The first few sections of this page repeat material
If you have read either of those pieces, you may want to skip ahead here.
New material begins to appear, sporadically, in section IV.
THE WALDORF SCANDAL
For most of my childhood, I was a student at a strange school that was devoted to a secret, mystical belief system. The curriculum was based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, a European mystic who, among other deplorable doctrines, taught that a worldwide racial apocalypse is historically necessary. My experiences at the school may seem dated, now — I attended from 1953 until 1964 — but increasing numbers of kids are being sent to such schools today, with potentially damaging consequences for them individually and also for our society as a whole.  I am writing with those students in mind. The past — especially my own small history — has value only if it can provide lessons for the future.
I went to the Waldorf School in Garden City, New York. It was a lovely place, with caring teachers and pleasant, carefully selected classmates. For the most part, I enjoyed my Waldorf years. The school was small: twenty or so students at each grade level. The ambiance was close and comfortable. The occult doctrines to which the school was devoted were rarely expressed openly; instead, they were conveyed to the students in covert, roundabout ways, in a process of gradual spiritualistic conditioning. The same process is followed at many Waldorf schools today.
As Rudolf Steiner would have wanted, our school projected an image of a nonsectarian, arts-intensive preparatory school with a progressive curriculum. This appearance undoubtedly led many parents to enroll their children without understanding what they were letting them in for. Even after enrollment, students and their families found Waldorf’s disguise hard to penetrate. We students memorized no passages from holy books, we sang from no hymnals. Yet a strange aura hung about the place. There was a pervasive but unspoken spiritualistic vibe in almost every lesson, in almost every activity. To one degree or another, it got to most students, sometimes deeply.
Our Waldorf was an unusual school, but it was not alone in its esoteric beliefs. Nearly 1000 similar schools are scattered around the world today. The first Waldorf school was established by Rudolf Steiner himself in 1919, in Germany: It was commissioned by the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory for the children of his employees. Other schools followed, at first slowly, then with increasing momentum. Many of these schools have adopted the name of Steiner’s prototype: Waldorf. But some have chosen to be called Steiner schools, while others have selected different names altogether. 
Whatever they are called today, all these schools are generally considered to be part of the Waldorf School movement (which by some reports is one of the fastest-growing independent school movements in the world). Most of these schools are small, and they generally attract little notice. Yet when they have come to the public’s attention, they have often gotten good press. They typically enjoy excellent student/teacher ratios; their walls are hung with striking examples of student art; their teaching methods aim to develop students’ various faculties, not just the intellect; and most important, the schools almost never make loud, public professions of Steiner’s mystic doctrines.
The mystical core of the Waldorf school I attended was kept well hidden. Only rarely did anyone get a clear glimpse of it. But on a single, dramatic occasion, the core was startlingly exposed. This occurred several years after I graduated — and long before I’d fully grasped what had been done to me at the school. In early 1979, THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article about my alma mater: “‘Psychic' Ex-Student's Influence Shakes Waldorf School.”  Coming upon the article in a library, I was galvanized. The TIMES revealed that a former Waldorf student had started claiming that he had paranormal powers — he could converse with spirits. And, shockingly, several teachers — including the headmaster, the former headmaster, and the high school principal — accepted his story and began deferring to him as a clairvoyant sage. The result was that they ceded control of the school to the young man and his spiritual contacts, turning to them for supernatural decisions in matters large and small, ranging from curricular decisions to the selection of records to be played at school dances. When word of this remarkable administrative arrangement inevitably leaked, the occult beliefs of the school’s leaders emerged, fleetingly, into plain view.
The scandal nearly ripped Waldorf apart. Scores of parents, appalled to learn what had been going on, yanked their kids out. The school seemed doomed. Nevertheless, after considerable tumult leading to the firings and/or resignations of those who were most deeply implicated in the scandal, Waldorf survived. It is still in business today, graduating class after class. And rather than renouncing Rudolf Steiner or disavowing an interest in the spiritual realm, it today operates under the following mission statement: “To nurture toward compassion, to balance toward wholeness, to challenge toward excellence and achievement — these are the goals to which the Waldorf School of Garden City aspires. Based on the insights of Rudolf Steiner, and enriched by the diversity of our community, our methods of teaching reflect an understanding of the growing child and acknowledge the spiritual origins of humanity.” 
Here is a separate account of the scandal at my old school, written by an individual — Lawrence Williams — who says he was present.
“The story of the collapse [sic] of the Garden City Waldorf School is very complex ....
“In his twenty years as Faculty Chairman, John Gardner had carefully crafted a strong, clear [curricular] form based on the pedagogical teachings of Rudolf Steiner, but in recent years Dr. Gardner had begun to feel the limitations of the form he had created and felt that teachers needed to be guided more by the spirit instead of the outer forms, so he started encouraging some of the teachers to use their own spiritual perceptions in their educational approach....
“[Following a boycott by some parents and an emergency meeting of faculty] we learned that everyone strongly aligned with the 'spirit-led' group had either been fired or resigned .... In the end, it was simply a matter of finances ... the only thing that keeps a school alive is the tuition paid by the parents ... About a dozen teachers were fired....” 
The conclusion that “it was simply a matter of finances” suggests a strong reason for Waldorf schools to keep their Anthroposophical beliefs under wraps: They need to attract tuition-paying families, a task that would be greatly complicated by public professions of occult doctrines.
And yet another account, this time by Stephen Keith Sagarin:
"John Gardner apparently became convinced that one of his former students, a young man named Richard Walton, was clairvoyant. In a word not often used then, Walton could allegedly 'channel' spiritual beings, including, some claimed, Jesus Christ and the Hebrew patriarch Abraham ... Walton gradually became, allegedly, a spiritual advisor to Gardner and other members of the Waldorf school community.
"Gardner retired as faculty chair in 1975 [but retained] an office at the south end of the Waldorf School building. He gradually introduced Walton to sympathetic members of the school community, including several teachers at the school. Others, however, saw no good in Walton's proposed spiritual leadership ... [S]everal parents demanded that the school investigate its relationship to Gardner and Walton.
"The faculty invited Garner and Walton to their weekly faculty meeting. Walton demonstrated his clairvoyance [sic] ... Remarkably, no one with whom I spoke who was present at this meeting suggested that Walton was a charlatan or that he was insincere ... The question for many at the school was whether or not Walton's apparent ability arose from true spiritual insight or from some other, presumably destructive, spiritual force.
"...The faculty invited [Waldorf history teacher Peter Curran] to mediate the dispute between those who supported Gardner and Walton and those who opposed their influence ... Curran heard days of discussion, requested resignations from the entire faculty, and accepted three ... Adelphi University heard enough of the scandal to cancel the [Waldorf teacher training] program that Mr. Gardner headed.
"In the aftermath, many families left the school, some in sympathy with Gardner, others simply because the whole event was so outlandish. Similarly, many members of the faculty resigned, in sympathy with Gardner, in disgust at the way in which the conflict was resolved, or again, because of an unwillingness to engage with such peculiarities." 
It would be interesting to know how Walton "demonstrated his clairvoyance." Unfortunately, Sagarin in mute on this point. We might also note that calling the events at Waldorf "outlandish" or "peculiar" misstates the matter: The essence of the scandal was that the occultism at the core of Waldorf was exposed, and many people quite reasonably were repelled.
Of course, not everyone was surprised to find occultism in a Waldorf school. John Gardner undeniably had supporters. Thus, for instance, Michael Welch has written "John [Gardner] and a few others stood up for Richard Walton in opposition to the hysteria and confusion of those days."  In this account, Gardner stood bravely, a heroic figure in the midst of a violent (and wicked?) tempest. Sagarin tells us that few if any teachers at the school considered Walton a fraud. We can infer, then, that the "hysteria and confusion" Welch mentions arose because of what amounted to a doctrinal disagreement. Some teachers thought Walton was on the side of the good spiritual powers; others suspected that he was on the dark side. But his sincerity was not questioned.
The crux of the issue was deciding how to respond to Walton's "clairvoyance" and "channeling." Welch, for one, thought Gardner was right to champion Walton: "For many of those colleagues and friends who were upset with him, I suppose it must have seemed John had somehow been transformed into someone else, an unrecognizable stranger, whose values and behavior were in all important ways antithetical to those of the John Gardner they respected and admired. A few screwed their courage to the sticking-place and spoke with him directly about what was going on. Some even met and spoke with Richard [Walton]. For the most part, those who did were satisfied that John was still John or, better, more John than ever. And that Richard and his gifts represented at least one possible karmic fulfillment of the mission of our school and community.” 
For Welch and some others, the occultism Gardner revealed was neither distressing nor surprising. Gardner and Walton, and all that they represented, were quite in keeping with “the mission of our school and community.”
Let's step back and put the scandal in context.
Rudolf Steiner was a charismatic, spiritualistic lecturer. He was intelligent and articulate (although not always easy to follow), possessing an impressively retentive memory and a genius for systemization. With a strong academic background, he had numerous talents and interests. But his greatest interest lay in what he called the “supersensible” world, the spiritual realm that cannot be perceived using our ordinary senses — clairvoyance is required, and Steiner claimed to be clairvoyant. Having served for some time as leader of the German Theosophical movement, in 1912 Steiner established his own religious system, which he dubbed Anthroposophy (meaning, literally, “human wisdom”). This amalgam of mystic doctrines is the bedrock faith upon which Steiner-inspired schools function.
Adherents of occult faiths often find it unwise to profess their beliefs too openly, knowing that they risk inciting opposition from those who would find their views heretical or dangerous. Prudence may lead the followers of such faiths to erect a barrier of silence and denial around their inner circle. Waldorfers usually keep quiet about Steiner’s otherworldly interests, going no further than innocuous-seeming references to mankind’s spiritual nature. They almost always deny that their schools are tightly bound to Anthroposophy; they generally claim that Anthroposophy is not a religion; and they consistently assert that Waldorf schools have no religious purposes. At the Web site of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), the following answer is given to the question whether Waldorf are schools religious:
“Waldorf schools are nonsectarian [sic] and non-denominational [sic]. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.” 
Aiming at “understanding of all...religions” suggests that quite a bit of time will be spent studying religion, while recognizing a “spiritual dimension to the human being” suggests that such study may not be unbiased. (In fact, Anthroposophy draws from religious and spiritualistic traditions from around the world, so studying multiple faiths may serve as preparation for conversion to Anthroposophy.) Despite these two chinks, however, the AWSNA denial seems nearly categorical.
But the denial is false. Consider, for example, the morning prayer that Waldorf students recite in unison. Addressing the teachers at his first Waldorf school, Rudolf Steiner prescribed how each school day should begin. Notice that Steiner wanted to promote religious activities at the school while disguising them: “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.’”  Later, in a comment that clearly endorses some form of Christianity, Steiner said, “It would be nice to begin instruction with the Lord’s Prayer and then go on to the verses I will give you.”  Bear in mind that Steiner's Christianity is wildly heretical. For example, he said that Christ was the Sun God. [See "Was he Christian?"]
One "verse" Steiner prescribed for use by students at his school is this:
The Sun with loving light
Makes bright for me each day;
The soul with spirit power
Gives strength unto my limbs;
In sunlight shining clear
I reverence, O God,
The strength of humankind,
That Thou so graciously
Hast planted in my soul,
That I with all my might
May love to work and learn.
From Thee come light and strength,
To Thee rise love and thanks. 
For a detailed analysis of this and another "verse" Steiner wrote for Waldorf students, see my essay "Prayers" here at Waldorf Watch.
With his concern for external appearances, Steiner hesitated to order recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and he enjoined his teachers from using the word “prayer.” Yet his prescribed “verse” uses Bible-like language (“I reverence, O God,” “To Thee rise love and thanks,” etc.) to address and honor God. It is undeniably a prayer. Thus, Steiner had his students begin their day with a religious act.
In the modern era, students at many Waldorfs have continued reciting Steiner’s “verse” or variations of it. “A Sense of Ethics,” (THE ATLANTIC ONLINE, September 1999 [http://www.theatlantic.com ]) reports “The verse for the first through fourth grades, for example, says in part, ‘I revere, Oh God, the strength of humankind, which Thou so graciously has planted in my soul ....’” Also of interest: Although Steiner refrained from prescribing general use of the Lord’s Prayer, in 1923 he told at least one Waldorf teacher to supplement the “verse” with the Prayer. 
Anyone reading this brief historical record must, I think, begin to suspect that Waldorf schools have a religious purpose, despite their denials. This suspicion can only be heightened by the following reference to Anthroposophy in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION: “Anthroposophy is continuous with the Rosicrucian stream of the Christian esoteric tradition.”  And here are Steiner's own words, spoken in private to Waldorf school teachers: "[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School’s neck."  There you have it: Waldorf schools push the religion of Anthroposophy, but they can't say so openly or their necks would be broken (as the neck of my old Waldorf school was almost broken).
In discussing the morning prayer and citing one reference book, we have only scratched the Waldorf surface. But already we can see the pattern of denial surrounding Waldorf schools start to break down. In fact, considering how small Anthroposophy is compared to major religions, how odd many of its beliefs (when they are revealed) seem to outsiders, and how much it is centered on the pronouncements of a single inspirational leader, Anthroposophy can most accurately be classified as a cult. And to the extent that various Waldorfs embrace Anthroposophy — to precisely that extent they associate themselves with the cult.
— Roger Rawlings
The school's original front door.
The room on the right was my fourth-grade classroom;
on the left, my fifth-grade classroom.
Above: THE story (1979).
(The full text appears farther down on this page.)
Below: THE yearbook (1964).
O, alma mater...
The scandal at the Waldorf school I attended
was by no means the strangest, most shocking series of events
to rock the Waldorf movement.
To review some other Waldorf scandals,
Waldorf schools represent a worldview, Anthroposophy, that most people would surely consider weird. This apparent weirdness doesn't make Anthroposophy good or bad, right or wrong. But if you decide to associate yourself with a Waldorf school, you should understand what you are becoming involved in. Here is one example of the occultist thinking that underlies Waldorf schools. It isn't bad, it isn't good. But for better or worse, it is a sample of Anthroposophical thought: “Just as speech proceeds from out of the larynx, [and] the child from the womb, so the fully developed human being at about age 35 is born, as it were, from out of the cosmos...the form of man, the complete human form, as a spoken word." — Rudolf Steiner, EURYTHMY AS VISIBLE SPEECH (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1955), p. 35.
Steiner meant that humans are the fulfillment of the "words" spoken by the gods. He taught that there are many, many gods. The swirling actions of the gods is a sort of dance. It is a dance of spiritual essences, divine thoughts, creative words. “We ask the divine powers which have existed from the beginning: How then did you create man in a similar way as the spoken word is created...?" — Ibid., p. 35.
The gods' dance is reenacted in Waldorf schools through a form of interpretive movement called eurythmy. The stances and gestures in eurythmy are supposed to make visible the spiritual meaning behind spoken words — thus, they are supposed to convey and even create occult wisdom. Eurythmy is considered so important, so central to Waldorf's purpose, that all students are usually required to participate in it.
Just as Waldorf students are usually required to do eurythmy,
so are Waldorf teachers-in-training.
[See "Teacher Training".]
The astral and ego bodies fly up to the spirit realm every night,
while the physical and etheric bodies stay earthbound.
“Here (left) we have the physical body and the ether body (yellow).
It fills the whole of the physical body.
And here (right) we have the astral body,
which is outside the human being at night (red).
At the top it is very small and hugely bulging down below.
Then we have the I (violet). This is how we are at night.
We are two people in the night."
— Rudolf Steiner, BLACKBOARD DRAWINGS 1919-1924
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 2003), p. 102.
[R.R. sketch, 2009, based on image in the book.]
All four bodies reunite in the morning, as Steiner indicated by the arrows.
We live alternating lives in the physical universe
and in the spirit realm.
During our Earthly lives, we alternate between
male and female incarnations.
You must believe these things or suffer the consequences.
“[T]he very people who now inveigh most bitterly against
reincarnation and karma will writhe under the torment of the next life
because they cannot explain to themselves how
their life has come to be what it is ...
Thoughts which deny reincarnation are transformed
in the next life into an inner unreality, an inner emptiness of life;
this inner unreality and emptiness are experienced
as torment, as disharmony.”
— Rudolf Steiner, REINCARNATION AND KARMA
(Steiner Book Centre, 1977), lecture 1, GA 135.
[R.R. sketch, 2009.]
Impressions of windows at the Goetheanum,
the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters.
The building is essentially a cathedral.
[See "Is Anthroposophy a Religion?"]
The windows depict various Anthroposophical teachings —
that is, they reflect the spiritual creed that suffuses Waldorf schools.
[R.R. sketches, 2014.]
If you visit a Waldorf school, you are likely to see some striking art.
It has occult meaning.
Here is my copy of a portion of a mural
on the wall of a Waldorf school.
[R.R., 2009, based on a mural painted by Walther Roggenkamp:
see John Fletcher, ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER
(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 112.
The original is lovelier than my copy.]
Anthroposophy is an exceedingly complex body of teachings, describing what Steiner said is an exceedingly complex hierarchical structure of spiritual realities. Sometimes apparent contradictions in Steiner's works can be explained away as a necessary result of complexity — there are hidden, deep connections that rectify superficial conflicts. But sometimes this is not the case; sometimes we spot contradictions that seem to have no extenuation. Such instances reinforce the conclusion we may have already drawn from other evidence, that Steiner was perpetrating an exceedingly elaborate spiritual scam, trusting in elaborations and obfuscations to shield himself and it from criticism. His followers, in any case, often find justification for their devotion in the sheer, stunning complexity of the vision Steiner presented for their awed acceptance. We do not need to follow their example. Steiner claimed that critical thought is destructive; the intellect, he said, kills. [See, e.g., "Steiner's Specific".] I'd like to assert the opposite. In dealing with Anthroposophy, critical intelligence is precisely what we need. It will not kill us; it might just save us.
Entry to the high school wing of the Waldorf School
in Garden City, New York, as depicted in the 1963 yearbook.
Here is a message I posted late in August, 2011
at the Waldorf Critics discussion list
The Waldorf school I attended — in Garden City, New York — was typical of Steiner schools in many ways, but it was dissimilar in some ways, too. The devotion to Rudolf Steiner was deep, but the effort to disguise the true nature or Waldorf education was especially strong. The school building was designed to look much like an ordinary US school (constructed of brick, long and low, boxy, rectilinear, with a big gym), and the faculty were extremely circumspect. As the headmaster, John Gardner, later wrote "...I worked to gain understanding for [the school and its methods]. I minimized the difference between a Waldorf school and other schools." — John Fentress Gardner, "The Founding of Adelphi's Waldorf School," ONE MAN'S VISION: In Memoriam, H.A.W. Myrin (The Myrin Institute Inc., 1970), p. 48.
Appearances at our school were deceptive, and this produced a lot of confusion in students' hearts and minds. We kids knew something odd was going on, but we couldn't be sure what it was. Anthroposophist Keith Francis, who became Faculty Chair at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, helps piece things together in his book, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004). Francis confirms that a strong effort was made at the Garden City school to present a false face to the world. He refers to "the Garden City school, with its...well-oiled financial machinery and its scrupulous attention to appearances." — p. 60.
Francis says that the Garden City school operated in much the same manner as the Kimberton Farms School, a Waldorf school in Pennsylvania. The striking thing, he says, is that neither school looked Anthroposophical. Typically, Waldorf schools are built in accordance with Rudolf Steiner's architectural indications, which means incorporating organic, sinuous lines and planes while disavowing ordinary, rectangular shapes. "[T]he building at Garden City and the high school at Kimberton has been constructed specifically as Waldorf Schools, so why were they so unremittingly rectangular?" — p. 54. Francis explains the situation at Kimberton in these words: "Kimberton is on what is known as the Main Line [a rail line from Philadelphia to New York City], and needed to earn its bread and butter by catering to upper middle class clients who would have been repelled by the appearance of anything 'weird.'" — p. 54. So Kimberton wore a disguise, and the Garden City school did the same: "[T]he Garden City School was playing the same game as the Kimberton Farms School, but doing it a great deal more subtly and with a much more serious commitment to the anthroposophical foundations of Waldorf education." — p. 55.
Here is the text of article in THE NEW YORK TIMES that exposed, at least for a time, what was actually going on at our school:
'Psychic' Ex-Student's Influence Shakes Waldorf School
by John T. McQuiston Special to The New York Times
GARDEN CITY, L.I., Feb. 16  — The Waldorf School, founded here 32 year ago on the philosophy that a teacher must nurture the intuitive and spiritual nature of students as well as their physical and intellectuals needs, has been deeply split by charges that some staff members, including the former headmaster, came under the psychic influence of a former student.
The resignations of the headmaster, the high school principal, the librarian and four teachers — and the withdrawal of scores of students — have left the private school's immediate future in doubt. And next week, Adelphi University will decide whether to continue the student-teacher training program it has operated in affiliation with the school.
Marvin A. Iverson, the dean of graduate arts and sciences at Adelphi, said today that the university's affiliation with Waldorf would be formally reviewed at a meeting of the Graduate Academic Affairs Committee on Tuesday, and that there was "no anticipation of continuing the program with Waldorf."
The Center of the Dispute
The program involves the training of 20 student teachers a year, who then sought teaching positions within the loosely affiliated network of about 80 Waldorf schools in the United States and Europe.
One of these student teachers, 25-year-old Richard Walton, who was a former student at Waldorf, is at the center of the dispute that has divided the faculty, students and parents at the preparatory school in this relatively prosperous, conservative residential community 25 miles east of Manhattan.
What was described as 'internal chaos' began when Mr. Walton, who has said that he is able to communicate with 'certain beings in the spiritual world,' allegedly used these 'powers' to advise school officials on matters ranging from language curriculum to what music to play at a school dance.
As his influence reportedly grew among leading faculty members and with John F. Gardner, a former headmaster and, at the time, director of the Waldorf Institute, other staff and faculty members became resentful, called a meeting and voted to seek the resignations of those who accepted his suggestions.
As a result, Peter MacNair the high school principal, Edward Blatchford, a teacher and ninth-grade advisor, and John Bickart, a teacher and 10th grade advisor, resigned, followed by several others, including Carroll Scherer, the librarian, Andrew Leaf, the headmaster, and Mr. Gardner.
Mr. Gardner's departure from the Waldorf Institute was regarded as "very serious" by Dean Iverson of Adelphi. "With his resignation," said the dean, there is "no one of his stature at Waldorf to continue the teacher-training program."
Joanne Pisano, a co-chairman of the school's parent group, said tonight that she doubted the end of the long affiliation between Waldorf and Adelphi "would have any serious affect [sic] on the Waldorf system."
She said she preferred not to comment on the change of administration at Waldorf, saying only that "things are going well now."
The school's new headmaster, Peter A. Curran, a former history teacher at the school, was away on vacation and could not be reached to comment on next Tuesday's meeting at Adelphi. Classes are to resume at Waldorf on Tuesday. The school was closed this week for a mid-winter holiday.
A teacher who was at Waldorf at the time of the scandal has given a somewhat different account, although it, too, centers on John Gardner's decision to bring spirituality to the fore.
"The story of the collapse [sic] of the Garden City Waldorf School is very complex....
"In his twenty years as Faculty Chairman, John Gardner had carefully crafted a strong, clear [curricular] form based on the pedagogical teachings of Rudolf Steiner, but in recent years Dr. Gardner had begun to feel the limitations of the form he had created and felt that teachers needed to be guided more by the spirit instead of the outer forms, so he started encouraging some of the teachers to use their own spiritual perceptions in their educational approach..." Following a boycott by some parents and an emergency meeting of faculty "we learned that everyone strongly aligned with the `spirit-led' group had either been fired or resigned.... In the end, it was simply a matter of finances ...[T]he only thing that keeps a school alive is the tuition paid by the parents.... About a dozen teachers were fired...." — Lawrence Williams, Ed.D., THE OAK MEADOW TRILOGY (Oak Meadow, Inc., 1997).*
In the end, the Garden City school survived, but it truly went through a near-death experience.
* An extended version of Lawrence Williams' account appears farther down on this page.
Waldorf schools are often adept at the arts of deception. [See "Secrets".] Following Rudolf Steiner's instructions, the faculties try to push Anthroposophy while denying what they are up to. Addressing the faculty of the first Waldorf, Steiner said "As teachers in the Waldorf School, you will need to find your way more deeply into the insight of the spirit and to find a way of putting all compromises aside ... As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495. But he also told them to keep their mouths shut. "[W]e have to remember that an institution like the Independent Waldorf School with its anthroposophical character, has goals that, of course, coincide with anthroposophical desires. At the moment, though, if that connection were made official, people would break the Waldorf School's neck." — Ibid., p. 705.
For most Waldorf schools, the "moment" for hiding the truth about themselves has stretched from that day to this. If Waldorf schools were honest about their agenda, then families could make informed choices: Send our kids to an Anthroposophical institution or not. By lying about their purposes, Waldorf schools betray everyone — including themselves.
When I entered this Waldorf school, it was associated with Adelphi College.
When Adelphi became a University, the prestige of attending Waldorf grew.
But Adelphi cut its ties to the school after the scandal.
Here is an extended version of the report by Lawrence Williams, Ed.D.
Bear in mind that many other people, including myself, would describe the school and its leading figures quite differently.
In 1979, the Garden City Waldorf School was the epitome of a successful Waldorf school. When I began teaching there, it had been in existence for twenty-five years and was considered to be one of the pillars of the American Waldorf movement. The headmaster of the school (or "Faculty Chairman," as he was called) was Andy Leaf, who had formerly been the Principal of the high school for many years. But the real force behind the school was John Gardner, who had been Faculty Chairman of the school for about twenty years. During that time he had developed a solid reputation as an extraordinary human being of almost mythic proportions. Tall and robust, with pure white hair, he radiated strength and wisdom wherever he went, and he guided the school and presided over the teacher meetings with a firm hand and a warm heart.
As soon as I started teaching there, I felt I had come home. During his career as Faculty Chairman of the school, Dr. Gardner had developed it into a full K-12 school and assembled a group of remarkable teachers. Strong, experienced and supportive, these teachers provided the guidance I needed, and with their help I was daily realizing more of my own potential as a teacher. Every Wednesday we had a faculty meeting, and this meeting provided inspiration and support for all of us, and served to meld us together into a cohesive unit. As September passed into October and the leaves on the trees began to turn red and gold, I felt that I had found what I'd been looking for my whole life, and the dreams and plans that Bonnie and I had for Oak Meadow gradually began to fade into the background. Why should I create another school, when I was daily living in the perfect embodiment of all I had envisioned? But what I didn't know was that all I was experiencing was about to change. Underneath this idyllic scene, a storm was brewing that would transform this extraordinary school into a maelstrom of bitterness and conflict and dramatically change the life of every teacher there.
The story of the collapse of the Garden City Waldorf School is very complex, and it would take an entire book to explore all the intricacies of it and attempt to understand what really happened. Since this isn't my main concern at this time, I'll simply say that--from my perspective--it was a classic case of a battle between life and form played out in the context of very strong personalities. To understand what I mean by "a battle between life and form," let me digress a bit.
The Garden City Waldorf School--as with all Waldorf schools--followed the educational approach developed by Rudolf Steiner, a remarkable Austrian artist/philosopher/scientist who had a unique insight into the natural world and the nature of human beings. In addition to education, Steiner also developed initiatives in agriculture, medicine, dance, art, architecture, and religion that are still thriving today.
Inspiring and effective, the Waldorf approach to education is the fastest-growing educational movement in the world today. Nevertheless, it incorporates specific principles and practices of Steiner's into a unique form, and as with all forms (educational or otherwise), the tendency is for the followers of that approach to become enamored by the form and lose sight of the life that created and ensouls the form. This is especially true when the form was developed by someone as extraordinary as Rudolf Steiner. From my perspective, this is what happened at the Garden City Waldorf School.
In his twenty years as Faculty Chairman, John Gardner had carefully crafted a strong, clear form based upon the pedagogical teachings of Rudolf Steiner, but in recent years Dr. Gardner had begun to feel the limitations of the form he had created and felt that the teachers needed to be guided more by the spirit instead of the outer forms, so he had started encouraging some of the teachers to use their own spiritual perceptions in their educational approach, rather than automatically adhering to the traditional form. As word of this began to spread throughout the school, more of the teachers became interested in following this approach, especially many of the younger teachers. However, even though the initial results of this approach did not conflict with Steiner's guiding principles for Waldorf schools, it set off a firestorm between those teachers who felt we should follow the traditional forms that had made the school what it was, and those who wanted to explore new approaches guided by the spirit.
As November passed into December, the teachers became more and more polarized, and the weekly teacher meetings that used to provide such inspiration and support soon became battlegrounds for the warring factions. As the tension in the school escalated, the parents of the students in the school became angry and demanded a resolution. When a resolution was not immediately forthcoming, the parents began to boycott the school by taking their children out and refusing to make their monthly tuition payments. Soon, the situation became desperate. If a resolution wasn't reached within a week, the school would have to close. The teachers called in an outside arbitrator, Peter Curran, who had been associated with the school for many years but who was not currently teaching at the school.
Mr. Curran met with all of the teachers as a group and listened to all of us present our views of the situation. After several hours of listening, he stopped the discussion and said he had two final questions to ask.
"Do you want the school to continue?"
This took us by surprise, because we had never really asked ourselves that question. We had all assumed that the school would continue, so we were only arguing about what the guiding principles of the school should be. But now it was clear that the school was in real danger of closing within a few days unless the situation was resolved. As we discussed the possibility of closing the school, we all agreed that if we were to do that--even for the most noble of educational principles--the ones who would be hurt the most would be the children. Whatever our philosophical disagreements might have been, we were united by a love for the children in the school, and we couldn't stand to hurt them any more than they had already been hurt. We voted unanimously, "Yes," we wanted the school to continue.
"Are you willing to accept and abide by whatever decisions I must make in order to keep the school alive?"
We all swallowed hard as we considered the implications of this, but we knew that the situation had progressed to a point that someone had to make the hard decisions necessary to keep the school alive, and quarreling over those decisions would only paralyze us further and force the school to close. The time for discussion was past; it was time for action. Again we voted unanimously, "Yes," we would abide by his decisions.
"Thank you," he said. "That's all I need to know." The meeting was adjourned.
The next day, we learned that everyone strongly aligned with the "spirit-led" group had either been fired or resigned, and older teachers who were experienced in the traditional approaches had been hired to replace them. In the end, it was simply a matter of finances. As a very pragmatic New Englander, Peter Curran had cut through the philosophical debates and seen the obvious truth. On a purely practical level, the only thing that keeps a school alive is the tuition paid by the parents, so if the school was to continue, he had to find out what the parents wanted and move in that direction. The majority of the parents supported the traditionalists, so the choice was clear: everyone associated with the new impulse had to leave.
It was a clean sweep. About a dozen teachers were fired, Andy Leaf resigned as Faculty Chairman of the school, Dr. Gardner resigned as Director of the Waldorf Institute, the Institute was to be closed at the end of the school year, and Peter Curran assumed the position of temporary Faculty Chairman until a permanent Chairman could be elected by the teachers. I remained as the first grade teacher, with the understanding that I could make a decision about whether or not I wanted to continue as a teacher at the school.
Relieved that a resolution had been reached, the parents brought their children back and started paying tuition again. The financial crisis was over, and within a week it was clear that the school would survive. A few weeks later, the school closed for a much-needed Christmas vacation, and Bonnie and I had two weeks to think about all that had happened and consider whether we wanted to stay in Garden City. We talked about it for a few days, but in the end the choice was clear. The children in my class had been through enough during the past few months, and I couldn't leave them now. I decided to return after the vacation and finish out the rest of the year.
When I returned in January, the school I had fallen in love with four months before was gone. The spiritual fire was extinguished, and I felt like an alien stranded in a distant land. Most of the teachers I had loved and respected had left and were replaced by teachers who were quite capable, but with whom I felt no allegiance. Within a few weeks, I decided I would leave in June. [http://www.oakmeadow.com/resources/articles/oak-meadow-trilogy.php]
Prior to the report in THE NEW YORK TIMES, a longer report appeared in a local newspaper, NEWSDAY.
(I did not see it until long after I first read the TIMES article.)
Here are key excerpts:
WALDORF SCHOOL HEAD, 6 AIDES QUIT
WALDORF SCHOOL IS ROCKED BY CONTROVERSY
Newsday Education Writer
Garden City [Dec. 31, 1978] — The headmaster, the high school principal, a librarian and four teachers have resigned from the sedate, 330-student Waldorf school, under pressure and amidst accusations that some of them fell under the psychic influence of a 25-year-old ex-student.
The ex-student, Richard Walton, an alumnus and former student-teacher at the school, expresses dismay at the accusations. But he conceded that he advised officials on school policy, and he says matter-of-factly that he is able to communicate with “certain beings in the spiritual world.”
....As resentment over Walton’s influence broke into open hostility last month, at least 80 students were reportedly pulled out of the accredited, state-chartered school. It amounted to a temporary boycott by the mostly middle-class parents, angered by rumors that Walton was advising school officials on such matters as [the] Latin curriculum and the music to be played at a school dance ... Four families withdrew their children permanently, according to school officials, because of what one parent described as internal chaos.
Classes were shut down for two days as faculty members met and debated demands. Jealousies and rivalries among faculty members also played a part, but the focal point was Walton. In the end, there were these resignations:
• Peter MacNair, the high school principal ... Edward Blatchford, a teacher and ninth-grade adviser, and John Bickart, a teacher and 10th-grade adviser. The three were accused of succumbing to Walton’s influence, and their resignations were forced by a majority vote of the faculty....
• Other resignations followed, in an apparent display of sympathy for those ousted. Those resigning included Andrew Leaf, the school’s headmaster or faculty chairman ... Leaf’s resignation on Nov. 7 marked the climax of the Walton affair....
• [There was also the] resignation of a former headmaster, John Fentress Gardner, from his position as head of the Waldorf Institute. The institute, which is housed within the school, provides training each year for about 20 student-teachers from neighboring Adelphi University....
In recent weeks, the Waldorf School has resumed a near-normal schedule, although some students still say they miss the teachers who resigned. School officials, meanwhile, express amazement that so much anger could have been unleashed in a school devoted to a humanitarian philosophy of teaching. But they admit that the turmoil may have arisen, in part, from that very philosophy.
...To make sense of the Walton affair [requires understanding] something of the philosophy, known as Anthroposophy, that underlies the Waldorf system. It stems from the writings of Rudolf Steiner ... [He] believed in the spiritual nature of man ... He wrote that a good teacher must nurture the spiritual nature of students ... He also believed that people could attain clairvoyance....
Richard Walton enrolled at [the] Waldorf School about eight years ago as an 11th-grader. [Previously at] his public high school...he had been, by his own admission, a “low C” student. But at Waldorf, he found his abilities appreciated, especially by the school's headmaster of 25 years, John Gardner....
They seem an incongruous pair, the silver-haired Gardner with his slightly weary, professorial manner and carefully knotted tie, and Walton who is eager, affable and who prefers jeans and a warm-up jacket. Still, Gardner says he relies heavily on the younger man’s intuition.....
[According to Walton] “I would say I have a certain spiritual perspective, that I’m working to develop further. Sometimes, if I’m in a devotional mood, I perceive things in the environment that other people might not be aware of ... I’m able to communicate with certain beings in the spiritual world.” Asked to describe the spiritual beings, he referred to them as voices, translated into an “inner language.”
After graduating from Waldorf, Walton enrolled at Adelphi ... He continued reading Steiner’s books, meditatively, repeating some passages 20 or 30 times. His reputation as a man of insight grew, largely through Gardner’s influence....
MacNair, the former principal, sought [Walton's] advice last year concerning a high school dance ... The nondenominational school had not sponsored a dance for several years, partly because some teachers objected to loud rock-and-roll music. Walton, who had played piano in local night clubs...advised MacNair that a disco-type dance would be appropriate. In those days, Walton added, he was careful to discuss his insights only with a few close friends on the Waldorf faculty.
Still, rumors began to circulate ... Several students [said]...the dance was good “because Richard Walton said it was, and Richard Walton was clairvoyant.”
Later, Waldorf officials announced a plan to replace six weeks of Latin instruction with a course in linguistics ... [T]he former headmaster, Leaf, asked for [Walton’s] advice [about this]....
...[S]ome faculty were outraged. Under the Waldorf system, teachers have a strong voice in running their school, and some felt they were losing that voice ... Walton was called in [to a faculty meeting] to explain his position. The session lasted more than 1 1/2 hours, but there is disagreement over what was said. Some teachers said that Walton claimed to speak with the voice of Christ....
Word of the meeting soon reached parents ... [Six] parent leaders confronted the headmaster, asking him to step down until the affair was resolved. Leaf reportedly refused. After that, the affair snowballed. Between 80 and 160 of the school’s students were temporarily pulled out of classes ... One longtime elementary teacher became so distraught she left the school for a week ... Finally, a majority of the faculty voted for the resignations of MacNair, Blatchford and Bickart. The other resignations followed.
In recent weeks, most classes have resumed, but plans for a dance have been shelved ... A faculty committee is trying to rewrite the school’s bylaws, to give the faculty more say in the selection of a headmaster....
At Adelphi, meanwhile, the dean of arts and sciences...said he has called for a review of the university’s affiliation with the Waldorf Institute....
The first portion of the NEWSDAY story,
which appeared on p. 9.
The remainder of the story,
on p. 29.
Despite it all, I dote on my childhood
as much as the next guy — I still cherish
fondness for my old friends
and my vanished youth...
The major difference is that I now see my childhood
within the context of the real universe,
the universe Waldorf repudiates.
It is possible that the school I attended was even more immersed in occultism than I realized — or that it soon became so. Here is a reader's book review posted at Amazon in 1999 by John Aughenbaugh, who graduated from the school two years after I did. He reviewed THE THREE CANDLES OF LITTLE VERONICA, by Manfred Kyber. Subtitled "The Story of a Child's Soul in this World and the Other," the book is an occult fairy tale dealing with the Holy Grail (i.e., in Anthroposophical terms, occult wisdom), clairvoyance, The Garden of Spirits, The House of Shadows, and so on. An edition published in 1972 by the Waldorf Press — an outreach arm of our school — was dedicated by John Fentress Gardner to Franz E. Winkler, a presiding Anthroposophist at the school. "The affinity between his life work and the substance of this remarkable story will be evident to readers who knew him," Gardner wrote.
THE THREE CANDLES OF LITTLE VERONICA is now available through SteinerBooks. The promotional material at the website there includes the following: "For generations, readers have loved this story and discovered its ability to guide us to the magic of nature and to a deeper understanding of human relationships and karma ... This is a remarkable and enduring story in the Grail tradition. The author begins with Veronica’s early youth, when she can see beyond the physical appearance of things ... Veronica grows beyond innocence and into the life of the House of Shadows, the Baltic town of Halmar, the cursed Castle Irreloh, and the people whose destiny intersects hers ... Veronica learns — through a playful elemental [i.e., nature spirit] and with the help of Uncle Johannes Wanderer — that only a veil separates us from the spiritual world ... The events of joy and terror in her life lead her to a beautiful reconciliation with this duality ... The writing style of The Three Candles of Little Veronica is unique and idiosyncratic. Kyber’s earnestness and deeply held spiritual values, as well as his profound concern for the well being of animals, are evident throughout."
My old schoolmate's review: "This was the favorite book of all people associated with the Garden City, L.I., N.Y. Waldorf school (perhaps the flagship school at that time for the U.S.) in the school's 'heyday'. I graduated from there in 1966 when John F. Gardner was headmaster, and Dr. Franz Winkler was Chairman. This book should never be out of print. It has too much in it for those that wish to follow a spiritual path. If you seek the Holy Grail, read this book; and no, I am not kidding." — John G. Aughenbaugh
John evidently knew something I didn't. Although I count myself as having been among the "people associated with the Garden City, L.I., N.Y. Waldorf school," I never heard of the book until recently. And with apologies to John, I must admit that despite whatever charms the book may have had for me if I'd read it way back when, having bought it recently and studied it with some care, it seems to me scarcely more profound than the Harry Potter saga or any other fantastical, mystic fable. (Of course, when I was a Waldorf student, I thought fantastical, mystic fables were precisely the place to look for profound truths.)
John passed through the Waldorf labyrinth two years after I did. Perhaps, in those years, the school became more overtly occultist. Or perhaps John happened to receive the ministrations of more overtly occultist teachers than I did.
In my own experience, the favorite fantastical, mystic fables at our school were those written by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Our class teacher read THE HOBBIT to my classmates and me in fourth grade or so — we sat raptly listening for an hour, more or less, each day, taking in a chapter at a time. Thereafter, I read Tolkien's books multiple times, years on end. (As I recall, THE HOBBIT and Tolkien's other books were sold in the school's lobby during Christmastime.)
I don't remember who put me onto C. S. Lewis, but I'm sure it was one of our teachers or librarians. I liked Lewis's fables less than Tolkien's, but I took to them, along with many other weird tales Waldorf steered me toward — books about dragons, and flying saucers, and the Grail...
John and I were "educated" in an environment of myth and legend and fantasy. All Waldorf students are. The question becomes what this does to kids' heads. Often, what it does is to create confusion and disorientation that can last years — or a lifetime.
“Myths...are the memories of the visions people perceived in olden times ... At night they were really surrounded by the world of the Nordic gods of which the legends tell. Odin, Freya, and all the other figures in Nordic mythology were...experienced in the spiritual world with as much reality as we experience our fellow human beings around us today.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FESTIVALS AND THEIR MEANING (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1998), p. 198.
“Folk-lore, which never contains anything haphazard or thought-out [i.e., it is not made up], has preserved the memory of ancient Atlantis in a beautiful way....” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Adept School of the Past”, ANTHROPOSOPHIC NEWS SHEET No. 31/32 (General Anthroposophical Society, 1941), GA 97.
“Fairy tales are never thought out [i.e., invented]; they are the final remains of ancient clairvoyance, experienced in dreams by human beings who still had the power ... All the fairy tales in existence are thus the remnants of the original clairvoyance.” — Rudolf Steiner, ON THE MYSTERY DRAMAS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1983), p. 93.
"Fundamentally speaking, the phrase the 'Holy Grail', with all that belongs to it, involves a reappearing of the essence of the Eastern Mysteries.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MYSTERIES OF THE EAST AND OF CHRISTIANITY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1972), lecture 4, GA 144.
"Manfred Kyber, born on March 1, 1880 in Riga, Latvia (then under Russian rule), grew up on his father's estate. He studied philosophy in Leipzig and later moved to Berlin, where he lived for ten years and published his first works. He lived in Löwenstein, Württemberg (southern Germany) since 1923. In addition to poems, a novel, plays, theater criticism and an introduction to occultism, he primarily wrote fairy tales and animal stories..." — J. Beilharz.
For analyses of the gnostic/occult/Christian message in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, see Ralph C. Woods, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO TOLKIEN (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) and Kurt D. Bruner & Jim Ware, FINDING GOD IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS (SaltRiver, 2001). Tolkien’s enthralling mythology, which does not immediately appear to be Christian, would have obvious appeal to a religious school that wanted to appear nonsectarian.
Tolkien’s trilogy is better known, but C. S. Lewis’s “space trilogy” has perhaps been more influential. OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, PERELANDRA, and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH are, in effect, anti-science fiction. In the first two volumes, the protagonist travels to Mars and Venus; in the final volume, he concludes his adventures back on Earth (with the help of Merlin, whom he summons from suspended animation). The cosmology of the novels is a reworking of the ancient great chain of being.
Lewis’s vision is, in various ways, similar to Steiner's.
◊ Both men locate “gods” on or in celestial spheres: planets, moons, and stars. Thus, Steiner places Jahve (Jehovah) on the Moon: “[The] further evolution of man has only been possible because one of the Elohim, Jahve, accompanied the separation of the Moon [from the Earth] — while the other six spirits remained in the Sun — and because Jahve cooperated with His six colleagues....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 99.
◊ Just as Lewis distinguishes between Jove and God, Steiner finds a difference between Jehovah and God. Note that, in the passage I’ve quoted, Jahve is only one of the “Elohim” and he must cooperate with his “colleagues” to achieve his benevolent purposes.
◊ Both Steiner and Lewis posit variants of the great chain of being, beginning a short distance below mankind and stretching far, far above. According to Steiner, entities superior to humanity include zeitgeists, spirits of form, exusiai, dynamis, and kyriotetes; while attendant nature-spirits include undines, sylphs, and salamanders. “Abnormal” spirits are associated with planets and mankind’s five “root races” (Negro, Malayan, Mongolian, Caucasian, and Red Indian). — Rudolf Steiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS, pp. 15-16, 65, 83-85.
◊ Both Steiner and Lewis tell of interplanetary journeys, Lewis in fiction, Steiner in “truth.” Indeed, Steiner recounts human migration to various planets: “[D]uring the Lemurian epoch of earth-evolution [i.e., long ago]...the majority of souls withdrew from the earth to other planets, continuing their life on Mars, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and so forth.” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT HISTORY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), p. 36.
Despite its travails, my old school refused to give up the ghost.
This is the cover of the 1997 edition of the school's yearbook, published during the school's fiftieth year.
Perhaps appropriately, a protective angel hovers above the title, PINNACLE.
Below the title, embellished with ribbons and ivy,
is the familiar school emblem (a circle of W's forming, at their center, a star).
Following the scandal and the consequent turmoil, the school seems to have
settled into a renewed, more openly professed, allegiance to Rudolf Steiner.
How deeply the faculty plumbed Anthroposophy, and how much of Anthroposophy they conveyed to their students,
are open questions.
The answers probably evolved as the years passed and individual faculty members came and went.*
Below are portions of three pages from the 1997 PINNACLE,
each bearing a prayer written by Rudolf Steiner.
(These pages also display photos of faculty members from various eras of the school's history.
To preserve the privacy of these individuals, I have trimmed the pages.)
You will find slightly different translations of Steiner prayers elsewhere here at Waldorf Watch.
— PINNACLE, 1997, p. 3.
The top portion of the page (which I have omitted) presents a group photo of faculty members
at the school just a few years after I graduated — I recognize several of my old teachers.
The congratulations running across the page in a banner apparently come from the faculty or from the yearbook staff;
despite appearances, they do not come from Rudolf Steiner himself.
(The typo in the third line of the prayer — "Nobel" — is not Steiner's fault.
The word he used, in correct translation, is "noble".)
— PINNACLE, 1997, p. 10.
The photos on this page (which I have trimmed) depict the lower school faculty
from, apparently, the mid-1990s. I recognize only one of these teachers,
an individual who evidently remained with the school for his entire adult life.
(Another of my old teachers is also named, but he is not shown in the photos.)
The prayer on this page was written by Steiner for students in the lower grades
to recite each morning before the main lesson of the day begins.
— PINNACLE, 1997, p. 11.
The photos on this page (which I have trimmed) depict the high school faculty
from, apparently, the same period in the 1990s. I recognize none of these teachers.
(One of my old teachers is named but not shown.)
This prayer was written by Steiner for students in the upper grades
to recite each morning before the main lesson.
Students in Waldorf schools around the world recite these two morning prayers
— which Steiner told Waldorf teacher to disguise as "morning verses."
* I have not investigated the history of my old school as it unfolded during the many decades since I graduated. I have no particular quarrel with that school as it became or as it is now. My primary focus here at Waldorf Watch has been on the Waldorf movement as a whole, not on any particular Waldorf school.
The scandal at my old school was by no means unique.
Similar dramas have played out at other Waldorf schools.
Here are a couple of instances.
My personal experience with Waldorf was very confusing. Instead of the progressive and liberal alternative school I was led to expect by the school's promotional materials and staff, I discovered a rigid, authoritarian environment that seemed to be rooted in a medieval dogma that I did not understand. When, in an effort to make sense of things, I asked questions about this, I found Waldorf teachers to be strangely defensive.
I was stunned to arrive at the conclusion that the education of children — at least as I use the term "education" — did not seem to be the school's most important focus and objective. But what was?
I began to ask questions. What is Anthroposophy? Why don't teachers allow students in the preschool through the early elementary grades to use black crayons in their drawings? Why do students use the wet-on-wet watercolor painting technique exclusively for so many years? Why is mythology taught as history? Where is the American flag, and why don't Waldorf schools teach civics lessons in America? In a school system that promotes itself as "education toward freedom," why do students copy everything from the blackboard? Why do Waldorf teachers talk in high voices and sing-song directions to their classes? Why must the kindergarten room walls be painted "peach blossom"? Why is learning to read before the age of eight or nine considered unhealthy? Why do so many Waldorf classes have problems with bullying, and what is the school's policy for dealing with this? Why are teachers always lighting candles?
What answers I received were not forthright, and the teachers made it clear that my questions were not welcome. They told me, "If you understood Anthroposophy, you wouldn't be asking that question." Yet before we enrolled, I was told that the school was non-sectarian and that Anthroposophy was not "in the classroom"! I was eventually invited to leave...
...I was new to our Waldorf school when I was asked to be on the board. I'd had plenty of community board experience but not with Waldorf. My first board meeting included a faculty grilling re: sexual preference, directed at a young gay teacher. She was afraid to say she was gay. I was blown away. I kept saying, "This is a violation of her civil rights. We cannot ask these questions." The young teacher kept saying that her partner was just helping her with her kids. I have never figured out why this was important. I still don't know what Steiner thought of gay people but this was the day I learned regular rules do not apply in Waldorf schools. Anthroposophy is more important than individual rights, laws, or common truths.
At the time, I thought the teachers just needed to get out in the world more. Volunteer to be a Big Brother or Sister, etc. The healthy teachers were eventually run out and the ill ones took over hiring. I don't believe ill people have the ability to hire people healthier than they are so the school began to implode. There was deceit everywhere. In the books. The financial statements were literally made up and had nothing to do with the true financial picture of the school. The Administrator was sleeping with the bookkeeper. Unpaid payroll taxes, marked as paid, were seized from our bank account without warning. The board was told we were operating at a low tuition assistance but it turned out to be almost 72%. Contrary to the baloney the board was being fed, the school wasn't making enough money to pay rent, salary, and the electricity bill. One classroom was red-flagged for sewage backing up in the tub, yet the board was unaware this had been an ongoing problem for months.
The school was like a train headed straight for the cliff and the faculty appeared to be worried only about how the table in the dining car was set. I forced my way into the files (I had to threaten a restraining order) and went through every single contract and bank statement. I called a meeting of parents and exposed our real financial situation, along with the apparent cover-up. The entire time, I remained calm and professional while I was being screamed at and subverted by the faculty. The day of that meeting, I earned the trust of the parents. Truth is a powerful tool.
During this crazy time, I used to watch the Waldorf teachers at parent gatherings (festivals). The teachers would stand on the stage with their arms around each other, singing songs in rounds, while parents beamed. "How lucky we are to have this school," was the mantra. Personally I was amazed by the teachers' performance as they presented a "real" sense of unity between them. Amazed because behind closed doors, they were all backstabbers. Seemingly insecure people competing for the top position on the Anthroposophical dog pile. It was never pretty. There was a lot of acting out, both blatant and passive (aggressive). I thought it was just this school, these teachers at the time. Now I think it comes out of some very deep flaws that Anthroposophy is incapable of dealing with. At least so far.
Board meetings were always exhausting because you could cut the tension between the teachers with a knife. Words were always so carefully chosen but what was being left unsaid screamed way louder than what was actually being said. Two of the teachers had eating disorders, but that seemed like the least of their problems. Affairs seemed commonplace. There was an affair between two married teachers, and another (married) faculty member could not keep his hands off the pretty single moms. One teacher that was hired landed here to avoid the scandal he had created at his old Waldorf school. Seems he had a recent affair with a married woman and the husband was making a scene.
I think it's easier to walk away from Waldorf when Anthroposophy doesn't speak to your spirit, but it still isn't easy. I took 63 families with me to a new school, so we had a pre-made community that Waldorf had built on a false basis. My aim was to make a school like we were told Waldorf was but was not. Sixty-three families were ready to move, so I went back to work.
— Debra Snell, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools
Politics – and demons – are said to be behind an exodus of students and staff from a Kelowna private school.
— Nicholas Johansen, Castanet.net
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch,
use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊
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.
I wrote the first version of this essay in 2006. It is now 2009. Some Internet sources have changed in the interim.
 Garry Wills, a writer who affirms religious values, has expressed his concern about America's drift away from its core values:
“America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values — critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed ‘a candid world,’ as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of ‘a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.’ Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more ... [W]e find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity .... It is not too early to start yearning back toward the Enlightenment.” — “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, Nov. 4, 2004, p. 25.
Wills was not writing about Waldorf schools but about worrisome trends in American society as a whole. The proliferation of Waldorf schools, I would argue, is one symptom of this general problem. The opposition to “Enlightenment values” is certainly pervasive in Waldorf education.
 To confirm that many Waldorf schools today function much as my Waldorf did, see the articles and archives at http://waldorfcritics.org/ and the ongoing discussion at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/ .
 John T. McQuiston, “’Psychic’ Ex-Student’s Influence Shakes Waldorf School,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, Feb. 18, 1979, p. 48.
Understandably, the official Waldorf School history, posted on the school’s Web site (http://www.waldorfgarden.org ), did not mention the scandal, the last time I checked.
 The mission statement is reasonably forthright, although it leaves crucial terms undefined and fundamental questions unanswered. You can find it at http://www.waldorfgarden.org , at the bottom of the home page. [The last time I checked, the mission statement remained as it was when I first recorded it.]
I do not know how much or how little the school has changed since I graduated. In this essay, I attempt to explain what the Garden City Waldorf was in my day and what it did to its students. Others, if they like, may describe the school as it is today. My purpose is to discuss the potential lifelong consequences of attending a Waldorf school where at least some of the leading faculty members take Steiner’s doctrines as gospel.
Today, in the age of the Internet and other forms of mass communications, information on all subjects is more generally available than it once was. Perhaps for this reason, various Waldorf schools now include references to Rudolf Steiner and even Anthroposophy in their promotional materials. In doing so, they implicitly acknowledge the Anthroposophical basis of Waldorf education. But anything like full disclosure of Steiner’s doctrines remains extremely rare. (I don’t want to impugn anyone’s motives. It is possible — indeed, I hope it is true — that many Waldorf teachers today have not made a deep study of Steiner’s doctrines. If so, they may not recognize what their educational programs are ultimately intended to accomplish. Conceivably, they might be persuaded to change course.) You can find links to many Waldorf Web sites at http://waldorfworld.net .
 Lawrence Williams, THE OAK MEADOW TRILOGY (Oak Meadow, Inc., 1997) — see http://www.oakmeadow.com. The last time I checked, access to this page seemed to be blocked. Lets hope any such blocks will soon be removed — full and free information about Waldorf schools should be our common objective.
 Stephen Keith Sagarin, THE STORY OF WALDORF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES (SteinerBooks, 2011), pp. 51-52.
 "100 Year Reflections on John Fentress Gardner", anthroposophy.org, http://www.anthroposophy.org/fileadmin/articles/attachments/JFG-100Years-2.pdf.
 http://www.awsna.org Frequently Asked Questions, Are Waldorf Schools Religious? [Since I first recorded this, the site appears to have been changed to "whywaldorfworks".]
 Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 20.
Throughout Waldorf Watch, I quote Steiner as accurately as possible. He altered his views and terminology to some degree over time. To avoid unnecessarily complicating matters, I refrain from trying to trace such changes, which to non-Anthroposophists would generally seem minor. Steiner made each of the remarks I quote, and subsequent modifications of his teachings did not change the core of his mysticism nor the fundamental character of his teachings.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 38.
Bear in mind that the "Christianity" at Waldorf schools is heretical. Steiner used various versions of the Lord's Prayer — generally gnostic versions that cannot be found in the Bible. See "Was He Christian?"
 Ibid., p. 38. The “verse” I quote is also included in Steiner’s book, PRAYERS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1995), pp. 44-45.
 Ibid., p. 38, footnote 1.
 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION (MacMillan Reference, 2005), pp. 392-394.
 FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER, p. 750.