Your Genial Host
As a boy, I attended a Waldorf school in suburban New York. (Possibly I've mentioned this before.) After graduation, I enrolled at a prestigious college — and soon dropped out. I then attended a second college, briefly, before enrolling at a third where I finally gained my academic footing. I earned a BA and an MA in English literature. Subsequently, I became a college instructor, a magazine writer, and a book editor. I am now retired. My wife and I recently celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary.
During the last few years, I have spent considerable time researching and writing about Waldorf education, Anthroposophy, and Rudolf Steiner.1 When I began studying Steiner’s books and lectures, I had only vague ideas about what I might learn. Much of what I dug up startled me, and that kept me going — and it made me decide to continue writing and posting for as long as the process seemed productive. In setting out the results of my research on this website, I have tried to hold back nothing. Here it is, what I have learned; here it is, what Rudolf Steiner and his followers have said and done. To a great extent, I have relied on Rudolf Steiner's own words to tell the story. This has been a risky strategy, because Steiner is so hard to read. But quoting Steiner has been essential. Rudolf Steiner invented Anthroposophy and he founded Waldorf education. He is still, today, the intellectual and spiritual leader of the Waldorf movement — and here is what he said. Steiner’s own words constitute the most telling indictment of the intellectual and even spiritual barrenness of Anthroposophy and, by extension, Waldorf education.
Some Anthroposophists now make ad hominem attacks against me, as if attributing real or imagined faults to me somehow refutes my arguments.2 But ad hominems are, by definition, invalid. Maybe I’m a great guy, or maybe not — but either way, the words I’ve written will stand or fall on their own merits. Let's put it this way: I am a flawed messenger. I have good days and bad, periods when I'm at my best and periods when I'm not. But I am unimportant. What matters is the truth of the message I have delivered about Steiner and Anthroposophy and Waldorf education. Throughout, I have told the absolute truth to the best of my ability, and I have provided extensive documentation throughout. In a continuous editorial process, I have reviewed all my work repeatedly, soliciting the opinions of others to assist me. I have corrected the errors we found, and I have amended or omitted sections that, in retrospect, seemed deficient. The results are not perfect — what human endeavors are? — but I am confident that the contents of this website are sturdy and true, and will reward close examination.
Please read as many of the essays on this site as you like, and draw your own conclusions. Either my essays make a powerful, logical, well-documented case, or they do not. I am happy to leave the final evaluation up to you.
— Roger Rawlings
Self-portrait, Aug. 16, 2012.
(Too cheap to visit a real photographer.)
1 During the years when I have done this work, I have struggled with poor health. This has complicated things for me, but it has also been beneficial in at least one way. Forced to be sedentary, I have had plenty of time (more than I wanted, really) to read and write. As a result, I've done more research, and written more, than I initially intended. Whenever my health nosedived, I had to quit work; but in each instance, I recuperated, and I was able to press ahead. Moreover, during each recovery, I reviewed the work I had done before, including any I had done while feeling poorly, and I made any needed corrections. I can promise you, then, that everything you find at Waldorf Watch was produced while I was at my best. Naturally, I leave it to you to judge just how good my best has been.
2 In October, 2009, I was told that an Anthroposophist had written that Waldorf Watch is the number one "hate site" dealing with Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy. This surprised me, although not much. Here is a reply I posted. To see my message in its original form, as well as the messages that preceded and followed it, please use this link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/12164.
The funny part is, I'm not really an enemy of Anthroposophy. The evidence seems pretty clear: Steiner’s doctrines are wacky. But, then, so are many (most? all?) other forms of occultism. I’m a skeptic, certainly. I reject Anthroposophy for myself, certainly, and I would urge great caution on anyone who feels drawn to Anthroposophy. But I’m not a sworn enemy. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who wants to be an Anthroposophist is free to do so, and I wouldn't say "boo" (or I would say it only very quietly). What I oppose is the infusion of Anthroposophy into Waldorf education, especially when this is done covertly, without informing the parents of Waldorf students.
It might be worthwhile to talk briefly about hatred. Several participants here — Dan, Diana, Pete, Peter, and Zooey spring to mind — have been on the receiving end of what certainly appears to be hatred. Anthroposophists have demonized them. These days, I am being honored by such attentions.
There’s nothing surprising in this. Those of us who attempt to tell the truth about Waldorf schools naturally incur the displeasure of people who admire the schools, especially those who have devoted their lives to the schools. There should also be no surprise if displeasure sometimes leads to stronger, more intense emotions producing harsh denunciations. Lashing out at perceived enemies is, unfortunately, a very human impulse.
My own response to furious attacks and slanders aimed at me is to ignore them. This may not be the wisest course, but then again perhaps it is. In any case, I do not consider myself to be the issue, any more than I consider myself to be important in the big scheme of things. I have told my story as a former Waldorf student because it affords an inside view of Waldorf education. But I have also frequently argued that no one should base any decisions on my personal experiences. The more significant portions of my work consist of extensive, detailed documentation — quotations from Steiner and his followers, published criticisms and defenses of Waldorf schools, and so on — and extended analyses of such materials. Those documents and analyses are far more important than my personal story, and they are the sorts of evidence people should primarily consider when deciding whether to send their children to Waldorf schools.
I’m not aware that I have written anything hateful; I know that I have not been motivated by hatred. I have reached some strong, highly critical conclusions about Steiner's doctrines, but I have done so as dispassionately as I could, after long, careful study. I hate no one. If some folks hate me (without, I might add, ever having met me), there’s not much I can do about it. Ultimately, those of us who are attacked have to place reliance on the public’s ability to distinguish truth from untruth, and ad hominem smears from rational discussion. This is a tall order; humans have convincingly demonstrated — from time out of mind — their willingness to embrace lies and fantasies. Seeing the world as we wish it to be as opposed to how it actually is, is a tendency deep in the human psyche. Still, people can be rational, and in the end we have to trust in this capacity.
Most of all, we have to trust in people’s love for their children. No parent wants to send a child to a school that is likely to harm the child. Love is the ultimate antidote, the ultimate motivator for piercing lies and finding truth.
I’d add this, too. Some demonized critics of Waldorf education may have motives other than love. But some of us may be motivated mainly by love. Love of the truth, if nothing else. Love of humanity’s highest possibilities. And love of humanity’s children, whom we must protect and nurture. After all, the children are humanity’s hope — perhaps, in a sense, they are our only hope. So it is for the children that we should work, enduring whatever we must in the process.
Since Anthroposophists claim the same devotion to the welfare of children, it ought to be possible for us all to come together, reason together, and reach some sort of mutual understanding. But that would require Anthroposophists to entertain a possibility that they almost always reject out of hand: the possibility that Steiner’s critics might be right about some things. At the least, Anthroposophists would have to stop thinking of the people sitting across the table from them as demons. That would create at least the possibility of dialogue, which surely is the prerequisite for any true progress.
Throughout my life, I have attempted to have reasonable discussions with Anthroposophists. I hope I will always have the strength to make such attempts. But regardless, parents need to step back, weigh the evidence that has been assembled, and come to the important decision: What is best for our children?
Here are excerpts from messages I posted
in an online discussion in 2016:
As I have said here before, I am not an atheist, I am an agnostic. I do not claim to know that God does not exist (or that there are no gods); but neither do I claim to know that God does exist (or that there are gods). I don't know, and as far as I can tell, no one knows. But this does not mean that I am unspiritual. I have spiritual experiences daily, and I seek them out. I go for meditative walks in the woods, enlarging my consciousness as much as I can, and finding joy and solace in the wondrous life all around me. (We have deer, here. I do not hunt, nor do I allow any hunting here. So the deer are safe here, and some of them have gotten to know and trust me. They allow me to approach them closely. One has gone for a walk with me. Two have allowed me to be present at the birth of their fawns. I deem these spiritual experiences.) At night, before bed, I always go outdoors and gaze at the stars, and expand my consciousness as much as I can. And I thank the cosmos for my life. I deem this a spiritual experience.
P.S. Lest it cause confusion, I probably should add that I thank the cosmos silently. I thank the processes (probably, at root, physics) that caused the Earth to form, and life to evolve, and me to be born. (Wow! Me! The pinnacle of creation!)
Years ago, among my friends and acquaintances, I was famously religious. I wore my faith proudly. I had been baptized and confirmed. I read the Bible daily. I was an acolyte at our church. I wore vestments, lit altar candles, brought out communion trays for the minister, and so forth. I thought seriously of going to seminary.
My gradual shift away from religion was a personal odyssey of no special importance to anyone else; I have never tried to convince anyone to follow my example. We all must find our own paths through life. Suffice it to say that I read voluminously (sacred texts from around the world, and works of theology from various faiths), prayed a lot, thought a lot, looked as carefully as I could into my own heart and mind, and slowly changed.
So I am not religious now. But as an agnostic, I do not lump all religions together; I do not automatically reject all claims of faith or spirituality. I do not paint all forms of spirituality with the same brush.
Some religions, IMO, contain more verifiable truth than others. Buddhism, for instance. At least as originally formulated, Buddhism goes light on theology. Buddha declined to answer such questions as whether God exists. Buddhism, as originally formulated, is empirical. It is more akin to a form of therapy than to an ordinary religion. You meditate in whatever way works for you; you do not bow to requirements that you find unhelpful.
We all need to keep open minds, I think. This is one of the virtues of agnosticism, I’d suggest: You don’t lie to yourself, you don’t think you have reached an unassailable, final conclusion. You remain open to the possibility that you will learn something tomorrow that will enable you to grow further, maybe in a new direction. You remain humble in this vast, mysterious, violent yet beautiful universe.
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊