My Life Among the Anthroposophists


by Grégoire Perra






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Grégoire Perra got close to the center of the Waldorf/Anthroposophical world. Now he has written the truth about that strange world — he has published an excellent memoir of his years as a Waldorf student and, later, teacher. The original is available, in French, at his blog: "Ma vie chez les anthroposophes".


Below is an English translation. It is incomplete and may remain so for a long time, if not permanently. But I will translate as much as I can as promptly as I can. I believe that all readers interested in Waldorf education will find Perra's work enlightening.


Perra encountered Waldorf education and Anthroposophy in France, which might lead us to suppose that his experiences are unique to that country. But Waldorf schools — also called Steiner or Steiner-Waldorf schools — are much the same everywhere. And Anthroposophy is an essentially unchanging body of mystical belief. Rudolf Steiner's followers attempt to observe Steiner's teachings faithfully, wherever they happen to live.



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A word of caution:

Some parts of Perra's memoir are distressing.

But by being unsparing, particularly with himself,

Perra commands our credence.

His account appears to be admirably truthful.



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After posting an early version of his memoir, 

Perra exercised his right to make some changes 

and to add new material. 

I have not kept abreast of all these alterations, so to some degree 

my translation may not reflect the latest version of Perra's work. 


Any errors in the following translation are entirely my responsibility.


I have appended some commentary and explanatory notes 

at the end of this translation, including endnotes. 





— Roger Rawlings















My Life Among the Anthroposophists


by Grégoire Perra









Some time ago, I decided to tell in detail the story of my life in the Anthroposophic community, which started at age nine. This project was delayed by the lawsuit brought against me by the Federation of Waldorf Schools, following the publication of an essay of mine at the UNADFI website. [1] For several years, I have written notes to myself, and dug up old memories, to prepare for the day when I could freely tell the truth about Steiner-Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy. Of course, my goal is not to harm anyone, but to lay out significant facts, so I have decided to disguise the identities of most individuals I mention. If some people recognize themselves and feel injured, they should know that this was not my intention.


I believe this narrative, supplementing the account I gave at the UNADFI website, will allow readers to get an accurate and fair picture of these schools. I do not pretend to possess the absolute truth on this subject, but I have the personal perspective that results from living through the events I will recount. My purpose is not to paint myself as a victim nor to apportion blame to others. Having lived among the people I will describe, I was also one of them. Admittedly, I was not fully myself, then — the environment, with its sectarian mists, did not allow it. But if I had not had something inside myself that strongly opposed that environment, I would never have been able to leave. That little something deep inside, which finally made its voice heard — I think I can say it was my deep and true self. This is what the Anthroposophists failed to reach or turn off; this is what ultimately resisted their control.


Despite this resistance, which nearly collapsed towards the end, it is very difficult for me to fully distinguish between what was done to me and what I did to myself — the actions that I myself undertook as a member of  the Anthroposophic community. The reality of my past is not always easy to bear. It sometimes frightens me as much as it overwhelms me with wonder. Likewise, I am often filled with an immense pity or a deep anger when I learn about people who now are in the same situation I experienced. So in telling this tale, I am not trying to excuse myself. Instead, I am trying to give an honest account of the facts. When it is impossible for a human consciousness to sort out what is its own responsibility and what is the responsibility of others, at least one can rely on the power of narrative. If full comprehension is elusive, at least one can give a clear accounting for those who one day may, perhaps, be able to truly understand.








I. My Waldorf Education 

The Choice of My Parents 


I entered Steiner School X in 1979, at the age of nine. My parents, disappointed by French public education, had spent a year seeking an educational institution where they could register me and my sister. For this, they visited various so-called alternatives schools, such as Freinet and Montessori schools. Finally, their choice was the Steiner School, because it was the only organization providing a full curriculum all the way through high school. At other schools, the student would eventually need to return to the conventional system. My father said he was also aware of the fact that the Steiner system seemed to have a comprehensive and coherent pedagogy, not only employing specific learning methods but claiming to educate the whole child in order to develop the child’s unique individuality. This concept was of great importance to my parents, who believed that the National Education curriculum undervalued individuality, instead training and guiding children according to the needs of society and the decisions of the state. Eleven years after the events of May, 1968 [when French students rebelled against the institutions of the state], they thought the French educational establishment was wrong not to understand the importance of individuality and the need not to press children into a “mold.” In the context of the time, the fact that the Steiner School operated outside ordinary regulations aroused no suspicion in my parents.







 

Rituals and Ceremonies



I had my first day at School X in 1979. I went into the "fourth grade" (depending on the specific designations used by these institutions). The first day of school began with a ceremony attended by the whole school and centering on the children entering the first grade. No introduction or explanation had been given to my class about the ceremony that we would observe. We plunged directly into the worship and ceremonial part of the school’s regimen. [See my article “L’imitation dans les écoles Steiner-Waldorf : une atteinte à la qualité de sujet”.] I felt completely lost, confused, intimidated, witnessing in a new place a class consisting mainly of children I didn't know, and attending a ritual that was totally unknown to me.  Candles lit the large auditorium. During the ritual, every child in the first grade was solemnly presented to the man who would become the class’s head teacher for eight years. The future student, who was waiting in an adjoining room with the others, crossed the threshold of the auditorium when his name was called, advancing to the teacher before the eyes of the whole school, to greet this figure who stood looking solemn. The teacher or a student from the twelfth grade then gave the child a small token gift which I cannot remember exactly — perhaps a flower or a pretty stone, etc. When all the children were thus processed, one after the other, their new teacher began telling a story, the "Golden Snail." This was supposed to represent the future of a human soul going out to meet the world. The same story was told every year during this ceremony. Then the class departed, under the guidance of their teacher, like a flock following its shepherd, while the rest of the school began to sing a song. My sister, who was entering into first grade, walked away in the procession.


Then it was the turn of the other classes to return to their classrooms. I followed my group. Once in the classroom, all the students remained standing behind their chairs, arms crossed on their chests, and with the teacher they began to recite a prayer I had never heard of. [2] I tried to imitate my classmates, moving my lips, pretending to say the words with the others. It was a text written by Rudolf Steiner, invoking the Spirit of God, the sunlight, and the beneficent forces of the universe to help us to "learn to work." The ritual was repeated every morning, so I ended up learning by heart what my teacher called "the verse;" I pushed aside the question of its meaning, which had perplexed me on the first day. But the underlying issue was so intense that I can still feel it today: Should I agree to participate in this strange collective prayer that nobody had warned me or my parents about? In fact, my father was an anarchist, despising social conventions and religious rituals; how would he react to my participation in this ritual, when he had rebelled against the conventions in public education? Had he not chosen the Steiner school over Montessori because he thought too much deference was usually given to the labels and rules of politeness? Had he not decided, in agreement with my mother, that I should receive no baptism, so that I would be free to choose my own religion later, if by chance I wanted to embrace one? Yet, in this school that appeared bohemian, rituals and prayers were present not only at the beginning of the first class of the morning, but in early afternoon before the meal in the canteen, etc. The social life of the school was punctuated by prayers and sacred recitations, collectively memorized and spoken aloud, without their meaning ever being explained. [3] As this practice seemed so open, I did not trouble to talk to my parents about it. I accepted the fait accompli more or less unquestioningly and mechanically. Since no adults had discussed the situation with me, I accepted the emphasis the school placed on emulating others, so I found no words to talk to my parents about it. Anthroposophical teachers know how to impose their lifestyle with a certain sweetness. To avoid stirring up conscious opposition, they do not use coercion.


What role does the continuous presence of rituals play in the Steiner educational system? We can see the rituals as rites of passage, such as exist in traditional societies. They can also serve the function of "making one’s presence significant" — that is to say, they convey a feeling of importance to events in the school, unlike those institutions where teachers may lose sight of any larger purpose. In this sense, we might say the rituals help offset the feeling of anonymity, even insignificance, that may be encountered in conventional schools. This is the feeling that no one is paying attention, no one is giving us their full attention and care. In comparison, the rituals in a Steiner school — solemn and warm, addressing students individually — can give students the feeling of being welcomed, received, understood, and intimately accepted into a benevolent and wise community. This is powerful, sometimes even overwhelming. A profound impression is created. Even today, I still feel this impact. I feel how the rituals encouraged me to give over my inner being to the school, as if the school somehow embodied divine providence watching over our destinies.

The problem is that no educational community can live up to this standard, precisely because teachers are human beings, not gods, which is to say they are people prone to error, who can never truly know all of their students, and who cannot be constantly attentive to their fates, unless they forget to live their own lives. Thus, some teachers assumed the role of their students’ true parents, constantly dealing with them, caring for their ongoing education and also their personal lives, even after school. They became a surrogate family in the eyes of the students. In my case, this impression was so strong — because continually reinforced by rituals — that it stayed with me throughout my schooling right to the end of my high school years. I was convinced that my teachers knew my psychic needs better than I knew them myself, and that the educational plan I followed was designed, down to the smallest details, to meet my needs with a wisdom far superior to my own. For example, I was convinced that even the songs chosen by the music teacher met my emotional needs based on my age and education. This is not surprising, when we know that in Steiner schools even the colors of the classroom walls are chosen based on the age of the children, according to esoteric indications given by Rudolf Steiner. Although the teachers did not explain such matters to the students, we felt that everything in the school was thought out and reflected an underlying consistency. The school thus became for me a kind of incarnation of holy intent, or an educational system that embodied divine will. The ceremonial initiation processes, combined with the parental role assumed by the teachers, invited the students into a school life that constantly stressed how the curriculum and teachers represented a plan from on high that could be trusted absolutely. This attitude created a significant risk of inner passivity, conformity, and submissiveness towards certain human beings who posed as wise masters of destiny.














Perra's memoir is quite long.
To keep my translation to a manageable length, I have omitted some sections.
Here I have skipped a section titled
"Le rôle pernicieux de l’imitation"
("The Pernicious Role of Imitation").
 — R.R.







The School's "Celebrations"



Then I discovered that besides the various rituals that punctuate the days in a Waldorf school, there are also many Christian holidays revised as seasonal observances to mark the passing of the year. [4] Indeed, the school celebrates many such holidays, the preparation for which requires taking a significant amount time away from class work. Here I want to digress to suggest that the word "celebration" is actually a deception. Just as Waldorf teachers call prayers verses, so the term “celebration” is used for public relations purposes. Today, this term is normally used to describe rather a festive gathering or memorial. But to characterize what is happening in these schools more accurately, I think the word "observance" or "ceremony" comes closer to the reality.


The first important Christian celebration of the year was Martinmas, followed by the "Lantern Festival" (St. Martin's Day), then the "school fair" was usually held at the beginning of the "Spiral of Advent" festival, then there were the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, followed by Easter, St. John's festival, and so forth. When the "Advent season" began, we spent about three-quarters of an hour each morning (during "main lesson," the two-hour-long period from 9 to 11) singing hymns about Mary and the coming to Earth of the Jesus child. I still know these hymns by heart. [5] It was the same with songs about the Archangel Michael before the "feast of St. Michael." A small candle was lit on the class table while we sang in chorus "Mary went through the forest" and "Angels in our countryside," etc. In addition, at the beginning of each of the four weeks of Advent, on Monday morning, the whole school would gather in a common area to attend the lighting of four candles placed on a large crown of pine branches that adorned the lobby of the main building. A mantra by Rudolf Steiner was then read:

"Look to beauty,
Preserve the truth,
Venerate the noble
In every decision.
This leads truly
To the goals of life —
A peace in the heart
To clear one's thoughts,
Giving confidence of
The divine kingdom
In everything
In the universe
At the bottom of the soul." [6]


This ritual took place every week. Another important "celebration" in the life of the school was the "Spiral of Advent." It required special ceremonial preparations, which I will describe. In a room set aside for the occasion, the teachers made a large spiral of fir branches on the floor. Its center was in the middle of the room. The windows were covered with black curtains to create almost total darkness. In the morning, the children entered the room in complete silence, all carrying in their hands unlit candles that the Master or Mistress had given them. They saw, flickering in the center of the spiral, the flame of a large candle. One at a time, the children had to walk to the center of the room by carefully following the path of the spiral; the children lit their candles from the flame that was there; then they turned around and traced the spiral in the opposite direction — and meanwhile, the rest of the gathering sang a hymn. The impression produced by such a ritual is very powerful. It is supposed to represent the internal path that the soul must follow at the approach of winter, to find the "light" within oneself. This ritual enacts Anthroposophical beliefs about the internalization of the soul, which occurs at this period the year under the influence of Libra, brought to embodiment in the form of the spiral. (Read Steiner's THE TWELVE HARMONIES OF THE ZODIAC, Ed Triads, or his CALENDAR OF THE SOUL, Ed E.A.R.)

One more significant ritual was "the fire of Saint John." On the Saturday falling closest to the longest day of the year, students gathered around a big fire. Forming a circle around it, we intoned songs. Then, once the fire had died back, each student had to jump over the flames. This was akin to a game for us, but we also felt that it contained a sacred and symbolic dimension. Later, I learned that the purpose of this event, instituted by the teachers, was to symbolize the elevation of the human soul that occurs at this time of year, according to Rudolf Steiner in the book FOUR COSMIC IMAGINATIONS OF THE ARCHANGELS (Triad Publishing) or as Steiner stipulated in a letter he wrote to the Christian Community about the significance of St. John. [7]

So we lived in a sort of permanent religious atmosphere, experiencing the seasons of the year in a state of mystical reverence, while our rational minds received little stimulation from our classes that were considerably abridged by these "celebrations" and by the many artistic activities included in the Waldorf program. This environment created a kind of artificially enlarged religiosity in me, a nebulous reverence that led me to abandon rationality in the sweetness of devotion. Later, as an adult — after deciding to leave the Anthroposophic community and its lifestyle compounded of rituals — I had great difficultly ridding myself of these habits. Indeed, Waldorf's influence was imprinted so strongly in me that I had to constantly strive not to abdicate the use of my brain, not to immerse myself in a life organized by incessant rituals. I had to fight not to yield to an inner passivity and lack of judgment that I tended to regard as the hallmarks of a harmonious life. I also had to constantly goad myself to try new things, like going on a trip or seeking to discover horizons that were unknown to me, as if my ideal life was that of a monastery punctuated by prayers, mantras, and "celebrations." I am not one of those who believe that religion is inherently harmful, an opiate necessarily producing blind obedience. But I see harm in a religiosity that stifles the growth of rationality, which is needed for the individual to become independent and responsible. Waldorf schooling promotes a uniform religiosity that overflows into all areas of school life. Even in science class, we were taught to observe the experiments with an attitude of devotion. I can even say that this atmosphere stimulated in me, at times, certain abnormal mental states. Thus, I remember that when a mythic tale was used as an introduction in Geography, I had the distinct feeling out of my body floating outside of time. That at least is how I pictured the experience after I had returned to myself.


Myths and Tales


My strongest memories from my first four years in this school concern the legends and myths we were told. Such tales filled most of the morning class (the "main lesson") and they were reinforced in afternoon art classes where we took up again the material we had heard in the morning. [8] We listened to tales from the great mythologies — Celtic, Norse, Greek, Egyptian — and after lunch we painted scenes from these myths. Sitting near the front of the classroom, sucking my thumb until a very advanced age, I listened to our fantasizing teacher, who deployed these frescoes in my imagination. He was so elated by these stories that he spluttered continuously, to the point that students in the first row had to hide behind their notebooks. At times, he stopped to wipe the spittle that had accumulated on the desks, causing the girls to feel their gorge rise. One could certainly rejoice that the students' imaginations were nourished and stimulated by myths. But, on other hand, we had nothing else important going on, we were taught almost nothing in other subjects. Our reasoning minds were, in effect, asleep. This created in me a kind of indefinite prolongation of the dreamy state of childhood, as well as an atrophying of my volitional and reflective faculties. We were never asked to exert our memories. There was never any testing or evaluation, in accordance with the doctrine that students should not be graded until they they are much older. We were accustomed to enjoying the beautiful stories that we were told, without having to make any accompanying mental effort. I became a kind of consumer of the imagination — a "myth junkie." [9]

When I reached the age of 25, I had a small experience that deserves to be recounted. Our class teacher, who had continued his activities at the school in question, was beset by criticism from many students' parents, charging him with what they believed was his incompetence, his lack of authority, etc. During the "quarter holidays" [10], his class was in fact deemed to behave like a bunch of small wild monkeys. These accusations had wounded him and caused him to question his teaching abilities. This led him to ask me to come back, along with another student from my class, to ask our opinion on the matter. "Courageously," he had chosen two students whom he knew were unconditionally loyal to him. Wanting to help him and yet to be honest, I spoke to him about his way of telling legends and myths. I told him how these stories had affected me deeply, stirring up mystic longs in me. He perked up considerably at this, and he declared that he would continue "emphasizing this aspect of his teaching". This teacher's career ended when an inspection report declared him so incompetent that he put his students at risk.

I should not leave the impression, however, that my old teacher told us myths in order to openly convey Anthroposophic beliefs. It was only much later that I realized the insidious indoctrination that occurred — I understood this only when I read these tales in their original versions and studied Anthroposophic texts about myths and legends and their occult truths, including the occult wisdom of Grimm fairy tales. [11]


Handicrafts


Waldorf education includes in an impressive program of numerous crafts and handicrafts: carpentry, knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking, molding, forging, copper work, etc. This imposing program seduces parents into thinking their children will become so skillful with their hands that they will be able to achieve many things in practical life. The sales talk that Anthroposophic teachers had given to my parents was of this kind. The teachers expressed their determination to counterbalance the development of the intellect, which they said was overly emphasized in our time, compensating with diverse and varied manual and craft activities. But for me these courses were, up to the ninth grade, the worst parts of my schooling. Not that I disliked using my ten fingers; on the contrary! But the teachers at my school had a terrible approach in teaching these activities. Usually, such activities are fostered in children who have a flare of creativity or ingenuity, combined with a genuine love of particular materials (wood, copper, fabrics, etc.). But because our teachers were Anthroposophists, their personal relationship to these activities was marked by a strong peculiarity. Thus, they expected all students to achieve the same results by following the same procedures. Obsessed with the idea that children can make beautiful objects if they follow instructions, the teachers designated at the end of each course the student whose work was the most "advanced." By this, they meant the student who was most "correct" because he had come closest to producing what the teachers had in mind. Sometimes when they spotted an error according to these standards, the handcraft teachers would require a student to completely undo his work and start again from scratch. Thus, all the children tended to produce essentially identical work, devoid of any mark of individuality, so much so that a student might be unable to identify his own work if it was mixed in with the other students' work. In "open houses" when students exhibited their work, it was necessary to label each piece so we would know which item belonged to whom. This also resulted in jealous attitudes toward other students, except for those we had chosen as class leaders. In addition, our teachers were happy to give us orders that we were supposed to follow without understanding. For example, during woodworking, we were told to take such-and-such board, cut such-and-such an angle, then take a particular chisel and dig in places specified in centimeters, etc. Most of the time, we did not even know what type of object we were working on. We followed the instructions. We talked among ourselves, not really caring what our hands were doing. This work was thus somewhat similar to what convicts do when they break rocks in prisons. At the end of the course, almost no students had finished their objects. The teacher then used his power tools to finish our work, achieving in two and three strokes what would have taken us many hours without such tools, and we were left with beautiful objects (fruit platters, small boats, etc.) that we could take to our amazed parents. During these classes, a teacher sometimes became violent with the students, especially the boys, tugging their ears sharply when they failed to follow his instructions. With girls, sometimes he let his hands wander.

In sewing and knitting classes, I do not think I completed ​​a single object during the first four years of my schooling. The teacher, who was especially rigid, considered all my productions inferior and gave me no help when I asked for it. Believing that I was hopeless, she finally put me in a corner, sitting on the floor to unravel balls of wool. In another corner of the room with the "good students," she related legends and myths. Meanwhile, the small group of bullies in the class spent their time insulting and taunting me. When sometimes I nerved myself to raise my voice, the teacher left the legendary past to come punish me, rousing the laughter of my persecutors, and then returned to her favorite group of students. After more than a few years of this, realizing that what I was enduring was not normal, I told my parents that I did not want to attend these courses in sewing and knitting. They agreed. Today, like most of my former classmates, I do not know how to sew on a shirt button, although I took four years of sewing classes, sometimes for up to four hours per week, in the Waldorf where I received my education.


Science Courses and Arts 
Without the Slightest Trace of Thought


Waldorf schools say that they teach the scientific disciplines based on a particular method. This is the systematic observation of phenomena in order to progressively discover the laws contained within them. [12] This approach is claimed to offset the general trend towards abstraction that is characteristic of modern civilization. It rebels against the widespread practice of teaching students the laws of physics, chemistry, optics, and other sciences, without first teaching them to observe natural phenomena as they occur. Today, to support their approach, Anthroposophic educators claim that such trends as the emphasis on "hands-on" schooling are in tune with their method.

However, having experienced from the inside how these attractive principles are applied in the actual education of a Waldorf student, I can attest to their complete ineffectiveness. In reality, observing phenomena to discover their inner laws requires a gradual shift from description to conceptualization. When the student is in the presence of a phenomenon, such as during a chemistry experiment, the realization of what he sees raises questions about the phenomenon observed and these questions lead him to formulate hypotheses, which then may be confirmed in the form of scientific laws. But within Anthroposophic teaching, there is a broad inability to pass from observation to understanding, from perception to conceptualization. When I was a student, we spent hours to prepare, perform, and observe experiments. But we learned nothing. We never comprehended anything that we saw. We got bogged down in the process of  description, which never raised any thoughts. This pattern was repeated no matter which teachers I had. They reproduced an experiment by following the instructions given by Rudolf Steiner or one of his disciples, but they were unable to raise questions and thoughtful analyses that would have led us to comprehend underlying laws. Partly this was because they had a horror of abstraction and therefore were reluctant to get to the point where, in an appropriate scientific spirit, they should frame a law in an abstract form. But the problem was also that they were genuinely incapable of thinking in conceptual terms, as I would notice later when I observed them as an adult. Anthroposophy, which is a mystical approach, had atrophied or destroyed their ability to rise to concepts. At most they wanted to reach for images, but not beyond.

The best example of the kind of teaching I am describing was a seventh grade course in chemistry dealing with acids and alkalis. Our teacher had us make a broth of red cabbage, to show how the liquid changed color when it shifted from alkali to acid. We repeated the process several times, without understanding the purpose, as if we were observing a magic trick. The scientific approach became literally bogged down in red cabbage, with most of it falling to the ground in the general confusion caused by our increasing lack of interest in an experiment that taught us nothing. I also frequently remember our science teacher in 11th grade describing the phenomenon of electricity by using the metaphor of the attraction that lovers feel for each other. This inability to formulate abstract principles, even in science, did considerable damage to our study of mathematics. I remember, for example, that in twelfth grade we had the greatest difficulty understanding the concept of "an algebraic function" because no metaphor was available to characterize it. This rejection of abstraction, coupled with the fact that we were almost never asked to commit anything to memory and we were rarely tested, meant that my class's level of comprehension in all scientific fields, especially in mathematics, was absolutely abysmal. The only students who learned enough to pass a standard science exam were those whose parents arranged for extra tutoring outside school, or who themselves supervised their offspring in this area. As is often done in the Steiner-Waldorf schools, during our final year our class was divided into two groups: the first consisting of students who did well in science, thanks to instruction provided by competent outsiders, and the second group — of which I was one — who had to settle for a "course" offered by a former student who had a head for math but who was a terrible teacher, had no qualifications to display, and treated us with a nonchalance that resembled babysitting. However, the school wanted to hide these matters from our parents, so our grades were artificially inflated right through graduation. This had the effect that I confidently enrolled in an advanced college course in mathematics and philosophy, and I scored 10% in the first round of mathematics; I managed to pass only because I got 80% in philosophy, which improved my average.

But the inability of teachers in the land of Anthroposophy to lift their thinking to the level of concepts was not restricted to the sciences. It was also evident in the arts and in art history courses. Indeed, it often arose in our "grand art classes," in which slides showing famous works of art were projected onto screens. We had to describe these works in a collective process, with every student in the class invited to take the floor. What was said in this process was not uninteresting, since we learned to observe a work closely, working out each of its details, etc. But when it came to going beyond description to interpretation, we hit a large blank wall. Our teacher was completely incapable of ascertaining the meaning to what we saw. She seemed to be happily trapped at the level of sensitively gazing at the art. All that she could say boiled down to a single comment that she repeated for each of the works, namely: "It's very interesting!" That is as far as we got! When I met her again, years later, as a trainer at a center for Steiner-Waldorf teacher training, I saw that she had absolutely not changed in this regard. She presented us works art, we had to describe them, and then she concluded with "It's very interesting!" — which left us puzzled while she blinked her eyes with an absent air. A few Steiner-Waldorf alumni in the training program were scandalized to meet this kind of instruction again after so many years, but they did not dare to openly voice any reproach, for fear of the great power wielded by this trainer at the core of the Steiner-Waldorf system. Anyone protesting against such instruction would invalidate his training and have no chance of finding a job later.

I should stress that what I have described in my science teachers and the instructors of the "grand art classes" is a common trait that I found in all Waldorf teachers. I am not trying here to stigmatize any particular person, but to point to a general feature that I found often strongly expressing itself. It might seem strange that a system of education founded by the author of THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM [13] is characterized by inability to think through concepts. Indeed, didn't Rudolf Steiner devote many pages of this book to an effort to identify precisely the nature of conceptual thinking, which he called in other parts of his work "pure thought" or "truly human thinking"? [14] But if you study his pronouncements, it should be noted that he is always and ever elusive in his description of these matters. He mentions the existence of pure thought, and he claims in his statements that we can gain access to it, but his readers are never actually shown it, even in his early works [i.e., while he was still ostensibly a secular intellectual]. Subsequently, when Steiner set forth Anthroposophy as an esoteric and mystical system, we can say that his disciples became bogged down in metaphorical and reverential thinking. [15] That is why speeches by Anthroposophic educators are full of metaphors, such as the germination of the seed, but they almost never lay out concepts that are truly delineated. And is this not also because conceptual thought, such as we find in genuine philosophy, contains a force that gives individuals freedom, while Anthroposophy is a bondage?

Anthroposophy is a mode of religious thought, which causes it to be fundamentally inconsistent with a truly scientific approach. Because it is the basis of Steiner-Waldorf schooling, Anthroposophy prevents the normal teaching of science. Religion is noble, certainly. But towards perceptible phenomena, Anthroposophy develops an attitude of reverence that does not allow critical analysis. This is the reason why, in many Steiner-Waldorf schools, the parents of the students are well aware that science is the "poor relation" in the curriculum. Some Steiner-Waldorf schools sometimes try to stem this disaster by bringing in outsider instructors, if they have the acceptable associations. Thus, we can find distinguished researchers sometimes teaching senior science courses in Steiner-Waldorf schools. But is this not an admission that it is basically impossible to entrust scientific disciplines to Anthroposophic teachers, who do not have the proper spirit for this mission? And this is aside from the problem that researchers are not necessarily good teachers, and they can't perform miracles when the bases for science instruction have not been laid, so the level of what they present is often too complicated for Waldorf high school students. To bring in outsiders from various scientific fields is an admission to the world that an education based on Anthroposophy is incompatible with truly learning science.






Here I have skipped sections titled
"La pratique de l’Eurythmie"
("The Practice of Eurythmy")
and
"Des discours sur la nature ou comment la croyance en un Verbe cosmique nous était enseigné subtilement"
("Discourse on the Methods by Which We Were Subtly Taught Belief in the Cosmic Word"). 
 — R.R.






Difficult Social Relations


Among the other significant memories of my first four years at a Steiner-Waldorf School, there is the recollection of appalling social relationships among the students. My sister has similar bitter memories. In the schoolyard, students were set wholly loose. At that time, the yard in question was huge, consisting not only of a great lawn where recesses occurred, but also a part of a forest which was separated by a wooden fence. The whole thing was so large and so "wild" that children could get lost, build huts, explore the nearby fields and gardens, etc. For any supervision, an elderly, mild-mannered gentleman close to retirement — who had heart problems — patrolled a small area, not this vast expanse. It was therefore easy for children to form gangs that made a hobby of tormenting and beating kids from the various classes who had been designated as scapegoats. These abuses were so common that they occurred during almost every recess. They were called "manhunts." There were multiple criteria for deciding who should be a scapegoat, but in general there was a distinction between the "rich kids" whose parents paid the school handsomely and who therefore had every right, and the poorest students from the middle classes. Indeed, the financial contributions of parents were determined based on their income. Therefore, some parents became the financial pillars of the school, making their children virtually untouchable, regardless of these kids' actions and behavior. Dependent on the fees paid by these families, the school simply could not afford to refer their children for punishment, although sometimes this was needed. In addition, these children often belonged to the Anthroposophic families who were unquestioningly devoted to the school. The martyrdom of those who, like me, came from middle-class, non-Anthroposophic families is thus explained by ideological reasons: They made us understand that we were not on the virtuous side, we did not really belong at this school, and our place was as people who were merely tolerated and abused. My sister suffered daily jeering and insults from her classmates until she complained to her class teacher, but the teacher did not intervene. When my parents came to ask for explanations of these events, they were told that the teacher's role is not to interfere in the personal relationships between students, which have a deep karmic foundation. [16]

A particularly obnoxious and cruel student decided to go after me, so during almost every recess he mobilized his little band to beat me up, mostly in the mud, forcing me to go home with dirty and torn clothes. I could not defend myself, but growing increasingly distressed at suffering this mistreatment, I decided one day to adopt a violent strategy: Every time I was attacked, I grabbed the ringleader by the cheeks, sinking into my fingernails in deep and holding on even as the rest of the gang knocked me down and kicked me. There are probably deep marks still on my tormentor’s skin, an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Fortunately for me, that student eventually left the school. Another time, a different student with his own gang stole a ball of mine, and I decided to apply my method: I caught him, taking one of his fingers in my mouth, and I bit without letting go until blood flowed, to the point where the nerve was nearly cut. These fights could not be totally ignored, yet they almost never caused the teachers to issue reprimands, even when the teachers sometimes had to physically separate themselves from students who fought like wildcats. What inner apathy allows an institution to remain passive when violence like this occurs directly before the eyes of adults? Is it not because — as I was to realize later when I taught in one of these schools — these teachers are themselves constantly subjected to such psychological harassment and abuse that they eventually regard this as a normal state of affairs?


The Eighth Grade Play


Back then, the school year for eighth graders was dominated by the staging of a play. In May, classes stopped so the students could devote themselves entirely to preparing for the performance, having rehearsed several hours per week throughout the preceding year. Stage sets were also constructed at that time. Regarding the latter, our teachers directed us to build in carpentry class a series of twelve panels on which we painted the twelve signs of the zodiac consistent with Anthroposophic beliefs, even though these patterns had no relevance to the play we were preparing. The piece that our teacher had chosen was in fact "Life Is a Dream", by Calderon de la Barca, a Spanish play. As usual, our teacher had distributed the main roles among his favorite students, often children from privileged social classes whose parents were strong adherents of Anthroposophy. It was a way for him to exert his power while attaching these students to himself, forming a kind of circle of followers with himself at the center. He had done the same for years at each "quarter holiday," relegating his less favored students to minor positions. Most Anthroposophic teachers of the "middle grades" do this, having little concern for distributing roles and opportunities fairly, which violates the proper spirit of a school play. That is why, for years, I had been assigned the roles of extras, even though I participated in a municipal theater workshop and was not bad as an actor. In fact, the distribution of roles paralleled and reinforced the social hierarchy of the class as it had been firmly established. For this occasion, our teacher had cut a big role in two and he entrusted the smaller part to me. But, on the day of the performance, the quality of my acting surprised everyone. No one had seen me like this before! Suddenly my reputation changed beyond recognition, which in later years — when I reached the "upper school" — would greatly improve my relationships with my classmates, which had previously been difficult and often humiliating.


Passage to the Upper Classes


Upon entering high school, called the "upper classes," my situation as scapegoat miraculously changed, but I know the reasons well enough. Was it not partly due to the departure of our head teacher who, after staying with this group of students for eight years, left the group so that the high school teachers could take over?
 Indeed, his general incompetence surely had much to do with the noxious state of the class. But as he was a devout Anthroposophist, he was safe from criticism. Indeed, he would take several more classes through eight-year-long cycles, with ever more devastating results. [17]

But I believe that the improvement of my situation was also due to the change of the educational team that helped guide my class. As long as I was in the "middle school," my educational destiny had been directed by the middle school faculty. This faculty is often the most representative of the Steiner-Waldorf approach, being imbued with a high rigidity of spirit so that they work as a kind of religious priesthood, teaching in the same way priests deliver sermons, tirelessly repeating the same teaching methods much as a Muslim may recite the Qur'an, wanting to project the image of themselves as perfect educators, etc. This was not the case in my "upper classes," where a certain intellectual liveliness animated some of our teachers. This altered not only their mode of teaching and their relationships with students, but also their personal behavior. They were less rigid, more open to the world, less paternalistic and less obsessed with the religious purpose of their teaching, less bogged down in a determination to follow Waldorf teaching rituals. Or, at least, they carried in their hearts the belief that the Anthroposophical religious spirit can manifest in the intellectual life as much as in Waldorf rituals. Some had also benefited from a university education, which enabled them to be much less disconnected from the life of the culture than were teachers in the "middle school." To put it in simple terms, the teaching staff of the middle grades often functions like the faculty of the lower grades, treating the students as "babies" in accordance with the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner that any tendency to intellectualize during this period in the life of a child is a kind of crime. [18] But in the "upper grades," intellectual life is not banned so categorically. For teachers working in both the middle and upper levels, this distinction is important and may cause methodological problems. If a teacher imbued with the spirit of the "middle grades" brings this approach into the "upper grades," the students will be left in a kind of mental stupor. And if an "upper grade" instructor brings his approach to younger students, his colleagues will rebuke him for trying to prematurely awaken the children for giving them too much work (they themselves usually give the students almost none). In reality, in conventional schools, intellectual faculties should gradually awaken during middle school. But this option contradicts the dogmas of the Steiner-Waldorf approach. This is why in these schools, even in high school classes, so many of the students remain mentally asleep. When Anthroposophic teachers sometimes worry about this, their colleagues say: "Don't worry, they will will wake up next year!" But often, the wait extends into the year after that, and then the following year — until anyone realizes that the expected awakening will probably not happen. This "awakening" of sleepy students indeed became a kind of educational myth in the Steiner-Waldorf schools where I worked: There was talk of its possible arrival as if we were talking about a miracle. There was a desire to attend this event with the same reverence that may be shown to the flowering of a seed that we ourselves have put into the Earth. Except nothing was done to stimulate this event and we forgot that human beings are not plants.

This fundamental difference between the spirit of the "middle school" teaching staff and that of "upper school" staff is often a source of major conflict in Waldorf schools. Sometimes the teachers of the "upper classes" dominate the faculty, and therefore the whole school, because of their intellectual superiority. But this requires that there exist among the teachers individuals who know Anthroposophy intellectually and possess the ability to dazzle their colleagues with beautiful Anthroposophic speeches. [19] This can produce the reign of "the masters of Waldorf educational thinking." But sometimes, on the contrary, teachers from the "middle school" dominate because they represent a form of Anthroposophic educational orthodoxy. This leads to the reign of "Waldorf teacher-priests." Strife between these two groups can sometimes bring a school to loggerheads. But the natural fragility of the "upper school" faculty, who are more subject to the requirements of society and more dependent on significant financial support, means that the "middle school" contingent usually prevails in the long term. When a "middle school" teacher also possesses a pseudo-intellectual dimension, he can become all-powerful in the institution.

Still, I now entered a much more fulfilling stage of my education. My results improved. Previously, I had found friends among the less mentally gifted children in the class, and I had come to regard myself as one of them — that is to say, I considered myself backward. My results (if one can speak of "results" in an educational system where progress was never really measured) were not much better than theirs. But now I benefited from the instruction of a ninth grade French teacher who for the first time during my schooling set standards for his students. He introduced me to literature by instilling in me his own passion for it: I devoured The Iliad, The Odyssey, Les Miserables, Chateaubriand, etc. Without his influence, I would probably would never have left the state of profound intellectual drowsiness that was mine in previous years.

Nonetheless, the school continued to introduce us to Anthroposophic ideas through the teaching given by some hardcore Anthroposophic faculty members. The procedure was becoming more open. As I described above, previously such ideas had only been suggested. They were part of our mental universe, having been implanted in us without our even being aware of it. They were passed to us mainly through the "holidays" and rituals, but also through hints in the classwork itself, especially when we told legends and myths. Therefore, they were not developed beyond the level of suggestion and thus could remain unconscious. For many students, the process went no further. Most of my classmates remember their education as having been free and open, with discussions of the whole class where everyone participated, everyone expressed his opinion, his views, assumptions, etc. In my article titled "Nearly Undetectable Influence and Indoctrination"I gave some examples of how Anthroposophic ideas were actually conveyed to us during these discussions of the whole class. [20] Anthroposophic ideas surreptitiously introduced during these activities did not always attract attention to themselves. Yet they were now part of the students' unconscious mindset. Many of these students have good memories of their school, which they believe effectively contributed to their development. Anthroposophic ideas are present somewhere in a corner of their psyches, but lying dormant and unspoken. These ideas may remain in this state of latency throughout much of life, or be they may be reactivated one day or another, on various occasions. [21] For my part, the conscious activation of Steiner's ideas occurred during my education, which was rather rare. This probably occurred because I am naturally inclined to philosophy, so quite early I began wondering about things that many adolescents do not trouble about. I have always been looking for answers. Or perhaps I should say that the Anthroposophy all around me offered me particular answers. This is how I tended to become more aware of Anthroposophic ideas than is usually the case for other students.






I have skipped several sections here.
 — R.R.






II. My Years of Study 

Anthroposophic Conferences Near the School

Anthroposophy was not only conveyed insidiously in my school, but also in an open and direct manner. One day, for the eleventh class within the high school, a lecture by a guest speaker was arranged: He was a pastor of the Christian Community, a big Anthroposophic star in France and Germany, where he headed the training center Christian Community priests. He told us about the supersensible nature of the human being [22] and explained that he had himself had traveled outside his body. [23] According to him, this astral event proved that the soul should not be confused with the body. After the conference, a small group of us gathered around him, fascinated by this character who was so well able to discuss both science and astral travel. He asked all of us our names and he then explained their etymological meanings. This may seem strange, but then we had the impression that he perceived and understood us down to our innermost being. It was only much later that I learned from his grandson that he had a knack of making a hit with any new person he met, but he forgot them completely afterward. Young teens that we were, as we looked straight into his eyes and shook his hand at length, we thought his eyes penetrated to the depths of our souls. The contact was established.

When I started preparing for college at a different Waldorf school in the Paris region, where a senior year had been set up [24], my host family told me that an Anthroposophic pastor gave philosophical lectures at a Christian Community chapel a few steps from home. This family had been recommended to my parents by the school. Indeed, each Steiner school has a network of host families who are, purely by chance, devoted to Anthroposophy. The children they host, cut off from their parents, are intensely immersed in Anthroposophy — a process that the school itself cannot conduct openly. So I began attending almost every other week the conference in question, on the subject of life after death. The other attendees and I expected to find material of interest at the conference, having been told that it was an excellent preparation for the study of philosophy.

Then, gradually, the ranks of attendees thinned. They came to realize that little philosophy was discussed at the conference, and the discussion of esoteric subjects that actually occurred there was far above their ability to understand. As to me, like a few others, I remained loyal and continued to diligently attend such conferences, systematically sent there by my host family.


Too Much Waldorf Talk in Private


During my senior year, the Waldorf teacher/guru who had arranged a visit by the great Anthroposophic lecturer (who was none other than his own father) also interrupted one of our classes to bring in an old Russian-born landscape gardener, who was related to a child in the school, and asked her to tell us about her life. This person had lived through the Revolution of 1917 and the tragic events that had shaken her country, before emigrating clandestinely to France, only to be deported to concentration camps during the Second World War. Returning to Paris, she — along with Simone Rihouët-Coroze — became an intimate disciple of Marie Steiner [25] and a member of the foundation supporting the first Steiner-Waldorf school in France, in the neighborhood of Alésia. Her life was so exciting. And she exuded such Slavic passion. In the context of our education, during which we almost never heard talks about the "outside world," her story had the effect of a bomb in my adolescent mind. The tactic was indeed ingenious: On rare occasions, our Anthroposophic teachers introduced outside elements into the otherwise self-enclosed culture and world of Steiner-Waldorf education. But they always arranged matters so that these "outside" influences were actually linked directly or indirectly to Anthroposophy. Thus, if Waldorf faculty bring in a man committed to the cause of ecology, it will be Pierre Rahbi, who will give a lecture consistent with their beliefs. [26] Other similar, less famous personalities committed to other causes are also brought in, introduced to the students as totally independent of the school, while these individuals are actually part of a like-minded community. It should be noted that, today, sometimes speakers who come genuinely from outside the Anthroposophic milieu might be invited into Steiner-Waldorf schools, but this never happened in my experience. In any event, it is interesting to note that persons from the "outside world" usually do not stir the interest of Steiner-Waldorf students. Indeed, Waldorf students are accustomed to a certain way to speaking, a certain specific mode of communicating important points through accounts of personal experience, so that any discussion that does not employ this style seems dull to them. I suggest that this addiction to a certain style of expression can also be found in the rhythm and intonation that Anthroposophic educators use in their writing. It is distinctly a special tone to which students in these schools become sensitized, but that is hard to detect when you are unaccustomed to it.

So, learning about the life of a person who had lived through the central events of her time awakened in me a deep interest. But it was actually a kind of trap. When I met her at school that day, I told her of the esteem I felt for her story. She invited me to come see her at home to discuss it all. I received this invitation during my last year as a student at the school. She welcomed me in and began narrating again her life in Russia, before starting to drift more and more often onto the subject of Anthroposophy. She invited me to come to her home once a month, on Sundays, all through my senior year. To get there, I traveled two and a half hours round-trip. I sat in her little room decorated with paintings of Rudolf Steiner. Sometimes she would read me passages from the works of the Master, in a tone at once serious and exalted. Then she began to tell me the history of the school I was attending. I regret not taking notes at the time, because I learned a lot of things that probably will fall into oblivion. But one event especially struck me, remaining tucked away in my memory to reappear years later. It was the arrival on the faculty, many years ago, of a teacher who left a special mark on the history of the school. This character claimed to be, in effect, clairvoyant. He also wrote books on Anthroposophic meditation and karma which are still on sale today. As soon as he set foot in school, my informant told me, he demanded to be given a meditation room! We gave him one, but he used this room especially to bring in his favorite females! He was a real womanizer! His Caribbean origin had given him an atavistic clairvoyance, but also a warm-blooded nature that he was unable to master! (Anthroposophy includes racist doctrines, stemming from Rudolf Steiner himself.) [27] I was never invited to this "meditation room," she added, at once proud and offended. On the day he left his native island, a volcano erupted and destroyed it all! His influence on the school was such that more than half of the "college of teachers" swore by him. [28] Eventually we decided to ask him to leave our institution, because his influence over others was too dangerous.

After a while, I declined her further invitations, realizing that she was becoming more and more senile and actually had no interest in me as a person. These are indeed often the terms of "exchanges" and "conversations" in the Anthroposophic world: The other individual is regarded as a sort of receptacle for one's superior wisdom. I had better things to do with my life than listen to the same old Anthroposophic drivel! After the fall of the Berlin wall, this old lady had the opportunity to return to her native land to offer advice to a group of Anthroposophists who opened a kindergarten in the vicinity of Moscow. My meetings with her took place in 1988. Years later, in 2008 when — at the behest of Antoine Dodrimont and Bodo von Plato [29] — I was writing reports about Anthroposophical training, these remarks about "the Caribbean clairvoyant" arose in my memory and I mentioned them in my analysis. This particularly outraged M. Dodrimont, the President of the Société Anthroposophique in France, who cursed me openly, making me understand that such things should never be recorded in writing, even within our circles.


My Sister's Eleventh Grade Play


Three years after I graduated from the school, I assisted in arranging the lighting for a play the eleventh grade was preparing to stage. I also accompanied the class on a tour of various Steiner-Waldorf schools in France, Belgium, and Switzerland that occurred at this time. It was my sister's old class, and I worked on the lighting for the Jean-Paul Sartre play titled THE CHIPS ARE DOWN. It may seem surprising that a work by this existentialist philosopher was staged by a Steiner-Waldorf school. But the Anthroposophic drama teacher responsible for the staging had largely neutered and even hijacked the play by altering the role of the narrators so that they resembled the angels in the Wim Wenders film WINGS OF DESIRE. [30]

My sister had left the school three years earlier to join my mother in the south of France. There she enjoyed a healthier and more structured home environment, and she thrived in her schooling. For my part, despite the entreaties of my mother, my attachment to the school was too strong for me to leave and join her also, although my situation as a teenager in the Paris region was perilous. I rarely saw my father and generally had to make my own way. The plan to stage a play inspired my sister to want to reconnect with her old class, which had been her social circle for more than eight years. She was not vindictive and decided to let bygones be bygones concerning the abuse she had suffered. So I asked the drama teacher, who was in charge of the tour, if my sister could accompany us and assist me in with the stage lighting, especially since it was very complex that year and required the continual use of an assistant. The drama teacher agreed, but the class teacher did not. [31] The class teacher called my sister and demanded that she agree in writing to return to the school for twelfth grade if she wanted to accompany this tour. The tone of her call was dry and imperative. My sister refused, but she was still able to participate in the tour because the drama teacher decided to ignore the demands of the class teacher. If I tell this seemingly insignificant story it is because I want to make the point that Waldorf students are supposed to yield completely to their Anthroposophic teachers. Theirs is not a normal form of schooling, but a kind of commitment that goes beyond the usual limits. [32] At no time did any official responsible for this class ask if it was good or not for my sister to return to Paris and to leave her new environment in the south of France. Dropping out of the school at the end of eighth grade was viewed as a kind of betrayal that she was later supposed to remedy. Using a form of extortion in an attempt to achieve this did not bother the conscience of the class teacher. Often, when I myself became a Waldorf teacher, I could see how Anthroposophic teachers treated students who had left the school and then returned for a school fair or an open house: They refused to acknowledge or speak to them. At the end of the tour, my sister came to me saying:

You see, I'm glad I went on the trip, but I'm also glad that I will not remain in this class. The immaturity in their social relationships is still the same! The rich kids still make the rules and humiliate the others. Except that now they use their pocket money to buy drugs and circulate them throughout the group. They are petty and do not interest me. Before coming back, I was a bit nostalgic for my old class, but now that I've seen what has happened to them, I am happy not to deal with them any longer.







Here I have skipped a section titled
"Des adolescents dépravés"
("Adolescents Led Astray").
 — R.R.






Karma Prohibits Abortion


In 1988, during my senior year, an event occurred in my life that would significantly mark and weaken me. Indeed, it was my first love affair, which I had with one of the other students of my age attending Anthroposophic conferences. It should be noted that this came rather late for a teenager. But the context is that I received my education at a "monastic" Steiner school where my relationships to others and to my own libido remained asleep. My attention had been diverted to the mystical ideas of Anthroposophy. It was like living in a school structure that resembled a family in which I was kept in a sort of infantile state where the normal adolescent development could not unfold completely. Of course, not all of the students in my class were, in this sense, stuck in the same state as those of us who were drawn to Anthroposophy. Those others engaged in some flirting, they had their first sexual and romantic experiences, etc. But they were able to do such things only by deliberately distancing themselves from the general atmosphere that dominated our school. In this institution, it was generally understood — without needing to be expressed — that a good student should be a kind of monk.

Because my first love story occurred within this Anthroposophical context, it took a tragic turn. The girl in question was from a family of prominent Anthroposophists in the East of the France. Her mother was one of the pillars of a Steiner-Waldorf school. And her parents had of course never talked to her about contraception. I didn't possess such knowledge either, because my parents were absent and, to be sure, there were no sex education classes in my school. The only time the subject of sexuality had been discussed came during a phys ed class when the teacher had explained to us that a good hot bath before mating was an excellent means of contraception (really!). Therefore our teachers never told us about condoms. My girlfriend possessed only a little knowledge about the disastrous rhythm method, so she told me that we would run no risk if we simply abstained on certain days of the month. It must be said that this "method" is widespread among Anthroposophists and has caused many unwanted pregnancies. And that is what happened to us. When my girlfriend got pregnant, we didn't know what to do. She was haunted by the Anthroposophic belief that any pregnancy is a matter of karma. A whole Anthroposophical publication was devoted to this subject. [33] It discussed how each individual was free to do what he wanted, but carrying out an abortion was a terrible type of karmic crime — it prevented a soul from incarnating on Earth and fulfilling his destiny. In addition, the text said that prospective parents damage their own karmas if they commit this act, while the surgeon was committing a murder for which he would need to pay in a future life. This book, published in Germany, included many "testimonials" by mothers who had refused to welcome the souls of unborn children who were meant to incarnate on Earth, showing what a mistake they had made. Thus, my eighteen-year-old girlfriend categorically refused the idea of abortion, terrorized by this what she had read. Still, she went to seek advice from our school doctor, who was an Anthroposophist. He provided the comfort of saying that she should keep the child regardless of the circumstances; doing otherwise would be criminal. When she spoke to him of my reluctance, he explained that the boys were always reluctant at the beginning, but they ended up in favor. I think this dogmatic man had given similar advice to lots of girls in the school, who had come to him for advice about such problems.

I was (so to speak) lucky, and my girlfriend had a miscarriage. But I had to absorb a profound sense of moral guilt over this because of my Anthroposophic beliefs — specifically, the miscarriage was my fault, since I had willed it to occur. This tragedy marked me deeply and for many years afterward it weighed on my romantic relationships.


Camphill Summer
During the summer of 1990, I decided to take a trip to foreign countries. With no money and no idea of how to "go exploring" and "see the world," I followed the advice of an Anthroposophist and wrote to the Goetheanum [the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters] for a complete list Anthroposophic institutions caring for children and adults with disabilities. Indeed, during twelfth grade, I became aware of this type of institution while performing some "social work" at an institute for Anthroposophical curative education in Paris. I spent three weeks there and was struck by the atmosphere in this place, comparable in many respects to that of a Waldorf school, but more pronounced. [34] Indeed, because children with severe disabilities do not have the capacity to tell their parents what happens to them in such institutions, Anthroposophic caregivers do not hesitate to openly practice Anthroposophic rituals and other ceremonies with them. The caregivers only need to be vigilant during health checks and inspections. So [for my tour of foreign lands] I went successively in two institutions of this kind, the first in Germany, in Schlessig-Holstein, and the second in Ireland, near Kilkenny. At the first, I found a German institution of curative education, generously funded, with great local support, and prodigiously large. It was on this occasion that I witnessed scenes that would make a lasting impression on me, and that I mentioned in my testimony published on the UNADFI website [35]: esoteric gatherings the caregivers held with the disabled children and adults, giving exposition of abstruse subjects despite the fact that the patients did not understand what they were told and did not even know what was happening. Later, this allowed me to understand that Anthroposophic meetings are a form of spiritual communion that do not require understanding, only the enactment of certain rituals.

In the second institution, in Ireland, I found a typical Camphill. Founded by Karl Koenig, a disciple of Rudolf Steiner, the Camphills are therapeutic communities that provide care for children and adults according to Rudolf Steiner's principles of curative education. A Camphill is organized around houses that are managed by families of educators who live in proximity with the disabled residents, providing assistance day and night. Besides this therapeutic activity, members of the Camphill must also do farming work. A Camphill is usually surrounded by farm fields, the products of which are used to feed the community. When I had my internship, we worked every day continuously from 7 a.m. to midnight, with one half-day off per week. It is bit like at Steiner-Waldorf schools, where the teachers are expected to do more than the work for which they are paid — they must also monitor the canteen, oversee recreation, participate in many committees and meetings, work all weekend to prepare classes, attend school fairs and open houses, or simply clean the school and do maintenance, to the point of not having a personal life. Every Friday night, members of the Camphill gathered to read the Gospels and discuss them, and then they performed a ritual sharing of bread and salt. On Sunday morning, another ritual took place, which I knew to be based on the Anthroposophic worship Rudolf Steiner established for the children of Anthroposophists at the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart. (Read my article "Extraits édifiants des Conseils de Rudolf Steiner aux professeurs de la première école Steiner-Waldorf de Stuttgart".) [36] When working in a Camphill, nobody receives compensation, or only very little. When a member needs something, he must apply to the treasurer of the community who decides whether or not to grant it. I myself was in the position of having to apply to the treasurer of the Camphill in southern Ireland for a small amount when I worked there for more than a month during the summer of 1990, and I must say the process was not straightforward. I had to laboriously justify the expense I proposed (it was for a new pair of shoes, my previous pair having been damaged by the continuous work in the fields). When you make such a request, the Anthroposophic treasurer takes a dim view of you, and even if you are given the money, you have no desire to repeat the experience anytime soon.

There was in this institution a young Scandinavian girl named Bodil with whom I became friendly. She told me her story. Ten years earlier, she visited a Camphill to work during the holidays, then she decided to stay all year, and then beyond. Now, without a school diploma and without qualifications, she realized she could not go anywhere else. She had cut her ties with her family and friends and had no base to return to in her country. She also had no more savings, since she did not receive a salary. She told me that all this was probably due to the fact that in a previous incarnation she had been a Viking who had done much harm to Ireland, and now she must make amends. She felt trapped. Distress was evident in her eyes. This is probably the reason that, when I was approached by the leaders of this Camphill inviting me to stay among them all year round, I declined, although not without some hesitation. Indeed, the idea of living in such a community was appealing to me, even if I was getting fatigued after just one month. But I felt deep within me that I had to return to France to continue my studies.

Within this Camphill, the leaders adopted a resolutely hostile attitude toward psychology and psychoanalysis, which they saw as incarnations of evil. "There are no psychologists here!" the main leader proudly repeated, although many patients there had significant psychological disorders that should have received skilled care. "We are all therapists!" he stated, when I expressed misgivings. It becomes clear why he took this line when you read the harsh criticism that Rudolf Steiner directed at psychoanalysis. Even Jung found no favor in his eyes, since Jung failed to open himself to the "spiritual wisdom" of Anthroposophy. [37] After my departure, I exchanged letters with a young German who had decided to stay for a year. She was responsible for a teenage girl who suffered from a growth disorder and significant symptoms of paralysis. In a Camphill, each worker is attached to a "house," led by one family, and must specifically assist one or two disabled children. One day, I received a letter in which my correspondent said that the paralyzed teenage girl in her care had died after suffocating in her sleep, and the police had come to ask questions and launch an official investigation. My pen pal seemed completely traumatized. I received no further news from her. This event is, in my opinion, typical of what can happen in this kind of institution when very important responsibilities are assigned to young people who lack qualifications, requiring them to bind themselves to disabled children from morning to night as if they were their own offspring (sometimes even sleeping in the same room!), without an institutional framework that would allow them to develop some perspective and to receive the necessary support in the event of problems of the kind that befell this young German.







Here I have skipped sections titled
"Ouverture au monde et aux autres"
("Openness to the World and Others")
and
"Stagiaire à Charlie-Hebdo"
 — R.R.







Entering the Anthroposophical Society


While these events were happening, I continued regularly attending Anthroposophic conferences. I lived two lives in two different worlds that I kept strictly separated. It was in 1994 that I decided to become a member of the Anthroposophical Society, following a lecture by Sergei Prokofieff, one of the highest leaders of the movement, who was visiting Paris. [38] In his talk, he explained that without the cosmic consciousness that is the Anthroposophical Society, the archangel Michael would not be able to carry out his mission. [39] The persuasive power of this man's presentation led to my decision. In fact, when attending a lecture of his, one is struck by the original and authoritative tone of this person. A flame of pure idealism seems to rise from him so that you have little choice but to respond to his call. It's probably similar to the fervor that draws young Muslims to Islamist fanatics. Except this man seemed to be clothed in complex esoteric teachings. He had the power to trigger irrational acts. Joining the Anthroposophical Society had never been in my plans before. But on that evening, I was inflamed by something that overpowered me.



Sergei O. Prokofieff


Nonetheless, I had not lost my ability to think critically and I was quickly confronted with a reality that I found problematic. For example, I remember being quite shocked the first time I received the internal newsletter of the Anthroposophical Society in France. It was full of esoteric symbols and mystical-sounding titles, whereas in public conferences we were told that Anthroposophy is a modern approach that stands apart from all sects mired in nebulous mysticism. Neither was I happy with the pressure that was exerted on me to pay substantial sums of money as fees. I had been assured, when I signed up, that my low income would not be an obstacle to my entry into the Anthroposophical Society. I wrote a letter of protest, explaining that I had no money, but I was willing to volunteer my labor to assist the Anthroposophical Society. Immediately, I was summoned by the head of the "branch" where I was registered. He told me that my letter had sparked outrage in high places, but he had intervened personally so that I would not suffer reprisals.

Following this first incident and seeing that any discussion with such Anthroposophists seemed impossible, I decided to no longer attend meetings of the Anthroposophical Society in France, but I did not go so far as to resign. I became what they call a "sleeping member" who is not currently inactive but who is likely to be reactivated sooner or later. Still, for the next several years, I received letters — perhaps twice annually — from the head of the branch, explaining that my withdrawal soon after joining the Anthroposophical Society was a common karmic phenomenon that I would need to rise above. Unconvinced by this kind of argument, I let time pass without answering.


Divided within Myself
During my college studies, I continued to follow the Anthroposophic conferences at the Rue de la Grande Chaumiere, reading Anthroposophic magazines and also the books of Rudolf Steiner. I remember being in the paradoxical situation of working as an intern at a secular publishing house [40] while carrying around Anthroposophic journals in my bag. It was as if I were cleaved in twain. In my opinion, such a cleavage is characteristic of Anthroposophists. The esoteric teachings of Rudolf Steiner constitute a body of secret knowledge. Of course, we must spread it, but it deals with mysteries that only the elect are meant to possess. It is therefore inherently something that we do not pass around; instead, we guard it closely among ourselves. Even when we disclose it, we do so under the seal of secrecy. [41] It is a kind of virus that is injected into individual bodies but that should never leave the interior of those bodies. The process of cleavage is particularly enacted if you become a member of the School of Spiritual Science. [42] Indeed, it is forbidden for members of the School to pass the School's mantras and lessons to ordinary members of the Anthroposophical Society. A member of the School of Spiritual Science is thus doubly separated from the world, because he is divided even from ordinary Anthroposophists.

So Anthroposophy had split me in half. I was enthusiastic about my publishing work and my college studies, while still I remained excited about Anthroposophy — I was trying to balance these two sealed compartments of my life. Of course, this was a psychologically impossible undertaking, and I could not help but try to connect my two worlds. One way I found to do this was through a kind of secret proselytizing. For example, I remember a class presentation I gave on Flaubert. [43] I argued that the personality of this great writer was divided between two opposite poles. I said that only a mysterious force allowed Flaubert to maintain the balance of his soul. Without saying so, I crafted my presentation on Flaubert to coincide with the symbolism of statue "The Group," carved by Rudolf Steiner, representing Christ placed between the two polar forces of Lucifer and Ahriman. [44] Giving me a good grade, my otherwise insightful French teacher, not knowing what school I came from, spoke to the class about the surprising insights of my presentation. I mention this particular episode because it is typical of how Anthroposophists and Waldorf teachers function: They analyze the world in terms of Anthroposophical concepts that they do not mention explicitly, but that inform all of their work. Without realizing it, I had begun proselytizing using the same the methods used by the teachers in my Waldorf school.







Here I have skipped a section titled
 "Mes études universitaires parasitées par Steiner"
("My University Studies Parasitized by Steiner"). 
I refer to it briefly in an endnote, below.
— R.R.






III. My Entry into the Profession

Young Teacher of History and Geography 
in a Waldorf School

My first experience as a teacher was at the Waldorf school where I had received most of my schooling. Previously, the odd jobs that I found were as a receptionist and a babysitter. But the drama teacher who had allowed me do the lighting [45] decided that my destiny was to become a Waldorf teacher, and he used all his influence at the school to achieve this end. He had not told me this, of course, and we never discussed my personal business. So, when the national educational authorities forced the school to prepare students for the BEPC (the former name of Le Brevet des Collèges) [46], he managed to get me hired as a teacher of history and geography to prepare students for the test. To be sure, my knowledge of geography were so catastrophically limited that I had to chop off large parts of the curriculum, so I acted merely as a coach. I was very embarrassed when students asked me questions. However, I was interested in the success of my students, and through feverish preparatory work, I managed to compensate for the huge gaps resulting from my own poor education at the school. I did this work for two years and satisfied my students and my colleagues because the students did well on the BEPC exam. But after two years, I decided not to continue, because I felt that this work had no meaning. Indeed, geography was not my subject, I had done no research in this area, and teaching a subject for which you do not have the academic background seemed an absurdity. Then, too, preparing students for this exam was perceived by teachers at the Waldorf school — including myself at the time — as nothing but a "necessary evil," meeting an external requirement imposed by state officials and by parents anxious for the advancement of their offspring. Many things seem irrelevant when you want to be an authentic Waldorf teacher! I was also offered the post of French teacher at the school and I refused, for the first reason that I mentioned. This refusal was taken very badly by the teacher whom I was to replace at short notice, so he immediately spread rumors about me and the offer was withdrawn. My teacher-mentor was also very disappointed by my rejection of this offer: He told me that because of my attitude I had blown the chance to become a regular teacher in the school. No matter the subject, he told me, the important thing is to be allowed in through the door! It was at this time that I realized what he had in mind for me. If I had agreed to do as he wanted, I probably would have had a long Waldorf career, having been taken under the wing of one of the most important people in this educational movement. But I could not bring myself to think that I could teach French without having been trained in the subject, particularly considering such flaws in my background as poor spelling, resulting from my Waldorf education. And I think I also began to sense that my true path was in the study of philosophy. This was the first time that an Anthroposophist tried to decide my fate for me. It would not be the last. For Anthroposophy is a doctrine that gives its practitioners the belief that they possess superior, intuitive knowledge about other people. Indeed, many Anthroposophists approach you making sweeping assertions about you without having bothered to get to know you beforehand.

That episode from my professional life had a peculiar sequel that deserves to be told. Noting the failure of the drama teacher to place his candidate, a rival member of the faculty decided to recommended another Waldorf graduate to replace me as BEPC preparation teacher for history-geography. That former student accepted but, after two years, she became quite depressed. This disease was the clear signal that she had chosen the wrong path. By chance, she became my neighbor many years later. Then she told me that after she stopped teaching at our old school, she took some time to recover, and then she ended up teaching a class of deaf children, a job for which she had appropriate training, and then she finally was able to flourish. We need to understand that asking a Waldorf student, shortly after release from the school, to return and teach where she was herself a student is comparable to keeping a child at home too long so that she can never become self-reliant. The coincidence that made her my neighbor had another result years later: Through her, I came into contact with her brother, another former Waldorf student, who had been my math teacher in the upper grades. It was he who, in July 2011 — when he was based in India and was in touch with me via the Internet — denounced me to the Federation of Waldorf Schools when he learned of the existence of my article on the UNADFI website, just days after its release. It was probably this unlikely chain of events that caused me to undergo the ordeal of a legal trial, although of course others might have warned the Federation about my article before the statute of limitations ran out. Still, people who look for patterns in life will not miss the significance that the legal process in question was initiated by what can only be called a betrayal. Indeed, my old math teacher was free to disagree with my writing and to tell me so. But to secretly denounce me, knowing all the consequences this could have, while pretending to be my friend, set the moral tone for the events he set in motion.

During my first two years of teaching in a Waldorf school, although if it was only two hours a week, I began to get glimpses behind the scenes, particularly into the damaging social relations between the teachers there. Indeed, there was a promiscuity that had an injurious impact on the work environment. By promiscuity, I mean that extramarital relationships, deception, and "trading spouses" were common practices among the faculty. This often resulted in awkward situations, such as when the ex-husband of one became the close colleague of the other, and vice-versa. Sometimes deep and irreconcilable enmity arose because of actual or suspected infidelity. For instance, twenty years later, when a teacher died, I learned that an unremitting feud between his wife and one of her colleagues was explained by a clandestine extramarital conflict that embroiled them at the beginning of their careers. The wife in question had suspected misconduct by the other, with the result that she became a relentless critic of the other's teachings methods. Some particularly attractive male teachers and lecturers accumulated female conquests among the faculty and even among the young mothers of the school, who succumbed one after the other. This could produce highly embarrassing confrontations at parent-teacher meetings, such as spats between a cuckolded husband and the teacher who was in charge — or discussions, conducted in front of both a teacher's wife and that teacher's lover, about a student who had become that teacher's mistress. It was not uncommon for divorces to occur, followed by remarriages within the circle of parents and teachers, so that blended families were forced to live together within the school community, with the children of these various matings winding up in the same class. One morning in a Waldorf school where I worked, a colleague confronted another teacher, threatening to smash his face, in front of stunned students, because during the night he had slept with his wife. Another time, at the same school, a teacher chose a parent to be the chaperone of a class trip, a parent who happened to be this teacher's lover; of course, this little matter was the chief topic of conversation among the students on the trip, even though one of the students was the lover's child. Yet another time, a parent of the school who had donated heavily to create a new organization promoting collective decision-making ("sociocracy" or "paths to quality") [47] had an affair with the teacher in charge of this structural reorganization, causing the departure from the school of all his offspring and their cousins when his wife and in-laws learned about it. In citing such situations, I am not advocating rigid marital morality. But in each Steiner workplace I came to know, there was such a tangle of relationships and sexual confusion! All this could perhaps raise a smile, but it is very damaging to the healthy functioning of an institution, especially an institution having an educational mission. Does not such an atmosphere of constantly shifting sexual partners and spouses, in a self-enclosed institution, necessarily create what we might call "psychological inbreeding?" And does not the breakdown of the separation between professional life and family life constitute a kind of intermediate step towards a greatly worrisome situation that may violate important norms when children themselves are involved?


Working in an Anthroposophic Bookstore

Between the time I became inactive in the Anthroposophical Society and my return to full involvement in the Anthroposophic community, there were two intermediate steps for me. The first was my job, for three months, in the Anthroposophic bookstore located next to the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society in France. I was recommended for the job by one of my acquaintances at the Anthroposophic conferences conducted by the lecturer who had introduced me to Anthroposophy when I was a Waldorf student. I do not have much to say about this experience, except that I did not get along with my supervisor, who was convinced that the elemental beings of her houseplants appeared to her and spoke to her regularly. [48] She however told me that in her opinion the members of the foundation that owned the premises of the store and the headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society, not to mention many apartments on that street and many parcels of real estate related to Anthroposophy throughout France, including the site of the Rudolf Steiner Institute in Chatou, were people of questionable morals. But she did not go into detail concerning the malfeasance she suspected. I also worked with the mother of the young woman who years later became my Anthroposophic girlfriend. This woman displayed a more difficult behavior, wanting to control everything and organize it all in her own own way, that is to say rigidly based on the fad that happened to possess her at the moment, in a spirit of continuous monitoring. At that time, she had set up a system that barred us from most professional contacts. She explained various strange things to me, like the fact that her eight-year-old son was a medium who had visions that guided the whole family. Also, they had decided not to exchange gifts at Christmas, but only on the Feast of St. Nicolas, for I know not what obscure religious reason. [49] I left that job after three months.


The Christian Community

A little later, I went through a difficult period of my life, living on minimum wage and having a girlfriend (not Anthroposophic) who was seriously ill. She and I decided to go together to seek spiritual help by attending the services of the Christian Community in Paris. This small religious group has its origin in collaboration between Rudolf Steiner and some German priests for whom he proposed to rewrite the Mass and provide directions for the work of their church. We therefore began attending a form of worship that is very close to Anthroposophic conceptions. Its followers are often quite faithful, although some seem to be a bit unbalanced. Although its teachings are distinct from those of the Anthroposophical Society, the Community is mainly frequented by Anthroposophists. It is therefore a kind of Christian Anthroposophic worship. The fact that the priests of this religious movement are ex-officio members of the School of Spiritual Science shows that there is an institutional link between the Christian Community and the Anthroposophical Society. The members of both groups are often one and the same, exhibiting the same problematic behaviors. They know one another and are deeply attached to the two institutions, no matter what. The solidarity of the Christian Community with the Anthroposophical Society, which I know well, makes placing confidence in them almost impossible. They consistently choose to ignore the serious problems in the environment to which they belong. They are first and foremost servants of the Anthroposophic community, even when this may conflict with the values of the God they worship.

We met with a priestess of this community, who officiated there until 2006. She was a deeply, sincerely, very religious individual. She recommended that we attend workshops, studying literature that proved to fascinate me. In this context, she suggested that I give my first Anthroposophically-oriented lectures. For this, I leaned on my unfinished studies of the plays of Shakespeare. [50]

My companion did not continue attending the community's worship services, but I plunged in completely. I attended all the ceremonies. I no longer left for vacation at Christmas or Easter, preferring to attend Mass, which is celebrated every day during these periods of the year. I was asked to become a "servant" of the cult, and for years I fulfilled this function in a variety of positions, serving on both Thursdays and Sundays. Gradually, I was asked to do more and more for the community: assisting during worship, doing housekeeping, writing the quarterly newsletter, leading study groups, etc. Before long, it was consuming most of my time and energy.

One day the priestess died. She had been too extreme. She had taken very poor care of her health. She had relied on an Anthroposophic doctor. [51] Shortly before her death, I began distancing myself from her because, in a sacramental meeting, she insisted strongly that I commit myself to become a priest of the Christian Community and start my training in this regard. This training would be provided in seminars in Stuttgart and Hamburg, Germany, and last four years. I felt she had gone too far, in effect trying to undermine my free will on a very important issue. For sure, the training is very expensive and requires one to live abroad for a long period of his life. I expressed my desire to earn qualifications in philosophy to become a teacher of the subject, but she insisted that such was almost certainly not my true path. She asserted that many people can become teachers of philosophy, but very few are called to become priests of the Christian Community. But I still wanted to pass the philosophy entrance examination, despite two earlier failures and an increasingly difficult financial situation. I felt deep in my heart that this was my desire and my vocation. Despite the esteem in which I held her, I am proud that I was able to stand up to what she had decided was best for me. She had indeed attempted to alter a very important part of my life path. But I bore her no grudge, and upon her death I went with my girlfriend to keep watch over her for three days and three nights in the mortuary. It seems important to mention this incident regarding my life choices, because it is often thus with Anthroposophists: They think that, due to their transcendent intuitions, they know better than you what is good you (which is generally what is best for their movement). After that, I remained associated with the Anthroposophic cult, but I was less devoted to the Christian Community.








Member of the Editorial Board of 
an Anthroposophic Review


I have told how the doors of the university were effectively closed to me, both intellectually and in terms of the career I might have pursued. [52] The only area in which I might have used my talents was inaccessible to me. I was 25 years old. My father had decided to make his own life and provide no further financial support to me. I was almost on the street, homeless, working at difficult menial jobs, hosted first by my girlfriend at the time, then by the parents of a former classmate who had seen my distress. My mother had become seriously ill, upset by the death of her companion two years earlier. During some weeks, I had barely enough to eat. Perhaps mistakenly, I chose not to apply for public assistance (the mayor of Paris was a right-winger).

In this trying situation, I did something that would deeply affect the next decade of my life. I picked up the 800 pages that I had written for my university thesis, and I began transforming certain passages into Anthroposophic articles, which I then sent to an Anthroposophical magazine. In these revisions, I did not hide my Steiner-inspired thinking. On the contrary, I framed the articles as openly Anthroposophic, studying Shakespeare in the light Steiner's teachings. My first article was entitled "Shakespeare and the Mystery of the Blood". [53]  Carefully written, pertinent, abstruse, and especially Anthroposophic, it quickly piqued the attention of the magazine's steering committee. They accepted it for publication.

I should say that I was never paid for any such articles. Indeed, soon after the publication of the first, the managing editor contacted me and told me that I could receive compensation for my work, but most members of the editorial staff declined payment so that the magazine might flourish. The things she said made me understand that asking for payment would be improper. So I had a choice, but only formally. This is often held up as a special mark of the Anthroposophic community, under what Rudolf Steiner called the "fundamental social law," insisting that everyone work "freely" for the benefit of the community. As I had not decided to write articles in order to make money, but to spread ideas I believed in, I agreed that the magazine should give me nothing. Despite my financial plight, I thought receiving money to spread Anthroposophic doctrine would be indecent. Even when I was invited to give lectures, I always refused anything other than symbolic stipends. In contrast, other authors or translators for the magazine were paid handsomely for their work, which they accepted without qualm. I later knew Anthroposophic speakers who received large sums for the activity of lecturing. Similarly, some people circling around the training of Waldorf teachers had found a vein from which they derived substantial resources. I wanted to write articles and contribute to Anthroposophic conferences in a generous spirit. Probably this saved me from a certain kind of inner corruption.

My articles were quickly appreciated by readers of the magazine. It must be understood that few writers bridge the large gap that exists between the doctrines of Anthroposophy and the wider culture. Most of the time, Anthroposophists do not know what Steiner said about the latter in his works. They are quite unable to analyze cultural works from an Anthroposophical perspective. The number of individuals in France who manage such analyses can counted on the fingers of one hand. But now, before the eyes of the editorial staff, up from nowhere popped someone writing articles that seemed to achieve this objective. They not only published me immediately, but they asked me to join their team.

As a member of the staff, I continued to write my articles on Shakespeare, but also on other topics, including the latest films. Having absorbed, through my readings, what Steiner had said about symbols, I could indeed easily expand my work to subjects other than plays. In a journal that had, for years, published and republished Steiner lectures and articles by his dead disciples, my writings caused a stir. Here was someone who used Steiner's concepts to study modern and popular works, such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS, fantasy films, etc.







I have skipped ahead here.
In the paragraphs I have omitted, Perra describes his increasing
frustration with the intellectual fetters imposed by Anthroposophical publishing.
Then he finds an escape route.
— R.R.









A Philosophy Teacher in a Waldorf School





In 2003, when I was hired as a teacher in a Steiner school.


On the editorial team of this Anthroposophic review, there was a teacher from a Waldorf school. For the past four years, the school had been looking for a teacher of philosophy; they had a new one each year. Those who came never wanted to stay. I was still a year short of earning my qualifications to teach philosophy, including the necessary internship. Still the school happily saw in me a true Anthroposophical teacher. So when I left the Anthroposophic review, I joined the faculty of a Waldorf school. Having seen at the magazine how Anthroposophic dogmatism can be disastrous on an intellectual level, I would now discover its impact on the professional level. In fact, everything I described in my article posted at the UNADFI website — about what happens in Waldorf schools — can be traced to the anti-intellectual attitude of Anthroposophy. It is their dogmatism that produces their cruelty in the sphere of human relations. And it is their secrecy that causes their hypocrisy.

These years were probably the worst of my life, because I've never felt so trapped. The people who ran the upper grades (high school) used all their powers of seduction to make me stay, although from the very first year I wanted to go. At the end of my initial year of teaching, I had an interview with the teacher in charge of the upper grades, who was the guru of the little high school, both among his colleagues and among the pupils. I explained to him that I shouldn't stay, because I was overloaded working full-time to receive my national education credentials — I was getting depleted and my personal life was suffering. Indeed, in addition to my work at Waldorf, I was teaching in a public school four days a week. [54] To work at that school, I had to return each week to the Paris region, forcing me to pay considerable transportation costs as well as paying rent for two apartments. Despite this already huge load, I was asked to participate without pay in Waldorf class meetings, help run the school store, get involved in the administration of the high school (which was in a deplorable state), etc. My only personal life during these years was spent on trains, completely exhausted. In my four years at Waldorf, I gained 30 pounds and lost three teeth, due to being so devitalized. Yet by dint of flattering words and seduction, the teacher in charge managed to convince me to continue at the school for three years beyond the first. He was aided in this task by another teacher who pretended to have great affection for me, in order to bind me to the institution: One day, she asked me for permission to be my mother in our next incarnations!










This is the end of Part 1.
Use the following links to visit the other parts of this memoir:












With M. Perra's kind permission,

I have added the material below

for the benefit of English-speaking readers.


— Roger Rawlings







The rituals, ceremonies, and prayers Perra describes 

are not unique to French Waldorf schools. 

Waldorf schools are much the same worldwide. 

Here is a ceremony at an American Waldorf school 

in which senior class members 

— wearing stars on ribbons around their necks — 

give flowers to incoming first graders.

[Detail, Molly Harbarger/The Oregonian,






An Advent spiral ceremony at an American Waldorf school.

The religious nature of such ceremonies 
is sometimes deliberately obscured.
"At the request of non-Christian families, some schools have 
given their Festival celebrations and pageants 
more generic names, so that Michaelmas 
becomes the Fall Festival 
and the Advent Garden is called the Spiral of Light." 
— Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz.

[See "December, 2010".]






A Michaelmas lantern walk at an American Waldorf school.

[Seasonal Gnome.]

“Celebrating Martinmas at EWS [Emerson Waldorf School] 

serves as a reminder that each of us has a divine spark ... 

The children hear the story of St. Martin, sing songs 

and, as darkness falls, 

venture out into the night with their lanterns 

walking along a path lit with glowing luminaries, 

carefully carrying their lanterns in a mood of quiet reverence.”

[See "November, 2011".]














Teachers and students at some, if not all, Waldorf schools

leap over fires, as Perra describes.

Here are some photos and related commentaries:








[Photos by Wade Howard, Ocean Driven Media and Photography]


• "Everyone’s favourite festival at The Roseway Waldorf School is the St John’s Festival ... The life of John the Baptist was seen as a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ and the fire is used as a way of getting rid of the past and clearing the path ahead. Their is a buzz of excitement in the air ... [T]he kids are so eager to light their lanterns and go on their journey in the dark from the classrooms up to the big field where the class 7′s have the honour of lighting the huge bonfire." [http://www.oceandrivenmedia.com/events/st-johns-festival-at-the-roseway-waldorf-school-2/]



The danger to students should be obvious.




• "At the Norwich Steiner School [UK] yesterday the children dressed in flaming reds, yellows and oranges for the occasion, which is one of many festivals marked by the school throughout the year to help the children experience and understand the rhythms of the seasons.


"Michael Higgins, one of the teachers at the Hospital Lane school which has about 60 pupils, said: 'The children gathered around the fire to mark the summer solstice when the sun is at its zenith. When the fire died down the children jumped over the fire as a rite of passage into their new class in September.'" [http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/education/norwich_steiner_school_celebrate_summer_solstice_1_933373]


• “School boy encouraged to jump over fire 

“A boy has ended up in hospital after his teacher encouraged him to jump over a fire whilst on a school trip. What began as a light-hearted solstice celebration ended with the 15-year-old being severely injured. 

“The teacher from Rudolf-Steiner school in Vienna, Austria, reportedly encouraged Jakob to leap over a fire leaving him so badly burnt that he had to have both his feet operated on... 

“After the mother made an official complaint the boy was supposedly asked to leave the school... 

“According to a report in Heute, the mother is holding the school liable for pain and suffering and damages in excess of 24,000 Euros. When asked to comment this morning (Fri) the private school had ‘No comment’. The case is still pending.” [http://austrianindependent.com/news/General_News/2011-11-25/9580/School_boy_encouraged_to_jump_over_fire












Waldorf student arts and crafts are not always devoid of individuality,

but — as Perra describes — there is often a marked uniformity

in the work emerging from these schools.





Three-legged stools.

[The Waldorf School of Garden City.]





Sailboats and decorated candles.

[Castle of Costa Mesa (Waldorf life).]





Watercoloring.

[The Waldorf Academy, Toronto.]




Charcoal drawing.

[teachinghandwork.blogspot: Waldorf 7-8th grades.]



At the Waldorf school I attended, all the children in a class 

built identical sailboats, carefully following the teacher's instructions. 

At the end of most woodworking projects,

the teacher would finish any work the students had left undone,

giving the final products a gleaming perfection that 

impressed students' parents

— who did not know they were chiefly admiring 

the teacher's work, not the students'. 

(The stools, paintings, and drawings shown above 

were produced by Waldorf students;

the sailboats and candles evidently were not.) — R.R.










ENDNOTES





[1] The Federation sued Perra after he published an essay titled "The Anthroposophical Indoctrination of Students in Steiner-Waldorf Schools" [see
He Went to Waldorf”]. Seeking to silence him, the Federation charged him with slander. Perra won the case and his work remains available online: "https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfcriticsinfrance/l-endoctrinement".


[2] Rudolf Steiner wrote numerous prayers for his followers to use. Significantly, he wrote prayers to be recited at the beginning of each Waldorf school day. [See "Prayers".]


[3] Waldorf schools generally deny that they teach Anthroposophy to the students. What this often means, in practice, is that the students are immersed in Anthroposophical beliefs and rituals without receiving clear explanations of the underlying occult doctrines. As Perra argues, the effect is to convey Anthroposophy indirectly and almost subliminally. The effect is a subtle form of indoctrination. [See, e.g., "Mistreating Kids Lovingly" and "Sneaking It In".] 


[4] See the section on "festivals" in "Magical Arts".


[5] Many of the hymns used in Waldorf schools can be found in THE WALDORF SONG BOOK (Floris Press, 1992) and THE SECOND WALDORF SONG BOOK (Floris Press, 1993).  [See "Prayers".]


[6] For a look at some mantras, meditations, and prayers written by Rudolf Steiner, see "Power Words".


[7] The Christian Community is the overtly religious arm of Anthroposophy: a gnostic Christian denomination having doctrines built upon Rudolf Steiner's occult visions. [See "Christian Community".]


[8] The school day in Waldorf schools begins with prayers followed by the major class of the day, the "main lesson" that usually lasts 90 or 120 minutes. Other classes, later in the day, are often keyed to this lesson. [See, e.g., "The Waldorf Curriculum" and "Methods".]


[9] Waldorf schools seek to prolong childhood because children are deemed to retain subconscious memories of their spiritual lives before birth. [See "Thinking Cap".] Both intellect and the exertion of memory are downplayed in Waldorf schools; the intellectual maturation of the students is generally delayed as long as possible. [See "Steiner's Specific" and the entries on "brain", "intellect", and "memory" in "The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia".]


[10] The "Christian" holidays observed at Waldorf schools are, in fact, pagan celebrations of the turning of the seasons. "Quarter" holidays occur at the solstices and equinoxes, when celestial conditions change and thus, in pagan belief, astrological conditions are altered.


[11] See, e.g., "Fairy Tales".


[12] Waldorf schools generally advocate "Goethean" science that seeks to penetrate to spiritual realities underlying physical phenomena. [See "Goethe" and "Steiner's 'Science'".] The objective is to produce a deeply subjective, mystical state of consciousness; in effect, the purpose is to nudge students toward spiritual revelation of the sort that underlies Rudolf Steiner's "spiritual science," Anthroposophy. The is the new "science" that Rudolf Steiner's followers want to see replace the natural and physical  sciences. Severing the self from the physical senses, the "spiritual scientist" rises to a "higher" consciousness of "higher" realities.



"The student observes what comes forward while keeping the mind from straying ... This type of thinking is freed from the senses and allows the universe to speak through the individual. It is a type of thinking which is truly moral and can be the fertile ground for the 'new' science of the twenty-first century." — David S. Mitchell, THE WONDERS OF WALDORF CHEMISTRY (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2004), pp. 12-13.


[13] THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM, by Rudolf Steiner, was originally a straightforward philosophical text. When Steiner wrote it, he was a secular intellectual, and he had great hopes for the book's reception. Critics did not hail Steiner as the next great German philosopher, however, and not long afterwards Steiner amazed his family, friends, and students by plunging into occultism. Thereafter, he revised THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM to make it consistent with his new mystical doctrines. This is the form of the book now studied by Waldorf teacher trainees. [For more on such matters, see "What a Guy", "Freedom", and "Teacher Training".]


[14] Steiner's teachings about intellect are complex and, indeed, self-contradictory. On the one hand, Steiner claimed that his "spiritual science" — Anthroposophy — is consistent with intellect and the natural sciences. On the other hand, he disparaged intellect and the natural sciences. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Specific" and "Science".] Ultimately, after fully committing himself to occultism, Steiner advocated clairvoyance and "living thoughts" (which are sent to us by the gods) rather than reasoning or, indeed, the use of the brain. [See, e.g., "Clairvoyance" and "Thinking".]


[15] The essential discipline of Anthroposophy is the effort to discipline the mind so that one can attain clairvoyance or even — what Steiner claimed to possess — "exact" clairvoyance. To look into these matters, see "Knowing the Worlds" and "Exactly".


[16] Karma and reincarnations are basic Anthroposophical beliefs. [See "Karma" and "Reincarnation".] Waldorf teachers sometimes allow bullying among students in the belief that some students have the karma to be bullies and other students have the karma to be bullied. [See, e.g., "Slaps".]


[17] In a process sometimes called "looping," some Waldorf teachers take responsibility for groups of children for years on end. These teachers — called "class teachers" or "main lesson teachers" — stay with their students from first grade through fifth or even eighth grade. In extreme cases, they may continue with their classes through 12th grade. During all those years, they teach the students the main lessons in all subjects: math, geography, history, literature, and so forth. This system has certain potential advantages: Teachers and students should get to know one another well, and students may receive individualized attention. But there are also clear potential drawbacks. No teacher is truly qualified to teach so many subjects at so many grade levels. Thus, the Waldorf system ensures that at least some subjects (and perhaps a great many subjects) will be taught badly. Also, the influence a "class teacher" has on children may be enormous, which may not be beneficial, especially if the teacher is a proponent of a mystical set of falsehoods such as Anthroposophy. Finally, if a teacher and student are psychologically, intellectually, spiritually, or emotionally mismatched, the student may suffer for many years — potentially, throughout an entire childhood — in a painfully unproductive relationship.


[18] See the note, above, about intellect. Steiner taught that young children should be shielded from intellectual or rational influences, which are positively harmful to their spirits. This shielding may loosen during middle school, he taught, but children remain incapable of rational thought until at least the age of 14 — that is, until high school. Thus, in general, Waldorf schools try to postpone intellectual development in children until high school, at which stage they seek (to varying degrees) to foster the birth of intellectual capacity. But Anthroposophists believe that even in high school — as in all of adult life — intellect should be subservient to imagination, inspiration, and intuition, which Steiner said at stages in the development of "higher knowledge," i.e., clairvoyance.



[SteinerBooks, 2009.]


[19] Not all Waldorf teachers have a deep intellectual knowledge of Anthroposophy. Indeed, in some schools, few teachers do. But this is common of the followers of all mass movements. How many Catholics know the details of every Papal pronouncement that has issued from Rome? How many Marxists can explicate every nuance of DAS KAPITAL? Most followers of most movements are, to one degree or another, blind followers — they follow what they do not truly understand. And this is certainly true of many Anthroposophists, including members of Waldorf school faculties.


[20] See "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".


[21] If a Waldorf school succeeds in the subtle indoctrination of students — if it, in effect, successfully brainwashes them — then of course the kids will come away thinking their school is a wonderful place. Then, too, Waldorf graduates often have happy memories because in their school days they were surrounded with lovely art, they were given plenty of free time for play, and they experienced only minimal academic pressure. Whether they were taught much about the real world — that is, whether they received a good education — is a different question.


[22] The term "supersensible" applies to things that cannot be perceived with the ordinary senses; clairvoyance is required. Roughly speaking, "supersensible" is synonymous with "supernatural" or "spiritual." For a discussion of the "supersensible" parts of human nature, according to Anthroposophic teachings, see "What We're Made Of" and "Our Parts".


[23] According to Anthroposophic teachings, two of the four human bodies — the astral body and the "I" — rise into the spirit realm every night while the physical body and the etheric body remain behind, asleep, on the Earth.


[24] Perra was, at different times, a student at two separate Waldorf schools. The first had not yet instituted a full K-12 curriculum.


[25] Marie Steiner was Rudolf Steiner's second wife (Steiner's first wife had not followed him into occultism). Marie Steiner became a major figure in the Anthroposophical movement, especially following her husband's death in 1925. [See "What a Guy".] Simone Rihouët-Coroze, a prominent French Anthroposophist, prepared various Steiner manuscripts for publication in France. 


[26] Originally a Muslim, Rahbi converted to Christianity before setting that, too, aside and espousing environmentalism. His value to French Waldorf schools is somewhat akin to the value of such figures as Laurens van der Post to Waldorf schools in the English-speaking world — a sort of fellow traveler sharing, to some degree, the green values embraced by Anthroposophists. [For more on the Waldorf view of nature, see "Neutered Nature".]


[27] Two interconnected Anthroposophical beliefs are alluded to here. • Steiner taught that ancient and primitive peoples had a natural form of clairvoyance that has largely been lost today (although it may persist among members of "lower" races). • He also taught that blacks, as members of the lowest race, have powerful instinctive and sexual urges that they can scarcely control. [For more on such matters, see, e.g., "Races" and "Differences".]


[28] At many Waldorf schools, power is concentrated in the hands of a central committee called the college of teachers. This group of senior insiders makes most of the important decisions concerning the the direction and character of the school. The committee's meetings also include close study of Rudolf Steiner's works.

[29] Perra did this work when he had risen to become an important Anthroposophical insider. Antoine Dodrimont has been president of the Anthroposophical Society in France and he taught at the Waldorf School of Colmar. Bodo von Plato, a ranking Anthroposophist, has served as an Executive Council Member at the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters, the Goetheanum.

[30] Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was the great French existentialist philosopher and author. Wim Wenders (b. 1945) is a celebrated German playwright and film director. The Waldorf teacher evidently imposed a radical reinterpretation on Sartre's script. THE CHIPS ARE DOWN (1947) deals with the evanescence and pointlessness of human life. WINGS OF DESIRE (1987) is a fantasy in which a guardian angel is tempted to forego angelic immortality in order to become human. When bleak modern works are sometimes studied in Waldorf schools, the point the teachers usually strive to convey — if only implicitly — is that life is empty unless approached in the spirit of Anthroposophy.

[31] See the previous note about "class teachers" or "main lesson teachers." Here Perra is saying that the drama teacher, who was directing the play, saw things one way, but the class teacher had a different view.

[32] Another lesson of this little story is that there is often considerable conflict on Waldorf faculties, with teachers undercutting one another. The schools try to project an image of harmonious solidarity, but the view from inside — as Perra has already indicated — is often quite different.


[33] Revue n°36 de l’Esprit du Temps de l’Hiver 2000 intitulé Des enfants s’annoncent…Témoignages, with excerpts from the book ENTRETIENS AVEC CEUX QUI NE SONT PAS NÉS {INTERVIEWS WITH THOSE WHO WERE NOT BORN} (Verlag Urachaus, 1994).


[34] "Curative" education offered by Anthroposophists generally consists of Anthroposophical activities, such as the form of dance called eurythmy, supplemented by Anthroposophical medicine. [See, e.g., "Eurythmy" and "Steiner's Quackery".] Steiner's guidance on such matters is summarized in the book CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), in which, for example, Steiner recommends the use of horoscopes. [See "Horoscopes".] Often such treatment is given in Anthroposophical communities called "Camphills." [See, e.g., "Waldorf Now".]


[35] Again, see Perra's essay published here under the heading "He Went to Waldorf". [See the first endnote, above.]


[36] See "Faculty Meetings" and "Schools as Churches".


[37] The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) developed a therapeutic approach that was more open to spiritual and religious considerations than Freud's, and in some senses his views were similar to Steiner's. However, Jung was no Anthroposophist, and thus from the perspective of Steiner and his followers, Jung's views have essentially little or no merit.


[38] Sergei O. Prokofieff (1954-2014) was a Russian-born Anthroposophist who helped establish the Anthroposophical Society in Russia, and who has served as a member of the Executive Council of the General Anthroposophical Society at the Goetheanum. He is the author of such books as THE APPEARANCE OF CHRIST IN THE ETHERIC, RELATING TO RUDOLF STEINER, and THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF FORGIVENESS. He should not be confused with the Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953).

[39] According to Anthroposophical doctrine, Christ is the Sun God, and his representative is Michael, the Sun Archangel. Michael has responsibility for overseeing human spiritual evolution in our time, or so Steiner taught. [See "Michael".]

[40] This is the internship Perra discusses in the section "Stagiaire à Charlie-Hebdo". [See "Charlie Hebdo".]

[41] This is the central tension within Anthroposophy. Steiner taught that his clairvoyant revelations constitute "occult" (i.e., hidden) knowledge that must not be divulged to the uninitiated. On the other hand, of course, Anthroposophists want to extend their movement — they want to spread the benefits of Anthroposophical "truths" — and Steiner himself made his occult teachings at least partially accessible to the public in books and lectures. The resolution of this tension involves the process of initiation. As more and more people become Anthroposophical initiates, Steiner's wonderful wisdom will be increasingly spread and humanity's future spiritual progress will be secured. [To look into the process of Anthroposophical initiation, see "Knowing the Worlds" and "Inside Scoop". For more on the occultism within Anthroposophy, see "Occultism". For an examination of Steiner's key text, AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, see "Everything".]

[42] This is the occult educational organ of Anthroposophy, situated at the Goetheanum. There, advanced Anthroposophists are schooled in the hidden "truths" of Anthroposophical revelation. [See, e.g., "Six Facts Your Should Know About Steiner Education".]

[43] Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was a French realist author. He is best known for his novel MADAME BOVARY.

[44] The statue stands in the Goetheanum. It represents a key Anthroposophical doctrine, that Christ intervenes between the two tempters of mankind, the arch-demons Lucifer and Ahriman. These beings offer mankind gifts that could lead us badly astray, but when moderated by Christ the gifts assist us to evolve properly. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?", "Lucifer", and "Ahriman".] Rudolf Steiner is usually credited with the creation of the statue, although most of the work was actually done by the sculptress Edith Maryon.

[45] See the section, above, titled "My Sister's Eleventh Grade Play".

[46] "BEPC" stands for "Brevet d'Études de Premier Cycle". It was a fairly elementary nationwide examination taken by secondary school students. It was replaced by Le Brevet des Collèges.

[47] Attempting to realize the sociopolitical principles that Rudolf Steiner laid out [see "Threefolding"], Waldorf schools often attempt to operate as collective bodies with a minimum of organizational structure. The larger point is that Anthroposophists often deem themselves to be above ordinary rules and regulations — they are following a "higher" morality. This attitude can result in the sort of moral chaos Perra describes here.

[48] Anthroposophists believe that nature is infused with "nature spirits" or "elemental beings" such as fairies or elves. The four primary types of elemental beings are gnomes (who dwell within the earth), sylphs (who dwell in the air), fire-spirits or "salamanders" (who dwell in fire), and undines (who dwell in water). [See "Neutered Nature".]

[49] St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia and Greece, also of sailors and children; his feast is celebrated on December 6. Dutch emigrants to the New World, living in New Amsterdam (now New York City), remade him into the figure known today as Santa Claus.

[50] This was work Perra undertook in college, interpretating Shakespeare in terms derived from the worldview Perra had absorbed as a Waldorf student. See the section of his memoir, "Divided within Myself", in which Perra tells of interpreting Flaubert in this manner. The thesis on Shakespeare found little favor with Perra's thesis advisor.

[51] Rudolf Steiner gave directions concerning almost all spheres of life, including medicine. Anthroposophic doctors are genuine MDs who, however, supplement or replace regular medical care with spiritual Anthroposophic nostrums. [See, e.g., "Our Brush with Rudolf Steiner" and "Growing Up Being Made Sick by Anthroposophy".]

[52] In a section I have not yet translated, "Mes études universitaires parasitées par Steiner" {"My University Studies Parasitized by Steiner"}, Perra describes how the approach he took in his college studies, resulting from his Anthroposophy-infused Waldorf education, caused him to produce unacceptable work.

[53] Steiner argued that blood has deep, occult qualities. [See "Blood".]

[54] This is the internship Perra mentioned previously.










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



◊◊◊ 1. WALDORF EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW ◊◊◊


A short, direct answer to the question, "What are Waldorf schools all about?"


Best foot forward

The bright side


A pictorial overview


Waldorf's goals

Waldorf's reality

Teachers as priests

How they teach it

Words of warning


The key to Waldorf


The use of "clairvoyance" by Waldorf teachers

Developing our invisible bodies

Steiner, trying to make Waldorf education seem sensible


MY LIFE AMONG THE ANTHROPOSOPHISTS, Part 1Part 2Part 3, Parts 4-6,


SQUARE ONE, Part 1Part 2
From the beginning, again


TROLLS?

Any here?


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