Waldorf public charter schools: Where is the line where you cross over to ‘religion’?

Charter schools test church and state boundary | Deseret News.

Based on the work of an Austrian mystic philosopher named Rudolph Steiner, there are now more than 1,000 Waldorf schools in more than 90 countries. Waldorf-inspired public charter schools are also booming in the U.S., with more than 40 now operating, mostly in Western states.

The emergence of a public Waldorf movement has some critics less than charmed. Lurking behind the Waldorf method and permeating its classroom, they argue, is a mystical philosophy that amounts to a religion. They point to what they view as rituals in the classroom, the reading of verses from the program’s controversial founder, and the insistence that teachers be formally trained at Waldorf colleges.

These concerns have spawned an ongoing legal battle led by an odd coalition of secular humanists and fundamentalist Christians. The litigation has dragged on since 1996. The latest action occurred earlier this month, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling on a narrow technicality, found in favor of the Waldorf charters.

“We’ve had complaints all over the country about problems with charter schools inculcating religion,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Tip: CFI’s Morning Heresy

To clarify, this is an issue as state sponsored, public, charter schools. It would not be a problem if Waldorf schools were strictly private since there are many religious-based schools exist as private institutions. So, there remains a legal question as to whether the Waldorf schools have TOO much religious philosophy and thus are endorsing a religion. As this article notes, it gets to be a bit tricky. Religious groups do have a hand in some secular schools and as long as the religion is not explicitly taught, it is accepted by silent consent. When issues come up, it is likely that the school will make these adjustments instead of facing closure or lawsuit. Today’s public schools need fixing. The push to standardization, testing and accountability is not working, especially when there are budget problems and old-fashioned thinking about education which restricts innovation. So you can not fault parents who seek alternatives to poorly staffed and mishandled public schools. The answer is not easy.

  3 comments for “Waldorf public charter schools: Where is the line where you cross over to ‘religion’?

  1. June 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    An old girlfriend of mine is a Waldorf teacher. She got hooked up with them through a counseling institution she attended, and subsequently dropped out of grad school (though this was a long time coming, and not related to Waldorf in any significant sense). At one point during her Waldorf education, she mentioned to me some of what they were learning, and it became extremely clear to me that it was very similar to Theosophy. I was surprised and disappointed that someone who had largely completed their archaeological training didn’t see it in the same sense.

  2. June 14, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    Some friends introduced us to Waldorf many years ago, before we had children. At first we balked at many of the ideas behind it. But once we had children we could more clearly see the benefits of some of their practices:

    * Wooden toys have a natural texture that plastic can’t mimic; also plastic toys are less likely to stimulate imagination since they are so detailed and purpose-specific. (Lego’s excluded.)
    * The ideal Waldorf home has no TV. We’ve lived w/o TV service since 2005 and I can tell you my kids, my wife and I are not missing it. My wife and I still follow a few shows on Hulu and my kids do watch the occasional movie or show on Netflix, but it is neither the focal point of our living space, nor a mainstay of our time together as a family.
    * Waldorf education focuses on “Heart, hands, and mind”. Many schools have gardens which the children cultivate and eventually harvest to make their own soup. Some schools even have animals and teach animal husbandry skills. It’s the kind of curriculum I wish I had when I was a kid. I know I would have thrived there.
    * Waldorf school campuses tend to be some of the most beautiful, serene settings I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The campus north of San Francisco has one of the most breath-taking vistas I’ve ever laid eyes on.
    * Waldorf education has a heavy bias towards the arts – sketching, geometric designs, knitting, music, dancing, etc. With the public school system eliminating most of these programs, it was nice to find a place where they were still considered important.

    Ultimately we ended up sending our children to a Montessori program instead. The Waldorf school near us was small and very expensive, and we felt our daughter would do better in the Montessori curriculum instead since she was already reading and starting to write. (The Waldorf curriculum teaches these skills much later than traditional public school programs.) But the influence of Waldorf is still very present in our home life and our parenting practices.

    I’ve struggled for years to come up with a sufficient “elevator pitch” for Waldorf education, but it’s just too complex with too many subtleties to try to distill in a few sentences. Yes, there is a very prominent spiritual element to Waldorf, perhaps leaning towards Christianity, but also with a heavy dose of fantasy and imagination and stewardship of nature that I found refreshing.

    If you are interested in learning more about Waldorf, there is a terrific primer called Understanding Waldorf Education by Jack Petrash (http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Waldorf-Education-Teaching-Inside/dp/0876592469).

  3. Bob Jase
    June 14, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    An ex-almost-fiance of mine enrolled her son in a school like that. I volunteered to act as a guide for a froup of the kids on a trip to the American Museum of Natural History.

    Guess who’s group was the only one to visit the section on human evolution. One thing it proved, looks cannot kill.

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