A Pedagogy for Aryans

Small classes, no mad scramble for high marks, and a motivated teaching-staff—Waldorf schools have earned a good reputation for their feigned ability to benefit students on an individual level. Still, to this day, these disguised religious schools pursue the idea of the anti-modern.

By Peter Bierl[2]


The German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs[3] has asked the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons[4] to include two books by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy and Waldorf schools, on a list of texts deemed to endanger the young on account of racist content of the books in question. The Federal Department will decide the matter in September. Scholar Helmut Zander, of Berlin’s Humboldt University, has published a two-volume work, wherein he dissects Steiner’s »spiritual vision« down to every detail, and demonstrates how the guru plagiarized other thinkers. On three occasions now, a Waldorf teacher has been sentenced by the district court of Kempten, in the province of Allgäu, to pay fines of 8000 Euro due to manhandling children when he was on duty as a teacher. Although that particular Waldorf school does not belong to the Association of Waldorf Schools,[5] it nevertheless operates according to the foundational tenets of anthroposophy. At the town of Rauen in Brandenburg, Andreas Molau, a leading official of the Nazi party NPD[6], is planning the establishment of a Waldorf school. The project already faces opposition from the Association of Waldorf Schools, invoking proprietary rights to the name. For years, Molau was a teacher at a Waldorf school in Braunschweig, until he gave his notice in the autumn of 2004, allegedly due to his desire to work for the new NPD faction in the state parliament of Saxony as well as with the NPD periodical »German Voice«.[7] On that account, the Waldorf school, in turn, discharged and banned him.

At the time, as a result of the above mentioned incidents, Waldorf schools made negative headlines,  but in general the press reports are positive and uncritical. In this context, the high esteem this type of schools recieves, and the authorities’ indifferent attitude towards them, are in fact curious. That being so, anyone who concerns himself with Waldorf pedagogy cannot overlook its obscure foundation—the occult worldview of anthroposophy, concocted by the clairvoyant Steiner out of fragments of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and contemporary European evolutionary and racial teachings. For this picture to emerge, a few lectures from Steiner’s works and some copies of the Waldorf School Association’s publication, »Art of Education«,[8] are enough.

Cartoons and Lego, soccer, sex education and lefthandedness are treated with disdain, and the children have to recite rhymes and verses with odd accentuations that make the recitations resemble mantra practices. There are no actual text books, and the children must copy the subject matter from the teacher’s blackboard writing. In 1998, the pedagogical research branch of the Waldorf Association published a brochure entitled »Literature assignments for the teachers’ work at free Waldorf schools«. The booklet contains an outline of literature that »can be turned to when preparing for the teaching of the first to the eighth grades of main lesson blocks«. There is not one single recommendation of a reliable non-fictional work on the Nazi period for history education; instead, the list includes predominantly anthroposophical works from the first half of the past century, some of which are filled with dubious stories of »root races« and the migrations of the »Aryans«. In the recommended books we read that Italians are merry and impulsive and lie out of courtesy; the Brit, on the other hand, is unaffected and materialistic. The Arab is depicted as hardy, passionate, callous and scheming. The Asian is considered to be decadent; he is either a choleric Mongol or a phlegmatic Malay. The Japanese lives in a light wooden house with straw roof, he always smiles enigmatically, and conceals a merciless rigour beneath the surface. Africans are childish, naïve and devout, and their origins and their instincts exert strong influences upon them. And because they are like children, they must be governed by white people. The Russian is described as quick-tempered, brutal, ruthless, violent, dominant, impatient, capricious, resigned to his fate, resistant to adversity, undependable and unpunctual.

Such nonsense rests upon the notion of »root races«, inherited by Steiner from the theosophists. According to the theosophists, all of the »root races« and all of the »sub races« have their own tasks during particular epochs. The members and descendants of those »races« and peoples whose missions already belong to the past are regarded as decadent and unfit for spiritual progress. Steiner passed this verdict upon the Jews, the French, the Italians, the Chinese and the Japanese, as well as upon the Australian Aborigines and American Indians. Concepts such as »root races« or »races« are avoided, these days, by Steiner’s adherents; they prefer to speak of »cultural epochs«. In anthroposophical circles, it has not yet been acknowledged that humanity cannot be divided into »races« and that human »races« exist only as figments in the minds of racists.

Hence, in the reading list of 1998, Waldorf teachers were recommended approximately 30 works by Steiner, in which the master not only presents himself as a clairvoyant and depicts anthroposophy as an occult spiritual science, but also fantasizes about »folk spirits«, divides humanity into races, and claims that the »Aryans« are predestined to develop spirituality. The lectures alone, given by Steiner between the years 1919 and 1924 for the benefit of the teachers at the first Waldorf school, fill up three volumes, and those are utilized by Waldorf teachers during their training. Therein, he characterizes French as a decadent, mendacious »corpse of a language«, spoken by a nation in decline.

Waldorf schools present themselves as aimed at a »holistic«, child-centred and age-appropriate education towards freedom. This depiction is misleading, since for anthroposophists, these words have very specific meanings that cannot be easily inferred by an outsider if he has not been initiated into Steiner’s occult teachings. Freedom means freedom for anthroposophy. Child-centred and age-appropriate refer to anthroposophical dogmas on childhood development, depending on mumbo-jumbo conceptions surrounding the number 7.

The guru asserted that the human being consists of a physical body, an »etheric body« and an »astral body« and a divine ego, which will not appear until after the 21st year of life. The childhood aura remains in contact with a higher spiritual world. Because of this, parents and educators may not harbour any »impure or unchaste or immoral thoughts«. Round shapes, rythmical movements and soft colours, in particular pink lazured walls, contribute to the development of a moral disposition of the brain and in the circulatory system. Steiner described the small child as a »clumsy sack« or a »bag of flour«, a child who shows no curiosity—an idea contradicted by modern day understanding of pedagogy and developmental psychology. It is rubbish to think that children only desire imitation until their seventh year of life. Early childhood obstinacy and the desire for »self-assertion« are explained by Steiner as the activities of demonic forces that cause premature development of the ego-consciousness.

In the second 7-year period, ranging from the seventh to the 14th year of life, the »etheric body« liberates itself from its sheath. The imitative instinct of the small child is superseded by »deliberate acceptance«. From the teacher, a student assimilates that which, »on a foundation of self-evident authority, makes an impression on the child«. Hence, the children in a Waldorf class must manage, from the first until the eighth grade, with one and the same teacher, who is seen as a »master of fate«[9], as a »pedagogical artist«, who teaches all the basic subjects.

Critical thinking poisons children and the young, according to Steiner. No sooner than puberty, when the »astral body« is being liberated, is the teacher allowed to develop the young students’ capacity of discernment; they may then »sharpen their critical faculties«. In any event, »head knowledge« and »intellectuality« are to be avoided. Repetition was Steiner’s didactic method of preference. He perceived intellectuality with suspicion: »Everything intellectual is old-fashioned volition, and the type of will manifested by old people.« Discussions on sexuality and eroticism are resented in Waldorf schools. Steiner recommended that the aestethic sense for the sublime and beautiful in nature is to be encouraged instead. Since 2002, Waldorf circles have witnessed an uptight debate on the issue of sex education.

Steiner’s conception of reincarnation and karma is considered the »foundation of all genuine education«. For this reason, »Waldorf pedagogy, in its entirety and all the way to its core, is built upon a perception of the human being that holds reincarnation and karma as central facts«, wrote Valentin Wember, a Waldorf pedagogue, in the journal »Art of Education« in 2004. Speculating on previous earth lives of other people is certainly viewed as a tactless intrusion into the private sphere; for Waldorf teachers, however, there is an exception—for them, »cautious speculation« is allowed. Anthroposophists believe that the child’s body is moulded by forces which derive from previous earth lives. He who has lied during an earlier life, his physical being will be affected by this in his subsequent incarnation, and he will be reborn with mental impairments. »These days, the human being is unable to really fathom the truth, and he becomes feeble-minded«, writes Weber. This connection is »a spiritual law, discovered by spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner«. The educator should imagine himself as the person who had been lied to in the previous life. He must forgive the disabled child and into the child’s mind instil the truths of spiritual life. The educator is to work off the »karmic debt« of the children, too.

When Waldorf teachers force left-handed children to write with their right hands, their reasoning is based on the notion of bad karma. The predominant attitude of tolerance that reigns in modern public schools is not recognized in Waldorf schools. Michaela Glöckler, medical practitioner, bestselling anthroposophical author and director of the medical branch at the Goetheneaum, the international  headquarters of the anthroposophists, situated in Dornach, Switzerland, believes that writing with the right hand is »an exercise of will for any child«, and for the left-handed child this is ever so poignant. The child will learn »to pull himself together through continous mastering of the light sensation of discomfort«. According to Steiner, the left-handed have squandered their resources in their prior lives. Thus, in this life, they have to cultivate their »spiritual intensity«, for which the left half of the body is responsible.

A further element of Waldorf pedagogy is the ancient doctrine of human temperaments. Anthroposophists believe that every individual is characterized by one of the four temperaments, which is assumed to govern him: the choleric person is impassioned and strong-willed; the sanguine is lively, confident and fidgety. The melancholic is timid and gloomy, and an egoist and a recluse; the phlegmatic is indolent, he dreams with his mouth open, and pulls out his snack from the school bag at the first opportunity.

The class teacher determines the child’s temperament, and subsequently organizes the seating arrangements: to the left in front of him, he places the phlegmatics, then the melancholics and the sanguines, and to the right he seats the cholerics. Children of the same temperament are seated together, so that they will »mirror« each other. For every temperament, there are specific methods of narration and presentation, particular exercises, and even the four rules of arithmetic are learnt in temperamentally adapted ways. Waldorf pioneer Caroline von Heydebrand advises that the melancholic child ought not to be rinsed in cold water, but should be fed lettuce and light vegetables; the choleric should be made to cut wood, drive in nails and carry rocks, and the phlegmatic must not be allowed to »linger—out of pure delight—drowsily and half-asleep in the warmth of the feather bed« in the mornings. The sanguine requires variation.

The decisive factor, when it comes to the temperament of an individual, is karma. Although most Waldorf teachers are not thought to be among the great initiates and cannot use clairvoyance, they still resort to phrenology and physiognomy. These disciplines arose in the late 18th century, with the objective of dividing humanity into »races«. Anthroposophists believe that cholerics are short-necked and  short-legged, sanguines are slender and well-proportioned, melancholics are tall, thin, skinny and carry their bodies with a forward bent, phlegmatics are rounded and well-nourished. Musicians, painters and priests have large noses, according to the insights of anthroposophist Norbert Glas; ears placed high expose an eccentric intellectual, and pointed ears betray the kleptomaniac.

Karma and reincarnation, temperaments, phrenology, numerological magic and belief in the spiritual world complete the anthroposophical conception of human nature. This is an anthropology based on insight and on »moral conviction«—and for the teachers a »means to an education of the self«—to which every Waldorf school owes a debt of gratitude. The »loyalty to the truth, as it is perceived, binds together the conference of teachers in a community of fate and symbiosis«, proclaims Heinz Zimmermann, the leader of the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum. The assurance that Waldorf schools are not faith schools is nothing but a purely self-protective assertion.

Every Waldorf school is seen as a designated »karmic community«, because every teacher or student has been impelled in a specific direction by his or her karma. In German public schools, a very humble co-management of teachers, parents and pupils has been commonplace for decades; in the so called free Waldorf schools, this kind of democratic governance has not yet been implemented. Waldorf schools claim to be parts of a purpose-driven movement, similar to a religious community, whose undertakings are exempted from the usual requirements regarding co-management of regular employees through provisions made by German law. In practical terms, Waldorf pedagogy requires payments of school fees amounting to some hundred Euros a month, as well as conformity to the informal demands of the social élite which forms the school body. An investigation by the Criminological Institute of Lower Saxony[10] in the year 2006 indicates that, of the surveyed students in 9th grade, only 1,1 per cent of the parents had attended Hauptschule.[11] Only 0,3 per cent of the students are from immigrant families, in comparison to a 18,3 per cent of the students at Hauptschulen and the 2,9 per cent of the students at Gymnasien.

Waldorf schools are foreigner-free enclaves, as it were, and élitist institutions where the offspring of the upper class and the academic bourgeoisie stay at a safe distance from the children of the proleteriat. Waldorf pedagogy may comprise some positive aspects; no grades and no being held back, its orientation towards music and handicraft, or the block teaching. These ideas Steiner ripped off from other reform pedagogues, then infused in occult prattle. Children should be spared from such a covert religious education.


Author’s postscript, May 30, 2008:

This article was first published in »Jungle World«, a German weekly magazine, based in Berlin, in September 2007. A few weeks later the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons declared that the two books by Steiner contain passages »which are nowadays to be rated as racist«, but abstained from banning them because the administration of Rudolf Steiner’s estate, which is headquartered in Switzerland, promised to print annotated new editions.

In November 2007 the Hamburg-based magazine »Stern« reported that Andreas Molau, then front runner of NPD for the state elections in Lower Saxony, was writing a book together with Lorenzo Ravagli, former Waldorf teacher and instructor of Waldorf teachers, staff of the monthly Waldorf magazine »Art of Education« and anthroposophy’s main defender against criticism of antisemitism and racism within anthroposophy and Waldorf education. According to the article in »Stern«, Ravagli refused to authorize this book, which was to deal with nationalism, until a few weeks before the international book fair in Frankfurt. Ravagli published several pamphlets, denying the obvious fact that Steiner was a German nationalist, antisemite and racist. The collaboration between the anthroposophist Ravagli and Molau, one of Germany’s leading Nazi activists, is a scandal, but has obviously had no consequences. Ravagli’s works are still advertised on the homepage of the German Waldorf Federation (http://www.waldorfschule.info/index.19.53.1.html, May 26th 2008).

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[1]    A previous version of this article was published in the German magazine Jungle World No. 36, 6 October 2007. It can be accessed at http://jungle-world.com/artikel/2007/36/20283.html (June 5th 2008).

[2]    Peter Bierl is an author and journalist, living with his family near Munich in Bavaria, Germany. His work deals with topics like anthroposophy, antisemitism, ecology, environmentalism, esotericism, fascism and racism. In 2005, a revised edition of his book »Wurzelrassen, Erzengel und Volksgeister. Die Anthroposophie Rudolf Steiners und die Waldorfpädagogik« [»Root races, Archangels and Folk Spirits. The Anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf Pedagogy«] was published. Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg, 17 Euro, ISBN 3-89458-242-1. www.konkret-literatur-verlag.de

[3]    Bundesfamilienministerium.

[4]    Bundesprüfstelle (Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien).

[5]    Bund der freien Waldorfschulen.

[6]    Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands; National Democratic Party of Germany.

[7]    »Deutsche Stimme.«

[8]    »Erziehungskunst.«

[9]    »Schicksals- und Daseinsmacht« in German.

[10]  Kriminologisches Institut für Niedersachsen (KfN).

[11]  Transl. note: The German Hauptschule is the alternative to the Gymnasium. Upon completing 4th grade, students go either to the Hauptschule—for a practically oriented, basic education—or to the Gymnasium, which is theoretically oriented and a preparation for higher education. Attendance at a Gymnasium and a successful final examination (the Abitur) are requirements for further studies at university level.