In Waldorf's Favor

Steiner Schools and Their Namesake


"Waldorf Graduates"

What can we say for Rudolf Steiner? Why did he attract a following in his own time? Why does he still have admirers today?

And, more important, what are the virtues of the educational system he created — Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education?

Perhaps Steiner's most obvious asset was intelligence. He was very bright. In addition, he displayed breathtaking versatility: He undertook work in a wide array of fields — intellectual, spiritual, artistic, agricultural, and social/political. He was a genuine polymath.

We can say more. Steiner was extremely well-versed in his central subject, occultism or esotericism. He had studied the work of prior spiritual leaders and he made numerous “improvements" to their teachings. His theology and cosmology are intricate and wonderfully detailed.

His vision was extremely reassuring. He placed humanity at the very center of the universe, beloved of the gods and destined for divinity. (Steiner's most immediate influence was Theosophy, which places God or the gods — theos — at the center. Anthroposophy puts man — anthropo — at the center.)

Steiner was essentially affirmative. His teachings emphasize love, reverence, spiritual improvement, freedom, beauty, and other highly desirable attributes. Much of this tends to look different when we examine precisely what Steiner meant by these things — Anthroposophy and Waldorf often look different on second consideration than at first blush. Still, the attraction of Steiner's teachings is undeniable.

We need to bear all this in mind when critiquing Steiner and the results of his doctrines. Admiration of Steiner is fundamental to the Waldorf movement, and that admiration is not hard to understand. If we ultimately decide that there are deep problems both in the movement and in the thinking (largely Steiner’s) that fuels it, we need to recognize the context of admiration in which the movement grew and exists today.

Here is an assortment of quotations in which Steiner explains the thinking that underlies Waldorf education. He uses many alluring words that are virtually guaranteed to elicit our approval — love, beauty, joy, truth. The question is whether the statements he makes about these concepts make sense. Steiner allures, but does he do anything more? In the following list, I will — in each instance — state the case for Waldorf education as positively as possible, then I will quote Steiner. Read his words and determine whether you find them sensible, true, and/or wise. In some cases, perhaps you will. In other cases, you may find that — putting it mildly — they give you pause.

(I will be quoting Steiner. But he is gone. To consider what Waldorf teachers say today, long after Steiner's departure, see, e.g., "Today", "Today Too", and "Today 3". Spokesmen for Waldorf education still use the terms and propositions set out by Steiner. Waldorf education now is much as it was originally. If Waldorf education had merit once, it may still have merit today in the same measure. But if it never had much merit, then the implications for Waldorf education today are disturbing.)

You may find reading Steiner difficult, especially if you haven't encountered his work before. 

Almost everyone has the same difficulty, at first. I can only urge you to plug away — it gets easier with practice. 

(If you'd like a short tutorial in reading Steiner, see "Lecture".)

Waldorf schools encourage children to seek beauty and goodness
— especially inner beauty and inner goodness — 
whether in nature or in human beings:

"In nature, my dear children [Steiner was addressing young students], it is often just as it is with people. There, too, much is often hidden that is good, much that is beautiful. Many people are not noticed because the good in them is concealed, it has not yet been found. You must try to awaken the feeling that will enable you to find the good people in the crowd." — 
Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 76.

Waldorf schools stress the arts,
and through them transcendence 
— contact with "something higher":

"[W]hen a human being is absorbed in the contemplation of a great work of art the etheric body [an invisible body that, according to Waldorf belief, incarnates around age seven] is being influenced. Through the work of art one divines something higher and more noble than is offered by the ordinary environment of the senses, and in this process one is forming and transforming the life-body [i.e., the etheric body]." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 12. [1]

Music and dance are important in Waldorf schooling 
— beauty, far more than meaning, promotes healthy development:

"It is important to realize the value of children’s songs, for example, as a means of education in early childhood. They must make pretty and rhythmical impressions on the senses; the beauty of sound is of greater value than the meaning. The more alive the impression on eye and ear the better. Dancing movements in musical rhythm have a powerful influence in building up the physical organs, and this should also not be undervalued." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, p. 23.

Waldorf schools put little academic pressure on students,
leaving them plenty of time to play and muse:

"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 (Anthroposophic Press, 2004), pp. 103-104.

Waldorf education addresses the "whole child":

"Educators must keep this truth very clearly in mind. They must make sure that the child’s whole being is moved. Consider, from this point of view, telling legends and fairy tales. If you have the right feeling for the stories and tell them from your own inner qualities, the way you tell them enables children to feel something of what is told with the whole body. Then you really address the child’s astral body [an invisible body believed to incarnate around age 14]. Something radiates from the astral body up into the head, something that the child should feel there. You should have the sense that you are gripping the whole child and that, from the feelings and excitement you arouse, an understanding of what you are saying comes to the child." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 15. [2]

Waldorf education rejects materialism:

"The materialistic worldview turns away from the human being, and develops a monstrous indifference in the teacher toward the most intimate movements of the souls of those being educated." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 10. [3]

Waldorf schools honor nature and they promote green values:

"It may seem fantastic, but plants are in fact the 'hair' of the living Earth. Just as you can understand what a hair is really like only when you consider how it grows out of the head — actually out of the whole organism — so in teaching about nature you must show the children how the Earth exists in a most intimate relationship to the world of plants. You must begin with the soil and, in this way, evoke an image of Earth as a living being. Just as people have hair on their head, the Earth as a living being has the plants on it." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ROOTS OF EDUCATION (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 65. [4]

Waldorf schools downplay technological devices such as TVs and computers
because of the underlying immorality of the forces involved:

"[E]lectric atoms are little demons of Evil ... [W]hen we listen to a modern physicist blandly explaining that Nature consists of electrons, we merely listen to him explaining that Nature really consists of little demons of Evil! And if we acknowledge Nature in this form, we raise Evil to the rank of the ruling world-divinity ... If we contemplate electricity today, we contemplate the images of a past moral reality that have turned into something evil." — Rudolf Steiner, “Concerning Electricity” (General Anthroposophical Society, 1940), GA 220.

If they follow Steiner's directives, 

Waldorf teachers approach their students with reverence.

“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, p. 60.

Waldorf teachers try to express and evoke love:

"Bring love to your teaching, and if you succeed in awakening the right  kind of love in the children something besides joy will develop in them. Loyal affection and devotion to the teacher will grow in the children so that they come to feel: there are many difficult things we must do, but for that teacher I will do the hard things." — Rudolf Steiner, BALANCE IN TEACHING  (Anthroposophic Press, 2007), p. 57.

The love expressed by Waldorf teachers serves spiritual needs,

imbuing physical reality with spirit:

"The most important thing that we need in the education profession is the love that results when we learn to love the personality just beginning to develop [in the child]. We will see what this love can accomplish with the spirit. In outer life, love is often blind. However, when we connect love to inner development, then it acts to open the soul. Behind that love exists a still more powerful belief, which acts on us to create the capacity to consider life in the proper manner, and which reveals to us the human being placed into the world of spiritual and sense perceptible life. As teachers, our task is to create the connection between those two. We see in the child how the spirit descends and weds [i.e., unites with] human physicality." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, p. 88.

Waldorf education stresses joy, 
finding in it — especially when paired with love —
the power of physical development:

"The joy of children in and with their environment must therefore be counted among the forces that build and shape the physical organs. They need teachers that look and act with happiness and, most of all, with honest unaffected love. Such a love that streams, as it were, with warmth through the physical environment of the children may be said to literally 'hatch' the forms of the physical organs." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, p. 22. 

Waldorf teachers strive to be nearly flawless representatives

of truth, beauty, and goodness

— which is to say, they represent "the entire world":

"The child wants to see the world as living behind the teacher, who must not fail now to confirm the student’s heartfelt conviction that the teacher is properly attuned to the world, and embodies truth, beauty, and goodness ... [T]he unconscious nature of children tests the teacher ... They want to discover whether the teacher is truly worthy of representing the entire world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD’S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), pp. 114.

Waldorf teachers try to represent the heavenly and miraculous

— they work with "forces sent down from the spiritual world":

"The reverence that is needed to make education effective, something that can take on a religious quality, will arise if you as a teacher are conscious that when around the seventh year [of a child's life] you call forth from the child’s soul the forces that are used when the child learns to draw and to write, these actually come down from heaven! The child is the mediator, and you are actually working with forces sent down from the spiritual world. When this reverence for the divine-spiritual permeates your teaching, it truly works miracles." — Rudolf Steiner, BALANCE IN TEACHING, pp. 16-17.

Waldorf teachers try to conduct themselves as if in holy orders:

‘[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.

Waldorf education stresses virtue:

"Here we need to consider three human virtues — concerning, on the one hand, the child’s own development, and on the other hand, what is seen in relation to society in general. They are three fundamental virtues. The first concerns everything that can live in will to gratitude; the second, everything that can live in the will to love; and third, everything that can live in the will to duty. Fundamentally, these are the three principal human virtues and, to a certain extent, encompass all other virtues." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD’S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS, pp. 124-125. 

Waldorf education aims to promote healthy development of the body and brain

through good examples and morality:

"Good sight will be developed in children if their environment has the proper conditions of light and color, while in the brain and blood circulation the physical foundations will be laid for a healthy moral sense if children see moral actions in their environment. If before their seventh year children see only foolish actions in their surroundings, the brain will assume the forms that adapt it to foolishness in later life." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, p. 19.

Waldorf teachers work to enable children to choose their own religious paths:

"Through appealing to the children’s soul-life in religion lessons — that is, by presenting our subject pictorially rather than through articles of faith or in the form of moral commandments — we grant them the freedom to find their own religious orientation later in life. It is extremely important for young people, from puberty right into their twenties, to have the opportunity to lift, by their own strength, what they first received through their soul life — given with a certain breadth from many perspectives — into conscious individual judgments. It will enable them to find their own way to the divine world." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD’S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS, pp. 124-125.

Waldorf schools stress freedom,
which requires early submission to authority:

"[I]nsofar as children between the change of teeth and puberty are concerned [i.e., from ages seven to 14], authority is absolutely necessary. It is a natural law in the life of the souls of children. Children at this particular stage in life who have not learned to look up with a natural sense of surrender to the authority of the adults who brought them up, the adults who educated them, cannot grow into free human beings. Freedom is won only through a voluntary surrender to authority during childhood." — 

Waldorf education aims to lead the children to "veneration and reverence"
— which requires children to revere their teachers:

"What children see directly in their educators with inner perception must, for them, become authority — not authority compelled by force, but authority that they accept naturally without question. Through this they will build up their conscience, habits, and inclinations. They will bring their temperament along an ordered path. They will look at things of the world through its eyes, as it were ... Veneration and reverence are forces whereby the etheric body grows in the right way. If it were not possible during these years to look up to another person with unbounded reverence, one would have to suffer for this loss throughout all of later life. Where reverence is lacking, the living forces of the etheric body are stunted in their growth." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILD, p. 24. [6] 

Waldorf education spurns dead, abstract thinking:

"[K]nowledge must not remain stuck in abstract, logical rules, but rise to view human life as more than grasping lifeless nature — the living that has died — or thinking of the living in a lifeless way. When we rise from abstract principles to formative qualities and understand how every natural law molds itself sculpturally, we come to understand the human etheric body. When we begin to 'hear' (in an inner, spiritual sense) the cosmic rhythm expressing itself in that most wonderful musical instrument that the astral body makes of the human being, we come to understand the astral nature of the human being." — Rudolf Steiner, THE ESSENTIALS OF EDUCATION, pp. 48-49. [7]

Waldorf education stresses "living thoughts" that come to us from the cosmic ether:

“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 [i.e., we don't get them during our lives here on Earth]. 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 [to be born on Earth] — 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, EDUCATION FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), p. 37.

Waldorf education downplays the brain, which does not really give us truth:

"The reason our brain is better developed than an animal brain is that we can feed the brain nerves better. Only in this way, namely, that we can feed the brain nerves better than animals can, do we have the possibility of more fully developing our higher cognition. However, the brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition; they are only the expression of cognition in the physical organism." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE - Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), p. 60. [8]

Waldorf schools emphasize imagination:

"If your imagination is strong enough (and in normal life this occurs only unconsciously), if it is so strong that it permeates your whole being right into the senses, then you have the normal pictures which enable you to think of external things. Just as concepts arise out of memory, the living pictures that provide sense perceptions of things arise from imagination. They arise out of the will." — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE, p. 56. [9]

Waldorf schools minimize the amount of factual information
that both students and teachers must carry around in their heads:

"Awful things are happening in teacher education, wherein candidates are often expected to carry an unnecessary burden of factual knowledge in their heads just to pass examinations." — Rudolf Steiner, SOUL ECONOMY: Body, Soul and Spirit in Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 2003), p. 170. 

Waldorf teachers, basing their work on Steiner's description of human nature,
are given wide latitude to plan their own classes:

"I do not want to make you [Waldorf teachers] into teaching machines, but into free independent teachers. Everything spoken of during the past two weeks was given to you in this same spirit. The time has been so short that, for the rest, I must simply appeal to the understanding and devotion you will bring to your work. Turn your thoughts again and again to all that has been said that can lead you to understand the human being, and especially the child. It will help you in all the many questions of method that may arise." — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, pp. 181-182.

Waldorf teachers use clairvoyance, but they don't try to force others to become clairvoyant:

"[W]e should first use [my book] Theosophy as a basis and attempt to determine from case to case what a particular audience understands easily, or only with difficulty. You will see that the last edition of Theosophy has a number of hints about how you can use its contents for teaching. I would then go on to discussing some sections of [my book] How to Know Higher Worlds, but I would never intend to try to make people into clairvoyants. We should only inform them about the clairvoyant path so that they understand how it is possible to arrive at those truths. We should leave them with the feeling that it is possible with normal common sense to understand and know about how to comprehend those things." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 54.

Unlike many preachers, Waldorf teachers know the truth about the gods, 
and they try to explain this to their students:

"[A]ttempt to explain that there are higher gods, the archangels. (Here you gradually come into something you can observe in history and geography.) 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, p. 46. [10]

Waldorf teachers do not try to force Anthroposophy on their students,
but they naturally bring it into the classroom:

“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.

Some illustrations on each page here at Waldorf Watch 
are closely connected to the essay on that page; 
others are not — they provide general context. 

Rudolf Steiner.

[Public domain photograph.]

The Anthroposophical headquarters, the Goetheanum,

as if illuminated.

[R.R., 2013.]

Anthroposophical art is fundamentally religious.

Impression of a window at the Goetheanum.

[R.R., 2014.]

Impression of a mystic seal described by Rudolf Steiner.

[R.R., 2010.]

Sometimes, unfortunately, the upside of Waldorf schooling proves to be illusory.
Waldorf schools often get good press, but such coverage can sometimes be shallow and misleading.
Here is a message I sent in December, 2011, to the Waldorf Critics discussion page
I have adjusted the endnote numbers to be consistent with this page:

Waldorf schools are reveling in the favorable (and largely uninformed) press coverage they've gotten recently, mainly in THE NEW YORK TIMES and on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS. In both cases, the schools were held up as lovely outposts of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face learning as opposed to soulless, pressured, rat-race reliance on techno gadgetry.

Reporters have a hard time covering Waldorf schools, especially when the reporters are working on deadline and have little or no prior knowledge of the subject. Waldorf schools can dazzle, at least initially. They are usually quite attractive, full of lovely art, and staffed by obviously sincere teachers. The students are often relaxed and generally happy (in part because academic pressures are so minimal). There are gardens and crafts rooms and arts studios... The schools appear quite lovely.

Crucially, reporters rarely come to grips with the doctrines behind the schools. Partially this is because the doctrines are so strange, and partially it is because Waldorf faculties are usually quite good at concealing their beliefs and objectives. Rudolf Steiner coaxed Waldorf teachers to keep mum, and they have usually complied. Thus, for instance, Steiner told teachers at the first Waldorf school, "[D]o not attempt to bring out into the public things that really concern only our school. I have been back only a few hours, and I have heard so much gossip about who got a slap and so forth ... We should be quiet about how we handle things in the school, we should maintain a kind of school confidentiality. We should not speak to people outside the school, except for the parents who come to us with questions, and in that case, only about their children, so that gossip has no opportunity to arise." [11]

Steiner said that Waldorf teachers should conceal the religious nature of Waldorf schooling, for instance by calling morning prayers "verses." (At most Waldorf schools, teachers and students start each day by reciting prayers, usually prayers written by Steiner himself.) "We also need to speak about a prayer. I ask only one thing of you. You see, in such things everything depends upon the external appearances. Never call a verse a prayer, call it an opening verse before school. Avoid allowing anyone to hear you, as a faculty member, using the word 'prayer.'" [12]

Sometimes Steiner told the teachers to conceal their beliefs even from their students — such as the belief that there is no universal force of gravity. Teach the kids about gravity, he said, but only because we would look bad otherwise. "Over there is a bench and on it is, let us say, a ball ... [T]he ball falls to the ground ... Saying that the ball is subject to the force of gravity is really meaningless ... But we cannot avoid speaking of gravity ... Just imagine if a fifteen-year-old boy knew nothing of gravity; there would be a terrible fuss." [13]

In other cases, Steiner's guidance to Waldorf teachers was somewhat confusing. For instance, he said that islands and continents float in the sea and are held in place by the power of the stars. He instructed Waldorf teachers not to tell the kids about this, but he also said that the teachers should somehow "achieve" this belief in class. "[I]slands do not sit directly upon a foundation; they swim and are held fast from outside ... Such things are the result of the cosmos, of the stars ... However, we need to avoid such things. We cannot tell them to the students...we would acquire a terrible name. Nevertheless, that is actually what we should achieve in geography." [14]

The deepest secrets Steiner told Waldorf teachers to guard are those that involve basic but highly controversial Anthroposophical doctrines, such as the belief that some people are less highly evolved than others. Indeed, Steiner taught, some people are not really human at all but are subhuman. But for heaven's sake, he said, don't let this secret out. "I do not like to talk about such things since we have often been attacked even without them. Imagine what people would say if they heard that we say there are people who are not human beings ... [W]e do not want to shout that to the world." [15]

All such Waldorf doctrines are bizarre, most of them are is kept well-hidden, and some are hateful. Reporters who write about Waldorf schools really should do enough digging to uncover such secrets. Grasping at least some of the bizarre doctrines of Anthroposophy is essential to a proper evaluation of Waldorf schooling. These doctrines and secrets show how far removed Waldorf thinking is from reality and how secretive Waldorf faculties can be. Failing to uncover such things is a fundamental failure in the practice of good journalism, and it is a grave disservice to parents who may be badly misled by happy-talk superficial press reports. Parents may wind up sending their children to schools that are, in reality, outposts of a weird, occult belief system — a belief system that might horrify the parents if it became known. [16]

(Anyone interested can find more on these matters at, for instance, 
- Roger


Waldorf Graduates

“What I like about the Waldorf School is, quite simply, its graduates. As a high school teacher at Marin Academy, I have seen a number of the students who come from your program, and I can say that in all cases they have been remarkable, bright, energetic and involved.” — James Shipman, History Department, Marin Academy, San Raphael, California, in a message to a Waldorf school. 

Evaluations of Waldorf graduates run the gamut. Sometimes Waldorf grads are described as sweet souls who have been incapacitated, by their Waldorf schooling, for life in the real world. But sometimes a very different evaluation is offered in statements like the one above. If we shave off a bit to eliminate obvious exaggeration (are ALL Waldorf graduates “remarkable, bright, energetic and involved”?), a testimonial like Shipman's is impressive. 

So we get all sorts of reports, negative and positive. Where does the truth lie? Are Waldorf students messed up or improved by their schooling? As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But simply dividing the difference isn't very satisfactory. So let’s take a moment to think the matter through a bit more deeply. And to do this, let’s accept the most flattering assessments of Waldorf education. Let’s assume that most Waldorf graduates are remarkable people. If this were true, what would it tell us about Waldorf schools? Perhaps not very much. 

A student’s primary attributes are innate. A bright, energetic child has been born with something like that level of intelligence and vigor. Such a child will probably do well in any school, and upon graduation such a student will make any school look good. But it would be wrong to credit the school with creating the student's impressive attributes. At most, we can honor a school for nurturing a child's natural endowments and not squelching them. Of course, this in itself is no mean achievement, and it deserves commendation.

The greatest influences on a child usually come from her/his family. A bright, energetic child born into a loving, supportive family has a tremendous set of factors working in her/his favor. Such a child will almost certainly do well in life, perhaps very well. So, once again, giving the credit to the child’s school would probably be unjustified. (Waldorf schools have usually been selective, private schools chosen by caring, supportive families. Thus, family influences may indeed be the major factor in any success attained by Waldorf students.)

Of course, we should not underplay the influence a school can have. It can be significant. Waldorf schools may harm children if they lure them into a mystical worldview divorced from reality. On the other hand, some values stressed by Waldorf schools can have distinctly potent benefits. Waldorf schools stress freedom and they encourage their students to think outside the box. These are powerful, desirable values. To understand what Waldorf schools mean by such things, however, we need to define our terms carefully.

Rudolf Steiner taught that human beings should be free in spiritual matters, but he downplayed and even rejected the concept of freedom in other areas. [See “Threefolding”.] Even in the realm of spirit, Steiner's concept of freedom is limiting. Primarily, he meant freeing oneself of desires, attitudes, and thoughts that can be spiritually injurious. Secondarily, he meant that every person should be free to make her/his own choices in spiritual matters, deciding what spiritual system or religion to embrace. On the other hand, he made it clear that there is only one correct choice — following his own guidance, embracing Anthroposophy. You are free to make a different choice, but choosing anything contrary to Steiner's doctrines would be calamitous — you would be freely choosing error, evil, and self-destruction. [See "Freedom".]

Steiner included education in the spiritual sphere. Thus, he said that we should make our own free choices in educational matters. The practical consequence of this approach is that, in Waldorf belief, Waldorf schools should be freed from all supervision from outside. Likewise, each Waldorf teacher should be free to teach as s/he thinks best. Students, clearly, do not have similar freedom — they are not yet ready to make their own decisions. Likewise, parents should have limited freedom, Steiner said. After a family chooses a Waldorf school, the parents should step aside, allowing the teachers to do as they think best. [17]

The value Waldorf schools place on freedom is conditional and limited. As for thinking outside the box: This may be the greatest benefit Waldorf schools confer to their students. Waldorf schools do indeed stress unconventional thinking. They encourage students to be skeptical of conventional wisdom and authority. They encourage students to reject much of what passes for wisdom in the outside world. The resulting mindset is what outsiders often notice in Waldorf graduates: an unusual way of looking at the world, an apparently original and refreshing point of view.

This apparent originality may not be what it seems, however. Waldorf schools lead their students to be skeptical of almost all forms of accepted belief except for one: their own. They encourage students to embrace the Waldorf point of view, the values and attitudes of Anthroposophy. Waldorf schools tend to immerse students in an unrelievedly Anthroposophical mental and spiritual atmosphere for years on end. This immersion can have deep consequences. Waldorf students may emerge expressing a healthy skepticism directed toward the beliefs and practices of the outside world while simultaneously cherishing an unthinking acceptance of the beliefs implanted in them by their Waldorf teachers. They may, in other words, fail to exercise skepticism toward Waldorf articles of faith because they have internalized those articles so deeply. The Waldorf perspective becomes, for many Waldorf graduates, not an arguable set of propositions but the obvious, unquestionable Truth. [18]

Our strengths are often our weaknesses, and this is certainly true of Waldorf schools. If the schools’ greatest strength is that they encourage students to doubt conventional wisdom, their greatest fault is that they lead students toward Anthroposophy’s alternative, esoteric views. Sometimes they do this by teaching the students at least some of the actual doctrines of Anthroposophy, but far more often they withhold the specifics of those doctrines while inculcating feelings and attitudes that are consistent with Anthroposophy. [19] This process has sometimes been likened to brainwashing. Waldorf students are led — subtly, quietly, often without their parents’ knowledge or permission — toward eventual enrollment in the ranks of Anthroposophy. The kids are brought to Steiner's doorstep, in the hope that they will knock on the door and enter. [20]

Here is a related item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

Outside the Box


“Waldorf schools present themselves as aimed at a ‘holistic’, child-centred and age-appropriate education towards freedom. This depiction is misleading, since for anthroposophists, these words have very specific meanings that cannot be easily inferred by an outsider if he has not been initiated into Steiner’s occult teachings. Freedom means freedom for anthroposophy. Child-centred and age-appropriate refer to anthroposophical dogmas on childhood development, depending on mumbo-jumbo conceptions surrounding the number 7.” — Peter Bierl, “A Pedagogy for Aryans” []

Kids who graduate from Waldorf schools are sometimes praised for having “interesting minds.” They are “original” thinkers; they "think outside the box.” This sounds fine, and it would seem to support the claim that Waldorf schools prepare students to make original, free choices during their adult lives. But what Waldorf grads typically display is not so much originality as the result of an unconventional form of mental training. Waldorf students are taught to rely on their imaginations and intuitions, to “feel” more than “think.” Ultimately, Anthroposophists believe in clairvoyance, not rational thought, and the effects of this belief can infect the consciousness of students educated by Anthroposophists. [See “Thinking Cap” and “Steiner’s Specific”.]

What does this mean for freedom? Waldorf teachers generally want their students to reject normal thinking and normal values. They believe, by and large, that most of modern culture is wicked, most of modern technology is demonic, and most of modern science is wrong. The “freedom” they typically advocate is the freedom to reject convention and even rationality — it is the freedom to choose the one true path, unconventional though it may be: the path of Anthroposophy. 

For freedom to be meaningful, we must have a variety of potentially good choices to select from — each person can opt for what s/he wants while others make other choices. But this is not what Waldorf education contemplates (even if some Waldorf teachers think it is). We have only two real choices, according to Anthroposophical teachings, and only one of them is good. We may “freely” choose to follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his adherents, in which case we will evolve to marvelous spiritual heights; or we may “freely” turn our backs on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his adherents, in which case we will — sooner or later — lose our souls. This paradigm abolishes freedom. We can go one way and live, or we can go the other way and die. No sane person would take the second option, which means that all sane people are compelled to take the first option. [See “Freedom” and “Hell”. For more on “the path,” see “Soul School”.]

True-believing Waldorf faculties attempt to train children in unconventional forms of thought, inculcating unconventional values while directing kids toward unconventional life journeys. The "freedom" Waldorf schools promote is, broadly speaking, the freedom for Waldorf students and graduates to choose the Waldorf religion: Anthroposophy. [See “Is Anthroposophy a Religion?”]

(Returning to Bierl’s statement, above: He mentions the Waldorf conception of “holistic” schooling and the strange power of the number 7. You can get a taste of Waldorf’s unconventionality by looking into “Holistic Education”, “Magic Numbers”, and “Most Significant”.)

* Anthroposophical thinking allows a slight bit of wriggle room — very slight. You can elect a form of Anthroposophy that is a bit more gnostic, or one that is a bit more Rosicrucian, or a bit more Hindu-ish, or a bit more Buddhist-ish — but these are minor shadings. Anthroposophists believe, for instance, that all “true” forms of spiritual science must recognize the central importance of Christ. (So much for overly Hindu-ish or Buddhist-ish approaches.) And Christ must be recognized as the Sun God. (So much for mainstream Christianity. [See “Sun God”].) Very little variation is permissible. The path suited to modern humans, Steiner said, is the Rosicrucian/Anthroposophical path. Those who take this path are less dependent on a guru than if they were to take other paths, but still the ultimate options available are just two: 1) Anthroposophy, advancement, life or 2) anti-Anthroposophy, doom, death.

Steiner did not hesitate to speak of “the path” — the one and only good choice. “Those who come to me wanting to hear the truths available through esotericism and nevertheless refuse to walk the path are like schoolchildren who want to electrify a glass rod and refuse to rub it. But, without friction, the rod will not be charged with electricity. This is similar to the objection raised against the practice of esotericism.” — Rudolf Steiner, FIRST STEPS IN INNER DEVELOPMENT (Anthroposophic Press, 1999), p. 25. You can’t electrify the glass rod without rubbing it; you can’t hear “the truths” without walking “the path.” Steiner goes on to say “No one tells you to become an esotericist. People come to esotericism of their own volition.” [Ibid.] There, volition: freedom! But what happens to those who don’t walk the path? Their doom is terrible. [See “Sphere 8”.] Only those who want to see mankind destroyed refuse to accept Steiner’s one-true-way: “[O]nly those who are willing to see human beings pass into the Eighth Sphere [i.e., perdition] can have any valid objection to this spiritual-scientific movement.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lecture 5, GA 254.

Geometric design by a Waldorf graduate.

[R.R., 2012.]

Basic geometric concepts awaken clairvoyant abilities.”

— Rudolf Steiner, THE FOURTH DIMENSION: Sacred Geometry, Alchemy, and Mathematics 

(Anthroposophic Press, 2001), p. 92.


Here is another item from the Waldorf Watch "news" page:

Opposing / Affirming


Looking to combat both classroom distractions and the fever pitch of children's advertising, a number of schools around the nation have policies in place prohibiting media characters from joining students in the form of backpacks, T-shirts, shoes and other apparel.

"’We don't agree with making a market out of our children,’ says Patrice Maynard, outreach leader for the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. 'We're trying to protect them.'

“At many Waldorf schools, known partly for their emphasis on the arts, the policy dates back at least 20 years. Many Montessori and other private schools have similar policies in place.”  [1-4-2011,0,5430252.story]

Waldorf schools are right about some things (IMO), and we should not hesitate to acknowledge this. Quite often, they are right when they oppose various unhealthy trends in modern life. The danger is that in agreeing with them about what to oppose, we may slip into thinking that Waldorf schools are right about what they affirm. Waldorf schools oppose, for example, bringing mass-marketing into the classroom, placing too much pressure on young children, feeding children (and everyone else) unhealthy foods, substituting computers for human contact, destroying the Earth through excessive materialism and greed, and so forth. They are right to oppose such things. But what do they affirm? Clairvoyance, astrology, quack medicine, ancient superstitions, antiquated systems of human categorization, racist beliefs, and so forth. On all these matters — and much more — they are wrong. The schools affirm some of these things openly, and they tend to be secretive on some of the others. But all these things can all be found in the thinking on which the schools stand. [See, e.g., "Clairvoyance", “Exactly”, “Astrology”, “Star Power”, “Steiner’s Quackery”, “The Ancients”, “Superstition”, "Steiner Static", “Humouresque”, “Races”, and “Steiner’s Racism”.]


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 chief appeal of Waldorf schools, often, is their beauty.

The schools are often beautifully designed and furnished,

and they abound with attractive art.

Here are a few samples of artwork created by Waldorf students

(often striving to duplicate work presented by their teachers):


For more on art in Waldorf schools, see

"Magical Arts"

"Lesson Books"


"Mystic Lesson Books"

[R. R., 2014.]

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


A short, direct answer to the question, "What are Waldorf schools all about?"


The bright side

A pictorial overview

Waldorf's goals

Waldorf's reality

Teachers as priests

How they teach it

Words of warning

The key to Waldorf

The use of "clairvoyance" by Waldorf teachers

Developing our invisible bodies

Steiner, trying to make Waldorf education seem sensible

The memoir of a former Waldorf student and teacher


[1] Steiner taught that humans develop through a series of seven-year-long periods, during which various parts of the human constitution incarnate. The etheric or life body is the first major, invisible component of the human constitution to incarnate. [See "Incarnation", "Most Significant", and "What We're Made Of".]

[2] See "Holistic Education" and "Fairy Tales".

[3] In Anthroposophy, materialism is not mere love of material possessions — it is a worldview, the belief that only the material world exists, the world seen with the material senses and apprehended by the material brain. Thus, according to Anthroposophy, materialism is also the use of the material brain for thinking. [See "Materialism U." and "Steiner's Specific".]

[4] See "Neutered Nature".

[5] The Waldorf conception of freedom is essentially Germanic, and it is tightly bound up with concepts of obedience. Steiner was not a proponent of liberalism or democracy. He denied that he was a reactionary (did he protest too much on this point?), but his aversion to liberalism and democracy was explicit. "Please do not think I am trying to promote conservative or reactionary tendencies by what I am going to say, but it is true that, inasmuch as education is concerned, there was greater freedom during the times when liberalism was nonexistent — not to mention democracy. Lack of freedom has crept in only during the times of liberalism and democracy." — Rudolf Steiner, THE CHILD’S CHANGING CONSCIOUSNESS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 203.

[6] To understand the Waldorf concept of "inner perception," see "Thinking Cap" and "Clairvoyance". For the Waldorf view of temperament, see "Humouresque" and "Temperaments".

[7] Anthroposophy and Waldorf education are leery of rational thought. True thinking, according to Steiner, is clairvoyance, through which one receives the "living thoughts" of the gods. [See "Steiner's Specific" and "Thinking".]

[8] Belief in clairvoyance lies near the heart of the Waldorf movement, although there is actually no evidence that clairvoyance is possible. [See "Clairvoyance".] Steiner taught that the brain does not produce thoughts, it merely reflects the thoughts received from outside.

[9] Imagination, according to Steiner, is a preliminary form of clairvoyance. Higher forms are inspiration and intuition.  [See entries for these terms in "The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia".] Through the exercise of will, one can develop clairvoyance, Steiner said. True perception, he taught, comes when one accurately receives "living pictures" through the accurate use of imagination.

[10] In Waldorf belief, there are nine ranks of gods. The spirits often called "Angels" are the lowest rank of gods, while the "Archangels" are the second rank. [See "Polytheism".]

[11] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 10. It is worth noting that Steiner considered students' parents to be outsiders. He said Waldorf teachers should talk to parents about their own children but not much else. 

[12] Ibid., p. 20. 

[13] Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophical Press, 2000), pp. 116-117. 


[15] Ibid., pp. 649-650. 

This bears on Steiner's advice to Waldorf students, which we saw above: "You must try to awaken the feeling that will enable you to find the good people in the crowd." — Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, p. 76. Anthroposophy distinguishes between good people and bad, highly evolved people and the evolutionarily retarded, true human beings and subhumans. [See "Steiner's Bile".]

[16] As Steiner said, "Anthroposophy will be in the school." [Ibid., p. 495.] The bizarre beliefs of Anthroposophy actually inform and guide everything that happens in Waldorf schools. Here are some descriptions of Waldorf education by Steiner's followers and by Steiner himself. 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 further their destinies in cooperation with the gods. In other words, the purpose of Waldorf education is to enact Anthroposophical doctrines. 

• "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.

[17]  "Spiritual freedom is clearly the most developed area of a Waldorf school. If all is well in this area, every teacher is free to proceed with her or his task of education in his/her own way. This means that neither parents nor colleagues, nor least of all a board of trustees, have a right to give directions." — Dieter Brüll, THE WALDORF SCHOOL AND THE THREEFOLD STRUCTURE (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, 1997), p. 64.

[18] Waldorf graduates are sometimes characterized by distinct self-confidence, which may arise from their sense of possessing special truths or from the attention and encouragement lavished on them in their small, insular schools. On the other hand, it is also common for Waldorf grads to suffer from overpowering shyness and social awkwardness, having spent much of their lives cut off from the wider world.

[19] See, e.g., the section "We Don't Teach It" in the essay "Spiritual Agenda".

[20] The conditioning given by Waldorf teachers can be so discreet that Waldorf graduates may not realize how thoroughly they have been molded. Then, too, some students are more resistant to conditioning than others, so the effects of the Waldorf treatment can vary widely. Those students who are most affected, especially those who realize that they are on a path toward full, avowed acceptance of Anthroposophy, may be greatly strengthened as a result. This may or may not be judged beneficial. It is not uncommon for people to find strength and security in committing themselves to a movement, faith, religion, political ideology, or other organized social impulse. Indeed, this may be the main reason people are drawn to membership in such associations. The price paid often includes the loss of one's independence, autonomy, and rational appreciation of reality. [See "Who Gets Hurt".]