recommendations for specific subjects. I’ll skim over them pretty quickly, since I discuss much of this material elsewhere.

English (or the “mother tongue”): Many myths, fairy tales, fables, and Bible stories. Norse myths, of course, at age ten; later, “folklore of different races ([age] thirteen), knowledge of peoples (fourteen).” — Ibid., p. 87. Steiner’s doctrines never stray far from his racism. [See “Steiner’s Racism”. For more on the study of English and/or literature, see “Oh My Word”. For more on Norse myths, see “The Gods”.]

Math: Steiner placed special importance on geometry with its “symmetrical drawing (reflection) which stimulates inner perception [i.e., pictorial thinking or clairvoyance].” — Ibid., p. 97. This opaque statement reflects Steiner’s belief that geometry can convince children to believe in the supersensible realm — where else can they find all the perfect triangles, circles, and rectangles described by geometry except in some ideal universe? Steiner said he experienced the mystical power of geometry in his own life: “Through his geometry book, that assistant teacher at Neudörf provided me with a confirmation of the spiritual world I needed then.” [37] [See "Mystic Math".] Or, as Steiner said elsewhere, Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 92.

History: “We are all part of history, a fact which is considerably reinforced if we can accept the idea of reincarnation. Events are symptoms of inner processes, of spiritually guided progress.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 97. This is Anthroposophical doctrine, which indeed underlies the study of history at Waldorf schools. [See “Oh My Word” and “Evolution, Anyone?”] Note that, in the Waldorf belief system, the true essence of history is spiritual: It is the story of mankind's evolution from an extremely dull consciousness in the phase called Old Saturn, on our way toward an extremely elevated form of conscious that we will attain in a phase called Future Vulcan. It is a "spiritually guided progress," with most of the guidance coming from the gods. [See "Everything" and "Matters of Form".] We evolve over the span of millennia, because we are born and reborn many, many times. This is the context in which Steiner said that Waldorf students should be taught about reincarnation. “For the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade independent religious instruction we could move into a freer form and give a theoretical explanation about such things as life before birth and after death.” [38] Note the references to “religious instruction" in Waldorf schools. We’ll return to this.

Geology: “We can show that the British isles have risen and sunk four times and thus follow the path of geology back to the concept of the ancient Atlantis ... [W]e should not be afraid to speak about the Atlantean land with the children. We should not skip that ... The only thing is, you will need to disavow normal geology since the Atlantean catastrophe occurred in the seventh or eighth millennium.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 25.

Geography: “By comparing the eastern coast of America with the western coast of Europe, taking into consideration the flora and fauna, a connection can be established leading to the idea of the lost continent, Atlantis.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 97. Yes, Atlantis — in a geography class.

Natural History: “The aim in animal study is to show that each animal species presents a one-sided development which is harmonised in the human being ... Without laboring the point it can be shown that both with regard to external form and soul qualities what is concentrated in man is spread out over the animal kingdom.” — Ibid., pp. 108-109. Steiner taught that most animals evolved from human beings, not vice versa. Animals display single qualities that are combined, triumphantly, in humans. If animals had not peeled away from us so soon, they could have been human like us. “When we say that certain beings remained at the Bull stage, others at the Lion, others at the Eagle, and so on, what does this mean? It means that if these beings had been able to wait, if they could have developed their full love for the physical world only at a much later time, they would have become human beings. If the lion had not willed to enter into the earthly sphere too early, it would have become a man; the same is true of the other animals that had split off up till then.” [39]

Practical Life, Handwork: Chapters 18 and 22 discuss nonacademic activities in Waldorf schools. Steiner put great emphasis on these, as was inevitable given his discouragement of academic and intellectual pursuits. [See "Steiner's Specific".] We won't linger on them here, however — we are summarizing the academic subjects students study in Waldorf schools. [For more on crafts, see, e.g., “Clues” and the entry for "crafts" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]

Science: “The science teacher has a most difficult task. Natural science has become purely materialistic in its approach and the immense discoveries and their application in technology have produced a de-spiritualised and de-humanised world.” — Ibid., p. 115. The task of the science teacher is difficult because Steiner rejected most of modern science. He called science “scientific junk” and he called scientists “scientific simpletons.” [40] Steiner preferred “Goethean” science in which you intuit (i.e., invent and project) spiritual essences in things. [See “Steiner’s ‘Science’”.] Ultimately, of course, Steiner preferred his own “spiritual science” in which you use clairvoyance to perceive (i.e., invent and project) spiritual essences in and behind things.


Music, Art, Eurythmy: See “Magical Arts” — it covers most of what Wilkinson and Steiner mention here.

Foreign Languages: In an extremely short chapter, Wilkinson quotes Steiner advocating the learning of foreign languages. He does not quote Steiner saying such things as “The use of the French language quite certainly corrupts the soul.” [41] But Steiner did say such things, and they are worth mulling over.

Religion: Steiner said that religion must be taught in Waldorf schools. We may mistakenly think that Waldorf schools today might downplay this guidance, but evidence suggests otherwise. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America has said: “Waldorf schools are nonsectarian [sic] and non-denominational [sic] ... The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions.” [42] Providing "understanding" of "all" world religions will take up a significant swath of the school curriculum, obviously. 

Steiner: “Without religion no person is whole.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 136. The religion Steiner promoted was unusual. “I want you to understand what is religious in an anthroposophical sense ... [R]eligion connected with a specific church is not actually religious....” [43] What is religious, "in an anthroposophical sense", is Anthroposophy — and Waldorf schools that are filled with religious feeling. “Religious instruction for children...must invoke the feelings ... A religious mood is the goal.”— Ibid., pp. 136-137. 

Steiner said that Anthroposophy would eventually make religion unnecessary for humanity, but in the meantime he occasionally acknowledged what he often denied: that Anthroposophy is a religion: “[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." [44] 

Wilkinson quotes Steiner making these additional assertions: 

• “Very young children have a natural religious feeling since they are still at one with their surroundings.” — RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION, p. 137. • With slightly older children, “possibilities are for the teacher to speak of events which are obviously life (spirit) processes." — Ibid., p. 138. • And for still older kids: "In the Bible mention is made of higher beings (hierarchies) and in this connection they can be discussed and explained (angels, etc.) ... The Christ event [i.e., Christ's incarnation on Earth] must always be touched upon ... [S]how the unique significance of Christianity." — Ibid., pp. 139-140. • For all students. "Celebrations of the seasonal festivals must naturally find their place....” — Ibid., p. 140. 

Some of this may sound pretty good to you, some of it may not. Steiner placed Christ and Christianity at the center of his doctrines and at the center of religious instruction in Waldorf schools. If you are not Christian, this violates your beliefs. If you are a Christian, you should realize that Steiner’s professed “Christianity” is not what you will find in any mainstream church. (“[R]eligion connected with a specific church is not actually religious.”) In Anthroposophy, Christ is the Sun God, the same god worshipped under other names by various pagan religions. [See "Sun God".] Steiner went so far as to “correct” the Bible by inventing a fifth, hidden gospel that tells the "truth" about Christ. [45] [See “Was He Christian?”] 

A tangent: While discussing religious instruction, Steiner refers to school festivals. Every parent and visitor at a Waldorf school should take note. The pleasing festivals you see enacted in Waldorf schools are, in fact, religious observances. [See “Magical Arts”.] 


Fortunately, RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION is a short book. We have reached the end of it. And we have also reached the end of my three reports on the foundations of Waldorf education. 

If you like what you’ve learned about Waldorf schools — if Steiner’s teachings seem wise and true to you — then by all means you should consider sending your children to a Waldorf school. But if Steiner’s teachings do not seem wise and true to you, you and your children will probably better served elsewhere. 

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. 

The Waldorf emphasis on art tends to

produce identifiable Waldorf styles.

Here is a map of China, created by a Waldorf student.

The "information" Steiner provided about various subjects

generally amounts to little more than fantasy.

It is objectionable for that reason

and for several other reasons as well.

“While it was enclosed within the earth, the moon provided the motherly, female qualities for the earth ... The forces the moon used to provide when it was part of the earth are now in the animals themselves. They bear the moon forces within them ... Nowadays the moon cannot do much more than stimulate the head ... It makes a big difference whether something is inside the earth or outside." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002), pp. 128-130. [R. R. sketch, 2009, based on the sketch on p. 130.]

When considering Rudolf Steiner's educational philosophy, remember that it is based on his occult doctrines. 

Waldorf schooling is intended for people who possess multiple invisible bodies in an environment full of invisible corpses:

“After death this whole, damaging world of passion becomes perceptible to the ego, and the ego then feels itself drawn to every being and every thing that has enkindled such a passion, in order that this passion may again be destroyed in the ‘consuming fire’ in the same way it was created. Only when man in his backward journey [a review process after death] has reached the point of his birth have all the passions of this kind passed through the fire of purification, and, from then on, nothing hinders him from a complete surrender to the spiritual world. He enters upon a new stage of existence. Just as, at death, he threw off the physical body, then, soon after, the ether body, so now that part of the astral body falls away that can live only in the consciousness of the outer physical world. For supersensible perception there are, thus, three corpses: the physical, the etheric, and the astral corpse. The point of time when the latter is thrown off by man is at the end of the period of purification, which lasts about a third of the time that passed between birth and death. The reason why this is so can only become clear later on, when we shall consider the course of human life from the standpoint of occult science. For supersensible observation, astral corpses are constantly present in the environment of man, which have been discarded by human beings who are passing over from the state of purification into a higher existence, just as for physical perception there are physical corpses in the world in which men dwell.” — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1972), chapter 3, "Sleep and Death", GA 13. The image of purifying fire, above, is not Anthroposophical: it comes from an alchemical text; see J. C. Cooper, AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TRADITIONAL SYMBOLS (Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 67. [For Steiner's views on alchemy, see "Alchemy".]

Watercolor paintings by young Waldorf students

[courtesy of PLANS, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools]:

“It is rightly said that even the wisest may learn from a child, for in the child is working the wisdom which does not pass later into consciousness. Through that wisdom man has something like telephonic connection with the spiritual beings in whose world he lives between death and rebirth. From that world there is something still streaming into the aura of the child, which is, as an individual being, immediately under the guidance of the entire spiritual world to which it belongs. Spiritual forces from that world continue to flow into the child. They cease so to flow at the point of time to which memory goes back.” — Rudolf Steiner,THE SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE OF MAN AND HUMANITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1970), lecture 1, GA 15. [R.R. sketch, 2010.]

For additional examples of statements Steiner made

to Waldorf school teachers, please see "Discussions"

To examine advice Steiner gave to Waldorf teachers,

please use this link: "Advice"


If you want an approach to evaluating Steiner’s doctrines, try the following: 

◊ Look at any statement Steiner made — about childhood, education, science, history, life, death... Anything. Look at it, and simultaneously call to mind what you know to be true about that subject. Also call to mind what you sincerely believe to be true about that subject. Then ask yourself, does Steiner’s statement stand up? Do you see any reason to accept Steiner’s word on the matter? What evidence has he offered? What logic has he used? What grounds has he given you to believe him?

◊ Here’s a slightly different approach: Look at any statement Steiner made, then study the subject covered by that statement. Steiner said so-and-so about world cultures, or the history of the solar system, or economics, or Africa, or... Whatever. Look at what he said, then study what scientists, philosophers, scholars, and researchers say about the same topic. Gather reliable, demonstrably true information, bolstered by the opinions of qualified experts. [46] Then compare the results to Steiner’s assertions. How does the work of Rudolf Steiner fare when judged in the light of real information?

◊ If you are religious, consult the Bible, the Qur'an, or any other holy text you trust. Talk to members of the clergy. Weigh Steiner’s assertions against what you learn. Then ask yourself whether Steiner’s doctrines can withstand this examination. Give careful consideration to Steiner’s occult and gnostic doctrines. According to these, the holy texts accepted by major religions are wrong in various important ways. Are you prepared to agree with him about this? Are you prepared to renounce your faith and follow Steiner in a different direction?

◊ If you are drawn to mysticism or New Age philosophies, comb through Steiner’s books, looking for passages that you find enlightening or inspiring. You may find none. But if you do come upon some, meditate on them. Turn them over in your mind. Ask yourself what is attractive about them. Are they based on verifiable truth, or do they merely represent a vision of how you might wish things to be? If they represent an alternative vision that appeals to you, compare that vision to the competing visions offered by other mystics and seers, and ask yourself how you can choose among them. One mystic says X, another says Y, yet a third says Z. All may spin alluring narratives, telling us that we are important and we have a glorious future. Certainly they will all appeal to the widespread human preference for the magical or wonderful. But when the mystics contradict each other on such basic issues as whether there is one God or a vast legion of gods, what criteria can you employ to choose among them, aside from subjective preference? [47]

◊ If you are struck by the opposite situation — if you find impressive similarities between Steiner’s doctrines and those of other mystics — tackle some scholarship: Have Steiner and the other mystics reached their conclusions independently, or have they influenced one another? Have they read one another’s works, attended one another’s lectures, or the like? Or, at a deeper level, have they drawn their ideas from common sources? Can you identify occult texts or traditions that they all have consulted? Or, deeper yet, can you find identify common cultural or psychological reasons for similarities of doctrine? For example, do Steiner and the other mystics draw from archetypes that can be explained by the quirks of the human brain or psyche? [48]

◊ Finally, examine the overall contours of Steiner’s doctrines. Many people are persuaded that visions like Steiner’s must be true because they are so remarkably elaborate and detailed. Consider this carefully. Is there internal evidence of persuasive consistency in Steiner’s work, or do you find contradictions and loose ends? Consider other elaborate ideologies — what is the compelling case for accepting one as opposed to another? Compare Anthroposophy with other intricate mental constructs, both the sacred and the profane — Catholicism, Hinduism, myth cycles, Marxism, variant string theories — that are equally or even more fully thought-out. What makes one elaborate system plausible and others not? And where do you draw the line between plausibility and acceptance? [49] 


I’ve been using this key to evaluate Steiner’s statements for several years, now. Here’s my conclusion: Steiner was a smart, studious, ill-informed fraud. He ransacked huge stocks of misinformation and delusion, then compiled it in a clever but tenuous edifice of vapors. Most of what he said is nonsense, and those few statements of his that seem impressive were almost always plagiarized, poached mainly from Theosophist Helena Blavatsky but also from a wide array of other sources, especially gnostic Christian mystics. He very rarely had an original thought, and he almost never had a true thought.

But that’s my conclusion. Take your time and make your own evaluation.

— Roger Rawlings

Waldorf faculties include individuals who are oriented not to the real universe, as science describes it, but to the imaginary universe that Steiner depicted — claiming that it is the real universe. Here is a brief recap of our evolution, according to Waldorf thinking:

"Saturn [was] entirely [a] substance of warmth [A], also beginning of the human being ... Sun [B] condensed to air ... [I]t glowed or shown [C] ... This combustion is symbolized for us by sulfur ... Moon condensed liquid ('water') [D] ... [S]mall particles were formed that were active ... [Q]uicksilver is an example [E] ... Through a sound that came from the outside...particles were joined together into forms ... This is the principle of the feminine [F] ... Finally, the Earth was condensed to the solid element 'earth' [G] ... [T]he presence of the solid along with the fluid made possible the process of dissolution — as salt in water. [H] ... The stimulation for formation in the feminine now appeared in the Earth itself: the masculine principle. [I] And from all this the present-day human being evolved. [J]" — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 280. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on b&w image on p. 281.]

Yes, today — in the 21st century — gibberish like this still finds willing adherents. Unfortunately, some of these adherents teach in Waldorf schools.

“[P]eople have completely forgotten how to consider things within the universe ... Animals usually go away before there is a volcanic eruption or the like; people stay put. Why do the animals move away? Yes, when the different influence comes, the different influence of the stars, it is like this with the animals. An animal is essentially made in such a way that it has its legs here [see drawing], there its spine, the spinal vertebra, and there its head. As the stars move along there, the whole spine is always exposed to the stars, vertebra by vertebra exposed to the stars, and they belong together; they belong together so much that we have 28 to 31 vertebrae in the spine and the moon takes 28 to 31 days to complete its orbit. The connection is as close as that.

"But humans walk upright. With them, only the head, this little bit of head, is exposed to the starry heavens. Their spine has been lifted out. So in humans only the blood is exposed to the star influence and not the nervous system." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM MAMMOTHS TO MEDIUMS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), pp. 128-129. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on sketch on p. 128.]

If you're tempted to think there is even a particle of sense in Steiner's statement, ask yourself this: Are all of the stars directly overhead? Obviously not. Stars are scattered all over the sky — some are nearly overhead, but most are spread every which way. Starlight (and, theoretically, astrological influence) reaches us from stars high above, and stars midway up the arc of the sky, and stars down near the horizon. Every which way. So starlight hits us from all sides, and it hits upright bodies just as much as it hits horizontal bodies.

The other obvious flaw in Steiner's statement is that there is no such thing as astrological influence or "star influence." That's superstition, nothing more. This is typical of Steiner's statements. If you think about them, they start collapsing left and right, forming heaps of deflated flapdoodle.

[R.R., 2010.]

To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.



A survey of the standard Waldorf curriculum

How they try to do it

How they get that way

The irrational modes of “thought” fostered at Waldorf schools


English classes and history classes in a typical Waldorf school

The central mythology in many Waldorf schools: Norse myths

At Waldorf schools, ignorance is often taken as wisdom


The Waldorf curriculum: the arts, and festivals

How they paint and draw


The Waldorf curriculum: math


The antiscientific nature of Waldorf education

Class journals as created by students at many Waldorf schools

The Anthroposophical take on technology

No [external link]


The Waldorf curriculum: astronomy

Steiner on our solar system or "our universe"


A behind-the-scenes look at Waldorf education

Exploring the fundamentals of Waldorf schooling

Further explorations


Talks between Steiner and Waldorf teachers

"Practical" tips Steiner gave to Waldorf faculty


[1] One example: The Waldorf school I attended nearly ripped itself apart when faculty cliques formed. The primary issue was whether teachers should openly espouse spiritualism in class. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".] I have been told, but cannot prove, that threats of physical violence were made, and that some faculty members went into hiding. 

[2] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 303. 

[3] Ibid., pp. 304-305. 

[4] Steiner considered students’ parents to be outsiders. I will return to this point later in this essay. 

[5] Ibid., p. 304. 

[6] Waldorf’s “staff consists of anthroposophists.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. Steiner overstates the case for most Waldorf schools, but his intention is plain. 


[8] Ibid., p. 305. 

[9] In preparing the 1925 edition of his most important book, Steiner wrote “OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE, now to be published in a new edition, is after all an epitome of anthroposophical Spiritual Science as a whole ... The outline as presented fifteen years ago has in no way been shaken. Inserted in its proper place and context, everything that I have since been able to adduce becomes a further elaboration of the original picture.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), p. 12. Steiner was, according to Steiner, right all along, about everything. [See "Everything".] 

[10] The book has been published in varying editions and translations, with varying titles including AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE (Anthroposophical Literature Concern, 1922) and AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997). 

[11] For public consumption, Steiner often denied that Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophical doctrines to students. But speaking to Waldorf teachers, he said “Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” [FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.] Since Anthroposophy contains the ultimate “truths” for Steiner and his followers, including it will almost always be ”objectively justified”. The presentation of Anthroposophical “truths” is often indirect and covert, but it occurs. [See, e.g., my "Unenlightened" and "Sneaking It In".] 

[12] Ibid., p. 617. 

See "Steiner's Blunders". 


[14] Ibid., pp. 659-661. 


[16] Ibid., p. 123. 

This is part and parcel of Steiner’s repeated rejection of science — he faulted science for seeking natural, physical explanations for phenomena instead of recognizing extraterrestrial or, in this case, astrological causes. “Natural science will never comprehend the nature of albumen as long as it endeavors to find in the organic molecule a structure that is simply more complicated than that which occurs in the inorganic molecule.” — Ibid., p. 123. Reading Steiner requires patience and broadmindedness. “Simply complicated” is a ridiculous formulation — what Steiner means is that the organic molecule differs from the inorganic in actually being less complex, which opens it to extraterrestrial influences. “The molecule of albumen does not tend toward greater complexity, however, but toward the dissolution of mineral structure, so that extraterrestrial — and not terrestrial — forces can influence it.” — Ibid., p. 123. None of this has much scientific validity. 


Steiner taught that information is inscribed on Akasha through spiritual science. "What has been inscribed into the Akasha-substance through spiritual science would never had been there if this science had not existed on the earth." — Rudolf Steiner, SELF-TRANSFORMATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 139. 


[19] See "Atlantis and the Aryans". 

[20] Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 24. 


[22] Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

[23] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 4. 

[24] Ibid., p. 197. 


[26] I received this account, recently, in private correspondence with the teacher and his wife.

[27] “Waldorf schools are non-sectarian [sic] and non-denominational [sic]. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life.” [, Frequently Asked Questions, Are Waldorf Schools Religious? [I last checked this on Oct. 28, 2006.] 


[29] Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69. 

[30] Roy Wilkinson, RUDOLF STEINER ON EDUCATION (Hawthorn Press, 1993). 


[31] Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69. 

[32] Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997). 

[33] “During the first seven years of life, the organism was a product of earthly forces and a kind of model. As such it is cast off, just as we get rid of the body’s outgrowths by cutting our nails, hair, and so on. The human being is molded anew with the change of teeth just as our outer form is perpetually eliminated. In this case, however, the first being, or product of physical heredity, is completely replaced by a second, who develops under the influence of the forces that the human being brings from pre-earthly life. Thus, during the period between birth and the change of teeth, the human hereditary forces related to the physical evolutionary stream fight against the forces of a pre-earthly existence, which accompany the individuality of each human being from the previous earthly life.” — THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, p. 22. 

“Ordinarily, one speaks of ‘religious’ relationships today in the sense of a consciously developed adult religion. Relevant to this is the fact that, in religious life, the spirit and soul elements of the adult rise into the spiritual element in the universe and surrender to it. The religious relationship is a self-surrendering to the universe, a prayer for divine grace in the surrender of the self. In the adult, it is completely immersed in a spiritual element. The soul and spirit are yielded to the surroundings. [paragraph break] “To speak of the child’s body being absorbed by the environment in terms of a religious experience thus seems like we are turning things around the wrong way. Nevertheless, it is a truly religious experience — transposed into the realm of nature. The child is surrendered to the environment and lives in the external world in reverent, prayerful devotion, just as the eye detaches itself from the rest of the organism and surrenders to the environment. It is a religious relationship transferred to the natural realm.” — Ibid., pp. 22-23. 

Clear now? 

[34] Ibid., pp. 23-24. 

Steiner made these remarks on April 9, 1924. 

[35] Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. 


[37] Rudolf Steiner, AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 2006), p. 10.

Steiner said he found geometry spiritually helpful later in life, as well. “A point infinitely distant to the right is the same as the point infinitely distant to the left. [paragraph break] It occurred to me that with the help of such ideas from modern geometry, the concept of space, which otherwise stares into a void, becomes comprehensible ... Again geometry bright me happiness as it had done in early childhood.” — Ibid., p. 31. We might note in passing, however, that his comprehension of geometry is flawed. A point infinitely to the right is infinitely far from any point to the left. See also Steiner's misuse of the concept of a point. [See "Serving the Gods".]

Math is important, Steiner said, but it must be taught in a spiritual way. Math shows order in the universe, which in turn reveals design. Thus, math (and especially "sacred geometry") reveals the divine basis of life and puts us in communion with the high spiritual powers. For these reasons, Steiner made such statements as “The child who has a right introduction to arithmetic will have quite a different feeling of moral responsibility from the child who has not.” And “If men had known how to permeate their minds with mathematics in the right way during these past years we should not now have Bolshevism in Eastern Europe.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted by H. v. Baravalle, TEACHING OF ARITHMETIC AND THE WALDORF SCHOOL PLAN (Publications of the Waldorf School, Adelphi College, 1950), p. 75. 


[39] Rudolf Steiner, EGYPTIAN MYTHS AND MYSTERIES (Anthroposophic Press, 1971), lecture 8, GA 106. 

[40] Scientific trash: Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. Scientific simpletons: Rudolf Steiner, THE KARMA OF UNTRUTHFULNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 276. 


[42] Frequently Asked Questions, Are Waldorf Schools Religious? [Since I first recorded this, it appears to have been changed to "whywaldorfworks". 


[44] Ibid., p. 706. 

[45] Rudolf Steiner, THE FIFTH GOSPEL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995). 

[46] It is would be useful to agree upon a sensible understanding of qualifications. As we have seen, Anthroposophists often argue that only Anthroposophists are qualified to have opinions about Anthroposophy. This self-protective stance defies all the norms of rational discourse. Genuine qualifications are signaled in several ways, such as by possession of advanced degrees from accredited institutions; extensive records of publication, especially in peer-reviewed journals; research that stands up to analysis and confirmation; the receipt of major honors, such as the Nobel Prize; and so forth. The ultimate test is the advancement of genuine human knowledge. 

Note that Steiner had some credentials in some areas. His doctoral dissertation, in 1892, dealt with the philosophy of Fichte. Later, he edited the "scientific" work of Goethe. This background did not, however, establish his qualifications in the field he chose for himself, "supersensible research." Indeed, as we have also seen, the only authority he claimed for his mystic doctrines was his own professed clairvoyant experiences. Given the almost certain nonexistence of clairvoyance (see, e.g., "clairvoyance." ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA), this is tantamount to an admission of disqualification. Steiner failed the ultimate test — he provided mankind with no new genuine knowledge. 

[47] Steiner assigned extreme importance to intuition. Especially in its high, perfected form — Intuition — it is the ultimate form of clairvoyant wisdom, he said. In reality, however, intuition is generally just the irrational preference each of us has for activities and ideas that ring our individual bells. Our half-forgotten experiences in growing up, the values we internalized starting in the crib, the subjective preferences adopted from our friends and family — all manner of irrational influences create in each of us ingrained preferences that generally lie below the level of consciousness. So it is intuitively obvious to me that one activity or idea is “right,” while you are equally convinced that precisely the opposite idea is correct. We can intuit almost anything, but basing our adult decisions on such predispositions can be a severe error. Indeed, one major goal of education is to enable us to supplant intuition with reason. 

[48] We may be wired in ways that lead us into certain mistaken attitudes and beliefs, such as superstition. “The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior.” — Benedict Carey, “Do You Believe in Magic?”, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Jan. 23, 2007, p. D1. The illusions our wiring causes may include religion itself. See, for example, Paul Bloom, “Is God an Accident?”, THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, December, 2005, p. 105, and Robin Marantz Henig, “Darwin’s God,” THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, March 4, 2007, especially the discussion of “the byproduct theory.” 

[49] T. H. Meyer, editor of LIGHT FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM, argues that “spiritual science is just as exact and objective as any [other] science.” — p. xxvi. He lists three methods of “confirming” spiritual science, including appreciation of internal consistency. But upon examination, all three confirmations collapse. (This is true even if we concede that Anthroposophy is internally consistent and rigorously exact, which I have argued it is not.) See "Steiner's Illogic".