by Some Who Got Burned
It is easy to find testimonials that make Waldorf schools sound good. But it is also easy to find testimonials that make Waldorf schools sound bad. The latter should at least give us pause. Why do so many people have bad or even terrible Waldorf experiences?
Here is a summary of troubling testimonials about Waldorf schools. Most were written by individuals who were once deeply involved with Waldorf, who indeed loved Waldorf initially only to become disillusioned later. A few were written by people who disliked Waldorf from the get-go. One or two were written by individuals who still find much to admire in Waldorf and who would probably be surprised that their statements can be taken as cautionary tales.
Critics of Waldorf schooling find compelling arguments against Waldorf in the sorts of things you will read here. Some themes run like threads through many of these testimonials: charges that Waldorf schools misrepresent themselves, that they secretly try to induct children into an occult worldview, that they are defensive and insular, that they discriminate unfairly, that they tolerate bullying and abuse, that they are torn by jealousies and bickering, that they are staffed by overworked teachers who do not know their subjects well, that...
But I'm giving the plot away.
Waldorf critics find much that is interesting and important in the following narratives. Defenders of Waldorf schools tend to dismiss such narratives as irrelevancies — malicious and mean-spirited, or misinformed, or innocent remarks misconstrued by malicious and mean-spirited outsiders.
Draw your own conclusions.
The variation in type styles below means little;
it simply indicates that the quotations
were drawn from different sources.
For a statement about the identity of individuals
quoted and paraphrased at Waldorf Watch,
"Several years ago, I picked up and moved from another state specifically to enroll my daughter in a Waldorf School. I was excited that art would permeate the curriculum. That there would be lots of drama and music. That there would be an emphasis on environmental issues. That fairy tales and myths would be taught. I was happy that organic food would be the norm and that my child would have other vegetarians in her class....
"When we arrived in rural WI [i.e., Wisconsin, USA] we enrolled our child in the Waldorf School, and began to have some peculiar experiences ... I began to suspect that I'd joined a spiritual movement, but because I was told 'NO NO, not true,' and because I didn't know what Anthroposophy was (I'd heard the word enough at this point so I could say it and spell it), I just kept on going along with the program but couldn't quite figure out what was going on!
"...[Eventually] I realized that the fairy tales were often sexist, patriarchal and very religious. Creationism was taught ... My child was made to recolor Eve's hair blond after choosing black. She was taught about angels, and demons, and page after page of her exercise books reflected a very religious perspective ... I became really depressed and had nothing to do with the school. I just answered their pleas and sent them money, lots of it.
"I had made a very poor choice of school for my daughter." — Sharon Lombard. [See “Thanks PLANS!”.]
"It frustrates me when people deny that Anthroposophy is a religion and [claim] that the schools don’t teach Anthroposophy to children ... My daughter’s books [i.e., class books created by copying from the chalkboard] show that indeed she was taught Anthroposophy, in picture form as well as in written form. ‘The human being is like a little universe inside a big one. Sun, moon and stars find their likeness in mans head, trunk and limbs’; ‘The Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes and Undines are the earth’s scribes’; ‘The body is the house of the spirit,’ etc. If you deconstruct the lessons, the curriculum and the pedagogy, you cannot ignore the fact that Waldorf is a mystery school, a magical lodge for juniors." — Sharon Lombard. [See “Spotlight on Anthroposophy”, CULTIC STUDIES REVIEW, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003.]
"The Waldorf school did not present itself as a religious movement but, instead, claimed to be a scientific, art-based, nonsectarian school, having a multicultural emphasis incorporating stories and festivals from around the world as well as having an environmental focus. We believed Waldorf’s claim, because Steiner was portrayed as a scientist, educator, and philosopher ... Initially, it never dawned on us that he was a religious leader and that Waldorf would be a hub for the dissemination of his beliefs ... In the occult tradition, the [Waldorf] group also used veiled vocabulary devised by Steiner, i.e., the use of words having alternate meanings ... For example, ‘psychic sight’ was termed ‘imagination’ ... Developing ‘imagination,’ which you’d expect at an art-based school, really meant developing ‘psychic sight [i.e., clairvoyance].'" — Ibid.
"In the early years of Waldorf, I did not know that some fairy tales being taught were occult parables. Nor had it dawned on me that the 'festivals' celebrated throughout the school year were in reality Anthroposophic rituals devised by Steiner with deep esoteric meaning." — Ibid.
"The reality was slowly sinking in. Waldorf did not offer the kind of art I had expected. There was no free artistic expression. Typical children’s drawings were missing from the classrooms ... Waldorf is like a cult, you all follow Steiner, he is your guru. I have never felt so oppressed ... I had no inkling at that time that thousands of Steiner’s sermons had been published and distributed by devotees from within the closed world of Anthroposophy." — Ibid.
"My daughter cried at bedtime and in the mornings as she vehemently resisted going to [the Waldorf] school. However, thinking we should work through her intensifying revolt, because it was in her best interest, we ignorantly kept sending her off as we were dubious about our other options for schooling. When her accumulated wet-on-wet ‘artwork’ came home, I was aware that, unlike her prolific creative drawing done at home, at school the self-expression we had anticipated was actually being frustratingly suppressed.
"Mounting idiosyncrasies, prayers, and religiosities (including my daughter's announcement that she had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other) suggested an undercurrent that emanated from the faculty. These were not just isolated beliefs of the mystical seekers in the parent body. Legends of holy people, Old Testament stories, and much ado about demons, devils, angels, fairies, gnomes, and Saint Michael (all taught as fact) added to the fear that we had allowed [our child’s] tiny head to be opened and filled with a syncretic, superstitious miasma of ages past. Contrary to the claims of nonsectarianism, it was becoming very apparent that everything revolved around Rudolf Steiner; the founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education." — Sharon Lombard. [See "Our Brush with Rudolf Steiner" at http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/lombard.html.]
“I remember when I was a wide-eyed believer receiving a letter from parents who had been harmed by the [Waldorf] school ... I remember skimming the letter and thinking that they were sadly mistaken malcontents ... I remember feeling superior and floating in a sense of knowing so much more than my non-W friends. I had the key to paradise...the Waldorf Way....
“I can't begin to describe to you what it has been like to be pushed off of this beautific throne....
“I was seduced by the beauty [of the school] — by the promise of giving my children a glowing, golden soul. Little did I know that the beauty was gold-plated, propped by deception ... [My children] almost had their spirits robbed by well-meaning, poorly trained, neurotic humans calling themselves teachers and spiritual guides.
“...I feel spiritually connected [and] I believed that this school would protect my children from the soul death of the media and capitalistic culture. I blame myself for...BLINDLY, faithfully, following advice that was justified [i.e., defended] using Steiner and spiritual science.
“I believe my worst mistake is not believing in myself as an authority on my own children, ignoring my feeling of humiliation in the presence of fellow humans who market themselves as spiritually aware.” — Former Waldorf parent A. [See "Anonymous Testimonial From Waldorf Parent" at http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/StoryAnon03.html]*
“I worked at this [Waldorf] school for seven years ... Despite being chosen Employee of the Month and receiving several national awards and grants, including Teacher of the Year...I was subjected to ongoing harassment and character assassination after I began to question the legality of Anthroposophical religious indoctrination in staff training sessions led by uneducated, unaccredited Anthroposophists brought over from Europe. Both staff and students were subjected to nonacademic, occultist activities through the Waldorf training and pedagogy adopted from the Rudolf Steiner College, a nonaccredited Anthroposophical religious institution located in Fair Oaks, California. I quit in frustration over the academic dearth of Waldorf education and grief at watching...students being subjected to occultist religious indoctrination in the place of [i.e., instead of] a sound academic program.” — Former Waldorf teacher Kathleen Sutphen. [See “Ex-Teacher 6".]
“Did Mr. Oppenheimer [author of an article praising Waldorf education] compare student books [i.e., class books created by the students]? If he had done so, he would have found that most contain almost identical information, word for word. The books are seductive in their beauty, but they are not original creations. Even the artwork is largely copied and adheres to occultist color exercises designed to encourage the incarnation of the soul per Anthroposophical religious belief.” — Ibid.
“[W]hy didn't Mr. Oppenheimer ask about staff turnover or attempt to talk to teachers that quit in frustration over the unsound academic principles being practiced on these...students? Did he inquire as to whether any staff had protested the religious indoctrination subtly infused in Waldorf teacher training? Did he check to see if current teachers had attended state approved certification and teacher training programs prior to their hiring? Did he speak to any parents?" — Ibid.
“I wonder why [Oppenheimer's article] didn't ask how many of [Thomas E. Mathews Community School’s] students were able to obtain their high school diploma since the Waldorf pedagogy was adopted. The answer is zero or very close to it. Mathews' students leave the campus with little or no increase in academic skills. They do not have the ability to pass the GED [i.e., General Equivalency Degree]. Instead of learning minimal competencies to pass the GED or read on the most elementary level, these students are copying their lesson books off the blackboard; playing plastic recorders; and chanting anthroposophical verses.” — Ibid.
"I am newly out of a Waldorf community, having been deeply involved in it for almost a decade.
"My family was horrifically kicked out, with the brunt of the focus on our child. We are heartsick, in shock and vacillate between grief and rage.
"We are still being harassed and I need some support getting through this turbulent time.
"I tried calling a cult hotline, but have been having trouble finding one that is still in operation.
"Do you any of you know someone who is well-versed in Waldorf and has training as a counselor? Who is smart and sane?
"I am having a hard time fully functioning in my life right now. We have lost the bulk of our community and our child's school. I am reeling from the reality of actually SEEING the truth of this community and it is hard for me to integrate." — Former Waldorf parent "Ella." [See "January, 2013".]*
“I enrolled my son in the San Francisco Waldorf School halfway through the sixth grade. I was very impressed with the school. I liked very much the way art is integrated into the curriculum in Waldorf....
"One day while visiting the school, I browsed through some books by Rudolf Steiner that they had for sale. I saw some very strange things about 'astral bodies' and 'root races.' I asked my son's teacher whether these subjects were taught in the classroom. She assured me that though the teachers studied Steiner, only Steiner's teaching methods were used in the classroom, and Steiner's philosophy wasn't taught to the children. I learned later that this is a standard disclaimer, and it is far from the truth. I should have known better, but I was so in love with the facade of the school that I looked the other way.
"Over the year and a half my son was in the school, I became increasingly disturbed about three things: 1. Weird science ... [W]hen I obtained Waldorf curriculum guides, I discovered that the inadequate and erroneous science [I had observed in the school] was part of the Waldorf system. 2. Racism. I was shocked to pick up a Steiner book [containing racist passages] for sale at the school ... 3. Quack medicine. An 'Anthroposophical physician' gave a lecture to the parents ... It was classic quackery....
"...I requested a meeting with the College of Teachers, the committee of senior teachers that ran the school. They were 'too busy.' Instead, a committee of three teachers was delegated to give me an ultimatum: 'You don't have to believe what we believe, but if you are going to talk about your disagreements with the other parents [i.e., tell the other parents about your disageements with the school], you will have to leave.' We left.” — Former Waldorf parent Dan Dugan. [See “Pops”.]
“Often, when ‘difficult’ tenets of Anthroposophy are brought up in connection with either private or public Waldorf schools, the defense is made that Anthroposophy is not taught in the schools. They claim that only Steiner’s teaching methods are used, and that they take what's good and discard the nonsense. I believe Waldorf without Anthroposophy might be possible, but it would be so difficult that I would be surprised if it ever actually happened. Anthroposophy is so tightly interwoven into the Waldorf movement that removing it would leave little but a constellation of pedagogical techniques that, taken separately, aren’t unique to Waldorf.” — Dan Dugan, “Why Waldorf Programs are Unsuitable for Public Funding”, CULTIC STUDIES REVIEW, Vol. 2, No. 2.
"I have recently become a so-called Steiner survivor.
"Embarrassed to admit that as a well educated and worldly individual I also fell for the ‘creative’ / tree hugging hype, desperate for some kind of alternative to the ‘processed peas’ ’test’ culture of mainstream schools – only to find out the true meaning of Anthroposophy after my daughter had been at the school for a few terms.
"Like most people, I had never heard of Anthroposophy and certainly had no idea of the ‘wackery’ that supports it. I only started to research into this when I got a letter saying my child would be required to ‘jump-over-the-fire’ at one of their festivals that I then found sites like yours...
"Deciding that I did not want my child at this type of school – It cost me over £1,500 to employ a private tutor to bring her up to a reasonable academic standard, and even after intensive ‘one-to-one’ tutoring she has been placed a year below her peers at mainstream school because she is so far behind...
"This weird and bizarre religion may (as they claim) not be taught directly to the children, but it is certainly done by stealth – it underpins absolutely everything that is said and done in these schools and parents are not told this.
"I took my daughter out of the school a term before I was contractually obliged to, as I had grave concerns over her emotional well-being (being reduced to tears by the teacher because she would not write the letter ‘M’ in the prescribed four-stroke Steiner way and also she was made to sit alone at the back of a class of 12 – the reason given was that it was the teacher’s class and he could do what he wanted) as well as worries over her general health and safety.
"I refused to pay the outstanding fees. The school threatened me with Debt Collectors but after saying I wanted the matter to go before a Small Claims court so I could put on ‘public record’ the disgraceful nature of the school, they backed down...." — Anonymous mother [http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2012/11/steiner-schools-an-alternative-to-education.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steiner-schools-an-alternative-to-education]*
Note: Fire jumping is a midsummer ‘St John’s day’ ritual practiced at many Steiner schools. Often, unkind thoughts are written on paper and thrown in the fire and then the children jump over the fire. - R.R.
“For many years our family was part of a Waldorf Community. I was there often, helping with classes, field trips, meetings, fairs, etc. I knew nothing of Anthroposophy before we joined and was told it was not in the school. I gradually realized that this is the driving force behind Waldorf Education.
“...After years of wanting to believe in this community and trying to help solve some of the problems the school encountered, our family was hit between the eyes by an Anthroposophical 2x4 and the pain was intense....
“The word I heard from ex-Waldorf families to describe how they felt about Waldorf was...'Cult.' ... As painful as it was to leave I am so very relieved to have done so. My children are doing well. We did not have one inquiry from the school as to our children's well being. And still I have nothing against Anthroposophy or Waldorf Education for those who understand and choose this very religious/occult based education [sic; emphasis by author]. Unfortunately, Waldorf Education promotes itself in a misleading manner. This accounts for many painful misunderstandings.
“...While some of our Waldorf experience was good (knitting, baking, etc.) the fundamental essence of Waldorf is steeped in occultism, mysticism, karma and (re)incarnation. This is not what I was led to believe prior to enrolling our children. I understand this now. If I had known this before we would not have joined.” — Former Waldorf parent B. [See "Anonymous Testimonial From Waldorf Parent" at http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/StoryAnon01.html]*
"My first board meeting [at a Waldorf school] included a faculty grilling re: sexual preference, directed at a young gay teacher ... I kept saying, 'This is a violation of her civil rights.' ... [But] regular rules do not apply in Waldorf schools. Anthroposophy is more important than individual rights, laws, or common truths.
"...The healthy teachers were eventually run out [of the school] and the ill ones took over hiring ... There was deceit everywhere ... The financial statements were literally made up ... Unpaid payroll taxes, marked as paid, were seized from our bank account ... [T]he school wasn't making enough money to pay rent, salary, and the electricity bill. One classroom was red-flagged for sewage backing up in the tub....
"...[A]t parent gatherings...the teachers would stand on the stage with their arms around each other, singing songs, while the parents beamed ... [B]ehind closed doors [these teachers] were all backstabbers...insecure people competing for the top position on the Anthroposophical dog pile ... Board meetings were always exhausting because you could cut the tension between the teachers with a knife....
"...I think it's easier to walk away from Waldorf when Anthroposophy doesn't speak to your spirit, but it still isn't easy. I took 63 families with me to [create] a new school ... My aim was to make a school like we were told Waldorf was but was not. Sixty-three families were ready to move, so I went back to work.” — Former Waldorf parent Debra Snell. [See “Coming Undone”.]
"My youngest son, who began Waldorf in kindergarten, complained that he was not learning anything [in first grade] ... After many months of frustrating communication with the school, we placed our Waldorf educated son in public school ... During my last meeting with his Waldorf teacher, I stated that perhaps Waldorf was inappropriate for him. She replied, 'It sounds to me like you are questioning Anthroposophy. If you are, you should leave, because every teacher here is an Anthroposophist except for one, and she is coming to Anthroposophy.'" — Debra Snell, interviewed by Jeff Horseman [“An Interview with PLANS President”, http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/InterviewPLANSPres.html]
"It is extremely gratifying when someone takes the trouble to write a poem about you [as Waldorf teachers often do for their students]. Who normally writes such poems, except distraught lovers? This explains the hazy feeling that alumni of these schools often express. They feel that they were recognized there as they have never been recognized again anywhere else. Something in them keeps a nostalgic memory of a time when their souls were supposedly seen with such clarity by their teachers. 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." — Former Waldorf student and teacher Grégoire Perra. [See "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".]
“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 ... What a lack of respect [Waldorf] 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! ... The evil comes in not giving children the tools to evaluate those ideas later. 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. In addition, the students are placed in a position of unconscious opposition to the ideas and values of the rest of society." — Ibid.
"There is also a serious problem of sanctifying or deifying an institution. For Steiner, the school and the teaching he founded are direct emanations of the spirit world, they are true incarnations of celestial Anthroposophy, a pure gift of the gods ... In other words, the creation of this form of education results from divine action ... [Waldorf] teachers see it the same way. Steiner is the prophet of an educational revelation for them! Their schools therefore manifest the presence of the divine on Earth. But as soon as they have to choose between the welfare of the children and the reputation of the school — or its survival — won’t they be tempted to run any risk rather than sacrifice an institution they consider sacred? Won’t they deliberately risk endangering the children to save the school, if those are the alternatives they perceive?” — Ibid.
"There is an overemphasis on the ego and exaggerated exaltation of the mystic realm. Indeed, Steiner-Waldorf teachers place the highest possible value on dreamy and mystical attitudes. As a student, I indeed could see how our teachers showed the highest esteem for those who retained longest the attitudes of gullible children transported by imaginative stories. The student who seemed to be in a dreaming state was placed on a virtual pedestal in comparison to his peers. Later, as a teacher, I often heard teachers in faculty meetings praising the receptive qualities of students who were dreamy, naive, and enthusiastic. It was said of such students that they knew how to keep the soul intact and pure. We often even said that in principle a good Waldorf education should slow the maturation of students' intellectual faculties as far as possible. In addition, teachers flattered and lavished praise on students for abilities they didn't really possess, trying to keep them as long as possible in a sort of "floating" disconnection from reality. This is why the egos of students leaving Waldorf schools are so developed. At first sight, these students seem to have a self-confidence that could be considered a good quality. But looking more closely, we very often see that this colossal self-assurance is based on nothing but empty air. Quite often these students have done virtually no academic work for years: Rituals, religious chants, and preparing for holidays takes up so much time in Waldorf schooling that the time devoted to actual school work is literally reduced to a trickle.
"Kept in a thorough artistic-mythical-religious atmosphere and expanding their egos, these students are accustomed to a state of laziness that will make them social misfits, unable to escape except through bluster and seduction ... Having been in some way seduced by their teachers, these students may try to proceed through seduction. That is why their results for the baccalaureate exams in writing are so pathetic, although the same students can be tremendously good at oral presentations. Thus, in the school where I worked and tried to prepare students for the baccalaureate, hardly 40% of students were successful, and even they succeeded mostly due to the oral portion of the process. Of course, extension of the dream state greatly facilitates the ability to later become a Anthroposophist, as this mystical doctrine overwhelms those who plunge, as I did, into abstruse metaphysical speculations. Anthroposophical mysticism is a kind of natural extension of the dream state that is overdeveloped in Steiner-Waldorf institutions. Overdevelopment of the ego aids individuals who tend to arise in life lecturing or even becoming gurus. Later they may find, in the context of the Anthroposophical Society, the roles of spiritual guides, the roles they are in fact familiar with from their childhood. It is therefore common to find students in Steiner-Waldorf schools who systematically and blindly trust their own feelings, or hunches, sometimes up to the level of considering themselves apprentice mediums." — Grégoire Perra. [See "He Went to Waldorf".]
"I turn now to [the] subject [of] the recruitment of students into deceptive practices and concealment from authorities. Indeed, in these schools, misleading state officials is commonplace. For example, I witnessed that, when a teacher is scheduled to be inspected in class, s/he will commonly be replaced by another teacher who has the [necessary] skills or qualifications. Then the students are asked to 'play the game' in the presence of the inspector, and to act as if the teacher who conducts their class [this day] is their regular teacher. Similarly, it may happen that there are health and hygiene inspections. I remember one time when the inspectors had to check how the children ate in the canteen. However, in this school, the children did not eat in a canteen but in classrooms with their teachers who watched them and made them recite their prayers before meals. For this inspection, the teachers were notified 24 hours in advance, so we organized three successive meal services in a canteen for the students, so that everything appeared normal. In the evening, during a faculty meeting, teachers congratulated themselves that their students had 'played the game.'
"These various circumventions of the law make students participate in acts of defiance against outsiders perceived as hostile. They subtly teach the students that the rules and laws of the society at large are not so good ... This is likely to strengthen their students' feeling of living in a world apart. Anthroposophists view anything that does not belong in the 'milieu of Anthroposophy' as 'the outside world,' so to the students the general society in which they live becomes, for them, the 'outside world'!'" — Ibid.
“[D]isenchanted Waldorf parents express a common sense of being misled by the school’s wholesome image.
“’There is nothing in the [school brochures] about incarnating children’s souls,' says a Waldorf parent-turned-critic in British Columbia who requests anonymity due to pending legal action with a local Waldorf school. 'How many parents even know that Waldorf teachers study Steiner’s occultism in order to teach at a Waldorf?’*
“’When our son started in the San Francisco Waldorf,' recalls critic Dan Dugan, 'I thought it was a progressive, artistic school. The teachers said they teach a standard curriculum, just based on Steiner’s teaching methods. In fact, it is more than that. Waldorf schools are actually about Anthroposophy.’” — Carol Milstone, “Gnomes and Critics at Waldorf Schools”, ReligionNewsBlog.
A former Waldorf teacher explains that many “Anthroposophical schools” — i.e., Waldorf schools staffed by committed Anthroposophists — exist mainly for one reason. This reason is not to educate or even benefit the students; it is to spread Anthroposophy:
“Anthroposophical Waldorf [schooling] often fails to address the needs of the individual child and family ... The reason many Anthroposophical 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....” — Former Waldorf teacher "baandje" [See “Ex-Teacher 7”.]*
“In Anthroposophical Waldorf schools, ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING centers around the task of implementing Steiner's spiritual scientific theories. Educating children is looked upon in much the same way Anthroposophical spiritual concepts are embraced: children are 'temperaments' or 'stages of human development'; they're vessels for [the] purpose of receiving cosmic wisdom in the form of an Anthroposophical curriculum. One could go even further and say children in an Anthroposophical Waldorf school are looked upon as 'the future initiators of the Christ Impulse' [i.e., the new evolutionary force introduced by the Sun God]. Again, EACH INDIVIDUAL CHILD'S EDUCATION takes a back seat to the spiritual scientific and cosmic Christian tasks and ideals of the Anthroposophical initiative.” — Ibid.
“Anyone trapped in any dogmatic system of spiritual or religious belief will exhibit the same anti-social and alienating behavior anthroposophists often display ... Anthroposophy is an apocalyptic philosophy, and anthroposophists are quite consciously preparing the groundwork for the incarnation of [the arch-demon] Ahriman, for the development of Sorat [i.e., the Antichrist] and accompanying demonic entities, for the far-future War of All Against All, etc. ... [T]his is why that typical, never-ending community conflict dynamic in a Waldorf school is accepted and intellectualized away as necessarily preferable to happy, healthy and balanced (normal) human interaction. Conflict is a particular type of ecstatic union: the spiritual feast. I witnessed many teachers who literally went out of their way to create issues if it happened to be too slow a month, problem-wise.” — Ibid. [See "Ahriman", "Evil Ones", and "All v. All".]
“[A]nthroposophists welcome and allow themselves and others to be chewed up, swallowed and processed via conflict, which is why for instance a [Waldorf] teacher who is approaching emotional and psychic breakdown status is still supported by his/her colleagues and allowed to teach. It's all seen and understood as part of the great spiritual sacrifice — and you can't fault or fire someone so deeply spiritual and ultra-committed, can you?
“And [this is] why parents who remove their children and leave are hardly if ever given the time of day afterwards. Those families are looked upon as uncommitted to the great spiritual task at hand, or as karmically incompatible and so forth.” — Ibid.
"My daughter, being defiant...was labeled a demon by her [Waldorf] teacher and was bullied for years...cutting herself and finally going into a mental breakdown. [Waldorf school X] denies any responsibility — despite years of permitting this to go unchecked.
"Waldorf is not harmless and Steiner's ideas are used by very insensitive people to harm children in the name of Waldorf! And everyone else stands by and watches. Why?" — Former Waldorf parent Pete Karaiskos. [See "Nuts".]
"[Here's] why Waldorf teachers think of children as demons... [W]hat other being would confront a Waldorf teacher who had been lying? Right? Only a demon would confront the Angels of education...Waldorf teachers. The teacher who labeled my daughter as a demon is TEACHING Waldorf TEACHERS ... Hopefully, they will be able to spot demonic children with pinpoint accuracy like this one could.
"Here's an experiment parents can try at home ... [C]onvince your child they are a demon...and see how they grow up ... [O]r you could save yourself the trouble and send them to Waldorf!" — Ibid.
"One cure for blindness is opening one's eyes. I hope to file a case with the attorney general, besides my own lawsuit. [Waldorf X], over the course of a decade, destroyed my daughter's mental health. I was finally able to get her out of [X] by the 9th grade ... The state of California is footing the bill for my daughter's health care and schooling ... [X] is responsible and should be paying these costs — NOT the taxpayer. I hope to get the attorney general involved to recover the taxpayer dollars that [X] should pay — and to investigate what happened to my daughter. I have a paper trail a mile long pointing out what happened and the lies that were told to cover things up. There is gross negligence here, conspiracy to commit fraud, and a whole lot of other crimes by various people. [X] WILL PAY for what they did...of that there is no question." — Ibid.
“I pushed hard to do my student teaching in the [Waldorf] school ...To be honest, I did see some wonderful things; beautiful classrooms, art work, story time...but I had a problem with Waldorf’s way of handling academic subjects. Waldorf educational philosophy states that focusing children's learning on intellectual endeavors too soon distracts from their physical, spiritual, and emotional development, so reading, writing, and math are not taught at all during preschool. Instead, emphasis is placed fantasy, imagination, storytelling, rhyming, and movement games ... I wanted to teach children to learn to think for themselves; to analyze, synthesize, and extrapolate information as opposed to simply regurgitating it the way it is done in more traditional settings. What I soon found out was that children were simply regurgitating in the Waldorf settings ... Only instead of taking a standardized test or filling out a worksheet, in Waldorf it was copying a drawing or memorizing a poem. Although this was esoterically more pleasing to the casual observer, in essence it was still superficial learning.” — Former Waldorf student teacher Lysa De Thomas, who went on to teach in Montessori schools. [See “Ex-Teacher 5”.]*
“Worse in my eyes than not teaching accurate facts in the classroom was the reality that children who had interests in things that were not part of the Waldorf curriculum for their age were not only not allowed to learn about those interests at school, but their parents were encouraged (dare I say 'pressured') to not allow them to pursue their interests at home either. Their parents were told that exposure to anything non-Waldorf would hurt their development....” — Ibid.
“The longer I spent at the [Waldorf] school, the more I saw what I considered an attack on the intellect and personal needs and interests of [the] child.
“Here are some examples that were burned into my memory forever. A first grade boy loved numbers. He had a firm grasp of numbers ... Yet he was forced to sit and draw numbers and then animals to go with those numbers (one dog, two cats...) during math time ... [T]his one child (and in all honesty some of his peers) was far beyond it and was bored ... I was told that it was OK for him to be bored....
“...I was once berated for over an hour because a preschooler drew a happy face ... Twenty years later I still remember the teacher screaming at me, ‘I cannot believe an educator like you would allow such a thing ... What in your right mind would make you think that such a thing would be allowed?!?!?’
“Later, the same child was ‘caught’ drawing a heart ... The school's way of handling this was to ask the parents not to bring the child to non-Waldorf activities until she was older.
“Another time a sixth grader asked me how the copy machine in the office worked. Before I could even open my mouth, a teacher ran over to the child, and told him that there was a gnome asleep in the box....” — Ibid.
“What I saw as a lack of honoring of personal interests inhabited everything [at the Waldorf school]. Only certain colors [for drawing pictures] were used at certain ages, only certain materials for certain groups. No black, no lines, no exceptions. I hated seeing the joy in a child’s face fade ... None of these rules made sense to me. Yet when I asked why they were there, the only response I received was that there was a higher meaning to everything and I was not ‘enlightened’ enough to understand.“ — Ibid.
"[A]lthough the teachers believed that everything from the color crayon a child used at a certain age, to the knowledge that they were exposed to, had to be completely controlled, they [the children] could be left utterly alone on the playground. It was explained to me that this was because ‘The angels watched over and protected them’ while they were playing ... Once, when a child was in tears because the other children kept on pushing her off of a stump they were playing on, I tried to teach conflict resolution skills to the group and was, once again, admonished by the staff. I was told that all of the children were ‘working through’ things [i.e., discharging karma] and needed to be left alone. Eventually the bullying got so bad that it permeated every part of the child’s school day. Yet still the teachers would not intervene. The child became sullen and withdrawn....” — Ibid.
“As I was walking [into the house where I had taken a room] with my first box of things my new housemate [a Waldorf teacher] confronted me about my belongings. She was upset that I had so many books and made it clear that I had to keep them locked away in my bedroom! After that first encounter everything I did seemed to be horrible in her eyes. She didn’t like the medicine I took; it was made in a lab. I needed to go to anthroposophical doctor and use only natural medicines. She didn’t like the clothes that I wore; they weren’t all cotton and dyed with natural dyes. She didn’t like me talking on the phone even though it was in the kitchen and belonged to the house; the phone was a tool of [the devil] Ahriman....
“...[T]here were teacher gatherings and study groups at our house often ... [A]ll the teachers were passionate and really believed in what they were doing. It soon became obvious to me that...what I had hoped was a misinterpretation of Steiner’s philosophy was in actuality the perfect implementation of it. As far as the outright distortion scientific or historical facts in the Waldorf curriculum, I was asked, 'Whose facts are they? How sure are you that yours are true?' ... For many of the teachers, the only science or history they knew were what they learned in their Waldorf teacher training courses. Then came the statement that clarified all their misinformation for me. I was told, 'Steiner had exceptional powers, he saw the future, he knew the truth. If you truly need to learn, you need to study and follow Steiner. Steiner is all anyone ever needs to know.'” — Ibid.
“[P]arents need to be aware of the fact that Waldorf Schools ARE teaching religion [i.e., Anthroposophy]....
“...The almost outright ban of media in any form for preschool and elementary children, especially TV and computers, can sound wonderful to the average parent, most of whom are all too aware of the problems that too much exposure to the mass media will bring, but for the Waldorf educator it has a much deeper and important meaning. They believe that Steiner stated that such things embody a materialistic spirit named Ahriman who alienates the human being from his spiritual roots.
“...The gnomes that permeate Waldorf schools, craft fairs and publications are not just a return to a fanciful lost world of childhood, they are beings that are truly believed in and are used in a variety of ways. They can displace teachers and students emotions and reactions, they can evade children's questions about the world and how it works, they mystify children asking questions about things like sex, violence, illness or death. They can even be threatening and confusing since children who don't see [invisible] gnomes often feel like there is something wrong with them....
“... I know now that what [Waldorf schools] present to the world is a beautiful façade that is covering their new-age beliefs, only one of which is a fear of the intellect. For a parent who believes in Anthroposophy a Waldorf school will be a heaven-sent. For parents who are willing to overlook the religious concepts and themes for the beautiful setting and art based curriculum, a Waldorf school might be fine also. But parents should be told that their children will be taught religious beliefs while they are in a Waldorf school. They need to know what these religious beliefs are, and they need to know that they will take precedence over their child’s individual needs and interests. Parents also need to know that their children will not be academically on par with many of their peers unless [the parents] take to breaking with Waldorf guidelines and teach [their children] academics at home.” — Ibid.
"My math teacher [at Green Meadow Waldorf School], whose ominously apropos nickname was Tomcat, Tommy for short...was famous for molesting all the teenage girls. He had even gotten one of them pregnant ... [Yet] he went right on being a respected community member and teaching math at Green Meadow and molesting every other girl he could get his mitts on ... He started coming over and taking me on 'walks' after dinner, ostensibly to give me guidance and sympathy because I seemed to be having 'a difficult time' but in fact to lead me into the deserted fields and rub his hard-on against me while trapping me in his arms as I struggled to break free ... I loathed and feared him ... His rationale for abusing so many girls was that they didn't tell him not to ... It never seemed to occur to him that laws protecting minors from predators like him were in place because we were too young and vulnerable to protect ourselves. He didn't actually rape me, but some of my friends were't so lucky." — Kate Christensen, BLUE PLATE SPECIAL (Doubleday, 2013), p. 131. [See "Extremity".]
"[Eventually] I broke down and told my mother about Tommy. She was horrified and livid and immediately wrote a letter to the school to report him ... [N]othing changed. Later that year, my mother came to visit ... [S]he called Tommy and asked him to come over ... He arrived and sat down, and my mother told him he had to stop molesting me. She was apparently very firm about it and very insistent.
"After my mother left, Tommy...came into my bedroom and sat on my bed ... He said, 'I want to hear it from you. I don't believe you feel that way.'
"I mumbled something, terrified, unable to look at him or tell him to stop.
"And he kept taking me for walks." — Ibid., pp. 133-134.
"During my senior year, Tommy stopped pestering me for the most part ... But he continued pestering one of my friends. She told me he wouldn't stop forcing her to give him hand jobs ... Who could we tell? They were all doing it. Almost everyone in that supposedly spiritually righteous community knew what was going on, but no one said or did anything to stop it; there was never the slightest sense that they thought they were doing anything wrong, having sex with the teenagers they taught, mentored, and hosted. Tommy was far from the only one. One of my other teachers had had a long affair with a former student that had started when he was her teacher; two other male teachers (married, with children) had sex with two sixteen-year-old girls ... It wasn't only the men. A female teacher was involved in a longtime liaison with a recent graduate that had started when he was in high school, another female teacher had slept with a boy in the class above mine." — Ibid., p. 143.
Academic subjects — the central substance of ordinary education — are often given short shrift at Waldorf schools. Waldorf students often lag far behind their peers in other schools, and many may never develop basic skills. The problem is especially acute in sciences and math. As a result, "In my thirty-two years as a Waldorf teacher I met very few classes in which more than a handful of students were fluent in the most elementary math." — Retired Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. 57. [See "His Education", "Academic Standards at Waldorf", "Steiner’s 'Science'", "Pseudoscience", "Science", and "Mystic Math".]
"I have attended countless [Waldorf] open houses ... I have seen scores of [student] notebooks, copied and illustrated with enormous care and devotion and riddled with all kinds of errors, placed where parents and visitors are most likely to see them ... Copying is the curse of the Waldorf Schools. There is altogether too much of it, and it is not confined to the elementary school. In high school, where there is much less excuse for it, it still goes on. The way in which many [Waldorf] teachers organize their work implies that they consider that the whole object of the course is the creation of a gorgeous notebook. And the way in which some teachers judge the work of other teachers implies the same thing.” — Ibid, p. 131.
Not only do Waldorf students copy from their teachers, but the teachers copy from other Waldorf teachers, whose work often contains multiple errors. These problems stem from at least two underlying problems. One is that teachers who have gone through Waldorf teacher training may know a lot about Waldorf methods and rationale, but they often have little or no mastery of the subjects they are assigned to teach. The other problem is that Waldorf teachers are often expected to move rapidly from subject to subject (math, geography, history...). Even when a particular teacher is well-grounded in some subjects, s/he is inevitably less well-equipped to teach other subjects. So s/he copies from books or booklets written by other Waldorf teachers, and if these contain errors (as they often do), s/he unwittingly passes these errors along. "Class teachers have to cover an immense range of topics. A seventh grade teacher, for example, has to teach courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, physiology, English language and literature, geography and history. Since most people have specialized knowledge of at most one or two of these subjects this means...the teacher is at the mercy of his or her sources ... [I]f you have only a few weeks in which to prepare to teach a block in physiology or medieval history you may well find yourself simply copying what someone has told you or what you read in a few — maybe a very few — books. Very often the time available is considerably less than a few weeks. Having completed sixth grade you are in a state of exhaustion [as you try to get ready for teaching seventh grade] ... That means about one week of preparation for each main lesson block, provided you do not take a vacation." — Ibid. pp. 131-132.
Critical thinking is not highly prized at Waldorf schools or among Anthroposophists. Instead, Anthroposophists tend to be true believers who uncritically choose gurus for themselves. The gurus are, of course, almost always fellow Anthroposophists. "As anthroposophists we are enjoined to practice veneration and to silence the inner voice which is apt to be saying, 'But.. But... But...' ... Anthroposophists, however, seem to adopt their gurus uncritically, often simply on the strength of reputation or position. I have seen it happen often enough and it seems to be quite easy to become an anthroposophical guru ... I have no doubt that some of the anthroposophical authorities whom I have encountered over the years have been people of genuine insight ... Equally there are those who are ‘negative influences’, some of whom do it with charisma and some with bumbling sincerity. A few are self-serving charlatans." — Ibid., pp. 61-62.
An underlying problem at Waldorf schools is that real knowledge about the real world is often rejected. Anthroposophists believe the occult, "clairvoyant" teachings of Rudolf Steiner, not the knowledge produced by modern science and scholarship. A subsidiary problem is that Anthroposophists can become arrogant in their belief that they — and only they — know the Truth. "Anthroposophists generally practise what they preach...but only up to a point. We certainly have no difficulty in rejecting most of the world's recognized authorities, along with the orthodoxies of politics, economics, medicine, science, art, agriculture and education that they represent — except when they just happen to fit in with something that we are pushing. As a group we believe that we have access to knowledge that puts us in a superior position, and the tendency to let this feeling of superiority show is one of the most off-putting features of the anthroposophical personality." — Ibid., pp. 60-61.
There is often considerable turmoil within Waldorf faculties. • "When Waldorf teachers work together the external opposing forces [i.e., opponents of Waldorf education and/or Anthroposophy] can be resisted effectively, if not defeated. Bitter experience has taught me, however, that these periods of well-being do not last, and that when things go bad they do so from the inside." [p.94] • "When it comes to ordinary human weaknesses, we cannot assume that anthroposophists and Waldorf teachers will be any better than average for the human race as a whole. Since there is a tendency for anthroposophy to bring out the very best and the very worst in people, the deviations from the norm are greater than usual, and this only compounds the problems of making good decisions and keeping the school on course." [p. 99] • "Between them the school's managers and their protégés had turned the Rudolf Steiner School into a place where I didn't want to be ... I got myself a job at the Lenox School ... My work at Lenox was rather trying, since the students were much nastier than the ones at the Rudolf Steiner School and this was only partly compensated for by the fact that the teachers were considerably easier to get on with." — Ibid., p. 115.
Competitiveness and jealousy are not unknown among Waldorf teachers. Consider what happened after several teachers competed for a high position in a Waldorf school. "[T]he flamingly idealistic enthusiasts who did not get the job are still present [in the school] and may have some difficulty in channeling their will forces cooperatively. Waldorf communities make very convenient homes for loose cannons ... I remember several occasions when the work of the College [of Teachers] ground to a halt for weeks or even months because of implacable bees in the bonnets of one or two members. I remember other occasions when good people left the school because they couldn’t stand it any more." — Ibid., p. 103.
How Waldorf teachers talk about their students: "Amy and Jack must be very artistic children who are incarnating just a little slowly and need help ... Maria and Cliff are over-intellectual (tsk, tsk) and already too deep into the physical. Their intellectuality must be checked and they must be given more artistic work and made to recopy their main lesson books — several times, if necessary. Their parents must be instructed to keep them off the Internet, away from the TV and video games and to discourage them from reading the modern novels that fascinate them and doing many other things that an intellectually curious child is apt to do." — Ibid., p. 133.
At most Waldorf schools, the inner council of faculty members is called the College of Teachers. The members study Rudolf Steiner's teachings, pray and meditate, and make administrative decisions for the school. "The College of Teachers of which I was privileged to be a member for many years had a strong tendency to oscillate between two extremes and I have seen similar tendencies in my travels as a visiting teacher [at other Waldorf schools]. One extreme is the position that the College should concern itself with purely spiritual matters and leave the nuts and bolts to other groups or individuals. The other is that the College should take the responsibility for everything, right down to the shape of the bathroom doorknob. Proponents of the first view say that it is the task of the College to maintain the lines of communication with the spiritual beings who hover over the school, and if the College doesn’t do it perhaps no one will. The school is a spiritual organism and there must be an organ to receive and cherish what flows in from the spirit [realm]. Those who take the second view say that decisions about nut and bolts are spiritual matters." — Ibid., p. 134.
Waldorf faculties often have very high opinions of themselves, believing that they are engaged on a holy mission. "Before I left England I had realized that there was something close to consensus among the teachers at Wynstones [a British Waldorf school] that their school was the one place in the world where things were being done correctly according to Rudolf Steiner’s wishes ... I also learnt that the staff at Michael Hall [another British Waldorf school] in Sussex thought the same thing about their school, although the exactly correct things being done there were often in contradiction to the exactly correct things being done at Wynstones. It did not occur to me that the same kind of scholastic chauvinism might operate in [Waldorf schools in] the USA until I had my nose practically rubbed in it ... The teachers at Wynstones and Michael Hall knew that they carried the sacred flame of Waldorf education. Some people at Garden City [a Waldorf school in suburban New York] had the same idea about themselves." — Ibid., pp. 59-60.
* I dislike using anonymous sources; I avoid doing so as much as I can. However, former Waldorf parents, students, and teachers often have good reason to withhold their names. [See, e.g., "Coming Undone".] Frequently, they have friends in the Waldorf communities they have left, and they do not want to sever all these ties. Also, they often know that Waldorf communities can be extremely angry and punishing toward those they consider turncoats. Indeed, there are Anthroposophists who stalk and hound the perceived enemies of Anthroposophy — they can be frighteningly aggressive, spiteful, and wounding. Finally, of course, confessional statements are often embarrassing; people can hardly bring themselves to make them; but writing anonymously can enable some individuals to share the bitter fruits of their experiences.
So I have posted some unsigned statements. How can you know whether these statements are truthful? You can't. Not absolutely. But then again, how can you know that signed statements are truthful? It is difficult. The best you can do, I think, is to examine all the evidence and notice patterns. For instance, if one former student says s/he was bullied in a Waldorf school, this single statement may have little force. But what if many former Waldorf students say the same? Or, if one former Waldorf parents says s/he was lied to and misled when first contacting a Waldorf schools, this statement standing alone may be unimpressive. But what if many former Waldorf parents say the same?
Waldorf schools are not hellholes. I attended a Waldorf school for eleven years and generally enjoyed it. But I think a fair-minded reading of the statements quoted here indicates that there are widespread and systemic problems in the Waldorf school movement. And, really, how can it be otherwise? Waldorf education is based on Anthroposophy, which is a baseless occult religion containing numerous preposterous doctrines. Nothing good can come out of such a false faith. Waldorf schools must, then, be fundamentally flawed. And we see many of those flaws exposed in the statements quoted here.
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