What Doesn't Work

Not long ago, a Waldorf school collapsed.

Here’s a message posted by a Waldorf teacher 

about this sad event.

Following the message, 

I have added some comments of my own.


Fairy Tale, End of the True Quest
Date: May 17, 2009


Well, sometimes the evil witches win, this is so, and goodness cannot prevail at the moment, although in the longer run, we hope it does arise again in the world of the green valleys and deep forests.....sometimes the ground cracks open and the innocent fall in despite their best efforts to stay above ground!

Such is the lesson to be found at the end of the tale of a School. Staggering on past the new year, unrealizing
 as to the mortality of the wound, simply wrapping those parts in tight gauze and tape, we limped forwards and around spring break, joy began to return to the hearts of those who remained, steadfast, like the loyal Labrador who will not leave its master, lying too still upon the ground.

Holding one another up, we moved on to literally rise like the mist and dance around the Maypole
, a truly blessed white celebration of encouragement and yet, hospice was still waiting in the wings, her white cap and shoes gleam in the shadows

School fragmentations, even gentle ones or perhaps even simply boring ones, scar. Yes they burn and scar the skins of the souls of people even those who stay, and surely those who leave. And that numbness can spread and become a very wicked spell nearly impossible to break. The numbing paralysis creates a kind of lack of interest and causes one to look elsewhere for the golden rose, the handsome prince, the new school, a different venue for the living of the childhood education, and slowly even the most dedicated drift away, nearly imperceptibly. The sight of the present situation when compared to the former glory is nearly unbearable.

And even more sadness can be felt in the two communities who split off from the mother-initiative: one slowly dissolving and intractable to overtures to return, recombine, reinvent
, re-create, who cares what model, for the sake of the no avail, drifting away into oblivion, and the other, the home of the Wicked Queen, that one angrily persisting and insisting that disemboweling the school was the ONLY right action, regardless of the subsequent firing of more teachers who went along with the Queen, and loss of so many children, some of whom wandered back through the woods like the self-rescued Hansel and Gretel: children who came back, sodden, sad, lost, happy to be dry, fed, hugged....yes they came back for a while.

But in the end, the numbers are the Fairies who rule, and they ruled in favor of stepping back, losing a lease, selling furniture, turning away from what could have been and letting go.

Such is life, is it not? Loving enough to let it go. And being patient, watching the horizon, setting up the towers of fire, ready for the next cycle of the sun. Trying to step over the very tempting world of revenge.

My response:

It is possible that the closing of this school was truly unfortunate. It is possible, too, that the individuals responsible for bringing the school to its end had evil motives.

But let me tell how I, a Waldorf graduate, respond to some of the language in the message "Fairy Tale, End of the True Quest". I can easily imagine my old teachers using such language — indeed, they often used very similar terms and phrases. So, if I heard my old teachers, today, describing our school in this way, here's what would run through my mind. (Remember, please, that I am not attributing any of this specifically to the author of "Fairy Tale, End of the True Quest". The following is what I imagine my teachers might mean and/or what I would hear if they used such language today. And please bear this in mind, too: I feel genuine sympathy for, and even a sense of comradeship with, the author of the message. Clearly, the author and I now view the world very differently. But I have had views and feelings similar to the ones I find in "Fairy Tale". I think that if the author and I met, we might find that — despite our differences — we could get along well with one another. We might even become friends. After all, one of the highest values of friendship is to span the gap separating individuals who happen to hold differing opinions.)

So: This is part of what I would hear in such language if used by my old teachers now:

◊ "Fairy Tale" :: Entering the Waldorf School each morning means leaving the material, physical, Ahrimanic, entropic, "real" world and entering an enchanted kingdom of living spiritual forces, fairy tales, myths, and true occultism.

◊ "End of the True Quest" :: Only true Anthroposophists aim for and possess the truth. They are on the noble quest Rudolf Steiner outlined (toward evolutionary development of a divine, superhuman humanity). No one else has a commensurate claim to the truth.

◊ "the evil witches" :: These are the critics of Steiner's ideas and approaches; especially, they are the enemies of Waldorf education. They are not simply mistaken, they are malicious. They certainly do not have a point of view that should be considered seriously: They are evil witches.

◊ "goodness cannot prevail at the moment" :: Waldorf schools not only have a unique claim to truth, they have a unique claim to virtue. Thus, as Steiner said, there can be no compromising with Anthroposophy's critics: We are engaged in a fight between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. [2]

◊ "sometimes the ground cracks open and the innocent fall in" :: The innocent are Waldorf students and true Waldorf teachers; the machinations of evil witches send them to an undeserved doom.

◊ "joy began to return to the hearts of those who remained, steadfast" :: Waldorf schools are the only real locus of not just truth and goodness but also joy and loyalty. We are steadfast; our opponents are evil.

◊ "we moved on to literally rise like the mist..." :: Rising mists, as viewed by Anthroposophists, are a kind of physical expression of spirit; spiritual beings within the mist tremble on the verge of physical manifestation. (A "clairvoyant" Anthroposophist may actually see fairies or sylphs dancing in the mist.)

◊ "...and dance around the May Pole" :: Waldorf life is a joyous celebration, akin to the swirling dance performed around a Maypole
.* A Waldorf school is not so much as school as the site of sacred rituals, the performance of mystic rites. We "teachers" are celebrants. [See "Schools as Churches".]

◊ "a truly blessed white celebration" :: White is good (true, virtuous, spiritual, blessed); black is the reverse. We, of course, stand on the side of the white. [3]

◊ "a very wicked spell" :: The black, evil forces who oppose Waldorf education cast many malign spells. Our shield is Anthroposophy.

◊ "the sight of the present situation when compared to the former glory" :: Waldorf schools are not just good schools, they are gloriously and uniquely true. They are uniquely attuned to the supersensible universe.

◊ "the mother-initiative” vs. “the home of the Wicked Queen” :: The good maternal forces are opposed, as always, by the evil ones. (The "Wicked Queen," I infer, is a particular individual who played a major role in the school's downfall.)

◊ "in the end, the numbers are the Fairies who rule, and they ruled" :: Numbers, quantities, quantitative thinking — these are often destructive. Yet everything is suffused by supersensible powers and beings; temporary victories by the evil forces may be only illusory. Fairies (or, more generally, spirits) inhere, and their intentions must be respected. The story of any Waldorf school can be understood, ultimately, only in terms of mysticism. [4]

◊ "setting up the towers of fire, ready for the next cycle of the sun" :: The heroes will persist, they will build again, and once again they will be blessed by the powers of the light.

Allow me to repeat that I do not ascribe any of the above to the author of the message in question. Rather, I am reporting what one Waldorf graduate hears in such language. To the extent that I am hearing genuine echoes of the attitudes held by Waldorf teachers, the closing of a Waldorf school, here or there, now or again, might not be an unmitigated disaster.

I should also add that today, long after leaving the Waldorf universe, I hear another level of meaning in language such at we find in "
Fairy Tale, End of the True Quest". It is unintended meaning, but it is powerfully present. It is a level of self-deception, delusion, self-aggrandizement, and mystical romanticism. I sympathize with it. I remember living within the prismatic mists of such language. But I have also learned to understand such language as ultimately destructive and self-defeating. It is the language of a wholly fanciful and false view of the world.

— Roger Rawlings

*  A Maypole dance is sweet ceremony, perhaps, although the maypole was originally a phallic symbol and the dance was a pagan fertility rite. (See "A Note on Maypole Dances", below.) Whether Waldorf teachers and students know this history is doubtful, but Anthroposophy is pagan in the literal sense: It stands outside the world's main religions.

Here's an item from the 
Waldorf Watch "news" page:


New Waldorf schools are created now and then, all around the world. And Waldorf schools die now and then, all around the world. 

The Waldorf movement generally trumpets news of Waldorf openings while hushing up news of Waldorf collapses.

Here is a rough translation of the headline and first paragraph of a French blog posting that touches on these matters. The headline, in French, is "L’école Steiner-Waldorf des Capucines ferme définitivement ses portes."

The Steiner-Waldorf School of Capucines 

finally closes its doors

Posted on January 18, 2018

The news of the closure of a Steiner-Waldorf school is usually something that the leaders of these institutions do not want to publicize, as this would draw attention to an event whose causes they would prefer to keep hidden. That's why everything is done so that the news does not shine out. A Steiner school dies silently, without cries of agony, disappearing from the public scene as if it had never existed. No report is issued, nor of course is any public announcement made, because a candid accounting would be harmful to Steiner-Waldorf schools in general; it would reveal not only local problems, but more importantly it would reveal serious structural dysfunctions caused by the sectarian nature of these schools.

Waldorf Watch Response:

The blog in question is called La Vérité sur les écoles Steiner-Waldorf (The Truth about Steiner-Waldorf Schools). The blogger is Grégoire Perra, a former Waldorf student and Waldorf teacher. If you can read French, you would be well advised to follow Perra's posts. Having been a Waldorf insider, Perra knows whereof he speaks. (If you can't read French, various online translation services may help you. There is, for instance, Google Translate, which is far from perfect but seems to be improving.)

Perra is a whistle-blower who was once prominent in the Anthroposophical community. After he left that community and began writing critical essays, Steiner-Waldorf authorities sued, trying to silence him. But he won the trial.

Some of his most significant work is available, in English translation, here at Waldorf Watch. Included are:

("He Went to Waldorf")


("Mistreating Kids Lovingly").

The account of Perra's trial is available at "My Life Among The Anthroposophists - Part 3".

For more about the closings of Waldorf schools, see "Failure" and, e.g., an Oct. 10, 2017 news item covered here: "The Canterbury Waldorf School will be auctioned off in October".

Concerning Waldorf failures generally, here is a statement made by an Australian Waldorf teacher:

"In my four decades in Steiner [education], I have seen many [Steiner] schools born ... Sadly I've also seen many die. Sometimes the death is physical, where the school simply vanishes; in others it is a spiritual demise. This is when the purity of the Steiner educational impulse is contaminated, or at worst, corrupted totally ... I can not recall any of these schools dying due to external attack ... Rather every tortured demise was caused from within. The cancer took root in the souls of one or other of the elements of the school community itself...." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE - Memoirs of a Rudolf Steiner Teacher, vol. 3, Into the Wind (Golden Beetle Books, 2001), p. 2. 

A spiritually dead Waldorf school may survive in some form or other, at least for a while. But it will no longer be a real Waldorf school. And, precisely for this reason — because it has lost its raison d'être — it may eventually close its doors. Then again, losing "the purity of the Steiner educational impulse" may merely be a matter of perspective. One faction within a Waldorf school may interpret Steiner's teachings differently from another faction. Strife and dissension may result — this is often the case in Waldorf schools — and the losing faction may accuse the winners of apostasy and betrayal. The school may survive, but at the cost of becoming a difficult place to work. As another Waldorf teacher has written:

"[W]hen things go bad [at a Waldorf school] they do so from the inside ... [S]everal teachers had, through a misunderstanding and misapplication of Steiner's words, become excessively, in fact obsessively, preoccupied with [X, Y, or Z — the details aren't important] ... 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 [non-Steiner] Lenox School ... My work at Lenox was rather trying, since the students were much nastier than the ones at the Rudolf Steiner School ... [but] the teachers were considerably easier to get on with." — Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), pp. 94-115.

For other accounts of Waldorf failures,
see items such as these:

Independent Aberdeen Waldorf School to close

An independent Aberdeen school which has been at the centre of an investigation is to close this summer.

The Waldorf School, in Craigton Road, was founded in 1977.

Last month, the Care Inspectorate said it had received complaints about "staffing and the care of children" at the Waldorf School Kindergarten.

The school council said the "very difficult" closure decision came after reviewing the school's financial position….


Taos Waldorf School to close next year

The Taos Waldorf School will shut down after the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Travis Good, board president, confirmed last week the school would finish out the school year before ceasing operations. The decision to close was made jointly by the board of trustees and college of teachers.

Taos Waldorf School, established 20 years ago as the Taos Country Day School, is the only private school in Taos County for kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school has been through rough and unsustainable financial troubles in recent years….


Waldorf School Closes

The financially struggling Wellspring Waldorf School has informed parents it will not reopen for the coming school year.

The school’s Board of Trustees made the decision Friday evening following an “emotional” closed door meeting. Classes had been scheduled to start on Sept. 3….


The music stops for Singing Winds School

A small private school that offered a radically different approach to education has shut its doors this year the victim of a poor economy and a small enrollment. The Singing Winds School, a Waldorf school that had been renting space in the United Methodist Church of Riverside for the past two years, did not open its doors this fall and has closed.

"It's so sad," said Riverside resident Joan Anderson, the president of the Singing Winds board of directors.

The poor economy made it hard for the private school to attract students....


Vacant Spaces: Waldorf School to Close 
Green Meadow Branch in Tarrytown

After one quiet but enriching school year here, the Green Meadow Waldorf School Early Childhood Center at Tappan Hill School...will not sign on for another year here.

“It is with regret, but also with much gratitude and appreciation for your support, that we share the news that we are closing the Green Meadow Waldorf School Early Childhood Center at Tappan Hill School in Tarrytown on June 9, 2012,” said the letter that came from Administrator Tari Steinrueck to parents and staff….


Norwalk school closes abruptly due to lack of enrollment

Plagued by inadequate enrollment and financial difficulties, officials from the Clover Hill School in Norwalk announced Friday morning that the early childhood center will shut down by the end of the year.

Officials said classes would not resume in September as they proceed to shutter the center, which currently serves students from two months to six years of age.

“The Board has labored tremendously to search for solutions and yet, ultimately, we have found the obstacles insurmountable,” school officials said in an email to parents….

The school opened its doors in Norwalk in 2004 by a group dedicated to the Waldorf Education method of learning....


The Canterbury Steiner School is to close

A cash-strapped Kent school has announced its closure citing financial difficulties.

The Canterbury Steiner School in Chartham, which had for long faced the possibility of closure, is due to close at the end of the year

A spokesman for the independent day school, which admits pupils from three and up, said the news would be met by shock and sadness by all concerned….


Perhaps the most striking recent failure 
of a Waldorf school came in 2018, 
when the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley
— sometimes called Britain's leading Steiner school — 

Here is some of the coverage of this event 
as it appeared on the Waldorf Watch News page:

July 6, 2018



From the The Watford Observer [Hertfordshire, UK]:

Rudolf Steiner School in 
Kings Langley 
to close next week

[by] Nathan Louis

A private school will close next week after insurers were not found to keep the school open.

Rudolf Steiner School in Kings Langley hoped to remain open for the new term [next autumn] but in a letter today, trustees of the school announced this would not be possible.

The school had been threatened with closure for more than a year after a number of Ofsted [Office for Standards in Education] inspections found pupils were “at risk”....

In a letter to parents, the school said it was not "viable" to self-insure after potential insurers for the school stepped back. Consequently the school decided it was "untenable" to prepare for an autumn term and as such have voted to close the school on completion of the summer term next week.

It was in December 2016 that Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) was first told by Ofsted inspectors that it had serious problems with safeguarding of students.

The body [i.e., Ofsted] have since visited the school four times, failing in a number of categories on three occasions [i.e., the school failed three of four inspections]. The school was also threatened with closure by the government.

[6/6/2018    This story originally appeared on July 5.]

◊ • ◊

Waldorf Watch Response:

This, presumably, truly is the end of the road for one of Britain's premier Steiner schools. The drama has been long and arduous, but now the school seems to have run out of options.

Of course, supporters of Steiner education may seek to replace RSSKL, in whole or in part, with other Steiner initiatives in the same geographic area. But this remains to be seen.

The effect for Steiner education generally, in Britain and beyond, also remains to be seen. The failure of RSSKL is surely a setback for the Steiner movement, but the extent of the setback will not be known for some time. It will largely depend on whether the problems at RSSKL are understood to reflect systemic problems in Steiner schools generally. I have argued that the RSSKL saga certainly should be understood in this way. [See my editorial dated June 23, 2018.]

We should note that inspectors found RSSKL deficient by several measures. Inadequate safeguarding of students topped the list, but the school was also faulted for the poor quality of the teaching it offered, and for the poor quality of the school's management. In other words, there were problems in virtually all parts of the school.

So the problems at RSSKL were numerous and deep. The following is from a news account published on June 5 in The Hemel Gazette dealing with an emergency meeting for parents and others at the school:

Chair of the trustees, Peter Harrington, told the meeting there was no single issue or member of staff which was to blame for the school’s plight, but that it was “consistent failings across a range of issues”. 

He said...“There are lots and lots of problems at the school.”

For previous Waldorf Watch coverage of events at RSSKL, see, e.g., items dated June 29June 26June 25June 23June 20June 19June 6May 31May 30May 9May 2April 28April 19, and April 14, 2018. A report on July 2 also referred to the situation at RSSKL.

— R.R.

July 7, 2018



As of today, visitors to the website of the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley would find no indication that the school has collapsed. The site's home page still paints a glowing portrait of the school and its claims:

The Rudolf Steiner School provides a comprehensive and well-rounded inter-disciplinary Steiner Waldorf education — Pre-school to A levels — that is permeated with sciences, arts, music and foreign languages. Our pupils develop creative, flexible, independent thinking, thereby preparing themselves for university and successful careers.

For 69 years we have been successfully preparing young people to live fulfilling and rewarding lives. Our spacious 10-acre campus is on the site of a 13th-century royal palace and priory and includes sports fields, a gymnasium, a large theatre, arts and crafts block, pottery and photography lab.


Undoubtedly the website will soon be revised or simply closed down, reflecting the closure of the school itself. [See the item dated July 6, 2018, below.]

In the meantime, it might be helpful to review the problems that led to the collapse of the school, which had been one of the foremost Steiner schools in the United Kingdom. Inspectors faulted the school for shortcomings on several fronts. Here are excerpts from news accounts that explain some of the reasons UK education authorities ordered the school to shut down.

The Hemel Gazette, May 29, 2018:

The [inspectors'] report says the school has failed to meet the necessary standards for safeguarding, handling of complaints, and quality of leadership.

And it says that the school’s leaders have “potentially put pupils at risk” with their recruitment policies. 

Criticisms include: “The lack of rigour and inaccurate recording amount to more than administrative errors. 

“They are indicative of leaders’ continuing failure to take their responsibilities seriously”.... 

The Hemel Gazette, April 27, 2018:

Ofsted [the Office for Standards in Education]...stated standards were not met in ‘Quality of education’, and in ‘Quality of leadership in and management of schools’.

About quality of education, the report says “Work was frequently unchallenging and teachers’ assessment of the progress made by pupils was still in its infancy”....

The section about ‘Welfare, health and safety of pupils’ adds: “Leaders have failed to ensure that all new employees have been thoroughly vetted prior to taking up their post. 

“They have accepted applications that fall far short of a professional standard and have not taken up appropriate references. 

“Once again, leaders have potentially put pupils at risk by not assuring themselves of the suitability of the staff they employ.”

The Daily Telegraph, June 24, 2018:

A flagship Steiner school is to close amid fears over child safety, after it emerged that parents who tried to raise the alarm about safeguarding lapses had been sent gagging letters [i.e., letters telling them to keep quiet].…

The school’s most recent Ofsted report noted that “the culture for safeguarding pupils at the school is not strong enough” and that leaders have “underestimated and downplayed these inadequacies”.

Inspectors said that the process for addressing historic safeguarding complaints has “stalled”, and that “resolution is no longer in sight”....

The Daily Mail, September 3, 2017:

A top £10,000 a year school has been ordered to close following a damning report from Ofsted that flagged up serious fears of child safety….

[T]he school has been ordered to close down for good, with inspectors saying data protection had been breached, pupils were able to wander off-site during lunch breaks and that there were no 'professional boundaries' between students and teachers, with some meeting up outside school.…

[L]ead inspector Philippa Darley and her team found that, in many respects, teachers were far behind the necessary standards, with some even casually meeting children outside class.

The report said: 'Professional boundaries between staff, parents and pupils are not maintained ... Parents arrange for pupils to see their teachers, and former teachers, off the school site. This culture is unchanged, despite known serious safeguarding failings.

The report also slammed the school for lying to parents about the severity of some of the issues, and for failing to keep data secure.

'Leaders have underplayed and misrepresented the school's safeguarding failings to parents,' it said....

'They have also stated that "no transgressions or wrongdoings were found to have taken place" and have implied that former parents who expressed concerns have misrepresented the position. These messages are not supported by the inspection evidence....

'Crucially, leaders do not base their decisions, at all times, on what is in the best interests of the child. This is the core principle of good safeguarding practice and a statutory requirement for all schools.'

The Telegraph News, September 2, 2017:

Britain's flagship Steiner school has been ordered to close amid fears over child safety....

The Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley had already been banned by the Department for Education (DfE) from admitting any new pupils, following a series of damning Ofsted inspections which uncovered a raft of safeguarding failings.

It comes after Denis McCarthy, a senior staff member who was also a leading figure in the UK’s Steiner school movement, was sacked from the school for gross misconduct.…

The school has issued a public apology to children and their families for “real and serious failings going back several years”, acknowledging that it failed to act on “repeated concerns raised by parents” over safeguarding.

The Watford Observer, April 14, 2016:

An emergency inspection at a school has revealed procedures for safeguarding its pupils are not being met.

The Department for Education ordered the inspection of Kings Langley Steiner School following concerns raised about pupils’ safety and the management of the school….

Inspector Jane Cooper from the Schools Inspection Service said in her report that a number of changes at the school have had a negative impact on the management of safeguarding.

She said three teachers who held the key posts of education facilitator, designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and deputy DSL have recently given up their roles, which has highlighted the “ineffectiveness” of the current structure.

Children are at risk due to leaders not being clear enough about the interpretation of safeguarding requirements.…

Five months ago the school was visited by the education watchdog following complaints from parents.

During that inspection, inspectors found many of the risk assessments were out of date and that some were no longer applicable.

The school's failure to adequately safeguard students is surely the most dramatic of the issues raised by inspectors, and it has received the most coverage in the press.

We should note, however, that the school was also found to have serious deficiencies in other areas, including the quality of the instruction offered, the overall management of the school, recruitment practices, relationships with students' parents, and responsiveness to outside authorities. Taken altogether, the inspection reports indicate that the school failed in almost every way a school possibly could fail.

Another comment may be in order. Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley was not just any Steiner school. It was old and venerable; it was one of the leading Steiner schools in Britain. The crash of this institution, caused by such a wide array of deficiencies, has potentially devastating implications for Steiner or Waldorf education generally. To the extent that other Steiner or Waldorf schools have failings like those at RSSKL, the entire Steiner/Waldorf movement may be called into question.

For more on this final point, see "King Langley's Karma", June 23, 2018.

— R.R.


June 23, 2018




What can we learn from the failure of the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL)? What does the RSSKL story mean for other Steiner or Waldorf schools?

Proponents of Steiner education will doubtless contend that the authorities mistreated RSSKL. They will say that the government's judgments about the school were unfair and uninformed. They will say the school was not in fact guilty of the shortcomings and faults attributed to it. They will say that the school did not deserve the censure it received.

Then again, if any proponents concede that there may have been a few real problems at RSSKL, they will argue that these problems were confined to RSSKL itself. They will say that no larger conclusions should be drawn about Steiner or Waldorf education generally.

The truth, however, appears to be different. The guidelines upheld by the UK government's Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) appear to be both sensible and fair. /1/ Like all bureaucracies, Ofsted surely is imperfect, and its procedures — like those of most bureaucracies — may sometimes be maddening. /2/ But virtually any well-run school should be able to satisfy Ofsted's requirements, which are by no means excessively prescriptive or onerous. Indeed, the UK government has gone out of its way to be accommodating to Steiner education, welcoming Steiner schools and Steiner initiatives into the "free schools" program. /3/

The problems found or alleged at RSSKL in fact reflect conditions that seem to be systemic throughout Steiner or Waldorf education.

The allegation against RSSKL that has received the most publicity is that the school failed to adequately assure the safety of its students. /4/ This allegation must, at first glance, seem extraordinary. Steiner schools are known for their apparently warm and nurturing atmosphere; the students would seem to be secure within a protective embrace. And yet, over the years, there have been many reports of abusive and unsafe practices in Steiner schools. /5/ Often, such practices result from a belief in karma — individuals must be permitted to enact their karmas, even if this means engaging in, or condoning, dangerous activities. /6/ 

RSSKL has also been charged with mismanagement and faulty governance. This, too, appears to reflect systemic faults found throughout the Steiner or Waldorf movement. /7/ The organizational principles laid down by Rudolf Steiner often result in various degrees of disorganization. /8/

To the extent that RSSKL may be considered academically deficient, this problem has often been alleged concerning other Steiner or Waldorf schools. /9/ Steiner schools are not, in fact, primarily concerned with educating children in any ordinary sense; they do not principally endeavor to convey knowledge to children. The Steiner focus is directed elsewhere. /10/

There have been allegations that RSSKL has been secretive and deceptive. Again, such allegations have often been leveled at other Steiner or Waldorf schools. /11/ Steiner education is based on Anthroposophy, the occult spiritual system developed by Rudolf Steiner. "Occult," in the sense Steiner used this term, means hidden or secret. /12/ Anthroposophists believe that they possess deep spiritual wisdom that most other people cannot comprehend; indeed, they think they possess wisdom that must be kept hidden from the uninitiated. /13/ Secrecy and deception are thus fundamental to the way Steiner's followers — including many teachers in Steiner schools — deal with outsiders.

Steiner's followers believe they are on a messianic mission. /14/ Thus, for instance, Rudolf Steiner said the following to teachers at the first Waldorf school: 

“Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.

Because they conceive their task in such lofty terms, Steiner's followers are inclined to think that ordinary rules and regulations should not apply to them. They are above such things; they are on a holy mission. This sense of exceptionalism may easily lead to clashes or at least disagreements between Steiner representatives and outside authorities.

The collapse of the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley may pass without major consequences elsewhere. In retrospect, it may come to be seen as a minor blip in the history of Steiner education. But, on the other hand, the problems are RSSKL may shine a light into the dark recesses of many other Steiner and Waldorf schools. Anyone wanting to assess these schools — and any parents thinking of sending their children to these schools — would do well to learn the lessons provided by the demise of RSSKL.

◊ • ◊

/1/ See, e.g., and

/2/ See, e.g., "How Would you improve Ofsted?"

/3/ See, e.g., the discussion of free schools in "Coming Undone". 

Free schools are educational institutions that, in the USA, would be called charter schools.

/4/ See Ofsted's description of its "safeguarding policy".

/5/ See, e.g., "Slaps", "Extremity", and "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".

/6/ See "Karma".

/7/ See, e.g., "His Education" and "Coming Undone".

/8/ For an introduction to these principles, see "Threefolding" and "Faculty Meetings".

/9/ See, e.g. "Academic Standards at Waldorf".

/10/ See, e.g., "Here's the Answer" and "Spiritual Agenda".

/11/ See, e.g., "Secrets" and "Our Experience".

/12/ See "Occultism".

/13/ See, e.g., "Inside Scoop".

/14/ See, e.g., the entry for "messianism" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.

— R.R.

Sunrise, sunset. 

[R. R., 2007.]

The Anthroposophical universe is, 

in some ways, quite familiar.

It is the universe of myth and fairy tales.

Many people prefer such a universe —

it can be alluring as well as dramatic.

But is it real?


(Dover Publications, 1978.

This image was not created by an Anthroposophist,

but it is similar to some Anthroposophical paintings.

See, for instance, the cover art for


(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987).]

Anthroposophists believe that fairy tales 

are ultimately true.

"Fairy tales are...the final remains 

of ancient clairvoyance ...

All fairy tales in existence are thus 

the remnants of the original clairvoyance." 

— Rudolf Steiner, ON THE MYSTERY DRAMAS 

(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 93.

[Non-Anthroposophical illustration from 2001 


 (Dover Publications, 1988), p. 49, 

Carol Belanger Grafton editor.]

Here are excerpts from 

The Phlegmatic Sits by the Window... 
Experiences with Actual Waldorf Teaching

by Claudia Pangh

Like many young prospective teachers, I searched for alternative, progressively-oriented concepts when I started my studies to become a public school teacher. Like many of them, I soon came across the Waldorf schools.

...I have to admit that I did not know anything about Anthroposophy. I was amazed at first, and later increasingly appalled, by how much this ideology dominates the day-to-day dealings in Waldorf schools. Aside from its content, about which people may agree or disagree depending on their personal beliefs, I already perceived that the general setup for teaching was far from being progressive, which, in my opinion, has everything to do with opening up the learning situation and with self-determination of the students.

I had been assigned to the 'main lesson' teacher of a 2nd grade class, but I also had the opportunity to obtain some inside views into the lessons given in other grades.

...[F]ace-to-face lecturing was all, in terms of methodical variation, that I saw during my 6 weeks. In my opinion, for the most part you couldn't even call it teaching — it was more akin to organized chanting. Every school day was so ritualized that a large part of the morning was taken up by the recitation of verses, either individually or as a group. I don't know how many parents are aware of the nature of these verses to which their children are exposed on a daily basis, and which the students have to learn by heart. From my point of view, they carried a distinctly Christian-Anthroposophical world view, which, in my opinion, should only have a place in religious instruction.

...A rigid and very strict regime guided the recitation of verses as well as the complete morning schedule.

...The actual instruction in class was executed as rigidly as the recitation. No matter whether students wrote, drew, or calculated, everything was done in rigid monotony. There were only a few moments in which the children could contribute their own ideas ... Each of my shy questions about the reasons for the various measures and schedules was answered with a reference to Rudolf Steiner's works.

...I could also talk about the pedagogical criteria to judge students according to their temperaments, which were completely new to me, and the strange seating arrangement resulting from them. The sanguines sit by the wall, because they're already so wound up, but the phlegmatics sit by the window, cause they need the energy of the light!

...What bugs me most is that the Waldorf schools are still presented as THE ultimate progressive schools, and many parents who only want the best for their child blindly trust their concept. Of course, it is possible to find plenty of negative experiences with teaching and teachers in public schools, but this makes it even worse if Waldorf pedagogy is presented as THE shining counter-ideal. The expectations of many critical parents will remain unfulfilled, for example when it comes to self-determined and individualized learning. A pedagogical concept becomes questionable in my eyes if it tunes out the reality of society to the extent Waldorf pedagogy does. Some may view this as shelter for their children, but I would call it otherworldliness. — Claudia Pangh, “The Phlegmatic Sits by the Window... Experiences with Actual Waldorf Teaching”

[For more on temperaments, see "Humouresque" and "Temperaments".]

Photograph by Alicia Hamberg, 
reproduced by permission of the artist.

Alicia and I are both former Waldorf students.
We attended different Waldorfs schools 
in different decades on different continents.
Today we both have a keen interest in art.
Is this the result of our Waldorf years?
Perhaps. Waldorf schools expose students to much beautiful art,
and for this no one can fault them.
But they imbue the arts with bogus mystical significance,
for which they can quite certainly be criticized.
[See "Magical Arts".]
Today Alicia and I both host websites devoted to
revealing the truth about Waldorf schools.
Both of us think the schools are dangerous
and need to be exposed.
[You can use the following link to visit's Alicia's site:
Alicia posts some items in English, others in Swedish.]

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


There are failures 

and then there are failures. 

Some Waldorf "failures" are features found 

in Waldorf schools that survive. 

The problem then becomes 

whether to get involved with such a school. 

Around midyear, 2009, someone who was thinking of 

becoming a Waldorf teacher posted the following message

 at the waldorf-critics list 



I am in the process of evaluating the Waldorf educational system as a potential place of employment as a teacher, in either the grades or the [kinder]garden. I am a born skeptic, but I would appreciate reasoned responses, not ones shot from the hip, to my questions below. I know this audience is a bit prejudicial, but so is the body of Waldorf promoters. I'd like to hear your side of the argument as it applies to my desire to receive a Waldorf Teacher's certificate or Master's degree. I appreciate your willingness to address them and would especially love to hear from trained Waldorf educators.

As one who has farmed, for myself and others, I have experience with biodynamics, which has yielded oftentimes amazing results. [5] I can say confidently that wherever and however Steiner came upon his understanding of agriculture, there is a very clear positive result from its proper application. This is the ground from which I have developed a curiosity of his other works and applications. Going forward, even if I never became a teacher, I would endeavor to use biodynamic techniques because I have yet to find a more healthful form of farming, for the human body, the animals, and the air, water, and soil. That said, I am seriously concerned about what I have found on the web in regards to the Waldorf education itself. [6]

The prospective Waldorf teacher then asked ten questions about Waldorf.

Several participants at waldorf-critics replied, 

pointing out various faults and failures

in the Waldorf approach to education.


Here are the ten questions and the answers provided by 

Diana Winters (DW), a Montessori teacher (MT), and myself (RR). 

Question 1

What is it about the classroom management 

that seems to accommodate the 

existence of bullying?

DW: A couple of things. First, lack of training in classroom management and an unwillingness to address things going on between children directly, because it is considered damaging to the children. Second, probably (although it is difficult to get an individual teacher to admit to this, such admissions do happen occasionally), a belief in karma. When there is a conflict between two children, it may be seen as the result of conflicts in an earlier life. The child doing the bullying may have been abused by the victim in an previous life; to interfere might be interfering in a process that needs to work itself out karmically. If you interfere, the two individuals might not be able to resolve it in this lifetime, and the conflict would thus continue into another lifetime. [Diana later posted additional thoughts on this topic. I present them later on this page.]

MT: First —The belief that teachers don't need to, or shouldn't intervene with, problems because "The angels are watching over the children."

Second — the belief that any problems the children face are helping a child through their reincarnation and so any adult intervention, most explicitly adults teaching conflict resolution skills, will hurt a child's soul.

RR: Waldorf schools are generally guided by the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner. These include belief in karma. E.g., "Souls whose development has been delayed will have accumulated so much error, ugliness, and evil in their karma that they temporarily form a distinct union of evil and aberrant human beings who vehemently oppose the community of good human beings." — Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 393.

According to Waldorf thinking, bullies are just acting out their karma — they were meant to be bullies in this earthly incarnation. (Steiner's followers believe in both karma and reincarnation.) As for the victims of bullies — their karma requires them to be victimized. It would be wrong for Waldorf teachers to prevent the kids from fulfilling their karmas.

Question 2

What is it about the system 
that marks it as a cult?

DW:  A general refusal to update methods or beliefs even when they are clearly wrong or offensive to outsiders, because Steiner is held as a guru. It's hard to admit a guru was wrong about anything. Also, he was thought to be clairvoyant, so if you admit he's wrong about anything, his clairvoyance is called into question. Also a general uneasiness and unwillingness in hearing any kind of outside criticism, or doing things any differently from how they've always been done. This is a matter of degree; everyone has trouble doing things differently sometimes or changing deeply held beliefs, but when it really marks a system as a consistent characteristic, it's cult-like.

MT: The inclusiveness about the system — how parents are asked to remove their children from non-Waldorf activities even at home, the weekend, vacations, and so on. Baby sitters, family activities, weekend activities, are all supposed to be only with Waldorf people. Doctors are to be only Waldorf doctors and so on. Any exposure to non-Waldorf people and activities is considered a problem.

Additionally, the teaching of Steiner's versions of history and science in addition to the lack of updating any accurate information the children are taught makes the schools very cultish. Children aren't taught the latest scientific, historical, or geographical concepts, they can't use the latest educational materials, they are only taught Steiner's beliefs on these concepts. Students aren't taught to understand and analyze the concepts they are taught, only to blindly regurgitate them, so by the time they go into the real world, they have no foundation.

RR: To start with, it is based on occult teachings. Rudolf Steiner's most important book is titled OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE. The occultism runs everywhere through Waldorf beliefs.

Considering how small Anthroposophy is compared to major religions, how odd many of its beliefs are, and how much it is centered on the pronouncements of a single inspirational leader, Anthroposophy qualifies as a cult. And to the extent that various Waldorf schools embrace Anthroposophy, to that extent they associate themselves with the cult.

Question 3

Is there a general open-mindedness 

to include other schools of thought 

or approaches to education?

DW: In some schools and with some teachers. Not with diehard anthroposophists. In a particular school the atmosphere will depend a lot on whether diehard anthroposophists are in charge. In a school where this is not the case, individual teachers may have more leeway, and may be doing positive things in their classrooms.

That really depends on the people involved. If the school was formed and run by true Anthroposophists, then no, any thing non-Waldorf will NOT be accepted.

MT: On the other hand there are "Waldorf-inspired schools". These schools are usually formed by the people who like the ideas that Waldorf educators state to the general population, but try to stay away from the dogma that they actually follow. These schools will sometimes attempt to incorporate other methods of education, especially nontraditional ones like Montessori, Reggio, and Free schooling into their program. [7]

RR: No, not at any Waldorf school that is true to Steiner’s intentions. Anthroposophy is all. No compromises. "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." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118. No compromises.

Question 4

Are the administrators 

primarily admins or Waldorf loyalists?

DW: Probably depends on the school. Watch out if they are Waldorf loyalists.

MT: Depends on the school, but with a "true" Waldorf school the goal is for a Waldorf faculty to consist 100% of Anthroposophists. As Steiner said, "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, p. 118.

RR: Waldorf loyalists. Steiner said, “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. Steiner was talking primarily about faculty, but the presence of any non-Anthroposophists within the school, in any capacity, could be disruptive. In practice, not all faculty and staff are deeply committed Steiner loyalists — but the ones who aren't may feel very out of place and they may either resign or be sacked. (I've known several cases.) The goal is for a Waldorf faculty to consist 100% of Anthroposophists. As Steiner said, "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, p. 118. [8]

Question 5

Please list common reasons 

that parents are pulling their kids 

out of school.

DW: Probably most often poor academics (realizing that the children are way behind their peers in other schools), and catching on that occult beliefs not only seep into the curriculum but also determine many aspects of the life and culture of the school.

MT: Education level is the first. It gets really scary for many parents when they go to a family reunion or such and their siblings or neighbor's 4 and 5 year old children are reading, writing, doing math, having conversations about current events, and their 6th grade children are looking for fairies and gnomes in the grass.

Another thing that upsets many parents is when they start hearing all the "weird" science and history coming out of the schools. I mean it's cute when a 6 year old talks about an adding gnome as they add numbers together, and you say to yourself, "Wow, I wish I thought of math as this fun when I was 6." It's another thing when your 4th grader or 8th grader tells you that we all came from a land called Atlantis, or that continents are bodies of land floating on the oceans.

Other parents get tired of all the restrictions imposed on them. They get fed up with the "holier than thou" attitudes. They get frustrated when they get yelled at for taking their children to a festival ot when they are berated for hours for reading to their children.

Still other parents get frustrated by the fact that Waldorf claims to be nonsectarian, but their children come home reciting many bible passages, they know the lives of the saints , and have deeply instilled ideas of good and evil that don't mesh with their parents beliefs.

The last main group gets is upset by the lack of supervision they feel their children receive at the school; sometimes they are upset about simple playground safety, but more often they leave when it comes to bullying.

RR: There are all sorts of reasons. But the main reason, generally, is that the parents start to realize that Waldorf is occultist. At the Waldorf school I attended, parents withdrew their kids — and the school almost collapsed — when the occult beliefs of the teachers became obvious. The resulting scandal was reported in THE NEW YORK TIMES. [I referred readers to "The Waldorf Scandal" here at Waldorf Watch.]

Question 6

Does the teacher's education 

allow for lateral movement 

in the field of education?

DW:  Not sure what you mean by that. Can Waldorf-trained teachers teach at other schools? Yes, but their Waldorf training probably won't do them much good, and won't count as a useful credential most other places.

MT: Do you mean, "If I get my Waldorf training, will I be able to work in non-waldorf schools?" Well, you won't be able to work in the public system, you would need a state credential to do that. Most other private schools could care less about your Waldorf credential, and with some it will definitely not get you a job. On the other hand, there will be some small alternative schools who might be interested in a teacher with a Waldorf credential if that teacher wasn't glued to Waldorf philosophy.

RR: Hardly. True-blue Waldorf teachers are not really teachers in the normal sense — they have been trained to be spiritual guides, not to provide regular educations.

Question 7

What are the inherent 

successes of the system?

DW:  When the kindergartens are well run they are pleasant, homelike, low-stimulation environments. I've heard of a lot of good drama programs in Waldorf schools. For a child who is very inclined to music, painting, drama , etc., and not  academically or athletically inclined, the setting could be appropriate provided the school is well run and is not anthroposophically rigid.

MT: They do present certain concepts in ways that really excite and intrigue children. For instance, telling stories to teach concepts like math operations. I know many children like this and so I have integrated it into my public Montessori teaching. My students learn about Alfie the Comma, and adding and subtracting creatures. The big difference is I start my stories with, "Let's pretend..." and end with things like, "Wouldn't it be fun if there really were ...." This sparks the interest of my students, helps them relate and remember concepts, but grounds them in reality.

They do have some fun multimodality methods for helping children retain information like the multiplication tables.

RR: Not many. By their own standards, Waldorf schools are successful if children are lured far down the path leading toward Anthroposophy. This is the real purpose of the schools. "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.

Question 8

What are the blaring failures?

DW: Academics, and treating children as whole people. Children are instead treated according to Steiner's nutty principles, and seen to "incarnate" in stages. "Intellect" can't be addressed, theoretically, till the child is 14 and the "astral body" is born. Disastrous for intelligent children. A big letdown for many others. Often useless for special needs; there is often no attempt at all to deal with learning disabilities except by Steiner kookery such as eurythmy.

Speaking of which, eurythmy is a blaring failure. Many Waldorf kids hate it.

MT: Not keeping children in their care safe. Not teaching children accurate information. Not teaching children to think, analyze, and synthesize information. Not teaching children to work at the cutting edge of their ability. Not honoring a child's individual interests, needs, learning styles...

RR: Primarily, the schools do not prepare children for real lives in the real world. They don't aim to do so. They aim for occult indoctrination. Here is how I have described the state of my mind and emotions upon graduating from a Waldorf school. (Of course, other students felt differently, to one degree or another. But many Waldorf survivors have told me that my description hits the mark.) [At this point, I reproduced a paragraph you can find here at Waldorf Watch in “Unenlightened” and “I Went to Waldorf”, describing my state of mind upon graduating from a Waldorf school. Naturally, different children respond to Waldorf schooling differently. Still, numerous Waldorf survivors have told  me that my description hits the mark.]

Question 9

Does the system evolve 

beyond realized inadequacies?

DW:  Not so as you'd notice, in a global way. No doubt individual schools sometimes address inadequacies well and the good news doesn't make its way here. A lot of bad news makes its way to this list. You can probably find stories of schools evolving beyond their inadequacies if you dig around.

MT: The "real" Waldorf schools....? No, they don't, because they don't see these things as inadequacies. Remember they believe that they are on a spiritual mission and the reason all of us see these things as inadequacies is because we aren't as "enlightened" as they are. 

In the "Waldorf-inspired" schools, some do. They try to change it, but the biggest problem is that it is hard to incorporate Waldorf with other things. It can be done, but what happens is you end up not adhering to a certain aspect of the philosophy and this will upset someone. Take the main lesson book for example. (Americans often think this it is a wonderful Waldorf idea, but the truth is it is in use throughout most of the rest of the world with the main difference being that Waldorf students copy illustrations and writing into theirs, whereas children in other countries simply copy the writing from the blackboard.) Parents LOVE the main lesson book, they get to show it off, review what their children learn, keep it for a memory... So in my classroom I have my students make books also. Now they aren't "main lesson" books. To begin with, they follow the Montessori science and social studies curriculum, which are the polar opposites of Steiner occultist curriculums. Additionally, not everything I teach the children on a topic or in a day goes in the books. Instead, after many weeks of study, the information recorded in the books is the accumulation of the work we have done on a certain concept. Additionally, the words my students copy are a collaborative essay, written by the whole class overseen by me, and although they are illustrated, one CHOICE of material is the block crayon (which are often used in Waldorf schools). Children are taught to use block crayons because I do see some wonderful applications for them, but the students can add detail with regular crayons and/or colored pencils (which they often are not allowed to do in Waldorf schools). Additionally, they do not have to follow my picture at all, they can draw their own, as long as the picture they draw relates to the concept we are recording. (For example, they can't draw a picture of a tree and a house when we are recording what we have learned about fish.)

Now to the outside observer, what I do with my students is "very Waldorf", but Waldorf teachers are appalled with it. They curriculum is too intellectual, the materials wrong, the colors and techniques upsetting... One Waldorf teacher who looked at a main lesson book from one of my students called it "a tool of Ahriman" (Ahriman is a terrible demon, according to Steiner). So you can see how much of a problem "evolving beyond realized inadequacies" can be. For more information on this go to .

RR: Usually not. The schools are tied to Steiner's doctrines, which are unchanged. You might look at my summary of the Waldorf curriculum [I referred readers to "Curriculum" here at Waldorf Watch] — most Waldorf schools cling to this curriculum, no matter what.

Question 10

What is the state of mind 

or emotion of the common teacher?

DW: Not sure what you mean exactly here either. He/she is supposed to stay meditative, read a lot of Steiner, act "reverent" and hope the children will get all reverent from watching her.

MT: They are good people who are doing what they believe is best for the child. If they are true Anthroposophists, they believe that they hold the key to enlightenment and want/need to share it with all the children that they can, even if that means lying to their parents and the population as a whole. But just because they are good people who really believe in what they are doing, doesn't make what they are doing right, and certainly doesn't mean we should allow children to be subjected to it.

Other teachers at Waldorf schools are people who really believe in an arts-based, multi-modality, differentiated instructional philosophy of education and are hoping that once the door to their classroom is closed, they will be able to provide just that. Rarely does this actually work out — the schools won't allow it.


RR: Some are deeply devoted and happy — these are Steiner's devout followers, generally; but others, non-Anthroposophists, are sometimes charmed by the mellow, mystic atmosphere in the schools without quite knowing why. A second tier consists of teachers who are more or less contented and yet, to varying degrees, vaguely disturbed and confused — they haven't been informed about the underlying Anthroposophical doctrines guiding the schools, so they can't quite figure out why the schools are so odd. And the third tier: Some Waldorf teachers are deeply distressed and eager to escape — they realize they entered a den of occultism without meaning to.

It is important to realize that many Waldorf schools have an inner circle of firmly committed Anthroposophists — these are the ones who control the schools, usually, and they protect their secret knowledge from all outsiders, generally including the other teachers in the schools. Teachers outside the inner circle may be anywhere on a scale ranging from knowing a fair amount about Steiner's doctrines to knowing almost nothing about them. The schools often need to hire people in the latter category simply because they can't find enough deeply devoted Anthroposophists to fill all teaching posts.

Later, the prospective teacher asked another question: 

Question 11

What do you envision as being the ideal form, 

structure, and substance of a childhood education

 and what, if anything, 

would you pull from the Waldorf approach 

in creating this new school?

Here are some of the answers he received. (DD is Dan Dugan.)

DW: There are a lot of positives about Waldorf education, and most parents here signed up for all the things that Waldorf advertises, and we tend to agree among us that if that were really what Waldorf was offering, we'd sign up again:

- low-pressure academics in the very early years (which doesn't mean delaying reading past kindergarten, btw)

- emphasis on handwork

- a lot of time on arts (music, drama, painting, puppetry etc.)

- storytelling

- a lot of time outdoors in nature

- discouragement of electronic media for small children

- emphasis on beauty in the child's surroundings (avoid drab cinderblock classrooms, fluorescent lighting etc.)

- festivals

The only thing you really have to do to make this the ideal form of early childhood education (I'm talking ages 3 and 4) is ditch the anthroposophy. Doing all the things listed above in the correct anthroposophical way is often pretty fucked up. Encouraging creative play, for instance, is very important in a preschool. But the minute you have an anthroposophical zealot organizing that "creative play," you don't have actual "creative play" anymore, you have anthroposophical zealotry being acted out, which isn't healthy for children.

It also can't be described as "ideal" for small children if literacy is not gently encouraged. I don't feel children should be directly taught to read before first grade but in Waldorf kindergartens any interest in reading and writing is often actively discouraged; in fact I would say it often goes beyond discouragement to an actual taboo. This is leaving out a key part of children's development at any age past infancy and is a sign of an inferior school.

RR: I have never taught at any level except college, so I'm not the best person to opine on the operation of a school K-12.

Instead of talking about forms and structures, then, I'll talk about goals. I would want a school to impart genuine knowledge while seeking to stimulate all of a child's capacities. By "genuine knowledge," I mean the best, latest results of scientific inquiry and rational scholarship (i.e., no mysticism; I would leave religion to churches and families in the privacy of their own convictions and consciences). I would want a child to have his/her feet on the ground and eyes open. I would encourage intellect, sensibility, artistic talents — any and all capacities each child possesses. I would want graduates to be prepared for their real lives in the real world, to be informed citizens and voters, to be reasonable and just.

In establishing the school's educational techniques, I would be guided by the latest, best scholarship from education researchers, as well as the considered opinions of experienced classroom teachers. I would take nothing from Waldorf — by which I mean I would not look to Rudolf Steiner and his occult views for any wisdom. If the school I created wound up sharing some techniques and characteristics with Waldorf schools, that would be fine. But I would not approach the matter from within the clouds of occultism.

A note about "capacities": Anthroposophists and others might argue that spiritual insight, clairvoyance, etc. — mystical powers, intuitions, and so on — are among a child's real capacities. Perhaps so. But I would tread very carefully — and, as I said, I would leave most religious or spiritual matters to clergy and parents. A school is a place where the brain should be paramount; a place of knowledge and reason; but Steiner denied that the brain is the seat of real thinking. "[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

Steiner situated actual cognition in nonphysical "organs" of clairvoyance: "[J]ust as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will organs of clairvoyance build themselves...." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 28. To my mind, this is nonsense. But at the least, I would generally leave such considerations out of the school, which should be a place that is friendly and productive for all children of all backgrounds and faiths, including agnosticism and atheism. Parents should guide their children in matters of faith, although Steiner tended to deny this, too. He said it might be best for Waldorf teachers to remove children from their parents' care soon after birth: "Given the difficult, disorderly, and chaotic conditions of our time, it might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one's care soon after birth." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.

Finally, crucially, I would want each school to be entirely open and honest about its aims and methods. I would reject anything that would produce a situation in which the school's principal might confide to the faculty what Steiner confided to Waldorf teachers: "The things I say here [in a closed faculty meeting], I could not say to parents." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 408. The highest virtue, in my imagined school, would be honesty — in all its forms, intellectual, scholarly, moral, and indeed spiritual. The school would be a place of truth openly discovered and openly presented; no secret agendas, no inner circles of "higher" knowledge; no irrationality, occultism, or voodoo.

(If I ruled the world...)

DD: Teaching in blocks.

Integrating visual art, music, and movement into all subjects.

Giving teachers the authority to mold the curriculum.

Government of the school by the teachers.

Greeting each student at the door with eye contact and a handshake.

During the discussions, Diana Winters posted the following message about karma and bullying:

I think it's useful to point out that, according to Waldorf thinking, it isn't just a theory that a particular child "has a karma to be a bully," or the victim to be a victim. An actual relationship continuing from one lifetime to the next could be at play. In Steiner's theory of karma, we meet and get involved with the same people over and over again in successive lifetimes. Two children who are in a bully/victim relationship in the Waldorf kindergarten may have been husband and wife in a previous life, or brother and sister or aunt and uncle, or friends, acquaintances, business partners, lovers, etc., who had a conflict that did not get resolved, so it has spilled over to the next life.

It's not just that you have to leave them alone to be a victim or a bully if it's their destiny — it's that you have to let them work out a particular  conflict so that the scales tip back the other way. The teacher hesitates to break up a fight not just because maybe fighting is their destiny, but because it may be that a particular wrong is being righted in any given moment. If Johnny is pushing Pedro's face into the dirt, in other words, it may be that Pedro pushed Johnny's face into the dirt, or worse, last time around (a previous incarnation).

This can be particularly seen to be the case when the conflict appears particularly unbalanced or impassioned — cases where there is no obvious source of the conflict, no one knows what they're fighting about, and they can't seem to explain it, yet they can't seem to stop. Or the match is particularly unfair — one child is markedly stronger than the other, or the victim seems strangely passive about it, doesn't fight back at all, or worse, seems to "seek out" rather than avoid the bully. Such situations, I think, are especially likely to be viewed as karmic. It's very sad because these are the same situations among young children that most of us would probably think most need adult intervention.

Obviously — at least to me — even if you believe in karma and reincarnation this reasoning is primitive, eye-for-an-eye style justice.

Later, in response to another message on the list, I posted the following:

It is good to step back, occasionally, and remember why we became involved here in the first place. Speaking for myself, my efforts are aimed at informing parents who are interested in (or even involved with) Waldorf schools. But my ultimate goal is to benefit children — to preserve them from unnecessary damage and to help their parents find the most healthful, fulfilling possibilities for them and their futures.

I've been impressed by what I have learned here recently about Montessori. It certainly seems to be a fine alternative to Waldorf — achieving in practice some of the things Waldorfs only make passing gestures at.

I'd also like to speak up for public schooling. Heaven knows America's public schools need to improve. We taxpayers need to support them better, and we need to recruit the very best young teachers — paying them adequately to relieve them of the financial pressures that hobble so many teachers' careers and that deflect many good teacher candidates into other fields. If we want the best for our children — as I'm sure we all do — we should want to hire the very best possible teachers, and then to provide these teachers with the best possible facilities and resources — because all of this will redound to the benefit of our kids, whom we love.

I'm a strong believer in universal education. Ideally, this is what public schools should be about: giving every single child the full benefit of a system that is nurturing, stimulating, and deeply humane. Every child should be assisted to become everything good s/he possibly can become, to grow and succeed. Kids should come out of school with lively, inquiring, rational, and well-informed minds, eager to find the best possibilities that life offers them, and equipped to make the most of those possibilities.


To examine the use of fairy tales in Waldorf schools,
please see "Fairy Tales".

A Note on Maypole Dances

There is almost certainly no harm in having children perform Maypole dances. The activity is colorful and fun (in a low-key way). Yet these dances began as pagan fertility rites. [9] Why in the world do Waldorf schools put so much emphasis on them?

Waldorf students are immersed, by their teachers, in ancient mythologies and ceremonial activities. Steiner taught that each child must recapitulate the evolutionary history of humanity. For this reason, passing through stages at which pagan rituals are performed and ancient religions are embraced is considered healthful. Ultimately, the children are expected to rise toward the highest stage of human evolution, epitomized by Anthroposophy.

Activities like maypole dances are used to stimulate children's belief in spiritual and mythic beings, such as fairies. Here are instructions for arranging a Waldorf-style Maypole dance. “Begin together in a ‘Fairy Ring.’ Bells can be rung and the May morning greeting be spoken ... Lady Spring can either dance with one and all, or be seated on a simple ‘throne’ ... To share in these customs adapted from Europe and to carry on such traditions that feed the child’s sense of beauty, community, fantasy and imagination brings delight and joy. In celebrating and honoring Nature in the Spring, we can weave delightful tales of the fairy world that come a-visiting.” [10]

To make sense of such statements, you need to realize that Anthroposophists believe that beings such as fairies really exist. Also, Steiner taught that the imagination is a stepping stone on the path to developing clairvoyance (or, indeed, it is a preliminary form of clairvoyance).

In general, the festivals celebrated at Waldorf schools are Anthroposophical religious observances — even if they are not openly identified as such. Here is a description of the spring festival at Waldorf schools: “The cosmic forces of the spiritual world upon humankind become visible in the myths and symbols of the ancient mystery religions. These ancient festivals prefigure the Christian Easter story ... Both of these spiritual leaders [Jesus and Moses] were taking a step in the evolution of human consciousness ... As Steiner writes in ‘Spiritual Bells of Easter, I’: ‘Festivals are meant to link the human soul with all that lives and weaves in the great universe. We feel our souls expanding in a new way during these days at the beginning of spring ... It is at this time of year, the time of Passover and Easter, that human souls can find that there the innermost core of their beings, a fount of eternal, divine existence.’” [11]

Perhaps you like what Steiner said; perhaps you don’t. In either case, the important thing is to realize that apparently sweet activities in Waldorf festivals, such as Maypole dancing, often have esoteric, spiritual purposes — even if these are rarely spelled out for the uninitiated.

Maypole dance at a Waldorf school.

[See the Waldorf Watch Annex, May, 2011.]

[Non-Anthroposophical illustration from 


(George G. Harrap & Co., 1909), 

illustration by N.J.O. Blommér.]

This illustration of an "elf dance" 

was not created with Waldorf schools in mind.

Yet many Waldorf students and graduates 

will recognize that the picture expresses

a spirit often found in Waldorf schools.

According to Steiner, the natural world is populated by "nature spirits" or "elemental beings," including some that have sometimes been called fairies or elves. These are real beings, Steiner said, and they have an important connection with humanity:

"[W]e can throw a light on many things that happen to Man in the way of destiny. An insight into these connections is nowhere within the scope of the ‘enlightened’ knowledge of our times; we can find traces of it only in traditions that have survived from earlier times, when Man lived in more elemental stages of consciousness and had more direct connection with reality. These traditions you will find sometimes very beautifully brought to expression in poems of earlier ages, where a destiny that befalls a human being is referred to the intervention of elemental beings. One of the most beautiful that has been preserved is a poem often presented to you in a Eurythmy performance. Here you can see how elemental beings from the Elf King's realm intervene in the destiny of Man. The poem runs thus:

Sir Olaf rides from house and hall
Till late, his wedding guests to call.
There elves are dancing on the green,
Elf King's daughter amidst them is seen.
'Welcome Sir Olaf, your hand I'll take,
Come dance and join us for my sake'...

"There you have the elemental world interweaving in the destiny of Man...." — Rudolf Steiner, "Elemental Beings and Human Destiny", THE GOLDEN BLADE, 1984, GA 194.

For more on nature spirits, 
For more on the "wisdom" of ancient peoples, 
For more on eurythmy 
(the form of dance most emphasized 
in Waldorf schools)
see "Magical Arts" and "Eurythmy".

Norse mythology plays a special role in Waldorf schooling.

This is a traditional image of Odin, the highest Norse god.

[Johannes Gehrts.]


Drawing by a Waldorf student,

Sketch of a green window in the Goetheanum —
the Anthroposophical headquarters/cathedral.

[R.R. sketch, 2010; based on p. 45, John Fletcher,


(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987);

I've added some colors beyond green.]

"The ancients...were still able to see things better in the spirit; and lo and behold, something like a spectre of the person [under consideration] would arise ... [W]hen someone tended towards a particular illness, let us say, consumption, the astral spectre would be thin and dried up. When someone tended to be unnaturally fat, the spectre would be swelling up on all sides. You may call it fanciful that someone should see a different spectre arising ... But they did see it." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM ELEPHANTS TO EINSTEIN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), pp. 158-159.

[R.R. sketch, 2009, 
based on image on p. 158.]

Detail, copied from from a mural at a Waldorf school;

original by Walther Roggenkamp. 


(Mercury Arts Publications 1987), p. 112); 

R.R. copy, 2009.]

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


Bringing the inquiry up to date: What goes on inside Waldorf schools today?

Waldorf schools in the 21st Century

What they're saying


What they're reading

What they're saying (cont.)

Readings (2018...)

More, and more, and...

A brief look at the purposes of Waldorf schooling

A brief summary of Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines and teachings

A guide for students and parents

Steiner's theory of everything

Some of the things you aren’t supposed to know



Debating and evaluating Waldorf education

News about Waldorf schools

The Watch in Waldorf Watch (Cont.)

NEWS 3    
Watching (Cont., Cont.)

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





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.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.

[3] See "Steiner's Racism" and "Steiner's Bile".

[4] My old Waldorf school nearly collapsed, and "the numbers" (i.e., finances) were also central to the story. Here's one account:

"The story of the collapse [sic] of the Garden City Waldorf School is very complex.... In his twenty years as Faculty Chairman, John Gardner had carefully crafted a strong, clear [curricular] form based on the pedagogical teachings of Rudolf Steiner, but in recent years Dr. Gardner had begun to feel the limitations of the form he had created and felt that teachers needed to be guided more by the spirit instead of the outer forms, so he started encouraging some of the teachers to use their own spiritual perceptions in their educational approach...

"[Following a boycott by some parents who were upset that spiritualism was now openly practiced in the school] we learned that everyone strongly aligned with the ‘spirit-led’ group had either been fired or resigned.... In the end, it was simply a matter of finances...the only thing that keeps a school alive is the tuition paid by the parents.... About a dozen teachers were fired.... — Lawrence Williams, Ed.D., THE OAK MEADOW TRILOGY (Oak Meadow, Inc., 1997) — see

[5] Biodynamic gardening is a form of organic gardening. [See "Biodynamics".] It can work well, but then so can ordinary organic gardening. Biodynamics involves various magical and astrological practices that have, to say the least, limited value. When a biodynamic garden or farm produces well, the result stems from the great care the gardener or farmer has lavished on the crops. Expending the same efforts in almost any other type of agriculture is likely to be fully as successful.


The replies came in subsequent messages.

[7]  Some "Waldorf-inspired" schools are largely free of Anthroposophical mysticism, but some are not. Some are fully committed Anthroposophical Waldorf schools that either have not been able to adopt the names they preferred or that disguise themselves. [See, e.g.,]

[8] I misconstrued the question, so I have amended my answer here.


“Such dances are survivals of ancient dances around a living tree as part of spring rites to ensure fertility.” — "Maypole dance." ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, Online, 29 Apr. 2010.

[10] Celebrating Mayday, Waldorf Home Schooling,

[11] Karen Rivers, “Spiritual Threads of Passover and Easter” in WALDORF EDUCATION: A Family Guide (Pamela Johnson Fenner, 1992), p. 166.

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.

A soaring flight that failed.

[R.R., 2010.]