SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Office of General Counsel
4100 Normal Street, San Diego, CA 92103-2682
Fax (619) 293-8267
CHRISTINA L. DYER General Counsel
JOSE A. GONZALES Assistant General Counsel
MELANIE PETERSEN Deputy General Counsel
DATE: July 6, 1995
TO: Members of the Board of Education and Superintendent
A District resident who participated in the 1994 summer Waldorf teacher-training program for service as a teacher at the Tubman Village School did not complete the training because she found it to be permeated with spiritualism and intrusive into her personal beliefs. Since then she has indicated that a Waldorf school should not be supported by public funds because Waldorf schools are based on beliefs of Rudolph Steiner which are incompatible with publicly-funded schools.
In light of these contentions we examine below potential legal issues relating to the operation of Waldorf schools in the public school system.
The Establishment Clause to the First Amendment prohibits government practices which advance a particular religion. Although the courts have found it difficult to define the term "religion," for public school First Amendment issues that term has included affirmation of a belief in a supreme being and reading verses from the Bible. (Malnak v. Yogi 592 F.2d 197, 199 (3d. Cir. 1979).)
The court in Malnak concluded that the Science of Creative Intelligence- Transcendental Meditation was a religious activity in the New Jersey public high schools in violation of the First Amendment. The concurring opinion in that case stated that the record revealed nothing other than an effort to propagate TM, SCI, and the views of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The concurring opinion in the Malnak case referenced three factors to consider in determining whether a particular belief system constitutes a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause: (1) Does the belief system address fundamental questions, or areas of ultimate concern [e.g., theories of man's nature or his place in the universe]? (2) Does the belief system proffer a comprehensive systematic series of answers to these fundamental questions? (3) Are there any practices that may be analogized to accepted religions [e.g., formal services, ceremonial functions, existence of clergy etc.]?
Tubman Village School is described in its charter as a Waldorf school. Waldorf schools and the Waldorf school philosophy were created by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925).
The first Waldorf school was founded in September 1919 for the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1928 the first Waldorf school in North America opened in New York City. Currently there are approximately 120,000 students in Waldorf schools in thirty-two countries. "Everything that occurs [in a Waldorf school]--music lessons, community service, gardening classes--is based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner. (Cynthia Hanson, "Holistic Learning," Spirit, April 1995.)
Waldorf education has been described by its proponents as follows: (a) There is no academic content in kindergarten and minimal academics in first grade. Reading is not taught until second or third grade, though letters are introduced in first and second grade; (b) During grades 1-8 students have a "main" teacher who stays with the same class; (c) There are no textbooks in grades 1-5. Instead, students have main lesson books which consist of their schoolwork. Upper grades use textbooks to supplement the main lesson book; (d) No grades are given at the elementary level; (e) Electronic media, especially television, is strongly discouraged; (f) Computer use by young children is discouraged; (g) Main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and math are taught in main lesson blocks of two to three hours per day with each block lasting from three to five weeks. (David Schlesinger, "Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education," Internet http://www.io.com/user/lefty/Waldorf_FAQ.html May 23, 1995.)
Waldorf education categorizes children into four groups according to their temperament. Each temperament is associated with a season and a color. The temperaments are: (a) choleric [selfless leader], summer, red; (b) melancholic [considerate, understanding], fall, violet; (c) phlegmatic [reliable, faithful], winter, blue; and (d) sanguine [socially aware], spring, yellow. Waldorf teachers must take a child's temperament into account in the education of the child. (Rene Querido, Creativity In Education: The Waldorf Approach, pp. 13-24, H. S. Dakin Co., 1987.)
Steiner believed that children develop in three stages. The first stage is from birth to age seven when children lose their first teeth. During this period the spirit which descended into the body of the child is leaming to adjust to its physical body and the physical world. The second stage is from ages seven to 14. By age seven a second body has been gradually shaped out of the first body. During this period a child is driven by imagination and fantasy. The third period begins at age 14. By then, the astral body (supernatural substance) has been drawn into the physical body so that the human being has arrived at puberty. The astral body affects the body's breathing and the whole nervous system. A teacher must have an understanding of this in order to teach properly. (Albert Steffen, Lecture to Teachers: The Child Before the Seventh Year.)
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Steiner as follows:
"Founder of anthroposophy, a spiritual movement... based on the notion that there is a spiritual world comprehensible to pure thought but accessible only to the highest faculties of mental knowledge."
Anthroposophy has been referred to as a philosophical theory that would provide a comprehensive account of the relationship between the physical world and a spiritual world. (Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, A History Of the Mystics. Mediums. and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America, p. 148, Schocken Books.) Washington wrote of Steiner's philosophy as follows:
"[Steiner] concluded, first, that the spirit world is real, not illusory; second, that the only way to understand and learn from it is to observe it closely as a scientist would observe the material world; third, that the only limits on such observation are the limits of our perceptive organs; and fourth, that there must therefore exist special organs of spiritual perception which are simply atrophied in most individuals .... [Steiner] rejected mechanical theories of heat and light in physics for the same reason; that none of these theories took into account spiritual realities. [Steiner concluded] everything was created from spirit and spirit had priority, therefore spirit was present in everything." (Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, p. 148-149. emphasis added.)
Steiner derived some of his central concepts from Hinduism (reincarnation, karma, and polytheism) and from Zoroastrianism (afterlife, struggle between good [Spenta Mainyu] and evil [Ahriman]), an ancient religion of Persia. (A Short Overview of Zoroastrianism, Stanford University Group; Random House Dictionary, 2d Ed. Unabridged.)
Steiner wrote of a spiritual after life:
"[M]an evolves through a long period between death and a new birth....[H]e reaches a point...where conditions of his life in the spiritual world oblige him to pass over into another form of existence....[T]his other form of existence [is] the physical...body.... [P]hysical existence here is a continuation of the spiritual...." (Rudolf Steiner, Study of Man, Lecture 1, p. 17, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966.)
Steiner's critics have referred to Anthroposophy as an occult religion:
"Waldorf schools are the most visible activity of the International Anthroposophical Society, which has been called 'the most successful occult religion in Europe' by Sven Ove Hansson, a Swedish skeptic. Other writers refer to it as... a 'highly organized occult group.'" (Dan Dugan and Judy Daar, "Are Steiner's Waldorf Schools 'Non-Sectarian'?", Free Inquiry, Spring 1994.)
"[A]nthroposophy provides an electic and thoroughly absurd system of occultism...." (Texe Marrs, Texe Marrs Book of New Age Cults and Religions, pp. 117-118, Living Truth Publishers, 1990.)
Anthroposophists are said to have formed a formal religion called the Christian Community of Anthroposophy. The Christian Community of Anthroposophy has approximately 350 priests. The members of this religion observe a number of the sacraments, including baptism, confirmation, marriage, counseling, anointing and ordination. (Texe Marrs, Texe Marrs Book of New Age Cults and Religions, p. 116.)
Although the foregoing discussion of anthroposophy is brief, it is sufficient to demonstrate its religious nature. Anthroposophy addresses fundamental questions relating to man's existence and his place in the universe and offers a belief system to answer these questions. The Christian Community of Anthroposophy also observes practices associated with traditional religions. Accordingly, we believe a court would, for First Amendment purposes, view anthroposophy as a religion if it were to be promoted in the public schools.
Steiner's followers have stated that anthroposophy is not taught in the Waldorf schools, but that teaching in the schools is done in a manner designed to achieve the inner revelations sought to be achieved through anthroposophy:
"One cannot be long acquainted with a Waldorf School without hearing of Rudolf Steiner and his teaching which he called Anthroposophy .... Do we teach Anthroposophy? No, we do not, but we try to teach in such a way that it may lead towards the fullness of an experience...that it may open ways, within the grasp of each one, to advance his inner life, and therefore also outer life, further." (Francis Edmunds, Rudolf Steiner Education: The Waldorf School, pp. 106-107, Rudolf Steiner Press.)
Other Steiner followers have been more direct in their assessment of anthroposophy in the Waldorf schools:
"One could say that Waldorf education has a hidden agenda. Its curriculum is described in terms common to public schools in general; arithmetic, writing, reading, geography, botany, biology, handicraft, history, and so on. But in Steiner schools the dimensions of these subjects are threefold: they are artistic, cognitive, and religious.... Religion is not an affair for Sunday alone or for theologians and priests. It is a dimension applicable to all our experience.... A fundamental relinking of the sacred dimension with secular knowledge is through the empowering language of mathematics.... it was through mathematics that Rudolf Steiner first found the bridge between the physical world and the meta-sensory forms within it.... The special offering of Anthroposophy to the new age is a striving for a spiritual understanding of nature permeated by Christ.... Very few Waldorf schools in America have separate religion lessons. This is because a mood of tolerance and wonder is sought throughout the schooling, and this mood is meant to characterize cognition and creativity as well.... It was Rudolf Steiner's advice that religion lessons need not focus on religion as such. Life experiences, current events, fairy tales, legends, parables, and historical biography are all used. With older children of high school age, the Gospels may be discussed." (Mary C. Richards, Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education In America, pp. 164-167, Wesleyan University Press.)
Steiner's followers have described the central theme in education in the Waldorf schools as the search for the being of man:
"[The teacher] steeps all he has to say in picture and imagination: life is a theme with many variations which follow one another in gradual descent from the ancient wonders of the spirit to the material and technological achievements of today: from year to year he takes up the main theme again, the being of man, in the course of years from fairy-tale and myth through ancient history down to our times, thus leading also via the prophets and the Christian mysteries to the promise of new fulfillments." (Francis Edmunds, Rudolf Steiner Education: The Waldorf School, p. 35, emphasis in original.)
Steiner said that the task of education is to meld the spirit with the body:
"[W]hen we receive the children into the school we shall still be able to make up for many things which have been done wrongly, or left undone, in the first years of the child's life.... The task of education conceived in the spiritual sense is to bring the Soul-Spirit into harmony with the Life- Body.... When we teach this subject or that, we must be fully aware that we are working either in the one direction to bring the Spirit-Soul more into the earthly Body, or'in the other direction to bring the bodily nature into the Spirit-Soul." (Rudolf Steiner, Study of Man, pp. 16-23, emphasis in original.)
Steiner told the teachers of the first Waldorf school that Waldorf schools and teachers must become the pillar for anthroposophy:
"[Y]ou people who work at the Waldorf School must help to support the whole Movement...the Waldorf School can put itself on a broad basis and thus be a pillar for the whole Anthroposophical Movement." (Rudolf Steiner, Conferences With Teachers of the Waldorf School In Stuttgart, vol. 1, 1919-1920, Steiner Schools Fellowship Publications, 1986.)
Anthroposophical writer Gilbert Childs also recognized that Waldorf schools are aimed at instilling in children the anthroposophical belief that spirit permeates everything:
"Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second.... [I]t must never be forgotten -- and one must be emphatic about this -- that the whole of teaching matter and method in Steiner schools is aimed at developing within each child the consciousness that spirit permeates everything in the world." (Gilbert Childs, Steiner Education in Theory and Practice, pp. 166, 176, Floris Books, 1991, emphasis in original.)
Rene Querido, the director of the Rudolf Steiner College, a center for Waldorf teacher training near Sacramento, California, describes the educational approach that is practiced in Waldorf schools:
"One of the most important aspects of teaching is to arouse a sense of wonder. In Waldorf schools, we try to do this by expanding and considering possibilities.... You can approach the sciences in their materialistic, mechanistic, and mathematical aspects, simply reducing nature to forces. Or you can add, if you like, the feeling that some factors escape the modern materialistic science, a tradition that influenced our thinking since the seventeenth century.... In the Waldorf schools we supplement the study of science with the story of the quest for the Holy Grail. This story reinforces the idea of a gradual quest.... If young people are given the tools to research the three essential questions for themselves; 'Who am I?', 'What is my relationship to other human beings?', and 'What is the meaning of existence?'.... and are themselves inwardly and enthusiastically fired to go on a quest, then I would say that we have done something to prepare them for life.... Toward the end of the Greek period, people began to...view the spirit and the body as two distinct entities. In the Waldorf curriculum, we introduce this concept at the end of the sixth grade and the beginning of the seventh grade.... Then, as the children study the beginnings of Greek and Roman civilization they come to understand the roots of the Judaic and the Christian religions." (Rene Querido, Creativity in Education: The Waldorf Approach, pp. 33-36.)
Four seasonal festivals are celebrated in Waldorf schools. These festivals are said to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos. It is further said that celebration of the seasons benefits the inner life of the soul. The four seasons are: (a) Michaelmas [fall]; (b) Christmas [winter, an ancient festival, celebrated when the sun sends the least power to the earth, a festival which awakens in the human being an inkling of the wellsprings of existence, and of an eternal reality]; (c) Easter [spring, the renewal of man's being, with ancient symbols of the hare and egg, both known as signs of the retum of life after winter's sleep]; and (d) St. John [summer, a time when the cosmos brings the spiritual to man]. (David Schlesinger, "Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education.")
In the publication entitled "Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education," the question is asked, "Are Waldorf schools religious?" The answer given is as follows:
"In the sense of subscribing to the beliefs of a particular religious denomination or sect, no. Waldorf schools, however, tend to be spiritually oriented and are based out of a generally Christian perspective. The historic festivals of Christianity, and of other major religions as well, are observed in the class rooms and in school assemblies. Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Waldorf curriculum, and children of all religious backgrounds attend Waldorf schools. Spiritual guidance is aimed at awakening the child's natural reverence for the wonder and beauty of life."
In reviewing a proposed Waldorf arts education program for the Anchorage School District, that school district's Superintendent stated:
"the spiritual underpinning of the Waldorf School movement is not of interest to the District and the Administration will not recommend a program designed to promote such beliefs. However, the Waldorf School program, or aspects of it, may still be sound educationally, and should be reviewed for possible adaptation by the District.' (ASD Memorandum #197 (93-94) (Revised) Jan. 10, 1994.)
The above-quoted materials demonstrate that the spiritual foundation of anthroposophy is intended to be integrated into the Waldorf curriculum, although anthroposophy, per se, is not to be taught in the schools. We believe a court would view a public school curriculum which directly or indirectly promotes anthroposophy as violative of the First Amendment.
In the publication entitled "Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education," the question is asked: "How do Waldorf children fare when they transfer to 'regular' schools?" The answer given is as follows:
"Generally, transitions to public schools, when they are anticipated, are not problematical. The most common transition is from an eight grade Waldorf school to a more traditional high school, and, from all reports, usually takes place without significant difficulties. Transitions in the lower grades, particularly between the first and fourth grades, can potentially be more of a problem, because of the significant differences in the pacing of the various curriculums. A second grader from a traditional school will be further ahead in reading in comparison with a Waldorf-schooled second grader; however, the Waldorf-schooled child will be ahead in arithmetic."
Another writer similarly acknowledged the lack of instruction in reading in grades one and two in Waldorf schools:
"Waldorf has its critics, though most of the criticism targets not the high-school program but Waldorf's grammar schools, where formal reading instruction doesn't begin until the third grade, and computer skills are not introduced at all because they're considered too solitary." (Cynthia Hanson, "Holistic Leaming," Spirit, April 1995.)
The lack of formal reading instruction in grades one and two in Waldorf schools may be legally significant. Education Code section 47605 (b) (12) grants students the right not to be compelled to attend a charter school. In addition, Section 47605 (c) requires charter schools to meet statewide performance standards. Since public school students frequently transfer from one school to another, it is foreseeable that a student who transfers from Tubman School to another District school after grade two will be behind in reading. Unless the student's parents were aware of the nature of Waldorf education, and knowingly consented to placing their child at Tubman, they may have a basis to assert that their child was compelled to attend a school they would not have otherwise selected.
A Waldorf curriculum in the public schools may also raise legal concerns relating to the propriety of some of Steiner's teachings which may be criticized as scientifically not sustainable. (See Education Code section 47605 (c) [requiring charter schools to meet statewide performance standards].)
According to Steiner, before the world came into being it existed under different conditions. Originally, there existed a "warmth" period when the gods poured their substance into the warmth, forming the basis of the spirit of man. Next, there existed an "airy-gaseous" state at which time other spiritual beings added their substances. The third stage was the "watery" period when spiritual beings added other qualities. The fourth stage is the "material" period when physical substances appeared. (Roy Wilkinson, Man and Animal, pp. 2-3, Robinswood Press, 1990.)
As a result of the development of the world through its four stages, four kingdoms of nature were created. These four kingdoms are: (a) mineral; (b) plant; (c) animal; and (d) man. Animals are the by-products of human development. Animal forms represent physically incarnated soul forces which the human being had to dispense with in order to mature. (Roy Wilkinson, Man and Animal.)
Steiner believed that man has existed throughout the existence of the world. In the first stage of world development, the Lemurian period, the human being existed only in spirit form. During this period geological formations began. During the second stage, the Mid-Lemurian period, the human being incarnated into a "still plastic body." In the third stage, the Atlantis period, man took on a firmer body. The fourth and current stage is the Post-Atlantis period when man took on a physical body. (Roy Wilkinson, Man and Animal.)
According to Steiner, the task of the Post-Atlantis period is the reunification of scientific knowledge with spiritual wisdom. The Post-Atlantis Period is divided into seven epochs which commence after the gradual sinking of Atlantis, in approximately 7227 B.C. The Atlantean civilization lasted approximately a million years before it ended. The seven epochs are: (a) ancient Indian epoch, 7227 B.C.-5067 B.C.; (b) ancient Persian epoch, 5067 B.C.-2907 B.C.; (c) Egyptian- Chaldean epoch, 2907 B.C.-747 B.C.; (d) Greco-Roman-Christian epoch, 747 B.C.-1413 A.D.; (d) the current epoch is the European-American epoch during which there will occur the development of consciousness soul and will last from 1413 A.D.-3573 A.D.; and following this there will be the sixth and seventh Post- Atlantis epochs during which man will develop a distinctively modern clairvoyant capability. Man"s original clairvoyance was gradually replaced by rationality beginning in the time of Plato.
The end of the seventh epoch will mark the end of the Post-Atlantis phase of earthly evolution. During this phase of evolution humanity will have combined physical, rational, and ego powers with the spiritual powers possessed by the Atlanteans. (Robert McDermott, The Essential Steiner, pp. 168-173, Harper, Collins.)
According to Steiner, man evolved over time from one type of human being to another. As each new form of man evolved, the prior one disappeared. This consecutive evolution of man should have occurred until the end of the evolution of man. However, the evil spirits of Lucifer and Ahriman "thwarted" this intended natural evolution of humanity and changed the whole process so that:
"Forms that should have disappeared remained. Instead of rac[es] developing consecutively, older racial forms remained unchanged and newer ones began to evolve at the same time. Instead of the intended consecutive development of races, there was a coexistence of races. That is how it came about that physically different races inhabited the earth and are still there in our time although evolution should really have proceeded as I have described it.... [I]f we have a sense for Greek sculpture, we can feel how the ancient Greeks dreamed of a uniform, perfect, beautiful type of human being that should have developed. This development did not occur because Lucifer and Ahriman preserved older racial forms that had developed, so that there was a coexistence of races rather than a succession." (Rudolf Steiner, The Universal Human: The Evolution of Individuality, pp. 74-76, Anthroposophic Press, 1990.)
In Steiner's view, the Anglo-Saxon race was the only race that would have evolved, but for Lucifer and Ahriman's interference:
"[T]he representative people for the development of the consciousness soul, hence for what matters particularly in our age, is the Anglo-Saxon nation. The Anglo-Saxon people are those who through their whole organization are predisposed to develop the consciousness soul to a special degree." (Rudolf Steiner, Materialism and the Task of Anthroposophy, p. 195, Anthroposophic Press, 1987.)
"If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness. Blond hair actually bestows intelligence.... It is indeed true that the more the fair individuals die out the more will the instinctive wisdom of humans vanish." (Rudolf Steiner, Health and Illness, p. 86, Anthroposophic Press, 1981.)
Steiner stated that the mixing of the races will deteriorate man's intellectual capacity:
"[T]he mixing of different bloods obscured the ancient wisdom more and more.... We are, of course, still involved in this process of deterioration.... [A]s a consequence of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic influences, human blood became ever less fitted to provide the faculty of seeing the outer world in its true light: a steady increase in illusion was bound up with the blood's deterioration...and destruction by miscegenation." (Rudolf Steiner, The Gospel of St. John And Its Relation to the Other Gospels, pp. 226, 244, Anthroposophic Press, 1982.)
Steiner also believed that the Hebrews were selected by the spirits to develop and pass from generation to generation the faculties for evaluating the physical world:
"It takes a certain kind of brain to express such faculties as Zarathustra possessed. That is, he had to be born into a body that had inherited the qualities making it an appropriate instrument for such faculties.... This perfectly adapted physical organization was the contribution of the ancient Hebrews to Christianity.... The faculties having to do with reasoning not related to clairvoyance, with evaluating the world by measure, number and weight - faculties that aim not at seeing into the spiritual world but at understanding sensory phenomena - were first implanted by the spiritual world in...Abraham.... Abraham's mission, however, was not a teaching of clairvoyant perception but something bound to the brain. Thus it could be transmitted to later generations only through physical inheritance.... The Hebrews were chosen to develop the faculties for observation of the outer world." (Rudolf Steiner, The Universal Human, pp. 33, 36, 41.)
Pursuant to the Board's directive, an assessment
of Tubman School's first year of operation is to be conducted. During
this review, the issues raised above should be considered. The review
process should include an inquiry as to whether, factually, any of
the above-identified potentially questionable practices are included
in the Tubman curriculum.
Please let us know if we may be of additional service.
CHRISTINA L. DYER
JOSE A. GONZALES
Assistant General Counsel
c: Dr. Frank Till
Dr. Kimiko Fukuda
Dr. Ruben Carriedo