“When we think, we die continually."
— Rudolf Steiner,
BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 56.
Waldorf schools tend to downplay rational thought. They attach minimal importance to reasoning, logic, intellect — what we normally call "thinking" — because Steiner said that real wisdom comes from other forms of consciousness. Here's a rundown.
To keep things clear, let's define some terms. By “thinking,” I mean using the old noggin, the bean, the little gray cells: the brain. Rigorous or serious thinking is using the brain for reasoning or logical analysis. The highest, most rigorous sort of reasoning can be called use of the intellect.
Steiner disparaged the brain, saying it does not produce real knowledge. He disparaged reasoning and logic, associating them with Ahriman and the loss of one’s soul. And, for the same reasons, he opposed intellect, as when he derided "so-called educated people in the universities." Having received a university education — indeed, he earned a doctorate, a Ph.D. — he was an anti-intellectual intellectual.
In Waldorf schools, Steiner’s views on thinking can have pernicious effects. Here is a statement by one of Steiner's followers: “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 which is hidden behind the phenomena of the senses. This is...the world of creative archetypes and spiritual hierarchies.
"In mastering the world of physical perception the child encounters difficulties in that he first has to overcome a dream-like yet intensely real awareness of spiritual worlds. This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine.
"In 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.
Here's how Steiner himself put it: "Although it is necessary, especially today, for people to be completely awake later in life, it is equally necessary to let children live in their gentle dreamy experiences as long as possible, so that they move slowly into life. They need to remain as long as possible in their imaginations and pictorial capacities without intellectuality." — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 103-104.
Kids in Waldorf schools are encouraged to live in a dream world. Use of the brain is especially discouraged in the early grades. This is why, for instance, reading is postponed well past the normal starting age. Theoretically, Waldorf schools compensate by encouraging development of intellect during the high school years, but in reality what often happens is that kids who have been trained to inhabit a dream world merely use their “intellect” to shore up their dreamy fantasies. (I can attest to this firsthand: I was a pretty “intellectual” student by the end of my Waldorf high school years, yet I used my intelligence primarily to find reasons to reject modern science, most modern scholarship, and indeed — when I got to college — enlightened education in general. I had been hooked. And my case was my no means unique. I’ve spoken with many other Waldorf graduates who report the same or similar experiences.)
Steiner understood that "thinking" is usually understood to be a conscious, rational activity. But the forms of "thinking" he advocated were quite different (and are not, I would submit, really thinking at all: they are forms of fantasizing). A chart drawn by Steiner shows three states of being with their proper, Anthroposophical forms of thought: “WAKING, Imaginative cognition; DREAMING, Inspired Feeling; SLEEPING, Intuitive Willing ... [P]ictorial cognition enters inspiration...and arises again from intuition.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (SteinerBooks, 1996), p. 118. “Pictorial cognition” is the creation of “imaginations,” that is, the products of imagination or, at a higher level, clairvoyance. “[T]hinking is a pictorial activity which is based in what we experienced before birth.” — Ibid., p. 62. I called this stuff fantasy, just now. But maybe a better word is poppycock.
Here is a gathering of Steiner statements on these issues:
“[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 60. Thinking is the use of our brains to figure things out. But Steiner explicitly downplays this. Real knowledge, he says, comes from a different direction — it arrives full-blown, intuitively, psychically. It is the manifestation of "living thoughts" that are not produced by our brains — i.e., we don't have to think them up.
“The cosmic ether, which is common to all, carries within it the thoughts; there they are within it, those living thoughts of which I have repeatedly spoken in our anthroposophical lectures, telling you how the human being participates in them in pre-earthly life before he comes down to Earth. There, in the cosmic ether, are contained all the living thoughts there are; and never are they received from the cosmic ether during the life between birth and death. No; the whole store of living thought that man holds within him, he receives at the moment when he comes down from the spiritual world — when, that is, he leaves his own living element, his own element of living thought, and descends and forms his ether body. Within this ether body, within that which is the building and organising force in man, are the living thoughts; there they are, there they still are.” — Rudolf Steiner, CURATIVE EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 37. Prepackaged, ready to go.
The true avenue to truth, Steiner says, comes out of feeling, not intellection. “From the stone there flows into the soul one kind of feeling, and from the animal another ... Out of these feelings and the thoughts that are bound up with them, the organs of clairvoyance are formed.” — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1944), p. 35. Note: We pass from feeling through thought to something very different than thought: clairvoyance.
“[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.” — Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70. Thinking does exist, of course — we do it. But it is only oriented to physical reality. Feelings and clairvoyance lead to higher truths about higher worlds.
“The brain is an instrument for purely intellectual apprehension. Intellectualism and materialistic thinking are one and the same ... [T]he materialistic brain represents a process of decay: materialistic thinking unfolds only through processes of destruction, death-processes, which are taking place in the brain.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996), pp. 147-148.
“Human beings must embark upon the unpleasant task of abandoning the mode of thinking [i.e., intellect] which the universities produce in the so-called educated classes today....” — Rudolf Steiner. BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXTERNAL HAPPENINGS (Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1947), lecture 1, GA 178.
The brain “thinks” only in a very inferior manner. “When people are as blinded by materialistic thoughts as they became during the nineteenth century and right into the present ... it is not incorrect to say that the brain thinks. It is then, in fact, correct. By being firmly enmeshed in materialism, we have people who not only think poorly about the body, soul, and spirit, but people who think materially and feel materially. What that means is that materialism causes the human being to become a thinking automaton, that the human being then becomes something that thinks, feels, and wills physically.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 115.
Intellect or brain-based thinking is associated with the arch-demon Ahriman. “The danger of succumbing to the realm of Ahriman was at its greatest around the year 333 BC. This was the moment in time when humanity began to make use of mere intellect, mere logic." — Rudolf Steiner, GUARDIAN ANGELS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), pp. 96-97. This is a serious matter: "The human being is thus in danger of drifting into the Ahrimanic world, in which case the spirit-soul will evaporate into the cosmos." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 115.
Truth comes through imagination, which is clairvoyance. “Essentially, people today have no inkling of how people looked out into the universe in ancient times when human beings still possessed an instinctive clairvoyance ... If we want to be fully human, however, we must struggle to regain a view of the cosmos that moves toward Imagination again....” — Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 256.
Critical thinking is especially hazardous. Good children "have a respect that forbids them, even in the deepest recess of their heart, to harbour any thoughts of criticism or opposition." — Rudolf Steiner, KNOWLEDGE OF THE HIGHER WORLDS AND ITS ATTAINMENT, p. 10. Good adults should have a similar sense of veneration, at least for the people they have selected to be their gurus. “Hence the need to find a Guru on whom he [a seeker] can strictly rely.“ — Rudolf Steiner, SELF-TRANSFORMATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), p. 48. Relying “strictly” on a guru is the abnegation of critical intelligence. Don't think for yourself — follow your guru (who, for Anthroposophists, is Steiner — rely on him strictly and do not question his teachings.)
“A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.
Ahriman’s cardinal evil attribute is that he is “the supreme intellectual power.” — Rudolf Steiner, NATURE SPIRITS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 167.
Ahriman’s fiendish plots include this: “One of the things Ahriman wants for us is that we produce lots of libraries, storing lots of dead knowledge all around us.” — Rudolf Steiner, POLARITIES IN THE EVOLUTION OF MANKIND (SteinerBooks, 1987), p. 163. Dead knowledge is, obviously, the opposite of "living thoughts."
Steiner taught that intellectual thought did not begin until 600-800 BC. It is, he said, a gift from Lucifer, another arch-demon. [Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 117.] Ahriman corrupted Lucifer’s dangerous gift: “Ahriman appropriated intellectuality ... Intellectuality flows forth from Ahriman as a cold and frosty, soulless cosmic impulse.” — Rudolf Steiner, ANTHROPOSOPHICAL LEADING THOUGHTS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 98.
We currently live in a materialistic age in which materialistic (intellectual) thinking prevails. This is a “necessary phase in the evolution of humanity.” — WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1 (Anthroposophic Press, 1995, p. 235. Entering this phase, we surrendered our old clairvoyant capacities, but we will attain greater clairvoyance when we move forward in our evolution. This is well, since “The intellect destroys or hinders.” — Ibid., p. 233.
Ultimately, intellect is anathema for Steiner and his followers — critical thinking must be suppressed. "By intellectualising he [the seeker] merely diverts himself from the right path." — Rudolf Steiner, WIE ERLANGT MAN ERKENNTNISSE DER HOHEREN WELTEN? (Philosophisch-Antropologischer Verlag, 1945), GA 10, p. 32.
Steiner tells his followers, "You must not try to receive these insights in a sober-minded and intellectual way." — Rudolf Steiner, DIE STUFEN DER HÖHEREN ERKENNTNIS (Verlag der Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, 1959), GA 12, p. 66. Sobriety and intellect are faulty...
The goal is to reach a stage at which "our thinking ceases." — Rudolf Steiner, MEDITATION UND KONZENTRATION (Dornach, 1935), p. 33.
"When we advance through meditation to imaginative perception we cross over an abyss, as it were. Our thinking ceases, a state of non-thinking exists between ordinary thinking and the active life-filled thinking of imagination." — Rudolf Steiner, PHILOSOPHY, COSMOLOGY, AND RELIGION (SteinerBooks, 1984), p. 133. Real thinking, centered in the brain, must be put behind us. Non-thinking intervenes, until we can arrive at imaginative "thinking" (not centered in the brain but receptive to "living thoughts" — accessible through imagination).
"[O]nce we have completely cleared our consciousness and suspended our concepts (as described in the second part of my OUTLINE OF OCCULT SCIENCE) we feel that our ordinary thinking ceases, and what we had previously produced by our own efforts as thinking dissolves. In its place we feel a remarkable enlivening through thoughts suddenly available and streaming into us as from unknown realms." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EFFECTS OF ESOTERIC DEVELOPMENT (SteinerBooks, 1997), p. 96. The living thoughts from on high...
"Our fifth post-Atlantean subrace is developing a culture of reason, but at the same time it is bringing egotism to an absolute extreme ... Our fifth root race will be ruined by egotism intensified to the utmost." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY, p. 179. "Reason" is associated with ruin.
Gnomes are beneath us in many ways, but in one way they are more advanced than we are. "The gnomes laugh us to scorn on account of the groping, struggling understanding with which we manage to grasp one thing or another, whereas they have no need at all to make use of thought. They have direct perception of what is comprehensible in the world; and they are particularly ironical when they notice the efforts people have to make to come to this or that conclusion ... People are so stupid — say the gnomes — for they must first think things over ... [G]nomes become ironical to the point of ill manners if one speaks to them of logic ... Thus the gnomes, inside the earth, are actually the bearers of the ideas of the universe, of the world-all." — Rudolf Steiner, MAN AS SYMPHONY OF THE CREATIVE WORD (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001), p. 113.
We will evolve to have consciousness that will no longer deserve scorn. "On the planet which will replace our Earth, the whole of humanity will have this psychic-consciousness or Imagination, the 'Jupiter' consciousness." — Rudolf Steiner, UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BEING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1993), p. 30. We aspire to a consciousness in which truth requires no thought of any kind — it is simply present around us and within us. Jupiter will be a big step up. After that we will attain Venus consciousness, and finally Vulcan consciousness. "Thinking" will then be long, long behind us. “In a corresponding manner does the ‘Venus consciousness’ appear during the sixth cycle of Venus ... The last planet which can still be counted among the series of earthly transformations, and hence follows Venus, is called ‘Vulcan’ by mystery science. On this planet the provisional goal of the development of mankind is attained. The condition of consciousness into which man enters there is called ‘piety’ or spiritual consciousness ... Not much can be publicly communicated about the life on this planet. In mystery science one speaks of it in such a way that it is said, ‘No soul which, with its thinking is still tied to a physical body, should reflect on Vulcan and its life.’” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (SteinerBooks, 1981), pp. 162-163. Not only is the consciousness attained on Vulcan vastly removed from Earthly, brain-centered thinking, but anyone who still thinks with a physical brain should desist from even inquiring about Vulcan. Thinking is a disqualification.
But Vulcan is far in the future. There are barriers confronting us before we can get there, evils and dangers that we must surmount. Sadly, as he did so often, Steiner associated such evils and dangers with lowly races. Fortunately, turning away from materialistic thinking will produce a superior race. "All materialistically thinking souls work on the production of evil race-formations, and what is done of a spiritual nature causes the bringing forth of a good race." — Rudolf Steiner, ROSICRUCIAN WISDOM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000), p. 150. This is a cautionary quote: Thinking is important, because of its consequences. Evil thinking (materialistic, brain-centered) creates racial abominations. Good "thinking" (imaginative, imaginary) produces racial progress. In this sense, Steiner doesn't downplay thinking — except that the "thinking" he advocates is not real thinking. It is, at best, uncritical acceptance of the teachings given by a guru — which is to say, Steiner.
Our precious youth are misled by the “so-called educated people in universities.” — Rudolf Steiner, SECRET BROTHERHOODS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 97. This misdirection of the young is perhaps clearest in medical education. (Brace yourself: This gets a little weird. Basically, evil thinking produces evil spiritual beings, spiders as it were. Using the intellect leads toward perdition.) "Our young people are sent into the hospitals and scientific faculties of the universities; there the human being is explained to them ... [T]his is no way to comprehend the human being ... What we learn about the human being through such a science is something that simply and solely has significance from the moon’s separation until its return, something that out of the spider thoughts of today will then turn into spider beings ... [P]eople do not have the remotest idea of the appalling earthly destiny they are approaching by uniting with what an ancient spiritual knowledge called the sixteen paths of human perdition ... [T]here are variations of the shadowy intellect itself, various ways of uniting ourselves through this intellectual activity with the elements of spidery incrustation that will be spun over the whole earth in the future. In that time, the intellect will hold sway objectively in the manifold limbs these spider creatures will possess." — Rudolf Steiner, MATERIALISM AND THE TASK OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (SteinerBooks, 1987), pp. 266-269. Again, evil, materialistic thinking produces monstrosities. Our thoughts are real beings, in the spirit realm. In fact, we may consider the spirit realm to consist of beings that are pure thought — incorporeal, bodiless embodiments of thought and spirit. In this important sense, thinking is highly important. But this includes all forms of "thought," including many that do not stem from careful use of the brain. Any and all inner states are reflected by spiritual states, and vice versa. Steiner's warning to us is that brainy, materialistic thinking — intellect, logic, uncolored by the heart — creates evil. Such thinking should not only be downplayed — it should be actively avoided.
Here, on the other hand, is a tip for thinking in surprising ways: “The ancients...believed that people thought with their bones ... We can thank the capacity of our skeletal system for everything we have in abstract science." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 75. The ancients had it right, you see: “As soon as we begin to think with our fingers — and one can think with one's fingers and toes much more brightly, once one makes the effort, than with the nerves of the head — as soon as we begin to think with that part of us which has not entirely become matter, when we think with the lower part of our being, then our thoughts are the thoughts of our karma." — Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 126. Don't use your brain, if you can avoid it; think with your bones.
Let’s get back down to Earth, especially Waldorf schooling:
Intellect should be downplayed. “Any attempt to improve the methods of education should consist in modifying the intellectual element which has become over-dominant since the fourteenth century ....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1926), p. 31.
Especially for young children, intellect should be downplayed. Children should be left to themselves as much as possible. Don’t teach them; let them dream on. “The child is not ready for school until the change of teeth ... He is best left in a gentle dream-like existence for as long as possible.” — Rudolf Steiner , A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), p. 11.]
You see, kids come with memories of the spirit real — and prepackaged “living thoughts” — as well as karmas from past lives... Waldorf schooling is intended to retard maturation of young children. Kids aren’t ready for any form of intellectual thinking until rather late: “Mineralogy, physics, and chemistry should not be introduced before...the twelfth year. The only intellectual occupation not harmful during the earlier ages is arithmetic.” — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 1, p. 186.
You see, “If you particularly emphasize the development of thinking, you actually direct the entire human being back to prenatal life. You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 61.
In brief: Waldorf schooling downplays thinking in favor of imagination, intuition, inspiration — clairvoyance. Or, as Steiner said, Waldorf schooling should not “emphasize the development of thinking.” — Ibid.
It is hard to be fully consistent when discussing Steiner's views on thinking, since he himself was inconsistent. Here's a sort of summary: When Steiner argued that his doctrines constitute a form of science, and/or when he was discussing the short-term needs of modern humans, he tended to include intellect or brainy thinking as a significant kind of mental activity; but the rest of the time, he disparaged such stuff in favor of "thinking" that is not connected with the brain.
Anthroposophists tend to be wowed by Steiner's complex, hard-to-work-out teachings. Surely such "deep" stuff has to reflect great wisdom, no? Well, an alternative view is that Steiner gave us nothing but a clever, elaborate metaphysical con.
If I had to offer a single quotation concerning Steiner’s views on the brain and brain-based thinking, perhaps I would offer this: “The intellect destroys or hinders.” But I must admit I think “You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” is pretty striking. And I have a fondness too for “[T]he brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” Oh, heck. It’s hard to choose. Let me think...
Meanwhile, you might meditate on this: Consider what it means to send children to a school where there is an underlying mistrust of the brain and the products of the brain: thinking.
— Roger Rawlings
For more on the Waldorf attitude toward thinking,
Steiner's statements about thinking were quite varied. Here's a strange example:
Our “thoughts” are real forces or beings in the spirit realm
— although as this passage makes clear,
the “thinking” Steiner refers to has little or nothing
to do with rational cogitation.
Here, Steiner means little more than
[My sketch, based on Steiner’s, 2009.
How Steiner's sketch illustrates Steiner's words
— or whether it does so — is left open.
This was commonly the case for Steiner's sketches.
I have fiddled with the colors,
hoping to add a smidgen of visual interest.]
An image of thinking or consciousness
in the form of a caduceus.
We do not need to think much for ourselves, Steiner taught. Most of the thoughts worth having have already been produced by other, higher beings. Indeed, such thoughts exist in the universe now as living spiritual beings. We "think" best when we open ourselves to receiving these "living thoughts." They become our own thoughts when we join with them. “A living thought comes to us: Just as my thought is alive, so too the force that lives in and drives the plant seed must be inwardly alive. Soon this thought becomes for us a raying out of light." — Rudolf Steiner, ESOTERIC LESSONS 1904-1909 (Steiner Books, 2007), p. 400. [R.R. sketch, 2009, based on b&w image on p. 401; arbitrary colors.]
To the extent that we actually think for ourselves, our brains are essentially irrelevant, Steiner said. Our real thinking occurs in the immaterial parts of our being, the parts most receptive to thoughts from beyond ourselves. The physical brain at most reflects the thinking that occurs beyond and above it. When we think well we create good living thoughts, i.e., beneficent spiritual thought-beings. When we think badly, we create evil thought-beings. And when we rely entirely on the physical brain, we create only materialistic, dead thoughts.
The image, above, shows various forms of human consciousness and their associated astrological connections. At the bottom of the caduceus: ordinary day consciousness, associated with the Earth; ascending, to the left, the Moon, and to the right, Jupiter; at the first intersection, "picture consciousness"; ascending further, to the left, Venus, and to the right, the Sun; at the second intersection, "sleeping consciousness"; ascending still further, to the left, Saturn, and to the right, Vulcan (no symbol); at the top, "deep trance."
Here is an item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:
"We learn with more than just our heads. Lots of us, not just those in Waldorf schools, agree with this ... Based on the work of John Gardner at the Garden City Waldorf School in the 1950s and 1960s and Douglas Gerwin since then, Waldorf schools approach each grade of high school differently in terms of assignments, expectations, and the development of thinking."
There are many different forms of "thinking," ranging from logic to fantasizing. Waldorf schools emphasize "thinking" that is close to, if not synonymous with, fantasy: imagination, intuition, and inspiration. Ultimately, they place their hope in clairvoyance. Rudolf Steiner taught that no real thinking occurs in the brain. Real thinking occurs outside the physical body; the brain merely reflects the thoughts that come in from invisible, higher parts. "[I]n all this external bodily organism [i.e., the physical body] no process such as thinking or cognition exists, but it takes place in the adjoining etheric and astral bodies ... Within the brain nothing at all exists of the nature of thought." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), p. 88.
Like other Anthroposophists, John Gardner deplored logical or "critical" thinking. "A youth whose childhood has been touched by the blight of 'critical thinking' will come to the moment of independent insight badly crippled ... Because skepticism has long since robbed him of part of his heart, he will now feel unable to embrace enthusiastically what he has come to understand." — John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (Waldorf Press, 1975), pp. 127-128.
The Waldorf curriculum is designed to keep children young and uninformed for as long as possible. [See "Thinking Cap".] Use of the brain is de-emphasized; instead, the young child is immersed in fairy tales, myths, and religious teachings. The purpose is to bring the child into the occult fold, leading her/him to internalize Anthroposophical beliefs or attitudes. [See "Spiritual Agenda".] Then, when the child has become a junior occultist, intellectual thought is gradually and minimally developed in high school. Such mild "intellectual thought," however, is not meant to be critical — the child should use intellect only to rationalize the beliefs s/he has embraced. The goal, in other words, is to raise children who "embrace enthusiastically what [they have] come to understand." What do they "understand?" The beliefs and attitudes carefully cultivated in them by their Waldorf teachers.
Waldorf schools are appropriate only for families who want an occult, mystical, irrational "education" for their children. Remember, "You will injure children if you educate them rationally....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 61. [See, e.g., "Beat", "Steiner's Specific", "Criticism", and "Curriculum".]
Disclosure statement: I knew John Gardner. I attended the The Waldorf School of Garden City, which in those days had a different name. (The school changed its name after a scandal nearly tore the school apart — see "Scandal".) John Gardner was out headmaster; my mother was his secretary. I remember at least one occasion when Mr. Gardner told me not to think with my brain. [See "I Went to Waldorf".]
ANTHROPOSOPHY AND INTELLECT
Anthroposophists have an equivocal attitude toward intellect. Rudolf Steiner deprecated intellect, saying that it cannot bring us ultimate truth. [See “Steiner’s Specific”.] Intellect is cold and unfeeling, he said; it is alien to spirit, which we approach through emotion and apprehend through clairvoyance.
On the other hand, Steiner taught that today, living in the lowly physical realm, we need to develop intellectual powers. At our current level of development, we need to master intellect in order to continue our evolutionary advancement in higher, more spiritual future incarnations. The chief benefit of intellect is that it makes us more mentally alert, more fully conscious. Hence it strengthens us, allowing us to pursue clairvoyance of a more precise, discerning type — "exact" clairvoyance — than was available to humanity in the past. [See "Exactly".]
White people, Steiner said, are humanity’s intellectual pathfinders — unlike members of other races, whites lead “thinking lives” in which they make extensive use of their “forebrains”. [See “Races”.] Among whites, Steiner singled out Germans, teaching that they possess unusually great intellectual capacities. [See “The Good Wars.”]
Steiner himself was an intellectual, a man of imposing intelligence whose books and lectures are conceptually demanding. When studying his work, his followers must cudgel their brains; comprehending a Steiner text is an intellectual challenge. Analyzing such texts, and forming opinions about them, requires readers to make strenuous mental efforts. Anthroposophists who proceed to write exegeses or original extensions of Steiner’s works become shining intellectual stars in the Anthroposophical firmament.
In general, Steiner’s followers credit themselves with high levels of intellectual apprehension. They congratulate themselves on possessing wisdom that most other people have not yet attained. The word “Anthroposophy” means knowledge or wisdom of the human being. Anthroposophists believe that they, virtually alone in all the world, are endowed with this knowledge and wisdom.
Outsiders, evaluating Anthroposophy from a distance, may see the matter quite differently. Not beguiled by Steiner, and arguably capable of objective judgment, they often express surprise that any apparently sensible person could embrace Steiner’s teachings. [See “Inside Scoop”.] Certainly, much Anthroposophical lore seems patently false; Steiner’s work is marked by a profusion of factual and logical errors. [See “Steiner’s Blunders” and “Steiner’s Illogic”.]
Viewed in this light, the intellectual efforts of Steiner and his followers lose their claim to serious consideration. They are revealed to be vain exercises in rationalization; clever but futile efforts to erect a vast esoteric superstructure out of parts that prove to be absurdities. [See, e.g., “Say What?” and “Steiner Static”.] Only within a self-enclosed, intellectually isolated community — not to put too fine a point on it, a cult — could the fictions and fallacies of Anthroposophy be mistaken for truths.
Ultimately, Rudolf Steiner was correct when he warned his followers not to think too hard about his teachings. The intellect, he said, can destroy Anthroposophy. “A man who would receive Anthroposophy with his intellect kills it in the very act.” — Rudolf Steiner, LIFE, NATURE, AND CULTIVATION OF ANTHROPOSOPHY (Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 1963), p. 15.
Steiner meant that cold rationality is antithetical to spiritual awareness; it cannot rise to the august heights of esoteric wisdom. But another, plainer interpretation (one that may have eluded Steiner) forces itself on us. Anthroposophy consists of falsehoods. Applying clear-sighted, objective analysis to Anthroposophy exposes these falsehoods and, in the process, causes the entire edifice to totter.