MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Steiner with his wife (right) and Ita Wegman, his lover (left).

Anthroposophic medicine was founded by Steiner and Ita Wegman in the early 20th century. Currently, it is being promoted as an extension of conventional medicine. Proponents claim that “its unique understanding of the interplay among physiological, soul and spiritual processes in healing and illness serves to bridge allopathy with naturopathy, homeopathy, functional/nutritional medicine and other healing systems.” Its value has repeatedly been questioned, and clinical research in this area is often less than rigorous.

Anthroposophic education was developed in the Waldorf school that was founded by Steiner in 1919 to serve the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Pupils of Waldorf or Steiner schools, as they are also frequently called, are encouraged to develop independent thinking and creativity, social responsibility, respect, and compassion.

Waldorf schools implicitly infuse spiritual and mystic concepts into their curriculum. Like some other alternative healthcare practitioners – for instance, doctors promoting integrative medicine, chiropractors, homeopaths and naturopaths – some doctors of anthroposophic medicine take a stance against childhood immunizations. In a 2011 paper, I summarised the evidence which showed that in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, Waldorf schools have been at the centre of measles outbreaks due to their stance regarding immunisations.

More recently, a study evaluated trends in rates of personal belief exemptions (PBEs) to immunization requirements for private kindergartens in California that practice alternative educational methods. The investigators used California Department of Public Health data on kindergarten PBE rates from 2000 to 2014 to compare annual average increases in PBE rates between schools.

Alternative schools had an average PBE rate of 8.7%, compared with 2.1% among public schools. Waldorf schools had the highest average PBE rate of 45.1%, which was 19 times higher than in public schools (incidence rate ratio = 19.1; 95% confidence interval = 16.4, 22.2). Montessori and holistic schools had the highest average annual increases in PBE rates, slightly higher than Waldorf schools (Montessori: 8.8%; holistic: 7.1%; Waldorf: 3.6%).

The authors concluded that Waldorf schools had exceptionally high average PBE rates, and Montessori and holistic schools had higher annual increases in PBE rates. Children in these schools may be at higher risk for spreading vaccine-preventable diseases if trends are not reversed.

As the world is hoping for the arrival of an effective vaccine against the corona virus, these figures should concern us.

18 Responses to Waldorf schools are a danger to public health

  • There are also issues with the quality of the education they provide, and a number of them had been found to have inadequate safeguarding for their students. See Ofsted’s letter of July 2019. Link

  • Here’s an update to Waldorf (in German) that’s worth being read:

    https://anthroposophie.blog/2020/08/07/ja-denkt-denn-keiner-an-die-kinder/

  • Not to forget the deep racism that is part of Steiner’s doctrines. https://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/steiners-racism

  • My wife and I put both of our kids through private K-8 Waldorf. My experience is anecdotal. I also worked there, with one of my responsibilities being health and safety, so I have a unique perspective.

    The generalizations of Waldorf studies, in my opinion, although largely accurate do not reflect the differences between individual schools as there exists no overarching organizational structure or authority–each school is autonomous in their management and education delivery. The underlying academic content in each grade remains consistent throughout all schools.

    However, I early on came to the conclusion that, like moths to a flame, Waldorf schools attract anti-vaxxers, alternative health advocates, psychics, conspiracy theorists and anyone on the fringes of mainstream political thought. However, it also draws a solid body (and a majority) of what I call rational people who don’t buy into such nonsense and are there for the benefits it bestows upon their children. In fact, I believe the only reason our local Waldorf School is still functioning today is due entirely to the steadfastness and consistency of the adults in the room.

    Yes, the non-vaccine rate there was quite high until California mandated vaccinations for all school children, public and private, by eliminating the religious and personal-belief exemptions. Many heads exploded.

    I absolutely believe that Steiner was a nut job. I could never grasp the gist of a single one of his twisted and wandering writings. Sadly, I never had one teacher or teaching mentor provide me with any adequate explanation or clarification of his “philosophies”.

    My wife and I were able to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on the benefits the education imparted to our children. Both kids are absolutely curious about learning, to this day (one is in college and the other in public high school). They are well adjusted socially. They have no hesitation to learn or try something new. They are self-confident without arrogance. They are deeply involved in understanding, expressing and acting upon their passions. Most of their high school teachers enthusiastically welcome Waldorf students with open arms for the positive attributes they bring to the classroom. Every other Waldorf parent I know expresses the same sentiments of their own children.

    None of my kids’ teachers attempted to instill the seemingly radical viewpoints espoused by Steiner stalwarts. My kids received a solid, well-rounded education. There was always an underlying theme of spirituality. Early on it is presented in the form of fairy tales and fables. It grew to the study of all major world mythologies and religions, past and present. The education was never immersed in one particular religion nor was religion ever the main focus. Rather, an appreciation and understanding of most religions was conveyed.

    However, there are a couple of caveats I’ve observed. Private Waldorf education in the US is expensive and is therefore inaccessible for most. Also, I never met a single Waldorf student who didn’t have at least one parent who does not care passionately about their child’s education. Are the benefits of Waldorf education truly cause and effect, or is it that there are some parents who will instill these values in their offspring anyway? To be fair, many of my children’s peers who were entirely on public school tracks are quite exemplary young people too.

    For me my choice was driven by our abysmal local public education system. There are a small number of Waldorf inspired public charter schools which, I believe, try to pick the best elements of the Waldorf system and integrate them into their own.

    I think it is important, in spite of the obvious shortcomings, to not be overzealous or overgeneralizing in one’s derision and criticism of the Waldorf approach. One could clearly do the same to any public school system. Given the chance to do it all over I would, without hesitation, send my kids to a Waldorf school again.

    • “I think it is important, in spite of the obvious shortcomings, to not be overzealous or overgeneralizing in one’s derision and criticism of the Waldorf approach. One could clearly do the same to any public school system.”
      and one should perhaps be critical about the public school system as well.

    • It took legislation to make the school do what it should have been doing, requiring vaccination with exceptions only for bona fide medical reasons. Before that legislation the school was a danger. Your account is not reassuring.

  • Rather than look at the beliefs, Waldorf shcools should be studied for their results. How do the children at Waldorf schools compare in terms of chronic illness? In fact, what should be studied is vaccinated vs unvaccinated children in general. Funny that the CDC never does these sorts of studies. ChildrensHealthDefense.org has a 10 part series where independent researchers tried to answer this question. https://childrenshealthdefense.org/?s=vaccinated+vs+unvacc

    Their conclusion is that unvaccinated children have much lower rates of chronic illness than vaccinated children. And oddly enough the rate of chronic illness in USA children has skyrocketed along with the numbers or recommended vaccines on the CDC schedule. Strange coincidence.

    Who cares if they believe in the curative value of pixie dust? What matters is results.

    • Roger

      What you laughably refer to as “Independent researchers” are a bunch of antivaxers asking fellow antivaxers about their children. The claim is based on a single study which used highly biased methods. Rigorous and large-scale studies have not found a greater likelihood of adverse health outcomes in vaccinated children.This is not research. This is a protracted and laughable exercise in confirmation bias.

      If you want to have a look at the proper evidence gathered by proper scientists a nice blog post sums them up
      here.

      But you’re not interested in real evidence are you, Rog. Homeopaths never are.

    • Citing antivaccine crank Robert F. Kenndy jr.’s site is not evidence for anything other than your ignorance. The trope about unvaccinated children being healthier is simply made up and supported by fake science.

  • Grossly overgeneralized and irrelevant. Our personal experience (and those of friends in other states in the USA) have been much of the opposite including the stereotypical “tendencies” mentioned above.

    • RG,

      You have linked to a letter published in the British Medical Journal from an infectious diseases physician (John Berthelow Classen) in Salt Lake City. He mentions a study in Finland (Eskola et al. published 30 years ago in the NEJM) looking at vaccination timing which found that vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae was highly effective in preventing this infection if given early enough (I followed the link to the study in his references). Classen states that he calculated the incidence of diabetes occuring below the age of 10 in the cohort of children included in the study and compared it with an earlier cohort of children who did not receive the vaccine (I presume because it was not standard at that time). He found that the earlier cohort had a lower incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes.

      Curiously, he makes no mention of the size of this difference, nor where his own study was published (other than at a specially-convened conference held in Bethesda, which could mean anything at all). Nor is it clear whether his control cohort was comparable to the vaccinated cohort, as there may have been children excluded from the vaccination timing study on medical grounds which might have had a bearing on their risk of other problems (such as diabetes). Also, curiously, Dr Jaakko Tuomilehto, the Finnish doctor that he gives as a collaborator in his own study was not one of the authors of the vaccine study.

      It is a well-recognised limitation of cohort studies such as this one that they cannot exclude the effects of confounding factors, even more so in this instance as the two groups being compared were at different times.

      Classen has the following to say:
      “we found that the rise in the prevalence of diabetes may more than offset the expected decline in long term complications of H influenzae meningitis. ”

      This seems a rather odd thing to say, as meningitis is not the only disease caused by H. influenzae. When I nearly died in 2017 from H. influenzae epiglottitis (which put me into ITU for a week due to obstruction of my airway) I was told afterwards by the doctors treating me that they hardly ever saw epiglottitis as it was now a routine vaccination in infancy (maybe as a result of that very study?). I remember from my time as an ENT house officer in 1986 that epiglottitis was a relatively common paediatric emergency, so I think perhaps Classen is cherry-picking his complications to make a point. Indeed, long-term complications of meningitis tend to be severe and life-changing, so some may yet regard diabetes as preferable (In any case, the numbers he is talking about are his own calculated estimates, and not recorded data.

      His conclusions in the letter are couched in rather tentative language and appear to be hypotheses, particularly as he does not supply any data to support them.

      I did a bit more digging around and found this paper in the BMJ published four months after Classen’s letter:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC27850/

      In case you don’t want to follow the link, it is entitled “Association between type 1 diabetes and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccination: birth cohort study” and the authors are Marjatta Karvonen, senior researcher, Zygimantas Cepaitis, researcher, and Jaakko Tuomilehto, research professor. Indeed, it seems to be the very study that Classen was referring to (his name is mentioned in the acknowledgements as having made some suggestions for this analysis).

      Here are the results and conclusions from the abstract (my link is to the full paper, which is not behind a paywall):

      Results

      No statistically significant difference was found at any time during the 10 year follow up in the risk of type 1 diabetes between the children born before the vaccination period and those vaccinated at the age of 24 months only (relative risk 1.01). The difference in the risk between the cohort vaccinated first at the age of 3 months and the cohort vaccinated at the age of 24 months only was not statistically significant either (1.06).
      Conclusion

      It is unlikely that H influenzae type b vaccination or its timing cause type 1 diabetes in children.

      So we have a letter from Classen mentioning a study which he says suggests that H. influenzae vaccine may cause childhood diabetes, and four months later we have a detailed write-up of the study itself, which says that it does not. Since he appears to have been at least peripherally involved in this study, which would have already been submitted for publication at the time he wrote his letter, he must have known what it had shown. Why, then, did he lie about it?

      RG,
      This is the latest of many links you have supplied to extracts from various medical journals which don’t actually support your views very well. Your posts give me the impression that you have either not understood them, or perhaps haven’t read them in the first place, and certainly that you are unaware of relevant context. Perhaps next time you could save us all a bit of trouble by not just posting a link but also explaining for us what you think the authors were saying.

  • @Lenny

    Wrong you are. The study was not dis-proven, or debunked.

    Another study was performed to make the outcome what was needed to continue to push the narrative.

    Dr. JMK made a weak attempt to debunk the study, but he provided a wordy insight that amounts to his opinion derived from speculation about the study results…. nothing more.

    • @RG
      You state your demonstrably erroneous opinions without anything to support them. E.g. what makes you think JMKs arguments are weak? Can you support your claim?
      Are you just playing a ( boring and useless) game trying to have fun by sounding stupid or do you really have some unfortunate condition causing a cognitive handicap?

    • @RG

      Yet another textbook demonstration of Dunning-Krugerism and hubris.

      You really don’t have a clue what you are talking about, a concept of the depths of your own ignorance or a grasp of how much more others know about this than you do.

      I am vastly ignorant as regards the nuances of trial design and statistical analysis. My powers of critical review are not great. I try to learn a little from the likes of Edzard, Björn, Dr JMK, Gorski, and others who do (or did) this as part of their job because I have come to learn how deficient my skills are in this area – not that it is spectacularly relevant to my job, but it does help. But I like to think that I am aware of my shortcomings. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

      Such concepts don’t seem to have impinged on your Worldview.

    • @RG

      Dr. JMK provided his considered judgement on the study which you linked to. Sufficient to convince me that Classen’s study is at the very least questionable in its conclusions. I can’t say fairer than that. Truth be told it does not look good for him.

      Exactly what have you done? You posted a link making no comment about the content and dismiss a detailed response as pure speculation. We know who the responder is and his medical and research experience. We know that you are an anonymous burning stupid antivaxxer.

      Case closed.

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