Here are the stories of some fathers who sent their children to Waldorf schools. Of course, not all Waldorf parents have similar experiences. Some families — parents and children alike — love their Waldorf schools. Still, stories such as the ones below raise red flags of concern.
The following is excerpted from
“Why Waldorf Programs are Unsuitable for Public Funding”
by former Waldorf parent Dan Dugan.
For more, see
I enrolled my son in the San Francisco Waldorf School halfway through the sixth grade. I was very impressed with the school. I liked very much the way art is integrated into the curriculum in Waldorf ... When Roman History is studied, for example, students will draw and paint Romans, write about them, sing, dance, and act out plays about them.
One day while visiting the school, I browsed through some books by Rudolf Steiner that they had for sale. I saw some very strange things about “astral bodies" and "root races." I asked my son's teacher whether these subjects were taught in the classroom. She assured me that though the teachers studied Steiner, only Steiner's teaching methods were used in the classroom, and Steiner's philosophy wasn't taught to the children. I learned later that this is a standard disclaimer, and it is far from the truth. I should have known better, but I was so in love with the facade of the school that I looked the other way.
Over the year and a half my son was in the school, I became increasingly disturbed about three things:
1. Weird science. In a chemistry lesson, the teacher burned different substances ... No mention was made of oxidation or, for that matter, any chemistry at all. In a lesson on the physics of light, they were taught that...[w]hite light is a unity and cannot be divided into the colors of the spectrum ... I thought perhaps these mistakes were due to the ignorance of particular teachers, but when I obtained Waldorf curriculum guides, I discovered that the inadequate and erroneous science was part of the Waldorf system.
2. Racism. I was shocked to pick up a Steiner book for sale at the school and read: “If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense....” Why would a school in San Francisco in 1988 be promoting 1920s German racism?
3. Quack medicine. An "Anthroposophical physician" gave a lecture to the parents on "Anthroposophical medicine." It was classic quackery ... For example, Anthroposophical medicine doesn’t believe in germ theory, teaching instead that the real causes of infectious diseases are karmic or spiritual....
I started speaking up at meetings and lectures about these problems. I requested a meeting with the College of Teachers, the committee of senior teachers that ran the school. They were "too busy." Instead, a committee of three teachers was delegated to give me an ultimatum: "You don't have to believe what we believe, but if you are going to talk about your disagreements with the other parents, you will have to leave." We left.
It was all a very strange experience for me, and I decided to express my concerns to the other parents at the school by writing a couple of articles and distributing them to the school address list. I wanted to be sure of what I was talking about, so I bought some Steiner books, did research in the library, and attended more Anthroposophical lectures.
...Waldorf education started to move into public schools. A Waldorf school opened in the public school system in Milwaukee in 1991. Soon after, the charter school movement started up, and Waldorf charters started opening. My studies took on urgency. I felt obligated to use what I knew to oppose the use of public funds for this religious system....
Then the Internet appeared and changed everything. I was kicked out of the official Waldorf discussion list for being critical and bringing up embarrassing topics. Not one to be silenced, I started an alternative list called Waldorf-Critics.
Here is an extended excerpt from
"Question: Who Was Rudolf Steiner? Answer: Who Is Asking?"
by former Waldorf parent Steve Walden.
[To see the entire piece, go to
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?
The Internet is a marvelous tool. Many years ago while surfing the Net for information on Waldorf something bothered me. The wealth of information available was staggering and one could easily spend a lifetime studying. Always, however, as I made my way down the Internet alleyways of Steiner and Waldorf, acutely aware of the problems and miscommunication between parents and schools (our own school included), something was itching the back of my mind. During my many months of research families continued to leave our school and I saw the same pattern continue with families leaving other Waldorf schools. Why? Why would parents enroll their children in a school, full of excitement and good will, spend so much time and money for the school — only to leave upset? Many families . . . many schools. More research.
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."
I decided to look at Waldorf School web sites. I had previously looked at a few sites (at one point we had considered moving to another Waldorf School). This time, however, my goal was to simply see what the schools themselves said about Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the movement. I imagined myself as a prospective new Waldorf parent looking at each school's site and what I might glean from information therein. Parents would want to know about the founder of the movement and could find this information here. Many Waldorf schools have web sites. If these schools are like our local Waldorf school their web sites are similar to their pamphlets and other promotional material. By perusing various school sites I should have an accurate picture of Steiner, his pedagogy and his connection to those schools. I looked at school web sites in the USA to find each school's description of Rudolf Steiner. I started with schools beginning with "A" and thought I might go until the "P's" before I found a pattern. I was wrong. I stopped at "D." Eleven Waldorf schools. The pattern was crystal clear.
While many schools use slightly different words to describe the pedagogy the message is always similar. According to the school web sites Waldorf is basically an arts based, nonsectarian education attempting to nurture the child in a gentle atmosphere. And who, according to these Waldorf schools, was Rudolf Steiner?
Incredibly, at each school web site there was no mention of Rudolf Steiner's connection or belief in Occultism, reincarnation, karma or soul work. In short virtually everything Steiner believed in and worked from and towards with regards to Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education — the essence of the man — is missing from these sites. Instead, from the sum of eleven Waldorf School web sites, we are told that Rudolf Steiner was a — teacher (mentioned 1 time), an architect (1), thinker (1), scholar (1), educator (5), artist (6) and a scientist (7).
This misrepresentation of Rudolf Steiner and his work seems to be at the root of the Waldorf communication problem. We find a much more accurate portrait of Rudolf Steiner at other sites on the Internet. Only a few Anthroposophy sites are needed to find a completely different description of the same man.
...Unfortunately, the facade of Waldorf Education is very appealing to parents and until recently very few people have demanded accountability.
How can Rudolf Steiner be described as an educator, a philosopher, an artist and a scientist by the Waldorf movement when the truth is he was clearly a turn of the century occultist? Anthroposophists know all about Steiner while new Waldorf parents had better do more than believe the public relations. At this point in time it is a case of buyer beware.
The following is from a letter written by
former Waldorf parent Pete Karaiskos
addressed to the governing body at the
Waldorf school attended by his children.
For more, see
Dear Highland Hall College of Teachers,
I am in receipt of your letter dated June 24, 2005 (I assume you meant 2004). Your indictment of me begins with the statement "The College of Highland Hall Waldorf School has decided that the school cannot re-enroll [my daughter] for the 2004-2005 school year. This decision was made not because of [my daughter]'s behavior, but because of your behavior toward the class teacher and the school as a whole. The College sees that the class needs a space to heal after the past difficult year."
First, let me make it clear that I am proud of my behavior and of my integrity. Many parents and former parents have written and called me to thank me for my part in exposing the class teacher and for taking the heat from the school. One former parent expressed that only now that the teacher is no longer at Highland Hall, her child has felt the necessary closure required for healing.
...Your letter further states "You have repeatedly sent blind emails to community members making negative statements about the former class teacher, the Evaluation Committee, and members of the administration, in direct conflict with our communication protocol."
I pointed out the truth. The truth reflected negatively on the class teacher, the Evaluation Committee and the members of the administration — this is their fault, not mine. They are responsible for what happened. With regard to blind emails, I communicated in blind emails for the reason that not everyone I emailed to has given me permission to share their email address so I could not make those addresses public ... The emails went everywhere and that's the nature of email. People understand this and still I received messages from only four people asking to be taken off the email list during this entire process.
...Let's be clear about the communication protocol. It is a directive by the school — not a contract between the school and parents that requires parents to suspend their first amendment freedoms. In fact, parents are absolutely entitled to communicate concerns with other parents, other teachers, relatives, prospective parents, God, their dog, in whatever way they choose — whether in person, by phone, by email or by telepathy. Highland Hall has no right to (or expectation that they can) suspend basic human communication. I never agreed to this protocol, nor do I agree to the tenets contained within it. While perhaps not originally intended as such, it is being used to isolate parents so that parents who have a complaint are frustrated or otherwise coerced into silence. Many parents could have the same complaint about a teacher but if they are to follow this protocol each thinks they are the only ones complaining. This is wrong, unhealthy and immoral. The communication protocol is a way for Highland Hall to control information and is another obvious and shameful action on the part of the school.
...You further declare "Your recent blind copy email, inviting people to a website where you have made a number of negative comments about Highland Hall and specific individuals in the community, is an example of your behavior."
Yes, it is an example of my behavior that I am proud of. My efforts to open a place for free dialog among the Highland Hall community are much more honest and noble than what anyone at Highland Hall has done. Highland Hall has had a web site for years and despite repeated requests has never offered a forum for open communications among parents.
...Regarding "negative" comments, my comments aren't negative, the atmosphere at Highland Hall is negative and my comments describe and reflect this. No specific individuals were mentioned in my posts but as with any close community, most of us in the community have a good idea of who the players are. When I related my response to a private email, I was careful to remove references to individuals. It is curious that not a single parent has posted a positive comment about Highland Hall. For that matter, no teacher, board member, college member or administrator has made the slightest effort to challenge anything that I have said. That's because I always speak the truth.
...You state "You have also refused to meet with the group designated by the College to speak with your about your concerns and activities." I had to make a phone call to Highland Hall to find out what meeting this refers to. I am told it refers to one that was scheduled several months ago that I declined to attend after two other parents attended a similar meeting and were ambushed and humiliated by the "group". You expect me to welcome this sort of exchange? Your own actions have made this impossible.
You close with "Our decision only applies to [my daughter] and next year's sixth grade class. It does not apply to your other children at Highland Hall as long as you follow the guidelines of our communications protocol."
Why, I wonder does this only apply to [my daughter]? Why don't my public criticisms about Highland Hall affect the status of my other children? Could it be that [my daughter] has already decided not to return to Highland Hall next year?
...I had a lot of concern when I realized I would have to tell [my daughter] about your cruel and unnecessarily hurtful letter. I let her read it herself. When she was finished — she cheered and asked me if she could call her friends and tell them the good news! She is excited about leaving Highland Hall and the mind control and humiliation that comes with it.
...I understand why you don't like me rocking the boat. Clearly, this is not the boat I would have chosen if I knew at the beginning of this journey where this boat was headed.
This is from
“We Don't Need No Steiner Education”
by Cassandra Jardine, Education section,
The Daily Telegraph, 10-08-1997, pp 22.
For more, see
When David Gilmour, leader of the rock band Pink Floyd, turned to the education page of The Daily Telegraph last Wednesday, he was dismayed to read that the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship is hoping to secure state support.
"When I think of the horrific experience I had, struggling with my children's school, I felt I had to say something," he declared.
His four children from his first marriage attended Michael Hall in East Sussex, one of 26 Steiner schools in Britain. "I wanted them to have a less pressurised education than I had," he says. But he became disillusioned by the Steiner approach; two years ago, he sent his children to conventional schools.
Gilmour is not an outspoken man. But his children's education, he feels, went so badly wrong that he wanted to make his views public.
...Gilmour was brought up in Cambridge, where his father was a senior lecturer in zoology. He was sent to the Perse — "It was a very disciplined school which I didn't enjoy"....
He wanted his own children to have a more enjoyable experience, so when he and his wife separated, he fell in with her wishes and sent his children to Michael Hall. "But it soon became apparent that my children were neither happy nor learning.”
Several aspects of the Steiner system alarmed him. "Steiner believes that six to seven is the age at which to start teaching reading and writing. My son, Matthew, was frustrated by not being able to write his name at seven. When he left, aged nine, he could only just read."
Another central plank of the philosophy is that, between the ages of eight and 14, children should remain with the same teacher for the main lesson every morning. This is designed to promote continuity and works well if child and teacher get on. If not, Gilmour says, "it can be torture".
"The school had its good aspects, but overall, the system seemed slack. I found the children's knowledge was very patchy, and their school reports, which consisted only of praise, gave me little idea of how they were really doing."
...So concerned did he become that he took his children to be assessed by educational psychologists. The results shocked him. Matthew, when first examined in 1994, was judged to have an average IQ of 101 but was considered to be "seriously disabled in terms of literacy acquisition, with his reading and spelling lying a full three years below his chronological age".
Less than two years later, Matthew was retested. The educational psychologist found him to have "flourished" outside the Steiner system; his retested IQ was now 124.
...His three daughters, too, had fallen behind. Sarah, the youngest, was 14 when she was transferred to a conventional school. Her IQ is high, but she had to be put in a class of girls a year younger than she was, and still struggled. She has now caught up with her classmates....
Clare, 18, who has dyslexia, now attends a specialist college, while Alice, 21, left Michael Hall with one A-level in art. Unqualified for a British university, she is about to start college in America.
With a very self-motivated child or one who needs intensive nurturing, Steiner can do a good job," says Peter Gilchrist, one of the psychologists Gilmour consulted ... [But] the rigidity of Rudolph Steiner's 75-year-old philosophy can be problematic. "The system believes that children should take steps only when they are ready. Steiner teachers tend to assume any problems will all come right in the end and can be reluctant to acknowledge modern solutions. I once recommended that a child who had problems with motor skills should use a keyboard, but I was told that the writing had to come from within."
Most children, he feels, thrive in a system that exerts more pressure on them.
...Gilmour's children from his second marriage will go to mainstream state schools. They won't be as tough as the one that sent him into revolt — but they will teach the three Rs from the age of five.
Here is a brief but telling message from
the Waldorf Critics discussion list.
The author is "Walden."
In his message, Walden refers to a
previous message written by "Diana."
I have added some endnotes.
Diana wrote: "One would like to think that at least reading the Akashic Record, it would be a matter of being smoothly handed revealed, infallible truths, as contrasted with all the bickering and feuding on Wikipedia.  But if you follow any anthroposophical mailing lists for a time, you'll see that the fighting is just as bloody and bitter, so between the two, I think it's a very close call.  Considering that they supposedly have an infallible, comprehensive source for their knowledge, anthroposophists are surprisingly conflicted and contentious about it all.  Steve Hale is here telling us how wonderful it is, it's all clear to him and it makes him happy in his life.  But among his fellow anthroposophists, at least online, he is a virtual pariah. In case anyone is unfamiliar with such goings-on, let me assure you that anthroposophists are far nastier to each other than their critics are to them. If they judge a fellow anthro to have read the Akashic Record 'wrong,' they will practically draw and quarter him. These infallible truths aren't all they're cracked up to be." 
And to make matters worse, Anthroposophists use this stuff while working with innocent children in their schools. It's one thing for adult anthroposophists to argue about akashic records with each other but another thing when they work this into the lives of children and their families.
Example: One of my children was treated as a melancholic for a few years by his first Waldorf teacher. After that teacher's nervous breakdown the next anthroposophist teacher told us all about our child's temperament, which, of course, was "choleric." 
"But we thought our child was a melancholic?"
Awkward silence and teacher changes subject . . .
Suggestion to teachers: How about treating our children as a individual human beings with individual needs. Play with your Ouija board at home and keep your personal religious/spiritual beliefs away from our children. 
Explanatory notes added by Roger Rawlings:
 Diana Winters, a former Waldorf parent, is a frequent participant in the discussions held at the Waldorf Critics list. In this case, she was responding to messages about the Akashic Record — a mythic celestial storehouse of knowledge. [See "Akasha".] Rudolf Steiner claimed that he could read the Record, thanks to his clairvoyance. Many of Steiner's teachings derive from this "clairvoyant research." The reference to Wikipedia stems from a joking comparison made in a previous message between the Akashic Record and Wikipedia — both being unreliable. Diana points out that in reading the Record, one presumably gains infallible truths with a minimum of difficulty or turmoil, while at Wikipedia — where everyone can "edit" everything — pitched battles erupt. Critics and defenders of Rudolf Steiner have wrestled exhaustingly over the contents of Wikipedia pages that mention Steiner.
 Diana says that even more intense squabbles tend to break out on Anthroposophical lists, where people who presumably should be allies — because they are all followers of Rudolf Steiner — fight one another bitterly because they have differing interpretations of Anthroposophical teachings, and each participant tends to think that s/he is unquestionably correct while all the others are obviously wrong. These are battles, in other words, between true believers.
 Diana says that such internal Anthroposophical battles should not occur, if indeed the Akashic Record provides "an infallible, comprehensive source for [Anthroposophists'] knowledge." If it did, Anthroposophists should all be of one mind and peace should prevail.
 Steve Hale is one of the champions of Anthroposophy who show up occasionally "here" — i.e., at the Waldorf Critics list. Hale contends that Anthroposophy has brought him clarity and happiness, and he — like others — tends to present his take on Anthroposophy as the one true take. But other Anthroposophists have different takes.
 Diana's message ends at this point, and a former Waldorf father, "Walden," offers his own thoughts.
 Waldorf teachers tend to pigeonhole students into a set of obsolete, unfounded categories — the classical temperaments: melancholic, choleric, sanguine, and phlegmatic. [See "Temperaments" and "Humouresque".] But because Anthroposophical "knowledge" is so imprecise, indeed illusory, different Waldorf teachers put the same children in different pigeonholes.
 The problem, as Walden knows, is that Waldorf teachers generally live for the very purpose of bringing their kooky ideas into the classroom (albeit they generally do this covertly). In bringing Anthroposophy into the school, they follow the lead of Rudolf Steiner, who said "We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school...." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495. Thus, following their different takes on Anthroposophy, Waldorf teachers stereotype their students rather than treating them as individuals, and — to make matters worse — the teachers disagree over which stereotype fits which child. So confusion reigns.
Here are excerpts from letters written
by Karl Haas and Maura Swanson
to the governing body — the "College of Teachers" —
at a Waldorf school:
We waited a few weeks after we received your letter, to try and compose a reasonable response. Your recent letter indicates that our son is not allowed to re-enroll and our daughter's enrollment is probational because there are unnamed people who have blamed us for doing something unspecific that somehow upset various individuals whose identities we are not allowed to know. Your letter came as a shock because up until Christine Leonard was put on a paid leave of absence, various committees consistently told us that they recognized how diligently we were following the correct communications protocol.
... Because you have given us only vague generalizations, we are unclear as to what exactly we have done wrong and can only speculate that your letter may be related to the many times Maura was wrongly accused of gossiping over the last few months.
... In late April, a Highland Hall teacher angrily asked Maura why she had spoken very negatively about the High School to a prospective parent. Karl, not Maura, actually spoke to the parent and told her the faculty is wonderful but Olivia left for social reasons.
... At the May 26th meeting, Fifth grade parents were asked what would they hope to see to prevent the current communication crisis from reoccurring. The main message Maura tried to convey, (which should be in the notes) was that there is an inordinate fear of parents talking to each other. Anyone who says even the slightest criticism, publicly or privately, no matter how constructive it may be, gets accused of being a disgruntled hysteric who lacks tact and discretion and only wants to destroy everything that is good about the school. After eleven years at Highland Hall, we continue to be grateful for those faculty and parents who embrace each problem not as if it is a judgement or a threat, but as a valuable opportunity for learning about ourselves and discovering our true purpose as a community.
... Your letter says that our communication has had "negative effects on other adults, including the former teacher..." We realize that the questions we asked were intense. When parents hear about a teacher handing out pills to control disruptive boys, difficult questions absolutely must be asked. If Christine's feelings got hurt in the process, unfortunately, it could not be avoided. In our March 25 letter, we thanked Christine for the apology she offered to the parents and we wrote, "In our struggle to protect Wesley, if we have harmed you, we also wish to sincerely apologize." The day after the April 22 meeting in which parents who were loyal to Christine shouted at the committee representatives, Maura privately apologized to a College member who had attended. He assured her the intensely volatile meeting was not a result of anything we had done.
... Your letter implies that the College is holding us to a standard that is not being applied to the parents who tried to start a boycott against attending school after Christine was removed. Have you sent any kind of warning to the parents who, at the April 22 meeting, screamed at Evaluation Committee members to stop lying? Parents hollered at us that if we didn't like the battered wife song Mrs. Leonard sang, we should leave the school. None of these parents are told that their children's enrollment will be revoked since many of them spent their Spring break organizing ways to interfere with the school's emergency plan for the class. A few of these same parents viciously gossiped about Jazmin Ferreccio's motives for teaching the class and thereby "back-stabbing Christine Leonard". Rather than jeopardizing their child's enrollment, it is astonishing that some of these same outspoken parents have been selected to help create guidelines for improving other parents' conduct.
As soon as Christine was abruptly removed from the class a climate of mistrust erupted. As much as we were relieved that you asked Christine to take a break, it was obvious to us that the request profoundly impacted everyone. There are no winners and there are no victims, including Christine Leonard. And yet, rather than the College realizing how we each played a part in this complicated decision, you are exclusively targeting us by putting our daughter's education at the mercy of how you (possibly inaccurately) may perceive our actions.
When Cathy Devries was our son's teacher, we used the exact same communications protocol that we followed this year. In Second grade, our concerns fortunately matched those of the majority of the Second grade parents. This year, we have been in the minority of many of those same parents. We are incredibly frustrated that despite our best efforts to be conscientious and fair during a brutally exhausting and confusing process, you see us as wanting to harm this community.
... We know many of you are deeply upset about the administration's sudden decision to remove our daughter from class, five days before school is over. We have heard that there will be a meeting of all concerned parents on Monday. Because we believe there are always at least two sides to every story, and we have no other way to publicly speak on our behalf, we would like to offer our take on what's happened. We absolutely have no expectation that this will change the decision. If, at the Monday meeting, you are told "It's very complicated — there are a lot of details about these parents that you don't know, but are too difficult to explain", please believe those are the same key details we don't know about either.
... From June 2003 to January 2004, we repeatedly asked for the school's help in addressing our mounting concerns with our Fifth grade son's teacher, Mrs. Leonard. After a long brutal process, we agreed with the school that our son should not stay in Mrs. Leonard's class, because there was only one other parent besides us that was willing to come forward and say that they felt she was doing inappropriate things to the children. Two days after we came to the conclusion that by Sixth grade we would find another school for our son, Mrs. Leonard decided to teach the children a song involving very graphic violence against women imagery. The College immediately put her on a paid leave of absence. The rest of the semester was filled with a lot of anguishing meetings with many of the parents crying and yelling at various members of the College, insisting Mrs. Leonard didn't deserve the way she was being treated. Ultimately, Mrs. Leonard could not resolve her issues with the College, and chose not to return. Less than a week after school ended, we got a letter from the College telling us that our son could not attend Highland Hall as punishment for our having violated their communications protocol. We were warned that if they perceived we were communicating inappropriately, our daughter would not be allowed to attend Highland Hall.
... Our family has invested in this school since 1994 — longer than many people on the board, the faculty and the administration. About three weeks ago, our daughter made a book that was all about Ms. Taylor, complete with illustrations. Ms. Taylor seemed so delighted that she showed it to many colleagues and asked to borrow it for the weekend. A month ago, we were profusely thanking Ms. Taylor for an outstanding evening presentation she gave to the parents. We felt genuinely connected to her and inspired and grateful for her many efforts, and she seemed sincerely touched by our enthusiastic response.
We simply do not know what has happened to change this relationship. We have called Ms. Taylor to ask for clarification, but have yet to have our phone call returned.
If an anonymous person can secretly accuse our family of doing something so terrible that it results in our innocent child being expelled, but we don't even know what specifically is being said, or who said it — then there is no way we can clear up any miscommunication.
... We came to this school because we believed that a Waldorf education was the best way to nurture our children. We are leaving shocked, and somewhat shattered, but still very grateful for all the wonderful friends we have met. It is profoundly sad to know our child is not entitled to properly say good-bye. She is worried that her friends will think she has done something really bad. It is hard to believe that we are not allowed to attend next week's graduation of so many children we've known since Kindergarten, nor may we participate in any future functions at a place where we spent so much energy building and contributing to the welfare of the school. What we couldn't always give in cash, we always gave in sweat equity and we got to know many wonderful people in the process. Our oldest daughter, Olivia, went from Kindergarten through Eighth grade here. Just last week, Mrs. Edwards was trying to help her find summer employment. Olivia loved attending the plays, concerts, fairs and assemblies and helped decorate for the Father-Daughter dance, even though she is not enrolled here. She has been looking forward to being in the audience when her friends and former classmates will graduate next year. Now she can't step foot on campus ever again and cannot understand how this could happen. We have never heard of a community, other than perhaps extreme fundamentalists, who would abruptly excommunicate an entire family based on unsubstantiated hearsay.
[To see these letters in their entirety, go to http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/2010_10_01_archive.html To consider whether the situation discussed in these letters is part of a larger pattern, see, e.g., "Extremity", "Scandal", "Slaps", "Ex-Teacher 2", "Ex-Teacher 5", "Ex-Teacher 6", "Ex-Teacher 7", "Report Card", and the pages listed below.]
The following is from the website
The Unorthodox Dad:
On a beautiful sunny Saturday, Tara and I took [our daughter] Theory to go see the Marin Waldorf School. We are interested in having Theory spend a few hours, maybe 2 days a week, in a classroom setting. We’d like her to have more opportunity to socialize with children her age and grow comfortable being separated from us.
We heard that Waldorf was a warm and comforting environment, nurturing children in a developmentally appropriate way that celebrates play, imagination, and the natural world. Before going, we visited the website. Awaken the Joy of Learning it states.
“We nurture students’ blossoming intellectual abilities while continuing to foster their imaginations. All subjects — mathematics, science and social studies, second languages (both Spanish and German), woodwork, and sports are taught imaginatively and artistically, so that what is learned becomes a living part of each child and builds in him or her an inspired approach to life-long learning.” What more could we want for Theory.
The school tour was pleasant. Simple natural toys in the classroom that encourage creativity and which avoid the phalates that everyone worries about.
One of the key reasons why Tara and I moved to Marin was because of the incredible public schools. Several are Blue Ribbon schools. In my mind, there is a combination of elements that makes the idea of sending my children to these schools infinitely better than sending them to a private school.
I have this fantasy of them being in a truly nurturing and invigorating scholastic environment as well as receiving a degree of socialization that would prepare them to excel in the real world.
I figured that Marin, filled with affluent and progressive folks, would have a student body that challenged our children. I also figured that the IT orientation of the Bay would also mean that there would be a certain appreciation of the geek factor.
Plus we were escaping from the competitive insanity and money-based culture in NYC portrayed in Nursery University. So we were excited to see that there were a number of alternative types of preschools. Folks raved about Waldorf schools in the area such as Marin Waldorf, the Mountain School, and the Greenwood School.
So after our tour, Tara and Theory enrolled in a transitional class together. All good, right.
The other day, Tara mentioned to me that they did a blessing each day. Thanking the Sun, etc. Here are the exact words:
Blessings on the blossoms
Blessings on the fruit
Blessings on the leaves and stems and blessings on the root
And may peace be on the earth.
I found this to be mildly disturbing. I don’t like blessings, which are in my mind parallels to prayers. They connote that you should be thankful in a morally bound way. They are not recognition that that the sun plays a role in our lives, it is “thanking the sun” for feeding us in effect — assign agency to the sun. Still, I could get past that with the argument that this is metaphorical. But then I started to poke around, and did not like what I found.
In my opinion, the single best article on Waldorf was written by Todd Oppenheimer for the Atlantic Monthly. I was particularly interested on the section Covert Spiritually, where Dan Dugan sued a public school district for incorporating Waldorf philosophies into the school. Dugan created an organization, People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, to create a secular curriculum.
Waldorf’s roots are steeped in the teaching of Rudolph Steiner, a Christian-based mystic who believed in reincarnation, clairvoyance, Atlantis, and forest gnomes. And I am not being metaphorical here. His belief system, known as Anthroposophy, is not some vestige of the path. It is not part of the curriculum yet it is the heart of the Steiner pedagogy and epistemology. The ideas leech to the students because it is the world view of the teachers.
This all came to a surprise to me because nothing of this philosophy was mentioned at the parent tour. Indeed, the school was distinctly positioned as secular.
I called one of the schools and asked to what degree does the Anthroposophy infiltrate the curriculum? Honestly, I feel like I cannot get a straight answer other then vague reassurances that the school is not religious. I asked about the nature of the training that Waldorf teachers receive and the extent to which the mystical ideas of Steiner. Evasive answers.
Now I am getting really angry. The LAST thing I want is my child to start having magical thoughts. Even more infuriating than this was the idea that a group of people with a hidden agenda would make it their life mission to inculcate young minds with their world view, knowingly against the wishes of the parent, by keeping it under the table.
The next day, I was speaking casually about the issue to a co-worker who, as it turns out, attended a Waldorf school from K to 12. Now my coworker is a strong strategic and critical thinker and does not have any confusion about the objective material world and the existence of gnomes. But she did confirm my worst fears. The teachings of Anthroposophy are core to the curriculum in any Waldorf school. The teachers do believe, literally. Even worse, she described how the schools discourage any kind of dissent and promote conformist thinking in line with Anthroposophy. A quite comfortable straight jacket for the mind. I am not interested in thrusting academics on my child at early age but the Steiner beliefs about the correct age for reading are not grounded in child developmental psychology – they are based on some personal intuition, as the refusal to allow anything but crayons for drawing before the first grade or the refusal to allow the use of black-colored crayons.
The more I looked around the more I found. Articles by former Waldorf students warning parents. Articles by secular parents. Strings on the Berkeley Parents Network
I checked out the curriculum that Waldorf Teachers learn at the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training .
I went back and looked at the school websites. Suddenly I realize that what I took for innocuous dolls I now see forest gnomes i was warned about.
On one discussion board, an anxious parent asks, what role do gnomes play and do Waldorf teachers really believe in their existence. Here was an adherent’s response:
“I don’t devote any energy to defining myself by what I do or don’t 'believe' in. It’s just not in my nature, a kind of 'I don’t get it' thing. What’s the big deal? Do I believe in gnomes? Ghosts? Visitors from other planets? WHY should I believe in them or not do so? What difference does it make? So I don’t either way.”
These are the kinds of double-talk that makes me so suspicious.
Re-reading the website, I now understand the quotes below with new eyes:
“The kindergarten is based on three fundamentals; goodness, truth and beauty. My job is to recognize and honor these qualities in each child so that they can come into the world and express themselves in a healthy way. Johanna Rader, Kindergarten”
“A human being is so much more than the knowledge contained within. A human being is composed of thoughts, feelings, deeds, spirit and soul, and what we do at Marin Waldorf speaks to all of those things. Adam Bashears, 4th grade teacher”
What really kills me is the effort that these schools go to at downplaying their true beliefs and intentions to incoming parents. It is so deceitful and undermining of a parents authority. How dare they decide what is best for my child.
So Waldorf is ultimately out. The question is, can Theory benefit with the immediate experience? I am more comfortable where Tara is supervising but I don’t think I could allow Theory to be there alone.
Is it so much to ask for a school that is totally secular? That nurtures children? Stresses use of creative thinking and the imagination? Builds confidence and basic social skills? That fosters an appreciation for the natural world. That encouraged individuality and critical thinking?
What would the closest thing be to a truly secular version of Waldorf? I would guess that Emmilio Reggio would be the pedagogical orientation that is most in line with our belief that developmentally, kids should be building confidence and exercising their imaginations and reasoning skills, not “learning” anything in particular.
Unfortunately, there are few Reggio schools in the area. One is a true Italian immersion school. I have nothing against Italian but it is certainly not most important to me. The second, Stretch the Imagination, we also like. Theory has taken classes there which I have attended. But it is lacking in that nature surrounding the property is limited. I love how there is a garden at the Waldorf schools and how kids are out in nature everyday.
Another alternative seems to be the Fire Engine School, which we will be checking out soon.
What’s clear is this – parents are hungry for the same thing, a nurturing low-pressure space for their children to grow intellectually, creatively, socially, and physically. Not sure why that is so hard to find.
The following note from someone
describing himself (herself?)
as a former Waldorf student appears
after the report you just read:
Not only did I attend Waldorf for the entirety of my pre-university years, but I am also the offspring of two individuals who both hold advanced degrees in education, and who in many ways built and subsequently shattered their own relationship based the teachings of R. Steiner. While I am far from an authority on the matter (and who I am today is more defined by the imprints of an unforgivably tumultuous upbringing) Waldorf is inextricably intertwined with my life. My years of exposure have afforded me an insiders glimpse into their eccentric universe and an opportunity to examine it from multiple angles.
At it’s best Waldorf provides a nurturing, warm, and imaginatively rich environment that cultivates lifelong curiosity. It pushes boundaries and establishes a world view that is both open and experimental. It teaches to the whole individual – balancing the development of left and right-brain capabilities. It encourages students to explore. To collaborate. To create. To be limitless in their pursuits. Pay a visit to any Waldorf website and you will quickly see the rather impressive litany of subjects a child will study. During my years at Waldorf, the required curriculum wove seamlessly between dance and bio-chemistry, from Latin to metal-smithing. It truly can be a veritable feast for anyone who enjoys intellectual stimulation.
Waldorf does in-fact claim to be non–secretrian, but it undoubtedly has an almost paganistic tie to nature and an unabashed belief in existence of spiritual creatures and forest dwellers. The links to Christine doctrine (from the Advent Circle, to the celebration of Michaelmas) are iron clad. In the grand-scheme of things, this is the most innocuous part of Waldorf. Even as a staunch atheist I can appreciate the role of ritual and the occasional flight of fancy.
When you dig deeper is where things starts to get ugly: The waldorfian desire to support each child and help them “fulfill their own destiny” is how they justify their refusal to break from established guidelines for academic, emotional, and physical growth. The pedagogy puts blinders on. It does not teach to a child’s individual aptitude and development, but instead follows a rigid system of pre-defined points. Moments when a child’s “sprit” is ready to be grounded by certain knowledge-types. From the second a child enters the system, until the moment they leave, everything within the curriculum is bounded by these rules. This is less of an issue once an individual has reached a stage when they are capable of making their own choices, but it can put hurdles in place that make it unnecessarily challenging for a product of waldorf to assimilate. It also flies in the face of allowing a child to progress at a pace that is innate to them as an individual. Yes, block crayons eventually evolve to stick crayons…to colored pencil… to quill… to fountain pen. But so to are there restrictions on when and how a child learns everything from the alphabet, to reading, writing, and math.
What I find truly unforgivable is the indisputable fact that those who sink into the depths of waldorfianism and the teachings of anthroposophy are utterly incapable of engaging in the “real” world. A few schools even embrace this: claiming that it is a misnomer to assume making a child fit into society is a worthy pursuit. I have witnessed these people become so sucked-in that they cannot distinguish the world as Steiner proposes it from the world as it actually exists. They choose to dwell in the land of the ethereal – to navigate life purely trough the theoretical. They entirely lack the ability to act. To actually do anything to proactively alter their trajectory in this world is practically unfathomable. Perhaps the greatest sin of Waldorf is that many of these deep-rooted individuals end up as teachers – people for whom Waldorf is not just an educational system, but a way of life. Some of them are brilliant thinkers, but they can’t help but impart their world view onto the children they teach. A serious hindrance to any child (or parent) who has a desire to excel.
At the end of the day I believe it is up to the individual and the parent to make use of the tools provided to them by any pedagogical system. But, if you choose Waldorf, go in with your eyes wide open: be cognizant of what it offers and guard yourself against its shortfalls.
The following is from the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
I'm unsure of the gender of the author.
"The Waldorf school in Sarasota [Florida, USA] was quick to take my money but left my kid unprepared academically and unable to fit in to any other school in the area.
"My kid's self esteem was damaged at the next school because he was so far behind academically. The Sarasota Waldorf school was no help at all.
"My only option was to hire a tutor which was very expensive because the new school was so concerned at how far behind he was.
"After making some calls, I found that there are other families who have had the same experience with this school and are very unhappy too. It is important to know what you are getting into when you enroll with this crowd." [10-15-2011 http://www.ripoffreport.com/private-schools/sarasota-waldorf-sch/sarasota-waldorf-school-took-ed381.htm]
Some people sing Waldorf's praises. You may want to listen to them. You may also want to consider reports from parents who have a different perspective. [See, e.g., "Moms", "Pops", and "Our Experience".]
[R. R., 2011.]
For reports from other former Waldorf parents, see, e.g.,
To look at discussions held by parents — especially mothers —
who sent their children to Waldorf schools, or who chose not to,
or who are considering doing so now, see
For other cautionary tales and words of advice,
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch,
use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊