Rhetoric and myth: 
"Waldorf schools teach anthroposophy and want to make the pupils into 'anthroposophists' "
One of the myths about Waldorf education, cultivated in a rhetorical way by especially small groups of secular humanists, is that anthroposophy at Waldorf schools is taught as content to the pupils in such a way as to infringe upon their spiritual freedom.

The overwhelming majority of Waldorf pupils world wide would probably disagree with them.

What is the basic relation between anthroposophy and Waldorf education, and how does anthroposophy inspire Waldorf education?

One aspect of anthroposophy as a spiritual philosophy is that it describes how you can deepen and transform your life of thoughts, feelings and willing in such a way that they become organs for in freedom relating to the world out of modern conscious research perspective.

While modern science primarily develops research using and developing research instruments, external to man, anthroposophy shows how you can transform yourself as a human and your inner life in such a way that you yourself become an ever more objective research instrument in investigating and understanding the world.

In doing this, you become ever more conscious of what you yourself and others are as beings of not only body, but also of soul and spirit, as also the way differentiated spirituality permeates the world.

This opens up new perspectives on a number of phenomena, regarding the origin and nature of man, the relation of man to nature, the development and evolution of man and a number or other questions.

This understanding is the basis of waldorf education, and the reason why Waldorf Kindergarten not teaches academics, but cultivates and only stepwise brings the child from its inborn, reverential, generic "religious" attitude and relation to the world in early childhood, over to the development of relating to the world out of what is "beautiful" in it in the broadest sense of the word using the elementary basic elements of the different arts in the lower grades in grade school.


To the central elements in forming and developing this artistic relation to the world belongs the element of rhythm in the broad sense of the word, forming the teaching with artistic means in such a way that it lets the pupils "breathe" with their soul.

This conscious structuring and developing of life in the lower grades in such a way that it primarily nourishes the life of the soul is based on an anthroposophical understanding of the stages of development of man from childhood to adulthood, and the basic nature and needs of children during the years c. 7 to c. 14 years of age.

The general understanding of man that comes out of anthroposophy also makes Waldorf education put a stress on a more direct "scientific" intellectual way of relating to the world only with the onset of puberty and up into the upper grades and high school.

Anthroposophy for example makes it possible to understand as a working hypothesis how the soul of man is related to and born out of the world of stars and star forces, in a way that comes to expression in the way different cultures of the world have viewed and describe the stars of heaven using pictures of primarily different animals as expression of different soul qualities. 

While not taught as such in this way to the pupils, and the use of animal pictures in different cultures to describe the world of stars only is described phenomenologically in the teaching on world cultures, it forms the basis of the curriculum in Waldorf schools from around 14 years of age and into High school.

The primary purpose of the lower grades in Waldorf schools is to give the pupils a rich soul nourishment out of human culture in different forms. This is done by not only describing and building an understanding of the external but also the inner spiritual life of people, peoples and humanity through the history of mankind as it comes to expression in different cultural forms, in a way that can be the basis for the more conscious way of relating to the world out of a reflecting, experimental and scientific attitude in the upper grades and high school.

Anthroposophy consists in making conscious the essence of human development, cultural history and evolution and develop it into the future.


To one of the central elements in human culture belongs pictures and allegories in different form, not primarily speaking from and to the head and thinking of man but from and to the heart and soul of man.

In the lower grades, also in public Waldorf charter schools, these stories, pictures and allegories that constitute the central element in this documented cultural history of mankind are mediated and made alive to the pupils in an artistic and not primarily intellectual way in education. 

According to secular humanist and some fundamentalist oriented critics of Waldorf education, this constitutes a violation of what according to them is the prescribed secular humanist philosophical basis of public education, and an indoctrination of the pupils with anthroposophy that violates the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This anti-cultural view of human culture and education probably is not supported by most educated and reasonable people, and a court in NY in 2001 ruled against some parents, that had litigated against a public school district in a case not concerning Waldorf schools. The parents in the case in question had argued that the way a public school teacher used artistic means to make the pupils understand Indian culture had constituted a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

For the ruling in the case, see here.


A few individual anthroposophical authors writing on Waldorf education suggest the introduction into the curriculum of anthroposophical concepts and content in a way that is not demonstrable on the basis of the known cultural history of mankind, but leads beyond it into domains of human nature and history that only are accessible to spiritual investigation.

One of the few such authors is Alan Whitehead, who for a number of years led an Australian Waldorf teacher training center. He has developed teaching material for Waldorf teachers that suggests integrating anthroposophical concepts and content into the curriculum at Waldorf schools in a way counter to the basic Waldorf tradition.

While possible as such, this would make Waldorf schools into anthroposophical parochial schools if implemented, distinctly different from Waldorf schools in general and in violation of the intentions and basics of Waldorf education, as expressed by Rudolf Steiner as the main founder of Waldorf education for Waldorf schools, and practiced at the vast majority of Waldorf schools world wide.

If done, such schools would have the responsibility to tell prospective parents that they, in contrast to normal Waldorf or Steiner schools were parochial schools in the same sense that Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other spiritual or religious schools are.

That is not the case with the overwhelming majority of Waldorf schools world wide, developed not to make the pupils into "anthroposophists" in any theoretical sense, by teaching them anthroposophy, but into people prepared to meet life with both feet on the ground, and an open heart and mind when leaving school. This is also confirmed by a number of comments by different people from their perspective as former Waldorf parents, Waldorf pupils or public educators.

Especially in public charter schools that use Waldorf methods in their program, special care is taken to see to it that neither the training of the Waldorf charter school teachers, nor the curriculum contain anything that could be a violation of the U.S. Constitution with regard to the separation of Church and State. For more on this, see here.


One part of the allegations by individuals and small groups of critics of Waldorf education that Waldorf schools teach anthroposophy is that this should be done to make the pupils into "anthroposophists".

This is unsupported by the experience of the world view of former Waldorf pupils after school, as indicated by their professional choice.

Probably in contrast to pupils at independent Waldorf schools operated in the direction suggested by Whitehead (to the extent such schools can be found), or pupils home schooled on the basis of Whitehead's views, experience shows that pupils at Waldorf schools normally on graduation don't even know who Rudolf Steiner was or what anthroposophy is, as the spiritual philosophical foundation of Waldorf education.

Experience also indicates that the proportion of the pupils who after graduation choose some form of anthroposophically oriented occupation does not differ noticeably from the proportion of the parents who have an anthroposophical orientation at Waldorf schools, in general roughly on the order of some 10-15% both in Europe and the U.S..

In general, this indicates that the great majority of Waldorf teachers world wide well have understood the spirit of freedom in Waldorf education:

" ... the first prerequisite of a Waldorf teacher is to have reverence for the soul and spiritual potential which each child brings with it into the world.

"When confronted with the child, the teacher must be imbued with the awareness that he is dealing with an innately free human being. With this attitude he will be able to work out educational principles and methods which will safeguard the child's inborn freedom so that in later life, when a pupil looks back upon his school days, he will not find any infringement upon his personal freedom, not even in the aftereffects of his education." 

[Steiner, Rudolf: Soul Economy in Waldorf Education.]

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Copyright 2004-2006: Robert Mays and Sune Nordwall