Is the claim in the title true? Perhaps it is. Perhaps some waldorf teachers today don’t know much about anthroposophy. I’m talking now about trained waldorf teachers. (I know many waldorf schools have to hire unqualified staff as teachers, people who have neither traditional teacher training nor waldorf teacher training. To assess what they know about anthroposophy is of course almost impossible.) I’ve been told, not a few times, that waldorf teachers today don’t know all that much about anthroposophy, as though this were something good. I suppose it might sound like something that ought to please me — it doesn’t. This topic is loosely connected to another question talked about here recently — would waldorf be better off without anthroposophy? (Or would anthroposophy be better off without waldorf? for that matter.)
For better or worse, back in my days (when there were also dinosaurs roaming the streets… no, just kidding), I don’t think you could say the teachers didn’t know much about anthroposophy. Rather the opposite was true — many, if not most, were committed anthroposophists, and I have a feeling that the few who weren’t, were deeply sympathetic towards it and fairly knowledgeable about it. They did not practice their things superficially, they did not go through the motions without experiencing the meaning of and knowing the reasons behind what they were doing. Picking and choosing among the pretty parts of waldorf — the ‘superficially attractive parts — would be absurd in this context, it would, in fact, be ‘anti-waldorf’. Waldorf, in this sense, is less about what is done, and not, and more about what lies behind. (Mind you, I’m not saying what they do isn’t important — I say there are even more important motives behind what they do.) In the end it’s about what gives meaning and purpose to methods, practices, rituals, whatever. It’s about the essence of what this is all for and about what is held for true and necessary — it’s not about the surface. As I’ve said (on another thread recently), without this core, you have the shell. The shell alone. And this may attract some people — that’s for sure. But you don’t get people who commit to it for the same reasons, who feel the importance of it or who even know what it’s all about. The meaning of it. The depth of it.
If the teachers don’t understand these things, you don’t have waldorf, you have a name and possibly some nice walls. Stuff like that. But that’s all there is. Let’s think about it. Let’s use a blatant example of a very anthroposophical ritual in waldorf: the advent spiral. I’m positive you can go through the procedure, whatever you think about it and whichever way you experience it. But the reason it was what it was, was that waldorf teachers were committed to and understood its meaning and its depth (in their minds at least) and, therefore, it was a matter of seriousness. It was a matter of consciousness, too. The end result was characterized by this seriousness (sometimes in a way that could, I’m sure, be frightening) and by this very conscious carrying through of the act. You can like it or not, but the fact is, it’s a different experience than when you have people simply going through the procedures while committing to them outwardly than when they do it and commit themselves inwardly. And I would say that — again, whether you like the practices or results or not — to commit only to the surface, not to the core would be the very antithesis to what waldorf is really meant to be. As it is actually characterized by what is supposed to be (quest for) the damn foundation of human existence — that is, that’s where anthroposophy is supposed to lead you. That’s as far from the superficially attractive bling-bling you’ll get. If you think about it and take the proposition seriously, it’s something very different from that. It’s supposed to teach you what humans are, even lead you to know what you are, not only how to paint your walls. Without that, there’s no point to the wall paint anyway.
But, to return to the topic, let us discuss that claim — the claim that teachers don’t know much about anthroposophy. Might it not be that many of these trained waldorf teachers, having been trained in anthroposophical pedagogy and child development theories, know more about anthroposophy than they consciously think? Perhaps it’s a question of them being unable to distinguish anthroposophical knowledge from mainstream knowledge? To a much greater extent than should be the case, they believe they have been taught pedagogy, psychology, et c — that they have acquired mainstream knowledge about the topics these subjects and the subjects they’re going to teach? That is one possible explanation. This claim comes up now and then, so apparently both teachers and parents must believe in it. Some even seem to take pride in it — why worry about anthroposophy in waldorf education when teachers know so little about it anyway?
As far as I’m concerned, the claim might basically be bullshit. Not all bullshit, but mostly. With all probability. Or, if by any chance it isn’t bullshit, it should be bullshit. We know which literature the teacher students study — mainly Steiner-based –, and I hope we’re not supposed to be convinced they don’t actually read the literature, for example Study of Man. We also know what is required of waldorf schools to be allowed to call themselves waldorf schools. It would be quite shocking if waldorf teacher training was so crap that the students weren’t even familiar with the basics when they enter their (supposedly) professional lives. What of such a training that so ill prepares the students for their chosen professional paths? If teachers trained at these institutions remain ignorant of anthroposophy, this is a major failure. These teachers should not have graduated and they should not have been employed as teachers in waldorf schools, because they have not accomplished the degree of anthroposophical understanding that a waldorf teacher needs — whether we, as critics, think the body of knowledge is bogus or not is beside the point — to fulfill his or her professional role. The teachers should not be waldorf teachers, the schools not be waldorf schools.
Even to a critic of waldorf education — someone who should, I suppose, embrace every sign that there is little anthroposophy in any school’s education — the claim seems like disastrous to waldorf. It indicates incompetence at several levels — teacher training centers, among the teachers, in the school administration, in national (and even international) waldorf organisations… But most of all, the claim is ridiculous, whether there’s truth to it or not. If it’s basically untrue, it means those who purport this view lie. If it’s true — more or less — it means waldorf has no future. Moreover, it means waldorf schools today operate under false flag in quite a serious manner.
I actually do think that the trained waldorf teachers know more anthroposophy than they consciously identify as ‘anthroposophy’. But one might ask what the modern waldorf teachers’ education is worth if it were true that they don’t know anthroposophy. They are then — obviously — not qualified to teach in a waldorf school. But neither are they qualified to teach in a mainstream school. They don’t have a regular teacher training, after all. Waldorf schools are required to fulfill certain criteria, or they can’t be waldorf schools, that is, they can’t belong to the national organisations for waldorf schools, which in turn are organised in international networks. One aspect of these criteria is knowledge of anthroposophy in the college of teachers. The schools themselves should be operated according to certain principles established by the international organisations — most importantly, by the (more seasoned and experienced, one hopes, although what that means in this context is… well, another question) teachers who work at or with the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum. Anthroposophy is a non-negotiable part of these criteria. (Steiner’s Study of Man should be mentioned again here, it’s absolutely pivotal.) If waldorf teachers don’t understand anthroposophy, they can’t run a waldorf school that meets the criteria. Waldorf teachers are supposed to continuously study and develop their understanding of anthroposophy — individually and in group. So when people say anthroposophy is not so important — or is not really even something they know much about — then, in my conclusion, they’re either not telling the truth or they’re marketing the school as a waldorf school when in fact it is no waldorf school. Why would a parent who wants a waldorf school want that?
That waldorf teachers know little or nothing about anthroposophy — were this actually true — is not something positive. It’s a sign of a movement in decline (which perhaps is a good thing but also tells us that the schools today may be even worse than they ought to be, as would seem natural in a situation like that). Having to use deceptive marketing might also be a sign of the same basic problem, with some desperation added. Even as a critic, I think ignorance — ignorance of anthroposophy — is a definite failure. With ignorance, the schools can’t be what they intend to be, and they can’t function as regular schools do either, because the teachers don’t have that competency. In fact, everyone is short-changed. And you’re not getting what the label says. Or ought to say, if waldorf officials don’t try to conceal what waldorf is actually about: education based on anthroposophical ideas.
This, by the way, is the reading list for the (now terminated) teacher training program at Plymouth University. It is a list full of anthroposophical literature. I would bet that entirely private teacher training courses at wholly anthroposophical institutions are even more Steiner-based than this, but let’s use the Plymouth students as an example: if they don’t know what anthroposophy is about (I would say even to the details), they have not read their books, much less studied them. What would that tell us about waldorf teacher training and about waldorf schools?
What if, perhaps, there are contradictory claims on this matter? Maybe how much anthroposophy waldorf teachers (and waldorf schools) admit to has to do with whom they’re talking to. Oh, no — that’s the oldest and most tired observation in this game.