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.