Waldorf schools aren't a cult! And shouldn't progressive parents be interested in public schools, too? Responses to Meagan Francis' "What's Waldorf?"

Salon Staff
June 1, 2004 6:21PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Back in the late '60s, my mother seriously considered sending me to a Waldorf nursery school. Like the writer of this article, she was pulled in by the creative, natural, unconventional environment. Then the school informed her that I had learned to read too early. I was 4, and according to them no child should read before the age of 7. If she wanted me to attend, my mother would have to take away my books and stop reading to me at night. I loved reading even at that age (still do!) and if my books had been removed for three years I would've been despondent. None of this swayed the teachers at the Waldorf school. They had their curriculum and they were sticking to it. My mother immediately withdrew the application and I happily attended a school where, even though I played with plastic toys, I was also able to spend time reading my beloved books. Even if the Waldorf schools aren't indoctrinating children into some sort of cult, they are stifling kids by requiring parents to substitute Steiner's judgment for their own.


-- Nina Berry

Count me as a happy Waldorf parent. I'm a little surprised Salon would run this piece -- I think it belongs in a more "conventional" publication like, say, the Wall Street Journal, or National Review. My experience is that Rudolf Steiner is about as important to the day-to-day Waldorf experience as John Dewey is to the day-to-day public school experience. My daughter is 7 years old. Because of the Waldorf "no media" rule, she owns her own (vivid) imagination unpolluted by the corrosive Big Bird/SpongeBob mega-media borg. She is learning Spanish and Japanese. She can paint. She can dance. Her teacher is a very smart, savvy, compassionate woman who will be teaching my daughter for the next seven years. The parents are very involved -- we're responsible for making this enterprise work.

-- Rich Procter

I attended a Waldorf school for seven years. Waldorf schools offer a great deal of hope to the right students and to the right parents -- but it also offers a significant threat if a student or parents are mismatched or misinformed of Waldorf's often bizarre philosophies. In addition, I think Waldorf as a whole would benefit greatly from an overhaul. Many of Steiner's ideas about a holistic approach to child-rearing and education are essential to the success of a Waldorf education and should be incorporated into the curriculum and supported in the home environment, but other aspects of Anthroposophy and Steiner's philosophies clearly need to be tossed out entirely. I am employed in education now, and in my experience the public schools could certainly stand some media-free time that focuses on the whole child, just as Waldorf could stand a good dose of the modern world.

-- Paula J. Smith

It's not at all surprising that someone who approaches alternative pedagogies with an "educational fantasy" instead of an open mind would come away disappointed. If Ms. Francis had tried seriously to understand Waldorf education, even if she decided in the end that it wasn't right for her children, she wouldn't have written about it dismissively. "What's Waldorf" was a superficial treatment of the topic that revealed a lot more about the author's prejudices than about Waldorf education.


-- Cristina Bernardi Shiffman

Like the author of this insightful piece on the Waldorf education system, I too was charmed by the innocent atmosphere and supposed child-friendly persona of our local Waldorf school. While kindergarten was truly a lovely experience for our son, the pleasure soon turned to concern and then alarm as more and more of the true nature of the Steiner philosophical approach to education began to assert itself in the first and second grades. While I was not in a rush to see my son read (and in fact, had chosen Waldorf to avoid the overemphasis on academics in the lower grades so prevalent in public schools and other private schools), I was informed that his teacher did not consider not reading an issue until the fourth grade!


I emphatically urge any parent considering Waldorf to take the time to fully research Steiner and Anthroposophy before enrolling their child. These wacky and sometimes downright dangerous philosophical beliefs will influence your child's education and the way she or he is treated within the Waldorf system despite what they say. In my opinion, "Cult-like" is too benign a term for what these schools are really about.

-- L. R. Frayer

I thought progressives were supposed to support public institutions such as the public schools. Apparently not, according to Meagan Francis, who writes in her piece on Waldorf education that she "sought out alternatives to the local public school -- as I assumed good, progressive parents are expected to do." Say what? If progressives abandon the public schools, we leave them to conservatives and holy rollers who would be thrilled to pollute their curriculum with more even more creation "science" and corporate-funded propaganda.


Nor did I believe progressives, as I presume from her article Ms. Francis believes herself to be, seek an educational environment for their kids devoid of people of color. Yet she describes her fantasies of finding a school where her kids would be "surrounded by beautiful pink-cheeked children" with "bright smiles on their fresh, freckly faces."

-- Robert Niles

The author raises some interesting points about Waldorf education, but also makes a couple of veiled attacks against the philosophy which are more suggestive than substantive.


For example, she writes, "Waldorf's theory about, say, delaying reading until age 7 or academics until age 14 is based wholly on Steiner's spiritual principles, not science." But the author fails to point to any science that disagrees with Steiner's admittedly spiritual principles. His ideas may not be scientifically proven, but that does not mean they are not great ideas.

I attended Waldorf school in Virocqua, Wis., until I was 7 years old. At that time, we moved to Madison and I began public school. I excelled as a reader, surpassing my classmates who had already been taught to read for several years more. And I now work as a staff writer for a parody newspaper in New York.

I cherish my Waldorf years, few as they were. They allowed me to develop organically, starting with natural, creative and artistic stimuli, and progressing to the learning of words and numbers when I was ready to do so, after age 7.

Like Nietzsche and Heidegger, Rudy Steiner had many terrible and hateful beliefs, which are inexcusable. But he also had some brilliant insights into child development, and it does no one a service to ignore the benefits of those good ideas.


-- Peter Koechley

Salon Staff

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