Grégoire Perra, a former Waldorf student and teacher, is the author of "The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner-Waldorf Schools", presented here at Waldorf Watch [see “He Went to Waldorf”]. Perra has also written other essays about Waldorf education; they are available (in French) at his websites [http://gregoireperra.wordpress.com/ and https://veritesteiner.wordpress.com].
Here is an essay that expands upon some of the points he made in "The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner-Waldorf Schools". The title of this additional essay, in French, is "Une emprise et un endoctrinement presque indétectables". In English: "Nearly Undetectable Influence and Indoctrination". (In the following translation, I have included some additional material that M. Perra has sent to me directly — material that does not appear in the original French text.)
— Roger Rawlings
For this translation, I have relied heavily on the assistance of
a Francophone friend who wishes to remain anonymous.
Any errors in the translation are entirely my responsibility. — R.R.
INFLUENCE AND INDOCTRINATION
By Grégoire Perra
We meet at a little table at a Parisian cafe. I am amazed by his appearance, changed so much by the years, and he's amazed at mine. It has been almost twenty years that we have not seen each other. For several minutes we exchange news about our work and family situations, then the conversation lags. Discomfort suddenly seems to arise, until my questioner finally finds the courage to begin:
”You know, Grégoire, I read your article that appeared on the UNADFI website not long ago. [See "He Went to Waldorf".] It made me think quite a bit. But I tell you frankly, I do not have the impression that I was indoctrinated during my schooling at [a Steiner-Waldorf school]. As for me, I have wonderful memories of our teachers. Incredible people! You remember so-and-so? And this other one? They were extraordinary people! On the other hand, for the Federation of Steiner-Waldorf schools to sue you, it's really ugly on their part. [See "My Life Among the Anthroposophists".] They have the right to disagree with what you wrote, but it is not proper that they should want to prohibit publication!”
I study this old classmate for a long while without saying anything. I am touched by his sincerity and don't quite know how to answer him. He has read my article, he has acknowledged the veracity of each of the elements that I describe and the authenticity of my approach, but he seems incapable of perceiving the process of indoctrination that is the heart of this article. Is it not apparent from the facts? How can we explain such blindness in someone whom I knew for many years to be intelligent and shrewd? After a while, I decide to answer him this way:
“You know, indoctrination is not the same thing as a brainwashing. It can be defined by two elements: a doctrine is transmitted and an emotional grip is achieved. Let's start with the latter. Do you remember how our class teacher shook our hands tightly each morning, looking straight into the eyes, as we entered the classroom, one by one? Do you remember also, on our first class trip in third grade, how he ritually came to see each student individually in their beds to give each a 'comfort hug' so they would not be afraid, sleeping for the first time away from their families? Remember also that, on each class trip, he slept with us in the same dorm?”
"Yes, it's true, when I think about it now, it's weird!” my old friend interrupts me. “It was fascinating to watch his throat when he snored. We spent part of the night watching him sleep,” he adds, laughing. “But it was thirty years ago, before all the stories about pedophilia, no? Steiner-Waldorf schools no longer allow such things today, do they?”
"To my knowledge, and according to a few reports I have collected, quite possibly they still do,” I replied. “For class trips, some teachers settle in dormitories with the students. Not right up beside them, but somewhere in their midst. And I've received reports that in some Steiner-Waldorf kindergartens, children getting ready for naps have to strip down to their underwear, which is normally forbidden in French kindergartens. Some teachers go so far as to give the kids massages, applying Weleda oil to the skin, and then kissing them on the cheek before they fall asleep. On the other hand, you're right, after some disturbing stories that came out a few years ago, for safety the ‘evening hug’ is only given by female teachers now. That said, between us, this is not very safe either. Female pedophiles may also exist. And in my opinion, this does not solve the basic problem that is behind this kind of practice. Indeed, don't you think that such very intimate gestures (hugging children in their beds!) creates an emotional situation more like a family than a teacher-student relationship?"
"Certainly such an embrace is more the gesture of a mother or a father than a teacher, I agree. Warm paternal or maternal affection should be found inside a family, not with your teachers! Otherwise we end up all mixed up. It's dangerous to create substitutes for the family! But outside of this ritual, there are no other such practices, surely?"
"Don’t you remember how, in kindergarten, the teachers often held you on their knees? Don’t you remember, later in the lower grades, the frequent caresses of our teachers? How they took us in their arms, sat next to us in class, draping their arms around our necks while we wrote or drew?"
"But it was not something systematic and organized,” he replies animatedly. “These were just spontaneous gestures made by tender teachers to their young students!"
"I don’t think so,” I say. "When I did my training in the Institute Rudolf Steiner de Chatou [i.e., training to become a Waldorf teacher], the future kindergarten teachers said they were often told to be physically demonstrative with children, to make affectionate gestures, take children on their knees, etc. These are educational instructions, not spontaneous gestures. It is repeatedly stressed that the teacher must be like a mother to the children in her care. In his powerful book, MORAL HARASSMENT, Marie-France Harvey explains that practices like this used by manipulators have the effect of a kind of hypnosis, putting the victims in a daze. Up to 80% of this is achieved by nonverbal communication and gestures, glances, etc., that little by little exert their influence. In the public institution where you put your son, are teachers allowed to use such emotional gestures?"
"No,” he admits. "I would find it rather suspicious if my son returned in the evening telling me that his teacher took him in her arms or on her lap."
"Then why, according to you, are such methods still advocated in Steiner-Waldorf teacher training, despite the risks they may pose?"
"I see how the confusion of roles may be dangerous,” he finally tells me. "And now that you mention it, it reminds me that our class teacher used to take a meal with each family at least once a month. Theoretically this helped him to better understand the home environment of his pupils. But it was still annoying. Initially, I considered it an intrusion into our privacy. Then I got used to it. After a while, it became a bit like an uncle who made regular visits."
"He was not the only one who did this. It is a pedagogical practice of these schools. And, as you say, this creates a deep confusion between what is the family domain and what is the professional domain. Trying to substitute for parents is a serious business. Undertaking such a role implies a lifelong commitment, otherwise it is a lie."
"I understand what you mean,” he says. ”On the other hand, I do not remember such an act or similar rituals after the eighth grade."
"You're right," I reply. “In the upper classes, something else is done. Some teachers then try to be pals more than parents for their students. Or perhaps both at the same time. It is serious if they don’t see the problem in bringing home a group of students during school hours to offer them tea. Or driving a student around town to various appointments in the teacher’s car. Or hiring students as babysitters and maids. All of this inevitably erases institutional and psychological boundaries, leading to excesses like those I denounce in my article on the UNADFI website. Of course, this kind of irregular behavior is not standard in Steiner-Waldorf schools. But erasing boundaries makes irregularity acceptable in the eyes of all when it does occur. People establish their values based on the behavior they observe in their immediate circle. If promiscuity is the norm in a particular setting, we see no harm. Courses on ‘human nature’ in Steiner-Waldorf teacher training really should address these fundamental things in life, rather than leading souls into incomprehensible metaphysical contemplation of the essence of thought before birth or the continuation of the will after death."
"I understand better what you mean, I accept it. But why would you say they do that? And why would they not change these modes of operation, considering that it is more than ninety years now that these schools have existed. Surely they must understand that such things automatically create serious problems!"
"You want my opinion?” I answer. “It is all because breaking down barriers and causing confusion between the spheres of the family and the school create an excellent method for producing an emotional hold on the students. At the beginning of our conversation, you expressed the admiration you still feel for this or that teacher of ours. And there, frankly, you surprised me! Seriously, what did these people do that was so extraordinary? Why did you find them special? You can certainly appreciate qualities or deplore defects in our former teachers. Some were very competent, others less so. Some had interesting personalities, others were rather flat. But from there, to be regarded as great people! Don't you see a problem here? How is it that today, after almost forty years, you continue to believe in the extraordinary character of your former teachers? I do not deny that we had a few teachers who had some beautiful qualities, but from there to venerate them until your death! Tell me a single quality in teacher X that made him exceptional!"
"I think I do not see one,” he honestly admits.
"It is said that in the first Steiner-Waldorf school, in Stuttgart, Rudolf Steiner often asked the students, ‘Dear children, do you love your teachers?’ Then he waited for a clamorous 'Yes!', which he always received. Well, see you, that is where the problem lies. As students, we do not have to love our teachers! Indeed, no one should think it proper to ask children in school such an intimate question. As students, we should certainly respect our teachers, but trying to learn whether we have affection for them, this is putting us under surveillance! This behavior of Rudolf Steiner was improper. Asked of a community, a group of students, this question becomes suspicious! One really gets the impression that he echoed the apostle John saying every Sunday in the community of Ephesus: 'Little children, do you like each other!’ In public schools, teachers are what they are; they do not try to leave such deep marks on the personalities and emotions of their students as Steiner-Waldorf teachers do. Public schools allow students to become themselves. Because nobody will impose an indelible mark on the students' psyches. There is no need for someone special to come mark us, as if only then can we become what we should be. Quite the opposite. We should become what we already have within ourselves. Better give children a place to grow than to put them in someone else’s shadow. Give a framework, place limitations on emotional ties, this is precisely what will guarantee the freedom of the individual child. And the development of his true personality. His own, not that of another. Otherwise, it creates psychological situations of undue influence.”
“I understand what you are describing,” he answers me. “And yet, I cannot fully agree with your criticisms. Something inside me won’t let me. Whenever I look back at my old school, I am assailed by this weird feeling. It's like sadness. Or nostalgia. I have the impression of an irreparable loss. Sometimes this feeling is so strong that I start to cry!"
And he is actually on the verge of tears. I pause quite a long time before saying anything more. I know that we are touching one of the profound elements of the Steiner-Waldorf problem, and I must give him time to get to the bottom of this feeling, so that he can get beyond it and recognize what lies behind it. [Finally I continue]:
"Gaining an emotional hold on someone is a form of seduction by which a seducer makes a person’s ego dependent. The recipient is made to feel special because of the recognition s/he receives from the seducer. But s/he also thinks s/he will sink into nothingness without the seducer’s approval. The seducer can create this state by the removal of barriers between their inner feelings, but also by providing his victim with the impression that only the seducer sees how special the victim is. Do you remember the poems our class teacher wrote in the lower grades?"
"Yes,” he responds. "Each student received his own poem. It was a poetic description of our deep personalities. One year, one of our classmates received such a rewarding poem that he could still recite it ten years later. It affected him so much, it was as if he were giddy.”
"It is extremely gratifying when someone takes the trouble to write a poem about you,” I reply. “Who normally writes such poems, except distraught lovers? This explains the nostalgic feeling that alumni of these schools often express. They feel that they were recognized there as they have never been recognized again anywhere else. Because the teachers in these schools do not only ask the students to physically strip down, as they do in kindergarten, but they ask for psychological nakedness as well. They ask the students to reveal their most private thoughts, like during the week spent studying Perceval, when they sometimes ask the students to tell what happened to them at age nine, or when they try to steer students through the transition to puberty. So the students get the impression that their teachers have seen into their souls with great clarity. The teachers begin this process when parents first enroll their children in kindergarten — they ask the parents intimate questions about their marriage and why they wanted to have children, and the teachers maneuver to take charge of the children then. Of course, they make their questions seem wholly professional, seeking to gain deep knowledge of the children entrusted to them. In fact, this unveiling process leads some parents to quickly and easily hand complete authority to the teachers and the school. The psychological effect includes the entire family! In principle, when someone unveils your inner being — which is a pretty rare experience — this creates a lasting connection. When people see deeply inside each other, they will always matter to each other. But later students fall out of the clouds when they realize that their teachers have not really understood them but have only pretended to see deeply inside. This can create a terrible disillusionment at the core! When some students eventually realize that their teachers didn’t really care about what they could become, and didn’t really understand who they were, they begin to realize the falsehood of what they lived through. But they are the lucky ones if they are able to penetrate such terrible deceit, compared with other students who don’t come to this realization and therefore stay caught in their teachers’ psychological grip."
His gaze becomes thoughtful and he stares down into his cold cup of coffee. When finally he lifts his eyes, he tells me:
"I do not know as well as you, because I didn't have the opportunity to study it, but I have the impression that Anthroposophists have strange views concerning emotions, sentiments, or instincts, is it not so? Psychoanalysis is not clearly understood among them."
"They are indeed far from being clear about the impulses of the unconscious. During my training at the Institute Rudolf Steiner de Chatou, one of our trainers systematically used sexual images as he spoke of the process of learning in children. For example, he talked about ‘fertilizing their minds,' 'knowing' in the biblical sense, ‘penetrating,' etc. His speech was so full of these kinds of metaphors that it became obscene. For a long time, I thought this was the idiosyncrasy of one troubled soul, but then I realized that Rudolf Steiner himself, in his writings (in particular a cycle of lectures given in Holland in 1924), continually drew a parallel between sexuality and knowledge. To summarize, the act of knowing and the sexual act express the same kind of energy. But do you realize this means that teaching and making love are basically the same for Steiner?"
"No wonder your trainer spoke as he did!" He added, "I think I'm starting to see what you mean when talking about an emotional hold. Okay, let's face it. But in your article, you speak of Anthroposophy being taught to the students. Me, I did not become an Anthroposophist, and I know very little about Steiner’s doctrines!"
"Who really does?” I reply. “Maybe not even Steiner himself! Anthroposophy is so huge, complex, and confused. It claims to explain the universe as a whole and in all its details. If even Anthroposophists are unable to comprehend the whole of such esoteric teachings, then adolescent students will not, either. On the other hand, I say that there are a number of Anthroposophic premises to which our teachers made us sensitive! Our spirit was made receptive to some concepts, or some allusions, possibly making a good home for them later in life. And it was the central premises that were conveyed to us."
"Why?" he asks me, taken aback.
"The premises are numerous and may reach into all subjects,” I say. "There is no need to speak to you about the 'message' of Perceval, or of Faust, because those are really very clear." 
"Yes,” he admits. “I read what you wrote about this in your article, and I can only agree with you. Our teacher gave us lectures in Anthroposophy in the guise of discussions about these works. But other subjects and other classes — what about them?"
"The same happens there, although the process is more diffuse," I reply. "For example, in science, we were subtly taught that there are no motor nerves and sensory nerves, that the heart is not a pump, that the evolution of animal species can be linked to the signs of the zodiac, that outer space in the far reaches of the cosmos is not infinite, etc."
"I admit that science classes left me cold,” he says. "As for that last thing, the cosmos that is not infinite, what course taught that? Astronomy?"
"No, projective geometry, in twelfth grade.”
"I remember!” he says. “They spent hours trying to show how a point formed by the intersection of two lines would be both to the right and to the left if the lines were parallel. A point at an infinite distance on the right would also be on the left. I did not understand why they spent so much time on this. It is true that the teacher concluded this exercise by saying that he was showing a different conception of space-time, different from traditional representations."
"It is what I would call a prepackaged doctrine,” I say. "And if you read THE ETHERIC WORLD, published by Editions Triades, you learn that, for Steiner, the stars occupy a cosmic space that is outside our space-time." 
"Give me another example,” he asks. “I don’t quite see what you mean."
"If you want,” I reply. "Do you remember when we studied animals in fourth grade?"
“Of course,” I say, “Who completely remembers a course he took during his schooling, except maybe a few highlights from courses in high school? That’s what makes identifying these methods so hard. It is easier for me. Not only because I have a very good memory but also because, as a teacher, I am constantly trying to remember courses I took in order to comprehend my students. Then, too, during my training at l'Institut Rudolf Steiner de Chatou, some memories came back. The outlines of the courses they presented were virtually the same as the courses I took as a student at Verrières-le-Buisson. Yes, very much the same. It is as if the teaching has not evolved in forty years. Moreover, when you read METHODOLOGY AND PRACTICE OF EDUCATION, you see that certain lessons, like the class in first grade on lines and curves, are basically laid out step by step." 
“And so, about those animal lessons in grade four?”
“Sorry, I lost my thread,” I reply. “Our teacher started, at the beginning of the lesson, by showing us three animals: the lion, the cow, and the eagle.”
“Yes, I remember,” he agrees. “He described at length the habits of each one. Then he drew them on the blackboard. He drew really well.”
“That is true," I admit. “Then do you remember that he spoke to us of the three most important parts of man, the head, the torso, and the limbs? After that, he drew them on another part of the blackboard. Then one morning he asked the whole class ‘If you had to put each of these animals together with one part of a man, which would go together best?’ At first, we had trouble understanding the question. Then the whole class got busy. We had many ideas. Each child had a different suggestion. One wanted to put the head together with the lion, because of the mane. Another connected the eagle with the torso, because of his big wings being like arms. And so on. But each time our teacher indicated that the answer was not completely satisfactory. Until finally someone proposed putting the eagle with the head, the lion with the stomach, and the cow with the limbs.”
“Well?” he questions me. “It’s a possible connection. I do not see what harm there is in that!”
“But are you aware that it’s an example of a typically Anthroposophical doctrine?” I reply. “Rudolf Steiner made exactly that connection between each of the parts of the human body and these three animals. You can read it in his book edited by Editions Triades: MAN’S RELATIONS WITH ANIMALS AND THE ELEMENTAL SPIRITS. And if you ever want to look more deeply into Anthroposophy, you will learn in THE SELF, ITS SPIRITUAL ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION that Steiner said there were four human races long ago, the lion people, the bull people, the eagle people, and the people who would become the human race as we are now. In other lectures, he associated these four ‘archetypes’ with the four apostles, the lion with Mark, the eagle with John, the bull with Luke, and the human with Matthew.”
“Ah, yes, that’s Anthroposophy!” he says.
“That’s exactly what I am telling you." I add, “They are careful. They will not openly teach such complex doctrines to the children. But they are going to prepare the children for such beliefs. They will not directly say ‘The current theory about of space and time is completely false.’ But they will indicate how Anthroposophists see things, and projective geometry is the key! They are not going to say, ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong. The monkey actually descended from man, not the other way around.’ But they will imply that the accepted theories may not be as solid as they seem. Then they will propose, as a hypothesis, a theory that’s closer to Anthroposophical beliefs. They’re not going to teach Anthroposophy directly to students. But they will smooth the way for those students to receive Anthroposophy in a number of subjects. Sometimes, they will use an interdisciplinary approach to convince students. For example, after the biology teacher expresses doubts about the Darwinian theory of evolution, the art teacher will show the children show how to make a primate shape out of a human silhouette. He will reinforce the idea by saying that a monkey’s body resembles a bent-over human, curled by the forces of gravity.  He will make the children receptive to Steiner’s doctrine that monkeys descended from man, and not vice versa. This theory is developed fully in a book by one of Rudolf Steiner’s followers, Jos Verhulst’s THE EVOLUTION OF MAN, THE FIRST-BORN (Ed. Triades).”
“Have you got another example?" he asks me.
“Yes. Do you remember when we discussed the subject of human races?”
“In fifth grade.”
“I remember, also," I say “Our teacher started by telling a great deal about the four human races: American Indians, Europeans, Asians, and Africans. Then he drew an expressive face for each. Then, setting that aside, he talked about the four ages in a man’s life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. On another part of the blackboard, he schematically drew these four stages of existence. One day, he asked a question of the whole class: ‘If you had to establish a connection between the four human races and the four stages of life, what would it be?’ Here again, the whole class started considering. Some suggested certain links, others tried different links. It became a competition. It was all about who could be the first to find the right correspondences. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the best way to link these eight elements was to put the African with childhood, the Asian with adolescence, the European with adulthood, and the Native American with old age.”
“But that’s racism!” he quickly exclaims. “Or it looks like it!”
“That’s exactly what inspectors in the Netherlands said, when they found student notebooks containing the following dictated by their class teacher: 'Explain why the African has thick lips and remains in a childish state.' Everything is explained when we read, for example, in Steiner's book THE SOULS OF THE PEOPLES "The African is childlike, the Asian is a youth, and the European is an adult. This is simply a law ... It may certainly be objected that, if this were so, the European has the advantage over the black and yellow races, but in reality no race is disadvantaged because all humans are embodied in the various races during their successive lives." (p. 77)  So Anthroposophy characterizes the races in these ways, stating that black people live a generally impulsive life, because they think with their hind-brains; Asians live a feeling life, because they think with their mid-brains; and Aryans live a life of thought, because they primarily use their central cortex.”
“Oh lucky us!" He cuts me off ironically. “So we were conditioned to see each race through an Anthroposophical lens? And we even received the concept of the mental superiority of the Aryan race, without realizing it?" he says, dismayed.
“Not exactly," I tell him. “We were prepared to receive such ideas later. Do you remember the student in our class who decided to make, for her senior project (at the end of work in the twelfth grade), leather masks corresponding to the four races? And do you remember the speech she gave at its public presentation?"
"Yes, I remember," he says. "Indeed, she shocked everyone by voicing the teachings of Steiner on these things, as you have just described them. Absolutely. She did not recognize the problematic nature of these pronouncements, which was disturbing."
"She was only repeating what she had heard and the evidence she had received during her schooling within the family of Anthroposophy. What makes the process so hard to detect is that at no time did our teacher explicitly express such doctrines himself. He gave us the impression that we had discovered these ideas ourselves. By making the whole class search, guiding our joint work toward the concepts that he had in mind, he made us think they came from us. To refer to Plato, I would say that he implanted false memories in us.”
“Yes. I mean ideas that were implanted in us in our childhood and which can come to the surface later if the right stimulus is applied.”
“A bit like the movie ‘Inception’?" he asks in a bantering tone.
“If you like,” I answer seriously. “When we read HUMAN NATURE, we see that Rudolf Steiner knew well how an idea that starts in the consciousness can gradually descend into the unconscious. Or how an unconscious idea can resurface and become conscious. There are two detailed diagrams on pages 120 and 123 of that book. This is Steiner's genius. But it is also the basis of the mind control that is used in these schools. The interconnections between thought, feeling, and will are used to make the students receptive to certain ideas. This is what I meant by false memories. Plato taught that the soul carries certain memories, shall we say moments when it recalls eternal truths it had known before birth. Actually, he did not mean this as a mystical theory so much as an allegory about the process of knowledge. This ancient author meant that anything we deeply believe feels as if it came from deep within us! Anyone who really understands something has, upon reflection, the impression that the idea comes from the depths of his being, not from outside. Anthroposophical educators mimic this process by implanting Anthroposophical ideas in the unconsciousness of the students so that the ideas may rise to consciousness later. Waldorf alumni who become Anthroposophists sometimes feel, when they read Steiner, that his ideas have been inside them forever. Sergei Prokofieff  describes this strange impression in one of his books. Anthroposophists think they are having memories in the Platonic sense. In reality, these ideas were put into them at one point in their lives in order to be reactivated later. In actuality, those alumni who go on to spend time in Anthroposophical circles, or those who revisit their old school if only for a fair, will find Steiner’s ideas emerging at one time or another.”