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Waldorf Schools are Religious SchoolsWaldorf schools are an activity of Anthroposophy, a cult-like religious sect following the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). A huge amount of literature about Waldorf education has been produced within the closed system of Anthroposophy. Much of the available information fails to describe the spiritual mission of the Waldorf school system honestly. We have found that even experienced parents of Waldorf students usually know little about the Anthroposophical principles that determine the teaching methods and the Anthroposophical doctrine that permeates the curriculum.
Waldorf Education is Based on Occult Theory
Waldorf education has never been examined critically to determine whether it lives up to its claims. Waldorf's two-year teacher training program is woefully inadequate. The first "foundation" year is an Anthroposophical seminary program, consisting mostly of the study of Rudolf Steiner's occult philosophy and leading the teacher on Steiner's path to "initiation" as described in his book "Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment." Teacher trainees also must read Steiner's "Reincarnation and Karma" and "Occult Science."
As the Waldorf movement grows, there is a growing need for evaluation from outside the Steiner religious movement, which is viewed by some as a cult. Parents and school boards should be aware that the representations of Waldorf promoters are often deceptive. For example, promoters will say that Waldorf is based on child development, but Steiner's theory of child development, based on reincarnation, karma, and "the etheric body," "the astral body," and "the I" differs significantly from the consensus of child development specialists. Waldorf theory leads to some questionable practices, especially in the teaching of reading, which Waldorf educators believe will damage children if even the alphabet is introduced before the "change of teeth"; the teaching of science; and in the treatment of learning disabilities, which are believed to be a child's karma.
On rare occasions a leader in the Waldorf movement has called for full disclosure to parents concerning the Anthroposophic basis of the schools. Eugene Schwartz, a respected Waldorf master teacher and former director of teacher training at Sunbridge College in Spring Valley, New York, says, in a lecture at Sunbridge, November 13, 1999, regarding his own daughter's experience in Waldorf: "I'm glad my daughter gets to speak about God every morning: that's why I send her to a Waldorf school . . . I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience . . . when we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the basis of Waldorf education . . . The time has come for us to stop pussyfooting around [theories] that will sound too strange if we tell parents what we are really doing . . . Tell everybody what we are about. The day they walk into the school, let them know...it is our responsibility to share with the parents those elements of Anthroposophy which will help them understand their children and fathom the mysterious ways in which we work. Yes, we are giving the children a version of Anthroposophy in the classroom; whether we mean to or not, it's there." Schwartz was replaced as director of teacher training at Sunbridge shortly after making these public remarks. Perhaps other Waldorf leaders are not ready for this level of openness.
A more typical attitude, disdainful of parents who question what their children are being exposed to, is expressed by Roy Wilkinson, who has been involved with Waldorf and Anthroposophy for over 60 years, first as a student, then as a teacher, lecturer and writer: "It has been known for parents to say that they like the school, but wish it were divorced from certain 'crazy' ideas which they may have garnered, or which a teacher may have expressed. The Waldorf school and the 'crazy' ideas are, however, inseparable. Waldorf schools would not exist if they were not related to these ideas." (Roy Wilkinson, "The Spiritual Basis of Steiner Education: The Waldorf School Approach," Sophia Books, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1996.)
PLANS would like to see Waldorf schools advise parents up front that the teacher's interactions with their child will be guided by their belief in karma and reincarnation, which leads some Waldorf teachers to speculate that a child may have been born to the "wrong" parents, for instance, or may have been drawn "karmically" to the Waldorf school even against the parent's wishes.
Parents should be told that the science and history curriculum will be based on Steiner's reading of the "Akashic Record," according to which the "ancients" had clairvoyant powers which Anthroposophic initiation may help students attain some day. They should be told that loyal Steiner followers believe humans once lived on the lost continent of Atlantis and will one day live on Venus, Jupiter, and Vulcan. They should be told that teachers study a medieval scheme in which race, blood, and the "four temperaments" will help them understand their students' development. Not all Waldorf teachers believe the "wacky" things Steiner said, but many are deeply involved in Steiner study (faculty meetings generally include a Steiner study session). Teachers typically do not discuss Anthroposophy with parents.
Parents should be told that although Waldorf bills itself as "arts-based" education to attract holistically minded parents, creativity is actually discouraged, and many of the "artistic" activities in Waldorf are more accurately described as religious rituals, such as meditation on symbols important in Anthroposophy. Children spend a lot of time copying the teacher's work directly off the board. Fourth graders embroidering a purse must all use the same pattern (often with esoteric symbols).
Publicly Funded Waldorf Programs Violate the First Amendment in the United StatesSince 1991 the Waldorf movement has begun to move into public education in the US with teacher training workshops, "Waldorf Method" magnet schools, and "Waldorf-inspired" charter schools. In addition to the problems of the system noted above, these activities have led to violations of church-state separation laws. The religious philosophy of Anthroposophy cannot be separated from Waldorf education. For example, Steiner's scheme of "post-Atlantean sub-races" is the framework of ancient history taught in all Waldorf schools, both public and private.
Religious festivals centered around key figures in Anthroposophy, such as the Archangel Michael celebrated at "Michaelmas," are still celebrated in public Waldorf schools although the names may be changed: Michaelmas becomes a "Harvest festival," or the Advent Spiral, in which the children walk a spiral symbolizing reincarnation, becomes a "Garden of Light." The ritual is the same despite the name change, however, and the religious content, conveyed to the children in songs, verses, puppetry, and drama, is unchanged. In public schools in the US, such ceremonies, which teach and promote Anthroposophy, are in violation of church-state separation laws, which guarantee religious freedom for all US citizens.