I always feel sad when I come across articles or sites that are dedicated to negative comments about Steiner Education. There are many. Some of them are even by people who grew up in Steiner schools or were raised by parents who were Anthroposophists. Some critics have said that Waldorf schools are a front for the shady agenda of Anthroposophists–whatever that is. I’ve been here for over 10 years and I haven’t even caught a whiff of it. The only difference is, I became a Waldorf parent because of my interest in Anthroposophy, so I find no dissonance there.
Anthroposophy is the study of the human being. That is what it is. It is not a religion. It is not a cult. The main view is that the human being is fourfold–having a physical body, spirit, soul, and the “I” or the higher ego that integrates everything. From this belief and study, founded by Rudolf Steiner, many initiatives were born: biodynamic farming, eurythmy, Anthroposophic medicine, Waldorf/Steiner education and many more. Because it deals with intangibles, like soul and spirit, Anthroposophy is naturally open to criticism, but anyone who has really tried to study Rudolf Steiner, will find it difficult to say it is total nonsense. My rule is: if you understand it and it resonates and makes perfect sense in your life, do it. If not, leave it behind. In short, don’t read Steiner and follow everything he says just because he said it. That seems to have worked for me so far.
You don’t have to be an Anthroposophist to be in a Waldorf School. In fact, many Waldorf school parents are not, but there will always be a group of parents who put their children in this school, precisely because they believe in what Steiner brought. Because of that, they tend to be the most active parents in the school, also because they live by the same philosophies at home. But, believe me, they are everything but a cult. Anthroposophists are notorious for not getting along and for doing their own thing. I’ve seen and experienced that time and time again. This is because in the course of your study and practice, you do become a stronger individual with clearer opinions and convictions. But Anthroposophy is not a cult. There is no recruitment, membership, costumes, tithes, nothing. We love to joke about it, though, because it is a wild and hilarious idea.
Steiner/Waldorf Education is based on the priniciple of the fourfold human being but it is not Anthroposophy itself. Anthroposophy is not taught in a Waldorf school, though I personally believe that a good Waldorf teacher would have to have a good understanding and grasp of it. Still, nothing is imposed on parent or child. There is a child in our school whose parents do not attend the festivals because their religion does not celebrate them. They are free to do what they want, though the celebration of festivals is a wonderful way to live into the rhythms of the year in nature and to create a mood of reverence in children. There is nothing in them that goes against any religion. But the school will not impose on anyone’s personal faith or beliefs. There is no hidden agenda in Steiner Education to produce Anthroposophists. It is not even everyday conversation in the schools, not because there’s a sinister plot that must be kept hidden, but because it isn’t necessary for parents to get into it, though I believe it would enhance their understanding of the kind of education they chose for their children.
For me, the greatest struggle Steiner Schools must face today, is how to stay true to Rudolf Steiner’s impulse AND how to renew it and make it relevant in the world so that nothing becomes dogma. I have a feeling those who rail against Steiner/Waldorf education received a dogmatic and dead version of the education so that they felt stifled and imprisoned. It can happen if the carriers of the school — or the parents of these children — are stuck in Steiner’s teachings and do not see the world as it is today, or do not recognize what the children are asking for or need in the present.
I have met dogmatic people in the Waldorf/Steiner community who are no longer that–they were once, but through the years have also loosened their grip and are trying to achieve balance. The main thing is to always ask questions and to never take anyone’s word for it. Any parent in a Waldorf School must learn to ask questions of himself, his child’s teachers and the community at large. If you hear something that doesn’t make sense, ask. If you don’t agree, don’t go with it. I have sought the help of my children’s teachers during crisis points in our lives and I’ve always appreciated their view but I haven’t always followed their advice. In anything we do today, we have to learn to think on our own, regardless of what others may say.
We must also learn to see how our children really are. If there is something wrong with the school, or the kind of education your child is getting (Steiner or not), you will be the first to see and experience it in your child’s behavior and health. I am happy with Steiner/Waldorf education, though it is far from perfect here. We have to find a way to run the schools more efficiently while keeping the substance whole. Each Waldorf School has to define for itself exactly what its vision is, apart from it being “a Waldorf School”. We need a lot more experienced, grounded teachers. It is my opinion that we need more teachers who have a solid background in Anthroposophy, because the more they understand the picture of the whole human being, the better able they are to be strong individuals, able to bring our children to wholeness. This is an opinion not shared by many, but I would personally not be comfortable putting my children in a Waldorf school that denies Anthroposophy. But that is me.
I recently met a woman who said she didn’t believe in Waldorf Education because it doesn’t work. I told her it works for my children, but I agree that it is not for all. She said that it was clearly not for her son, but later she said she kept bugging her therapist about her son who did nothing but stay on his computer all day long. I just smiled. My children don’t do that, thanks to Waldorf Education. If she never experienced it, I don’t see how she could have said it would not work for her son.
I have no illusions that my children will develop an interest in Anthroposophy. They may or may not, but that is not important to me. The only thing I really dream is for them to become integrated, whole, creative and fully human. The labels don’t interest me. I will do what I can with everything I know and feel and then let them be whomever they are meant to be. That is also the essence of Waldorf Education, which is why I am confident there are no sinister plots or agendas lurking anywhere.
Don’t let the anti-Waldorf stuff frighten you, but don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. Remain open, look at everything, and then simply decide what resonates and works for you and your child. It is as simple as that.