Waldorf schools exist all over the world, and they are especially popular in progressive communities in the United States, such as Green Meadow, New York; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; and San Francisco, California. However, after accepting a faculty position at a Waldorf school, I very soon observed a disconnect between what parents understand is being offered by the school and what teachers are discussing inside the faculty meetings.
Parents are told about a “holistic approach to child development,” in which students do handwork, play string instruments, and study cultures from around the world. Many families are drawn to the focus on interpersonal relationships, on the arts, and the festival life. The average family enrolled at a Waldorf school probably doesn’t know much about the founder of the movement, Rudolf Steiner, his “anthroposophical” beliefs based on “spiritual science,” or his writings which range from philosophical ideas disputing contemporary psychology and physics, to travelogues detailing trips to other planets.
When I was hired, I knew nothing about Rudolf Steiner, his writings, his spiritual understandings, or the anthroposophical foundations of the pedagogy practiced at the school. I was attracted by the terms used in marketing the school to the public: “holistic,” “artistic,” and “healthful” came up repeatedly in my research on the school’s website, online forums, and the AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) website.
I had had enough experiences growing up in parochial schools to be wary of the connection between religion and education. Thus, I was transparent during the hiring process about my resistance to “spiritual” practices. During a conversation at my final interview, one of the faculty members asked if at least I would be okay with saying a “verse” to commence and conclude faculty meetings, to which I responded that I would not find that practice problematic. I thought that would be the extent of the compliance required of me.
However, I discovered that much more was required of me philosophically, morally, and spiritually; indeed, I felt increasingly during my nearly three-year tenure…