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Criticisms of Waldorf?

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 
<For questioners or supporters open to questions>

I've been doing a lot of Waldorf reading lately (am finding some great ideas in Beyond the Rainbow Bridge), and while I can see the aspects of Waldorf that aren't for everyone, I'm wondering if y'all could share some honest criticisms, your own or those you've come across. I'm trying to get a sense of what tends to turn people off of the concept (as opposed to individual teachers or schools) as I develop a more full understanding myself. TIA for any responses.

ETA: I'm mostly wondering about criticisms of the practice in general, as that's harder for me to get a fix on than criticisms of anthrosophy.
post #2 of 74
Can you elaborate on what you mean by "concept"? Most criticisms I've heard are about the schools, teachers, or anthroposophy in general.
post #3 of 74
I am not so sure if this is the response you are looking for, but here it goes.

I think, that everything that involves more thinking on the individuals part is perceived with criticism, pretty much a lot of things and situations that are called not “mainstream” or “normal”, I think you can see that across the whole MDC board.
Waldorf has the problem to be run on the rules of Anthroposophy, which requires a lot of thinking and involvement on the individuals part so therefore it is wide open to even more criticism than the normal “crunchy'ness” of people, sorry making up my own words here as I go along.
It is more complex than your average “school system” and as a lot of people do not like to get involved with something that they do not know, they demonise it.
As any institution it is also wide open to human extremes, as it is run by people, therefore can be adapted to an extreme or people taking anthroposophical texts too literally and endorsing it “true to every word”, whereas we can not forget that firstly the text has mostly been translated from another language, and that the time period is a different one to today and therefore meaning of words and language have changed.
Another thing, that is important not to forget, Rudolf Steiner was also a human and humans do make mistakes from time to time, but to turn it into something that could be a depiction of the devil, as in some cases it is done, is taking it to the other extreme.
post #4 of 74
This is a big question, that gets highly charged easily. You may get more info from the waldorf questioners thread.

Briefly, my criticisms of waldorf are to do with it's eurocentrism and lack of multiculturalism. That can't be separated from anthroposophy which has a very specific view of human evolution...that's about as far as I'm going to go for now...
post #5 of 74
I love love love many concepts of Waldorf.
Some day I would like to open up a Waldorf inspired daycare.

At the same time, I do not like any form extremism, and Waldorf is calling for those extremes. That's my only problem with it. Examples:

1. I don't believe that all tv is bad. Since very early on I watched National Geographic, and always loved it, it took me to magical places with Cousteau and Goodall. Yet, my imagination is quite intact, I love books, I knit, I sew, and love to paint. That tells me that television is not all that bad as it is made out to be (if I don't allow my kids to watch ANY television - I am not teaching them appropriate time management skills, and what is good vs. what is bad about television, as well as eliminating a learning tool). I'd rather watch it together a little bit, than not to watch any at all. Internet is no better, and look at us sitting here discussing intelligent topics! So both should be limited and supervised, instead of eliminated from the household, imho.

2. Not all plastic toys are bad (although I am myself all for concentrating on wooden toys, and declattering, but there are a few toys that I have come across that are made from plastic and carry an incredible educational value, such as an model of an eye for instance, that was quite a find for my 6 y.o. nephew).

3. I also don't like to be looked down upon by Waldorf community and having people shake their heads "oh, you have Little Mermaid DVD?... Ts ts ts...."Yes I do, and I LOVE it. Yes, I read the real Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, and the real Little Mermaid, and of course nothing compares to the real story in my mind (I actually expected to see her turn into waves the first time I watched Disney version). At the same time, you betcha my kids will read the originals, and it doesn't turn them evil, money hungry, aggressive, uncaring, uncreative human beings because they will watch and enjoy a Disney movie... So why all the head-shaking from Waldorfians?.. If my kids are creative, polite, and love reading, what are you shaking your head for when I show you a shelf with my Disney movies?..

So there, to sum it up: I don't like extremes, while I enjoy simplistic lifestyle with a lot of imaginative play, and baking, and sewing, and reading.

Sometimes, I think Waldorf supporters look down on something just because many other people like it. In my opinion, it is just as bad as buying into something just because many other people like it.

Being yourself is standing up for what you enjoy whether the crowd likes it or shuns it.
post #6 of 74
I too agree that you will have difficulty seperating out the various elements (school, anthro., individ. teachers), which is part and parcel of the difficulty. On a personal note, our family has spent several years (5+) "inside" the system, and now we are taking a step "outside", if you will. There have been good times, but as the children go through the grades I personally felt it became more challenging. What I had thought was education geared to individual needs is, in my own experience, geared rather to the mean, or class norms. If your child falls outside those pre-conceived norms (which I think are as rigid as those in other school systems, just not identified in the same way), there isn't any way to attend to the child, because there is only the "waldorf way" of teaching. I have seen bright kids be underwhelmed, and struggling kids just struggling along, being told they will "get it" leading to some level of frustration.
There is no denying the beautiful environment that can be created, but at some point some kids need to be themselves and respected, and met, where they are.
post #7 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by muse View Post
This is a big question, that gets highly charged easily. You may get more info from the waldorf questioners thread.
I did look through the first maybe six pages of that thread. It was very insightful, but also very personal, and thus it became hard for me to get a good read on how generalized those issues were.

Quote:
Originally Posted by muse View Post
Briefly, my criticisms of waldorf are to do with it's eurocentrism and lack of multiculturalism.
That's more what I'm looking for! Thanks!

Quote:
Originally Posted by karne View Post
I too agree that you will have difficulty seperating out the various elements (school, anthro., individ. teachers), which is part and parcel of the difficulty.
I think this is exactly where I'm having a hard time! I'm not seeing any criticisms of the way it is practiced in people's homes, as opposed to in schools, which is how my wondering about the nature of the criticisms first began. So I'm asking not about the opposition that stems from individuals or institutions but rather from the concept itself, and specifically about its modern adaptations rather than the lesser-known Steiner philosophies.

Karne's example of it not necessarily suiting the learning styles of all children, the idea of it being Eurocentric, etc.

Thanks again, mamas, for offering your insights as I wrestle with this!
post #8 of 74
HoneyTree...we're on the same wavelength. I just came to this forum to start this type of thread. I was actually going to ask Waldorf parents, specifically, what the downsides to Waldorf are/might be.

Oriole, I appreciate your reply and it is something to think about. I think like a lot of institutions, there is an "ideal" that people strive for, but that it's up to each family to find their place on the continuum - just like Attachment Parenting, actually.

Karne, I've been thinking about the issues you bring up as well. I haven't really found a clear answer to the question "How does Waldorf accomodate gifted students, or children with special needs?" The answer I've gotten is basically what you said: The program is so rich, everyone will find their niche.

All that being said, it sure is about a zillion times better than public school, IMO.
post #9 of 74
I think that there are so many facet's to the Waldorf education, that you would need to ask more specifically about things that concern you in my opinion. After all you can write books about this subject, heck people have written books about this subject!

In regards to what you have said Amy:
"Karne, I've been thinking about the issues you bring up as well. I haven't really found a clear answer to the question "How does Waldorf accomodate gifted students, or children with special needs?" The answer I've gotten is basically what you said: The program is so rich, everyone will find their niche."

The Waldorf school programs are so rich that everybody will find their niche, which other school system offers art history, sculpting, knitting, drama, archeology, taking part in a school orchestra (by the way our orchestra was pretty good!) and at the same time teaching you all the sciences, like maths, biology etc. and geology and astronomy?

The Waldorf school education is so varied that everybody will find their interest in that school system,....although I have to admit that the Waldorf education tends more towards the arts, which is one of the main reasons why I have chosen to send my dc to that school.
If you are a family who is very much interested in a science heavy based curriculum or in sports you might find it a bit more difficult to get your pleasure out of Waldorf.
post #10 of 74
great thread! thank you for starting it!! i look forward to all the responses.

i do have to comment though to orile about the plastic toys statement,actually YES all plastic toys are bad. i didn't give my dd plastic long before I knew about waldorf though. So my reasonings are health related.plastic is beyond horrible for our health and especially the health of babies and children. It's the cause of many cancers,health problems..the list goes on and on. 'Home Safe Home' is a great book to start with to see the many dangers of plastic. HTH!
post #11 of 74
Now my experience is fairly limited since we haven't started the school yet and I've only been researching, implementing, for the past six months or so.

See, I think the problem is that you can't really talk about waldorf philosophies without talking about anthro to some degree because that is where the ideas originate from. That doesn't mean you have to be into anthro per se, but you have to acknowledge to some degree that it and Steiner's work is the basis for the teachings. That brings some people to find themselves upset or disturbed by what they discover about Steiner, a lot of which is outdated and relevant to the time period when it was written.

Don't get me wrong, you can totally embrace waldorf for your own reasons aside from all of that which is why I think a lot of homeschoolers have little complaint. They have a lot more freedom from the structure and rules many schools have. For example it makes sense to us that keeping children in clothes that regulate their body temperature helps them stay focused and realize their learning/playing potential without distraction. However, when some folks read that Steiner believed that you should keep a child in warm clothing to protect their organs so they could fully incarnate, well, that freaks some people out. You will find that many waldorf practices do stem from similar theories like that. My conclusion though is this. If you take away the kooky steiner stuff (and I'm not saying all of it is either) waldorf philosophy STILL makes sense to me in so many ways. So it makes no difference to me whether it came from some weird occultist movement or not because that isn't relevant to me.

I guess the problem is that when you are in the school, there are some institutions and teachers who do cling to the weird steiner stuff and that has consequently led to some bad experiences. Again, with homeschooling, this would be irrelevant. Then again, most waldorf homeschooling curriculums are more inspired than pure waldorf so I'm not sure we can put them in the same category exactly.

So in a nutshell I think you have to acknowledge the anthro stuff, be aware of it, and figure out whether you are okay with it or not. It's not like you are going to be asked to go to a church or participate in a religion if you sign up for the schools but it sounds like you may have some teachers and staff who are into it enough that it will be a part of the experience to some degree. The schools will tell you (like ours did) that the teachers study anthro but they do not teach anthro. Well, they don't exactly, but it can be a slippery slope if they are teaching ideas that began from anthro. I don't think you can really deny that.

My feeling is that a lot of people come out of waldorf disappointed because they didn't acknowledge those things in advance. Maybe they visited the school and thought it was really beautiful, crunchy, or whatever, but didn't understand the structure, history of steiner/anthro, whatever.

Then those are the people who seem to come out of the woodwork saying they couldn't believe they were asked to sign a no tv contract or that the teachers would be so interested in their personal lives at home which some feel is invasive. You have to research these things ahead of time and decide what you are comfortable with. It is a private school which means they can pretty much do whatever the heck they like within the law.

We, too posted similar threads, and did a lot of research on both sides of the fence before making our decision. I still can't say something bad won't happen with our experience. Maybe it will. Then again, it could happen anywhere. In my state the alternative is a catholic/christian school which I don't agree with or public school where students are taught based upon a standardized test that has heavy importance on which schools get money. So I guess I take my chances, like I would anyplace else really. On the same token I accept that the school is going to take more of an interest in my private life than some schools would. Since we already got rid of our tv, don't buy any more commercial toys, and so forth, I don't feel like it will be a huge culture shock for us, more like a breath of fresh air. I can see though how somebody not willing to sacrifice those things might not see it the same way. You have to understand though that if you are sending your kid to a school with other kids who don't have a tv and believe strongly against media influence, that it isn't fair to be expected to let your own kid watch those things and then go to school talking about it.

As for the gifted or special needs child situation, I can see where waldorf schools are probably not set up to individually handle that if they are teaching the entire class the same curriculum. However, I do see a benefit to much smaller classrooms and the same teacher over the years. They would probably know your child's learning abilities much better than a public school teacher. That goes a long way I would think.

I would also think that any tight knit community environment is going to have its emotionally charged problems from time to time since everyone is so involved. That could lead to a lot of the problems and criticism too. It is the trade off that comes with the community feel vs. the one in a million public school feel.

I realize you weren't looking for info about the schools in general but I do think that is where a lot of the criticism evolves from. If your child doesn't go to a school, you could always take what you like and leave the rest like you would with any other parenting philosophy.
post #12 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by counterGOPI View Post
great thread! thank you for starting it!! i look forward to all the responses.

i do have to comment though to orile about the plastic toys statement,actually YES all plastic toys are bad. i didn't give my dd plastic long before I knew about waldorf though. So my reasonings are health related.plastic is beyond horrible for our health and especially the health of babies and children. It's the cause of many cancers,health problems..the list goes on and on. 'Home Safe Home' is a great book to start with to see the many dangers of plastic. HTH!

Okay, so this made me remember that I am kind of worried about some of the elitism surrounding waldorf and how it will make me feel as a mother. CounterGOPI, please know I'm not picking on you. In fact, I agree with every single thing you said about plastic. I've been doing the research lately myself and it is astounding. The thing of it is though that I'm having a real hard time eliminating plastic from my life entirely, mainly for financial reasons. For instance, we have been in desperate need of a high chair. I really wanted a wooden one but they were all really expensive and out of my budget. I couldn't find a secondhand one. So I ended up ordering one from Ikea that I like aesthetically but is made from hard plastic like the others. It sucks. I can afford some of the wooden stuff but not all of it all the time in every situation. So I start to worry if other parents will judge me or look down on me because I don't have a wooden high chair. It sounds stupid, doesn't it? I mean, it does to me. People are so passionate about these issues though. I am too!!! I do everything I can to live ecofriendly and within my morals but it isn't possible 100% of the time because I'm limited by money....so that would be my criticism, the elitism or class divisions present within waldorf philosophy. From what I've heard this is probably more of an issue in the U.S than it is in Europe because we focus more on the material things than they do.

Boy, I'm chatty today. Sorry for the long winded posts.
post #13 of 74
I've just started seriously looking into Waldorf, before I did though I knew about the nice wooden toys/ avoidance of plastic and also the TV is bad for young children thing, both I agreed with. The delaying of reading (teaching comprehension intensively through pictureless storytelling first) I was a little unsure about but figured it was cool for some.

Now, I've read more and visited a school. I love the environment of it. I love most all of the teaching methods and really respect the way they sequence curriculum and methods developmentally. But the thing I am most hesitant about now is the humanism of it. Yes anthroposophy isn't taught to the kids but it gets through in what is taught and how. My major concern is actually the friends and their families DS would meet, their attitudes and beliefs. We're a Christian family and strive not to be centered on ourselves or even on humanity, but on God (and doing good for humanity and the world through God's will). If we do enroll DS, we'd have to work doubly hard at home to impart this on him, and also we'd have to be selective about who from the school we spent a lot of time with.
post #14 of 74
I have a friend whose dd attended Waldorf for her Pre-K year. She chose not to re-enroll her for a variety of reasons. Here are a few she shared with me.

When my friends dd began to show and ernest, self-taught interest in learning to read she was instructed to put dd's books away until she "was old enough" to begin to learn to read (she said something about getting certain teeth).

While my friend had no problem adhering to the school's regulations of what was appropriate for her dd to wear/do/play with/discuss at school..she was not okay with the assertive assumptions of how she should be running her home, what foods she should be feeding her family and what clothes/toys her children should be playing with while in her own home.

She got tired of spending her evenings rounding the corners of sheets of paper that were to be used by the children in the school. I'm not sure the philosophy behind this but my friend said it had something to do with the children never being exposed to right angles?

After having some intersting conversations with other parents (more than a few) at the school who genuinley believed that they had faeries and gnomes living in the woods behind their houses she decided that eventhough there were some parts of Waldorf she liked, this wasn't the place for her or dd.
post #15 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
Okay, so this made me remember that I am kind of worried about some of the elitism surrounding waldorf and how it will make me feel as a mother. CounterGOPI, please know I'm not picking on you. In fact, I agree with every single thing you said about plastic. I've been doing the research lately myself and it is astounding. The thing of it is though that I'm having a real hard time eliminating plastic from my life entirely, mainly for financial reasons. For instance, we have been in desperate need of a high chair. I really wanted a wooden one but they were all really expensive and out of my budget. I couldn't find a secondhand one. So I ended up ordering one from Ikea that I like aesthetically but is made from hard plastic like the others. It sucks. I can afford some of the wooden stuff but not all of it all the time in every situation. So I start to worry if other parents will judge me or look down on me because I don't have a wooden high chair. It sounds stupid, doesn't it? I mean, it does to me. People are so passionate about these issues though. I am too!!! I do everything I can to live ecofriendly and within my morals but it isn't possible 100% of the time because I'm limited by money....so that would be my criticism, the elitism or class divisions present within waldorf philosophy. From what I've heard this is probably more of an issue in the U.S than it is in Europe because we focus more on the material things than they do.

Boy, I'm chatty today. Sorry for the long winded posts.
aww i know you're not picking on me
and what you said makes perfect sense and i completely know where you are coming from. i wonder that myself sometimes. nothing of my dd's is plastic but we are still in the slow expensive process of eliminating plastic from our home. i often wonder what ppl think when they come over
post #16 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by JamieCatheryn View Post
I've just started seriously looking into Waldorf, before I did though I knew about the nice wooden toys/ avoidance of plastic and also the TV is bad for young children thing, both I agreed with. The delaying of reading (teaching comprehension intensively through pictureless storytelling first) I was a little unsure about but figured it was cool for some.

Now, I've read more and visited a school. I love the environment of it. I love most all of the teaching methods and really respect the way they sequence curriculum and methods developmentally. But the thing I am most hesitant about now is the humanism of it. Yes anthroposophy isn't taught to the kids but it gets through in what is taught and how. My major concern is actually the friends and their families DS would meet, their attitudes and beliefs. We're a Christian family and strive not to be centered on ourselves or even on humanity, but on God (and doing good for humanity and the world through God's will). If we do enroll DS, we'd have to work doubly hard at home to impart this on him, and also we'd have to be selective about who from the school we spent a lot of time with.
See, this is where things get sticky with the anthro thing. Personally I love the idea of incorporating a strong spiritual component in education, but instead of focusing on one, taking different things from different religions. I guess the problem with that is the christians fall in love with waldorf because of the traditionalism, simplicity, and christian component, and the pagans fall in love with it because everything is very earth centered....

put the christians and pagans in the room together and....well, you see what I'm getting at here. I have mostly pagan leanings myself and christians are surprised to find that I share many of their moral views on traditional home life and simplicity, but once we get to politics and religion, boy it all goes sour, doesn't it?

So Jamie, your comment about not wanting your kid to hang around certain families makes me a little sad. I, myself, had a best friend for years, who after converting to fundamentalism, was never allowed to play with me again because my family didn't go to their church. I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that but please remember how much the children are hurt by these sort of things more than we, the adults. For instance, if you send your child there and he or she really takes a liking to a child of a different religion, it could be very sticky, not to mention hurtful, explaining to the other child why he or she can't play with yours. I know most folks who are christian and only want their children around similar people tend to send them to christian schools to avoid that predicament, you know?
post #17 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by counterGOPI View Post
aww i know you're not picking on me
and what you said makes perfect sense and i completely know where you are coming from. i wonder that myself sometimes. nothing of my dd's is plastic but we are still in the slow expensive process of eliminating plastic from our home. i often wonder what ppl think when they come over

Thanks for understanding
I know we can discuss the plastic thing on another thread but man, it is tough when you start delving into it. DH yelled at me the other night because all of our old plastic containers disappeared and I suggested he store leftovers in the old pasta jar. He wasn't happy.
post #18 of 74
I just discovered Waldorf and I was immediately intrigued because I read this paragraph on waldorfanswers.org:

Quote:
The central focus for the Waldorf teacher is the development of that essence in every person that is independent of external appearance, by instilling in his/her pupils an understanding of and appreciation for their background and place in the world, not primarily as members of any specific nation, ethnic group or race, but as members of humanity and world citizens.
We are a Baha'i family and that mission statement sounds very in line with our spiritual beliefs.

This discussion in this thread has been great for me to read because I have already read through the "Life after Waldorf" thread and seen some other negative commentary on the 'net about Waldorf and its underlying religious principles. However, the curriculum that is taught in the school with a focus on imagination and arts in the early years is very attractive to me and in line with how organic I believe early childhood education should be. Ultimately, like any religion, educational or parenting approach, a family can embrace as little or as much of Waldorf as they want. If full inclusion in a Waldorf school is too much (and it may be for our family) then many of the Waldorf principles can be applied at home. Any faith based educational program is going to have critics!

At any rate I've ordered some books about Waldorf that I am looking forward to reading and I've contacted the local Waldorf school for information for the upcoming Fall toddler playgroup that the school facilliates on the weekend.

Thanks again for this thread!
post #19 of 74
ok, phew, this thread seems to be a respectful and unheated one..

so i'll add to my previous answer to say..ds was in a waldorf school from 3-4.5 yrs, and before that in the parents toddler group. It was overall a wonderful experience for him, but we grew quite sceptical of some of what went on and were pretty sure we wouldn't keep him in for the grades. Now w're hs-ing but if we ever look back into schools again I think we would choose something other than waldorf.

My reasons:

- waldorf attracts a very un-diverse body of students/families. We live in an extremely diverse area and the school simply isn't reflective of that. (we actually struggle with this in hs-ing, too )

- gender bias/roles. All too frequently boys get labelled negatively in waldorf. In ds's kindergarten wild, 4yr old boy energy simply was not welcome. The ironic flispide is that gender roles are seen as quite fixed; in the school here boys are only allowed to be dressed as princes, girls as princesses. Our friend's son was told he needed to cut his beautiful long hair and stop wearing the "girl" costumes. And the female teachers in their long flowy skirts....

- the special needs issues. I know too many special needs kids who have been rejected from or have struggled in a waldorf school. My ds doesn't have special needs but again it's an issue of diversity for me.

- eurythmy. From all I've seen and learned eurythmy does not meet children at their developmental level, unless done in a very creative, playful way (which I've yet to see). So many children, particularly boys, struggle with eurythmy. Menahwile eurythmy is given such huge weight and power. Ds was bullied by one very troubled boy in kindergarten; the school's response was to do curative eurthymy with that boy, to no effect whatsoever, but they carried on, rather than recommending counseling or therapy.

- the eurocentrism, as I said before. Some schools may include "multicultural" festivals, toys, stories, etc but essentially anthroposophy places a much higher value on euro-western culture. Children are taught about the different cultures, religion and history in a very specific order that reflects that value system. Stories in kindergarten are almost all european; when I asked why they responded that they just weren't sure if an African story is appropriate for a 5 yr old...:

- silly rules like not allowing children to play with balls or play certain instruments till a certain age.

- the lack of questioning allowed. The very evasive answers given when questioned.

- the view of the teacher's authority in relation to the child.

I guess many of these come down to individual school issues but I've heard the same stories over and over worldwide which leads me to see that these are all related to waldorf and anthroposophy.

Really for me it all boils down to one thing. That waldorf is nothing beyond what Rudolf Steiner taught. Rudolf Steiner was a brilliant man, and came up with some brilliant ideas, but that was a long time ago and in a specific culture. The world has changed and we have learned an enormous amount since about child development. It is very very hard for waldorf to take on new ideas or methods because Steiner isn't around to approve them. I'm not sure he would be at all approving of the way waldorf works now. Waldorf to me contains some brilliant seeds of wisdom, but has become very stuck and outdated.
post #20 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixiewytch View Post
So Jamie, your comment about not wanting your kid to hang around certain families makes me a little sad. I, myself, had a best friend for years, who after converting to fundamentalism, was never allowed to play with me again because my family didn't go to their church. I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that but please remember how much the children are hurt by these sort of things more than we, the adults. For instance, if you send your child there and he or she really takes a liking to a child of a different religion, it could be very sticky, not to mention hurtful, explaining to the other child why he or she can't play with yours. I know most folks who are christian and only want their children around similar people tend to send them to christian schools to avoid that predicament, you know?
Most of my family is pagan it's not as if he's shut off from others, but specifically picking a school that many people of such different ideologies are drawn to might be sticky. Particularly the human wisdom element. My DH talked about how he'd spend time at friends houses and discuss things with their parents, he doesn't want too much influence on DS contrary to what we would teach and I tend to agree that's a concern. If DS made a good friend at Waldorf or anywhere I'd never forbid them to play together, but might only have him around that family if I was there too, or just discuss with them the need to respect some boundries and not share certain things with my son.
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