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Disputing the Philosophy Behind a Waldorf Education

To the Editor:

Regarding "A School With Balance" (On Assignment, Oct. 18, 1995): My child went to the San Francisco Waldorf school for a year and a half, and my wife and I participated fully in school activities. I was charmed, as your reporter was, by the dedication of the staff and the beauty of the school. I was dismayed when I discovered pseudoscience in my son's lesson books, and investigated to discover whether it was a problem of poorly trained teachers or part of the system.

Unfortunately, it was the latter. My efforts to reform the science program, along with my objections to pre-Nazi racial theories in books sold at the school, resulted in my family's being expelled. Over the last five years I have studied and accumulated an 8-foot shelf of Waldorf publications. I recommend that you look into this subject more deeply.

Waldorf schools teach the world-view of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and artist who died in 1925. He was head of the German section of Helena P. Blavatsky's Theosophical Society until he split off to form his own group, "Anthroposophy." After his efforts to establish a political movement called "the threefold social order" failed, he switched to education as a means for accomplishing his objective of transforming society from modern materialism back to a medieval magical spirituality.

Mr. Steiner's doctrines, which Waldorf schools teach as science, include: that "the four elements" are significant in chemistry; that the human body is organized into the "metabolic-muscular, rhythmic, and nerve-sense systems"; that the heart does not pump blood; that humans have 12 senses corresponding to the signs of the zodiac; that the planets influence the growth of plants; and that Newton was wrong, white light cannot be divided into colors.

Science isn't the only area shot through with bizarre beliefs. History, for example, is taught on the framework of the "seven root races" from Madame Blavatsky's theosophy.

I'm sad to see you repeating so many of the Waldorf school publicity formulas. Articles like this are, unfortunately, all too common. There is another, quite different side to this picture, which has gone unreported so far.

From my analysis, Waldorf schools should be regarded as the principal missionary activity of a cult-like religious sect. I say missionary, because everything they do is calculated to instill Steiner's worldview; a religious sect, because the teachers are trained almost exclusively in Steiner's "spiritual" doctrines, and must be committed to anthroposophy in order to advance to full status; cult-like, because they cling to rejected knowledge, and obscure their intentions and the true contents of the curriculum.

There is some urgency to this matter, since the Waldorf movement is now working at getting its philosophy into public schools. They are succeeding in many places, thanks in a large part to uncritical publicity such as your article. There is a public Waldorf school in Milwaukee, and Waldorf charter schools are springing up all over. Promoters evade the church-state issue with platitudes or misinformation.

Dan Dugan
San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

On behalf of Waldorf schools all over the world, I am writing to thank you for publishing "A School With Balance." It is an unbiased, fair, and accurate description of both the Pine Hill Waldorf School and of many of the guiding principles upon which Waldorf education is based. One can hope that through an article such as this teachers everywhere, no matter in what kind of school they practice their art, will remember that the most important elements of education live in the direct human interaction between teachers and children. What the Waldorf schools strive for is such interaction, based upon love, respect, and understanding, placed in the service of their children.

Each Waldorf school is a dynamic community of students, teachers, and parents, as your reporter ably portrayed. Rudolf Steiner provided insights into education, but no formula or recipe. Dan Dugan's technique is to pull citations out of context and use them for his own purposes. Steiner's works, of which education is only a part, are available in public libraries, bookstores, and catalogs. Waldorf education is very accessible. There is no hidden agenda, no "worldview" to be inculcated, and certainly no "sect" to which teachers are trying to convert their pupils, the school parents, or anyone else. Furthermore, all Waldorf initiatives in public schools are in response to requests from public school agencies and educators, and are in no way part of the "missionary activity of a cult-like religious sect." Waldorf graduates are recognized in their university classrooms and in their varied careers as independent, creative thinkers.

One can feel only sadness that a few individuals are so determined to expose something that is not there.

We are pleased that "A School With Balance" presents the Waldorf experience as your reporter found it. As stated in the article, Waldorf education is based on Rudolf Steiner's educational theories and "has a strong spiritual component, though it is most emphatically nonsectarian." Waldorf education is being recognized by a growing number of American educational leaders for its innovative and effective approach to working with children.

When public schools and public school teachers apply Waldorf in their classrooms, what they are applying is a deeper understanding of the developing child, along with creative and effective educational methods, corroborated by current research into how children learn.

David Alsop
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Fair Oaks, Calif.

Global Economy's Impact on U.S. Educational Priorities

To the Editor:

Frederick C. Thayer in "Overreaching and Underthinking" (Commentary, Oct. 4, 1995) is of course correct in saying that "society as a whole, acting through its government, can be faulted for requiring that large numbers of young people be kept out of work, a situation that has now endured for two decades." We should know that the economic-political policies of three administrations have been geared to a low-wage, low-skill economy to satisfy the market needs of the global economy.

Since the 1970s, there have been profound changes in the U.S. political economy. Changes in the workplace, in the interaction between U.S. corporations and world markets, and in the structure of labor-management relations all have been decisive in increasing the "globalization" of U.S. capital (corporate money).

"Globalization," as commonly used, refers to the explosive growth in the past 20 to 25 years of huge multinational corporations and vast pools of capital that crossed national borders and penetrated everywhere. To accommodate this "roaming" of capital, structural changes in the organization of the workforce were needed.

Labor needed to be converted into an "impotent spectator" faced with low-paid temporary work. In the world of global corporate restructuring, full-time jobs become scarce, security almost nonexistent. The workforce consists of largely temporary, part-time, and contingent workers.

The successful prototypical corporation consists of a small number of "brain" workers who manage a succession of corporate projects, each of which utilizes a temporary crew with no attachment to the parent company. Workers must be "adaptable," in "continuous training" to keep up their skills, must be continuously "salable," must strive selflessly and work as a team to achieve the company's goals.

If parents, teachers, and the education establishment are to understand the "goals" in this kind of economic-policy plan, they had better heed Mr. Thayer's suggestions. The nation's foreign policy is now directed as a "trade policy." Witness the North American Free Trade Agreement and General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs legislation. Our foreign policy is now directed to that which will help the special interests of the multinational corporations increase their global commerce where wages are the lowest.

Jobs and wages continue to be downsized. Real wages have dropped because of global restructuring, the shift toward lower-paying industries, the lower value of the minimum wage, and increasing part-time and contingent workers. As Mr. Thayer says, government monetary policy keeps unemployment deliberately high, at around 6 to 7 percent.

"Downward mobility" has become the legacy for younger generations. American workers are facing a "wage deficit."

We would suggest that all who are concerned with the education of our children, including parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members, inform themselves about what is happening in the political economy of the nation. What changes are being proposed and made in our educational systems and methods? Who is sponsoring them? What is their purpose and intent? Who will benefit and who will lose? We must not let our children be marginalized.

Fran Rice
Northeast Advocacy Network
Montpelier, Vt.

Clara B. Maslow
Concord, Mass.

ADD Problem: An Effect of Schools' Failure To Change?

To the Editor:

I was very pleased to read the Commentary by Thomas Armstrong on "ADD as a Social Invention" (Oct. 18, 1995). I cannot help but wonder how much of the "problem" of attention-deficit disorder is simply a creation of the way we deliver education. Society has changed, children have changed, yet education has not. Teachers still spend much of their time lecturing. Students still sit in desks all day and work independently. The focus of learning is still "factoids," not processes.

It is entirely possible that we may be using the concept of ADD to force students to fit into a 100-year-old template of education. That is a consideration that needs to be seriously addressed.

Agnes Gilman Case
Rochester, N.Y.

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