Waldorf Students at Risk

by Roger Rawlings

Addendum by Margaret Sachs

In order for a child to get the full Waldorf treatment — to pass through the entire covert Anthroposophical training Rudolf Steiner laid out — s/he would have to attend a true-blue Waldorf school from the earliest grades right on through high school. A corollary is that "ideally" a Waldorf class should remain essentially intact from beginning to end, with few students dropping out and very few new students entering the class after its original formation. Thus, most students would run the complete Waldorf gauntlet, and teachers would know what sorts of children they were dealing with and how much spiritual “progress” the class — jointly and individually — had made, year by year. In reality, however, this ideal is rarely attained. The attrition rates at Waldorfs seem to be pretty high, and — presumably because the schools need the tuition income — additional students are frequently admitted to replace the dropouts.

Let's take my Waldorf class as an example. I have photos of the class taken at various stages in its evolution. The earliest photo I own shows the class in second grade, which was my first year at the school. There were 21 of us in the class that year. By eighth grade, only 11 of us remained — nearly a 48% decline — although thanks to the addition of new students, our overall class size had risen to 27. By our senior year, further erosion left only nine of the the students from second grade — a total drop of 57%. Turning this around: Only about a third of the graduating students had been at Waldorf since second grade. Significantly, of my remaining original classmates, more than half had parents who worked for or with the school in some capacity at some time: Most of these families had made a deep commitment to the school.*

Bear in mind, this is an incomplete summation of the class's history — I have photographs for just five of my eleven years at Waldorf, and none for the years before I enrolled. To gain deeper insight, we should begin with the initial enrollment in kindergarten and tabulate all the kids who came and went each year thereafter until the awarding of diplomas at high school commencement. According to the sketchy class history printed in our yearbook, only three of the graduating seniors — a small handful — made the long journey from the class's earliest beginnings to its final scattering. Informative. But consider how much this does not tell us. How many kids joined and then left the class during the years for which I have no record? How long, on average, did kids who arrived after second grade stay at the school? Did any of my classmates leave but then rejoin us after an absence of a few months or years? Much of the texture of my class’s passage through Waldorf has receded into the dim past. Still, the overall pattern is clear. There was a heavy turnover in the class, with only a minority of students sticking it out long-term.

Another unknown: I cannot state the reasons various parents had for pulling their kids out of Waldorf. Some, I'm sure, grew disenchanted as they gradually learned — however imperfectly — about the school’s occult purposes. But in other instances, the reasons for withdrawal may have been quite different: The family may have moved away, or a student simply didn't get along with her/his Waldorf classmates, and so forth.

All of this bears upon the effect a Waldorf school may have on its students. The paradigm is complex. I knew some students who stayed only a year or two, and in retrospect I’d guess that most of these kids were largely unaffected by the school. But some who came and left quickly, or who arrived late (I’d define this as seventh grade or later), appeared to be significantly marked. A spiritually yearning student who spends only a brief time at a Waldorf school might move quickly into the pathways of mysticism, while a student with secular inclinations might attend the school for many years without succumbing.

I'll venture to speak for the long-termers in my class, among whom I count myself (I was a member of the class for more than a decade; a handful of my classmates were there several years longer than I was). The effects of the school were acute for some of us, although in differing ways. Some of us struggled with the consequences of Waldorf indoctrination for years after graduation — the school affected us deeply, and later we tried to undo the damage. But other longtime students did not struggle. Some emerged embracing Waldorf’s occult mission (although their knowledge of that mission had to be imperfect, since Steiner’s doctrines were never clearly explained to students or their parents). A third group of kids who stayed at Waldorf as long as I did or longer seemed to come through more or less unscathed. I believe these students included those who came from families, churches, synagogues, or other non-Anthroposophic backgrounds that equipped them with faiths or sets of allegiance that counterbalanced the spiritualistic training that Waldorf intended to give us. 

One subset of students seemed to be especially well-equipped to resist the Waldorf agenda. Jewish students — especially those who perceived the semi-Christian nature of the curriculum — were often succeeded in fending off the school’s occultism. Some were, to greater or lesser degrees, rebels (within the narrow confines of rebellion that Waldorf permitted before expelling a student). But even on this score, superficial categorization breaks down. I knew one Jewish student who went on to become a teacher in the Waldorf system and a Unitarian minister, although s/he had been a pronounced rebel during high school.

Overall, my experiences, observations, and reading lead me to believe that it is rare for a Waldorf school — even one that is profoundly committed to Steiner's doctrines — to completely achieve its covert objectives with a large percentage of its students. But even partial "success" by a Waldorf can be seriously injurious to a significant number of students. I think we should all rejoice that Waldorfs fail as often as they do. The chief harm that Waldorf schools can inflict is to pull children away from reality, enticing them into an occult fantasy world that, while pleasing in many ways, is divorced from truth. Kids often emerge from Waldorf schools woefully unprepared for real life in the real world. Some require many years — and sometimes much therapy — before they can get their feet on the ground and begin to live as rational adults. Some never make it; and some, indeed, never try. Some Waldorf graduates spend their entire lives in and around Anthroposophical communities of various sorts — they spend their years in an unending retreat from reality. Others attempt to live more conventionally, holding down regular jobs, participating in regular communities — only to find, over and over, that life after Waldorf is too hard, too disappointing. Having internalized misty, unrealistic spiritual desires, they fail over and over in their attempts to make their way in the world that actually exists.

Would a Waldorf or Steiner school fail with your child? By no means are all Waldorf faculty members thoroughly versed in Rudolf Steiner’s doctrines. Yet Waldorf faculties follow an educational scheme set up by Steiner for the explicit purpose of immersing students in an Anthroposophical atmosphere. So, the question becomes, which is more dangerous? Waldorf teachers who know full well what they are doing, or Waldorf teachers who don’t understand the effects their methods may have on children? Teachers in the latter group might be, in effect, innocently playing with a loaded gun — and, even when handled innocently, the gun can still go off.

A Waldorf schools fails, by its own lights, whenever a student emerges without a deeply felt (if mentally fuzzy) devotion to the spirit realm as conceived in the Waldorf belief system. Sometimes, of course, Waldorf schools succeed and students emerge happily embracing the spiritualistic beliefs and inclinations imparted by their teachers. In my view, these students have been significantly harmed. If you are a parent considering a Waldorf school for your children, you should carefully consider what you want for them. Would you want Waldorf to succeed in leading your kids to the pathway of occult spirituality? Waldorf faculties typically claim that they do not teach the kids Anthroposophy. Instead, they claim, they equip students to make their own free choices in life. But as followers of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf teachers believe that their ideology represents Truth, and of course — being responsible educators — they want to lead kids toward truth, not falsehood. Moreover, as Rudolf Steiner's followers, dyed-in-the-wool Waldorf teachers believe that there is really just one correct path in life, the "white path" of Anthroposophical spirituality. Failing to lead children in the one correct direction in life would be, from the Waldorf perspective, morally indefensible. 

The truth is that Waldorf schools contrive, one way or another, to one degree or another, to direct children's feet toward the Anthroposophical path. If this what you want for your children?**

— Roger Rawlings


* These numbers are the best I can produce, after gazing at old class photos and trying to determine which grade level is represented in each. If I’m off by a year, here or there, or if my math is a bit wobbly (a lifelong hindrance), the general outlines of the class’s history are as I’ve indicated. In rough terms: Only a minority of us from second grade stayed all the way through high school graduation. Students who joined the class before second grade saw an even greater loss of old classmates than I did.

** Waldorf schools tend to be run by these true believers, even if there are numerous non-Anthroposophists on the faculty. To investigate some of the issues I have raised here, see, e.g., "Spiritual Agenda", "Soul School", "Sneaking It In", "Here's the Answer", "Freedom", "White-Black", "Thinking Cap", "Occultism", and "Curriculum". To read of the experiences of some teachers who trained to work in Waldorf schools and/or who actually did work in Waldorf schools, see "Ex-Teacher  2" and the reports that follow it. To read of the experiences of parents who sent children to Waldorf schools only to regret it, see, e.g., "Our Experience", "Coming Undone", "Moms", and "Pops." For a roundup of cautionary tales about Waldorf education, see "Cautions".

Here is a message I posted in November, 2011 at the Waldorf Critics discussion site


I have edited the message slightly, correcting my math.

The result is, as far as I know, wholly correct:

Pete made an excellent point, a few days ago, about the attrition rates at Waldorf schools. In general, the rates are high. I attended a large, stable Waldorf, yet between the time I entered (2nd grade) and graduation (12th grade), my class lost nearly 60% of its students. (I don't have figures for the years before I entered, but it is probably safe to say that the total attrition — kindergarten through high school — was above 70%.)

The good news is that high turnover means Waldorf schools almost always fail on their own terms. The Waldorf method is meant to subtly indoctrinate kids, leading them toward if not actually into Anthroposophy. Much of this indoctrination occurs in the early grades, when the kids are immersed in myths, fairy tales, and other misty stuff meant to convey esoteric concepts. [See "Sneaking It In".] The later grades are meant to build on and reinforce this indoctrination. If kids leave early or enroll late, the system cannot function as designed.

Pete responded to the claim that a high percentage of Waldorf graduates go on to college. He was quite right that even if the percentage is usually high (which I think is true), the picture changes considerably when we consider the overall attrition. Moreover, other factors need to be borne in mind. Waldorf schools are usually private institutions chosen by affluent parents who fully intend for their children to go to college. The schools know this and play to it, for instance by making an art of writing glowing letters of recommendation for use in college applications. It is also important to consider what happens to Waldorf graduates after they arrive in college. Far too often, they find that their Waldorf education has left them woefully unprepared. I have known many Waldorf grads who dropped out, bounced from college to college, and/or struggled mightily. De Jonghe touches on some of the reasons for this. [See "Day and Night".] Fundamentally, the Waldorf approach is anti-intellectual and oriented to a fantasy universe, not reality. Waldorf grads often confront the painful realization that much of what they were taught is untrue or, at best, irrelevant to real life in the real world.

- Roger

The psychological and even spiritual harm that may result from Waldorf schooling can be traced directly to the occult doctrines preached by Rudolf Steiner and accepted as truth by devout Waldorf faculty members. You can find innumerable examples in Steiner's books and lectures: doctrines so bizarre, we might reasonably wonder why any adult would accept them. Here's one example, taken more or less at random. Steiner's followers consider teachings like this to be clairvoyant revelations. “[O]n the Moon, man is [i.e., was] a being composed of physical body, ether body, and astral body. Through the ether body he is enabled to feel joy and pain; through the astral body he is a being with emotions, rage, hate, love and so forth ... On the Moon the ether body received the capacity for joy and pain through the Spirits of Twilight [i.e., gods one level above man]; the emotions were implanted in the astral body by the Fire Spirits [still higher gods] ... [A]fter the seventh small cycle, all of Moon existence enters a kind of sleeping state (Pralaya) ... When everything again emerges from the sleeping state there must first be repeated in their essentials the Saturn condition during a first small cycle, the Sun condition during a second, and the Moon cycle during a third. During this third cycle the beings on the Moon, which has again been split off from the Sun, resume approximately the same forms of existence which they already had on the Moon. There the lower man is a being intermediate between man of today and an animal; the plants stand midway between the animal and plant natures of today, and the minerals only half bear their lifeless character of today, while for the rest they are still half plants.” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), "The Life of Earth", GA 11. [R.R. sketch, 2010. Confession: My memory of life on the Moon is sketchy at best, so don't take this image literally.]

Steiner designed mystic columns for use in Anthroposophical buildings.

There are seven column designs, representing seven classical "planets" of astrology.

Here you see the design for the Moon column:

[R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the one in Steiner's MYSTIC SEALS AND COLUMNS (Health Research, 1969).]

In addition to the mystic columns, Steiner also designed seven mystic seals.

"Both the columns and the seals were painted according to Rudolf Steiner's sketches ...[O]ne sensed the columns and seals to be mighty intimations of a comprehensive supersensible life of being. The painted columns standing free of beams and ceiling, with the apocalyptic seals hanging on the red walls between them, became a challenge to the viewer  to construct a room in one's imagination in which the columns were the bearing element and in which the seals, as pictures, directed the sight into nonspatial, spiritual life." — E.A. Karl Stockmeyer, in Steiner's ROSICRUCIANISM RENEWED (SteinerBooks, 2007).


The following passages, adapted from my essay “Unenlightened”, 

deal with some of the issues parents should carefully weigh 

before sending children to Waldorf schools.

To quote one of Steiner’s adherents: Teachers can lead children along the correct developmental path by helping them to preserve, as much as possible, the “dream-like yet intensely real awareness of spiritual worlds” that children innately possess. [1] This nearly unconscious psychic power is a component of the “whole child” as described in Steiner's teachings. 

Steiner set forth various interesting tenets concerning children’s faculties, children's growth (e.g., the three seven-year-long stages of childhood development), and children's temperaments (phlegmatic, melancholic, etc.: based on the ancient concept of humours [2]). A child attending a full-fledged Waldorf school will be educated in accordance with Steiner’s dubious theory of human nature. The effects on the child may be profound — profoundly harmful.


The effects of Waldorf’s educational program gradually accumulated in our [i.e., the students’] heads and hearts. After I had been at the school only a few years, the notion of trying to see the world clearly had lost almost all meaning for me. Everything seemed to me symbolic rather than concrete — although what the symbols stood for was vague. Everything had its hidden, mystical deeps. My distrust of facts and phenomena was entirely consistent with Steiner’s teachings: “I must emphasize this again and again, that the saying ‘the world is Maya’ is so vitally important.” [3] 

A booklet written by our headmaster, John Fentress Gardner [4], throws light on the worldview that Waldorf encouraged. (Some readers may want to skip this paragraph; it is dense with the sort of jargon that Anthroposophists often affect.) Mr. Gardner discusses “the art of education developed in Waldorf Schools.” The booklet includes such statements as the following: “Is not the contrast between mountain and sea a cause as well as an image of deep contrasts in the moral experience of mankind? Mountains define, but by the same act they also divide. They teach integrity, but may go further to instill antipathy.” [5] The language is more elevated than any that our teachers would have used with us, but the message is very familiar to me: Nothing is simply what it is, it is always something else, something higher, or lower. Moral and spiritual lessons abound; the actual, physical world has value only to the extent that it points us away from itself. Accordingly, we must not conceive that a mountain is merely a towering mass of rock and earth — it is a manifestation, a lesson, an image bearing on our moral experience. Insisting that all phenomena represent (in ways that must be hermetically divined) esoteric precepts, Anthroposophists cause phenomena to recede into a multi-layered, oracular haze. 

Later in the booklet, Mr. Gardner also writes, “Understandably, many teachers today [at conventional secular schools] do not recognize that the world-content [i.e., the sum of the world's phenomena] has something to give, through completely experienced thought, to every power of the human soul. Their training has not led them to appreciate that within each of its facts the apparent world conceals many levels of truth....” [6] Properly trained teachers at Waldorf schools don’t make that mistake: They always direct attention away from the “apparent world” to the many concealed “levels of truth” in order to empower the human soul. They have their eyes on what lies beyond — real or otherwise. And that is the key: real or otherwise. Peering deeply, seeing beyond superficial appearances, can be, of course, wise. Indeed, it may be considered the essence of wisdom. But you must see what is really present in the phenomena you study — you must not imagine “hidden truths” that are mere figments of your own imagination. Steiner's followers often commit precisely the error of substituting fancies for facts. They “perceive” occult states and events that do not actually exist. They fantasize, and they lure students into their fantasies.

We should pause over one phrase used by Mr. Gardner: “completely experienced thought.” For Steiner and his followers, the truest thinking is not rational cognition or brainwork, which they deem dry and un-heartfelt. An “experienced” thought is felt — it is a thought tempered by imagination — it is more akin to emotion than to cool, rational conceptualizing, and it often leads to complication or mystification rather than to clarity. Ask yourself whether this is the sort of thinking what you want for your children. Nothing in the physical world is real. What we see around us isn’t what it is. It is all illusion. The Anthroposophical solution is to feel one’s way past appearances by opening outwards through imagination or clairvoyance (in Anthroposophy, these terms are often synonymous). According to Steiner: “Essentially, people today have no inkling of how people looked out into the universe in ancient times when human beings still possessed an instinctive clairvoyance.... If we want to be fully human, however, we must struggle to regain a view of the cosmos that moves toward Imagination again....” [7]

One implication of the foregoing is that Waldorf schools would find little benefit in explicitly teaching their students Anthroposophical doctrines, even if the students were old enough to comprehend them and there were no other incentives for the faculty to keep mum. Memorizing doctrines is brainwork, which does not help us (and possibly may hinder us) in our efforts to become “fully human.” [8] So Waldorf schools generally work to inculcate the doctrines and attitudes of Anthroposophy at an unconscious, emotional level, rather than at the dry, dull intellectual level.

“[T]he entire presentation of the universe man forms for himself, the whole content of his consciousness, is reflected from his etheric body. It depends altogether on the etheric body whether he knows or does not know anything of the world ... [F]rom the time of birth of the individual to the age of maturity, the three principles of the human body are metamorphosed — in the first seven years the physical, in the second seven the etheric, and in the third seven the astral ... In the teaching of modern Spiritual Science ... the upbuilding of his physical body is carried on by man up to the second dentition [i.e., replacement of baby teeth by adult teeth] ... The second period of change in man...[involves] the activity of the etheric body working from within on itself, in the second seven years. The third period of seven years [is the one] wherein changes occur in the astral body...." — Rudolf Steiner, WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Kessinger, facsimile of 1929 edition), pp. 23-26. [Illustration from p. 29; I have added color to the b&w image.]

Painting by a Waldorf student,

courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools.

The following passage from my essay “Thinking Cap” is relevant here. 

For Anthroposophists, “the capacities which are natural to” children include an innate consciousness of the spirit realm. An important goal of Waldorf instruction is to preserve this consciousness, which in part means protecting children from the adverse effects of rational thought. “The capacity for abstract hypothesis” is a fairly accurate description of rationality — and it is what Anthroposophists reject. Another way of putting this is that Waldorf schools try to retard, as much as possible, the growing-up process in their pupils. 

“Childhood is commonly regarded as a time of steadily expanding consciousness ... Yet in Steiner’s view, the very opposite is the case: childhood is a time of contracting consciousness ... [The child] loses his dream-like perception of the creative world of spiritual powers which is hidden behind the phenomena of the senses. This is...the world of creative archetypes and spiritual hierarchies.

“In mastering the world of physical perception the child encounters difficulties in that he first has to overcome a dream-like yet intensely real awareness of spiritual worlds. This awareness fades quickly in early childhood, but fragments of it live on in the child for a much longer time than most people imagine. 

“...In a Waldorf school, therefore, one of the tasks of the teachers is to keep the children young." [9]

Think about the implications of keeping children young as opposed to helping them to mature, especially mentally. Ask yourself whether intellect can truly be developed under the tutelage of teachers who agree with Steiner that “the brain and nerve system have nothing at all to do with actual cognition....” [10] Contemplate whether an education aiming at intuitive, irrational, clairvoyant “thought” is likely to equip individuals for life in the real world.

The following two messages also appear on the page "Help 2".
If you have read them there, you may want to skip them here.

Here is a message I posted at the Waldorf Critics discussion page
I have adjusted the endnote numbers to conform to the numbering
here at "Who Gets Hurt".

What is the harm in Waldorf education? Why should anyone oppose the Waldorf movement?

Waldorf schools usually admit that their practices are based on Anthroposophy, but they almost always deny that they teach Anthroposophy to the kids. Thus, for instance, Michael House — a Waldorf school in the UK — has issued the statement, "Steiner's philosophy, which he named Anthroposophy, can be applied to all walks of life and provides guiding principles for the teachers' work. It is important to note, however, that Anthroposophy itself is not taught to the children." [11]

For a moment, let's accept this disclaimer. How reassuring do you find it? Consider this analogy. Imagine a school that says, "All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children." Would you be reassured? Would you send your child there?

But is it true that Waldorf schools do not teach Anthroposophy? Sometimes Steiner said that the schools must not teach it, but on other occasions he said the opposite. And in practice, the schools do indeed teach it. Generally they do this indirectly (a point I will return to), but sometimes they do it quite directly, as in telling the students that there are only four elements: earth, air, wind, and water. Indeed, various Anthroposophical beliefs are openly conveyed.

Although he vacillated and contradicted himself on the point, Steiner sometimes said that Anthroposophy should be taught to the students in Waldorf schools. Addressing Waldorf teachers, he said, "You need to make the children aware that they are receiving the objective truth, and if this occasionally appears anthroposophical, it is not anthroposophy that is at fault. Things are that way because anthroposophy has something to say about objective truth. It is the material that causes what is said to be anthroposophical. We certainly may not go to the other extreme, where people say that anthroposophy may not be brought into the school. Anthroposophy will be in the school when it is objectively justified, that is, when it is called for by the material itself." [12]

On another occasion, Steiner told a Waldorf teacher: "The problem you have is that you have not always followed the directive to bring what you know anthroposophically into a form you can present to little children. You have lectured the children about anthroposophy when you told them about your subject. You did not transform anthroposophy into a child's level." [13] Bringing Anthroposophy down to a child's level, so that the child can understand, is very different from leaving Anthroposophy out of the classroom.

Parents of Waldorf students often realize, sooner or later, that the schools are conveying Anthroposophical beliefs to the students. "It frustrates me when people...[claim] that [Waldorf] schools don't teach Anthroposophy to children ... My daughter's books [i.e., class books created by copying from the chalkboard] show that indeed she was taught Anthroposophy, in picture form as well as in written form. `The human being is like a little universe inside a big one. Sun, moon and stars find their likeness in mans head, trunk and limbs'; `The Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes and Undines are the earth's scribes'; `The body is the house of the spirit,' etc. If you deconstruct the lessons, the curriculum and the pedagogy, you cannot ignore the fact that Waldorf is a mystery school, a magical lodge for juniors." — Sharon Lombard. [14]

But usually Waldorf schools are more subtle than this. They generally convey their occult beliefs indirectly, subtly. They are circumspect for a couple of reasons:

1) Anthroposophical "knowledge" is often wacky. Embarrassingly so. For instance, "[A]n island like Great Britain swims in the sea and is held fast by the forces of the stars." [15] Waldorf teachers don't consider such beliefs wacky, but they realize that outsiders would not "understand" such things, so they usually try to conceal them.

2) Teaching Anthroposophy to the students' brains would be nearly worthless. Steiner disparaged the brain and intellect, saying that these have little to do with real thinking and truth. [See "Steiner's Specific".] Waldorf teachers want to bring Anthroposophy to the students' hearts and souls. They care much more about how students feel about things than how they think about things.

Steiner said that the path to spiritual wisdom comes through our emotions: "I...want you to understand what is really religious in the anthroposophical sense. In the sense of anthroposophy, what is religious is connected with feeling." [16] Feelings are far more important than thoughts. "[T]hinking is oriented to the physical plane. Feeling really has a connection with all the spiritual beings who must be considered real ... In the sphere of feelings, human beings cannot liberate [i.e., separate] themselves from the spiritual world." [17] Feel it, kids. Feel it. If you feel the invisible spiritual beings around us, you will know the truth.

So, to summarize: Do Waldorf schools teach the kids Anthroposophy? Arguably, no. As ideas, as concepts, as mere fodder for the brain — no, they usually do not teach it. But as feelings, as attitudes, as an orientation, as a deeply felt (and unexamined) disposition, absolutely, yes, they teach it. They immerse children in a well-nigh impenetrable fog of Anthroposophical attitudes and feelings for day after day, week after week, year after year. Steiner told Waldorf teachers: "As Waldorf teachers, we must be true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in our innermost feeling." [18] And the same holds for Waldorf students. Who cares what they think? But as for what they should feel: As Waldorf students, you should slowly drift toward becoming true anthroposophists in the deepest sense of the word in your innermost feeling.

What is the harm in Waldorf education? Waldorf schools lead students toward occultism — specifically, Anthroposophy. They usually don't jam Anthroposophy down the students' throats; they usually do not spell out Anthroposophical doctrines as intellectual propositions. But as feelings, yes, they convey the Anthroposophical perspective. The schools do their best to convert children — and, often, their parents — to acceptance of Anthroposophy in their hearts and souls, if not entirely in their brains. [19] (Conversion in the brain can wait. It will come later.)

- Roger


Here is one more such message

Let me remind everyone, please, of something I have said often. I have told my story as a Waldorf student and Waldorf survivor only because I have a right to my own story. I know people who were far more damaged by their Waldorf experiences than I was by mine, but I feel the obligation to respect their privacy. They may tell their own stories if they wish. Meanwhile, please allow me to stress that I do not urge anyone to make any decision, for or against Waldorf, based on my personal experiences. What happened to me happened to me alone. If you send a child to a Waldorf school, s/he may be affected as I was, or s/he may have even worse experiences, or possibly s/he will have better experiences.

OK. That said, here are some of the upshots of my 11 years as a Waldorf student. I will begin by quoting from my classic essay, "Lesson Books".

Waldorf teachers often deny that they instill Anthroposophical doctrines in their students. In many cases, they may be telling the truth — as they understand it. They may simply inform the students about the real universe, as they understand it. This "reality" is, however, Anthroposophical — it derives from the mysticism, esotericism, religious conviction, and occultism that they find so compelling. The evidence clearly shows that Waldorf schooling is deeply devoted to Rudolf Steiner's doctrines. By the time I graduated from a Waldorf school, I had accepted all of these tenets:

The modern world is wicked; most people have no inkling of the Truth; science is wrong; technology is evil; unseen spirits are all around us; beings such as gnomes really exist, in a hard-to-specify way; the various human races stand at different evolutionary levels; Christ (who is different from what one learns in church) is central to human life; one improves spiritually through a process of meditation and prayer; Norse myths have special meaning and power; imagination is better than intellect; ordinary knowledge, such as one finds in encyclopedias, is suspect; powers of special spiritual insight can be attained (we didn't use the word clairvoyance, but this is what was meant); a "natural" lifestyle is greatly superior to the sorts of lives most people lead; nature should be revered but also feared; the physical universe is illusory and empty (unless it manifests the spiritual world beyond); the community in and around a Waldorf school is greatly superior to other communities; and so forth. Not all of these concepts are exclusively the product of Steiner's teachings, but all of them are woven through Waldorf education. And directly or indirectly, my teachers taught me these things, and I believed all of these lessons for many years. (In fact, I still believe a couple of them. Not everything taught in Waldorf schools is wrong.)

It took me many long, weary years to rid myself of the occultism that Waldorf slipped into my consciousness. Here is how things stood for me on the day of my graduation from the 12th grade at our Waldorf school. [I will quote now from my classic memoir, "I Went to Waldorf"]:

During my eleven years at Waldorf, I stood quite close to the fire, and I was drawn to its warmth — yet I pulled back. My nearest approach to full allegiance came during the excitement and nostalgia of graduation day. On that June morning, I considered myself profoundly religious (although I could not list the Ten Commandments nor quote more than a few short Bible verses). I thrilled to the knowledge that the world is more spirit than physics, more ideal than actual. I was vain, moralistic, priggish, innocent, shy, racially bigoted, and (confusingly, for a kudo-swollen student) utterly lacking in self-confidence. I was judgmental yet uncertain. I had no patience with science and its shallow half-truths. I prized imagination over intellect, sensibility over sense. I was right about everything, always — don't even ask. (Please, don't ask.) I had only superficial knowledge of the US economy and the major political issues in the wide world — and I didn't care. Everything that I saw outside the school seemed to be beneath me. I was directionless. I had no career ambitions, no academic focus, no marketable skills. I had precious few social skills. I longed for a beauteous, buxom Aryan mate. (Few real girls approximated my fantasy. Marilyn, where are you? I never dated much.) I half-yearned for easeful death, or better yet a crusade, or salvation. I dreamed of writing a book titled GOD that would reconcile all the world's religions. I dreamed of becoming President of the United States. I dreamed of performing — I wasn't sure what — something — a titanic, stupendous something. But I had no intention of lifting a finger. I was on hold, waiting... In other words, I had been brainwashed, with a thoroughness and intensity I could not fathom. (Call me the Manchurian Schoolboy.) And, I should add, I was — without quite realizing it — deeply unhappy. Thank God, I was deeply unhappy. As the realization of my dejection slowly dawned on me during the following years, I became motivated to try to comprehend my condition and then to repair it. Even so, only gradually was I able to fight my way down from the fog in which (metaphorically speaking: only a metaphor) I levitated and at long last find my footing in reality. It took me more than twenty years to fully deprogram myself. 

Again, let me stress that I am talking about my own experiences, no one else's. But I can truthfully tell you that many former Waldorf students have told me that they had very similar experiences and that they struggled long and hard to figure out what happened to them in a Waldorf school and to decide what to do about it. [For my own post-Waldorf struggles, you could take a peek at "My Sad, Sad Story".]

The point I am making is simply this: Waldorf schools are not like other schools. They have appealing qualities, but they are also centers of occultism. Choose a Waldorf school for your child only if, with your eyes wide open, you decide that you truly want what Waldorf offers, which — in a nutshell — is the mystic visions of Rudolf Steiner. To delve into those visions, you can buy and read some of Steiner's books, or study the extensive literature available on the Internet, including at Waldorf Watch. Look particularly for pages that make no reference to the life of yours truly.*

- Roger

* I strive to tell the objective, verifiable truth throughout my work. Thus, I quote Steiner and his followers extensively, documenting everything I say, so that you can check on me and have confidence that I am indeed telling the truth.



Here is a message written by Margaret Sachs in response to an on-line message 
from a mother who said she regretted sending her child to a Waldorf school.
The mother asked whether she should remove her child immediately.
Margaret has kindly given me permission to reprint her reply here.

One thing to be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to keep a child in Waldorf is the racism issue. I had no idea that Anthroposophy was based on racist beliefs during the many years my children were in a Waldorf school. I also did not know that the movement was tainted by Steiner's anti-Semitic teachings and the Holocaust denials made by some Anthroposophists. Had my husband and I discovered any of this while my children were at the school, we would have removed them without much delay. For me, to do otherwise would be like voting for George Wallace when he was a segregationist or applauding a speech given by Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Another thing you might want to consider is that many parents have concerns about safety and hygiene issues at Waldorf schools. At our Waldorf school, it was apparent to me that teachers were woefully ignorant in this area. A friend's son fell from a tree at school. He lay on his back, in pain. A teacher came over and scooped him up in her arms, completely unaware that moving a person who is lying on the ground after a fall could cause permanent paralysis. On a camping trip, teachers forced two girls to pick up other people's soiled toilet paper with their bare hands. They were ignorant of first aid rules that adults who supervise children on camping trips are supposed to know — in this case, that latex gloves must always be worn when touching anything involving other people's bodily fluids because they could  transmit HIV or other dangerous infections. Another parent reported that on a badly organized field trip, chaperones failed to keep all children in view. Some of those children, exhausted from having to hike too far, hitchhiked in strangers' cars. I have heard many other stories like these.

Then there's the issue of pedophiles. They are everywhere and are by no means peculiar to Waldorf schools. The problem at our school was that there were several incidents and the teachers failed to obey the laws that protect children from abuse. Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald published a story about the sexual grooming of students by male and female teachers at an Australian Waldorf school and allegations of emotional and physical abuse. I don't think there's evidence that pedophilia is prevalent in Waldorf schools. I do think, however, that parents might need to establish what the faculty's attitude is toward abuse of students by Waldorf teachers, other Anthroposophists, and Anthroposophists' family members.

I think many Waldorf teachers are reasonably kind and sensible about issues of child safety and child abuse. Knowing what I know about Waldorf schools at this point, however, safety issues alone would prevent me from entrusting any child to their care.

Of course, no one can tell you what to do. You are in an extremely difficult position. In an ideal world, I would say get your child out of there as fast as you can. The reality of your situation might make that too difficult. If you decide to stay for the rest of the year, I don't believe any harm to your child would be irreparable, especially since you are aware of what needs to be done to counteract the weak academics and the subtle brainwashing your child would be subjected to. I would, however, recommend doing a safety assessment, checking the classrooms and play areas for potential dangers and finding out what first aid training the teachers have.

I hope you can find some relief in having learned the truth about Waldorf now rather than several years down the road. Best of luck to you. 

— Margaret Sachs

Waldorf teachers would certainly claim — with complete justice —

that their intentions are good. They think they inhabit a world of 

supernal truth and beauty, and they want to lead their students toward it.

This is all well and good — if the world they inhabit is real.

That world may, however, be a mediaeval fantasy.

(The mediaeval period is of great interest to many Anthroposophists.)

Truth and beauty may not always be coextensive.

Luring children toward a beautiful fantasy may mean

leading them away from truth.

Individuals who find Anthroposophy beautiful

probably should ask themselves whether — in the light

of orthodox religious faith, or reason, or science — 

it is true.

[Non-Anthroposophical image from http://www.fromoldbooks.org/]

The Anthroposophical universe is not unlike a medieval castle:

a system of concentric rings, outer inferiority gradually building

to inner supremacy. Steiner’s vision of human evolution is

the same: movement from the outside to the ultimate inside.

It is, perhaps, an attractive vision. Whether it gets us beyond

medieval thinking may be another question.

The Middle Ages are also known as the Dark Ages.

(The peasants — i.e., most people — lived outside the walls;

the King and Queen huddled in the castle.)

[Non-Anthroposophical image from http://www.fromoldbooks.org/;
color added.]

Rudolf Steiner believed in the power of the stars —

and so do his faithful adherents.

This is a rough sketch of the emblem for Sagittarius,

as designed by Rudolf Steiner and drawn by Imma von Eckhardstein.

— Rudolf Steiner, CALENDAR 1912-1913, Facsimile Edition (SteinerBooks, 2003), p. 83ff.

[R.R. copy, 2009].

Here is a disturbing report made by a former Waldorf school student,

one who was distinctly hurt by her Waldorf experience.

There are bad teachers and teacher-bullies in all sorts of schools,

so what she reports is not unique to Waldorf.

But if you hope to find a safe place for your child,

Waldorf may not necessarily provide it.


(I have appended a slightly different version to the page titled "Slaps".)

I attended a Waldorf school from first grade to the beginning of sixth grade between the years of 1988-1993. I have ADD [attention deficit disorder] ... Even with being smart at a young age, focusing was difficult until I was diagnosed after I left Waldorf and was put on medicine ... Waldorf is totally in the dark about ADD-related disorders and other types of disabilities related to that.

My teacher was a man who I will refer to here as Mr. M, who was and is an asshole and a teacher bully. (I recently read an article about teacher bullying and it cleared a lot of things up that happened to me with him.) ... Mr. M went out of his way to give me a hard time and bully me because of my difficulty paying attention, or if I made a mistake no matter how small. I didn’t act out in any way, I liked school and I tried hard. Even with my learning difference I did fairly well overall, but he just acted like I was stupid and lazy.

I remember him in first grade screaming at me in front of the whole class, because I was having trouble understanding a math problem. I also remember in first grade, we were doing our first painting and I forgot to wet my brush after dunking it with another color and I accidentally mixed that blue and the yellow making what was supposed to be a yellow, green. However, instead of giving me a chance to correct my mistake he just told me that I couldn’t paint that day. I laid my head down on the desk feeling devastated. As I look back as an adult, I look at him and I think to myself, ‘how dare he treat that little girl (me) that way.’ I was only seven years old. He could have given me a chance to fix the mistake. I remember in third grade, I misunderstood a homework assignment and he literally shamed me for the whole afternoon. It was a lot of things like that during the time he was my teacher.

Even with the problems with paying attention, Mr. M could have found some way of trying to try to help me rather than bully me. I don’t care if he didn’t know that I had ADD or if I wasn’t properly diagnosed back then. You don’t treat children that way. I mean section 504 of the rehabilitation act of 1973 was around in 1988 and ADD a known disorder back then. Mr. M should have realized that I had ADD....

Mr. M was also a sexist. Mr. M would let the boys get away with anything and if the girls did something they would catch hell from him. He would pick out different girls besides me, who were vulnerable in some way and they would become his bully targets. When he would bully those other girls, he would lay off me a bit.

When I was in second grade Mr. M hung me by the legs, over a hockey rink wall. Mr. M was helping kids over the wall and when he lifted me over to the other side; he grabbed me by the legs and hung me over the wall upside-down with my hands on the ground, and I did not know he was going to do this. I was freaked. I told my mom about it and she gave Mr. M a good piece of her mind. She told me he felt bad and realized he was wrong. However, when Mr. M saw me at school, he told me that he didn’t do anything wrong and that I was being too sensitive. I know realize that’s a sign of teacher bullying.

Mr. M also would inappropriately tease me in second grade in ways that were not appropriate to tease small children. Basically, he teased me in ways that are okay to tease adults, but not children. My parents of course told him to stop it.

Whenever dealing with my parents Mr. M would pretend to act all sweet and nice, but when he was with me, he became a bully. My mom knows now that she should have taken me out of that school a lot sooner, but now I know about teacher bullying and Waldorf ways of seducing people into the school, I can cut her some slack.

...I remember one time he pounded his fist on the desk trying to get me to pay attention and he would snap his fingers in front of my face. He would single me out and humiliate me in front of the class for my struggles with focusing more than once throughout the years. One time he told me that sometimes he thought I just couldn’t get it, other times he thought I just didn’t care.

...For years I suffered from low self-esteem and in junior high and high school ... I recently learned that a lot of Waldorf students have stories like mine.

...As far as Mr. M is concerned, he still teaches at [the same Waldorf] school and has done this kind of thing to other students and the administration has done nothing about it.


Some spiritual/religious traditions teach of an eternal war
between light and dark, good and evil.
Others teach of a cooperative universal enterprise
involving light and dark, both of which are creative and necessary.
Steiner taught that there is a great demon of light, Lucifer,
and a demon of darkness, Ahriman.
Both are evil, but both also offer mankind potential benefits.
The benefits can be attained only through the Sun God, Christ,
who stands between Lucifer and Ahriman, mediating between them.

[Non-Anthroposophical image from Manly P. Hall's
THE SECRET TEACHINGS OF ALL AGES (Dover Publications, 2010), p. 473;
color added.]

[R.R., 2010.]


Children "educated" at a Waldorf school will spend their childhoods 
in a miasmic atmosphere of occult beliefs. 
Often, these beliefs will not be spelled out explicitly, 
but they will guide the faculty in virtually all its actions, 
and a strange spiritualistic atmosphere will pervade the school.
The question is how much damage you think this may cause.

Even the most minor matters, such as the nature and purpose of human teeth, 
will open out into broad vistas of esotericism. 
Here are a few of Steiner's statements of the seemingly innocuous subject of teeth. 
I have added a few explanatory notes. 

“When the child begins to lose the first teeth, an important and far-reaching change is taking place, not just a physical event in the life of a human being, but also a metamorphosis of the entire human organization [i.e., the whole human being}. A true art of education demands a thorough appreciation and understanding of this metamorphosis. What I have called the etheric body* in our previous meeting, or the refined body of formative forces, is being freed from certain functions between the change of teeth and puberty. Previously the etheric body has been working directly into the child’s physical body, but now it begins to function in the realm of the child’s soul.” — Rudolf Steiner, RHYTHMS OF LEARNING (SteinerBooks, 1998), p. 127.

* The etheric body is the first of three invisible, nonphysical bodies that develop during childhood, according to Waldorf belief. [See "Incarnation".]

“In the head the formative forces of the teeth free themselves and become the force of thinking [i.e., the power of thought comes through the teeth]. Then, pressed down, as it were, into speech, we have all the processes for which the teeth are no longer directly responsible, because the ether body* now assumes the responsibility, and the teeth come to the aid of speech.” — Rudolf Steiner, A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION (SteinerBooks, 2004), pp. 62-63.

* This is, again, the etheric body. [See the entry for "etheric body" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia. Also see the entry for "teeth".]

“There is no question that man has the second teeth for the purpose of biting; but as regards the first teeth there is a question. The first teeth come through heredity. The human being has them because the parents and grandparents have had them ...  Suppose a child dies before he has cut all his second teeth, or very shortly afterwards. Strangely enough, occult investigation* discovers that whether the child has not yet or had already cut the second teeth has an actual effect in the spiritual world ... When a human being is in the physical world he must unfold certain physical forces in order that the teeth may develop ... If he dies before the teeth have developed or have only just developed, these forces are free for him in the spiritual world....” — Rudolf Steiner, THE OCCULT MOVEMENT IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY AND ITS RELATION TO MODERN CULTURE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), pp. 132-133.

* I.e., the use of clairvoyance to penetrate spiritual mysteries. All of Steiner's teachings are based on his claimed use of clairvoyance, and all of Waldorf education is based on Steiner's teachings. If there is no such thing as clairvoyance, then there is no basis for Waldorf education. And there is no such thing as clairvoyance. [See "Clairvoyance".]

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


For parents considering sending kids to a Waldorf school

Detailed pointers on evaluating a Waldorf school

Reverence, wonder, and the aftereffects of straining for them

One family's story [external link]


Classroom discipline and...

Some positive elements, but also...

A parent's cry


Court case

A father asks for guidance

Looking at a Parent Handbook

Unjustly assailed


The “temperaments” as conceived and acted upon in Waldorf schools

Can a Waldorf school cleanse itself?

Examining a problem that began with the first Waldorf School

An overview and a parent's personal report [external link]


You may also want to consult a few essays 
posted elsewhere at Waldorf Watch:

A guide for students and parents

Reports and advice from parents whose children attended Waldorf schools

A report by a mother who was drawn to a Waldorf school but left disillusioned

Talking it over

Had enough?

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. 


[1] A.C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL (New York: The Myrin Institute Inc., 1956), p. 15.

A.C. Harwood had a long career as a Waldorf educator and lecturer. He died in 1975.

[2] See, e.g., Mark Grant, “Steiner and the Humours: The Survival of Ancient Greek Science,” THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL STUDIES, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar. 1999), pp. 56-70.

Rudolf Seiner, THE MISSION OF THE FOLK SOULS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2005), p. 64.

[4] John Fentress Gardner, THE EXPERIENCE OF KNOWLEDGE (The Myrin Institute, 1962). Mr. Gardner later expanded his booklet, adding chapters. The latest edition of the resulting book is still available — under a different title — from its publisher: EDUCATION IN SEARCH OF THE SPIRIT (Anthroposophic Press, 1996).

[5] Ibid., p. 5.

[6] Ibid., p. 19

[7] Rudolf Steiner, ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY, p. 256.

My former headmaster occasionally gave somewhat less guarded descriptions of the work done by teachers at Waldorf schools. For example: The purpose of Waldorf schools is “to develop in their students...the intuitive faculties, alongside and as a balance for the intellectual. This is being done through the new art of education [created] by Rudolf Steiner, and drawn upon since by Waldorf schools throughout the world....” — Addendum to Sylvester M. Morey's CAN THE RED MAN HELP THE WHITE MAN? (The Myrin Institute, 1970), p. 115. Remember the term “intuitive faculties” when pondering Steiner’s doctrines on imagination, cognition during sleep and dreaming, clairvoyance, etc. These intertwined alternatives to rational thought are integral to the Anthroposophical faith.

A concise explanation of what Waldorfers mean by educating “the heart and the hands, as well as the head” is the following: “Steiner viewed human beings as consisting of three spheres of activity — the head, the heart, and the will — that manifest through thoughts, feelings and physical actions. To educate children to be complete and balanced human beings, we must attend to the needs of all three aspects of a child’s being. From the Waldorf perspective, attaining knowledge is one purpose of the learning process, but just as important — and perhaps even more important — is to educate the heart and the will of the child, so that knowledge is joined with reverence and action.” — Lawrence Williams, Ed.D., OAK MEADOW AND WALDORF — see oakmeadow.com/resources.

Note that at Waldorfs, educating hearts and wills is at least as important as — and may be “even more important” than — imparting knowledge. This deviates significantly from a conventional definition of education.

[8] Anthroposophists claim that intellect is not neglected at Waldorf schools, it is simply nurtured in a different way. “In spite of — or rather, because of — the attention paid to the realms of feeling and will, thinking receives a stronger development in a Waldorf school than elsewhere.” — A. C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 24. This brings us back to a decisive concern about Waldorf education: the kind of “thinking” that is taught.

According to Steiner, children pass through three stages of development, which he said recapitulate stages of human evolution. [See. e.g., Earl J. Ogletree, “Rudolf Steiner: Unknown Educator,” THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL JOURNAL, Vol. 74, No. 6. (Mar., 1974), p. 347.] The stages are described this way by A.C. Harwood: “During the first seven years a child approaches his environment through the activity of his will. What he sees he must manipulate.” — PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL, p. 17. During the second seven years, "the inward life of feeling" is paramount. — Ibid., p. 18. The third seven-year period finally produces the dawning of "intellectual thought." — Ibid., p. 24.

The claim that Waldorfs foster the intellect is, at best, moot. Waldorf-style “intellectual thought” is intended to be moderated by the faculties of intuition and/or imagination and/or clairvoyance. Taught that logic (i.e., methodical reasoning) is insufficient, the Waldorf student is directed toward “spiritual experience” that is notionally “self-evident” (i.e., no proof required). It is questionable whether this is genuine thinking at all or merely a form of wishfulness: “To what extent will [a child’s] thinking become purely logical and colorless, unenriched by imagination, uninformed by experience? ... More than ever, therefore, should the attempt be made with our adolescents to preserve from the earlier stage of childhood those capacities which are natural to it, and to unite them with the new gift of intellectual thought. For this means to transform thought from what it is at present — the capacity for abstract hypothesis — into the capacity for self-evident spiritual experience.” [Ibid., pp. 23-24.]

Ask yourself whether an education aiming at such a form of “thought” is likely to equip individuals for life in the real world. In brief: Should we teach our children to live rationally in the real world or to have unsubstantiated intuitions of unseen worlds?

[9] A. C. Harwood, PORTRAIT OF A WALDORF SCHOOL, pp. 15-16.

[10] Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

[11] http://www.michaelhouseschool.com/rudolf_%20steiner.htm

[12] Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495.

[13] Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 60.

[14] Sharon Lombard, "Spotlight on Anthroposophy", CULTIC STUDIES REVIEW, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003.



[17] Rudolf Steiner, PSYCHOANALYSIS AND SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1990), p. 70.


[19] But along the way, at least some Anthroposophical ideas do make their way into the students' brains. As one former Waldorf teacher has written, "[S]cience, social studies, and history theoretically were all explored and integrated into the curriculum, but always on a 'Waldorf' timeline and scale, and never in-depth. Additionally, the information imparted was often not accurate. For example, the children were taught that there were 4 elements — Earth, wind, fire and air, and that the continents were islands floating on the ocean...." [See "Ex-Teacher 5".]

[R. R., 2010.]