Ten Things You Should Know About Waldorf/Steiner Schools

Waldorf/Steiner Schools would rather you did not know about the occult religion that underpins its methods.

woodsWaldorf Schools (or Steiner Schools as they are sometimes called) are portrayed as progressive, humanistic and child-centred. Parents are attracted to this form of education as such schools suggest they are an alternative to the ‘robotic exam factories’ of mainstream schools that do not take into account the unique needs of each child. However, before you plunge into putting your child into such a school it is worth understanding things that are rarely disclosed to prospective parents.

The Independent today discusses how parents have come to discover the occult nature of the schools with their disturbing beliefs about race, child care and education. Here are ten facts that you ought to be aware of.

1. Claim: Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher, child psychologist and scientist.
Rudolf Steiner was a follower of the occult belief system of Theosophy. He split with other Theosophists in around 1912 after most accepted an Indian child named Krishnamurti as the new “World Teacher” and reincarnation of Christ.  He ridiculed the notion that a ‘Hindu lad’ could be the new cosmic leader. He took with him the German speaking Theosophists to found his own occult religion which he called Anthroposophy. A core belief of Steiner’s was that human souls evolve through a series of incarnations and as a soul develops it will take on different racial forms with black people being the most ‘immature’ souls and Aryans being the highest spiritual form. Steiner called his beliefs ‘Occult Science’ or ‘Spiritual Science’ and that his ‘science’ was the necessary way to ensure the white races did not degenerate. He believed through clairvoyance you could determine the true spiritual nature of the cosmos. This is is the foundation of all his beliefs in education.

2. Claim: Curriculum and methods are based around theories of child development.
Anthroposophical child development is different from what you might think of as child development. In line with with Steiner’s mystical religious beliefs, his theories of child development are based around the process of reincarnation.  The curriculum of Steiner Schools is designed to help children progress through the stages of reincarnation as they grow. Reincarnation does not happen all at once at birth, but develops over seven year cycles. At birth a child is given their ‘physical’ body, at Age 7 (or when teeth develop) the child takes on their ‘etheric’ body, at 14 their ‘astral’ body.  At each stage of reincarnation, the child becomes more ready to engage in different forms of education. For example, reading is suppressed until the adult teeth appear indicating the etheric body has taken hold.

3. Claim: Waldorf Schools are not religious and are non-denominational.
img_2548Schools routinely tell parents and authorities that they are not religious. Indeed, in the UK this was a condition for the form of funding that new Steiner Schools got from the state. But this is not true. But Waldorf Schools mislead parents and have done since the first one opened. Steiner told his teachers to use the words ‘verses’ instead of ‘prayers’. Anthroposophical chants and ‘hymns’ are routine. Parents are told that the Festivals that are celebrated in school, such as Michaelmas, Martinmas and Midsummer, are part of the ‘Northern European Tradition’ but actually are Anthroposophical festivals with occult meanings. Sometimes names are changed, such as ‘Advent’ where an advent spiral of light is walked by the children to represent reincarnation. Children and parents are not told the true meaning of their ‘celebrations’.

4. Claim: Waldorf Schools are merely ‘inspired’ by Steiner and have moved on from his time.
It is common for schools to deny their Anthroposophical religious nature. Indeed, Steiner told his teachers to do so, otherwise ‘people would break the Waldorf School’s neck’.  A Waldorf or Steiner School is defined by its adherence to the Waldorf Curriculum which is monitored by Anthroposophical Societies. Any school that was merely ‘inspired’ would not be allowed to call itself a Waldorf or Steiner School. If you are told that the school has developed on from Steiner’s curriculum you should ask specifically which elements of the curriculum have been abandoned and what new inspiration or ideas have been brought in. If this ‘inspired’ claim is true then you should receive detailed answers. Parents do not though.

5. Claim: Delayed reading benefits children.
One of the main signatures of a Waldorf Education is that children do not start to learn to read until much later than other schools. Parents are often told there is good research to delay reading. But the reason for delaying reading is not based on educational evidence but for occult reasons. Steiner believed reading was bad for a child’s soul development and should be delayed as much as possible. Books are taken from children and parents are discouraged from reading at home. Now, there is variation around the world when mainstream schools start reading. Sometimes this is to do with the nature of the local language – English, for example, can be quite hard to master. However, Steiner Schools cherry pick their evidence to support their occult belief and mask their spiritual mission.

6. Claim: Steiner’s unpleasant views have ‘fallen by the wayside’.
Waldorf Schools are quick to distance themselves from the racist views of Rudolf Steiner. They will always claim they accept all children “regardless of nationality, race, gender or religion”. But this is again to mask the racist cosmology that Steiner developed. Steiner claimed he loved all humans. But he saw humans as evolving through a racial hierarchy. It was the aim of Anthroposophy to help souls develop spiritually and evolve through the races. As such, Steiner’s racism was paternalistic, but nonetheless deeply offensive. Steiner’s methods would encourage teachers to treat children differently depending on their soul’s ‘development’ which might be measured by skin colour – amongst other physical characteristics.  Some Schools claim that these racist views have been denounced. But as such views form the foundation of Anthroposophy, you might expect a root and branch change in the religion with soul searching reviews of practice and beliefs, and huge efforts to ensure such beliefs do not linger in schools. There has been no such review and there are no such documents to discuss the impact of the founder’s overt white supremacist views and racism in Steiner education. As the Independent article demonstrates, racists school texts and practices persist to this day.

7. Claim: Waldorf/Steiner Schools do not teach the children Anthroposophy.
On virtually all School websites you will find statements suggesting that the School does not ‘promote or teach Anthroposophy’. This is thoroughly misleading. It is like a doctor telling her patients that she does not teach them medicine. Of course not – she practices medicine on them. Waldorf schools practice Anthroposophy on the children. Everything in the school is Anthroposophical, from the class and school structure, the curriculum and lesson plans, the festivals, the occult dancing known as eurythmy, the style of art work, the crafts, the myths and cryptohistory and the pseudoscience. The aim of Steiner School is to steep the children in the ideas, myths, practices and rhythms of Anthroposophy – and without them knowing. The archangels and earth spirits, such as gnomes, become routine parts of daily education. The prayers and spiritual cosmology become normalised without explicit religious instruction. The schools live Anthroposophy. The attitudes and worldview are designed to inculcate a predisposition to Anthroposophy so that young adults will go on to take part in Steiner communities, such as Camphill, biodynamics or the many businesses with Anthroposophical roots. The ex-teacher and whistleblower, Grégoire Perra, calls such education an “Insidious Indoctrination“.

8. Claim: Children have excellent results from such schools and go on to excel in life.
Children in Waldorf Schools are exposed to a very narrow and constrained curriculum that has been described as ‘fossilised’. It’s emphasis is on the ‘creative’ subjects but even then, creativity is carefully defined and controlled. Subjects such as History are tightly defined to reflect Anthroposophical ideas of their myths of human history, such as a literal belief in the Atlantis catastrophe. Academic subjects have a low emphasis and science is undermined by a pseudoscientific and anti-intellectual stance. Schools define themselves on their objection to being an ‘exam factory’ and children, if they stay in the school, rarely leave with what might be called a full range of qualifications. Proponents often point to lists of famous and successful alumni. Such ‘successes’ are almost exclusively in arts, acting and a few sports. The reason there are no scientists, for example, has been argued because children are just not equipped to take on post-school academic disciplines. And indeed, it has been argued that this is exactly what Steiner education wants to achieve so that instead they may stay within the Anthroposophical fold. If children do take exams, they take very few carefully selected ones. These successes are paraded as children achieving very high marks. The problem is that children are starved of the opportunity to excel in their own personal ways.

9. Claim: Waldorf/Steiner Schools are safe places for children.
Various aspects of Waldorf education pose direct risks to children. Steiner’s belief in alternative medicine persists in Anthroposophy where homeopathy is seen as legitimate and anti-vaccination views are routine. In the UK, the NHS a has reported that the Health Protection Agency views Steiner Schools as “High Risk” as they are “unvaccinated communities”. Measles, and other preventable dangerous diseases can quickly run rife through Steiner communities and schools. The closed nature of Steiner Schools also makes it possible for undesirable adults to come into contact with children. Problem teachers are moved from school to school. In the UK, several of the small number of Steiner schools have been issued with improvement notices over child protection or even have been forced to close. Bullying is often reported as a problem by parents as teachers may see this a ‘karma’ being played out by the children from former lives.

10. Claim: Children love Steiner Education.
No doubt many children do love the style of school offered by Waldorf. That it is not as academically demanding might be enjoyable for some children. One has to ask if enjoyment of school so the best measure of an education. And many do not enjoy their experience at all. Attrition/drop-out rates are often reported as high. Many parents realise their children are falling behind their peers and pull them out. Other children, if they are academically minded or need specialist help or skills, or need careful pushing or encouraging to overcome academic blockages, will not flourish. An important feature of the Waldorf style is having a single class teacher that children stay with for many years. A child’s experience of school will depend almost entirely on the nature of that teacher, their skills, empathy and relationships. If that goes sour then a child has no escape.

For a longer read on the nature of Steiner Eduction see:

What Every Parent Should Know About Steiner-Waldorf Schools

On this theme…

11 Comments on Ten Things You Should Know About Waldorf/Steiner Schools

    • To John Stumbles. Thanks for posting and it is always healthy to hear other views.

      We do have much to agree on – you do not dispute the religious and mystical nature of Steiner education and you even appear to accept that it is ‘barmpottery’. But where we disagree is that there is some sort of equivalence here between Steiner’s religion and say a Church of England School. My main argument is based around the way Steiner School’s downplay their religious nature and intentions and even try to deny it. You say that you do not accept this attempt to keep things quiet as you “barely trust the Steiner movement to organise a piss-up in a brewery”. I must say this defense is not a good argument for Steiner education. And you are not alone – I hear it a lot about the shambolic nature of the schools. You do not need a highly disciplined and organised management to try to keep the occultism out of sight. You just need to inculcate staff with a few defenses and instincts to downplay all these aspects. I would suggest the School movement is very good at this providing handy set answers to tricky questions.

      Your other arguments tend to cluster around Tu Quoque attacks of other schools, snd post hoc cherry picking of academic evidence to support the occult practices. But you do suggest that focus should be on reforming Steiner education and moderising it. I believe that to be impossible. It has not evolved in a hundred years and I see no reason why it should do now. It is not an evidence-based and progressive environment that has the capacity to absorb, assess and assimilate new ideas. It can only really be seen as the education and recruitment wing of a strange Germanic mystical cult. Who want want to take this as a good foundation for a progressive and evidence-based educational movement?

      I do fear, John, that your stance is one of someone who has educated their children through the system and now wants to defend those choices. That is understandable. But there are many other parents that have also done so and now want to express what they feel was a dreadful decision. That is the purpose of this post – to ensure prospective parents are not going to come to nasty surprises once their children are enrolled. I have heard from too many parents in such a situation and I am sure we can agree that forewarned is forearmed.

      • Hello Andy

        Thanks for your reply. I don’t want to get into a point-by-point discussion of it: I have moved on from Steiner matters and spend what little spare time and energy I have on what I see as much more important issues (climate change and mitigation).

        I would like however to offer a couple of observations.

        The first is that what I have written about is based on a combination of my own experiences of my involvement with (mostly) just one Steiner Lower School (for ages up to 14 or so), plus materials found on the internet. I think your sources are largely disaffected former Steiner parents, pupils and teachers (plus internet materials). Thus it is not surprising that we should have different views, but I think you are claiming some generality for your opinions whereas I hope I am admitting the limitations of mine.

        Secondly you suggest that I may have a tendency to bias regarding the quality of the education I invested money and effort into giving my children. You are of course quite right that – like any human being – I may be prone to such a bias. (Likewise your informants who withdrew from and reject Steiner education – especially those who have devoted much effort into denigrating and opposing it – are also likely to be prone to a bias towards the position they have adopted and the energy they have devoted to it.) However I hope much of my essay stands on its own merits, regardless of who wrote it.

        I would also note that as part of adopting a skeptical world-view I do try to keep an open mind and have changed my views when the evidence shows I was wrong, for example on vaccines (https://stumbles.org.uk/vaccines/) and nuclear power (https://stumbles.org.uk/Nuclear_Power/). Over the course of the two decades or so that I was involved with Steiner education I have changed my opinions about it quite significantly and I think I am capable of admitting I am wrong about it when I find the evidence shows that.

        I actually find that admitting when I am wrong rather than trying to defend an untenable position is quite a liberating experience: I highly recommend it!

  1. In the ‘delayed reading’ paragraph there is a spelling error which might be worth correcting:
    “Parents are often told their is good research”

  2. Having read John’s contribution in the link he gives I think he makes many useful points that help to provide perspective and balance.
    Few could disagree with his comment:
    “I think we should also have a bigger and bolder aim: for the education all our children receive to be based on objective evidence”.
    The bigger picture is indeed to promote evidence-based secular education.
    We should all be cautious about allowing those with any sort of ‘belief systems’ to have influence over formative minds, especially in education. Whatever the professed belief system, it will tend to suppress reality and objectivity, decency, ethics and evidence, which are subservient to the higher master of belief (whether it is held openly or secretly – the most dangerous sort).
    As a retired doctor who has enjoyed the confidence of many religious devotees, from bishops to nuns, it is my experience that a large proportion of them have engaged in unacceptable practices – of all sorts (‘oh, I wouldn’t confess that to the priest Dr’, was a fairly common response from those questioned about a ‘revelation’).
    Therefore, whenever I hear Pell, or any other supposedly eminent religious person, claiming that they didn’t know something was going on I can be pretty confident that they are not a truthful person. Many people with fervent beliefs misrepresent situations and tell fibs and are convinced that is justified in furthering the righteousness of their cause, whatever it may be. Therefore, whenever I hear anyone like Pell I cannot help a wry smile and thinking of the innumerable other religious worthies who have made similar denials. Never trust a ‘believer’. Secrecy makes it worse.

  3. Doctors have to obtain fully informed consent before treating a patient.
    (I know some do not, but we are supposed to).
    Likewise, teachers should have to explain the underlying belief systems of their educational practices before teaching a child, particularly when they are unconventional or faith based.

    Parents who ignorantly expose their children otherwise are abusing them.

    The teaching profession should put its house in order and make this clear.
    Steiner himself was not shy about his beliefs. Why are Steiner schools so coy?

  4. This is what Justin Theroux has to say about his Waldorf experience:

    I went to a Rudolf Steiner school. They’re awful. They’re still around, these experimental schools that started in the 1920s, no grades, no real classes. It was all knitting and beeswax-making s*** like that.’

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