COMMENT BY THE WALDORF SCHOOLS
The TV-program "Report" from Mainz on 28 February 2000 broadcast a "critical" report on Waldorf education.Below is the program with comments by Dr. Detlef Hardorp, spokesman for the Waldorf schools in Berlin-Brandenburg. The comments are in blue. The TV program is in gray and in italic.
So for 80 years Waldorf Schools have been standing for gentle learning. But now a critical discussion has started. In France a special committee of the parliament is focusing on the Waldorf Schools and their anthroposophical background."
This comment was made 29 February 2000. On 21 March, Guyard was convicted of libel for calling the anthroposophical movement a sect and fined 20 000 French francs plus 90 000 French francs in punitive damages for slander (see report in Le Monde 23 March 2000.)
"But also in Germany criticism is increasing about the concepts and the form of teaching at Waldorf Schools.
Barbara Siebert and Eric Friedler report:
Comment: This is wrong. There are subject teachers from class 1 and onwards. It is only the first two hours of the day in which the class teacher is the sole teacher.
"-without books. This pedagogy is connected with a man whose picture hangs in almost every single Waldorf School - Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf education is based on his theory. But there seem to be problems. We interviewed mothers of Waldorf pupils from all parts of Germany and ask why they removed their children from the school. Today they are scared. Many of them are outraged as traitors"
Comment: There often are disappointed parents removing their children from Waldorf Schools. There are a variety of reasons for that. The outraging of traitors fits into the picture of cult-like behaviour. There is no correlation to the reality of the Waldorf schools. I have not come across one single case where the school called parents traitors after removing their child.
"They request anonymity for their statement.
(Voice) mother of a former Waldorf pupil:
Comment: As a rule, at the Waldorf Schools of Berlin and Brandenburg new parents are required to get listen to a lecture about what a Waldorf School is and how it functions, because it is a source of discomfort if the parents enter the school with totally wrong expectations. For example if they think Waldorf Schools to be anti-authoritarian (they are not). But they are not authoritarian either. In the lower grades their teaching is based on the "teacher's beloved authority" (see also "A short introduction to Waldorf education").
During school parents meetings are offered regularly. Here the parents are given the opportunity to learn about the lessons and their background without taboos. Nowadays parents often just want a good school for their children. And people learn about the background according to the time they are willing to spend looking into it.
"(voice) mother of a former Waldorf pupil:
Comment: The pupils know hardly anything about Steiner. And he never was a "leading figure" for children. It can't be denied though that the teachers of a Rudolf Steiner School or Waldorf school relate their work to Rudolf Steiner. The colleagues of teachers regularly work on Steiner's ideas in a critical way.
"In history class races were talked about."
Comment: Is the mentioning of races in history lessons racist?
"The tribes (Völker) were categorised and this entire theory of evolution is a little strange for me."
Comment: It is the school's task to open the pupil's eyes for the entire world and of great importance to get them aquainted with different cultures. It is part of the repertoire of a good History or Geography lesson not only to offer dry facts but let them blossom to life.
In the first place humans are individuals. "The dignity of man is unimpeachable" is the basis of the German constitution as well as the basis of Anthroposophy. Nevertheless the human being has qualities that surpass its individuality. Some of them are qualities of the physical body (like basic bodily instincts that form part of Biology class), but also the qualities of a person's social community. Shouldn't the latter to be part of Geography or History class?
"Ethnology" is a subject that has become unpopular for a good reason, since the attempt to characterise one people is a dangerous undertaking, because it can turn into stereotypes very easily. Shouldn't schools - because of this challenge - try to deal with this subject in a dignified way and offer some space for it?
"Sybille Jakobs openly exposes herself to the camera. She says she woke up much too late and took her children from the Waldorf School. For some years she has been the leader of a group of former Waldorf parents.
(voice) Sybille Jacobs, "Initiative for criticism
of Anthroposophy", Augsburg:
History note books from fifth grade of different Waldorf Schools. All from the last years. Here we find an evolution theory unknown to public schools. The Aryans, it says there, left the sinking continent Atlantis to found numerous high cultures."
Comment: After the terror of the nazis the term Aryans can not be used any more, especially not in the lower grades. Even though in Rudolf Steiner's terminology Jews and Arabs are part of the Aryans one should not refer to Rudolf Steiner, because the concepts of Anthroposophy have no business appearing as content of the lessons in school.
Hiding the identity of the goal of criticism as the critics do is not very helpful. Doing this, the boards of the schools and the responsible persons at the Ministries have no way of finding out which school and which teachers are the subjects of criticism. I will encourage a procedure of quality control in the area of Berlin/Brandenburg, which will ensure that such things can be ruled out in our area.
"Concepts like "sacrificial fire" or "migration of Aryans" appear - without comments. For the observer it seems that a little known myth is being taught. Experts have a different opinion about this. The content of the notebooks shows that mythology is taught as historical fact and an evolution theory emphasising the Aryans is pedagogically impossible.
Comment: Mythology plays a big role in the lower grades of Waldorf schools. In class 5, Greece is a theme. As is known, Greek mythology has not been completely unimportant in the West. But one has to deal with more than mythology, as also, as is well known, incisive philosophical thinking also developed in Greek culture. Neither in the newest book on the curriculum in Waldorf Schools, by Tobias Richter, nor in the by many Waldorf teachers used book by Christoph Lindenberg "Teaching history" is Atlantis even mentioned. In a collection of pedagogical material for class teachers from 1994 (published by the Pedagogical Section at Goetheanum) one finds the lapidary sentence on teaching in class 5: "One can mention that Plato tells of a powerful and old country of Atlantis, that perished through mighty storms, earth quakes and floods (see Plato's Timaeus and Critias)".
The subjunctive says that mythology not should be taught as historical facts. It is also the task of the teacher to make this distinction clear.
Today, that for which Steiner in short used the term "Aryan" is today summarised with the term "Indo-European" (earlier Indo-German) peoples. It is correct that in the classical European Waldorf curriculum these cultures are being stressed. At the Waldorf school in Capetown - that already before the official overcoming of apartheid fought for and got the right to teach mixed classes - (see Eine Waldorfschule im Kampf gegen die Apartheit ) - the stress is different. Lindenberg writes (based on Steiner), that one should especially develop an understanding of the special character of the old Oriental cultures, as they are reflected for example in the Vedic literature, the Upanishads and the Mahabharata, in relation to the Western culture. To what extent the culture of China, Africa and other cultures of the "third world" thereby not are done justice to is a completely justified question, that one should ask oneself not only in Waldorf schools.
"(voice) Klaus Prange, educationalist, University
Comment: One should replace untimely expressions like "Aryan race" with "Indo-European cultures", as that and nothing else was what Steiner referred to.
"In some note books characteristics of whole peoples are described, for example: Russians are uncontrolled and unpunctual, French are superficial, and so-called Bushmen have saddleback and strong backs ...."
Comment: Stereotypes are fatal and have no place in school. On ethnology, se above.
"Hildegard Ernst is a teacher for history teachers in state schools. We show her the notebook from a Waldorf school. She holds the content to be fatal.
(voice) Hildegard Ernst, historian, University of
Comment: Peoples should not be dressed in stereotypes. If that is being done in Waldorf schools, inform the school in question, the Ministry in question or the Association of Waldorf schools, so that action can be taken against it. Anonymous assertions about unknown teachers at unknown schools are of little help.
"According to the opinion of some parents these attitudes can be found also during the daily life at schools - with serious consequences.
(voice) mother of a former Waldorf pupil:
Comment: Anonymous descriptions of experiences can not be argued against. I know of a number of parents, who especially appreciate the Waldorf school because handicapped are not discriminated (and who often moved their children to Waldorf schools because of problematic experiences at other schools). Waldorf schools want to educate the pupils to openness to the world and tolerance in relation to people who think and act as dissidents. That is part of their explicit program. Foreigners are looked upon as an enrichment of the culture.
"Since some time also Jewish parents increasingly take their children out of Waldorf schools. That is reported by the spokesman for a Swiss citizen's initiative, that for years has taken an interest in what happens at Waldorf schools.
(voice) Samuel Althof, "Aktion Kinder des Holocaust",
Comment: These statements from the mouth of the former Waldorf pupil Samuel Althof are completely unbelievable.
Before the was a Jewish school in Berlin, the Rudolf Steiner school often had Jewish pupils, among them also Evelyn, daughter of Heinz Galinski, then chairman of the Central Jewish Council in Germany. "All pupils had to take religious lessons", she says today, "the Rudolf Steiner school insisted on it". That is unusual in Berlin, and only after Senator Böger introduced the school policy of the new Millennium has one started considering if one also should start practising at state schools, what since long is being done at Waldorf schools in Berlin; make religion of ones own choice obligatory.
As part of her school duty, Evelyn visited the Jewish religious lessons at the Jewish community. "Never did I in the Rudolf Steiner school ever hear even the faintest whisper of anti-Semitism", she remembers, "on the contrary. My father chose the school because of the great tolerance that characterised everyone at the school." She still today appreciates her class teacher, Lore Richter. "A wild woman. She was very free. And I never heard any racist comments at the school." She has no problem with Rudolf Steiner. "But if I had had children, I of course would have put them at a Waldorf school." She has run a fashion company together with her husband. "For my sensibility for colours I owe much to the Rudolf Steiner school. And my patience with the suppliers, that my husband always has admired, is built on the basic social experiences at school."
She called me few days after the broadcast of the "Report"-program. She considers the program to be propaganda of the worst kind. What she found most unpleasant in the program was the contribution by the former Waldorf pupil and former psychiatric assistant Samuel Althof, Basle. Evelyn Hecht-Galinski wanted to get to the bottom of his assertions. She called him up and asked him to describe at least one anti-Semitic incident at a Waldorf school. Althof refused to do that with the motivation that the reports "only were verbal". When asked further questions, he hang up.
Ignaz Bubis, Galinski's successor as chairman of the Central Jewish Council in Germany shortly before his death made a long detour outside his protocol at the Didakta-Inter-School-Exhibition in Stuttgart to visit the Waldorf schools there. He stayed long, expressed his warm sympathy for Waldorf education in the presence of the press and finally said: if he would be put before the choice again, he would send his own children to a Waldorf school. - There are a number of Waldorf schools in Israel. And in USA many teachers, parents and pupils are practising Jews. - One can doubt that Mr Althof presented his "case studies" to German TV. The broadcasting company has gravely put its journalistic duty to be thorough to the side, by broadcasting the infamous assertions of Althof without checking them first.
"In general: Don't go to the religious education in Judaism,"
Comment: At Waldorf schools, the choice of religious teaching is wholly and completely up to the parents respectively the pupils. Of course their choice is respected.
"the Holocaust was a necessity to get rid of karma, the victims were necessary, and with that the Holocaust is legitimized."
Comment: That is an insult to Waldorf schools. The Shoa was one of the most unbelievable horrors in world history, that only was possible because people were prepared to let go of their humanity and consciousness of their responsibility under the dictate of a state power, that also forbid all free culture, including Waldorf education. The most outrageous thesis', that Mr Althof here puts forth is of course not represented or defended at any Waldorf school. On the contrary: Waldorf education has from its start made it its task to support the individual in man in such a way that it leads to people who are able to learn and cooperate with other people throughout life, something to which man is predisposed in his deepest being. Rudolf Steiner intensively argued against stereotyping in education.
"Racism and anti-Semitism in Waldorf education? A retrospect. 1919 Rudolf Steiner founds a school for the children of the workers at "Waldorf-Astoria-cigarett-factory". That is reason it is called Waldorf. For this, Steiner developed a new education. The basis for this is to this day - anthroposophy. Thereby, reincarnation and karma play an important part."
Comment: At most in the background as a possibility for Waldorf teachers to think out of a perspective from which it is not common to view man. It is completely free for the individual teacher to choose how to deal with it. The world view, in which man originates as a chemical coincidence in cosmos and returns to dust when dying has not yet inspired any pedagogy. And even when materialism was the only truth, we don't need any thought police that stigmatises dissidents.
"With the help of anthroposophy and Waldorf education man should reach a higher spiritual level in his next life."
Comment: This sentence is confused. Through Waldorf education man should become at home on Earth, able to handle conflicts and take initiatives with enthusiasm and an inventive mind. The tasks are here on Earth, not somewhere beyond it.
The task of anthroposophy is completely different. Steiner has described a rather sophisticated way of disciplining oneself, that begins with taking control of ones own impulses of the soul (to form ones thoughts at will, to practice equanimity, to more consciously control ones actions, to cultivate openness in relation to that which is different and to cultivate positivity). Hopefully man will reach further in his next life also if he has met neither Waldorf education nor anthroposophy - insofar as there is a next life.
"But in Steiner' s teaching one also finds the following: "The white race is one of the future, it is the spiritually creative race", "So we see that the Negro has a strong instinctual life" and "The Jews could not do anything better than to integrate itself into the rest of humanity, so that Jewry as a people simply ceased to exist, that is what would be an ideal". Three of many quotes out of Steiner's total work. Scientists and parents criticise that the Waldorf movement still has not distanced itself from these opinions."
Comment: The Waldorf movement will not distance itself from sentences, that in their context mean something completely else than they are described as, and also play no role in Waldorf education. Anthroposophy is also not based on singular sentences, that are picked because of their journalistic "horror-effect" by those who see it as their mission to defame Waldorf education. The total work of Steiner encompasses almost 100 000 pages. Apart from a whole series of books, it mostly has the form of not authorised notes from lectures.
The quotes "The white race is one of the future, it is the spiritually creative race" and "the Negro has a strong instinctual life" both come from a lecture that Steiner held for construction workers on 3 March 1923. Let's leave to the side that this lecture had nothing to do with Waldorf education and look at the context.
If you read the whole lecture carefully, it is clear that if Steiner in any sense can be taken to express an opinion, it is in the sense of describing the physical constitution of the white European as the one that comes out worst. "We poor Europeans have the thought life that sits in our heads. (...). Through this we take up the whole external world, and thereby easily become materialists. But the Negro does not become a materialist. He remains human in his inner being." Why? Because he, in contrast to the Europeans, not so easily loses his relation to instinctual life, which here for Steiner is taken to represent the "lively development" of that "which has to do with the body and metabolism" and that by Steiner is valued as something completely positive.
A "lively development" of that which has to do with the body, he also ascribes to white Americans and once more evaluates it in a positive way. "[With Americans] realise thing more through the whole human being [in contrast to the head-oriented "poor Europeans"]. That is an advantage of Americans in relation to Europeans." The black and the American are more human in their inner being in a way that the European still has to develop. This is being done by the European by being "creative in spirit".
Directly in connection with these controversial sentences on different races Steiner makes clear what he means with these statements: "You see, gentlemen, all this which I have described for you are things that take place in the body of man. The soul and the spirit are more or less independent of that." And that is specifically the point that to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Head official of state security) in 1941 shows the principal impossibility of harmonising anthroposophy with the National socialist racial theory:
"Anthroposophy stands in opposition to the National socialist racial theory. According to the National socialist opinion, racial inheritance is not only related to the body, but to the whole of man, also soul and spirit. Anthroposophy, as also the Christian church, only recognise a bodily inheritance, in that it asserts that only the body of man comes from his parents, whereas the spirit and soul of man come from the spiritual world. On the basis of this purely external opinion of race, anthroposophy must also come to an internationally oriented pacifist attitude."
Steiner did not deny differences between groups of people as far as the natural-bodily basis of man is concerned. But he deduces no racism on the basis of that, but the necessity of a symbiotic cooperation within a multicultural society. Steiner in the discussed lecture for workers: "It is thus with humanity, that men all over the Earth, properly understood, are dependent upon one another. They must help one another. That is shown already by the differences of our natural disposition."
With the third of the quotes above, Steiner also does not represent an anti-Semitic attitude. ("The Jews could not do anything better than to integrate themselves into the rest of humanity, so that Jews as a people simply ceased to exist, that is what would be an ideal".) Here Steiner gives expression to an opinion that was widely spread among European Jews at the time. "Integrate" (aufgehen) of course does not mean "exterminate", but describes what developed as a continuous assimilation of Jews in Germany, before Hitler put a brutal end to it.
Steiner also strongly argued for Dreyfus in the Dreyfus case, something that does not speak for him as having an anti-Semite attitude. In the "Newsletter of the Association against anti-Semitism" ("Mitteilungen des Vereins zur Abwehr des Antisemitismus" Nr. 36/10. Jg. 5. Sept. 1900) Rudolf Steiner writes, "For me there has never existed a Jewish question. My development was such that when a part of the national students in Austria became anti-Semitic, it appeared to me as a derision of all that had been achieved in the area of education during our time. (...) One can only with horror reviewing a number of the experiences, that anti-Semitism has led to."
And in other places of the "Newsletter": "I have never been able to judge people on any other basis than their individual, personal character. (...) I have never been able to see anything else in anti-Semitism than a view that shows the spiritual inferiority of its proponents, their lack of judgement and triteness." This attitude corresponds consequently to Steiner's basic position when dealing with the theme "Individuality and genus" in his basic work "The philosophy of freedom" (1894).
His standpoint in relation the ideal of races and nations he himself gave expression to, for example on 26 October 1917:
"Someone still of the 14th century, speaking of the ideal of races, of the ideal of nations, spoke out of the developing qualities of human development. But someone, who nowadays speaks of the ideal of races and nations and belonging to a tribe, speaks of decaying impulses of humanity. And if he believes that these so-called ideals constitute progressive ideals, when speaking of them, he is saying something that is untrue. Because through nothing will humanity bring itself more into decay, than if the ideals of races, nations and blood were to continue.(GA 177, lecture of Oct 26th, 1917)
"And: Many contemporaries of Steiner were of the same opinion, but only Steiner's teaching formed the basis for a pedagogical system"
Comment: Not everything that Steiner said is the basis for a pedagogical system. Only very few teachers succeed in even reading everything Steiner said on education, not to speak of all the other more than 300 series of lectures and articles that constitute his collected works.
"The critics see a danger in this, that the contents still today could be taught at Waldorf schools."
Comment: No content at all from Steiner's collected works should be taught. According to Rudolf Steiner, the school should orient itself to the contemporary situation of the world. That sleepiness in this respect sadly can be found at Waldorf schools can not be motivated out of Waldorf education"
"The Waldorf movement educates its own teachers. The centre of it is Steiner's collected works. That many Waldorf teachers bring Aryan migration and stereotypes of peoples into their teaching must also be admitted by the Association of Free Waldorf schools."
(voice) Walter Hiller, "Association of Free Waldorf
Personal ambition of individual teachers? Individual instances? Former Waldorf teachers tell REPORT that it repeatedly occurs that unreflected content flows into the lessons. And as no books are used, the children can only listen to what the teacher tells them.
(voice) Norbert Biermann, Waldorf teacher who has
Comment: The first sentence quoted by Biermann is contradicted already by his own existence. Because he would surely never assert that he "felt committed to Steiners teaching".
Norbert Biermann is also not a "drop-out": because of inadequate capabilities he was given a notice for the end of the school year already during his trial year. Inappropriate behaviour then led to an immediate notice on 9.3.1988 (he had been hired in August the preceding year). He then lost the case when complaining about it.
The Waldorf schools also do not propagate racist ideologies. If they did, the Ministry of culture together with the Ministry of social affairs would have the duty to put a stop to it.
State support exists in Germany on the basis of article 7, paragraph 4 of the constitution. This law has been created with the special goal of supporting pluralism in the school system. There are well-founded reasons that this law has been made a part of the constitution.
"Heiner Ullrich beginnt demnächst die erste empirische Studie zu den Waldorfschulen."
Comment: There already exist a number of empirical studies of Waldorf schools. One of the last was by Dirk Randoll, co-worker at the German Institute for International Pedagogical Research (Deutschen Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung) and was published 1999 by Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung (Science and education Publishing company) under the title "Waldorfpädagogik auf dem Prüfstand. Auch eine Herausforderung an das öffentliche Schulwesen? Mit einer vergleichenden Untersuchung zur Wahrnehmung von Schule durch Abiturienten aus Freien Waldorfschulen und aus staatlichen Gymnasien" ("Waldorf education on the test bench. Also a challenge to the public school system? With a comparative study of how students at Free Waldorf schools and state high schools experience their schools)
"He wants to observe teaching as it is practised. But already now, he demands more plurality in the education of Waldorf teachers. Less Steiner could mean,
(voice) Heiner Ullrich, educationalist, University
Comment: Dr. Ullrich comments the broadcast Report-program in a letter to Walter Hiller, secretary at the Association of Waldorf schools (Bund der Waldorfschulen).
As someone - even if only at the margin - drawn into the broadcast I feel myself put before a cart of opposition and hostility with which I do not want to go along one centimetre. The central pedagogical substance and the educational practice of the Waldorf schools is not described at all in the program, and the positive experiences of the great part of parents and pupils (compare the empirical study by Randoll) are in no place mentioned."
"Through the biased line of reasoning and the very rough shortening of interviews the program has not contributed to a differentiated experience of the Waldorf schools and their growing pedagogical importance, but only created new stereotypes respectively strengthened old ones. It puts Waldorf schools in a corner where they do not belong, neither in history, nor in the present. The Report-program has neither contributed to the continued development of Waldorf edcuation nor to the intensification of the dialogue between the pedagogically interested public and the Free Waldorf schools, in which I since long have been engaged."
" Bernhard Nellessen rounding off:
Comment: ... no trace of self understanding?
"But we think that it is high time that those responsible take a critical look at the father of Waldorf schools, Rudolf Steiner."
Comment: We are grateful for the surely well intended corrections. Pity that it was not noticed that it has been taking place since the founding of the first Waldorf school. Since long, there exists for example a yearbook of Anthroposophy-Criticism (Jahrbuch der Anthroposophie-Kritik), a dialogue between Waldorf educators and educationalists, a dialogue between Waldorf educators and the church, an extensive Dutch investigation of controversial remarks by Rudolf Steiner and much else. Pity that the responsible reporters of the Report-program put a small group of hardened anti-Waldorf missionaries before the wagon.
(Translation: Tom Singer-Carpenter and Sune Nordwall)
The German original text can be found at http://www.waldorf.net/html/texte/report.htm