no waldorf without anthroposophy

There’s a video here, but I don’t seem to be able to watch it.* However, it’s still possible to read the very short article. It’s worth reading, too. Heiner Ullrich, professor of education, says (if I may make an attempt at a summary, because the points he makes are important; if you read german, read the original) that although anthroposophy isn’t taught, the waldorf school is immersed in it and cannot be understood without tracing the ideas back to Steiner; to believe it’s possible to have waldorf education without Steiner philosophy is a mistake.

Anthroposophie werde zwar nicht als Fach gelehrt, durchdringe aber das Schulleben und die Unterrichtsinhalte, meint dagegen der Mainzer Pädagogik-Experte und Steiner-Biograf Heiner Ullrich. “Es ist vieles dort nicht ganz verständlich, wenn man nicht den Schritt auf Rudolf Steiner zugeht.”

Eine Waldorf-Ausbildung auch ohne Steiner-Philosophie für sein Kind haben zu können, ist aus Sicht des Experten ein Trugschluss. “Die Waldorfschule ist wahrscheinlich die Reformschule mit dem stärksten weltanschaulichen Hintergrund, die wir haben.”

He then explains that waldorf functions as a replacement for a religious community. And waldorf education becomes a kind of life project, not just an education. For many children, he says, waldorf is not a good match, and they can feel trapped and want to get out. (Indeed.)

He also criticizes the lack of scientific foundation in the teacher training, the absence of school books and the practice of having one teacher teach the class for eight years.

Read it.

*After writing this, the video finally played. It begins with a former waldorf student and her father. They’re discontent with her time in the waldorf school. She transferred there later (at 11 years of age), and was astounded to hear the teacher read a poem by Steiner. It was about humanity as the crown of creation; a discussion ensued, and she said humans and apes have common ancestry, the teacher replied that he thought such a notion stupid.  She felt harrassed by the teacher and left the school.

The video mentions some anthroposophical concepts in passing, such as karma, reincarnation, astral bodies. Critics say, they say, that waldorf is a school that indoctrinates children in anthroposophy.

Another education researcher, professor Heiner Barz, has asked waldorf students what they know about anthroposophy and Steiner. They know practically nothing (hardly surprising), so his conclusion is that the charge of indoctrination — or that waldorf educates towards anthroposophy — is without foundation. Of course, I’m going to make an objection to this — the students don’t need to know anything about anthroposophy or Steiner in such a way that they know what they know or have done or been through is or is based upon anthroposophy or Steiner. They don’t need to know any of this, and still they have absorbed anthroposophical content. And as for indoctrination — as I’ve said many times, I would find it preferable if anthroposophy was taught, directly, because then it becomes (more of) a conscious content, rather than something just absorbed unknowingly while students remain utterly ignorant of the worldview that’s shaped their school years. They don’t even know a school subject such as eurythmy is anthroposophy; that’s nothing but very sad ignorance, for which they, themselves, are not responsible.


15 thoughts on “no waldorf without anthroposophy

  1. And I would agree wholeheartedly. Waldorf makes no sense at all without anthroposophy and ‘Steiner values”.

  2. And what about vice versa? I read some of the ‘Sun at Midnight’ you recommended, Alicia, and wonder if Anthroposophy only remains because of the Waldorf schools. certainly in the UK and Us it would seem unlikely there would remain such a following were it not for this visible and practical demonstration of the philosophy.
    Also remembering what Falk said when I first asked about who becomes an Anthroposophist (hitherto knocked etc) maybe the people he met were or had been involved in Waldorf?

  3. Even if they were not frst introduced to anthroposophy through Waldorf the schools and colleges etc are a sort of petrie dish for keeping it on the boil, It is a place to commune and authenticate the ideas even if people are not converted on the premises.

  4. I suspect that without all the practical applications, the movement would be much smaller. Because they keep lots of people occupied and within the community. People can live their beliefs. Reinforce them. And so forth.

  5. Helen:

    “Even if they were not frst introduced to anthroposophy through Waldorf the schools and colleges etc are a sort of petrie dish for keeping it on the boil, It is a place to commune and authenticate the ideas even if people are not converted on the premises.”

    That’s pretty much it.

    From the esoteric point of view, the aim is not really to “convert” large numbers of people on the spot, or even necessarily to convert students over the course of many years of schooling (though the schooling clearly makes some students susceptible). But anthroposophy is based on reincarnation and the aims of spiritual development are spread out over many lifetimes. So a person who comes into contact with Waldorf or other anthroposophical institutions (whether as student, parent, or teacher) is thought to be gathering material for his or her future spiritual tasks, some of which may be many lifetimes past the present one. Simple exposure to anthroposophy, it is thought, may give a person “strength” or knowledge that they will use in future lifetimes.

    From the straightforward, practical point of view, however, anthroposophy simply needs a lot of customers to pay fees and support the movement; they don’t really care if many of those people actually become anthroposophists. In an important sense, it is actually better if most people involved are not anthroposophists and not really totally clear on what anthroposophy is.They just need to pay school fees, buy the books and the toys or the biodynamic bread and wine etc. When some of these people become more clued in to what anthroposophy is actually all about, a very small minority of them become anthroposophists. Many more become disenchanted and leave, sometimes very angrily. Their best customers are people who are sympathetic based on the quaint toys and dolls, the Maypole dancing, the ban on TV in the schools, etc., yet don’t really know much about anthroposophy. Those people fork over their money eagerly.

    So efforts at “conversion” in anthroposophy and Waldorf schools is really a rather complex topic. From the critics point of view, we would really be a lot happier if they would openly proselytize. The sneaky, under the radar stuff is what is so terribly damaging to so many people who come in contact with this movement. Open attempts to bring customers to anthroposophy would be much healthier.

  6. Thank you Diana, that is very enlightening.
    This helps in gaining amunition to support my view that if not one and the same, Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy are so mutually dependent that it is irrelevant to separate them.
    It has been difficult to get at how the harm is done to children and vulnerable people in such an underhand way by people with such an unsavoury agenda.
    It seems wicked to try to covertly weave a web of nonsense about some other life when children should be encouraged to do what they can to make this life a better one for themselves and every other person.

  7. ‘anthroposophy simply needs a lot of customers to pay fees and support the movement’ I have not heard much about the financial side. Some of the buildings must cost a fortune, it is hard to imagine most of the parents are wealthy enough to donate all those funds.
    And there can’t be many wealthy software company bosses who are sympathetic. Maybe running costs and salaries are quite low.
    I always tell the Mormons they are being sent out mainly to rake in the cash for their very well maintained churches, I guess Steiner teachers are used in the same way.

  8. Diana – Oh dear.

    It’s like the parents are saying ‘do as I say, not do as I do’ – phones, laptops etc

  9. ‘And there can’t be many wealthy software company bosses who are sympathetic.’

    And there are some wealthy software bosses who are anthroposophists; remember the Software AG and the Hereford academy! (And here’s my comment on the NYT article; there was also a discussion on critics about it.

    ‘Simple exposure to anthroposophy, it is thought, may give a person “strength” or knowledge that they will use in future lifetimes.’

    You see! I’ll reincarnate better next time.

    You’re so right about the types of customers, Diana. If they didn’t have that third group — the ‘best’ — they’d run on a much smaller scale than they do now.

  10. By the way, I discussed the teaching of anthroposophy elsewhere and the issue was: would waldorf teachers be able to teach anthroposophy to their students?

    I remembered this because I saw that Dan wrote in a thread (race & temperaments) on critics:

    ‘Steiner said that Anthroposophy should not be taught to children explicitly, but that its world view should be implicit in all lessons. On the ground, explicit Anthroposophy often leaks into Waldorf schools because the teachers, educated in Anthroposophical seminaries, don’t know how to distinguish Anthroposophy from real-world knowledge.’

    Which is to the point, and made me think of what I’d written, as it had to do with this particular post.


    There were some teachers who could have done it, I think. But many, I’m sure, could not have. One aspect making it more complicated — and also affecting the education itself — was what I think of as a kind of inability to separate ‘mainstream’ knowledge from anthroposophical knowledge. (I guess that is, to a certain extent, a point in itself; it shouldn’t be separated, anthroposophy is just a ‘spiritualisation’ of everything else. But it leads to confusion, in practice.) Of all the stuff that filled up their heads, they didn’t really know what was anthroposophy. It was just stuff they ‘knew’ about the world and everything in it. Lots of ‘knowledge’ they wouldn’t — weren’t able to — file as ‘anthroposophical’.

    Of course, I left when I was still quite young, but it seems to be the policy not to teach older students anything about it either (the schools even advertise it eagerly, repeating that it isn’t taught), or even just discuss it with them. I’ve had former waldorf students be very upset with me because I’ve written that blatant examples of the anthroposophical influence, such as the morning verse or eurythmy, are indeed… anthroposophical. And they’re cocksure they’re not. It’s very odd. (Admitttedly, these students might have been a bit dense. I think most kids had suspicions there was something quite special about eurythmy and its role… even though they didn’t quite understand what it was.)


    ( <— that book's worth reading, btw. Will blog about it.)

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