19 Jan 2011

Waldorf teaching method not a religion says U.S. federal judge even though founder based philosophy on belief in Lucifer

The Sacramento Bee - California November 6, 2010

Judge tosses out suit over Waldorf method in 2 Sacramento schools

by Denny Walsh


A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that has kept the Sacramento City Unified School District in court for nearly 13 years fending off a challenge to the Waldorf teaching method used in two district schools.

People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, or PLANS Inc., sued the district in 1998, claiming the method is inextricably linked to anthroposophy – the philosophy of Waldorf method founder Rudolf Steiner. The suit contended anthroposophy is a religion and that its use in public schools violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which precludes mixing religion with government institutions.

A lawyer for PLANS said Saturday that an appeal is likely.

School district spokesman Gabe Ross said the district was pleased with the ruling. "The schools in our district that utilize Waldorf-inspired methods are extremely popular with our students and families for their innovative, creative approach to student learning. We look forward to putting this lawsuit behind us," he said.

John Morse Waldorf Methods School, established in 1996 with grades K-8, was the original target of the lawsuit. The district opened a small Waldorf high school – George Washington Carver School of Arts and Sciences – three years ago.

In Waldorf education, the arts are integrated into all subjects, including math and science. Students begin each school day with a two-hour main lesson, learning subjects in intensive three-to-four-week blocks. Storytelling, reading of myths and legends, and learning handcrafts, cooking, gardening, painting, music and movement are part of the method.

At a non-jury trial Aug. 31 before U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr., PLANS attorney Donald Michael Bush put on a single witness – Betty Staley, founder of the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks – and presented the few exhibits Damrell allowed into evidence.

At the end of Staley's testimony, school district attorney Michelle Cannon asked Damrell to dismiss the lawsuit, contending Bush did not make his case. The judge allowed the lawyers to argue and then ordered further briefing.

In a 20-page order issued Friday, Damrell agreed that Bush had failed to show that anthroposophy is a religion, and he dismissed the lawsuit.

"Plaintiff's apparent theory of the case was that anthroposophy, in its current manifestation, is synonymous with the beliefs of Steiner," the judge wrote. "In that regard, in large part, plaintiff attempted to elicit testimony from Staley regarding Steiner's beliefs. The court precluded such testimony as rank hearsay – Staley was not qualified as an expert and thus, could not opine as to the nature and meaning of Steiner's beliefs.

"For similar reasons," Damrell continued, "the court also precluded the admission of the majority of plaintiff's proffered exhibits, which were various writings of Steiner; these writings again were hearsay, and plaintiff had no witness to authenticate nor lay a foundation or testify to the contents of the writings."

He also said Bush "wholly failed to offer evidence establishing Steiner's identity."

"The court, however, has gleaned from some of Staley's testimony and argument from plaintiff's counsel that Steiner is viewed as the central figure in the history of anthroposophy, and that he was apparently a European educator in the early 20th century."

Staley is director of the Waldorf teacher education program at Rudolf Steiner College, and has been a member of the Anthroposophical Society in America since 1963. She testified the group has certain membership requirements, holds meetings and has an identified purpose to support Steiner's work and thought.

"Significantly, the ASA admits anyone, without regard to religious affiliation, and … expressly rejects any sectarian activity and provides that no dogmatic stand whatsoever may be taken by the organization," Damrell pointed out.

"Contrary to plaintiff's argument, neither Staley's testimony nor the four admitted exhibits (internal ASA documents) establish that anthroposophy is a system of belief and worship of a 'superhuman controlling power' involving a code of ethics and philosophy requiring obedience thereto."

Staley testified that anthroposophical writings are meditative tools meant to encourage personal thought and self-reflection. She also said there are no formal or external signs of anthroposophy akin to religious symbols or manifestations.

Bush relied heavily on Staley's testimony defining anthroposophy as a "path from the human being to the realm of the spirit." She described that realm as "the unseen. … We have things we can weigh and measure and see and we have things we can't see and measure. … All that is not physical."

But Damrell said her "reference to the 'spiritual' or non-physical world does not establish that anthroposophy, itself, is a system of belief."

"My strong sense is we are going to go ahead and appeal," Bush said Saturday in a telephone interview from his home in Orange County. Damrell "kind of brushed aside this philosophy linking the physical world with the spiritual world," and that will be the main thrust of the appeal, he said.

The judge "has a very tight reading of evidentiary and procedural rules," Bush said. "He's like an umpire with a small strike zone, but he's consistent. We weren't able to get in a lot of evidence. It's real important to get in information about how the founder of anthroposophy interpreted his own philosophy."

It won't be the case's first trip to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The school district appealed Damrell's 1999 ruling that PLANS, a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping Waldorf methods out of public education, has taxpayer standing to sue, but an appellate panel denied the petition without comment.

Damrell tossed the case out in 2001 after a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion prompted him to revisit the issue of standing. The 2nd Circuit held that a broad challenge to expenditures for the ordinary costs of operating schools is insufficient to confer taxpayer standing on a plaintiff.

Two years later, the 9th Circuit reversed Damrell and reinstated the lawsuit, ruling that the 2nd Circuit case was dissimilar because it was based on "the comprehensive curricula" of the schools in question, not just specific activities.

This article was found at:

http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/06/3165452/judge-tosses-out-suit-over-waldorf.html

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One News Now - November 19, 2010

Cult not religion, OK to be taught in school

Bill Bumpas - OneNewsNow


A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a California school district that claimed two public schools were violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by teaching a controversial education philosophy based on an unusual belief system. [see earlier article below]

Two public schools in Sacramento use the Waldorf teaching method, which is based on anthroposophy. That was inspired by 19th century Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, who formulated his own teachings and cult-like following by mixing religions. But a judge has ruled that anthroposophy is not a religion, so public schools can continue to utilize its methodology.

Pacific Justice Institute was involved in the lawsuit that originated in 1998. Chief Counsel Kevin Snider tells OneNewsNow the ruling illustrates the double standard seen too often in public education in which widely-held beliefs like Christianity and Judaism are excluded, while unusual beliefs like anthroposophy are promoted.

"We don't believe that a separation of church and state requires [an] eradication or censorship of historical realities," he explains. "What we are against is to have religious practice and indoctrination, and that's exactly what anthroposophy is calculated to do. We think that there is a heightened level of state scrutiny when you're dealing with children."

But Snider says the judge excluded nearly all the evidence presented against Anthroposophy, and his group thinks that "was an error of law." So there will be an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This article was found at:

http://www.onenewsnow.com/Legal/Default.aspx?id=1235478

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One News Now - August 18, 2010

Schools claim Lucifer as model and guardian

Bill Bumpas - OneNewsNow


While a California school district is seeing a boom in interest in a controversial educational philosophy that goes back more than 100 years, at the same time it's fighting a lawsuit over whether the system is legal in public schools.

California's capital city offers two Waldorf-inspired public schools -- John Morse Waldorf Methods School (K-8), and the high school George Washington Carver School of Arts and Sciences. The Sacramento City Unified School District now is facing a trial in federal court on allegations that those schools are religious, making them ineligible to receive taxpayer dollars.

The lawsuit, filed in 1998 by the group People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools, is just now making it to trial after several appeals. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, the president of PLANS uses phrases like "cult-like religious sect" and "new-age religion" to describe the activities at the schools.

Dr. Bruce Shortt, author of The Harsh Truth about Public Schools, explains to OneNewsNow that the Waldorf system is based on a dangerous philosophy called "anthroposophy" from the writings of 19th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

"And in those writings he basically posits that the universe is driven by conflict between Lucifer and the god of darkness called 'Ahriman' -- and his educational philosophy is built around that conflict," says Shortt. "...In fact, in his view Christ came to earth as a 'son god' to balance the forces of light and darkness."

The author says these views are reflected in The Waldorf Teachers Survival Guide.

"As a matter of fact, quoting from the guide, it says 'most of what contributes to our work as teachers -- preparation work, artistic work, even meditative work -- is under the guardianship of Lucifer. We can become great teachers under his supervision....' And it continues in that vein."

Although the Waldorf system is primarily offered through private education, the demand for Waldorf public schools has grown to more than 40 across the country, including two dozen in California.


This article was found at:

http://www.onenewsnow.com/Education/Default.aspx?id=1126896

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6 comments:

  1. Is This Grade School a 'Cult'? (And Do Parents Care?)

    by EMILY CHERTOFF THE ATLANTIC NOVEMBER 30 2012

    Waldorf schools are popular with progressives. But how do you feel about a dose of spiritualism with your child's reading and math?

    Would you send your kid to a school where faceless dolls and pine-cones are the toys of choice? A school where kids don't read proficiently until age 9 or 10 -- and where time spared goes to knitting and playing the recorder? A school where students sing hymns to "spirit" every day?

    Some of the country's hardest-charging professionals do. In locations like Manhattan, they sometimes fight over spots for their kids. The New York Times recently profiled a Waldorf school populated with the offspring of executives at Google and Apple. The school attracted notice for minimizing the use of technology in classrooms, a strategy common at Waldorf institutions. But the paper saw a paradox in tech workers favoring a school for their children that prohibits most technologies.

    Waldorf's crunchy earth-child ethos is famous, but the schools' founder and philosophy are less widely known. Rudolf Steiner's first Waldorf school predates the hippie era by almost 50 years. Steiner started his career as a Goethe scholar in the late 19th century. But as he became less interested in science and more interested in spirituality, his writing began to take a mystical turn. By the turn of the 20th century, he had become a proponent of theosophy -- an esoteric belief system centered on ways of knowing God -- and founded a society dedicated to promoting his own brand of "anthroposophical" thinking.

    Most occultists of the era believed that spirits of the dead regularly attempted to contact or enter the world of the living. Steiner was more interested in the opposite possibility. He believed the living could cultivate the ability to enter the spirit world. After World War I, the director of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany -- an adherent of anthroposophy -- invited Steiner to create a school for the children of factory workers. This was Steiner's chance to train children who could initiate such spiritual contact.

    The Waldorf school at Stuttgart, founded in 1919, grew rapidly, and five more schools opened across Germany in short order. In the 1930s, all were closed by the Nazis. By that point, however, there were thriving Waldorf schools in Holland and New York City, and Steiner's method survived the war. There are about 160 Waldorf schools in the U.S. today, with an unknown number that have adapted some Waldorf methods to their curriculum, and close to 1,000 Waldorf schools around the world.

    Many of the methods used at Waldorf today (for instance the movement exercises and the use of music) are rooted in Steiner's belief that schools need to cultivate spirit -- the medium for contact between the living and the dead. (The concept of "spirit" is not well-defined -- a fact that makes the Waldorf pedagogy look a little mushy.)

    At other times, spirit serves as a kind of internal clock that orders the way subjects are taught. As the the New York Times explained in 2000, "Steiner believed that people experience a type of reincarnation every seven years, beginning with the physical birth and ending at age 21, when the spirit of a human being is fully developed and continually reincarnated on earth." As a direct consequence, at traditional Waldorf schools, "certain subjects are taught at times that he thought best coincided with these changes." Students also remain with the same instructor for periods of about seven years, a technique known as "looping."

    continued in next comment...

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  2. A Steiner biographer notes that "it's not unusual for many parents sending their children to Steiner schools to be unaware of his occult philosophy." Some of the school's more unusual practices turn potential families away -- for instance, the fact that children aren't taught to read until second or third grade. Day to day, though, the esoteric influence at Waldorf schools is practically invisible. The curriculum stresses practical knowledge and creativity. In 1999, The Atlantic ran an enthusiastic article on Waldorf methods. The author visited the original U.S. Waldorf school on Manhattan's Upper East Side:

    The class was finishing a year-long project: making mallets for wood-carving out of stubborn pieces of hardwood, which they were patiently filing and sanding by hand. One boy, who had finished his mallet, was making a knife out of teak, and regularly paused to feel its smoothness on his cheek. Waldorf students work on some kind of art project virtually every day. Recalling her early years, Eliana Raviv, a ten-year-old, told me, "We never had green or purple. We make it out of vermilion, red, yellow, and blue, two kinds of blue."

    When the author asked why modern students needed to learn outdated skills like woodcarving, the teacher replied, "You almost need it as a balance for the high-tech world."

    In recent years, Waldorf has been attacked from two opposing sides of the same debate. Both Christians and secularists have criticized the schools, arguing that they educate children in a religious system. This would matter less if all Waldorf schools were private, but many are public. (In fact, the 1999 Atlantic article focused on a public Waldorf for delinquent students.)

    In 1998, a group of Christians and secular humanists in Northern California, where the Waldorf method is popular, united to found an organization dedicated to opposing its use in public education. The group, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS), unsuccessfully sued two school districts in California to get them to stop funding Waldorf Method public schools. PLANS still exists, and its website discusses whether Waldorf ought to be called a cult.

    The case was still ongoing in 2000, when the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article exploring the controversy and some of its sources:

    "Fundamental to [Steiner's] work is the view that the human being is composed of body, soul and spirit, and that the Christ event is key to the unfolding of human history and the achievement of human freedom," says the Web site of the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, which is the West Coast training center for Waldorf teachers. ...

    Another area of disagreement involves the nature tables that are staples in most Waldorf kindergarten and primary classrooms. Public Waldorf supporters view the tables, covered with pinecones, rocks, and seashells, as a way to teach respect for the environment. Critics view them as altars that promote sun worship and pantheism.

    "You don't see it unless you've read Steiner's work," said San Franciscan Dan Dugan of PLANS.

    Supporters of Waldorf say the emphasis on nature is about building tactility. So who's right? Maybe it doesn't matter. When it comes to society-wide metrics, the 1999 Atlantic article notes that Waldorf graduates score "well above the national average" on their SATs. And the schools seem to work for children who don't come from privileged backgrounds: One Waldorf school profiled in the same article works specifically -- and impressively -- with juvenile offenders. For most parents, the roots of the method are a lot less interesting than its results.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/is-this-grade-school-a-cult-and-do-parents-care/265620/#

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  3. My Waldorf-Student Son Believes in Gnomes—and That's Fine With Me

    It's not a bad thing for kids to grow up thinking differently than their parents do.


    by NOAH BERLATSKY The Atlantic APRIL 1 2013

    I have arguments with my nine-year-old son about gnomes. They go more or less like my arguments with him about Santa Claus.

    "They don't exist!" I tell him.

    "They do too!" he tells me. "Don't mess with them! They'll get you!" Then he looks at me with wide eyes and tries not to start giggling.

    Gnomes -- or, technically, earth-spirits -- are big at Waldorf schools, especially in early grades. My son knitted a super-cute one when he was in preschool. Now that he's in third grade at Urban Prairie Waldorf School, they've faded into the background behind arithmetic and Chinese and building models of wikiups and so forth. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if they came up occasionally. As Emily Chertoff noted last November, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf movement, was a moon-eyed German hippie whose philosophy was a mish-mash of Christianity, paganism, theosophy, various child development theories, and a passionate dislike of media (a friend of mine summed Waldorf up as "Gnomes good! Television bad!").

    Urban Prairie does frequent outreach to teach parents more about Steiner's thought, and I just as frequently refuse to pay any attention, because ... well, gnomes. I don't want to hear about them, and, like my son, the Waldorf folks don't want to hear what I have to say about them. For that matter, I don't think they really want to hear what my son's pop-culture-critic dad has to say about television either -- though thankfully Urban Prairie's anti-media stance is quite low-key and non-intrusive.

    No doubt some parents (or more likely, people who aren't parents) will find this mystifying. How can I entrust my child to a school that does not accord with my own religious and spiritual beliefs? How can I expose my boy to an ideology that I believe is largely nonsense? What, in short, is wrong with me?

    In response I would say, first, that while I'm not on board with all of Waldorf philosophy, I am absolutely on board with parts of it -- and those, are I think, the most important parts. I would rather have my nine-year-old learn about gnomes, by a long shot, than spend his school days preparing for a multiple-choice test designed by some distant bureaucrat. I love that recess and flopping about in the mud in all weather and movement (that's Waldorf for "gym") are considered not discardable extras, but central parts of learning. And I really love that his gym teacher is not encouraging him -- as my public school gym teacher encouraged me -- to pick on the kids in the class who were weaker, or, in one case, on the kid who had to wear braces on his legs.

    And there are plenty of other examples. I love the arts education -- my son, in third grade, can really and truly draw in a way that I still can't, because no one cared to teach me. I love that he knows how to knit. I love that his school took him on a camping trip where he learned to tap maple trees and went ice fishing. I love that when he gets sick, he cries because he can't go to school. I love that, if he is ever having any problem in class or with other students, I call his teacher, and the teacher listens carefully -- and then she fixes it.

    continued in next comment...

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  4. Thus, on the one hand, I have a bright, kind, loving, cultured, energetic, active child who adores school and his classmate and his teachers. On the other hand, he sort of thinks gnomes exist. To me, that seems like a good bargain.

    Part of the reason it seems like a good bargain is that I'm okay, in general, with my son learning things, or thinking things, that I don't think myself. After all, surely part of the point of education -- or for that matter, the point of leaving the house -- is to find out about things you wouldn't necessarily find out about at home. That can mean gnomes. It can mean ice fishing. It can mean knitting. It can even mean discovering that there are adults who will bully the weak if they can -- though, obviously, while that knowledge may be valuable, there are other reasons for wanting to put your child beyond the reach of such people as quickly as you can.

    I don't think I'm unique or anything; there are a lot of parents who are perfectly happy to have their kids learn from people who are not exactly like them. The Jewish Community Center camp my son went too, where they taught Hebrew prayers and had Sabbath celebrations, was filled with African-American kids -- some of whom may have been Jewish themselves, but many of whom surely weren't. And not all students in Catholic schools are Catholic by a long shot.

    At the same time, though, there's also this ethos in the U.S. that seems to judge the quality of education on the basis of whether it keeps students from learning anything that their parents don't want them to learn. The Chicago school board issues warnings about adult content in Persepolis; religious believers battle with atheists over the way evolution is taught in schools. Content is important, of course, and if my son's school were teaching Intelligent Design, I'd want to ask some questions. But to have evolution be so important to all sides in the light of everything else that is wrong with our schools is depressing. Is this really how we should judge education? As a list of topics? And what exactly do we gain by treating schools as if their main goal is to prevent our children from learning stuff?

    Rather than focusing on topics covered, it seems to me, it would be healthier to look at whether a school is committed to learning, and committed to its students both as learners and as human beings -- rather, than, say, as disciplinary problems or as potential test scores.

    I don't agree with Waldorf about everything, but I agree with it about the main things. My son will grow out of gnomes. And if he doesn't -- well, I didn't send him to school so that he'd end up agreeing with me about everything, anyway.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/my-waldorf-student-son-believes-in-gnomes-and-thats-fine-with-me/274521/

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  5. Why are Steiner schools so controversial?

    by Chris Cook, Policy editor, BBC Newsnight 4 August 2014

    My first encounter with Steiner education was some years ago.

    And, as is the norm, it took the form of muddling them up with Montessori schools.

    However, last week, Newsnight ran a report on the 30 or so private Steiner schools that showed how different they are from anything else.

    The schools are known for being playful and hippyish.

    But we revealed the contents of two memos from the Department for Education (DfE) on complaints about bullying in the private Steiner schools - also known as Waldorf schools or Steiner Waldorf schools - and concerns about racism.

    The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), the umbrella body for Steiner schools, responded by saying "Our schools do not tolerate racism" and "bullying is not tolerated by our schools and all our schools have strong anti-bullying policies".

    Some people also tweeted me to praise their Steiner education.

    As our report made clear, the issues are not ubiquitous in Steiner schools. None of the reports concerns any of the three, open state Steiner schools.

    But Steiner schools could be susceptible to these problems.

    Intellectual father
    That is because of the particular views of Rudolf Steiner, the intellectual father of Steiner schools.

    The Austrian-born occultist, who died in 1925, left a vast body of work covering everything from biodynamic farming to alternative medicine.

    It is known, collectively, as "anthroposophy".

    The SWSF's guidelines from 2011 said that schools using the Steiner name were obliged to prove "an anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school".

    Since 2013, this has been made vaguer: they now need a commitment to "the fundamental principles of Waldorf education".

    Those ideas are based in a belief in reincarnation.

    Pupils may not have been sold this creed, but Steiner was very strict that teachers were not supposed to pass them on to children - just to act on them.

    So, for example, the Steiner curriculum's focus on a late start to learning is driven by the pace at which souls incarnate.

    An odd rationale, but not a very worrying result. Other consequences, however, are potentially more troubling.

    For example, Steiner himself believed illnesses in our current lives could be explained by problems in the previous ones.

    And in overcoming illnesses with a root in a previous life, individuals could gain "reinforced power" and improve their "karma".

    Vaccination, in effect, gets in the way.

    'Unvaccinated populations'

    That may help explain the Steiner school attitude to vaccination.

    The schools state that they have no formal policies and parents must choose for themselves.

    continued below

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  6. But children in Steiner schools are less likely to get their jabs.

    The Health Protection Agency - before its recent abolition - used to note that Steiner schools ought to be considered "unvaccinated populations" for measles.

    Related ideas of the benefits of overcoming adversity emerge elsewhere.

    The DfE memos report a complaint that a teacher allowed violence among children for karmic reasons, and cites teacher training resources that are sympathetic to this idea.

    This karmic belief set also has a racial element.

    As we reported last week, Steiner was, by any modern definition, a racist.

    'Hierarchy in races'

    He thought black people were distinguished by an "instinctual life", as opposed to Caucasians' "intellectual life".

    He believed each race had a geographical location where they should live - black people in Europe were "a nuisance".

    There was also a hierarchy in races; a soul with good karma could hope to be reincarnated into a race which is higher up in the hierarchy, Steiner argued.

    The SWSF says: "While the superficial reading of a handful of Steiner's voluminous, extensive lectures present statements that appear racist in modern terms, none of these occur in his educational writings."

    But some of these ideas have polluted some Steiner schools.

    The SWSF was "horrified" by our report on a diversity training day at a private Steiner school, which had been triggered by a real issue around racism.

    Four white teachers, asked to tick a box giving their ethnicity, ticked every box.

    They believed that they had ascended through all the races.

    Some Steiner schools also teach about the lost continent of Atlantis - a myth that, to Steiner, explained the origins of the hierarchy of the races.

    So what to make of all of this?

    First, I am not clear why Steiner Schools are not considered faith schools.

    Surely anthroposophy is a religion?

    It is not totally clear whether all Steiner schools are more focused on improving children's life chances for this life or the next.

    What's in?

    Second, lots of Steiner schools, and the SWSF, believe they have got past these problems with Steiner's work.

    They have taken something from his ideas without the problematic parts.

    Ofsted seems to think that the state Steiner schools have accomplished this.

    Perhaps the DfE ought to consider asking for clarification on what parts of Steiner's works are in and what parts are out.

    While it is at it, it could consider monitoring other allegations often levelled at the schools, such as their promotion of homeopathy.

    You can see why Montessori schools get so annoyed when they get muddled up.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/education-28646118

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