Discover Waldorf Education: ADHD, A Challenge of Our Time

(Adapted from Millennial Child, SteinerBooks, 1999)



Though widely studied and broadly medicated, ADHD remains an enigmatic disorder. Using the remarkable picture of the child developed by Rudolf Steiner we explore the nature of thinking, feeling, and willing. What lives in the young person with ADHD may serve as a revelation of the needs of today’s children.

Prosperity never before imagined, power never yet wielded by man, speed
never reached by anything but a meteor, had made the world irritable,
nervous, querulous and afraid. All New York was demanding new men, and
all the new forces, condensed into corporations, were demanding a new
type of man–a man with ten times the endurance, energy, will and mind
of the old type–for whom they were ready to pay millions on sight.
                                                       –Henry Adams,
The Education of Henry Adams (1906)

 I was alien to this slick tempo. Even the owner of the smallest
enterprise acts with alacrity. The shoeshine boy flips his polishing
rag with alacrity, the bartender serves a beer with alacrity…the soda
clerk, when serving an egg malted milk, performs like a hopped up

                                                         –Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (1964)


One of the root causes for the sea change in attitudes about
childrearing occurred even as such child-centered methodologies as the
Parent Effectiveness Training movement were at their peak of popularity
and influence. In 1968, the American Psychiatric Society published the
Second Edition of its standard reference book, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) in which the term “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood (or adolescence)” was first used, supplanting the more generalized term, “minimal brain dysfunction” or
MBD. The disorder was characterized by “overactivity, restlessness,
distractibility, and short attention span, especially in young
children…” In 1980, the DSM-III labeled the problem “attention deficit disorder” or
ADD, recognizing that there were two subtypes: ADD with hyperactivity
and ADD without hyperactivity. In 1987, the revised Third Edition,
DSM-III-R, changed the term once again, this time to “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,” or ADHD, once again reflecting the importance of hyperactivity — uncontrolled will — as a central component of the syndrome.

By the early 1990’s, schools were reporting a 10% – 20% incidence of
ADHD among students, while parents reported as high an incidence as
30%, while by the mid-90’s ADHD had become such a pervasive phenomenon
in urban schools that the New Yorker featured a
“back-to-school” cover entitled “The Three R’s” showing a blackboard on
which was written, “Readin, Ritin, Ritalin.” If the democratic “Family
Council” proposed by Dreikurs and the “Active Listening” methods used
by Ginnot and Gordon had ever been effective with “normal” children, it
was clear to child psychologists and school clinicians that such
approaches could not be of help to the ADHD child. As Larry Silver, a
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of
Medicine and an authority on ADHD notes:

the dynamics or initial cause, the family dysfunction must be
corrected. The parents must regain control. Children with ADHD must
feel that they can be controlled. These changes are essential for the
whole family. Negative control of parents is unhealthy and
unproductive. These children must learn more acceptable behavioral
patterns before they start using these negative behaviors at school,
with peers, or in the community.

…First comes the behavioral changes and then comes…awareness and insight…

you must be omnipotent. No more reasoning, bargaining, bribing,
threatening, or trying to provoke guilt. Parents make the rules.
Parents enforce the rules. Parents’ decisions are final. You must learn
that if you “step into the arena” and agree to debate or argue with
your child, you will lose…

Silver’s comment that “these changes are essential for the whole
family” is important. As clinicians have worked with families of ADHD
children — and a 30% incidence would imply that any family with three
or more children has a good chance of experiencing ADHD — they have
increasingly recognized that the clarity, authority and “omnipotence”
that the dysfunctional child craves to experience in his parents is
actually beneficial for his siblings as well.

Of course, not all child psychologists were ready to make a complete
break with the “child-centered” approach of the 60’s, and attempts were
made to help the ADHD child control his own behavior, independent of
adult guidance. “Cognitive training” was an elaborate (and expensive)
training program which sought to teach ADHD children how to cope with
difficult social situations in a less impulsive fashion. The methods
involved something like a junior P.E.T. program, with role-playing,
training in social problem-solving skills and exercises in cooperation.
Yet, after a decade of work in such programs, Howard Abikoff, M.D., one
of the founders of this approach, said that “the results [were] very
discouraging”; cognitive training “did not reduce the
children’s need for stimulant medication, nor did it result in improved
classroom behavior or in gains in academic productivity or achievement,
[and] social behavior was similarly unaffected…”

fact, Doctors Abikoff and Gitelman describe an incident in their
program which vividly illustrates this lack of improvement: “Three
youngsters had worked remarkably well on a cooperative exercise. They
left for home together in a taxi, to be brought back only minutes
later. The taxi driver refused to ride with the children because of the
fighting that had immediately erupted over who would get the two window
seats. The driver’s reported efforts to control the boys were

Let me
create a composite child to further illustrate this late-century
challenge. A seven year-old boy who has been having problems with
inattention, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and noncompliance through all
of first grade is tested and diagnosed as being an ADHD child. Although
the child’s school and the family physician will provide professional
help, the parents are advised to browse the World Wide Web on their
home computer, to see if there are any support groups that might be
able to provide some practical advice. After the child’s mother has
described her child’s at-times uncontrollable behavior, his difficulty
with the demands of schoolwork, and the stress that she and her husband
experience in the home setting, several other members of the support
group offer some advice.

Carol: Before you do anything else, look at Benjamin Feingold’s Why Your Child is Hyperactive.
He was the first M.D. to recognize that artificial colors and flavors
had a lot to do with hyperactivity. I don’t know about your boy, but my
son just lived on junk food for the first years of his life — no one
ever told me what kinds of toxins they pumped into all of that stuff —
and his developing ADHD was obviously completely connected with what he
ate. As soon as I followed Feingold’s advice it was clear how much of a
dietary problem that condition is. Of course, the medical establishment
doesn’t want to admit it, because there are a lot of powerful
corporations and chemical companies out there that could lose billions
if junk foods were banned! Feingold’s diet didn’t change everything,
though, so it helped when I learned about the work that Dr. Doris Rapp
and Dr. William Crook have done with allergies and yeast infections. It
took some time, but we eventually realized that our Ted had
sensitivities to milk and wheat. We found a good naturopath who showed
us that a modified macrobiotic diet can do a great deal more for Ted
than can be done by drugging him with Ritalin, which is just dulling
the symptoms but not touching the causes. Ted’s behavior is still a
major problem when we go on vacation, or visit relatives — then it’s
nothing but sugar, and white bread, and strawberry-flavored candies,
and he goes bananas — it can take us weeks to adjust the Yin/Yang
balance and get him on track again. But that just makes it all the more
obvious that ADHD can be handled well, and that diet is the key.

Why does everyone who praises Feingold’s work have to do so at the
expense of Ritalin? Let’s be clear about a few things: number one,
Feingold was an allergist, not a psychiatrist or a neurologist
— he had no clue about the neurological causes of ADHD. He went about
his work with the hit-or-miss methods of the allergist, had a few
successes, and rushed into print with his book. There was no research data; it was all based on his own limited experience with a small number of patients. I’m
sorry, but that’s not science, and I’m not about to make my son a
guinea pig in the on-going non-research that Feingold’s disciples

There is probably more to Feingold’s research than you realize. I’m
sure that many of his findings have been suppressed by the Medical

Not at all! The federal government funded research at several centers,
and they did dietary-crossover studies, specific-challenge studies, the
works! The results? Virtually nothing! There was no scientific basis to
his claims except for the smallest subset of children tested — 1% to 2%
— probably the same number of children whose ADHD condition could be
ascribed to the fact that their families own red cars, or live in
houses with aluminum siding! And as for the sugar-as-culprit theory,
Richard Milich of the University of Kentucky examined the effects of
sugar on 30 different aspects of child behavior and discovered that
there is “absolutely no suggestion that sugar adversely affects the
performance of hyperactive children.” When it comes to my Jimmy, I’ll
go to neurologists, the people who’ve been studying this condition for
decades. Before you put down Ritalin, remember that it has been in use
for over 30 years; it’s one of the most tested and highly monitored
medications ever developed, and it works! Do you know what Ritalin
actually does? ADHD kids, when tested, almost always show a deficiency
of norepinephrine in the brain stem area, which means that they are
chemically, physically, incapable of controlling a lot of their
behavior. A methylphenidate like Ritalin does nothing more than raise
the concentration of norepinephrine at the nerve interface, that is, it
brings that neurotransmitter up to the normal level. Doctors aren’t trying to drug
kids — they’re just helping to level the playing field, so that the
ADHD kid’s nervous system is giving him the same kind of support that a
“normal” kid receives.

If ADHD is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, then why is it a
problem that’s only been diagnosed since WW II — in fact, really, since
the 60s? I think that it had a lot more to do with the permissiveness
that became the “orthodoxy” of child psychologists and teachers, until
finally parents became hostages in their own homes. When our son Dan
was labeled ADHD by the school psychologist, it led us to examine not
only the food that we ate and the medicines that he was taking and even
the paint on our walls (some people told us that eating, or even
breathing in, lead-based paint was the cause of ADHD!) — but it also led us to examine whether we had relinquished our responsibilities as parents. Dan just knew
that a strategically-timed tantrum in a public place would get us to do
whatever he wanted, he knew our every inconsistency as a couple, he
knew how to whine and threaten, beg and hit — in short, he was the boss
of our family!

We were grateful to
discover Dr. Phelan’s “1-2-3-Magic!” method, which put us in the
driver’s seat again. He calls for a kind of “tough love”: absolute
consistency, absolute decisiveness, absolute clarity about who is the
parent and who is the child. Dan has his tasks at school, his tasks at
home, and he knows the rules in both settings. He knows what “Time Out”
means, he can see that we’re judicious — and immovable — in our rewards
and punishments, and he understands that we are in control.
What a relief for everyone! We’re no longer paralyzed by our fear that
he might not love us if we were “unfair” to him — in fact, we used to
be truly unfair to Dan’s “normal” brother and sister, who watched as
Dan got away with highway robbery. Now that we are the absolute
authorities in our home, all three of our children know the rules, the
rewards and the consequences — and they all breathe a sigh of relief.
We’ve never used Ritalin, and our diet is just plain old steak and
potatoes — but by changing the parameters of what is accepted and what
is not accepted, we’ve profoundly changed the behavior of our so-called
“ADHD” son. And, by the way, Danny’s teachers and the school
psychologist just continue marvel at his improvement over the last two

Glenn: Sounds great, but as you yourself say, you’ve changed your son’s behavior. What about the rest of him?

I’m not sure what you mean. Danny is Danny, the wonderful, mischievous
and loving child he always was. Once his behavior began to change and
the awful “Attention Deficit” onus was taken away, the real Danny
showed himself again. I guess that that’s “the rest of him.”

Well, if you want to treat behavior as though it’s a car that a person
is driving, and there’s a problem with the starter or the tires, you
fix those and the person can drive the car again. So now the car is
fixed, but what about the driver? But that’s the error of
Behaviorism, the belief that we’re some kind of “black box,” which like
a machine or at best an animal can be made to function according to
predetermined norms. But what I find astonishing about the behavioral
treatment of ADHD, as well as the chemical and nutritional theories —
and that’s still all that they are, a lot of materialistic
hypothesizing — is that they just ignore everything that psychotherapy
has come to understand about the nature of the human being in the
course of the last century. It reminds me of someone who awakens in the
middle of the night, smells smoke and looks out of every window. He
doesn’t see a fire anywhere and so he goes back to sleep, totally
oblivious to the fact that the fire is inside his house!
Behavior modification techniques “manage” symptoms, diet and medication
treatments veil the symptoms, but only long-term and sensitive
psychotherapy can begin to uncover and truly heal the causes.

Then why does just about the whole of what Carol called the “Medical
Establishment” recommend Ritalin and other medications? Another
conspiracy, perhaps?

For the same reason, that for most of this century, doctors insisted
that the only “right” way to give birth was in a hospital, and that
formulas were just as nourishing as breast milk, etc. etc. Then women
began to assert themselves and re-examine motherhood, and suddenly
doctors were saying that midwives were OK, that breastfeeding really
was better, etc. etc. Doctors never innovate — they just treat people
the way people demand to be treated.

What kind of
treatment do we want for ourselves today? A quick fix! What kind of
treatment do we want for our children when they are unhappy,
maladjusted, or behaving in a way that doesn’t win them many friends? A
double-quick fix! An instant cure! But from Freud’s time to today,
psychotherapy has always taken time. It calls for an inner
journey, even a quest on the part of the child and his family, and
quests take years to unfold. Why bother wasting all of that time (and
money!) when your child can pop a pill, or when a few mechanical
techniques will make him roll over like a Pavlovian puppy?

Carol: But what is the ultimate result of psychotherapy? It always turns out that ADHD is the parents’
fault! I have a friend whose child went through that kind of therapy,
and all that resulted was that she went into a year-long depression
about her inadequacy as a mother!

James: That “guilt-trip” can be alleviated when we clearly understand that ADHD is a physiological, not a psychological, condition. The emotional difficulties are comorbid, they are not
the cause. The leading edge neurological research shows that ADHD is
definitely hereditary in nature, but that tells us as parents that we
have transmitted something genetically through no fault of our own. What was caused chemically has to be treated chemically; it’s that simple!

But you’re all forgetting the most important and painful part of this
disorder: the interpersonal aspect. There’s been tremendous success
with ADHD kids using group therapy, social skill training, family
therapy and other psychotherapeutic modalities. Where are you going to
find the drugs or the diet to deal with all of the well-known family
dynamics surrounding the ADHD child: chronic denial, chronic anger, and
chronic guilt? If the problem is interpersonal, it has to be dealt with
person-to-person; it’s that simple!

Of course, the
dialogue of our composite group could go on quite a bit longer! If we
examine the particular approaches to which each parent ascribes, three
different lines of argument appear. Carol and James, although
diametrically opposed as to which substances cause and ameliorate ADHD, would nonetheless agree that this condition has a physical basis: “You are what you eat,”
or, “You are the substances of which your body is composed.” Diana
contends that the cause, and the treatment, are behavioral in nature.
Allow the child’s behavior to go unrestrained, and you sow the seeds
for ever worse behavior; bring discipline, form and order into the
child’s environment and the most intractable condition can be tamed.
Diana might say: “You are as you act.” For Glenn, the “inner”
dimension is most important. The ADHD child struggles to bring his
inner life into harmony with the demands of the outer world (whether he
is encountering a timed examination in school or a group of friends in
the mall) and fails to harmonize the two. Recoiling from the
consequences of his inappropriate response, he is impelled on a
spiraling course of low self-esteem and even more egregious behavior.
Glenn’s credo could be expressed as: “You are what you feel.”


Carol and James



Diet/Chemical Imbalance

Lack of authority

Disturbance of feelings

Physical Basis

Behavioral Basis

Emotional Basis

In the lowest section of this
chart, I have “reduced” the three points of view to their most basic
formulations. Since I have spent a good deal of the first section of
this book railing against reductionism, I suppose that I owe the reader
an apology, but I ask you only to bear with me a while longer. These
three formulations may appear familiar to many readers, and well they
should, for they belong to the most conventional division of the
schools of modern psychology, such as the one proposed by Theodore
Millon in his Theories of Psychopathology: the biophysical
school, the behavioral school, and the intrapsychic school. (For the
moment, I will leave out Millon’s classification of a fourth school,
the phenomenological.) With this in mind, I will expand the chart:


Carol and James



Diet/Chemical Imbalance

Lack of authority

Disturbance of feelings

Physical Basis

Behavioral Basis

Emotional Basis

Biophysical School

Behavioral School

Intrapsychic School

The sharp division along three
“schools of thought” which characterizes the discussion above is by no
means limited to the treatment of ADHD. On the contrary, there are
virtually no problems concerning children’s health, behavior,
educational achievement, moral caliber or psychological soundness whose
diagnosis and prognosis do not fall along these clearly demarcated
lines. There is a great deal that most ADHD children have in common
(including gender — the male to female ratio is often cited as 6:1),
and we can assume that a group of parents such as Carol, James, Diana,
and Glenn would all have had similar experiences with their children.
Yet as soon as they begin to think about their experiences,
each becomes entrenched in a point of view that excludes all of the
other perspectives. Certainly, each of our composite parents has his or
her share of accurate perceptions about the nature of ADHD; can it be
that only one of them is correct in his or her theories?

It is significant that the impact that ADHD has had on America’s
families and educational institutions is so profound, and the
difficulties it poses are so great, that now and then a truce must be
effected by these otherwise warring schools of thought. In spite of the
very real passions excited by parents, nutritionists, psychologists and
others convinced that one treatment holds the key to ADHD, many
clinicians have come to recognize that a combination of treatments,
tailored to the individual child and regularly reviewed, adjusted and
corrected, will yield the best results. (This comprehensive approach is
also increasingly proposed in the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s
Syndrome.) As Larry Silver writes:

treatment of ADHD must involve several approaches, including individual
and family education, individual and family counseling, the use of
appropriate behavioral management programs, and the use of appropriate

Such a
multimodal approach is needed because children and adolescents with
ADHD have multiple areas of difficulty. To help your daughter or son,
you must understand how the ADHD impacts on her or him in every aspect
of life.

This fourth
approach reflects an understanding that, in spite of the symptoms that
all ADHD children have in common, it is not enough to treat the illness
— one must also treat the individual who manifests those symptoms in
his own unique way. This eclectic method could be paralleled to the
phenomenological school of psychology, which avoids constructing
theories, and whose practitioners believe “that what happens to a person is not as relevant as to whom it happens and what it means to him/her.” With this in mind, we can expand our chart horizontally to incorporate a fourth element:


Diet/Chemical Imbalance

Lack of authority

Disturbance of feelings

Multiple causes

Physical Basis

Behavioral Basis

Emotional Basis

Individual Basis

Biophysical School

Behavioral School

Intrapsychic School

Phenomenological School

The conflicts concerning the
“right” way to treat ADHD, and their partial resolution in the
accepting attitude evinced by the “Individual Basis” or
phenomenological approach, finds a profound resonance in the image of
the human being developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925), the
philosopher and social thinker who laid the foundations for Waldorf
education. Drawing on ancient traditions, esoteric teachings, and his
own clairvoyant faculties, Steiner described the human being as an
entity possessing four “bodies,” each of which manifests itself in a
unique manner. These “bodies” should ideally function in harmony with
one another, resulting in well-integrated and balanced human beings. In
real life, however, they are often vying for dominance, overstepping
their apportioned boundaries, and their conflicts may go so far as to
appear as mental imbalance and physical illness. Except for the
“physical body,” the other “higher members” of the human entelechy are
invisible to ordinary sight. This does not mean that those of us who
are not clairvoyant must accept them on faith, or scoff at the
pretensions of those who claim to perceive “invisible bodies.” Steiner
was helpful in delineating the effects through which these
bodies make themselves known in the sensory world, the ripples and
echoes through which even ordinary perceptive faculties can be made
aware of their presence and activities.

Let us look again at the treatment modalities for ADHD. The biophysical
approach acknowledges only the physical body. Only that to which the
senses can testify really exists for the bio-physical researcher, and
he is confident that, one day, all “qualities” and intangibles, e.g.
emotions and thoughts, longings and desires, will be shown to have a
neurological basis, arising from the body’s electro-chemical
composition and amenable to chemical and electrical manipulation. As
Barbara Ingersoll writes to parents in her guide, Your Hyperactive Child,

Psychiatry has turned, for example, from emphasis on disturbances in the mind to a search for disturbances in the brain
as the source of disordered behavior and emotions. Research in the
neurosciences has produced enormous gains in our understanding of how
the brain works and how breakdowns in the brain affect the way we
think, feel and behave.

neurologists work with ADHD almost exclusively on the basis of brain
chemistry, others approaching the problem from the biophysical
standpoint look to the child’s metabolic sensitivities as a causal
factor. In this respect, the neuroscientist’s approach represents a
contraction, a focus on the internal nature of the human body, while
the nutritional/environmental clinician expands his concern to all that
which affects the child from the outside in. In both cases, the causes
are judged to be completely material, however infinitesimal the actual
material substance may be:

Feingold program involves the elimination of all artificial colors and
flavors, the preservatives BHA and BHT, and the flavor enhancer MSG.
Various other substances are also eliminated, depending on the degree
of the child’s sensitivity to them. These other substances include
salicylates and various food additives…

many cases that at first appear unsuccessful with this method of
treatment, the child is absorbing offending substances by some means
other than food intake. Irritating molecules might be inhaled, or they
might be absorbed through the skin…

This component of the human being is what Rudolf Steiner, too, termed the physical body.
At death, or through the severance of any part of that body from the
whole (the cutting of the hair, the loss of a limb) the physical body
will revert to the same chemical components as are to be found in the
“lifeless” mineral world. Hence the physical body can also be called
the “mineral body.” Indeed, even when we are alive, the physical body
is on the verge of reverting to its mineral, chemical basis. It is only
due to the presence and interwoven activity of three “higher” bodies
that the physical body remains intact and recognizably individuated.

The behavioral school
has learned the power that the “pleasure principle” has over human
behavior, and how a system of rewards and punishments can alter the way
in which a human being acts. While the biophysical researcher looks within the
human being and finds ever more minute “causes” for emotions and
behavior — from cells to chromosomes to molecules to atoms — the
behaviorist dismisses the inner world as a “black box,” and is content
to register “inputs” while altering “outputs.” What behaviorism will acknowledge concerning the possibility of “inner life” is that behavioral responses are somehow remembered
by both animals and humans; indeed, were there no memory of the reward
or punishment, behavior could not be altered in any predictable, and
thereby useful, manner. Thus the somatisized memory of an action and
its consequence leads to the learning of a new pattern of behavior:

modification is based on the idea that specific behaviors are learned
because they produce specific effects. In other words, people (and
animals) learn to do many of the things they do because of the
consequences that follow their actions. Behavior is affected most
strongly by consequences which immediately follow the behavior…

a puppy who is rewarded with a pat and a biscuit learns to come when he
is called, and a toddler learns to say “Please” if his behavior results
in a cookie.

children are treated by behaviorist methods, such matters as regular
daily rhythms (meals, bedtimes etc.), and consistent responses to their
actions are extremely important as means to reinforce desirable
“patterns” of behavior. The behaviorist is most interested in those
areas where the human being meets, or interfaces with, his

In Steiner’s model, the etheric body
stands one stage above the physical body, and responsible for
sustaining both its life and its form; Steiner also calls this member
of our being our “life body.” The etheric body bears within itself the
“memory” of our form (the “body of formative forces” is yet another
term used to describe it) and, in its interplay with our physical
nature, it carries our predisposition to health or illness. The immune
system recognized by modern medicine is one of the “effects” of the
interplay of the etheric body with the physical body. The memory of our
form gradually becomes the capacity to “re-member,” which, as the word
implies, is a mental faculty based on our physiological nature.

The intrapsychic school represents another “contraction,” returning to
the inner nature of the human being, although on a “higher” level than
that which concerns the research of the biophysical school.

many years — and even today, in some professional circles —
psychologists and psychiatrists considered psychotherapy the treatment
of choice for dealing with disordered behavior and emotions in both
children and adults…Although there are many “schools” of
psychotherapy, most traditional forms are based on the assumption that
abnormal behavior is caused by underlying psychological problems.
Psychotherapy attempts to deal with these underlying problems — the
unconscious conflicts, fears, anxieties, and fantasies — that interfere
with the patient’s ability to cope with the demands of everyday life.

contrast to the biophysical and behavioral schools, the intrapsychic
school does not treat the human being as a mixture of chemicals or as a
black box, but approaches patients as conscious beings who are endowed
with some control over their actions. Although, like the other two
approaches, the intrapsychic method recognizes that much that leads us
to act belongs to the “unconscious” part of our nature, the
psychoanalyst’s goal is to bring much that is unconscious to full
consciousness, and, in so doing, to bring the unconscious under the
control of the conscious component of the patient. The degree to which
the unconscious part of a person guides her actions is in part
dependent on the age and maturity of an individual, but it is also
determined by those experiences which formed the psyche in the
individual’s childhood. If the unconscious is merely “repressed,” it
will continue to rebel against the guidance of the conscious mind;
rather, that which is vexing in the unconscious must be recalled,
re-examined, and integrated into the conscious mind. In this approach,
the impulsiveness, restlessness and social clumsiness of the ADHD
youngster may all be signs of a misdirected stage of psychic growth now
erupting out of the unconscious, craving to be redirected by a
strengthened conscious mind.

The intrapsychic school, with its insights into human consciousness, is
most perceptive concerning those desires and drives, needs and
fantasies, that work from out of the unconscious level of our nature
and impel us into action — or, as in the case of Freud’s first patient,
“Anna O.,” freeze us into lethargy and inaction. The component that
Rudolf Steiner perceives as most active in this scenario is the astral body,
which is even more subtle in nature than the etheric body. It is this
member which is often termed the “soul” or “soul body.” Steiner also
identifies it as the body of wishes and desires. The etheric body gives
us life, but it is the astral body which gives us sentience (however
dreamlike it may be) and the capacity to move towards those objects or
images we desire. Whether the object of this desire is as simple as
food and warmth, or as grandiose as world domination, we are
experiencing the astral body in action. An important characteristic of
this body is its polarizing tendency. Whatever is astral in nature in
the human being will be twofold in nature, manifesting as love and
hatred, joy and sorrow, elation and depression, laughter and tears,
wakefulness and sleep etc. The “creative tension” of the interplay
between the conscious and unconscious poles of the human psyche
typifies the very nature of the astral body.

Although the condition of ADHD cannot be “cured” and presents
challenges which last a lifetime, many ADHD youngsters mature into
relatively “balanced” adults who appear to have integrated
personalities and the ability to fit into virtually any life situation.
In fact, the severe behavior difficulties and social problems that were
so burdensome for them as children now become positive attributes in
their personal lives and careers. The irksome restlessness of childhood
may manifest as healthy adult ambition, the child’s short attention
span and distractibility can become flexibility and cognitive mobility
in the adult, while the impulsiveness that frustrated scores of
teachers throughout his years of schooling may become a youthful vigor
and openness to change which delights friends and colleagues. In this
remarkable metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood, we see how the
unique nature of the human individuality may, under the right
circumstances, sublimate, or compensate for, or even transcend, the
seemingly intractable symptoms of a deep-seated condition.

It is this transformation over time, i.e. that which constitutes the
unique “biography” of the individuality, which most interests the
phenomenological practitioner. Larry Silver describes his experiences
over the course of time:

the past 25 years of working with individuals with ADHD and/or learning
disabilities, I have followed many of them through their childhood and
adolescence, into their young-adult life. Often, I ask them to tell me
which interventions were the most helpful for them and which were not.
I explain that I want to learn from them so that I can better help
others. The most consistent response they give me is “When you first
explained who I was.” Before this time, they saw themselves as dumb or
bad. After this time, they began to understand their disabilities, and
with this new knowledge of themselves they were able to rethink and
change their self-image.

That which allows the human being to experience his or her individual
nature is called by Rudolf Steiner the “I” or Ego. This Ego is at once
the most universal and the most individualized aspect of our being. We
can call ourselves “I,” but we can call no one else by that pronoun; it
is a name that we all share, yet it is the most personal part of our
nature. The Ego “wears” the three other bodies like so many veils,
expressing itself through all of them, yet remaining ineffable and
unique. It is this “I” which constitutes our spiritual nature, eternal
and Divine in essence.


Diet/Chemical Imbalance

Lack of authority

Disturbance of feelings

Multiple causes

Physical Basis

Behavioral Basis

Emotional Basis

Individual Basis

Biophysical School

Behavioral School

Intrapsychic School

Phenomenological School

Physical Body

Etheric Body

Astral Body


In Steiner’s world-view — which
he termed “Anthroposophy,” or “wisdom of the human being” — the whole
world is a macrocosmic reflection of the human microcosm. From this
perspective, each of the human being’s four bodies finds an echo in an
“element” of nature. The physical body is of the nature of the earth,
the etheric body is of the nature of water, the astral body is of the
nature of air and the ego is akin to fire. In terms of the “kingdoms of
nature,” we share our physical body with the mineral kingdom, our
etheric body with the plant world, and our astral body with the
animals. The ego is shared with no other kingdom on the earth; the
human being alone carries this “Divine Spark” into earthly life.

The Ego ceaselessly works upon the three “lower” bodies to spiritualize
and perfect them. Its work will eventually result in the creation of
new members of the human being. The Ego’s work upon the astral body
will lead to the creation of the Spirit Self; its work upon the etheric
body will result in the Life Spirit, and its spiritualization of the
physical body will bring about the Spirit Man. Hence the Ego stands as
the “teacher” of the bodies of the human being, raising the lower into
the higher by virtue of its eternal nature. In this respect, the
activity of the Ego is the prototype of all education.

Rudolf Steiner also spoke about the chronological nature of these four
bodies, and it is here that we find the basis for a comprehensive study
of “developmental psychology.” Although we are four-fold beings from
the moment of birth, a number of years must pass for all of the bodies
to “incorporate” and act in concert from within the human
being. From birth until age seven (or about the time of the second
dentition) our physical body is being worked upon, “from without,” by
the etheric body, and the child’s consciousness is bound up with
processes of assimilation and growth. From ages seven to fourteen, the
etheric body slowly assumes the same contours as the physical body; it
now dampens down its predominantly “organic” activity, and its forces
are metamorphosed into the newly-arising powers of memory. From
fourteen to twenty-one, the astral body becomes dominant as it is
incorporated into the adolescent and young adult. The life of desire
grows strong, and so does the life of ideals; the capacity to reason is
born in the midst of the turmoil of the life of emotions. At twenty-one
the ego is truly “born” within us. From this point on, human education
is increasingly a matter of self-education. The life-long process of
becoming “adult” and fully human now begins.

Lest these simplified descriptions seem too rigid, it should be
stressed that in the fullness of his work Rudolf Steiner approached his
picture of the four-fold human being from a multitude of perspectives
and always stressed the mobility and transformative quality of the
higher bodies of man. Only modes of thought which are in themselves
mobile can comprehend the continually metamorphosing nature of the
four-fold human being.

As we have seen, a great deal of the critical situation that we
experience at the century’s end in regard to our children has arisen
out of the “leveling” and eliminating of the differences between “the
child” and “the adult.” This homogenization of the stages of life
attained its zenith (or nadir) in Janov’s statement that “there are no
‘grown-ups,’ but it is already implicit in Freud’s conclusions about
infantile sexuality, and, as so many variations on a theme, it resounds
throughout our century, reaching something of a crescendo in mainstream
approaches to sex education in America’s grade schools. The
developmental picture provided by Rudolf Steiner, in spite of its
somewhat foreign terminology, provides a wealth of insights which can
help us answer the questions, “What is the difference between an adult
and a child?” and “What is a child?”

It is profoundly interesting to note that the most obvious outer
differences between adults and children, e.g., the baby’s helplessness,
the child’s smaller size and physical weakness, the slow development of
secondary sexual characteristics, etc. do not necessarily lead adults to conclude that there are other
differences as well. If this were so, then would parents be asking
their four year-olds what they wanted to wear? Would mothers and
fathers be carrying on hour-long conversations with their six year-olds
about whose turn it was to wash the dishes? Would schools continue to
ask eleven year-olds to write essays in which they proposed methods to
eliminate racial conflict or gender discrimination?

Rudolf Steiner’s research led him to conclude that the most profound
differences between adults and children, and even between children of
different ages, were differences in consciousness. The changes
in consciousness that accompanied the growth process from infancy,
through childhood, to adulthood (and beyond) paralleled the development
of consciousness that is found in the course of events and artistic
creations loosely categorized as “cultural history.” Steiner had been
inspired by the embryological research done by the nineteenth-century
German scientist Ernst Haeckel, who was a noted microbiologist and a
forceful proponent of Darwinian evolution. Through his meticulous
observations of the human fetus at various stages of its growth,
Haeckel had come to the hypothesis that the unborn human being had to
go through every prior stage of its biological evolution before it
could be born as a true human being. Therefore, at an early stage the
human fetus resembles an amphibian, at another stage it resembles an
unborn bird, while at still another stage it differs little from a
mammalian fetus.

Haeckel formulated this discovery into “The First Biogenetic Law”: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Although
Steiner was in basic disagreement with Haeckel’s Darwinism, he
enthusiastically adapted the Biogenetic Law, but “sublimated” it to the
level of soul and spirit. On the level of spirit, what arose from
Steiner’s work with this law was to appear as a comprehensive tableau
of the evolution of the human being and the earth. On the soul
level, Haeckel’s hypothesis would enable Rudolf Steiner to trace the
transformations in consciousness found in the progression of historical
events and in the growth and development of the individual human being.
Out of this aspect of Steiner’s work were to appear such books as Christianity and the Mysteries of Antiquity, as well as the picture of human development to which I have alluded in this chapter.

Although he explained the ontogenetic recapitulation that Haeckel had
observed in a dramatically different fashion, Steiner extended the
microbiologist’s basic hypothesis to the cultural realm. Not only must
we “lawfully” recapitulate biological phylogenesis in order to become
biologically “human” at the moment of birth; we must no less
lawfully recapitulate the historical stages of consciousness
experienced by our predecessors to become truly “human” on the soul
Since these “stages of consciousness” also parallel periods
of cultural history, the role played by education is crucial in this
developmental picture. “Mother Nature” takes care of our biological
recapitulation, making sure that we go through the myriad metamorphoses
required by our embryological development at the right time and in the
correct manner. Our cultural recapitulation is another matter; it is up
to the child’s parents and teachers to make sure that each stage of the
child’s metamorphosing consciousness is recognized and nourished, and to help make way for the next stage.

It would be fatal to take a fetus out of the womb in its third month
and begin nursing it and playing with it; babies born even one month
premature require special care and a “womblike” setting before they can
acclimatize to the conditions of earthly life. In Steiner’s view, it is
no less deleterious to the child’s soul health to pull it out of a
“younger” stage of consciousness and begin to treat it like a little
adolescent or young adult. Although infants, toddlers and
grade-schoolers share the same physical space with us, their
consciousness hearkens back to an earlier time; it is only our
insensitivity, our insistence that children “speak our language” and
act as we do, that prevents us from perceiving this difference and
compels the child to prematurely “modernize” herself.

One practice that Rudolf Steiner suggested as a means of understanding
the child’s state of consciousness and empathize with her experiences
in our world is to contemplate the differences between the states of
sleeping, dreaming and waking. When we are asleep, we are helpless,
insensate and oblivious to all that goes on around us. When awake, we
are independent, we are using our senses and we are aware of our
surroundings and often acting upon them. Few of us can make the
transition from deep sleep to complete wakefulness without a period of
transition; although we usually can recall instantly who we are, we may
not be certain about where we are, and we may resist assuming the
vertical position for a short time. Some people insist that they are
not “fully awake” until they have had their morning shower, while for
others the transition is not complete until they have finished their
first cup of coffee (or their mid-morning coffee break).

Using Steiner’s fourfold paradigm, “sleep” is characterized as the
state experienced by the human being when the physical and etheric
bodies are “present,” while the astral body and ego have “withdrawn.”
We are “awake” when the astral body and ego rejoin the two lower
members. If we compare this description to the chronological
“unfolding” of the human being over seven-year periods to which I have
alluded above (see page
we can see that the transition from infancy to adulthood is tantamount
to a twenty-one year long “awakening.” Conversely, every time we awaken
from sleep we are almost instantaneously recapitulating our own
development from baby to adult. States of consciousness and stages of
consciousness bear a richly reciprocal relationship to one another.

The state of
consciousness which bridges the polarities of sleeping and waking is
that of dreaming. The importance of the dream as a mirror of the
riddles of human life has never been lost on artists and philosophers,
and it was Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams which heralded
the birth of psychoanalysis. While “sleep” is the quintessential state
of infant consciousness and “wakefulness” is endemic to adulthood,
“dreaming” and its many variations can well characterize the nature of
childhood. With this in mind, the importance of stories, poems and
songs, which often carry something of the nature of the dream into
“real life,” cannot be underestimated as means to assist in the child’s
gradual awakening. We need only think of the comical, disjointed and
“surreal” nature of the perennially-loved Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes
or Grimms’ Fairy Tales to gain some insight into the child’s dreaming
nature. In a dream, we are ready to accept any possibility in ourselves
and our surroundings; in the classics of literature for young children,
events and beings which might disturb or outrage an adult are accepted

Modern education, by and large, is predicated on the notion that we
must “awaken” children as quickly as possible to guarantee their
“success” in later life. Little regard is given in most educational
situations today for the long period of transition between “sleep” and
“wakefulness” that the human being requires. Although child
psychologists have divided this twenty-one year period into any number
of discrete stages and observed their particular characteristics with
accuracy, schools tend to obliterate the differences between the
particular age periods and teach not only similar content, but utilize
similar methods and approaches. Just as even the most exquisite dream
is drowned almost instantly in the overwhelming deluge of sights and
sounds and smells that accompanies awakening, and rarely is recalled in
the fullness of its beauty, so the “dream of childhood” is forgotten as
the physicality of adolescence and the responsibilities of adulthood
vie for our attention. Educators working only out of their adult
wakeful consciousness are as little able to penetrate the nature of the
child as a researcher working with electrodes and oscilloscopes is able
to “perceive” the dream of the sleeper he is examining.

Another significant correlation indicated by Steiner is that of the
three “soul forces,” thinking, feeling and willing to the three stages
of consciousness. James Dobson notes:

As I’ve stated, a child’s will
is a powerful force in the human personality. It is one of the few
intellectual components which arrives full strength at the moment of

The will is
not delicate and wobbly. Even for a child in whom the spirit has been
sandbagged, there is often a will of steel, making him a threat to
himself and others as well…My point is that the will is malleable. It
can and should be molded and polished — not to make a robot of a child
for our own selfish purposes, but to give him the ability to control
his own impulses and exercise self-discipline later in life…

soul force of willing is actually strongest in infancy, when the human
being is most asleep; it is so strong that it engulfs the delicate
forces of feeling and thinking and subjugates them. The baby is all will,
but it is uncontrolled will, will born out of the instinctive need to
live and be nurtured, rather than will reined in by intentionality. Not
only is the will strongest when we are asleep; the consciousness we
possess of our activity of willing always remains at the stage
of sleep. The nerve impulses, muscular contractions and skeletal
movements that are necessary to lift a finger remain far below the
level of wakeful consciousness. Even in the most intentional movements,
e.g., the activities of a watchmaker or a surgeon, far more remains
below the threshold of consciousness than above it. When we live in our
will, we become little children again — and, as such, the Kingdom of
Heaven is potentially opened to us.

The soul force of thinking, on the other hand, remains weak in our
earliest years, gradually growing into its ascendant role as the regent
of our adult consciousness. We can think independently only when we are
awake. True thinking requires us to be fully present and fully
consciousness in relation to both the content of our thoughts and the
dynamic of their active interplay.

Stage of Life

State of Consciousness

Active Members

Active Soul Force














Steiner’s threefold picture of child development is not unique in its
general outlines. Alan Kay, for example, who is responsible for the
development of the “menu” and “window” on the Apple computer,
subsequently created a computer-based program called “Vivarium,” the
purpose of which was to teach children to think. Kay has acknowledged
his debt to Jerome Bruner, who

…divided child development into three stages of learning mentalities.
The child of four and five thinks kinesthetically by doing — actively.
Everything is done by direct actions, very tactile. Children a few
years older are dominated by the visual. Their attention moves around
the way your eyes move around on a bulletin board. The third stage is
symbolic thinking, the practicality of translating their creative ideas
into things or symbols. What seems to happen in our society is that
adults turn into basically sequential processors and shut down the
creative things that children are able to do. The Vivarium program
attempts to rotate people’s mentalities from the kinesthetic, to the
visual, to the symbolic.

spite of his insight into the changing nature of the child’s
relationship to the world, Kay is not able to perceive that the
computer, itself a product of the “symbolic thinking” stage of
understanding, may not be an appropriate learning tool for a youngster
still involved in the “kinesthetic” stage. Kay perceives the computer
“mouse” pointing device as a method to “engage your body in the
knowledge of things,” and doesn’t seem to recognize that the only
bodily parts that the mouse engages are the wrist and index finger. The
mouse provides a “symbolic” experience of movement on the computer
screen, and so draws the child prematurely into a sedentary,
“head-directed” approach to learning. Steiner’s perceptions of the
stages of child development are accompanied by a sensitive
understanding of the methods and content appropriate to each stage.
Marie Winn describes the environment that is created when computers
replace the toys of an earlier generation:

The loud whizzes, crashes and whirrs of the video-game machine “blow
the mind” [we no longer require mind to work in the will sphere!] and
create an excitement that is quite apart from the excitement generated
simply by trying to win a game. A traditional childhood game such as
marbles, on the other hand, has little built-in stimulation; the
excitement of playing is generated entirely by the players’ own
actions. And while the pace of a game of marbles is close to the
child’s natural physiological rhythms, the frenzied activities of video
games serve to “rev up” the child in an artificial way, almost in the
way a stimulant or an amphetamine might.

is no coincidence that there is a interwoven connection between such
stimulants as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and the conventional treatment
of ADHD. According to my college-age son, it is common on the campus of
his academically-demanding private college for students once diagnosed
as hyperactive to sell most of their prescribed Ritalin to classmates
who use it as an “upper” when studying for exams.

The “excitement” to which Marie Winn points is intimately connected to
the sensory-motor functions of the child. We have already discussed the
accelerated nature of life today, and the burden of “sensory overload”
that it places on any human being living in a westernized urban
environment. A helpful insight provided by Rudolf Steiner concerned the
“nourishment and education of the senses,” not merely for their own
sake, but as a foundation for all of our later learning. Let us
consider three scenarios: a grade-school child partaking in a little
pageant, a child watching a performance of the pageant, and a child
watching a videotape of the performance.

The child who takes part in the pageant has to be active in several
sensory domains. She is speaking her own part, she is aware of her
movements on the stage, she hears the lines spoken by other actors and
perceives their movements, and she has to establish a “touching,”
tactile link with the audience. Of course, she must maintain her
balance, in every sense of the word, as she performs. While all of this
is going on she is strengthening her memory by reciting her part and
she is stimulating her imaginative powers by being someone other than
she really is.

A child
in the audience is certainly less active than the child on stage, but
an observer of “live theater” has watched the eye movements and bodily
movements that reveal how strongly the imitative qualities of the young
child are affected by drama. Although the stage can alter perspectives
and offer dramatic shifts of light and darkness, the young child’s eyes
are basically witnessing activities performed by human beings at “real”
proportions of size, distance and speed; there is little stress on the
child’s sensory-motor life.

A child watching a videotaped version of the same performance will have
a qualitatively different experience. When we sit in the audience and
watch a play, we must move our eyes and heads and sometimes our whole
body in order to “take in” all the action going on around us. When the
action is reduced to the monocular vision of the camcorder (even if
several were used and edited to provide closeups alternating with
panoramic views etc.) the viewer’s eye is “fixed” onto the rectangular
dimensions of the screen. The healthy sense of sight is intimately
allied with the sense of our own body movement; fixation on any one
object of vision, especially when the object is in motion, can be
numbing or hypnotic (or, in its extreme form, cause seizures). The willing
aspect of our sense of sight (and we tend to forget how many muscles
are involved in the act of seeing) is weakened, and muscles lie unused.
Whatever information emanates from the set in the way of color, sound,
or form, it is not truly corroborated by the other senses.

When a child takes part in a play, or game, or any other activity with
others, she must adhere to certain rules of conduct in order for the
whole to grow greater than the sum of its parts – choral singing
provides a powerful example of this. Whether she likes her fellow
actors or not, whether she is happy or unhappy with her part, whether
her mood is high or low, she has agreed to take part for the sake of
the bigger picture. Although less bound up with the performance, the
audience member has also agreed to a “contract” with the players, and
will tend to quietly absorb the play’s action, laugh at its humor and
applaud its denouement, unless it is egregiously awful. The child who
watches the video is by no means bound to such a social contract. He is
free to make comments, loudly munch on snack foods, make the players
pause while he leaves the room, command them to start up again when he
returns and cut them off completely if they displease him! Not only are
his bodily senses virtually uninvolved with the performance, but his social sense
is alienated as well. Should it surprise us that an increasing number
of children suffer from ADHD — a syndrome distinguished by profound
difficulties in integrating sensory impressions, a lack of control over
motor activities, and a lack of social skills?

similar set of scenarios could be created comparing a child who learns
to play (however simply) a musical instrument with one who is asked to
sit and consciously listen to a live musical performance. In both
situations the child’s attention is directed and focused, and in both
cases several senses are integrated. Compare this to a third composite
child – who, is, alas, the one we are most likely to encounter in real
life – who goes about her daily life with the omnipresent sound of TV
or radio in the background at home, Muzak in the supermarket or
shopping mall, and, very likely, a ceaseless flow of announcements over
the P.A. system at school.

ear, which revels in the reception of music and all of the subtleties
of pitch, timbre etc. connected with that art, is, in the last
scenario, ceaselessly barraged by sound or noise, and no demands are
made upon the child’s ability to focus or even really listen. M. Scott
Peck perceives our inability to listen as a critical social and psychological malaise:

By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our
attention is by listening. We spend an enormous amount of time
listening, most of which we waste, because on the whole most of us
listen very poorly. An industrial psychologist once pointed out to me
that the amount of time we devote to teaching certain subjects to our
children in school is inversely proportional to the frequency with
which the children will make use of the subject when they grow up. Thus
a business executive will spend roughly an hour of his day reading, two
hours talking and eight hours listening. Yet in school we spend a large
amount of time teaching children how to read, a very small amount of
time teaching them how to speak, and usually no time at all teaching
them how to listen. I do not believe it would be a good thing to make
what we teach in school exactly proportional to what we do after
school, but I do think we would be wise to give our children some
instruction in the process of listening — not so that listening can be
made easy but rather that they will understand how difficult it is to
listen well. Listening well is an exercise of attention and by
necessity hard work…

ancient Athenian was considered “educated” when he could perform
gymnastic exercises, play the lyre and recite Homer by heart, i.e.
integrate his capacities of willing, feeling and thinking as well as
the diverse sensory experiences underlying them. Could ADHD and the
many as yet unlabeled syndromes that burden the Millennial Child be, in
part, the vengeance wrought by senses that have not been stimulated and
harmonized? And could the school setting provide the means for
remediating this deficiency?

Howard Gardner and his associates at Harvard’s Project Zero have
wrestled with these questions for the past two decades. The publication
of Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind in 1983 occurred during the
period of intense research on the part of the American Psychiatric
Society which resulted in the 1980 DSM-III term “ADD” and the 1987 term
“ADHD.” Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences opened up new vistas
which had the potential of revolutionizing both the academic parameters
which underlay educational testing as well as the actual classroom
practices which seemed helpless before the onslaught of
attention-deficit children. More than any other university educational
researcher in the latter part of this century, Gardner has had an
immediate and powerful impact on schools and their teachers.

the middle of our century, the most common approach to understanding
the nature of the child and the development of intelligence and
intellectual faculties has had a psychological bias. The basic
assumption underlying most of the childrearing and pedagogical methods
of the twentieth century has been that the child has a well-developed
and independent inner life, and that whatever serves to allow this
inner life an outer expression is to the good. One of Howard Gardner’s
most striking achievements has been to break free of this psychological
bias and to approach the child from a very different perspective:

for example, the twelve-year-old male Puluwat in the Caroline Islands,
who has been selected by his elders to learn how to become a master
sailor. Under the tutelage of master naviagators, he will learn to
combine knowledge of sailing, stars, and geography so as to find his
way around hundreds of islands. Consider the fifteen-year-old Iranian
youth who has committed to heart the entire Koran and mastered the
Arabic language. Now he is being sent to a holy city, to work closely
for the next several years with an ayatollah, who will prepare him to
be a teacher and religious leader. Or consider the fourteen-year-old
adolescent in Paris, who has learned how to program a computer and is
beginning to compose works of music with the aid of a synthesizer.

By utilizing a methodology that borrowed more from anthropology
than from psychology, Gardner effected a quiet revolution in mainstream
American education, one whose impact has not diminished in the fourteen
years since his book Frames of Mind first appeared. Along with
the psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, Gardner has been a central
proponent of the so-called “cognitive-contextual theories” of human

understand the significance of Gardner’s approach, we might recall the
thousands of Protestant missionaries who flourished in America in the
mid-nineteenth century. Many of them were educated in this nation’s
finest New England colleges and divinity schools (including Harvard,
Howard Gardner’s academic affiliation). They were sent forth with the
mission to save the souls of the unbaptised indigenous peoples of the
world, and to lead them onto a Christian path of salvation. Many of
these young men and women embarked on New England’s clipper ships and
made their way to the South Seas, where they proceeded to rescue and
redeem the peoples of Polynesia.

Given their educational and social background, it was only natural that
the missionaries understood that salvation of the soul was inseparable
from the customs and conventions of nineteenth-century western society.
Hence, islanders were taught that exposure of the body was sinful, that
a lack of written laws led to social chaos, and that eating whatever
food was available whenever one was hungry was anathema to God. The
wearing of layers of clothing, the codification of laws and the
introduction of modern agricultural methods all accompanied the
introduction of Christianity. Within a generation, American
missionaries had “saved the souls” of the South Sea Islanders. Within
that same generation, they had brought irreparable harm to the islands’
social fabric, disrupted the delicate balance of nature that made each
island an miniature “Garden of Eden,” and severed the succeeding
generations from their essential identity with their native culture and
mythic religion. The missionaries also inadvertently introduced
illnesses that decimated the indigenous populations and weakened their
resistance to the onslaught of mercenary and rapacious exploitation at
the hands of western business and military interests.

course, this is a chapter long-since closed. Today, missionaries study
anthropology, and learn to approach their subjects with far more tact,
and with a healthy appreciation for the culture that is already there
in the lives of indigenous peoples. They make efforts to build a bridge
between Christianity and the gods or spirits who already command the
native people’s respect and veneration, and they are at pains to
validate already-existent means of celebration and worship as
appropriate for the Christian ceremony. Even the Pope has been regaled
with celebrations of African dance performed by the faithful!

would contend, however, that the same rigid and zealous fanaticism that
informed the actions of American missionaries over a century ago lives
on, more strongly than ever. It is no longer to be found in New
England’s divinity schools, which, to their credit, have learned a
thing or two about multiculturalism. In our time, the fanatical spirit
rears its head in America’s Teachers’ Colleges and Graduate Schools of
Education. The graduates that they send forth no longer have to
journey halfway around the world to undertake their questionable deeds
of salvation; their innocent subjects are as close as the university
laboratory school, or the urban educational institution down the
street. Instead of bringing salvation to the “lost” South Sea Islanders, our new missionaries are intent on bringing education
to the “deprived” children of America. The missionaries charted a
course that was meant to lead to heaven, yet they unwittingly created a
hell on earth; today’s educators sincerely believe that they are
bringing children the skills and attitudes that they need for success –
yet why does egregious failure so often accompany their zealous efforts?

was true of their divinity school forbears in the last century, today’s
freshly-minted teacher’s college graduates are educated to be utterly
unaware that there already lives in every child a “culture”
sufficient unto itself, one that is worthy of being understood and
celebrated so that it can gradually become a foundation for the
development of the capacities needed for modern life. The failure to
understand this – a failure that has persisted for three generations –
is leading to the demoralization and devaluing of true childhood, in
the same way that the myopic vision of the New England missionaries
undid the indigenous peoples of Polynesia. If graduate schools of
education continue to undervalue and thereby undermine the “world of
childhood,” we will soon face the moral equivalent of genocide – the
extermination of the child as an special type of human being.

attempting to provide a theoretical framework for his anthropological
study of the development of cognitive activity in childhood, Gardner
had to redefine “intelligence.” Earlier theorists had gone so far as to
contend that intelligence comprises multiple abilities. But Gardner
went a step further, arguing that there is no single intelligence. In
his view, intelligences are multiple, including, at a minimum,
linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic,
interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence; subsequent research led
him to add the “naturalist” intelligence to this list. Some of these
intelligences are quite similar to the abilities proposed by the
psychometric theorists, but others are not. For example, the idea of a
musical intelligence is relatively new, as is the idea of a
bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, which encompasses the particular
faculties of athletes and dancers. Gardner derived his listing of
intelligences from a variety of sources, including studies of cognitive
processing, of brain damage, of exceptional individuals, and of
cognition across cultures. Gardner proposed that whereas most concepts
of intelligence had been ethnocentric and culturally biased, his was
universal, based upon biologic and cross-cultural data as well as upon
data derived from the cognitive performance of a wide array of people.

compared to the work of his peers in academia, Gardner’s work is
revolutionary. Underlying most cognitive approaches to intelligence is
the assumption that intelligence comprises a set of mental
representations (e.g., propositions, images) of information and a set
of processes that can operate on the mental representations. A more
intelligent person is assumed to represent information better and, in
general, to operate more quickly on these representations than does a
less intelligent person. Hence intelligence is measured in much the
same way that Taylor’s “time and motion studies” (so enthralling to the
early Twentieth Century Captains of Industry) studied efficiency in the

have sought to measure the speed of various types of thinking. Through
mathematical modeling, they divide the overall time required to perform
a task into the constituent times needed to execute each mental
process. Usually, they assume that these processes are executed
serially—one after another—and, hence, that the processing times are
additive. But some investigators allow for partially or even completely
parallel processing, in which case more than one process is assumed to
be executed at
the same time. Regardless of the type of model used, the fundamental unit of analysis is the same: a mental process acting upon a mental representation: we are still fettered to the a head-first conceptual universe.

Gardner’s vision is
far more inclusive; indeed, although he shares Gardner’s
contextual-cognitive approach, Robert Sternberg has him for labeling
“mere talents” as “intelligences.” Gardner’s own summary of the “core
components of multiple intelligences” lists the following:


Appreciation of the sounds,
rhythm, and meanings of words, sensitivity to the different functions
of language, and the capacity to use language for different purposes.


Recognition and appreciation of patterns, orderliness, and systematicity; the ability to handle long chains of reasoning.


Sensitivity to pitch, rhythm, and
timbre; an appreciation of the expressive qualities of music and
melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structures.


Capacity to perceive the visual
world accurately, to manipulate one’s initial perceptions, and to
recreate aspects of one’s initial perceptions.


Capacity to handle objects skillfully and to control one’s body motions for expressive or other purposes.


Abilities to recognize flora and
fauna and to make consequential distinctions in the natural world, and
to use these abilities productively.


Sensitivity to the thoughts,
feelings, and motivations of others, and the ability to act upon this
knowledge in responding to others.


Access to one’s own feelings, the
ability to discriminate among these feelings and to describe or draw
upon them to guide behavior.

We might imagine that, having
divided the otherwise nebulous quality of “intelligence” into eight
clear components, Howard Gardner would be at pains to examine the means
by which educators and psychologists could help us to make all of these
intelligences function harmoniously within and about us. In spite of
his liberation from the bounds of the psychometricians, Gardner on the
other hand shows an uncritical acceptance of our century’s bias towards
specialization. In his view, educators should recognize the particular
one or two intelligences with which a child is gifted and work with
those strengths, all the while recognizing which intelligences are of
special value to the society in which the child will grow and one day
assume responsibility.

Gardner’s critique of America’s obsession with the nebulous concept of
“general education” is well taken, his own approach runs the danger of
over-classification. Although most twentieth-century pedagogical
methods have certainly failed to produce true “generalists” who are at
home in any number of disciplines, this may not be due to the fact that
human beings are only capable of mastering the “domain” of one or two
intelligences in a given lifetime. As late as the early nineteenth
century, it was not considered strange for such a “man of letters” as
Goethe to be equally at home in poetry and color theory, art criticism
and botany, and to make unique contributions in each field. As Gardner
acknowledges, many of the “extraordinary minds” whom Gardner presents
as archetypes of modern genius, e.g. Virginia Wolff (intrapersonal),
Picasso (spatial), Einstein (logical-mathematical), suffered deeply
from a lack of balance in their lives.

is well aware of the reductionist trail that our century’s researchers
have blazed for anyone trying to explore the realms of “intelligence,”
or, worse yet, “creativity.” He quotes the philosopher Robert Nozick:

psychological explanation of creativity will be in terms of parts or
processes which aren’t themselves creative…The explanation of any
valuable trait, feature, or function of the self will be in terms of
some other trait, one which does not have precisely that value and
probably is not valued…so it is not surprising that the explanations
are reductionistic, presenting a picture of us as less valuable.

then goes onto say that, “nonetheless, it is a burden of the following
chapters to indicate the way in which, building upon ‘dumb’
computational capacities, we may still end up with intelligent and even
highly creative behavior.” Although he finds many points of agreement
with the developmental picture of Jean Piaget, Gardner tends to
approach the different stages of childhood with the eye of a
quantifier, not in relation to their qualities. The field research
methods favored by Gardner and his associates most often has to do with
problem-solving: the problems posed remain the same regardless of the
age of the children being tested. In his often perspicacious quest to
understand the nature of intelligence, Gardner fails to notice the
profoundly qualitative nature of the dynamic entity through whom
intelligence flows – the child.

Rudolf Steiner begins with that entity and asks: What is a child? What, indeed is childhood?
What is the difference between a “child” and an “adult” (a difference
which Janov, for one, refused to acknowledge even exists). Why can an
adult still discover “the inner child?” In Steiner’s research, the key
to all of these questions is changing consciousness. To give
some idea of the treasure trove of inspiration that may be mined from
the picture of the human being that Steiner gives, I want to explore
only one aspect of this question of the nature of childhood, and its
impact on a problem as pervasive as ADHD. In the 1960’s powerful
changes in the way in which parents related to their children were
effected by such psychologists as Ginott (Between Parent and Child), Janov (The Feeling Child), and Gordon (Parent Effectiveness Training)
and their research on the proper way in which to speak to children. Let
us examine the effect that their thoughts continue to have at the
century’s end through the lattice of Steiner’s ideas.

A basic tenet in Steiner’s developmental picture is the understanding
that whatever in our childhood acts upon us from “outside” will in
adulthood be transformed into forces that work from within. A
child who lacks the living example of a self-assured and guiding adult
will have to struggle, in later life, to attain inner assurance and
inner guidance. A youngster who is not exposed to the kind but clear
precepts of outer discipline will find it difficult to attain true
inner discipline as an adult. If we cannot steel ourselves so that we
meet the children with certainty in our will and clarity in our
intentions, we are depriving them of one of childhood’s most valuable

In the
United States, which, after all, is a nation founded on the Divine
right of freedom of choice, it is a mighty task indeed to overcome this
dogged tendency to ask children questions! Our whole culture summons
forth the interrogative voice:

you ready to wake up? Do you want to stay in bed awhile? Should we
decide what to wear today? Would you like the Chanel sweater or the
Polo sweatshirt? The Tommy Hilfinger pullover? Do you want to wear your
Guess shorts or your Calvin Klein jeans? How about the DKNY pair? Gap?
The relaxed fit with the button fly or the zipper fly? Ready for
breakfast? What would you like — Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Wheaties,
Granola? Granola with almond chunks? Granola with raisin bits?…How
about strawberries? No? Blueberries? Bananas? Do you want to sweeten it
with honey? Maple syrup? Sugar? White or brown?…Do you want milk? One
percent? Two percent? Skim? Organic? Eden Soy with minerals or Rice
Dream with calcium?…”

these are just the first two minutes of the day! — a day that moves
from question to question, with nary a word of declarative guidance on
the part of parents or other adults. When a question is asked of a
child, she assumes that you expect an answer, and I have heard many
children answer questions like the above with witty or even downright
rude answers!

domestic scenes are part of the dilemma of raising children in a
country that rightfully calls itself “The Land of the Free,” but has
lost the capacity to distinguish between the potentially independent,
“free” adult and the highly dependent and “unfree” child. It may be
asked, of course, how can we train our children to be free later in
life if we don’t give them choices in childhood? Yet, even for adults,
real freedom is a capacity which can unfold only on occasion, for life
is filled with necessities that impinge upon our freedom. When we ask a
child to make a choice, several things occur. First of all, we ask the
child to draw upon capacities for judgment that he does not yet have.
On what basis will a seven year-old make a choice? Invariably, on the
basis of sympathy and antipathy. And whence does he get this sympathy
and antipathy? From his astral body, that is, from a member of his
being that should not be “activated” until adolescence. An analogy
might prove helpful here:

We can think of the child’s astral body as “soul principal” which is
being held in a “cosmic trust fund” until such time as the youngster’s
lower members are developed enough to receive it, i.e., ages 13-15. As
is the case with a monetary trust fund in an earthly bank, it is the
trustee’s responsibility to see that the principal is not disturbed for
the apportioned period, knowing that the interest that it generates
provides sufficient funds for the beneficiary’s needs. If, however, the
trustee proves to be irresponsible, and the youngster for whom the
principal is intended gets hold of it long before he is mature enough
to make wise financial decisions, the principal will be drawn upon
prematurely. In the worst case, the entire trust will be depleted,
leaving neither interest nor principal at a time in the young person’s
life that they are most needed.

In the course of healthy development, the young child has just enough
astrality apportioned to her to sustain those organic processes
requiring movement and catabolism, and to support such soul phenomena
as the unfolding of interest in the world. And where do ADHD children have their greatest difficulties? In developing and sustaining any interest
in anything for very long! The environments that we create for our
youngest children, the way we speak to our grade schoolers, and our
inability to differentiate between what is appropriate for an adult and
not appropriate for a child – all of these phenomena eat away at astral
“interest” early in life and devour astral “principal” long before it
has ripened. By the time many “normal” young people are twelve or
thirteen they seem to have lost interest in learning, or even in life;
they have “been there, done that,” and take on a jaded, middle-aged
attitude toward their own future. The ADHD child is only an extreme
reflection of soul attitudes that will be endemic to many American
children at the century’s end.

The entire thrust of the childrearing methods developed by the leading
lights of Generations One and Two has led to the soul bankruptcy of
today’s children just as inexorably as the financial and banking
policies of the first two-thirds of the century have led to the specter
of the National Debt and the collapse of scores of savings and loan
associations in the past decade. ADHD is not merely a phenomenon that
has arisen alongside modern education and child psychology; it is the
logical end product of those erroneous pictures of the human being and
the methods arising from them. Children do not need choices; they need

When an
adult asks a young child to make a choice, the adult relinquishes the
majesty and power that should be hers by dint of experience and
acquired wisdom. In that moment, child and adult become equal; over the
course of many such moments of choice, this equality becomes habitual,
and the sweetest children gradually turn into little tyrants who wield
the power to determine the restaurants in which the family will eat,
the movies that they will see, the malls in which they will shop. We
don’t have to watch situation comedies on TV to experience the ubiquity
of such children in modern life! The children so chillingly documented
in the diaries of Thomas Gordon’s epigones (see Chapter One) were but
harbingers of things to come.

Most importantly, we should realize that a child who is given too many
choices will become an adult who has difficulty making decisions. While
choice, according to definition, “implies broadly the freedom of
choosing from a set of persons or things,” decision is defined
as “the act of reaching a conclusion or making up one’s mind,” and
also, interestingly, as “firmness of character or action;
determination.” This is not merely a semantic matter; there is a real
difference between these two acts. The power to decide, I would claim,
is built upon the ability to accept the decisions of adults in one’s
youth. (This assumes, of course, that one encounters adults who are
themselves capable of making decisions.) Childish choosing draws on
those very forces of soul and spirit that are meant to mature and
become adult decisiveness. In an article on children’s rights, Federal
Judge Mary Kohler emphasized “the right to be a child during childhood”
and emphasized that one of the impediments to the achievement of this
“inalienable” right is the “too early forcing of choices upon

It is
instructive to look at the generation that now leads America, the
postwar “baby boomers,” who were encouraged to become “a generation of
choosers.” How many among them are truly decisive people? And how many
of them are notorious for their difficulties in deciding even the
smallest matters, not to speak of making such major life decisions as,
whom should I marry (or unmarry)? what should my vocation be? what am I
going to do with the rest of my life? Or take the case of “Dr. Laura”:

person, the woman who has tapped into America’s confused superego so
successfully is an intense 49-year-old [with] the unmistakable air of
someone who is sure she’s always right. When asked if she has ever
given anyone the wrong advice, she does not hesitate: No, never. Which
may be what makes her such an irresistible figure for these ambivalent
times when, given a choice, many of us would prefer to have no choice [italics
mine]. Tell me what to do, her callers ask, and I’ll do it. I’d do the
right thing if I knew what the right thing was. And if the authority
figure is a little mean and a little harsh, if she calls your behavior
“stupid” instead of “self-defeating,” isn’t that what we all think

Dr. Laura
Schlesinger’s callers and her millions of listeners are people who very
likely had doting, progressive parents who wanted them to be happy and
gave them as many choices as possible! The effect of such
indecisiveness can be amusing, but it has its serious consequences as
well. With disturbing frequency, one guru or Master after another
passes through our country and charismatically draws a host of
followers to his community or ashram. Some of those drawn are simple,
easily-influenced souls who can barely manage their own lives. However,
the media and other arbiters of conventional wisdom are inevitably
surprised at how many disciples are intelligent, highly-educated
“professionals,” who willingly relinquish their right to make any
decisions about the rest of their lives, believing that their Master is
far better able to do so. Members of the crème de la crème of the Generation of Choosers, having arrived at mature adulthood, now search for the decisive teacher that they lacked in their childhood!

&The simplicity of life in earlier days was accompanied by a lack
of choices — which we would today find boring — but this in turn led
to a consistency of life which we today might find healing. This is no
turning back from the “freedom of choice” that we as adults expect, but
we must recognize that a pre-determined and expectable course of events
strengthens the etheric body of the child, and it is this which
provides a healthy foundation for behavioral stability and
predictability in childhood, as well as for the capacity to make
important decisions in later life.

We can encompass the child with our own certainty by creating a form
into which the child enters every day. For parents, this means
establishing a regular rhythm of bedtimes and mealtimes, a secure and
serene “time-environment” in which the child’s etheric body is free to
do its work. A young child who “decides for herself” when she is ready
for bedtime, or who refuses to go to sleep until her parents have
turned in, as well, begins to weaken her etheric forces in early
childhood. Toddlers who are free to “eat when they’re hungry,” to help
themselves at the refrigerator or, on their own, “nuke their food” at
the microwave oven may be nourishing their physical nature, but are not providing the rhythmical and social nurture that their etheric body requires.

Parents may contend that they give their children free reign in these two matters because “the child’s body knows best.” “I can’t crawl under her skin and know when she’s hungry or tired – she has to tell me!
And she knows a lot better than I do which foods she needs,” etc. In
spite of the parents’ protestations that they are leaving their
children free in their interest of their psychological and physical
health, a sensitive observer can usually judge by their “waif-like”
appearance which children have been allowed to decide their own
bedtimes and left to fend for themselves in the kitchen. Invariably,
children who are “free” to make choices about these fundamental matters
look unhealthy, have less physical stamina and a shorter attention span
than their peers and are not much inclined to cooperate in any activity
that they find antipathetic or laborious. That is to say, even at the
nursery school level, we find such children manifesting behavior that
fits the general description of ADHD. It is no wonder that Ritalin is
now being prescribed for children at an ever-younger age.

If sleeping and eating are not guided by the certainty and clarity of
their parents, even those children who come from well-to-do households
and have been “given everything” nonetheless appear to be as neglected
as a child raised by a dysfunctional inner city family. In my own work
with New York City public school children, I’ve met youngsters who came
from tragic backgrounds (a father killed or unknown, a mother heavily
addicted or in jail) who despite all of this sorrow appeared healthy
and lively. In every such situation, the child was being raised by the
grandmother, who, untouched by the theories of contemporary child
psychology, insisted on a consistent bedtime and prepared meals with
care and regularity. As the psychoanalyst Peter Neubauer has observed
of his young patients, “Children who are pushed into adult experience
do not become precociously mature. On the contrary, they cling to
childhood longer, perhaps all of their lives.”

We might turn our thoughts for a moment to Helen Keller, whose multiple
disabilities make her something of a paradigm of the behavioral
problems of our time. Helen’s handicaps led her to evince behavior that
ran the full gamut from depression to hysteria, from autism to ADHD.
And then Annie Sullivan entered Helen’s life, struggled to find the
right approach to this seemingly insoluble problem, and succeeded. In a
newspaper interview with Annie Sullivan, her interlocutor said, “You
worked miracles with Helen because you got her to love you,” to which
Annie Sullivan replied, “No; first Helen had to learn to obey me. Obedience came first, then came love.”

From a more contemporary perspective, here are the words of a mother of
two schoolchildren who needed her attention during an outbreak of lice:

realize that I love my children more for having gone through this with
them. I know that nobody else could really have taken care of them with
the same spirit that I did…And there is one more thing. I learned that
I could do something with my children to which they are totally
opposed. No amount of distraction, crying, screaming or complaining
could take me off my task; I was going to do what was necessary to take
care of them, and they were going to comply. There was no flexibility.

was a big hurdle for me, but I think that my children now have a better
sense of who’s in charge and why they need that, and perhaps they even
love me a little more for being in charge. All this, thanks to head

If what the
childraising theorists cited in the previous chapter indicate is true,
those children who are being born in the 1990s, who will be coming of
age in the next Millennium, challenge us — and are themselves
challenged — in the sphere of the will. Writers on childraising
methods such as John Rosemond and Mary Sheedy Kurcinka may provide
accurate descriptions of the behavior of these “spirited” or
“strong-willed” children, and may also suggest helpful ways of dealing
with their behavior so as to make home life harmonious (or at least
bearable!) but their writings do not help us understand why it
is particularly the will that is unfolding in children at this point in
our century. Nor are they able to articulate just what the will is,
nor, most importantly, what the relationship of human will is to what
Kurcinka vaguely (and somewhat arbitrarily) characterizes as spirit.

It is here that Waldorf education may have its greatest contribution to
make to the challenge of ADHD. By laying the foundation for their
educational methods on the principle of the whole human being, Waldorf teachers do not stop with the static concept of “multiple intelligence.” Rather, they help an intelligent multiplicity to thrive in every child in the classroom, recognizing that every
child needs to cultivate her linguistic side, her bodily-kinesthetic
side, her spatial side, etc. Indeed, we can see that part of the
genesis of ADHD lies in the stifling of too many facets of a child’s
nature so that a one-sided “intelligence” can shine at the expense of
all else. Waldorf education can not “cure” ADHD, but its theories and
its practices can serve to mitigate hyperactive tendencies in young
children, and can be an important part of the treatment of older
children faced with this challenge of our times. Some measure of the
importance of understanding the challenge may be gleaned by words
spoken by Rudolf Steiner one year after the first Waldorf school had
been opened:

earthly life, insofar as it is a product of earlier times, will pass
away — and it is an entirely vain hope to believe that the old habits
of thought and will can continue. What must arise is a new kind of
knowledge, a new kind of willing in all domains. We must familiarize
ourselves with the thought of the vanishing of a civilization; but we
must look into the human heart, into the spirit dwelling in man; we
must have faith in the heart and spirit of man in order that through
all we are able to do within the wreckage of the old civilization, new
forms may arise, forms that are truly new…

Start writing here.