One Mother’s Post-Waldorf
Report and Advice
by Margaret Sachs
Followed by accounts by other parents
whose children attended various Waldorf schools
My children attended a Waldorf school in California over a period of twelve years. Waldorf schools are run by Anthroposophists. Like most parents, we were unaware of the teachings of Anthroposophy's guru, Rudolf Steiner and how they were subtly incorporated into the children's activities at the school. It was only after we left that we learned Steiner taught that humans evolved from beings who lived in Atlantis, the darker people's skin the less "spiritually evolved" they are, gnomes are real, the heart is not a pump, some children are demons in human form, Earth does not orbit the sun, man will one day give birth from his larynx, and many more bizarre "facts" that Steiner claimed to have learned through clairvoyance.
Like so many parents, my husband and I were filled with enthusiasm for Waldorf during the years our children were there, even though we felt it left a lot to be desired academically. We got caught up in the seemingly innocent and old-fashioned community life and the friendships we developed with other parents. We saw a number of red flags, but we ignored them because we wanted to believe that all was well. Even today, when I look at Web sites advertising different Waldorf schools, I am amazed by how wonderful they sound and how aesthetically appealing all the images are.
Luckily, people have access to the Internet now. Before visiting your local Waldorf school, I strongly recommend you check out "http://www.waldorfcritics.org", where you can also find links to other sites, both pro and con Waldorf.
I asked specific questions about Anthroposophy and its role in our local Waldorf school before enrolling our children. This was before the Internet was a part of people's lives. I later discovered the answers I was given were lies.
I had no reason not to trust the information I was given. I've interviewed numerous private school directors and principals, and in those cases where my children ended up attending their schools there were no conditions or events that contradicted anything they told me about the schools. Because my father was in the army, my parents interviewed many private school principals before sending my brother and me to new schools. None of those schools had hidden agendas. There are some people you expect to lie, such as criminals, politicians, and teenagers. It is not normal, however, for schools to lie to parents of prospective students.
The felt gnome in my son's Waldorf classroom sat on a shelf near the top of the chalkboard. I remember the class teacher telling a group of parents that the gnome's role was to watch the children while he was out of the classroom. He said it with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, so my reaction was that it was funny and cute. I assumed it was intended as a big joke and that all the other parents shared that assumption. It never occurred to me the gnome might have a different significance for the children. But, in retrospect, I don't remember my children ever including gnomes in their conversation or play.
The teacher spoke of the gnome affectionately. I think he said the gnome's name was George. It's really weird to look back now, picturing all those adults sitting at their children's desks, listening attentively to a man who, unknown to us, believed his guru could see real gnomes. It's like something out of a Monty Python skit.
For many years, we were enthusiastic about the school in spite of many red flags. Ultimately, however, we became disillusioned, in particular by what we considered to be Waldorf’s low academic standards. When we first enrolled, we were told that taking children out of the school between the beginning of first grade and the end of third grade could be a problem because many Waldorf students don't learn to read before the end of third grade; but by the end of third grade, we were told, Waldorf students are even with, or ahead of, students in other schools. That was not our experience, nor that of many other people I know.
When my daughter went from Waldorf third grade to public school fourth grade, her new teacher told me she was two or three years behind grade level. Later in the year, she corrected that estimate and said that my daughter had been more than three years behind grade level. 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." Our daughter worked extremely hard. As she began to progress, she told us she liked having grades and knowing whether she was learning how to do things right or not. When she finally started getting good grades in subjects other than art and physical education, she took pleasure in her own sense of accomplishment.
During and immediately after our “Waldorf daze” (a phrase invented by a father who found similar problems at a different Waldorf), I knew several parents who had taken their children out of the school. They shared with me the struggles their children were going through to try to catch up to the appropriate grade level. Some years later, when the Internet became popular, I discovered that people from Waldorf schools all over the world were having similar problems.
When my son, whom we had also sent to Waldorf, interviewed for high school at a private college prep school, the director told my husband and me that they had enrolled three students from Waldorf in the past and that, while they were all nice children, they "didn't know anything" and needed a lot of remedial work.
While our daughter was at Waldorf, we became more and more aware that the academics did not meet our expectations. We believed, however, that the social and "spiritual" environment was healthy and compensated somewhat for what we considered the school's academic weaknesses. When we sent our daughter back to the Waldorf school a few years later, at the beginning of her tenth grade year (for what we believed would be a better social environment), we and she learned the hard way about the dark side of Waldorf that we had not recognized in all those previous years. My description of that experience can be found at the PLANS Web site. I would recommend that you read all of the first-person accounts of Waldorf experiences posted at that site: "http://waldorfcritics.org/active/articles.html".
The son of one Waldorf parent came home and said his Waldorf high school biology teacher had taught the class that European blood is more evolved than African blood! Any mainstream scientist can explain why this is nonsense. When one is familiar with Steiner's racist theories, however, such stories suggest that Steiner's racism possibly lives on in today's Anthroposophy and makes its way into the classroom in the form of pseudoscience. What parent researching schools would ever imagine that a school's teachers might subscribe to racist spiritual evolution theories, that the "science" teachers might be so incredibly ignorant of real science, or that science classes might be a conduit for racist teachings?
Another example is the Jewish high school student at our former Waldorf school who came home and told his mother that his Waldorf history teacher had been dismissive of the Holocaust and had said something to the effect that, in any case, the Jewish people had done it to themselves because Hitler was Jewish or half-Jewish. The possibility that this story might be the result of the student misunderstanding the teacher is somewhat undermined by the open and blatant Holocaust denial by some modern-day Anthroposophists.
During the many years my children were in a Waldorf school, I had no idea that Anthroposophy was based on racist beliefs. I also did not know that the movement was tainted by Steiner's anti-Semitic teachings and the Holocaust denials made by some Anthroposophists. Had my husband and I discovered any of this while my children were at the school, we would have removed them without much delay. For me, to do otherwise would be like voting for George Wallace when he was a segregationist or applauding a speech given by Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Another thing you might want to consider is that many parents have concerns about safety and hygiene issues at Waldorf schools. At our Waldorf school, it was apparent to me that teachers were woefully ignorant in this area. A friend's son fell from a tree at school. He lay on his back, in pain. A teacher came over and scooped him up in her arms, completely unaware that moving a person who is lying on the ground after a fall could cause permanent paralysis. On a camping trip, teachers forced two girls to pick up other people's soiled toilet paper with their bare hands. They were ignorant of first aid rules that adults who supervise children on camping trips are supposed to know — in this case, that latex gloves must always be worn when touching anything involving other people's bodily fluids because they could transmit HIV or other dangerous infections. Another parent reported that on a badly organized field trip, chaperones failed to keep all children in view. Some of those children, exhausted from having to hike too far, hitchhiked in strangers' cars. I have heard many other stories like these.
Then there's the issue of pedophiles. They are everywhere and are by no means peculiar to Waldorf schools. The problem at our school was that there were several incidents and the teachers failed to obey the laws that protect children from abuse. Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald published a story about the sexual grooming of students by male and female teachers at an Australian Waldorf school and allegations of emotional and physical abuse. I don't think there's evidence that pedophilia is prevalent in Waldorf schools. I do think, however, that parents might need to establish what the faculty's attitude is toward abuse of students by Waldorf teachers, other Anthroposophists, and Anthroposophists' family members.
I think many Waldorf teachers are reasonably kind and sensible about issues of child safety and child abuse. Knowing what I know about Waldorf schools at this point, however, safety issues alone would prevent me from entrusting any child to their care.
Of course, no one can tell you what to do. You are in an extremely difficult position. In an ideal world, I would say get your child out of there as fast as you can. The reality of your situation might make that too difficult. If you decide to stay for the rest of the year, I don't believe any harm to your child would be irreparable, especially since you are aware of what needs to be done to counteract the weak academics and the subtle brainwashing your child would be subjected to. I would, however, recommend doing a safety assessment, checking the classrooms and play areas for potential dangers and finding out what first aid training the teachers have had.
Good luck to you and your children.
Here are excerpts from "Waldorf Education — One Family's Experience",
written by another mother who sent her children to a Waldorf school.
I do not believe that the people running Waldorf schools are bad people. For a while, after discovering the things I did, I thought there may be something inherently bad or evil in the system of education itself, but I think the problem lies more in the attitude and needs of those people who are involved in this kind of education.
...Waldorf schools are more than schools, they are communities, and very tight-knit communities at that. I, for one, certainly began to feel a sense of belonging after being there a month or two.
...Once in, the community demands much of your time and money, and this further tends to isolate you from other friends. Then there is the Waldorf belief that their way is the best way of education. They are strongly critical of other kinds of education and encourage parents to believe that sending their children anywhere else would be letting them down.
All of this engenders a fear of leaving the community ... Loyalty to the community and its ideals is uncompromising. Waldorf people view Rudolf Steiner almost as a god.
Apart from her time at the local village primary, [my daughter] Joanna was never able to settle into another school [after leaving Waldorf]. We feel this was at least partly because of the traumatic experiences she had endured at the Waldorf School ... [J]ust seeing someone from the school was upsetting her.
Since we ourselves have left the school, I understand this entirely. I suffered something closely resembling post-traumatic stress disorder....
...During the last year Joanna has at last begun to show signs of a recovery. She has made some new friends who have proved to be very accepting and nonjudgemental and their love and support has helped her tremendously.
Both she and her younger brother, however, have developed an aversion to anything remotely connected to the Waldorf School. They will avoid health food shops and craft markets as being "Waldorfy". Richard even refuses to listen to any music other than rock. He says that classical music and what he calls "that happy lovey-dovey stuff", which seems to include the more middle-of-the-road easy listening music, folk, or anything remotely spiritual reminds him of the Waldorf School and "those happy teachers with silly high voices who seem to walk on clouds" — his words not mine. It is so sad that this has happened because they will both miss so much that is good in life.
I continue to ponder why it all happened. How did I almost destroy my daughter by choosing to send her to an apparently caring, art-based, beautiful small private school? How could people who appeared to be good friends suddenly turn on us and later forget we exist?
We have had almost no contact from any of them since we left. Only one family seemed to really care about what happened to our daughter ... More recently there has been a reunion of old families and pupils. None of us felt we could go, not even to meet old friends, after all of the cruelty and unpleasantness.
I am particularly sad for Joanna ... She was a beautiful flower which, with the proper care, could have bloomed and turned her face to the sun, but they only saw her problems so she sits alone wilting in the dark.
She was different, but to them every child should be treated alike. There is no extra protection for the sensitive, easily hurt child. She must deal with her karma alone and if she falls then that is her fate ... They could not love her for what she was. They saw only a "problem child".
The following is excerpted from
“Question: Who Was Rudolf Steiner? Answer: Who Is Asking?”
During the years my children attended a Waldorf school I was constantly curious about the ways things happened there. Eventually, I found that my questions might be answered more clearly if I learned more about the foundation of the pedagogy. So began many long nights studying Waldorf Education and Steiner via the Internet. At any Waldorf school anywhere in the world Rudolf Steiner is held in high esteem in a pedagogy where authority is very important. No words are more important than those of the founder of this movement. In a Waldorf school when someone mentions, "Steiner says . . . " it means stop, listen and learn. The term is frequently used to illustrate a lesson for parents.
During the course of my research I noticed a disturbing pattern emerging at my children's Waldorf School. Problems arise . . . parents ask questions . . . parents become upset . . . parents take children out of the school. I wondered why. The Internet enables us to connect with hundreds of other Waldorf parents from different schools around the globe. To my astonishment I discovered similar disturbing patterns with many parents from other schools. Was this a coincidence or was there a logical explanation? Why are parents so often frustrated with events at Waldorf schools? Why do they feel their questions and concerns are not dealt with? Why do parents feel that these schools are not "nonsectarian schools" as is promised in Waldorf outreach material and handbooks? After joining a Waldorf school parents have many questions . . . what is all this we hear about karma and reincarnation? What do you mean by "soul work?" Why are prayers recited daily but called verses? What are these Anthroposophy study groups for parents? I thought Anthroposophy was not in the school? And . . .who was Steiner and what was his reason for founding the Waldorf movement?
...I began to understand that Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical followers are on a mission. This mission involves karma and reincarnation and is the foundation of Waldorf Education. The occult nature of Anthroposophy is clearly entwined in teacher training and the Waldorf curriculum. Anthroposophy and Waldorf are inexorably linked - they are one in the same.
During my research — for many reasons and like many other parents — we felt we had to pull our children from their Waldorf School. My research became more intense. I knew there must be an answer to the communication problem Waldorf schools experience. How can parents not see the Waldorf Anthroposophy/Occult connection before they begin their Waldorf experience? In the back corners of my mind was the missing piece to the puzzle. Many in the Waldorf movement refer to Waldorf "communities." I suspected the problem had something to do with communication, the lifeblood of any real "community."
...Prospective new Waldorf parents usually know very little about Rudolf Steiner, his religion (Anthroposophy) or his "new social order." They are told Steiner is an educator and a scientist and a philosopher when, according to those who follow his teaching, Rudolf Steiner is known as a turn-of-the-century occultist. Far from the nonsectarian arts based education we read about in Waldorf public relations material, this is a spiritual movement. It is about karma, reincarnation and soul work. Countless innocent families and the Waldorf movement itself would be better served if those promoting Waldorf Education would simply tell it like it is.
...There are those within the Anthroposophy/Waldorf movement who believe their own public relations are less than forthright. There are some who feel as frustrated at the deceptive marketing and misleading information as the parents do who make the gut wrenching decision to pull children from their school. This is not a decision parents take without much thought, sadness and trepidation. In most cases, however, the decision simply must be made. Something is wrong. The education the parents were sold was simply not the education their children received. Beautiful, gentle, arts based, natural type of education has very little in common with a spiritual movement based on the religious/occult theories of one man and his followers.
Waldorf schools tend to be much the same, no matter where they are located.
Here is an an account of a Waldorf experience in Norway.
(The author has translated her account into English;
I have done some light editing. — R.R.)
The Waldorf schools present their anti-materialistic and [pro-]ecological values to people searching other ways to lead their lives – ourselves included. A lot of the Steiner/Waldorf values are similar to those of the green- and the anti-capitalist movement. What scared us the most was the fact that we, in order to find the very best pedagogical alternative for our children, were led to believe that the pedagogical tools of the Waldorf school were not closely linked to Anthroposophy, but separable from their religious beliefs, whereas the whole movement in every possible way evolves around the thoughts of reincarnation and hierarchic structure.
[Anthroposophy says] your life, your existential situation, the ones you love, your health are all a result of how you led your previous lives. And if or when you become critical [of a Waldorf school], you will be told that you have not studied enough.
Unfortunately we experienced the school to be a highly religious sect with no respect whatsoever for legal contracts, and with no continuing professional development, and [no commitment] to what we regard to be social responsibility. In very subtle ways, and with a mild and friendly smile, they assure you that the children’s education is in the best of hands. But, as time showed us, their teacher-training consists exclusively of the spiritual fantasies of one single man [i.e., Rudolf Steiner]. And having done teaching there ourselves, we found their curriculum not comparable to what is required from the state, nor [is it what they] claimed.
The Waldorf teachers claim that [during their lives before birth] children choose their parents. This is not, as we believed, a lovely birthday fairy tale to be told in the kindergarten, it is their religious belief. Literally. It took a long time before we were able to understand why children clearly in need of intervention by social services were not helped out of their miserable situation, until we realized how the school neglected their legal responsibility when other parents took action and reported directly to the authorities.
This is what the Rudolf Steiner/ Waldorf schools believe:
“It may happen that the astral body is attracted to a mother but that the ego is not attracted to the corresponding father; in such a case the wandering continues until suitable parents are found. ... The individuality who is approaching incarnation, seeks out through his unconscious forces the parents who are to provide the physical body.” [Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 47.]
And, mind you, we’re not talking about having an open mind, here. Waldorf teachers are in no doubt [where] Rudolf Steiner's fantasies are concerned. [They embrace those fantasies as] the truth. And all the answers are already there. Waldorf teachers are merely collecting examples to "prove" how true the Anthroposophical truths are — as all cults with a guru or prophet will do.
The following is excerpted from "Waldorf Rant — Parts 1 & 2", by Carol Wyatt
Wooden blocks, silk capes, wooden swords, beeswax candles....
I am traumatized for life.
When my ex-husband and I first visited the [X] Waldorf School, we fell in love with the campus. Lush and large with children playing outdoors. A calm and joyous environment where children climbed trees, knitted caps, and painted and crafted daily.
...After leaving a rigorous private school, it took a while for our daughter to get used to the Waldorf style. Although the feeling of happiness is all around, the teachers are strict and sometimes rude to the children. Getting used to the morning rituals and chanting. Songs about God and nature. Learning to never talk about media or pop music.
... When our second daughter was ready for elementary school, we enrolled her into kindergarten.
By this time, I had become very involved in the school. Helping with the annual Elves' Faire, the newly begun Art Festival, and any and all fundraisers
...Our youngest daughter loved hip hop music and all pop music. It was her goal in her short child life to be a diva and sing. She would play music often at home and could not resist singing and dancing. I received a call from her kindergarten teacher alerting me to the fact that parents were upset about my daughter's singing. Not only was she corrupting the other children with music, but it was pop music. The teacher told me that parents were complaining because their children were coming home singing pop songs. In addition, could we put a stop to her wearing sparkles to school? No sparkly tennis shoes, headbands, or shirts of any kind. She was 5 and 6 at the time.
When I spoke to my daughter about this, she mentioned that her teacher had talked to her about her clothing and singing already. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of my daughter's paranoia about what she could and could not do. She started to ask me everyday if what she was wearing was OK. She was afraid to sing outside of her room. Her shirts were sometimes too short and her belly would show when she played. She got in trouble for that as well. She started to check her shirts constantly to make sure they were pulled down over her belt. Luckily she had a couple of friends from preschool who did not got to Waldorf, and she could be free with them.
Finally my ex and I were called into the school for a serious meeting with our daughter's teacher, head of school, and two other teachers. They proceeded to warn us about our daughter corrupting the other children ... Instead of pop music, we should expose her to world music and live music. No radio. She was still too sparkly. Every once in a while some piece of clothing had a sequin or sparkle on it ... [T]his was a very SERIOUS concern.
Needless to say, I was confused. How could a school with so much love and happiness be so critical and judgmental? Is this what we signed up for? Was the school going to start infiltrating every aspect of our home life? We already stopped watching TV and listening to the radio in the car. We only packed nutritional, organic lunches in recyclable containers. We purchased the outrageously expensive required basket for our kindergartners' lunch (the handles broke after two months). Both my ex and I were confounded. I did not like that my daughter was being treated as a troublemaker for something so random and innocent. At 6 years old!
Because Waldorf is a private school, it does not adhere to the laws governing public schools, or any laws as we would soon discover. Parents are ruled by the school. I tried talking to the teacher and different members of the faculty only to be told to do what they ask and our child will benefit greatly. Any resistance on my part would have a negative impact on my daughter's education. So we did everything they asked. Did not question the ridiculous nature of what was asked, but went along with the herd. It was beginning to feel like a cult.
This was the beginning of the slow and painful end to my love of the Waldorf School. There would be much worse incidents to come and one terrible, traumatic experience that left me and my family traumatized for life. I can no longer stay silent.
The first time we sang a spiritual song out on the green lawn, I got a little bit spooked. But, I was in for the ride. My ex and I had researched the school and loved the spiritual side of Steiner's teachings. Although we didn't agree with some of the strange rules, we decided to invest ourselves for our children.
...What I soon realized was that anthroposophy is a religion. A religion that Steiner invented and Waldorf takes very seriously.
...I saw my first Eurythmy performance. I have tried to explain eurythmy to people who have never visited a Waldorf school. It is impossible ... It's not pretty. It isn't ballet, tap, jazz, or gymnastics. The children wear special cloth slippers and robes while performing. They gesture and move stiffly: movement from the spirit.
...When the children began painting, they were allowed one color for a week. They painted exactly what the teacher painted in exactly the same formation. Each color was introduced one by one and only one color at a time ... No deviation or individuality. No black.
...The Wishing Well was our hub. Where parents and kids gathered after school. Knitting circles gathered in the morning. Bake sales every Friday. And gossip abounded all day long. It was a happy place of comfort until I was banished from campus. Then it was dark and full of gossip. All of a sudden I was an expelled member of anthroposophy and Waldorf. Never to be spoken to again. Even by my friends.
Here's where it got crazy:
How can you have such close friends for 6 years only to be silenced by the school? How can parents allow a school to have so much power over their opinions and friendships? Friends called me occasionally and asked that I tell no one they called. What kind of crazy was this?
The head of school ignored a cease and desist order I sent the school and held a meeting in my daughter's classroom to explain to the confused parents that they should not have any contact with me.
All because my daughter's teacher and her father were in a secret relationship. The teacher stopped communications with me about my daughter. Even when I initiated communication.
My ex and the teacher told the head of school that I was crazy and jealous. They did not believe that my daughter was upset.
...I could not stop my daughter's tears for months, and she still cries a few times a month, confused about what happened.
All of a sudden I was banned from campus.
...My ex refused to allow our daughter to leave the school. She went to school every day, with her teacher who chose her Dad over her. Went to her father's house who chose the teacher over his own daughter. But was stuck in class all day every day no matter how uncomfortable she was.
...The situation got much worse. The head of school, my ex, and the teacher worked together to try to take my daughters away from me in court. The head of the school concocted a letter and sent it to my ex for him to use in court. He lost in court.
...So much distrust: The school and teacher deliberately separating my children from me. The teacher not divulging information about my daughter in school, although I had full custody. The exclusion from parent/teacher meetings and school events that my children were participating in.
There were quite a few broken laws.
Now that all of our children are attending public school, they are thriving. It was a blessing in disguise to get out of Waldorf. I just wish it hadn't been so traumatic. It didn't have to be!
The ex and the Waldorf teacher are getting married next year.
Here is an excerpt from
My lawyer: "In the name 'Steiner-Waldorf' education, we find the name of Rudolf Steiner. One may imagine that there is a link between Anthroposophy and Steiner-Waldorf education, since they are derived from the same person. Is this not so? But do you inform parents that Anthroposophy is behind this education? Do you tell them, for example, during visiting days?"
Mrs X: "No, it is for the parents to learn."
My lawyer: "But where can they learn this? On the website of the [Steiner-Waldorf] Federation? I went there and I saw no mention of Anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner!"
Mrs X: "Well, they are adults, they just need to look harder!"
Here are excerpts from a message posted by a mother in 2012,
after she withdrew her daughter from a Waldorf school
My criticism [of the school my daughter attended] has more to do with pedagogical issues, such as having children copy from the board rather than putting voice to their own ideas on paper....
I misunderstood the whole Steiner thing, thinking it was ONE of their resources ... [But all] knowledge garnered post-Steiner, from brain research studies, from Piaget, from Gardner, are all swept aside!
...The idea that the great outdoors is for every child, every day unless conditions are unsafe (i.e., tree branches flying through the air) led to some really risky playground situations. The playground supervisors would send the children out in pouring rain...and themselves huddle under a sheltered area where they could not see the children. One child went to the hospital when another child slammed a brick down on his hand. I myself showed up early to take my child out early for the dentist, and a brick sailed right by my head, missing me by inches! The supervisors, AFTER I complained, told the boy, "NO throwing bricks." They did not move him away from the area. The bricks were finally covered after I made a fuss, but many parents thought they were acceptable because the children "like to build with them".
...[And] oh goodness, the restrictions! ... What I objected to was the extremity with which the school regulated what my child could have in her lunch box, and what she could wear. Can you believe that although she was clad in cotton tights and dress (allergic to the wool they preach so fervently), I was told that if I sent her to school wearing a fleece sweater...she would be sent home. This is because fleece is dead. I swear this happened.
I always sent a vegetable, a fruit, a protein source, and some carbohydrate such as wheat crackers in my child's lunch. If I made homemade cookies...that was fine. They were "wholesome". If I made a special trip to the bakery to get cookies that LOOKED homemade, they were "wholesome". If I sent packaged oatmeal cookies, I got a phone call. PLEASE do not do this again! We had to take them from her!
In our public schools, if there are hot stand-up radiators for heat, they are enclosed. Though our daughter's first grade classroom had been beautifully redone so that the walls were rounded, the desks handmade, the floors polished, there was a hot radiator exposed. The little first graders were asked not to touch it. One day something of my child's rolled behind it; she tried to retrieve it, and came home with a blistered hand (not medicated or treated in any way; she had been afraid to admit she had touched the radiator!). When I complained, I was told she should not have broken the rule! Since Waldorf Schools are private, the authorities can do nothing unless you can prove child abuse. I asked if the radiator could be enclosed, and I was told yes, if we would buy the enclosure, and if it were aesthetically in keeping with the room's decor. We shelled out a considerable (to us) amount for a lovely white cast iron grill to surround the radiator. The next year, she went to second grade, in a room with another exposed radiator.
* Note: The writer identifies herself as an atheist and a Marxist.
Some readers will disregard her testimony as a result.
But bear in mind that many other parents,
holding very different religious and political views,
have made similar reports about Waldorf schools.
For more personal reports by
parents who sent children to Waldorf schools,
and by former Waldorf students,
and by former Waldorf board members,
and by former Waldorf teachers, etc.,
The thinking behind Waldorf schools may seem attractive; the question is whether it is realistic. Here is an apparently innocuous example about blades of grass. Steiner claimed that everything on Earth is subject to occult powers that come from the other planets, the stars, and the etheric universe in general. ("Ether" is a substance that theoretically fills the entire universe. Science accepted this concept in the 19th century but later rejected it. Steiner clung to it, modifying it somewhat to suit his own vision.) A blade of grass, for instance, is not pushed upward by forces coming from within the Earth; it is pulled upward by forces coming through the ether. “A stalk of grass is...a tower ... It can be rocked by the wind and does not break in two ... [T]here are no forces on earth that would allow us to build such a thing using the materials of the earth ... [A] stalk does not grow by resting on what is below ... The stalk is drawn out into cosmic space. So if you visualize the earth, and these are the stalks, they are pulled in all directions into cosmic space, for there everything is filled with a more subtle form of matter which is called the 'ether' and which lives in the plant. But this life does not come from the earth; it comes from cosmic space. And so we are able to say: 'Life comes from cosmic space.'" — Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 3. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 4.]
Life on Earth certainly depends on forces from outside the Earth — predominantly, light from the Sun. But life certainly is not affected by the ether, which does not exist. Steiner's entire body of doctrines is woven from concepts that are unreal and untrue, just as his thinking is marred by obvious illogic. Here, he makes a gigantic leap from unsupported claims about blades of grass to an enormous conclusion about the origin of life. His conclusion (life comes from cosmic space) may or may not be true, but Steiner does not show it to be true. Rather, proceeding as usual, he uses misinformation to "support" his occult doctrines. This is the sort of thinking admired and promoted by Waldorf schools — it entails astrology, clairvoyance, reincarnation, polytheism, racial hierarchies, magic, and other assorted concepts that should give us pause.
Let's look a little further into the thinking behind Waldorf schools. According to Steiner, we recently lived on the Moon — or, more precisely, we evolved through the "Old Moon" phase of cosmic development. Now we’re on Earth, as we probably can all agree. Next we will proceed to the Future Jupiter stage of evolution, and then we’ll move along to Future Venus. Any faithful follower of Steiner — such as a typical Waldorf school teacher — believes these things. “As the residue of the ancient Moon evolution we have our present moon that circles the earth. Similarly, there will be a residue of the earth that will circle Jupiter. Then these residues will gradually dissolve into the universal ether. On Venus there will no longer be any residue. Venus will manifest, to begin with, as pure warmth, then it will become light, and then it will pass over into the spiritual world. The residue left behind by the earth will be like a corpse. This is a path along which man must not accompany the earth, however, because he would thereby be exposed to dreadful torments. There are, however, many beings who will accompany this corpse, since they themselves will by that means develop to a higher stage.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE REAPPEARANCE OF CHRIST IN THE ETHERIC (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), lecture 9, Q&A period, GA 130. [R.R. sketch, 2010. Perhaps a little residue remains in my image.]
This is a reasonably accurate simulation of the distinctive style of
artwork often produced and admired by Anthroposophists,
including teachers at Steiner or Waldorf schools.
The mural on the ceiling of the Goetheanum —
the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters —
includes painterly effects of this sort.
The implicit message in all this artwork is the
immanence of an occult universe beyond the reach
of our senses and brains.
When they can afford to do so, Anthroposophists erect structures embodying the architectural style developed by Rudolf Steiner. The forms of such buildings are meant to be organic and also spiritually alive. Here is the Duldeck House, 1914. Waldorf schools are sometimes designed to be, in whole or in part, consistent with this style. Expense can be prohibitive, however: Because unconventional materials and forms are used, such buildings are very labor-intensive.
[R. R. sketch, 2010, based on a photograph on p. 200 of Rudolf Steiner, ARCHITECTURE (Sophia Books, 2003.]
Public schools in America and elsewhere need improvement. Many families are unhappy with the quality of education provided at such schools. But if you seek something different, make sure that the alternate school you select offers higher academic standards, better preparation for life, and an environment that will nurture a child's real capacities. Waldorf schools are oriented to nonexistent occult realms; their academic standards are often low, and the preparation they provide for life in the real world is often deficient. Instead of being helped to fulfill their highest potentials, Waldorf students may often be hindered and misdirected. [R.R. sketch, 2010.]
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS
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.