How Waldorfs Work, 

Or Don't

by Roger Rawlings

This page begins with introductory material 
originally written for use elsewhere.
If you come upon material you have read before,
please just skip ahead. 

Afterword by Peter Staudenmaier

Excerpt from "A Pedagogy for Aryans" by Peter Bierl

Book Review by Dan Dugan 

Undoubtedly some Waldorf schools are better than others — by which I mainly mean, some cut themselves loose from Rudolf Steiner's directives more than others do. So, some may provide a more nearly genuine education than others do. 

Steiner's educational goals have precious little to do with real education. Steiner derided the work of "historians, sociologists, economists..." or, in general, "so-called educated people in the universities." [1] He similarly dismissed "scientific trash." [2] He was quite prepared to graduate students who were academically unprepared for further, higher education. He said "The question of final examinations [needed for enrollment in college] 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, that it is a private decision of the student whether to take the final examination or not." [3]

The failure of many Waldorf schools to provide a sound scientific education means Waldorf students are denied a true understanding of the world and cosmos. [4] At my Waldorf school, we read such books as SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW, which aims to debunk science, and a cryptozoological text, ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS, which argues that fabulous beasts of various kinds really exist, although scientists are (of course) too dense to realize it. [5] Our science teachers led the way in persuading us that science is wrong. The books I've mentioned were promoted by these "science" teachers.

Conveying real knowledge about the real world was low on Rudolf Steiner's list of priorities. The lectures by Steiner preserved in SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION present Steiner's contention that students should not be required to learn too much. As the publisher puts it, "Too often a zealous attempt to impart information is substituted for the development of human faculties in modern education. This can lead to overexertion of memory and inner exhaustion of the student...." [6] Too zealous an approach to anything is wrong. We should not "overextend" students' mental capacities, but we shouldn't underextend them, either. Waldorf schools tend to err in the second way, creating an environment ins which "imparting information" is minimized.

Steiner denied that real knowledge is acquired through the use of the brain. "[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition...." [7] Steiner advocated use of "exact clairvoyance" [8] — an oxymoron since there cannot be an exact form of a nonexistent faculty. According to Steiner, only thoroughgoing materialists think with their brains. Such people are essentially biological robots, and the results of their thinking is corrupted, he said. [9]

"Actual cognition," according to Steiner, comes through clairvoyance, which is seated in "organs of clairvoyance": "[J]ust as natural forces build out of living matter the eyes and ears of the physical body, so will organs of clairvoyance build themselves...." [10] At Waldorf schools, imagination, inspiration, and intuition are emphasized, because these are precursors to — or stages of — clairvoyance. "In the picture of the descent of world evolution down to man you have that scale which human beings have to reascend, from Imagination through Inspiration to Intuition. In the poem transformed into eurythmy you have Imagination; in recitation and declamation you have Inspiration as a picture; in the entirely inward experience of the poem, in which there is no need to open your mouth because your experience is totally inward and you are utterly identified with it and have become one with it, in this you have Intuition." [11]

This is what Waldorf schooling is about, when Steiner's intentions are followed. Minimal use of the brain. Minimal memorization. Minimal imparting of information. Emphasis on subjective fantasization: imagination, inspiration, intuition: clairvoyance.

Some advocates of Waldorf education claim that Waldorf schools base their work on Anthroposophical principles, but they do not actually teach Anthroposophy to the students. This is, often, untrue. Waldorf teachers tend to consider themselves spiritual missionaries, seeking to guide children toward the true faith, Anthroposophy (albeit they term Anthroposophy a science rather than a faith). Waldorf teachers rarely spell out Anthroposophical doctrines in so many words for their students, but they contrive to convey the essence of Anthroposophy nonetheless. [See, e.g., "Sneaking It In".]

Steiner laid down clear standards for Waldorf faculty members. He told the teachers at the first Waldorf school, “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [12] And he said: “As far as our school is concerned, the actual spiritual life can be present only because its staff consists of anthroposophists.” [13] When kids are "educated" in an atmosphere of the “actual spiritual life” they will, of course, be influenced by it, they will internalize it, they will be indoctrinated. [See "Indoctrination".]

Here’s how Steiner summarized his intentions for Waldorf teachers: “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” [14] Waldorf teachers, "true Anthroposophists," are on a messianic mission; they open and run Anthroposophical missionary stations: Waldorf schools.

Steiner's "divine cosmic plan" concerns the future evolution of humanity. Waldorf teachers try to ensure that their students are on the "right" path for future human evolution. They can achieve their purpose only if the students internalize Steiner's doctrines (whether or not the students can verbalize the doctrines — there would little point in that, however, since verbalization is controlled by that organ of incorrect cognition, the brain). “We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds.... Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work.” [15]

In short, the schools teach Anthroposophy. Often this instruction is indirect and subtle; often it is difficult for casual observers to detect. But it is central to the schools' intentions. Waldorf schools don't just follow an Anthroposophical methodology, they teach the gist of Anthroposophy. As Steiner said to Waldorf teachers, “You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth ... Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” [16] Steiner was clearly saying that the subject matter studied will contain Anthroposophical concepts: these will be included in "the material itself."

The ways Waldorfs schools convey — and withhold — knowledge deserve scrutiny. Memory is obviously crucial for learning. Steiner quite sensibly said that students should not use their memories too little. But he also insisted that students should not use their memories too much. This is more problematic. If a school follows this advice too aggressively — if it defines "too much" as "very much" or "much at all" — it would limit how much the children learn. (Deciding how much memorization is "too much" is a tricky issue. How often have you met children or, for that matter, adults who had too much information stored in their minds? People are much more often hobbled by knowing too little, not too much. I suspect we can all agree that education should be much more than mere memorization; it should be lively and stimulating, not dull and dry. But surely imparting information — and, for the kids, memorizing information — should be a large part of the package.)

Steiner placed special emphasis on limiting the use of memory during crucial early grades. And he did this on the professed basis of a quack medical opinion: “With regard to a child’s memory, the right thing for teachers to do is to ask neither too much nor too little of it. If teachers lack pedagogical sensitivity, however, and demand too much of the children’s memory between the ages of seven and ten, the excessive remembering that is artificially cultivated in the children’s souls will be played out in later life in the form of all sorts of physical illnesses.” [17]

This is a preposterous doctrine, and potentially a very damaging one. A child who falls far behind academically during grades 1-4 may have a terribly hard time trying to catch up later. Yet Steiner recommends retarding the academic progress of all children in these grades at Waldorf schools.

Learning factual information is de-emphasized — knowledge is withheld — all the way through the Waldorf curriculum, not just in the early grades. At the first Waldorf School, the students themselves became worried about this. On April 28, 1922, a teacher said the following to Steiner during a faculty meeting: “The question has arisen as to whether the Waldorf School provides enough factual material. The students in the ninth grade made a comparison [between themselves and their peers at other schools] and saw that they do not know enough.” [18]

At the same meeting, a teacher also said: “In many of the subjects, the children do not learn enough to enter the eleventh grade. Many ninth graders are still at the very beginning in English.”  [19] (The students were predominantly German, so English was, for them, a foreign language.)

Steiner made various recommendations, and he asserted “The problem is resolved.” [20] I myself have argued that a Waldorf school could have high academic standards if it tried hard enough (although this probably would entail junking some of Steiner’s educational directives). [21] But despite Steiner’s claim, the problem was not resolved at the first Waldorf school, at least not during Steiner's lifetime. When the senior students took a state-mandated exam, the results were distinctly poor. Steiner himself said: “We should have no illusions: The results gave a very unfavorable impression of our school to people outside. We succeeded in bringing only five of the nine students who took the test through, and they just barely succeeded.” [22]

I can attest that the Waldorf school I attended provided a poor education. While a student there, I also attended confirmation classes at a Lutheran church, where I had what amounted to my only contacts with students outside Waldorf. I was frequently struck by the greater academic knowledge the public school kids possessed. One day, one of the girls asked me a question about trigonometry — she assumed that, like any other kids our age, I would know something about this subject. But in fact I knew nothing at all about it. The same thing cropped up during our discussions of history, literature, and other subjects.

When I went on to college, I effectively needed remedial work in many subjects. I dropped out of the first university I attended, partly for this reason. Later, by cramming, I managed to pull myself up to something like academic equivalency with my peers, but it was tough. At the second university I attended, the professor started a course in Shakespeare's works by having all the students write answers to ten or so basic questions about the Elizabethan age, English literature, Shakespeare, and so on. He wanted to see where we all stood, so he could adjust the course accordingly. After reading our answers, he took me aside and recommended that I drop the course — he found me wholly unprepared.

Perhaps I'm just stupid. Or perhaps, as I contend, my Waldorf school gave me a very bad education. Please bear in mind, I was a superior student at Waldorf, I was exempted from some courses because I was so far ahead, and I was a class speaker on graduation day. By Waldorf's very low standards, I was an academic star. By the real standards of the real world, however, I was an ignoramus.

— Roger Rawlings


Some Waldorf schools do not issue report cards, but some do. The Waldorf school I attended did. Looking back over my old reports raises questions. I got mediocre grades for several years, then toward the end of my schooling I started to get much higher grades in most, if not all, subjects. Whether these grades accurately reflected how well and how much I learned is unclear. I got high grades in some subjects about which later, in college, I learned that I was deeply ignorant. Similar problems occur in the grades and reports issued at other schools, of course. But at Waldorf, the basic disconnection from reality — i.e., the school's devotion to a mystical vision — cropped up in many ways, apparently including in our report cards. Whatever our teachers were assessing, it did not seem to be primarily how much or how well we mastered the subjects we "studied."

In fact, our teachers took spiritual matters into account when awarding grades, and sometimes these matters were paramount. 

The following is from a newspaper account of a scandal that erupted at out school. [See "The Waldorf Scandal".] A former Waldorf student, Richard Walton, claimed to be clairvoyant; he said his psychic powers put him in touch with "certain beings in the spiritual world." Various teachers at the school believed him, and they began using him as a spiritual guide.

Walton's spiritual promise evidently became evident while he was still a Waldorf student. A poor student by ordinary standards, Walton had been rewarded with superior grades at Waldorf.

"Richard Walton enrolled at Waldorf School about eight years ago as an 11th-grader. At his public high school...he had been, by his own admission, a 'low C' student. But at Waldorf, he found his abilities appreciated, especially by the school's headmaster of 25 years, John Gardner.

"'We have noticed there are some young people in this world who are not about to get with it academically...but who do have unusual abilities,' said Gardner ... 'This is why they get more of the top grades in the class.'

"...Walton laughed apologetically and told an interviewer that he was trying to pick his words carefully ... 'I would say I have a certain spiritual perspective ... I'm able to communicate with certain beings in the spiritual world.'"
— John Hildebrand, 
"Waldorf School Head, 6 Aides Quit; 
Waldorf School is Rocked by Controversy", 
NEWSDAY (Long Island, New York), 
 Dec. 31, 1978.


The following helps put today's Waldorf schools 
in their historical context.
It is excerpted from historian Peter Staudenmaier's 
essay, "The Art of Avoiding History", 
posted by the Institute for Social Ecology

Much of the original Waldorf movement in Germany before 1945 flatly rejected, and in some cases openly ridiculed, a variety of central alternative pedagogical principles, such as: small class sizes and concomitant ample individual attention; an emphasis on the unique and changing character of each pupil as an individual; encouragement of critical skills and independent thinking; an international orientation; a focus on the self-actualizing and self-directed unfolding of each child’s individual potential; teaching that is child-centered rather than teacher-centered; democratic organization of curriculum, classroom practice, school structure, and so forth. The original Waldorf movement often defined itself against such alternative approaches to education, dismissing these approaches as un-German, spiritually unsound, and as decadent and damaging instances of “international reform pedagogy.”

According to the original Waldorf model, children are incompletely incarnated beings whose process of incarnation must be overseen by anthroposophically trained teachers. Waldorf pedagogy as established by Steiner is explicitly teacher centered, not child-centered, and the teacher is to have an expressly authoritarian role within the classroom. Children’s critical faculties are frowned upon and discouraged. Early Waldorf leaders also vehemently denounced individualism, calling it un-German and corrosive of authentic spirituality. The original Waldorf approach holds that every child is to be slotted into one of four temperaments, and that every child progresses through the same static stages of personal evolution based on Steiner’s occult theories, and that these stages and temperaments are marked by physiological characteristics, just as the level of spiritual development of every soul is marked by the ostensible racial and ethnic characteristics of the body it occupies. These doctrines and practices are central to Waldorf as it was originally conceived and implemented.

Such assumptions are, in my view, at odds not only with significant components of alternative education, but with virtually any responsible pedagogical approach. Along with authoritarian and developmentally inappropriate teaching methods, Waldorf class sizes are also a serious concern; the normal class size at the original Waldorf school in Stuttgart during Steiner’s lifetime was approximately 40 pupils, with some classes as high as 120 pupils, and in 1951 the average class size was over 50 pupils. These figures are not only sharply contrary to the basic orientation of the alternative education movement, they are significantly larger than in many other schools, public or private, both in North America and in Europe.

Waldorf’s peculiar pedagogical preoccupations sometimes extend well beyond such mundane matters, however. Consider, for example, the classical Waldorf response to left-handed children. In his conferences with the original Waldorf faculty, Steiner emphasized that left-handedness is unacceptable in Waldorf classrooms ... Steiner declared left-handedness to be a “karmic weakness” ... This [precept] is inimical to a free and holistic education, which Waldorf claims to represent....

A number of Waldorf schools today, in Germany and elsewhere, have modified several of these questionable features, and there is undoubtedly a wide spectrum of current Waldorf practices ... Some schools, at least, appear to have gone through a more or less deliberate process of deciding what to retain and what to discard from the array of traditional Waldorf precepts. Many of the features outlined above, however, are for better or worse a large part of what makes Waldorf distinctive among the various approaches to education represented today....

Similar issues arise regarding a range of other characteristic Waldorf phenomena ... For example, a number of European Waldorf schools reject soccer and sex education on anthroposophical grounds, while some North American Waldorf schools reject black crayons. Many Waldorf teacher training programs are based on the notion of Waldorf teaching as a karmic mission. German Waldorf schools currently have an extraordinarily small percentage of ‘foreign’ and non-white students, in sharp contrast to public schools in Germany today....

Perhaps the most serious concern raised by critics of Waldorf schooling today (many of them experienced Waldorf veterans) is that Waldorf schools are consistently evasive about the anthroposophical underpinnings of their pedagogy. Waldorf schools in general frequently downplay, deny, or obscure their anthroposophical origins, while providing prospective parents with uninformative and inaccurate depictions of anthroposophy ... [This] may contribute to the unusually high rates of attrition and turnover at many Waldorf schools. The spiritual and/or religious character of anthroposophical beliefs also presents difficult legal issues for some Waldorf schools that depend on or desire public funding....

An additional serious concern regarding Waldorf schooling is the possible role of anthroposophical teachings on race and ethnicity within Waldorf classrooms. On this score, there is conflicting evidence from Waldorf schools in different countries, and many Waldorf teachers and advocates appear to be simply unaware of Steiner’s racial teachings. This ignorance is at best a double-edged sword, and leaves the underlying problem unaddressed ... Moreover, in many cases defenders of Waldorf – when they address the matter at all – insist that even if such instances occur, they do not indicate any sinister intentions on the part of Waldorf teachers or Waldorf thinkers. This response displays a distressingly naïve understanding of racism. Many forms of racist belief are not intentionally sinister, but are instead embedded in high-minded, benevolent, and compassionate orientations toward the world ... This kind of racist thinking spreads more readily precisely because it is not tied to consciously sinister intentions....

...I strongly encourage those involved in Waldorf endeavors to take another look at the history of their movement and the doctrines at its core.

Paintings by Waldorf students

The following is from the Waldorf Watch "news" page.
I quote from an online posting,
then I offer a response.

Becoming a Waldorf teacher requires a willingness to learn – and so to teach – in an entirely new way.... To become a Waldorf teacher requires inner work and self-transformation ... Becoming a Waldorf teacher requires a willingness to work with colleagues on an equal footing and to take responsibility for the school as a whole ... To become a Waldorf teacher requires trust and patience: trust that the child will grow through foreseeable stages of development ... Becoming a Waldorf teacher requires an ability not only to teach through the arts but to teach artistically ... To become a Waldorf teacher requires a warm sense of humor ... To become a Waldorf teacher requires special training — first in Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy and the Arts; then in early childhood, elementary, or high school Waldorf teacher training; finally in ongoing Waldorf refresher courses. 

"Mama Seasons"

• ◊ •


That is a fairly accurate summary. Waldorf teachers are expected to commit themselves totally to their school and to the doctrines behind it.   

• The “new way” of teaching grows out of Anthroposophy, a new-age religion — the Waldorf curriculum and methods stem from the esoteric tenets of that faith.* [See, e.g., “Curriculum” and “Methods”]  

• The “inner work” required is the spiritual discipline of Anthroposophy — it is the effort to become a clairvoyant initiate. [See “The Waldorf Teacher’s Consciousness”.]  

• Most Waldorf schools are run collegially — usually a central committee called the “College of Teachers” has authority, although sometimes headmasters and other administrators exercise most of the real administrative power in the school.  

• The “foreseeable stages of development” are three stages of incarnation: The “etheric body” is thought to incarnate at age seven, the “astral body” at age fourteen, and the “ego” at age twenty-one. [See “Incarnation” and “Most Significant”.]  

• Arts and artistic teaching are central to the Waldorf approach — spirit beings (gods) are thought to enter the physical world through colors and musical tones. [See “Magical Arts”.]

• Steiner found teachers at the first Waldorf school humorless, and he urged them to change. Many Waldorf teachers today still find this a difficult directive. Anthroposophy is generally a serious business, as practiced by its adherents.  

• Waldorf teacher training is firmly rooted in Anthroposophy, and Waldorf teachers are expected to continue their study of Anthroposophy throughout their careers. As Steiner said, “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118. [See “Here’s the Answer” and “Teacher Training”.] 

* One of these tenets is that Anthroposophy is a science, not a religion, because it supposedly enables humans to have direct, objective knowledge of the spirit realm. But the religious nature of Anthroposophy is quite clear. [See, e.g., "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?" and "Steiner's 'Science'".] The key tenets of Anthroposophy can be found in such books as OCCULT SCIENCE and HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS: A Modern Path of Initiation, written by Rudolf Steiner. [See "Everything" and "Knowing the Worlds".]

Traditional image of the Norse god Baldur.
The "correct" path Steiner laid out
winds through mythologies and legends.
Norse myths are especially important in Waldorf schooling — 
see "The Gods".
[Image by Elmer Boyd Smith.]

Waldorf reading matter.
(My class was assigned THE FAILURE OF TECHNOLOGY,
and our science teachers recommended the other two books.
I dutifully read all three.)

A Pedagogy for Aryans 


By Peter Bierl 

[A]nyone who concerns himself with Waldorf pedagogy cannot overlook its obscure foundation — the occult worldview of anthroposophy, concocted by the clairvoyant Steiner out of fragments of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and contemporary European evolutionary and racial teachings. For this picture to emerge, a few lectures from Steiner’s works and some copies of the Waldorf School Association’s publication, "Art of Education" are enough. 

...[T]he children have to recite rhymes and verses with odd accentuations that make the recitations resemble mantra practices. There are no actual text books, and the children must copy the subject matter from the teacher’s blackboard writing. In 1998, the pedagogical research branch of the Waldorf Association published a brochure entitled "Literature assignments for the teachers’ work at free Waldorf schools". The booklet contains an outline of literature that "can be turned to when preparing for the teaching of the first to the eighth grades of main lesson blocks". There is not one single recommendation of a reliable non-fictional work on the Nazi period for history education; instead, the list includes predominantly anthroposophical works from the first half of the past century, some of which are filled with dubious stories of "root races" and the migrations of the "Aryans". In the recommended books we read that Italians are merry and impulsive and lie out of courtesy; the Brit, on the other hand, is unaffected and materialistic. The Arab is depicted as hardy, passionate, callous and scheming. The Asian is considered to be decadent; he is either a choleric Mongol or a phlegmatic Malay. The Japanese lives in a light wooden house with straw roof, he always smiles enigmatically, and conceals a merciless rigour beneath the surface. Africans are childish, naïve and devout, and their origins and their instincts exert strong influences upon them. And because they are like children, they must be governed by white people. The Russian is described as quick-tempered, brutal, ruthless, violent, dominant, impatient, capricious, resigned to his fate, resistant to adversity, undependable and unpunctual. 

Such nonsense rests upon the notion of "root races", inherited by Steiner from the theosophists. According to the theosophists, all of the "root races" and all of the "sub races" have their own tasks during particular epochs. The members and descendants of those "races" and peoples whose missions already belong to the past are regarded as decadent and unfit for spiritual progress. Steiner passed this verdict upon the Jews, the French, the Italians, the Chinese and the Japanese, as well as upon the Australian Aborigines and American Indians. Concepts such as "root races" or "races" are avoided, these days, by Steiner’s adherents; they prefer to speak of "cultural epochs". In anthroposophical circles, it has not yet been acknowledged that humanity cannot be divided into "races" and that human "races" exist only as figments in the minds of racists. 

..Waldorf schools present themselves as aimed at a "holistic", child-centred and age-appropriate education towards freedom. This depiction is misleading, since for anthroposophists, these words have very specific meanings that cannot be easily inferred by an outsider if he has not been initiated into Steiner’s occult teachings. Freedom means freedom for anthroposophy. Child-centred and age-appropriate refer to anthroposophical dogmas on childhood development, depending on mumbo-jumbo conceptions surrounding the number 7. 

...Critical thinking poisons children and the young, according to Steiner. No sooner than puberty, when the "astral body" is being liberated, is the teacher allowed to develop the young students’ capacity of discernment; they may then "sharpen their critical faculties". In any event, "head knowledge" and "intellectuality" are to be avoided. Repetition was Steiner’s didactic method of preference. He perceived intellectuality with suspicion: "Everything intellectual is old-fashioned volition, and the type of will manifested by old people." 

...Steiner’s conception of reincarnation and karma is considered the "foundation of all genuine education". For this reason, "Waldorf pedagogy, in its entirety and all the way to its core, is built upon a perception of the human being that holds reincarnation and karma as central facts", wrote Valentin Wember, a Waldorf pedagogue, in the journal "Art of Education" in 2004. 

...When Waldorf teachers force left-handed children to write with their right hands, their reasoning is based on the notion of bad karma. The predominant attitude of tolerance that reigns in modern public schools is not recognized in Waldorf schools. 

...A further element of Waldorf pedagogy is the ancient doctrine of human temperaments. Anthroposophists believe that every individual is characterized by one of the four temperaments, which is assumed to govern him. 

...The class teacher determines the child’s temperament, and subsequently organizes the seating arrangements: to the left in front of him, he places the phlegmatics, then the melancholics and the sanguines, and to the right he seats the cholerics. Children of the same temperament are seated together, so that they will "mirror" each other. 

...The decisive factor, when it comes to the temperament of an individual, is karma. Although most Waldorf teachers are not thought to be among the great initiates and cannot use clairvoyance, they still resort to phrenology and physiognomy. 

...Karma and reincarnation, temperaments, phrenology, numerological magic and belief in the spiritual world complete the anthroposophical conception of human nature. 

...Waldorf schools are foreigner-free enclaves, as it were, and élitist institutions where the offspring of the upper class and the academic bourgeoisie stay at a safe distance from the children of the proletariat. Waldorf pedagogy may comprise some positive aspects; no grades and no being held back, its orientation towards music and handicraft, or the block teaching. These ideas Steiner ripped off from other reform pedagogues, then infused in occult prattle. Children should be spared from such a covert religious education. [




From the Net

Here are some relevant messages 
posted on the Internet.
Be cautious about accepting them.
I substantiate my own work 
with careful documentation.
Messages like the following, more informal, 
are largely undocumented.
Still, these seem sincere, 
and they may be worth considering. 

Many parents and students who have cut their ties 

with Waldorf schools tell of the low 

academic standards at the schools. 

Here is a message from a mother who withdrew 

her children from a Waldorf:

"I live in California, but as far as I can tell, parents' complaints about poor academics at Steiner schools are fairly widespread. My children were hopelessly behind their peers when they transitioned to mainstream schools, my daughter at the age of 8 and my son at the age of 13. For example, my son had Spanish classes for seven years at his Steiner school. When he switched to a mainstream high school, he was completely out of his depth in Spanish classes. Yet the other students probably hadn't had more than a year or two of Spanish, if that. At the end of the first year of high school, he had to go to summer school for Spanish. After seven years of Steiner school Spanish classes!!!

"The headmaster told us that three other students from the same Steiner school had attended his school in the past and all of them had needed major remedial work because, as he put it, they were 'nice kids' but 'they didn't know anything.'

"It's really important for parents to get a detailed explanation of the nuts and bolts of how they teach each subject at Steiner schools. No one should settle for the Steiner slogans and the unsubstantiated claims about Steiner's 'child development' theories (nothing to do with child development as the mainstream world knows it and everything to do with supernatural hocus-pocus). If the way they teach foreign languages or math or English grammar is not the way you would want to be taught those subjects, it's probably not good for your child, either." [23]


Here's a message from someone who, 

like me, actually went to a Waldorf school:

"I left a Waldorf school (that I had always disliked) after sixth grade. When I started at my new school, in seventh grade, I turned out to be far behind my new classmates in many subjects. 

"Actually, we (or my parents) started to realize that there was something totally crazy going on with when I was in 5th or 6th grade at my Waldorf school. I was so far behind the normal level for my age in mathematics. I was probably among the best in my grade at Waldorf, but the level of accomplishment was so low... 

"My parents thought that the problem was only mathematics, but it turned out to be all subjects. We began doing extra maths after 5th grade, and then continued on. I was still not where I should've been, because lots of really simple stuff was missing, I seem to remember. My mother bought 5th and 6th grade math books, and we did all the tasks/assignments, or whatever they're called. 

"It's good that we did. Otherwise transferring to a new school would have been a disaster. What's sort of interesting is that we had a good teacher at Waldorf: She was a qualified teacher, and had worked within the public school system before. Her Waldorf training was thus only added. Most Waldorf teachers had no teaching qualifications or experience except Waldorf. But despite this exceptional teacher, the Waldorf curriculum left me far behind where I should have been. 

"After transferring from Waldorf, it became obvious that I knew very little history, very little science, very little grammar, very insufficient German and English... In Waldorf, though, my scarce knowledge of these subjects was more advanced than that of my [Waldorf] peers." [24]


A participant in the discussions at 

identifies himself as a former Waldorf teacher, 

with 15 years experience inside the Waldorf community. 

In describing Waldorf education, he attempts to present 

both the positive and negative. 

He has made several statements of interest here. 

I'll quote a few, along with some commentary by yrs trly: 

"[Waldorf] schools in general teach anthroposophy directly and indirectly, and are Christian at their core." [25] The first part of this statement — saying that Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophy to students — should be of great interest to anyone evaluating a Waldorf school. I disagree with the second part: You might look at my essay "Was He Christian?" here at Waldorf Watch. 

On another occasion, the former teacher qualified the above statement somewhat, saying: "Anthroposophy is taught indirectly at least." [26] We can take this as essentially confirming the prior statement, since if Waldorf schools do more than teaching Anthroposophy indirectly (they teach it "indirectly at least") then they must also teach it directly. 

In another message, he said "Waldorf teachers think of themselves as spiritual missionaries. The objective is Anthroposophical, and it's future-directed ... But teachers don't indoctrinate." [27] Missionaries seek to convert people to their faith. I agree with the proposition that Waldorf teachers operate in this way, covertly. I would argue that Anthroposophy is the religion for which Waldorf teachers do missionary work [see "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"] and that, in teaching Anthroposophy both directly and indirectly, Waldorf teachers do indoctrinate their students. 

The ex-teacher's primary criticism of Waldorf schools is that they often do not tell students' parents that they teach Anthroposophy: "[P]arents aren't properly informed with regards to the Anthroposophy in the curriculum." [28] In my estimation, this is a devastating truth — many parents would be greatly distressed to learn that Waldorf schools often deceive them about the schools’ intentions and methods — particularly the inclusion of Anthroposophy in the curriculum. 

In the same message, the former teacher also put his finger on the reason he would not consider teaching at a Waldorf school again: "The philosophy is too 'spiritual Third Reich' for me these days." When I asked for a clarification, he wrote: "Schools often have one master teacher who assumes the role of Adolf — the dictatorial leader everyone tiptoes around and never questions. And they defend and protect Adolf and his/her regime from the Colonel Stauffenbergs on the faculty who would see the regime brought down." [29]

Waldorf art is meant to invoke the spirit realm.

I must admit I like a lot of Waldorf art —

as long as the occult nonsense is stripped away.

As abstractions or impressionist representations,

some of Waldorf art is not bad.

(And all of it is better than my own efforts at emulation.)

[R.R. emulation, 2010.]




Book Review

Here is a review of a new book about Waldorf education.

The Waldorf Movement in Education:

from European Cradle to American Crucible, 1919-2008

by Ida Oberman with a Foreword by Douglas Sloan.

The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston NY, 2008. 

377 pages, 41 photographs.

review by Dan Dugan

This book is an essential addition to any Waldorf critic's library. We've heard of Oberman before; she was one of the group of education scholars who looked at Waldorf in the 1990s and generally liked what they saw. That group included Ray (not Robert) McDermott, Mary Henry, and Bruce Uhrmacher. The latter two wrote theses about Waldorf. Oberman and McDermott co-authored a minority report with Oberman, "Racism in Waldorf Education," in reaction to having heard Anthroposophists visiting the Urban Waldorf School in Milwaukee, WI, discuss race from Steiner's viewpoint. It can be read on the PLANS web site:

Curiously, a current publication of this article on the web at omits co-author Oberman's name and the name of the journal in which it was originally published. It's also curious that a search of that web site for "race" or "racism" did not find the article, despite racism being in the title and the words being frequent in the text. See:

Oberman thanks her own Waldorf teachers Hannah and Christoph Lindenberg, so she knows whereof she speaks.

The book suffers from shoddy production by its publisher. The typography has strange double-spaced lines. Errors like "principal" instead of "principle" abound. Oberman surely knows that Camphill isn't spelled Camp Hill. The reproduction of the photographic illustrations is truly awful, looking like something from a cheap 1940s textbook.

The most valuable part of this book is Oberman's study of the history of the Waldorf schools in Germany during the Nazi period. This hundred-page section comprises a quarter of the book. It's ironic that Douglas Sloan's foreword repeats some of the same myths that Oberman refutes in the book itself. Her interviews with several eyewitnesses add previously unknown details. She acknowledges that the history published by the Waldorf movement is "hard to substantiate." The different ways several schools dealt with National Socialist pressure are detailed. Berlin and Hamburg-Altona closed rather than compromise. Stuttgart made every attempt to compromise. Dresden and Hanover embraced National Socialism. On the issue of whether Jewish teachers were fired or, as Waldorf spokesperson Detlef Hardorp argued on waldorf-critics in March, 2008, left voluntarily to save the schools, Oberman says they were "dismissed."

I found it curious that of eight photographs of Waldorf students in the U.S., seven are of African-American children. This gives a false impression of the composition of most Waldorf student bodies.

Oberman is frank about the Anthroposophical nature of Waldorf. "Waldorf's pedagogical concepts are based on the belief in reincarnation. ... the Waldorf teacher stays with one class for the first eight grades 'to guide the process of [this] incarnation of the child.'"

"The curriculum remains remarkably unchanged, even under the last decade's pressures to disavow Eurocentrism. ... even in inner-city Milwaukee, the Waldorf teachers continue to tell the Norse myths of Odin and Thor." Scholar Mary Henry observed that Waldorf students in the U.S. and in Australia painted blue moons on a yellow background, and wondered about the source of the conformity. Oberman describes it as culturally rather than bureaucratically enforced, partly true but ignoring the role of the Pedagogical Section of the Goetheanum and the enforcement of standards by national associations such as AWSNA.

Oberman characterizes three different positions that Waldorf educators could take when bringing it to America as purist, accommodationist, and evolutionist. According to Oberman, Marie Steiner represents the purist position, Hermann von Baravalle the accommodationist position, "to find creative and effective ways to accommodate the Waldorf plan to America's different circumstances," and Ita Wegman "how pedagogy needed to evolve to be suitable to the new context with a proper measure of fidelity to the original intent." This scheme may be more useful for understanding the historical development of Waldorf than it is for understanding Waldorf as it is practiced today.

The interesting stories of the development of the New York, Kimberton, and Sacramento Waldorf schools are told in detail in separate chapters. Oberman goes on to describe the development of public Waldorf schools that started in Milwaukee in 1991.

A few pages discuss "The Rising Tide of Criticism" ("Critism" in the table of contents). With the exception of Sacramento parent Terri Jennings, the only organizer mentioned by name is myself, Dan Dugan, typical in Waldorf propaganda but disappointing from a scholar. A footnote repeats the false notion that an independent study of Harriet Tubman, a Waldorf magnet school in San Diego, showed that there was no church-state problem there. What actually happened was that the school board mollified the public by promising a study, and by the time the study by WestEd came out 18 months later the flap had died down and no one noticed that the study report said specifically that they did not address the church-state issue. The school board was successful in making their cover-up the reported history. Oberman references the propaganda site as a source of information on the PLANS lawsuit, a not-very-scholarly move.

Appendices list private and public schools in the order of founding, and some California standardized test statistics that show the expected poor results in early grades followed by parity or superiority in later years. Comparisons are made to public schools, not to private schools or other special public school programs, which might be more appropriate.


"[T]his was the wonderful instinct 

possessed by simple people, 

who often knew more than the scholars ... 

The skeleton is the seat of the spirit. 

So they had the idea that when the spirit moves about 

it would have to appear in the shape of a skeleton."

— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 

(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 143.

[My sketch of Steiner's sketch, 2009.]

For an extremely troubling news story

about events at one Waldorf school,

see "Extremity".

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



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


Waldorf schools in the 21st Century

What they're saying


What they're reading

What they're saying (cont.)


A brief look at the purposes of Waldorf schooling


A brief summary of Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines and teachings

A guide for students and parents


Steiner's theory of everything


Some of the things you aren’t supposed to know


To survive or not, to teach or not


News about Waldorf schools

Some illustrations appearing here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely related to the contents of the pages 
on which they appear; 
others are not 
— the latter provide general context. 


[1] Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), pp. 92 and 97.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, THE RENEWAL OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 94. 

[3] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 712.

[4] See “Steiner’s ‘Science’” here at Waldorf Watch.

[5] Anthony Standen, SCIENCE IS A SACRED COW (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1950) and Bernard Heuvelmans, ON THE TRACK OF UNKNOWN ANIMALS (Hill and Wang, 1959).

[6] Rudolf Steiner, SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1986), rear cover.

In defining the overuse of memory, Steiner set the bar awfully low, and he based his opinion on quack medicine: “[W]hen we strain the child’s powers of memory, the effect will bear right through the organism, so that in the forties or fifties [i.e., when the child becomes a middle-aged adult] metabolic illnesses will appear that the physical organization [i.e., the body] can no longer correct.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 139.

[7] Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60. 

[8] E.g., Rudolf Steiner, THE TENSION BETWEEN EAST AND WEST (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), p. 40.

[9] “When people are as blinded by materialistic thoughts as they became during the nineteenth century and right into the present, the physical body becomes a copy of the spirit and soul living in materialistic impulses. In that case, it is not incorrect to say that the brain thinks. It is then, in fact, correct. By being firmly enmeshed in materialism, we have people who not only think poorly about the body, soul, and spirit, but people who think materially and feel materially. What that means is that materialism causes the human being to become a thinking automaton, that the human being then becomes something that thinks, feels, and wills physically.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.

[10] Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 28.

[11] Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTMAS CONFERENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1990), p. 36.

Steiner claimed to possess "exact" clairvoyance, which is superior to intellect and connected to imagination, intuition, and inspiration. [See "Exactly".] He said, “I have described in my (PHILOSOPHY OF FREEDOM) how the intellectual is further developed into conscious, exact clairvoyance. It then lives in a free inner constitution of the soul. Only then can man know himself and his relation to the other parts of his being, outside his pure thinking and his free will. Through such a higher consciousness — imaginative, inspired and intuitive consciousness — man may reach in self-knowledge beyond his intellect and know himself as part of the supersensible world. And then it will be clear to him that although he is fully human, as has become clear to him in his self-knowledge, full humanity requires of him that he perfect it ever more and more.” — Rudolf Steiner, “Self Knowledge and the Christ Experience” (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1988), a lecture, GA 221.


[13] EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.





[17] THE HEALING PROCESS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000),  p. 16.


[18] FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 332 - April 28, 1922.


[19] Ibid., p. 333.


[20] Ibid., p. 333.


[21] See "Academic Standards at Waldorf". The included "Memo to Waldorf Teachers" contains my (sarcastic) recommendations.



[23] .

[24] The author of this message wrote about it briefly online: . She subsequently expanded her message for use here.






Reality really ought to be enough for us.
We don't need to invent fantastical alternative universes,
the way Steiner did.
Reality is wondrous enough.

Really. Reality.

[R.R., ~1996.]