What They Talked About
The following exploration of Waldorf schooling
draws primarily from a series of books published by the Anthroposophic Press
dealing with the “Foundations of Waldorf Education.”
I originally posted or announced the stages
of the exploration at
The writing is a bit informal,
but that may come as a relief.
(I have revised a bit, to keep the relief to a minimum.)
Despite the impression I have surely created, I do not violently disagree with absolutely everything Rudolf Steiner ever said or wrote. In preparing Steiner-critical essays, I naturally focus on Steiner statements that I find flawed. Perhaps someday I’ll pull together a little list of Steiner statements with which I agree. It will be a short list, and pretty dull, since everything on it would have to be far removed from Steiner’s mysticism, racism, sexism, astrology, arrogance, irrationality, aversion to science.... I would have to steer my way past the many troubling characteristics of his typical pronouncements.
Perhaps, someday, I'll give it a go.
Or, heck, why not make a start today? Tentatively, I'll sketch a first draft of my this-seems-okay list right now. Steiner often spoke mildly. He knew what he should say to various audiences, and he knew what was incumbent on him as a religious leader. So he often spoke of love, kindness, gentleness, freedom, and the like: Good stuff, all. I admit it. On numerous occasions, Steiner spoke of treating people well, acting virtuously, aspiring to morality and spirituality and wisdom. Every single statement Steiner ever made along such lines is, to one degree or another, commendable.
In very tentative, very general outline, that is my list. Steiner said such things. The trouble is that he said such things while also making a vast number of statements that are appalling, lunatic, morally and intellectually and (dare I say it?) spiritually indefensible. How many sane statements are needed to counteract one nutty remark? How many commendable statements are needed to expunge an outpouring of hogwash? How many moral statements are needed to offset one racist slander? Three? Ten? 50?
Mental garbage is mental garbage. Awful statements must be withdrawn, or they stand. They must be denounced, repudiated, and explicitly retracted. No “good” statements can offset loony bilge. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: If Steiner was able to make so many appalling statements, how much confidence should we have in him as a guide and guardian of the young? And how much confidence should we have in his faithful followers, who find little or nothing wrong in all of Steiner's beyond-the-pale assertions? How much confidence should we have in them as guides and guardians of the young?
In other essays, I’ve catalogued many of Steiner’s more egregious statements. In order to play fair, let’s examine less explosive material. We’ll give Steiner the stage and allow him to explain the foundations of Waldorf education. Here’s a mild starting point:
◊ [Waldorf Teachers and the Spirit] Steiner is speaking: “First, teachers must make sure that they influence and work on their pupils, in a broader sense, by allowing the spirit to flow through their whole being as teachers, and in the details of their work: how each concept or feeling is developed.” — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 180.
Saying that teachers must be attentive to the effects they have on students might, at first blush, seem uncontroversial. But knowing that we are eavesdropping on Steiner instructing Waldorf teachers, we should parse his words cautiously. In discussing “spirit,” Steiner isn’t talking about school spirit or any other sort of spirit that would make sense to rationalists. For him and his followers, the word “spirit” has literal, occult significance. Steiner established a gnostic, occultist religion called Anthroposophy (the word means knowledge of the human). Anthroposophists believe in the omnipresence of an unseen spirit realm occupied by multiple gods, demons, and other invisible beings. So, Steiner says that Waldorf teachers must “allow” “the spirit” to “flow through” them, meaning they will convey the spirit (i.e., spiritual “truths” or the influences of the gods) to their students. This is not what a secular teacher — e.g., a public school teacher — attempts. Waldorf teachers attempt it with “their whole being.” So which approach is preferable?
Steiner further says that Waldorf teachers should not only “influence” their students but “work on” them, conveying both “concepts” and “feelings.” The sort of thinking imparted by Waldorf education is not intellectual but intuitive and emotional (i.e., it is not real thinking at all but gauzy wishfulness: see, e.g., “Thinking Cap”). Waldorf teachers “work on” their students in order to promote such flimsy thinking — and they generally do this without admitting it to the students or the students' parents. But Steiner, speaking to Waldorf faculty members, was less guarded. He told the teachers that Anthroposophy will be in the school: They are to convey spiritual truths, which means the doctrines of Anthroposophy; and he wanted the effects of the gods to flow through the teachers to the students. [Take a gander at "Serving the Gods"].
Steiner proceeds: “The teacher must be true in the depths of being. Teachers must never compromise with untruth....” Mull this over. “The depths of being”: i.e., teachers’ spiritual selves. “Untruth”: What is this to Anthroposophists? Anything that is contrary to Anthroposophy. So what is Steiner saying? The effects and influences flowing through the teachers to the students will be Anthroposophical; the teahers will convey the concepts and feelings advanced by Steiner in his occult concoction, Anthroposophy. In brief, Anthroposophy will be in the school. (Don’t believe me? See Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495: “Anthroposophy will be in the school....” Don't think the term "occult" is fair? See Steiner's books AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, OCCULT HISTORY, AN OCCULT PHYSIOLOGY, OCCULT SIGNS AND SYMBOLS, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD, etc. [See "Occultism".])
◊ [The Dreaming Earth] Let's look more deeply into the Anthroposophical conception of truth and how such truth is conveyed to Waldorf students.
A Waldorf teacher suggests that plants may be considered the Earth’s dreams. “Dr. Steiner: ‘But plants during the high summer are not the Earth’s dreams, because the Earth is in a deep sleep in the summer.’” — DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 129.
Waldorf teachers tend to be Anthroposophists or Anthropop fellow travelers. You need only consider the statements that Waldorf teachers made to Steiner to see what sorts of folks he wanted to employ. (Or take Steiner’s own word for it: Waldorf’s “staff consists of anthroposophists.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. "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.)
This teacher’s suggestion that plants may be the earth’s dreams is utterly bizarre — or would be to rational folks. But not to Steiner. He accepts the question as having meaning, but — as usual — he corrects the interrogator: Steiner always knew best (in his opinion, which was the only opinion that counted).
As to when the earth is “asleep”: Anthroposophists believe that the Earth is an organism that is evolving, just as the beings on or under its surface are evolving. As Steiner put it, telling Waldorf teachers what they might say to kids, “‘Just think children, our Earth feels and experiences everything that happens within it ... [I]t has feelings like you have, and can be angry or happy like you.’” — DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 132. There’s something attractive in this fantasy. And it can be tricked out in semi-scientific respectability. Nowadays, the “Gaia hypothesis” has proponents. Certainly we need to cherish and protect the Earth. We might even go so far, nodding to Gaia, as to agree that perhaps the Earth in some sense might be considered a single organism (depending on how one defines this word).
But is our planet an organism that feels anger and happiness? Steiner said so, so it must be true, hm? Steiner also taught that the Earth breathes in and out, slowly: once a day, in one sense, or once a year — out during the spring and in during autumn — in another sense. As always, Steiner's doctrines are far removed from ascertainable scientific findings. In effect, Steiner asserts that a Waldorf teacher may feed students junk science, since what is false for science can be, if Steiner says so, true for Anthroposophists. Immediately after saying that the Earth “can be angry or happy like you,” Steiner says “In this way you gradually form [i.e., in children's' minds] a view of life lived under the Earth during winter. That is the truth. And it is good to tell children these things. This is something that even materialists could not argue with....” — Ibid., p. 132.
I beg to differ. "Materialists" — by which Steiner generally meant rationalists or non-Anthroposophists — may certainly argue with such fantastical assertions.
Waldorf faculty generally deny that Anthroposophical doctrines are taught to Waldorf students. Here we see what actually goes on, or should go on, according to the founder of Waldorf education. Steiner lays out an Anthroposophical tenet (that the Earth is a being that has emotions) and he says that this tenet can be explicitly conveyed to students. “It is good to tell children these things.” So, then, when will Anthroposophy be present in a Waldorf school? Almost always, both covertly and, less frequently perhaps, overtly.
Pity the poor student who accepts Steiner’s lesson and later mouths it (“the earth has feelings just like us”) in a college geology class.
◊ [The Four Temperaments] Steiner adopted the ancient, unscientific notion of humours and temperaments: We have four principle fluids in our systems (yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm), and depending on which one is predominant in an individual, a certain temperament results (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic). Moreover, Steiner taught that temperament can be read in a child’s body type. “The melancholic children are as a rule tall and slender; the sanguine are the most normal; those with more protruding shoulders are the phlegmatic children; and those with a short stout build so that the head almost sinks down into the body are choleric.” — DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 34. This, of course, is nonsense — and it is potentially very harmful nonsense. Waldorf teachers taking Steiner's guidance will categorize children, using a false system of categorization, and they will do this at least in part on the basis of appearance. A child may carry the scars from this treatment for many, many years. [See "Humouresque".]
Note that, according to Steiner, the sanguines are “the most normal.” In other words, they are not quite normal, but the members of the other three groups are even less normal. To one degree or another, then, all children are abnormal. It’s as if Waldorf schools exist in a sort of reverse analog of Lake Woebegone; they occupy a realm in which all the children are below average. Upshot: Every child (i.e., every human) needs correction. And who do you suppose Steiner held up as the person to give this correction? Steiner always knew best: When a teacher said that “the phlegmatic child sits with an open mouth,” Steiner rejoined “That is incorrect; the phlegmatic child will not sit with the mouth open but with a closed mouth and drooling lips.” [p. 30] Well played, sir.
Ultimately, to his credit, Steiner urged the teachers at his school to get beyond the concept of temperaments. Toward the end of his life, Steiner said, “[W]e need to find our way past the temperaments.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 687. This later statement does not actually disavow the concept of the temperaments — Steiner was almost incapable of admitting that he had made an error. But, evidently realizing that the four-type categorization of students was proving to be unwieldy, he wanted Waldorf teachers to move on to deeper analysis of students’ inner natures. Sadly, for Steiner “deeper” meant hauling in esoteric concepts such as karma, which he said is tied up with the level of one's spiritual evolution, which he said is tied up with one's race. Steiner would have done better sticking with plain, unadorned temperaments. [See "Karma" and "Races".]
Does Rudolf Steiner matter? Are Waldorf schools important? How about Anthroposophy — is there any point in spending time thinking about a minor, cultish religion that denies it is a religion, bearing in mind that almost no one has ever heard of it, and fewer still can even pronounce its name? What are we doing, talking about these things? Wasting what little life we are given?
Digging into this stuff is a waste of time. Except...
One could argue that Waldorf schools are important because they constitute a fast-growing “educational”/occult movement that sucks in ever-growing numbers of children, at least some of whom may be severely damaged. Absolutely, seen in this way, Waldorf schools are important.
But there’s an even larger perspective in which, although they are minor, Waldorf schools are major: They are one manifestation of humanity’s predilection for self-deception; one instance of our willingness to buy snake oil. Not just willingness but, indeed, desperate enthusiasm. Deliver us. Show us the way! SAVE US!
Save us from what, exactly? From the wonder and beauty of life? Quarks. Muons. Galaxies. The aurora. Cheetahs. Whales. Sunrises. Wildflowers. (Okay, Cheetahs can bite. Save us from them.) Is this what we are so desperate to transcend? Life is hard, life is short, our condition is difficult, we will die. But in the meantime, here we are, alive, in the cusp of magnificent creation — it is all around us, free for the taking. Yet we desperately want to escape, to believe lies, to embrace fantasy — even though our imaginings pale in the face of reality.
We humans are a dissatisfied bunch. That's why we clawed our way to the top of the heap. If at any stage of our long history we had been satisfied, we would have sat on the bank of the stream, watched the pretty fish swim by, and been happy. But that's not our way. Human history is a dreadful succession of struggles, conflicts, wars... Our hearts are seldom light. Our dissatisfaction has been built into us by evolution: The biggest and baddest guys too often have clubbed the rest into submission, gotten the most mates, and monopolized the pick of the foodstuff. The genes of these striving conquerors have been passed on to their numerous offspring, so that subsequent generations have continued their struggling, battling ways, seeking to scratch the unending itch. We are dissatisfied. So, among other consequences, we have repeatedly fallen for the offers of illusory satisfaction held out by a long, long line of false prophets. Of course, rather than bringing us to the light, these frauds have generally led us even farther into darkness. That is the very definition of false prophecy.
Enter Steiner, his nutty religion, and his deeply flawed educational scheme. Steiner's inventions represent one particularly odd version of mankind’s rush into darkness. It’s a rush we must stop if we, and all the creatures of the Earth that are subject to our dispensation, are to survive. Steiner, and Anthroposophy, and Waldorf schools occupy one little corner of the loony bin we have built for ourselves. If we can disassemble this little corner, maybe we can move on to disassemble the rest, and maybe one day mankind can face the light unflinchingly, and the future will be bright. I hope so. I’m not confident that humankind will opt for sanity — our record so far doesn't inspire much confidence — but I do hope.
In the following set of passages, I’d like to concentrate on a single subject: A School Run by Anthroposophists. What is such a school like?
Here's a relatively innocuous statement made by Steiner. And I promise you a surprise: I will agree with part of the statement.
◊ [Better Teaching] “We [i.e., Waldorf faculty] ought to make use of the unknown or half known [sic] in order to facilitate the children’s effort at fitting the details into a totality ... As we get used to working in this way we shall...feel the need to make ourselves ever more familiar with the nature of the human being ... [A]s out of our anthroposophical knowledge we ponder this nature, this wisdom of the human being, much will become clear to us and lead to increased teaching skills.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, pp. 19-20.
As I indicated earlier, “Anthroposophy” literally means "wisdom of the human being." Urging Waldorf teachers to ponder human nature as seen in the light of Anthroposophical knowledge is effectively a prescription for deeper and deeper immersion in Anthroposophy. As for the “nature of the human being,” we must realize that the Anthroposophical conception of human nature is utterly bizarre. I’ll go into this, in some detail, below. [Also see "Oh Humanity".]
Teachers become better teachers by delving more deeply into Anthroposophy and the “knowledge” it provides, says the founder of Anthroposophy. Think of the implications. Think of the effects on Waldorf students. The point of developing teaching skills, obviously, is to use these skills on one’s students. So, subjected to the “improved” teaching skills of Anthroposophical teachers, Waldorf students may be deeply affected. Led by teachers who embody Anthroposophical attitudes and perspectives, the students may be drawn toward the same dark pathways down which their teachers wander.
Now, to momentarily agree with Steiner: Making “use of the unknown or half-known” is not as fearful as it might seem, considering the source. Steiner is not saying that he wants Waldorf teachers to use the unknown and the half-known to inculcate the untrue, leading children down into mystical crapola. Rather, his point is that teachers should leave the students in suspense at the end of a lesson: A subject has been raised, some information (or misinformation) has been imparted, and when the students’ interest has been piqued, stop, leave the rest for the next lesson. The kids may think about what they’ve learned, and they may then form a better sense of the “totality” of the subject. All right. Not a bad instructional strategy.
But (my momentary acquiescence now behind me) should teachers disguise their underlying purposes? Should they seek to draw unwitting students into the snares of a weird, heretical, cultish religion? Drawing students into Anthroposophy is what Steiner ultimately wanted from his teachers, working in a “roundabout” way. I’ll document this as we proceed.
◊ [Human Nature] “A lively interest in human nature is, of course, the condition for succeeding in this endeavor [i.e., teaching in a Waldorf school]. Such interest can be developed, and anthroposophy will provide you with all the hints you need.” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 29.
Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner says that Anthroposophy will show the way. You, Waldorf teachers, don’t need to look for any other source of wisdom or knowledge — just go with Anthroposophy.
The implications are frightening. Waldorf teachers should be guided by Steiner's conception of human nature. What is that conception? According to Steiner, all real human beings  are reincarnated ; we have hearts that do not pump blood  and brains that do not really think (unless we are completely materialistic) ; we have both spirits and souls ; we can develop organs of clairvoyance ; we have twelve senses ; we incarnate nonphysical bodies, some of which ascend into the spirit realm every night while our physical bodies are asleep ; we each embody one of four temperaments (melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic) variously mixed ; we belong to spiritually different races — some races are higher than others .
In Steiner's system, people can be categorized in various ways. Individuals who fall into negative categories may not actually be real human beings at all, or — if they are real humans — they may be relicts of previous evolutionary stages that should now be discarded. There are “higher” and “lower races”  (I’m repeating myself, but this point needs to be driven home: Steiner was a racist [see "Steiner's Racism"]). Moreover, there are “people” who are really just robots  or blind “moles” , or more generally “not really human.”  (I'm repeating myself again. But both these points need to be driven home: Steiner said that some people belong to inferior races — and he also said that some people are so profoundly inferior, they are not really human beings at all.)
At the risk of sacrificing my fiercely guarded reputation for impartiality, I’d like to say that Steiner’s doctrines on such matters are atrocious, and for Waldorf teachers to bring these — in any way, to any degree — into their work with children is appalling.
◊ [Staffing] Speaking of repeating important points: a) “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 60. b) “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 118.
These quotations are fundamental. Short of saying that Waldorf schools are designed to brainwash children into unthinking acceptance of a very silly but harmful belief system, these statements nonetheless constitute a deeply incriminating admission. Anthroposophy will be in the school (FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495), and the staff will consist of Anthroposophists who "must be," in their "innermost feeling," totally committed.
The moral for parents of school-age children: Steer clear.
Some Waldorfs today fall short of Steiner’s ideal, of course. Not every teacher at every Waldorf or Steiner school is a dyed-in-the-wool Anthroposophist. But Steiner wanted all of his teachers to be dyed in his wool. Let’s consider what such teachers would bring into the classroom. They would, obviously, bring the truth — they wouldn’t twist their students’ minds with intentional lies. But for them, the truth is Anthroposophy. So they would bring Anthroposophy into the school. They would usually be circumspect about presenting Anthroposophical truths in class [see "Sneaking It In"], but sometimes they would explicitly voice such truths in class [see "Out in the Open"]. They would certainly craft their lesson plans to reflect Steiner's doctrines. [See "The Waldorf Curriculum".] Their work would, one way or another, lead students toward Anthroposophy.
Which is worse? For Anthroposophical teachers to openly state their Anthroposophical beliefs in class, or for them to covertly promote those beliefs without stating them clearly? It’s a close call, but I think the second is worse. It would lead students into darkness without giving the kids and their parents a chance to understand what is going on and to cry “Stop!”
At Waldorf schools that are not fully staffed by Steiner devotees, Steiner’s intentions may be, to some degree, unfulfilled. Thank goodness. And even at 100% Anthroposophical Waldorf schools, things can go wrong from an Anthroposophical perspective. Some kids have stronger powers of resistance than others; some are more rebellious, or rational, or... Not every kid at every Waldorf school comes out brainwashed. Thank goodness.
◊ [“Our Lessons”] “The spiritual aspect of the human being is not recognized today [hm? not recognized in churches? in synagogues? in mosques?] ... It is exactly this consideration that Anthroposophy is to contribute toward ... It is only this that will...make the adaptation of our lessons to the human life processes possible.” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 46.
For whom will these lessons be adapted? To restate the obvious: Waldorf students. On their behalf, a Waldorf school will recognize the “spiritual aspect of the human being.” As a general precept, recognizing the human spirit may be a superb objective. But at true Waldorf schools, the “spiritual aspect of the human being” is conceived according to Steiner’s spiritual doctrines: Multiple gods , clairvoyance , conversing with the dead , reincarnation , people living on the Moon and Sun and distant planets , the “divine cosmic plan” , goblins , demons , higher and lower races , and more — a virtually endless catalog of occult tripe. Depending on your perspective, Anthroposophy is a litany of heresy and/or nonsense.
Steiner taught that humans have both spirits and souls. Spirits are immortal; we take them with us throughout all our lives (reincarnation, remember). Souls are temporary; we get new souls with each new incarnation. Steiner said that knowledge of our spirit nature has largely been lost, while knowledge of our soul nature has been preserved to some extent, but not really. What he mainly meant, in fact, was that not enough people accept his own teachings about these subjects. But among people who do accept them, quite a few take jobs as Waldorf teachers.
If Waldorf faculties consist wholly or largely of Anthroposophists, and if those Anthroposophists bring their beliefs into the schools (as, one way or another, is inevitable), children will be led into an occult wilderness. Not all of them, but many of them. And this is a shame. It is, in fact, the shame of Waldorf education.
◊ [Roundabout Education] Rudolf Steiner, speaking to teachers at a Waldorf school: “[W]hat you are inserting into the children in a roundabout way through the physical reality — be it through the eyes, the ears, or the comprehending intellect — everything that is thus placed into the children very soon assumes a quite different form of life [i.e., spiritual life] ... [C]hildren go home, they go to bed, they go to sleep; their egos and astral bodies are outside their etheric and physical bodies.* What you did with the children in this roundabout way through the physical body and also the etheric body continues in the astral body and the ego.” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, pp. 46-47.
Steiner’s words pull back a dark curtain, allowing us to peer deep into the hidden reality of Waldorf education. His statement reflects both the goal and the methodology of faithful Waldorf teachers. Their aim is not directed primarily at that physical organ called the brain. Instead, they work to influence their students’ supernatural “bodies,” and their souls, and their spirits. They fool with the physical body and brain only as this enables them (in their mistaken view) to get to the students’ nonphysical parts. Here, Steiner focuses particularly on the nonphysical human bodies: the etheric, astral, and ego bodies. Of course, those bodies exist only in the imagination of Anthroposophists, which shows that — at best — Waldorf education constitutes a huge waste of time: It is focused on nonexistent entities. This loss of time can be profoundly harmful for children, because the years that should be devoted to real education are instead devoted to spiritualistic nonsense. But far worse harm may also be inflicted.
During their long years spent at Waldorf schools, children may internalize the bizarre beliefs and attitudes of their teachers. What does “inserting” spiritual influences mean, after all, except that Anthroposophists will try to insert their spiritual doctrines into their students? (Pause over the chilling words “inserting” and “placed into.”) The harm is mitigated somewhat by the nonexistence of the “etheric body,” the “astral body,” and the “I.” But the mind exists and arguably the soul and/or spirit exist. If Steiner’s devotees reach these innermost levels of children’s beings, they can wreak havoc. Affected kids may be drawn away from reality toward occult fantasization. The damage can last a lifetime.
Steiner repeatedly urged Waldorf teachers to disguise their intentions from non-Anthroposophists, including students’ parents. For instance, when prescribing a prayer for students to recite at the beginning of each day, Steiner told Waldorf faculty to avoid using the word “prayer” when outsiders might hear.  [To examine the prayers Steiner wrote for Waldorf students to recite, see “Prayers”.]
The most basic of Steiner’s schoolhouse deceptions was his insistence that Waldorf schools do not propagate his strange religion. But in fact Steiner’s intention was precisely to use Waldorf schools to spread Anthroposophy.  They should do this in a "roundabout way," fiddling with the physical in order to reach the super-physical.
◊ [Boys and Girls] Steiner differentiated between people on the basis of race, “temperament,” degrees of subhumaness, etc. So of course he also found deep spiritual differences between males and females. “The whole of the female organism is organized toward the cosmos through the astral body. Most of what are really cosmic mysteries is unveiled and revealed through the female constitution. The female astral body is more differentiated, essentially more richly structured, than that of the male. Men’s astral bodies are...coarser.” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 75.
Further: “[W]e shall also educate the girls correctly by recognizing the fact that they are more inclined to the cosmos and boys more inclined to the earth. Girls incline more to the cosmic, and this means that their ideals are heroes and heroines; we should tell girls about them, about their lives and deeds ... Boys need to hear about character, about complete human beings.” — Ibid., p. 83.
Steiner’s view of the sexes is sort of sweetly Victorian — if you find the idealization and subjugation of females sweet. In a sense, females are superior, Steiner says, because they are oriented to the cosmos with all its cosmic forces. Males, on the other hand, are more gross, and they are oriented toward the earth. Girls look up, boys look down. Consequently, girls should be fed fairy tales about two-dimensional (incompletely human) heroes and heroines while the boys, who are more sensible, learn about “character” and “complete human beings.” Girls: fantasies. Boys: reality (to the extent that Steiner perceived reality, which was very slightly if at all).
It is arguable that few children — male or female — leave Waldorf schools prepared for the real world. If girls are led farther astray from reality than boys are, then the potential damage to girls from Steiner’s precepts is all the greater. [For more on all this, see "Gender".]
◊ [Anthroposophy at Waldorf, Part XXII] When a faculty member at the first Waldorf school expressed worries about his teaching, Steiner said the following: “The problem is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 402-403.
This is most revealing. The teacher was lecturing his young students about Anthroposophy. Error. He should sugarcoat Anthroposophy so that little kids can ingest it: He should present Anthroposophy in a “form you can present to little children.” In other words, the teacher should “transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.”
But, either way, the teacher should teach the kids Anthroposophy. This completely contradicts Steiner’s oft-repeated denial that Anthroposophy will be fed to students. He didn’t tell the teacher to keep Anthroposophy out of the classroom. He merely told him to present it at “a child’s level.”
Some teachers at the Waldorf school I attended decided to openly “bring what they knew anthroposophically” into the classroom. An enormous scandal erupted. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".] Parents who had not known they were sending kids to an Anthropop training academy were outraged and frightened. Many yanked their kids out, and the school survived only because it cashiered the most openly spiritualistic members of the faculty. But what about the more covert spiritualists, the teachers who smuggled Anthroposophy into the classroom at “child’s level”? Good question.
◊ [Anthroposophy at Waldorf, Part XXIII] Steiner described the task of a Waldorf teacher in these terms: “[I]nsight into the cosmos must be the result of knowledge consciously developed ... This cosmic insight will so live in us that we shall be able to shape it artistically into the pictures we need [to convey to children] ... At about the tenth year the child is ripe for what the teacher can make out of this far-reaching vision. And if a teacher shows in living pictures how the whole earth is a living being, how it bears the plants as a man bears his hair*...a kind of expansion takes place in the soul of the child ... It is not correct to say that the child is not mature enough for conceptions of this kind. A teacher in whom they live and who has this world conception at the back of him, knows how to express them in forms for which the child is ripe and in which it [sic: the child] can concur with its [sic] whole being.” — Rudolf Steiner, ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Publishing Company, 1926), pp. 63-64.
Steiner delivered this message to Waldorf teachers just months before his death. It was spread to the English-speaking world a few months after that. Waldorf teachers should absorb an Anthroposophical “world conception” (or, phrased more comprehensibly, “cosmic insight”), including the insight that the living earth wears plants like hair. The teachers should then bring “conceptions of this kind” into the classroom in pictorial form. A ten-year-old kid is “ripe” for such stuff and will absorb it with his/her “whole being.” Thus Anthroposophy is to be inculcated in kids.
Anthroposophy will be in the school. It will be taught to the students, one way or another. This is what Waldorf schools are all about. (But perhaps I'm repeating myself.)
◊ [Thumbnail] If we want to create a concise summary of Steiner’s intentions for Waldorf schools, we could do worse than this:
• Steiner intended Waldorf schools to spread the influence of Anthroposophy: “[W]e were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one....” — RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 156.
• To this end, he arranged that “Anthroposophy will be in the school....” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.
• To that end, he arranged for a staff that “consists of anthroposophists.” — EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS, p. 60.
• To that further end, he directed Waldorf teachers to present Anthroposophy in “forms for which the child is ripe.” — ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, p. 64.
• To all these ends, “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 118.
And there you have it.
I continue this examination of Waldorf’s foundations
on the page titled “Underpinnings”
— Roger Rawlings
Here is an attempt to summarize
shortcomings of Steiner/Waldorf education.
The writer is Ian Robinson.
(Robinson focuses on the Australian state of Victoria,
but his comments are applicable in most places
where Waldorf or Steiner schools exist.)
First, none of Steiner's ideas on education is the result of any empirical study of child development or education, nor indeed of even a cursory experience as a teacher or educator. Steiner the 'Occult Scientist' simply set down in a discursive way what he believed, on the basis of his 'psychic investigations' [— these] were the educational implications of his obscure and extremely esoteric ideas about life, the universe and everything. This is not an adequate basis for developing a theory and practice of education. Thus any resemblance between Steiner 'Education' and good educational practice is purely coincidental.
A recent issue of Federation News...contained a plea from Rob Glare ... [He gave] a list of ten alleged features of Steiner 'Education'. They were probably supplied to him by supporters of Steiner 'Education' and they provide a useful focus for a discussion of the true nature of Steiner's contribution to educational thought.
...The class teacher stays with a particular class throughout their primary schooling.
This is true but there are good and bad aspects of it. Following the same group of children over two or more years and having the opportunity to witness and be involved in their growth over an extended period can be a very rewarding experience. But six or seven years with the same teacher can be very limiting for the children, and deprives them of the opportunity to experience close relationships with a number of different teachers.
...Class teachers exhibit a sense of vocation which involves continuing personal development and a constant renewing, revision and reappraisal of aims and methods in relation to the pupils.
The sense of vocation which Steiner teachers exhibit is not 'a vocation to be a teacher' but 'a vocation to be a Steiner teacher', with the emphasis on the 'Steiner.' They have accepted Steiner's (crank) ideas and feel a vocation to pass them on to others, and in particular, to children, who are more malleable.
...Perceptual techniques are developed so that the teacher views the pupil free from speculation and makes observations as to the pupil's experience and needs.
These perceptual techniques are techniques for spotting whether a child is developing consistently with Steiner's plan of how children should develop, and the needs that are deduced from these observations are what needs to be done to bring the child back on to the Steiner track if they have strayed.
Each individual pupil, with his/her particular capabilities and destiny, is approached with an attitude of love and respect.
Like the previous two claims, this statement gives the impression that Steiner 'Education' is concerned about individual differences. In fact what Steiner education does is to try to slot all children into the pigeon hole designed for them by Rudolf Steiner, within which there is only a small amount of room to move. Human destiny is seen as moving along pre-ordained paths and the teacher's role is to keep children on the fairly straight and relatively narrow as defined by Steiner. Life is not for self-fulfillment, but for fulfilling your Steiner-defined spiritual destiny.
Staff operate by consensus decision-making and team-work. Parent bodies may offer advice and expertise.
This statement obscures the fact that in Steiner Schools parents have no power ... Steiner teachers are only accountable to each other, form a closed shop, and close ranks against criticism ... Abuses, such as striking children, or simply irresponsible or bad teaching, are usually hidden and hushed up.
...In Steiner schools there is no principal but the teachers form a College of Teachers which performs a similar role to Administrative Committees.
In practice someone has to carry out the administrative functions, and most Steiner schools have elected someone who is a de facto principal, whatever he or she may be called.
...Subject matter is based on an observation of the reception of human's differing consciousness through world evolution in child development.
[These] words actually obscure a fairly sinister aspect of Steiner 'Education’. Steiner believed that in order to accommodate the incoming of the spirit to the life of the child on earth, the child should have a series of specific experiences at specific times in their life.
...There is little room for individual differences in Steiner 'Education' and teachers in effect act as police directing the life of the child along the paths Steiner laid down.
...A range of specific, artistic, scientific, cultural and remedial methods and techniques are utilised by teachers.
Yes, but it is a very limited range, restricted almost entirely to those set out in Mr. Steiner's strange pronouncements. The range utilised by your average State School primary teacher is probably wider, more soundly based, and more effective educationally.
...The curriculum and the cultivation of attitudes which develop the whole child are the focus – not just intellect but conscious development of skills of head, heart and hand in order to fit the pupil for the whole span of life.
Literature, art, music, human relations, even religion if parents wish it, are taught in all our schools, so what is new? What is new is a much greater amount of time spent on artistic pursuits, and an effort to teach intellectual knowledge through the arts. There may be something that other teachers can learn from this, but the approach is by no means completely successful and with many children is a disaster.
...A school program which involves the whole family in the school community and offers philosophic, child study and artistic courses to parents as extra curricular activities. Parents are able to participate in the various phases and activities of the school's life on the basis of a common appreciation of the school's aims.
And what do you think these courses on philosophy and child study are about? You guessed it. Steiner and his ideas, although the guru may not be mentioned by name. And did you notice the sting in the tail of the invitation to participate in the school's life? "(O)n the basis of a common appreciation of the school's aims" translated into English means "as long as you go along unquestioningly with the ideas of Rudolf Steiner".
For additional examples of statements Steiner made
to Waldorf school teachers, please see "Discussions"
To examine advice Steiner gave to Waldorf teachers,
please use this link: "Advice"
For still more Steiner quotes about education,
please see "More on Education".
Anthroposophists sometimes use a five-pointed star (pentagram) to symbolize the etheric body, and a six-pointed star (hexagram) to symbolize the astral body. Here is the astral body. The following may not convey much information, but it does reflect Waldorf thinking. The top point, red, is the head, associated with Mars, "igniting, courageous;" the orange point is an ear, associated with the Sun, "eternally flowing and developing life;" the violet point is another ear, associated with the Moon, "creating form (rigidification);" the yellow point is an arm, associated with Mercury, "soul satisfying;" the blue point is another arm, associated with Jupiter, "'I'-liberating;" the bottom point is the feet or the heart, depending, associated with Saturn, "creating the senses."
— See Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 230.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on b&w image on that page. Additional information from p. 138.]
To consider the pentagram as symbolizing the etheric body, see "Faculty Meetings".
Waldorf student art, courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.
Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch
are closely connected to the essay on that page;
others are not — they provide general context.
Anthroposophists and their allies, in and around my old school, published many works offering a mild form of Anthroposophy to the public. The explicit esotericism of Steiner's teachings was rarely mentioned.
Beginning in the late 1940s, our school put out instructional booklets under the imprint "Publications of the Waldorf School, Adelphi College" (one such booklet, for example, was "Teaching of Arithmetic and the Waldorf School Plan"). Later, the school helped establish the Waldorf Press, which began an ambitious publishing program including esoteric works of fiction. The school's association with a traditional liberal arts college gave a patina of respectability both to the school and its publications, but Adelphi ended the association when the school's underlying occultism became plain [see "The Waldorf Scandal"]. The Waldorf Press did not survive.
The publications shown in the two images above are
AMERICAN INDIANS and Our Way of Life, by Sylvester M. Morey,
GEOMETRY at the Junior High School Grades and the Waldorf School Plan, by H. v. Baravalle,
INTUITION, INTELLECT AND THE RACIAL QUESTION, by Laurens van der Post,
THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE - Essays on American Education, by John Fentress Gardner,
FOR FREEDOM DESTINED - Mysteries of Man's Evolution in the Mythology of Wagner's Ring Operas and Parsifal, by Franze E. Winkler,
THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE, by J. Anker Larsen,
PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL, by A. C. Harwood,
THE THREE CANDLES OF LITTLE VERONICA, by Manfred Kyber,
TEACHING OF ARITHMETIC AND THE WALDORF SCHOOL PLAN, by H. v. Baravalle.
(Advertising executive S. M. Morey was an active member of the Myrin Institute — a Waldorf offshoot — who was commencement speaker at my class's 8th grade graduation; H. V. Baravalle — an associate of Steiner's — taught at the college next door to our school, Adelphi College; naturalist and author L. van der Post was a visitor at the school; J. F. Gardner was our headmaster; Anthroposophical physician F. E. Winkler was a guiding presence at our school; J. A. Larsen was a spiritualistic Danish author; Waldorf teacher A. C. Harwood was, I think, a sometime visitor at our school; M. Kyber was a Latvian occultist.)
Steiner taught that the human ego (red) and astral body (yellow)
separate from the etheric body (orange) and physical body (blue)
at night — they travel to the spirit realm, returning in the morning.
[R.R., 2009, based on a sketch by Steiner.]
“We must be really clear about this. It is sheer nonsense to regard the human form as physical; we must see it as a spiritual form. The physical in it is everywhere present as minute particles ... If someone were to take any of you by the forelock and extract your form, the physical and also the etheric [bodies] would collapse like a heap of sand ... Man, however, still possesses his form when he goes through the gate of death. One sees it shimmering, glittering, radiant with colours. But now he loses first the form of his head; then the rest of his form gradually melts away. Man becomes completely metamorphoses into an image of the cosmos. This occurs during the time between death and a new birth...."
— Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 208-209.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image on p. 208; colors randomized.]
Steiner's weird doctrines flatter the human ego. On this basis, many people are drawn to such teachings. A respect for reason, reality, and truth may lead us in a different direction. Even people of faith who agree with Steiner on some points may find that on other points he strains credulity.
The Earth breathes in and out, Steiner taught — it does this once a day, in a sense, or once per year, in another sense. This image represents the situation at the end of March or April:
"The Earth [red] has just breathed out; the soul is still half within the Earth, but the Earth has breathed it out; the streaming soul-forces are pouring out into the cosmos ... While in December the Christ withdrew the Earth-soul element into the interior of the Earth, in order to be insulated from cosmic influences, now with the out-breathing of the Earth, He begins to let His forces breathe out, to extend them to receive the forces of the Sun which radiate toward Him.”
— Rudolf Steiner, THE CYCLE OF THE YEAR (Anthroposophic Press, 1984), pp. 6-7.
[R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the image on p. 6.]
Waldorf schools can be very seductive,
they often seem so beautiful,
filled with lovely art and attractive people.
It is hard to grasp the bizarre occultism
lying beneath this pleasing surface.
One small example: alchemy:
An Alchemical Cryptogram
[GEHEIME FIGUREN DER ROSENKREUZER]
The image above is not Anthroposophical;
the words below are:
"The plant-animals [on the Moon] grew out of this whole foundation, and above them, in the Moon's environment which may be designated as 'fire-air', moved those beings who were man-animals. Imagine the whole atmosphere filled with saltpetre, carbon and sulphur gases; the Moon-men lived in this fiery air which you would thus obtain. Occultists always knew of the existence of this fire-air, and under older conditions of the Earth it was even possible to produce this fire-air artificially. This is only possible today in a very restricted circle, but this knowledge has been preserved in genuine alchemy."
— Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY AND ROSICRUCIANISM (ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET, August 23, 1942), lecture 9, GA 100.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 5. THE WALDORF APPROACH ◊◊◊
 Some people are not really human, Steiner taught. E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 649-650.
 E.g., POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (Steiner Books, 1987), p. 59.
 E.g., AT HOME IN THE UNIVERSE (Steiner Books, 2000), p. 84.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.
 E.g., KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 96.
 Ibid., p. 28.
 E.g., THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 142-145.
 E.g., THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), pp. 22-25.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 80-81, pp. 90-91, pp. 345-346, p. 687.
 E.g., THE UNIVERSAL HUMAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 75.
 E.g., COSMIC MEMORY (SteinerBooks, 1987), pp. 45-46.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.
 E.g., DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 92.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 649-650.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
 E.g., Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-3.
 E.g., Rudolf Steiner, STAYING CONNECTED: How to Continue Your Relations with Those Who Have Died (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), in toto.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 46.
 E.g., Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT HISTORY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), p. 36.
 E.g., FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
 E.g., NATURE SPIRITS, pp. 62-3.
 E.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE INCARNATION OF AHRIMAN: The Embodiment of Evil on Earth (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006), in toto.
 E.g., Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944). p. 149.
 “Avoid allowing anyone to hear you, as a faculty member, using the word ‘prayer.’”— Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 20.
 “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.”— Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 156.
Steiner was actually mistaken when he claimed that Anthroposophy had become a relatively large movement.
After the ascent of National Socialism in Germany, several American scholars contributed to an annotated English-language edition of MEIN KAMPF. In one footnote, they referred to Steiner, grouping him among mountebanks who thrived in the chaotic conditions prevailing throughout Germany after World War I. The scholars had heard of Steiner, but his “large movement” was so small that they confused it with anthropology and they misspelled Steiner’s name: “Extraordinary phenomena...were numerous during the post-War years [in Germany] — e.g., the curious 'healer' of Hamburg, Häuser, who was followed by immense crowds; the Bibelforscher (Bible Students) who raised tides of adventistic emotion in Silesia and elsewhere; and Rudolph [sic] Steiner, the anthropologist [sic], who built houses resembling trees; etc.” — Adolf Hitler, MEIN KAMPF (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1940 - copyright 1939, Houghton Mifflin, published by arrangement with Houghton Mifflin), footnote on p. 467. Presumably Steiner would not have been happy to be mentioned anywhere in MEIN KAMPF, an particularly not in this pejorative manner.
Today Anthroposophy remains a borderline cult, but its harmful potential increases as the Waldorf school movement spreads.
[R.R., ~ 1990]