Personally, I am not a fan of Waldorf / Steiner education. My sense is that the entire philosophy is founded on principles that are irrational and anti-science. However, if the Waldorf approach resonates with your family's values, feel free to pay private school tuition for a Waldorf education.
However, the deal is different when "Waldorf-inspired" charter schools are proposed. I'm very much opposed them, for (at least) two reasons.
The first is on First Amendment principles. The Waldorf philosophy is based on a religion, anthroposophy.
People for Legal And Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS) advance the arguments
- Waldorf Schools are Religious Schools
- Waldorf Is Based on Occult Theory
- Publicly Funded Waldorf Programs Violate the First Amendment in the United States
The second is that the Waldorf/Steiner particularly pernicious for children with educational special needs such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism. Because of the underlying beliefs in karma and reincarnation, teachers at Waldorf/Steiner tend to believe that such educational challenges are part of child's destiny to "work out". The Waldorf/Steiner attitude does not satisfy US laws relative to educating students (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).)
Early in 2010, the Oakland School District turned down a "Waldorf-influenced" charter school, the Community School for Creative Education (CSCE) The charter organization then (as was their right) petitioned the county Board of Education to grant the charter, which they did. CSCE will open in the fall of 2011. Yes, I'm disappointed, but time will tell.
In the UK, there is a movement to expand the number of publicly funded Waldorf/Steiner schools.
David Colquhoun is a senior British pharmacologist and Fellow of at University College London. He is also a long-time blogger, running the site DC's Improbable Science, in which he criticizes alternative medicine and pseudoscience. Earlier this month, he wrote:
I have to admit that until a few years ago I had thought of Steiner schools as being rather cuddly experiments in progressive education. Perhaps a bit like Montessori schools or A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School.
But then I discovered that they advocate "biodynamic farming". That includes utterly barmy doctrines about how the phase of the moon affects crops and such like astrological baloney (as well as some possibly sensible stuff about compost). Then I had a series of mails from a correspondent that made me realise that Steiner schools have some much more unpleasant ideas than a bit of astrological baloney, including the dangerous ideas about anthroposophical medicine.
The matter has acquired new urgency now that Steiner schools are seeking government support via the Tory’s "free schools" programme. It is important that both ministers and parents should know what goes on in these schools.
I’ve wanted to write about it for a while, but was deterred by the sheer amount of information. My only contribution so far was to add Rudolf Steiner to my Patients’ Guide.
"Anthroposophical medicine: followers of the mystic barmpot, Rudolf Steiner, for whom nothing whatsoever seems to strain credulity"
Luckily I became acquainted with two of the most knowledgeable people on the topic. They are known on Twitter as @thetismercurio and @lovelyhorse_. After meeting them it occurred to me that I should ask them to write a guest post or two.
The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1 http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3595
The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2
I do hope that the good people of Oakland will ask pointed questions of the Community School For Creative Education (CSCE), specifically:
- Will CSCE teach science from an evidence-based approach, or will they teach Steinerian "science"? As Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education observed: If schools follow Steiner's views on science, education will suffer. Steiner believed that materialism was insufficient for the understanding of nature. He believed that science needs to "go beyond" the empirical and consider vitalistic, unobservable forces, a perspective also common in 20th century New Age healing approaches. Anthroposophical medicine, similar to homeopathy but even less scientific, claims that disease is caused only secondarily by malfunctions of chemistry and biology, and primarily by a disturbance of the "vital essence." Anatomy and physiology a la Steiner are unrecognizable by modern scientists: the heart does not pump blood; there are 12 senses ("touch, life, movement, equilibrium, warmth, smell," etc.) corresponding to signs of the zodiac; there is a "rhythmic" system that mediates between the "nerve-sense" and "metabolic-muscular" systems. Physics and chemistry are just as bad: the "elements" are earth, air, fire, and water. The four "kingdoms of nature" are mineral, plant, animal and man. Color is said to be the result of the conflict of light and darkness. Typical geological stages are Post-Atlantis, Atlantis, Mid-Lemuria, and Lemuria.
- What are the faculty and staff's position on karma and reincarnation? As Thetis Mercurio and LovelyHorse_write: The pedagogy of Waldorf schools is informed by Steiner’s esoteric scheme of karma and reincarnation. The child ‘incarnates’ in 7 year cycles: the ‘etheric’ body is born at 7, the astral body at 14 and the ‘ego’ or the individuality that returns from past lives, at 21. Abstract reasoning is discouraged too early (before 14) because it interferes with the anthroposophical – spiritual – vision of human development.
- Will the CSCE curriculum begin teaching reading and writing in kindergarten, or will it follow Steiner's prescription of waiting until the child begins losing baby teeth? Steiner wrote: ‘'People will object that the children then learn to read and write too late. That is said only because it is not known today how harmful it is when the children learn to read and write too soon. It is a very bad thing to be able to write early. Reading and writing as we have them today are really not suited to the human being till a later age - the eleventh or twelfth year - and the more a child is blessed with not being able to read and write well before this age, the better it is for the later years of life. A child who cannot write properly at thirteen or fourteen (I can speak out of my own experience because I could not do it at that age) is not so hindered for later spiritual development as one who early, at seven or eight years can already read and write perfectly’.
- Will CSCE police students' out-of-school experiences dress code? From Carol Wyatt, a former Waldorf parent in California: I received a call from [my daughter's] kindergarten teacher alerting me to the fact that parents were upset about my daughter's singing. Not only was she corrupting the other children with music, but it was pop music. The teacher told me that parents were complaining because their children were coming home singing pop songs. In addition, could we put a stop to her wearing sparkles to school. No sparkly tennis shoes, headbands, or shirts of any kind. She was 5 and 6 at the time.
- Can a school influenced by Steiner escape Steiner's racist ideas? As Roger Rawlings writes at Waldorf Watch: Steiner made many more such statements [see "Steiner's Bile"], and teachers at my school echoed them in my presence. Today my old school, like most Waldorf and Steiner schools, says that it is guided by the " insights" of Rudolf Steiner. Until these schools explicitly cite and renounce Steiner's racist teachings, nothing they say or do concerning race can have any moral standing.