“Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the
four bodies of the human being develop and mature at different times.”
— Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli
One of the key concepts underlying Waldorf education is the proposition that children develop through a succession of seven-year-long phases. [See “Most Significant”.] And what happens during these phases? The child undergoes multiple “births,” incarnating various invisible “bodies.” The Waldorf curriculum is intended to help with these incarnations.
To start our examination of this surpassingly strange matter, let’s define some terms. According to Waldorf belief, a fully incarnated human has four bodies: a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an ego body (also called an "I" or an "ego"). Only the physical body can be seen with ordinary vision; the other three bodies are invisible. Here are descriptions of our three invisible bodies according to the Waldorf belief system, Anthroposophy. [For more, see THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA.]
etheric body, or etheric form, or etheric organism
astral body, or astral organization
I, or ego, or ego body, or ego being, or ego organization
* Of course, we have senses before the astral body fully incarnates. The process of incarnation should be seen as a gradual sequence of events that begins at the moment of physical birth if not earlier. Some aspects of the etheric body, astral body, and "I" are with us from the start, but in quite incomplete form.
OK. Having defined our terms, let’s look at some items from the Waldorf Watch “new" page. Among other advantages, this will remind us that Steiner’s occult doctrines still rule the Waldorf roost today. These "news" items also expand the discussion to include other central Waldorf beliefs. In this sense, what you are about to read presents a fairly comprehensive portrait of Waldorf schooling as it exists in the world today.
Because the items were written as separate pieces rather than as sections of a single essay, you will discover some repetition and overlap. If you come across material you are already familiar with, please just skip ahead.
Items from the News
The following items are reprinted from the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
I have modified them slightly for use here.
When parents choose and defend Steiner schooling, do they understand what they have gotten involved in? In many instances, probably not.
They may love the schools and the teachers, but often they do not know the doctrines underlying the Steiner approach.
Teachers at Steiner schools believe that children gradually incarnate three invisible bodies; the Steiner curriculum is geared to these incarnations.
The first of the invisible bodies is the "etheric body," which comes at about age seven when children lose their baby teeth.
Later the "astral body" and the "ego body" or "I" are incarnated.
At night, the astral and ego bodies fly up to the spirit realm, while the physical and etheric bodies stay earthbound.
“Here (left) we have the physical body and the ether body (yellow). It fills the whole of the physical body.
And here (right) we have the astral body, which is outside the human being at night (red). At the top it is very small and hugely bulging down below.
Then we have the I (violet). This is how we are at night. We are two people in the night."
— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 102.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on the image in the book. All four bodies reunite in the morning, as indicated by the arrows.]
But, what does this have to do with Steiner schooling? "The answer can be found in Waldorf's alternative theory of child development,
which is based on Rudolf Steiner's clairvoyant insight on the human being. The timing of [the Waldorf] proscription against reading corresponds with
the 'cutting of the teeth,' which Steiner indicated as a developmental milestone, with the incarnation of the etheric body in children.
Steiner says early reading will hinder the later spiritual development of children." — Open Waldorf, a website that essentially defends Steiner schooling.
The Steiner approach raises several questions that parents need to mull over.
Here are a few, bearing on the article excerpted below:
Do you think reading is harmful for children?
Do you believe in clairvoyance? Do you believe in the etheric body?
Or, to boil all this down:
Do you want your children to be taught reading in a timely manner, or do you want to wait for the children's etheric bodies to incarnate first?
“Her kids are set to fail at school every year until they're about 11 years old – but mum Monica Brice couldn't care less.
“Along with 151 other Wellington [New Zealand] families, Mrs Brice is imploring Education Minister Anne Tolley not to judge her children against national standards which she says will be impossible for them to meet.
“The parents of children at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School in Lower Hutt are upset their school has to implement national standards, when the holistic philosophy of Steiner education means children do not start learning to read until they are seven...
“However, the state-integrated schools have their operational costs met by the taxpayer, which means they must comply. Nationwide 55 schools are still breaking the law by not including national standards targets in their charters.
“The controversial policy benchmarks children academically against standards in years 1 to 8.
“Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School principal Karen Brice-Geard, who is on the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Schools in New Zealand, confirmed she was negotiating with the Education Ministry. ‘We are trying to find a way that we can be compliant and retain our special character.’
“Mrs Tolley said the schools chose to receive government funding rather than be private.
“National standards were not optional, and the school could explain to parents not to expect children to meet the standards straight away.” [11-5-2011 http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/5913406/Steiner-pupils-set-to-fail-standards/]
Steiner or Waldorf schools do not teach reading until the students’ “etheric bodies” incarnate at age seven, an event marked by the loss of baby teeth. [See “Incarnation”.]
If this sound nutty to you — welcome to Steiner education.
Steiner schools claim that their students catch up sooner or later, but there is little firm evidence to support this claim. According to Steiner belief, the “astral body” incarnates at about age fourteen, after which children are better able to think for themselves. Proving these strange concepts is difficult, since the etheric and astral bodies are invisible (or, to put this more sensibly: They do not exist).
When Steiner schools accept public funding, they may cause headaches for themselves, as we see in this case. Just as parents sometimes don't realize what is really going on in the Steiner schools that they find so pleasant and attractive, Steiner faculties sometimes don't realize what they are letting themselves in for when they reach into the public till.
If we accept that the educational policies put in place by education officials in various countries are based on solid research, then we must hope that the officials uphold these policies and apply them to all schools, including Steiner schools. This will force Steiner schools to make fundamental changes — in effect, it will force them to stop being Steiner schools. The alternative will be for Steiner schools to resign from public education systems — i.e., stop accepting public funding.
“I experienced another delightful and informative parent evening in my daughter’s class at the Emerson Waldorf School [North Carolina, USA] ... Our teacher then shared with us some basic information ... She explained the 3 stages of development and the role we play as parents ... Ages 0-7 — Parents are like 'priests' in the sense that we make the decisions for the schedule, the routines, the meals, the clothes, when it is play time, when it is bedtime, etc. ... Once a child starts to lose their [baby] teeth [s/he enters] a new growth phase for ages 7-14. Our role now becomes that of benevolent Queens and Kings ... By the time hormonal changes take place — for some it will be earlier than later [sic] — they will begin the next phase of development — for ages 14-21. Your role is now that of a Shepherd.” [11-26-2010 http://thiswaldorflife.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/the-parents-role/]
There is no factual basis for the notion that childhood consists of three seven-year stages, but this is one of the fallacies Waldorf schools like to promote, and it is central to the Waldorf curriculum. (Steiner emphasized the number seven because of its occult significance — he taught that seven is the number of perfection. Thus, he spoke of seven planets in the solar system and seven stages of earthly evolution. Such bogus patterns excite Steiner’s followers, who accept them as revelations of the gods' divine cosmic plan.)
You may also want to bear in mind that if you are a “priest” for your child, Waldorf teachers consider themselves higher priests (bishops, as it were), passing the Word to you. You supervise your child while Waldorf teachers supervise you. (Notice how the blogger refers to her child’s teacher as “our teacher” — one who instructs both child and parent.) The overriding Waldorf attitude toward parents is that, until they are fully lured into the Anthroposophical universe, parents are outsiders who should be told as little as possible about what really happens inside Waldorf schools. [See. e.g., “Faculty Meetings”.]
"A word from the teacher: Our school follows the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner ... The aim of our school is to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find joy in learning and develop the confidence they need to express themselves and discover the world around them. The curriculum gives equal importance to a child's physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. It is designed to work in harmony with the different phases of the child's development." [10-11-2010 http://www.thisisexeter.co.uk/news/School-wants-children-discover-joy-learning/article-2741320-detail/article.html]
It is always difficult to determine when a Waldorf or Steiner representative is telling the simple truth and when s/he is dissembling. The account given by this teacher may be perfectly sincere, or it may be a set of misleading remarks concealing a deep commitment to Anthroposophical occultism. For instance, does this teacher not realize that describing Steiner as an "Austrian philosopher" omits 99% of the truth about him? In truth, Steiner was a self-professed occultist, a clairvoyant mystic who claimed to communicate with the dead and comprehend the intentions of the gods.
Or consider this: The “spiritual needs” of children can be met only if some form of spiritual belief system is used. At a Waldorf school, this will almost certainly be Anthroposophy (with its doctrines of karma, reincarnation, spiritual evolution, racial hierarchies, demonic possession, and so forth). Likewise, the “phases” of childhood can be comprehended only as seen through the prism of a particular theory of childhood development. At Waldorf schools, this usually means thinking that children go through seven-year-long phases during which invisible bodies manifest, innate links to life before birth (and previous incarnations) grow dim, new clairvoyant powers begin to develop, racial identity and “temperament” assert themselves, demons or hidden doubles wrestle with guardian angels, and so on.
It is possible to read too much into statements coming out of Waldorf schools, but it is also possible to read too little into them. The root cause is that the schools have a long history of intentional deceit, begun by Steiner himself at the first Waldorf school. Don’t tell outsiders what we do here, he said repeatedly, don’t shout out our secrets. [See "Secrets".]
“The former Gold Ridge Elementary School campus in Rohnert Park next fall will become home to the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the North Bay [California, USA] ... The Waldorf name is trademarked and affiliated with private schools that adhere to a philosophy of an arts-heavy curriculum that is based on a student’s natural developmental progress.” [2-1-2011 http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110201/ARTICLES/110209945/1350?Title=Rohnert-Park-sponsors-Waldorf-style-charter-high-school]
Many well-intentioned people are drawn to Waldorf schooling. Some of them know what Waldorf schools are really about; many do not, at least not initially.
Why do Waldorf schools emphasize art? Because, according to Waldorf belief, art helps prepare students to develop clairvoyance. “The artistic element, then, begins to be the guide to the first stage of exact clairvoyance — that of imagination.” — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 64. [See, e.g., "Magical Arts".]
What are the developmental stages children pass through, according Waldorf belief? They are seven-year-long phases during which children recapitulate the spiritual evolution of mankind during Old Saturn and other “planetary stages.” “If you recall the teachings of Spiritual Science on the subject of the education of the child you will know that in the first seven-year period of life...man develops principally the physical body ... [T]his is really a recapitulation of what man underwent on Old Saturn ... The second of the seven-year periods...is a recapitulation of what man underwent on Old Sun ... The third seven-year period...recapitulates the development of the astral body that normally belongs to the Old Moon epoch.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 68. [See, e.g., "Matters of Form", "Old Saturn", "Old Sun", and "Old Moon".]
Gravitate to Waldorf schools if you like. But do it with your eyes open. [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".]
Waldorf teachers believe that each human being develops four bodies,
three of them invisible. The physical body (shown schematically in red)
incarnates at birth; the etheric body (blue) at age seven,
the astral body (yellow) at age fourteen, and the "I" at age twenty-one.
[R. R. sketch, 2009, based on one by Steiner. See, e.g., "Waldorf's Purpose".]
Since arriving here on Earth, Steiner taught, humans have passed through four
major developmental stages or epochs: the Polarian, Hyperborean,
Lemurian, and Atlantean epochs. In the fourth of these, we lived on Atlantis,
having abandoned the earlier continent of Lemuria.
“If we were to journey back through time to the age that links Lemuria with Atlantis,
we would meet with a remarkable sight: gigantic flying lizards with a lantern on their heads...”
— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), pp. 130-131.
(This quotation doesn't tell us much about developmental stages,
but it tells us a lot about Steiner and his credulous followers.)
[R. R. sketch, 2009, based on one by Steiner. See, e.g., "Prehistory 101".]
In Waldorf belief, human evolution began during a period called Old Saturn,
which is represented by the sphere on the upper left, above.
Following life on Old Saturn, we evolved on Old Sun and Old Moon.
We are now in an intensely physical phase called Present Earth (the fourth sphere, above).
Hanging below Present Earth is a phase that Anthroposophists generally do not like to discuss —
it is the dreadful Eighth Sphere, a place or phase analogous to hell.
Those humans who do not descend to the Eighth Sphere
will move upward to Future Jupiter, Future Venus, and finally Future Vulcan.
(And beyond those there are additional stages so wondrous that Steiner rarely discussed them.)
[R. R. sketch, 2011, based on one by Steiner. See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".]
The Waldorf approach does indeed provide one possible form of homeschooling. Know what you are getting involved in, however. The “gentleman” Rudolf Steiner was not a scientist. He was an occultist. [See “Occultism”.] And the “developmental stages” he described are complex and numerous.
“If you are in the midst of searching for the type of homeschooling that is right for you and your children you are most likely have run into various options such as Classical, Montessori, and another popular method called Waldorf. Waldorf education has its roots in a gentleman named Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian scientist who had a philosophy about developmental stages that ended up created [sic] what we now know [sic] as the Waldorf method of homeschooling.” [1-31-2011 http://freeessays.essay-911.com/search/early_child_education.html]
The various stages are recapitulated in various ways during various lives (we have many, many lives, according to Waldorf belief: We reincarnate over and over). “[I]ndividual evolution...tends to recapitulate general human evolution....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GENIUS OF LANGUAGE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 105.
At the simplest level, Steiner taught, children develop through a series of seven-year-long stages during which various bodies incarnate and develop.
At a more general level, Waldorfers believe, humans have passed through four major developmental stages during our life here on Earth: the Polarian, Hyperborean, Lemurian, and Atlantean great epochs. We are currently in the fifth or "Post-Atlantean" epoch.
At the macro level, Steiner taught, we have passed through three "planetary stages" of evolution: Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon. We are now in the fourth planetary stage: Present Earth. Yet to come: Future Jupiter, Future Venus, and Future Vulcan.
The overall Waldorf scheme of developmental stages is complex, but don't worry about it. None of it is based in verifiable fact. It is all moonshine. In providing homeschooling, you may attempt to use Waldorf methods without adopting the Waldorf belief system. But the methods make little sense without the beliefs — the methods are designed specifically to apply Steiner beliefs to the education of children. [See "Methods".] If you believe the occult doctrines of Rudolf Steiner, fine. But if you don’t, you should realize that Waldorf is probably the wrong approach for you.
"A Stitch in Time Teaches New Skills - Part of school's curriculum is knitting, sewing and cross stitching, which shows them how to be patient and gives a way to bond with their families ... The second-grade class at the Waldorf School of Orange County [California, USA] was practicing knitting skills Thursday afternoon in a bi-weekly handwork class ... The private school, tucked away near the Talbert Nature Preserve, incorporates handwork into its curriculum. The school starts students in first grade with weaving and knitting, and trains students to build upon such skills with each grade, said handwork teacher Angie Meier.” [1-23-2011 http://www.dailypilot.com/news/tn-dpt-0123-itc-20110122,0,3347736.story]
I wonder if the reporter got this quite right ("bi-weekly handwork class"). Kids at most Waldorf schools engage in some form of handwork — knitting, crocheting, and so forth — almost every day. Outsiders are often surprised that handwork forms such a large part of the Waldorf curriculum. The schools give all sorts of justifications for such activities, some of which make perfect sense. What the schools usually do not admit is the occult reason for handwork. (If you are new to the Waldorf world, the following will seem surpassing strange. But that, in and of itself, is a useful insight to acquire about Waldorf thinking.) Rudolf Steiner, the ultimate authority for all things Waldorf, taught that handwork has a spiritual effect on the teeth. (I kid you not.) “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.
Now, teeth are very important in the Waldorf worldview. Steiner taught that human beings are born four times: once when the physical body is born, again when the invisible “etheric body” is born, a third time when the invisible “astral body” is born, and a fourth time when the invisible “I” is born. Waldorf teachers believe that the etheric body is born or incarnated at about age seven. They usually refrain from teaching their students reading and arithmetic until the kids’ etheric bodies arrive. And how do Waldorf teachers know when this invisible (indeed, imaginary) event has come to pass? They use "clairvoyance" and other techniques, but mostly they study the kids' teeth. The etheric body announces its arrival through the replacement of the kids’ baby teeth by adult teeth. (Or so Waldorf teachers believe.)
This silliness is actually fundamental to the Waldorf approach. “Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being develop and mature at different times ... According to Steiner, one of the indicators of the birth or emancipation of the etheric body is the loss of the child's baby teeth, which takes place at the age of seven.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.
Note that Waldorf education is "based" on these weird concepts.
"A new education centre using the principles of an Austrian teaching pioneer has opened its doors in a village near Bath [UK]. The Steiner kindergarten, which encourages children aged up to seven to learn at their own pace, has started work in Peasedown St John. The Laurel Farm nursery is based in an old Buddhist temple at Carlingcott, which has been converted into a classroom, and also has easy access to the nearby farm animals and nature area." [1-13-2011 http://www.thisisbath.co.uk/education/Alternative-kindergarten-opens-Buddhist-temple/article-3093394-detail/article.html]
As I have pointed out before, whenever Steiner or Waldorf schooling is described without including explicit references to occultism, you know that much is being concealed. [See. e.g., "Secrets".] In Steiner schools, children up to the age of seven are kept in a pleasant haze of play, fairy tales, and myths. This is done for a specific — and occult — reason. The teachers are waiting for the children's "etheric bodies" to incarnate. If this sounds screwy to you, you have just learned something important about Steiner education. [For information about etheric bodies, astral bodies, and other occult concepts inherent in Steiner schooling, you might consult THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA.]
“Over and above the physical body, spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] recognizes a second essential principle in Man: it is that which Steiner usually refers to as the ‘etheric body,’ though he sometimes refers to it as the ‘life-body’ or ‘formative-forces-body’ ... [T]he etheric body is accessible to investigation only to [i.e., by] those who have developed the necessary higher organs of perception.” — Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p.26. The "necessary organs of perception" are invisible "organs of clairvoyance." Waldorf education hinges to an amazing extent on belief in clairvoyance (which, sadly, does not exist). [See "Clairvoyance".] Yes, I know, this is screwy. But we're discussing Steiner education. [See, e.g., "Holistic Education".] The full incarnation of the etheric body is signaled by the loss of baby teeth — an event accorded preposterous significance in Steiner schools.
"Oak Meadow is touted by many as a secular Waldorf inspired curriculum and for many it is Waldorf enough. However, for people who want a true Waldorf education this program has disappointed many. The benefits of the program are that they don't push the child to learn too much too fast ... The program is laid back and not rigorous ... The concept of the curriculum is fantastic, but the reality is that it is not exactly how the curriculum turns out to be. For example, in 2nd grade reading you are barely getting past reading 3 letter words. Some people love it and others really dislike it. If you don't mind things moving at a slow pace then you will probably be in the first group.” [2-6-2011 http://hubpages.com/hub/Oak-Meadow]
Oak Meadow is a Waldorf education center offering online instruction as well as homeschooling materials.
The crucial question — one that bears on the efforts to create Waldorf charter schools and free schools — is whether it is possible to create a “secular” curriculum based on the Waldorf model. Waldorf teacher training usually includes extensive instruction in Anthroposophical occultism. [See, e.g., “Teacher Training".] Steiner himself stated that Waldorf teachers should be “true Anthroposophists” who are deeply devoted to the Anthroposophical worldview. [See, e.g., “Here’s the Answer”.] Efforts to make Waldorf schooling seem unconnected to occultism have usually been little more than ploys. Advocates of Waldorf education are quite aware of the need for good public relations. [See, e.g., "PR".]
If you try to strip the occultism out of the Waldorf approach, what are you left with? Very little. Every part of the Waldorf curriculum and Waldorf methodology is rooted in occultism. [See, e.g., “Curriculum” and “Methods”.] The reason kids aren’t taught to read until they are seven, for instance, is that Waldorf teachers are waiting for the kids' “etheric bodies” to incarnate. If you don’t believe in such occult nonsense as etheric bodies, then there is no reason to postpone reading lessons. Indeed, postponing such lessons may be permanently harmful, depriving children of the benefits of early-childhood education.
Waldorf schools emphasize art (for occult reasons — see “Magical Arts”), they put little academic pressure on the students (for occult reasons — see “Academic Standards at Waldorf” and "Thinking Cap"), they emphasize fairy tales and myths (for occult reasons — see “Fairy Tales” and “The Gods”), they aim to educate the whole child (for occult reasons — see “Holistic Education”), and so on. You can imitate these procedures, and perhaps your children will derive benefits. Certainly art is a good thing, and kids should not be pushed too hard, and myths are often quite nice, and educating the heart and hands as well as the head sounds right. But you don’t need to turn to Waldorf schools to make such decisions. A better strategy is to get to know your children, understand what they need, and try to provide it.
"Secular" Waldorf programs are generally geared to the occult agenda of Waldorf education — manifestation of the etheric body, manifestation of the astral body, development of initial stages of clairvoyance, etc. — without say so. In other words, they are not secular at all; they have generally misrepresented themselves. But this is standard for all types of Waldorf schools — they almost always conceal their purposes. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] It is not hard to dig below the Oak Meadow surface to find Steiner's occultism. Thus, the most significant of Steiner's educational principles is that children develop through three seven-year stages. [See "Most Significant".] In the first stage, children develop their physical bodies and their wills; in the second stage, children develop their etheric bodies while living mainly through their emotions; in the the third stage, when they develop their astral bodies and they finally gain the ability to start thinking for themselves. While avoiding the weirdest parts of this terminology, Oak Meadow embraces the schedule: "
Oak Meadow's attitude toward computers is intricate. "[T]he workplace of the future will require good computer skills. Therefore, we want Oak Meadow students to learn to use computers effectively." ["Oak Meadow and Computers" [http://www.oakmeadow.com/resources/articles/oms-computers.php].] But typical Anthroposophical concerns nonetheless crop up. • Oak Meadow suggests that children not use computers until they are at least 11 or 12 years old. • The school worries that computers may inhibit "[l]earning that transforms the individual, which is the kind of learning Oak Meadow encourages." • And the school is concerned that using computers "tends to inhibit the development of the will and the integration of mind and body." ["Homeschooling and Computers", http://www.oakmeadow.com/resources/articles/homeschooling-computers.php].] In Anthroposophy, the will is considered a separate faculty [see "Will"], and the integration of mind and body is part of the overall process of incarnation that lies at the heart of Waldorf schooling. Computers, and indeed all forms of modern technology, are viewed askance; they are generally associated with the demon Ahriman. [See "Ahriman".]
Disclosure statement: Lawrence Williams, of Oak Meadow, taught at the Waldorf school I attended, but not during my years there. I don't think I ever met him. He greatly admired our headmaster, John Fentress Gardner: "“There was nothing in Rudolf Steiner that [famed American authors] Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman would not have approved wholeheartedly.” — John Fentress Gardner, “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School,” ONE MAN’S VISION: In Memoriam, H.A.W. Myrin (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1970), p. 46. Many years after the school was founded, Mr. Gardner' stated his purpose this way: "I minimized the difference between a Waldorf school and other schools ... As soon as fundamental questions began to be answered plainly, wild rumors and frightened guesses [about the nature of Waldorf education] quieted down.” [Ibid., p. 48.] Sadly, many of Mr. Gardner's "plain" answers were untrue.
In responding to news items, and elsewhere, I often generalize about Waldorf schools. There are fundamental similarities among Waldorf schools; I describe the schools based on the evidence concerning their structure and operations in the past and — more importantly — in the present. But not all Waldorf schools, Waldorf charter schools, and Waldorf-inspired schools are wholly alike. To evaluate an individual school, you should carefully examine its stated purposes, its practices (which may or may not be consistent with its stated purposes), and the composition of its faculty.
— Roger Rawlings
The following items are from "Daily Quotes",
a feature of the "news" page,
preserved now at the Waldorf Watch Annex.
"Rudolf Steiner intended Waldorf education to be a preparation for life ... Education should follow human nature, should orient itself to the universal nature of the developing human being, whilst addressing the specific needs of individuals in their time and space.” — Martyn Rawson, foreword to Anthroposophist Francis Edmunds’ AN INTRODUCTION TO STEINER EDUCATION (Sophia Books, 2004), p. xiii.
Waldorf schools have high and noble purposes, and they are generally staffed by conscientious, well-meaning individuals. Good intentions, however, are not necessarily sufficient. Is the Waldorf view of the world and of human nature realistic? Is it rooted in true knowledge?
The “preparation for life” offered by Waldorf schools centers on an idea that Waldorf faculties consider fundamental but that the rest of humanity may deem nonsense. A child is properly prepared for life, according to Waldorf belief, only when his/her invisible bodies are incarnated. The etheric body generally incarnates at about age seven, the astral body at about age fourteen, and the “I” at about age twenty-one. Much of what happens in Waldorf schools is predicated on this idea. Unless you consider the idea true, Waldorf education may not suit you or your child.
What is “the universal nature of the developing human being”? In part, it is what we have just seen: the incarnation of invisible bodies to supplement the physical body. But the Waldorf view of human nature is even more involuted and fantastical. [For an overview, see “Holistic Education” and "Our Parts".] Fundamentally, according to Waldorf belief, we are the central spiritual beings in the universe [see “The Center”], worshipped by the gods, evolving from Saturn to Vulcan and beyond [see “Everything”], where/when we will ultimately become God the Father. This is all quite flattering, but to believe it you must subscribe — as most Waldorf teachers do — to Rudolf Steiner’s occult doctrines.
How about “the specific needs of individuals in their time and space”? How well do Waldorf schools respect and address the students’ individual needs? According to Waldorf belief, each individual has lived many previous lives, and s/he arrives in this life with a karma that needs to be fulfilled. In addition, s/he has a “temperament” (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic) that must be respected (class assignments, seating, etc., will be based at least in part on “temperament” [see “Temperaments”]). Moreover, each child is a member of a racial group, and this membership crucially reflects her/his level of spiritual evolution. (Steiner taught that blacks are the least evolved, whites are the most — see “Races”].) To an unfortunate degree, Waldorf schools treat students not as individuals but as members of various categories, and quite often the schools' attitudes on these matters are benighted. (The most unfortunate children, according to Waldorf belief, are those who are not really human beings at all but demons in disguise. Such kids are likely to be expelled, since, as Steiner said, "We cannot...create a school for demons." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 650.)
Waldorf schools have high and noble purposes, but their view of the world and of human nature is deeply unrealistic — and this view informs everything about the schools.
Waldorf education is based on the idea that we develop four bodies.
But it also depends on other occult doctrines, such as reincarnation.
[R. R., 2009.]
"[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers too will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information....” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.
Waldorf schools aim to benefit children in a number of ways, few of which have much to do with education.
• The overall curriculum is designed to help children incarnate on a fixed schedule (etheric body by age seven*, astral body by age fourteen, “I” by age twenty-one**).
• A basic objective is helping students fulfill their karmas so that they can evolve properly. (As Easton indicates, reincarnation is a basic Waldorf belief.)
• An effort is also made to maintain children’s supposed innate connections with the spirit realm.
• Magical forms of thought (imagination, intuition, inspiration) are emphasized — they are meant to lead toward development of clairvoyance.
• A warm, hazy love of the mystical and fabulous is encouraged, in the hope that students will, as adults, become full-fledged Anthroposophists.
• Arts are emphasized because Steiner said they provide direct avenues to the spirit realm.
• Science is de-emphasized because Steiner associated it with the dreadful demon Ahriman. [See “Ahriman”.]
• Children are classified by race and “temperament,” and the schools endeavor to help the kids overcome the “drawbacks” of the races and temperaments to which they belong. [See “Races” and “Humouresque”.]
None of this makes a particle of sense except to committed occultists. And very little of it has any connection to what we normally think of as education.*** Certainly, Waldorf teachers do not "cram" their students with information. The less a Waldorf student is exposed to real knowledge of the real world, the better Waldorf teachers will be able to pursue their aims.
* Completion of this stage is signaled by the replacement of baby teeth with adult teeth — a process given extraordinary importance by Anthroposophists.
** Anthroposophists believe that in addition to a physical body, a fully developed human being has an etheric body (essentially a constellation of life forces), an astral body (soul forces), and an "I" (spirit forces that realize divine human individuality). According to Waldorf belief, the latter three bodies are invisible; they can be discerned only through clairvoyance. They incarnate gradually, through a series of seven-year-long phases. [See “Most Significant”.]
*** Indeed, little of it is clearly revealed in standard Waldorf PR mottoes: The schools say they educate “head, heart, and hands,” and they claim to equip students for "freedom." [See "Holistic Education" and "Freedom".] As descriptions of Waldorf methods and objectives, such statements are fundamentally misleading unless they are accompanied by detailed expositions of Anthroposophical doctrines.
"If you recall the teachings of Spiritual Science on the subject of the education of the child you will know that in the first seven-year period of life, between birth and the change of teeth, man develops principally the physical body ... [T]his is really a recapitulation of what man underwent on Old Saturn ... The second of the seven-year periods from the ages of seven to fourteen...is a recapitulation of what man underwent on Old Sun ... The third seven-year period covers the years between fifteen and twenty-one. During this period man recapitulates the development of the astral body that normally belongs to the Old Moon epoch.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 68.
Waldorf schooling has only a tangential connection with the real world and real knowledge about the real world. Much if not all of what happens in Waldorf schools is keyed to bizarre occult doctrines.
Allow me to try, in as few words as possible, to explain the Waldorf conception of humanity’s past. Thus far, we have evolved through three “Conditions of Consciousness” or “Planetary Stages” — i.e., major evolutionary phases — which are named for "planets" (Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon). We became progressively more physical at each stage, and now on Present Earth we are about as densely physical as possible.* In the future, we will become less and less physical and more and more spiritual as we evolve through additional Conditions of Consciousness (Future Jupiter, Future Venus, Future Vulcan, and beyond).
Each Condition of Consciousness contains seven Conditions of Life, each of which contains seven Stages of Form, each of which contains seven Epochs, each of which contains seven Ages. (The terms vary from Condition to Condition, but the pattern does not.**) As we move along through these stages and sub-stages, we repeatedly recapitulate — in altered form — the stages and sub-stages we passed through previously. Cumulatively, we progress, although certainly not in a straight line. We sharpen our capacities, and develop new capacities, as we go, so that in the future we may rise to higher and higher states of perfection.
In the Present Earth Condition of Consciousness we are now in the fourth Condition of Life, the Mineral Condition (very densely physical indeed). Like all the other Conditions of Life, the Mineral Condition contains Stages of Form ranging from Higher Spiritland to the Archetypal Stage of Higher Spiritland (a recapitulation with improvements). We are presently in the Physical Stage of Form (very very densely physical indeed indeed).
There are or will be seven Epochs or Great Epochs in this Stage of Form. So far we have passed through the Polarian, Hyperborean, Lemurian, and Atlantean Epochs. We are currently in the Post-Atlantean Epoch (i.e., the period following the sinking of Atlantis — yes, Atlantis).
Each Epoch consists of (you guessed it) seven sub-epochs. In our Post-Atlantean Epoch, these sub-epochs are called Cultural Ages or Cultural Epochs. Our current Cultural Epoch — known as the Anglo-Germanic Age, or simply as the Present — falls between the Greco-Roman Age and the Russian Age. (Don't worry — the Russian Age will be followed by the American Age.)
Cultural Epochs are divided into fairly brief (350-year) periods, which in turn are divided into very brief (33-year) cycles. (The math doesn't quite work out, but let it go.) Each Condition and Epoch and period along the way is presided over by various gods, and during each we spin through repetitions (with improvements) of all the prior Conditions and Epochs and periods.
OK? Got it? Few Waldorf teachers will lay out much of this for the students, at least not openly. But this is what devout Waldorf teachers believe and, directly or indirectly, it informs almost all of their work. [If you’d like more information on all of this imaginary history — which Anthroposophists take for reality — see, e.g., “Matters of Form” and “Everything”. “Steiner Static” and the “THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA” are also, I hope, informative. To sample the teachings of a Waldorf educator who openly lays Anthroposophical occultism on his students, see "Out in the Open".]
* Anyone who becomes even more physical than we should be will fall into a sphere analogous to hell: the "Eighth Sphere". [See "Sphere 8".]
** Different labels may apply to some of these subdivisions in some macro-devisions. We can be a little loose in our terminology, since all of this is fantasy.
“We can observe the child’s growth until the time of its second dentition around the seventh year. Far more than one generally thinks is connected with this second dentition. If we observe the soul-bodily processes in an unprejudiced way, we can see that after the second dentition the child’s whole way of thinking, its whole life of representation and feeling, in fact the whole life of the soul, undergoes a complete change.” — Rudolf Steiner, PATHS TO KNOWLEDGE OF HIGHER WORLDS (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1947), GA 79.
* The upper-school curriculum is built around the idea that a second fundamental change occurs in children at age fourteen. At that time, according to Waldorf belief, the "astral body" incarnates.
A child’s seventh birthday is highly important in Waldorf schools. At age seven, Waldorf teachers generally believe, a child’s "etheric body" is incarnated. The child then moves from the first stage of growth (a period of seven years during which the will and the physical body predominate) into the second stage (a period of seven years during which the emotions predominate and the etheric body is developed). The Waldorf lower-school curriculum is built around this concept.*
Several problems leap out. For one, there is no such thing as an etheric body. For another, there is no objective evidence that “the child’s whole way of thinking” changes at or around the seventh birthday. And for yet another, the notion that the “second dentition” (i.e., the replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth) occurs at or around age seven is incorrect. Most adult teeth don’t arrive until about age eleven, and some don’t arrive until age twenty-one.**
Even if we extend every possible courtesy to Steiner, stipulating that by “second dentition” he meant the arrival of the first adult tooth — which on average happens between ages six and seven — our main objections remain. There is no etheric body, nor is there any reason to think that children change profoundly when the adult teeth start appearing.***
So why all the fuss at Waldorf schools about age seven? Steiner liked to group phenomena in sets of seven and twelve because he claimed that these numbers possess occult, magical significance. [See “Magic Numbers”.] Thus, Steiner built the Waldorf curriculum around the number seven. But dividing things according to occult fantasies about numbers is arbitrary and meaningless. Steiner was making things up, spinning them out of his occult imagination, with no regard for reality or truth. If he believed his teachings on such points, he was deluding himself — just as his followers delude themselves now in accepting his teachings.
The truth about the design of the Waldorf curriculum is plain. The design is truthless (or should I say toothless?). In truth, there is no truth in it.
** See, for instance, the “Permanent Tooth Eruption Chart” put out by the American Dental Association. It shows that various adult (“permanent”) teeth come in (“erupt”) at various times, from around the sixth year of life up to around the twenty-first year. [http://www.ada.org/sections/publicResources/pdfs/chart_eruption_perm.pdf] Using the data provided by this dental authority, we can see that the average date for the arrival of an adult tooth is slightly less than eleven years, which is more than half way into the Waldorf-fantasized second stage of childhood (ages seven to fourteen).
*** We have bent over too far to accommodate Steiner. Note the following: “[I] the first seven-year period of life, between birth and the change of teeth, man develops principally the physical body.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 68. Here, Steiner is clearly saying that adult teeth replace baby teeth ("the change of teeth") at age seven, as if the entire process is completed at that time.
Let’s look a bit more deeply into Steiner’s dental doctrines. Steiner taught that the arrival of adult teeth marks a stage when various forces that had been needed by the physical body can be redirected to higher purposes. “After the second dentition, the human being no longer requires certain forces for the development of his physical organism which he formerly required. The forces which push out (if I may use this trivial expression) the second teeth are not merely localised in the human head, but they are forces which work in the whole body....” — Rudolf Steiner, PATHS TO KNOWLEDGE OF HIGHER WORLDS. But the forces that "push out" the adult teeth have by no means finished this work by age seven. Unfortunately for Steiner's teachings and the Waldorf curriculum [see "Curriculum"], the forces that “push out” adult teeth are still slaving away in the physical body until about age twenty one, which is the end of the Waldorf-fantasized third stage of childhood (ages fourteen to twenty-one). In sum, Steiner’s numbers don’t add up. Or, to frame this more broadly, Steiner used little or no real information to reach conclusions that make little or no sense.
(P.S. The Waldorf conception of the third stage of childhood may seem to make more sense than the conception of the first two stages. Stage #3 corresponds, roughly, to the period beginning with puberty and ending with the attainment of adulthood. But in reality puberty comes at widely varying ages for different individuals, and the threshold of adulthood is a legal or cultural convention — different societies draw the line at different ages.)
At Waldorf schools, there is a “fundamental polarity between teacher and parents. ... [T]he role of the teachers [is] to take primary responsibility for the incarnation of the child ... [T]he teacher is the king or queen of their classroom.” The role of the parents is quite difference. Parents should always ask themselves “What can I do for you [i.e., the school].” This means identifying “the concrete tasks which serve to embody the school in the community.”
When teachers take their role to extremes, “it becomes ‘Luciferic,’ tending toward dogmatism, pride, and exclusivity.” When parents overstep their bounds, their activity “becomes ‘Ahrimanic,’ and can be characterized by attempts to control, power-plays, and manipulation.” — Waldorf educator Robert Schiappacasse, essay #1 in ADMINISTRATIVE EXPLORATIONS: Essays on Business Practices within Waldorf Schools (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2000), pp. 6-8.
Schiappacasse identifies two overarching goals of Waldorf education: “Incarnating the Child” and “Incarnating the School.”* Teachers have primary responsibility for the former (the “spiritual/cultural pillar” of the school), parents have primary responsibility for the latter (the “economic pillar” — i.e., providing the money the school needs).
* According to Waldorf belief, children incarnate three invisible bodies; the main task of a Waldorf teacher is to supervise this process. A Waldorf school is “incarnated” when it is given physical form thanks, in large measure, to the financial support provided by students’ parents.
[R. R., 2011.]
“[T]he purpose of education is to help the individual fulfill his karma. The teacher is an intermediary and his task is to guide the incarnating individualities into the physical world and equip them for earthly existence, bearing in mind what they bring with them from the past and what they are likely to take with them into the future.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
Anthroposophical/Waldorf beliefs derive, ultimately, from the strange teachings promulgated by a disparate array of mystics and spiritualists. Rudolf Steiner read widely in esoteric texts, extracting concepts that he wove into his own evolving belief system. Here are definitions and explications of some terms used in the wider occult community. Bear in mind that beliefs found outside Anthroposophy do not serve, in and of themselves, as validations of Anthroposophy. False ideas held by one group do not validate the similar false beliefs held by another group. Steiner drew from longstanding occult traditions — untrue though they are — and his teachings have, in turn, fed back into the welter of today's occult creeds. Bear in mind, too, that the following passages are not wholly consistent with Anthroposophical teachings — some diverge a considerable distance — nor do they fully agree with one another (indeed, some contradict others). These passages serve, at most, to sketch a broad swath of occult beliefs that provide the context of Steiner's own occult teachings.
THE WIDER OCCULT COMMUNITY
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
•• ◊◊◊ ••
Like many of the sources from which it draws, Anthroposophy is a complex, multi-layered body of teachings. Such complexity can be alluring. A single falsehood, standing alone, may be readily pierced and rejected; it has little power to sway us. But a rich tapestry of untruths, multicolored and vibrant, may exert a powerful, persistent attraction.
Anthroposophy — like many other occult systems — offers us an intricately detailed alternative reality. The susceptible may lose themselves within it — they may plunge into its fabulous landscapes and remain for the rest of their days in a world that is far removed from what the rest of humanity would call reality.
Here is another item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
"Hi, There is a Waldorf inspired homeschool group forming in the Cazenovia area [New York, USA]. So far. we are two families with 9 kid (8 and under) between us and are both following Christopherus for the first time. Looking for others who are inspired by the Waldorf philosophy. Ideas are welcome on structure of group." [8-31-2011 http://syracuse.craigslist.org/grp/2575806524.html]
Homeschooling is a growing movement, and while its attractions are clear, the movement also has some obvious drawbacks. Children benefit enormously from the attention of highly qualified, master teachers — if and when these can be found. Many schools have at least a few expert teachers. Most parents do not have real qualifications as educators.
A second possible drawback is isolation, sometimes bordering on escapism. A real education will equip a child to make her way in the real world. It will also expose the child to many points of view and to people of various backgrounds. Staying home with one's parent and a select handful of neighborhood children can confine a child to a highly insular and perhaps unrealistic worldview.
Waldorf homeschooling may only intensify these problems. Waldorf education is almost always escapist, being founded on occult doctrines that have no connection to reality. [See "Occultism".] The Waldorf curriculum and Waldorf methods have meaning only in the context of Rudolf Steiner's occult system, Anthroposophy. [See "Curriculum" and "Methods".] One central goal of Waldorf schooling is to facilitate the incarnation of the children's invisible spiritual bodies. [See "Incarnation".] Trained Waldorf teachers presumably know (or think they know) how to supervise this process; others do not possess this presumed knowledge.
Steiner said that Waldorf teachers need to be real Anthroposophists. [See "Here's the Answer".] Thus, Waldorf homeschooling truly makes sense only if the parents providing the education are knowledgeable Anthroposophists (and even then the schooling will be irrational, since Anthroposophy is irrational).* [See "The World of Waldorf".] Other parents attempting Waldorf homeschooling may have little idea what they are doing and, as a consequence, chaos may result. In either case, children may be significantly harmed.
Christopherus is an outfit offering homeschooling materials and guidance [http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/home.html]. Another such source is Oak Meadow. [http://www.oakmeadow.com/].
* “You will injure children if you educate them rationally because you will then utilize their will [power] in something they have already completed — namely, life before birth.” [Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.]
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 1. WALDORF EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW ◊◊◊