This is a continuation of the essay "Unenlightened."



IV. Waldorf’s Impact



I had been at Waldorf virtually my entire life, which meant that what I saw and heard there generally seemed normal to me. And I believe that in some ways my allegiance to the school deepened with each passing year. Nonetheless, around the time I became a senior, certain things started to strike me as a bit odd. Certainly, those biology and botany lessons bothered me. I accepted them, and yet they seemed somehow worrisome. The mid-1960s was the civil rights era, after all — weren’t we supposed to know better than to talk about “inferior” races? I started paying attention to other, harder-to-pinpoint oddities, too. Occasionally our teachers would casually refer to angels or other supernatural beings as if they were objective, verifiable phenomena, as real as trees or planets or electrons. What to make of that? Having put in so many years at Waldorf, I was strongly disposed to believe in the supernatural — but how could our teachers sound so sure? And then there was this: From time to time, faculty members would reverently utter the name of Rudolf Steiner — always reverently. I knew that in some undefined way Steiner was the font of wisdom at Waldorf, but beyond that things were indeterminate. Imagine being educated by a group of dedicated Catholics or Communists or Mormons or Fascists — or members of any ideological group: For year after year, you are taught to think and speak and act in accordance with the group's ideology, but you are never told precisely what that ideology is, and you are never shown any of its central texts. That's what going to Waldorf was like.


Actually, information of all kinds was kept from us, not just the ideological sort. Waldorf’s curriculum wasn’t primarily meant to educate us, as that term is usually understood. We did homework, and took tests, and wrote papers. We picked up some knowledge of standard academic subjects. Yet all of that was, in a sense, incidental. No one could have mistaken Waldorf for a hotbed of intellectual excellence. Our teachers had different, overriding concerns.


The problem of low academic standards at Waldorfs goes way back. The teachers at the first Waldorf worried that they were not preparing their students adequately for standard final examinations in the 12th grade. Asked what subjects should be dropped to make time for lessons with more academic content, Steiner answered, “Sadly, technology and shop, as well as gymnastics and singing. We cannot drop eurythmy or drawing. Religion will have to be limited to one hour....” [1] Later, Steiner added, “The question of final examinations is purely a question of opportunity. It is a question of whether we dare tell those who come to us that we will not prepare them for the final examination at all, that it is a private decision of the student whether to take the final examination or not.” [2] Weeks after that, when the exam results were in, he said, “We should have no illusions: The results gave a very unfavorable impression of our school to people outside.” [3]


Academic standards at my Waldorf were below par. I took math classes every year, and I always passed, but I never developed even the rudiments of mathematical literacy. Accept my assurance, please: This wasn’t a result of native stupidity. Waldorf came close to practicing social promotion. Although occasionally a student was held back, ordinarily we didn’t need to master much subject matter in order to proceed from grade to grade. The resulting harm to our intellects is hard to gauge. Waldorf was a private school, with selective admissions. Most of us were bright, and some of us were distinctly privileged, coming from homes bristling with encyclopedias, home libraries, magazines, newspapers, and parents who pressed us to excel. We had advantages. How much did Waldorf set us back? I know some Waldorf graduates who found themselves almost completely unprepared for college; others, like myself, made several false starts at higher education before getting traction; and some marched straight through. The question is ultimately unanswerable: How well would we have done if we had gone to a different school? What would our lives have been like if they had been different? 


But a Waldorf school should not be judged primarily by the academic success (or failure) of its graduates. (Remember Steiner’s words: “[W]e will not prepare them for the final examination at all.”) The key issue is what effects a Steiner-inspired education has on the students’ emotional and psychological well-being. Waldorf’s priority was to quietly condition our souls and hearts to receive spiritual influences. To that end, our teachers subtly encouraged us always to move toward the light and away from the dark (in all its meanings). Those of us who were most susceptible to this silent manipulation were powerfully affected. I won’t violate the privacy of my former schoolmates, so I’ll speak only for myself. To my ultimate regret, I was a dutiful and studious schoolboy, not wholly credulous, but nearly so. For me, Waldorf’s impact was thrilling. I developed esoteric yearnings — I was eager for revelation — I longed for things transcendent, for supernal beauty and grandeur. The expectation of these blessings grew in me for years and sustained me. But then, gradually, a reaction set in. It became increasingly pronounced as I progressed through high school. I was pained that the world, and I, fell so far short — always, it seemed, so far short. Dreams of the transcendent remained just that — vague, alluring dreams, perpetually out of reach. Longing for the unobtainable is a prescription for frustration, or desperation. I continued to long — perhaps more than ever — but I came to feel that my longings were a burden. I was caught in a bind I could not understand or even perceive, growing more and more devoted to a system of belief that made me more and more distressed. 


I was a member of the student council. During my junior year, at my urging, the council asked Mr. Gardner to tell the student body more about Rudolf Steiner and his philosophy. There was a growing suspicion among some of us that our teachers had a clandestine agenda rooted in Steiner’s tenets. Despite being such a square  — I ultimately was student council president and a graduation speaker — I felt the suspicions sharply. You see, I had a couple of private peepholes onto events behind the scenes. My mother was Mr. Gardner’s secretary. [4] Although she never intentionally betrayed any of Mr. Gardner's confidences to me, she inevitably dropped a few tidbits about the man and his beliefs — not very informative, but enough to pique my curiosity. I also had an even more direct source of inside information. Mr. Gardner took a special interest in me. We had several private conversations. Once he gave me what amounted to a fatherly sex talk: Love should always come before sex, he counseled (no surprises there). Once he asked me whether he should fire the school’s Latin teacher, and he quickly added “Don’t think about it with your brain” — I should give an instinctive response, not a considered reply. (Which raises the question, what organ should be used for thinking, if not the brain?) Once he questioned me about evolution and then conducted an extended private colloquy with me on the subject. [5] Taking his cue from Steiner (whom he did not mention), he explained that some contemporary peoples and animals had not evolved upwards but are actually the degenerate remnants of earlier, higher life-forms. Earth’s evolutionary scheme is complex, he informed me, with some species, races, and individuals rising, and others receding. I came away from our discussion feeling reasonably confident that he and I were among the upward-movers.


The student council asked Mr. Gardner to address the high school: to tell us about Steiner and then take our questions. He did so, reluctantly, and most circumspectly. [6] He told the assembled students that Steiner had been a wise teacher, a spiritualist with extraordinary insight. He said Steiner’s insights into the arts helped lay the foundation for our arts curriculum, and that Steiner’s scientific insights had, among other things, led to the development of a particularly productive form of organic gardening. He said Steiner was enormously perceptive and aware. Then somehow he let slip that Steiner could see angels with his naked eye — which caused a few gasps and giggles from the students, but only a few. (I now suspect this “slip” was intentional: Mr. Gardner was hinting at the talent we all should cultivate when sufficiently evolved: clairvoyance, the basis of Steiner’s insights and wisdom.) Beyond that, he told us little. He said Waldorf’s purpose was obvious: to educate and improve us. Steiner’s educational principles were certainly invaluable, he said, but then he added that it would do us no good to delve into Steiner’s doctrines at our age — we were too young to grasp them. The right way to learn about Steiner, he told us, was to form study groups when we were older, and then with like-minded seekers we should read and discuss as many of Steiner’s books as caught our interest.


The scandal of the ‘psychic’ ex-student broke in the late 1970s, more than a decade after I graduated. But as I read and reread the TIMES article, I thought of people I had known during my Waldorf years — classmates and teachers. Mr. Gardner was named in the article: He had resigned. [7] Also named were my class advisor/math teacher, my history teacher/soccer coach, and a librarian I remembered. One person tangentially involved in the scandal went unmentioned in the article. My class’s homeroom teacher during grades one through five was Carol Hemingway Gardner [8], John Gardner’s wife. She was a tender, motherly woman — I think every kid in the class loved her. I was sorry to think of her following her husband into disgraced retreat. I still remember her fondly, although I now realize that she — in the gentlest manner possible, and I’m sure with pure motives — began my introduction to the supernatural. The class history printed in our 1964 yearbook includes the following: “In the third grade we began our study of the Bible, and put on a play about Joseph’s coat of many colors.... Besides the three R’s, the fourth grade was occupied with the study of Norse myths. The high point of the year was the building of Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life, out of paper. The fifth grade, where we learned about Greek and Egyptian myths, was our last with Mrs. Gardner.” [9] Myths, especially Norse myths — Mrs. Gardner told us so many myths, and encouraged our imaginations to play among them and among the phenomena of the real world, and to think as little as possible with our brains. She was a kindly spiritual guide, nudging us along what she surely thought was the right track. [10]


Well, such was my youth, long ago. But, as I asserted earlier, my story remains relevant today. Waldorf schools have proliferated, which means that today far more students are exposed to the potentially harmful effects of such schools. The degree of potential risk varies. Waldorf schools differ one from another — some are more devoted to Steiner’s doctrines than others. Some may be relatively harmless. But parents should certainly think carefully, and investigate carefully, before choosing any school associated with Rudolf Steiner and his occultism. Of course, many parents may want religion to be present in their children's schooling. But the question, then, is whether they want that religion to be Anthroposophy.


— Roger Rawlings










To reach the next section of “Unenlightened”,

please use the following link:

"'Spiritual Science'"
















My mother, at her desk in the school's main office.

This is from the school's yearbook,

THE PINNACLE (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).

To respect their privacy, I have cropped out the other individuals

shown in the original photo.















Typical Waldorf-style wet-on-wet painting,

done by a student at a different Waldorf school.

Paintings by my classmates and me, 

often imitating designs presented by our teachers,

had similar effects.

[Courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.]

















Books of Steiner's lectures are often illustrated in a distinctive style: drawings that consist of parallel, angled lines, open to the surrounding space. There is a suggestion of spirituality or translucency. Here is one such image, in this case depicting a monstrance, the vessel holding the Host for use during Holy Communion. Steiner produced the image while discussing Catholicism and Judaism. All mainstream Christian sects are mistaken, Steiner taught — and Judaism is nothing but Moon worship. The true faith is Anthroposophy (although Steiner resisted applying the label "religion" to his doctrines). Jehovah is a Moon being, according to Steiner, whereas Christ is the Sun God — and He must be distinguished from Jesus, who was the human vessel for the Sun God. “Jesus of Nazareth received a sun influence ... Jesus of Nazareth [drew] sun nature into himself as a second individual nature [i.e., Jesus and Christ had separate identities]. The Roman Catholic religion has completely forgotten these things in the words it uses. But if you attend mass and it is a solemn mass, you will see the 'sanctum sanctorum', the monstrance, on the altar ... What does it represent? It is the sun, and inside it the moon. The whole monstrance tells us in its form that Christianity arose from a view in which people acknowledged not only the moon, as the Jews did, but also the sun." — Rudolf Steiner, FROM BEETROOT TO BUDDHISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1999), pp. 60-61. R.R. sketch, 2009, based on Fig. 1, p. 61.















The worldwide headquarters for Anthroposophy is located in Switzerland.

Steiner named it for the poet Goethe: It is the Goetheanum.

In essence, it is an occult cathedral, packed with esoteric images

and used for esoteric activities.

Here is a sketch of the original Goetheanum, which was destroyed by fire.

It was replaced by a concrete structure.

[R. R., 2009.]














The beings Steiner described, inhabiting worlds both below and above our own,

do not have physical forms, but to indicate their real existence, Steiner

sometimes offered suggestive indications. Here is my rendering of an image

from one of the windows at the Goetheanum, based on Steiner's own sketch.

The window contains many images; this is just one, a large detail:

"The World Begets Will."

[R.R., 2009.]



















Not so long ago, we lived on the Moon, as it were. Now we’re on Earth, as it is. Next we will proceed to the Jupiter stage of evolution, and then we’ll move along to Venus. So Steiner assured us, anyway. “As the residue of the ancient Moon evolution we have our present moon that circles the earth. Similarly, there will be a residue of the earth that will circle Jupiter. Then these residues will gradually dissolve into the universal ether. On Venus there will no longer be any residue. Venus will manifest, to begin with, as pure warmth, then it will become light, and then it will pass over into the spiritual world. The residue left behind by the earth will be like a corpse. This is a path along which man must not accompany the earth, however, because he would thereby be exposed to dreadful torments. There are, however, many beings who will accompany this corpse, since they themselves will by that means develop to a higher stage.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE REAPPEARANCE OF CHRIST IN THE ETHERIC (Anthroposophic Press, 1983), lecture 9, Q&A period, GA 130. R.R. sketch, 2010. Perhaps a little residue remains in my image.











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


◊◊◊ 2. A FORMER WALDORF STUDENT ◊◊◊



A report on life as a Waldorf student


An overview of Waldorf schooling; a far longer version of "I Went to Waldorf", including:


"Unenlightened - Part 2"


"Unenlightened - Part 3"


WALDORF'S IMPACT


"Unenlightened - Part 5"

 

"Unenlightened - Part 6"


"Unenlightened - Part 7"












If you'd like more information about any of the topics discussed here, 

you might begin by consulting the following resources:





THE SEMI-STEINER DICTIONARY

[A - D]   [E - I]   [J - O]   [P - R]   [S]   [T - Z]




THE BRIEF WALDORF / STEINER ENCYCLOPEDIA


[A - B]   [C - D]   [E - F]   [G - I]   [J - M]   [N - Q]   [R - S]   [T - Z]




WALDORF WATCH INDEX


[A - E]     [G - M]     [N - S]     [T - Z]



WALDORF WATCH TABLE OF CONTENTS








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. 










ENDNOTES




[1] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 688.


[2] Ibid., p. 712.


Notice that Steiner clearly contemplates deceiving parents and teachers about the nature of the Waldorf School: “...whether we dare tell those who come to us that we will not prepare them for the final examination at all....”


[3] Ibid., p. 725. 


Theoretically, a Waldorf school could set high academic standards in basic subjects (English, math, and so forth) and reserve the school’s spiritualistic intentions for other parts of the day (arts classes, story hours, discussion groups, etc.) This might produce a solid academic record, depending on the caliber of the students enrolled and the degree of the faculty’s commitment Steiner’s intentions. Some Waldorfs today claim they exceed various scholastic standards and benchmarks. Considering how low standards have generally become in American public schools, this claim could easily be true in at least some instances. And, of course, it may well be that some Waldorfs today place greater emphasis on academics than the first Waldorf or my Waldorf did.


When College Board exams loomed for me, I realized that I was ill-prepared, so I bought some study guides and crammed. I still have one of them: Robert Sobel, THE COLLIER QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY (Collier Books, 1962). Price: $1.50. Those were the days.


[4] She took the job to supplement my father’s income so that my sisters and I could enroll in an attractive private school. She had no previous knowledge of Anthroposophy, and as far as I know she never formally studied Steiner’s works. But she fell deeply under Mr. Gardner’s spell, as did many staff, faculty, parents, and students. Mr. Gardner was a father figure for most of us. Although I eventually turned away from Mr. Gardner and his teachings, I never bore him any personal animus. By his lights, he was kind to me. And, certainly, I believe my mother’s intentions were unimpeachable.


My mother retired from Waldorf in or about 1968 — after her second child graduated. This was a decade before the scandal broke.


[5] Re. using one's brain: Steiner said "Try not to tell the stories in a way that causes the children to reflect and understand them in the head." — Rudolf Steiner, PRACTICAL ADVICE TO TEACHERS (Anthroposophic Press, 2000), p. 15. In general, Steiner taught that real cognition comes through the use of clairvoyance, which he said is not seated in the brain. In general, Steiner downplayed the brain.


Concerning evolution: Mr. Gardner stated his view of evolution to other students as well. His conversation with me came after a class in which he outlined those views (which I now see came from Steiner). I must have expressed enough interest — and perhaps some misgivings — to prompt him to make sure that I fully understood and agreed. As far as I recall, however, in neither the class nor our private talk did he extend the discussion to reincarnation or mention Steiner. When he spoke of individuals evolving, I thought he meant changes occurring in a single lifetime, with the effects — for good or ill — being passed along to one’s children.


About my private sessions with Mr. Gardner: One of my sisters has suggested that Mr. Gardner may have been grooming me as a potential future Anthroposophical leader. This thought is almost too awful to contemplate, but I must admit it is plausible. Mr. Gardner did seem to pay special attention to me. Not only did we speak together fairly often, but I was singled out for various honors. The faculty created a special Latin award for the sole purpose of conferring it on me. Along with one of my classmates, I was also awarded a Lincoln Center student award allowing me to attend New York Philharmonic performances, although others in the class had far more musical talent than I did. In my senior year, I was selected by the faculty as a graduation speaker. Mr. Gardner and other faculty members sometimes took me aside and lent me books bearing on Anthroposophy, albeit the bearing was tangential. My position on the student council made me a minor Waldorf leader. My mother held a central position in the school — I wound up as student council president. So, all in all, my sister’s guess is plausible. On the other hand, I had a rebellious streak and I misbehaved in various ways. A friend of mine and I committed some minor acts of vandalism at the school, but this was a few years before Mr. Gardner started showing me marked attention. Then again, perhaps my missteps caused him to see something of himself in me: He, too, had been at least mildly rebellious in his youth.


[6] If Mr. Gardner was circumspect with us, he claimed that he openly answered parents’ questions about Anthroposophy. Yet by his own account, he was well aware of the need to reassure the parents and others: “...I worked to gain understanding for [the school and its methods]. I minimized the difference between a Waldorf school and other schools ... As soon as fundamental questions began to be answered plainly, wild rumors and frightened guesses quieted down.” — 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. Mr. Gardner’s “plain” answers apparently entailed the proposition that “There was nothing in Rudolf Steiner that Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman would not have approved wholeheartedly.” — Ibid., p. 46. This claim would be defensible only if the great bulk of Steiner’s teachings (moon forces, organs of clairvoyance, the magical effects of eurythmy, human automatons, etc.) were kept hidden and the remainder were reduced to something like “The task of a truly liberal education...must be to revive and train intuitive faculties, in a modern way, to take their place beside the intellectual. This is the simplest statement of the purpose of Waldorf methods....” — which is precisely how Mr. Gardner tried to reduce it all, speaking or writing for the public. — Ibid., p. 48.


Some passages in Mr. Gardner’s essay indicate the caution he and others felt about going beyond such extreme simplifications. Waldorf’s founder and chief financial benefactor, H.A.W. Myrin, saw the school’s purpose as spiritualistic, and he wanted to avoid spreading information about that purpose too widely: “He felt it was unwise to publicize a spiritual cause ... He shunned all forms of advertising because he saw in them several dangers for spiritually motivated undertakings....” — Ibid., p. 44. Mr. Gardner also quoted Steiner on the dangers of publicizing Waldorf pedagogy: “Steiner warned against any ambitious plans to publicize Waldorf education prematurely among circles that did not share the same kind of inspiration ... Steiner said, in part: ‘[T]he western nations will not be able to understand what will arise out of the whole concrete Central European spiritual culture with regard to the art of education; on the contrary, it will annoy them, and it really ought not to be told them in its original form. It could have an undesirable effect on them.’” — Ibid., p. 46.


Re. Steiner’s reference to the “Central European spiritual culture”: The work of many writers, philosophers, political theorists, and others in and around Germany shows the imprint of the region’s long mystical tradition. See, e.g., Franz E. Winkler, FOR FREEDOM DESTINED: Mysteries of Man’s Evolution in the Mythology of Wagner’s Ring Operas and Parsifal (The Waldorf Press, 1974), and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, THE OCCULT ROOTS OF NAZISM: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology (New York University Press, 1992).


As for the title “The Founding of Adelphi’s Waldorf School”: Waldorf stands adjacent to Adelphi University. Originally, Waldorf, the Myrin Institute, and the Waldorf Institute all had ties to Adelphi. Following the “psychic” ex-student scandal, institutional ties were severed. (A search of the Adelphi website [www.adelphi.edu] in January, 2007, yielded no hits for the Myrin Institute or the Waldorf Institute; hits for the Waldorf School produced no historical information. In the NEW YORK TIMES article of Feb. 18, 1979, an Adelphi dean is quoted forecasting “no anticipation of continuing [the connection] with Waldorf.”) In 1979, Waldorf changed its name from the Waldorf School of Adelphi University to the Waldorf School of Garden City. This history suggests the problems that can arise if Waldorfers reveal their mystical beliefs.


If you become interested in a Waldorf or Steiner school, and if you receive reassurances such as “There is no occultism here,” or “Rudolf Steiner doesn’t work here,” or “Emerson and Thoreau would agree with all that we do here,” don’t accept these statements at face value.


(Anthroposophist Keith Francis became Faculty Chair at the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City. He knew John Gardner and the Waldorf School in Garden City. In his book, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), he confirms that a strong effort was made at the Garden City school to present a false face to the world — that is, the school tried to seem like an ordinary, unobjectionable preparatory school. He refers to "the Garden City school, with its...well-oiled financial machinery and its scrupulous attention to appearances." [p. 60.] He explains 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.])


[7] To clarify: Mr. Gardner retired as headmaster in 1974, but he remained active in and around Waldorf. During those later years, he devoted himself mainly to the Waldorf Institute, a teacher-training program. As a result of the scandal, he resigned from the Institute — effectively ending all of his official ties with Waldorf. He was the “former headmaster” mentioned by the TIMES.


John Fentress Gardner died in 1998, in Massachusetts. The Waldorf School of Garden City bestowed on him, posthumously, its Heritage Award: “To acknowledge his role in building the Waldorf School of Garden City in its early years....” — The News, the Waldorf School of Garden City, Vol. 56, No. 2, 2004, pp. 6-7.


[8] Irrelevant, perhaps, but interesting: Carol Hemingway Gardner was Ernest Hemingway’s sister. According to a series of reminiscences and other pieces published in the Hemingway Review in 2004, Carol’s decision to marry John resulted in a lifelong break from Ernest. Apparently John — a somewhat rebellious young man — insulted Ernest, and Ernest came to believe that John was deranged. See, especially, the Afterword written by Elizabeth Gardner Lombardi, John and Carol’s daughter. [The Hemingway Review, Vol. 24, No. 1, Fall 2004.]


[9] 1964 PINNACLE, The Waldorf School of Adelphi University (Kansas City: Inter-Collegiate Press, 1964).


[10] For more about Norse myths, see my essay "The Gods". For more about the forms of cognition encouraged in Waldorf schools, see "Thinking Cap" and "Steiner's 'Science'". 








[R. R., 2010.]