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Are Waldorf schools religious institutions? Well, they are bathed in religious feelings, and Waldorf teachers hold the “office” of priests.
To follow what follows, you need to know that, according to Steiner, young children live in a naturally religious, prayerful soul-state because they arrived on Earth so recently from the divine realm. Until age seven, children are essentially asleep within their elemental religious condition. Then, around age seven or so (about when the baby teeth fall out), each growing child manifests a second element of itself, its etheric body. (This is a set of forces associated with the soul: formative life forces. The incarnation of the etheric body is the child's second birth.) The process of incarnation is tricky. Fortunately, priestly Waldorf teachers can help.
The quotation, below, is tough going. But give it a shot. I will quote Steiner without interruption, then I will offer a paraphrase, trying to express Steiner's meaning more clearly. I will also add a few comments of my own.
Here is a paraphrase:
Children descending from the spirit worlds surrender themselves to earthly life, where they live in natural piety. The life of the child is essentially religious. Children bring spiritual forces into this life from the spirit worlds, forces that enable them to incarnate their etheric bodies — in effect, the children will be born a second time. But children also receive hereditary traits from their parents, and these clash with the children's divine, inner forces. Witnessing this struggle between divine influences and hereditary influences inspires religious awe in Waldorf teachers, who undertake the priestly task of helping children to incarnate properly. The "task" of a Waldorf teacher is to shepherd into earthly life the spiritual essence that children bring from the higher worlds.
Thinking about such things inspires the priestly work of Waldorf teachers. Until all of education is suffused with priestly feeling, it will be incomplete; it will not come alive. If we only use our intellects to create a "rational" kind of education based on what we can see of students on the outside, schooling will be only 25% of what it should be. We need to consider all elements of our students' natures; we need to look within our students, seeing the parts that respond to the secrets of the universe.
The most important thing to notice, here, is that Steiner describes Waldorf education in religious terms. Waldorf schools are religious institutions in which the faculty consider themselves to be priests. And the task that they set themselves has very little to do with teaching the students any ordinary subjects; the task is to assist spiritual beings, children, to incarnate in the earthly realm. This is a spiritual undertaking based on beliefs that you, as a parent, may or may not share. Do you, for instance, believe in etheric bodies?
Steiner's statement inspires many questions. Here's one more: Why does Steiner say that rationally designed education would be only 25% complete ("a quarter education")? The answer is that such education deals only with the physical human being, the physical body. In Anthroposophical belief, children incarnate four bodies: the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies. [See "Incarnation".] Only by focusing on all four bodies can education be 100%. A "rational" education would be incomplete; indeed, it would hurt children, because it would send them back to their lives before birth instead of helping to incarnate fully here on Earth:
Another question: How can Waldorf teachers see inside their students? And how do they comprehend the "secrets of the universe"? The answer is clairvoyance. Steiner said that Waldorf teachers really should develop clairvoyance or, at a minimum, they should take the guidance of people who have clairvoyant powers — people such as himself:
Each Waldorf teacher does this, note. Note just a few. Each one. "[E]ach Waldorf teacher applies this knowledge with heart and soul."
Waldorf education depends absolutely on the existence of clairvoyance. If clairvoyance doesn't exist (and it doesn't), then there is no basis for Waldorf education. [See "Clairvoyance", "Fooling (Ourselves)", and "Why? Oh Why?".]
To look into a few of the other questions implicit in Steiner's statement, let's move along to some other quotations:
32) [Teeth] Note that, in the long quotation we have just seen (#31), Steiner refers to an event he calls "the change of teeth." This event — also sometimes called "second dentition" — is afforded great importance in Waldorf schools. The reason? The replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth is taken as a signal that the etheric body has incarnated. This is, in Waldorf belief, the child's second birth.
33) [Taking Charge] We also should notice the relative roles of parents and teachers in Steiner's discussion of childhood. Teachers become the children's priests, and one of their objectives is to help children overcome the genetic influences they receive from their parents. Teachers thus rise in importance, in their students' lives, while the importance of parents wanes. Ideally, Waldorf teachers should become all-important, while parents should be shunted to the side.
"[I]t might almost be preferable from a moral viewpoint if children could be taken into one's care soon after birth." — Rudolf Steiner, WALDORF EDUCATION AND ANTHROPOSOPHY, Vol. 2 (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 69.
Steiner made similar points many times. The more Waldorf teacher can wean children from their parents, the better. Indeed, Steiner said to Waldorf teachers,
Parents can foul up children in many ways, Steiner taught. In addition to giving bequeathing hereditary influences that must be overcome, parents are like to mislead children, filling their heads with falsehoods. As Steiner said to Waldorf teachers:
33a) "You will have to take over children [sic] for their education and instruction — children who will have received already (as you must remember) the education, or mis-education given them by their parents. — Rudolf Steiner, THE STUDY OF MAN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2004), p. 16.
So it really would be better for Waldorf teachers to "take over" as soon as possible.
[For more on the Waldorf view of children's parents, see, e.g., "Faculty Meetings".]
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