We are "Citizens for Twin Ridges School District Accountability," a volunteer committee of Nevada County residents who care deeply about keeping our publicly financed schools free of religious teachings and influence. We believe in the principle of the separation of church and state, a practice that has served America well. This protects both our schools and all religious groups.
It is our position that the Twin Ridges Elementary School District has violated that principle when it established the Alternative Charter School. Our issue is not charter schools. Our issue is the religious foundation that is inherent in the philosophy, content, and methodology of a Waldorf-inspired school. To call it a Waldorf-inspired school is designed to suggest that only the best of Waldorf education is used while removing all of the religious elements. This is a deception. You cannot remove the pig from pork. Nor can you remove Rudolph Steiner's religious world view, known as anthroposophy, from Waldorf education and still have any form of Waldorf education. The very heart and soul of Waldorf education is religious.
This is reflected in the child-development model used by Waldorf teachers and administrators. To be sure, there are many theories of child development. But the one used in Waldorf schools is totally religious in nature. It is based on Steiner's three seven-year stages. Through these stages a child's soul reincarnates. Its origin is the spiritual world. There are four principles or bodies in a person -- the physical, the etheric, the astral and the ego. The astral and ego forces are not inherited. They unite with the physical and etheric bodies at birth. These four bodies correspond with four temperament in each person. These concepts, purely religious in nature, form the understanding of children, their development, how they are to be taught, what they are to be taught, and how individuals or groups relate to them.
Teachers in Waldorf schools and Waldorf-inspired schools are required to train at Steiner Colleges that teach the religious and "scientific" ideas," known as anthroposophy, of Rudolph Steiner. In anthroposophy, Steiner sought to create a body of knowledge that would unite art, science and religion. The result is a unique mixture of various religious belief systems and a strange kind of religiously oriented science. The Waldorf teacher-training college is a religious seminary for anthroposophical beliefs. Included in the criteria to become a teacher at Twin Ridges Alternative Charter School is mandatory religious training in anthroposophy, which is the core content of a Steiner college curriculum.
Citizens for Twin Ridges School District Accountability is not arguing that this or that point of anthroposophy or Waldorf thought is right or wrong, good or bad. That is a matter of personal decision. We do contend that these are unequivocally religious concepts, beliefs,' and positions. These concepts permeate Waldorf understanding of children and how they are to be educated.
For this reason, Citizens for Twin Ridges School District Accountability opposes the public funding of the Waldorf-inspired Alternative Charter School. It is our objective to inform our community of the violation that has taken place and to bring about the defunding of this charter school. The district has been aware of this violation for 15 months. Formal documentation was legally presented to the district in February 1996 calling attention to this matter and showing the religious nature of the new charter school and how it was not eligible for public funds. Additional communication has been had with the board. But the board has not addressed this issue.
As long as Twin Ridges Alternative Charter School is publicly funded, the teachers and administrator have to deny the anthroposophical religious underpinnings of the school for fear that it will be defunded. But this does not change the reality of what exists at the Alternative Charter School.
The anthroposophical religious beliefs inherent in Waldorf education are not explained to parents so they can determine if these religious teachings are compatible with their own beliefs. For to be forthright about this would make the school ineligible for public funding.
The entire curriculum of Waldorf schools and Waldorf-inspired schools comes out of anthroposophical beliefs backing it up. The result is an anthroposophical education. By the end of the eighth grade, the pupil has the foundation for anthroposophy. Religious ideas and spiritual world views of history, man and cultures are taught in an effective and subtle manner that is distinctively different from teaching overt religious doctrine. There is a profound accumulative effect on students by the unique use of many myths, fairy tales, history based on preconceived systems, personal activities, festival celebrations, and a specific nonscientific understanding of human life and the nature of humankind.
Children are taught specific myths and fairy tales with the public Waldorf School's assertion that the teacher never interprets them. The school claims that only the children and the parents interpret them to find their own meaning. That is impossible. Selected myths and fairy tales are "told" to children at specific ages, according to anthroposophical religious beliefs, so that the children are able to deeply absorb them. Myths and fairy tales are presented as fact. Presenting tales and myths, which includes tales that impart the idea that gnomes, elves, and fairies are real, in a repetitive manner, creates the children's world view. Tales and myths are often dramatized with children selected to play certain characters according to their temperament. Waldorf teachers are anthroposophically trained in how to interpret and use particular fairy tales to promote their "spiritual" world view. To say that children are free to supply their own interpretation is deceptive.
Citizens for Twin Ridges School District Accountability is not opposed to charter schools, alternative methods of education or private religious schools. We categorically oppose public funding of religious and religiously oriented schools such as Twin Ridges Alternative Charter School, operated by the Twin Ridges Elementary School District.
We will support in every way possible the transition of the Waldorf Charter School back to being a private school with as few interruptions as possible. The Twin Ridges Elementary School board would be much better off to amend the charter to embrace an alternative school that is not religiously based both in appearance and in reality.
Dr. James M. Morton is pastor of a Grass Valley church and a resident of Nevada County for six years. He has been involved in the study and teaching of history, religious studies and theology for more than 40 years. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of The Union.