There once lived a school, that went from kindergarten to grade 8, built from the ideals of an austrian occultist. Kelowna Waldorf School, or KWS for short, is a private school run by a board of trustees who experience frequent infighting, backlash from parents, and subsequently, the loss of one third of their combined student and staff population. And here’s the kicker; it’s still up-and-running to this day.
Kelowna Waldorf school, a branch of many ‘Steiner school’s’ trickled throughout the world, is set on teaching children about their surroundings through the use of self expression, nature walks, and a performance art called eurythmy. Created by Rudolf Steiner, and now run by a school board, Waldorf can be tricky to label. On one hand, it can be looked at as an art school, as it uses many art forms to teach subjects. It can also be considered a religious school, because of its special curriculum, and more specifically, because of its teaching of anthroposophy. Admittedly, it is legally neither of these things, and is simply classified as a private school.
You may be thinking, “Ah! Yes! Anthroposophy! I know what that is because it sounds like a word that I know!”, but it is more than meets the eye. Anthroposophy is a philosophical belief that there is a spiritual world that is accessible to us all. The intention of anthroposophical teachings are positive, but the execution of such seems to be lacking. The school claims to focus on students as individuals and how they want to foster creativity and individuality. The word itself is derived from the latin phrases “anthropos” meaning human, and “sophy/ sophia” meaning wisdom. Not to be confused with anthropology, the study of humans and their behaviour. It is studied the same way the physical world is studied, with a hard outer shell of rational thought, and a sweet gooey inside of optimism. How is this applied in the classroom? Well, a statement from Rick Salsa in 2017 denies the idea that anthroposophy is “taught directly to children”, and instead claims that it is something taught to the teachers as a tool for them to use… to then teach the children.
As previously mentioned, Rudolf Steiner was the foundation for the curriculum that the school employs. He was born in what is now recognized as Croatia, in 1861. From early on in his life he found himself pondering the relationship between spirituality and science, thus forming his own kind of philosophy called anthroposophy. He set out to obtain a doctorate in philosophy, and soon after that was attained, he published a book titled The Philosophy of Freedom. Many philosopher’s inspired Steiner, including the well-known existential nihilist, Nietzche. Steiner eventually found himself a following, and created the Anthroposophical Society as well as the first Goetheanum building. The first Waldorf school was also built around this time.
He doesn’t sound like such a horrible guy, right? He is a simple scholar who has a dream of spreading his truth. Unfortunately, you have to consider the time period in which he was brought up in. Racism, sexism, and fascism (among many other things) were rampant throughout this age, and some of that was bound to leak into his lectures one way or another. Reportedly none of his more fundamentalist beliefs are being taught nowadays, but there was one case that raised some eyebrows. A founding board member was said to be lecturing students on the demon Ahriman, who Steiner believed was going to take form somewhere in Western culture. Additionally, some parents were beginning to hear about certain projects that their children were working on in class, for example students were to pick a saint to pray to when they feel down. These events brought into question just how much of Steiner’s fundamentalist side was being taught. Needless to say, parents were not impressed.
This incident was one of many that led to a mass exodus of both students and staff. There was said to be infighting between board members, as well as complaints from parents who stated that the board was “autocratic” and impossible to reason with. There was also rumours that bullying was dealt with in unsatisfactory ways, or ignored completely. To top it all off, in 2017 the school was cut off from ministry funding because the curriculum did not comply with the ministry approved one.
Waldorf has not publicly announced a change in their current curriculum, and will remain a private school for the foreseeable future. To stave off any further negativity surrounding KWS the decision to change the school’s name to ‘Lakeside School’ in 2017 was put into action. They may change the name, but the wrongdoings of the school will never be forgotten by the parents, students, staff or volunteers who put their time and effort in to Waldorf, only to be met by a brick wall of autocracy and old ideals.