Waldorf schools: ‘nonreligious’?

Indiana law says charter schools must be “nonsectarian and nonreligious.” Do Waldorf schools meet the test? It’s a serious question, one the folks at Ball State University should weigh as they decide whether to approve a charter for Green Meadows School, a proposed Waldorf school in Bloomington.

As Emily Chertoff reports in the Atlantic, Waldorf education was developed nearly 100 years ago by Rudolf Steiner, a German proponent of the esoteric belief system called theosophy. Steiner eventually founded his own offshoot, anthroposophy, to explore ways the living could enter the “spirit world.”

“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,” Chertoff writes in a bemused and mostly uncritical article.

Green Meadows, in its charter proposal, makes numerous references to Steiner and his ideas, promising a “spiritual” approach to schooling that teaches “reverence” for nature, people, plants and animals and feeds the “divine spark” in every person.

Not surprisingly there are Waldorf critics who say this is religion and doesn’t belong in public schools. One of the most vocal groups is California-based People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools, which stops short of calling Waldorf “a cult” but says that “Waldorf teachers often behave in cult-like ways.” Continue reading