Religion and More
in Waldorf Schools
[Anthroposophic Press, 1986.]
In the lectures published as SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION, Rudolf Steiner worked hard to make Waldorf schooling seem sensible. He did not succeed, but who can blame him? The foundation of Waldorf schooling is Anthroposophy, a system of occult, mystical, pagan beliefs. Waldorf schools are no more sensible than Anthroposophy itself.
The book's title, incorporating the term "soul economy," refers to the Anthroposophical doctrine that children, like all humans, are beings of body, spirit, and soul. Waldorf schools are "economical" when they carefully tend to all three levels of human existence. Soul economy, in particular, is the intended husbanding and nurturing of a child's soul within his/her entire being, especially as this is undertaken by the self-appointed, unordained clergy who constitute a true-believiving Waldorf faculty.*
Shown above is a somewhat antiquated edition of the book, interesting for having a design created by Rudolf Steiner himself on the cover, and for using slightly unguarded language. A newer edition, titled simply SOUL ECONOMY (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), is a bit more circumspect. In order to play fair, I will quote exclusively from the newer, toned-down book.
[Anthroposophic Press, 2003.]
Here, then, are some eye-opening statements made by Steiner in SOUL ECONOMY, 2003 edition. I have appended commentary to each statement.
* See, e.g., "Schools as Churches".
[Religion] “[I]n terms of cosmology, philosophy, and religion, anthroposophic goals were never intended to be merely theoretical but to enter social life in a direct and practical way....” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 3.
Steiner generally insisted that ◊ Anthroposophy is not a religion, and ◊ Waldorf schools do not convey Anthroposophical teachings to the students. Both claims are untrue. Here, to give one slight example, we see Steiner acknowledging that Anthroposophy has religious purposes (along with cosmological and philosophical purposes). Perhaps he didn't think through what he was saying, but in a statement such as this he came closer to the truth than he often did. Anthroposophy tries to bring cosmology, philosophy, and religion into social life in a direct way. One major avenue for this is provided by Waldorf schools.
[Religions, Old and New] “[Y]ou will find that ancient religion was never seen as mere faith — this happened only in later times — but that religions were based on direct experience and insight into spirit worlds.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 38.
Steiner refused to call Anthroposophy a religion for a variety of reasons. He liked to say that Anthroposophy is a science (which it is not), which caused him to say that Anthroposophy is not a religion (which it is). He understood that a "scientific" approach to spiritual matters would set his spiritual system apart and attract followers from many diverse circles.* He especially wanted to differentiate Anthroposophy from modern religions that rely entirely on faith.** He claimed that Anthroposophy allows people to directly explore the spirit realm through the use of clairvoyance. This is what the ancient religions did (providing "direct experience and insight into spirit worlds") and it is what Anthroposophy does now, he claimed. Thus, we come upon one of many contradictions Steiner stumbled into. Despite his denial that Anthroposophy is a religion, the logic of his statement is that Anthroposophy is a religion like the powerful, ancient religions. Once again, Steiner evidently did not think through what he was saying, but his words tell us that Anthroposophy is a religion.
* He adopted the notion of "spiritual science" from Theosophy. Theosophists, like Anthroposophists, call their system "spiritual science."
** And yet he stressed the importance of faith. [See "Faith".]
[Anthroposophical Religious Lessons] “[T]his is how our free, nondenominational, religion lessons came about. These were given by our own teachers, just as the other religious lessons were given by ministers. The teachers were recognized by us as religious teachers in the Waldorf curriculum. Thus, anthroposophic religious lessons were introduced in our school. “ — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 125.
I wonder if Steiner thought through these words, either. He was explaining that he allowed Catholic and Protestant ministers to come into the Waldorf School and provide lessons in religion. But, additionally, "free, nondenominational, religion lessons" were offered in the Waldorf School. Who taught these religion lessons? Anthroposophists, Waldorf teachers — "our own teachers." What did these teachers' efforts produce in this regard? "Anthroposophic religious lessons were introduced in our school.“ How could this be — how could there be such a thing as "Anthroposophic religious lessons"? Because Anthroposophy is a religion, and Waldorf teachers, as practitioners of Anthroposophy, are exponents of the Anthroposophical faith. And, significantly, Anthroposophical religious instruction was introduced into Waldorf schools. It was optional; it as "free;" but it was present. (It was "nondenominational" in the sense that it was not associated with any established religion — except for the religion called Anthroposophy.)
[Conveying Religion Properly] "We must not teach accepted dogmas or fixed formulas as ethical and religious instruction; rather, we must learn to nurture the divine spiritual element that lives in the human soul. Only then shall we guide children correctly, without impinging on their inner freedom to eventually choose their own religious denomination. Only then will students be spared inner uncertainty on discovering that one adult is a member of the High Church while another may be a Puritan. We must succeed in enabling students to grasp the real essence of religion.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 283.
This is a concise statement of the religious goal of Waldorf schooling: "to nurture the divine spiritual element that lives in the human soul" and thereby to help students "grasp the real essence of religion.” In other words, Waldorf schools provide the spiritual guidance children need, exposing them to true religion. In other, other words, Anthroposophy is a religion and Waldorf schools train their students in this religion.* The picture is complicated a bit by Steiner's insistence that students will be free to choose their own religious denominations later in life. (In these lectures, Steiner was addressing non-Anthroposophists; hence, many of his statements are carefully conceived bits of window dressing.) In a sense, of course, it is true that children will be able "eventually to choose" — every child becomes an adult who theoretically can make free choices, at least within the privacy of the soul. But after a child has spent many years in a Waldorf school, being "guided" "correctly" toward the "real essence" of religion, s/he will likely choose to continue embracing the faith that Waldorf teachers revere as the truth: Anthroposophy.**
* At the first Waldorf School, overt Anthroposophical religious lessons were offered only to students who opted for them, or whose parents requested them. However, the religion of Anthroposophy infused virtually all classes and activities for all students are all grade levels, year after year. For the majority of students, training in Anthroposophy was thus covert. Much the same is true at typical Waldorf schools today. [See, e.g., "Sneaking It In".]
** For more on the Waldorf conception of freedom, see "Freedom".
[Non-Theoretical Religious Character] “[I]n keeping with its true spirit, the anthroposophic movement is always prepared to enter every branch of human life. Imagine that a different movement of a more theoretical religious character had decided to build a center....” — SOUL ECONOMY, pp. 5-6.
We will get off the subject of religion in a moment, but note that here Steiner distinguishes between Anthroposophy and movements that have "a more theoretical religious character." There is nothing theoretical about the religious character of Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is a definite, real religion that expects concrete actions from its adherents, as in teaching at Waldorf schools or working in other ways to spread Anthroposophy into "every branch of human life."
Concerning a movement's "centers": Every Waldorf school is, in sense, an Anthroposophical center.* So are most other institutions created and manned by Steiner's followers. But Anthroposophy also has an uber-center, its Vatican or Mecca — the Goetheanum, the movement's worldwide headquarters, which is in effect a cathedral.** Located in Dornach, Switzerland, "The Goetheanum was built as the right and proper place for the anthroposophic movement." — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 5.
* See "Schools as Churches".
** See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"
[Not Merely Religious] “[A]nthroposophy is in its right element only when it can fertilize every aspect of life. It must never be seen merely as a philosophical and religious movement.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 7.
True. Anthroposophy is not merely "a philosophical and religious movement." It is also an educational movement, a cultural movement, an artistic movement, and so forth.* But among its attributes are its "philosophical and religious" elements. It is, among other things, a religious movement.
OK. Enough about religion. On to other things.
* See, e.g., "Threefolding".
[Avoiding the Harmful Intellect] “[I]f children are being educated only in an intellectual way, their inborn capacities and human potential become seriously impaired and wither away. For some, this realization has led to a longing to replace intellectuality with something else. One has appealed to children’s feelings and instincts. To steer clear of the intellect, we have appealed to their moral and religious impulses.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 16.
Educating children "only in an intellectual way" would be a mistake, Steiner says. Other elements of a child's nature also need to be fostered, as Waldorf schools aim to do. But note that Waldorf schools actually go to an extreme of anti-intellectualism. Steiner taught that the intellect is deadly and, indeed, it functions under the mastery of the horrible demon Ahriman. If we emphasize intellect, we may fall under the sway of “the supreme intellectual power: Ahriman.” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 167. The intellect is destructive. “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophical Press, 1995), p. 233. Thus, in Waldorf schools, use of the intellect is carefully hedged, limited, and — wherever possible — avoided. "To steer clear of the intellect, we have....”
[Science: Bad] “[A]n intellectual, natural scientific philosophy reduces the reality of human existence to a mere illusion [because science is not spiritual] ... [E]ven if people today do not recognize the way science affects their attitudes toward life, the negative consequences are nevertheless real. But the majority are not prepared to face reality. Nor do such theories remain the prerogative of an educated minority, because they reach the masses through magazines and popular literature, often in very subtle ways. And, against the background of this negative disposition of soul, we try to educate our children.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 21.
Waldorf schools not only distrust intellect (what we might call thinking), they distrust modern science and modern knowledge generally. They have more interest in the "wisdom" of the ancients (which is actually ignorance) than in the knowledge available to us in the modern world.*
It is worth pausing to consider whether an educational system can rationally be based on rejection of intellect and modern knowledge. All sorts of alarm bells should start ringing. But Steiner and his followers would not hear them. Rationality holds little appeal for Anthroposophists or Waldorf faculties. "You will injure children if you educate them rationally.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61.
[Technology] "I do not object at all to the use of typewriters ... Nevertheless, I find it is important to realize its implications ... We can clearly see what is happening inside the human body once we have reached the stage of clairvoyant imagination. In objective seeing such as this, every stroke of a typewriter key becomes a flash of lightning. And during the state of imagination, what one sees as the human heart is constantly struck and pierced by those lightning flashes. As you know, typewriter keys are not arranged according to any spiritual principle, but according to frequency of their use, so that we can type more quickly.* Consequently, when the fingers hit various keys, the flashes of lightning become completely chaotic. In other words, when seen with spiritual vision, a terrible thunderstorm rages when one is typing.” — SOUL ECONOMY, pp. 145-146.
Not only do Waldorf schools distrust intellect (what we might call thinking), science, and modern knowledge (what we might call truth), they have a deep aversion of modern technology, such as televisions and computers. Waldorf schools today typically have "media policies" requiring families to limit kids' exposure to such machines. We can see the roots of this attitude in Steiner's very peculiar statement about typing. Using clairvoyance, or "clairvoyant imagination," or "the state of imagination," one can perceive the dreadful lightning that bursts from typewriter keys. (The Waldorf approach is based on the use of clairvoyance — another subject we might pause over.**)
Obviously, technological devices can cause harm if they are misused. Watching too much TV or playing too many computer games is bad for kids. But typing? Just imagine what Steiner would have said about electric typewriters!*** Anthroposophists think the use of electricity poses grave moral risks. “The exploitation of electric forces — for example in information and computing technologies — spreads evil over the Earth in an immense spider’s web.” — Anthroposophist Richard Seddon, THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM AND BEYOND: From the Work of Rudolf Steiner (Temple Lodge Publishing, 1993), p. 24. In general, Steiner's followers consider computers and other electronic devices to fall within the realm of Ahriman — they are wicked, destructive, and greatly to be feared.**** Steiner himself warned that electricity will develop into a cataclysmic force of destruction. "[E]vil will invade the earth by coming in an immediate way out of the forces of electricity.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Overcoming of Evil”, ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET No. 7/8 (General Anthroposophic Society, 1948), GA 273.
All of this damaging stuff — intellect, science, technology — is limited as much as possible in Waldorf schools. Instead, the schools seek to honor "clairvoyant imagination" — which is a delusion. The Waldorf emphasis on imagination, which can seem so alluring, is actually a commitment to clairvoyance, and to backward thinking, preferring the "wisdom" to the ancients to the verifiable knowledge acquired in modern times. We'll deal with these matters more in the following sections.
* Actually, the standard typewriter layout — QWERTYUIOP — was designed to slow down typing, not speed it up. Better, faster layouts have been proposed but not adopted. "Despite test results which show that alternative layouts...permit faster typing, the traditional layout persists and now has been carried over into...personal computers." — ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA.
** See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".
*** All typewriters in Steiner's day were manual. (Steiner died in 1925.)
**** See "Spiders, Dragons and Foxes".
[Types of Knowledge] “If you want to arrange these levels of higher knowledge in a more or less systematic order, we can say, first of all, that in ordinary life we have knowledge of the material world, which we could call naturalistic knowledge. Then we come to knowledge gained through imagination, which has a kind of artistic nature. The next step is knowledge attained through inspiration, which is, in essence, a moral one. Finally we reach knowledge through intuition, which is like religious experiences, but only in the sense just described [that is, it is goes beyond ordinary religious feeling and provides objective knowledge of spiritual matters].” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 74.
Steiner liked lists and hierarchies. He liked to rank things. He ranked types of knowledge from the lowest (natural sciences, ordinary knowledge of the physical world) to progressively higher types: imagination, then inspiration, and higher yet, intuition. What he was actually talking about is clairvoyance. His entire system depends on the existence of clairvoyance. The problem is that clairvoyance does not exist, or at a minimum we have no real evidence that it exists.* Imagination, inspiration, and intuition are — in the Steiner system — stages of clairvoyance. Steiner taught that we can cultivate these now (and such cultivation is a goal in Waldorf schools), but in the future all humans who evolve properly will have these types of clairvoyant consciousness as a natural gift. Specifically (get ready for it), he said we will all possess perfect imagination when we evolve to Future Jupiter, we will all have perfect inspiration when we evolve to Future Venus, and we will all have perfect intuition when we evolve to Future Vulcan. (Yes, Vulcan.)** The question for parents in the here and now is whether you want people who believe such things to "educate" your children.***
* See "Clairvoyance".
** These are not the planets we see in the sky today; they are future incarnations of the entire solar system. After the solar system in its present form ceases to exist, it will reincarnate as Future Jupiter. Later the solar system will return as Future Venus, and later still as Future Vulcan. [See "Future Stages".]
*** For more on these matters, see "Jupiter Consciousness", "Venus Consciousness", and "Vulcan Consciousness" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.
[R.R., 21st century.]
[Clairvoyance] “Lower forms of clairvoyance, such as telepathy, telekinesis and so on — described correctly or wrongly — occur abnormally in human life and are simply the result of this premature aging in the central period of life. When this process of aging occurs at the proper time, people experience it in a healthy way, whereas if it appears in the twenties, a person gains clairvoyance of a low order.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 53.
Here we see Steiner ranking things again. There are low forms of clairvoyance and high forms, he said. Of course, his own form of clairvoyance — "exact" clairvoyance — is highest.* Note, too, the very strange proposition that young people will develop the wrong kind of clairvoyance if they mature too quickly. Waldorf schools aim to retard the maturation process, aiming to keep kids young as long as possible. The idea is that young children still have memories of the spirit realm where they lived before birth on Earth, and these should be preserved. As one Waldorf educator has written, kids have "a dream-like yet intensely real awareness of spiritual worlds. This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine ... [I]n a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young."** This raises a question: Should schools retard the growth (mental, spiritual, psychological...) of children? Isn't the goal, rather, to assist children as they mature, bearing in mind that different children mature at greatly different rates, and each child should be assisted to develop her/his capacities to the full? In Waldorf schools, children are intentionally held back.
* See "Exactly."
** See "Thinking Cap".
[Steiner’s Own Clairvoyance] “I will need to use the insights of clairvoyant consciousness to give you a clear description of what happens in young children ... When young children sleep, the soul and spiritual members leave the physical sheaths (just as in any adult) and reenter at the moment of awaking. In children, however, there is still no significant difference between conscious experiences while awake and unconscious experiences during sleep.” — SOUL ECONOMY, pp. 214-215.
It is very good of Steiner to share with us the fruits of his clairvoyance. (In this case, the fruits include information about two of our nonphysical bodies, the astral body and the “I” — they leave the physical body at night and return in the morning!)* Sadly, Steiner's clairvoyance seemed to misfire an awful lot, as we have already seen.** The underlying issue is whether clairvoyance exists at all. If it doesn't (and it doesn't), then none of Steiner's "clairvoyant" observations has any validity. And if none of these observations has validity, then the Waldorf system — which hinges on Steiner's observations and on the "clairvoyance" exercised by Waldorf faculty members — has no validity. Note that Steiner unashamedly offers us the fruits of his clairvoyance. He thereby, unwittingly, lets us know that we should distrust him and his creations — including Waldorf education.
* See "Incarnation". Steiner said. "We are two people in the night."
** See "Steiner's Blunders".
[Incarnation and Freedom] “Anthroposophy shows us that — apart from what a person may have developed even before birth or conception while still in the spiritual world and apart from what one will meet again after death — the very purpose of earthly incarnation involves enlivening the impulse toward freedom. This impulse depends completely on plunging into an earthly body. This freedom can be realized only during physical incarnation; we can attain freedom only while living on earth, and when we enter other worlds, we can take with us only the degree of freedom we have attained here on earth.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 102.
"Freedom" is a refrain used throughout Anthroposophy and Waldorf schooling. The Steinerian conception of freedom is terribly limited, however. Essentially, it means freedom from limiting circumstances, not freedom for making independent choices among an array of good options. There is only one truly good option, in the Waldorf universe: It is to follow Steiner. Essentially, we can be "free" here on Earth because here we are presented with both good and evil. We can choose the good or we can choose the evil. But choosing evil has dire consequences — you will ultimately destroy yourself, losing your soul. So, really, you have only one positive option, which becomes effectively mandatory: You must "freely" choose the good, which is Anthroposophy. [See "Freedom". While you're at it, you might also look at "Democracy".]
The other main element in this quotation is the concept of reincarnation. Steiner taught that we live many, many lives, returning to Earth over and over as we try to evolve upward spiritually. [See "Reincarnation".] This is a core concept behind Waldorf schooling. Whether there is any truth in it is, perhaps, questionable. Steiner never offered any real evidence to support the concept of reincarnation. Instead, as was his custom, he simply made pronouncements, ex cathedra as it were.
[Incarnation and School] “Incarnating human beings must first penetrate the body before establishing a relationship with the external world. First, the head forces are active. Later, these forces are poured into the muscles, then into the skeletal system, and after sexual maturity is reached, adolescents are able to enter the world. Only then can they stand properly in the world. This gradual process of incarnation needs to be considered if we want to find the right choice and presentation of class material.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 184.
We enter each new life on Earth slowly, Steiner said. The physical body is born, followed seven years later by the etheric body, which in turn is followed after another seven years by the astral body, and so on. [See "Incarnation".] Gradually, gradually, the child emerges as a fully formed human being. Waldorf teachers should bear this process in mind when making "the right choice and presentation of class material.” [See "Curriculum" and "Methods".] Of course, if there are no such things as etheric bodies, astral bodies, reincarnation, and so forth, then Waldorf teachers make their educational decisions on the basis of exactly nothing. But this nothing looms large in Waldorf pedagogy. The entire Waldorf curriculum and the methods of Waldorf education are built around Steiner's occult, clairvoyant account of childhood development — the process of incarnating, once again, to begin a new earthly life.
[Backward Evolution] “The constitution of fish...occurred during a later period of earthly evolution than that of the human being, and even then it met different outer conditions.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 168.
Evolution is another key Anthroposophical concept. Good people evolve upward, bad people evolve downward. Also, we did not evolve from animals; animals evolved from us. This is why (contrary to all evidence — what we might call truth) Steiner said that fish came later than humans. There is no evidence to support Steiner on these points. [In fact, the fossil record disproves Steiner's notion that animals evolved from humans, or specifically that humans evolved before fish. In the Waldorf system, however, inconvenient facts are often blocked out, while faith in Steiner and his fabulous inventions (Anthroposophy, biodynamics, Waldorf schooling) is affirmed. [See, e.g., "Evolution, Anyone?"]
[Temperaments and Bodies] “To a certain extent, sanguine children display the opposite characteristics of the melancholic or phlegmatic child. Young melancholics are immersed in bodily nature. Phlegmatic children are drawn outward to the spheres of infinity, because they are so strongly linked to their ether body. The ether body always inclines outward toward infinite totality; it disperses into the cosmos just a few days after death. Sanguine children live in what we call the astral, or soul, body. This member of the human being is different from the physical or ether bodies inasmuch as it is not concerned with anything temporal or spatial. It exists beyond the realm of time and space.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 210.
Waldorf teachers generally abide by Steiner's doctrine that children fall into four categories: sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, and choleric. These are actually the ancient "temperaments," based on "humours" (bodily fluids) — a system of classification that science tossed out long ago. It is bunk.* But in Waldorf schools, it is gospel — and students are segregated on the basis of these nonsensical categories. The psychological effect of such segregation can be heavy. [See "Humouresque" and "Temperaments".]
Temperaments, as conceived in Waldorf belief, are about as real the the etheric and astral bodies — two of three invisible bodies that, according to Waldorf belief, incarnate as a child grows. The etheric body incarnates at about age seven, the astral body at about age fourteen, and the ego body or ego (or "I") at about age twenty-one. All of this is fantasy, but it is taken as revealed Truth in the Waldorf movement. [See "Incarnation".]
* "Humour, also spelled Humor, (from Latin 'liquid' or 'fluid'), in early Western physiological theory, one of the four fluids of the body that were thought to determine a person’s temperament and features. In the ancient physiological theory still current in the European Middle Ages and later, the four cardinal humours were blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile); the variant mixtures of these humours in different persons determined their 'complexions,' or 'temperaments,' their physical and mental qualities, and their dispositions." — ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, Sept. 27, 2014. Modern science and medicine have dispensed with this ancient system.
[Temperaments and Teaching] “[A]part from the adopted features that children have unconsciously copied from their environment, they also bear their very own individual characteristics when they enter school. They are less pronounced than similar characteristics found in adults, features that we associate with melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, or choleric temperaments. Nevertheless, the children’s nature, too, is definitely colored by what could be called their temperamental disposition, so we can speak of children with melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric tendencies. It is essential for teachers to acquire a fine perception of the manifold symptoms and characteristics that arise from children’s temperamental dispositions and to find the right way of dealing with them.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 209.
So, just as Waldorf teachers must make decisions based on the doctrine of reincarnation, they must make decisions on the basis of "temperament." All such decisions are, in reality, baseless. (In making these decisions, Waldorf teachers should use their powers of clairvoyance. But this too is nonsense. Or they may consult horoscopes, but this too is...)* Treating children as individuals is clearly a good idea; noting that they come with "their very own individual characteristics" is correct. But this is undercut by the notion that children fall into four distinct categories. All "phlegmatic" children, for instance, are considered essentially alike, and they are deemed to be quite different from "sanguine" children, for instance. (We find the same problem in the Waldorf notion that all seven-year-old children are essentially alike, and so are all eight-year-old kids, and all other kids of all other ages.) The Waldorf system gives lip service to individuality, but actually it slots kids in large (and arbitrary, and fallacious) categories, blurring individuality and even suppressing it. Note that, in Waldorf education, recognizing the "individual characteristics" of a child entails detecting the child's "temperamental disposition...melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, [or] choleric."**
* In part, the decisions are based on children's behavior and body type. Tall, slender kids are usually typed as melancholic; short, stout ones are choleric; broad-shouldered ones are phlegmatic; "normal" ones are sanguine. One of the worst elements of the Waldorf belief in temperaments is that children are stereotyped, at least in part, on the basis of physical appearance.
** As in ancient belief about temperaments, in Waldorf belief children may possess various combinations of the humours and thus different, individual shadings of temperament. However, as we see here, in Waldorf belief kids are usually slotted into the four generalized, stereotypical categories, with individual variations largely overlooked.
[Authority and Teeth] “[The] sense for authority in children between the change of teeth and puberty must be respected and nurtured, because it represents an inborn need at this age. Before one can use freedom appropriately in later life, one must have experienced shy reverence and a feeling for adult authority between the change of teeth and puberty.” — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 151.
Steiner taught — and therefore Waldorf teachers believe — that children grow up in seven-year stages, ages 0-7, 7-14, and 14-21. Some Waldorf teachers consider this to be Steiner's most important educational contribution. But, sadly, it too is baseless. [See "Most Significant".]
About teeth: Steiner said that baby teeth fall out when the etheric body arrives. There are reasons to be — putting things mildly — skeptical about this notion. [See, e.g., "Coming Undone".]
About authority: Steiner said that Waldorf teachers should be unquestioned authority figures. "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." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 494. Steiner discouraged discussion and even the asking of questions. "[T]each the children respect. The children should not raise their hands so much." — Ibid., p. 65. Of course, not all Waldorf teachers abide by such precepts. But many do. It is only in the final years of high school — long after they have received, if things have gone according to plan, a thoroughgoing indoctrination — that Waldorf students are generally considered qualified to ask many questions and begin formulating ideas of their own. (If things have gone according to plan, those ideas will be thoroughly colored by the Anthroposophical training the kids have received.)
[Karma] "Since our will is woven into all our actions, we can see everywhere how destiny confronts us in the events of life. One could quote many others who, through observing ordinary life, reached the same conclusion. When we look at life’s external events, we find confirmation of the hidden truths of karma." — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 103.
Here's another basic Anthroposophical doctrine you may want to mull over: karma. Steiner said it is real and really important. [See "Karma".] But it too is...
[Avoiding Illness through Geometry] "Those who can look more deeply into life know that many people have been saved from neurasthenia, hysteria, and worse afflictions simply by learning how to observe triangles, quadrilaterals, tetrahedra, and other geometrical realities in the right way." — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 207.
The entry for this quotation in the book's index is "Illness, avoided through proper teaching of geometry." This is another striking indication of how Waldorf teachers think. Really. I'm not making up this stuff. Do you want people who think this way to make decisions about your child? (Does Tommy feel ill? Well, then, he'd better do some geometry.) Steiner, not incidentally, attributed all sorts of important powers to geometry (which happened to be one of his favorite subjects when he was a boy). For instance, “Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION: Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, and Mathematics (Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 92. I'm not making up this stuff.
[Dreams] “Adults tend to dismiss [children's] dreams as childish nonsense, but if you can experience their underlying reality, children’s dreams, so different from adult dreams, are in fact very interesting. Of course, children cannot express themselves clearly when speaking about their dreams, but there are ways of discovering what they are trying to say. And then we find that, through images of spirit beings in their dreams, children dimly experience the sublime powers of wisdom that help shape the brain and other physical organs. If we approach children’s dreams with a reverence in tune with their experience, we see a pervading cosmic wisdom at work in them. From this point of view (forgive this somewhat offensive statement), children are much wiser, much smarter than adults. And when teachers enter the classroom, they should be fully aware of this abundance of wisdom in the children. Teachers themselves have outgrown it, and what they have gained instead — knowledge of their own experience — cannot compare with it in the least." — SOUL ECONOMY, p. 94.
Again, we see Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf faculties rejecting knowledge in favor of fantasies, in this case the dreams of children. What a way to run a school! Keep the kids young, work with their karmas, their temperaments, and their states of reincarnation, and revere their dreams. By the way, Steiner said that Waldorf teachers should also consult their own dreams; he taught that his followers can develop the power to dream accurately and truly, so that the contents of dreams become reliable information. [See "Dreams" and "Thinking Cap".]
Concerning the "ways of discovering what they are trying to say" — the central tool Steiner claimed to use for all investigations was, as we have seen, clairvoyance.
As for "spirit beings" in children's dreams, according to Anthroposophical belief these are generally gods — Anthroposophy recognizes almost numberless gods — but some may also be gnomes, sylphs, fairies, giants, dwarfs, and other beings considered real by Anthroposophists. [See "Polytheism" and "Beings".] In reality, of course, children's dreams are populated by figments of the imagination, just as all dreams are. But, as we have seen, the Waldorf approach is not generally characterized by rational recognition of the truth.
[Overt vs. Covert] "Please understand that a Waldorf school — or any school that might spring from the anthroposophic movement — would never wish to teach anthroposophy as it exists today. I would consider this the worst thing we could do. Anthroposophy in its present form is a subject for adults and, as you can see from the color of their hair, often quite mature adults. Consequently, spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] is presented through literature and word of mouth in a form appropriate only to adults. I should consider the presentation to students of anything from my books THEOSOPHY or HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS the worst possible use of this material; it simply must not happen. If we taught such material, which is totally unsuitable for schoolchildren (forgive a somewhat trivial expression used in German), we would make them want 'to jump out of their skin.' Naturally, in class lessons they would have to submit to whatever the teacher brings, but inwardly they would experience such an urge. Anthroposophy as such is not to be taught in a Waldorf school. It’s important that spiritual science does not become mere theory or a worldview based on certain ideas; rather, it should become a way of life, involving the entire human being. Thus, when teachers who are anthroposophists enter school, they should have developed themselves so that they are multifaceted and skillful in the art of education. And it is this achievement that is important, not any desire to bring anthroposophy to your students. Waldorf education is meant to be pragmatic. It is meant to be a place where anthroposophic knowledge is applied in a practical way." — SOUL ECONOMY, pp. 122-123.
So, inevitably, in the end we circle back to the question of the role played by Anthroposophy in Waldorf schools. Steiner and his followers have often denied that Waldorf schools teach the kids Anthroposophical doctrines. In a sense, this is more or less true, depending on the teacher and students in any given Waldorf school. But in a larger sense, it is false. Notice that Steiner says, above, that teaching Anthroposophy "as it exists today" would be wrong, since the material is beyond kids' grasp. But this leaves open a large door. What if a Waldorf teacher found a way to bring Anthroposophy down to the kids' level so they could grasp it? Indeed, Steiner told Waldorf teachers to do this. Thus, chastising a Waldorf teacher, Steiner said the teacher had failed to explain Anthroposophy is a way the kids could grasp — he did not say that the teacher was wrong to bring Anthroposophy into the classroom: “The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child’s level.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 402-403. And Steiner acknowledged that, despite any denials, Anthroposophy be present in the Waldorf curriculum. "We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself.” [Ibid., p. 495.]
No, the truth is, Waldorf schools are meant to draw students and their parents toward Anthroposophy. That's why the schools exist, and all the denials are merely smoke blown into the faces of the unwary. Bear in mind that, in the long denial we have just now seen ("Please understand..."), Steiner was talking to outsiders. But in the admissions we have also seen ("transform anthroposophy into a child's level," "anthroposophy will be in the school"), Steiner was talking to Waldorf faculty members.
When Anthroposophists blow smoke, they may or may not know what they are doing. A crucial doctrine of Anthroposophy is that the deepest wisdom is "mystery" wisdom — it is occult, mystical, hidden. Only initiates should be told the "truths" of mystery wisdom; the rest of us are unequipped to handle such marvelous mysteries. [See "Inside Scoop".] Thus, Anthroposophists think they are acting properly when they withhold certain kinds of information from outsiders.
Even when dealing with "truth" that stands at a lower level than "mystery wisdom," Anthroposophists often want to withhold it. Steiner explicitly instructed Waldorf teachers to keep the general public in the dark, as when he said "We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their [own] children...." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 10. An even more dramatic — and shocking — example: "Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings [i.e., they are subhuman] ... [W]e do not want to shout that to the world. Our opposition is already large enough ... We do not want to shout such things out into the world.” [Ibid., p. 650. See "Secrets".]
So Waldorf faculties want to keep mum about various matters. We may see the result as dishonesty; Waldorf teachers may see it very differently. They think that they are serving the Truth — that is, Anthroposophy — in all of their actions, and thus they typically think that their actions are virtuous. At some level, they may very well believe the denials and claims that they regularly issue. They may believe that, truly, Anthroposophy is not a religion; and, truly, Waldorf schools do not promote Anthroposophy; and, truly, Waldorf schools foster freedom. They would be mistaken in all of this, but they would be honestly mistaken. Like Steiner, Anthroposophists often have an odd relationship with truth. Indeed, becoming an Anthroposophist requires you to detach yourself from the truth — the real universe — and enter a fantasy realm instead. From within that fantasy realm, perception may be quite blurred. For this reason, the ultimate victims of Anthroposophy's distortion of reality are Anthroposophists themselves — they convince themselves that what is false (Anthroposophy) is true, and what is true (modern science and scholarship) is false. Membership in any cult such as Anthroposophy usually depends on willing self-deception. [See "Fooling (Ourselves)", "Deception", and "Why? (Oh Why? Oh Why?)".]
Anthroposophists may be good, caring, compassionate people who are entirely sincere in what they think and do. But none of this excuses what Waldorf teachers do to youngsters. An informed adult may make a conscious decision to join a cult. But children are in no position to make such a choice, and Waldorf schools do not openly present them with such a choice. Instead, Waldorf schools immerse children in an Anthroposophical atmosphere week after week, month after month, year after year. The ultimate result — whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously understand this — is to pull children toward Anthroposophical occultism. This is what Waldorf schools are set up to do; this is the outcome Waldorf schools are designed to achieve, whether or not all Waldorf teachers consciously understand this.
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
“The spiritual world is always round us, and we can work more consciously if we note the transition as we move from the earthly world to the spiritual world and vice versa. Thus at night we can say as we enter sleep, ‘Now I am entering the spiritual world,’ and in the morning as we awaken, we can say, ‘Now I am entering the earthly world.’” — Helmut von Kügelgen, essay #1 in WORKING WITH THE ANGELS (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America 2004), p. 3.
Anthroposophists think that when they go to sleep, they are entering the spiritual world, and they tell themselves that the experiences they have then are more significant than the experiences they have when awake. The truth is somewhat different. When people fall asleep, they are asleep, and the experiences they have then — dreams — have little or no real meaning at all. Dreams are jumbles of random images produced while the off-duty brain freewheels.*
Anthroposophists mistake their fantasies and delusions — those that come to them in the night and also those that they cultivate during the day — for clairvoyant wisdom. Anthroposophists think they often enter or at least perceive the spiritual world. They are mistaken, but this error forms the core of their ideology.
(Note, by the way, that WORKING WITH THE ANGELS was published by a Waldorf educational organization. WORKING WITH THE ANGELS is a publication intended for the edification and direction of Waldorf teachers. It provides a window into the world of Waldorf schooling. It affirms both the significance of dreams and the lofty self-approval evinced by so many Waldorf teachers: they work hand-in-hand with Angels.)
* Whether dreams have meaning is, of course, debatable. Various theories and approaches have been forwarded throughout human history. Perhaps all that needs be said here, in the context of a discussion of Waldorf education, is that the Waldorf/Anthroposophical view is almost wholly unsupported by any objective research, and indeed it can be found virtually nowhere except in occult, Waldorf/Anthroposophical circles. For an overview of current scholarship about the dream state, you might consult, for instance, THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA. The definition of "dream" given there is "a hallucinatory experience that occurs during sleep." [Sept. 26, 2014.]
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