LESS COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION
The Waldorf education movement has grown rapidly in the last decades world wide, and Waldorf schools increasingly have become a role model within the New Education movement.

This development and expansion also has increased the degree of contact with society in general, leading to different forms of questions, discussions and dialogues, as well as different forms of criticism and the cultivation of various myths by individuals and small groups of people.

Some of the questions cultivated from time to time by such individuals and small groups are:

  • Some say that Waldorf schools recommend that parents avoid childhood immunizations. Is that correct?
  • Some say that Waldorf schools seem to be rigid in their policies and attitudes. Is that the case?
  • Some Waldorf schools don't seem to describe the relation between Waldorf education and its underlying philosophy very fully to prospective parents. Is that the case?
  • Some say that Waldorf teachers are not always being adequately trained. Is that the case?
  • Ethnic diversity does not seem to be an outstanding quality of Waldorf schools. What do they do about it?
  • Some say Waldorf schools don't give their pupils a good basic education and instead teach them anthroposophy. Is that the case?
For comments on some even more uncommon questions than the above, see here.

AGAINST CHILDHOOD IMMUNIZATIONS?

Opposition to systematic mandatory childhood immunizations in early life is a growing world wide movement that has developed in recent years, independently of Waldorf education, both outside and inside Waldorf schools. See Global Vaccine Institute and Global Vaccine Awareness League.

This has led to questions if it is a general official or tacit policy of Waldorf Schools to oppose to childhood immunization.

That is not the case. The expressly stated policy by the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education, in which also the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America participates, is that vaccination of children is something for the parents of the children, not Waldorf schools, to decide on (PDF).

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RIGIDITY OF ATTITUDES AND POLICIES?

As in public schools and other independent schools, difficulties with discipline, rigidity of attitudes or policies, and the quality of teaching may come to expression in younger, less mature Waldorf schools, and even at times in a more mature Waldorf school.

While developing Waldorf schools have many of the basic qualities of more developed and mature Waldorf schools, parents need to be aware of the possibility that problems may arise at young and growing Waldorf schools. Waldorf schools are not centrally governed and ruled, but rather are free, independent and self administered schools.

If you are a prospective parent, visit the school you plan to put your child in, talk to the representatives of the school, the prospective class teacher, and parents with children in the school, to get to know it and see if it meets your expectations.

Parents should not hesitate to ask questions if they feel something is not correct, including the way the faculty responds to concerns from parents. Parents, even in young Waldorf schools, have a right to expect a reasonable level of quality of education. They also have a right to thorough, prompt, and proper answers when raising issues at their school.

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INCOMPLETE DESCRIPTION OF THE BASIS OF WALDORF EDUCATION GIVEN TO PROSPECTIVE PARENTS?

As growing, free, independent and self determining schools, some young Waldorf schools are not fully prepared to meet, not only the pedagogical needs of the children, and the demands connected with growth (buildings, personnel, administration), but also the informational needs of parents.

This has led at times to the experience of prospective or new parents that Waldorf schools have failed to describe and explain the nature and basis of Waldorf education.

This problem, also found at times in Waldorf schools which are mature in other respects, can lead to misunderstandings by the parents. If such an omission occurs, it infringes on their freedom and right to make an informed school choice for their children.

Some parents at times make the unreasonable demand that all Waldorf teachers have read all the published works by Rudolf Steiner (not just the basic works related to Waldorf education), that they defend and can explain all of it to questioning parents and also describe it fully in introductions on Waldorf education.

This is not reasonable.

The published works by Steiner consist of nearly 90,000 pages in c. 350 volumes. They have the form of books, collections of articles, essays, notes, drawings, poetry, meditations, and more or less correct notes or transcripts of some 4,000 lectures in all sorts of forms, from well prepared lectures to ad hoc ones. Most of Steiner's work is not directly or is only very peripherally related to Waldorf education.

While anthroposophy is the general basis of Waldorf education and in some form is the basic world view of many Waldorf teachers, it is not and should not be taught as a subject in Waldorf schools. See below. Nor can a Waldorf teacher be expected to know and defend everything that Steiner expressed on different subjects at different times throughout his life.

But it is reasonable to expect that there are teachers at every Waldorf school who not only are knowledgeable of and can describe and explain the basics of Waldorf education, but also the basic pedagogical background and reasons for the specific educational methods used in Waldorf schools to questioning parents and others interested.

There also are a number of good introductions to Waldorf education which do this, one of the many being "Waldorf education: A Family Guide". See also here. For a more complete list, see here.

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INSUFFICIENT NUMBER OF QUALIFIED WALDORF TEACHERS?

The increasing demand for Waldorf education in recent years has at times led to problems, in terms of a corresponding development of Waldorf teacher training and attracting and educating a sufficient number of Waldorf teachers to meet the needs of newly founded and developing schools. As a consequence of this, new and developing Waldorf schools have at times needed to take on teachers not fully qualified as Waldorf teachers.

While Waldorf teacher training centers work at catching up with the needs of the schools, this is still not a fully solved problem.

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LOW DEGREE OF ETHNIC DIVERSITY?

While there are Waldorf schools in an increasing number of countries in the world, Waldorf schools in the West do not always reflect the ethnic diversity of the countries in which they are found. In the U.S., most non-profit, independent Waldorf schools have fewer than 10% minority students.

There are some notable exceptions where an independent Waldorf school may have 30% minority students and one public Waldorf school working as a charter school, the Urban Waldorf School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has a majority of minority students. But this is still a problem not fully handled by the Waldorf movement in the West.

Long lingering and deeply seated racial patterns and prejudices in parts of the U.S. has probably been one major factor making the mean income of black households in general on the order of only c. 65%, and of hispanic households in general the order of c. 70-75% of that of white households in the U.S. in 2000. These economic disparities are one central factor contributing to the low degree of ethnic diversity at independent Waldorf schools in the U.S..

The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2002, that school vouchers do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, stipulating the separation of church and state, hopefully will contribute to counteracting this inequality of income, and the development of an ethnic diversity at U.S. Waldorf schools that matches that of American society.

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TEACHING ANTHROPOSOPHY?

Avoiding all talk of anthroposophy is a common trait in Waldorf schools to an extent that Waldorf parents at times feel that they not have been told about something they had wanted to and should have been told about. Also, most Waldorf pupils when leaving school probably know very little about Rudolf Steiner as the founder of Waldorf education, and have been told and know nothing or next to nothing about anthroposophy.

While it is not common in the basic Waldorf tradition, anthroposophy seems to have flowed in some instances into individual Waldorf schools and has been taught at or applied in an improper way. Also some people who have taught Waldorf teachers or who have developed curriculum materials for home schoolers have improperly incorporated anthroposophy in their teaching materials.

While people home schooling their children are free to form the curriculum the way they wish, it is against the basic Waldorf tradition to insert anthroposophy as content in the curriculum at Waldorf schools. It is a violation of the spiritual freedom and integrity of the parents and pupils, and in complete contradiction to the intentions of Waldorf education, as expressed by Rudolf Steiner as the founder of Waldorf education.

It is also a misunderstanding of anthroposophy if one believes that it should constitute a basis or support for any kind of racism. A focus on the individual and a multi-cultural orientation have been marked traits of Waldorf education since its start 80 years ago.

In this, Waldorf education from the beginning was way ahead of its time in the U.S., where it took until 2002, 74 years from its inception in 1928, for the Academy Award for best actress to be given to an outstanding African American actress, Halle Berry.

The same type of discrimination and racism that has prevented female African American actors from getting an Oscar for their performance in leading roles, all through the 20th century up to 2002, has, in a few instances, also been found expressed by some authors who are said to be motivated out of anthroposophy. It also seems to have come to expression in the past in some isolated individual instances at some of the c. 870 Waldorf schools in the world.

Such individual racism was more based on personal prejudices and a racism of the time than on an understanding of anthroposophy, and is indefensible in any instance it may come to expression. It runs counter to the very heart and essence of both Waldorf education and anthroposophy as its spiritual philosophical basis, and has no place in Waldorf schools nor in any other school or place in society.

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Copyright 2004-2010: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall