Who’s in Charge?

Rudolf Steiner stated that Waldorf school teachers should be authority figures whom students unhesitatingly obey. It is for the children’s own good: “People [i.e., students] will have inner strength when we [i.e., Waldorf teachers]...tell the children to do this and that today and tomorrow and the next day. They will do it out of respect for authority, because they know that in school someone must command.” [1] Do this and do that. Today, tomorrow, and the next day. Authority. Command. Such language seems more suited to an Army boot camp than a civilian school: “Soldiers will have inner strength when we sergeants tell the dog-faces to do this and that today and tomorrow and the next day. They will do it out of respect for authority, because they know that in the Army someone must command.”

To understand Steiner's views on authority, we should remember that the first Waldorf school opened in Germany many decades ago. Cultural norms were different in that time and place than prevail is most Western nations (including Germany) today. On the other hand, Anthroposophists today generally revere all of Steiner's utterances, on all subjects. If he possessed the higher consciousness he claimed, his views should be timelessly true.

Steiner sometimes discussed faculty authority in somewhat softer — but still unyielding — terms: “The situation is that we need to create a mood, namely, that the teacher has something to say that the children should neither judge nor discuss ... An actual discussion lowers the content ... That is something I mentioned before in connection with ‘discussion meetings.’ They need to be avoided.” [2] The teacher is the font of unquestioned wisdom. Students have nothing to add: There should be no discussion.

The teacher speaks and the students take it in, silently. If the students resist, the teacher should reassert his jurisdiction and power, reminding the students of their lowly status. “The teacher must remain as calm as possible [when students are disobedient or disrespectful] and adopt an objective attitude. This does not mean lessening the teacher’s own authority. The teacher could certainly be the one to say, ‘Without your teachers you would learn nothing and remain stupid.’” [3] 

Steiner explained that Waldorf teachers should use their authority to lay out objective truth — in other words, Anthroposophical doctrines — even if the teachers need to dance around the issue a bit: “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.” [4] For Steiner and his devotees, Anthroposophy is objective truth. Thus, Steiner affirmed that Anthroposophy will pervade virtually every subject in the Waldorf curriculum, albeit it quietly, indirectly. The consequence is that Waldorf students may be indoctrinated in Anthroposophy without the right to discuss or question what they are taught. [5]

Faculty authority, of course, involves maintaining discipline. Steiner claimed to oppose corporal punishment, both because it does nothing to improve discipline, and — perhaps more tellingly — because it gives a school a bad reputation. Note that in the following quotation, Steiner refers to maintaining discipline only as a secondary objective, something that will “also” occur “if” the “ideal” of nonviolence in the classroom can be achieved: “There may be teachers in the Waldorf School who slap the children, and so forth ... I have heard it said that the Waldorf teachers hit children, and we have discussed that often. The fact is, you cannot improve discipline by hitting the children ... Perhaps no one [i.e., the teachers] wants to say anything about this, but my question is whether that is simply a story that has been spread like so many other lies, or have children, in fact, been slapped in the Waldorf School? If that has occurred, it could ruin a great deal. We must hold the ideal of working without doing that [i.e., hitting children]; discipline will also be better if we can avoid it.” [6]

“IF we can avoid it.” Steiner left a door open, there. And from time to time, he advised Waldorf teachers to go through that door: “Under certain circumstances it may be necessary to spank a child ... I have to admit that there are rowdies ....” [7] So, if Steiner did not give gave Waldorf teachers a green light to use corporal punishment frequently, he at least gave them a yellow light: Hit the kids only if it is really necessary. [8]

Bizarrely, Steiner also said: “If you give them [i.e., students] a slap, you should do it the way Dr. Schubert [one of the Waldorf teachers] does ... There are physical slaps and astral [i.e., spiritual] slaps. It doesn’t matter which one you give, but you cannot slap a child sentimentally.” [9] Steiner generally opposed the slapping of students, as we’ve seen. But here he left another door open. If he wanted to prevent teachers from hitting children, he had an easy option: He could have issued the command, Do not hit children in any way at any time. But he chose, instead, to accept the possibility of spiritual and physical assaults on the kids.

It is worth noting that Steiner occasionally prescribed additional forms of physical punishment, such as putting children in what we would now call stress positions: “In cases of kleptomania, it is also good to punish children by having them sit for a quarter of an hour and hold their feet or toes with their hands.” [10] In cases of tardiness, “[W]hen there is some can be particularly effective if you allow [sic] them [students] to stand in some uncomfortable place ... We could also buy a number of little sheds [to put students in for punishment] ... They may even get cramps in their legs. We could have the sheds built in the shop class.” [11] 

Some of what Steiner said about discipline and punishment makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, when recommending against corporal punishment, he seems to have been largely motivated by a desire to put up a false front. Public relations were on his mind. “I have been back only a few hours, and I have heard so much gossip about who got a slap and so forth. All of that gossip is going beyond all bounds, and I really found it very disturbing. We do not really need to concern ourselves when things seep out the cracks." [12]

Nowadays, Waldorf schools are unlikely to officially condone corporal punishment, particularly in countries — such as the US — where people are increasingly quick to sue over perceived wrongs. And yet, violence seems to remain an issue at Waldorf schools — a surprising issue, given the sweet appearance the schools try to project. As one former Waldorf student has written, "My Waldorf school, and the kindergarten, too, was very violent; violence was around all the time." We will look into this further, below.

[R.R., 2010.]

Waldorf schools are, I believe, generally peaceful, pleasant places. The atmosphere is often warm and (at least apparently) welcoming. Some of the pleasing shimmer in the schools' inner atmosphere arises from unspoken spiritualism — the hazy glow given off by devout Anthroposophists who feel that they possess holy secrets. Parents who do not realize that Waldorf schools often have a secret religious agenda need to be on their toes. Still, there is no denying that a pleasing ambiance can often be found in the schools.

Sometimes, however, things go very wrong at Waldorfs. Here are some startling personal stories, posted early in 2009 at the waldorf-critics discussion group. The topics range from the abuse students have undergone at various Waldorf schools to the deceptive recruitment practices used by many of the schools. The underlying topic in most of the messages is, shockingly, violence. 

Much of the violence described was inflicted on students by other students, but some was inflicted by teachers. In part, the violence described must be considered aberrant, arising from personal issues that are not the fault of the Waldorf system as such. However, to the extent that Waldorf schools today remain authoritarian, with faculty believing they should exercise great power over their charges, some of the violence may indeed be produced by the system. The situation prevailing in the schools can be worsened if the system encourages faculty to believe that they have a divine mandate, and if the unearthly yearnings of Anthroposophy cloud teachers' eyes and perhaps lead to frustration and anger.

I have done a little light editing to tighten the narratives, below, and to eliminate typos. You can read the entire texts at waldorf-criticsBe cautious about accepting messages like the following. I substantiate my own work with careful documentation. The following messages, more informal, are largely undocumented. Still, they seem sincere, and they may be worth considering.

◊ From message 9051 (; a father tells of his disillusionment with Waldorf:

I think it is very important to at least try to understand what some children go through in Waldorf/Steiner schools — especially those where Anthroposophic extremism is the norm. There are the obvious questions around "is Anthroposophic education good for children?" And then there are other issues: I've known more than a few children who were hit, screamed and sworn at by Waldorf teachers — with virtually NO repercussions, other than pathetic suggestions that those who raise concerns do not understand karma. [Steiner taught that the things that happen to us in this life often come from our karma, which we created for ourselves in our previous lives — Steiner’s doctrines include both karma and reincarnation.] Fact is there were no other available teachers, so the wild ones stayed, believing (and being supported by peers) they were destined to be with the children in their class. That's what Steiner says.

◊ From message 9104 (; a former student gives a firsthand account of bullying and mistreatment:

My Waldorf school, and the kindergarten, too, was very violent; violence was around all the time. There was lots of bullying, and I've read others state that the school was well-known for its problems with bullying. Nothing was ever done to stop the bullying.

The violence was pretty much a standard method of hanging around, I can't describe it better. You could count on being thrown into the wall, cupboards or into rocks, being hit, being pushed, those kinds of things — every day.

I've been scratched 'til I got bruises, been kicked in my back 'til I couldn't breath, been hit with a wooden "club" on my head so that I saw stars (but no angels). But that's just the tip of an iceberg.

As far as I can remember, I was never physically maltreated by a teacher — my class teacher was a relatively decent human being, although misled by Steinerites. In kindergarten, I don't know, those teachers were more evil and more Anthro. Also, the teacher who was hired to bring me to school against my will when I was in 1st grade, she didn't mind hurting me while she stopped me from fleeing. But she didn't continue to hurt me just because she could.

◊ From message 9120 (; a mother discusses violence perpetrated by teachers as well as students: 

At our Waldorf school, my son's class teacher did take bullying seriously when it was brought to his attention and, as far as I could tell, handled the situation well. Parents in other classes, however, told me they were not satisfied with how teachers handled reports of bullying. One girl, who made up stories about other children hurting her, actually broke other children's bones. One of her parents was a Waldorf graduate and at least one of her grandparents was an Anthroposophist. Several teen boys, including the son of Waldorf teachers, assaulted a girl. The girl's mother reported the assault to the police and the teachers' son ended up having to leave the school. Some years later, an Anthroposophist parent and board member told me that the girl's mother had overreacted. Because I knew some of the details of the assault, for me it was one of those moments when you're looking at someone and you suddenly realize they are barking mad.

A girl I knew was rammed against a wall by a teacher, left the school shortly thereafter, and seemed traumatized by it when she told me about it years later. Yet another girl told me that a teacher hurt her when he yanked her arm to try to force her to cross a stream on a field trip and then grabbed her and shook her violently, despite the fact that she kept telling him not to touch her. I saw a teacher go ballistic on two children for playing with some outdoor sprinkler lines when all he needed to do was to say, "Don't play with those pipes." Even a teacher whom we liked and respected had a reputation for occasionally going into extraordinary rages in the classroom.


In all fairness, there were some serious instances of student bullying and violence at a couple of other schools [i.e., non-Waldorf schools] my children attended, although I never heard of teachers being out of control at any of them.  

Clearly, though, our Waldorf school was far from being the peaceful, spiritually evolved environment we had originally believed it to be. It's my opinion that some of the teachers at our Waldorf school should not have been working with children and would never have been able to find employment in a non-Anthroposophical school.

From message 9010 (; a mother tells of withdrawing her son from a Waldorf school and educating him at home instead — she says her son was traumatized by Waldorf. (I do not advocate home schooling, but it may be an option for Waldorf parents to consider.)

Home school is actually working out quite well for him, he's reading fluently now, and is well above his age for reading, math, etc. He is enjoying learning. We are so pleased with him.

We are very worried about how his time at the Steiner school is still affecting him, though. He left in May last year, and he still has nightmares. He will wake up very afraid at least 2 - 3 times a week, and while half-asleep will beg us not to send him back to Steiner school in the morning. He still talks about it almost every day, mentioning stupid, stupid things that the so-called teachers filled his head with. It still makes me so angry that he couldn't tell us the ridiculous things they were saying to him while he was there, as the teachers were belittling our role as his parents and telling him what they said was the real 'truth.' [Steiner said that Waldorf teachers should supplant parents, as much as possible, as guides for the children. See Basement”.] It’s still very much at the forefront of his mind, and for a six-year-old to remember those things in such detail almost a year on is worrying. We decided against sending him to school [again], as 1) the Steiner experience made him very clingy to us, and 2) they put such a block in his head about not being ready to read, etc., that we have had to work very hard to overcome that. It’s taken a lot of patience that I don't think many schools would have had time for. He's also very angry about schools in general now. The utter hatred he has for his former teachers is astounding at times, but I have been told it’s good that he's not internalizing things and taking it out on himself.

I am coping better, but I am still not 100%. To be honest, every time he mentions that place, all the guilt comes flooding back to me, as it was me that did all this to him by sending him there. Especially when he has nightmares about those stupid gnomes. [Many Waldorf schools have gnome statuettes in the classrooms. The gnomes are supposed to represent “nature spirits” who watch the children. According to Steiner, gnomes are at least slightly hostile to human beings.] Actually, the gnome thing is better now. One of my friends is a child psychologist, and I spoke to her about his obsession with gnomes and how he hated them and mentioned them the whole time. She came up with the idea of buying a garden gnome and letting him smash it with a spade while shouting out all the things that made him sad and angry about Steiner school. Sounds unorthodox, but it helped a lot! I must admit, I smashed up one as well, very satisfying!

Still, we are getting there. I am over all the lies and the backstabbing. I can cope with that, I just can't cope with what they did to my son. We never got a conclusion. We complained and complained, but the teacher denied ever saying he was brain-damaged or all the other crap she said to us and him. They all stuck together at the end of the day.

Like I said, he's doing well now. He's learning with me, and we also have a tutor twice a week, and elderly lady who is just so lovely with him and he adores her. We wanted him to see that not all teachers were the enemy.

I just want some way to get the truth out. It infuriates me that so many people are hoodwinked by those schools. I have no problem with people wanting to send their children to Steiner schools if they know the whole truth, but there are so many people who are duped into sending their kids there, as I was. The trouble for Steiner education is, though, that if they did tell the whole truth, the number of children signing up for the schools would be cut dramatically, as most parents would think they were barking mad!

[I will skip ahead here]

The letters we received to our complaints make good reading... One just fobbing us off, and another slamming into us and our child horribly, and denying any wrongdoing. Also a letter threatening expulsion for bullying the day after we removed him from the school because of a bully who had scratched ******** so hard he left scars on his face. The bully was a problem for many other kids, but nothing was done.... 

From message 9085 (;  a mother tells of being deceived when choosing a Waldorf school, and she goes on to describe violence and racism in the school:

[W]e had meetings, went to "promotional" days, read the prospectus, asked for reading material about the education, and asked questions. Never once was Anthroposophy mentioned. We had limited access to the Internet then, too, and one expects school administrators and teachers, particularly such so-called gentle, caring child-centered ones as we thought they were, to be honest. We were deceived.

It's true, too, that we were attracted to the school for what it wasn't in many ways; this was also how it "sold" itself — the lack of tests, beautiful buildings and surroundings, wonderful food, so called creativity, music.

To belittle the experiences of families who have been through these schools and seen the worst of Anthroposophy in action would be a grave mistake. Where our children went, not only was there unnecessary physical force from teachers (apparently quite violent), and bullying amongst the children. There were occasions when dark children with some non-European roots (including ours) were singled out; questioning this brought rage from the teachers; I constantly question the motives for this now; at the time, we hadn't read enough Steiner.

Moving them [from the school] was traumatic. But the relief on our children's faces was palpable. Guilt, too, plays a huge part; if a parent can't shield their children from harm, but actually throws them into the arms of the perpetrators, it's not unnatural to react.

From message 9095 (; a mother focuses on gnomes and the anger festering in a Waldorf school:

Anthroposophy has a very screwed-up psychology, full of beliefs that are not conducive to mental health, such as (one of my favorites), "Thoughts are living reality," which leads a person to try to repress bad thoughts or bad emotions rather than accept and deal with them. Instead you're encouraged to project anxieties and fears and anger on spirit entities (e.g., gnomes). This stuff is also inflicted on the children, and it is particularly explosive with children, makes them extremely angry and uncooperative. So you have situations building in the classroom every day where lots of people are getting angrier and angrier, both teachers and students, and have no healthy outlets for it, particularly because with children, you can't talk about anything directly.

I could write a book on this ... We had a lot of teachers walking around who were anger time bombs, and the occasional explosions were truly memorable.


•• ◊ ••

Unfortunately, troubling messages like these are not as rare as we might hope. Other students and their parents have told of violence in and around Waldorf schools. Here are excerpts from a memoir written by a former Waldorf student (

My name is Sarah. I'm a college student in Minnesota. I’m in my sophomore year. I’m majoring in legal studies and political science with a minor in women’s studies. I’m a political activist, an A student, I’m on the honor society in college. My career goal is to be a lawyer. I’m also a Waldorf survivor. My academic success is in spite of Waldorf, not because of Waldorf.

I attended a Waldorf school from first grade to the beginning of sixth grade between the years of 1988-1993. I have ADD [attention deficit disorder] ... Even with being smart at a young age, focusing was difficult until I was diagnosed after I left Waldorf and was put on medicine ... Waldorf is totally in the dark about ADD-related disorders and other types of disabilities related to that.

My teacher was a man who I will refer to here as Mr. M, who was and is an asshole and a teacher bully. (I recently read an article about teacher bullying and it cleared a lot of things up that happened to me with him.) ... Mr. M went out of his way to give me a hard time and bully me because of my difficulty paying attention, or if I made a mistake no matter how small. I didn’t act out in any way, I liked school and I tried hard. Even with my learning difference I did fairly well overall, but he just acted like I was stupid and lazy.

I remember him in first grade screaming at me in front of the whole class, because I was having trouble understanding a math problem. I also remember in first grade, we were doing our first painting and I forgot to wet my brush after dunking it with another color and I accidentally mixed the blue and the yellow ... [I]nstead of giving me a chance to correct my mistake he just told me that I couldn’t paint that day. I laid my head down on the desk feeling devastated ... I remember in third grade, I misunderstood a homework assignment and he literally shamed me for the whole afternoon. It was a lot of things like that during the time he was my teacher.

...When I was in second grade, Mr. M hung me by the legs over a hockey rink wall. Mr. M was helping kids over the wall and when he lifted me over to the other side, he grabbed me by the legs and hung me over the wall upside-down with my hands on the ground, and I did not know he was going to do this. I was freaked. I told my mom about it and she gave Mr. M a good piece of her mind. She told me he felt bad and realized he was wrong. However, when Mr. M saw me at school, he told me that he didn’t do anything wrong and that I was being too sensitive. I now realize that’s a sign of teacher bullying.

Mr. M also would inappropriately tease me in second grade in ways that were not appropriate to tease small children. Basically, he teased me in ways that are okay to tease adults, but not children. My parents of course told him to stop it.

Whenever dealing with my parents, Mr. M would pretend to act all sweet and nice, but when he was with me, he became a bully. My mom knows now that she should have taken me out of that school a lot sooner, but now that I know about teacher bullying and Waldorf ways of seducing people into the school, I can cut her some slack.

...I remember one time he pounded his fist on the desk trying to get me to pay attention and he would snap his fingers in front of my face. He would single me out and humiliate me in front of the class for my struggles with focusing more than once throughout the years. One time he told me that sometimes he thought I just couldn’t get it, other times he thought I just didn’t care.

...After Waldorf, I went to a Catholic school just for the education. I had to get caught up and I did. Actually I was able to make up six years of school in one. It was there that I was diagnosed with ADD and put on Dexedrine.

For years I suffered from low self-esteem ... I recently learned that a lot of Waldorf students have stories like mine.

...As far as Mr. M is concerned, he still teaches at [the same Waldorf] school and has done this kind of thing to other students and the administration has done nothing about it.

•• ◊ ••

I'll make a little report of my own here. Violence was rare at the Waldorf school I attended, but it burst out on occasion. One day a classmate of mine attacked me, wrestling me to the floor in a school hallway. We rolled on the floor, virtually at the feet of two teachers, yet the teachers ignored the battle going on beside them. This surprised me, but not much. I had seen other instances of their nonchalance in such situations. I might add that another schoolmate of mine considered these two teachers such paragons that she followed their example and became a Waldorf teacher herself.

I never witnessed a Waldorf teacher strike a student, but I heard of a startling incident. (Many students who were present agreed in their accounts, so I accepted their report.) One day in a science class, a student angered the teacher. The teacher strode to the student's desk/chair (a single unit, a chair with an attached writing surface). Saying something like, "You'd better watch out," the teacher kicked the desk/chair so hard that it flipped over. The student wound up sprawled on the floor.

— Roger Rawlings

I will add a few more reports from varied sources:

Here are excerpts from an Australian newspaper story (  — see "Extremity"):

As an English teacher [at a Waldorf school] Roger Graham knows how to write a love letter. But in 2001 when he began writing to one of his 16-year-old female students, the married Graham, in his fifties, may have penned the final chapter for the Newcastle Waldorf School, a Rudolf Steiner school he helped establish in the early 1980s ... The relationship [between Graham and the student] was discovered in May 2001, and Graham was stood down [i.e., dismissed] on full pay. Even then, he continued to write to the girl, his letters passed on by the school's co-founder and senior teacher, Keitha Montefiore ... Graham's re-emergence is the latest in a long line of controversies at the 140-student school, including the sexual grooming of students by male and female teachers in the mid-2000s and allegations of emotional and physical abuse dating back to the early 1990s. In 1995 eight children and several parents made statements to the child protection and investigation unit of Newcastle Police, alleging seven teachers shook, choked, hit and kicked students as young as seven. A teacher also reportedly pushed a boy through a classroom window, breaking his arm ... Parents, former students and former staff allege a culture of secrecy, denial and cover-up at the school, which they claim [was] run as a private fiefdom of Montefiore and Graham, until the latter's dismissal ... Several teachers have gone on to marry former students, who in turn became teachers at the school. "The whole place is incredibly incestuous and parochial," says the former board member. 

•• ◊ ••

Our three-year-old was happy in the kindergarten for over a year, but when our eight-year-old daughter went into Class Three, there was bullying of gang-like proportions. We continually asked the school to follow their own policy on bullying, which claimed that they would not tolerate it. 

In reality, they continually ignored the problem and refused to separate children who were assaulting others in our daughter’s class whilst assuring us that they understood the seriousness of the situation. Forgetting to mention the fact that another parent had just withdrawn her sons from the school because of the bullying, the school then suddenly acted to make the "irritant" – in this case us – disappear.  

•• ◊ ••

Here is a shocking message posted by a former Waldorf student in 1999 ( As with most other messages, I have done a little light editing.

I have had so much telephone air time in the last week from survivors of this absurd and nasty education. One letter from a man whose daughter was sexually abused by a teacher named Stan Price (now dead) in 1982 when she was seven. He is so angry and feels so helpless as his daughter is self-mutilating, in and out of hospital and generally broken. Stan was known by me to be sexually abusing little girls for sure in 1975. We suspected he was doing the same to little boys as well. This had been going on since he joined [a Waldorf faculty] in the late 1960's. Any queries were dismissed, put down, isolated with the implication that the victim had somehow deserved it.

Five days before this letter [I received] a phone call from Canada. She was two years older than me and had had full sexual relations with a teacher (he is still alive and I know his name) at 15, attempted rape by another (he is still alive and I know him also). She thought she was the only one, spent years curled up on her father's floor unable to do anything. Years later she is finally getting her life together but still cannot stand up and speak out.

I personally had a main lesson teacher for eight years. I used to try and count the days I DID NOT get beaten. One term there were no days. I was humiliated verbally, described as a mess, slow and stupid. I was dyslexic. He died a few years ago much respected. I wanted to incinerate his grave.

I learnt to read at 7 because I begged the local state school children on the bus to teach me. [At Waldorf] I was sneered at for being too smart, told I was a classic "melancholic" who needed to see life through rose-tinted glasses. I had 12 years of German and French and do not speak either. My math's has been saved by some private tuition as an adult and my modern history ends in 1600. My understanding of basic biology is from medical instruction pamphlets. I cannot draw, either artistically or technically. My handwriting is illegible and when I type the grammar and sentence structure is "creative."

I am sick to death of hearing about what personalities we Steiner children are, how creative and full of self-confidence. There are borstals where the same claim could be made. The "personalities" have a gallows humour, the creativity is that of the criminal, that of a surveyor, and the self-confidence is bravado. There are so many of those, whom I went to school with, who are totally broken people. Wandering the streets or countryside babbling at the sky, one is in a permanent mental institution, another two committed suicide. Another [got] pregnant at 16 to escape another teacher who had been having sex with her since she was 14 is now working in the local foodmarket, barely surviving after her "Caring and expensive education. Giving her such a rounded education."

Another did get a professorship, after many minor breakdowns. He now lives in self-exile in another country, a hopeless alcoholic virtually living on the street. Another lives in a tent in another country, unable to deal with 'ordinary' people.

I want to scream their names and the potential I know was there. I want to tell everyone what great people they were. But I feel restrained, as how can I out a victim who is trying so hard to forget?

Whether it is the Steiner philosophy, or the people it attracts, the wrong horoscopes, I don't know. But this must be aired to get sorted and made healthy. My experience is that this never gets aired, but is hidden, and the abuser just blames the victim.

I have been plugging away speaking to anyone who shows an interest, and have finally got the ear of the BBC, not an infallible media, I know. I intend to give them all the help I can to research and debate what has been going on for decades.

If a system believes that we inherit our karma and that all bad things are what we chose in a previous life, fair enough. But there is no place for this in education of children. The belief might be there, as we know racism is often there, but any sign that it is being acted out should be nipped in the bud. There is no way this should be an alibi for raping a small child, beating anyone for anything, and actively preventing them from learning.

Steiner schools have a reputation, created by themselves, for nurturing and caring. "A third parent" is another description I have heard. This is so totally the opposite from my experience. So many children came from "dysfunctional" homes. Parents either knew they needed help and hoped the school was the answer or needed an alibi for their own behavior and the school gave them that.

•• ◊ ••

A report from someone who says she attended a Waldorf school in Australia (

Perth Waldorf School: The place where I spent some of the worst years of my life. The place where, yes, there were some nice people, but I met some of the meanest boys I have ever had the displeasure to meet. They teased me, they threw things at me, they made me angry just because it was funny, they lied to teachers so they wouldn't get in trouble, and they got away with it. You know why, because nobody cared! Not even their parents. THEIR PARENTS WERE SO IN DENIAL! "Oh no, my baby wouldn't have done that! No, no, no." They just didn't get it. They still don't get it. The don't understand that, every insult, every taunt, every GUMNUT, hurt. Really bad. They didn't give a crap if I got scarred for life because of the shit I got from them, or that I cried myself to sleep wondering why they didn't like me. SIX YEARS OF THIS FUCKING SHIT! SERIOUSLY!? So, Dear Arseholes from PWS (they know who they are), please just leave me alone. Don't call pretending to be my ex-boyfriend, don't fake an interest in my life. Just mind your own FUCKING business.

Oh, P.S. Now I will forever be remembered as the girl who was always screaming and crying at school :) Thanks for that.

•• ◊ ••

The following is excerpted from "Coming Undone", which you can find elsewhere here at Waldorf Watch:

During one of the sessions we attended at the school, my son was violently pushed backwards off a play bridge. I understand this is not unusual, as it could happen in any nursery or school. However, as I sat there comforting my child, I noticed that the teacher who witnessed the incident didn't respond in any way or acknowledge what happened. Instead, she continued to sew in silence. I sat there in utter disbelief. The act of ignoring felt more violent than the original act itself. Seeing that I was somewhat baffled and distressed by  the teacher's lack of concern, a parent later explained to me that the children were "working out their karma." [See "Karma".] I remember questioning her, as I couldn't comprehend what she had just said. She explained that her sister was a Steiner Waldorf teacher in Germany and repeated that it was their karma — it was one child’s karma to push, and my child’s karma to be pushed. I later telephoned the school stating we didn't think the education was suitable for our son. They tried persuading us to stay, explaining that it can take up to a year for some of the children to settle.

•• ◊ ••

There is no question that bullying and abuse have occurred regularly at Highland Hall [a Waldorf school in California] since its inception in 1955. Back then, it was easier to cover up the occasional abuse of students by teachers (and sometimes parents) – and still cases of abuse at Highland Hall were documented throughout the years. Abuse of children is still acceptable today at Highland Hall. I have personally documented many cases of abuse and brought them to the Highland Hall Board’s attention without too much success (It was because of the combined voices of a few brave parents that a couple of the worst teachers finally left voluntarily). But the question remains, why does Highland Hall turn a blind eye to the bullying and abuse of children by its teachers – both on and off campus?

It may not come as a surprise to many who have been reading my previous letters about racism at Highland Hall, that it’s the same hidden philosophy behind Highland Hall and Waldorf – Anthroposophy, the philosophy that permits racism — which also permits Waldorf teachers to stand by while children bully children, and while teachers abuse children (and parents). 

•• ◊ ••

The following is from a message posted at waldorf-critics in 1997 and reposted in 2013 (

I spoke with an old friend the other day who had found herself upset all over again over events that happened in the [Waldorf] school our children had once been in. News items about cults had opened up old wounds for her.

We discussed a number of incidents, and it made me see that it's time to mention some of them here...

At the time our children were at the school, there were many unsettling incidents that happened on the playground in the unsupervised environment. Little boys were being beaten up, and bullying was seriously out of control. Children would come home worried and upset. Some parents were closer to what was going on than others, and tried unsuccessfully to convince the teachers to supervise the playground. There was rarely a teacher out there. It was especially disturbing in light of the fact that the boys being beaten up were not the kind of children who would ordinarily be involved in fighting or bringing on that kind of negative attention.

An anxious parent spoke to a teacher who told her that those children were dealing with "past life karma" they needed to work out together. The same parent finally called a member of the College [The College of Teachers, the central committee]...and told him she had observed children climbing the (high) playstructure on stilts, children dragging other children around by ropes, children bullying and using foul language — but no teachers supervising. The teacher answered, "You are not an initiate, and therefore you cannot understand the kind of energies we're dealing with here." When the stunned parent reported this back to another teacher, she was met with wide eyes — "He told you THAT?" The implication was that he had seriously erred in letting a cat out of a bag.

One of the concerns some parents had was that their little girls were continually having their dresses pulled up by boys. This was very disturbing to the girls. When they screamed, it was only the girls who were reprimanded for causing a disturbance. Finally a "Friday Is Skirts Up" policy was started by a teacher so as to placate everyone — that way the girls could have Monday through Thursday as days their skirts were not to be pulled up. The girls, as you might imagine, were not amused...

There was a lot of parent time and energy that went into trying to make the playground a safe place, but the teachers never seemed to share the concern...

I used to regularly hear one parent or another discuss how miserable their child was for one reason or another, but they would do little or nothing to get the child out of the damaging situation ... This does not mean to imply that all children are unhappy in [Waldorf schools]! Many are perfectly happy there. I'm just making the point that some parents feel so personally fulfilled in the cultlike community that they are able to ignore or deny what they see, even when it affects their own children.

•• ◊ ••

In 2014, events at a Waldorf school in the USA reached a stunning culmination. The following is from a letter and accompanying document sent out by administrators at the school, Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge, New York. ['s_Happening_Now/Green_Meadow_Community_Letter_-_July_2014.pdf]

Dear Members of the Green Meadow Waldorf School Community:

This letter is very difficult to write and will be very upsetting to read. On August 6, 2013, we informed you about deeply disturbing allegations made by Green Meadow alumna Kate Christensen ‘80 in her recently published memoir, “Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites.” In her memoir, Ms. Christensen wrote that she had been sexually abused at our school by a teacher (referred to as “Tomcat” in the book) on a number of occasions in the late 1970s. We identified the teacher as John Alexandra, who stopped teaching on a full-time basis at Green Meadow in 1979 ...

A number of factors have been identified as contributing to the School’s failure to stop Mr. Alexandra’s inappropriate and at times criminal conduct when it occurred:

• a lack of expertise in what constitutes sexual abuse;

• a failure to investigate or properly investigate facts when brought to faculty members’ attention;

• a reluctance to avoid confronting a person with prominent standing in the community;

• an administrative structure that was not well-suited to dealing with these types of issues;

• a lack of communication between Threefold-affiliated schools and programs;

• a lack of a written policy identifying clear and appropriate boundary lines between faculty and students and a clear protocol for reporting and investigating such reports; and

• a lack of education and training for GMWS students, faculty and staff, and parents regarding identifying and reporting inappropriate conduct.

For more on this and similar situations, see "Extremity".

I enjoyed my years as a Waldorf student, and I assume that most Waldorf students have similarly pleasant experiences. But, clearly, parents need to recognize that while corporal punishment, bullying, and other forms of violence may be rare in Waldorf schools, they are by no means unknown. Waldorf teachers may often believe that their authority comes from the gods, which may justify them in almost any actions they choose to take. Likewise, Waldorf teachers may believe that the events that befall children are fated — they are necessary enactments of karma or the gods' will — and thus no one should interfere to prevent such events.

At a minimum, parents who send their children to Waldorf schools should be as vigilant protecting their children in that circumstance as they would be in any other circumstance.

— Roger Rawlings

Waldorf schools claim to respect 
each child's individuality,
but in fact they categorize students 
by such bogus measures
as race and "temperament".
The results can be, in and of themselves,
[R. R., 2010.]

The universe as described by Steiner 

teems with gods arrayed in hierarchies. 

There are good gods and evil gods, 

high spiritual powers and low. 

Humans must not blindly obey the gods — 

but we also must not deny 

the authority and wisdom of those above us. 

[Traditional image of the Norse god Thor.
M. E. Winge.]

Steiner generally abhorred violence. 

Yet the universe he described is a violent place, 

one in which the gods sometimes 

wage war against one another. 

Above you see the god Thor, 

champion of one band of gods, 

who will be instrumental in the final showdown 

between good and evil spirits: Götterdamerung. 

Steiner did not present such myths are literal truth, 

but he asserted that they are essentially true 

and that gods such as Thor really exist.

[Traditional, public domain image.]

Peace and transcendence are our proper goals, 

according to many faiths, but attaining them is arduous.

According to Steiner, struggles between nations 

on Earth often reflect celestial battles.

Our personal struggles also have a spiritual basis:

Our sufferings enable us to pay the karmic penalty 

for errors we made in past lives. 

Steiner's vision includes elements of Christianity, 

Hinduism, and other creeds and systems.

There is a “fundamental polarity between teacher and parents ... [T]he role of the teachers [is] to take primary responsibility for the incarnation of the child ... [T]he teacher is the king or queen of their classroom.” The role of the parents is to ask themselves “What can I do for [the school].”  Parents help “incarnate the school” by becoming “the financial pillar.” [That is to say, they provide money for the school to operate.] — Robert Schiappacasse, essay #1 in ADMINISTRATIVE EXPLORATIONS: Essays on Business Practices within Waldorf Schools (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 2000), pp. 6-8.

Whatever is right or wrong about Waldorf schools, the ultimate source lies in Steiner's occultism. Steiner acknowledged that we live in the physical universe, and he admitted (sometimes) that science describes this universe with some precision. But he also claimed that we simultaneously live in another universe, which is essentially more real. 

This sketch presents a version of the etheric universe. Steiner attributed the following description to the ancients, but it is close to his own view. In the center you see the Earth (green). Surrounding it is Hell or the Abyss (red), the barrier that divides us from the rest of the etheric universe. Outside the Abyss is the sphere of the Moon (gray). This sphere encloses the Earth: We live in the Earth sphere but also inside the Moon sphere, making us subject to Moon forces. Outside the Moon sphere are other, increasingly larger spheres, each of which encloses all of the smaller spheres. We live within all of these spheres and are subject to their forces. In order, the spheres are Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the crystal heaven or the realm of fixed stars. This is, in accordance with Steiner's teachings, the ancient astrological description of the heavens. 

“[T]he idea was that the earth was inside the moon, and the bit we see of the moon is only a tiny, solid part of it ... [I]f the earth were not within the powers of the moon, human beings...would not be able to procreate ...  If human beings did not have the powers of Mercury in them all the time they would not be able to digest ... Venus lives in our blood. Everything that has to do with blood in us comes from the powers of Venus ... [T]he powers of the sun are above all active in the human heart ... connected with everything to do with speech and everything we have by way of breathing organs ... Jupiter...has to do with our brain, really our sense organs, our brain with the sense organs ... Saturn has to do with our organs of thinking ... Copernicus' image of the world [i.e., the physical, scientific image] has all been calculated. Those earlier people [the ancients, who were wiser] did not make calculations. But they knew something else, something modern people do not know. They knew that the powers were active everywhere in the world, wherever you look. But these powers, which are also in the human being, are not in the world we see with our eyes; they are in the invisible realm ... Dante [who presented the ancient view] was therefore speaking of a very different world, an etheric world ... [H]e wrote of the invisible realm, of the etheric world." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM LIMESTONE TO LUCIFER (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 41-45.


[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on illustration on p. 42.] 

By and large, Steiner accepted the ignorance of the ancient peoples, calling it wisdom; and he rejected the knowledge of modern science, calling it ignorance. People of faith today may agree that a spiritual realm exists, but in considering Waldorf schools they should ask themselves whether the spiritual realm is the place Steiner described, a realm of celestial spheres, astrology, clairvoyance, and multiple other esoteric elements. In the final analysis, Waldorf education stands on such a vision, and Waldorf teachers are largely guided by propositions and beliefs derived from such a vision. The effects on students can be damaging and persistent.

[R.R., 2010.]

For other cautionary tales and words of advice,
see, e.g.,

Here is an item I originally posted 

on the Waldorf Watch "news" page.

(I have modified it slightly for use here.)

Efforts at communication between Anthroposophists and their critics are difficult. Often people on opposite sides of the divide use language in different ways and admire different forms of thought. Still, the efforts are probably worthwhile, even if they rarely lead to true mutual understanding.

One venue for an ongoing conversation is the Waldorf Critics website []. This is not a neutral forum — Anthroposophists who visit the site are entering a more or less hostile environment. Still, some do visit, and sometimes interesting messages are passed back and forth.

Today one Anthroposophist decided to quit the discussion there. Here is a portion of her departing message, followed by a message I posted in response:

Message from departing Anthroposophist:

<carynlouise24@...> wrote:

Alas though I can't hang around your fun anymore personally I find it rather dull and stupid.

Message from Roger Rawlings:

Anyone who wants to get a handle on Anthroposophy would do well simply to come to this site and read the messages posted here by Anthroposophists. These messages speak for themselves.

Like many — perhaps all — forms of faith, Anthroposophy appeals to souls in pain. The mean-spiritedness found in so many Anthroposophical messages often has its roots in suffering. 

One quick example: Anthroposophist Robert Sardello — who explicitly identifies himself as a soul in pain — offers a catalog of the things he finds distressing: 

"Medicine, education, money, food, energy, media, technology, religion, buildings, economics — all of these organizing forms that together ought to make culture no longer do so but instead are making a pathological civilization. The new symptoms are fragmentation, specialization, expertise, depression, inflation, cruelty, hardness, violence and absence of beauty. Our buildings are anorectic, our business paranoid, detached, and abstract, our technology manic." — Robert Sardello, FACING THE WORLD WITH SOUL (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 15-16.

This is a virtually all-encompassing catalogue of complaints about life in the modern world. And it reflects the view of life typically promoted at Waldorf schools: Everything in the modern world is horrid. Humankind has gone wholly off track — except us, here, in our lovely, superior, little cultic community.

Steiner said that Anthroposophy is meant to be a balm for tortured souls. He spoke of "[T]he longing human soul in its yearning, tormented emptiness" [THE SPIRITUAL HIERARCHIES AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD: Reality and Illusion, p. 224] and he offered his system as an antidote to suffering: "[W]e may point to spiritual science as a bearer of the redemption of human longing ... [S]piritual science now provides what tempestuous but also woeful human beings have sought for a long time." [Ibid., p. 231.]

The mean-spiritedness that we so often find in Anthroposophists’ messages derives, at least in part, from pain. We should be sympathetic — although this can be hard when the nastiness is directed at us individually. I myself have (gasp!) not always been utterly Christlike in my responses to attacks directed at my sweet self. But I do try to remind myself sometimes that every Anthroposophist I have ever known has been a good person, or at least has aspired to be a good person, and the suffering these good persons have inflicted can often be attributed to the suffering they either feel or desperately try to deny.

In December, 2012, 

a prominent advocate of Waldorf education

posted a video mocking the concerns 

of parents whose children 

had been bullied at Waldorf schools.


Here is a comment written in response:

"Humor is often used by those in denial. In light of recent tragic bullying stories (esp. those involving youth suicide), mocking parent concerns is reprehensible. Unfortunately, bullying is a serious problem in lots of social scenes today; the good news is that many schools are holding community forums and inviting psychologists to address the problems. How does Waldorf handle the issue? This movement ostensibly concerned with 'social renewal' simply forms study groups where they discuss whether or not Waldorf teachers should interfere with the karma of bullies and victims. Remember the paper Dan posted a few years ago — the one the authors demanded be removed from public view? 

"Bullying in Waldorf is probably the #1 complaint I've heard about Waldorf over the years — countless accounts of teachers standing idly by as children are teased and bullied verbally and/or physically on Waldorf playgrounds. A few years ago an acquaintance asked me to speak to her friend (whose son had been bullied at a Waldorf school). I'd never met this woman before and sat with her for hours as she sobbed while trying to explain the gut-wrenching saga of her traumatized young son and what he went through in his Waldorf school. Both her son and her were devastated at what had transpired and at the total lack of accountability by staff at the school. They ended up selling their house and moved far away from the school. Waldorf had been a wonderful dream of a healthy community for this single mom; it turned into a horrible nightmare and she almost lost her son. 

"And now their leaders create silly videos mocking the concerns of parents. Very sad. 

"If Waldorfers refuse to change their occult beliefs (karma/bullying and children working stuff out from previous lives), they at least owe it to parents and kids to explain these beliefs — and potential repercussions — BEFORE any children join the 'community.'"

— Steve Walden

Bullying and karma are intertwined issues often discussed by critics and defenders of Waldorf education. Critics contend that Waldorf teachers allow bullying among their students — in Waldorf belief, the children must be allowed to work out their karmas. Defenders of Waldorf education generally deny that Waldorf teachers look away when bullying occurs or fights break out, although they acknowledge that karma is a key concept in the ideology underlying Waldorf schooling: Anthroposophy.

Here are excerpts from a recent exchange on these matters. The participants were Eugene Schwartz, a leading proponent of Waldorf education, and Dan Dugan, a prominent Waldorf critic. I have edited and trimmed for length and clarity. [To see the entire exchange. go to]

Eugene Schwartz: “I, too, have often heard people say that Rudolf Steiner said that children need to ‘work out their karma’ in the classroom and on the playground. However, I must tell you that I have never seen that quote in print or heard of its provenance from any experienced Waldorf teacher. To the best of my knowledge, this is one of those apocryphal ‘Steiner said’ statements that have circulated through the Waldorf movement without any substantiation.” 

Dan Dugan: “I agree, I think it's mainly a post-Steiner Waldorf school tradition, based on study of Steiner. An otherwise sensible presentation on bullying to the faculty of Alan Howard Waldorf School by Cynthia Kennedy and Betty Robertson, May 13, 1999, includes the following waffling language: 

'Can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully? Is it a child’s destiny to seek certain experiences to build his or her self-esteem and inner self? Should a potentially abusive situation be stopped, and if so, at what point? We do not know the answers...'

"This way of thinking can only be traced to studies of Steiner's books and lectures about karma. I can't imagine where else it would come from. For non-Anthroposophists, there is no question about the responsibility of adults when they see children bullying."

Schwartz: "To my understanding, Steiner was certainly trying to find an alternative to the strict and harsh Prussian model of education that was endemic in his day ... [He was] a man of his time, sharing a fresh and vital educational impulse in common with many others."

Dugan: "Sure, Waldorf was progressive in its day ... [But] it got stuck in the 1920s forever. And Steiner wasn't altogether opposed to the Prussian model: 

'If a child is ten minutes late, keep him standing for thirty minutes. Make them stand uncomfortably! ... [M]ake them stand in an especially uncomfortable place ... You could buy a number of small stocks ... The stocks could also be made in Woodwork lessons.' [Rudolf Steiner, CONFERENCES WITH THE TEACHERS OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL IN STUTTGART 1919 to 1920, Vol. 1 (Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, 1986), p. 91.]"

Schwartz: "...
Steiner...was never in favor of a free-for-all, and he never spoke about children working out their karma through unsupervised Summerhill-like chaos* masquerading as 'play.' Waldorf teachers are held to a very high degree of responsibility by Steiner in terms of looking after the children's behavior with one another in and out of the classroom."

Dugan: "If someone today was holding them 'to a very high degree of responsibility' things would be a lot better."

Schwartz: "A teacher who has been negligent in the playground, and allowed bullying or roughhousing to go on to the point where someone was emotionally or physically hurt, may want to justify his negligence and talk about 'karma' in the same way that teachers in a non-Waldorf school might misuse any number of psychological or sociological terms ... However, this is not the way that Rudolf Steiner spoke about karma, nor is it a foundational principle of Waldorf education to let things just happen."

Dugan: "Not a 'foundational principle,' but certainly a tradition, it keeps popping up year after year...."

Schwartz: "Steiner, indeed, rarely spoke about karma without also speaking about the moral wakefulness that his teaching should evoke ... On the playing field, as in the classroom, the Waldorf teacher is meant to carry a deep sense of responsibility, and not justify his nonchalance by misquoting Steiner. 

"I have no question that you will continue to hear from parents who feel that 
their child's school is not paying enough attention to the bullying issue."

Dugan: "Sounds like denial to me. It's not a matter of 'not paying enough attention.' It's deliberately refusing to intervene when children are fighting, based on principles thatsomeone taught them.

'If you see your child hit another child in the sandbox, what do you do? This was the question posed by the keynote speaker, [Waldorf teacher and author] Jack Petrash, at last month’s Gateways Conference. In his answer he suggested that there are times when you may need to say the word "no", regardless of the age of the listener.' [Kennedy & Robertson]

"There are times when you may need to say no? That's a clue as to who's maintaining this pernicious tradition — the Waldorf teacher trainers.

'[T]he college chair** told me that since I was withdrawing my child from the first grade for being bullied, that my child would be "karmically" distressed for the rest of their life because I didn't let them work it out in this classroom, with this group of children.' [Stephanie Brooks, ESTABLISHING SUCCESSFUL AND HEALTHY TEACHER AND PARENT RELATIONSHIPS IN WALDORF SCHOOLS (Antioch New England Graduate School, Spring 2002, Revised Spring 2004, p. 22).]

"There was at least one college chair teaching the tradition. 

"Margaret Meyerkort wrote: 'I want to remind us of another suggestion of Steiner's. In fact for me it is an admonition, and that is: "Do not interfere with the will of the child." Why? Because in his will, in his unconscious, lies his karma and because in karma freedom must reign.' 
[A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE WALDORF KINDERGARTEN, Vol. 2, edited by Joan Almon (Waldorf Kindergarten Association of North America, Inc., 1993), p. 78.] 

"That's getting close to a smoking gun."

Schwartz: "I don't imagine that the growing number of parents who are gratified by the way in which Waldorf schools are now dealing with bullying are likely to call you ... Waldorf schools have accomplished a lot in terms of raising the consciousness of children, teachers, and parents concerning bullying and its antidotes."

Dugan: "Neither of us has done a real study ... [Y]ou can make fun of parents who are upset*** by the policy of many Waldorf schools, and...we can report that bullying happens in many Waldorf schools in a  special way endemic to Waldorf: tolerated as a matter of policy.

"And you can say to me that there is a great deal more to be done and I don't  disagree."

• ◊ •

A comment from RR:

What did Steiner say about karma? He said that karma is not ironclad, but generally it should be allowed to play out.  

• "Karma must be fulfilled." — Rudolf Steiner, ACCORDING TO MATTHEW (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), lecture 11, GA 100. 

• "Karma must be worked out on the earth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE DEED OF CHRIST AND THE OPPOSING SPIRITUAL POWERS (Steiner Book Centre, 1954), GA 107.

 • "Karma must be carried out, and these things are necessary....” — Rudolf Steiner, STAYING CONNECTED (SteinerBooks, 1999), p. 36. 

For more, see "Karma".

Endnotes added by RR.

* Summerhill School is an experimental academy founded on the educational theories of A.S. Neill; it is not a Waldorf or Steiner school.

** The central governing committee at many Waldorf schools is called the college of teachers. The chairperson of this committee is, then, the "college chair."

*** This is a reference to a video created by Schwartz. [See]

The following is a message I posted at waldorfcritics

in response to the Schwartz/Dugan exchange, above.


If Steiner did not explicitly say that children must be allowed to work out their karmas through occasional violence and bullying, Waldorf teachers might nonetheless reasonably conclude, from Steiner's teachings, that any violent tendencies in a child’s karma should be honored. Without referring to bullying as such, Steiner said that Waldorf teachers must expect and indeed accept a certain amount of violence among their students. This is most clearly seen in his discussions of temperament, especially the choleric temperament. And bear in mind, Steiner said that temperament arises, at least in part, from karma, so when children express their temperaments, they also express their karmas.

Choleric kids should be placed together in the classroom, Steiner said, in the full expectation that they will fight one another, at least for a while.

“[I]t has a salutary effect if one seats choleric children together in one corner of the classroom, giving a certain relief in this way to the rest of the class, because the teacher is freed from having to constantly discipline them. Choleric children can’t help pushing and hitting each other. If they now find themselves suddenly at the receiving end, this in itself produces a thoroughly pedagogical effect, because the ones who do the pushing and shoving, goading others into retaliating, are being ‘shaped up’ in a very direct way.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD’S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 177.

Note that the teacher, in this scenario, does not try to prevent violence. Rather, s/he must accept that “choleric children can’t help pushing and hitting each other.” The teacher puts the choleric kids together knowing they will fight; s/he is thus “freed from having to constantly discipline them.” So s/he lets the violence play itself out. And we should understand clearly, this is violence inside the classroom, during actual class sessions!

Steiner frequently made the same recommendation: Clump the choleric kids together and let them smack each other. The violence will naturally subside, he said.

• “The cholerics hit and smack each other and finally they get tired of the blows they get from the other cholerics ... [T]he children of each temperament rub each other’s corners off extraordinarily well when they sit together.”  — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD  (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 63

• “[W]e try to determine which children are choleric and place them together. Thus, the teachers know that one corner contains all the children who tend to be choleric ... This method of grouping has great advantages ... [T]he phlegmatics become so bored with sitting together that, to get rid of their boredom, they begin to interact. Cholerics, on the other hand, beat up on one another, and this, too, quickly improves.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 140.

• “Waldorf teachers study the temperaments of those children entrusted to them ... They place the melancholics together...[and] the cholerics together [etc.] ... As for the cholerics, they heal each other thoroughly, since it is best to let cholerics work off their choler on one another. If bruises are exchanged, it has a very sobering effect.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 83.

• “As for the cholerics who constantly push and punch each other when sitting together, they learn in a wonderfully corrective way how to curb their temperament, at least to some extent!” — Rudolf Steiner,  WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 202.

Preventing choleric children from expressing their nature would actually damage the kids’ health, Steiner said: 

“When choleric children are seated together, there will be such a constant exchange of blows that the resulting bruises they give each other will have an extraordinary healing effect on their temperament ... [But if] we forced a choleric to sit still and to be quiet, the result would be an accumulation of suppressed choler that would act like a poison in the child’s system. It simply would not work.”  — Rudolf Steiner, SOUL ECONOMY  (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), pp. 212-213.

The temperament and, we might add, karma of a child can cause a Waldorf teacher to accept behavior that would, under other circumstances, be banned. Steiner gave the green light for one group of students to "push and hit" one another, to "hit and smack," to "beat up" one another, to "bruise" one another, and to "push and punch." Might any of this mayhem amount of bullying? Obviously, yes. Not all choleric kids are equally large and strong; some — smaller and weaker — would be at a severe disadvantage when the violence begins. And, in truth, since there is no such thing as a choleric temperament — the four-temperament paradigm is fallacious* — Steiner was really describing a process of segregating an arbitrarily defined subset of kids and allowing them to go at each other. This is sanctioned violence that almost inevitably would spill out of classrooms into hallways and playgrounds, where it would likely escalate into harsh and even brutal (punching, hitting, smacking, bruising) forms of bullying.

To wrap this up, we should note that — according to Steiner — karma expresses itself not just in temperament but in body type.** Thus, some kids have bodies that are naturally peaceable while others have bodies that are naturally prone to violence. Waldorf teachers need to recognize this without undue emotion. 

“When we see someone with small hands and arms, we will immediately say to ourselves: well, there’s no great urge in that person to hit someone. But when arms and hands are too long and heavy, the impulse to hit out must be charged to that person’s karma, their destiny, and not judged from an emotional point of view.” — Rudolf Steiner, BALANCE IN TEACHING (Anthroposophic Press, 2007), p. 54.

If a kid with long, heavy arms and hands wallops a smaller kid on the playground, a Waldorf teacher might quite naturally — and unemotionally — stand aside, letting karma work its wonders. In at least some instances, the teacher's passivity would effectively sanction bullying.

Postscript. Is it really possible that any Waldorf school today operates as Steiner said it should? Is it really possible, for instance, that "choleric" children are allowed to fight during classes in Waldorf schools? It seems incredible. But most of the thinking behind Waldorf education is similarly incredible. Waldorf schooling is based on the preachments of Rudolf Steiner; Waldorf schools are called Steiner schools, and with reason. We should hope that Waldorf teachers today do not segregate children on the basis of "temperament," and that they do not look away when children of one "temperament" punch and push and whack and bruise each other. And yet, we have heard Rudolf Steiner on these points. And, in fact, each quotation I have cited above comes from a book in the "Foundations of Waldorf Education" series, published in recent years. So, do Waldorf schools operate as Steiner said they should? In many ways — indeed, in most ways — yes, they do.

* See "Humoresque" and "Temperaments".

** Steiner said that choleric kids are typically short, stocky, and bull-necked. Sanguine children are slender, elegant, well-balanced. Phlegmatics are big, fleshy, and round. Melancholics are large, bony, with heavy limbs and bowed heads. Considerable variation is possible within each category. Thus, for instance, some choleric are larger and stronger than others.

An item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page
[See "March, 2013" and "Moms"]:

I am so disappointed. I thought Waldorf would be a great experience for my daughter. It is, EXCEPT 

1. 5 kids in the class are out of control, constantly interrupting, hitting, yelling. Stealing crayons & flutes from other children's desks, etc. The main bully had another child restrain a third child in the boys bathroom so he could punch him — one of 1000 examples. 

2. The teacher says that the rowdy kids "need held" and my dau. needs to be stronger. 

3. The teacher says the bullies are really improving so much since September, that should make all of us parents content. 

4. The school will not acknowledge that there are any problems. 

5. 4/5 of the bullies are from rich families. 

It is too late to apply to other schools for next fall. I am so depressed. When I googled "waldorf bullying" i lost my mind. I had no idea it was like this. 

How can it be OK to tolerate so much chaos? Those 5 kids take up 70% of the teacher's time. 


Bullying has been — and apparently still is — a serious problem in Waldorf schools for several reasons, including the belief that children must be allowed to enact their karmas (some kids are fated to bully while others are fated to be bullied), the belief that guardian angels will oversee the children so teachers needn't bother, and the defensive belief that things cannot possibly go amiss in Waldorf schools. All of these factors seem to underlie the problem reported here. 

It is important to recognize that most students in Waldorf schools are not physically abused by students or teachers. Waldorf schools are usually peaceful places where the days pass pleasantly. Most graduates of Waldorf schools probably have, for the most part, pleasant memories of their childhood years.

The chief problem with Waldorf education is not that students are physically abused (although some of them are); the chief problem is that students are lured toward a wholly false view of reality. Most Waldorf teachers are, to one degree or another, followers of Rudolf Steiner, and as such they believe in such things as karma, reincarnation, guardian angels, Atlantis, gnomes, the Sun God, astrology, floating continents, present-day populations of the Moon and planets, clairvoyance, ghosts, magic... The list is long and depressing. [For a catalogue of bizarre Waldorf beliefs, see "Steiner's Blunders".]

The bodies of Waldorf students may not usually be in danger. But the minds and souls of Waldorf students quite often are. [See, e.g., "Sneaking It In".]

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


For parents considering sending kids to a Waldorf school

Detailed pointers on evaluating a Waldorf school

Reverence, wonder, and the aftereffects of straining for them

One family's story [external link]


Some positive elements, but also...

A parent's cry


Court case

A father asks for guidance

Looking at a Parent Handbook

Unjustly assailed

An inquiry into the “success” of Waldorf schooling

The “temperaments” as conceived and acted upon in Waldorf schools

Can a Waldorf school cleanse itself?

Examining a problem that began with the first Waldorf School

An overview and a parent's personal report [external link]


You may also want to consult a few essays 
posted elsewhere at Waldorf Watch:

A guide for students and parents

Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

Some illustrations used 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, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 93.

Steiner taught that discipline should be especially firm in the lowest grades. As children mature, he said, they may be permitted increasing degrees of latitude. Teachers may then function more nearly as friendly guides than as authoritarian masters. Still, students of all ages should defer to their teachers, accepting the teachers' fundamental authority. In Waldorf schools, Steiner said, discipline should be maintained, authority should be respected, and silence (among the students) should largely prevail. "[T]each the children respect. The children should not raise their hands so much." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 65.

[2] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.

[3] Rudolf Steiner DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 67.


[5] Consider this statement by Anthroposophist John Fentress Gardner: "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment on independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." — THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128.

If any system of belief should be subjected to intense critical thinking and analysis, it is Anthroposophy. But this is precisely what Anthroposophists work to avoid. 

(Full disclosure: J. F. Gardner was my headmaster at a Waldorf school. My mother was his secretary. Mr. Gardner became a leading spokesman for Steiner education in the US. Note that in 1975, my alma mater, along with its extension, The Waldorf Institute, had been built up sufficiently to create their own publishing house: the Waldorf Press. Much of this success was attributable to Mr. Gardner. But soon thereafter, Mr. Gardner was involved in a scandal that almost ruined everything. [See “The Waldorf Scandal”.]) 


Steiner was often intensely concerned about the Waldorf School’s reputation. See, e.g., his worries about what people might say if they learn about certain occult beliefs at the school (Ibid., pp. 649-650: “Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings ....”), his insistence that teachers avoid using the word “prayer” for the morning verse (Ibid., p.20: “We also need to speak about a prayer. I ask only one thing of you ... Avoid allowing anyone to hear you, as a faculty member, using the word ‘prayer.’”), and his distress over the poor results achieved by Waldorf students on important examinations (Ibid., p. 725: “The results gave a very unfavorable impression of our school to people outside.”)

[7] Ibid., p. 22.

[8] If a teacher has permission from school authorities and/or from students' parents to use corporal punishment, then s/he cannot be blamed for resorting to such temperate violence. But how can we account for any intemperate violence committed by Waldorf teachers — cases where the teachers apparently lose control?

It is possible that Waldorf teachers are under special forms of strain and feel special forms of anger. Those who are true-believing Anthroposophists yearn for mystical fulfillments that are impossible. They may have been drawn to occultism because they were unhappy with the real world, and their unhappiness may deepen when their chosen alternative to reality — Steiner’s belief system — fails to give them transcendence.  Unhappiness can tip over into disappointment, which in turn can feed anger.


[10] Ibid., p. 69.

[11] Ibid., p. 110.

An earlier translation is more brutal: Steiner refers not to sheds but to stocks. "You could buy a number of small stocks ... The stocks could also be made in Woodwork lessons." — Rudolf Steiner, CONFERENCES WITH THE TEACHERS OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL IN STUTTGART 1919 to 1920, Vol. 1 (Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, 1986), p. 91.



Detail, Waldorf student art.

[R.R., 2011.]