“[T]he structure of language has not
been formed by human beings ...
It is extremely important to learn
how to feel something definite
in the activity of the spirits of language."
— Rudolf Steiner
OH MY WORD
The Waldorf Curriculum:
English and History
We might be tempted to think that Waldorf teachers could not manipulate English classes for any occult purposes. The students learn vocabulary, spelling, grammar, reading, and writing, and they read some good books. How can a Waldorf school bend such studies to serve its form of occultism, Anthroposophy? An absorbing pamphlet written by longtime Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson — it is titled TEACHING ENGLISH — explains how. Crucially, bear in mind that Wilkinson was not addressing parents of Waldorf students, or people considering Waldorf schools for their children, or critics of Waldorf education. He was giving advice to fellow Waldorf teachers. 
Wilkinson starts the chapter “The Origin of Language” by explaining that his remarks will be based on “indications” given by Rudolf Steiner.  He then quotes the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”  The study of literature, in Waldorf schools, is rooted in Biblical or, more generally, spiritual texts. Wilkinson proceeds to the story of Creation in Genesis, and he offers the following: “The Hebrew word translated as ‘God’ is ‘Elohim,’ and this, we understand from the experts, is a plural ... [T]herefore, it should be read ‘Gods.’ These Elohim or Gods are high-ranking spiritual beings ... The process of creation was that from these divine beings there flowed our [sic - probably means ‘out’] a sort of speech-music. this [sic] was of a spiritual nature not perceptible to the ordinary human ear. Different beings created different tones and this outflowing eventually crystallized in matter and became manifest.” 
Language comes to us from the gods, and indeed the creation of the universe was the activity of numerous gods: They effectively spoke or sang the universe into existence. This is the premise on which the study of language and literature is based, in Waldorf schools. And this premise entails various other Anthroposophical beliefs, most notably polytheism. Having begun with a Biblical verse, Wilkinson pivots from speaking of "God" to speaking of "Gods." Anthroposophy is a polytheistic faith, as Steiner indicated when when he said to Waldorf teachers, “We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods....” 
Language (and literature) are fundamentally divine, as seen from the Waldorf perspective. The gods used language to create the universe., and they built the capacity for language into the human being. "The human being is the product of the creative word ... The human being can recognize and use speech because...language has been built into his structure.”  Studying English (like studying virtually all subjects) is a Waldorf school is ultimately a spiritual undertaking, exploring the workings of the gods. When we use or study language, we use the capacities built into us by divine intent.
Just as the gods used a magically potent form of language (their "speech-music"), so human language was originally magical and divine, according to Wilkinson and Steiner. Gradually, however, our language became corrupted as humanity "fell" and became ensnared in material existence. (This is a common theme in Anthroposophy: The material world is a degrading arena.) Our language deteriorated, and it fractured into the multiple languages used on Earth today. Wilkinson writes: “Originally a word was a manifestation or expression of the inner nature of the object. Thus, in speaking, man was intimately connected with the world around. In the course of evolution he has developed into a being with a self-conscious ego and, as such, he stands outside nature and divorced from it. When words are spoken therefore, he no longer experiences the being of things...but [he] accepts [the words] as [mere] labels ... Further descent into physical existence is also the reason for the development of different languages.” 
Seen from one perspective, nothing could be more important than the study of language with its original, magical properties. On the other hand, if we nowadays are merely pushing around labels, the study of language may seem to be a trivial pursuit. Wilkinson holds out the hope, however, that by delving into grammar, the structure of language, we can reconnect with the magic still lying dormant within language. “[I]n teaching grammar what was unconscious is brought to consciousness ... When we say ‘bring to consciousness,’ this is not to be equated with intellectual understanding.”  Intellectual understanding, in Waldorf belief, is superficial; Wilkinson is suggesting that true language study can penetrate below the surface to reconnect with the divine underpinnings of our existence. To repeat, then: The study of English is a spiritual — indeed, a religious— undertaking.
To summarize the case Wilkinson makes for the importance of language study: In our time, language has become debased; yet language is built into us; even grammar is innately within our beings — and Wilkinson does not mean that our use of language reflects debasement. Just the opposite: “[L]anguage is a manifestation of the Divine, and ultimately, the study of language leads to an understanding of the Divine and man’s connection with it. In this sense, it is a religious study.” 
The religion involved is the polytheistic faith that underlies Waldorf education: Anthroposophy.
The religious study Wilkinson outlines entails exposure to various mythic and fabulous tales, the sorts of stories that comprise a significant component of Anthroposophical doctrine. Steiner taught that myths are essentially true. “Actual facts concerning the higher Spiritual Worlds lie at the foundation of all myths.... ”  Thus, we find the centrality of myths in the Waldorf curriculum. Here are some of the recommendations Wilkinson makes for various grade levels, especially the lower grades when the children are most impressionable. The Anthroposophical agenda is unmistakable:
Students who hear and read all of these tales will have received a broad if somewhat shallow exposure to Anthroposophical beliefs, and they will have done so in an unmistakably religious context. Look again at the reading recommendations for Grade 3, which include stories from the Bible as well as “stories of the saints.” Waldorf schools usually claim to be nonsectarian. In how many nonsectarian schools are children asked to read or listen to “stories of the saints”?
At the Waldorf school I attended, my classmates and I were led through an English curriculum that generally conformed to Wilkinson/Steiner’s recommendations. (Waldorf schools in all lands tend to march in lockstep, using the same curriculum with only slight modifications.) For example, the class history printed in our 1964 yearbook includes the following: “In the third grade we began our study of the Bible, and put on a play about Joseph’s coat of many colors ... Besides the three R’s, the fourth grade was occupied with the study of Norse myths. The high point of the year was the building of Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, out of paper. The fifth grade, where we learned about Greek and Egyptian myths....” 
Similarly, we studied THE ODYSSEY right on schedule, in the 11th grade. Our reading matter in high school contained a large dose of the mythical and even the theological. We were assigned THE DIVINE COMEDY (Dante’s description of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven) and PARADISE LOST (Milton’s account of mankind’s fall in the Garden of Eden). We were assigned spiritualistic essays from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s SELECTED WRITINGS and Thomas Carlyle’s ON HEROES AND HERO-WORSHIP. I still have my copies of these books, in which I carefully underlined the most overtly religious passages — the passages that I recall our teachers emphasizing. In addition, we were encouraged to read disguised Christian parables by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who were members of a coterie now known as the Oxford Christians.  I remember Tolkien’s books being sold in our school lobby at Christmastime. That’s where I got my copies — after buying them, I read and reread THE LORD OF THE RINGS each year until I graduated.
We also studied literature having no immediately apparent connection to spiritualism. But a closer examination suggests that at least some of these works contain, in muted form, ideas consistent with Anthroposophy. For example, we were assigned Willa Cather’s MY ANTONIA, which deals with Manifest Destiny as enacted by a pair of Christian families: The forces of destiny want these white people to take possession of the North American continent, and religious faith helps the families overcome their difficulties. Destiny or karma is a central Anthroposophical concept, and Steiner’s elevation of whites above other races is one of his most appalling tenets. [See “Steiner’s Racism”.] The speaker at my class’s eighth grade graduation, Sylvester M. Morey, wrote a pamphlet in which he echoes Steiner’s argument that American “Indians” are less evolved than whites. 
I think it was during our freshman or sophomore year in high school that we studied CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, the story of a remorseless, apparently irredeemable murderer. The novel would seem, initially, to be utterly disconnected from the mystical visions that Waldorf urged on us. Yet, considered more carefully, the novel can interpreted as fitting the Anthroposophic worldview at least to the extent that it embodies a broad critique of modern life and its soullessness, along with a plea for spiritual redemption. Indeed, the book ends in a passage that is distinctly consonant with Anthroposophy: The murderer clutches a New Testament while the author projects for him “a new story, the story of the gradual rebirth of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his gradual passing from one world to another....”  Rebirth, in the form of reincarnation and spiritual evolution, is a basic Anthroposophical doctrine. Steiner said that “people live repeated earthly lives” , and one of his followers has correctly written “Evolution is the great theme...of Steiner’s life work. It is, however, an evolution that goes far beyond anything dreamed of today in biology or geology.”  It is, in brief, a mystical form of evolution. The central goal of Anthroposophy is to see humanity regenerate itself, evolving ever upward, passing from lowly worlds to higher spirit worlds. [See “Evolution, Anyone?”] Thus, even a book like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT could be used by Waldorf teachers to subtly steer students toward Anthroposophic beliefs (albeit the actual intentions of the author might need to be shunted aside). 
I do not mean, of course, that any of the authors we read in our English classes were Anthroposophists — Cather, Dostoyevsky, and the others would have been shocked by such a suggestion. And I certainly do not mean that we students knew enough about Anthroposophy to spot all the potential connections between Steiner's doctrines and the works our teachers selected for us to read. But Waldorf schools have a long history of promoting Anthroposophy by stealth. Steiner cautioned Waldorf teachers not to be too open about their beliefs, yet he also made plain his intention for Waldorf schools to promote Anthroposophy.  Waldorf schools usually undertake this mission by indirection, by the quiet planting of seeds in students’ minds. Thus, in the English curriculum, a receptivity to Anthroposophy is subtly fostered through the frequent, repeated use of myths, legends, fables, spiritualistic fiction, devout poetry — and even modern realistic fiction that is open to certain interpretations. Most of the works we read were excellent; they were literary classics — no parent could complain about these assignments. Yet in Waldorf schools, virtually all literature is bent to the service of Rudolf Steiner's occult doctrines. The ultimate effect is to create a mental climate in which occultism in general, and Anthroposophy in particular, may flower. In sum, our teachers selected reading matter that was, in varying degrees, congruous with Anthroposophical positions — but because the literature we read was of high quality, and because the teachers did not belabor their Anthroposophical views, no one had definite cause to challenge what was being done.
Wilkinson is correct that language classes constitute "a religious study" in the Waldorf curriculum. Indeed, all classes at Waldorf are essentially religious. The religious content is often kept hidden from parents and others who might object, but it is pervasive and, for the students, unavoidable.
In Anthroposophic belief, language is especially divine. The gods who made us and assist us are manifest in language, which is one of their primary gifts to us. “You will surely believe me when I say that the structure of language has not been formed by human beings ... It is extremely important to learn how to feel something definite in the activity of the spirits [i.e., gods] of language." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 59. In Anthroposophy, feeling is more important than thought; if we feel the essence of language, we commune with the "spirits of language" — who are gods.
Speaking creates spiritual realities, Steiner said — the use of language is a divinely creative action. Steiner taught that we humans, having evolved higher, will be able to create realities through language: Like the gods, we will establish and shape reality through our utterances. It is for this reason that he made such strange pronouncements as this: "The larynx is the future organ of birth, the future organ of procreation. Now man brings forth the word by means of the larynx, but the larynx is the seed that will in future times develop to bring forth the whole human being...." — Rudolf Steiner, THE WORLD OF THE SENSES AND THE WORLD OF THE SPIRIT (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 2, GA 134. In other words, we will give birth through our voice boxes, not through our wombs.
Waldorf students will rarely be told such doctrines. But they will spend their days in the atmosphere created by teachers who believe such things, and who will find clever ways to at least suggest them. To consider how religious meaning can be slipped into Waldorf classes covertly, see "Sneaking It In".
At Waldorf schools, the study of English is intertwined with the study of history. The rationale informing these two subjects, as studied in Waldorf schools, is essentially one and the same. Truth is found in myth, not in factual knowledge. The Waldorf vision of human development is tied fundamentally to occult imaginings that are expressed mythically.
Here is a brief synopsis of the Waldorf history curriculum, provided by Roy Wilkinson in another of his booklets, in this case TEACHING HISTORY:
Several characteristics of Waldorf schooling arise in this synopsis. I deal with these matters at various essays at this website, so for now I’ll simply list a few. If you want to dig into any of this further, please consult the Waldorf Watch Table of Contents and Index.
THE WALDORF SCHOOL APPROACH TO HISTORY, by Werner Glas, shines additional light on all this. History is not a process amenable to merely rational consideration, Glas says. It is a mystic process guided by astrological influences. Mankind’s progression from one civilization to the next is inseparable from the unscrolling of the zodiac. The astrological powers of Cancer prevailed from 7227 BC to 5067 BC, then Gemini from 5067 to 2907 BC, Taurus to 747 BC, Aries to 1413 AD... “As a consequence, while the sun now rises in the beginning of spring in Pisces, at the time of Christ it rose in Aries. Legends and myths point to this super-historical reality. The Egyptians worshipped the Apis Bull [Taurus]. Minos still has [i.e., had] a Bull culture.”  So, the culture of ancient Egypt was largely determined by the ascendancy of Taurus the bull; ditto Crete, under King Minos. But then the precession of the equinoxes led to the ascendancy of Aries, so human history shifted. As soon as Aries arose, “Jason is already searching for the Gold Fleece of the Ram [Aries]. Christ is considered as a Lamb....” 
Notice the astonishing mix of myth, astrology, and history in this “Waldorf school approach to history.” Egyptian religion embodied the forces of the sign of the bull. When the zodiac shifted, Jason — son of a king in Thessaly — led his Argonauts to seek the creature embodied in the new ascendant sign, a ram, Aries. Even Christ is considered a “lamb” because he was born under the sign of Aries. This is history and faith turned into astrological superstition. 
Steiner called the periods exemplified by various human civilizations “cultural epochs.”  He said that humanity makes spiritual evolutionary progress as it moves from cultural epoch to cultural epoch — that is, from the influence of one sign to the zodiac to the next. Thus, ancient Greeks, living under a new sign, were actually more evolved than ancient Egyptians, for instance.  The progress achieved by mankind over the course of history manifests itself primarily in new, higher stages of spiritual consciousness. “One of the most stimulating aspects of history is a study of the qualitative differences of various cultures. This kind of history reveals that man undergoes a development of consciousness ... [H]e unfolds different nuances of his soul in different epochs.” 
The pageant of history, as conceived in Waldorf education, is a chronicle not just of astrological influences but also of human reincarnation. People return to Earth over and over, passing through progressive stages of spiritual evolution. Steiner also taught that children recapitulate, in their earthly lives, the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole. Therefore, at Waldorf schools, teaching kids history means chaperoning them through their own evolution. This is the limited sense in which Waldorf teachers aim to help children to mature. Young children are meant to remain young for as long as possible, but gradually emphasis shifts to a form of spiritual maturation. In the words of a history teacher of mine at the Waldorf School of Adelphi University, “There’s a proper time and method for particular subjects to be taught. The child recapitulates the cultural epochs of humankind.” 
At Waldorf schools, the study of history is neither rational nor scientific. It is certainly not rooted in objective fact. It is covert spiritual initiation. It is myth masquerading as fact. The resulting swirl of myth, fable, astrology, and misinformation can have deep, befuddling effects on kids' brains. Hence, we wind up with reports such as this: “One [Waldorf grad] told me that in her teens she was surprised to learn that the Greek gods were not historical figures, so thoroughly did the [Waldorf] curriculum meld myth and history.” 
— Roger Rawlings
The Waldorf curriculum is geared to the incarnation of three invisible bodies: the etheric body at age 7, the astral body at age 14, and the ego body at age 21. [See "Incarnation".] This bears directly on the English curriculum in Waldorf schools. The following quotations come from a recently published overview of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education.
"Fable - story in which animals speak and act as human beings ... Fables and stories of saints form part of the story-telling curriculum of Class Two in Waldorf schools. In fables...every animal [displays] only one determining quality ... In stories of saints, on the other hand...saints are lord and master of their own astral body [sic]. Both types of stories offer the child support as the astral body begins to emancipate itself. This process starts at about age seven and is concluded...at approximately age 14." — Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 43.
"Saints' legends — [F]ables and saints' legends form the main story material told throughout the school year in Class Two of Waldorf schools ... In the lives of saints...the stories are of human beings who have overcome imbalance to achieve self-mastery. Saints can be said to have mastered all lower influences of the astral body. That is why, in these legends, saints are often depicted surrounded by loving and obedient animals ... The lives of saints are told to children at about age seven because, at that phase, their own astral body [sic] starts to develop a certain independence. For the first time they will be confronted with all the influences inherent in this 'astrality'." — Ibid., p. 105.
Roy Wilkinson tells us more about the teaching of history at Waldorf schools in his self-published booklet TEACHING HISTORY III: The Fourth Cultural Epoch (Roy Wilkinson, 1974). The subtitle alone tells us volumes. The historical narrative Wilkinson offers is controlled by the occult fables espoused by Rudolf Steiner. "Cultural epochs" are phases of human evolution connected with such events as the sinking of Atlantis. (Yes, Atlantis.) Steiner said that Atlantis existed, so of course...
The broad outlines of human history, according to Wilkinson (faithful to Steiner) is a record of spiritual evolution. Humans began life on/during Old Saturn, and we gradually segued to Old Sun, Old Moon, and now Present Earth. [See the entries for these terms in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] Early in our life on Earth, we possessed innate clairvoyance; we have lost that capacity; but thanks to Steiner — and, we should add, the gods — we will have new, improved clairvoyance soon.
During the "fourth cultural epoch" in Europe, humans for the first time became capable of rational thought. According to Steiner, Asians, Africans, and others who did not make the Aryan journey to Europe were unable to think in any meaningfully sensible way (although their unschooled clairvoyant intuitions were often profound). In the future, we will proceed to forms of consciousness transcending rational thought.
But let's stick with the past, however briefly. Here is Wilkinson's summary statement:
The study of history at Waldorf schools, in other worlds, is geared to the occult, ahistorical fantasies promoted by Rudolf Steiner. The consciousness ancient people had of the spiritual realm was, essentially, clairvoyance. We will hear more from Wilkinson on this subject presently.
For more about the study of
Bible stories, myths, and
other spiritually meaningful tales
in Waldorf classes, see, e.g.,
"Myths are not ‘thought out’ or invented, but are the expressions of a profound primeval wisdom acquired by spiritual vision. In ancient times there was consciousness of the fact that at a still earlier epoch man had embraced the whole world in his feeling, and this is expressed in the Myths. The ‘clair-sentience’...was the last remnant of an original...clairvoyance.”
— Rudolf Steiner,
THE EAST IN THE
LIGHT OF THE WEST
(Rudolf Steiner Pub. Co., 1940),
lecture 7, GA 113.
Drawing on occult, esoteric, mythic, and religious traditions from around the world, Steiner developed a theology characterized by a hierarchy of worlds and their attendant spirits. When Waldorf schools teach children myths, fables, and religious stories from around the world, the underlying — generally unspoken — purpose is to lead children toward Steiner's teachings.
The image above is a standard representation of the hierarchical universe portrayed in Greek and Roman mythology. Steiner's followers affirm such visions to the extent that they correspond to Anthroposophical doctrines. [Cartari's IMAGINI DEGLI DEI DEGLI ANTICHI.]
The following is a bit pedantic and dry,
but please cast your eye over it.
Some important matters are revealed.
"In a teacher's meeting on 3 July 1923 [at the first Waldorf school] Steiner pointed out that the pupils of Class 9 were not using any punctuation marks. He then proceeded to give some very revealing guidance for the teaching of punctuation." — E. A. Karl Stockmeyer, RUDOLF STEINER'S CURRICULUM FOR STEINER-WALDORF SCHOOLS (Floris Books, 2015), p. 69.
Like Steiner himself, you might be startled to learn that ninth graders in a Waldorf school, many of whom had presumably received the benefits of Waldorf education for at least a few years, apparently knew little or nothing about punctuation.
In fact, how to teach the students punctuation was raised as an issue during a prior faculty meeting at the school. Here is a brief summary:
May 25, 1923:
A teacher: "I think we need to teach the children a little about the technique of writing ... They have poor punctuation."
Dr. Steiner: "It will not be easy to find a reasonable way to teach punctuation to children. We need to look into this question further, including the reasons for punctuation. This is a question we need to examine pedagogically ... There does not appear to be any natural way of justifying punctuation." — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 629.
July 3, 1923:
Dr. Steiner: “The main problem now is that if the children go to their [externally administered] final examinations with the punctuation they now know, it could be very bad. They use no punctuation at all in the 9b class. Teaching them punctuation depends upon discussing the structure of a sentence in an interesting way. That is something you can do well in the course of teaching them literature ... You can teach the use of commas when you first show the children that they need to enclose every relative clause within commas ... From there, you can go on to show how elements of thought developed in language, and thus arrive at the semicolon, which is simply a stronger comma and indicates a greater break... [Etc.] You can discuss the artistic structure of a sentence with the children in an unpedantic way. You can give them a feeling for what a sentence is ... [P]oetics...is completely missing [from the class work]. You are not taking it into account at all. I have noticed that the children have no feeling for metaphor. ... If you first get the children used to enclosing relative clauses with commas, then everything else will fall into place.” — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 645-648.
This is all fairly stunning. Ninth graders are young teenagers. They should have learned basic punctuation long before ninth grade. Yet at the original Waldorf school, students in class 9b apparently were unable to punctuate (or they felt no need to do so — their teacher apparently did not require it). And notice that Steiner's comments may have applied beyond the limits of class 9b. Steiner responded to the situation in 9b not by correcting a single, negligent teacher; he addressed the entire faculty, giving them basic guidance concerning punctuation. He took up the question of punctuation as if for the first time — "It will not be easy to find a reasonable way to teach punctuation to children." We may infer that little or no instruction in punctuation had occurred at the school previously, or in any case the subject had not commanded much attention previously. Moreover, Steiner indicated that the deficiencies in the students' writing skills was even broader than the somewhat technical issue of punctuation — "Poetics...was completely missing." The kids knew little or nothing about metaphoric language. The instruction they had received in the use of their native language was faulty in more than one way.
To his credit, Steiner tried to find corrective measures. (Unfortunately, he seems to have done so largely to avoid the bad publicity that would result if the illiteracy of Waldorf students became known publicly — "The main problem now is that if the children go to their final examinations with the punctuation they now know, it could be very bad." Steiner was always sensitive to public relations and the need to put up a good front. [See, e.g., "Secrets".]) Whether those measures would prove effective is, perhaps, doubtful. There is nothing particularly innovative in the suggestions Steiner made, and the overriding reality is that starting instruction in punctuation so late in the students' schooling means trying to undo damage that had accumulated over many years.
The Waldorf faculty would certainly have been derelict if they allowed students to pass through sixth, seventh, and eighth grades without learning punctuation. Indeed, by the standards set at the first Waldorf school, children should be taught "complete punctuation" before the end of fifth grade. [See "The Waldorf Curriculum".] We can, to some extent, excuse the teachers Steiner was addressing if we recollect that their school had been established only a few years earlier, in 1919. Thus, ninth graders at the first Waldorf school received their early educations elsewhere. If those students came to Waldorf knowing little about punctuation, then the primary blame lies with the schools they attended previously. Still, once they enrolled at Waldorf, they should have been brought up to the appropriate grade level as soon as was practical. But clearly, for some kids, in some portions of the curriculum, this did not happen. Slice it any way you like, it is scandalous for ninth graders not to have been taught how to punctuate.
Part of the problem, surely, can be traced to the general anti-intellectual atmosphere in Waldorf education [see, e.g., "Thinking Cap"], and part can be ascribed to the low academic standards that are usually set [see "Academic Standards at Waldorf"]. In addition, the poor qualifications of Waldorf teachers may have a significant impact. The Waldorf system ensures that many Waldorf teachers are unqualified to teach at least some of the subjects they are required to teach. [See "The Waldorf Curriculum" and "Teacher Training".] The result is that students in Waldorf schools often lag behind their peers in other schools. Thus, for instance, one mother who removed her daughter from a Waldorf school, transferring the child to a public school, has reported this: "Walking around the public school classroom on parents' night, looking at the children's work, said it all. The children had written essays that were easy to follow, even with the occasional mistake here and there. Our daughter's essays were incomprehensible. She had made brave attempts to write words, guessing at the letters involved, but not succeeding in spelling a single word correctly. The other children's work was the result of four years of public education. Our daughter's was the result of four years of Waldorf 'education.'" [See "Our Experience".]
In this instance, the child was in fourth grade, not ninth, and the deficiency was spelling, not punctuation. But the effect is the same. Imagine a ninth grader's essay that has "no punctuation at all" — or no correct punctuation. Like the unfortunate fourth grader's essay, the ninth grader's work would reflect an educational system that had abysmally failed that student. And, in fact, we have evidence that even today, Waldorf high schoolers often produce distinctly flawed written work. The following report comes from Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, who presided over the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City: “I have attended countless [Waldorf] open houses ... I have seen scores of [student] notebooks, copied and illustrated with enormous care and devotion and riddled with all kinds of errors, placed where parents and visitors are most likely to see them. I can assure you that I am not exaggerating.” Francis puts the blame, primarily, on the Waldorf practice of having students copy, verbatim and uncritically, passages written by their teachers. “Copying is the curse of the Waldorf Schools. There is altogether too much of it, and it is not confined to the elementary school. In high school, where there is much less excuse for it, it still goes on." [See "His Education".] Students should not be criticized for reproducing errors (factual, historical, grammatical...) committed by their teachers, surely. But the key point, here, is that Waldorf teachers have themselves committed the errors Francis cites, and they effectively teach their students that such errors are not wrong at all but are correct. They miseducate their students, in other words.
Shockingly, there are persistent questions about the teaching of basic skills at Waldorf schools. Is there a "reasonable way to teach punctuation"? Is there any "natural way of justifying punctuation"? Must students be able to write coherently? Is there any reason to give kids basic academic instruction at all? Waldorf schools often place their emphasis elsewhere, not on education per se. They seek to influence students' hearts and souls fully as much as their minds — if not more than their minds. According to a widely used Waldorf motto, the schools spread their attention to "heads, hearts, and hands." [See "Holistic Education".] To the extent that emphasis is placed on hearts and hands, it is shifted away from heads. Brainwork — what people usually call education — is deemphasized.
Steiner wanted Waldorf students to know enough about punctuation so that they would not embarrass the school when taking final examinations administered by education authorities. But, then again, he disavowed giving students a sufficiently sound academic education to prepare them for such final examinations. On February 5, 1924 — months after making the statements we saw above — Steiner said this in a Waldorf faculty meeting: "The question of final examinations is purely a question of opportunity. It is a question of whether we dare tell those who come to us that we will not prepare them for the final examination at all...." — FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 712.
Shockingly, concerns about basic academics — down to the level of teaching kids how to punctuate — are central to an objective assessment of Waldorf education.
Belief in clairvoyance pervades all parts of the Waldorf curriculum.
This is from the description of a Waldorf teacher's guide, published by the Rudolf Steiner College Press. The subject is history. The subtext is clairvoyance. "The History curriculum for fifth and sixth grades in a Waldorf school follows the thread of development of cultures through Ancient India, Persia, Egypt and Chaldea, Greece, and Rome. This provides a picture of the changing human consciousness from ancient clairvoyance to the loss of spiritual vision and, with it, the awakening of independent ego awareness and materialism. The teacher is guided to a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance of mythologies and great epics, and shows how the ancient world points the way to the future." — TEACHING HISTORY, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000).
Students taught history in this way are being fed Anthroposophy, "the way to the future".
Much of the literature studied in Waldorf schools in unobjectionable; indeed, it usually includes great literary classics. But other works are included in the curriculum despite their lack of literary merit. Examples can be found in such volumes as THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY (Living Arts Books, 2012), edited by David Kennedy.
This anthology includes works by Shakespeare, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, and other great poets. But it also features works by people who are not poets at all — people whose only qualification is that they are Anthroposophists. Thus., the book includes "poems" by such Anthroposophists as Dorothy Harrer, Eugene Schwartz, A. C. Harwood, Eileen Hutchins, and (who else?) Rudolf Steiner.
The poems by these authors are generally doggerel having, as you might expect, a distinctly esoteric tilt. Their overall import is to introduce Waldorf students to Anthroposophical beliefs.
Here are a few excerpts.
by Eugene Schwartz
"...Oh St. George, Come! Advance!
'Gainst the Dragon to fight...*
St. George battled the beast
Till the rays of the sun
As it rose in the east
Showed our knight to have won!"
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 106.]
* In Anthroposophy, Michael is a warrior god
fighting on behalf of the Sun God, Christ,
to protect and strengthen humanity.
Michael's chief foe is the great demon Ahriman,
symbolized as a dragon.
St. George, a pious knight and dragon-slayer,
is Michael's representative on Earth.
by A. C. Harwood
"The Sun* is in my heart,
He warms me with his power,
And wakens, wakens life and love
In bird and beast and flower,
In bird and beast and flower...."
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 44.]
* In Anthroposophy, the Sun is the
original abode of Christ, the Sun God.
[See "Sun God".]
Waldorf students are taught many poems,
hymns, and prayers centered on the Sun.
by Eileen Hutchins
"May our eyes shine
With light like thine,
May our hearts know
Thy warming glow,
May our hands give
Such strength to live,
That we may be
A sun like thee."
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 45.]
"At the Ringing of the Bells"
by Rudolf Steiner
"To wonder at beauty,
Stand guard over truth,
Look up to the noble,
Resolve on the good:
This leadeth man truly
To purpose in living...."
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 256.]
by Dorothy Harrer
"In the flaming fire we worship thee,
Master of Wisdom,
Lord of Light,
From the regions of the North.
From the regions of the South,
Forth rushed Ahriman the deadly,
And the demons of darkness...." *
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 174.]
* Waldorf students study many world religions,
which may be laudable, but this study
usually stresses Anthroposophical beliefs.
In Anthroposophy, Ahura Mazda is the Sun God, Christ,
as perceived by the ancient Persians.
Steiner also taught that Ahriman, the devil in Persian belief,
is one of the arch-demons who fight against
proper human evolution.
by Joan Marcus
"We dance around the fir tree
in every kind of weather,
Twelve little gnomes dancing together.*
We dance around the fir tree
in every kind of weather,
Twelve little gnomes dancing together."
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 291.]
* Parents are often charmed by the gnome images
and figurines found in Waldorf classrooms.
They should realize that, in Anthroposophical belief,
gnomes really exist: They are "nature spirits"
or "elemental beings" who live within the Earth.
"Coming Forth into the Day"
by Dorothy Harrer
"Homage to thee, O Ra, at thy tremendous rising!
Thou risest! Thou shinest! the heavens are rolled aside!
Thou art the King of Gods, thou art the All-comprising,
From thee we come, in thee are deified." *
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 175.]
* In Anthroposophy, any prayer to the Sun
is a prayer to Christ, the Sun God.
Anthroposophists believe that Ra, the ancient Egyptian
god of the Sun, is Christ as recognized
by the ancient Egyptians. We should also be note
that Anthroposophy is a polytheistic faith,
so phrases like "King of Gods" are meant literally.
"Five Verses for Michaelmas" *
"Sword of Micha-el brightly gleaming,
Down to earth its light is streaming;—
May we see its shining rays
In winter's darkest days.
St. Micha-el, brave and bright
Who loves to live in the light,
The fierce foe to fight...."
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 105.]
* Michaelmas is the mass of St. Michael, whom
Anthroposophists revere as the Archangel of the Sun.
"St Michael and anthroposophy are connected in a special way ...
Michael inspires all human beings who wish to
connect the human spirit with the spirit of the cosmos.
Anthroposophy is also called the School of Michael.
Rudolf Steiner sought to establish a new
festival of Michaelmas, at the end of September...."
— Henk van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z
(East Sussex: Sophia Books, 2011), p. 78.
"The Forging of Thor's Hammer"
by S. M. Ryan
"Blow bellows, blow,
Set the sparks aglow!
Needs weapons of War!"
[THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY, p. 167.]
* Thor is the Norse god of thunder. Norse myths
are heavily emphasized in Waldorf education
because Rudolf Steiner said that these myths present
a correct description of human spiritual evolution.
Studying Norse myths, in Waldorf schools,
is tantamount to studying Anthroposophy.
Numerous other poems by Anthroposophists, as well as poems that can be interpreted as supporting Anthroposophy, are spread throughout THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY.
Waldorf students who are immersed in such stuff are undeniably, if circuitously, introduced to Anthroposophical perspectives and attitudes. Far more than most of their parents ever intended, they are led toward the labyrinths of Rudolf Steiner's occultism.
The cover of THE WALDORF BOOK OF POETRY shows a lance-wielding Michael flying among seven stars, slaying a dragon above a peaceful, church-centered earthly community.
To explore some of the Anthroposophical doctrines hidden in this book's poems, see, e.g., "Michael", "Sun God", "Ahriman", "Astrology", "Polytheism", "The Gods", "Neutered Nature", and "Was He Christian?"
Art work created by Waldorf students often depicts scenes from mythology, fairy tales, folk tales, or plain fantasy — the sorts of narratives Waldorf schools feed them in great quantities.
Here are two colored-pencil examples. (Young students at the schools are often allowed to use only large crayons and wide paintbrushes. Colored pencils are usually not introduced until later.)
[Images courtesy of
This summarizes a portion of humanity’s evolution as described by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner’s account hinges on the concept of occult knowledge — secret knowledge of the spirit realm possessed by only a few “mature” human beings, aka initiates. Many ancient societies were indeed built upon such ideas, which have largely been set aside in the modern world. But such ideas live on in the Waldorf belief system, which accepts them as objectively revealed Truth.
When Waldorf teachers convey such “facts” to their students, openly or indirectly, they are teaching the kids Anthroposophy, not history.
Steiner taught that we happen to live in a period when the things he said are not self-evidently true, but he said that occult truths were obvious to people in the past and they will become obvious to people again in the future. When Waldorf students are given such ideas, they are being taught Anthroposophy.
Here is a wet-on-wet watercolor painting
by a Waldorf student:
[Image courtesy of
Also by a Waldorf student, schoolwork:
[Image courtesy of
This is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Waldorf belief system. Modern rational thought is a new phenomenon. It has value, and we need it in order to keep evolving higher and higher. But it is also an extremely limited tool, one that can tell us about the physical world but not about the higher, spiritual worlds. To know the spirit worlds, we need to use a "higher" form of consciousness, clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner claimed to be clairvoyant, and many of his followers (including Waldorf school teachers) think they are clairvoyant. This is delusion, and it is therefore worrisome — people who are deluded hardly qualify as reliable leaders or teachers.
The essence of clairvoyance is seeing images. In Waldorf schools, the emphasis on imagination is, in fact, a belief in the truthfulness of the images that come to one through conscious or unconscious clairvoyance. This is bunk, but it is basic to the Waldorf approach. A more accurate term for mystic or otherworldly images that arise in the mind and that one accepts as truth is hallucination.
Classical depiction of Yggdrasil,
the world tree described in Norse myths.
Norse myths are extremely important
in Waldorf schools — they are deemed
to present a true picture of human spiritual evolution.
[J. C. Cooper,
AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA
OF TRADITIONAL SYMBOLS
(Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 197.]
The Norse god Thor as he is often shown, carrying his deadly hammer. According to Waldorf belief, Thor really exists, and he took a special hand in human evolution.
[H. A. Guerber, MYTHS OF THE NORSEMEN (George G. Harrap & Cp., 1909), sculpture by B. E. Fogelberg.]
"[Thor is] a Being who could have risen to far higher rank had he followed the normal course of evolution, but who renounced advancement comparatively early and remained at the stage of a [sic] Angel ... Thor plays an active part in the implanting of the individual ego [in human beings] ... [T]he pulsation of the blood [in the human body] corresponds to the thunder and lightning ... Germanic-Nordic man sees this clairvoyantly....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 234-235.
For more on Norse myths,
see "The Gods".
For information about the study of
math in Waldorf schools,
see "Mystic Math".
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch,
use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 5. THE WALDORF APPROACH ◊◊◊
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.
 Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING ENGLISH (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1976, reprinted 1997.)
 THE HOLY BIBLE, New Testament, John 1:1.
 TEACHING ENGLISH, p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
 TEACHING ENGLISH, p. 3. (Wilkinson reverts to speaking of "God." Anthroposophists often vary their terms this way, often to make Anthroposophy seem consistent with monotheistic faiths. But fundamentally Anthroposophy is polytheistic. [See "Polytheism".])
Steiner taught that man was the first living being on Earth, and that in nonphysical form man existed before the Earth as we know it came into existence. Thus, the creation of man came long before the account Wilkinson gives. Still, man assumed his physical form only during the present Earth stage of cosmic evolution, Steiner taught, and in this sense Wilkinson is faithful to Steiner's teachings about the creation of humanity.
 Ibid., pp. 3-4.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Ibid., p 6.
 Rudolf Steiner, UNIVERSE EARTH AND MAN IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO EGYPTIAN MYTHS AND MODERN CIVILIZATION (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), p. 94.
The word “myth” is often taken to mean falsehood or fantasy. There’s good reason for this. At least some myths are little more than entertainments, dramatic tales of heroes and villains, earthly and celestial. They are not unlike comic book plots. Combing through these, interpreting them in elaborate ways, in a search for factual information about reality, is a fool’s errand.
On the other hand, various myths may convey certain forms of truth, as scholars such as Edith Hamilton and Joseph Campbell have shown. But these truths are emotional, moral, psychological — they are reflections of innate human dispositions and capacities, our yearnings, dreams, and subconscious natures. They are not expositions of external cosmological realities — they are not presentations of “actual facts” about the universe.
Steiner taught that myths are pictorial representations, created by clairvoyant seers. All mythologies, he said, are true; and all myths told by indigenous people are true: All of them are true: “All mythologies — Greek, Roman, Germanic, and all the myths of indigenous peoples — are only pictorial, symbolic representations of supersensible truths." — Rudolf Steiner, SPIRITUALISM, MADAME BLAVATSKY, AND THEOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 61. This sweeping generalization is breathtaking, but Steiner went event further, arguing that all fairy tales are also true. “[T]he legends and fairy-tales of the various peoples are expressive of wonderful powers and wonderful events. If from the new standpoint of spiritual investigation we meditate upon the old legends and myths, allowing those grand and powerful pictures which have come down from primeval times to work upon our minds, we shall find, if we have been equipped for our task by the methods of occult science, that these legends and myths are the expressions of a most profound and ancient wisdom.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Health Research, 1972), pp. 6-7.
 TEACHING ENGLISH, p. 20.
In Waldorf belief, children should not learn to read until their etheric bodies incarnate. [See "Incarnation".]
 Ibid., p. 21.
"Fairy tales are...the final remains of ancient clairvoyance ... What was seen in a dream was told as a story ... All fairy tales in existence are thus the remnants of the original clairvoyance." — Rudolf Steiner, ON THE MYSTERY DRAMAS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 93.
 TEACHING ENGLISH, p. 22.
 Ibid., p. 25.
 Ibid., p. 29.
 Ibid., p. 30.
 Ibid., p. 35.
 Ibid., p. 44.
 1964 PINNACLE, The Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).
 See R. J. Reilly, ROMANTIC RELIGION (Lindisfarne Press, 2006). Lewis’s Christianity lies near the surface of his fiction; Tolkien’s is more hidden. For analyses of the Christian message in Tolkien’s books, see Ralph C. Woods, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO TOLKIEN (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) and Kurt D. Bruner & Jim Ware, FINDING GOD IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS (SaltRiver, 2001). [For a brief examination of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s trilogies, see "Light and Dark".]
 Sylvester M. Morey, AMERICAN INDIANS AND OUR WAY OF LIFE (The Myrin Institute Inc. , 1961). On p. 18, Morey says “The white man has been swept along in the tide of evolution....” The “red man” has not, he says.
 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (Penguin Books, 1951), p. 559.
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 46.
 Rudolf Steiner, AN OUTLINE OF ESOTERIC SCIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. xii, introduction by Clopper Almon.
 Let's look even more deeply. Dostoyevsky forecasts “a new story, the story of the gradual rebirth of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his gradual passing from one world to another....” Those final words (“passing from one world to another”) would appeal to any Anthroposophist, bringing particular Anthroposophic teachings to mind. According to Steiner, mankind has evolved through a series of "planetary stages." In this sense, we have passed from world to world; this is the basic paradigm of our spiritual evolution. Steiner taught that we previously existed at evolutionary levels that he called Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon. We now live on Present Earth. In the future, we will pass to additional worlds or stages of spiritual development: Future Jupiter, Future Venus, and Future Vulcan. I know it sounds incredible, but Steiner insisted on this outline of humanity’s past and future. To quote another of his supporters: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the last few pages [describing Steiner’s planetary scheme of evolution] have taxed some readers’ capacity for giving Steiner the benefit of the doubt and left them wondering who could possibly believe this science fiction story. Yet this cosmic history is the backbone of Steiner’s work.” — Gary Lachman, RUDOLF STEINER (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007), p. 147. [For more on these matters, Everything
The stages of evolution, bearing the names of planets, should not be confused with the planets that we see in the sky today. In Anthroposophical doctrine, Old Saturn was a period during which the entire solar system manifested in a form very different from the condition of the solar system today. In that stage of cosmic evolution, the forces of Saturn (i.e., the gods of Saturn) were predominant. The Saturn that we see today is a small remnant of that time. Likewise, the other "planetary stages" of evolution should not be confused with the planets that exist during our present stage of evolution. Nonetheless, central to Anthroposophy is a narrative of humans passing from planet (or planetary stage) to planet(ary stage), evolving ever upward. Anthroposophists can easily find at least reflections of such ideas in the words I have quoted from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Indeed, having students read such words may be a fine way to subtly urge an openness to such ideas as upward human passage from world to world.
 I go into this at some length in other essays on this website. At this point, it may be sufficient to offer this quotation: “One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one.” — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 156.
 Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING HISTORY: The Ancient Civilizations; India; Persia; Egypt and Babylonia; The Fourth Cultural Epoch: Greece and Rome (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1992), pp. 5-6.
 A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.
 Werner Glas, THE WALDORF SCHOOL APPROACH TO HISTORY (Anthroposophic Press, 1963), p. 37.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 For Christians, this treatment of Christ is virtually sacrilege. Christians should realize how unorthodox Steiner’s view of Christ was — and how unorthodox that view remains today in many Waldorf schools. Steiner said that Christ was a Sun being, or, specifically, the Sun God. [See “Everything” and "Was He Christian?"]
 I discuss this, also, in “Everything”.
 The cultural differences between peoples reflect different stages of spiritual development, according to Steiner. This doctrine is related to Steiner’s racist teachings. [See “Steiner’s Racism” and “Rankings”.]
 Werner Glas, THE WALDORF SCHOOL APPROACH TO HISTORY — excerpted in Laurens van der Post, INTUITION, INTELLECT, AND THE RACIAL QUESTION (Myrin Institute, 1964), p. 29.
An aside of minor relevance: Laurens van der Post, author of INTUITION, INTELLECT, AND THE RACIAL QUESTION, is typical of spiritual fellow travelers embraced by Anthroposophists. Van der Post gained fame in the 1960s as an “advocate” of the African Bushmen. His patronizing attitude toward those black Africans passed for racial enlightenment in those days. J. D. F. Jones, authorized biographer of van der Post, learned to his shock that van der Post actually knew little of the Bushmen and was, in general, a fraud. [J. D. F. Jones, TELLER OF MANY TALES: The Lives of Laurens van der Post (Carroll & Graf, 2001).] Van der Post was celebrated at the Waldorf school I attended. The Myrin Institute, publisher of INTUITION, INTELLECT, AND THE RACIAL QUESTION, was closely associated with the school. [See “Unenlightened.”] Van der Post preyed on the credulity of sincere spiritual seekers, much as Steiner did.
 Peter Curran, quoted in WHAT IS WALDORF EDUCATION?, a collection of essays by Steiner (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), pp. 21-22.
 See "Dorm Dad".
[R. R., 2010.]