THE GOOD (?) PARTS
Not All Bad;
Not All Good
This is an edited version of remarks I posted at
Some good things happen at Waldorf schools. I tend not to dwell on this, since I believe the overall effect of Waldorf education can be so damaging. But, to be fair, some good things do happen.
The lower grades were, at least superficially, a sort of extended playtime. They were woven through with strands of mysticism, superstition, and occultism — but I discuss these on other pages here at Waldorf Watch. For now, on this page, I'll focus primarily on the middle and upper grades.
As a Waldorf school student, I had roles in two Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, a role in a Shakespeare play, and a small part in a play by John Synge. I was introduced to great music in the school chorus. I played (badly) in the school orchestra. I learned to play the recorder (a medieval woodwind instrument, which I still enjoy playing — I have soprano, alto, tenor, and bass recorders, and I play almost daily).  I was introduced to many mythologies from around the world, and I read great literature in English classes.  I was exposed to foreign languages (although not really required to learn any). And I was exposed to a great deal of art, both as appreciator and creator. I painted and sculpted and carved (wood shop was great: we made bowls and boats and lamps...)
I had many good friends. The teachers were kind and concerned. Class sizes were small, so there was a lot of individual attention. I got to participate in several junior-varsity and varsity sports (the school was so small, any kid who wanted to make the basketball team, or softball, or soccer, was almost sure of a place). Discipline and order were carefully maintained, yet the atmosphere in much of the school was relaxed and informal. There was little or no pressure to make great academic progress, or to become a standout in any other way. There was a pleasing atmosphere of security and comfort.
Also, I was shielded from gang violence, most forms of consumerism, and much of popular culture, including — to the extent possible — rock 'n' roll, television, racy literature, Mad magazine, and vending machines. (How beneficial some of this was may be questioned. In any case, my classmates and I were not totally ignorant of modern diversions and misconduct. Be realistic. By our junior year of high school, some of my friends and I slugged back beer at parties. The guys studied the nudes in PLAYBOY magazine and snuck into "blue movie" theaters. Some guys and gals experimented gingerly with sex: touching; foreplay — and perhaps, in some cases, more. We were teenagers living in the USA. The school could not totally disconnect us from the planet on which we lived, the culture around us, or the surging of our own hormones. I imagine we were probably better behaved than lots of our contemporaries at other schools. But I also suspect that we were more confused. Many of us truly wished for spiritual blessings. But sex play and inebriation also seemed like blessings to some of us. We were, to varying degrees, innocent, lustful, inhibited, dissipated, self-censuring, and self-loathing. We were teenagers — almost certainly more conflicted than most — living in the USA.) 
Those of us who were religious — and I was outspokenly so — found confirmation and consolation in the school's pervasive yet hazy spirituality. The Waldorf religion, Anthroposophy, was ever-present. We absorbed Anthroposophical attitudes and inclinations. But the doctrines of the faith were rarely specified. If we behaved ourselves, operating within a fairly narrow set of limits, we were more or less free to go our own way. (Freedom is an ideal espoused by Waldorf schools, although in practice unless we "freely" conformed to the school's expectations, we were free to leave. That is, kids got expelled.)
My sister has often told me she wished she had gone to a public school. I sometimes wished the same for myself. Many public schools suffer from serious problems. Drugs, gangs, hyper-attention to sports, etc. (But to be fair: My old Waldorf now makes a big deal of its sports teams. ) Still, despite their problems — or perhaps because of their problems — public schools represent real life. There, you deal with people as they really are, awful and great, petty and generous, narrow and wide: you confront the truth of the human condition. This is precisely what Anthroposophy avoids; it prefers an alternate, imaginary universe. Waldorf schools try to insulate kids from reality. We spent our days in an insulated, pleasant cocoon. We received little preparation for the lives we would presumably lead in the real world following graduation, but then most of us didn't seem to want such preparation. In truth, we had little idea what such preparation would consist of, and we scarcely understood what our lives might become when we ventured forth.
I enjoyed the school, for the most part — something many kids cannot say about their own schools. Behavior was decorous. There was quiet and calm. The grounds were beautifully maintained, and the building was kept scrupulously clean. The cafeteria served excellent meals. Attending the school was a privilege, and most of us knew it.
Nonetheless, I'm still sorry that I went to a Waldorf school, and I'm convinced that the overall effect of a Waldorf education can be profoundly harmful. It was harmful for me. [See, e.g., "I Went to Waldorf" and "My Sad, Sad Story".]
— Roger Rawlings
Here are some statements posted in advocacy of Waldorf education.
I will present them without adding any commentary of my own.
(You can find plenty of commentary on other pages here at Waldorf Watch.
For example, to understand the Waldorf approach to the “whole child”, see “Holistic Education”.
To examine the Waldorf emphasis on art, see “Magical Arts”.
To consider the role of Anthroposophy in Waldorf schooling, see “Here’s the Answer”.)
◊ From the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America:
“When you enter a Waldorf school, the first thing you may notice is the care given to the building. The walls are usually painted in lively colors and are adorned with student artwork. Evidence of student activity is everywhere to be found and every desk holds a uniquely created main lesson book.
“Another first impression may be the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers you meet. These teachers are interested in the students as individuals. They are interested in the questions:
“• How do we establish within each child his or her own high level of academic excellence?
“• How do we call forth enthusiasm for learning and work, a healthy self-awareness, interest and concern for fellow human beings, and a respect for the world?
“• How can we help pupils find meaning in their lives?
“Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child. They achieve this in a variety of ways. Even seemingly dry and academic subjects are presented in a pictorial and dynamic manner. This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behavioristic rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.” [http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/index.asp]
◊ From Waldorf Answers:
“The goal of Waldorf or Rudolf Steiner education is to enable students as fully as possible to choose and, in freedom, to realize their individual path through life as adults.
“While anthroposophy forms the philosophical and theoretical basis of the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools and is reflected in the attitudes of many Waldorf teachers and in the general structuring and orientation of Waldorf education during the different stages of development, anthroposophy is not taught as such to the students in the overwhelming majority of Waldorf schools world wide.
“If anthroposophy is taught in some form by an individual teacher, it is done against the basic Waldorf tradition and in complete contradiction of the intention of Waldorf education, as expressed by Rudolf Steiner as the founder of Waldorf education.” [http://www.waldorfanswers.org/Waldorf.htm]
◊ From the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship:
“A Distinctive Education: Ten Key Points.
“1. Creativity. The use of drawing, painting, music, movement, poetry, modelling and drama enhances the learning experience in all subjects ... 2. Continuity. In most cases the children are with the same class teacher from age 6 to 14, supported by a range of subject teachers ... 3. Activity. There is a central place for structured movement, the out-door environment and learning through doing across the entire age-range ... 4. The Individual and Society. Social and emotional skills are fostered in a variety of ways: by the recognition of childhood as a time of wonder, by the family-like environment of the extended Early Years, by the provision of clear adult authority and guidance and by the exploration of global and social perspectives at secondary level. 5. Inclusion and Differentiation. Whole class teaching is combined with individualised and differentiated learning ... 6. The Spoken Word. The oral and narrative tradition is brought to life though recitation, drama and an extensive use of poetry, stories, myths and legends ... 7. Age-appropriate. Not too soon, not too late. The lesson content and its method of presentation are linked to the children's emotional, social, physical and intellectual development ... 8. Assessment. The unique qualities of each child can be observed and described, but not always measured ... 9. Excellence. Every pupil is expected to give of their best across all disciplines ... 10. Context. Steiner schools form the largest group of independent, non-denominational schools in the world.... “ [http://www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk/distinctiveeducation.html]
I was the monarch of the sea.
[1964 PINNACLE (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).]
I've included a few images of myself on pages at this site
just to show that I was there: I went to Waldorf.
(But I didn't usually dress this way.)
The emphasis on arts is perhaps the most obviously appealing
part of Waldorf schooling.
Most parents would be thrilled if their kids created paintings like this.
[Courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]
Painting by a Waldorf grad
To explore distinctive Waldorf-related art styles,
see, e.g., "Anthroposophical Art"
Also see, e.g., the entries for "veil painting"
and "shaded drawing"
For an overview of Waldorf arts of all types,
see "Magical Arts".
Waldorf schools are often beautiful —
[R. R., 2010.]
Here are two items from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
"My parents were looking for a school that would nurture the whole person. They also felt that the Waldorf school would be a far more open environment for African Americans, and that was focused on educating students with values, as well as the academic tools necessary to be constructive and contributing human beings." [10-8-2010. http://perseiden.blogspot.com/2010/10/ehemalige-waldorfschuler-und-eltern.html]
Those of us who are critical of Waldorf education must, of course, acknowledge that many children love their Waldorf schools, many parents are satisfied, many alumni are loyal. This is only to be expected. Waldorf schools would disappear if most students and families found them unendurable. Bear in mind that some Waldorf schools are less doctrinaire than others; some parents and children want an education based on esotericism or at least spirituality; many Waldorf teachers and administrators are fine people; and so forth. So, we must expect that rounding up affirmative statements about Waldorf schools should not be difficult. What is troubling, however, is that so many horrific tales come out of Waldorf schools. There should be no such tales, but there are many. Something is amiss. And that something is not hard to locate. Many Waldorf schools are indeed doctrinaire; many cling fervently to occult nonsense. No true education can be based on such thinking. [See, e.g., "Advice for Parents", "Slaps", "Moms", "Our Experience", "Coming Undone", "Our Brush with Rudolf Steiner", "A Victim of Teacher Bullying at Waldorf", and "An Open Letter to Highland Hall".]
On the dreadful topic of racism: Some Waldorf schools undoubtedly handle things better than others. The sad truth, however, is that any nonwhite student who is treated well at a Waldorf school is very likely being patronized. A central Anthroposophical tenet is that reincarnating souls move upward through a hierarchy of races. The following quotation comes from one of the most important of Steiner's books, one that virtually all Waldorf teacher trainees study:
And Waldorf-leaning blacks should meditate upon the following statement made by Rudolf Steiner:
Waldorf teachers are not necessarily racists. But if they accept Steiner's teachings, their understanding of human beings will be deeply flawed.
"This is why Waldorf teachers are deceptive. They are TAUGHT to be deceptive. It’s part of Waldorf education to be deceptive…to lie to parents…even about their own children. Why? Because according to Steiner, the Waldorf teacher is more important to the spiritual development of the child than the parents are." [10-14-2010 http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html]
Waldorf or Steiner schools are often quite beautiful. They are often staffed by caring people who have the very best intentions. And, thanks in part of selective admissions, they often have exceptional student populations. For these and other reasons, many families have good experiences at Waldorf schools.
Sometimes, however (and much more often than anyone would wish), the Waldorf idyll breaks down. Sometimes this happens simply because a family realizes that Waldorf teachers subscribe to an astonishing set of occult beliefs: Anthroposophy. But sometimes it happens for more immediately damaging reasons, and a family, or part of a family, winds up being brutalized.
How can this happen in such a beautiful place as a Waldorf school? It is because the underlying occult philosophy of Waldorf schools is so deeply out of touch with reality, and because the true believers on a Waldorf faculty consider anyone who disagrees with them to be, literally, possessed by demons. Waldorf true believers are sure, deep in their hearts, that they are Good; and with equal certainty, they know that anyone who crosses them is devilish, probably a servant of Ahriman, and perhaps indeed a subhuman monster. In other words: Bad. Rudolf Steiner taught them to believe such things.
A terribly sad situation has been playing itself out at Highland Hall, a Waldorf school in the USA, for the last several years. I have never set foot in Highland Hall, I know none of the teachers there, I have only a casual Internet-based acquaintance with some of the families who have sent children there. Thus, I cannot tell you exactly what happened there or who is right and who is wrong. But the alleged events there are eerily like events reported at many other Waldorf schools, in the USA and beyond — and they are eerily like events that I personally observed at the Waldorf school I attended, many years ago. Very little changes in the Waldorf universe, or so it would seem.
If you want to understand the potential dangers of sending a child to a Waldorf school, I suggest you keep track of the situation at Waldorf Awareness [http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/]. You may decide that the blogger there is a demonic monster who lies constantly. (You might decide the same about me.) Or you may be grateful that you have found someone who will tell you hard truths about Waldorf schools. In either case, you will likely benefit from visiting the site.
From Peter Bierl's
"Cartoons and Lego, soccer, sex education and lefthandedness are treated with disdain [in Waldorf schools], and the children have to recite rhymes and verses with odd accentuations that make the recitations resemble mantra practices. There are no actual text books, and the children must copy the subject matter from the teacher’s blackboard writing. In 1998, the pedagogical research branch of the Waldorf Association published a brochure entitled 'Literature assignments for the teachers’ work at free Waldorf schools'. The booklet contains an outline of literature that 'can be turned to when preparing for the teaching of the first to the eighth grades of main lesson blocks'. There is not one single recommendation of a reliable non-fictional work on the Nazi period for history education; instead, the list includes predominantly anthroposophical works from the first half of the past century, some of which are filled with dubious stories of 'root races' and the migrations of the 'Aryans'. In the recommended books we read that Italians are merry and impulsive and lie out of courtesy; the Brit, on the other hand, is unaffected and materialistic. The Arab is depicted as hardy, passionate, callous and scheming. The Asian is considered to be decadent; he is either a choleric Mongol or a phlegmatic Malay. The Japanese lives in a light wooden house with straw roof, he always smiles enigmatically, and conceals a merciless rigour beneath the surface. Africans are childish, naïve and devout, and their origins and their instincts exert strong influences upon them. And because they are like children, they must be governed by white people. The Russian is described as quick-tempered, brutal, ruthless, violent, dominant, impatient, capricious, resigned to his fate, resistant to adversity, undependable and unpunctual.
"...Steiner’s conception of reincarnation and karma is considered the 'foundation of all genuine education'. For this reason, 'Waldorf pedagogy, in its entirety and all the way to its core, is built upon a perception of the human being that holds reincarnation and karma as central facts', wrote Valentin Wember, a Waldorf pedagogue, in the journal 'Art of Education' in 2004. Speculating on previous earth lives of other people is certainly viewed as a tactless intrusion into the private sphere; for Waldorf teachers, however, there is an exception — for them, 'cautious speculation' is allowed. Anthroposophists believe that the child’s body is moulded by forces which derive from previous earth lives. He who has lied during an earlier life, his physical being will be affected by this in his subsequent incarnation, and he will be reborn with mental impairments. 'These days, the human being is unable to really fathom the truth, and he becomes feeble-minded', writes Weber. This connection is 'a spiritual law, discovered by spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner'. The educator should imagine himself as the person who had been lied to in the previous life. He must forgive the disabled child and into the child’s mind instil the truths of spiritual life. The educator is to work off the 'karmic debt' of the children, too."
Reality really ought to be enough for us.
We don't need to invent fantastical alternative universes,
the way Steiner did.
Reality is wondrous enough.
[Drawings by Ernst Haeckel, expressing a naturalistic, not Anthroposophical, perspective;
see ART FORMS IN NATURE (Dover Publications, 1974).]
A photo from my window.
[R. R., 1995.]
I don't always see rainbows,
A photo from my back field.
And in this case, not a bad metaphor for Waldorf education:
a cactus flower — deceptively beautiful, adorning a decidedly dangerous plant.
[R. R., 2010.]
Here are excerpts from a report about Waldorf schools prepared for UNESCO
(The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).
It is informative and generally well-researched. However, it is also studded with errors,
and it suffers from a common characteristic of bureaucratic reports: striving to be evenhanded,
it tends to state pro and con positions without reaching a true conclusion.
The author is Heiner Ullrich, and the title is simply "Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)".
Rudolf Steiner’s reforming ideas still have an exceptionally strong, practical impact today in many spheres, especially in education, medicine, agriculture and the pictorial arts.  On the other hand, his theoretical scientific and philosophical writings have so far met with little interest and still less acceptance in academic circles. When his thinking does attract attention it becomes the subject of passionate controversy. Uncritical identification by his followers contrasts with polemic and sweeping criticism by the representatives of academic research. There seems to be no golden mean in the appraisal of Steiner’s conceptual world.
One reason resides in the extraordinary variety and scale of his literary and rhetorical output. His often strange and esoteric diction places practically insurmountable obstacles in the path of scientific and philosophical analysis. What is more, few critical biographies have been written about Steiner as yet. Attempts to do so tend to resemble more the nature of hagiography.
... Steiner’s cosmogony takes the basic form of the gnostic myth: man must lose his worldliness and slavish dependence on material things so that the soul and the world can rise up to self-redemption and fuse once again with the divine spiritual origins which both bear within them. Modern man lives on the fourth planetary phase of development of the earth that entails an experience of individuation and the respiritualization of the individual. Belief in Jesus Christ can be helpful at this developmental phase. Jesus is not seen by Steiner primarily as a historical figure but rather as a cosmic sun being.  As a joint reincarnation of the spirits of Buddha and Zarathustra, he represents their religious wisdom. His sacrificial death caused these forces to flow into the world. Since that event, they have made it easier for man to find the path back into the world of the spirit in his secularized and materialistic civilization.
...Steiner’s basic ideas on education were conceived in the period between 1906 and 1909 in a manner which to begin with had naturalistic overtones: Out of the essence of the developing individual, ideas on education will grow, as it were, of their own accord. However, in contrast to the path taken by Dewey and Montessori, who sought to establish their New Education on recent ideas of empirical child psychology, Steiner based his educational plan entirely on his cosmic spiritualistic anthropology: If we wish to detect the essence of the growing individual, we must set out from a consideration of the hidden nature of man as such.
... [Waldorf schools] are establishments that maintain their own financial and curricular autonomy and are characterized by a child-centered educational tendency.
...The Rudolf Steiner kindergarten has the atmosphere of a living room with a maternal educator. The guiding aims are to develop the senses by imitation and the experience of community life with a rhythmic progression.
... The Rudolf Steiner schools are continuous establishments in which the pupils learn together in stable year-groups from the first to the twelfth year of schooling, without any interruptions or repeat years.  Instead of official reports containing marks, the teachers write annual character portraits or learning reports in their own free wording.  The syllabus and method of teaching are supposed to be guided in the first instance by the genetic and organic development of the child. 
The all-round personality of the pupil is supposed to be shaped through placing the equal weight on cognitive, artistic-affective and technical-practical activities in both tuition and school life. Practical training — through agricultural activities in the school garden, handicrafts and industry — are intended to develop a practical outlook on life. 
...[T]he teachers see themselves in the first place as educators. They remain in charge of the same class for eight years as the class tutor.  The teacher gives a two-hour daily period of epoch teaching that covers one of the traditional main subjects during a four-week cycle.  Teaching takes place without standardized textbooks; the most important learning material consists of the epoch notebooks prepared by the pupils themselves.
...Rudolf Steiner schools have no headmaster.  They administer their own organizational and educational functions at weekly conferences arranged in a collegial manner.
...[T]the Steiner and Jena Plan Schools are characterized by a school atmosphere which resembles that of the home, intensive attention to school life, the continuation of the classrooms by gardens, workshops and practical courses, attention to the physical and spiritual well-being of the pupils, an emphasis on musical education, and a rhythm of school life marked by festivals and ceremonies. Parents are closely involved in school life.  The teachers see themselves primarily as persons who accompany the development of the child. All forms of compromise with bureaucratic selection criteria and state policies are outlawed.
...One of the most striking trends on the educational scene is the constant growth of international demand for Rudolf Steiner schools and kindergartens. In the past two decades, they have developed from the role of an outsider to become the leader of the international movement for a New Education. Since its inception in 1919, the Steiner school model has made its way from Germany via the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa and Australia to the great cities of Latin America and Japan.
...The Rudolf Steiner schools are not only successful in themselves. The educational results of the pupils who have attended them in Germany are also impressive. This is already reflected in the fact that in 1990 almost twice as many pupils of Rudolf Steiner schools (57.5%) attained the qualification necessary for university studies than pupils of the same year attending state schools. 
...[I]ntensive study and discussion of Steiner’s pedagogics have been in progress in educational circles in Germany for the past ten years or so. However, positions are highly controversial: they range from enthusiastic support to destructive criticism. One side emphasizes the meaningful practice of all-round education designed to meet the needs of the child and overlooks the extra-sensory anthropology of Steiner. The other side directs destructive criticism at this occult neo-mythology of education and warns against the risks of resulting indoctrination (in a world-view school); in the process, it loses an unprejudiced view of the varied practice of the Steiner schools. This position of ideological criticism is further confirmed by the assertion of the anthroposophic educationalists that all the norms and forms of their educational practice are systematically deduced from the cosmic anthropology of the master.
This, I think, is how I remember the good parts of Waldorf:
a pastel mist, attractive (once you get used to it), and warm —
but disorienting and, in the end, insubstantial.
I've based this image on the contours of the flowing
robes worn by an angelic eurythmist shown on p. 231 of
Rudolf Steiner, EURYTHMY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006).
The colors are those I remember appearing in
painting after painting created and displayed around our Waldorf school.
Sketch of one of the windows at the Goetheanum,
the Anthroposophical headquarters.
More items from the "news" page:
Disguised religious ceremonies
— such as candle-lighting ceremonies conducted along spiral paths in darkened rooms —
are often held at Waldorf schools.
[See the item reported here on 2-20-12.]
“Suncoast Waldorf School Educates the Whole Child
“Driving onto the campus of the Suncoast Waldorf School [Florida, USA] for the first time, even the setting is nontraditional. Instead of the huge concrete walls of a public school, Waldorf is beautifully landscaped, and could easily be mistaken for an antique or crafts shop.
“The ungraded private school for grades K-8 takes a nontraditional approach to education...
“The school's educational philosophy was developed in Germany by scientific philosopher [sic: read occultist spiritual leader] Rudolf Steiner during the early 1900s. He established the Anthroposophical Society to spread his teachings, which focused on the true nature of the human being...
“The Suncoast Waldorf School, at 1857 Curlew Road, has eight teachers and an enrollment of 108 students. All teachers on staff have completed a rigorous course of study at various Waldorf training institutes across the country. They all hold a Waldorf teacher certification.
“A typical student’s day at Waldorf consists of a multisensory, hands-on education that includes art, playing an instrument (either violin or flute), cooking, singing, drawing, acting and public speaking. The academic curriculum is presented in a creative, interactive manner.
“There are no textbooks or computers...” [2-29-2012 http://palmharbor.patch.com/articles/suncoast-waldorf-school-educates-the-whole-child]
This is the sort of uncritical puff piece that Waldorf schools often manage to plant in local media. Read such stuff with your b.s. detector running.
Waldorf schools are often lovely, but all the attractions serve as coverings for the spiritual / mystical / religious intentions of the schools. [See, e.g., “Spiritual Agenda” and “Magical Arts”.]
The teachers often are, indeed, graduates of Waldorf teacher training programs, and this tells us most of what we need to know about the schools. Waldorf teacher-training can be virtually indistinguishable from training to become an Anthroposophist. [See, e.g., “Teacher Training” and, for tips on what to look for when touring a Waldorf school, “Clues”.]
The “whole child,” in Waldorf belief, is a mystical fantasy. Rudolf Steiner (who was a self-professed occultist — see “Occultism”), said that children are reincarnating spirits who eventually have three invisible bodies, both souls and spirits, 12 senses, astrological identities, classical temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic), racial identities reflecting levels of spiritual advancement, and so forth. Teaching the “whole child” sounds good, but look beneath the surface when Waldorf schools employ such rhetoric. [See, e.g., “Holistic Education”.]
As for the absence of computers and textbooks — Waldorf schools generally shun modern technology and even modern knowledge, considering it to be demonic or at least potentially demonic. Fear of demons and other evil beings is laced through the Waldorf approach. [See, e.g., “Ahriman”, "Evil Ones", “Science”, “Lesson Books”, and “Materialism U.”]
The following is from a blog by a professed former Waldorf student.
I have added a few explanatory endnotes.
Beans, flutes & freedom: A critique of Steiner education.
Posted on March 4, 2013
To our Western society it is entirely self-evident that the philosophy of a man [i.e., Rudolf Steiner] who fundamentally believed that knitting prevented tooth decay is flawed. [i] Entirely flawed even. Yet Pythagoras banned the eating of beans among his followers and appears to have harboured an innate fear of crumbs. These oddities did not, however, prevent him from coming to some extraordinary truths.
The fact Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy is not really philosophy at all is perhaps by the by. Personally I think it is heavy going, garbled, shite. He is not engaged in an enquiry into truth, but rather in relaying his own beliefs which he gained through clairvoyance and insight. [ii] Such wisdom bares [sic] no relation to philosophy, although this naturally doesn’t mean that it is valueless. What it means is that we take his words at face value, without enquiring into his methods. What we have in such a case is religion, not philosophy. Steiner himself called Anthroposophy a cult [iii], as it is now labelled by many modern day [sic] critics. There is nothing wrong with a cult per se, but when a cult stars [i.e., starts] to believe that the outside world doesn’t or ought not to exist we begin to encounter problems.
Accepting for now that his work is wrong (i.e. that eurythmy is not in fact an effective cure for depression or bed wetting) [iv] doesn’t mean that the ways in which his work is enacted in the real world necessarily leads to wrong or bad things. For example I might eat fruit because I believe it will guarantee me reincarnation (not incidentally one of Steiner’s beliefs!) [v] While this is a false belief it nevertheless has good consequences in the real world, in that I eat fruit, so I am healthier and thus live longer ... [S]omething [e.g., Steiner education], even if conceived for the wrong reasons, can still have tremendous merit in the real world.
Does Waldorf work? Might Waldorf schools, by accident or coincidence or happenstance, actually provide children with positive developmental experiences despite being based on a “philosophy” that is totally bonkers?
Perhaps. Stranger things have happened.
But is it likely? No.
In evaluating Waldorf education, you need to bear in mind that Waldorf schools are not primarily intended to give children a good education. Waldorf goals are very different, and thus the standards for judging the success or failure of the Waldorf enterprise are very different. Thus, for instance, one prominent Waldorf advocate has explained that the purpose of Waldorf education is to assist children with their karmas. To decide whether a particular Waldorf school works well, then, we have to determine whether that school has improved or impeded its students' karmas. But how, precisely, do we do this? It is, to say the least, a challenge.
There are grave dangers in attempting to justify Waldorf education by claiming that, despite being based on bonkers thinking, it still has "merit in the real world." If the Nazis advocated the eating of fruit, and if the consumption of fruit soared during the Nazi era in Germany, would we conclude that Nazism was thus justified, even a little? (Bear in mind that Hitler was a vegetarian; he ate vegetables and fruits, no meat.) The small, incidental benefits achieved by Nazism are wholly outweighed by the colossal evils perpetrated by the Nazis.
Nazism is an extreme example, of course; Anthroposophy is not nearly as destructive as Nazism. But both of these mistaken belief systems produce far more harm than "merit in the real world." Indeed, the chief harm produced by Anthroposophy is that it lures people away from the real world into a phantasmagoric alternative world consisting of fantasies and superstitions. [See, e.g., "Summing Up".] Children who are inducted into that alternative world may have great difficulty ever reemerging. Some will never reemerge; some will stay forever in the Anthroposophical black hole. [See, e.g., "Who Gets Hurt?"]
Waldorf education may occasional produce some small, positive results. But it does so largely by accident, and it does so within the context of perpetrating broad-gauge harm. If we want to find educational approaches that produce widespread "merit in the real world," there are many other approaches to consider, including approaches that operate wholly in the real world. They offer far better options than an approach that fundamentally makes no sense. [See "Oh Humanity" and "Oh Man".]
To help you decide whether Waldorf education is likely to suit you and your children, here is a list of statements — all by advocates of Waldorf education (including the Great Man himself) — explaining what Waldorf schools attempt to achieve. Consider these statements carefully, please. (And keep an eye out for sensible pronouncements such as “Waldorf schools attempt to teach children real knowledge about the real world.” You won't find them on the list. Waldorf representatives usually make different sorts of statements.) If you have seen the list before — I have posted it on various pages — please just skip ahead.
[i] “Go into our needlework classes and handicraft classes at the Waldorf School, and you will find the boys knit and crochet as well as the girls ... This is not the result of any fad or whim ... [T]o drive the soul into the fingers means to promote all the forces that go to build up sound teeth.” — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUAL SCIENCE AND MEDICINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1948), lecture 17, GA 312.
[ii] Steiner’s entire body of occult teachings is the result of his claimed use of clairvoyance. The obvious problem is that clairvoyance is a delusion — it doesn’t exist. This being the case, the results of the "use" of clairvoyance are null and void. [See, e.g., “Clairvoyance”, “Exactly”, and “The Waldorf Teacher’s Consciousness”.]
[iii] This is, perhaps, questionable. Steiner said that his system, Anthroposophy, is a science — specifically, it is “spiritual science” (a term he adopted from Theosophy). Steiner denied that Anthroposophy is a religion — although sometimes he admitted it, perhaps without meaning to. E.g., "[T]he Anthroposophical Society...provides religious instruction just as other religious groups do." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 706.
[iv] Eurythmy is the mystic form of dance performed by Steiner's followers. At most Waldorf schools, all students are required to do eurythmy — for their own good, of course. It cures what ails you. [See "Eurythmy".]
[v] Steiner’s teachings are an amalgam of Western and Eastern mysticisms. Steiner assigned central importance to Christ (whom he identified as the Sun God, Hu), but his theology is polytheistic, and he asserted the truth of such un-Christian doctrines as reincarnation. Along the way, Steiner did indeed advocate the eating of fruit, but then who doesn’t?
From the Garden City News Online (New York, USA), March 1, 2013:
Waldorf School Celebrates Annual Carol Sing
On the evening of Friday, December 21st, the Waldorf School held its annual Carol Sing and Alumni Reception. Under the baton of alumna Penelope Herdt Grover ‘71 and Music Teacher Andrew Fallu, families and alumni heralded the holiday season with beautiful Christmas carols in the candle-lit [sic] gymnasium. The Carol Sing was followed by a festive holiday reception in the high school student room where close to 80 families, alumni and their families reconnected with friends and former teachers.
The Carol Sing is one of the Waldorf School’s longest and most cherished traditions - providing a peaceful interlude for individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and religions to come together. For more than 40 years, the Carol Sing has provided a gentle transition from the hectic pace of the season into the warmth of the holidays. Illuminated by the glow of candlelight, Waldorf families from the past and the present enter and leave the School’s gymnasium in silence, enhancing the peaceful mood of the evening.
This rather belated report of Yuletide activities at a Waldorf school holds points of interest. Carol Sings are often important annual events within a Waldorf community. They can be bonding experiences, bringing together past and present members of the community in a shared — and often beautiful — experience.
There is nothing inherently wrong with such events held in private schools. And indeed carol sings can be organized in such a way that adherents of “all...religions” may find them pleasant. We should note, however, that such events belie the usual claim, made by many Waldorf schools, that the Waldorf movement is not religious. Waldorf schools are actually, at their core, religious institutions, even if the doctrines of the Waldorf religion are kept more or less veiled. Sometimes, indeed, this point is conceded. Here is what a leading advocate of Waldorf education has said: "I think we owe it to our [students'] parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another [in a Waldorf school] ... [W]hen we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education." — Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz, "Waldorf Education — For Our Times Or Against Them?" (transcript of talk given at Sunbridge College, 1999).
The religion at the core of the Waldorf movement is Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy has ties to many other religions, and thus it can be made to seem more or less compatible with many belief systems. But it is closest to gnostic Christianity, and anyone who cannot give at least notional assent to the doctrines of gnostic Christianity may ultimately find Waldorf beliefs strange and even repellant. [See, e.g., “Gnosis”, “Was He Christian?”, and “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”]
On an evening when, during the Christmas season, a school auditorium is darkened, with candles providing the only illumination, and religious songs are sung — on that evening, the auditorium becomes in effect a chapel, and the school brings its faith nearer to the surface than on many other occasions during the year. Bear in mind, there are different sorts of Christmas carols. Songs about reindeer and snowmen and Santa Claus generally have little or no spiritual content or meaning. But only rarely will you hear such carols sung in Waldorf schools. Far more often, the carols sung will be closely akin to hymns.
Here are excerpts from the sorts of songs generally used in Waldorf schools. I will quote from THE WALDORF SONG BOOK (Floris Books, 1992) and THE SECOND WALDORF SONG BOOK (Floris Books, 1993), both of which were compiled by Waldorf teacher Brien Masters. To keep this report concise, I will give only a few lines from each song.
FOR ALL THE SAINTS
"For all the saints who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confest,
Thy name, O Jesus, be for ever blest."
I BIND UNTO MYSELF TODAY
(St. Patrick's Hymn)
"I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity."
UNCONQUERED HERO OF THE SKIES
"Thine aid we pray the foe to slay, Saint Michael."
ALLELUIA FOR ALL THINGS
"Of all created things, of earth and sky,
Of God and man, things lowly and high,
We sing this day with thankful heart and say,
“Ecce sacerdos magnus,
Ecce sacerdos magnus,
Qui in diebus suis,
Qui in diebus suis placuit Deo.”
[Translation: “Behold the high priest, Behold the great priest, Who in his days, Who in his days pleased God.”]
THE SEVEN JOYS OF MARY
“The first good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of one;
To see her own son, Jesus Christ,
When he was first her son,
Good man, and blessed may he be,
Both Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
To all eternity.”
PASSIONTIDE CAROL FROM ODENWALD
“O Son, dearest Son
O dearest Jesu mine,
What will become of you on Sunday?
On Sunday I shall be king
And decked in royal robes
And strewn, strewn with palms.”
Christmas is not the only occasion when such holy songs are sung in Waldorf schools. Here is part of a report by a former Waldorf student who went on to become a Waldorf teacher:
SIX FACTS ABOUT STEINER EDUCATION
Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch
are closely connected to the essay on that page;
others are not — they provide general context.
 “The recorder was invented during the Middle Ages and has remained basically unchanged. It became popular during the 1500's and 1600's and was an important part of the music of the Renaissance. By the mid-1700's, the modern flute had largely replaced the recorder.” The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia, Mac OS X Edition, Version 6.0.2.
 See, e.g., "Oh My Word".
 Waldorf schools may provide safe havens, at least against physical threats. Dire influences from outside the schools cannot be wholly ignored or excluded, however. Here are two news items from early in 2009. The first reflects a commendable undertaking: “In an effort to squelch school bullying before it begins, Sunrise Waldorf School is bringing Kim John Payne, M.Ed., an international expert on bullying, to the Cowichan Valley to teach practical playground, classroom and home based [sic] tools to foster a culture of social inclusion and respect.” — Lexi Bainas, “Anti-Bullying Expert Coming to Cowichan” (Canwest News Service, Feb. 4, 2009). The threat of bullying is real, even at a Waldorf; in this case, preventive measures were taken.
The second item, from a police log, shows weaponry finding its way inside a Waldorf, although once again prevention apparently prevailed. “Students found ammunition for a .22-caliber gun and a knife on the property of Portland Waldorf School, 2300 SE Harrison Street.” [www.oregoncitynewsonline.com/news, Feb. 4, 2009.]
In other cases, Waldorf schools may not provide the sanctuary parents hope for. Here are three troubling reports about bullying and violence at Waldorf schools, all posted early in February, 2009. (I have cleaned up some typos.) Be cautious about accepting messages like the following. I substantiate my own work with careful documentation. The following messages, more informal, are largely undocumented. Still, they seem sincere, and they may be worth considering. The first message was written by a mother who removed her child from a Waldorf school:
A former Waldorf student describes a similar situation firsthand:
The most distressing report comes from a former Waldorf parent who describes violence and bullying committed by Waldorf teachers:
 The school publishes a small magazine called The Waldorf News. Many issues include reports of sporting successes, and some list “most valuable players,” “coaches awards,” “most improved players”, and “player of the year” honors for a variety of sports. Photos suggest that winners of various sports awards received Olympic-style medals. There is an annual Sports Night Dinner — I assume this is when the awards are distributed. [See, e.g., the issue for the summer of 2007, pp. 16-17.]
The school’s e-mail newsletter, Waldorf eUpdate, also gives prominence to sporting achievements. The February, 2008 edition includes an item titled “Go Waldorf! Garden City [i.e., the Waldorf School of Garden City] Wins Big at Kimberton Tournament":
Note the implication that other Waldorf schools, participants in the tournament, may also place emphasis on sports.
 Trying for evenhandedness leads Ullrich to make some fundamental errors. Steiner's "reforms" are, at best, extremely dubious. Anthroposophical medicine is largely quackery. [See, e.g., "Growing Up Being Made sick by Anthroposophy"]. Biodynamic agriculture is a mix of astrology and magic. [See, e.g., "Biodynamics".] And Waldorf education embodies occultism and arises from a racist worldview. [See, e.g., "A Pedagogy for Aryans".]
 This is inaccurate. According to Steiner, Jesus was a human being; Christ is the Sun God, who for three years inhabited Jesus's body.
 This may be generally true, but not always. Some students at the Waldorf school I attended were held back — they left their classmates and became members of a lower grade.
 At my Waldorf school, we were given grades, and we received report cards.
 The Waldorf curriculum tends to be highly regimented. [See "The Waldorf Curriculum".]
 Actually, a common complaint about Waldorf schools is that they give students an extremely impractical outlook: They tend to implant occultism, specifically Anthroposophy.
 This is not always true. My class had one main teacher for five years, then another for three. When we went on to high school, we had a third who stayed with us for four years.
 At my Waldorf school, the "main lessons" lasted 90 minutes, not two hours, and the cycles lasted three weeks, not four.
 This may be generally true, but not always. My Waldorf had a headmaster, as did our sister school in New York City, the Rudolf Steiner School.
 Parents are often encouraged or even required to do volunteer work at the Waldorf school their children attend. On the other hand, parents are often considered outsiders who are told little about the tenets of Anthroposophy or, consequently, the rationale for the Waldorf curriculum. [See, e.g., "Faculty Meetings".]
 Evaluating Waldorf schools can be difficult. How good are the schools they are compared to? How intelligent at the students at a Waldorf school? How much help do they receive outside the school, for instance by their parents? Many, many factors can affect students' academic success. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".]