The Dahlin report

What does the Waldorf-movement write about this report at Wikipedia?

  • A Swedish study comparing several hundred Waldorf students (grade 9 and 12) to corresponding students in Swedish public schools reported that the proportion of the Waldorf pupils who supported counteracting or stopping Nazism and racism was considerably greater (93%) than that of the pupils at municipal secondary schools (72%).

The Dahlin report has also been used in several newsletters and articles as a support for proving the supremacy of Waldorf education.

Here is our Collected analysis of the Dahlin report


Part 1:

General observations, issues and methodological weaknesses


a) The report has been written by a group of people who are either anthroposophists or are very favourably disposed towards the content and form of Steiner/Waldorf education. The report does not explain that the authors are involved in the anthroposophical movement.


b) According to the Rudolf Steiner College in Järna, Professor Bo Dahlin, who bears the main responsibility for the report, is "the external examiner of the Intgrated Masters Programme in the Eurythmy Masters degree."


c) Professor Bo Dahlin is also a member of the curriculum comittee at the Masters programme at the Rudolf Steiner College in Oslo.


Bo Dahlin is known to support Waldorf education. In a text on the website of the Swedish anthroposophical information centre, for instance, Dahlin suggests that the esotericist thinking of mysticists as well as the founder of Rosicrucianism, Christian Rosenkreutz, could offer valuable lessons for modern pedagogy.


To help children find their way into and out of the metaphysical cave, as described by Plato, so that they don't have to become lifetime captives there, in their inability to meet "the unknown," there is, as it happens, Waldorf pedagogy. Dahlin seems to suggest that this modern inability stems from the "invisible net of conceptions and values spun around us by global capitalism and technological advancement."


d) The co-authors of the report, Agnes Nobel and Ingrid Liljeroth, are favourably disposed towards Waldorf pedagogy and are both quoted on various anthroposophical sites. Agnes Nobel is the author of "Education Through Art" (Swedish title: "The Philosopher's Button"), which purports to be scientific but, in our view, is a manifesto promoting Waldorf/Steiner pedagogy.

Ingrid Liljeroth, too, entertained strong sympathies for anthroposophy and the Waldorf movement prior to her participation in this project. She has previously written a book about anthroposophy and curative pedagogy. Judging from the uncritical and unquestioning attitude manifested in the 6th report from the project (Karlstad, Sept. 2006), which was Liljeroth's main responsibility, it is evident that she is favourably disposed towards the tenets and doctrines of anthroposophy.


e) In the report, the connection between the financier of the report, Kempe-Carlgrenska Fonden (The Kempe-Carlgren Foundation), and the Waldorf/Steiner school movement remains undisclosed.

As it happens, Frans Carlgren, a member of the foundation’s administrative board (according to the journal of the Swedish teachers' association, see article, is a well-recognized anthroposophist and the author of many books on anthroposophy and Waldorf education. Frans Kempe was Frans Carlgren's grandfather (see interview with Frans Carlgren: Persons with the family name Kempe are still active within the Waldorf movement in Sweden.


f) What kind of political motivational factors lie behind this report? Another similar report, the Wood Report, has been produced in England, the contextual circumstance being a desire to obtain public funding for Waldorf/Steiner schools. In Norway and Sweden, it may seem as though too much negative publicity, too many critical viewpoints, and too many impertinent inquiries directed towards the movement have surfaced lately. Are student numbers in decline? Is the report part of an effort to produce purportedly scientific documentation, in order to counter public criticism?


g) In the English excerpt of the Dahlin report, the following reservation is stated regarding the results that are being put forth: [that] in summaries like this many nuances and details are necessarily omitted and only the large picture is presented. Thus, there is an inevitable risk in drawing hasty and too general conclusions.


Why has this report, or this excerpt, been published at this point in time, and why do academics, like Bo Dahlin, A. Nobel, and I. Liljeroth wish to run the risk of making hasty, and possibly too general, conclusions about matters of such importance?


h) In which other research publications or fora has this report been published? And to what degree has the report been subjected to a scientific discourse on the methods used, the results obtained, and the conclusions drawn?


i) In all probability, those students, parents, or teachers who have had negative experiences, or are very critical towards Waldorf/Steiner schools, were not included in the study, and consequently were not able to answer inquiries and/or participate in interviews. An important source of information will thus be lacking in regards to Waldorf/Steiner schools, whereas this source will be fully represented in regards to the public schools.


j) Making comparisons between a private school and a public school is, in many ways, like comparing apples with oranges. Because of this, Waldorf/Steiner schools should have been compared to other private or religious schools, in order to produce an accurate representation, and a relevant qualitative measure, of the education.


k) In many contexts, the unique and independent role of the Waldorf/Steiner school is emphasized. This is particularly common in those cases where a school has acted in a deplorable manner in relation to individual students. The movement then desires to limit the ensuing damage by claiming it to be a matter of an individual case and insisting that these conditions do not apply to the movement as a whole.


In this report, however, positive elements in one school are generalized and made applicable to all Waldorf/Steiner schools, and the distinctive Waldorf pedagogy is then suggested to be the reason behind these positive effects. Thus, the reader’s impression is that the positive sides apply to all schools, but when negative elements are concerned, they apply only to the specific school in question.


l) How much effort has been made to ascertain that the teachers responsible for the data collection were not in the position to manipulate or instruct the children beforehand, and possibly pick and choose the students who would participate? The number of 196 respondents is repeatedly used, though for separate reports. When the teacher is placed in command of administering the questionnaires, you will invariably receive responses corresponding to what the students believed the teacher expected. This is the case for Waldorf/Steiner schools as well as for public schools.


m) In the report, too little emphasis is given to objective measurements in comparison to the opinions of the students. Hence, the outcome will to a great extent be qualitative and not quantitative, and descriptive rather than quantifiable. It is thus easy to find alternative interpretations of, and views on, the very same results that the researchers bring forward and are visibly impressed by. The interpretations the researchers choose reveal their indiscriminate sympathies towards Waldorf pedagogy.


n) The 10 in-depth interviews that were carried out constitute, methodically speaking, too small a number to yield any general conclusions about a large group. There should have been at least 30 interviews to cover a wide range. Moreover, we do not know how the interviews were carried out or how the subjects were selected for interviews.


o) The report furthermore notes that Swedish Waldorf parents as a group are relatively homogeneous, though there are discrepancies among Waldorf schools. It is claimed that approximately 40% of the parents are anthroposophists or have anthroposophical leanings. This is a very large number. Figures from other countries suggest a rate between 10 and 15%. What is the reason for this?


The report states that SwedishWaldorf/Steiner parents are well-educated, middle income earners, and speak Swedish as their mother tongue. They are employed predominantly within the public sector, their political opinions are on the left-green spectrum, and most have a spiritual or religious outlook on life and oppose atheism and materialism. They have a solidarity-based view of society and reject competition and egotistical individualism. They have chosen a school for their children based upon knowledge about Waldorf/Steiner educational methods, though only 7% of them attended Waldorf/Steiner schools themselves.


In addition to all this, we would like to know how many of the parents have a Jewish, Asian, or African background?


p) Why does the report not call into question any of the problems inherent in the foundation of the so-called alternative pedagogy that is practiced at Waldorf/Steiner schools? Reincarnation, karma laws, eurythmy, spiritual science, Atlantis, spiritual evolution, rejection of Darwin's theory of evolution, hierarchies of angels are a few of these tenets.


q) Why are the racist assertions of Rudolf Steiner not problematized in the report? Within the teacher training, what attitude is taken towards these ideas, and how are they dealt with in practice within the Waldorf/Steiner school system? In the equivalent British report, those issues are mentioned, although they are left unanswered.


r) The English excerpt contains the following passage:


Our findings indicate that the Waldorf schools to a great extent seem to produce active, responsible, democratic and humane citizens. This is in all probability a consequence of both the special teaching methods of the Waldorf schools and the Waldorf pupils' specific social and cultural backgrounds in the form of their parents' values and social commitment. Which of these two factors plays the greatest role is naturally impossible to say, but the teaching methods are certainly of no little importance.


This statement lacks a tenable foundation and can only be read as unadulterated propaganda for Waldorf/Steiner schools. What do these specific teaching methods of Waldorf/Steiner schools amount to? And why are they considered an alternative to what takes place within other educational contexts?



Part 2:

Special considerations of the report's specific conclusions


a) A result of the study: Compared to public school students, 15% fewer of Waldorf/Steiner students move on to university/college immediately after their 12 years in school. Bo Dahlin et al. claim: To a larger degree, Waldorf/Steiner school students postpone going to university or college, and instead they prefer to work, travel or attend Folk high-schools. 


How does Bo Dahlin know this? Does he have any empirical evidence to back it up? To what extent do these students catch up on school subjects at other private high schools, as a consequence of their not having achieved the required educational standards?


b) Dahlin's interpretation of Waldorf/Steiner school students consciously choosing to postpone their transition to universities and colleges is his own assumption. Are there statistics or reports to support his private opinions?


c) The report does not include numbers showing how many of the public school students intend to enter university or college education in the future, and consequently the number of Waldorf students with this intention (42%) becomes meaningless and stands without comparison.


d) One interesting point is that the researchers implicitly acknowledge the connection between anthroposophy and Waldorf/Steiner schools. We are told that very few students decide on an anthroposophical education at the end of their 12 years in Waldorf/Steiner schools.

The report does not mention, however, how many students get involved in other operations within the Steiner movement, from biodynamic farming, the Camphill movement, or as untrained teachers or staff at Waldorf/Steiner schools. Unquestionably, there are more people who enter the movement as untrained labour than who choose an anthroposophical education and enter the movement as professionals.


f) Waldorf pupils seem to have a different style of studying

Former Waldorf pupils generally seem to have a somewhat different style of studying compared with other students. They are somewhat less instrumental and somewhat more deeply involved in their studies, i.e., their studying is based more on a personal interest in the subject than on improved job opportunities. They appear also to be less worried about exams and do not use mechanically reproductive learning methods ("learning by heart") to the same extent.


Are these vague, general formulations and statements something we simply have to accept without questioning, or does Dahlin have evidence to present for any of them? Where, in that case, is the data?


It ought to be a piece of cake for a researcher to present quantifiable results to use in a comparison between the final examination results of previous Waldorf students and those of students coming from public schools. Has this been done?


g) Regarding report 3: Waldorf schools and civic moral competency.


The report reads:


To compare the Waldorf pupils' ability to take a stand on complex social and moral issues with that of pupils from the municipal school, a questionnaire was used from a project that was part of the National Agency for Education's national evaluation in 1998.


Were no Waldorf/Steiner schools represented in the national evalution in 1998, so that a direct comparison between the Waldorf schools and the public schools could be obtained?


h) Regarding:

The first comparative study - the pupils' civic moral competency. The questionnaire was sent out during the spring term of 2003 to the teachers of social studies in the 9th and 12th grades of the participating Waldorf schools. The teachers were asked to administer the collection of questionnaires themselves.


This is hardly a satisfactory manner of collecting data and will naturally yield results we cannot consider reliable.


i) The response rate was 77% representing 325 pupils.


This is a high rate of return when participation is voluntary, but a relatively low rate considering participation was obligatory. It would not be unreasonable to question whether those collecting and administering the survey may have undertaken a deliberate selection of responses.


j) The comparison group from the National Agency for Education's evaluation in 1998 consisted of 407 pupils from the 9th grade and year III of upper secondary school from a total of 19 municipal schools.


The moral questions and matters on which students were asked to express their opinions were to a dissimilar degree present in the public debate in 1998 (when the public schools participated in the investigation) as compared to 2003 (when the Waldorf schools students participated in the same investigation). The questions were related to the flourishing of neo-Nazi environments, the possible use of adequate violent force in specific situations, the limits of free speech in a democratic society, and the bio-technological quandaries connected to the research on embryos and abortion. Public debates like these ebb and flow from one period to an other. The period when the survey was conducted will have had an impact on the students’ knowledge of this debate and the awareness of the present problem. Public knowledge about certain problems varies with current media coverage. The issue of neo-Nazism may have been a more salient feature of the public debate in 2004, as compared to 1998; thus the response of the public will be more sophisticated in 2004. Generally, awareness of different topics correlates with what is under public discussion at the time. Consequently it is a delicate matter to make claims about the level of moral awareness based on this empirical study, in particular since the surveys were carried out 5 to 6 years apart.


k) How do Waldorf/Steiner schools deal with the racist statements of Steiner himself?


l) Comments on the comparative study 2: Attitudes towards school, teachers and parents


The questionnaire was sent out to nine of the participating Waldorf schools during the spring term of 2003. The number of respondents was 196 pupils. The National Agency for Education sent out a total of 6788 questionnaires to the municipal schools and the number of respondents was 5941.


The latter yields a response rate of 87,5 %, which must be considered very high. Either the survey was obligatory, or participation must have been rewarded greatly. As for the Waldorf schools, the only specification is that of 196 student responses, but no response rate is given. Does this imply a very low response rate?

Earlier in the report (p. 9), Dahlin states that 422 students from 11 schools were included in the target group, from which 325 student responses yielded a response rate of 77 %. Here we have only 9 schools. Which schools are excluded, and why? In any case, this is either a technical weakness, or perhaps an attempt to conceal something?


m) More Waldorf pupils thought their social studies teaching was interesting and good. The comparison showed that the Waldorf pupils in the 12th grade thought that the school's social studies teaching was interesting and good to a greater extent than the municipal school pupils in the same grade. Furthermore, more Waldorf pupils in this grade thought they were good at social studies, compared with the municipal pupils.


Once again, this manner of collecting data inspires very little confidence. The responses from these questionnaires, which were distributed by the teacher at the Waldorf school, are supposed to express open criticism of the teacher, while most students will be very unwilling to deliver that.


n) What does this have to do with moral competence and maturity?


o) In the report it is asserted that fewer Waldorf/Steiner school students feel they are being bullied or unjustly treated, as compared to students in public schools. They also feel that the teachers, or other adults, quickly interfere if a student is being bullied.


This bears the sign of a commissioned work. A conspicuous point of criticism, emanating from many separate quarters over a period of several years, is the passivity of Waldorf/Steiner schools in reaction to bullying. So many individual and separate sources tell - on the Waldorf Survivors group (WASSO) - of the anthroposophical teachers’ marked passivity, when confronted with bullying occurring in the open, that it is impossible for this to be a coincidence.


Or could it be that Swedish Waldorf schools are significantly better at dealing with bullying than are their English-speaking counterparts? Another probability, which has been mentioned earlier, is that students who feel bullied at Waldorf/Steiner schools decide to leave, because their problems are not responded to and attempts are not made to solve them. These students are no longer at hand; thus their responses will not emerge from the data collection.

Or is there perhaps a fear of criticizing the passive teachers, who are the ones to collect and process the returned questionnaires?

Or do the responses, as well as the low return rate, indicate that a selection has been undertaken by the teachers?


p) A greater number of blank, ironic or destructive answers from the Waldorf pupils (in the Rosenberg test). Behind these answers there may be a certain distrust of, or rebellious attitude to, established social or political institutions.


Could it simply be that while the other questionnaires were scrutinized by the teachers, in the Rosenberg test they were not, and that this made the students feel they could respond more independently there?


From report 4: Knowledge of Swedish, English and Mathematics, and attitudes to the teaching.


q) The first two questions were investigated by having the pupils in nine of the eleven participating Waldorf schools answer parts of the questionnaires that were included in the National Agency for Education's national evaluation in 2003 (NU03). The selection of questions, in the form of a questionnaire, was sent out during the spring term of 2003 to the class teachers, who were asked to administer the collection of the questionnaires themselves. The number of Waldorf students who answered was 196.


According to the report, there are small differences in the level of factual knowledge.


Quote: Only small differences between the Waldorf pupils and the municipal school pupils in their Swedish, English and Mathematics marks.


This, too, is the same number of responding students that has been stated before (196 students). Where does this number come from? Accordingly, these replies were administered and collected by the teachers at the Waldorf/Steiner school. Thus, they were not returned anonymously, in prepaid envelopes, and as such delivered to a registration unit that would have guaranteed that the responses retained their anonymous status and were not censored.


In the report, a number of conclusions of a very ambitious character emerge.


For example:

- The Waldorf pupils were generally happier at school

- The Waldorf pupils had a more positive picture of their schoolwork

- The Waldorf pupils to a lesser extent only worked with their school subjects in order to pass the tests

- The working environment in the lessons was generally perceived as quieter and pleasanter in the Waldorf schools

- The Waldorf pupils had a more positive attitude to Mathematics

- The Waldorf pupils found Swedish a less difficult subject

- The Waldorf pupils were less sure of their ability to cope with concrete tasks


Compared to other sources - for example, the Waldorf Survivor group (WASSO) – where corresponding negative experiences of Waldorf/Steiner schools emerge, those conclusions express, at best, wishful thinking with a very weak foundation.


Dahlin also writes:


Here, however, an uncertainty in the results is created by a higher drop-out rate amongst the Waldorf pupils in group 2.


Taking into consideration the parents’ conscious decisions and strong motivation in their choice of Waldorf education for their children, this high drop-out rate deserves a lot more attention than a mere mention in passing. Why do so many drop out of Waldorf schools, despite all the positive aspects Bo Dahlin and his research team find in their investigations.