As an educator, I certainly have explored many different kinds of education, and unfortunately my children have been "crash test dummies" in some cases, I deeply regret our experience with Waldorf Education, as I feel it was the most harmful.
I know that for the most part "Waldorf" is a community filled with very well intentioned, caring, thoughtful folks- both teachers and parents- who wish to contribute to their child's learning, health, and life, as well as protect them from influences they feel may be harmful. There is much I celebrate and respect about Waldorf education, in particular the care and respect shown to children by the thoughtful choice of materials, and warmth of the classrooms. However, Waldorf philosophy, which all Waldorf teachers are trained in, has its foundation in anti-Semitism and racism. Steiner was doing his work in Germany just prior to the Nazi regime, and has written much on the superiority of Aryans to Jews, and the superiority of light skinned over dark skinned peoples. I don't doubt there are many innocent and well meaning people involved in Waldorf, and I don't doubt there is much good in the philosophy. It is simply that I am wary of any practice that has at its roots values that I am not in agreement with- just as although there are many individuals working in the public school system who are passionate and caring and making a difference in the lives of children, they are also doing it in a context of an institution that has it its core the desire to control and repress, and thus I feel doubtful those intentions could escape being felt. (see John Taylor Gatto's books for more info on that)
I really enjoy choice, trust, acceptance, and respect being offered to young people, and am confused and troubled when I see children strictly divided into groups that are defined not by who the individual children are and what they would enjoy learning, but by their ages; told what colors they can or can't paint with, not given honest answers to scientific questions until after age 7, etc. (when I visited a local Waldorf school last year, I was told if a child asked about where fog came from, unless they were over age 7, they could not understand how the world worked, and needed to be told that "the fairies brought the fog."). I also really value emotional safety and was told by several Waldorf teachers that it is natural for children to exclude and tease one another, and that until children are in the grades, their philosophy was to allow that to happen and to have a policy of non-intervention. One parent I spoke with pulled her child out because he was being regularly tormented and when she asked for more active protection of him at school, she was told they did not and would not do that, as it was in contradiction to Waldorf philosophy.
I love the idea of Free Schools, and have been involved in several but also feel that children are left alone too much, with each other, to work out problems and issues with not much adult care or wisdom. In our city, we have a democratic charter school which has lots of choice and respect, and several teachers with amazing warmth and communication skills, and a system for solving problems, maybe you have something like this near you? Check out this very old school/philosophy in CA, this, to me, is an ideal school environment http://www.playmountain.org/
and here's the website to the school (no longer in operation) that we created as an NVC (nonviolent communication) Free School a couple of years ago here in Portland http://www.familyfreeschool.com/
I think it has some key elements of an appropriate education. Here are links to a couple of charter schools with great philosophies... http://www.pacificaschool.org/
(I like their reading list too, it looks like one of my bookshelves) http://trilliumcharterschool.org/ http://www.bluemountainschool.com/
My general judgment of Waldorf that results in me choosing to choose another educational path for our family is that I perceive Waldorf is simply not in reality, but is based on a adult's fantasy of what childhood is or should be. I think children are naturally delightfully loud, wonderfully messy, avid explorers who can be trusted as fully capable of deciding what to paint and with which colors, benefit from trying all kinds of activities and using many different kinds of materials, can and do thrive on honest answers from the adults in their lives, and who naturally create their own magical world filled with wonder and awe, and do not need adults to fabricate it for them.
Choosing an environment for your child to learn can be agonizing and filled with choices that no matter what, involve compromise. I respect how hard it can be and what relief it is to find a place that resonates for your family and in which we each perceive our children's needs are best met. For us, Waldorf was/is not it, but I understand why it might work well and does work well for many families.
When my oldest son was in a Steiner first grade class in CA, it was hard to look past the huge painting of Mary and Jesus on the wall, not that I didn't think it was beautiful, but that, if you believe Waldorf theory, these images are internalized deep into the child, and, being a Jewish family, it was strange to have that as the centerpiece. We didn't want our son to be in a religious school, and if we had wanted that, we would have enrolled him in a religious school that was OUR own religion. We thought it was a secular school until we were invited to the (very lovely) celebrations of Michaelmas and Martinmas, and then as the year went on our son became confused about what we celebrated and what we didn't. We felt more and more uncomfortable as our son repeated to us the (religious) verses they chant together each morning. He was taking it all in! We explained to him that we have great respect for this other religion's beliefs and festivals, but that we celebrate our own (different) festivals at home. It's so beautiful (the materials, the decor, the curriculum) that is seems to draw you in and you forget that the religious teaching is not what you wanted!
When our son had a small conflict with a child in his class, his teacher told me that he was eating too many root vegetables ("the devil's foods") and when at some point he wanted to learn about "real" science (he was curious about electricity and didn't buy the "light fairy" story as he neared 7 years old) they assured me he wasn't yet ready as he had only lost 4 primary teeth at that time. When I would come to school, I would often see children sitting alone and tearful outside the classroom (being punished for not "behaving") and I often saw groups of children being hurtful to other children and blatantly exclude other children while the teacher smiled and knitted and pretended not to notice. I didn't see respectful conflict resolution happening there, but I did see several chronically unhappy children who were picked on by the more secure kids. It was mostly white kids at our Waldorf school, and they were mostly rich- (many were taken to and picked up from school by their nannies) and I wanted my children to experience more diversity and more of real life. I am sure that unschooling doesn't work well for every child, but I still wanted a little more freedom and variety and choice than Waldorf allows (certain art materials can only be used a certain way and at a specific time in the child's development, and all of the children end up learning to draw the exact same type of picture, kids were mildly punished for not being interested in knitting, there were no other shapes acceptable for bun baking, etc.) to me it's about a great deal of conformity and blind obedience, and especially after reading Alfie Kohn, Bev Bos, etc. I really don't want my kid to "do it just like all the other kids" or jump through my (or anyone's) hoops just to avoid punishment or gain reward/praise.
I don't think that anyone would attack Waldorf "just to attack it", I believe that the folks who wrote about their experiences actually were upset or hurt in relation to their experiences there. It's also interesting to me how strongly the Waldorf-supporters defend it, if it's "just a school", then what's the big deal? I think of it more as a religion, and that actually helps me stay in the mindset of compassion and tolerance. Again, I am sure it works really well for some families, especially if it fits in with your established religious beliefs.