|At its web site, PLANS Inc. describes itself and
its views of Waldorf education.
The following is what PLANS' president, Debra Snell,
writes at the PLANS home page, with some of our comments on it. The PLANS
page was created with the help of Lisa Ercolano, a professional journalist
and for long vice president of PLANS. For more on Ms. Ercolano's ideas
about Waldorf schools, see myth six
in the myths section.
PLANS Inc. writes:
"People for Legal and Non-Sectarian
Schools (PLANS) is a world-wide network of former Waldorf parents, teachers,
students, administrators and trustees who come from a variety of backgrounds
with a common goal: to educate the public about the reality behind Waldorf's
facade of progressive, arts-based education."
PLANS Inc. is a corporation, situated in San Francisco,
California. It is not a membership association but does have a board, currently
with 3 members. In 2000, after five years of anti-Waldorf campaigning,
PLANS claimed a membership of 44 people who had contributed at least $15
during the year. The size of its membership at that time suggests that
many or most of them were probably local friends of the secretary and president
of "PLANS Inc."
The president of PLANS, Debra Snell, is a former
Waldorf parent. Dan Dugan serves
as the secretary and is the main driving force behind PLANS. Mr. Dugan's
son was in the second part of grade six and in grade seven at the San Francisco
Waldorf School. Mr. Dugan is a sound technician and inventor of an automated
microphone mixer, and since the 1980's has been a secular humanist "missionary"
in the San Francisco Bay area.
"Waldorf is the most visible activity
of Anthroposophy, an occultist sect founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)."
with some 1,400 independent kindergartens and more than 1000 independent
Waldorf or Steiner schools world wide, from grade school to adult education,
is one of many activities to emerge from anthroposophy,
a spiritually oriented human philosophy, expounded and developed initially
by Rudolf Steiner
Other activities developed out of anthroposophy
or "Camphill" education for the developmentally handicapped, eurythmy
as an art of movement, visible speech and music, and anthroposophically
Anthroposophical Societies exist in numerous countries
worldwide, with a total of approximately 50,000 members. In contrast to
"cults" or religious sects, the only loose prerequisite for membership
in an anthroposophical society is that one sees the existence of something
like the Goetheanum
in Dornach, as a School for Spiritual Science, as justified.
and bylaws of the Anthroposophical Society are public. The geographically-based
anthroposophical societies are open, democratic, interest-based societies
and have none of the characteristics that define cults or religious organizations,
compared with any other organizations.
While PLANS Inc. claims that Waldorf schools are
"anthroposophical parochial schools", this is contradicted by the many
later well-known students,
such as Kenneth Chenault, the current CEO of American Express, Jennifer
Aniston, and Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway.
Former Waldorf parents world-wide include
Russell Schweickart, Apollo 9 astronaut, Helmut Kohl (former German chancellor),
Hans-Dietrich Genscher (former German minister of foreign affairs), Mikhail
Baryshnikov, Clint Eastwood and Frances Fisher, and Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann.
PLANS' claim that Waldorf schools are an activity
of an "occultist sect" is ridiculous, unless Kenneth
Chenault, Jennifer Aniston, Jens Stoltenberg, Russell Schweickart, Helmut
Kohl, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann
were to reveal that they are closet anthroposophists, something that would
indeed make headlines.
"Together, we have performed exhaustive
research on Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy, the esoteric, occult religion
that both guides and inspires Waldorf teachers. PLANS affirms the right
of all religious groups to practice and to teach their beliefs. But we
expect those groups -- including Anthroposophy -- to tell the truth about
their missionary efforts."
Waldorf education and anthroposophy are extensively
documented in the literature, easy to find and order from Amazon.com
and as web pages on the Internet. For some of the many resources found
on the web, see the links page.
In 2004, PLANS filed a motion in a California Federal
court, in a lawsuit (which
started in 1998 against two public school districts in California, for
their operation of two Waldorf-methods charter schools), requesting that
it rule, as a matter of law, that anthroposophy is a religion. The court
denied the motion stating that "triable issues of material fact exist as
to whether anthroposophy is a religion".
When the trial finally came to take place in September
2005, PLANS lost its case based on lack of acceptible evidence, but has
appealed and gotten its appeal approved, sending the case back to court
at some unclear time, as its legal councel since ten years in February
2008 informed the court that he wants to withdraw from the case, based
on mental problems, and the court in March has dismissed the case against
one of the two public school districts.
Today (2008), Alliance
for Public Waldorf Education lists 13 waldorf-inspired
charter schools in California and 8 other waldorf inspired charter
schools using Waldorf methods as members.
While PLANS claims its goal is to "educate the
public about Waldorf education", most of what is published on their web
site consists of disinformation, a number of more or less defaming and
even demonizing myths, skewed
arguments and fabricated misinterpretations by a Peter
According to Lisa Ercolano, journalist and former
Waldorf parent in Baltimore, "the secret agenda of Waldorf education, not
disclosed to Waldorf parents", is to train
the future rulers of the world, an Anthroposophical world conspiracy
myth found already in a
press release in 1999 from the Pacific Justice Institute, based on
"information" provided by PLANS secretary, Mr. Dugan.
In 1997, believing PLANS' claims that Waldorf schools
practice and teach their students witchcraft, the Pacific Justice Institute
helped PLANS Inc. get $15,000 from a religious organization to finance
the litigation against the two public school districts, accusing them of
"advancing religion." And so the witch hunt began.
After Ms. Ercolano spun the myth of the "Anthroposophical
world conspiracy" on Dan Dugan's list serve in 2000, she was promoted to
vice president of PLANS, a position from which she now (2008) has withdrawn.
"My personal experience
with Waldorf was very confusing. Instead of the progressive and liberal
alternative school I was led to expect by the school's promotional materials
and staff, I discovered a rigid, authoritarian environment that seemed
to be rooted in a medieval dogma that I did not understand. When, in an
effort to make sense of things, I asked questions about this, I found Waldorf
teachers to be strangely defensive."
As an activity rooted in the idealistic philosophical
tradition, Waldorf education differs in a number of ways from activities
that are based on the view of man as primarily a physical being.
The breadth and complexity of the philosophical
basis of Waldorf education, called "anthroposophy", makes it challenging
for a number of Waldorf teachers to explain in depth the basis for Waldorf
Indeed, the published works of Rudolf Steiner as
the founder of both anthroposophy, Waldorf education, biodynamic farming,
and many other practical activities based on anthroposophy, encompass approximately
90,000 pages. Waldorf teachers are not required to study and know anthroposophy
more fully to become and work as Waldorf teachers.
Further, it is not a goal of Waldorf education
to proselytize and make children or parents into "anthroposophists". Most
Waldorf pupils probably have not even heard the word "anthroposophy" mentioned,
and relatively few know anything about anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner
by the time they leave high school.
The lack of interest in proselytizing is one reason
Waldorf schools are reluctant to go into detail when they describe the
philosophical foundation of their work.
Finally, when faced with complicated questions
about anthroposophy as the philosophical basis of Waldorf education, teachers
may be put on the defensive when they realize how difficult it is to answer
questions more than just superficially.
Grasping anthroposophy requires that one come to
grips with concepts concerning the essential being and nature of the human
being as a physical and spiritual being, rooted in the thinking of Aristotle,
Plato and Thomas Aquinas and later developed by Rudolf Steiner during the
beginning of the 20th century.
As they may be difficult (at first) since they
take time to understand -- more time and effort than many teachers are
prepared or able to spend, this makes many, if not most, people who are
familiar with anthroposophy, even for a long time, hold the view that "Steiner
is difficult". Waldorf techers may therefore respond to questions with
reactions ranging from defensive
sighs, as described
by PLANS, to enthusiastic descriptions of Steiner as "one
of the most spiritually gifted and accomplished figures of the Twentieth
For some descriptions in between, see Wikipedia
Steiner and anthroposophy,
and Rudolf Steiner
"I was stunned to arrive at the conclusion
that the education of children -- at least as I use the term "education"
-- did not seem to be the school's most important focus and objective.
But what was?"
In kindergarten and the early grades, Waldorf education
is not primarily focused on conveying "facts" to the pupils, but to support
their development as human beings in a developmentally proper way, through
play and artistic activities in different forms, as a basis for the increasingly
reflective teaching in the upper grades.
This does not mean that the pupils do not learn
the usual subjects at independent Waldorf schools and Waldorf-methods schools.
The test results of the pupils at public Waldorf-methods charter schools,
are on a par with other public schools in the same district.
academic study in Sweden [120K] (where Waldorf schools are state financed)
shows that Waldorf students go on to higher education to a greater extent
than students in general at public schools, and that few of them consider
it to have been a disadvantage to have gone to a Waldorf school.
An overview of all Waldorf
high school students in North America during the last 10 years [1.2M]
shows that 77% of them had or have gone on directly to college after high
school. Of the remaining 23%, 9% had either been accepted to a college
and deferred admission for a year, announced plans to enroll in college
after a year of work or travel, or were pursuing the Ontario Academic Credit
"I began to ask questions. What is
While it is difficult to give a simple summary
of anthroposophy, which was developed primarily by Rudolf
Steiner (1861-1925), because of its breadth and complexity, it can
be described as an effort to develop the idealist school of thought as
spiritual research, rooted in the thinking of Aristotle, Plato and Thomas
As such, it is primarily defined by its research
methods, and secondly by its possible research results. The core of anthroposophy
is the completely individual thinking, judgments and decisions made by
those who work with it.
In addition to developing anthroposophy as a philosophy
and research method, Steiner also put much effort into showing how it could
be fruitful for contemporary mankind. Waldorf or Steiner education, today
practiced at some (2008) 1000 schools world wide, including adult education,
is one of the fruits of anthroposophy.
For more on this, see Waldorf
Answers for a short overview and Wikipedia
for a more detailed overview. For a large part of the published works of
Steiner online in English, see
"Why do students use the wet-on-wet
watercolor painting technique exclusively for so many years?"
As a painting technique, wet-on-wet watercolor
painting allows the person using it not to become immediately fixed in
what is first put on the paper, but to continue working with it for a much
longer time than with other painting techniques, focusing on the color
and the interaction of colors, more than on form. The goal of wet-on-wet
painting at Waldorf schools is to support the flexibility of thinking and
imagination of the growing child.
While this technique dominates painting in the
lower grades in Waldorf schools, color crayons are used extensively from
an early age. In the upper grades, other painting techniques are also used.
One of the many allegations by PLANS is that wet-on-wet
painting is a "secret" exercise in meditation. According to another allegation
published by PLANS, wet-on-wet painting at Waldorf schools is used to make
Ask any Waldorf student about this; it will probably
make him or her raise at least one eyebrow, and most of them two. It is
"Why is mythology taught as history?"
It isn't. History is taught as history, and mythology
as mythology. Cultural history includes studying the mythology of different
cultures. This is taught in addition to the more prosaic "dates and battles"
aspect of history. Many cultures, both ancient and modern, are taught in
Waldorf schools. This is in keeping with Waldorf's strong emphasis on multiculturalism.
"Where is the American flag, and why
don't Waldorf schools teach civic lessons in America?"
Whether or not to display the flag, and where,
is a matter left entirely to the individual schools. Some fly the flag
on the front lawn. Others may not have thought to do so. Though Waldorf
schools are independent, and decide for themselves what to teach in different
grades, civics is normally first covered in the 8th grade curriculum, and
then more extensively in high school.
"In a school system that promotes itself
as "education toward freedom," why do students copy everything from the
In the lower and middle grades, standard school
books are not used in Waldorf education. Instead, the pupils make their
own school books. At first, this is done by copying what the teacher writes
on the blackboard and writing it as reports of subjects taught in the Main
Lesson (a morning double period devoted to a single subject, typically
lasting three or four weeks).
Later, while the teacher summarizes the content
of the lectures, developed in interaction with the pupils, on the blackboard,
they create their own Main Lesson book pages. For a description of this
by Julianna Margulies, a former Waldorf pupil, see here.
"Why do Waldorf teachers talk in high
voices and sing-song directions to their classes?"
Teachers in the lower grades are encouraged to
use their voice in a vocal register that children can imitate easily. Children's
voices are high, so teachers sing in the children's range. This is a basic
principle of all music instruction. Singing instructions in the lower grades
is done to set a warm, welcoming mood for the children.
The described way of talking and giving directions
to the classes in the lower grades, perhaps done to some extent in the
U.S., varies around the world and in many Waldorf schools is not practiced.
"Why must the kindergarten room walls
be painted "peach blossom"?"
There are very few "musts" in Waldorf education,
and there are many kindergartens without "peach blossom" walls. Those that
are painted "peach blossom" are painted that way because Rudolf Steiner,
who developed most of the pedagogy, suggested that it would be a nice thing
to do, and many agree.
"Why is learning to read before the age
of 8 or 9 considered unhealthy?"
There is nothing unhealthy about learning to read
by oneself at any age. There is something unhealthy about being forced
to learn how to read, particularly for children younger than 6. For a number
of discussions of the push in recent years for early literacy, see the
site of Waldorf
By fifth grade (age 11) there are, for all practical
purposes, no differences in ability between children who learned to read
at age 4 and those that learned at age 8.
Every child reaches the milestones of child development
at their own rate. This is recognized in Waldorf education. While learning
to read starts in first grade, at first not through direct reading, but
through writing, no undue pressure is placed on first graders who are still
struggling to master reading. While there may be differences among Waldorf
schools, there is concern and often intervention when students still can't
read at age 8.
"Why do so many Waldorf classes have
problems with bullying, and what is the school's policy for dealing with
Bullying is a serious problem and an increasing
phenomenon in schools of all kinds world wide, and at times also
regrettably occurs at Waldorf schools.
According to a
report in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in 2001,
in general, the prevalence of bullying among U.S. youth is substantial,
and one in three (29.9%) of 15,686 students in grades 6 through 10 in public
and private schools throughout the United States in 1998 reported moderate
or frequent involvement in bullying.
Two studies on or related to bullying at Waldorf
schools are known to Americans for Waldorf Education (AWE).
One is a study from 1996, by Rivers and Soutter:
and the Steiner school ethos - a case study analysis of a group centered
This study, conducted on three classes of 30 pupils
in one Waldorf school in the South of England, found a very low level of
bullying at the school, despite the fact that many pupils came to the school
because they had been victimized elsewhere. The study suggests that bullying
is a situational problem rather than one due to the fact that some young
people are so-called 'natural' victims.
The other is a study from 2004 of Waldorf schools
in Sweden: Waldorf schools and civic moral competency. A comparison
of Waldorf pupils with pupils in public schools. (Swedish
original [3.8M], English
The study among other things compared 196 9th grade
students at nine Waldorf schools distributed in a geographically representative
way in Sweden, with 5,941 9th grade students at municipal (public) schools,
correcting for the difference in the social background of the students
in the two groups.
According to the study, the Waldorf students felt
to a lesser extent than the municipal students that they were bullied or
unfairly treated. They also felt to a greater extent than the students
at municipal schools, that teachers or other adults quickly intervened
if a student was bullied.
These studies contradict that bullying is a specific
problem at Waldorf schools, as alleged by PLANS.
"Why are teachers always lighting candles?"
Candles are not mentioned in any of Rudolf Steiner's
pedagogical indications for Waldorf schools, as the founder of Waldorf
education. Before asking such a question, interested parents should observe
whether this is, in fact, a practice at the school. If a particular teacher
is fond of candles, they doubtless have a reason which they will share
"What answers I received were not forthright,
and the teachers made it clear that my questions were not welcome. They
told me, 'If you understood Anthroposophy, you wouldn't be asking that
This statement appears to be the opinion of one
person. From the information given, it is not possible to speculate on
the nature of the situation that led to the formulation of this opinion.
Waldorf education is a partnership between parents
and teachers for the education of children. If either parents or teachers
feel that the other party is not being honest, this can have a detrimental
effect on the quality of education that the children receive.
Waldorf schools encourage parents to actively participate
in the education of their children, and most schools hold lectures, workshops
and study groups for parents, making every effort to explain the pedagogy.
Much introductory literature is readily
available, and parents are encouraged to learn as much as possible
about the aims and methods of Waldorf education.
Occasionally parents will have a problem with a
teacher, or vice versa, that can lead to the termination of the partnership
for the education of the children. Such personal difficulties, while regrettable,
are a fact of life in every venue of human activity.
Yet before we enrolled, I was told
that the school was non-sectarian and that Anthroposophy was not "in the
classroom!" I was eventually invited to leave.
This sounds like someone's personal history, and
the story behind this "question" is doubtless far more complex than
the statement here indicates.
On the rare occasions when a child is asked to
leave a school, anthroposophy as such has very little to do with it. A
child might be asked to leave for misbehavior, or disruptive behavior
on the part of one or both parents.
Thanks to PLANS' dedicated researchers,
I now have answers to all of my questions, and many more that I had not
even thought of asking!
AWE encourages interested parents to ask questions
of any school before considering enrolling their children. The above questions
should not pose a problem for any Waldorf school admissions officer to
answer. Keep an open mind, visit the school, ask all the questions you
wonder about, have your child visit, and then make the decision you find
is the most proper for you and your child or children.
If the information on the PLANS Web
site had been available 9 years ago, our family would have passed by Waldorf's
door, knowing that its sectarian, occultist nature was not what we were
looking for after all. My sincere hope is that the information contained
in this Web site will help other families avoid a Waldorf disaster.
While the personal experiences of Debra Snell as
president of PLANS Inc. are regrettable, the main part of the "information"
published at the site of PLANS as "education of the public about Waldorf
education" consists of myths,
disinformation and misrepresentations amounting to defamation
about and related to Waldorf education.
In 2001, this made the Open Directory Project
(DMOZ) delete the link to the PLANS site from its main Waldorf category,
after a review of the site showed that it did not fulfill the demands of
informational sites by the portal.
In 2002, Google AdWords stopped publishing
a sponsored ad for the group, after reviewing its site, finding that it
violated the requirements by Google AdWords for advertisers.
And in 2003, Altavista, for similar reasons
after reviewing the site, took the drastic decision to delete the site
completely from its web index, and stop publishing sponsored ads for the
As at all schools, there are parents, who are more
or less dissatisfied with the school they have their child or children
in, for various reasons.
The view of the President of PLANS of Waldorf schools
as "sectarian, occultist schools" is contradicted by the views and experiences
of a large number of people.
According to Kenneth Chenault, President
and COO of American Express and former Waldorf student (Waldorf School
of Garden City):
"Waldorf taught me how to think for
myself, to be accountable for my actions, to be a good listener, and to
be sensitive to the needs of others. It also helped me to focus on the
underlying importance of beliefs and values that are the foundation of
According to Ernest L Boyer (1928-1995),
former President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching:
"Those in the public school reform
movement have some important things to learn from what Waldorf educators
have been doing for many years. It is an enormously impressive effort toward
quality education, and schools would be advised to familiarize themselves
with the basic assumptions that undergird the Waldorf movement. Art as
it helps to reveal the use of language, art as it can be revealed in numbers,
and certainly in nature."
According to Jennifer Aniston, former
"I was always fascinated by acting,
but my experience at Rudolf Steiner [school] encouraged me to pursue it
as a career." "Steiner was a free-spirited school that encouraged creativity
According to Joseph Weizenbaum, Professor
(now emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of
Power and Human Reason:
"Being personally acquainted with a
number of Waldorf students, I can say that they come closer to realizing
their own potential than practically anyone I know."
According to Evelyn Galinski, former
Waldorf pupil and daughter of Heinz Galinski, Auschwitz survivor and for
many years Chairman of the Central Jewish Council in Germany:
"I personally have had only good experiences
during my school time; it was liberal, antiracist, tolerant of every faith
and not missionary"
For some more comments, see here.
I strongly believe parents have the
right to make fully informed decisions about their children's education.
Probably everyone involved in Waldorf education,
without exception, agrees with this sentiment completely.
Waldorf education and anthroposophy, as its central
philosophical basis, are complex and not easy to describe and explain in
two sentences. Still, for anyone with the slightest interest in Waldorf
education, wanting to know more about it, there is an abundance of information
on both Waldorf education and anthroposophy easily available, in books
(do a simple search with "waldorf education"), at open houses at Waldorf
schools and Waldorf-methods schools, at numerous
web sites, and from other sources.
A large part of Rudolf Steiner's works is freely
accessible in full online, at the Rudolf
Steiner Archive. For the section on Waldorf education, see here.
For one large site on Waldorf education, see Waldorf
Answers. For its resource page on Waldorf education, see here.
For almost all lectures on Waldorf education by Steiner, and conferences
with teachers online, see here.
Until Waldorf promoters start being
honest, PLANS will be here.
The conscious publication and promotion by Mr.
Dugan and PLANS for many years at the PLANS web site of numerous myths
about Waldorf education, which are defamatory to the point of demonization,
when scrutinized more closely, puts PLANS in the category not of "informative
and educational", but essentially of hate groups, in our opinion.
In the words
of one casual browser of the site, the PLANS web site depicts Waldorf
schools as "nazi training camps", This is just one example
of how the public is misinformed by Mr. Dugan, in this case by publishing
the writings of one of PLANS' supporters, Peter Staudenmaier, whose repeated
untruthfulness can readily be demonstrated.
See also here.
At another page, PLANS quotes parts of sentences
from a speech by a central Waldorf teacher, where he says that he has his
daughter in a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience.
The quote is depicted as arguing not only that Waldorf education, but also
Waldorf-methods education as practiced at certain public charter schools,
in general, is religious.
What PLANS leaves out, among other things in the
fragmented quote, are the specific reasons this Waldorf teacher mentions,
that make him think that Waldorf education (not Waldorf-methods education
as practiced at public charter schools) is religious.
For this teacher, one reason is the way the morning
verse, which is said by the children in the lower grades at Waldorf schools
(but not in Waldorf-methods charter schools), mentions and addresses God.
The other is how the Waldorf schools teach about the origin and dramatic
history of the Hebrew people as a central theme in Grade Three, which for
a time immerses the pupils, in a way, in Judaism. These are the specific
reasons this teacher mentions for having put his daughter in a Waldorf
Later, in the same way, during other lessons, the
pupils are taught about other cultures in a way that makes them into dedicated
Indians, dedicated Persians, dedicated Greeks, dedicated Romans, or --
in the upper grades -- into dedicated modernists, and as one possibility,
dedicated secular humanists.
The fragmented "quote" used by PLANS also leaves
out how in his speech this teacher tells how upset he is that "God" has
been taken out of the morning verse said by pupils at public Waldorf-methods
schools to avoid a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
In its distorted form, this quote is then used
by PLANS as support both for its view that anthroposophy as such
is a religion, and that public Waldorf-methods schools advance
religion in a way that violates the separation of church and state stipulated
by the U.S. Constitution.
By any normal definition, such "argumentation"
by PLANS Inc. does not stand out as a model of "honesty" or sincerity.
The actions taken by the large portals/search engines
Directory Project, Altavista
and Google with
regard to the site of "PLANS Inc.", deleting it from Waldorf categories
at their portal, refusing to publish ads for the site, and deleting it
completely from their web index after having reviewed it, indicate that
they do not view the PLANS site as an "honestly informative" site on Waldorf