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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Waldorf Schools–Cult Education Favored By Progressives

Emily Chertoff writing in The Atlantic (12.2.12) asks a telling question: Waldorf schools are popular with progressives. But how do you feel about a dose of spiritualism with your child's reading and math?

Would you send your kid to a school where faceless dolls and pine-cones are the toys of choice? A school where kids don't read proficiently until age 9 or 10 -- and where time spared goes to knitting and playing the recorder? A school where students sing hymns to "spirit" every day?

Not in a million years would be my answer, but not so for many others:

Some of the country's hardest-charging professionals do. In locations like Manhattan, they sometimes fight over spots for their kids. The New York Times recently profiled a Waldorf school populated with the offspring of executives at Google and Apple.

What’s going on here?  Why would so many otherwise intelligent Americans subscribe to such wacko ideas?  Here is a sampler of the ideas of Rudolph Steiner who founded the schools back in the 19th Century:

Most occultists of the era believed that spirits of the dead regularly attempted to contact or enter the world of the living. Steiner was more interested in the opposite possibility. He believed the living could cultivate the ability to enter the spirit world. After World War I, the director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany --  an adherent of anthroposophy -- invited Steiner to create a school for the children of factory workers. This was Steiner's chance to train children who could initiate such spiritual contact…

Many of the methods used at Waldorf today (for instance the movement exercises and the use of music) are rooted in Steiner's belief that schools need to cultivate spirit -- the medium for contact between the living and the dead…

At other times, spirit serves as a kind of internal clock that orders the way subjects are taught. As the the New York Times explained in 2000, "Steiner believed that people experience a type of reincarnation every seven years, beginning with the physical birth and ending at age 21, when the spirit of a human being is fully developed and continually reincarnated on earth." As a direct consequence, at traditional Waldorf schools, "certain subjects are taught at times that he thought best coincided with these changes."

Whew! A kind and generous observer might conclude that most of the Google and Apple hippie wannabee parents simply don’t have any idea about who Rudolph Steiner was and the cockamamie ideas he espoused; but these are supposedly some of the most intelligent people in the country for whom research and data are sacrosanct.

Many adherents are attracted by Waldorf’s focus on simplicity.  A previous article in The Atlantic limned the praises of a student who spent days carving wooden mallets and spoons, sanding them to a smooth finish, then enjoying the reward of the sublime sensation of the wood on his cheek.  Steiner felt that children should not learn how to read, write, or do arithmetic until the age of eight or nine – cognitive skills could wait, he felt, until the spirit and soul of the child had been awakened to the miracles of nature.

When the author asked why modern students needed to learn outdated skills like woodcarving, the teacher replied, "You almost need it as a balance for the high-tech world."

Perhaps this is the reason why Google and Apple parents flock to Waldorf.  They feel somewhat guilty about how their inventions have created insular, closeted individuals never bothering to poke their heads out-of-doors, smell the fragrance of a pine forest, or the invigorating tang of a salt sea spray.  Maybe they had a Robert Oppenheimer moment when he reflected on the atom bomb he had created: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”.

Waldorf schools were originally conceived by Steiner as religious institutions.  Chertoff cites a San Francisco Chronicle article of a few years back:

"Fundamental to [Steiner's] work is the view that the human being is composed of body, soul and spirit, and that the Christ event is key to the unfolding of human history and the achievement of human freedom," says the Web site of the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, which is the West Coast training center for Waldorf teachers. ...

[Another feature of Waldorf schools are so-called] nature tables that are staples in most kindergarten and primary classrooms. Waldorf supporters view the tables, covered with pinecones, rocks, and seashells, as a way to teach respect for the environment. Critics view them as altars that promote sun worship and pantheism.

The Waldorf philosophy is very similar to that of the Utopian Movement in the United States in the early part of the 20th Century:

The Oneida Community was a religious commune founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848 in Oneida, New York. The community believed that Jesus had already returned in A.D. 70, making it possible for them to bring about Jesus's millennial kingdom themselves, and be free of sin and perfect in this world, not just Heaven (a belief called Perfectionism). The Oneida Community practiced Communalism (in the sense of communal property and possessions), Complex Marriage, Male Continence, Mutual Criticism and Ascending Fellowship (Wikipedia)

Wacko then, wacko now it appears; but ‘progressives’ can’t seem to get enough of the crypto-spirituality-cum-environmentalism that Waldorf offers; but at least they come by it naturally via Utopianism and its latter-day legacy – The Sixties.  

At other times, spirit serves as a kind of internal clock that orders the way subjects are taught. As the the New York Times explained in 2000, "Steiner believed that people experience a type of reincarnation every seven years, beginning with the physical birth and ending at age 21, when the spirit of a human being is fully developed and continually reincarnated on earth." As a direct consequence, at traditional Waldorf schools, "certain subjects are taught at times that he thought best coincided with these changes."

Enough said.

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