We are Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers and to be honest, I do think Waldorf is cult-like. "Cult" is actually the first word that pops to mind when I think of Waldorf because it really stresses uniformity and conformity. I'm not really sure if that is caused by Waldorf (I think some of it is) or if it just attracts a certain clientele (this is probably the other part of it). I don't think Waldorf HAS to be cult-like but in general it tends toward that, and people fall into the cult mindset fairly easily. And once you have conformed to meet the "norm," then you and everyone else congratulates themselves on "fitting in," and to be honest, I empathize with the comfort of that. My dh grew up LDS (which I also define as a cult for the same reason), and I have Mormon friends, all of whom look alike, talk alike, think alike (or on the surface, pretend they do). Much of their "inner work" time is spent in further conforming to the status quo, or the ideal they are supposed to become. Like I have observed in many Waldorf circles, it makes them feel secure in knowing that so many other people are like them so that in itself must mean they are doing the right thing, which in reality is very circular logic. I'm not trying to attack Mormons or Waldorf purists but rather make a comparison between two "cultures" that are very different in scope but that have similar tendencies of conformity, guilt, and not presenting all knowledge upfront but in stages as one gets further involved, which is how I define a cult. In Waldorf, for example, just by reading Heaven on Earth
, a text that gets recommended to newbies quite often, one would never know that within Waldorf circles, one is expected to have curved wooden picture frames displaying second-rate watercolor art, blond hardwood furnture only, Stockmar crayons/paints only, hardwood floors with sheep skin rugs, and hand-knitted hats. And don't forget about wet-on-wet painting or fingerplays or nature tables, or verses for transitions! Also, things like clothing are regulated--only natural fibers, no busy-ness, cheerful colors, woolens in winter, etc. These are all the Waldorf things that you have to pick up on little by little to mold into the Waldorf culture. I also think of a cult when I think of people feeling guilt for not doing things the proper way ("Is this Waldorf enough?" is a common question battered about a lot by Waldorf parents). When one wants to leave this culture, one is usually shunned by those remaining. For reference, check out the Life After Waldorf thread here on MDC: http://www.mothering.com/discussions...+after+waldorf
. This is a very eye-opening thread about institutionalized Waldorf education, and one that I think every parent considering a Waldorf school should read just to be made aware of the possiblities. I also feel there is a lot of double-speak in Waldorf: I have seen so many conversations on Waldorf blogs that use Steiner's words as fact, as if his ideas were empirically proven and were ultimate truth, and then I have seen various people reinforce the same ideas over and over until they weren't basing their ideas off of their experience but off the platitudes that everyone else has uttered. If I could only count how many times I have heard/read that only toys made of natural fibers were creative, when the reality is far more complex! However, in any Waldorf 101, there will be the statement that one should choose only toys that are made of natural fibers for no other reason than that these are "real toys". There even exists a Flickr Waldorf group completely devoted to mothers taking pictures of their children's wooden toys, and to be honest, I find this very bizarre. It's as if by participating they are all applauding and reinforcing each other's tastes, which wouldn't be disturbing if they were different, but they aren't. They may arrange their Ostheimer figurines differently on their wooden castle blocks, but they are still the same toys over and over. I'm not trying to belittle these mothers by any means, I just really and truly don't understand this impulse or the purpose of this group. It comes across as very clique-ish, like a particular club one is able to join if one meets certain criteria--not unlike a cult to me--and I wonder how prevalent this type of exclusiveness is among other Waldorf parents. I am only mentioning this type of behavior to let you know that as a Waldorf parent, there may be particular expectations of YOU, not just your child. Waldorf is very much seen as a lifestyle, not just an educational choice, and some parental communities are more open to difference than others.
We homeschool, so I don't really have much experience with Waldorf teachers but I do with parents, and I think that within a Waldorf community you may find it more or less "cult-like" depending upon how purist it is and how open it is to differences and change. However, Anthroposophy by it's nature is ideological, and that is the very foundation of Waldorf education and something that I've heard guides teacher interactions with students to a very strong degree. However, that may or not matter depending on how it affects your child. Anthroposophy also has very definite beliefs in regard to what a child learns and when/how s/he learns it, so if your child is gifted or does not fit the Waldorf standard for some reason, then there may be conflict. If you haven't heard of "temperments" or how they guide teacher interactions with Waldorf students, you may want to do some googling, and the same goes for the Anthroposophical beliefs in regard to human development. But, depending on your particular school, this stuff may not be problematic. However, definitely do some thorough research and then have an extended discussion with the teacher that your child would have. Go in with full knowledge of Anthroposophy and have a discussion with the teacher about his/her feelings in that regard. I would also check out the school fairs or prospective parent meetings to see to what degree you seem to fit in with the parental community they've got there. That may tell you a lot.
Whatever you decide, I wish you the best (and all the beauty that Waldorf has the potential of being!)!