Waldorf Critics display ignorance

A great delight of my life as an undergraduate was studying Ancient Greek for 3 years. Reading Homer, Aristotle, Herodotus, Plato and Euripides in Greek (very badly, I admit) was a thrill. In addition, my fellow students were a diverse and fascinating bunch.
But I digress.

Are Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf Schools `Non-Sectarian’?
Dan Dugan and Judy Daar

was published in Free Inquiry in 1994. I’m not going to take the time to analyze the entire article (already taken care of), but there is one goody I wanted to point out. At the very end of the article it says:

“The four temperaments” refers to Steiner’s revival of medieval psychology. Waldorf teachers classify personalities as sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, or choleric, and treat children differently according to their types.

Now it is true that scholars in the Middle Ages still used these terms, although during that period they had little to do with psychology: these concepts were actually central to medieval medical practice.
My amusement arises from two sources. First, the fact that Dan and Judy are unaware of the true source of the temperaments in Ancient Greece. The ideas were derived from Aristotle’s work with the elements and transformed into medical practice by Galen (2nd century A.D.) Everyone calls them “medieval” so at least their ignorance is common currency.
The second source of amusement is the following quote:

A psychology colleague at Oxford remarked recently that, as a classification of personality types, the four humours are as good as any that has ever been offered.

From Greek Fire: The Influence of Ancient Greece on the Modern World by Oliver Taplin. Macmillan, 1989.
I’d much rather study the work of someone like Rudolf Steiner, who had the good sense to recognize a useful set of concepts, develop them further and put them into practice; than hang out with the Waldorf Critics who, in spite of all the ranting about ad homs, just toss out the word “medieval” and feel no need to think further.
Ignorance and closed minds.

What is an “anthroposophical education”?

I came across a potentially confusing phrase today, "anthroposophical education". It is potentially confusing because it could be understood two ways. It could mean: a school that will teach children anthroposophy. Or it could mean: a curriculum that is consistent with the principles of anthroposophy, even as it does not teach anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner explicitly and repeatedly stated that the Waldorf Schools SHOULD NOT teach anthroposophy to the students. He said at one point that a healthy child would have a natural repulsion to anthroposophy if they encountered it. This is something that those familiar with anthroposophy take seriously; it is not for children. You will have a very hard time finding a school that teaches anthroposophy to children; no Waldorf school should be doing it.

What is found at most Waldorf Schools is an "anthroposophical education" in the sense of an education that anthroposophists find appropriate for children. An "anthroposophically appropriate" curriculum is one that takes the anthroposophical knowledge of the human being, such as the stages of childhood development, and uses this knowledge to shape a curriculum that addresses the child where she is at, in each phase of development. That is, you use the understanding gained by a study of anthroposophy to create something new, a whole curriculum, or a daily lesson plan.

Using one thing to create another is a distinction lost on many at the Waldorf Critics list. When Joseph Beuys used Rudolf Steiner‘s anthroposophy as inspiration to create his artwork, the results are not "anthroposophy" just because the inspiration behind their creation was anthroposophy (FWIW I am aware of the debate in art history circles about how much or little Rudolf Steiner actually influenced Joseph Beuys). Likewise, when a Waldorf teacher uses anthroposophy as a guide to creating a lesson plan, the resulting lesson plan is not "anthroposophy". It is the same principle as creating a lesson plan using Backwards Design Principles. The resulting lesson plan is a lesson plan consistent with the principles of Backwards Design. It is not "Backwards Design" itself. This principle of using something (anthroposophy) as an inspiration to create something else (a pedagogy) seems very simple to me, yet it has confused the best minds at the Waldorf Critics list.

No Progress to Report

I’m delighted to report that PLANS has made no progress at all in correcting the lies on their web-site.
The piece about children having to all embroider the same design has not been modified (as suggested by Dan Dugan) with the word “usually.” The unsubstantiated claims that children “meditate” in school have neither been substantiated nor removed.
My highlighting of the outrageous cutting of Eugene Schwartz’ talk has been ignored. There it still sits, missing over 700 words, kindly represented by 4 sets of dots. Still no link to his complete talk. Still no apology for the blatant misrepresentation of his meaning. No withdrawal of the rumor mongering about the end of Mr. Schwartz’ employment at Sunbridge.
Now, the WC has provided a good explanation of why they don’t have to correct any of the lies we have been pointing out. It is because we aren’t pointing them out on the WC list. Right. Sure. Okay. Who could possibly argue with logic like that?

Waldorf Critics and why Eurythmy is not “Anthroposophy”

Over in the commnts of my posting on the Influence of Books, Peter "Pete" K. has taken me to task for misunderstanding Rudolf Steiner‘s indications about how Eurythmy=Anthroposophy, and accused me of using "Waldorf Speak" to obfuscate the fact, parrotting a "party line" because I disagree with him. He is mistaken, as I labor to demonstrate in my response, which I copy below. Peter wrote:

Daniel, I’m quite aware of the party line on Eurythmy. That you say it is not Anthroposophy is, well, bizarre. But, I have no desire to come here to your site and teach you about what Eurythmy is. Here is what Steiner said about it – and I would recommend you read the entire lecture before suggesting Eurythmy is nothing more than an art form. Some of us who are accustomed to Waldorf-speak have better things to do than to be instructed by you on what you apparently know very little about, or if you do, are unwilling to discuss honestly. Here – talk to Steiner:

“I speak in all humility when I say that within the Anthroposophical Movement there is a firm conviction that a spiritual impulse of this kind must now, at the present time, enter once more into human evolution. And this spiritual impulse must perforce, among its other means of expression, embody itself in a new form of art. It will increasingly be realised that this particular form of art has been given to the world in Eurythmy.

It is the task of Anthroposophy to bring a greater depth, a wider vision and a more living spirit into the other forms of art. But the art of Eurythmy could only grow up out of the soul of Anthroposophy; could only receive its inspiration through a purely Anthroposophical conception.”

From Rudolf Steiner’s “Lecture on Eurythmy” August 26, 1923
And please, take the time to read the entire lecture.


It is not my intention to parrot any sort of "party line". First, no one has ever suggested that I do so, much less told me what such a line should be, and second, I’m not the type of person for parties or conformity. You appear frustrated that you find so few people who agree with you, but I would suggest that this is because the facts are against you, and not because of some sort of Waldorf conspiracy.

I have read the entire lecture in question (and several others). More importantly, I have about 15 years experience practicing Eurythmy (I can also sing fairly well, play three instruments, draw, paint, and knit, thanks to a Waldorf education). So when I talk about what Eurythmy is or isn’t, I can talk as one who has done the movements and exercises (just as I have practiced scales on my cello, and done life-drawing exercises in graphic arts). I have experienced about 10 different Eurythmy teachers on three different continents, observed their different approaches to teaching Eurythmy, and observed several professional performances. I have also studied a lot of anthroposophy. None of my Eurythmy classes ever talked about anthroposophical subjects; they described the movements and what they were looking for as far as forms. And they really tried to get us to have a feeling for what we were doing, so that the movements would come from the heart, and not be mechanical. A parallel is perhaps applicable in music. Beethoven’s piano sonatas are renown for being fairly simple to play. Yet they are one among the more difficult pieces to perform, because you really have to feel them properly in order to have them sound satisfying. Done improperly, they sound plodding and mechanical. It takes a real artist to bring them to life. Eurythmy is the same, and I say this from experience.

I’ve had a lot of real Eurythmy teachers (it is a four-year training, seven for Curative Eurythmy), I don’t need you to "teach" me what Eurythmy is, because, frankly, you are not qualified.

Rudolf Steiner said a lot about Eurythmy, five volumes worth, in all, including the lecture I quoted. You have taken two further paragraphs from it, and apparently misunderstood them, because you have drawn a conclusion from them that is not supported by what is there. Rudolf Steiner said:

I speak in all humility when I say that within the Anthroposophical Movement there is a firm conviction that a spiritual impulse of this kind must now, at the present time, enter once more into human evolution. And this spiritual impulse must perforce, among its other means of expression, embody itself in a new form of art. It will increasingly be realised that this particular form of art has been given to the world in Eurythmy.

It is the task of Anthroposophy to bring a greater depth, a wider vision and a more living spirit into the other forms of art. But the art of Eurythmy could only grow up out of the soul of Anthroposophy; could only receive its inspiration through a purely Anthroposophical conception.

According to Rudolf Steiner, all of the arts originated in spiritual impulses, Eurythmy like the rest of them. Steiner is explicitly NOT saying that Eurythmy is Anthroposophy. He is saying that Eurythmy, like literally everything else in the world, originates from a spiritual impulse. Steiner was an Idealistic philosopher (in the technical sense); he believed that everything in the material world had its origin in the spiritual world. Now this spiritual world is not "Anthroposophy". The term "Anthroposophy" is not synonymous with "spiritual world". Anthroposophy is a method of investigating what exists, it is not the thing investigated. (For some, Anthroposophy is the results of such investigations in the form of hypotheses, or "Steiner says" quotes, but these are really just shadows of the real thing.) Now, according to Rudolf Steiner as cited above, the art of Eurythmy has its origin in a spiritual impulse, one that is closely related to the Anthroposophy. But this does not change the fact that the result of this impulse is an Art, an Art just like the other arts. Now that it exists, it is possible to study Eurythmy and perform it entirely without reference to its origins, as is done in Waldorf schools.

You are quite combative with your opinions, but that does not change the fact that they are hasty and ill-informed. You presume to "teach" me about Eurythmy, but you can’t take the time to read and understand two paragraphs. So I’m sorry if everyone who has actual experience with the subjects we are talking about contradicts your opinions. If several people disagree with you, it may simply be because you are wrong, and not some "party line" designed to fool you. If I could recommend anything, it would be to slow down and study a subject before becoming an instant expert in so-called "Waldorf Speak". Get your basic facts correct, please.

Is Eurythmy Anthroposophy?

As an example of anthroposophy in a Waldorf classroom, someone recently brought up Eurythmy. Eurythmy is taught in Waldorf schools to the students. Is not Eurythmy a perfect example of anthroposophy in the classroom? I can see how, if you knew nothing about Eurythmy, this idea might seem to have some validity. But a proper understanding of what constitutes Eurythmy will show that this is not so.

Eurythmy is an art, like modern dance or sculpture. In a slightly modified form, it can also be applied therapeutically, similar to the way the painting can be applied as a form of therapy, known as Art Therapy. Eurythmy is not anthroposophy. It is possible to practice Eurythmy while knowing nothing whatsoever of anthroposophy, either as an adult or as a child. Anthroposophy is a path of knowing, a way of looking at the world, or a body of teaching. Anthroposophy is a conscious path, through the exercise of thinking. It involves a working with concepts, and applying rational logic. Eurythmy, on the other hand, is artistic expression, in the form of movement. It presupposes no knowledge, no doctrine, no theory. You simply have to do it. Is it good for you? Of course, and so is painting, and so is sculpture, and so is choral singing. This does not make any of the above into anthroposophy. Only by defining anthroposophy as "that which anthropsophists do" is it possible to consider Eurythmy as "anthroposophy".

While it is true that Eurythmy is primarily found around anthroposophical initiatives, such as Waldorf schools, this fact alone does not change the nature of the art form. I know at least three people who work as consultants teaching Eurythmy to business groups as a form of team building. When you create a Eurythmy form in movement with other people, it is absolutely necessary to know where each other person is in their path through the form, in order for you to create your movements in proper harmony with the whole. Interestingly, this awareness of what other people are doing is something that businesses also find valuable. And I also heard a number of comments by coaches about how well Waldorf basketball teams perform, attributed to their training during Eurythmy in keeping track of the movements of other people in a group. So yes, practicing Eurythmy confers benefits. But this does not make Eurythmy "anthroposophy". A quote from Rudolf Steiner may be elucidating:

Rudolf Steiner:
… But some little time after the founding of the Waldorf School, it was discovered that Eurythmy can serve as a very important means of education; and we are now in a position to recognise the full significance of Eurythmy from the educational point of view. In the Waldorf School, [The original Waldorf School in Stuttgart of which Steiner was educational director] Eurythmy has been made a compulsory subject both for boys and girls, right through the school, from the lowest to the highest class; and it has become apparent that what is thus brought to the children as visible speech and music is accepted and absorbed by them in just as natural a way as they absorb spoken language or song in their very early years. The child feels his way quite naturally into the movements of Eurythmy. … The Waldorf School has already been in existence for some years, and the experience lying behind us justified us in saying that in this school unusual attention is paid to the cultivation of initiative, of will — qualities sorely needed by humanity in the present day. This initiative of the will is developed quite remarkably through Eurythmy, when, as in the Waldorf School, it is used as a means of education. One thing, however, must be made perfectly clear, and that is, that the greatest possible misunderstanding would arise, if for one moment it were to be imagined that Eurythmy could be taught in the schools and looked upon as a valuable asset in education, if, at the same time, as an art it were to be neglected and underestimated. Eurythmy must in the first place be looked upon as an art, and in this it differs in no respect from the other arts. And in the same way that the other arts are taught in the schools, but have an independent artistic existence of their own in the world, so Eurythmy also can only be taught in the schools when it is fully recognised as an art and given its proper place within our modern civilisation.
Lecture of 26th August, 1923 (GA 279)

So the supposition that, "only anthropsophists do it, so it therefore must be anthroposophy" is both factually incorrect and logically in error. Quite a few non-anthroposophists practice Eurythmy. And practicing Eurythmy is not anthroposophy, it is simply art.

The influence of books

On the Waldorf Critics list it has been suggested that you can tell how much Anthroposophy is taught to the students in a Waldorf School by the types of books in the school library. Beyond the basic illogic of the entire premise, I have to ask the question, which library? At the school where I teach, we have a student library, and a Faculty Library. All the anthroposophical books are locked in the Faculty Library, and students are not allowed access to them. It is probable that not all Waldorf Schools have dual libraries; however, using the above test, the students at my Waldorf School must be entirely free of anthroposophical influence simply due to the library arrangements.

I don’t recall any anthroposophical books at the Waldorf Schools that I attended, either. The whole subject was entirely uninteresting to me until I was past school-age; probably a healthy situation. In any case, the mere presence of books is not going to have much effect. To demonstrate influence, you would have to show that students were actually reading such books. I have a hard time picturing a 5th grader getting more than one page into a Steiner book. Heck, most Waldorf Critics can’t get that far, much less read an entire book! But they would have us think that school-aged children are reading Rudolf Steiner?

More on Dan’s evidence for soggy meditations (wet-on-wet)

Or is it soggy evidence? I’m beginning to think that Dan’s reasoning is all wet.
Last night I chatted with my sister, who spent, if I remember correctly, four years in a waldorf school. I asked her if she thought that wet-on-wet painting was a form of meditation exercise. She was just as incredulous as my brother. What makes this response amusing is my sister’s religious orientation: she is an extremely devout and devoted born-again Christian. She doesn’t approve of anthroposophy, although she tolerates me and I tolerate her (this is an achievement for both of us). But she is quite positive about waldorf education, is pleased that her great niece and nephew will be attending a waldorf school and has good memories of her years at the waldorf school.
So, do waldorf schools produce anthroposophists? This is one of the assertions that has been made on the WC.
In my family:
I attended waldorf two years as a teenager – several years later I started studying anthroposophy – mostly through the influence of my aunt who was a long-time anthroposophist
my sister was at a waldorf school for about 4 years (5th – 8th?) and became a born again Christian
my brother was at a waldorf school for about 6 years (3rd – 8th?) and is, as far as I can tell, cheerfully agnostic
my daughter was at two waldorf schools for a total of 13 years (nursery through 7th, 10th-12th) and eventually decided to study anthroposophy. She was at least 28 or older when she decided to take it seriously. Considering that she had a great-aunt who was a totally dedicated anthroposophist, a mother who was and still is very involved in anthroposophy it doesn’t seem likely that her “exposure” at school was a deciding factor. On the other hand, the fact that she liked her education is definitely the deciding factor in her choice of school for her children.
I’ll have to ask my daughter about her recent high school reunion. How many of her former classmates are involved with anthroposophy, I wonder?

The RULES according to the WC and PLANS

THE BASIC RULE: Only negative stuff counts when it comes to waldorf
In practice this means:
Positive newspaper stories are automatically the result of
deception, etc., but a negative newspaper story is the result of a
penetrating and thoughtful investigation.
Positive waldorf anecdotes are always isolated stories, but negative
waldorf anecdotes can be combined into a convincing narrative of
horrors that prove how awful waldorf is.
And so on…
ADDITIONAL RULE: Critics are capable of objectivity about waldorf
due to the strong emotions arising from the terrible experiences
suffered by their children, but waldorf supporters are totally
subjective due to the strong emotions arising from the wonderful
experiences of their children.
Please add additional rules that occur to you…I’m sure I haven’t covered all the possible variations!

Lies on the PLANS website

After thrashing with critics on PLANS discussion list, off and on, for a few years now, I relish the opening to contribute something to Dan Dugan’s challenge to “point out the lies” on his website. A very entertaining assignment :-).
At PLANS’s official website, waldorfcritics, things begin well. It’s hard to find anything wrong with its opening sentence: “Welcome!”. But things immediately slide downhill from there.
Second sentence at this official website begins: “People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS) is a world-wide network of former Waldorf parents, teachers, students, administrators and trustees who come from a variety of backgrounds.” Really? Who are they? Where are they? Very few I met there over the years would admit to being part of PLANS. In fact, I was scolded and lectured on several occasions for presuming anyone to be so. Besides those individuals (seven) who are identified as members of the board of directors of PLANS, I found just *one* other person willing to admit to actually being a member of this supposed “worldwide network”. Of those eight members identified, six are from Northern California. A total of four of the eight are former Waldorf education parents, one of them also a former trustee. Two are public school teachers, one of them with no apparent link to Waldorf education. The other did actually teach for a time in a public school which had adopted Waldorf methods in the classroom (though this particular teacher did not). So four of the eight (including the teachers) are decidedly NOTformer Waldorf parents, teachers, students, administrators and trustees.” In fact, none of the eight have publicly identified themselves to be a former Waldorf student, although one of them (one of the teachers) did serve a very brief stint (a couple days?) in a “Waldorf for Public School Educators” training program before dropping out.
The individuals PLANS has identified as “supporting advisors” have no relationship to Waldorf either. Instead, I think it would be fair to describe them as borrowed ‘guns’ from Dan Dugan’s “Skeptic’s Society” circle. At least Mr. Randi’s presence on the “advisory” panel broadens the “skeptic” panel beyond Mr. Dugan’s Northern California backyard, where the rest of them all live. I think Mr. Randi comes all the way from Florida.
PLANS is not a “world-wide network” organization-it’s a motley handful, most of them living close enough that they could lunch together. And this motley crew beckons attention with just these three fingers.
1. A lawyer, who has been funded by a religious organization which was deceived into believing that Waldorf schools engage in witchcraft. Of course, along with this lawyer, PLANS has a lawsuit, initiated against two public schools for incorporating Waldorf methods in the classroom. One of those schools no longer exists, the other no longer incorporates Waldorf methods~~yet the lawsuit lives on.
2. A website~~one filled with laughably alarmist graspings, such as “Nature Table or Altar” and “Wet-on-Wet Painting as Talisman”, as well as some very “unfunny”, shameful and disgusting tabloid garbage like, “DENVER SKINHEAD’S FAMILY PROFESSED SOPHISTICATED VERSION OF ARYAN SUPERIORITY MYTH”.
3. And lastly, a public discussion board~~which has, over the course of seven or eight years, lured a very limited number to come and post complaints they have toward Waldorf, a surprisingly sizeable number of these people having had no real experience with Waldorf at all. That’s right–no real experience, neither as student, parent or teacher, but rather they’re what I’d call the garden variety “internet opinionators”, who despite having no experience or related qualifications, do enjoy giving a good sermon from the soapbox.
Wow. I managed to say a lot, and I haven’t even gone past PLANS’s first paragraph! Maybe I can write another chapter later, one on the claim made in paragraph two, “Together, we have performed exhaustive research on Waldorf schools”–the “exhaustive research” which uncovers all manner of reportedly Secret Truths about Waldorf education that nobody who is actually *IN* the Waldorf movement knows anything about.
And in this, I see an intriguing paradox. Which is the *real* Waldorf? And which is the *lie*? The Waldorf that is actually practiced in real schools, by real Waldorf teachers? Or the archetype Waldorf school pieced together via PLANS “exhaustive research” as their “researchers” cherry-pick for odd quotes through the voluminous writings of Rudolf Steiner, reassembling the queerest fragments and filaments into a bizarre monster that the overwhelming majority of Waldorf educators dissociate themselves from immediately, a (luckily) thus far wholly abstract institution which has no real counterpart in existence outside the hallowed walls of the PLANS Research Lab?
Linda Clemens

Why have this blog?

The description of the WC-Watch blog is as follows:

A lot of nonsense gets repeated on the WC list (that’s "Waldorf Critics") as simple fact. Yet those who challenge these erroneous statements are frequently banned on the flimsiest of pretexts. This blog will examine the facts in an unrestricted forum.

Now I’m sure that some people are scratching their heads. I mean, the Waldorf Critics list is an unmoderated list, right? They have listed themselves as an unmoderated list over at Topioca. (List Type: Unmoderated discussion). The site description sounds rather liberal:

A free-speech public forum operated by PLANS, Inc., as an information resource for anyone interested in Waldorf education who wants to hear views from outside the cult of Rudolf Steiner. Subscription is open to the public, and postings are not reviewed in advance. Not for the overly sensitive.

Wow. Public. Free-speech. I mean, what how can this cause any sorts of problems? Well, there are rules (on a “free-speech” list).

No ad hominem arguments. This means that you speak freely about the topics, but not about the other subscribers. … Violation of either of these rules will result in immediate suspension of subscription privileges for a week, and repeat offenders may be permanently banned.

This is where the peculiar interpretation of "ad hominem" comes in. The fancy Latin describes a type of argument based on the premise that the speaker can’t be trusted, a kind of "don’t listen to what he says, just look who he is". In classical logic, this was considered a fallacy. On the Waldorf Critics list, it is grounds for dismissal. Except that Dan Dugan interprets "ad hominem" slightly differently. To Dugan, an "ad hominem" argument is one that shows a rabid Waldorf Critic to be in error. Saying "you’re wrong" is an "ad hominem" to Dugan. Of course, you have to say it more directly, for example, try saying "Peter Staudenmaier is a liar." This will get you banned. It doesn’t matter if you have just proven that very point, with quotes, citations and references. Once you come to the logical conclusion, you have just committed a Dan Dugan "ad hominem": you have demonstrated a Waldorf Critic to be in error, to know that they are in error, and then to claim not to know that they are in error. For that, you are banned, from a "free speech" forum!

Additionally, I should point out the basic illogic of having any rules at all on a "free-speech" forum. Either it is free-speech, or it has rules. It can’t be both. But that is how PLANS works: not through logic, but by propaganda – using attention-getting words in close proximity (just look at how many times Hitler’s name comes up in proximity with Rudolf Steiner on the flimsiest pretexts).

So that is why this Blog is necessary. Over at PLANS’ moderated "unmoderated", censored "free-speech" Waldorf Critics mail-list, they can’t handle the truth.