Waldorf schools today often conceal their real agenda, to one degree or another.*
Steiner himself was cagey when speaking in public about the new form of education he was creating.
But if we look at his words with clear eyes, we can see that he often made the concealed Waldorf agenda reasonably plain.
Waldorf teachers typically view ordinary thinking and knowledge with deep skepticism. They acknowledge that such thinking and knowledge are applicable in the physical universe, so we need to master them, more or less. But they tend to believe that the true goal is to push beyond, to develop clairvoyant powers that produce a very different sort of knowledge.
Some Waldorf teachers, considering themselves to be occult initiates, believe that they possess clairvoyant abilities. Others candidly admit that they are not clairvoyant — not yet, anyway — but they generally believe that clairvoyance is possible and that some people, such as Rudolf Steiner and certain of their colleagues on Waldorf faculties, have indeed attained it.
Most of the quotations on this page come from THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL
(Anthroposophic Press, 1995).
The book consists of lectures in which Rudolf Steiner
laid out his vision for an alternative form of education, Waldorf education.
"We would not say that everyone can effortlessly achieve the development of higher spiritual powers. We certainly do not at all contend that. Certainly, only a few people will be able to recognize the secrets of spiritual life through direct vision of the highest spiritual facts. This recognition is first connected to a certain inner courage, a certain boldness. Human will, human intellectual power, all human soul forces must develop so that they extend beyond the normal level of strength. These soul forces must grow so they can grasp the spiritual world that ﬂits past ordinary human cognition, the spiritual world people cannot usually perceive." — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 119.
Steiner’s implicit description of himself, in these words, is fairly breathtaking. He had the courage, the boldness, and the capacity to know “the highest spiritual facts.” The "higher spiritual powers" he developed constitute an exact form of clairvoyance. [See "Exactly".] If the rest of us will just take his word for it, he will lead us to Truth.
Waldorf school teachers should, at a minimum, understand that Steiner's occult doctrines are true. (In the following quotation, we run into some of Steiner’s typically fuzzy language. The first time he refers to “science,” he means ordinary science such as physics of chemistry; thereafter, by “science,” he means “spiritual science,” or in other words his own doctrines, Anthroposophy. By the term “supersensible,” he means things that cannot be observed by our ordinary senses — things that can be seen only through clairvoyance. And by “human nature,” he means the complex spiritualistic description of human nature he propounded: We have twelve senses, we have four bodies, we have both a soul and a spirit, and so on. Steiner rejected the view of human nature provided by ordinary science and ordinary human experience.)
"How can the teacher’s inner nature become so alive in the way I have just described it? Certainly no longer through a way of thinking derived from science, but only when the teacher’s will is ignited through a science drawn from forces connected with human nature. The teachers who have absorbed what spiritual science knows about the supersensible nature of human beings, who have inwardly enlivened this, who in a living fashion carry within themselves a science founded upon those forces through which the child is to be educated — such teachers can make this knowledge into a living inner fire for teaching. The basis of such a pedagogical art is supersensible knowledge, that is, the same forces that from day to day, from week to week, from year to year bring about the growth and development of the child." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 86.
The basis of Waldorf education is “supersensible knowledge.” Since Steiner and his followers are virtually alone in possessing this “knowledge,” the rest of us should sit down and shut up. Waldorf students, certainly, should take their teachers’ word for things without question. Waldorf teachers should exercise unchallenged authority. This is especially true in the lower grades, but the effects on the students may last for the rest of their lives:
"Until the time of puberty, this acceptance, this automatic acceptance of authority, is like a law of human nature. If you wish to properly affect the human essence during this time, then you must turn to this intuitive principle of authority.
"Those who, without prejudice, without some pet theory, observe the life of young people, those who work with facts, know how much it can mean for their whole life if children have someone they can look up to as an authority. You need only observe how people’s feelings about such an authority change! You need only observe what later in life results from these feelings toward authority! Everything that we develop as truly free independent democratic feelings in human social life, everything that we gain in true human understanding and human respect, is at heart a result of appropriate development under intuitive authority during the period from the change of teeth until puberty." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 107.
The business about "the change of teeth" may seem odd. Steiner said that children grow up through three stages: The first stage ends at about age 7, when the baby teeth fall out; the second stage runs from the “change of teeth” to age 14, when puberty occurs; the final stage extends from age 14 to 21, when adulthood begins. Identifying three childhood stages may seem sensible [see "Most Significant"], but for Steiner occult numerological concepts undergird this model. It is significant that there are three stages, in Anthroposophical belief, because Steiner said that three is the occult number reflecting divine revelation. And it is significant that each stage lasts seven years, in Anthroposophical belief, because Steiner said seven is the number of perfection. [See "Magic Numbers".]
Finding (or imposing) such patterns on reality does not result from rational thought or scientific knowledge, both of which Steiner de-emphasized. Here is Steiner’s view of intellect, in a nutshell: "The basic character of modern intellectual life has slowly become purely abstract, something foreign and removed from reality." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 101. So much for the work done in universities and scientific facilities — the intellects of so-called educated people are "removed from reality."
Reality, Steiner said, is perceived through clairvoyance. He called this “living awareness,” as opposed to dull, dead intellect and cold, heartless science. True knowledge is not something we gain in this life, but something we carry inside us from our life before birth. Steiner taught that we reincarnate many, many times. Our present lives are occurring in a particularly hard, dense form of physical existence, one that hides spiritual realities behind a veil of illusion. Reality is the spiritual realm, which exists around, above, and within physical reality (although only clairvoyants can really see it). We came from the spirit realm and we will return to it.
Many people would agree that physical reality is harsh and cold, and our true home is elsewhere. The question for parents considering Waldorf schools is whether the Waldorf conception of spirituality comports with your religion or philosophy of life. For the vast majority, Anthroposophy is quite alien and bizarre (we might even say, it is "foreign and removed from reality"). Think carefully before committing your children to an education based on the authority of Anthroposophists.
"[I]n this life between birth and death we can never allow our understanding to remain fixed if we use a living awareness of life as a basis. Those who want to believe that life between birth and death proceeds so that intelligence simply develops out of the will, stand on quite shaky ground. We see how intelligence gradually reveals itself out of basic human nature in the growing child. We can only develop intelligence, including the intelligence developed through education, if we are conscious that what children experience after birth is the idea, the consequence, of their experiences before birth, before conception. We only understand what develops into will during life between birth and death if we are aware that people go through the Portals of Death into a spiritual life, and there further develop the will." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, pp. 21-22.
Steiner spoke of “the will” as a basic human force. Willpower must be educated and trained, he said, just as thinking and feeling must be trained.
"We know that in human nature three basic forces are at work: Thinking, Feeling and Willing. We know that the health of the human soul depends upon the appropriate development of these three basic forces, upon each of these basic forces coming into its own." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 17.
At a Waldorf school, these “forces” are trained in a manner intended to steer students away from ordinary thinking and knowledge. Steiner had particular disdain for science, but he extended his criticism to all spheres of ordinary human endeavor and research. Since the 15th Century, he said, we have needed ordinary science, philosophy, and art. These have been good for us, during this brief period. But now we must push beyond them. Such things — and especially science — are now obsolete, he said. (Again, Steiner uses the term “science" somewhat confusingly in the following quotation. By “one-sided science” he means ordinary science. He claimed that his own clairvoyance-based thinking is the new, true science: spiritual science. We might also note, in passing, that Steiner sometimes said that there is no fundamental disconnection between ordinary science and spiritual science, but often — as here — he indicated the opposite.)
"What developed since the middle of the fifteenth century in science, philosophy and art is completely justifiable as an educational impulse in developing humanity. However, human development has today reached a stage where it must strive for the other pole. As humans, we needed to go through a one-sided science for a time. We needed to absorb the thoughts of this science, to come to a mood of soul brought about by our noticing the powerlessness of these scientific thoughts." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 127.
Many people would agree that science seems cold. Certainly many of the findings of science are damaging to humanity's self-esteem — we live on a tiny planet orbiting an ordinary star, off to the side of an ordinary galaxy; we don’t seem to be the center or anything; in fact, we seem to be mere primates, descended from apes. You may recoil from such scientific findings. But if you are considering a Waldorf school, you should ask yourself whether Steiner offered a realistic alternative to the natural sciences.
Steiner claimed that his “spiritual science” is indeed practical and realistic. He said that people on Earth now, during our unfortunate stage of existence, need to lead practical lives; but all the while, they should be selflessly oriented to the supersensible or supernatural:
"From a spiritual-scientific point of view, people must understand one thing, otherwise no progress will be possible in our unfortunate times. The axiom must be: Seek the truly practical material life, but seek it such that it does not numb you to the Spirit working in it. Seek the Spirit, but seek it not in supersensible lust, out of supersensible egotism; seek it because you want to become selfless in practical life, selfless in the material world. Turn to the old maxim: Never Spirit without matter, never matter without Spirit!" — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 98.
“Spiritual science” is actually a religion, not a science. Steiner provided meditations for his followers to use, just as he provided prayers for Waldorf students to recite. Here is a meditation Steiner offered immediately after the quotation we have just seen:
"Spirit brought by us to matter,
Matter wrought by us to its revelation
Driving the Spirit out;
Matter receiving from us Spirit revealed,
Spirit forged by us back into matter—
These create that Living Being,
Bringing humanity to true progress,
Progress only longed-for
By the best desires in the depths of human souls."
— THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 98.
The “progress” Steiner aimed for is our evolution to a new stage of existence, which he said will occur on or during Jupiter. All of Anthroposophy is built on Steiner’s clairvoyant descriptions of mankind’s past evolution (Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon) and our future evolution (Future Jupiter, Future Venus, Future Vulcan). We are constantly evolving, Steiner said. Good humans are evolving upwards; bad humans are evolving downwards. People of different periods, nations, and races are quite different from one another, Steiner said: Some are more highly evolved than others. Because we evolve so fast, the kind of schooling that is appropriate for kids today is different from anything in the past or anything in the future.
"[W]e always think that education should concern something that is absolutely valid for humanity. We think it must be something that, so to speak, is absolutely right, something that, if it had only been available, would have been used, for example, for the people in Ancient Egypt or in Ancient Greece. It must also be useful in four thousand years for the people who will live then. It must also be useful in China, Japan, and so forth. This obsession of modern people, that they can set up something absolutely valid, is the greatest enemy of all Reality. Thus we should keep in mind, we should recognize, that we are not people in an absolute sense, but people of a quite particular age. We should recognize that people of the present age are, in their soul and physical body, constituted differently from, for example, the Greeks and Romans. Modern people are also constituted differently from the way in which people will be constituted in a relatively short time, in five hundred years." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 12.
The main goal for humans now is to attain clairvoyance, Steiner indicated. There are three stages of what Steiner called “higher powers of cognition”: They are imagination, inspiration, and intuition. Basically, all three are forms of psychic power, supposedly enabling us to find the Truth that is deep within ourselves (remember, we brought it with us from our former life in the spirit realm).
"In my book HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS, I have described in detail how people can obtain these higher powers of cognition. The same thing is in the second part of my OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE, and in other books ... We can obtain Imaginative cognition when we systematically do quite specific meditations that I describe in the above named books, when we train thinking beyond the level of normal life and conventional science. Imaginative cognition first gives us the possibility of developing pictures in our soul life, pictures that are not spatial, not fantasy, but that represent spiritual reality ... When the Inspiration (which we have first prepared ourselves to be capable of comprehending) enters from the spiritual world that is just as much around us as the physical world, then the effects of the spiritual world fill these pictures. If we then rise to Intuitive cognition, we will meet spiritual beings in just the same way we meet physical beings in the physical world." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, pp. 111-112.
When visiting a Waldorf school, you may be told that Waldorf education emphasizes imagination. Now you know why.
Human beings, as described by Steiner, are very different from what ordinary science or, generally, any mainstream religion describes. Steiner insisted that in order to evolve, we must come to a new understanding of human nature. By this, he meant we have to accept his doctrines, which he outlined in the books he mentioned, above.
"We need a comprehensive understanding of human life if we want to practice a comprehensive, a true, pedagogy serving humanity ... Life is our great teacher. However, the ability to learn from life comes at the earliest at fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years of age. Then, we first stand face to face with the world in a way such that we can learn directly from the world. Until then, the teacher who faces us in the classroom is the world. It is the teacher we want to understand; it is the teacher we want to love; it is from the teacher we want to learn. The teacher should bring to us what is out there in the world ... A new study of humanity, a new understanding of humanity is necessary. The faculty must develop a new enthusiasm out of this new understanding of humanity ... Our goal must be that teachers become true artists in their field ... I am not surprised that the majority of today's teachers view their work mechanically. Their understanding of humanity comes from the dead science that has arisen out of the industrial, statist and capitalist life of the past three or four centuries. That science has resulted in a dead art of education, at best a wistful form of education. We are striving for the understanding of humanity that we need to create the art of teaching in the Waldorf School." — THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, pp. 58-60.
Many parents are dissatisfied with the schools their children now attend. But if you are looking for an alternative, think hard before choosing a Waldorf school. You should send your child to a Waldorf school only if you accept Steiner’s views on the occult; only if you want your child to be nudged toward the impossible goal of clairvoyance; and only if you want your child to be prepared for the Future Jupiter stage of human evolution. [See "Future Stages".]
- Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
* On this page, by “Waldorf schools” I mean schools that are deeply faithful to Rudolf Steiner’s teachings — schools that have the spirit Steiner prescribed.
[R. R., 2010 —
based on a work by
This is the guidebook Steiner created for his followers,
instructing them how to develop clairvoyant powers:
HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS
(Anthroposophic Press, 1994).
Old editions generally bore the title
KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT.
[See "Knowing the Worlds".]
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊
If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here,
you might begin by consulting the following resources:
THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY
THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA
WALDORF WATCH INDEX
WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS