a recently added article on ECSWE’s website deals with religion in waldorf education. By Gise Kayser-Gantner it is entitled ‘What is the religious element in school?’ and it claims that waldorf education cannot be a matter of religion, as waldorf schools can be found in various parts of the world and in different cultures. The article argues that although
[r]eligious elements are an important component of Waldorf education and are found in all school subjects
this does not indicate the education is religious:
[the religious elements] should, however, not be mistaken for religious instruction in the sense of any specific faith or denomination; but they rather characterize a certain prevailing mood which is independent of any religious confession and which can be found in all religions.
There’s an interview with a Buddhist parent, whose son is to become a Buddhist monk, and a Sikh parent. The Sikh parent says:
In any case I would always decide again in favour of Waldorf education as in our times it seems to me to be the best choice for spiritually-orientated parents.
The Buddhist parent says:
Our decision in favour of a Waldorf school was mainly influenced by the fact that the teachers were ready to accept Hue Bao as what he is. They understood for instance that his robe is more than a garment that can be taken off any time. They were able to understand that it is part of his spiritual path. He grew up in the temple in that robe and he knows that this robe and his plait belong to his being a monk.
Let’s return to Eugene Schwartz’s speech in 1999, when he claimed (to the horror of many waldorf supporters who are less eager to spit out the truth) that waldorf’s spiritual nature is its very reason for existing:
That’s why I send [my daughter] to a Waldorf school. She can have a religious experience. A religious experience. I’ll say it again: I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience. So that she learns something about reverence. So that she learns something about respecting a higher being. …
… I think we owe it to our parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another. And if any of the teacher trainees in the room feel that I’m not saying that clearly enough to you, well, here it is, guys, if I haven’t said it to you a hundred times already: when we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education.
To deny the religious basis of Waldorf education–I would say it again–to satisfy public school superintendents, or a talk show host, or a newspaper reporter, is very, very wrong. And the Waldorf leadership, I would say, are waffling on this matter. I would say we are religious schools. Religious schools plus; religious schools with a difference; religious schools light–whatever you want to call it.
But we are, we are schools that inculcate religion in children. But it’s a different kind of religion, because it leaves them free to find their own religious path or not. …
If we are really to be a movement for cultural renewal, 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. …
Roger Rawlings, a former waldorf student like me, has an essay on waldorf and religion on his website; it begins (formatting changed):
Read the whole essay!
He also brings up topics such as how religiousness and anthroposophy seeps into education and how waldorf teachers and anthroposophists from the very beginning of waldorf’s history have been inclined to hide its spiritual nature. There’s also another essay on anthroposophy in the classroom, entitled ‘Serving the Gods’. Roger writes:
The important point is to understand what all of this means in practice in Waldorf schools. Waldorf teachers think they are in contact with invisible beings. They think they receive guidance from them. They think their mission is divinely inspired. They use prayer and meditation, as prescribed by Steiner, to inform their work inside Waldorf schools. They are, in other words, religious missionaries, operating within a gnostic theology.
Staffed by such individuals, Waldorf schools are religious institutions. And the people Waldorf teachers work to convert are their students. Here’s how Rudolf Steiner put it, addressing the teachers at the first Waldorf school at the beginning of its very first term: “We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds … Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work. I ask you to understand these introductory remarks as a kind of prayer to those powers who stand behind us with Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as we take up this work.” 
Waldorf teachers have a connection with “the spiritual worlds.” They serve the “spiritual powers.” They work in the “name” of these powers. Steiner’s words on these matters are “a kind of prayer.” In overhearing Steiner talking this way to Waldorf school teachers, we are hearing a religious leader underscoring the school’s religious purpose, fulfilling its “moral spiritual task.” There is no science in Steiner’s words. There is faith. There is messianism. There is religion. That’s what Waldorf schools are all about.
Roger’s essays, as well as the material on ECSWE’s website, should be read by anyone contemplating sending their child to waldorf education. Do take another and deeper look at what the ECSWE really says (it is not religious — but religion is everywhere!) and consider what impact this approach to education may have on a child’s development towards becoming an independent, rational and critically minded adult. Notice also how the ECSWE offers uncritical support of parental indoctrination of their child to become a Buddhist monk. ECSWE respects this decision, because its core assumptions — that making life-changing spiritual and intellectual decisions for a child, to limit the child’s viewpoints and his options, to immerse him in a spiritual system before he’s been able to develop faculties of critical thinking, are well within the rights of parents and teachers — appeal to and correspond with those held by waldorf education’s proponents. They don’t pause to consider whether this indoctrination violates the child’s rights to freedom and to making up his own mind — they simply conclude that this kind of spiritual abuse is compatible, in practice, with waldorf traditions. Thus the child gets on fairly well in school, despite other discrepancies between Buddhism and anthroposophy.
Edit August 4, 2010: Quote from Roger Rawlings updated!