Steiner’s Doctrines, in Brief

(and Tamped Down)

What, in a nutshell, are Rudolf Steiner’s teachings? One of his devout followers, Hermann von Baravalle (aka Herman V. Baravalle), attempts to give an answer in his book WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA. [1]

Von Baravalle — who should know his stuff, since he was a teacher at Steiner’s original Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany — begins by saying that Steiner agreed with most religions that the human soul or spirit is “not dependent on the body.” [2] So the human soul does not die when the body dies. Von Baravalle goes on to say that, unlike some religions, Steiner's doctrines state that the soul existed before birth. But, according to von Baravalle, the greatest distinction between Steiner’s views and the views of most religions is that Anthroposophy (to give it it’s correct name — something von Baravalle tends to avoid) “does not appeal to authority from the past ... In Steiner’s conception of the world the potential for revelation, for knowledge, exists right with us.” [3]

Several points need to be made immediately:

 Steiner’s books and lectures are actually loaded with references to ancient teachings. Taking his lead from Theosophy, Steiner melded Christianity with Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient myths, Persian and Egyptian dogmas, and the like. Self-evidently, these are doctrines derived “from the past” [4] and quite often Steiner's point is that ancient peoples were wiser about spiritual matters than modern people are — he uses these references to bolster and substantiate his own doctrines. These are, in fact, "appeals to the authority of the past." [See, e.g., "The Ancients".]

 It is not correct to suggest, as von Baravalle does, that Anthroposophy is different from most religions because it allows for the possibility that revelation can occur in the here and now. Contemporary revelation is a tenet of the Pentecostal faith as well as Mormonism, to cite just two examples. Evangelical preachers such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have often professed direct communiqués from God. The Pope does the same. Many faiths include the belief that the potential for revelation is present here and now. [5]

 Steiner taught that revelation can occur in the present to anyone, but he attached some strings. He taught that seekers generally need to become initiates in his new religion, which meant — among other things — developing organs of clairvoyance. [6] All of Steiner’s doctrines proceed from the clairvoyance he claimed to possess. [7] Few if any of his followers have claimed psychic powers to equal his. Thus, most adherents of Anthroposophy proceed in large part by faith, modified only slightly by personal revelation. In whom do they put their faith? Rudolf Steiner, who is now dead — so in this sense, too, his followers take their faith “from the past.”

 In comparing Anthroposophy with other religions, von Baravalle skates close to the edge of Anthroposophical doctrine. Taking his cue from Theosophy, Steiner called Anthroposophy "spiritual science." He denied that his system is a religion. Instead, he said, Anthroposophists study the spirit realm "scientifically" through the use of clairvoyance. His claims founder at several points. Anthroposophy — which includes prayers and requires reverence — is surely a religion, even if it is such an odd one that it claims to be something else. [See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] And the linchpin of Anthroposophy, clairvoyance, is a delusion — it does not exist. [See "Clairvoyance".] A "science" that is actually a faith and that depends on a nonexistent psychic power is clearly not really a science at all.


Personal revelation, according to Steiner, becomes possible because “Human nature can unfold more completely as part of an evolutionary process.” [8] Evolution is a central component of Steiner’s theology. [9] Steiner did not subscribe to scientific, Darwinian evolution, however. He spoke of an ongoing process of spiritual development that will — in the distant future — produce virtually perfect, divine, humans. As von Baravalle explains, It is one of the central ideas [of Steiner’s] that our human consciousness, our whole inner life, and our capabilities undergo evolution....” [10] As we evolve to higher and higher spiritual stages, our spiritual capacities expand, and we attain more and more direct spiritual knowledge. The process is slow, however. Seekers may need to wait centuries or even millennia before evolution takes them to the state of existence they yearn for. But in the meanwhile, the idea that we can approach cosmic truth through our own efforts is empowering and exciting. (Unfortunately, as we have already mentioned, the mechanism of "spiritual science" is a nonexistent type of psychic power. It doesn't work. Anthroposophy and the education system built on Anthroposophy suffer profoundly as a result.)

Von Baravalle explains that ancient peoples — who were less evolved than ourselves — had different consciousnesses than we possess today. “These people were fundamentally different in the way they looked at life, their way of inner striving, their questions, and their needs.” [11] Steiner frequently asserted that some humans are less evolved than others. Thus, the ancients did not stand at our level, and today evolutionary/spiritual inequality exists among contemporary humans: Some are descended from higher racial stocks and some from lower. [See “Steiner’s Racism”.] Steiner also differentiated true human beings from people who are not really human. Some of the latter are demons in disguise or automata, he taught. [See. e.g., “Compassion and Its Absence” and “Foundations”.)

Von Baravalle explains that, according to Steiner, people in the past saw the earthly and spiritual realms differently than is possible for us today. “Out of the spirit they spoke about non-physical forms of existence ... [Their beliefs were not fantasies; rather, they reflected] a change in consciousness, a difference in the condition of human minds ... The ancient attitude had its emphasis on the beyond.” [12] In some ways, the ancients were wiser than we are, because they were more attuned to the spirit realm. But we have progressed to a stage where, sharpening our capacities in the physical universe, we begin to find within ourselves the capacity for a higher, more precise form of spiritual cognition. [See "Exactly".] Steiner claimed to possess this higher consciousness, and he claimed to be able to instruct the rest of us in how to attain it. [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Waldorf schools gently nudge children toward the possible development of such consciousness while assisting them to incarnate their invisible bodies [see "Incarnation"] and helping them to maintain their instinctive ties to the spirit realm [see "Thinking Cap".] [13]

Von Baravalle explains that the evolution of mankind is not random but displays definite patterns. “We see one pattern which comes out of the past: The further we go back, the more the emphasis on the physical existence is secondary and the more the emphasis on the inner qualities, what we call human values and the spiritual nature, gets stronger ... Is this evolutionary process still going on? Is [the modern] emphasis on the physical existence getting stronger still? Again Rudolf Steiner gives a very important answer: Yes, it is [emphasis by von B].” [14] Our evolution is comparable to the growth of a child. In the past, we had a childish consciousness that provided us with innocent perceptions of spiritual realities [15], comparable to the intuition of the spirit realm that (Steiner said) newborn infants possess. [16] The people back then were immature, like contemporary infants. We have now evolved to a more advanced stage, although it has temporarily cut us off from the spirit realm. But we will keep evolving. Following Steiner, we will gain the insight needed to evolve toward full spirituality in the future. Meanwhile, each child repeats at an individual level the patterns of evolution that humanity as a whole has followed.

Von Baravalle says that Steiner’s doctrines explain that mankind has turned a corner. The most intense period of human of materialism came in the nineteenth century, and since then people have gradually turned their gaze once more to spiritualism. “Rudolf Steiner says that this beginning will grow ... You can, for instance, talk to many people today about the idea of reincarnation, whereas you would make [sic] an utter fool of yourself a few decades ago if you brought up the subject ... [J]ust count how many people there are with whom you can soundly consider such a thought ... It points to something that is changing ... Rudolf Steiner points more toward birth [i.e., rebirth, reincarnation] than toward death.” [17] So, humanity as a whole is still mired in materialism, and indeed many (perhaps most) people continue placing ever greater emphasis on physical existence. But the vanguard of humanity — i.e., Rudolf Steiner and his followers — have begun to lead the way back to spirituality. Subjects like reincarnation that, until recently, were off limits in public discourse have now become respectable again.

Note, by the way, that for Steiner and his followers, reincarnation is much more than merely an “idea” or "thought." It was a central tenet. [18] Von Baravalle characteristically soft-pedals Steiner’s teachings, but the underlying message is plain. Our souls are independent of our bodies. Our souls existed before birth and will exist after death. Our souls, in fact, have moved through a long, evolutionary series of past lives, and they will move through many further evolutionary stages in future lives. (“The idea of reincarnation complements the idea of evolution; every individual goes through these evolutionary stages.” [19]) Is there any evidence to support these propositions? Von Baravalle provides none. Are these propositions consistent with Biblical teachings? No: The Bible says that when we die, we go to heaven or hell. But von Baravalle is convinced that Steiner's views are wiser than science or the Bible, and he does his best to present them in their most plausible form.

Although Anthroposophy does not rely on dogmas from out of the past, von Baravalle reports that Steiner’s teachings include the “age old [sic] thought that runs through the Oriental cultures, the thought of karma.” [20] Here again, von Baravalle tries to smooth the edges of Steiner's doctrines. Karma is not merely a "thought" in the Anthroposophical/Waldorf worldview: It is a fundamental tenet. [See "Karma".] The evolution Steiner described involves a vast number of reincarnations during which we work out our karmas. Indeed, some Waldorf educators says that one of their chief tasks is to help children fulfill their karmas.

We have not yet fully freed ourselves from our sojourn in materialism (i.e., we still tend to lead lives almost wholly defined by material existence), but we are moving back upward, toward spirit. Involvement in the material world has helped us to balance our natures and sharpen our wits. Now, von Baravalle and Steiner inform us, we can reascend as wiser souls, more able to choose between good and evil, more able to exercise freedom. (We will return to the topic of freedom, which is crucial in discussions of Waldorf education.) Strengthened by our brush with the material world, we will soon attain spiritual wisdom far greater than we enjoyed in the dim past. [21] 


At this point in his manuscript, von Baravalle touches lightly on the subject of education for students from different lands — and, sadly, here Steiner’s racism peeps out. Von Baravalle says that Western teachers would enjoy having Eastern pupils, who are more pliable than Western kids. Asians are less evolved than Western peoples, you see: They are “still imbedded in” an ancient, inferior spiritual mindset. [22] Von Baravalle actually allows himself to refer to a “low, Oriental view.” [23] The invidiousness of Steiner’s belief system threatens to burst into full view. [See "Races".] But von Baravalle quickly shifts his discourse back to the topic of materialism. People today place great faith in science and technology, he says, but "Rudolf Steiner took a completely different view.” [24] 

Steiner’s view is that there is no real division between the material realm and the spiritual, although the material universe can be deceptive and spiritually harmful. “The whole spiritual world and the material world are connected ... [W]hat we have as a physical existence was once a spiritual existence that took on certain forms in the course of evolution. Now there comes a most surprising difference between Steiner’s world conception and the usual ones. In Rudolf Steiner’s world conception man is as old as the world.” [25] This is, indeed, an unusual view. It sweeps away all scientific accounts of geology and evolution. (According to science, the universe is about 15 billion years old, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and homo sapiens emerged about 350,000 years ago.) [26] We are left with Steiner’s “surprising” view. And what reason do we have to accept this view? None, apparently, except that it is “surprising.” I’m not being flippant. Von Baravalle offers no evidence to support Steiner. Instead, he seems to believe that Steiner’s views are sufficiently interesting and “democratic” [27] that they justify themselves. (Anthroposophy is "democratic" because it allows people to have their own, personal revelations.) In all such matters, von Baravalle is faithful to the views of his guru, which he affirms regardless of any countervailing arguments from science or orthodox Western religion.

Von Baravalle continues his presentation of Steiner's views on evolution: “When you start from a conception of non-material existence...[the emergence of man in physical form] could be imagined as crystallization ... The process starts...with a gaseous state...then it goes to the liquid [state], then to the solid state ... [S]piritual existence would partially materialize itself during that process ... What would a scientist ask about a point of view like that? How could a human being exist in a gaseous state? He [sic: the scientist] would scratch his head in perplexity." [28] In case you are scratching your head, let’s pause here to regroup. Humans are as old as the Earth, and older than the physical Earth. We sort of crystallized out of the spiritual world, although only partially. The process of manifestation was gradual. In early stages, we existed in a gaseous state and then a liquid state — our physical, partially manifested bodies were, at those stages, gaseous and then liquid. Note that Steiner was not referring to man’s evolutionary ancestors, the way Darwin did. Rather, Steiner’s teachings assert that man — who was here from the start — was always man, but man evolved as the universe itself evolved.

Von Baravalle disposes of the possibility that man evolved from lower animals, thus: “The animals aren’t the predecessors of man ... [I]n the course of evolutionary process many of the animal forms rushed more quickly into contact with physical existence. Humans held back. Therefore, animals have a stronger component of physical processes in their nature. A beaver, for instance, just goes to work and builds his dwelling place. We are not so well adapted to the physical that we can go around and make houses ... We still need an architect....” [29] In the Waldorf belief system, animals evolved from humans, not vice versa. Animals "crystalized" out of nonphysical conditions earlier than humans did, so they failed to keep evolving as humans did. Animals are, in this sense, cast-off remnants of human nature as it existed at earlier evolutionary stages. Of course, there is no evidence to support any of this, but von Baravalle affirms Steiner's views unswervingly, and he uses rhetorical sleight of hand to cast a veneer of plausibility over the implausible. Thus, he states something implausible (animals crystallized out of the spiritual before men did) and then draws a “logical” conclusion: “Therefore” animals are more fully physical than we are. Q.E.D.

Von Baravalle takes a stab at prognostication: “What will happen in the future according to [Steiner's] world conception? Well, when the spirit has an independent form of existence, it can even survive the end of the material world." [30] This is a comforting thought — the material world may come to and end, but we will not. Von Baravalle commends this thought and related Steiner doctrines by comparing them to prevailing opinion. He says that Steiner's viewpoint is more sensible. "You will see that these thoughts with all their implications may be more sensible than present views. Take, for instance, a view that is very strongly prevalent in the Western world: People lead a good life, adhere to their religions, and believe strongly in their messages. Then when you do not go to a service in your church on one Sunday, you have accumulated a debt of sin. When you die in the state of that sin you will no longer, so to speak, be among the blessed for eternity.” [31] Clearly, von Baravalle sets up a straw man, here, presenting a sort of caricature of orthodox Christian belief. But the key point to consider is whether Steiner's views are really more "sensible" than the orthodox view, and whether that makes them more true. Von Baravalle gives us nothing, really, except his own preference for the Steiner worldview. But to reiterate, he does present that worldview fairly accurately.

Ultimately, von Baravalle says, Anthroposophy aims to help humans to become truly free: “[W]hy did we have to go through all these troubles [i.e., evolution]? For one prize only ... It is freedom ... We see in Rudolf Steiner a man who had bear witness in the humble service of freedom and individuality.” [33] Speaking to an American audience, von Baravalle hits the right buttons. If Anthroposophy leads to freedom, then surely it is a wonderful system that Americans should embrace. But, in actuality, the sort of freedom Steiner and von Baravalle had in mind is quite limited: It is Germanic and crimped. Essentially, it amounts to freedom from impure materialistic desires and attitudes; it is not a proactive form of liberty in which people can independently choose from among a wide array of attractive options. In Anthroposophy, there is really only one correct option: Anthroposophy. You may freely choose Anthroposophy and reap the spiritual reward of future spiritual evolution, or you may freely reject Anthroposophy and suffer the terrible consequences of your blindness. By most people's standards, this amounts to no choice at all; rather, it is compulsion, the absolute need to choose a single correct path. [See "Freedom".] Anthroposophy is the "white path;" following the "black path" means doom. [See "White-Black".]


That, in summary form, is von Baravalle's explication of the thinking that underlies Waldorf schooling. I should add a personal note or two. I had forgotten, but checking old photographs convinces me that I saw Hermann von Baravalle on more than one occasion, and I may have even spoken with him once or twice. (Think what this means. You are reading a sentence written by someone who either did or didn’t actually speak with someone who actually knew Rudolf Steiner. What is that, one degree of separation? It’s a small world after all. [34]) Von Baravalle was involved in the founding of the Waldorf school I attended. In my day, the school was called The Waldorf School of Adelphi College (in Garden City, New York); von Baravalle held a faculty position at the college at the same time that I was a student at the school. Adelphi, unaware of the occult nature of Steiner’s views, had agreed to the creation of several links with the school, including a Waldorf teacher-training program rooted in the school and hosted by the college. The ties between the college and the school ended when — years after von Baravalle and I had moved on — scandal rocked the school.

The headmaster at our Waldorf was John Fentress Gardner. He may not have been von Baravalle's friend, precisely, but the two men were allies, and they took a similar approach in their efforts to promote Waldorf education in America. They tried to make Waldorf and Anthroposophy seem to be consistent with American values. In an essay titled “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School”, Gardner said he tried to defuse worries about the weird spiritualism behind Waldorf by working “to gain understanding for [the school and its methods]. I minimized the difference between a Waldorf school and other schools....” [35] Gardner claimed that “There was nothing in Rudolf Steiner that [the prototypically American writers] Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman would not have approved wholeheartedly.” [36] This claim is obviously untrue. Many of Steiner’s doctrines would make Emerson’s or Thoreau’s hair stand on end — and Whitman would have run screaming from the room. I delve into these doctrines at length elsewhere on this site. [37] Gardner stuck by this strategy, however, as is evidenced by a book he wrote after his forced retirement: AMERICAN HERALDS OF THE SPIRIT [38] is about the American Transcendentalists Emerson, Whitman, and Melville. The third appendix deals with “Rudolf Steiner’s extensive and immensely fruitful research,” which essentially amount to Steiner’s “clairvoyant” visions. The book’s thesis is that the American Transcendentalists anticipated spiritual doctrines that Steiner would perfect, “lending them the clarity of something fully experienced....” [39]

Unfortunately, Steiner himself undercut the contention that Waldorf schools are consistent with American values. Steiner explicitly embraced Central European (i.e., Germanic) culture and he warned that Westerners (i.e., West Europeans and Americans) would find the fruits of that culture indigestible. Indeed, Gardner was aware of Steiner’s words of caution: “Steiner warned against any ambitious plans to publicize Waldorf education prematurely among circles that did not share the same kind of inspiration [as he himself enjoyed] ... Steiner said, in part: ‘[T]he western nations will not be able to understand what will arise out of the whole concrete Central European spiritual culture with regard to the art of education; on the contrary, it will annoy them, and it really ought not to be told them in its original form.’” [40] Steiner was in fact extremely critical of America and what he called "Americanism," rejecting much of American culture and thought. [See "America".] 

Both Hermann von Baravalle and John Gardner were faithful to their spiritual leader. While setting forth some (but by no means all) of Steiner’s teachings, von Baravalle and Gardner tried to disguise them in American garb. To a degree, their ploy worked; to a degree, it didn’t. The Waldorf School of Adelphi College eventually changed its name to the Waldorf School of Garden City after revelations of the mystical beliefs and practices at the school produced a might upheaval. [See "Scandal".] The school's facade of all-American normality cracked, many parents yanked their children out of the school, Adelphi cut its ties to the school, and Gardner and his several of his cohorts were driven into early retirement.

As for Von Baravalle, he was spared the consequences of the scandal. Well before the turmoil erupted, he began traveling around the US, spreading the (soft-pedaled) Steiner gospel. He became known as the “Johnny Appleseed of Waldorf Education.” [41] In 1969, he returned to his native Germany, where in 1972 he suffered a stroke. He died in 1973 — six years before the Waldorf school he, Gardner, and I knew so well very nearly destroyed itself by revealing the true nature of Waldorf education. [42] [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer" and "Spiritualistic Agenda".]



— Roger Rawlings

[René Spitz, »hfg ulm. DER BLICK HINTER DEN VORDERGRUND. Die politische Geschichte der Hochschule für Gestaltung

(1953-1968)«. Stuttgart 2002.]

This is Hermann von Baravalle at about the time when I may have spoken with him.* Von Baravalle taught mathematics, which at Waldorf schools often means emphasizing geometry (Rudolf Steiner said geometry embodies spiritual realities). Waldorf math classes frequently involve drawing various brightly colored geometric designs resembling mystical mandalas. [See "Mystic Math".]

Von Baravalle's publications include GEOMETRY AT [sic] THE JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL GRADES AND THE WALDORF SCHOOL PLAN (1948), and TEACHING OF ARITHMETIC AND THE WALDORF SCHOOL PLAN (1950), both of which were released as "Publications of the Waldorf School, Adelphi College".

In his history of Waldorf education in America, former Rudolf Steiner School headmaster Henry Barnes describes von Baravalle as "the legendary first teacher of geometry and math in the Stuttgart Waldorf School [i.e., the first Waldorf school, in Germany], and the Pied Piper who left a trail of enthusiastic young Waldorf initiatives behind him in the U.S." **

Von Baravalle was successful in spreading Waldorf education in America largely because he was adept at hiding Waldorf's real roots and purposes. During the opening lecture at the first Waldorf teacher training program in the US, held at Adelphi College, von Baravalle discussed Waldorf education without any extended references to Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, or the Goetheanum. In other words, he concealed the essence of his topic.*** By comparison, in the opening chapter of WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA, von Baravalle cites Steiner often, and he stands up for Steiner's views, but he fundamentally misrepresents those views, endeavoring to make them seem consistent with American principles. In reality, Steiner created Waldorf education to meet the unique needs of German children, as he conceived them [see "The Good Wars"], and his views on such issues as freedom and democracy stand in marked contrast to American views. [See "Freedom", "Democracy", and "America".]

Following von Baravalle's example, Waldorf schools in the USA and elsewhere today consistently misrepresent their spiritual agenda and beliefs while continuing to implement the agenda, in accordance with those beliefs, in the classroom. [See, e.g., "Spiritual Agenda", "Soul School", "Sneaking It In", and "Here's the Answer".]

Of course, the schools don't think they are primarily following von Baravalle's example. They, like von Baravalle himself, strive to follow Rudolf Steiner's example. Steiner was frequently and repeatedly dishonest about the form of education he created. He misled outsiders about Waldorf education, and he told his followers to mislead outsiders.**** Keep your secrets, he said. And Waldorf schools have largely done so. [See "Secrets".] 

When von Baravalle misrepresented Steiner and even omitted Steiner from some presentations, he wasn't betraying Steiner. He was being true to Steiner's expressed intentions.

* The photo was not taken at my Waldorf school; rather, it shows von Baravalle during his brief return to German in the mid-1950s. Thus, if I spoke with von Baravalle while I was in elementary school, this image comes from a slightly later period. If I spoke with him (again?) while I was in junior high or high school, the photo comes from a slightly earlier period.

** Henry Barnes, INTO THE HEART'S LAND (SteinerBooks, 2005), p. 177. The Rudolf Steiner School in question is located in New York City.

*** Ida Oberman, THE WALDORF MOVEMENT IN EDUCATION FROM EUROPEAN CRADLE TO AMERICAN CRUCIBLE, 1919-1928 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), pp. 218-220 and p. 273. The Goetheanum is the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters. See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"

**** For instance, in coaching Waldorf teachers on how to fool outsiders, Steiner said "We have to be conscious that in order to do what we want to do, at least, it is necessary to talk with the people, not because we want to but because we have to, and inwardly make fools of them." — Rudolf Steiner, CONFERENCES WITH THE TEACHERS OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL IN STUTTGART, Vol. 1 (Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, 1986), p. 125.

[Herman V. Baravalle, WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA (Parker Courtney Press, 1998).]

When Anthroposophists publish work intended for the general public, they often sugarcoat Steiner's teachings.
 In addition to Von Baravalle's book, here are two other works published by leading American Anthroposophists, 
both of whom happened to be personal acquaintances of mine.
John Fentress Gardner was the headmaster of the Waldorf school I attended; 
Franz E. Winkler, MD, was an important presence at the school, and he was my physician. 
Like von Baravalle's book, the books by Gardner and Winkler
present Anthroposophy in modified, "acceptable" form — that is, they conceal at least as much as they reveal. 
Mr. Gardner's book, by the way, was published by the Waldorf Press, a short-lived enterprise that arose from the school he led. 
After the school was rocked by scandal, the Press disappeared.

[John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975.)

Franz E. Winkler, MAN, THE BRIDGE BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Harper & Row, 1960.)]

Are Steiner's strange doctrines taught to Waldorf students? I discuss this in several of the essays here at Waldorf Watch. Here is a synopsis.

As a student at a Waldorf school, I was taught that animals evolved from humans, that technology is evil, that some races are higher than others, that angels can be perceived directly, that science is unreliable and shallow, that art has spiritual power, that nature is haunted... These and other ideas conveyed to my classmates and me come straight out of Anthroposophy. The only thing missing was the open use of the tag "Anthroposophy." Our teachers did not explain that they were presenting the doctrines of Rudolf Steiner.

Some teachers at Waldorf schools are not firmly committed followers of Steiner — but their tenures at the schools may be brief. I've known teachers at Waldorf schools who were canned precisely because they did not devote themselves sufficiently to Steiner's occult doctrines. An English teacher at my old school was fired for being too attuned to the physical plane and not sufficiently attuned to the supersensible plane. He failed to bring "the actual spiritual life" into the classroom, so he was fired.

The "actual spiritual life" can be known and presented only by Anthroposophists. As Steiner said, “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” [43] Steiner also said, “The task of Anthroposophy is not simply to replace a false view of the world with a correct one ... The task is to raise the spirit-soul into the realm of the spiritual ... Such things as the pedagogy of the Waldorf School can arise from a recognition that humanity must turn toward spiritual activity, and not simply from a change in theory. We should work out of that spirit.” [44] The "we" in this quote is the Waldorf faculty. Steiner is giving them their orders. "We should work out of that spirit."

The Waldorf curriculum as established by Steiner and the earliest Waldorf teachers is almost always observed scrupulously in Waldorf schools today. Steiner said there is a right time for each subject to be taught to growing children; that's the rule observed in almost all Waldorf schools. [See, e.g., "Curriculum", "Teacher Training", and "Today".]

Steiner stipulated that "As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." [45] A Waldorf school can allow a true Anthroposophist considerable leeway inside the classroom, since s/he will always choose, freely, to hew to the Anthroposophical line. But non-Anthroposophical teachers cannot be trusted to do this, so they are often evaluated carefully and, when need be, fired. 

As for the "independence" of Waldorf schools: Steiner himself said that this is really a sham at the first Waldorf, and it remains largely a sham today. Here are Steiner's words, spoke to faculty members at the first Waldorf: "[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck." [46]

Steiner argued that the Waldorf faculty members should become members of the Anthroposophical Society — the guiding body for Anthroposophy worldwide — but the school itself should maintain its professed, illusory separation from Anthroposophy. "Formally, the Waldorf School is not an anthroposophical institution; rather, it is an independent creation based upon the foundations of anthroposophical pedagogy. In the way it meets the public, as well as the way it meets legal institutions, it is not an anthroposophical institution, but a school based upon anthroposophical pedagogy." [47] Note the careful phrasing. The school is not "formally" Anthroposophical. "In the way it meets the public" it is not Anthroposophical. But the underlying reality is quite different.

Picking up the same passage where it left off: "...a school based upon anthroposophical pedagogy. Suppose the Independent Waldorf School were now to become officially related to the School of Spiritual Science [the education wing of the Anthroposophical Society] in Dornach [Switzerland]. Then the Waldorf School would immediately become an anthroposophical school in a formal, external sense. Of course, there are some things that would support making such a decision. On the other hand, consider whether the Waldorf School can fulfill its cultural tasks better as an independent school with an unhindered form than it can as a direct part of what emanates from Dornach." [48] The "things" that might support a formal connection with the Society include the overwhelming reality that Waldorf’s “staff consists of anthroposophists.” [49]

But revealing the true, deep bonds between a Waldorf school and the Society would be dangerous: "people would break the Waldorf School's neck." Steiner was always concerned about public perception. He often said one thing in public and the exact opposite in private. He was, in this sense, dishonest. And Waldorf schools at least flirt with dishonesty when they deny their true, Anthroposophical nature. It was not only at the first Waldorf school that the public was intentionally deceived. What is particularly remarkable about the scandal at my old school is that our school was far less kooky than many other Waldorfs. A strong effort was made to make our school seem like a normal American private school. But the truth, of course, was very different. And at many other Waldorf schools today, the truth is even more markedly different.

Any Waldorf school that is true to Steiner's intentions teaches Anthroposophy indirectly and, when need be, directly. Strenuous efforts are made to disguise this, especially from the students' parents, but we can see what the truth is. Here’s my own nutshell, to complement von Baravalle’s:

1)  Waldorf schools teach the students Anthroposophy, indirectly and/or directly.

2)  Waldorf teachers are engaged in a religious mission — they consider themselves to be spiritual missionaries.

3)  Waldorf schools are often dishonest about their intentions — they teach Anthroposophy, but they deny it; they try to lure students toward Anthroposophy, but they deny it. 

See, e.g., "Waldorf Now", "Sneaking It In", "Spiritual Agenda", and "Soul School".


Here is Steiner speaking to Waldorf teachers. He tells them that their main goal is to promote religion. He calls the religion "Christian," but what he means is his own set of doctrines, that is, Anthroposophy — which is not truly Christian at all. But put that issue aside for the moment. What we should mainly recognize, here, is that Steiner effectively admits that Waldorf schools are religious institutions, and the religious doctrines of Anthroposophy are conveyed to the students.

"[W]e must work into the depths of the students’ souls through what is revealed to our individual insights. In this way we prepare them to grow into religious adults ... It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true. A Christian element pervades every subject, even mathematics. This fundamental religious current flows through all of [Waldorf] education." [50]

If you like the religious doctrines of Anthroposophy, you may well want to send your children to a Waldorf school. But if not...

Steiner says that children must be prepared so that they can find their own religious orientations. This sounds liberal and enlightened: Students will be free to make their own decisions. But note that Steiner stresses "Christian" elements in each and every course taught in Waldorf schools. This is religious instruction that pushes the kids in a particular direction. A rightly run Waldorf school will infuse "Christian" (Anthroposophical) teachings into every subject, Steiner says. This is the underling purpose of Waldorf education.

I'll close by repeating the same quote, this time in full, leaving out no words:

"The point is that future stages have to be prepared for properly — that is, based on the correct insight into human nature. In my lectures I have used the comparison of the river that disappears underground and resurfaces at a lower level. During the first seven years the children have an inborn religious attitude. This now enters the depths of their souls, becoming part of them, and does not resurface in the form of thinking until the arrival of puberty. During the second life period we must work into the depths of the students’ souls through what is revealed to our individual insights. In this way we prepare them to grow into religious adults. We impede this process if we do not offer our students the possibility to find their own religious orientation later on. In every human being there is an individual orientation toward religion, which, after the fifteenth year, has to be gradually won. Our task is to prepare the ground so that this can happen properly. That is why, at this age, we have to treat the religion lessons just as we do the lessons in the other subjects. They must all work on the child’s soul through the power of imagery; the child’s soul life has to be stimulated. It is possible to introduce a religious element into every subject, even into math lessons. Anyone who has some knowledge of Waldorf teaching will know that this statement is true. A Christian element pervades every subject, even mathematics. This fundamental religious current flows through all of education." [51]

— Roger Rawlings

Here are excerpts from another attempt to concisely summarize Anthroposophy.
The author is Ronald Koetzsch.
You can find the entire text, along with a useful commentary by Dan Dugan, at

1) Behind every material phenomenon and process, even those that appear inert and lifeless, is a spiritual reality with consciousness, thought, and intention....

2) The invisible, spiritual world comprises a multiplicity of beings. These include: the elemental spirits that ensoul the phenomena and processes of the natural world; the group souls of the minerals, plants, and animals; the souls of the so-called dead — human beings who are in the life between death and rebirth; the folk souls of different ethnic and national groups; and the nine celestial hierarchies....

3) The human being is a creation of the celestial hierarchies ... The human being is the crowning jewel of the creation. The entire universe has been brought into being so that the human being might come into existence....

4) The human being, in fact the entire cosmos, is a work in progress. The aeons-long, divinely guided process of creation and development is still going on....

5) Each individual human being is going through his own unique history and spiritual development. This individual destiny is realized over multiple earthly incarnations ... One's circumstances and personality in one life are largely determined by one's karma....

6) Part of our individual and collective human task at this stage in history is to rediscover, as something intimately experienced and known, the spiritual dimension of reality. Every human being has the potential, though conscious striving and self-discipline, to directly perceive and experience the spiritual world.

7) Another part of our task is to become able to act in freedom and out of selfless love for other beings. 

8) Human culture needs to be transformed according to a spiritual vision of the human being. Every domain of human thought and activity — education, medicine, agriculture, social, economic and political life, art, architecture, religious life, care for the elderly, and so on — must be renewed on the basis of a spiritual understanding of the human being [i.e., Anthroposophy]....

9) Among the myriad spiritual beings, there are certain powerful entities who oppose the divine plan ... These adversarial powers are necessary, however, because without evil there would be no choice for human beings and hence no true freedom.

10) The incarnation of the Christ, a divine being intimately connected to the Father God, in the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, in Palestine 2000 years ago, was a unique and pivotal event in human history. At a point when the adversarial forces threatened to overwhelm humanity, the suffering, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus made possible the continued spiritual development of the human being and of the Earth....

The harmony of all creation, through all the hierarchies.

Many people of faith have such a vision —

but Steiner's diverged far from orthodox religious teachings.

To consider similarities and differences between Steiner's doctrines

and those of other belief systems, see, e.g.,

"Was He Christian?"




To delve into Steiner's teachings more deeply than Baravalle




"Knowing the Worlds".

[Public domain image, containing some elements

that are consistent with Anthroposophy, and some that are not.]

"[E]very person is actually two human beings in one — one who looks out through the eyes and one who looks inside through the liver."  

— Rudolf Steiner, FROM CRYSTALS TO CROCODILES (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2002), pp. 143-144. 

[R. R. sketch very loosely based on the very sketchy Janus sketch in the book.]

Anyone who begins to study Steiner must decide how hard to work

trying to make sense of Steiner's statements.

If your primary interest is deciding whether to send your children to a Waldorf school,

you probably should at least sample Steiner's work,

and then investigate how committed the school is to Steiner.

The occultism underlying Waldorf schools is dense, not easy to decipher. But you should be aware of it, if for no other reason than to protect your children from it. “[T]he ancestors of man existed on Saturn not only as beings with the dull Saturn consciousness, but also along with [other] beings which had already developed the higher stages of consciousness. When the Saturn development began, there already existed natures with Sun consciousness, others with image consciousness (Moon consciousness) ... The human being himself can make no use of his luminosity on Saturn. The luminosity of his sensory germs could not express anything in itself, but through it other more exalted beings are given the possibility to reveal themselves to the life of Saturn. Through the sources of light of the ancestors of man, these beings radiate something of their nature down to the planet.” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), "The Life of Saturn", GA 11. [R.R. sketch, 2010 — an impression only, seeking to give form to what has no form.]

Steiner designed mystic columns for use in "spiritual science" buildings.

There are seven column designs, representing the seven visible planets of astrology.

Here you see one version of the Sun column:

In addition to these columns, Steiner specified seven mystic seals. 

The columns and seals are meant to be arranged in conjunction with each other:

"The seals are to be mounted on the wall so that the first is between the Saturn column and the Sun column, the second between the Sun column and the Moon column and so forth, up to the seventh, which should be mounted twice on the other side of the Venus column, to the right and left of center."

— E. A. Karl Stockmeyer, in Rudolf Steiner's ROSICRUCIANISM RENEWED (SteinerBooks, 2007).

[R. R. sketch, 2010, based on one in Steiner's MYSTIC SEALS AND COLUMNS (Health Research, 1969).]

"[G]oblins or gnomes feel themselves to be of quite special importance, for they gather together the most varied experiences from the whole of earth existence, and they hold themselves in readiness, when all earthly substance will have been dispersed into the universe — after the transition to Jupiter evolution — to preserve what is good in the earth structure in order to incorporate this in Jupiter, as a kind of bony skeleton ... [W]hen one looks at this process from the aspect of the gnomes, one gains a first stimulus, a first capacity, to picture how our earth would appear if all the water were taken from it ... You would get something like the structure of the cross in the earth." — Rudolf Steiner, HARMONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 145-146. [R. R. sketch, 2009.]

My sketch of Georg Hartmann's sketch of a portion of a Steiner sketch

for a window at the Goetheanum, the worldwide headquarters of Anthroposophy:

a lion, in the cavern-like, bottom-most corner.

See the triptych "It Became, It Has Become, It Was".

"[A] preparing comprehension by sentiments for the fact of reincarnation was to be imparted. This was done by men possessing a higher knowledge (such have always existed), who spoke of reincarnations of important personalities: of the Emperor Charles in Untersberg near Salzburg, of Friedrich Barbarossa in Kyffhäuser. The ravens, as messengers from the spiritual world, announce when the time for new incarnation has arrived. What is experienced here as forces of preparation for the future, the imaginative consciousness can see under the image of the lion." — Georg Hartmann, THE GOETHEANUM GLASS-WINDOWS (Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1972), pp. 52-.53. [R.R. sketch, 2010.]

Sketch of another sketch for the same triptych at the Goetheanum.

"This window shows us the path of life to be relived again, from below upwards...the path of life, flowing backwards into the ethereal world ... This backward-moving experience is subjected to the world laws of morality. Under the eye of God are the tables of the law. 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' is the law of this backward-moving experience. But since 'God's lamb carries the sin of the world', the forces of Christ are woven into the compensations of destiny [karma]."  — Georg Hartmann, THE GOETHEANUM GLASS-WINDOWS (Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, 1972), p. 49. [R.R. sketch, 2010.]

Waldorf students are not often told this,

but the forms of art they are taught are intended to reflect spiritual realms and realities.

"[T]hough the world from which the soul descends [i.e., the spirit realm] has no spatial forms or lines, it does have color intensities, color qualities. Which is to say that the world man inhabits between death and a new birth (and which I have frequently and recently described) [Steiner is talking about reincarnation] is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.”

— Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.

[Painting by a Waldorf student, courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]

The following is an interesting and balanced account of life in one Waldorf school.

Some elements correspond to my own schoolboy experiences at a different Waldorf school.

There are certainly advantages in being nurtured, protected, and loved.

Being immersed in art can be enriching.

Being allowed to learn at your own pace can also be good.

On the other hand, being removed from mainstream society throughout childhood

may create serious problems when, as an adult, you try to find a place for yourself in the real world.

Being categorized by ancient, invalid conceptions of temperament can be harmful, certainly. [See "Humouresque".]

Indoctrination in occult beliefs (a major issue that the article fails to probe deeply) can likewise be deeply, permanently damaging.

The article also fails to probe the forms of bullying, intimidation, and negligence that are often found in Waldorf schools. [See "Slaps".]

A final point: Some children who transfer from Waldorf schools to regular schools, or who go on to regular colleges, do quite well. 

They don't seem to have been handicapped by their Waldorf schooling. 

But the record — the Waldorf influence vs. other influences — can be difficult to sort out.

If Waldorf schools often have low academic standards [see "Academics at Waldorf"],

the resulting harm may be offset by advantages gained outside the school,

such as living in a home with loving, intelligent, articulate, creative parents.

The native intelligence of a child ("IQ") also affects her/his chance of success,

as do such factors as having a well-stocked library available in the home or community. [52]

In other words, some Waldorf graduates may do well later in life not because of Waldorf, but in spite of Waldorf. 

And, as the article intimates, we must not overlook all the children who leave Waldorf schools

profoundly unprepared for life outside the Waldorf cocoon. 

Sunday, June 4, 1989


Childhood in a Cocoon

The children who attend Waldorf schools are sheltered from the outside world's noise and haste. So what happens to them when childhood ends?

Kids who attend the Waldorf Schools don’t watch TV, don’t play with plastics, don’t learn to read until they’re ready. How do they survive in the real world? 

It is 8:45 a.m. at the Waldorf School in the hills above Santa Cruz. Daniel Martinez, who has been appointed to guide 12 second-graders in their archetypal journey through childhood, is singing. “Gaia Daum, are you here?” “Yes, Mr. Martinez, I am here.” “Laura Hencke, are you here?” “No, Mr. Martinez, she’s not here,” comes the response, in the pure lilting voices of singing children. Then, they push their desks to the side of the room and stand in a circle, a blue bean bag on every head. Plop plop plop. The bean bags fall into waiting hands. But Martinez is not satisfied. He is listening for the single loud plop that signifies group unity in the synchronous fall of 13 bean bags.

That accomplished, the children march in complex patterns — forward, backward and in a circle, counting rhythmically in unison: “3, 6, 9, 12… “ all the way to 36. Martinez, like all Waldorf School teachers, regards the numbers 3 and 4 as archetypes that live in the unconsciousness, in music, poetry and children’s bodies. So the teacher explains the uncanny ability of his students: As long as they move and count in rhythm, unthinking, they can rattle off the numbers to the 12s table with ease. If they’re forced to sit and think about it, their natural cleverness comes to a quick halt. (“The body thinks, the body counts,” said Waldorf School founder Rudolf Steiner. “The head is only a spectator.”)

Martinez holds aloft a forked oak branch draped with purple ribbon for a dramatization of the fable about the fox and the grapes. He told the story yesterday. Today — in accordance with the three-day cycle in which all learning here takes place — the students retell it themselves. Tomorrow, they will put their lesson to paper. “Oh, oh, can I be the fox?” cries Galen King. He jumps for the grapes, which remain just beyond his reach. He jumps again. “Ah, they’re sour anyway!” he mutters, just like the fox in the story. Then it’s a game of London Bridge before the overhead light is turned off. Story time. A boy named Dante lights a candle, and Martinez picks up and strums a lyre before beginning a story about gruff King Divide, Queen Minus, and their fearful subjects.

After recess, it is time for handwork. In first and second grade, the children knit because, as Rudolf Steiner said, “Thinking is cosmic knitting…. A person who is unskillful in his fingers will also be unskillful in his intellect, having less mobile ideas or thoughts.” In third grade, they crochet, and in fourth they learn to cross-stitch. Ama Baer has just completed the red-and-blue flute case that every second-grader is required to knit for the Swedish flutes they practice daily through Grade 8. The children congratulate him with a song in German. And from that moment on, their singing never ceases. “I’m in a ditch, I lost a stitch,” sings Sky. A moment later he is followed by a singing Tristan: “Ho ho ho, I finished a row,” and the echo of the class: “Ho ho ho, Tristan finished a row.”

If these children appear different, it is because, in many ways, they are. The act of placing one’s child in a Waldorf School is essentially a decision to remove him from mainstream society. Families are strongly encouraged to get rid of their televisions and keep their children away from movie theaters. Some parents, while professing a great love of music, go so far as to sell their stereos; they believe recorded music is unhealthy for young children.

Waldorf parents don’t shop at Toys R Us, and they don’t keep Fisher-Price in business. Plastic has no place in a Waldorf home; indeed, Waldorf children are urged to carry their lunch to school in hand-woven baskets. Dolls are handmade and devoid of facial features because, as Steiner said, “Children should have as few things as possible that are well-finished and complete and what people call ’beautiful.’ “ Blocks in a Waldorf kindergarten are not the machine-finished wooden shapes that well-heeled parents find in quality toy stores, but rough- hewn tree stumps of varying sizes.

Here at the Waldorf School, grade school children sing without a trace of self-consciousness, skip to London Bridge and other games that are usually left behind in kindergarten, and revere their teachers as we Americans thought only the Japanese still did.

Where do these children come from?

As babies, Daniel, Galen and Benjamin King were sheltered in a cocoon spun and shared by their mother. Except for the occasional visit to a neighbor up the road, the three boys rarely left their home in Bonny Doon. “A young baby doesn’t need socializing in the world,” says Jessica King. “A young baby needs to be surrounded by gentle, loving, caring people.” Until last year, when Daniel, then 10, asked permission, none of the boys had ever played at the house of another child. They never accompanied their parents to the grocery store until they were well past the toddler years: The fluorescent harshness of Safeway’s aisles was something that Bruce and Jessica King deemed inappropriate to young minds. When the Kings went out for the evening, it was only after the children were tucked into their own beds — usually no later than 6 o’clock. “I did not demand-feed my babies,” says Jessica. “I listened to them, saw a pattern and responded. I never had to wait to be told what they wanted; it was always ready for them.”

As Jessica sits in her living room overlooking the Santa Cruz hills, surrounded by a celtic harp and a piano, 10 acres, two donkeys, persimmon trees and poison oak, she exudes maternal poise. There is no sense of self-doubt about Jessica King, and if she sometimes appears to deprecate her strong convictions on mothering with a “silly old Jessica,” it is always clear that she doesn’t think herself the least bit silly. This is a woman who has found total fulfillment in the role of mother, the kind of mother whom other mothers call for emergency counsel, like how to remove a tick from a child’s scalp. The house is humming with quiet activity, as Christine, the German au pair, prepares dinner in the kitchen, and the boys play quietly in their bedroom. The guitars that hang on the wall are a physical reminder of the days in Europe, when Jessica’s husband, Bruce, worked side by side with a classical guitar maker near Florence.

Jessica Rukin and Bruce King met 16 years ago in Sussex, England, at Emerson College, at the culmination of personal odysseys that brought them from opposite corners of the Earth. At Emerson, people from around the globe come to study water color, sculpture, music, farming and education — all within the context of Steiner’s philosophy. Permeating the college is anthroposophy, the mystical, Christian-based religion that has grown up around Steiner’s philosophy and to which most Waldorf teachers subscribe. Although a Waldorf education is non-denominational, it has an unmistakable Christian spirit characterized by pictures of the Madonna in the kindergarten and a schoolwide celebration of all the Christian holidays. While neither Bruce nor Jessica King is a anthroposophist, they acknowledge that religion’s influence on the way they live and raise their children.

“Meeting anthroposophy awakened in me new ways of looking at reality,” says Jessica, now 42, an alert and elfin woman with long graying hair and tiny hands. “It expanded my horizons and turned me inside out. It brought a lot more reverence into my life. The way I look at nature, at children —it’s totally altered the way I look at children. I see them now as very precious, unfolding flowers.”

By the time of her arrival at Emerson in 1972, Jessica, who was born and raised in New Jersey, had already graduated from George Washington University with a degree in speech therapy, traveled throughout Latin America and lived in Spain. But it wasn’t until she returned to the States and visited her 5-year-old niece’s Waldorf School in Spring Valley, N.Y., that she discovered the direction that was to shape her life.

Bruce graduated from a university in his native New Zealand in 1965 with a degree in electrical engineering but never worked as an engineer. Instead, he delivered mail by bike for months, until a book, God Is My Adventure, set him on a path of spiritual enlightenment to California, Canada, India, Italy and, finally, England. By the time of Jessica’s arrival, Bruce had been studying at Emerson for two years and was deep into the design of NightStar, the soft plastic map of the constellations that he now markets worldwide out of Santa Cruz.

The Kings came to the U.S. in 1975. Looking for the right place to settle down, they chose Santa Cruz, where they helped found the Waldorf School in the fall of 1976. She taught its first kindergarten class; together, they designed the school’s bookshop and toy store. But after the birth of Daniel, their oldest, Jessica withdrew from the activity of the school. And when he began showing signs at age 3 of the muscular disorder that now nearly cripples the entire left side of his body, she and Bruce spent the next two years seeking out therapy in Israel, Massachusetts, and, finally, with an anthroposophical doctor 200 miles away in Fair Oaks. Jessica became Daniel’s primary therapist, devoting several hours a day to the regimen, and home-schooling him until he turned 9. Galen was home-schooled up to the age of 8 when, like Daniel, he was enrolled in the second grade of the Santa Cruz Waldorf School.

Though there is room to spare in the Bonny Doon ranch house, the three brothers share a bedroom — in accord with their parents’ conviction that there is too much isolation in the world today. Natural oak beds, plumped with eiderdown quilts, are built directly into the walls, each one on a different level. There are few toys in the room and nothing plastic — not even Legos. (“I don’t like Legos,” says Jessica, decisively. “They’re too intellectual. I don’t mind their playing with them when they visit a friend’s house, but I can always tell when they’ve played too long with them.”) Above Galen’s bed hangs the mobile that his mother made for his fifth birthday. An oak branch dangling hand-sewn silver stars, a crescent moon and a crystal, the mobile reminds Jessica of the days when she designated a special symbol for each of her sons. Daniel was the sun; Galen the moon; Benjamin a star. In this way, she labeled their drawings without resorting to “the written word, which I considered premature.”

Now, as the business is growing, Bruce has begun urging Jessica to become more actively involved in NightStar. She resists. “I can never really follow through,” she says. “If I feel myself losing control of the overall gestalt of the family, then this becomes my priority. NightStar is Bruce’s creative work; this is mine.”

“Goood mooorning, fourrth graders,” intones teacher Susan Goldstein. “Goood mooooorning, Mrs. Gooooldstein,” 27 children chant back. And without another word, the teacher begins jumping up and down in front of the blackboard. The children join in — including Daniel King, hopping on his right foot and flinging his right arm over his head. The disorder that has twisted the left side of his body hasn’t stopped Daniel from doing virtually anything his classmates do. Small for his age, he has incredible balance — hopping around the room to the long Norse poems recited by heart every morning, stomping his foot to the bark of hard consonants. (“Barque, bravest in battle of billows and breeze.”)

The children remove their flutes from the red-and-blue cases they knitted back in second grade. Standing in a circle, they all face in the same direction, as if preparing to march around the room. “Now,” says Goldstein, “I’ll give a note to Damon and he’ll give the note to Daniel. . . .” She plays middle C on her flute and the note goes around the circle, as each child repeats it, turns his back and “gives” it to the person now facing him. Though some children temporarily lose the pitch, the note eventually winds its way back to Goldstein, who gently admonishes, “Now let’s try again and see if we can keep it moving. I don’t know if you heard it, children, but I heard it. And it was so beautiful when it just moved and moved and moved.”

When it is finally time to sit down, Daniel takes his seat all the way on the right-hand side in the middle of the room. Though the casual visitor would never guess it, the seating arrangement is anything but random. It is based on the teacher’s careful study of the children’s temperaments and how they fall within the four classic types (melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric) outlined centuries ago in ancient Greece and adopted by Steiner. Daniel sits with the melancholics.

In her four years as a Waldorf teacher, Susan Goldstein has found the assignment of temperament to be one of the greatest challenges of her work. Much has been written about the four temperaments, including a detailed guide for teachers by Rene Querido, director of Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, the largest Waldorf teacher-training program in the English- speaking world and the place where Goldstein received her training. In a 1980 lecture given at the San Francisco Waldorf School and reprinted in a slim volume entitled Creativity in Education, Querido devotes many pages to a recognition of the different temperaments. A sampling:

“The phlegmatic child may be inclined toward laziness; he does a lot of sitting and loves to eat potatoes and pasta so that it is difficult for him to move and remain alert.” In arithmetic, he “enjoys the constant activity of adding numbers” and in music, he prefers “instruments that don’t have to be tuned or fussed with, such as the piano.”

The choleric is fiery and “likes to barrel through things.” He or she usually has a somewhat stocky build. In arithmetic, “division is a choleric activity,” and in music, the drum is his instrument of choice. The choleric child is always looking for a fight; he can be “a thorn in the teacher’s side,” so the teacher is advised to befriend the cholerics or the class will suffer tyrants instead of selfless leaders.

The four phlegmatics in Goldstein’s class sit in the back of the classroom because, she says, “If you put two phlegmatics next to each other they get so bored that they come out of themselves. It’s hard for a phlegmatic child to sit next to a choleric, because the phlegmatic needs a lot of quiet.”

Meanwhile, imported colored pencils in hand, the students are copying their teacher’s blackboard drawing of one-eyed King Odin into their lesson books. The names of some of the children — Bodhi, Priya, Hopi — are not that far removed from those of the ancient Norse gods they are studying. “Children,” says Mrs. Goldstein, in a teacherly tone of voice, “when you’re done please write the letters O-D-I-N next to the picture. You may use any colors you choose. They may be fancy or plain. But they must be very beautifully done.”

“At its root, Waldorf education is based on an aesthetic approach,” says David Swanger, an educational philosopher at UC-Santa Cruz. “By aesthetic, I mean a heightened feeling through beauty and the life of the emotions, particularly as the children are educated through the arts. In American public education, art is typically given short shrift. The dominant ethos of the public schools is to learn facts. Feeling is regarded as a disruptive influence, a nuisance and a threat to orderly proceedings. Everything — from the architecture to the codes of conduct and the colors on the walls — is organized so people will not be excited and passionate and exuberant, so things can move along at a somewhat uniform and orderly pace.”

Of the Waldorf alumni he has known, Swanger says he has been impressed by their “calmer and deeper sense of themselves as learners.” This impression is not far afield from Jessica King’s assessment of her three boys as “self-motivated and self-contained. As they go out in the world, I can see how self-contained they are, how much they are operating out of their own sense of who they are.” Or Susan Goldstein’s appraisal of the Waldorf graduates she has known: “In very subtle ways, the children are different. They look like all the other kids at Santa Cruz High School, but they’re very deep in a different way. It seems as if they still love learning. They’re still inspired by things.”

The closest Waldorf high school is 200 miles away from Santa Cruz in Fair Oaks, so graduates have no choice but to enter the pragmatic, materialistic and competitive environment of public education. Often, it is a welcome change; by most accounts, the average Waldorf adolescent is desperate to explore the world of plastic, fast food and bad music. And many of them do well in that world. At Santa Cruz High School, the anticipated valedictorian of the Class of 1989 is Ezekiel Menis, a Waldorf graduate. Another, Romlah Frediani, is a National Merit finalist. Waldorf graduates are present on the honor rolls of all the local high schools and several of them play on the football teams.

But for others, the transition hasn’t been nearly so easy. Clea Haug, now 17 and a straight-A student, spent the first two years after Waldorf reeling from a series of academic failures due to her near-inability to read or perform simple math skills. Clearly a bright child, Clea’s lack of skills had never been addressed at Waldorf, according to her mother, Cindy, who finally removed her the summer before she was to have graduated with the school’s first matriculating class in 1985.

“At Waldorf, they believed reading was a natural thing and you caught on when you were ready to,” says Cindy Haug. “But by the fourth or fifth grade several of these children weren’t reading, and you could tell they were so different from the kids in the outside world. Finally, at the end of seventh grade, I took her to an elementary school psychologist for IQ and reading comprehension. Of course, she’d never taken a test before in her life. It was an assessment test, to see where the child was. Her reading and math skills were at about a third grade level — and here she was at the end of seventh!

“She went to public school in eighth grade and was very excited about going out into the big world. And she fell right on her face. We spent the whole summer tutoring her. She felt so inadequate that she spent the next two years rebelling. It was very hard for the whole family. Now she’s in her senior year and getting straight A’s. But as a freshman, she got a D- plus. She wrote a paper recently for English about that experience, and said that she felt like a failure, that there was no way for her to succeed academically. Now I think it wasn’t fair to her to be so far away from what was culturally expected.”

In an unpublished survey compiled by nine Waldorf high schools throughout the United States and Canada, alumni praised their education for the lifelong love of learning it gave them. They credited Waldorf for a spirit of independence and self- reliance. “I have no fear of being different,” wrote one graduate. “Waldorf is such an optimistic sort of education,” wrote another. “It instills hope and love in the children, rather than fear and competitiveness.” But 21 percent of the 710 alumni who responded complained that they had been inadequately pre pared in science and math. “Facts were often lacking,” wrote one respondent. “The science facilities were out of date.” “I tried to major in chemistry. My ‘A’s’ in Waldorf chemistry were woefully inadequate in the real world.” “It ill-prepared me for the competition of premed in college. Scholastically I was well-prepared but not in how to manage severe pressure. I suffered greatly for it.” Several criticized the experience as over-protective, and more than one lashed out at the “rigidity in adhering excessively to ‘Steinerian’ dictates.”

But while some Waldorf graduates recall the experience as sheltering and even stifling at times, the alternative has been equally disconcerting. That, at least, was the lesson of Cecilia Murray, of Scotts Valley. After six years of attending America’s second-oldest Waldorf school, in Kimberton, Pa., Cecilia was “dying to get out into the world and watch Starsky and Hutch.” In 1977, she got her wish when her family moved to St. Louis, and Cecilia was transferred into the 10th grade at the 2,000-student Southwest High School in urban St. Louis. “It was a shock,” she remembers. “Drinking, drugs, violence. It was like all the world had come down and I was completely raw and unprotected. I really missed Waldorf — my teachers who cared about me, being challenged. School was a breeze. I graduated valedictorian of my class without even trying. It was stupid.”

Her husband, Paul, a graphics artist, attended the Sacramento Waldorf School and graduated from the Kimberton Waldorf School. He went to Swarthmore in suburban Philadelphia, but his college experience never quite measured up to his Waldorf education. In fact, he encountered some problems in focusing his interests in college. “It was a problem for me,” he concedes. “I wanted to take both botany and studio arts. I felt they were all linked together, and I still see all kinds of links between music and embryology.”

Even now, the Murrays feel themselves repeatedly drawn to the company of other Waldorf enthusiasts. In the Waldorf community, they find a place of balance in an unbalanced world. Here, they say, children are raised as creative, free individuals, not the mini-intellectuals who are taught to read by 4 and spit out facts by 6. And, of course, they also find in that community people who know what they’re talking about when they mention eurythmy, the body movement developed by Steiner that is neither dance nor personal expression, but the art of speech made physical and performed to poetry or music. Or why the four corners of a piece of paper are rounded off for a young child’s painting. (Rounded edges soften the lines and thus the child’s entrance into life.) For the Murrays, as for most devotees, Waldorf is not only a good education. It is their way of life.

How can it be otherwise when a Waldorf teacher is called upon to make a nightly connection with every student’s guardian angel? So picture Dan Martinez, for one, lying in bed before he turns off the light and envisioning, one by one, the children of Grade 2. “I just put their face in front of me,” explains Martinez, “the color and length of their hair, the color of their eyes, the shape of their nose, whether they have full or thin lips, what their eyebrows look like. Let me see, what was Galen wearing today?” He pauses, briefly. “A blue turtleneck, a blue wool sweater. That down vest that has four or five pockets that go down the front, and the blue cords that got trashed on our hike. When I shook his hand this morning, it was very cold. His hands looked purplish; they have ever since he had that bout with poison oak. I think he’s been using up his forces to get rid of it.” [Sara Solovitch]

Painting by a Waldorf grad

[R.R., 2010].

To examine advice Steiner gave to Waldorf teachers,

please use this link: "Advice"


What is life like in a Waldorf school community?

The following brief message, 

from someone who was deeply involved in a Waldorf school, 

provides part of the answer:

Teachers and parents alike are urged to increasingly restrict their social circle to people affiliated with the school and/or local Anthroposophical people.

The notion is that other influences will be bad for the children; neighborhood kids will want to do terrible things like watch TV and play soccer and have houses and yards full of plastic junk.

You can best avoid these conflicts if you just don't associate with people outside the school. Of course, you'll mess your kids up in other ways if you take this Waldorf attitude too seriously, but . . . 

— Diana Winters

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


Bringing the inquiry up to date: What goes on inside Waldorf schools today?

Waldorf schools in the 21st Century

What they're saying


A brief look at the purposes of Waldorf schooling


A guide for students and parents

Steiner's theory of everything

Some of the things you aren’t supposed to know

To survive or not, to teach or not


Debating and evaluating Waldorf education

News about Waldorf schools

Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely connected to the essay on that page; 
others are not — they provide general context. 


[1] Herman V. Baravalle, WALDORF EDUCATION FOR AMERICA (Parker Courtney Press, 1998). I have written other essays about von Baravalle’s advocacy of Anthroposophy: See “Oh My Stars”, “Humouresque”, and “What a Guy”.

Von Baravalle is sometimes described as a flexible educator who was willing to alter Waldorf method to suit American students. There is some truth to this, although his flexibility had more to do with clever presentation than with any real intention to diverge from Rudolf Steiner's principles and stated intentions. Von Baravalle was a personal friend of Steiner's, and when schisms threatened Anthroposophy after Steiner died, von Baravalle strongly supported Steiner's wife, Marie Steiner, who insisted that Anthroposophists must unswervingly remain true to Rudolf Steiner's teachings. See Ida Oberman, THE WALDORF MOVEMENT IN EDUCATION FROM EUROPEAN CRADLE TO AMERICAN CRUCIBLE, 1919-1928 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), pp. 83-93. "[V]on Baravalle was a fierce and articulate defender of Marie Steiner's rights and views." [p. 89] When von Baravalle spoke moderately to American audiences, adjusting his message to suit their preferences, he was concealing his own strongly held views.


[3] Ibid., p. 13.

[4] See, e.g., Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, RUDOLF STEINER (North Atlantic Books, 2004); also Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1994), and Rudolf Steiner, THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981). 

[5] To a great extent, Anthroposophy is warmed-over Theosophy, sharing Theosophy's goal of combining religious and esoteric traditions from around the globe. [See "Basics".] 

[6] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 28.

[7] See, e.g., “[T]he purpose of this book is to depict some portions of the supersensible world ... It is only through knowledge of the supersensible that our sense-perceptible ‘reality’ acquires meaning ... In compiling this book, I have included nothing I cannot testify to on the basis of personal experience in this field. Only my direct experience is presented here.” [THEOSOPHY, pp. 7-8.]. A particularly vivid description of clairvoyance can be seen in ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER, Rudolf Steiner quoted by John Fletcher (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 95.


[9] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. xii, introduction by Clopper Almon.


[11] Ibid., p. 16.

[12] Ibid., p. 17.

[13] Re. nonphysical bodies, see, e.g., THEOSOPHY OF THE ROSICRUCIAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), pp. 22-25; for more about lives before and after our current physical lives, see, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (Steiner Books, 1987).


[15] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS. Lectures from 1908-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-3.

[16] See, e.g., A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.

[17] Ibid., pp. 19-20.

There is an apparent contradiction here between the idea that today we are placing stronger and stronger emphasis on the material world, and the idea that our materialism peaked at the end of the nineteenth century. In essence, Steiner said that most people are still becoming more materialistic, but a small band — his followers — has turned the corner toward renewed and heightened spirituality. A key purpose of Waldorf schools is to expand the reach of Steiner's band, thus spreading the new spiritualism.

[18] See, e.g., Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS: Esoteric Studies, Vol. 2  (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974).


[20] Ibid., p. 20.

[21] Ibid., p. 22. See diagram.

[22] Ibid., p. 22.

[23] Ibid., p. 19.

[24] Ibid., p. 23.

[25] Ibid., p. 23.

[26] See, e.g., the Encyclopedia Brittanica.


Steiner's views on democracy, like his views on freedom, are actually quite inconsistent with prevailing American values. See, e.g., "Democracy".

[28] Ibid., pp. 23-24.

[29] Ibid., p. 24.

[30] Ibid., p. 25.

[31] Ibid., p. 25.

[33] Ibid., pp. 25-27.

[34] Unlike many of my other Waldorf memories, my recollections of seeing and/or meeting von Baravalle are quite dim. Perhaps I am mistaken and never saw the man in my life. But I think I did. I remember someone looking much like von Baravalle (as depicted in photos) moving about through the school, in corridors and classrooms. Whether he ever audited any of our classes, I can't say; some visitors did, but it was rare. On the other hand, I can clearly visualize von Baravalle in the outer school office, waiting to be admitted to speak with Mr. Gardner in the inner office. My mother was Mr. Gardner's secretary during my final years at the school, so I was in the outer office — where my mother's desk was located — a lot. I sometimes passed the time of day with Mr. G's visitors.

According to public records, von Baravalle came to the US in 1937 and became a US citizen in 1944. He joined the faculty at Adelphi College early in the 1940s, and in 1947 he helped found the Waldorf school that I would later attend. I entered that school as a small boy in 1953. In 1954, von Baravalle returned to Germany, then came back to the US in 1958. I might have encountered him during 1953-54, when he and I were both around the Waldorf campus regularly, or late in the 1950s and early 1960s if/when he visited the school. During his second period in the US, he spent much of his time on the West Coast, so any visits to our school were presumably brief and rare. Still, I may have clapped eyes on him, and I was old enough now to form clearer impressions. I was a seventh grader in the autumn of 1958, and I graduated from 12th grade of the Waldorf school in 1964.

Of course, it is possible that I am remembering someone other than von Baravalle. Many Germans and German émigrés visited our school, and more than one or two may have been distinguished-looking, bald men such as photos show von Baravalle to have been. (Indeed, my class teacher from sixth through eighth grade, Joseph Wetzl, bore a marked resemblance to von Baravalle and was, like him, from Germany. But I knew Mr. Wetzl well and could not have mistaken him for anyone else.) At a minimum, I can confidently say that von Baravalle and I circulated in the same little Waldorf world for at least a brief time.

[35] John Fentress Gardner, “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School,” ONE MAN’S VISION: IN MEMORIAM, H.A.W. MYRIN (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1970), p. 48.

[36] Ibid., p. 46.

[37] Consider, for instance, the Steiner statements I present in “Say What?”, “Steiner’s Bile”, “Steiner Static”, and “Wise Words”.

[38] John Fentress Gardner, AMERICAN HERALDS OF THE SPIRIT (Lindisfarne Press, 1992).


[40]“The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School,” p. 46.


[42] Ibid., p. 9.

[43] Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

[44] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.

[45] Ibid., p. 118.

[46] Ibid., p. 705.

[47] Ibid., p. 698.

[48] Ibid., pp. 698-699.


[50] THE CHILD's CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE BASIS OF PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 93-94.

[51] Ibid.

[52] The Waldorf school I attended was, in many respects, a bastion of privilege. Admission was selective, and many (but by no means all) of the students came from privileged backgrounds. Also, most of the students were quite intelligent. For these reasons, the faculty didn't have to worry much about how well we would do on standardized exams. The situation was somewhat like what Tony Judt has described concerning his education at Cambridge: "We were never taught with the specific aim of performing well on the Tripos — the Cambridge final examinations. My supervisors [or teachers] were supremely uninterested in public performance of any sort. It was not that they were indifferent to exam results; they simply took it for granted that our natural talent would carry us through." — Tony Judt, "Meritocrats" (THE NEW YORK REVIEW, August 19, 2010), p. 4.

Photo by former Waldorf student Alicia Hamberg, reproduced by permission.
Alicia disliked her Waldorf school, and today she is an outspoken critic of the Waldorf movement.