Waldorf schools are a worldwide system of primary and secondary schools founded on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. In some countries they are funded by the government. Until recently, all Waldorf schools In the USA have been private. Missionary activity by Anthroposophy, the sect which carries on Steiner's work, has resulted in the founding of a few public alternative Waldorf schools, and a growing number of charter schools.
Waldorf schools are often wracked by controversies which break out when parents discover strange or offensive beliefs or practices. Some of these incidents involve allegations of racism in the curriculum or in a teacher's treatment of students. This article illustrates, by quotations from Rudolf Steiner and his followers in Anthroposophy, that a benevolent but paternalistic racism is inherent in the movement.
Waldorf teachers study a lot of Steiner. Steiner's teachings are pervaded by a racial mythology that he and the Nazis derived from Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy. Though he differed with the Nazis on nationalism and tactics, Steiner also made much of the superiority of the Central European soul and of the German spirit, in comparison with other ethnic groups. Early Nazi ideologists drew inspiration from Steiner's teachings (see below, Goodrick-Clarke, 1992). Though the Nazis banned Anthroposophy, this does not necessarily confer sainthood. The Thule Society, another source of Nazi mythology, was also banned at the same time. These groups were suppressed as rivals, rather than opponents, of Nazism.
Steiner expressed high ideals about the unity of humanity. In 1909 he wrote that the "anthroposophical movement, ...must cast aside the division into races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations and to bridge the divisions and differences between people and various groups of people. ... [W]e must get beyond the illnesses of childhood and understand clearly that the concept of race has ceased to have any meaning in our time" (Steiner, 1909, UH pp. 11-13). But at the same time he promulgated a mythological theory that humanity evolved and continues to evolve through ever higher races.
I have not searched out obscure sources for these
items. All of the books cited are either on display in the bookstores
of Waldorf schools, used as teaching guides, or promoted through
Anthroposophical presses whose catalogs are distributed at the
schools and teacher training colleges. I question whether, despite
their high ideals and good intentions, teachers whose training
includes proto-Nazi racial mythology can avoid bringing this
misinformation into the content of their lessons, and into their
relationships with the children.