There are so many myths about Waldorf Schools that just plain aren’t true. I went to Waldorf School in Rhode Island from Kindergarten until 8th grade, then for four years in high school in New Hampshire. Now, I teach second grade at the very same Waldorf school I attended! I think it’s safe to say that I have a pretty good idea about how these schools operate, and I’m here to dispel 7 myths about these wonderful schools.
Quick background – Waldorf Schools are independent schools based on the pedagogical philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, a German educator who founded the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919. It’s hard to summarize this philosophy, but you probably have a general idea if you are reading this article. If not, check out my school’s web page! Now, on to the myths…
Waldorf is a Cult
Ugh, this one is annoying. Yes, we do some quirky stuff at Waldorf Schools. We say a verse to start the day, we sing a lot, we can sometimes be rigid in our traditions, but we are definitely not a cult. I can see how it might seem like it from the outside, but there is a good reason we do all the things we do. This style of teaching is based on the child being at the center of learning – everything we do is done with the children in mind. Just because we do things in a very particular way does not mean we are a cult!
They Don’t Teach Reading
This is one of the main criticisms of Waldorf Schools, and it is 100% false. People seem to think that we don’t allow books in the classroom until 3rd grade, and that we completely ignore phonics in the first few grades. As someone who has taught 1st grade for the past two years, I can assure you that this is false. In fact, we teach reading and phonics from the very beginning of 1st grade. We start by examining straight and curved lines and how they form each letter, then the children learn to write and sound each letter through stories.
From there, we start putting the letters together to form words, and kids learn to read from their own writing. The sense of pride and accomplishment students get from reading their own work is so valuable! So yes, we don’t slap a novel in front of a student in first grade, and we don’t teach reading in Kindergarten. But we do teach reading and writing from the very beginning of 1st grade.
It’s Only for Hippies
Ok, so there is some truth to this one. But it’s not a rule. It’s just that the educational philosophy of Waldorf schools tends to have a lot in common with Liberal and left-wing ideas. That isn’t to say you can’t go to a Waldorf school or be part of their faculty if you are not a liberal, granola-crunching hippie! All are completely welcome – in fact, I’d love to see our faculty and students have a bit more political diversity!
They’re only for Rich People
It’s unfortunately thought that Waldorf schools are only made up students of primarily upper-class families.
Yes, Waldorf schools can be a bit pricey because they don’t get federal funding. Therefore, they are more accessible to wealthier families. However, I can speak on behalf of our school when I say that we do our best to welcome students of all backgrounds. Waldorf schools tend to be very generous with their tuition adjustment and financial aid. If you are thinking of sending your child to a Waldorf school, don’t let money be the reason you don’t – it doesn’t hurt to ask!
They Worship Rudolf Steiner
No! Just because he started the first school and had a lot of really great ideas does not mean that we do everything exactly as he recommended. I mean, he lived 100 years ago – a lot has chaged since then. When reading Steiner, don’t think you have to absorb everything he says and put it into practice – take that you find useful and maybe come back to things you disagree with later.
Side note – The students often don’t even know who Steiner was. Maybe they have heard his name in passing as the founder of the first Waldorf School. But we do NOT teach the students his philosophy directly.
They Don’t Prepare You For the “Real World”
When people see our focus on the arts and the fact that we don’t have standardized tests or letter grades, they draw the conclusion that their children will not be prepared for college and beyond. If you feel this way, all you need to do is look up prominent people who went to Waldorf school, or if you have second, I can show you the alumni Facebook page for my school that’s full of posts of our alums doing amazing things. I would argue that Waldorf schools prepare you better for the “real world” than more traditional schools do.
It’s the Same as Montessori
Montessori and Waldorf schools are both independent schools based on an alternative method envisioned by an educator who lived a long time ago. They both tend to be focused on the arts and keeping education child-centered. That’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Montessori schools and have taught in one before. They have some great ideas, and for some students, they’re a better fit than Waldorf. But please, stop equating these two philosophies – they’re very different. You can read more about that here.
Summary – Myths About Waldorf Schools
You should never make assumptions about something based on hearsay or rumors. Do the research yourself, learn about it, and then draw conclusions. There are so many myths about Waldorf schools, most of them negative and false. If you’re not convinced, find the nearest Waldorf school and have a visit! I’m sure they would be happy to welcome you.
I went to a Waldorf school, and it absolutely is a cult. I am a person of color, and I was subject to racist slurs and stereotypes. The “Waldorf Philosophy” is complete idiocy. Singing verses to a god? Needing to bless our food? Sounds pretty cult-y to me. And not to mention that Waldorf cannot handle bullying at all. I was bullied throughout my time at a Waldorf school, and I let the adults know multiple times. Of course, they never did anything. The fact that you’re a Waldorf teacher, and spewing lies about how special Waldorf is simply laughable. At the end of the day, Waldorf is essentially a cult.
I am SO sorry you experienced that. That is not ok and I totally believe you. I was a Waldorf teacher for years and tried to speak out against all the things you mentioned and my colleagues and admin saw me as a problem. I was so glad I left.
It is most certainly a cult. By the way, EVERYONE in a cult immediately says they’re not in a cult.
Rudolf Steiner had horrible, racist beliefs. I did 4 years of Waldorf Teacher Training and taught at a Waldorf charter school for 7 years. I initially liked some of the things about Waldorf- the holistic aspect of learning/teaching art and movement and music/the slow academics that allowed children more time to play. But even in the public school setting I was often criticized by colleagues and admin for questioning Steiner. I didn’t want to do a morning blessing because it seemed religious, and was told I needed to and that it wasn’t religious but spiritual. I didn’t feel comfortable leading the children through anything spiritual either, and when I said as much it was clear I was in the wrong.
At staff meetings, I was silenced for asking if we could look at the curriculum and see where we could change it because it was currently Eurocentric and sexist. I was told Steiner was clairvoyant and had a reason for why we had to learn the curriculum the way we did.
It is ABSOLUTELY a cult. And I’m glad I got out.