"We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence
is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education
is a continuation of what higher beings [the gods] have done ...
Our form of educating can have the correct attitude
only when we are aware that our work with young people
is a continuation of what [the gods] have done before birth."
— Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE -
Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.
A question worth asking is how Waldorf teachers know
what the gods did and what the gods want.
On this page, we will examine Waldorf religious beliefs
as reflected in several Anthroposophical texts.
WALDORF'S SPIRITUAL AGENDA
"We Don't Teach It"
Waldorf Schools and Freedom
The editor of THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION quite rightly describes the book as being — by Steiner's standards — unusually frank. “THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION is exceptional among Rudolf Steiner’s many lectures on Waldorf education for its breadth, depth, daring, and accessibility.”  Digging into the book gives us considerable insight to the spiritualistic agenda of Waldorf schools. One note of caution, however: In this book, Steiner is more candid than usual, but he is also occasionally defensive and disingenuous. He sidesteps many issues, he uses euphemisms, and he gives a conventional gloss to many of his occult teachings. What he does not say, and what he only hints at, is at least as significant as what he lays out plainly.
[Anthroposophic Press, 2004.]
Here are some of the main points Steiner made
in the lectures contained in this book.
I will quote Steiner, then add some comments
of my own.
(I will also add some illuminating quotations
from other Steiner texts.)
At the first Waldorf school, children were free to choose which type of religious instruction they would receive.
“The instruction in religion based on spiritual science [i.e., Anthroposophy] is increasing [in the Waldorf School], and more and more children come to it. Some have even deserted other religious instruction to go to the anthroposophic religious lessons. It is quite understandable, therefore, that people should say that these anthroposophists are rather bad people, since they lead children to abandon their Catholic and Protestant religious lessons for the religious instruction based on spiritual science. We do all we can to discourage them from coming, because it is very difficult for us to find religious teachers in our own area. Nevertheless, despite the fact that we never planned on this instruction except in response to parents’ requests and the unconscious requests of children (to my great distress, I might almost say), the demand for anthroposophic religious instruction constantly increases.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 115.
Waldorf schools don't want to give Anthroposophical religious instruction, but the parents' "requests" and students’ “unconscious pleading” force their hands. We might entertain some doubts about the very great desire of Waldorf schools to turn students away from Anthroposophical religious teaching. But the main point to note at this stage is that, by Steiner's own admission, such a thing as Anthroposophical religious teaching exists. The clear implication is that Anthroposophy itself is a religion, standing as an alternative to Catholicism, Protestantism, and other mainstream faiths. [To investigate Anthroposophical religious instruction and practices in Waldorf schools, see "Schools as Churches" and "Waldorf Worship".]
According to Steiner, Waldorf teachers operate from the correct “spiritual point of view,” which involves such Anthroposophical doctrines as that human beings are "microcosms" of the entire universe or cosmos.
“Consider a Waldorf teacher’s attitude toward children ... They [i.e., Waldorf teachers] see [things] in a different way than do those who [do not have] the spiritual point of view ... We may rest assured that changes out in the cosmos will be somewhat conservative [i.e., gradual], but when it comes to transitions in human nature, from early childhood to the teens, then, ladies and gentlemen, the sun that rose before may not come up again. In this human microcosm, anthropos, such a great change occurs that we face an entirely new situation.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 123-125.
I realize that Steiner is hard to read. Here's a paraphrase: Waldorf teachers see children and the growth of children from the correct spiritual point of view. They know that changes in the universe occur only gradually, but in human beings changes sometimes occur quickly and dramatically. One such change occurs when a child passes through puberty. The child then moves to a new stage and cannot return to the prior stage. This is true even though changes in humans reflect the changes in the universe: a human being ("anthropos") is a "microcosm" of the universe, a small replica containing all that the universe contains. [See "The Center".]
To teach well, Stainer said, Waldorf teachers need to grasp Anthroposophy. Ideally, this means becoming clairvoyant and gaining direct knowledge of the higher, spiritual worlds. Not everyone can do this, of course, but non-clairvoyant individuals can at least follow the indications given to them by those who possess psychic powers.
“A few people in the world can develop such higher knowledge ... Everything these few discover, others can recognize through sound judgment and sound observation ... One can argue that, as teachers, we cannot immediately become clairvoyant. We cannot train in such methods. How can we manage teaching if we are first confronted with this complicated method of reaching spirit? “ — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 25.
The “complicated method” is the series of steps people should take to achieve occult initiation, according to Steiner. Initiation means gaining entry into the inner circle; receiving the secret knowledge possessed only by insiders. Steiner outlines the necessary steps in KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT; in essence, they are steps toward becoming clairvoyant. [See "Knowing the Worlds", "Inside Scoop", and "Occultism".] 
Steiner says that teachers do not need to be clairvoyant at first — such a requirement would put too heavy a burden on them. They need not "immediately become clairvoyant," but they should aim for clairvoyance eventually. Clairvoyance is a central goal for all of Steiner's followers, including Waldorf teachers. [See "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness".]
A teacher who fails to attain full-blown clairvoyance can still be effective if s/he turns from intellect and relies on imagination, which might be termed limited or introductory clairvoyance: the ability to form true mental pictures.
”This teacher can be effective, even without clairvoyant vision of the spirit. Spirit is active there. You are working in active spirit when you believe in your own [mental] pictures. If you do not believe in your image [i.e., picture], but make up an image only through intelligence and intellectuality, you remain outside reality with your intellect and mind ... Spirit is productive and creative. And it is essential to become creative and to be at home in creating if we wish to be active in spirit.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 27.
Being spiritually active is central to Waldorf teaching; it is, in a sense, the whole point of being a Waldorf teacher: You become "active in spirit" and convey the effects of your spiritual activity to your students. Relying on intellect or the brain, on the other hand, is a grave error; it causes you to "remain outside reality." Steiner taught the the brain and the use of the brain cannot lead to true cognition or wisdom; true cognition is clairvoyance, which is not seated in the brain. [See "Steiner's Specific".] Disparaging the brain and its use is, surely, a dubious precept to place at the foundation of an educational system.
Clairvoyance stands in opposition to intellect or, as Steiner sometimes put it, clairvoyance builds upon intellect before leaving intellect behind.
“[W]e must approach clairvoyance through soul-spiritual methods, without damaging our bodily fitness through ascetic practices. And we can do this, because we have gained exact ideas through a hundred years of natural scientific development; we can discipline our thinking through natural science. I am not describing something that is antagonistic to the intellect. Intellectuality must be the basis and foundation of clear thinking. And we must build something that can lead to the spiritual world upon the foundation of this intellectuality.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 30-31.
Steiner zigged and zagged on the subject of intellect, sometimes denouncing intellect, sometimes acknowledging it. But his core conviction was that clairvoyance is the faculty we need if we are to attain truth. The problem in all this, obviously, is that clairvoyance is a delusion; it does not exist. [See “Clairvoyance”.] Steiner likewise was inconsistent about the natural sciences. He sometimes claimed that spiritual science, Anthroposophy, grew out of the natural sciences, and he sometimes said that the natural sciences will eventually confirm the findings of spiritual science. But far more often he described the natural sciences as the enemy of spiritual science. [See "Science".] And we should note that, in the decades since Steiner's death, the natural sciences have not confirmed spiritual science; instead, they have increasingly established truths that make spiritual science less and less plausible. [See "Steiner's 'Science'" and "Steiner's Blunders".]
What is wrong with intellect?
• “Today, at some point, we must experience the suffering that goes along with the realization that, as long as one is occupied solely with intellectual activity and observations, one lives in emptiness and mere images, remote from reality.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 23.
• “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophical Press, 1995), p. 233.
Sending children to a school that downplays the brain and intellect — what we might call intelligence — is not a step to be taken lightly. If Steiner was wrong about clairvoyance, imagination, and intellect, then schooling based on his doctrines may severely shortchange students. And, actually, contrary to Steiner's assertions, Waldorf schools — with their emphasis on clairvoyance and imagination — are more remote from reality than many other types of schools, schools that emphasize the importance of brainwork. We will return to this point.
Steiner was aware that outsiders may think that his followers are kooks and that Waldorf schools are devoted to a kooky cult, Anthroposophy. His defense was to say that Anthroposophy is indeed present in Waldorf schools, but this is fine because Anthroposophy offers the correct view of reality.
“It is true that many people may claim to have encountered many fanatics in the anthroposophic movement. But if they look at things more closely, they will find that the goal of spiritual science is to make knowledge universal and to spiritualize it ... If people have found fanaticism and dogmatism within the anthroposophic movement, this came from outside; it is not inherent in the movement ... Consequently, when someone says that there is some sort of cult behind Waldorf education, one in which people indulge all kinds of crazes, that individual should study the matter properly....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 134-135.
One may question whether Steiner was deceiving himself and/or his audience when he claimed that “fanaticism and dogmatism” are not inherent in Anthroposophy. The important point, however, is Steiner's clear admission that Waldorf schools are Anthroposophical. And, of course, parents may want to dig for answers once they realize that “many people” have found what they perceive as fanaticism, dogmatism, and cult-like behavior in and around Waldorf schools. [See, e.g., "Cautionary Tales".]
One criticism often made of Waldorf schools is that they lead children away from reality, failing to equip them for their real lives after graduation. Steiner denied that such is the case.
“The point is to educate children so that they stay in touch with society as it exists today. There is no point in saying that society today is bad. Whether good or bad, we simply have to live in it. And this is the point: we have to live in it, and so we must not isolate the children from it. Thus I was confronted with the very difficult task of carrying out an educational ideal without losing contact with modern life.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 91.
Many people who have been associated with Waldorf schools would question Steiner’s statement. Waldorf schools quite often say or imply that society — the world outside the schools — is desperately bad. Steiner himself often did so. Thus, for instance, he gave this description of modern people as seen from an Anthroposophical perspective:
“When we today — permeated even a little with anthroposophical consciousness — take a walk in the streets, we no longer see human people; rather we see [blind] moles that move about in the smallest of circles, circles into which they were placed, moles whose thinking is limited to these narrow circles, [and] cannot reach beyond them, moles who take no interest in what is happening outside these circles." — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 92.
Steiner generally taught that modern society — especially in America — is not merely degraded but actually demonic. In particular, he said, the terrible demon Ahriman holds sway in the modern world. This arch-deceiver is leading us toward doom.
• "Who stirs up nations against each other? Who raises the questions that are directing humanity today? — the answer is: the Ahrimanic deception [i.e., deceit caused by Ahriman] which plays into human life." — Rudolf Steiner, THE AHRIMANIC DECEPTION (Anthroposophic Press, 1985), GA 193.
• "[T]oday...the spirit-soul is asleep. The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world [i.e., the realm of Ahriman], in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos. We live in a time when people face the danger of losing their souls...." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115. [See "Ahriman". For more on Steiner's view of the modern world, see, e.g., "America" and "Steiner and the Warlord".]
The Waldorf perspective on modern life is stitched together from many occultist threads, such as belief in karma.
“[A]nyone who can look at human history with a certain intuition will perceive that in our time there are many who have very little inner joy. On the contrary, people are burdened by heavy doubts and questions in terms of destiny.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 53.
To understand such statements, it is helpful to know that in Anthroposophy, "destiny" is karma, the self-created fate that humans must fulfill in their earthly lifetimes. [See "Karma".] Also, in Anthroposophy, “intuition” is a term — like “imagination” — designating a stage of clairvoyance. Such doctrines are central of Waldorf teacher training. [See "Thinking" and "Teacher Training".] Here is a bit more about Steiner's vision of human destiny or karma:
• “One does not merely train in a teaching method; we must also have our own ideas concerning the destiny of humanity, the significance of historical epochs, the meaning of present life, and so on.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 127.
The term “historical epoch,” as used in Anthroposophy, refers to the belief that humans are evolving through epochs or stages of spiritual development. "Cultural epochs," for instance, are periods of evolution since the sinking of Atlantis. (Yes, Atlantis. [See "Atlantis and the Aryans".]) All of this is tied up with karma or destiny, a subject Steiner returns to over and over, stressing its importance for Waldorf teachers.
• “Only by adopting a spiritual standpoint can we become truly practical educators in the physical world. But this is possible only when teachers themselves have a philosophy of life — when their view of the world causes them to feel the deep meaning of the question of the universe and human destiny.” — Ibid., pp. 129-130.
The significance of karma for Waldorf education has perhaps been summarized best by one of Steiner's followers, himself a Waldorf teacher: “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” —Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
As for intuition, Steiner frequently made statements such as the following. Note that "intuitive perception" is virtually synonymous with at least one form of clairvoyance:
"The ether body [one of our three invisible bodies, according to Steiner] cannot be understood intellectually, but only through the imagery of intuitive perception. It would have great significance if teachers could come to understand the ether body. One should not use the excuse that teachers cannot all be expected to develop clairvoyance...." — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 94. [For more on our invisible bodies, see "Incarnation".]
Waldorf schools may seem progressive, putting emphasis on each individual child’s unique attributes — Steiner and his followers have often claimed that their approach has this virtue — but actually the thinking behind Waldorf schools is extraordinarily backward, as for instance in the concept of “temperament.”
“We must enter more and more into what is personal and individual. Provisionally, we are helped by the fact that the children we educate have different temperaments. From the very beginning, a real understanding of temperaments has been very important for the education I am describing as practiced in a Waldorf school.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 79.
Classifying people according to the four “temperaments” (melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric) is an ancient practice long since discarded by science — but it is embraced in Waldorf schools, where it mingles with other occult concepts.
“We begin to comprehend children with a melancholic disposition only when we realize that they are affected most powerfully by their purely physical nature, and when we understand that melancholia is the result of an intense deposit of salt in the organism ... When we consider children of a more phlegmatic temperament, we must realize that they live less in the physical body and more in what I call the ether body; this is a more volatile body ... Sanguine children are especially difficult. The activity of the rhythmic system very much dominates in them ... Choleric children must be treated in yet another way. Choleric children are typically a step behind normal in development.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 79-82.
Such categorization, based on occult nonsense (“ether bodies,” and so on) obviously has the potential to inflict real harm on children. [See "Temperaments".]
Clairvoyance. Microcosms. Karma. Temperaments. These are key Waldorf beliefs. So is belief in "Anthroposophical medicine." By the standards of modern science, the alternative medicine practiced by Anthroposophists is little more than quackery. [See "Steiner's Quackery".] But, worrisomely, such medicine is used at many Waldorf schools. The key concept in Anthroposophical medicine is that the cause of physical conditions lies in the spirit realm. Thus, for instance, if a girl's "spiritual nature" becomes "separated" from her body, she will become anemic.
“Among girls, you might see a slight tendency toward chlorosis, or anemia, in the developing organism. The girl’s blood becomes poor, and she becomes pale. This is because, from fourteen to sixteen, the spiritual nature becomes separated from the organism as a whole.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 108-109.
The great danger in such thinking is that physical cures may be neglected if the cause of a condition is thought to exist in the spirit realm — and Steiner almost always located the causes of disease in nonphysical conditions. For instance:
“With pneumonia, the cause is always in the astral body [another of the nonphysical bodies Steiner said we have]; pneumonia can occur in no other way.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE TEMPLE LEGEND (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997), p. 60.
Such thinking leads to results like this, reported by a mother whose daughter became ill while attending a Waldorf school: “The Anthroposophic doctor made a diagnosis: my child had lost the will to live. He announced one of the potential cures ... [W]e were to give our daughter red, yellow, and orange crayons to color with! I looked at my husband in disbelief. When the doctor instructed us to make the sign of a flame out of Aurum cream over my child’s heart at bedtime, I was dumbfounded ... He told us to apply the gold cream from below the heart upwards, towards the sky....” — Sharon Lombard. [See the section "Doctor" in "Spotlight on Anthroposophy".]
"[T]here are certain cosmic, suprasensory influences that work on human beings from the external world, and these affect the female organization [i.e., organism] more intensely between the tenth and twelfth year than they do the male organism. ” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, pp. 121-122.
Steiner often spoke of "suprasensory" or "supersenory" phenomena — he meant things that lie beyond the reach of our ordinary senses, things that can be perceived only through the use of clairvoyance. The most important suprasensory beings are gods. Anthroposophy, which is polytheistic, recognizes a vast panorama of gods. [See "Polytheism".] They are the source of the "cosmic, suprasensory influences that work on human beings." True-believing Waldorf faculties, by extension, consider themselves to be the instruments through which the will of the gods works on the students and reaches the wider world beyond. "We [Waldorf teachers] should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 55.
When Steiner spoke of "external" phenomena, he often meant the merely physical, the lowly stuff of the physical plane of existence. Here, however, he means the cosmos, the world outside the subjective human being: the world from which flow "cosmic, suprasensory influences."
Whether the distinction Steiner draws here between girls and boys makes sense is, at a minimum, open to debate. Girls and boys are physically different, of course, but Steiner is referring to differing receptivity to the gods' influence. Steiner taught that, generally, we alternate between female and male incarnations (female in one life, male in the next...), so ultimately we are all alike. But he also taught that being a member of one sex makes one spiritually different from members of the other sex during that lifetime. Females are more attuned to the cosmos, he said, and males are more attuned to the earthly. Therefore females and males should receive somewhat different forms of education, to the extent that, for instance, they should be given different reading materials or told different kind of stories. Arguably, then, a form of sexism has been built into Waldorf education from its founding. [See "Gender".]
The proper attitude for Waldorf teachers, Steiner said, is essentially religious. This may seem right to you, but do bear in mind that the religion involved in Waldorf schooling is Anthroposophy. Only if you approve of Anthroposophy can you truly approve of the religious attitude adopted by Waldorf faculty members. Very often the Waldorf perspective is clothed in attractive terms, but make sure you understand what those terms mean.
“If we have received children in religious reverence, and if we have educated them in love up to the time of puberty, then after this we will be able to leave their spirit free and interact with them as equals. Our aim is not to touch the spirit, but to let it awaken. When children reach puberty, we will best attain our goal of giving them over to freely use their intellectual and spiritual powers if we respect the spirit. We must realize that all we can do is remove hindrances from the spirit — physical hindrances and, up to a point, hindrances of the soul.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION, p. 56.
Sounds great. But what, specifically, does it mean? Steiner taught that we reincarnate. Each time we are born on Earth, we incarnate gradually — our spirit and our invisible bodies blossom only slowly. The spirit is different from the soul, and an important part the Waldorf teacher’s religious role is to “receive” children and guide them in such a way that incarnation occurs properly, with each invisible part of a child's spiritual nature awakening in its own time. [See "Incarnation".]
The fundamental purpose of Waldorf schooling, in other words, is not education as it is ordinarily understood, but occult reception of spiritual parts and powers. Some parents may approve of Anthroposophical occultism; others surely will not. But all students in Waldorf schools will be exposed to it, to one degree or another. You should subject your child to such schooling only if you truly understand, and embrace, the occult purposes enunciated by Rudolf Steiner and enacted by Waldorf faculties.
We should also note that, perhaps without meaning to, Steiner was describing a process of indoctrination. Waldorf students are not encouraged to use their own judgment until at least age thirteen or fourteen ("the time of puberty"). Prior to that, they are immersed in an atmosphere of "reverence" and "love" — they are immersed in an Anthroposophical ambiance that they are expected to accept without question or demurral. Such immersion — deeply emotional and spiritual, extending all the way through early and middle schooling — is likely to leave a deep, deep imprint on children. Hence, when the children are finally allowed to start thinking for themselves, their thinking will almost certainly run along the channels that have become so familiar to them: They will think and feel as their teachers have prepared them to think and feel. They will, in other words, lean heavily toward Anthroposophy and away from anything that contravenes Anthroposophy. This process may justly be called brainwashing. And it is the core of Waldorf schooling. [See, e.g., "Indoctrination", "Freedom", and "Mistreating Kids Lovingly".]
— Compilation and commentary by Roger Rawlings
Here is an explicit statement of the religious goal of Waldorf education:
“Waldorf education, which we at the Goetheanum [the Anthroposophical headquarters] are endeavoring to cultivate and carry into the world, sows in the child something that can grow and thrive from early childhood into old age. There are men and women who have a wonderful power in old age; they need only speak and the very tone of their voices, the inner quality of their speech, works as a blessing. Why, we might ask ourselves, can some people raise their hands and have an influence of real blessing? Our educational insight tells us that only those can do so who in childhood have learned to pray, to look up in reverence to another human being. To sum it up in one sentence, we can say that all children who rightly learn to fold their hands in prayer will be able to lift their hands in blessing in old age."
— Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY
(Anthroposophic Press, 1995), Vol. 1, p. 208.
What does this mean? Waldorf education is meant to teach children the proper religious attitudes and actions (specifically, how to pray) in order that they may grow up to be saint-like spiritual paragons who can offer blessings. The purpose of Waldorf education is ultimately to enable children to "rightly learn to fold their hands in prayer."
What is the right way to pray? The proper religious attitudes and actions are, from an Anthroposophical perspective, Anthroposophical attitudes and actions. Anthroposophy centers on the human being (Anthropos: man), and the correct form of prayer sketched here centers on a human being. Children are taught "to pray, to look up in reverence to another human being." Steiner said that we all need gurus, human spiritual leaders in whom we can place absolute trust. A spiritual seeker “would find himself plunged into the stormy sea of astral [i.e., soul] experiences if he were left to fend for himself. For this reason he needs a guide...a Guru on whom he can strictly rely." — Rudolf Steiner, AT THE GATES OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1986), lecture 12, “Occult Development”, GA 95. For Anthroposophists generally, the great Guru is Steiner himself. [See "Guru".]
Waldorf education is fundamentally religious, and the religion involved — the right spiritual approach — is Anthroposophy.
Climbing such steps as these
— into a characteristic Anthroposophical building —
can be dangerous. Before entering, be sure you
know what to expect inside.
[R. R. sketch, 2010.]
Here is another Steiner statement on the purpose of Waldorf education:
“This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment [i.e., incarnation and development] in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.”
— Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
Anthroposophy — which calls itself "spiritual science — is a religion having a mystical conception of mankind. To understand it, Westerners generally need to detach themselves from mainstream Judeo-Christian theology. Thus, for instance, karma and reincarnation are central to the Anthroposophical account of human life. We descend from "the spiritual worlds" (not Heaven) into life on Earth. Here we "unfold" the capacities we have brought down from the higher worlds. These are capacities bestowed on us by the gods (Anthroposophy is polytheistic) as well as those we have created for ourselves through the process of karma. During life here below, we seek to improve our capacities before returning to the higher worlds. Thereafter, having received further divine instruction up above, we will descend again to Earth (reincarnation) for another life during which we will again try to "unfold" and improve our capacities. According to Anthroposophy, this is the central task of spiritual evolution, through which we will gradually perfect ourselves so that we become gods. In the largest sense, "this is precisely the task of [a Waldorf] school" — fostering this spiritual process.
On many pages here at Waldorf Watch, important points are reiterated multiple times in multiple ways.
(Often, the pages are compilations of items originally posted elsewhere.)
Moreover, some important page sections appear on more than one page.
Whenever you come upon material that you have already read or absorbed, please just skip ahead.
You should soon reach material that is less familiar to you.
Rudolf Steiner said that Waldorf teachers serve the gods; they are, in effect, priests; and their work is a form of religious service.
This, indeed, is the spiritual agenda of Waldorf schools.
(I have highlighted key phrases in the following quotations,
setting them in bold type.)
"We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [the gods] have done without our assistance. Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.
“[W]e must all be permeated with the thoughts:
“First, of the seriousness of our undertaking. What we are now doing is tremendously important.
“Second, we need to comprehend our responsibility toward anthroposophy as well as the social movement.
“And, third, something that we as anthroposophists must particularly observe, namely, our responsibility toward the gods. Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods, that we are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world. We dare not for one moment lose the feeling of the seriousness and dignity of our work." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55.
“Thank the...[good Spirits] who gave [Emil] Molt the idea [of founding the Waldorf school]. The Gods will work further with what our Deed will become.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 48.
“[T]he teacher is not so much an instructor, as an artist, whose calling is more priestly than profane.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. x.
“[T]he gods allow their grace to flow down in the form of divine spiritual beings ... We come to see ourselves as helpers of the divine spiritual world, and above all we learn to ask what will happen if we approach education with this attitude of mind ... [A] teacher’s calling becomes a priestly calling, since an educator becomes a steward who accomplishes the will of the gods in a human being.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 8-9.
“[A]nthroposophic education grew out of the Anthroposophical Society ... [W]hat the gods have given, not what we have made, receives the greatest blessing and good fortune. It is quite possible that the art of education must lie especially close to the hearts of anthroposophists. ... [W]e can contemplate the mystery of the growing human being with sacred, religious feeling that evokes all the work we are capable of.” — Rudolf Steiner, HUMAN VALUES IN EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 193-194.
“The unfolding of the child’s being must fill us as teachers with feelings of reverence — indeed, we could speak of priestly feelings ... This mood of soul allows us to see the child as a being sent down to Earth by the Gods to incarnate in a physical body. It arouses within us the proper attitude of mind for our work in the school." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ROOTS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), p. 60.
"[W]e feel direct contact with the spiritual world, which is incarnating and unfolding before our very eyes, right here in the sensory world. Such an experience provides a sense of responsibility toward one’s tasks as a teacher, and with the necessary care, the art of education attains the quality of a religious service. Then, amid all our practical tasks, we feel that the gods themselves have sent the human being into this earthly existence, and they have entrusted the child to us for education. With the incarnating child, the gods have given us enigmas that inspire the most beautiful divine service." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 161.
Strange beliefs and strange practices await within a Waldorf school.
Some are harmless, some are not.
Eurythmy, the strange form of dance typically required
of all students in a Waldorf school, is supposed to
forge a direct link to the spirit realm.
[Above is a photo rendering, R. R. 2010, based on
a photograph on p. 31 of THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science.]
[Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961.]
The Goetheanum is the worldwide headquarters of Anthroposophy.
In effect, it is a cathedral.
[See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]
The first Goetheanum was destroyed by fire.
This is the second, which still stands today.
[R. R. 2013, based on
a photograph on p. 10 of THE GOETHEANUM: School of Spiritual Science.]
“[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers...will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information....” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.
Waldorf schools aim to benefit children in a number of ways, few of which have much to do with education as it is usually understood — giving kids the knowledge and skills they will need in later life (a process Easton disparages as cramming a child with information).
• The overall curriculum is designed to help children incarnate on a fixed schedule (etheric body by age seven*, astral body by age fourteen, “I” by age twenty-one**).
• A basic objective is helping students fulfill their karmas so that they can evolve properly. (As Easton indicates, reincarnation is a basic Waldorf belief.)
• An effort is also made to maintain children’s supposed innate connections with the spirit realm.
• Magical forms of thought (characterized or mischaracterized as imagination, intuition, and inspiration) are emphasized — they are meant to lead toward development of full-bore clairvoyance.
• A warm, hazy love of the mystical and fabulous is encouraged, in the hope that students will, as adults, become full-fledged Anthroposophists.
• Arts are emphasized because Steiner said they provide direct avenues to the spirit realm. [See "Magical Arts".]
• Science is de-emphasized because Steiner associated it with the dreadful demon Ahriman. [See “Ahriman”.]
• Children are classified by race and “temperament,” and the schools endeavor to help the kids overcome the “drawbacks” of the races and temperaments to which they belong. [See “Races” and “Humouresque”.]
None of this makes a particle of sense except to committed occultists. And very little of it has any connection to what we normally think of as education.*** Certainly, Waldorf teachers do not "cram" their students with information. The less a Waldorf student is exposed to real knowledge of the real world, the better Waldorf teachers will be able to pursue their aims.
* Completion of this stage is signaled by the replacement of baby teeth with adult teeth — a process given extraordinary importance by Anthroposophists.
** Anthroposophists believe that in addition to a physical body, a fully developed human being has an etheric body (essentially a constellation of life forces), an astral body (soul forces), and an "I" (spirit forces that realize divine human individuality). According to Waldorf belief, the latter three bodies are invisible; they can be discerned only through clairvoyance. They incarnate gradually, through a series of seven-year-long phases. [See “Most Significant”.]
*** Indeed, little of it is clearly revealed in standard Waldorf PR mottoes: The schools say they educate “head, heart, and hands,” and they claim to equip students for "freedom." [See "Holistic Education" and "Freedom".] As descriptions of Waldorf methods and objectives, such statements are fundamentally misleading unless they are accompanied by detailed expositions of Anthroposophical doctrines.
One of Steiner's basic texts.
It is a primer on how to become a clairvoyant initiate.
[See "Knowing the Worlds".]
An influential book (within Waldorf circles)
written by a Waldorf teacher.
Read All About It
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page,
revised slightly for use here.
Following the format on that page,
I excerpt a news article and then offer a response.
(My response in this case is far longer than usual.)
Methods and Beliefs
"In two years a publicly-funded charter high school in California increased it’s exit test scores in math by 36 percentage points and it’s English scores by 23. At the same time their enrollment exploded by 250%. How did they do it? They switched to a curriculum based on a modified model that has been used worldwide by the private Waldorf Schools for some ninety years ... I believe the modified Waldorf model should be further used, studied and expanded if it continues to yield these kinds of results. Actually, Waldorf is quite similar to the Montessori model developed by Maria Montessori, the 19th Century Italian physician, educator, and philosopher." [9-17-2010 http://www.examiner.com/gifted-education-in-houston/publicly-funded-high-school-california-uses-waldorf-school-model]
Do Waldorf schools use any methods that should be adopted by conventional schools? Perhaps. But if the resulting education would be similar to Montessori education (which is free of occultism), then what we need are Montessori-inspired schools, not Waldorf-inspired ones. Waldorf or Steiner schools are almost inescapably occultist — that is, their curriculums are based on outlandish, supernatural illusions. E.g., what concepts should geography classes teach? Rudolf Steiner’s answer, in part: “With the students, we should at least try to...make it clear that, for instance, an island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars ... [T]his is what we should achieve in geography.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press. 1998), pp. 607-608.
in the sea and [are] held fast by the forces of the stars,
Steiner's beliefs — which are generally shared by Waldorf faculty — were occult, and he knew they should be withheld from most audiences. Yet he also believed that his occult beliefs should be conveyed, somehow, to Waldorf students. We should pause over this. So let's look at the same quotation again, but at greater length. Here, then, is the entire passage concerning islands that float in the sea. Steiner says students need to learn about "the spirit" of various subjects, but he says they should not be taught "about Anthroposophy," then he says they should be taught the Anthroposophical belief that islands "swim
" then he retracts this, then he affirms it in the abstract. He clearly wants students to accept his occult belief about islands and stars, but he vacillates out of fear that Waldorf will get a bad reputation. Nonetheless, he ends up affirming what Waldorf geography classes should "achieve". Let's see it again, at greater length:
People who innocently advocate Waldorf-style schooling need to face up to the truth about such schooling. Note that "the way we present them" means Waldorf methods, the methods some people say public schools should adopt from Waldorf. Tread carefully when considering such a step. [
If you doubt that Waldorf teachers lean heavily on Steiner and his doctrines, see "Teacher Training". Is this the sort of training that should, to any extent, migrate into conventional teacher education programs? A point of interest: FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, from which I have taken the quotation about islands and stars, is often required reading for Waldorf teacher trainees. Thus, a graduate of such a program is someone who, on being told that Great Britain floats in the sea, did not jump up shouting "This is crazy! Let me out of here!"
Would Waldorf geography teachers really tell their students that islands float in the sea? The answer depends on several factors. Those teachers who believe it, and who also accept Steiner's statement that such concepts are
what we should "achieve in geography," might well do so. They might tell an entire class, or they might reveal the occult truth to a few trusted students who show signs of becoming Anthroposophists. But other teachers, whether or not they believe that islands float, might focus on the reality (one of the few true elements in the quotation we've seen) that "we cannot tell" the students such things, since it would damage the school's reputation.
On balance, it seems likely that most Waldorf geography teachers keep the "truth" about islands and stars to themselves. But the question remains hovering in the air, and this is the potential worry about all Waldorf and Waldorf-like schools: Craziness may break out at any time.
P.S. It would seem that the Waldorf school in question should be commended for academic improvement, and indeed I have argued that Waldorf schools can set high academic standards for their students. [See "Academic Standards at Waldorf".] But without more information, we can't be sure how well any particular Waldorf or Steiner school is performing. For example, an increase
in English scores by 23 percentage points is surely good, but what absolute levels are we talking about? If students at the school used to score 50% (F), they would now be scoring 73% (C-). This would be a marked improvement but nothing to brag about. (Other factors that could affect apparent improvement at Waldorf school include whether some students receive after-school tutoring away from the school, or have access to educational software, or access to well-stocked libraries.) As for the increased enrollment mentioned in the article, this doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the quality of education provided, only the apparent appeal of such schools — which can be great, due to colorful classrooms, plenty of lovely art hanging on the walls, intriguing festivals, and so forth. [See "Magical Arts".] But much of this may work as superficial glitz, masking what really happens at the schools.
We Don't Teach It
The item above raises a central issue about what Waldorf schools teach. Do they or don't they teach Anthroposophy to the kids? No, Waldorf teachers almost always claim, we certainly do not. "Look," they can argue, "Steiner himself told us not to: '
We should give them an understanding of the spirit of literature, art, and history without, of course, teaching them about anthroposophy.' See? That proves it." 
Well, not quite. On another occasion Steiner told Waldorf teachers:"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." 
This is radically different. Here Steiner is saying that Waldorf teachers operate under a "directive" to translate their Anthroposophical knowledge "into a form you can present to little children." In this case Steiner is clearly telling Waldorf teacher to teach the kids Anthroposophy, as long as you put it in a proper form for children.
So we have a contradiction before us, which leaves us with the question: Do Waldorf schools teach Anthroposophy to the kids or not?
The answer is yes, the schools teach Anthroposophy, but they do it on the sly. [See "Sneaking It In" and "Clearing House".] Rarely do they spell out Anthroposophical doctrine chapter and verse. Rarely do they say "Rudolf Steiner, using his exact clairvoyance, teaches us thus-and-so about the higher worlds of the spirit realm." They usually do not do this. They usually refrain for a couple of reasons:
• As we have seen in the case of geography, islands, and the stars, Anthroposophical "knowledge" is often wacky. Embarrassingly so. So wacky that Steiner himself worried about revealing it: "[W]
e would acquire a terrible name." (If the business about Great Britain doesn't convince you, I suggest that you consult pp. 30-31 of FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, where Steiner informs Waldorf teachers that the planets do not orbit the Sun.Instead, he says, the planets move in line with the Sun, three behind it and three in front of it. "[I]t is not that the planets move around the Sun, but these three, Mercury, Venus, and the Earth, follow the Sun, and these three, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, precede it.” Note that on hearing this, none of the Waldorf teachers in the meeting stood up shouting
"This is crazy! Let me out of here!" Or you might look at p. 26, where Steiner tells Waldorf teachers that fire-breathing dragons — which he confuses with dinosaurs — once walked the Earth. "
Yes, those beasts, they did breathe fire, the Archaeopteryx, for example."
Note that on hearing this, none of the Waldorf teachers stood up shouting
"This is crazy! Let me out of here!")
"Rudolf Steiner, using his exact clairvoyance, teaches us thus-and-so about the higher worlds of the spirit realm" would threaten to defeat Waldorf's purpose. Waldorf teachers want to bring Anthroposophy to the students' hearts and souls, not to their brains (or only secondarily to their brains). They care much more about how students feel about things than how they think about things. This is what they mean when they say that they educate children's hearts along with their heads and hands. They want the students to feel about things as they themselves feel about things — that is, as Anthroposophists feel about things. You see, Steiner taught that thinking is damaging, and it damages Anthroposophy in particular. “A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.”  (Having heard what he said about islands and planets and dragons, you may see why he didn't want his followers to think too much.)
• Teaching Anthroposophy to the students' brains would be nearly worthless. Telling them
Instead, Steiner said that the path to spiritual wisdom comes through our emotions: "I...want you to understand what is really religious in the anthroposophical sense. In the sense of anthroposophy, what is religious is connected with feeling.”  Waldorf teachers would kill Anthroposophy if they laid it out for the students as so many intellectual propositions. (They would also embarrass themselves and their school, since Anthroposophical doctrines are so silly. But we've been over that.) Thinking is merely physical; Waldorf teachers want their students to feel the truth of Anthroposophy. As Steiner (using his exact clairvoyance) said, “[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real ... In the sphere of feelings, human beings cannot liberate [i.e., separate] themselves from the spiritual world.”  Feel it, kids. FEEL it. If you feel the invisible spiritual beings around us, you will know the truth.
So. Do Waldorf schools teach the kids Anthroposophy? Not usually. As ideas, as concepts, as mere fodder for the brain — no, they usually do not teach it. But as feelings, as attitudes, as an orientation, as a deeply felt (and unexamined) disposition, absolutely, yes, they teach it. They immerse children in a well-nigh impenetrable fog of Anthroposophical images and feelings day after day, week after week, year after year. Steiner told Waldorf teachers: “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.”  And the same holds for Waldorf students. Who cares what they think? But as for what they should feel: As Waldorf students, you should slowly become true Anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in your innermost feeling.
Now I need to complicate the picture. When Waldorf students learn to feel as Anthroposophists feel, they also inevitably soak up some Anthroposophical ideas and doctrines, even if they are not fully aware of what is happening. [See, e.g., "Here's the Answer".] The degree to which Steiner's ideas are voiced in the classroom varies from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Some schools and teachers are more scrupulous about leaving dogma outside the classroom; some are far less scrupulous. Thus, we get reports such as the following.
"[S]cience, social studies, and history theoretically were all explored and integrated into the curriculum, but always on a 'Waldorf' timeline and scale, and never in-depth. Additionally, the information imparted was often not accurate. For example, the children were taught that there were 4 elements — Earth, wind, fire and air, and that the continents were islands floating on the ocean...."
[See "Ex-Teacher 5".] These concepts (four elements, floating continents) are indeed among the gems of wisdom Rudolf Steiner left his followers.
In schools where Anthroposophy virtually streams into the classroom, frustration and anger can result. “It frustrates me when people deny that Anthroposophy is a religion and [claim] that the schools don’t teach Anthroposophy to children ... My daughter’s books [i.e., class books created by copying from the chalkboard] show that indeed she was taught Anthroposophy, in picture form as well as in written form. ‘The human being is like a little universe inside a big one. Sun, moon and stars find their likeness in mans head, trunk and limbs’; ‘The Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes and Undines are the earth's scribes’; ‘The body is the house of the spirit,’ etc. If you deconstruct the lessons, the curriculum and the pedagogy, you cannot ignore the fact that Waldorf is a mystery school, a magical lodge for juniors.” [See "Spotlight on Anthroposophy".]
A further complication. There is one portion of the Waldorf curriculum that amounts to straight-on, full-out immersion in Anthroposophical doctrines. Sadly, cruelly, it is a part of the curriculum aimed at the youngest students, those who are least able to think for themselves and thus, possibly, resist. Many of the stories told to Waldorf students in the lowest grades embody Anthroposophical theology. Indeed, the "Biblical" stories told to young Waldorf students often bear only the most tangential relation to the actual contents of the Bible. The stories are Anthroposophical, not Judeo-Christian.
In sum, we need to accept Steiner's word that, one way or another, "Anthroposophy will be in the school." 
"[T]hose of you [students] who have been here longer will have noticed that we are really trying with all our might to help you become people with a feeling for true human devotion, people who can look up to a spiritual, supersensible world. You will learn to understand the words 'spirit' and 'supersensible world' better and better as you move up from one grade to the next." — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL - Foundations of Waldorf Education VI (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 106.
When speaking among themselves, Waldorf teachers can be quite explicit about their spiritual agenda.
The following comments are excerpted from the report of a conference held by Waldorf teachers in 2005.
The subject was the relationship between Waldorf education and the "Christ impulse."
(In Anthroposophical doctrine, the Christ impulse is the impetus given to human evolution by the Sun God,
Christ, when he incarnated on earth.)
And Who Shall Teach
The Christ Impulse in
in Spring Valley, New York
13–14 January 2005
"What is the work of the Christ Impulse in our work as Waldorf teachers? I am grateful for the opportunity to address this question, but I am also humbled and daunted by this task. This is not a matter of theory but a very personal matter, for one can’t address the question of the work of the Christ without coming to terms with one’s own relationship to the Christ...
"Spiritual beings [i.e., gods] cannot educate us directly. They cannot help us develop capacities or intervene directly in our process of incarnation. Spiritual beings can witness, guide, and encourage us, but we ourselves have to do the heavy lifting of becoming human [i.e., evolving to fulfill our potential]...
"The teacher’s teacher [Christ] provides us with the opportunity for our self-education as a community of teachers. Rudolf Steiner spoke explicitly about 'the teachers’ Teacher' and our need to love Him...
"Where do we experience the Christ Impulse in our work as Waldorf teachers? Where two or three are gathered in His name. Then we form our chalice of community, asking the Christ to help us become greater than the sum of our parts, asking Him to teach us to transform our everyday encounters into sacraments in which we can then experience each other’s divinity, asking Him to inspire us, to make love visible so that we can help the earth fulfill its destiny: to become the planet of love."
— Roberto Trostli, “The Work of the Christ Impulse in the Work of the Waldorf Teacher”
A Little Story
Leading American Anthroposophist John Fentress Gardner,
author of EDUCATION IN SEARCH OF THE SPIRIT,
YOUTH LONGS TO KNOW: Explorations of the Spirit in Education,
and other works,
and for many years headmaster of the Waldorf School
in Garden City, New York.
[Photo from 1965 PINNACLE - the Waldorf School yearbook.]
Waldorf faculties can employ many strategems to convey Anthroposophical attitudes and perspectives to their students without expounding Anthroposophical doctrines as such. Consider the following:
Like Charles Darwin, Rudolf Steiner said that life forms evolve. However, Steiner’s version of evolution is the opposite of Darwin’s. Darwin taught that humans evolved from animals; Steiner taught that animals evolved from humans. [See “Evolution, Anyone?”] This presents a challenge for biology teachers at Waldorf schools. If they touch on the subject of evolution, should they teach Darwinian evolution or Steinerian evolution? By and large, they accept Steiner’s doctrines. They consider Steiner’s version of evolution to be the truth, and as conscientious educators they want to convey the truth to their students. But if they teach the students that animals evolved from humans, they will be teaching Anthroposophy (and quite possibly stirring up a ruckus as a result).
Handling this dilemma is difficult, but not impossible. There are various alternatives to expounding Steiner’s doctrines in class. Sidestep the matter in class, but allude to it, or make reading assignments that may allude to it, or hold out-of-class conversations and discussions in which the seed of an idea might be planted. Toss out the idea of backward evolution, human to animal, as a conjecture, an interesting possibility, just something to mull over, possibly to disprove it, possibly to find merit in it. Or, if the time and the mood and the circumstances seem right, present the idea of backward evolution as a truth, but do so without attributing it to Steiner. Do this in some non-classroom setting, so that it isn’t part of a “lesson,” but nonetheless press the idea home.
That last is what happened at the Waldorf school I attended. Steiner's backward conception of evolution was not taught, technically. We were not told, in class, that animals evolved from humans. But the headmaster of the school affirmed backward evolution one afternoon in an assembly attended by all the students in the upper four grades — the high school. He did not, technically, teach us Anthroposophy that afternoon, but the difference was so slight as to be negligible. The chief authority figure in the school told us, one and all, that animals evolved from humans. He did this without mentioning Steiner or uttering the word “Anthroposophy,” but he boldly, openly did it. I can also report that, when one student expressed some doubts about backward evolution, the headmaster called the student into his office after the assembly and again laid out the doctrine of backward evolution. I know. I was the student. And the point is this: Although our headmaster — John Fentress Gardner — did not, technically, teach us backward evolution as part of our class work, he was so committed to the doctrine that he voiced it before the entire high school, risking the possibility that scandalized parents would learn what he had said. And he was so committed to the doctrine that he gave a doubting student a full half-hour out of his busy schedule to repeat and press the lesson.
Waldorf schools usually do not teach Anthroposophical doctrines, as such, to their students. Yet they often find ways to lead the students toward what they think is the truth — i.e., Anthroposophy. Thus many kids graduate from Waldorf schools unsure what Anthroposophy is, exactly, yet carrying within their minds and hearts many Anthroposophical concepts, beliefs, and attitudes.
Don't They Teach It?
Tip-Offs from Waldorf Teachers' Manuals
“In early civilizations the mass of people lived in a child-like state and were guided and directed by personalities who in some respects were more mature, i.e., the priests and kings. These in turn were guided by spiritual beings — gods — and were what is known as ‘initiates,’ by which is meant that they had direct experience of a supersensible world.” — Waldorf educator Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING HISTORY, Vol. 1. (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2000), p. 4.
Here we find a Waldorf teacher, Roy Wilkinson, summarizing a portion of humanity’s evolution as described by Rudolf Steiner. This account hinges on the concept of occult knowledge — secret knowledge of the spirit realm possessed by only a few “mature” (i.e., highly evolved) human beings, aka initiates. There is only a glancing similarity between this version of history and reality; no real historian speaks in these terms. But Waldorf “history” teachers often do — the quotation, above, comes from a Waldorf teachers’ manual. When Waldorf teachers convey such “facts” to their students, openly or indirectly, they are effectively teaching the kids Anthroposophy, not history.
◊ Note that the description is polytheistic — Wilkinson speaks of “gods.” The Waldorf belief system recognizes many gods. ◊ “Initiation” is a basic term in occult spiritual traditions. People who rise in the ranks of spiritualists become “initiated” — they are admitted to the inner circle. Steiner described himself as such an initiate, and many Waldorf teachers believe that they, too, are initiates. ◊ In Waldorf belief, the “direct experience” of initiates is the use of clairvoyance. Steiner taught that people used to have a natural, primeval form of clairvoyance that most modern humans have lost. But he said that “initiates” like himself have attained a more precise, perfected form of clairvoyance. ◊ The “supersensible world” is actually multiple worlds — spiritual worlds that we cannot perceived with our senses (they are above senses, they are super-sensible), but we can perceive them through clairvoyance.
“We can, therefore, trace historically the development of humanity from a period when the soul had an instinctive connection with the spiritual, through a time when there were intermediaries in the for of priests, to the present almost wholly materialistic civilization.” — Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING HISTORY, Vol. 1, p. 5. Steiner taught that we happen to live in a period when the truth of his teachings is not self-evident to most people, but he said that occult truths were obvious to people in the past and they will become obvious to people again in the future. When Waldorf students are given such ideas, they are being taught Anthroposophy.
"[T]he Greeks were the first people in the world to think in the way we now understand the word. There were earlier periods in the course of human evolution when human beings did not experience thought in the way they do today. They experienced pictures or images and the legacy of these pictures is to be found in the mythologies." — Waldorf educator Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING HISTORY, Vol. 1. (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2000), pp. 4-5.
This is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Waldorf belief system. Modern rational thought is a new phenomenon. It has value, and we need it just now in order to keep evolving spiritually. But it is also an extremely limited tool, one that can tell us about the physical world but not about the higher, spiritual worlds. To know the spirit worlds, we need to use a "higher" form of consciousness, clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner taught that in the future everyone will possess perfected forms of clairvoyance, and some people have such clairvoyance today. Steiner claimed to have it, and many of his followers (including Waldorf school teachers) think they have it. This is a troubling delusion — people who are deluded hardly qualify as reliable leaders or teachers.
The essence of clairvoyance is seeing images (Steiner often said that true cognition, clairvoyance, is "pictorial"). In Waldorf schools, the emphasis on imagination arises from belief in the truthfulness of the images that come to one through conscious or unconscious clairvoyance. There is no rational or scientific basis for this belief, but it is basic to the Waldorf approach. (A more accurate description of images that enter the mind through "clairvoyance" is hallucination.)
The myths studied in Waldorf schools are, according to Waldorf belief, true accounts of the spiritual perceptions that ancient peoples received through their clairvoyance. Waldorf teachers think that myths are, at a spiritual level, true. And this is what they try to convey to their students. [To dig a little into the Waldorf conceptions of clairvoyance, imagination, myths, and so on, you might visit The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.]
“The teacher of the physical sciences in the Rudolf Steiner school is faced with a formidable task. He cannot morally be present in the school and teach unless he has absorbed, understood, and is in agreement with Rudolf Steiner’s basic conception of the world ... Material science and explanations cannot explain nature.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, TEACHING PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY (Rudolf Steiner College Press, 1997), p. 1.
Physics and chemistry teachers at Waldorf schools face “a formidable task,” if they are true-blue Anthroposophists, because they must be faithful to Rudolf Steiner’s teachings — but these teachings are at odds with the findings of modern science. Steiner himself repeatedly disparaged scientists and modern science, including physics and chemistry. [See "Science".] Thus, science teachers at Waldorf schools confront a daily dilemma. If they teach the sciences straight, they violate Steiner’s doctrines. But if they are faithful to Steiner, they must violate established scientific truths.
How they resolve this dilemma varies from school to school. The main point for us to grasp here is that the dilemma exists. Waldorf teachers must bend modern scientific knowledge to one degree or another, since they cannot “morally be present in the school” unless they are devoted followers of Rudolf Steiner — they must be “in agreement with Rudolf Steiner’s basic conception of the world” (or, as Steiner put it, they must be “true Anthroposophists”).* Therefore, “morally,” they must misrepresent the truth about physical reality; they must be false to science in order to be true to Steiner. Inevitably, the education of their students must suffer as a result. To the degree that scientific truths are shaded to conform to Anthroposophical doctrines, students are taught Anthroposophy, not science.
* “As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495. The formidable task of Waldorf science teachers is doubly illuminated by this directive. Waldorf teachers must not compromise, yet if a science teacher provides students with any real scientific information that contradicts Steiner's teachings, s/he has made a profound, soul-wrenching compromise. Steiner did not always deny that science contains much accurate information about the physical universe, but he said that such information is, at best, only half-true, since it leaves out everything that is important: spiritual truth. Moreover, he often denied that scientific descriptions of the reality are true even at the merely physical level.
Well, all right. Waldorf faculties teach Anthroposophy. Usually not openly. Usually not explicitly. But, usually, they find ways to convey it. They teach it.
For visual evidence that Waldorf students receive
indirect — and sometimes direct — Anthroposophical instruction,
see "Lesson Books"
To review materials Waldorf teachers create for use in class,
materials that nudge the students toward Anthroposophy,
see "Clearing House."
To consider the sorts of "truths" Waldorf teachers want to convey,
directly or indirectly, to their students,
see "Sneaking It In".
To delve into recommendations from one influential Waldorf teacher who
— far more than most of his colleagues —
unashamedly brings Anthroposophy into the classroom,
see "Spiritual Syllabus".
The following is adapted from "Wise Words":
What were Steiner’s last words? Perhaps it doesn't matter. And perhaps we cannot know for sure, in any case. "My Christoph Lindenberg biography of Steiner (1000 pages in German — usually considered the most comprehensive) states that Steiner, on his deathbed (that is, on the night he died) said nothing in the way of 'last words' only a few 'nice things' to Ita Wegman [one of his devout followers] before closing his eyes, folding his hands and passing...." — Anthroposophist Daniel Hindes, "Steiner's Last Words?"
More interesting, I submit, are words Steiner spoke before he became bedridden — the final lectures he delivered, when he was presumably at the height of his spiritual wisdom. Intriguingly, these lectures dealt with Waldorf education. Delivered in April of 1924 — about a year before his death — Steiner's final lectures have been compiled in ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION. I will quote from the edition released by Kessinger Publishing in 2003 — it is a reproduction of the text first published in 1926 and revised in 1948 by the Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London.
Steiner gave these lectures at a conference organized by the General Anthroposophical Society in conjunction with the first Waldorf School. Knowing that he was speaking to his friends and adherents, Steiner said the following about the role that religion plays in Waldorf education: “In the magic of the wholly unconscious processes up to the change of teeth , we allow the religious attitude to develop in the child in a natural way, in pure imitation ; we thereby establish the religious element during the period of life where we cannot yet touch the force of the inner, free individuality.  We educate through nature and do not tamper with the soul and spirit.  And when we approach the element of soul between the change of teeth and puberty ...we do not force religious feeling into the child, but awaken it, [we] evoke the self in the human being  ... If the teacher now learns to observe how the religious element, which was at first a natural one, strives toward metamorphosis in the soul, he embodies in his words something that becomes a pleasing picture of the good, the beautiful and the true.  There is that in his words on which the child hangs ... The teacher himself is still active in this ... A religious atmosphere permeates the moral pleasure and displeasure.” [pp. 74-75.]
This passage confirms, in essence, that Anthroposophy, as a religion, will be present in any real Waldorf school. Consider: "[W]e allow the religious attitude to develop in the child in a natural way." The "we" Steiner is talking about are Waldorf teachers, and he says it is their business to "establish the religious element" for the students. He stresses that "we do not force religious feeling into the child, but awaken it, [we] evoke the self in the human being." These phrases are couched in Steiner's characteristic tangled syntax, but his point is nonetheless clear: The teachers awaken the religious feeling that children naturally have within themselves, and in doing so the teachers lead the students toward genuine human selfhood. Remember that Steiner taught that some people are not really human beings. He said that many people are mere automatons, and some are demons in human form. But Waldorf schools are intended to help real humans to reach real religion — which for Steiner's followers means approaching the spiritual realm through the teachings that live in Anthroposophy.
What sorts of religious feelings do Anthroposophists believe come naturally to children? Real religious feelings can be found only through real religion, of course, and for Anthroposophists the real approach to the spiritual realm is Anthroposophy. So the children's natural religious feelings are, from an Anthroposophical perspective, feelings that proceed from, and lead to, the spiritual essence found in Anthroposophy. And how, according to Steiner, does one become a fully incarnated, real human being, able to truly approach matters of the spirit? By following Steiner’s directions, which ultimately means becoming an Anthroposophist. Thus, in sum, "A religious atmosphere permeates" the classrooms in which the Waldorf teachers are "active." Contrary to the denials generally put forth by Waldorf schools, Steiner tells us that religion in general — and Anthroposophy in particular — will be promoted in Waldorf schools. Indeed, this is the essential purpose of the schools: to promote Anthroposophy. Children are not given complex Anthroposophical doctrines to memorize, but correct religious feelings are fostered in them, and their feet are thus set on the path that, their teachers hope, will lead eventually to full commitment to Anthroposophy.
[Anthroposophic Press, 1994]
This is one of the key texts studied by Rudolf Steiner's followers. Also published under the title KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, the book purports to explain how to develop clairvoyant powers — it lays out "a modern path of initiation." [See "Knowing the Worlds".] Becoming an initiate (i.e., one who possesses secret spiritual knowledge) is a central goal for Steiner's followers. Anthroposophists believe that occult initiates see the cosmos accurately while everyone else is, to one degree of another, in the dark. Waldorf schools are often staffed, at least in part, by people who think they are initiates and who thus believe they possess wisdom denied to almost everyone else.
Students in Waldorf schools are given a view of reality projected through the lens of their teachers' Anthroposophical beliefs. The children are imprinted with the Anthroposophical worldview, so they are set on the path toward potentially becoming Anthroposophists when they grow up. "Happy are those children who — before they must find a personal relation to the world by means of individual judgments, will impulses, and feelings — receive the world through someone in whom the world is rightly reflected! This is a deeply felt premise of the education that is to be based on anthroposophy." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press 1995), p. 175.
Another item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
Hear, hear. The quoted description of Steiner’s educational philosophy comes far closer to full disclosure than we usually see when Anthroposophists speak or write publicly. According to Anthroposophical beliefs, the “limits of cognition” are supposed to be overcome through the development of clairvoyance, which allows an “awakened” individual to know the higher spirit worlds. That set of esoteric concepts does indeed lie close to the core of Waldorf education. [See “Clairvoyance”.]
Limits of Cognition
"A Steiner kindergarten may start in Margaret River [Australia] if Yallingup Steiner School can find suitable premises ... Current plans are for a K4 Kindergarten in 2011, to expand to include K5 in 2012. Steiner schools are based on Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy, 'to address the latent possibilities in human beings of advancing beyond the present-day accepted limits of cognition to an awakening, by self-discipline and exercise, to a knowledge of the spiritual worlds underlying outer existence.'” [9-22-2010 http://www.margaretrivermail.com.au/news/local/news/general/school-seeks-site/1948729.aspx]
Here is Steiner explicitly telling Waldorf teachers to explain an Anthroposophical religious doctrine to their students. He said students who take "independent religious lessons" should receive instruction of this sort. By "independent religious lessons," he meant Anthroposophical religious lessons.
“[E]xplain that there are higher gods, the archangels* ... These archangels exist to guide whole groups of human beings, that is, the various peoples and such. You must teach this clearly so that the children can learn to differentiate between the god spoken of by Protestantism, for instance, who is actually only an angel,** and an archangel, who is higher than anything that ever arises in the Protestant religious teachings. “ — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 46.
* In the Waldorf belief system, Anthroposophy, angels are gods one level above humans, archangels are gods two levels above humans. In all, Anthroposophy speaks of nine ranks of gods. We ourselves will ultimately become the tenth rank. [See "Polytheism" and "Tenth Hierarchy".]
** I.e., the God worshipped by Protestants is not the One and Only God —he is a mere Angel, a lowly deity. This is one of many passages in which Steiner separates himself from mainstream Christianity. (He was no less critical of Catholicism and other branches of Christianity.)
To delve into what Steiner called the spirit
of the Waldorf School,
For more on the Waldorf teacher's role as a priest,
see "Schools as Churches",
At the Waldorf school I attended, we recited prayers written by Rudolf Steiner, we sang various hymns, and we were immersed in mystical/mythical tales, especially Norse myths. For the most part, we were not explicitly taught Anthroposophical doctrines — although I can remember at least two exceptions. Our headmaster, John F. Gardner, taught us that the various human races stand at different levels of mental development or maturity, and he taught us that humans did not evolve from animals but the animals evolved from us.
See, e.g., "I Went to Waldorf".
"Rudolf Steiner was forced to ask why it was that no one seemed to be able to hear what could be done to form a truly new society, a truly human society. He concluded that no one could hear him because the education people had been given left them unable to consider, and therefore unable to work with, anything not based in familiar routine.” — Robert F. Lathe and Nancy Parsons Whittaker in the introduction to THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. xii.
By this account, the purpose of Waldorf education is to produce people who are able to “hear” Rudolf Steiner. In other words, the purpose is to break children free from the familiar world and accustom them to an alternate world, the world of mysticism and the occult. This is the world of Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines. The purpose of Waldorf education, then, is to produce people who are prepared to hear — or indeed embrace — Rudolf Steiner’s mystical and occult doctrines. This is the reason for the enormous emphasis that Waldorf schools place on myths, legends, fairy tales, and the like, along with their use of prayers and hymns, their advocacy of non-rational modes of thought such as imagination, and their general opposition to modern science and technology.
The degree to which Waldorf schools convey Steiner's doctrines to students varies, but in general the schools aim to shape individuals in such a way that, as adults, they will be predisposed to accept Anthroposophy.
The following was downloaded on Oct. 9, 2010 from a Waldorf school's website: "Steiner's philosophy, which he named Anthroposophy, can be applied to all walks of life and provides guiding principles for the teachers' work. It is important to note, however, that Anthroposophy itself is not taught to the children." [10-9-2010 http://www.michaelhouseschool.com/rudolf_%20steiner.htm]
This disclaimer is made almost universally by Waldorf and Steiner schools. How reassuring do you find it? Consider this analogy. Imagine a school that says "All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children." Would you be reassured? Would you send your child there?
“If you do not use your own powers [for improvement]...the ground you stand on will be pulled out from under your feet. The purified world will develop over and beyond you [i.e., spiritual evolution will continue without you]. You will be excluded from it. If this is your choice, then yours is the black path. But those from whom you separate yourself tread the white path ... [The] temptation of personal salvation on the ‘black’ path is the greatest we can conceive of. The white path, on the other hand, does not seem tempting at all. It does not appeal to our egotism ... Thus those seeking salvation only for themselves will almost certainly choose the black path ... [W]e must not expect occultists on the white path to provide any instructions on the development of the egotistic I [i.e., to encourage egotism]”. — Rudolf Steiner, HOW TO KNOW HIGHER WORLDS (SteinerBooks, 2002), pp. 204-205.
Waldorf schools usually claim that they prepare their students to become free adults, able to make their own choices. This is a fine ideal. But in the belief system upon which Waldorf schools stands — Anthroposophy — there is really no such thing as freedom as we in the West normally understand it. Your options are these: the evil (“black”) path or the good (“white”) path.*
Steiner himself spoke of freedom; he himself held it up as a goal. But how much freedom do you have if your only options are the path of evil and the path of virtue?** Anthroposophy effectively eliminates any real power of choice, given that evildoers will pay an enormous price (they will lose their souls), while good-doers will reap an enormous payoff (they will evolve upward toward ultimate divinity). If you understand these alternatives properly, as described in Anthroposophy, there is only one choice you can reasonably make: It is to embrace Anthroposophy, which lays out for you the white path.
Steiner’s conception of freedom, such as it was, was Germanic or — if you prefer — fundamentalist. Steiner wanted to help us free ourselves of our low, ignoble tendencies. Good people rise above their egotistic desires and work for the good of all, not just for their individual gain.*** They “free” themselves of egotism. So far so good. Arguably we should indeed free ourselves in this manner. But this sort of “freedom” is very different from the pro-active ability to make choices among a range of potentially beneficial options. Anthroposophy offers no such range of options. You can walk the black path and go to your doom, or you can walk the white path (i.e., the path laid out by Steiner) and go to your reward. Understood in a larger sense — the sense that most of us mean when we speak of freedom — Anthroposophy and Waldorf schools do not emphasize freedom or prepare students for it. Rather, they push individuals toward a narrow, constricting position in which only a single choice can sensibly be made.
When children graduate from Waldorf schools, they are — in theory — free to decide how to live the rest of their lives. But those students who spent many years in the Waldorf system will have been molded to prefer a single path, the one-and-only good path, the path of Anthroposophy. Of course, not all Waldorf graduates become Anthroposophists. Waldorf schools often fail in their effort to “free” students of the desire to go astray. But Waldorf schools strive to succeed at their self-appointed, often clandestine, messianic task. They work to point students down the true path, as defined by themselves, which means as defined by Rudolf Steiner.
* Steiner’s use of the terms “white” and “black” is loaded. White is good, black is evil. [See "White/Black".] In his day, such usage was common and, perhaps, acceptable.
** Anthroposophists sometimes suggest that there are differing lanes on the true path, and we can freely choose among these. This is not, however, the legacy Steiner established. Steiner identified various approaches that, he said, had been appropriate at prior stages of human evolution but that are no longer adequate. The right path for modern people, he said, is Rosicrucianism. [See “Rosy Cross”.] By this, he meant Rosicrucianism as reworked by himself — that is, Anthroposophical Rosicrucianism (which effectively boils down to Anthroposophy per se). Indeed, all approaches and teachings that he affirmed in any way are approaches and teachings that he reworked to suit his own vision. All of the older true approaches led to the new true approach, the one true path now: Anthroposophy.
Why did Steiner identify Rosicrucianism, instead of Anthroposophy itself, as the true path? It was a distinction without a real difference. Steiner claimed that Anthroposophy is not a religion but a science — specifically, the “science” of using clairvoyance to study the spirit realm. As a science, Anthroposophy is not, in itself, a body of religious or spiritual practices (although, contradicting himself, he often indicated that it is this). He claimed that Anthroposophy is the objective body of knowledge we need for our religious or spiritual endeavors. This is why he was prepared to see a separate church established, the Christian Community, which uses the “knowledge” provided by Anthroposophy to inform its faith. [See “Christian Community”.] The Christian Community is the religion, Anthroposophy is the science underlying the religion. Likewise, Steiner designated Rosicrucianism, rather than Anthroposophy itself, as the correct path for spiritual aspirants today: Rosicrucianism is the path, Anthroposophy is the light illuminating the path. But in fact, as defined by Steiner, there is scarcely a hair’s breadth of difference between Anthroposophy, the Anthroposophical Christian Community, and Anthroposophical Rosicrucianism. They are all the same path, the path laid out by Steiner.
*** In accordance with Germanic tradition, “all” may be the tribe, the nation, or the world.
A Simple Test
How can you decide whom to entrust with your child's education? Which teachers are qualified and trustworthy enough to instruct your child? This is a complicated matter, involving many considerations. But here is one easy proposition for you to mull over. Call it the Rawlings Educational Assessment of Logical Intelligence and Trustworthiness Yardstick (REALITY). The only people who could conceivably be qualified and trustworthy enough to educate your child are those who, if they were told that Great Britain floats in the sea, would jump up shouting "This is crazy! Let me out of here!"
Actually, there is also a second group of teachers who may qualify. These individuals show an unfortunate tendency to be rude, but in all other ways they demonstrate that their heads are screwed on straight. I'm talking about people who, if they were told that Great Britain floats in the sea, or that the planets don't orbit the Sun, or that fire-breathing dragons once walked the Earth, or that goblins lurk underground today  — I'm talking about people who on hearing any such nonsense in a meeting would stand, look around at the people who are quietly absorbing these crazy statements, and say "What's the matter with you people? Have you all lost your minds?" But, as I say, that would be rude.
If you'd like to read a short list of remarkably loony things Steiner said — statements that many Waldorf teacher accept unquestioningly — please see "Top Ten Jokes". For a much more extensive list, see "Steiner's Blunders". People who accept any of the statements on those lists probably should not be entrusted with the education of youngsters.
Here is a message I posted at the Waldorf Critics discussion page
Pete puts his finger on the central issue, the welfare of the child. Anthroposophists are free to send their children to Waldorf schools, where the kids will be led toward the occult system called Anthroposophy. All other parents should think long and hard before sending a child to such a school. The covert indoctrination practiced in Waldorf schools can scar a child for life.
Rudolf Steiner openly acknowledged that his teachings are a form of occultism. Thus, he said the following: "If from the new standpoint of spiritual investigation we meditate upon the old legends and myths, allowing those grand and powerful pictures which have come down from primeval times to work upon our minds, we shall find, if we have been equipped for our task by the methods of occult science, that these legends and myths are the expressions of a most profound and ancient wisdom." — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT SIGNIFICANCE OF BLOOD (Health Research, 1972), pp. 6-7. By "spiritual investigation," he meant the use of clairvoyance. By "occult science," he meant his system, Anthroposophy. His most important book is titled AN OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE.
Steiner also made the following remarks (among many others of the same sort):
"Recently in my occult research the following question arose. What is the relationship between the visionary worlds that one can find through initiation...and the realm in which one dwells between death and a new birth?" — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE BETWEEN DEATH AND REBIRTH (SteinerBooks, 1985), pp. 5-6.
"When the human being is awake, he is awake in thought, not in will. But occult science teaches us that when we sleep, everything is reversed. Then the will is awake and is very active, and thought is inactive. This cannot be known by the human being in a normal state of consciousness, for the simple reason that he knows things only by means of his thoughts and these are asleep." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC CHRISTIANITY AND THE MISSION OF CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1984), lecture 2, GA 130.
"Now you must not think that the Saturn mass was as firm and solid as the physical bodies of to-day; even water and air do not give you an idea of Saturn's fundamental substance. When speaking of bodies in occultism, we speak of solid, liquid and gaseous bodies." — Rudolf Steiner, "The Earth's Passage Through Its Former Planetary Conditions" (ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET 33-34, Aug. 23, 1942), lecture delivered June 24, 1907, GA 100.
"[I]n occultism we call the Moon the `Cosmos of Wisdom' and the Earth the `Cosmos of Love.' As we today, standing on the Earth, wonder at the wisdom embedded in it, so one day the beings of Jupiter will stand before beings from which love will stream forth to them in fragrance." — Rudolf Steiner, THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL BEINGS UPON MAN (Anthroposophic Press, 1961), lecture 6, GA 102.
"Following an exchange of ideas with the Essenes, the Buddha appeared to Jesus of Nazareth, and we may say that a spiritual conversation took place between them. It is one of my occult obligations to tell you this. for today we can, and indeed must, touch on these important secrets in human evolution." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FIFTH GOSPEL (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 56.
Even if we neutralize the term "occultism" by defining it as "hidden" or "secret," we still should reflect deeply before sending children to schools based on an occult system.
Waldorf schools often claim to be non-denominational, but this is untrue. They serve the denomination called Anthroposophy. The links between Waldorf and Anthroposophy are fundamental. The schools exist to spread Anthroposophy. As Steiner said, "One of the most important facts about the background of the Waldorf School is that we were in a position to make the anthroposophical movement a relatively large one. The anthroposophical movement has become a large one." — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p.156.
When parents realize that Waldorf schools are religious, they generally assume that the religion involved in Christianity, since Christ is such an important figure in Anthroposophy. But the Waldorf Christ is not the Christ of Christianity. The Christ Steiner described is a pagan god, specifically the Sun God. Whereas Christians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are persons of a single God, Steiner taught that they are three separate gods. "The highest Ruler of Saturn, the Ego Spirit, appears to us as the Father God, and the highest Ruler of Sun, the Sun-God, as the Christ. Similarly the Ruler of the Moon stage of Earth appears to us as the Holy Spirit...." — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 100.
The easiest way to grasp that Waldorf schools are religious is to consider the prayers that the students, led by their teachers, typically recite in unison at the start of each school day. Steiner wrote these prayers. Here they are:
For the lower four grades:
"The Sun with loving light
Makes bright for me each day;
The soul with spirit power
Gives strength unto my limbs;
In sunlight shining clear
I reverence, O God,
The strength of humankind,
That thou so graciously
Hast planted in my soul,
That I with all my might
May love to work and learn.
From Thee come light and strength,
To Thee rise love and thanks."
For higher grades:
I look into the world
In which the Sun shines,
In which the stars sparkle,
In which the stones lie,
The living plants are growing,
The animals are feeling,
In which the soul of man
Gives dwelling for the spirit;
I look into the soul
Which lives within myself.
God's spirit weaves in light
Of Sun and human soul,
In world of space, without,
In depths of soul, within.
God's spirit, `tis to Thee
I turn myself in prayer,
That strength and blessing grow
In me, to learn and work."
Waldorf schools usually disguise these prayers by calling them "morning verses," but these "verses" are quite clearly prayers, addressing and praising God.
The prayers themselves are deceptive in another sense. They address "God," but Steiner said that there is no one and only God. He said that the universe teems with gods and, indeed, Anthroposophy is polytheistic. Steiner taught that monotheism is only a distant dream. "Monotheism or monism can only represent an ultimate ideal; it could never lead to a real understanding of the world, to a comprehensive, complete view of the world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 115.
The worldview Waldorf students are lured toward is the polytheistic, pagan view that is Anthroposophy.
Read Some More About It
Here are more items from the "news" page:
What is true of public higher education is also true of public elementary and secondary education. The great ideal of universal education is essential in democratic societies. Providing sound, affordable education for all creates an educated work force, an informed electorate, and — most important — free individuals who are able to seek their own fulfillment. We weaken our public educational systems at our very great peril.
"Our system of public higher education is one of the great achievements of American civilization. In its breadth and excellence, it has no peer. It embodies some of our nation’s highest ideals: democracy, equality, opportunity, self-improvement, useful knowledge and collective public purpose ... Public higher education is a bulwark against hereditary privilege and an engine of social mobility ... Now the system is in danger of falling into ruin. Public higher education was essential to creating the mass middle class of the postwar decades — and with it, a new birth of political empowerment and human flourishing. The defunding of public higher education has [led toward] its slow destruction." [5-23-2011 issue, THE NATION, http://www.thenation.com/article/160410/faulty-towers-crisis-higher-education?page=full]
Of course families should be free to select private schools, including Waldorf schools. Of course such schools should be allowed to exist. But they should stand on their own feet, finding their own funding. Public resources should not be diverted to them at the expense of public schools, nor should they be allowed to insinuate themselves into public education systems.
Waldorf schools represent a particular danger to the flourishing of democratic societies and the empowerment of free individuals. While Waldorf spokesmen often use words like "freedom" and "democracy," the truth is that the Waldorf system is highly authoritarian. In Waldorf belief, the gods have created a plan for the universe, and the Anthroposophists on Waldorf faculties believe that they work in service to this divinely ordained plan. “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes, but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We should always remember that when we do something, we are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods." — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Here's the Answer".]
According to Waldorf belief, there is a single correct course for a soul to follow: It is the "white path." Straying from this path means taking the downward, evil, "black" path. "Thus thou wouldst tread the black path, while the others from whom thou didst sever thyself tread the white path.” — Rudolf Steiner. [See "Guardians" and "White/Black".] Because they embrace Steiner's occult teachings, true-believing Waldorf teachers strive to maneuver children toward the one true form of life, the Anthroposophical form.
Anthroposophists believe that the correct path has been pointed out for us by Rudolf Steiner, who was a transcendent master and authority, inferior only to the gods themselves. Waldorf schools often operate in nearly worshipful obedience to Steiner's directives. There is a reason, after all, that Waldorf schools are also called Steiner schools. [For a sampling of the sorts of statements Steiner's followers make about him, see "Guru". To explore Waldorf school operations from the inside, see "Faculty Meetings", "Discussions", "Advice for Teachers", and the series of "Ex-Teacher" reports.]
When Waldorf schools profess a belief in freedom, they are speaking of an essentially negative, anti-democratic "freedom": freedom from, not freedom for. At the most fundamental level, Waldorf schools seek to "free" students from those impulses, influences, modes of thought, etc., that would take them to the black path. Waldorf schools do not often help students understand that life holds many wonderful options, many desirable alternatives from which one may freely choose. In Waldorf belief, there is really only one good choice, and that is to follow Rudolf Steiner. The schools usually refrain from explicitly propounding Steiner's doctrines in class, and they naturally recognize that students have individual needs and desires, but they nonetheless work to steer students in the one "true" direction. [See "Freedom".]
Likewise, the Waldorf conception of democracy is tightly restrictive. The only sphere in which democracy is legitimate, according to Steiner, is secular government; and the government should not meddle in the more important spheres of life — the spiritual/cultural sphere and the economic sphere. [See "Threefolding".] Certainly, government should not attempt to restrict the spiritual work being done by Waldorf schools. This work is incompatible with democratic decision-making. The gods have made a plan, Steiner has shown us this plan, and now we must implement it or suffer horrible consequences. This is not a matter that can be put to a vote. Indeed, nothing truly important can be put to a vote. We obey or we suffer the consequences of our disobedience. (In the bizarre logic of Steiner's teachings, we have to "freely" choose to obey — but in practice this simply means that we must fall in line with the great plan.) [See "Democracy" and "Hell".]
When democratic societies weaken their public education systems and lend support to strange alternative systems such as the Waldorf system, they do so at their peril.
"Waldorf education seems to be hitting the news everywhere this year. The Harvard Education Letter has included an article about Waldorf Education in public schools...." [11-12-2011 http://www.ovws.org/2011/11/1155/]
When deciding whether the Waldorf approach should be incorporated in public schools, education officials should acquaint themselves thoroughly with that approach. The Waldorf approach is deeply mystical and, many would argue, disconnected from reality. Waldorf education can truly commend itself only to people who share Rudolf Steiner's mysticism. Here is a brief sample; this is Rudolf Steiner speaking about the connections between Waldorf education and his mystical belief system (which he called a "science"), Anthroposophy: “When one observes human beings in the light of anthroposophical spiritual science — discriminating between the more inward, astral body and the more outward etheric body — one comes to know the nature of the human will in quite a new way. One sees the will as more allied to the astral body [whereas] thinking, for instance, is seen to be more closely connected with the etheric body.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), p. 104.
Waldorf teachers not only think that children have invisible etheric and astral bodies, but they think that they can observe these bodies through the use of clairvoyance, and they think that a central goal (perhaps the central goal) of education is to help children incarnate these bodies. The purpose of education, in other words, is to help children unfold the capacities they bring to Earth from their previous lives in the spirit realm. Here's how Steiner put it: “This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
Note that, according to Steiner, the "task of school" has little to do with actually teaching children regular school subjects.
If you have doubts about etheric bodies, astral bodies, incarnation, karma, and other central Waldorf beliefs, then you should have doubts about Waldorf schooling. And in that case, you probably should oppose including Waldorf education in public school systems.
[For more on some of these matters, see, e.g., "Incarnation", "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness", "Karma," and "Most Significant".]
Here's a quick summary — descriptions of Waldorf education by Steiner's followers and by Steiner himself. Faithful readers here have seen these quotations before, but periodic reviews of such central material are rarely out of order. Although the statements vary, they all come down to the same idea: The purpose of Waldorf education is to help students bring to Earth their supernal capacities and bodies, so that they may advance their spiritual destinies in this life in cooperation with the gods.
• "We [Waldorf teachers] want to be aware that physical existence is a continuation of the spiritual, and that what we have to do in education is a continuation of what higher beings [the gods] have done without our assistance. Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 37.
• “[Waldorf] education is essentially grounded on the recognition of the child as a spiritual being, with a varying number of incarnations behind him, who is returning at birth into the physical world ... Teachers too will know that it is their task to help the child to make use of his body, to help his soul-spiritual forces to find expression through it, rather than regarding it as their duty to cram him with information....” — Anthroposophist Stewart C. Easton, MAN AND WORLD IN THE LIGHT OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophic Press, 1989), pp. 388-389.
• “Waldorf education strives to create a place in which the highest beings [i.e., gods], including the Christ, can find their home....” — Anthroposophist Joan Almon, WHAT IS A WALDORF KINDERGARTEN? (SteinerBooks, 2007), p. 53.
• "Waldorf education is based upon the recognition that the four bodies of the human being [the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies] develop and mature at different times.” — Waldorf teacher Roberto Trostli, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING: What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), pp. 4-5.
• “[T]he purpose of [Waldorf] education is to help the individual fulfill his karma.” — Waldorf teacher Roy Wilkinson, THE SPIRITUAL BASIS OF STEINER EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), p. 52.
• "If, therefore, we are asked what the basis of a new method of education should be, our answer is: Anthroposophy must be that basis. But how many people there are, even in our own circles, who try to disclaim Anthroposophy as much as possible, and to propagate an education without letting it be known that Anthroposophy is behind it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD (SteinerBooks, 1995), p. 4.
• “This is precisely the task of school. If it is a true school, it should bring to unfoldment in the human being what he has brought with him from spiritual worlds into this physical life on earth.” — Rudolf Steiner, KARMIC RELATIONSHIPS , Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 5, GA 235.
"Photo caption: "Michelmas [sic] is one of the many celebrations observed at the Rudolf Steiner School [in Great Barrington, Massachusetts]." Article: "In celebration of its 40th birthday the school invites all community members, alumni, faculty and friends to its anniversary party...GBRSS [Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School], which held its first kindergarten class in a donated barn in 1971, boasts more than 200 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Each child moves through their Steiner experience with the same group of students and the same core teacher for eight years ... 'Basically the school’s approach is around the whole person, the whole child,' [Eric Bruun] said. 'It’s not just about training the brain to meet a certain set of academic standards. It’s a child-centered curriculum, a lot like the Wizard of Oz; brains, heart and courage.'” [9-24-2010 http://iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=36249]
Concerning the effort to educate “the whole child,” see “Holistic Education”. The comparison to the “Wizard of Oz” is perhaps more apt than Mr. Bruun intended. Waldorf schooling is based on myths and fantasies. [See, e.g., “The Gods”.]
Waldorf schools often celebrate religious holidays. In some cases, such as Christmas, this may excite few suspicions — almost everyone in the Western world, Christians and non-Christians, celebrates Christmas. But ceremonies such as Michaelmas (the celebration of the archangel Michael) are different — Michaelmas is usually observed only by people of faith who think Michael exists. In fact, many festivals held at Waldorf and Steiner schools amount to Anthroposophical religious observances. According to Steiner’s teachings, Christ is the Sun God, essentially the same being as Ra, and Michael is Christ’s warrior/champion, the Archangel of the Sun. Anthroposophy may initially appear to be Christian, but in fact it is polytheistic and pagan — all the Norse gods, for instance, are accepted as essentially real. [See “Was He Christian?”, “Michael”, "Polytheism", and “Pagan”.]
The article says that at GBRRS the same group of students stays together, under the same teacher, at least through eighth grade. With some variations, this system is applied in most Waldorf schools. There are advantages and disadvantages in having the same classmates, with the same teacher, throughout your school years. The world of Waldorf students is often very small, insular, and heavily dominated by a small band of Rudolf Steiner's devoted followers. (The influence of Rudolf Steiner is at least implicit in a school that bears his name.) A related concern: How likely is it that a teacher who was qualified to teach kindergarten will also prove qualified to teach eighth grade? And will the same teacher be able to do justice to multiple subjects — ranging from math to history — at one grade level, and then repeat this tour de force at other grade levels? Waldorf students may often study under teachers who are far from being well-versed in their subjects. 
"The kindergarten classroom at the Mariposa Elementary School of Global Education looks different than those at other public schools ... There’s a plush rocking chair and a piano, the walls are painted a soft pink color, the lights are kept low and sheer curtains hang on windows. The K-5 school, which shares a campus with Sumac School in Agoura Hills [California], is one of relatively few public schools in the area that uses Waldorf-inspired teaching methods ... The idea seems to be taking off, with enrollment nearly doubling this year to 210 students ... The school has a developmental curriculum. Kindergarten classes have 'a lot of creative, imaginative play,' Lough said. Compared with traditional kindergarten standards one could find at other public schools, the curriculum is slower, he said. The school isn’t formally teaching reading and writing in kindergarten, although kids are taught letter sounds, phonics and numbers." [9-23-2010 http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/sep/23/mariposa-elementary-enrollment-nearly-doubles/]
The increased popularity of such schools is either very good news or a serious sign of danger. (Note, however, that most of these schools are quite small.) Here are a few things that most readers may not know: Waldorf classrooms are often painted special colors to attract spiritual beings and to promote spiritual powers. A dim, shadowy atmosphere is often maintained to keep the kids in a sleepy spiritual state. The “developmental” goals of Waldorf schools are focused on such things as invisible “etheric” and “astral” bodies. Imagination is emphasized because it is considered a precursor to clairvoyance, which is an important goal for all of Rudolf Steiner’s followers. Academic subjects are downplayed because a) the schools are more focused on occult objectives than academics, b) ordinary knowledge is held cheap (preference is given to myths, which Steiner said are true reports of the spirit realm), and c) Steiner taught that we do not really think with our brains. [See, e.g., “Clairvoyance”, “Steiner’s Specific”, “Magical Arts”, “Holistic Education”, “Thinking Cap”, and “Here’s the Answer”.]
Can You Hear Him?
Let's circle back to a quotation we have already seen:
“Rudolf Steiner was forced to ask why it was that no one seemed to be able to hear what could be done to form a truly new society, a truly human society. He concluded that no one could hear him because the education people had been given left them unable to consider, and therefore unable to work with, anything not based in familiar routine.” — Robert F. Lathe and Nancy Parsons Whittaker, introduction to THE SPIRIT OF THE WALDORF SCHOOL, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1995), a collection of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, p. xii.
This provides a telling, if incomplete, account of the impulse behind Waldorf schools. Rudolf Steiner decided that people could not hear him because of the way they had been educated, so he decided to create a new form of education, what we now know as Waldorf or Steiner education, to produce people who would be able to hear him.
Steiner education conditions the children’s heads and hearts so that Anthroposophical attitudes and beliefs will find welcome within.
Waldorf schools guide students from the familiar, real world into an enticing fantasy universe. They place great emphasis on myths and legends; they emphasize imagination and intuition while downplaying intellect; they admire the “wisdom” of the ancients while disparaging modern science and technology; they stress feeling over thinking; they minimize academics; they encourage a soft, sweet, fuzzy romanticism. All of this ushers children up to the doorway leading into Anthroposophy. Steiner’s aim was to educate people in such as way that they would not only “hear” his occult fantasies, but stand ready to embrace them. [See “Curriculum”, “The Gods”, “Magical Arts”, and “Thinking Cap”.]
Modeled on Waldorf?
"Oak Meadow is touted by many as a secular Waldorf inspired curriculum and for many it is Waldorf enough. However, for people who want a true Waldorf education this program has disappointed many. The benefits of the program are that they don't push the child to learn too much too fast ... The program is laid back and not rigorous ... The concept of the curriculum is fantastic, but the reality is that it is not exactly how the curriculum turns out to be. For example, in 2nd grade reading you are barely getting past reading 3 letter words. Some people love it and others really dislike it. If you don't mind things moving at a slow pace then you will probably be in the first group.” [2-6-2011 http://hubpages.com/hub/Oak-Meadow]
Oak Meadow is a Waldorf school offering online instruction as well as homeschooling materials.
The crucial question — one that bears on the efforts to create Waldorf charter schools and free schools — is whether it is possible to create a “secular” curriculum based on the Waldorf model. Waldorf teacher training usually includes extensive instruction in Anthroposophical occultism. [See, e.g., “Teacher Training".] Steiner himself stated that Waldorf teachers should be “true Anthroposophists” who are deeply devoted to the Anthroposophical worldview. [See, e.g., “Here’s the Answer”.] Efforts to make Waldorf schooling seem unconnected to occultism have usually been little more than ploys. Advocates of Waldorf education are quite aware of the need for good public relations. [See, e.g., "PR".]
If you try to strip the occultism out of the Waldorf approach, what are you left with? Very little. Every part of the Waldorf curriculum and Waldorf methodology is rooted in occultism. [See, e.g., “Curriculum” and “Methods”.] The reason kids aren’t taught to read until they are seven, for instance, is that Waldorf teachers are waiting for the kids' “etheric bodies” to incarnate. If you don’t believe in such occult nonsense as etheric bodies, then there is no reason to postpone reading lessons. Indeed, postponing such lessons may be permanently harmful, depriving children of the benefits of early-childhood education.
Waldorf schools emphasize art (for occult reasons — see “Magical Arts”), they put little academic pressure on the students (for occult reasons — see “Academic Standards at Waldorf” and "Thinking Cap"), they emphasize fairy tales and myths (for occult reasons — see “Fairy Tales” and “The Gods”), they aim to educate the whole child (for occult reasons — see “Holistic Education”), and so on. You can imitate these procedures, and perhaps your children will derive benefits. Certainly art is a good thing, and kids shouldn't be pushed too hard, and myths are often quite nice, and educating the heart and hands as well as the head sounds very good. But you don’t need to turn to Waldorf schools (with their cargo of occult beliefs) to find attractive educational options. In any event, a better strategy is to get to know your children, understand what they need, and try to provide it by selecting from among sensible, real-world educational resources.
"Secular" Waldorf programs are generally geared to the occult agenda of Waldorf education — manifestation of the etheric body, manifestation of the astral body, development of initial stages of clairvoyance, etc. — without say so. In other words, they are not secular at all; they have generally misrepresented themselves. But this is standard for all types of Waldorf schools — they almost always conceal their purposes. It is not hard to dig below the Oak Meadow surface to find Steiner's occultism. Thus, the most significant of Steiner's educational principles is that children develop through three seven-year stages. [See "Most Significant".] In the first stage, children develop their physical bodies and their wills; in the second stage, children develop their etheric bodies while living mainly through their emotions; in the third stage, when they develop their astral bodies, they finally start to gain the ability to think for themselves. While avoiding the weirdest parts of this terminology, Oak Meadow embraces the schedule: "
Oak Meadow's attitude toward computers is intricate. "[T]he workplace of the future will require good computer skills. Therefore, we want Oak Meadow students to learn to use computers effectively." ["Oak Meadow and Computers" [http://www.oakmeadow.com/resources/articles/oms-computers.php].] But typical Anthroposophical concerns nonetheless crop up. • Oak Meadow suggests that children not use computers until they are at least 11 or 12 years old. • The school worries that computers may inhibit "[l]earning that transforms the individual, which is the kind of learning Oak Meadow encourages." • And the school is concerned that using computers "tends to inhibit the development of the will and the integration of mind and body." ["Homeschooling and Computers", http://www.oakmeadow.com/resources/articles/homeschooling-computers.php].] In Anthroposophy, the will is considered a separate faculty [see "Will"], and the integration of mind and body is part of the overall process of incarnation that lies at the heart of Waldorf schooling. Computers, and indeed all forms of modern technology, are viewed askance in Waldorf schools; they are generally associated with the demon Ahriman. [See "Ahriman".]
Disclosure statement: Lawrence Williams, of Oak Meadow, taught at the Waldorf school I attended, but not during my years there. He greatly admired our headmaster, John Fentress Gardner: "“There was nothing in Rudolf Steiner that [famed American authors] Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman would not have approved wholeheartedly.” — John Fentress Gardner, “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School,” ONE MAN’S VISION: In Memoriam, H.A.W. Myrin (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1970), p. 46. Many years after the school was founded, Mr. Gardner' stated his purpose this way: "I minimized the difference between a Waldorf school and other schools ... As soon as fundamental questions began to be answered plainly, wild rumors and frightened guesses quieted down.” [Ibid., p. 48.] Sadly, many of Mr. Gardner's "plain" answers were untrue.
"[S]ome parents...feel that their children are just not ready for Kindergarten at age five. These parents tend to be middle and upper-middle class ... These parents want the option to hold their children back a year so that they will be six when they start Kindergarten ... [W]hat's going on here? Are our five-year-olds becoming less capable of handling kindergarten? ... I can see why many parents want to delay sending their kids to kindergarten. I have a friend who sent her daughter to a Waldorf school for preschool from age 3 - 5. The Waldorf philosophy does not stress academic skills....” [4-4-2011 http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/little-kids-big-city/2011/04/kindergarten-age-cutoffs.html]
“Childhood is commonly regarded as a time of steadily expanding consciousness ... Yet in Steiner’s view, the very opposite is the case: childhood is a time of contracting consciousness ... [The child] loses his dream-like perception of the creative world of spiritual powers [i.e., the consciousness s/he brought from her past life in the spirit realm] ... 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." — A. C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), pp. 15-16.
Many parents are critical of public schools today, and some of them find Waldorf schools an attractive alternative. I would only urge parents to make sure they understand the Waldorf approach before buying into it.
Waldorf education "does not stress academic skills.” Very true. But is this good or bad? Most people consider childhood to be a period of enormously important mental, emotional, and psychological growth. Parents want their children to bloom. Of course, pushing youngsters too hard, expecting them to learn too much too soon, can be damaging. But the Waldorf alternative can also be damaging. Waldorf schools try to restrain children from growing and developing in a normal fashion.
Waldorf teachers think these "fragments" of supernatural consciousness will lend truth to a child's imaginings and dreams, which in turn can lead to the acquisition of clairvoyant powers later in life. This is the sort of "growth" Waldorf schools aim at. The Waldorf approach is delusory. [See "Thinking Cap" and "Clairvoyance".]
Figuring out the real agenda of such a school can be difficult. Waldorf methods are based on Anthroposophy, an occult religion; the methods make little sense without the religion.* So, will Mountain Sage promote Anthroposophy? The school does not say so. [http://www.mountainsagecommunityschool.org/] There is concern in the Anthroposophical community that some Waldorf schools, eager to receive tax revenues, will compromise too much with the secular world. Waldorf teacher training is usually designed to assure that Waldorf teachers are versed in Rudolf Steiner’s occult teachings. [See “Teacher Training”.] And Steiner himself stressed the need to avoid compromises. “As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” [Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 118.] Determining whether the teachers at a Waldorf charter school abide by this admonition may require considerable detective work. Of course, if you enroll your child, the answer may gradually become apparent over time — but by then the effects on your child may be difficult to repair.
"Mountain Sage Community School, [is] a new public charter school in Fort Collins [Colorado, USA] ... Mountain Sage Community School Charter was approved by the Poudre School District in October ... The school, which is currently accepting applications for the fall, is offering an arts-centered education that blends Waldorf methods with state academic standards.” [1-3-2011 http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20110103/NEWS01/101030321/In-brief]
* This is not to deny that Waldorf methods can be attractive. [See "Methods".] The schools try not to push kids too hard. They leave plenty of time for play and creativity, imagination and whimsy. Art and beauty are stressed. Indeed, Waldorf teachers are generally expected to present every subject in an artistic manner. All of this is quite nice, if less than overwhelmingly original. No one, after all, thinks that kids should be pushed too hard, or that schools should be unpleasant and ugly. But the real question about Waldorf methods is whether they work — that is, whether the kids receive a good education. Sadly, there is much evidence that Waldorf students learn less than kids in other types of schools and often emerge unprepared for life outside the Waldorf community. [See, e.g., "Academic Standards at Waldorf" and "Our Experience".]
"I always feel sad when I come across articles or sites that are dedicated to negative comments about Steiner Education. There are many. Some of them are even by people who grew up in Steiner schools or were raised by parents who were Anthroposophists. Some critics have said that Waldorf schools are a front for the shady agenda of Anthroposophists – whatever that is. I’ve been here for over 10 years and I haven’t even caught a whiff of it. The only difference is, I became a Waldorf parent because of my interest in Anthroposophy, so I find no dissonance there." [downloaded 10-11-2010 http://waldorfmom.wordpress.com/waldorfsteiner-education/anti-waldorf/]
I'm not sure how many Waldorf-critical sites and blogs exist, but the number does seem to be increasing. Certainly the number of informed individuals speaking out against the Waldorf movement appears to be on the rise. The Waldorf movement may continue to grow for some time yet, and increasing numbers of governments may allow taxpayer money to be channeled to the schools. But eventually the inherent flaws in Waldorf schools — predominantly the faculties' reliance on the nonexistent capacity called clairvoyance — will pull the schools down. Also, as wider and wider audiences become acquainted with the actual content of Rudolf Steiner's teachings, and as the great influence of those teachings in Waldorf schools becomes more widely known, the days of the Waldorf movement will start to be numbered. It is far too early to celebrate. But sanity will prevail in the end. Why? Because it must.
By the way, the agenda of Anthroposophy is to save humanity and the universe. This is highly laudable, not shady at all. The problem is that Anthroposophists seek to attain their lofty goal through occult teachings and practices. Occultism is not the future — it is a part of mankind's dark past. So this is just another way of saying that Anthroposophy cannot last. Steiner and his followers are not leading us into a brighter future; despite their sincere and commendable intentions, they are asking us to step backward into the ignorance and superstition of the past. The only sane response to this invitation is, No thanks. [See, e.g., "Occultism", "The Ancients", and "Summing Up".]
Of course, people with an "interest in Anthroposophy," or who actually are Anthroposophists, will find little to dislike in Waldorf schools. All other parents should proceed with caution.
In responding to news items, and elsewhere, I often generalize about Waldorf schools. There are fundamental similarities among Waldorf schools; I describe the schools based on the evidence concerning their structure and operations in the past and — more importantly — in the present. But not all Waldorf schools, Waldorf charter schools, and Waldorf-inspired schools are wholly alike. To evaluate an individual school, you should carefully examine its stated purposes, its practices (which may or may not be consistent with its stated purposes), and the composition of its faculty.
— Roger Rawlings
The following item originally appeared on the Waldorf Watch
"Daily Quotes" page — which is now defunct.
To review quotations used there in the past, see "The Quotes Archive".
"Nothing that is contained in our social problems will ever be solved until science becomes spiritual again. This can happen only when science is prepared to look for the spiritual element in every single thing — whether it be a potato or a comet." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF THE EARTH AND MAN AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE STARS (Anthroposophic Press, 1987), p. 220.
This is Steiner's basic proposition: Only "spiritual science" — i.e., his own teachings — can yield a correct vision of the cosmos, a universe in which everything physical is a manifestation of incorporeal beings: gods, nature spirits, and demons. This is a fundamental lesson that Waldorf faculties try to convey — usually subtly, often indirectly, almost always with a mystical sensibility — to their students. They believe (falsely) that Anthroposophy is scientific — they think it is science corrected by spiritual perception (i.e., clairvoyance). This is nothing but fantasy.
The goal animating Waldorf education is primarily spiritual, but it is also, in part, political: to solve "our social problems." Anthroposophists want to remake all human institutions in accordance with "spiritual science." Waldorf schools serve as the vanguard for this revolutionary effort. Governments that lend state support to the Waldorf movement — as in the UK today — may be distressed if the efforts of that movement take wider effect. In addition to creating a new form of education, Steiner prescribed "reforms" of science, religion, the arts, agriculture, medicine, government — in effect, all spheres of human activity. [See, e.g., "Threefolding".]
WALDORF SCHOOLS AND FREEDOM
Waldorf schools claim to promote freedom. They say they do not teach their students Anthroposophical doctrines. They say they do not try to force the students to adopt Anthroposophical beliefs. They claim to be nonsectarian and nondenominational. [See "Clues".] Hence, when students graduate from Waldorf schools, they are perfectly free to choose their own paths in life.
Undoubtedly some Waldorf teachers are sincere when they describe their work in these terms.* Unfortunately, however, despite a few traces of truth, the standard warrant for Waldorf education is seriously misleading. When Waldorf teachers speak in these ways, they are either trying to deceive you, or they are deceiving themselves, or both.
Even if we disregard the cramped, restrictive nature of the "freedom" Rudolf Steiner advocated [see "Freedom"] — even if, in other words, we accept that when Waldorf representatives speak of freedom they mean genuine human liberty — still this account of Waldorf education is seriously misleading.
Waldorf education is, at its core, an attempt to enact Anthroposophy and to bring more converts into the Anthroposophical fold. [See "Here's the Answer".] Waldorf teachers rarely expound Anthroposophical doctrines, as such, in class; they go at things more circuitously than that. Still, circuitously, they sneak Anthroposophy into the classroom at virtually every opportunity. [See "Sneaking It In".] Waldorf students are immersed for years on end, for hours and hours daily, in an Anthroposophical atmosphere that is meant to mold their feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and opinions. A student who receives the full Waldorf treatment should emerge at the end seeing the world, and feeling about the world, and thinking about the world precisely as Anthroposophists intend. The process is subtle, but we should recognize it for what it is: a form of indoctrination. [See "Indoctrination".]
Of course, things don't always work out as planned. Not all Waldorf students become deeply indoctrinated, but this is chiefly because the Waldorf approach is so flawed that it frequently misfires. To get the complete Waldorf treatment, a student should enter a Waldorf school while still a toddler and stay at the school all the way through the end of high school. S/he should have minimal contact with the outside world during all those formative years. That's the program as laid out by Rudolf Steiner. But, in practice, many Waldorf students are spared this smothering regime. Many families become disenchanted with Waldorf education and pull their kids out long before the end of high school. Other families remove their children for other reasons. Meanwhile, some families enroll their children at a Waldorf long after preschool, sometimes as late as the final years of high school. In all such cases, the children are spared the full Waldorf treatment, and thus they are unlikely to be deeply indoctrinated.
Then, too, some kids are naturally rebellious and skeptical. Some are incisively, analytically perceptive. Some are inner-directed, willful, or hardheaded. Such children stand a good chance of passing through Waldorf more or less intact. (For some of them, the passage may be brief: They may be expelled when their teachers decide they are recalcitrant.)
There is another factor we need to recognize. The Waldorf approach is basically unrealistic; it is often ineffectual for this reason alone. When, for instance, Waldorf teachers try to use clairvoyance [see "The Waldorf Teacher's Consciousness"] to perceive and guide the incarnation of their students' invisible bodies [see "Incarnation"], they are wasting their time and their students' time. The students' educations may suffer as a result [see "Academic Standards at Waldorf"], but for the most part the teachers are simply spinning their wheels and achieving little or nothing real, for good or for ill.
Despite all these limitations, Waldorf schooling indoctrinates a significant number of students, often with powerfully harmful results. Teachers whose own minds are clouded by mystical fantasies will almost inevitably lead many of their students astray. When fantasists take charge of a group of children and weave their shared fantasies around them, the subliminal effect on the kids can be intense. In class, Waldorf teachers generally do not elaborately spell out Anthroposophical doctrines, but this does not mean they withhold Anthroposophy — it only means they reduce their students' the ability to rationally discuss, analyze, and reach conclusions about the beliefs that underlie Waldorf education. Waldorf students spend their days in a miasma of unspoken but deeply felt, ever-present metaphysical conceptions, conceptions that are all the more likely to be absorbed and internalized precisely because they go unspoken. The most effective forms of brainwashing are not aimed at people's conscious minds but at the subconscious levels of being, swaying people in ways that function deep below the surface. This is how Waldorf schools operate, although Waldorf teachers and even some of their victims defend Waldorf practices as being sweetly beneficent.
Choosing not to explain complex metaphysical ideas to young children makes sense, of course — the children wouldn't understand. But Waldorf teachers generally follow the same policy of secrecy and indirection when dealing with all students, young and old; and they generally do the same when dealing with the students' parents. Anthroposophists consider themselves to be occult initiates. [See "Inside Scoop".] They think they possess "mystery wisdom" that should not be openly shared with the uninitiated. As a result, Waldorf schools are only mildly committed to the normal educational objective of sharing and spreading knowledge. Waldorf schools, in fact, are not primarily concerned with educating their students, if by "education" we mean conveying real knowledge about the real world. Waldorf schools, bright and colorful though they may appear, are places of darkness and occult secrecy, not the light of knowledge.
Some Waldorf teachers explicitly preach Anthroposophy to their students [see "Out in the Open"], but most do not — most are cautious and secretive. But this secrecy does not mean that Waldorf schools fail to press Anthroposophy on the students. Instruction occurs at many levels, affecting children in multiple ways. Children who spend their days in an unrelieved Anthroposophical atmosphere are likely to be significantly influenced, even when they are not required to memorize an Anthroposophical catechism. Bear in mind, Anthroposophists think that leading people to Anthroposophy is a matter of the highest importance; absolutely everything depends on it. [See "Everything".] Waldorf teachers consider themselves to be priests, charged with the spiritual welfare of their students. [See "Schools as Churches".] So while they may proceed circumspectly, protecting their secrets, true-believing Waldorf teachers nonetheless look for every possible way to nudge their students in the "right" direction.**
Waldorf schools do not promote freedom. They operate in the service of Anthroposophy, and their ultimate purpose is to spread Anthroposophy. They want you and your children to "freely" come to Anthroposophy, sooner or later, in this life or the next. They are sure that they represent the one true way. If you select a different way, you may be headed toward perdition, and Waldorf faculties don't want you to make such a dreadful mistake. Sooner or later, you really must come to Anthroposophy or run the risk to losing your soul. Salvation requires you to "freely" submit, which essentially means surrendering your capacity for freely choosing a path different from Anthroposophy.
The Waldorf movement reduces, it does not enlarge, the scope of human freedom.
* As I say many times on this site, it is important to remember that not all Waldorf teachers are Anthroposophists — although the leaders of Waldorf faculties generally are. Steiner said all Waldorf teachers should be Anthroposophists, but in practice this goal is rarely attained. “As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press. 1998), p. 118.
** Efforts to lure students' parents into Anthroposophy take different forms. If, having carefully evaluated you, Waldorf teachers conclude that you are susceptible, they may cautiously, indirectly begin alluding to various Anthroposophical concepts in your presence. They will probably invite you to evening gatherings in which, over the course of weeks and months, an exposition of basic Anthroposophical doctrines gradually unwinds. You may be given basic Anthroposophical texts to read. Slowly, slowly the veil may be lifted. But then again, if you do not seem susceptible, or if other factors intrude, none of this may occur. Many people have spent years in and around Waldorf schools without ever being taken into the faculty's confidence.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 1. WALDORF EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW ◊◊◊
 Rudolf Steiner, THE SPIRITUAL GROUND OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), introduction by Christopher Bamford, p. vi.
 The steps — a series of rather vacuous exercises — do not work, of course. They cannot. Their goal, clairvoyance, is unattainable. In this truth lies a world of hurt for Anthroposophists, who must admit, in the end, that they cannot attain their goal — they must admit this, or they will end up deluding themselves that they have attained their unattainable goal. Thus Anthroposophy can be seen as a path leading either to disappointment or delusion.
A word about the word "occult": Steiner openly called himself an occultist and he affirmed his teachings as occult. [See "Occultism".] He was not talking about devil worship. He meant that he dealt in hidden, mysterious spiritual knowledge. He used the term "occult" to apply to things esoteric, supernatural, and secret.
 You can find Steiner's statement here: FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press. 1998), p. 607.
 Ibid., pp. 402-403.
 Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 44-46.
 Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 118.
 Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 62-3: “There are beings that can be seen in the depths of the earth ... Many names have been given to them, such as goblins, gnomes, and so forth.”
 Addressing Waldorf teachers, Steiner said: “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. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. 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.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 495.
 I.e., in the dreamlike consciousness of young children before the replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth.
 I.e., the children are ushered toward religion by imitating their teachers, whose behavior exemplifies true religious devotion.
 I.e., we develop religion for the children during the period when they have not yet incarnated sufficiently for us to fully, directly address their mature inner selves. According to Waldorf belief, an individual does not fully become her/himself until the "I" incarnates around age twenty-one. [For the Waldorf view of freedom, see "Freedom".]
 I.e., we "educate" by encouraging the children's natural tendencies toward religion, leaving the soul and spirit unsullied.
 I.e., when we begin working on the children at a deeper level, after they turn seven.
 I.e., we stimulate true selfhood by stimulating true religious feeling.
 I.e., seeing how the religious impulse in the children becomes more elevated as the children mature, the teacher expresses in his words the wonderful religious teachings he wants to promote.
 Of course, a Waldorf teacher has time to try to become qualified. No Waldorf teacher serves simultaneously as the main instructor in both a first grade and an eighth grade, for instance; s/he moves up through the grades along with the students. Still, the task of becoming truly qualified is almost impossible. A Waldorf teacher has to do all the ordinary instructional work in multiple subjects at one grade level and then proceed to do all the needed work in multiple subjects at the next level, and then the next, and then the next... This is an unrealistic, overwhelming requirement. Waldorf schools place unrealistic expectations on teachers, which inevitably damages the education received by the students.
[R. R., 2010.]