Turning Kids Into Disciples


A Waldorf or Steiner school can be an uneasy mix of radicalism and conservatism.

The more closely such a school clings to Steiner’s occult doctrines, the more radical it is likely to be. Steiner’s teachings are extreme: They are far outside both the secular and the religious mainstream. This radicalism often goes unremarked because so few people are acquainted with the tenets of Anthroposophy, the offbeat Waldorf religion. But many average citizens have heard of Theosophy, the mystical belief system from which Steiner drew most of his ideas. [See "Basics".] If a parent were to approach a school only to learn that it is closely linked to Theosophy, s/he might well decide to look for a less far-out academy; but learning that a school is tied, in some vague fashion, to Anthroposophy, the same parent might not immediately become alarmed.

The conservative element in Waldorf schools derives in part — odd as this may sound — from Steiner’s radicalism. Steiner was head of the German Theosophical movement before he left to set up his own cult. Both Theosophy and Anthroposophy are amalgams of religious teachings from around the world. These teachings are disparate and even, in many cases, mutually exclusive. (We live one life on Earth, then we go to our eternal reward or punishment; no, we live many, many lives on Earth, through the process of reincarnation. There is one and only one God — monotheism; no, the universe teems with vast numbers of gods — polytheism. And so on.) Some of these beliefs, alien to adherents of some faiths, must seem radical from those individuals' perspective; and the process of attempting to amalgamate such disparate beliefs, shoehorning them all into a single staggering spiritual system, is itself radical. On the other hand, looking into the past, consulting the beliefs of ancient peoples, and affirming the continued relevance of such ancient beliefs — this project enacts an essentially conservative impulse. (Steiner claimed that his occult “wisdom” arose from his own clairvoyant powers: He claimed to have clairvoyantly witnessed and confirmed the truth of every doctrine he presented to his followers. This is a radical claim. And it is hollow. ClairvoyanceI is a crock. [See "Clairvoyance".] In reality, Steiner — a bookish intellectual — pored over arcane texts, striving to revitalize their age-old, reverential contents. This was a conservative endeavor.) 

Other factors pushing Waldorf schools toward a more or less conservative stance include the need to gain acceptance in their communities; the need to attract students, preferably from well-off families who can afford the schools’ tuition; and the need to placate the local powers-that-be. Furthermore, as the headmaster of the Waldorf school I attended said, Waldorf schools are generally private institutions, made possible by a free-market system. The schools naturally support such a system — they want to preserve it. They are, in this sense, conservative.

One minor but nevertheless interesting reflection of Waldorfs’ conservatism is the stance many take vis-à-vis youth culture and bohemianism, in whatever forms these take. I attended a Waldorf school from 1951 until 1964. [1] The “avant-garde” in those years was embodied by the Beat Generation — the generation before mine, whose cultural center was Greenwich Village, in New York City. Their music was jazz and folk; their poetry (generally) consisted of unrhymed declamations on the hollowness and corruption of modern American society; they hit the road; they cruised and grooved; they sought freedom and meaning and transcendence. Berets, Vandykes, bongos, free love, booze, weed. "Cool," "crazy, "don't bug me, man," "square." Beatniks.

Although Anthroposophists generally agree that American society is hollow and corrupt, they rarely embrace radical countercultural movements. My teachers disparaged the Beats, warning us through the Beats' example not to stray from our warm Waldorf nest. The Beats, they said, were lost youth, young people who beaten, unfocused, forlorn. There was a trace of truth in this. “Beatniks” did think of themselves as being “beaten” by mainstream society. But (contrary to what my teachers said) most Beats also considered their own, cool culture to be vibrant and alive, an antidote to inauthenticity. Beat: as in the beat of the drum, the beat of the heart. Beat, as in Be-At: be present, be alive, BE! Chillin' on Charlie Parker, diggin' Miles and Ginsberg and Kerouac, wowin’ on Picasso and Pollock... 

My teachers used their negative portrayal of the Beats as one of the many techniques they employed to alienate us from the outside world. For me and many of my schoolmates, it worked. Under Waldorf's tutelage, I came to feel an aversion to virtually anything modern. I thought modern orchestral music was cacophonous, unbearable, and modern painting was jagged, unaesthetic, chaotic. I deplored modern architecture, and I thought modern literature (what little I had seen of it) was obscene (my teachers assured me it was, anyway). I was sure that modern technology was soulless (we were required to read a book titled THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY), and I knew that modern science was a false idol (we were encouraged to read a book titled SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW). As for jazz, and rock'n'-roll, and consumer culture, and television... We were taught that it was all awful, and we generally agreed, happy to be so superior to everything outside Waldorf's walls. (Although rock'n'roll somehow sneaked into our off-hours.)

All in all, Waldorf tried to alienate us from the contemporary, real world as much as possible. If they could have, our teachers would have kept us at the school 24/7, I'm sure. But because our Waldorf was a day school, complete immersion in soft-soap Anthroposophy was impossible, so our brainwashing was (in most cases) incomplete. But I can attest that for me and others, it took many years after graduation to find our footing in the real world. And I can attest that for some graduates, Waldorf’s anti-real-world effects are lifelong.

We students were the ones who took a beating, as it were.


Statements made by my old headmaster, John Fentress Gardner, in his book THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE, help explain why he and his colleagues detested the freedom-loving, free-living Beats (and, later, hippies, and later...). Gardner was a strong advocate of discipline — even when it verged on, or actually became, a form of mental/spiritual bullying. He taught that teachers should be unquestioned authority figures, and that students should be their “disciples.”

The following three quotations are drawn from the chapter "Authority, Discipline, and Freedom." 

◊ "The educator...does not apologize for his authority ... [H]e can induce his small charges to welcome strong guidance ... The strict disciplinary approach...finds individuality in something above and beyond the organism ... Anyone, however, who supposes that organisms themselves are capable of thinking, does not really believe in objective truth; and he will shrink from discipline...." [2]

◊ "Authority calls for discipline, for discipleship from those under authority; but he alone is worthy to have disciples under personal guidance who is himself a disciple of an impersonal ideal." [3]

◊ "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." [4]

These statements are consistent with Rudolf Steiner’s teachings. Steiner, too, asserted that Waldorf teachers must be unquestioned authorities. I deal with this in other essays on this site. [See, e.g., "Spirit", "Basement", and "Slaps".] For now, though, let’s stick with Gardner. What, then, can we draw from the above statements? 

 Real Waldorf teachers are disciples (of Anthroposophy, i.e., Steiner). 

 Waldorf students are supposed to freely accept the authority of their (Anthroposophical) teachers, to the end that they themselves become disciples. 

 Waldorf students are to be shielded from critical thought — they are taught to "think" with their hearts (and imaginations) rather than with their rational brains. 

I suggest we linger over that last point. The most astonishing part of the quotations, above, is the following: “Anyone, however, who supposes that organisms themselves are capable of thinking, does not really believe in objective truth.” This is straight Anthroposophy, which Steiner taught is the path to objective truth. [5] Steiner also taught that real thinking does not occur in the brain — it is not produces by the organism of the physical body or that physical organ, the brain. [6] Real knowledge, in Anthroposophical belief, comes through clairvoyance and is a gift of the gods.

Gardner’s style is an interesting echo of Steiner’s — but consider: Organisms cannot think. So say Gardner and Steiner. Humans, of course, are organisms. So, we cannot think? The only nearly sensible inference to be drawn is that Steiner and Gardner were saying that we shouldn’t think or, at a minimum, we should doubt out own thoughts because the arise from the faulty organ, the brain. [7] Both of these men were profoundly adverse to rational thought, logic, and science — the "blight of 'critical thinking.'". [8] They asserted that true wisdom comes through imagination, intuition, or (to be blunt) clairvoyance. [9] They also advocated authoritarianism. [10] Wisdom is handed down from on high, from those who are more spiritually advanced: the great chain of greater beings. Above the students, of course, are teachers. Above the teachers are headmasters, such as John Gardner. Above the headmasters are great spiritual masters, such as Rudolf Steiner. And above the human spiritual master are the many gods, arrayed in their ascending ranks. [11]

Let’s turn the argument around and consider the matter again, from a slightly different angle. Gardner, like other Anthroposophists, often wrote in code. But we can clearly see that Gardner was advocating what I have called brainwashing: Students, as disciples, absorb a set of beliefs that they uncritically accept as true (beliefs that they "come to understand" before the onset of "independent insight"). Note that Gardner does not say "independent thought" — rather, he speaks of "independent insight." Insight, for an Anthroposophist, is an extension of the Anthroposophical tenets that an individual has internalized, which lead her/him (theoretically) to have insights akin to those of his/her masters. Waldorf students are deemed unable to think or even to have their own insights, at least until late in their schooling. Anthroposophists admit that eventually adolescents develop intellectual capacities, but consider how shaped and focused these capacities are likely to be after years of the brainwashing Gardner advocates. And ask yourself this: What is the good of intellectual capacities — are such capacities even conceivable? — if thinking does not occur in the brain, and if organisms are incapable of thought?

In the Waldorf system, students are indeed likely to take a beating. They may often emerge woefully unequipped to undertake productive lives in the real world.

Waldorf schools often use the motto "head, hearts, and hands" to describe their educational approach. It is catchy, and it sounds good. But what does it mean?

Waldorf schools actually de-emphasize the education of the head, since Steiner taught that real thinking does not occur in the brain. 

"Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), p. 88.

As for educating the hands, Waldorf schools focus on this objective for occult reasons that most people would quite naturally dismiss as loony. 

“Go into our needlework classes and handicraft classes at the Waldorf School, and you will find the boys knit and crochet as well as the girls ... This is not the result of any fad or whim ... [T]o drive the soul into the fingers means to promote all the forces that go to build up sound teeth.” — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUAL SCIENCE AND MEDICINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1948), lecture 17, GA 312.

This leaves the question of educating the heart. In a Waldorf context, educating the heart means teaching kids to feel about things the way Anthroposophists feel — that is, teaching kids to desire what Anthroposophists desire. This is a process of proselytizing, leading children to adopt the Anthroposophical worldview — to become disciples. 

Waldorf schools are deeply committed to the desires of Anthroposophy, but this commitment often needs to be concealed.

“[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 705.

Don't let the concealment fool you.

— Roger Rawlings

For more on Waldorf concealment,

see "Secrets" and "Sneaking It In".

For more on the whole child

(head, heart, and hands), see "Holistic Education".

Rudolf Steiner, detail
[THE STORY OF MY LIFE (Kessinger),
facing p. 320.]

There is beauty in the schools.

[Waldorf art courtesy of

 People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]

Not all Waldorf students succumb to the schools' occult agenda — at least not to the same degree or at equal velocity. The class ahead of mine included several rebellious students — beatniks, as it were. Indeed, the class as a whole was considered troublesome (although many class members were, in truth, quiet and obedient). Our headmaster took the class to task in his message to them, in the 1963 yearbook: 

“Self-indulgent laziness, capricious self-will, stubborn self-interest should ‘get lost’....” — PINNACLE '63, p. 5.

Here are two drawings by a 1963 senior; they were used in the yearbook. Obviously the work of a talented artist, the pictures may not strike you as subversive — but a sort of shock ran through the school when they appeared. (The yearbook staff evidently gave the teachers no preview.) This is not Waldorf-style art, by any means. One might almost think that a ruler was used, for instance — and note that the seniors apparently left the school through a back door, leaving the door open! Man oh man...

[Drawings by my talented, rebellious friend Juan Wilson.

The upper drawing depicts the entry to our Waldorf's high-school wing.

The bottom drawing depicts a view from the rear of that wing,

showing buildings on the Adelphi University campus.]

Our Waldorf school I was designed 

to seem conventional or "normal"

by the standards prevailing in the USA at the time.

Many other Waldorf schools — especially in Europe — 

take fewer pains to disguise themselves.

The Waldorf school picture above, in Germany, 

was designed to resemble

mystical architecture of the sort Steiner promoted.

[Public domain photograph.]

The following is from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

"The study of ancient civilizations in the fifth grade spans the time from the legendary continent of Atlantis some 10,000 years ago to ancient India, ancient Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt and finally ancient Greece. The children delight in finding common threads in the creation stories and hero tales of the different peoples — from floods and rainbows, to initiations and quests, to the intervention of the gods in human affairs. Most importantly, the students trace the evolution of human consciousness through millennia and across the globe, especially with respect to views of life, death, and the afterlife."  

• ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

Waldorf schools teach about Atlantis because Rudolf Steiner said that it really existed. Indeed, in the quotation we see here — taken from the description of fifth grade studies at Highland Hall Waldorf School in California, USA — we find reference to many Anthroposophical doctrines: Atlantis, initiation, gods, “the evolution of human consciousness,” the afterlife, and so on. Some of these concepts also occur in other belief systems, of course, and all of them may be studied without necessarily involving religious indoctrination of students. But in Waldorf schools, the line is often crossed, and indoctrination occurs — indoctrination in the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner. [See, e.g., “Atlantis and the Aryans”, “Inside Scoop”, “Polytheism”, “Matters of Form”, “Spiritual Agenda”, “Here’s the Answer — The Creed”, "Weird Waldorf", etc.]

Here's a comment by a father who says he considered Waldorf education for his daughter: 

“Waldorf's roots are steeped in the teaching of Rudolph Steiner, a Christian-based [sic] mystic who believed in reincarnation, clairvoyance, Atlantis, and forest gnomes. And I am not being metaphorical here. His belief system, known as Anthroposophy, is not some vestige of the path. It is not part of the curriculum yet it is the heart of the Steiner pedagogy and epistemology. The ideas leech to the students because it is the world view of the teachers.” [“The Hidden World of Waldorf”]

And here's a comment by a former Waldorf student, appended to “The Hidden World of Waldorf”: 

“What I find truly unforgivable is the indisputable fact that those who sink into the depths of waldorfianism and the teachings of anthroposophy are utterly incapably of engaging in the 'real' world. A few schools even embrace this: claiming that it is a misnomer to assume making a child fit into society is a worthy pursuit. I have witnessed these people become so sucked-in that they cannot distinguish the world as Steiner proposes it from the world as it actually exists.” 

[R. R., 2010.]

Mystic seal for Steiner's play

"The Soul's Probation".

[See, e.g., John Fletcher,

ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 73.

R.R. sketch, 2010.] 


“Every meditation undertaken for the attainment of Imaginative cognition has its influence, if rightly carried out, upon one or other of these organs [of clairvoyance]. (In my book Knowledge of the Higher Words and its Attainment meditations and exercises are given that take effect on this or that particular organ.) A proper spiritual training will arrange the several exercises in such order as to enable these organs of the soul to develop singly, together, or in due succession, as the case may be. This development asks for great patience and perseverance on the part of the pupil. The degree of patience a man gains in the ordinary course of life will not suffice. For it will be a long time — in many instances a very long time indeed — before the organs are so far developed that the pupil can make use of them for perceiving in the higher world. The moment he does become able to do this, he enters upon the stage of Enlightenment, so-called in contradistinction to the stage of Preparation, Probation or Purification, where the pupil is engaged upon the exercises that are given for the development of the organs. (The word “Purification” is used, because by means of the exercises he undergoes, the pupil “cleanses” a certain region of his inner life, casting out from it everything that has its source in the external world of the senses.) It may well happen that even before he reaches the stage of Enlightenment, a man will frequently experience sudden flashes that come from a higher world. These he should receive with thankfulness. The fact that he has them enables him already to bear witness to the spiritual world. He must however not weaken in his resolve if no such moments come during the time of Preparation — which may perhaps seem to him to be lasting all too long. Anyone who allows himself to grow impatient because he can still “see nothing” has not yet succeeded in finding his right relation to a higher world. He alone has done so who can look upon the exercises he undertakes in his training as an end in themselves.”

— Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963) chapter 5, part 4, GA 13.

One of the windows at the Goetheanum, 
the Anthroposophical headquarters. 

“On a high cliff sits man, surrounded by flashing lightening. [sic] In front of him rises a huge world form, with the head of Ahriman. This form carries in its snake-body the planets in sequence of Saturn to Moon. Below is the earth.” — Georg Hartmann, THE GOETHEANUM GLASS-WINDOWS (Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1972), p. 27. 

[R.R. copy, 2014.]

A Watch Watch "Quote of the Day" from 2011:

“If it is to fulfill its purpose in accordance with the spiritual reality out of which it teaches, then a Waldorf school must be structured and make its administrative and financial decisions in accordance with the same spiritual reality. Those carrying the responsibility for the school — teachers, trustees or board members, and administrators — need to have some understanding of this reality, particularly of the threefold nature of all social and community life. To teach the children on the basis of the reality of the supersensible [i.e., supernatural] world and then work with the money as though no such supersensible world existed is to introduce a dishonesty, a lie, into the life of the school”. — Michael Spence, FREEING THE HUMAN SPIRIT - The Threefold Social Order, Money, and The Waldorf School (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1999), opening words, p. 5.

• ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

Waldorf schools try to embody Rudolf Steiner’s social/political vision, called “threefolding.” [See "Threefolding".] The central idea (derived from Steiner’s numerological leanings) is that societies, like human beings, have three main component parts.* The idea is interesting. But more interesting is what often happens when Waldorf faculties discuss such things. With their attention focused on “practical” questions, they sometimes neglect to keep their guard up concerning matters of the spirit. Here we see an example. Intending to write about school finances, Michael Spence casually mentions the underlying purpose of Waldorf schools, which revolves around “spiritual reality.” The schools “teach the children on the basis of the reality of the supersensible world.” The schools are, in other words, religious — and the religion they practice is Anthroposophy.

* Three is the number of divine revelation, Steiner taught. [See “Magic Numbers”.]

Following are excerpts from one of Grégoire Perra's 

essays about Waldorf education:

"Nearly Undetectable Influence and Indoctrination".

To read the entire essay, see

"Mistreating Kids Lovingly".

Perra recounts a conversation he had with an old schoolmate,

a former Waldorf student like himself.

[W]e are touching one of the profound elements of the Steiner-Waldorf problem, and I must give him time to get to the bottom of this feeling, so that he can get beyond it and recognize what lies behind it:

"Gaining an emotional grip on someone is a form of seduction by which a seducer makes a person’s ego dependent. The person is made to feel exceptional because of the recognition s/he receives from the seducer. But s/he also thinks s/he will sink into nothingness without the seducer’s approval. The seducer can create this state by the removal of barriers between their inner feelings, but also by providing his victim with the impression that only the seducer sees how special the victim is. Do you remember the poems our class teacher wrote in the lower grades?"

"Yes,” he responds. "Each student received his own poem. It was a poetic description of our deep personalities. One year, one of our classmates received such a rewarding poem that he could still recite it ten years later. It affected him so much, it was as if he were giddy.” 

"It is extremely gratifying when someone takes the trouble to write a poem about you,” I replied. “Who normally writes such poems, except distraught lovers? This explains the nostalgic feeling that alumni of these schools often express. They feel that they were recognized there as they have never been recognized again anywhere else. Because the teachers in these schools do not only ask the students to physically strip down, as they do in kindergarten, but they ask for psychological nakedness as well. They ask the students to reveal their most private thoughts, like during the week spent studying Perceval, when they sometimes ask the students to tell what happened to them at age nine, or when they try to steer students through the transition to puberty. So the students get the impression that their teachers have seen into their souls with great clarity. The teachers begin this process when parents first enroll their children in kindergarten — they ask the parents intimate questions about their marriage and why they wanted to have children, and the teachers maneuver to take charge of the children then. Of course, they make their questions seem wholly professional, seeking to gain deep knowledge of the children entrusted to them. In fact, this unveiling process leads some parents to quickly and easily hand complete authority to the teachers and the school. The psychological effect includes the entire family! In principle, when someone unveils your inner being — which is a pretty rare experience — this creates a lasting connection. When people see deeply inside each other, they will always matter to each other. But then students fall out of the clouds when they realize that their teachers have not really understood them but have only pretended to see deeply inside. This can create a terrible disillusionment at the core! When some students eventually realize that their teachers didn’t really care about what they could become, and didn’t really understand who they were, they begin to realize the falsehood of what they lived through. But they are the lucky ones if they are able to penetrate such terrible deceit, compared with other students who don’t come to this realization and therefore stay caught in their teachers’ psychological grip."

“The Anthroposophical environment is huge and has many intersections. Former Steiner-Waldorf students carry within them a number of ideas, lying dormant, that are Anthroposophical doctrines. Sometimes the ideas will slumber inside for a person's whole life, but sometimes circumstances or a person’s nature will cause them to awaken. In that case, the dormant ideas will change from willful intuitions into pictorial knowledge. In other words, those intuitions will become concepts. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Luckily, we have within us forces that resist this kind of manipulation. They are unconscious, but they constitute a powerful opposition. Ask yourself, for example, why you have not enrolled your son in a Steiner-Waldorf school, despite all the love you express today for your old school. In your heart, you know it is not just a matter of money, don’t you?”

“Possibly,” he says thoughtfully. “I have often considered it, but in the end something stopped me and I did not do it. And, besides, my wife wasn’t in favor. But, according to you, why did Steiner create such a system? Why this manipulation of spirits toward embracing Anthroposophy?”

“Simply because, in Steiner's conception of things, a man cannot fulfill his karma if he thinks materialistically,” I reply. “A man isn’t fully human unless he connects with the divine. Steiner says as much early in his book THEOSOPHY. I quote: 'One cannot be a man in the full sense of the word if one hasn’t, one way or another, apprehended the constitution and karma of man as they are revealed by supersensible knowledge.' (Ed. Novalis, page 27). In other words: 'No one can be truly human without possessing some Anthroposophical truths!' Steiner also advised teachers at his first school, in Stuttgart: 'Not recognizing God is a sickness.' (page 124)."

“And if these views are right?” he asks, gazing at me intently.

“I would still object," I respond. “In my view, freedom of thought is more important to your humanity than any ideas you have received. It is better to make mistakes on your own than to have ideas put into your head that blind you. How can one say that anyone who is an atheist is sick? What a lack of respect this shows for individuals’ freedom of conscience! The most important thing is to be sincere with yourself. And to think! That is the true dignity of the individual. And that is what the Steiner-Waldorf schools infringe, imposing their own visions!”

“What you say is valid for adults,” he retorts. “But for children? Isn’t it better for them to receive spiritual ideas? Because children do not control the type of world they inhabit, but they are shaped by what they are given, so how is it wrong to give them an Anthroposophical view of existence?”

“The evil comes in not giving children the tools to evaluate those ideas later,” I say. “To steer them by subtle indoctrination is a violation of their consciences. Conditioning their minds to welcome a special conception of the world is an attack on their free will. It destroys their future ability to think as adults."

— Grégoire Perra

To read an insider's account of life at a Waldorf school

written by a former Waldorf teacher,

go to "Ex-Teacher 2".

"If we do not possess forces such as are expressed in the word ‘faith’, something in us goes to waste; we wither as do the leaves in autumn. For a while this may not seem to matter — then things begin to go wrong. Were men in reality to lose all faith, they would soon see what it means for evolution. By losing the forces of faith they would be incapacitated for finding their way about in life; their very existence would be undermined by fear, care, and anxiety. To put it briefly, it is through the forces of faith alone that we can receive the life which should well up to invigorate the soul. This is because, imperceptible at first for ordinary consciousness, there lies in the hidden depths of our being something in which our true ego is embedded. This something, which immediately makes itself felt if we fail to bring it fresh life, is the human sheath where the forces of faith are active. We may term it the faith-soul, or — as I prefer — the faith-body. It has hitherto been given the more abstract name of astral body. The most important forces of the astral body are those of faith, so the term astral body and the term faith-body are equally justified." — Rudolf Steiner, "Faith, Hope and Love: The Third Revelation" (THE GOLDEN BLADE 194), GA 130.

Here is another item from the "news" page:

At the website "The Toast in the Machine", 
Rachel Playforth has posted a message labeled
"What every parent needs to know (but can’t find out) 
about Steiner schools?"
Here are a few excerpts and a few responses.

“I attended a Steiner school for four years and have mostly positive feelings about it....

"[T]here is no empirical basis for most anthroposophical beliefs/approaches (aka they are INSANE). However I don’t agree that Steiner’s views constitute damning evidence against Steiner schools....

“Even the most mainstream, standardized state education is not based on rigorous scientific principles. As most state school teachers will tell you, it is driven by methodological fashions, policy based on flawed or partial research, and arbitrary targets set by politicians, with very little reference to what we know about child development. None of this means that Steiner schools should NOT be critically examined, it’s just that a lot of the criteria for ‘failing’ this examination would see other forms of schooling fail as well....

“I have a bigger problem with my taxes paying for actual faith schools (eg. 4000+ Church of England schools and 2000+ Catholic schools) than with non-denominational ‘spiritual’ schools becoming [state-supported] academies.”

• ◊ •

Waldorf Watch Response:

Ms. Playforth writes, "[T]here is no empirical basis for most anthroposophical beliefs/approaches (aka they are INSANE). However I don’t agree that Steiner’s views constitute damning evidence against Steiner schools."

Defenders of Steiner education often attempt to draw a line between Anthroposophy and Steiner schools. But there is really no such line — or if such a line exists, it is a blurred, thin, and broken line. Steiner education is intimately linked to Anthroposophy. [See, e.g., “Oh Humanity” and “Schools as Churches”.] Steiner schools exist, in large part, precisely in order to spread Anthroposophy. As Steiner himself said, 

“One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.

Many Waldorf teachers, past and present, have acknowledged that Steiner schools are inextricably bound to Anthroposophy and indeed serve the interests of Anthroposophy. Thus, one former Waldorf teacher has written, 

"The reason many [Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools."* — "Baandje". [See "Ex-Teacher 7".]

Likewise, a leading Waldorf educator — who rose to become chairperson of the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City — has written, 

"Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy." — Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. xii. Another Waldorf teacher has added, "Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.

If Anthroposophy is insane, then Steiner education is insane. And indeed this point can be made with great clarity. Anthroposophy depends on clairvoyance. If there is no such thing as clairvoyance, then there is no rational basis for Anthroposophy. And if there is no rational basis for Anthroposophy, there is no rational basis for Steiner education. Here’s the kicker: There is no such thing as clairvoyance. Or, at a minimum, we can firmly state that no one has ever produced any convincing evidence for the existence of clairvoyance. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Hence, there is no rational basis for Anthroposophy, which means there is no rational basis for Steiner education.

Ms. Playforth writes, “Even the most mainstream, standardized state education is not based on rigorous scientific principles ... None of  this means that Steiner schools should NOT be critically examined, it’s just that a lot of the criteria for ‘failing’ this examination would see other forms of schooling fail as well.”

Ms. Playforth evidently thinks that by making a statement about mainstream schools, she has told us something meaningful about Steiner schools. Mainstream schools have shortcomings, she says, hence implicitly Steiner schools are no worse than mainstream schools. But this is clearly illogical. Mainstream schools might have problems and Steiner schools might be much better, or mainstream schools might have problems and Steiner schools might be much worse. The only way to evaluate Steiner schools is to focus on Steiner schools. Put it this way: In a discussion centered on “What every parent needs to know...about Steiner schools,” the subject is Steiner education, not any other form of education. If we conclude — as we should — that Steiner education has significant flaws and shortcomings, then on a future occasion we can turn to the question of finding better sorts of schools. (And there are many.)

Parents are often eager, even desperate, to find alternatives to the mainstream schools in their communities. But not all alternatives to poor-performing mainstream schools are superior. Some alternatives, indeed, are distinctly inferior. Steiner schools are distinctly inferior. [To look closely at Steiner education as it actually exists in the world today, see, e.g., “Waldorf Now”, “Today”, “Academic Standards at Waldorf”, “Curriculum”, “Methods”, etc.]

Ms. Playforth writes, “I have a bigger problem with my taxes paying for actual faith schools (eg. 4000+ Church of England schools and 2000+ Catholic schools) than with non-denominational ‘spiritual’ schools becoming academies.”

Here Ms. Playforth falls for a pair of central deceptions spread by Anthroposophists. The reality is that Anthroposophy itself is a religion. The inescapable corollary is that Steiner schools are “actual faith schools” — that is, they are religious institutions.

As in so many cases, the deceptions in these matters are, to some degree, instances of Anthroposophical self-deception. Steiner insisted that Anthroposophy is a science, not a religion. His followers today generally accept this article of faith. They think that Anthroposophy enables them to objectively, scientifically study the spirit realm through the use of disciplined clairvoyance. And, if Anthroposophy is not a religion, then Steiner schools — even if they embody Anthroposophy — are not religious institutions.

But these beliefs are false. Anthroposophy is certainly a religion. It combines teachings from Theosophy, gnostic Christianity, and Hinduism, with admixtures of other religions including Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. The practice of Anthroposophy entails faith, reverence, prayers, meditations, spiritual guides, spiritual observances, submission to the gods, and efforts to fulfill the will of the gods. Anthroposophy lays out the path to spiritual improvement and salvation for its adherents, and it threatens spiritual loss and perdition for everyone else. Anthroposophists believe that they are on the side of the gods, and they believe that their critics are on the side of the demonic powers. Anthroposophy is a religion. [See “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”]

Moreover, the religion of Anthroposophy is practiced inside Steiner schools. Steiner students are generally required to recite prayers (usually in unison with their teachers), sing religious songs including hymns, participate in religious festivals such as Michaelmas and Advent, and perform such Anthroposophical spiritual rituals as eurythmy. Steiner schools are distinctly religious institutions. Thus, Steiner made such statements as these: 

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

◊ "[A] religious atmosphere can be created in every lesson and subject. Such an atmosphere is created in our school. When teachers, through their own soul mood, connect everything that exists in the sensory world to the supersensible and divine, everything they bring to their classes will naturally transcend the physical, not in a sentimental or vaguely mystical way, but simply as a matter of course." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY - Foundations of Waldorf Education XIV, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 184.

Occasionally, Steiner representatives today acknowledge the fundamental religious impulse in Steiner education. Thus, for instance, Steiner teacher Jack Petrash has written, “One question that is often asked is: 

‘Is a Waldorf school a religious school?’ ... It is not a religious school in the way that we commonly think of religion ... And yet, in a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious.” — Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION (Nova Institute, 2002), p. 134. 

[For more on the religious nature of Steiner schooling, see, e.g., “Schools as Churches”, “Spiritual Agenda”, “Soul School”, "Prayers", and "Eurythmy".]


I am glad that Ms. Playforth enjoyed the Steiner school she attended. I enjoyed the one I attended. But warm childhood memories should not deflect us from making mature, informed judgments about the Steiner movement today.

— Roger Rawlings

[Ernst Haeckel, ART FORMS IN NATURE (Dover Publications, 1974).]

There is clearly much beauty, symmetry, even "design" in nature. Whether this amounts to evidence that a designer — a Creator — exists is, perhaps, open to question. Many people in the modern, Western world — perhaps a majority — believe in God. But Steiner would have us believe in a vast pantheon of gods, nature spirits, and other invisible beings. To substantiate his vision, he offered essentially his unsupported word — he used "exact clairvoyance," he assured his followers. Really, he said, I doAnd he assured them that if they accept his word, and follow his directions, and develop exact clairvoyance too, then they will see exactly what he saw. Really.

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



Examining the central denial made by Steiner’s followers

A comparison of Steiner's teachings with Christ's

The hidden story

Anthroposophy and hidden knowledge


Anthroposophy and Rosicrucianism

Steiner's strange ideas about the Lord


The Earth Goddess; and the Theory of Everything: Anthropo-Sophia

What Waldorf faculties aim for

About those "morning verses"

The religion of Anthroposophy in the classroom



Why choose Anthroposophy when there are so many alternatives?


You may also want to consult a few essays 
posted in the first section of Waldorf Watch:

Waldorf's goals

Waldorf's reality

Teachers as priests
Steiner, trying to make Waldorf education seem sensible

The formatting at Waldorf Watch aims for visual variety, 
seeking to ease the process of reading lengthy texts on a computer screen. 

Some illustrations appearing here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely connected to the contents of the pages 
on which they appear; 
others are not 
— the latter provide general context. 

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


[1] As I have said before, elsewhere, I tell about my own experiences only to give a single, small example. I do not place much importance on my personal story, and I urge you not to, either. Far more important are the results of the extensive research presented throughout the pages at Waldorf Watch.

[2] John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 121-122.


[3] Ibid., p. 130.

[4] Ibid., pp. 127-128.

[5] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.

[6] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

[7] Steiner taught, and his followers believe, that "real cognition" does not come from the brain but from clairvoyance. [See, e.g., "Clairvoyance", "Exactly", "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", and "Steiner's Specific".]

[8] Steiner assailed science and rational though often. Consider, for example, Rudolf Steiner, AT HOME IN THE UNIVERSE: EXPLORING OUR SUPRASENSORY NATURE, (Steiner Books, 2000), p. 84. [See "Steiner's 'Science'", "Materialism U.", and "Steiner's Specific".]

[9] Steiner’s attitude toward rational thought is neatly summarized in 

“Let now these intimations come

To claim their rightful place,

Supplanting thinking’s power....” 


(Temple Lodge Publishing, 2004), meditation #7. 

By intimations, he meant the results of clairvoyance or its precursors, such as imagination.

[10] Steiner said that Waldorf teachers should be unbending, unquestioned authority figures whom students believe implicitly. Compromise of any sort is unacceptable. 

◊ As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

 ◊ “Surely you did not justify [i.e., explain] yourselves to the students? ... The children will be caught in delusions of grandeur ... You cannot justify your views of the students to the students. That is absolutely out of the question.” — Ibid., p. 391.

[11] See "Polytheism".