|One of the myths about Waldorf
education, cultivated in a rhetorical way by especially small groups of
secular humanists, is that anthroposophy at Waldorf schools is taught as
content to the pupils in such a way as to infringe upon their spiritual
The overwhelming majority
of Waldorf pupils world wide would probably disagree with them.
What is the basic relation
between anthroposophy and Waldorf education, and how does anthroposophy
inspire Waldorf education?
One aspect of anthroposophy
as a spiritual philosophy is that it describes how you can deepen and transform
your life of thoughts, feelings and willing in such a way that they become
organs for in freedom relating to the world out of modern conscious research
While modern science primarily
develops research using and developing research instruments, external
to man, anthroposophy shows how you can transform yourself as a
human and your inner life in such a way that you yourself become an ever
more objective research instrument in investigating and understanding the
In doing this, you become
ever more conscious of what you yourself and others are as beings of not
only body, but also of soul and spirit, as also the way differentiated
spirituality permeates the world.
This opens up new perspectives
on a number of phenomena, regarding the origin and nature of man, the relation
of man to nature, the development and evolution of man and a number or
This understanding is the
basis of waldorf education, and the reason why Waldorf Kindergarten not
teaches academics, but cultivates and only stepwise brings the child from
its inborn, reverential, generic "religious" attitude and
relation to the world in early childhood, over to the development of relating
to the world out of what is "beautiful" in it in the broadest
sense of the word using the elementary basic elements of the different
arts in the lower grades in grade school.
NOURISHING THE LIFE OF
THE SOUL IN PRIMARY SCHOOL
To the central elements in
forming and developing this artistic relation to the world belongs the
element of rhythm in the broad sense of the word, forming the teaching
with artistic means in such a way that it lets the pupils "breathe" with
This conscious structuring
and developing of life in the lower grades in such a way that it primarily
nourishes the life of the soul is based on an anthroposophical understanding
of the stages of development of man from childhood to adulthood, and the
basic nature and needs of children during the years c. 7 to c. 14 years
The general understanding
of man that comes out of anthroposophy also makes Waldorf education put
a stress on a more direct "scientific" intellectual
way of relating to the world only with the onset of puberty and up into
the upper grades and high school.
Anthroposophy for example
makes it possible to understand as a working hypothesis how the soul of
man is related to and born out of the world of stars and star forces, in
a way that comes to expression in the way different cultures of the world
have viewed and describe the stars of heaven using pictures of primarily
different animals as expression of different soul qualities.
While not taught as such
in this way to the pupils, and the use of animal pictures in different
cultures to describe the world of stars only is described phenomenologically
in the teaching on world cultures, it forms the basis of the curriculum
in Waldorf schools from around 14 years of age and into High school.
The primary purpose of the
lower grades in Waldorf schools is to give the pupils a rich soul nourishment
out of human culture in different forms. This is done by not only describing
and building an understanding of the external but also the inner spiritual
life of people, peoples and humanity through the history of mankind as
it comes to expression in different cultural forms, in a way that can be
the basis for the more conscious way of relating to the world out of a
reflecting, experimental and scientific attitude in the upper grades and
Anthroposophy consists in
making conscious the essence of human development, cultural history and
evolution and develop it into the future.
To one of the central elements
in human culture belongs pictures and allegories in different form, not
primarily speaking from and to the head and thinking of man but from and
to the heart and soul of man.
In the lower grades, also
in public Waldorf charter schools, these stories, pictures and allegories
that constitute the central element in this documented cultural history
of mankind are mediated and made alive to the pupils in an artistic and
not primarily intellectual way in education.
According to secular humanist
and some fundamentalist oriented critics of Waldorf education, this constitutes
a violation of what according to them is the prescribed secular humanist
philosophical basis of public education, and an indoctrination of the pupils
with anthroposophy that violates the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This anti-cultural view of
human culture and education probably is not supported by most educated
and reasonable people, and a court in NY in 2001 ruled against some parents,
that had litigated against a public school district in a case not concerning
Waldorf schools. The parents in the case in question had argued that the
way a public school teacher used artistic means to make the pupils understand
Indian culture had constituted a violation of the First Amendment of the
For the ruling in the case,
MAKING ANTHROPOSOPHY THE
CONTENT OF THE CURRICULUM WOULD MAKE WALDORF SCHOOLS INTO ANTHROPOSOPHICAL
PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS IN VIOLATION OF WALDORF PHILOSOPHY
A few individual anthroposophical
authors writing on Waldorf education suggest the introduction into the
curriculum of anthroposophical concepts and content in a way that is not
demonstrable on the basis of the known cultural history of mankind, but
leads beyond it into domains of human nature and history that only are
accessible to spiritual investigation.
One of the few such authors
is Alan Whitehead, who for a number of years led an Australian Waldorf
teacher training center. He has developed teaching material for Waldorf
teachers that suggests integrating anthroposophical concepts and content
into the curriculum at Waldorf schools in a way counter to the basic Waldorf
While possible as such, this
would make Waldorf schools into anthroposophical parochial schools if implemented,
distinctly different from Waldorf schools in general and in
violation of the intentions and basics of Waldorf education, as expressed
by Rudolf Steiner as the main founder of Waldorf education for Waldorf
schools, and practiced at the vast majority of Waldorf schools world wide.
If done, such schools would
have the responsibility to tell prospective parents that they, in contrast
to normal Waldorf or Steiner schools were parochial schools in the same
sense that Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other spiritual or religious schools
That is not the case with
the overwhelming majority of Waldorf schools world wide, developed not
to make the pupils into "anthroposophists" in any theoretical sense, by
teaching them anthroposophy, but into people prepared to meet life with
both feet on the ground, and an open heart and mind when leaving school.
This is also confirmed by a number of comments
by different people from their perspective as former Waldorf parents, Waldorf
pupils or public educators.
Especially in public charter
schools that use Waldorf methods in their program, special care is taken
to see to it that neither the training of the Waldorf charter school teachers,
nor the curriculum contain anything that could be a violation of the U.S.
Constitution with regard to the separation of Church and State. For more
on this, see here.
THE WORLD VIEW OF THE
WALDORF PUPILS AFTER SCHOOL, AS INDICATED BY THEIR PROFESSIONAL CHOICE,
IS DETERMINED PRIMARILY BY THEIR HOME, NOT BY HAVING GONE TO A WALDORF
One part of the allegations
by individuals and small groups of critics of Waldorf education that Waldorf
schools teach anthroposophy is that this should be done to make the pupils
This is unsupported by the
experience of the world view of former Waldorf pupils after school, as
indicated by their professional choice.
Probably in contrast
to pupils at independent Waldorf schools operated in the direction suggested
by Whitehead (to the extent such schools can be found), or pupils home
schooled on the basis of Whitehead's views, experience shows that pupils
at Waldorf schools normally on graduation don't even know who Rudolf Steiner
was or what anthroposophy is, as the spiritual philosophical foundation
of Waldorf education.
Experience also indicates
that the proportion of the pupils who after graduation choose some form
of anthroposophically oriented occupation does not differ noticeably from
the proportion of the parents who have an anthroposophical orientation
at Waldorf schools, in general roughly on the order of some 10-15% both
in Europe and the U.S..
In general, this indicates
that the great majority of Waldorf teachers world wide well have understood
the spirit of freedom in Waldorf education:
" ... the first
prerequisite of a Waldorf teacher is to have reverence for the soul and
spiritual potential which each child brings with it into the world.
"When confronted with the
child, the teacher must be imbued with the awareness that he is dealing
with an innately free human being. With this attitude he will be able to
work out educational principles and methods which will safeguard the child's
inborn freedom so that in later life, when a pupil looks back upon his
school days, he will not find any infringement upon his personal freedom,
not even in the aftereffects of his education."
Soul Economy in Waldorf Education.]
2004-2006: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall