What is the Waldorf School Criticism and Controversy?

by | Education

To be clear, I’m a huge supporter of Waldorf education. Mainly because I’m a huge supporter of options. The more, the better. It’s inspiring to see students presented with so many unique educational options. For example, take a look at this video about the Albany Free School which doesn’t give kids any curriculum at all.


However, as the video we’re about to watch below points out, these “alternative” options are usually  fee based options, which is one of the main problems plaguing these “alternatives” in the first place.

Often, students who need access to “alternatives” the most, are the ones who can’t afford to have it. Poor kids, you stay in bad schools, rich kids… well here are some good public schools for you, and if you want to spend a bit more money here are some private options, and lastly, if you really want to to spread your wings and find an educational philosophy that’s specific to your needs as a learner, well here are an assortment of alternatives for you as well. And the vicious cycle of access based on income continues.

Now the video I’m about to show you points out the criticisms and controversies of one of these alternative schools: The Waldorf School. One critic in the video goes as far to say that “the government shouldn’t waste state funds on schools that teach nonsense“. He fails to define what “nonsense” is and also also doesn’t provide any insight into how state schools provide only non-nonsensical education. But he seems to have an underlying distaste for the Waldorf System.


But the accusations get worse. One of the biggest criticisms of the Waldorf School system is that its founder, Rudolf Steiner, had his writing sprinkled with racist leanings. Some argue that the writings are not racists at all. You can see this post which shows some of the writings and defends them. Now some of the people who defend Rudolf Steiner say that the language he used wasn’t considered racists in the 20’s and therefore shouldn’t be looked at in the same light today. Defenders say that in the 20’s it was the lingo of the day.

Based on what I’ve seen myself, I would consider some of his writings racists. However, that is not to say that I am against Waldorf Education. Let me explain.

I’ve been to Waldorf schools. A wide variety of races attend the ones I’ve seen and they draw in an eclectic group of parents and teachers. There was no racists teaching activities or behaviours in any of the Waldorf schools that I’ve seen.

But before we go any further, let’s first watch the video so you can see what you think for yourself. After the video is over, the discussion will carry on below, at which time I encourage you to add your voice to the comments section. I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

Watch on youtube.

After watching this video, I’m overwhelmed by one glaring oversight; and that’s that if we’re to judge any educational system based on it’s historical record on racism…. then let’s not hold state funded public education on a pedestal.

I’ll put it bluntly; as racist as Steiner’s writings might be, his educational history is sparkling clean compared to that of state sponsored schools.

Around this time of Steiner’s writings, you had President Woodrow Wilson ordering the segregation of Federal public services including schools (1913) . Woodrow is also documented as defending the  KKK when he mentioned that “The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation. . .until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”

Or in Canada you have government educators who saw it fit to create a residential schooling system which forcibly took aboriginal children from their communities in an effort to “”Kill the Indian in him” 1 . In many cases students were assaulted, raped or threatened in these schools. These people and governments didn’t write about these things… they did them. We’re all linked to this racists past. This is our collective history. And to this day, we all interact and support these same institutions who did these horrible things in the past. It’s just that the institutions have learnt from their mistakes, and we’ve learnt to forgive.


So to state educators criticizing alternative forms of education based on their histories, I would say; get off your high horse. Not only do you teach equally as much nonsense but you’ve also been much more abusive, racists and hateful.

Now, as students, teachers, parents and tax payers today, we need to be a little bit smarter than this. I think the trouble here is that we’re having a hard time co-existing with our dirty histories. And we’re all guilty; Steiner, our governments, you, me…. everyone.

I think the fact that Waldorf schools are attached to a name (rather than a nameless bureaucracy) makes it a little harder to forgive and also makes it easier for state educators to forget their own pasts. The idea is, to try to overcome our past and then look for ways to peacefully co-exist with it. Not an easy task to say the least, as it often requires that we come face to face with our own hypocrisy. 

When we look back into our past it’s upsetting to see all of our ideological faults. But the fact remains that these public, private and alternative institutions have the ability to accomplish extraordinary things. We just need to be able to learn from our mistakes and move on.

What do you think of the video above? Do you have experience with the Waldorf School system? If so, what are your thoughts?





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