UNCOMMON QUESTIONS
ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION
Waldorf education differs from public education on a number of points.

Some of them, most often raised in discussions, are described and answered in the section of Frequently Asked Questions at this site. Other less common questions and allegations are discussed in the More Questions section.

Some even more uncommon concerns and more or less strange allegations about what Waldorf schools teach, at times expressed in connection with the cultivation of different myths about Waldorf education are:


"Insects are related to plants."

They are; insects take part in and are a necessary part of the reproduction of many plants, living in symbiosis with them and feeding on them as part of this symbiotic relation. It is important to understand the insect's relationship to the "seed" or reproduction process of plants (as related to the flowers, where the plant most distinctly "evaporates" as fragrances and seeds), and their role in the disintegration and breaking down of dead organisms in nature into basic organic components. These are some basic aspects of the nature and life of insects.


"The elements are earth, water, fire and air."

For a comment on this, see here


"The body is made up of the nerve-sense system, the metabolic-muscular system, and the rhythmic system."

This characterization is a basic reflection at the macroscopic level of the polarization of the eggs of vertebrates and their development via the differentiation into endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm, contributing to the basic components of the metabolic-muscular and reproductory system, the heart as the internal center of the rhythmic system, and the nervous system.

For more on this, see here


"The heart is not a pump, or the circulatory system is described, but the role of the heart is not explained."

The role of the heart in the human organism is very complex, as one of the most developed organs, in different ways sensing and regulating the rhythmic life of the body. The picture of the heart as a "pump" describes one aspect of this role, its "will"-aspect, in a very simplified way.

The discussion of the heart in Waldorf education is primarily concerned with doing justice to the complexity of the role of the heart in the human body and in human life. The picture of it as a mechanical "pump" reflects only in a very simplified way one aspect.

For more on this, see here.


"Plants are like a man upside down."

In the human being, the "warm" and "warmth producing" metabolic/reproductive system is in the spatially "lower" part of the human body, and the "colder" pole of man is his head, as the center of the nervous system. (Externally, the opposite is the case, with a large part of the heat loss of the body being located to the head region.)

In plants, this "warm" - "cold" polarity of the organism is reversed, with its reproductive system turned upwards instead of downwards. In this perspective, plants in general are like the human being, turned upside down. This reversal was pointed to already by Aristotle in his works on characteristics of living organisms.


"Goethean color theory is taught instead of Newtonian color theory."

Goethean and Newtonian color theory reflect two complementary perspectives on color; Newton looking at it from the perspective of how some aspects of color can be described if treating light as idealized "rays" while Goethe mainly describes other aspects of light and color, focussing on color as a surface experience, and from the perspective of how they appear in nature and their character in relation to human experience.

For more on this, see here.


"There are 12 senses."

That is probably not taught as such in general at waldorf schools, if not as a description of one possible perspective of some aspects of our sensory processes, as discussed by Steiner, reflecting basic qualities of the richness of our sense experience, when describing the anatomy and physiology of the senses.

What Steiner described as a "twelvefoldness" of our sense experience is a similar description in relation the the senses, as Immanuel Kant described in relation to our thinking, when he described what he thought of as the 12 types of thought categories that according to him determined how we perceive the world


"The 12 senses correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac."

That's purely abstract and does not belong in waldorf education as something taught to students.


"There are four kingdoms of nature, mineral, plant, animal, and man."

That's the traditional basic Aristotelian way of looking at it, being the common view in cultural history from the birth of science in Greece some 2.300 years ago up to the 20th century, reflecting one basic structure of the natural world.

The curriculum in Waldorf schools in the broad sense reflect human cultural evolution. This makes the understanding of the world out of the perspective of the four kingdoms of nature natural as something cultivated in the lower and middle grades in Waldorf schools.

While Waldorf schools are free to form their own individual curriculum, later ways of distinguishing between the different categories of living organisms probably are described and discussed in the upper grades and Waldorf high schools.


"Species were specially created, rather than evolving from one another, and spiritual beings were the creators."

In Waldorf education, the basic species of the different groups of organisms in nature are described with regard to their nature and character and put in relation to one another from that perspective. Darwinism as the presently dominant view of understanding and interpreting the relation of species is described and discussed in most waldorf schools in the upper grades.

If the view that species were specially created and that it was done by spiritual beings is described at Waldorf schools, it probably is not described in any other way than as one view of evolution, held by some.


"Left-handedness is a condition that should be corrected.

That probably was the dominant view in general in education until not very long ago. To the extent that it is practiced at Waldorf schools and there are well reasoned motives for not trying to correct it, it should be reconsidered.


"The "ancients" had powers and knowledge lost to us, such as alchemy and the ability to see things outside the physical realm."

One main focus in Waldorf education is to let the pupils experience how people and cultures through human history have experienced and expressed themselves. Historical documents tell that they describe themselves as having powers and knowledge lost to us. To the extent that is the case it is also described to the pupils as part of getting to know the cultures in question.


"Religious mythology is taught as ancient history, or a theosophical framework for ancient history is taught as fact."

The "theosophical framework for ancient history" is not "taught as fact" at Waldorf schools. A number of the classical central ancient cultures of humanity, the classical Indian culture, the cultures of the "fertile crescent" and the Greek-Roman cultures are described out of how they expressed themselves in mythology, art, and literature, constituting the main curriculum for ancient history at Waldorf schools.


"Astrology is taught in the higher grades."

That is not part of the basic curriculum in Waldorf education and astrology in the sense of "how to make horoscopes" does not as such belong to the curriculum of Waldorf schools, except possibly as an free extra-curricular study of how those who do do it, if chosen by the students as a special study and done outside the normal course.

The stress in Waldorf education is on letting the pupils experience how the different cultures in human history have experienced and expressed themselves, not primarily on telling the pupils what they shall think about them or how they shall judge them.

Learning to understand the different cultures of the world is something that takes time and not only is achieved through abstract description of and reasoning about them, but takes engagement in getting to know how they experience or experienced and think or thought about the world, learning that what may stand out as a modern present day or Western perspective not always is self evident in all instances.

"Astrology" in the sense of describing how the star world was viewed for very long in different cultures, in terms of structuring the experience of it into twelve "signs" or "pictures", and how one viewed the elementary qualities of those "pictures" or "signs", is one part of learning to understand our cultural development as humanity and belongs in the teaching on the cultures of the fertile crescent.


"I have heard of disturbing events including parents being asked to leave the school when they questioned or objected to aspects of Waldorf education or anthroposophy."

It is unlikely that anyone was ever asked to leave a Waldorf School for simply questioning or constructively criticizing aspects of Waldorf Education or philosophy. However, if parents seriously question or object to the basic ways of working in any freely chosen pedagogical or other tradition, it at times becomes apparent that the conversation is no longer constructive, that the parents probably have made the wrong choice of school or pedagogical tradition, and should try to find a school that better corresponds to their views.


"Another disturbing thing told has been that kids were being inadequately supervised on the playground to prevent bullying and accidents, on the theory that angels will watch out for them."

The confidence that our life and welfare not only lies in our own hands, but also in part maybe is supported and cared for by higher beings outside our immediate awareness is something that is a natural part of many people's lives. That however does not take away the responsibility of grownups to see to it that children in their care not are subjected to dangers or mishappenings that they as grownups could have prevented and that the children expect them to do as grownups.


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Copyright 2004: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall