"[T]each the children respect. The children should not raise their hands so much."
— Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER
(Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.






METHODS

How They Try to Do It

by Roger Rawlings


including

The Pernicious Role of Imitation

by Grégoire Perra




Might the methods used in Waldorf schools actually work, at least sometimes? Sure. But any such successes would be largely accidental and would have nothing to do with the occult purposes that Rudolf Steiner pronounced and his followers pursue.


I’ve had the disconcerting experience of discussing Waldorf education with old friends who took a very different path in life than I’ve taken: They became Waldorf teachers. Sometimes they have insisted that Steiner really saw to the core of various educational issues. Sometimes they have told me that when they took Waldorf teacher training, they focused on Steiner’s pearls of wisdom while tuning out all the occult stuff.


The problem is that the occult stuff is the very essence of Steiner’s educational doctrines. Waldorf schools are not really meant to educate children — they have mystical goals, such as nudging the kids toward clairvoyance, helping them to incarnate their invisible bodies, assisting them with their karmas, preparing them for future spiritual evolution, and the like. All Waldorf “educational” methods aim at these goals, which are elements of the schools' overall purpose of spreading Anthroposophy, Steiner’s new-age religion. As for the Three R’s — these are far, far down the list of Waldorf priorities.











INDICATIONS:

Context for Methods


We should begin by sketching the context of Waldorf teaching, the vision that Waldorf teachers

have of themselves and their profession. We will then consider some of the specific approaches

Waldorf teachers adopt as they seek to realize their vision.

(To go straight to the specific approaches, scroll down to "PARTICULARS", below.)




"We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [the gods] have done without our assistance. Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.





“From birth to the seventh year it is really only the physical body that parents and educators have to consider. At birth the physical body is released into its environment ... [O]nly then can the child receive impressions from other beings in the physical world. But the child's etheric and astral bodies [invisible spiritual "bodies"] are still not open to the external world; up to the seventh year, indeed, the external world cannot influence them, for they are inwardly absorbed in building up the physical body. At about the seventh year the etheric body begins to be free to receive impressions from outside, and it can then be influenced. But from the seventh to the fourteenth year no attempt should be made to influence the astral body, or its inward activity will be disturbed. During the first seven years it is best to leave the etheric and astral bodies quite unmolested and to rely on everything happening of its own accord.” — Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1986), lecture 6, GA 95.





“From the seventh to the fourteenth, fifteenth or sixteenth year — that is, until puberty — the etheric body goes through a liberation, just as the physical body is thrown open to its environment at birth. During this period, then, we [parents and educators] must direct our efforts to the etheric body, the vehicle of memory, of lasting habits, of temperament and inclinations and enduring desires. Accordingly, when the etheric body is set free we must take every care to develop these features; we must influence a child's habits, his memory, everything which will give his character a firm foundation.” — Ibid.




“The child's educator should experience within himself what it is to have the whole etheric organism [i.e., the “etheric body”] within the physical. This gives him knowledge of the child. With abstract principles alone one can do nothing. Educational practice requires an anthroposophical art of education to work out in detail how the human being reveals himself as a child.” — Rudolf Steiner, “A Lecture on Pedagogy” (ANTHROPOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, 1927), GA 36.





“You [teachers] will...proceed to educate him [the student] morally and ethically, doing it as effectively as you can, and with the utmost inner vitality — never in a dull or heavy manner! Working thus with inner vitality, you will...actually intervene in the child's karma, you will be working right into his karma.” — Rudolf Steiner, CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 3, GA 317.





"In reality, Karma works in such a way that a faint fulfillment of its laws already comes to expression in one and the same incarnation, though the decisive influence upon man's character only appears in the next incarnation. Helplessness and lack of independence will arise in old age, when envy appeared during youth. This is a faint nuance of the influence of Karma; it remains after death, works throughout kamaloka [in effect, purgatory], etc., and it will be contained in the forces which build up the next life." — Rudolf Steiner, "Morality and Karma" (ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET 41/42, 1944), no assigned GA number.





"[W]e [Waldorf teachers] should neglect no single opportunity of quickening the inner life of soul and spirit." — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 17. To do this, Waldorf teachers need to develop "the Waldorf teacher’s consciousness," which is "hardly present anywhere else in the world." — Ibid., p. 21. This unique consciousness will restore "what humanity has lost in the last three or four centuries." — Ibid., p. 21. What has been lost? As Steiner often explained, modern humankind has lost the old, intuitive clairvoyance.




 


"The goal of all our educational thinking must be to transform thinking so as to rise fruitfully from the level of physical thinking to spiritual thinking." — Rudolf Steiner, DEEPER INSIGHTS INTO EDUCATION, p. 29. "Spiritual thinking" is clairvoyance.















A large German Waldorf school, 

built in a typical Anthroposophical style.









"Only those who have developed spiritual faculties in a fairly high degree can themselves discover a spiritual truth in the higher worlds. Clairvoyance is the necessary pre-requisite for the discovery of a spiritual truth...." — Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 1, GA 99.





"As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.





"When we teach, in a certain sense we take up again the activities we experienced before birth. We must see that thinking is a pictorial activity which is based on the activities we experienced before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 62. The “pictures” are formed through imagination, intuition, inspiration: clairvoyance.





"Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 103-104.





"The Waldorf school must succeed; much depends on its success. Its success will bring a kind of proof of many things in the spiritual evolution of humankind that we must represent.


“... Let us especially keep before us the thought, which will truly fill our hearts and minds, that connected with the present-day spiritual movement are also the spiritual powers that guide the cosmos. When we believe in these good spiritual powers they will inspire our lives and we will truly be able to teach." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2000) p. 189.





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












PARTICULARS:

Methods


Individual Waldorf teachers are usually give great latitude in deciding how to operate in the classroom.

Their teacher training courses often focus more on spiritual doctrines than on nuts-and-bolts classroom skills.

Still, we can sketch an overall description that should hold true in most schools in the Waldorf universe. [1]



Waldorf schools try not to push kids too hard. They leave plenty of time for play and creativity, imagination and whimsy. Art and beauty are stressed. [2] Indeed, Waldorf teachers are generally expected to present every subject in an artistic manner. All of this is quite nice, if less than overwhelmingly original. Few educators, after all, think that kids should be pushed to the breaking point, or that schools should be unpleasant and ugly. But the real question about Waldorf methods is whether they work — that is, whether the kids receive a good education.


The demands placed on Waldorf teachers are great. The teachers are expected to create attractive drawings and designs on the class chalkboard, sometimes creating a new, original piece of art every few days. Likewise, Waldorf teachers are expected to deliver from memory virtually all of the material presented to the students. With few exceptions, the teachers are not to read from texts. Instead, they should deliver oral reports to the children, keeping everything as lively and apparently spontaneous as possible. Even if the material simply consists of fairy tales or myths, the teachers tell these stories rather than reading them. Especially in the early grades, the teachers are expected to address the class using a sweetly rhythmic, declamatory tone of voice that can have an hypnotic or inspiring effect on the kids, depending on a teacher's talents and the dispositions of the students. [3]


The musical/spiritual concept of rhythm is important in Waldorf schooling, especially in the lower grades. Because in Waldorf belief all things are deemed to be alive, at some level, and infused with living spirit, all things are deemed to function rhythmically, as in the intake and release of breath. Individual classes are meant to be rhythmical (so that, for instance, solemn moments alternate with lighter moments in a fixed pattern). Likewise, the school day as a whole is meant to have a rhythmic form, as are the week as a whole, the semester as a whole, and the year as a whole. In practice, this becomes largely theoretical, but nonetheless the teachers aim for this pattern. Thus, the school year is punctuated by seasonal festivals meant to sensitize the students to the rhythmic pattern of the yearly cycle. [4] 


Textbooks are rarely used. The teachers write on the chalkboard or simply dictate to the students, who transcribe the teachers' remarks in the "class books" that the students create. In effect, the class books are the textbooks for the class, created by the students themselves, under the direction of the teachers. The illustrations in the books are often the students' copies of illustrations created by the teachers, just as the text is usually a verbatim copy of the the teachers' words. [5]


The authority of Waldorf teachers is very great. [6] Outside authorities and sources are rarely used; almost everything the children are exposed to comes from their teachers, all of whom usually represent a single point of view, the Anthroposophical point of view. The most influential teacher for any group of students is the "class teacher." Ideally, a Waldorf class — that is, a group of children of approximately the same age — forms in kindergarten and then proceeds as a unified group from grade level to grade level, all the way through high school. One teacher guides the students for most if not all of this journey. That teacher, the "class teacher," delivers all of the most important lessons for the class, in all subjects, year after year. 


The Waldorf school day usually begins with a "main lesson" — the longest and most important lesson of the day. [7] The class teacher delivers this lesson, in whatever subject has been selected for a particular portion of the year. Thus, the same teacher may teach the kids math, history, geography, English — any and all subjects, in rotation. (The students receive shorter lessons from other teachers during other parts of the day.) 


A class teacher may get to know the students in his/her class quite well, and obviously that teacher may exert great influence over the children. This may or may not be good. The Waldorf system ensures that many subjects will be taught by unqualified instructors, since no class teacher can truly master all subjects at all grade levels. [8]


Main lessons usually stick with one subject only for a few weeks — three weeks is typical. Thus, for three weeks the students will study history, then for three weeks another subject, and then for three weeks yet another. The students may not return to any given subject for many weeks or months. The effect can be that no subject is studied in depth, and much will be forgotten by the time any subject rolls around again. 


Students may be tested from time to time, and grades may be given — but tests and grades are minimized as much as possible. Many Waldorf schools do not issue report cards.


Little emphasis is placed on conveying facts or information to the students, especially in the lower grades. Far more important is the incarnation of invisible bodies. Knowledge of the ordinary world may be largely neglected, since modern science and scholarship are generally rejected by Anthroposophists. Young children are thought to have memories of the spirit realm where they existed before Earthly life, so efforts are made to leave the children alone, allowing them to retain their sacred memories. Academic pressures are low and playtime plentiful. Kids are given lots of free time, with little or no exposure to the 3R's (reading, writing, and 'rithmetic) until at least age seven or eight. Intellect especially is downplayed, since children are thought to be unable to formulate rational concepts until high school. Thus, Waldorf students often lag behind students at other schools until well into their high school years, but an effort is then made to bring the students up to speed. [9]


Creativity and imagination are emphasized but also directed and channeled by the teachers. The thinking behind Waldorf schools hinges on belief in clairvoyance. Waldorf teachers often think that they are clairvoyant, and clairvoyance is considered the true form of cognition. Imagination, inspiration, and intuition are believed to be stages of clairvoyance, so development of these "faculties" is thought to represent progress toward true intelligence. But because ultimate "truths" are thought to be found in Rudolf Steiner's teachings, imaginative creations that veer from Anthroposophical doctrines are discouraged. [10]


As I mentioned earlier, art and beauty are given great importance. Teachers attempt to present all subjects beautifully, because spiritual beings (gods) are believed to enter Earthly life through beauty (music, colors...), and art is thought to transport humans into the spirit realm. Teachers often spend a great deal of time creating elaborate, colored drawings on blackboards, and the students often copy these carefully. The creation of beautiful hand-drawn class books can become a central objective, sometimes superseding actual instruction: The lessons propounded by the teachers may pass directly from the blackboard to the class books, leaving little trace in memories of the students (this is especially so when testing, and studying for tests, is minimized). [11]


The Waldorf approach can be characterized as slow learning. High-pressure, fast methods are abjured. Teachers rarely present much information in any one lesson, and demands on the students' memories are kept low. [12] Teachers lecture, but in an informal manner. Students may take notes, but sometimes they are told to lower their heads onto their desks and just listen.


Students are expected to accept what the teachers say with little or no argument. Questions from the students are usually not welcomed, and they may be answered not with statements of fact but with leading questions — generally leading to a mystical interpretation of reality. Discussions are not encouraged, at least until late in high school, and even then teachers may dominate any open forums. As Steiner said, "[W]e need to create a mood, namely, that the teacher has something to say that the children should neither judge nor discuss. That is necessary, otherwise it will become trivial. An actual discussion lowers the content. Things should remain with simply asking questions. The children even in the tenth and eleventh grades should know that they can ask everything and receive an answer. For questions of religion and worldview, we need to maintain that longer. The religion teacher needs to retain a position of authority even after puberty.” [13]


Religious and/or spiritual meaning is implied in all lessons, if only subtly. As Steiner said, "It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true." [14]


Computers and other technological devices are largely shunned, although limited use may be made late in high school. Anthroposophists believe that technology falls under the sway of the terrible demon Ahriman. [15] Thus, even television viewing is discouraged. Waldorf teachers will rarely if ever show a TV program or a film in class. Certainly there is little instruction in computer technology, and computer-aided instruction is mainly ruled out. This begins to change a bit toward the end of high school (indeed, the entire curriculum becomes a bit more conventional at that stage), but the underlying distaste for technology remains dominant.


The individuality of the students is, in theory, respected. An effort is made to tailor instruction to each student's capacities and personality. However, this often means categorizing students by "temperament" and race, which undercuts the effort. [16] Because children who fall into various categories (e.g., all children who are deemed to be phlegmatic) are thought to be significantly different from children who fall into other categories, teachers will — within the limits of their time and capacities — use differing approaches for the different groups. This is offset, however, by the deeper Waldorf belief that all children of a given age are fundamentally alike. The Waldorf curriculum is keyed to the notion that children evolve through the same stages that humanity as a whole has undergone, and thus all children of a particular age stand at a particular level of spiritual/emotional/mental development. Therefore, Waldorf schools believe that there is one and only one right time to present certain materials to the students: All 7-year-old kids should be taught certain materials, all 8-year-olds should be taught different materials, etc. The individual interests of individual children are largely disregarded.


Overall, the Waldorf approach is largely anti-intellectual. The intellect, like technology, is viewed askance. Indeed, use of the brain is considered potentially wayward and wrong. Steiner taught that the brain is not involved in real thinking or knowledge acquisition.  “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition.... ” [17] Therefore, much class time is given over to non-brain activities. In the lower grades, children do a lot of handcrafts such as knitting and crochet. Later, math classes may entail drawing and coloring elaborate geometric designs, while science classes may be given over to hands-on projects of dubious value, such as piecing together an antique dynamo. Contemporary science is largely downplayed. [18]


These are perhaps the key Waldorf methods; they used in almost all Waldorf schools. The value of such methods is questionable. There is much evidence that Waldorf students learn less than kids in other types of schools and often Waldorf students emerge unprepared for life outside the Waldorf community. [19]


Bear in mind that the Waldorf approach often breaks down. It is very rare for a class to form in kindergarten and then remain together for the next fourteen years with absolutely no changes. Indeed, this may never have happened. Students drop out (or are expelled) and new students join the group. This is another way in which the Waldorf system proves to be impractical when put into practice. The benefit for students and the schools is that the potentially damaging effects of Waldorf schooling can be greatly decreased when students do not receive the full treatment.





Here are some pointers on Waldorf methods as related by Richard Blunt in his book WALDORF EDUCATION - Theory and Practice (Novalis Press, 1995). Note that Blunt, while extremely sympathetic to Waldorf schooling, is not formally associated with Waldorf education or Anthroposophy.

"The teacher's work has to do with the four members of the child's being, the physical body, the Soul Bodies [i.e., the etheric and astral bodies] and the Ego." [p. 109] For information about "the Souls Bodies and the Ego", see, e.g., "Incarnation".

"The teacher should shape all his teaching from what he 'reads' in the child's whole being." [p. 109] The "reading" often relies on clairvoyance — see "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness." Waldorf teachers use their "psychic powers," dreams, and even horoscopes to get to "know" their students. As for a child's "whole being", see "Holistic Education".

"In kindergarten...the teacher must prepare his whole being to be worthy of imitation." [p. 123] Waldorf teachers assume that young children want to imitate; the teachers try to be worthy (morally, spiritually, in all ways) of imitation. They hold themselves out as ideal models for the children to follow. (Arguably, the expectations Waldorf teachers create for themselves are as extreme — and perhaps unrealistic — as those they create for their students.)

"Writing should first be introduced through art, which involves the whole being of the child pictorially and through his feeling." [p. 124] Waldorf schools usually postpone reading and writing until the students are at least seven years old — by which time the etheric body is thought to have incarnated. Like most other subjects, writing should begin artistically, and pictorial thinking (i.e., imagination) and emotion are given priority over whatever capabilities the children may have for rational thought. Steiner taught that truth comes through imagination and emotion, not use of the brain.

"In the child's first year of school, simple gymnastics should lead over into Eurythmy which, together with singing, playing musical instruments, painting and drawing, promotes the development of the Will...." [p. 130] Eurythmy is a spiritual form of dance invented by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Magical Arts" and "Eurythmy".] It is a required activity at most Waldorf schools. Like other arts, it is thought to have spiritual effects, but perhaps to an even greater degree than any other art. As Steiner said, "In having people do eurythmy, we link them directly to the supersensible [i.e., spiritual] world.” [19] This is the objective behind all of the attractive art in Waldorf schools: to draw children into contact with the spirit realm. As for "the will" — this is deemed a capability that must be developed, and young children are thought to live primarily through the will. [See "Will".]

"Arithmetic should be taught in accordance with the inner nature of the child himself." [p. 132] Waldorf teachers subscribe to an outmoded, false view of temperament: children are either choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, or melancholic. [See "Temperaments".] Having determined the temperaments of all the children in the class (probably by using "clairvoyance"), a Waldorf teacher may make special assignments for the children in each group. According to Waldorf belief, cholerics have a special affinity for division, sanguines for multiplication, phlegmatics for addition, and melancholics for subtraction.

"Steiner took great pains to make teachers aware that modern abstraction is a powerful and dangerous influence in education so that they would realize the importance of adopting his method of transforming scientific concepts into an imaginative form that children can relate to." [p. 136] Science instruction is often weak at Waldorf schools because Waldorf teachers believe that rational, scientific thinking is "dangerous." The Waldorf approach involves using imagination to modify scientific observation — in effect, you project your preferred subjective "reality" onto the phenomena you observe. This is what is often called "Goethean science," and it has little true scientific value. But it is what Waldorf schools promote. [See "Science" and "Goethe".]

"Art must begin from the child's first entry into school, and should include drawing, painting, sculpture, singing and using a musical instrument. The child should develop an artistic sense that enters into everything he does." [p. 145] This is surely the most attractive component of the Waldorf approach. Waldorf schools are full of art, and all children are encouraged (indeed, required) to participate in virtually all forms of art. This is wonderful. Bear in mind, however, that at Waldorf schools the arts are believed to be spiritual; studying various kinds of art means being led into many forms of contact with the gods and other invisible beings that, according to Waldorf belief, hover around us at all times. As Steiner said, “This is what gives art its essential lustre: it transplants us here and now into the spiritual world.” [20] Bear in mind that Steiner did not say such things metaphorically — he meant them literally. He taught that the gods come down to us through colors and musical notes, for instance. At Waldorf schools, the arts are part of the subjective, imaginative, clairvoyant mindset that alienates students from the real world and the rational use of the brain. [See "Magical Arts" and "Steiner's Specific".] Think long and hard before subjecting a child to the Waldorf treatment.




Waldorf teachers usually operate independently. Each teacher is expected to find the best ways to reach the students in a particular class. Thus, a teacher may use different methods with different groups, and s/he may be given very little guidance from other teachers. Indeed, Waldorf teacher training often dwells more on what to believe (Steiner's doctrines) than on how to function in the classroom. In this sense, there are no Waldorf teaching methods, as such. Rather, there is a Waldorf vision of humanity, and Waldorf education grows from it. The chief unifying principle is that all children are thought to develop according to a basic pattern (there are three seven-year-long periods of development), so teaching must reflect and reinforce this pattern.


Here is how Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson puts things in his book COMMON SENSE SCHOOLING (Henry Goulding, 1975):


"[T]here are various ways of teaching. But there is basically only one way of educating, and this lies in a sympathetic understanding of the child." [p. 67]


"Much in the general sense of the 'how' in teaching is self-evident. There is the basic human relationship. The child must feel welcome, cared for and valued." [p. 68]


"A good teacher will know how to shape his lesson to appeal to all elements in his class." [p. 68]


"There can be no set rules in education. It arises out of the living interplay between teacher and taught." [p. 69]


"There is, of course, no one way, but thousands. The inventive teacher will always find a new one." [p. 69]


"The young child is imitative, and this suggests the obvious way to teach him ... [T]he path lies through example. Up to the age of six there can be little or no question of formal teaching." [p. 70]


"[F]rom the age of seven to fourteen the child experiences the world through his sympathies and antipathies and makes pictures in the mind ... Appeal, therefore, must be made during this period to the imagination and the feeling life ... This calls for a basically artistic approach to all subjects and the teacher himself must become an artist." [p. 71]


"This type of teaching presupposes that the teacher is able to cultivate an imaginative faculty within himself." [p. 71]


"The artist-teacher must also have the faculty of transforming his material into stories which he can present with the necessary drama or otherwise." [p. 72]


"When children have crossed the Rubicon of the fourteenth year, the teacher can appeal to their reasoning and understanding faculty." [p. 73]  [21]





Each Waldorf teachers operates more or less alone, conducting classes as s/he sees fit. On the other hand, there are numerous Waldorf teachers' guides, and many Waldorf teachers rely on these heavily. This is almost inevitable, since the Waldorf system requires class teachers to present a wide array of subjects at different class levels. No teacher is truly qualified to do this, so most teachers look around for help. Teachers' guides often serve to fill this need. Unfortunately, this can drain much of the spontaneity and originality from Waldorf classes.


Here are some pertinent comments by Keith Francis in his book THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004). Francis served on several Waldorf faculties, and he was Faculty Chair at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City.


“I have attended countless [Waldorf] open houses ... I have seen scores of [student] notebooks, copied and illustrated with enormous care and devotion and riddled with all kinds of errors, placed where parents and visitors are most likely to see them. I can assure you that I am not exaggerating.” [p. 131]


Why does this happen? Teachers are expected to teach too many subjects with too little preparation. The best they can do, often, is to quickly memorize some material, write it on the board, attach an illustration, and then have the students make copies. If the teachers have limited knowledge of their subjects, these limitations are passed along to the kids in the form of unrecognized errors. This arrangement ensures that children will be misinformed by faculty who are unqualified in many of the subjects they teach. 


“Class teachers have to cover an immense range of topics. A seventh grade teacher, for example, has to teach courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, physiology, English language and literature, geography and history. Since most people have specialized knowledge of at most one or two of these subjects this means...the teacher is at the mercy of his or her sources ... [I]f you have only a few weeks in which to prepare to teach a block in physiology or medieval history you may well find yourself simply copying what someone has told you or what you read in a few — maybe a very few — books. Very often the time available is considerably less than a few weeks. Having completed sixth grade you are in a state of exhaustion [as you try to get ready for teaching seventh grade] ... That means about one week of preparation for each main lesson block, provided you do not take a vacation.” [pp. 131-132] 


In general, Waldorf teachers rely on teachers' guides written by fellow Waldorf teachers. They copy from other Waldorf teachers and then ask their students to copy from them. In this sense, copying becomes a serious Waldorf problem.


“Copying is the curse of the Waldorf Schools. There is altogether too much of it, and it is not confined to the elementary school. In high school, where there is much less excuse for it, it still goes on. The way in which many [Waldorf] teachers organize their work implies that they consider that the whole object of the course is the creation of a gorgeous notebook. And the way in which some teachers judge the work of other teachers implies the same thing.” [p. 132]  


Francis comments that one problem with this approach is that it gives little indication of whether a student has actually mastered a subject. An industrious, dutiful child can create a lovely (copied) notebook, but s/he may have learned very little, and neither the child’s teacher nor her parents may recognize this. Look! A beautiful notebook! My, isn’t little Sally doing well in school? Teachers, parents, and students may be misled into thinking that children have learned far more than they really have. [22]





Rudolf Steiner put his finger on a central flaw in the Waldorf system — while denying, of course, that the flaw counts for much.


“The school inspector said that with normal teaching methods, average people can be teachers, but with our methods, we need geniuses. I do not think that is necessarily true, but there is something to it. So much depends upon the individual teacher, and we must emphasize and support the individuality of the teacher.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 443-444.


But Waldorf teachers often do not get the support they need. And because very few Waldorf teachers (like very few people in general) are geniuses, the Waldorf system breaks down. Ordinary Waldorf teachers, having ordinary capacities, are unable to fulfill the high-flown objectives outlined by Steiner. Fundamentally, the Waldorf system is unrealistic. It is disconnected from reality at many levels.











Here is an item adapted from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:



“There are 1,000 [Waldorf or Steiner] schools worldwide, based on the theories of Austrian educationalist Dr Rudolf Steiner and claiming to offer ‘unhurried and creative learning’ to let children explore their artistic and emotional sides.”  [1-3-2011 http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/yourtown/witney/8763527._Free_school__eyes_up_farm_museum_site_as_base/]


Whenever descriptions of Steiner Waldorf education omit references to occultism, you know that much is being concealed. Rudolf Steiner was an unapologetic occultist, and his educational doctrines all derive from his occultism. [See “Here’s the Answer” and “Occultism”.]


Steiner did not have educational “theories.” He claimed to possess “exact clairvoyance” [see “Exactly”], and he applied this psychic power to determine how children should be educated.

Children at Steiner schools are “unhurried” because Steiner taught that children retain memories of the spirit realm where they dwelled before returning to Earth (Steiner endorsed the concept of reincarnation), and these memories should be preserved as long as possible. So kids should be kept young as long as possible. [See “Thinking Cap”.] 


Arts and creativity are emphasized because Steiner said the arts provide direct avenues to the spirit realm [see “Magical Arts”], and he said that imagination is a preliminary stage of clairvoyance [see "Steiner's Science"]. 


Emotion is emphasized because Steiner downplayed the importance of the reasoning brain. [See “Steiner’s Specific”.] “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” [Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE - Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.] Actual cognition, Steiner taught, is clairvoyance [see “Clairvoyance”], and Steiner Waldorf schools try to steer children toward developing it.  


To summarize briefly: The government of the United Kingdom is contemplating giving state funds to schools that minimize actual intelligence while seeking to promote an occult system based on a wholly fallacious psychic power. Perhaps some second thoughts are in order.








Quick review:


By Rudolf Steiner's standards, the test of Waldorf methods is not whether they give a child a good education, in the normal sense. It certainly has little to do with the brain, since Steiner taught that “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 60. It has little to do with giving the kids knowledge — the sort of stuff that can be found in libraries — since this is the realm of the demon Ahriman: “One of the things Ahriman wants for us is that we produce lots of libraries, storing lots of dead knowledge all around us.” — Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 163. In general, it has little to do with the intellect, which is so damaging: “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 233. 


By Steiner's standards, the test of Waldorf methods is whether they boost a child's clairvoyant potential, help with karma, facilitate incarnation, lay the groundwork for future spiritual evolution... In other words, the test is occult, and it is keyed to Anthroposophical religious doctrines. Here's how some Waldorf educators have framed the matter. (Note that none of them says that the goal of Waldorf education is to provide a good education.)


• “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52. 

• “[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 education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5. 


• "The reason many [Steiner or Waldorf] schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools" — Former Waldorf teacher "Baandje". [See "Ex-Teacher 7".] 


• “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53. 







As a sort of postscript, here are some of Steiner’s comments about education earlier in human evolution. Perhaps some Waldorf teachers are able to ignore such comments. But parents who are thinking of sending their children to Waldorf schools probably should think about such comments long and hard.


“[I]n that Lemurian age a very lofty altogether extraordinary wisdom existed. For example, among those primitive men there was widespread knowledge of how to handle a child during the period between birth and the seventh year so that as the result of a certain transformation of his etheric body which then worked back upon the brain, he could be made extremely clever. Radical educational methods have to be applied today if this result is desired — and everyone is aware how very often these efforts are unsuccessful. But in any case the art of affecting the brain itself by exercising a certain influence on the etheric body of the brain, so that the child in question becomes extremely clever, is entirely lost today. Furthermore — and I hasten to emphasize it — this art is in no circumstances whatever legitimate in our time, for if it became at all general, even in its most elementary form, it would lead to terrible abuses.


“How is the existence of such an art in Lemurian times to be explained? It is explained by the fact that Beings who had not completed their development on the Old Moon, but had evolved only the first six of their seven members, incorporated in men who otherwise would have been utterly primitive. The spiritual Beings who on the Old Moon were at a higher level than men but had not attained the apex of their development, took on these primitive human bodies and went to work with arts which far transcended all earthly knowledge. You can imagine what such Beings in human bodies were capable of accomplishing — Beings who at a level higher than the human had developed the sixth member — the Life-Spirit — entered into these primitive, flexible, pliant bodies. And they became terrible magicians, dread magicians!


“And again, what kind of arts were general in the Atlantean epoch? First and foremost there was the wisdom which must be applied in order to cause talents in ancestors to be transmitted, purely through heredity, to their descendants and actually to be enhanced in these descendants. The Beings whose development had not been completed on the Moon but who for all that were of a higher rank than earthly man, were deeply versed in this art — with most significant effect. Let me put it like this: it was as if by methods connected with star-constellations and the like, one were to lead over the qualities of a genius to his descendants, but in such a way that these spiritual qualities were not merely inherited, but intensified, enhanced. These higher Beings working in human bodies were capable of mighty achievements. All this was swept out of existence. Very many things were connected with these particular arts. For example, it was possible by their means to observe the course of spiritual evolution and to guide the spiritual forces into the stream of heredity.” — Rudolf Steiner, SIGNIFICANT FACTS PERTAINING TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE MIDDLE OF THE XIXTH CENTURY (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), lecture 2, GA 254.


















Art and beauty have spiritual potency, according to Waldorf belief.

Here is some Waldorfish art created by a Waldorf alumnus.

[R.R., 2014.]














The differences between Waldorf schools, arising in part from the flexibility in Waldorf methods, has suggested an ingenious line of argument to some Waldorf proponents. There is an almost infinite array of possible teaching strategies, so maybe there is no sharp line between Waldorf schools and other kinds of schools. Indeed, maybe concerns about Waldorf education are unfounded. Maybe there is really no such thing as "Waldorf education" as a distinct category.


This line of argument is has certain obvious benefits for those who want to defend Waldorf. Waldorf schools cannot be criticized if there are no such institutions as Waldorf schools. Right?


"'Waldorf education' does not exist. It is not a 'thing' and it is not a trend ... [And] because Waldorf education does not exist, it cannot be found in the boxes we call Waldorf schools." — Stephen Keith Sagarin, THE STORY OF WALDORF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES (SteinerBooks, 2011), p. 147.


This is clever, but it is also nonsense. Waldorf schools are deeply different from other schools, and they share a particular identity. They are based on Anthroposophy. Some are more true to Anthroposophy than others. Some strive hard to follow Rudolf Steiner's directives to the letter, while others cut themselves some slack, and still others have wandered far off into their own notions of sound educational practice. But, except for schools that wander so far that they cease to be Waldorf schools in any discernible sense, all Waldorf schools trace their lineage back to the first Waldorf school, and to Rudolf Steiner, and to Rudolf Steiner's teachings, which are the substance of Anthroposophy.


Writing a book about Waldorf education while denying, in that very book, that there is such a thing as Waldorf education — this is clever, but it is wholly unconvincing. It is, in fact, a typical Anthroposophical exercise in denial, obfuscation, and self-contradiction. It is, one is tempted to say, disingenuous. (And Sagarin — who is Faculty Chair of a Waldorf school — knows it. To give him credit, he says "[M]y claim that there is no such thing as Waldorf education is meant as a rhetorical device." — Ibid., p. 148. But then Sagarin adds, "[B]ut [it is] one that I intend to use seriously." — Ibid. So Sagarin doesn't really mean it. Except that he does.)


Go back to what we heard from Wilkinson: He acknowledged that there is great variety within the Waldorf movement. But he also said that there is really just one right way to educate the child: the Waldorf way. "[T]here are various ways of teaching. But there is basically only one way of educating, and this lies in a sympathetic understanding of the child." The understanding Wilkinson spoke of arises from Anthroposophy. According to Rudolf Steiner and his followers, Anthroposophy is the "science" of human wisdom, the ideology that gives us the true picture of human nature. [See "Oh Humanity".]


No, we cannot close our eyes and wish away the Waldorf phenomenon. There is indeed such a thing as Waldorf education, and there are such things as Waldorf schools. The question is what to make of them. We will not arrive at a sensible answer if we deny that the existence of the very subjects that are under discussion.



—————————



If you would like to assure yourself that there is such a thing as Waldorf education (pace, Sagarin), one place to start would be the series of books published by the Anthroposophic Press in the series "Foundations of Waldorf Education." The editors of the press wasted a lot of ink (as well as their own toil and time) if they put out a series about something does not exist. Here is what the editors call an "almost complete" list of of the books in the series [see http://steinerbooks.org/p.php?id=8]:



BALANCE IN TEACHING


THE CHILD'S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS


DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS


EDUCATION AS A FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE


EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS


THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD


THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION


FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Vol. 1


FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, Vol. 2


THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE


THE GENIUS OF LANGUAGE


HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION


THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD


THE LIGHT COURSE


A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION


PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS


THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION


THE ROOTS OF EDUCATION


RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL


SOUL ECONOMY


THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL


THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION


WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1


WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2



There are plenty of other books about Waldorf education, but these would give you food for thought.














Lois Cusick's WALDORF PARENTING HANDBOOK (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2005) is uncommonly candid about Waldorf purposes and approaches. Here are some of points Cusick makes about Waldorf methods:


• "[T]he class teacher's commitment to work with the children for eight years makes possible a living, creative kind of teaching that is always new and changing." [p. 49] Actually, Waldorf class teachers do not always stay with one group of children for eight years. The period varies from school to school. Still, the system of having one teacher take primary responsibility for a group for many years is generally characteristic of Waldorf education. We may wonder, however, whether this provides "teaching that is always new and changing" or just the opposite, a sameness from year to year, with one teacher having inordinate influence over children who rarely are exposed to alternative points of view.


• "The first two hours of the morning are devoted to the Main Lesson ... There are no textbooks, teacher's manuals, printed workbooks or test booklets ... The teacher's fantasy is actively and continuously engaged." [p. 51] Actually, Waldorf teachers often use teacher's manuals, such as those written by fellow Waldorf teachers Roy Wilkinson or Charles Kovacs. The "yellow book" — THE EDUCATIONAL TASKS AND CONTENT OF THE STEINER WALDORF CURRICULUM — is also widely used.


• "Writing is taught before reading. The children should begin their education with movement...not just looking at things with their eyes ... The teacher presents the vowels, the singing color letters, differently from the limiting shaping consonants. Here, [she tells the children a story that] emphasizes the emotion or soul mood each [letter] expresses ... Form drawing [drawing various curved and angles shapes] is a special Waldorf school technique which is started in the first grade to help the children master [the] spatial relationships [involved in writing]." [WALDORF PARENTING HANDBOOK, pp. 52-53]


• "Arithmetic begins with fingers ... Mathematics is closer to the nature of the human body than writing or reading ... [W]hat is most important here is not the shape of the numerals, but what lies behind them ... This living reality has much more meaning for the spiritual world than what lives in reading and writing ... [A]t the feeling level, the three basic processes of arithmetic repeat a fundamental activity of the soul forces ... [F]or the little ones, the active ideal number is pure magic and the teacher uses his own fantasy to make pictures of problems, not forgetting the [spiritual] quality of the numbers involved." [pp. 54-57]


• "The Main Lesson is unique to Waldorf pedagogy. In it, one subject is taught for the first two hours every day for about two to four weeks, then it is dropped and allowed to lie fallow so that the children can forget it for a while ... After intensive work on one subject, it is stimulating and wholesome for the children to turn to another quite different one." [p. 58]


• "Waldorf schools differ from more computerized and mechanized schools ... The spoken word is the vehicle of teaching and learning ... The teacher presents the lesson content orally, the children listen, then ask questions and discuss it ... [In foreign language classes] children are stimulated to use conversation and no grammar is taught. Eurythmy classes also emphasize the purity and care in sounding out letters and words." [p. 59]


• "Rhythm dominates all aspects of [Waldorf] teaching and organization of school life ... First and most important are [sic] the rhythm of the child's growth ... [Also] the rhythm of the week, the seasons, the festivals ... Nothing makes repetition so fruitful and enjoyable as artistic and craft work ... There is [also] a three-day learning rhythm which is taken advantage of in Waldorf schools." [p. 60]


• "Waldorf schools teach values. The education they offer is in the first stream of western Christiandom ... The history of man's spiritual evolution through various religions and cultures is taught as the child's won consciousness evolution reaches that stage. Spiritual, non-sectarian verses are memorized and recited." [p. 62]


• "Most of the afternoon time is given over to [arts and crafts] ... Special water-color and crayon veiling techniques are learned, just at the time when the child is deepening his fantasy and imaginative experience of hood and evil, the soul qualities of light and darkness ... [T]he children intuitively paint the prince and princess in bright and singing colors and the witches and evil giants in angry dark browns and reddish tans ... Natural colors are observed in rainbows, sunrise, sunset ... Artificial, harsh, or synthetic colors are avoided ... The forces heretofore active in the formation to [sic] the second teeth are gradually freed ... The children learn many different crafts because the repetition necessary for good craftsmanship exercises the will. Finger dexterity helps form the delicate convolutions of the brain...." [pp. 63-64]














Here are additional items from the "news" page:





"Studies support Waldorf educational methods - Waldorf early childhood programs are centered on the premise that young children learn best through play, and in the latest issue of Scientific American, free, unstructured, imaginative play is shown to be vital in the early lives of children ... Another, different research study has also proven what Waldorf education has staunchly upheld for ninety years: school children require less work, more play ... A new study has also found that personal home computers affect student grades negatively and that excessive screen media has a negative impact on growing children.”  [http://www.pinehill.org/StudiesSupportWaldorfEducationalMethods/tabid/323/Default.aspx]


We have seen some of this here previously. From time to time, proponents of Waldorf education allude to studies that, the proponents say, show the value of Waldorf educational methods. Usually, however, if we look closely, we find far less than initially meets the eye. What do the studies referred to here actually affirm? 1) Children need to play. OK. Very few people would deny this. Students in Waldorf schools are given opportunities for “free, unstructured, imaginative play” — but so are students in many other kinds of schools, if only during recesses, and virtually all children have opportunities for such play outside school hours. 2) A study indicates that children should play more and work less. But other studies show precisely the opposite. Indeed, many studies show the great value of early childhood education, beginning academic work as early as possible. This is precisely the antithesis of the Waldorf approach. 3) A study finds that excessive use of computers and other “screen media” is harmful. Sure. Excessive use of anything is harmful — that is what the word “excessive” means in the context of children’s well-being. But there are also plenty of studies that show the benefits of computer use by children.


What Waldorf schools often do is to offer a highly selective group of studies or reports or opinion pieces that seem, at least tangentially, to support the methods that Waldorf schools are determined to use no matter what. But when we consider this “evidence,” the substantiation of Waldorf methods is small. Indeed, what we actually see here is the anti-intellectual, antiscientific, anti-modern bias of Waldorf schooling. Brainwork is minimized, academic standards are often low, and anything that smacks of modern technology is viewed with alarm. Why? Because in the occult doctrines that underlie Waldorf schools, intellect and science and technology plunge us too deeply into the physical level of existence, under the sway of the arch-demon Ahriman. There is very little solid research propping up Waldorf schools; rather, the schools stand upon a foundation of occultism. [See “Ahriman”, “Academic Standards at Waldorf”, “Steiner’s Specific”, “Science”, and “Occultism
”.]







Toddler program offered at Ashwood - Rockport [Maine, USA] — A new program for toddlers ages 18 months through 3 years old will be offered at Ashwood Waldorf School beginning in September.


“The year-long program follows the Ashwood school calendar and will meet twice weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. It will be similar in content to the early childhood programs already offered by the school, which emphasize language development, imaginative play, purposeful work, motor skills development, social opportunities, and artistic endeavors.”  [5-12-2011 http://knox.villagesoup.com/place/story/toddler-program-offered-at-ashwood/398215]


Extensive research has shown the great value of early-childhood educational programs such as Head Start [http://www.nhsa.org/]. Many Waldorf schools offer programs for very young children, but these should not be confused with early-childhood programs at other schools. Waldorf schools postpone the development of fundamental academic skills such as reading and arithmetic until at least first grade, and sometimes later. These academic skills form the very basis of many non-Waldorf early-childhood programs.


The reasons for the Waldorf approach are occult: Children aren’t considered ready for various studies and activities until their “etheric bodies” and, later, their “astral bodies" incarnate. This is nonsense, and it reflects the fallacious nature of Waldorf education in general. [See “Incarnation” and “Curriculum”.]


Debra Snell, who is now president of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS) has written the following: 


"My personal experience with Waldorf was very confusing. Instead of the progressive and liberal alternative school I was led to expect by the school's promotional materials and staff, I discovered a rigid, authoritarian environment that seemed to be rooted in a medieval dogma that I did not understand. When, in an effort to make sense of things, I asked questions about this, I found Waldorf teachers to be strangely defensive.


"I was stunned to arrive at the conclusion that the education of children — at least as I use the term 'education' — did not seem to be the school's most important focus and objective. But what was?"  [http://waldorfcritics.org/]


Many other parents have had similar experiences. Of course, Waldorf Schools do attempt to convey at least a certain amount of knowledge to their students, but indeed these schools have "higher" priorities than ordinary education. They seek to help children incarnate and evolve spiritually; they seek to fulfill Rudolf Steiner’s occult vision for the future. They are, in brief, engaged in an occult, messianic mission to save the universe. This is a noble goal, but one not likely to be achieved by following the phantasmagoric fantasies of Rudolf Steiner. [See “Here’s the Answer”, “Soul School”, “Spiritual Agenda”, and “The Waldorf Teacher’s Consciousness".]







From the publisher’s description of SOUL ECONOMY (Anthroposophic Press): “Today’s schools fill children’s heads with information instead of helping them develop their natural human faculties and capacities. They place too much stress on memory ... [Rudolf Steiner] describes an education based on the human as a continually developing being of body, soul, and spirit. From this perspective, Waldorf education depends on the teacher’s ability to observe and respond to each stage of a child’s development.”  [5-6-2011  http://www.lindisfarne.org/detail.html?session=8102e95243c298b371403f54c9abaae4&cat=&id=9780880105170]


Waldorf schools very rarely tax the memories of their students. The schools have minimal interest in conveying information — knowledge — to the kids. Instead, they try to ease the students' way through the various stages of childhood development. This may seem attractive — but the Waldorf conception of childhood development is severely detached from reality. 


Waldorf schools assume that all children pass through rigidly defined stages and that they do so in virtual lockstep. The three major stages run from • birth to age seven/eight, • age seven/eight to age fourteen/fifteen, and • age 14/15 to age twenty/twenty-two. When a child’s baby teeth fall out (around age seven), the “etheric body” incarnates, and the child passes from the first to the second stage. When a child goes through puberty (around age fourteen), the “astral body” incarnates, and the child enters the third stage. Eventually, when childhood ends (around age twenty-one), the “I” incarnates. This is all codswallop, but it is the basis of the Waldorf curriculum. (If you don't think that a child has both a spirit and a soul, or if you doubt that a child acquires an etheric body and an astral body, Waldorf may not be right for you.)


Waldorf schools claim to honor the individuality of each student, but in fact they generally treat all the students of the same age (six, seven, eight...) as largely indistinguishable. Thus, for instance, in TEACHING AS A LIVELY ART (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), Waldorf teacher Marjorie Spock has chapters titled “The Six-Year-Olds”, “The Seven-Year-Olds”, “The Eight-Year-Olds”, and so on, up through age thirteen. All children of a given age are treated as essentially the same. For example, all eight-year-olds are going through the same life change: “The child of eight is leaving one phase of growth behind him and preparing to enter another.” [p. 50.] With few exceptions, all nine-year-olds exhibit the hallmarks of the next stage: “By nine most of the changelings of the previous year have accomplished their change and reappear in school after the summer holidays with a strangely different look and new reserve.” [p. 61.] And so forth.


Of course, Waldorf teachers do not think that all the members of a class are identical. Some kids in any class are older than others, some are younger, some are female, some are male, some come from affluent homes, some may not. There are differences that meet the eye and differences that don't. True-blue Waldorf teachers, believing in reincarnation and karma, will assume that each child has a unique karma (although all the kids in a class share various karmic strains, such as the karma that led them to be in this particular class). The main difference Waldorf doctrine finds among children lies in the students' “temperaments." Using an ancient and entirely baseless system of classification, Waldorf teachers slot some kids as "melancholics," others as "phlegmatics," still others as "cholerics," and the remainder as "sanguines." (To determine which kids go into which category, the teachers may rely on their “clairvoyance” or their dreams or, in some cases, horoscopes.) Class assignments and seating will often depend on these arbitrary and false discriminations. (See chapter 10 of Spock’s book: “The Temperaments”.)


The Waldorf system is arbitrary, discriminatory, and irrational. And it often fails to provide anything like a real education — that is, the kids often come away without having acquired much real information. Too often, children emerging from Waldorf schools have memorized little, internalized little, learned little. As a public school principal said to a mother who transferred her children from a Waldorf school, "They are nice kids, but they don’t know anything."


[See “Incarnation”, “Our Experience”, “Temperaments", "Karma", “The Phlegmatic Sits by the Window”, and “Soul School”. Also relevant: "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", "Horoscopes", and "Dreams".]








“I went to Steiner school, and it's true that the theory is essentially nothing-but-crazy. But the practice of it can be utterly fantastic, and at least where I went the theory was entirely unmentioned. In the final half hour of school we had a lesson on ‘where did the last 14 years of your education come from?’ — we apparently (for example) literally have seven bodies, but you would thankfully never have guessed it from those 14 years of education.”  [http://hackerne.ws/item?id=2418788]


The worldview underlying Waldorf education is loopy — it consists of Rudolf Steiner’s occult fantasies. But often the students attending a Waldorf school do not receive explicit instruction in Steiner’s doctrines. Advocates of Waldorf education often make a point of this. Waldorf schools, they say, base their programs on Anthroposophy but they do not teach Anthroposophy to the students. How reassuring is this? If you learned that a certain school based its program on voodoo but refrained from teaching voodoo to the kids, would you send your child there?


It is also important to realize that even if a Waldorf faculty tries to keep its beliefs more or less under wraps, kids will pick up plenty of clues and suggestions. I attended a Waldorf school. Looking back, it seems to me that I came away having absorbed at least the following Anthroposophical beliefs: • the natural world is a place of illusion (maya), • unseen spirits are numerous and busy around us, • spiritual phenomena are real; physical phenomena are not, • science is faulty and unreliable, • the arts have spiritual — even magical — powers, • intellect and the brain generally do not bring us truth, • imagination and intuition are preferable to rational thought, • ESP or clairvoyance is probably real, • the stars and planets have esoteric powers (astrology), • humans are evolving, but not in the way Darwin described, • modern technology is wicked, • various forms of "earth spirits" or "nature spirits" probably exist, • there are deep and significant differences between races, • the ancients were wiser than modern humans, • dreams can be reliable sources of knowledge, • it is possible to commune with spiritual beings and with the dead, • we are subject to karma or fate or destiny, which we make for ourselves, • we probably have multiple lives (reincarnation), • Christ is extremely important, but churches generally misrepresent him, • some people develop special powers that give them access to hidden (occult) knowledge, • Waldorf schools are unique, pure refuges in a nasty, violent world. I absorbed at least these beliefs and probably more.


The faculty at the Waldorf school I attended never openly and honestly explained their intentions to the students or their parents, but the faculty at the school referred to in the item above did eventually open up. At the very last moment, they pulled aside the curtain and said, "Aha! Here's what we believe. Here's what we have been doing." There is, I suppose, some honor in such an approach. (Lie to the kids and their parents for 14 years, but then for 30 minutes come clean. At the very end, finally tell the truth about your intentions and practices.) My old teachers — most of whom I respected and admired — did not take this "honorable" course. Their secrets came out only when a scandal, reported in THE NEW YORK TIMES, nearly ripped our school apart. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".]


Enjoying the "utterly fantastic" life within a Waldorf school is easy. You dwell in a cozy, countercultural world of art, handcrafts, playtime, and organic gardening. There are minimal academic pressures, and much of the hurly-burly of modern life is blocked out. But you enjoy these features at the expense of being lied to and manipulated by teachers who want to steer you toward a utterly false set of fantasies, such as the belief that human beings have "seven bodies." You enjoy a life, in other words, that is totally false — one that is "nothing-but-crazy."


(Concerning the “seven” bodies: Steiner taught that we incarnate various invisible bodies as we age. The process is often thought to end at age 21, by which time a human being will have a physical body, an etheric body, an astral body, and an “I.” However, Steiner taught that the process of incarnation continues at least through age 42 as additional spiritual members — the sentient soul, the mind soul, and the consciousness soul — develop. If we count these latter three forms of soul as "bodies" — a debatable proposition — then. yes, in Waldorf belief we wind up with seven bodies. [See “What We’re Made Of”.])








“Let us acknowledge the wonderful contribution small schools with combined classes make at primary level. Let us recognise the many advantages of small schools with combined classes: creativity that is not burdened by tradition, flexibility in decision making, problem solving and adopting new approaches. But most of all, small schools can provide a warm, social, secure and personal learning environment for our children. Small schools with combined classes are the seeds for the future growth of Waldorf Education.”  [http://www.ecswe.org/downloads/articles/Reaching-Across-The-Ages-201103.pdf]


Advocates of Waldorf education offer many rationalizations. Most Waldorf schools are indeed small, and indeed there may be advantages in schools of limited size. Students will usually receive more individual attention, for instance. Discipline may be better. A sense of belonging — a feeling of communal involvement and identity — may be fostered.


On the other hand, small schools may have serious shortcomings. Facilities may be very limited. There may be few truly qualified faculty to teach many subjects. There may be little or no exposure to varying viewpoints. Because all the students at the school may come from similar backgrounds, the school’s culture may be intensely insular.


Combining classes can accentuate some of these problems. If, let us say, the first three grades all meet in the same room under the same teacher(s), none of the classes may really function at the appropriate grade level.


Parents considering a small Waldorf school should consider some additional factors as well. If the teachers at the school are, as Rudolf Steiner stipulated, “true Anthroposophists,” the insularity of the school will likely mean that children are reared in an Anthroposophical environment with minimal consideration given to non-Anthroposophical perspectives. Also, because a small Waldorf school will necessarily have a small faculty, the influence on the children exercised by this small band of teachers may be enormous. This can be exacerbated when — as often happens at Waldorf schools — a single teacher remains the primary instructor for a class in virtually all subjects, year after year. At some Waldorf schools, a “class teacher” begins with a group of children in first grade and stays with these children through fourth or fifth grade; at other Waldorfs, a class teacher may stay with the group through eighth grade or even longer. The children will emerge having been molded to an extraordinary degree by this teacher — who may, in fact, supplant the students' parents as the most important influence in the children's lives.


A small Waldorf school with a tiny faculty of devoted Anthroposophists will, in all probability, immerse the students in an intense atmosphere of Anthroposophical attitudes, approaches, and doctrines (although the latter may mainly be conveyed indirectly). After all, Anthroposophists believe that their worldview is true, and teachers naturally want to lead students to the truth. Parents should select a Waldorf school for their children only if they think that Anthroposophists do indeed possess the truth.








"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. [See the “Index” for the scoop on the three invisible bodies.] 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.







“The Dana Foundation research report shows how arts activities influence cognition. The results demonstrate levels of brain activity that reflect engagement or attentiveness during learning, including the kinds of arts activities (music, dance, painting, etc.) that hold children’s attention. The report validates scientifically what Waldorf educators observe on a daily basis in their classrooms: Artistic activity encourages motivation ... The difference between the approach of the Dana Foundation and Waldorf education is the difference between materialistic science and a spiritual — or anthroposophical — view of human beings. The first proceeds from cause to effect; the second begins with the wholeness of the child, which it allows to develop at its own pace, knowing that all learning must be digested artistically, and that the engagement of a child in education is essential.”  [12-8-2010  http://tdwebz.com/education/?p=1975]


Do islands float in the sea? Do goblins exist? Is the moon a fortress, a colony of spirits who once lived on earth? Do the planets travel in line with the Sun instead of orbiting it? Did we once live on Atlantis, and before that on Lemuria? Did we evolve from Saturn to Sun to Moon to Earth? Are some races more highly evolved than others? On such questions, Rudolf Steiner's teachings have received no scientific validation. Most of what Steiner taught is unsupported and, indeed, it is obvious nonsense. [See "Steiner's Blunders".] On a few matters, Steiner seems to have gotten things right, but generally these are matters on which, really, there is no argument. Is art good for the human mind and soul? Of course — no one disputes this. Should educators try to engage children — that is, get them involved and interested? Of course — no one disputes this. 

Clutching at straws, Steiner's followers often grab any bit of evidence that may conceivably justify Steiner's teachings. But usually these "justifications" are insipid truisms. Arguing that art is inspiring and that children should be engaged, and offering these ideas as "proof" of Steiner's teachings, is typical. No one disputes the value of art or the need to engage children, and non-Anthroposophical schools certainly do not stand for the opposite propositions (i.e., that art is deadly and children should be bored).

What Anthroposophists call "materialistic science" is simply science — that is, real knowledge. It does indeed trace causes and effects. To not do so would be foolish. But such foolishness is indeed central to Waldorf schooling. Waldorf teachers use interesting, high-sounding, inspiring rhetoric — "the whole child," "the spiritual view," and so on. Behind this rhetoric, however, we often see intellectual emptiness paired with a fervent embrace of Steiner's occultism. Thus, the "artistic" approach used in Waldorf schools is actually meant to transport children into the hidden spirit realm that Steiner described.
 
• “This is what gives art its essential lustre: it transplants us here and now into the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted in THE GOETHEANUM (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961), p. 25. 

• "[C]olours...are windows through which we can ascend spiritually into the spiritual world....” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF MYSTERY WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 111-112. (You may want to pause over the title of that book.) 

• “[O]n listening to music, [a person] has an inkling...of the spiritual world.” — Rudolf Steiner, quoted in ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER, John Fletcher (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 136.
 
• "In having people do eurythmy [a form of dance], we link them directly to the supersensible [i.e., invisible, spiritual] world.” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 247. (That's another title worth pausing over.)

If you like what Steiner said, Waldorf schools may possibly suit you and your children. But if Anthroposophical/Waldorf rhetoric strikes you as hot air — if you do not accept Steiner's occult doctrines — you should send your children to other sorts of schools (schools that believe, for instance, in cause-and-effect rationality). [See "Magical Arts
".]







"We learn with more than just our heads. Lots of us, not just those in Waldorf schools, agree with this ... Based on the work of John Gardner at the Garden City Waldorf School in the 1950s and 1960s and Douglas Gerwin since then, Waldorf schools approach each grade of high school differently in terms of assignments, expectations, and the development of thinking." [12-3-2010 http://ssagarin.blogspot.com/2010/12/learning-to-think-in-high-school.html]

There are many different forms of "thinking," ranging from logic to fantasizing. Waldorf schools emphasize "thinking" that is close to, if not synonymous with, fantasy: imagination, intuition, and inspiration. Ultimately, they place their hope in clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner taught that no real thinking occurs in the brain. Real thinking occurs outside the physical body; the brain merely reflects the thoughts that come in from invisible, higher parts. "[I]n all this external bodily organism [i.e., the physical body] no process such as thinking or cognition exists, but it takes place in the adjoining etheric and astral bodies ... Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), p. 88.

Like other Anthroposophists, John Gardner deplored logical or "critical" thinking. "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128.

The Waldorf curriculum is designed to keep children young and uninformed for as long as possible. [See "Thinking Cap" and "Thinking".] Use of the brain is de-emphasized; instead, the young child is immersed in fairy tales, myths, and religious teachings. The purpose is to bring the child into the occult fold, leading her/him to internalize Anthroposophical beliefs or attitudes. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] Then, when the child has become a junior occultist, intellectual thought is gradually and minimally developed in high school. Such mild "intellectual thought," however, is not meant to be critical — the child should use intellect only to rationalize the beliefs s/he has embraced. The goal, in other words, is to raise children who "embrace enthusiastically what [they have] come to understand." What do they "understand?" The beliefs and attitudes carefully cultivated in them by their Waldorf teachers. 

Waldorf schools are appropriate only for families who want an occult, mystical, irrational "education" for their children. Remember, "You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61. [See, e.g., "Beat", "Steiner's Specific", "Criticism", and "Curriculum".] 


Disclosure statement: I knew John Gardner. I attended the The Waldorf School of Garden City, which in those days had a different name. (The school changed its name after a scandal nearly tore the school apart — see "Scandal".) My mother was John Gardner's secretary. I remember at least one occasion when Mr. Gardner told me not to think with my brain. [See "I Went to Waldorf".] Douglas Gerwin attended the same school.



—————



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





















Rudolf Steiner said that Waldorf teachers must be free agents — they must be able to make their own decisions about how to educate the children in their charge. It is certainly true that Waldorf teachers are often essentially unsupervised, and often they have great latitude in deciding how to proceed in class. However, there are contradictions and limitations both in Steiner's statements on these matters and in the actual functioning of Waldorf schools. Consider the following, for instance:

"[T]he Waldorf school came into being in such a way that there were no set principles or systems — only children and teachers. We have to consider not only the individuality of every single child, but the individuality of every single teacher as well. We must know our teachers. It is easy to draft rules and principles that tell teachers what to do and not do. But what matters is the capacities of individual teachers, and the development of their capacities; they do not need educational precepts, but a knowledge of the human being that takes them into life itself and considers whole persons in a living way. You see, our job must always be development, but we must know where to look for what we wish to develop. We must link religious feeling — and later, religious thinking — with imitation during the first stage of childhood, and moral judgment during the second."  — Rudolf Steiner, THE ROOTS OF EDUCATION - Foundations of Waldorf Education XIX (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), pp.
 63-64.


Steiner seems to be saying that Waldorf teachers are wholly free to do as they think best. No "principles," "systems," or "precepts" hem them in.


But probe a little deeper. Waldorf teachers must have "a knowledge of the human being that takes them into life itself and considers whole persons in a living way." This is clearly both a principle and a precept. Moreover, it is built on a system — Anthroposophy, which is what gives Waldorf teachers "knowledge of the human being." (The word "Anthroposophy" literally means knowledge of the human being.)


Notice, too, that Waldorf teachers must aim for particular goals. Overall, they must have spiritual wisdom that they put into practice, both possessing and inculcating "religious feeling" and "religious thinking." They must aim to inculcate the former in their students during the first stage of child development (up to the age of seven), and they should do this by encouraging their students to imitate them. Then, during the second stage of child development (from ages seven to fourteen), they must seek to foster religious thinking through the mechanism of "moral judgment." (On other occasions, Steiner made it clear that teachers should serve as moral authorities during this phase of education.)


So, Waldorf teachers are meant to be free — but they are also meant to operate within a certain worldview, accepting a certain theory of child development, and employing certain approaches. In sum, Anthroposophy should prevail at a Waldorf school, and the teachers should be guided by Anthroposophy in all of their actions.














About teacher training and teachers' guides:


The training given to new and aspiring Waldorf teachers is often long on Anthroposophical doctrine and short on practical how-to-teach guidance. [See "Teacher Training".] One result is that Waldorf teachers often lean heavily on suggestions they receive from fellow teachers who are no better trained than themselves. Waldorf teachers often simply copy what others have done previously, whether or not what was done previously worked particularly well.


Waldorf teachers are supposed to be creative and original, but in practice their modus vivendi generally boils down to copying. Among the chief Waldorf teachers' guides are THE EDUCATIONAL TASKS AND CONTENT OF THE STEINER WALDORF CURRICULUM (Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, 2008) — often called the "yellow book" — and two series of booklets, one  written by Roy Wilkinson (Rudolf Steiner College Publications) and the other by Charles Kovacs (Floris Books).





The "yellow book".





One of the many guides authored by Roy Wilkinson.






One of the guides written by Charles Kovacs.




Of course, most teachers in most kinds of schools use teachers' guides. The issue becomes whether they use sensible, reliable guides — guides that present real knowledge and proven educational approaches — or not. The Waldorf guides are based in Anthroposophical mysticism; they contain little real knowledge and few useful methods. Thus, for instance, the "yellow book" describes the stages of childhood development as outlined — without any factual basis — by Rudolf Steiner. [See pages 16-18.] The courses discussed for each grade level are essentially those prescribed by Steiner, all based on his occult conception of human nature and evolution, originally keyed to his vision of the German national/racial mission. [See "Curriculum" and "The Good Wars".]


The authors and editors of the Waldorf guides tend to be true-believing Anthroposophists who hold beliefs that almost no other educators in the world accept. To get a taste of Roy Wilkinson's views, see, e.g., "Temperaments" and "Fairy Tales". For a taste of Charles Kovac's thinking, see, e.g., "Sneaking It In". 





— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings

















Once more, an item from the "news" page:









Play frame

[A Waldorf Home].



"An introduction to our Waldorf inspired playroom. It is still very much incomplete and a work-in-progress. We’ve divided the room up into main sections, which we’ll be covering in later posts: The play frame, The reading corner, Home corner, The bird table. The walls have been kept plain white, with illustrations (Elsa Beskow scenes), posters, calendars and accessories providing colour. The floor is rather brightly hued, albeit well cushioned, with play mats, with floor cushions brought in for reading. We have very little plastic in the room, but couldn’t quite part with the Lego table, which still contains boxes of Lego, alongside the gnomes and wooden play furniture."  [9-10-2011  http://awaldorfhome.com/]


Many people take inspiration from various elements of the Waldorf lifestyle. Waldorf schools and communities emphasize art, wooden toys, homemade bread, green values, play rather than academics, dreamy myths and legends, natural fabrics, and so forth. Some parents and teachers try to use Waldorf methods without first investigating the reasons for them — that is, Waldorf/Anthroposophical doctrines. There are multiple dangers. The Waldorf approach makes little sense without the foundation of the Waldorf ideology. For instance, Waldorf schools usually put off teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic until children turn seven. This deprives kids of the benefits of early childhood education, thus depriving them of instruction that research shows can confer lifelong benefits.


At a fundamental level, Waldorf turns its back on the modern world, rejecting much that is wrong with contemporary society along with much that is good in contemporary society, such as modern knowledge. Of course, shielding children from the worst of modern culture (violence, graphic sex, excessive materialism, etc.) is obviously desirable. Certainly children need to be loved and protected. But the rejection of modern life can go too far, becoming a retreat into fantasy, an almost willful blindness. Children need to be prepared for fulfilling lives in the real world, not dream lives in fantasy worlds.


The Waldorf approach is not simply an effort to give kids safe, "natural," play-filled childhoods. It is meant to preserve young kids' natural clairvoyant ties to the spirit realm and to assist the incarnation of the kids' "etheric bodies." Unless you believe in natural clairvoyance and etheric bodies, none of this makes sense. Adopting Waldorf methods means depriving children of real benefits (such as the advantages of early childhood education) in exchange for entirely fictitious, nonexistent benefits (natural clairvoyance and etheric bodies). Likewise, you should realize that the sweet myths told in Waldorf schools are, according to Waldorf belief, true accounts of the spirit realm, and the cute little creatures such as gnomes that surround Waldorf children represent, according to Waldorf belief, beings that really exist and that really surround us at all times. 


You may elect to tell your children Waldorf-style myths without intending to convey Waldorf beliefs, and you may surround your children with gnomes and other fantasy characters without intending to teach the kids that such beings really exist. And maybe this will work out for you and your children; maybe no great harm will result. But if you use materials supplied by Waldorf schools or Waldorf homeschooling services, etc., you may well be unintentionally introducing your child to an unearthly, occult viewpoint that can remain rooted in the child's heart and mind for many years, perhaps for a lifetime, with potentially debilitating effects. 


Waldorf focuses on "higher worlds," imaginary spirit realms, not the real world. The Waldorf approach often fails to prepare kids for real lives in the real world — and this can be a severe disservice to the children you love. [See, e.g., "Spiritual Agenda", "Methods", "Beings", "Thinking Cap", "Coming Undone", "Neutered Nature", "Incarnation", "Failure", "Occultism", and "Academic Standards at Waldorf".]


(You should also know that many of the more appealing components of the Waldorf approach are offered to the general public with the intention of snaring the unwary. The Waldorf movement is quite prepared to co-opt all parts of your life and your family's life. You can, for instance, buy such books as THE WALDORF BOOK OF BREADS, THE WALDORF SCHOOL BOOK OF SOUPS, THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, THE WALDORF ALPHABET BOOK, THE WALDORF SONG BOOK, THE WALDORF KINDERGARTEN SNACK BOOK, etc. There are Waldorf guides to parenting, the spiritual role of the wife, "common sense" education, spiritually acceptable toys, and the like. Tread carefully.)














Grégoire Perra is a former Waldorf student and teacher. 

[See “He Went to Waldorf” and “My Life Among the Anthroposophists”.] 

Here is his account of some central teaching methods employed in the Waldorf schools he came to know so well. 

Not all Waldorf schools use these methods to the letter, but most use them to some degree, 

and indeed these methods may be classified among standard Waldorf approaches. 

Note that Perra was a student and teacher in France, and he has written in French. 

But the truths he reveals about Waldorf education apply to virtually all Waldorf schools in all countries. 

[To see his work in its original language, visit http://gregoireperra.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/ma-vie-chez-les-anthroposophes/

I am responsible for the following translation. Any errors in the translation are entirely my fault. — R.R.]






The Pernicious Role of Imitation


by Grégoire Perra




Waldorf education subjects the children to very specific teaching practices and rituals without ever, particularly during early childhood, giving the students any explanations. For example, there is not a word about eurythmy [23] or its function. I remember that when we [students] performed eurythmic movements or figures, most of the time we had no understanding of why we moved from one point in the room to another, and we made arm gestures in the same state of mind. There was also not a word about the different "celebrations" (actually religious ceremonies) we observed or their purpose: We lit candles, sang, formed processions without any clear idea of the reasons for making these marks of devotions. I remember how on my first day in fourth grade [24], I found myself completely lost when attending the ceremony that received the new first grade students into the school — nothing had been said about the event. There was also no explanation for the emphasis put on foreign languages, although at that time it was a distinguishing characteristic of the school. A teacher came into the classroom and began his first lesson of the year without even specifying which language he taught. I remember well how, on my first day, an English language course was followed by a German course, and I had all the trouble in the world understanding the switch from one language to the next. None of the teachers gave an introduction or even presented lead-in material. They immediately started to tell stories in their languages. For homework, I had to attempt translations of a few sentences in each language. But I did not even understand the concept of foreign language, which I confused with the concept of "code"! So I looked in dictionaries to find how each letter of a German or English word could be replaced by a French letter (!). Ultimately, exasperated by my failures, my mother came to my rescue and explained the essential elements that should have been given to me by my teachers. It was the same for recorder lessons [25]: Throughout the year, I just had to do as the others did: cover the holes in my instrument and blow into it at the same time the other students blew.


In this form of education, omitting explanations and contexts — having students copy without understanding — is what Anthroposophic teachers call "imitation," and it is used in all classes and all school activities: There is not a word of explanation about the technique of Lazure painting, [26] the need to use wax crayons, the rule against leaving blank spaces on the sheet when drawing, the nature of Bothmer gymnastics (which is actually where gymnastics got its name) [27], the prohibition against playing ball [28], the importance of rhythm, the meaning of ceremonies such as Advent, St. John, etc. It's not that I missed explanations that had been previously given, before I started at Waldorf in the fourth grade. Such explanations had never actually been given. And I was not the only new student from other schools to come into my class this year or the following year. But no explanation was given to them, either. Waldorf educators take pride in claiming that this practice brings their teachings into the psyche of children without stimulating the intellectual center [29], passing primarily (or exclusively) through what they call the poles of rhythm and will. [31] This is based on the recommendations of Rudolf Steiner in his book STUDY OF MAN. [30] But this practice is in fact a violation of children’s awareness, short-circuiting their rational thinking. Required to obey instructions that have not even been explained, needing to imitate the teacher and the other children, Waldorf students learn not ask questions, they do as they are told, dissolving individuality in the will of the group. [32] The film LA VAGUE [33], for example, records an experiment in totalitarian submission conducted by a teacher at an American university; it can be helpful for understanding the pernicious and destructive effects of  teaching practices such as this in Waldorf schools. In order to enable students to understand the nature of Nazism, the history teacher Ron Jones asks his class to imitate, without thinking, various gestures to create an atmosphere of psychological fusion of individuals into a group. This process, even though merely an experiment, almost always ends badly, because it is very easy for human beings to sink into such behavior [i.e., submitting passively to the group], and thus we can imagine the lasting damage that may be caused in a child. An inspectors’ report of a Waldorf school in Yonne says this:


“This method of teaching in no way resembles an active method. There is rather a submission. Young people are transformed into simple followers, pleasant but dazed. In particular, they are especially discouraged from thinking." (Quoted by Paul Ariès in ANTHROPOSOPHIE, ENQUÊTE SUR UN POUVOIR OCCULTE {ANTHROPOSOPHY, STUDY OF AN OCCULT POWER}, p. 230) [34]


In my opinion, the most problematic effect of this educational process, imitating group behavior without explanation or contextualization, occurs during lessons on legends and myths in the lower grades (primary school). Indeed, during a class on mythology, specifically Celtic mythology in the fourth grade, our Waldorf teacher began the class by telling us a myth without saying anything about its cultural and historical context. As Paul Ariès has written about this failure to contextualize myths:


"It is regrettable here that the stories and legends were not analyzed. What conceptions of man and the cosmos did they convey?" (p. 231)


I well remember that we students had an exchange during recess, after that first class, when our "master" told us the wonderful creation story from Celtic mythology. We debated for several minutes whether our teacher had been telling us what really happened during the creation of the world, or whether the story he told was just a "myth." We were unable to decide. In not giving young students help in comprehending legends and myths, does the Waldorf teacher realize that he is creating a serious confusion between the real and the imaginary, which may have devastating psychological effects on some children later? Indeed, those who are the least grounded — the most dreamy children — will sometimes suffer the consequence of being unable to find the line between the real and the imaginary in some circumstances, or they confuse their dreams with reality. Even worse, this practice may aggravate the plight of children with undetected mental disorders, such as unfortunately may exist in all classes.


Generally, people who have not received their schooling in a Waldorf school do not realize how Waldorf students experience legends and myths. They think Waldorf students receive these tales as they themselves heard them during their own schooling, as stories you take much as you take stories about Santa Claus (that is to say, with skepticism) — "stories" in the sense that we typically say that someone tells stories. But the notion of stories in the sense of an imaginary tale does not prevail in Waldorf schools. The children become emotionally involved with the the gods and other characters from the myths and legends they are told! They love these characters! These characters are part of their lives, almost part of their families! I still remember being upset all day when my class teacher told us the story of the capture of the god Loki by the Aesir, during the section on Norse mythology in fourth grade. [35] That night as I fell asleep, I wept while replaying the tale in my mind, I was so attached to that god. This is why the sense of wonder surrounding the myths and legends is so strong in the memory of Waldorf students. They have indeed lived under these tales as emotional realities, not mere stories. The children do not necessarily believe that the gods exist, but they become attached to them like real people. [36] Moreover such narratives are not presented only in the study of mythologies, but in all parts of Waldorf education, even science, creating an emotional attachment to the subjective system that the teachers convey to their students. The inspectors report noted:


"All teaching in the various disciplines and programs is based on myths and mystical themes." (Quoted by Paul in ANTHROPOSOPHY, STUDY OF AN OCCULT POWER, p. 230)


To be thorough, we should note that the method of omitting context and explanation, which I have attempted to describe, is considered valid only for the lower grades. The lower grades function, according to Rudolf Steiner, under the principle of authority, as he writes in STUDY OF MAN. But in the upper grades (high school) there is a different guideline. Then it is common for Waldorf teachers to begin providing some explanations. For example, myths and legends may be interpreted for the students, the symbolism of colors and shapes implemented in the decorations of the school environment may be examined, the reason for the presence of eurythmy and its alleged benefits may be explained, etc. Adolescents are often quite excited to receive such explanations, as I noticed when I was teaching in these schools. In fact, the students see these as a mark of newfound respect: Finally, something is explained, empowering the students to understand what they previously only received or listened to dreamily. I well remember my own excitement when our history teacher in ninth grade explained for us the Cathar [37] tale "The Man of Many Colors" (published by Editions Anthroposophic Iona in CONTES MERVEILLEUX DES PAYS DE FRANCE {THE FAIRY TALES OF FRANCE}). His interpretation outlined how each of the images in this story could be seen as a step in a process of initiation. [38] But in giving this explanation he was actually teaching us an Anthroposophic doctrine — young teens do not realize that what they experience as a mark of respect is actually a new way of influencing them, a more pernicious attack on their freedom of thought. Thus, Waldorf teaching occurs in two stages, the first — coming under the sign of authority — precludes any explanation or contextualization, while on the other hand the second provides explanations that have a covert Anthroposophical character. This is a method that violates students’ spiritual integrity and their inner freedom.


One day we will probably realize that such practices have highly pernicious effects on the minds of children. No doubt such practices will be banned, because they will be understood as processes by which human beings are trained to abdicate their thinking. A habit is developed very early to accept group practices or to receive "stories" without thinking, without finding the need for thought. In addition, some of the practices or beliefs that are taught are those of the Anthroposophical religion. Students become accustomed to these as well, and they are led to accept without thinking (or to put this more strongly, in a thoughtless state) the rituals, customs, and lifestyle of Anthroposophy. A report by inspectors who visited the Waldorf School in Sorgue, in December 1999, expresses this criticism:


"The students are never given sensible written texts, there is no trace of mental challenges...no trace of scientific learning ... Students do not ask questions, but sit before masters who provide no opportunity to speak up ... Students are never put in a position to think, to mobilize their knowledge to perform a task ... We observe a very directive pedagogy of imitation that prohibits creativity, as is shown by the stereotypical work the students produce.”  (Quoted by Paul in ANTHROPOSOPHY, STUDY OF AN OCCULT POWER, pp. 229-230.)


For now, society at large has not responded to these teaching practices. Not only are these practices not prohibited, but sometimes they are even subsidized. In my view, this is not only because of the clever concealment used by the schools that implement them. [39] It also stems from the fact that society has not fully understood or embraced the notion of the dignity of the individual mind. It is in fact only a few centuries since the West discovered the concept of "the subject," that is to say, the free individual who exercises his powers of reasoning. But it seems that we have not yet fully understood, at the societal level, that such a value imposes requirements on us. It is very sad that some individuals who have become adults deliberately decide to abdicate their reason and their freedom by entering groups and movements such as Anthroposophy, where freedom of thought is actually prohibited — as I myself experienced. But out of respect for their freedom, we must allow such individuals to abdicate their freedom. Because they have chosen to abandon the condition of the free subject. They have been misled to accept the alternative condition. If we are to respect free choice, we need to accept both distinct possibilities, that of preserving the condition of individual freedom and that of abandoning it.  But Anthroposophy does not do this, instead claiming that it offers "free thinking," "living thoughts," "thoughts from the heart," so that you are drawn into practices and rituals that eventually darken, blur, and break your powers of thinking. [40] But it is up to each individual to be vigilant about the risks he takes in entering this or that group. And society must allow everyone to have available the information needed for this decision (as did UNADFI by publishing on its website my article about Waldorf schools [41]). But we should immediately condemn practices that precondition children to such an abdication of thought, or to the abandonment of the state of being a free subject. Therefore, we should not be surprised if one day such "education" is no longer tolerated.















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


◊◊◊ 5. THE WALDORF APPROACH ◊◊◊




A survey of the standard Waldorf curriculum


METHODS


How they get that way

The irrational modes of “thought” fostered at Waldorf schools

English classes and history classes in a typical Waldorf school


The central mythology in many Waldorf schools: Norse myths


At Waldorf schools, ignorance is often taken as wisdom


The Waldorf curriculum: the arts, and festivals


How they paint and draw


The Waldorf curriculum: math


The antiscientific nature of Waldorf education


Class journals as created by students at many Waldorf schools

The Anthroposophical take on technology


No [external link]


The Waldorf curriculum: astronomy


Steiner on our solar system or "our universe"


A behind-the-scenes look at Waldorf education


Exploring the fundamentals of Waldorf schooling


Further explorations


Still further explorations


Talks between Steiner and Waldorf teachers


"Practical" tips Steiner gave to Waldorf faculty














ENDNOTES




[1] In creating this description, I will rely partly on my own memories of Waldorf schooling, the accounts given me by friends who became Waldorf teachers, published accounts by others, Anthroposophical texts, and materials posted by Waldorf teacher training institutions. Because I am generalizing, and because individual Waldorf teachers are given so much leeway to create their own methods, I will not footnote every statement. You can glean indications on these matters, however, by going to such pages as "Teacher Training", "Advice", "Faculty Meetings", "Foundations", etc. Relevant publications include THE NEW ART OF EDUCATION, by Rudolf Steiner (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1928), PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, by Rudolf Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 2000) and the other volumes in the Foundations of Waldorf Education series, THE EDUCATIONAL TASKS AND CONTENTS OF THE STEINER WALDORF CURRICULUM, by Martyn Rawson and Tobias Richter (Steiner Schools Fellowship, 2000), A HANDBOOK FOR WALDORF CLASS TEACHERS, by Kevin Avison (Steiner Schools Fellowship, 2004), WALDORF EDUCATION, by Richard Blunt (Novalis Press, 1995), and the teachers' guides prepared by Roy Wilkinson and, separately, by Charles Kovacs. 


[2] The arts, and all expressions of beauty, are thought to have spiritual powers. See, e.g., "Magical Arts".


[3] Some of these matters are touched on in "Faculty Meetings". For accounts by teachers who have worked in Waldorf schools, see "My Life Among the Anthroposophists" and the pages that follow it.


Emphasis on rhythm shows up in small ways, as well. Waldorf teachers often lead their students in rhythmic chants or call-and-response exchanges that are meant to facilitate memorization of certain material, such as multiplication tables. In general, Waldorf schools downplay memorization, considering it harmful. Converting a set of information into a chant, poem, or song can help kids internalize that material, and it may seem to do this viscerally rather than intellectually (the material presumably enters the guts or bones, not the brain). All of this accords with the basic Waldorf approach. Whether it actually works well may be another matter. (A Waldorf student attempting to do math may wind up chanting silently, and then finding the results of the chant difficult to conceptualize and employ.)


[4] For more on festivals, see "Magical Arts". 


[5] See, e.g., "Lesson Books".


[6] For indications about teachers' authority, see, e.g., "Spirit". 


[7] "The arrangement in the Waldorf School is that the main lesson shall take place in the morning. The main lesson begins in winter at 8 or 8:15, in summer a little earlier. The special characteristic of this main lesson is that it does away with the ordinary kind of timetable. We have no timetable in the ordinary sense of the word, but one subject is taken throughout this first two hour period in the morning — with a break in it for younger children — and this subject is carried on for a space of four or six weeks and brought to a certain stage. After that, another subject is taken. For children of higher classes, children of 11, 12, or 13 years old, what it comes to is that instead of having: 8 – 9 Religion, 9 – 10 Natural History, from 10 – 11 Arithmetic — that is, instead of being thrown from one thing to another — they have for example, in October four weeks of Arithmetic, then three weeks of Natural History, etc." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1947), chapter 7, GA 305. The schedule Steiner outlines here is not always followed precisely. The main lessons at some Waldorf schools last 90 minutes without a break, and each main lesson subject is "carried on" (i.e., dealt with) for three or four weeks before being dropped for another subject. Each subject is later renewed at a somewhat higher level, after a break that may be as long as an entire year. Overall, the sequence of main lessons is meant to follow a spiral pattern, emulating and perhaps enacting the upward movement — described by Steiner — of the soul climbing toward enlightenment.


[8] Waldorf teachers usually undertake continuing professional development. However, most of this — like the teachers' initial training — usually occurs in special Waldorf/Anthroposophical training facilities where the primary focus is on Rudolf Steiner's occult doctrines. Waldorf teachers may know little about their subjects beyond what they have been told by more senior Anthroposophists.


[9] See "Thinking Cap" and "Steiner's Specific".


[10] See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".


[11] See "Magical Arts", "Lesson Books", and "His Education".


[12] "Too often a zealous attempt to impart information is substituted for the development of human faculties in modern education. This can lead to overexertion of memory and inner exhaustion of the student...." — Rudolf Steiner, SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1986), note on the rear cover, written by the editors.


[12] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 494.


[13] Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 94.


Also see "Mystic Math" and "Sneaking It In".


[14] See "Ahriman" and "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes".


[15]  See "Humouresque", "Temperaments", and "Races".


[16] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.


[17] See, e.g., "Science".


The Waldorf belief system includes many occult notions that are played out in class. There is this, for instance: “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.


Concerning use of the hands, Steiner taught that we actually think more with our bones than with our brains. “As soon as we begin to think with our fingers — and one can think with one's fingers and toes much more brightly, once one makes the effort, than with the nerves of the head — as soon as we begin to think with that part of us which has not entirely become matter, when we think with the lower part of our being, then our thoughts are the thoughts of our karma." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126.


[18] See, e.g., "Academic Standards at Waldorf" and "Our Experience".  For a look at particular parts of the Waldorf educational approach, see "Curriculum", "Mystic Math", "Oh My Word", "Magical Arts", and related pages here at Waldorf Watch. 


[19] Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 247.


[20] THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science (Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961), p. 25.


[21] For more on these matters, see "Most Significant", "Curriculum", "Common Sense", and "Basement".


[22] For more on Waldorf class books — also called lesson books — see "Lesson Books".


[23] See "Eurythmy".


[24] This was Perra's first day as a Waldorf student. See My Life Among the Anthroposophists.


[25] Recorders are simple woodwind instruments. Usually, all students in a Waldorf school are required to play them.


[26] Lazure is a method of painting in which thin layers of paint are gradually laid one atop another. "Lazure is layers of paint prepared nearly as thin and transparent as watercolor. It is applied with a rhythmical movement using large brushes. The final color is achieved using varied colors applied in several layers, over a white surface. Light passes through these thin layers of color and is reflected back, giving a pure color experience. It can achieve aesthetically beautiful results AND act as a powerful healing influence amid the stress and tension of modern life." [http://pinterest.com/queenslace/waldorf-lazure/] A characteristic Anthroposophical practice, lazure is related to veil painting. [See The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]


[27] Bothmer gymnastics is a non-athletic form of movement in which the practitioners "experience" the space around them. "Bothmer Gymnastics is intended to foster balance, not just physical balance but mental and spiritual balance too. It's sometimes associated with the phrase 'spatial dynamics' as it aims to help older children (and adults) explore the relationship between their body and its position in space." [http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=93199] As employed in Waldorf schools, such gymnastics are related to the practice of eurythmy. [See "Eurythmy".]


[28] This prohibition is not implemented in many Waldorf schools, but Steiner's views on sports were indeed peculiar. See, e.g., "Oh Humanity".


[29] Waldorf education generally downplays the use of the brain, especially before high school. See, e.g., "Thinking" and "Steiner's Specific".


[30] See "Oh Humanity".


[31] In Anthroposophy — and in Waldorf education as infused by Anthroposophy — great emphasis is placed on experiencing the "natural rhythms" of life. Each day, week, month, season, and year is thought to have natural rhythms that reflect spiritual forces. One submerges oneself in such rhythms in order to be attuned with the spirit realm. Waldorf classes are often designed to have an underlying rhythmic structure, for this reason.


Likewise, Anthroposophists place great emphasis on the will, which is deemed a distinct human faculty. In his instructions on how to develop clairvoyance, Steiner taught that the will must override all obstacles, blocking out any thoughts or experiences that run counter to Anthroposophical belief. The emphasis on will becomes, thus, a profoundly anti-intellectual force, actively suppressing rational thought. [See "Knowing the Worlds".]


[32] "[T]each the children respect. The children should not raise their hands so much." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.


[33] See, e.g., http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Vague_%28film%29.


[34] Éditions Golias, 2001, ISBN-10: 2914475195.




[35] Loki is a likable if immoral prankster god; the Aesir are a band of gods opposed to Loki and his allies. See "The Gods".


[36] In Anthroposophical belief, the gods of ancient mythologies are real beings. They exist. Ancient peoples were able to see them, whereas today we have largely lost this ability.  "Zeus, Apollo, Mars, Wotan, Odin, Thor, who are all real beings, became visible. It was characteristic of these spiritual beings not to descend so far as the physical plane, but at the most to manifest temporarily in some kind of physical embodiment, a fact which is cleverly indicated in the myths when mention is made of momentary appearances of Zeus or other gods in human or some other form, when they descended to the world of men in order to carry out some purpose." — Rudolf Steiner , THE EAST IN THE LIGHT OF THE WEST (Kessinger, facsimile of 1942 edition), pp. 108-109.


[37] The Cathars were a gnostic Christian cult. Anthroposophy is essentially gnostic. See "Gnosis".


[38] Occult initiation — gaining access to secret spiritual knowledge, becoming an esoteric insider — is a central goal for Anthroposophists. Senior Waldorf faculty members often deem themselves to be initiates. [See "Inside Scoop".] Steiner outlines the path of initiation in his book KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT. [See "Knowing the Worlds".]


[39] See "Secrets".


[40] Anthroposophists claim that their system promotes human freedom; they value "living thoughts" (implanted in us by spiritual powers, not products of our brains); and they think that wisdom comes more through emotion than through thinking. The Anthroposophical meaning for such terms, e.g., "freedom," often runs contrary to ordinary usage. For more on such matters, see, e.g., "Freedom", "Thinking", and the appropriate sections of The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.


[41] UNADFI is an organization that disseminates information about cults. Perra published an article at the UNADFI website, as the result of which the Waldorf school federation in France sued him for defamation. See He Went to Waldorf and Part 3 of  My Life Among the Anthroposophists