waldorf and the temperaments

is it ever permissible that the doctrine on the four temperaments (melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric) influences education? Are teachers — waldorf trained teachers or, for that matter, other teachers — equipped with the insights necessary to apply such pseudo-psychological ‘diagnoses’ (or prejudices more accurately) to children under their care? Does anthroposophy bestow upon the teachers such (seemingly) advanced skills — or is it really a case of imagining or pretending clairvoyance?

In the discussion following another blog post, I quoted Steiner on the suffering so-called melancholics ought to endure for their own good (this is particularly nasty, in my opinion).

… in every temperament there lie two dangers of aberration, one great, one small. One danger for the young choleric is that he will never learn to control his temper as he develops into maturity. That is the small danger. The greater is that he will become foolishly single-minded. For the sanguine the lesser danger is flightiness; the greater is mania, induced by a constant stream of sensations. The small danger for the phlegmatic is apathy; the greater is stupidity, dullness. For the melancholic, insensitivity to anything other than his own personal pain is the small danger; the greater is insanity. [...] Let your treatment of all of life’s little details be an occasion for the child to appreciate what you have suffered. Sympathy with the fates of those around him furthers the melancholic’s development. Here too one must reckon with what the child has. The melancholic has a capacity for suffering, for discomfort, which is firmly rooted in his being; it cannot be disciplined out of him. However, it can be redirected. We should expose the child to legitimate external pain and suffering, so that he learns there are things other than himself that can engage his capacity for experiencing pain. This is the essential thing. We should not try to divert or amuse the melancholic, for to do so only intensifies his despondency and inner suffering; instead, he must be made to see that objective occasions for suffering exist in life. Although we mustn’t carry it too far, redirecting the child’s suffering to outside objects is what is called for. [...] Melancholics should not close their eyes to life’s pain, but rather seek it out; through compassion they redirect their suffering outward toward appropriate objects and events. (Source.)

Pappan wrote (in response to the first part of the quote above):

Now this is what I really, really LIKE about Steiner. This insight is just so cool. And very useful at that. I mean THINK about it! Just take a closer look at yourself and you cannot help but to see the acute relevance of this wisdom.

I replied:

Applying such doctrines on children is evil. There’s no way it can be done without taking chances with children’s psychological health. Waldorf teachers don’t have the relevant knowledge and education to make ‘diagnoses’ like these — thus, they should refrain from it. They do more damage than good. Whether adults find these categorizations and distinctions valid and useful in regard to their own personality or psychology, well… then that’s something different. I don’t think there’s anything horrific or shocking about what Steiner says — if it is applied as a kind of self-analysis or similar.

I don’t know how commonplace it is for waldorf teachers to speak openly about temperaments and how they use these doctrines. There are several waldorf books exclusively dealing with temperaments though, and the topic surfaces in books on waldorf education in general as well. From the critics list I collected PeteK’s perspective on it. Dividing children into groups according to physical — and supposed mental — characteristics

can be distressing for some children. And for what? Why separate children by heredity and body shape in the first place?

That teachers/schools would make such a division of children based on some perceived temperament and then have this decision displayed to all the children is, in my opinion, a cruel thing to do to children. To divide children in games using heredity and body shape as a criteria, especially in the way described above, is hurtful nonsense; it is Anthroposophy at its worst. It divides and harms children in a very ugly and thoughtless way. Frankly, if a teacher or school thinks my child is lazy, or superficial, or dictatorial, or self-pitying, they should pretty much keep it out of my child’s consciousness.

Roger links temperament to race and racism in another post. Debra wrote that

Max was determined to be a sanguine until he began complaining about Waldorf. Then he quickly became a melancholic. After discussing Max’s concerns about his education (not learning anything, feeling like he was going to be hypnotized. He really wanted to learn to read *now*). I was instructed by his teacher to just complain right back (about something to do with *me*). I was told not to respond to his complaints about school, just find something worse to complain about in my own life. Well, from where I sat, this idea seemed like a complete violation of the parent/child trust I’d spent years developing and I told his teacher as much. She responded by yelling, “I feel sorry for any child whose parents think they know what is best for their children.”

Diana, who previously worked as a teacher’s assistant in a waldorf school and also studied a shocking number of Steiner works, wrote:

The temperaments are thought to apply particularly to school-age children in the 7- to 14-year range. Earlier than that, the orthodox view is that the temperament cannot be definitively ascertained because the child under 7, whose “etheric body” has not yet been born, still “lives in” the temperament of the mother or parents. With the birth of the ether body at around age 7 or change of teeth, the child’s temperament comes into its own. Some will argue with this formulation, however, and insist that temperament can be discerned even earlier.

After the age of 14, the temperament would still predominate but the child should be integrating the four “members” (physical, etheric, astral, and Ego) and thus should be sort of “outgrowing” their original temperament. Ideally the adult is a nice balance of all four temperaments with none dominating in an observable fashion.

And:

“Temperament is connected, to a remarkable degree, with the whole life and soul of a person’s previous incarnations.” [Rudolf Steiner, DISCUSSIONS WITH TEACHERS, Foundations of Waldorf Education (Anthroposophic Press, 1997), pp. 60-61.]

Virtually every Waldorf teacher “works with” the temperaments in understanding and instructing his or her students. If temperament derives from past lives, then this makes pretty clear that anthroposophy guides the teacher’s daily interactions with the children.

Parents should be just as concerned about this sort of crackpot manner of relating to school children as by the question of “whether anthroposophy is taught,” directly or indirectly, in the Waldorf curriculum. Arguably, in the early years when “subject matter” per se is not the focus of the school day, this sort of thing is even more determinative of the child’s experience in the school.

Waldorf teachers actually use the temperament doctrines in their daily work, Diana claims: ‘I attended numerous faculty meetings where children’s temperaments were analyzed. This is so common to Waldorf that I doubt most teachers would bother denying it, or bother claiming it didn’t have occult roots.’ Roger has a section on temperaments on his website; included are a number of temperament ‘facts’ culled from a book by waldorf education guru Roy Wilkinson, for example:

Children with different temperaments have affinities for different mathematical processes and rules. By starting each child with the proper math activity for her/his temperament, a teacher can lead the child to learn all other parts of arithmetic. Cholerics have a feeling for division, sanguines for multiplication, cholerics for addition, and melancholics for subtraction.

This is what Wilkinson has to say about the melancholic children:

MELANCHOLIC: Large, bony, with heavy limbs and bowed head; slow, drooping, sliding gait; tragic, mournful eyes; makes drooping gestures; speaks haltingly, hesitatingly, leaving sentences unfinished; unfriendly, but sympathetic with fellow sufferers; likes solitary occupations; finicky about food, likes sweets; picky about clothing, dresses drably; not observant but has a good memory, especially concerning himself/herself; egocentric; interested in the past; helpful, artistic, self-sacrificing with fellow sufferers, but vindictive, fearful, easily depressed, moody, tyrannical.

The other temperament descriptions and definitions are equally appalling and prejudiced.

Ending with this humorous piece by Diana

The temperaments are based on physiological/physical differences. The basis of the theory is that personality corresponds to body type. Short, stocky, squarely built children are cholerics. Graceful, lithe, pretty children are sanguines. Overweight children are phlegmatics. Why am I having trouble calling the fourth one to mind . . . oh, yeah, pale, thin children are melancholics and always enjoy a trip to the local cemetery.

Is it even remotely possible that, in this old-fashioned and prejudicial nonsense, there’s anything valid and useful that can be successfully applied to education today? Are any teachers — waldorf or non-waldorf  — qualified to pass judgment on children based on these and similar ‘theories’ of personality characteristics? Because, it seems to me, this is a kind of mumbo-jumbo psychology — inevitably fraught with danger, since it lacks scientific basis and those repsonsible for applying it lack appropriate training in, e g, psychology. With danger, I’m thinking of possible mental health risks to the individual who is (often unwittingly and without explicit consent) subjected to this process of establishing children’s temperament and treating them accordingly — it is, after all, a method used in waldorf education.

Are there further examples of how temperament categories have been applied to individuals and influenced the treatment of them?

Most importantly, what would it take for anthroposophy/anthroposophists to abandon this temperament hypothesis? What would be required for you to accept that it is disproven? Is it even possible? Are anthroposophists even working on it? Trying to figure out how the idea could be tested and eventually — perhaps — rejected? At least, there ought to be work done in order to find out in which situation(s) it is appropriate to use the temperament teachings at all. Waldorf folks are welcome to enlighten me/us about possibly good or beneficial uses of the doctrine.

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37 comments

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by zzzooey: waldorf and the temperaments: http://wp.me/p1nCt-JM

  2. I always misjudge which topics will rile people up. Or did I ask too many questions?

  3. [...] is not as crazy as it may seem at first glance). But reasoning from karma, reincarnation and temperaments definitely occurs — and it is, even without the racial aspects, some mind-blowing stuff. No [...]

  4. Dear Zooey

    I enjoy reading your blog.

    I agree with you about the temperaments. No psychologist in his/her right mind would use such a limited system to base one’s practice on. I studied for quite a number of years in education and child & adolescent mental health. In the mental health field, the biopsychosocial model is regarded as the best and Bronfenbrenner is mentioned in every subject. I have spent the last 10 years at university having every prejudice, bias, and preconception knocked out of me, so I don’t make the mistake of putting people into little boxes.

    It does concern me when I read that students are placed in the classroom according to their assessed temperament. What? I have three children, whom I believe I know very well, and I have trouble fitting them into the ascribed temperament types. They are constantly changing and growing, regressing and growing. I would have very great concerns if a teacher tried to label, and respond to, my children according to temperament type. This concept also goes against education theory which places importance on mixed ability groups.

    I will be studying a Steiner course next year. It is something that I have been interested in for a lot of years, but I go into it with a lot of experience and knowledge and will take from it only what I can apply in the real world.

    Thank you for your blog. I appreciate your honesty and integrity.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Hakea!

    ‘I would have very great concerns if a teacher tried to label, and respond to, my children according to temperament type. ‘

    Rightly so. I suppose the problem is that waldorf teachers are, well, less than candid about this. The practice is in most cases, I guess, not described to parents, and if it is described at all, it’s not explicitly. Usually waldorf proponents try to redefine their methods in more generally acceptable terms, while the practice itself remains the same.

    The teachers place the children in the classroom, and since it is assumed — in particular in waldorf — that the teacher knows best (which s/he may do, there is a reason for having a teacher, after all, a professional), and nobody assumes there are any particular ideas underlying this placement, who would think twice about it? I don’t believe most parents would even think about asking. I mean, the kids are supposed to sit somewhere, and nobody from the outside could distinguish a random classroom placement scheme from one based on children’s temperaments anyway!

  6. [...] Zooey’s blog for more interesting discussion on this topic http://zooey.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/waldorf-and-the-temperaments/ This entry was posted in steiner education. Bookmark the permalink. ← [...]

  7. ThetisMercurio · ·

    Hakea –

    for what possible reason can any reasonably sane person want to add Steiner to their list of education/child experts? Since your blog is now linked to here you had better read this.

    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3853

    good luck.

  8. Let’s clarify something Steiner does not suggest that any child will fit neatly into any one temperament in fact most children have at least 2 that dominate and some have all. You say Waldorf teachers don’t have the relevant knowledge and education to make ‘diagnoses’ like these, I would like to ask according to who, mainstream psychology? If so what makes a psychologists education more relevant than a Waldorf trained teacher, the fact that it is mainstream and so “normal”, comfortable and familiar? Come on are you really that naive? Waldorf teachers do many years of additional study and devote much time to educating and loving children way above and beyond any other primary/secondary educators that I know of. Do the same training yourself then spend 6-8 years with one group of children teaching them and then I may have some respect for what you have to say. Small minded dissection of something you clearly don’t understand or even try to understand taken from bits and pieces of misrepresented information is the only evil I can see here.
    I am a parent of 2 Waldorf educated children and I have done the teacher training, no comments that I read here have any basis in the truth of my experience. These temperaments are used as examples of tendencies in children to help teachers understand and have compassion for the children they teach and hence to be wary not to teach them all in the same way, unlike most mainstream schools who put kids in uniforms and seek to turn out institutionalised robots who all think the same, at least that was my experience of both private and public “mainstream” schooling. Steiner fundamentally taught that children are unique and special all with their own journey. He believed that we must love and nurture them all regardless of their natural tendencies (including the ones who bully or have choleric tendencies) in order to develop balanced and loving children………………oooh that’s so evil! Would you have us all assume that a kid who bullies should be thrown out of society because there is no hope for them? If this is the “mainstream” view then no wonder crime is growing exponentially, all these perfectly normal kids are being labelled bullies and hence love is withdrawn from them, oh and surprise surprise they never grow out of it and only become worse. Yes that is so much more preferable than tolerance and compassion as a basis for society isn’t it! The fact that there may be some Waldorf teachers who don’t have the right take on his teachings does not mean that his teachings were flawed. Steiner himself rallied against the human tendency to take his teachings and turn them into a doctrine and always encouraged and challenged teachers to continually evolve and test his teachings rather than to simply preach them. My son was a “choleric” child who, I have no doubt, would have ended up as a serious bully if he had not attended a Waldorf school where his teachers lovingly accepted this part of his nature and worked to help him balance this aspect without judgement and instead focused on and encouraged all the positive aspects of this temperament, along with the others. He is now a very balanced and beautiful person with great leadership qualities and a strong compassionate heart who seeks only to help those who are less fortunate than himself. Thank goodness for Waldorf education and Rudolph Steiner for his courageous and provocative teachings in them I see much hope for the future of humanity. Unfortunately in reading your website and Blogs it leads me only to despair and worry for our future. I found your site with excitement and interest thinking there would be some healthy debate and reflection on a great mans work but sadly all I find is so many small and closed minds so quick to judge what they don’t understand, too concerned with being seen as wise and intellectual and not concerned enough with improving the nature of our world. As a manager I say to my staff “come to me with a solution not just the problem” I say the same to you. If you know a better way then go out there and test it, teach it and promote it, then change the world with it for the better, I would be the first to cheer you on if you did. Until then please stop bagging those who do genuinely and lovingly put themselves on the line opening themselves to this kind of ridicule in the hope and belief that there is a better way. Of course Waldorf teachers are still human and flawed and hence make mistakes (show me a teacher or person who isn’t) it is for this reason they need our tolerance and support for the great and important work they are doing. One of the first things I learned in Steiner teaching training is that as a teacher you are always growing and learning, the child is educating you while you educate them. Even the teachers are accepted for their whole selves and not just their good side. From my experience the biggest issue in Steiner education is the uninformed parents who send their kids because it is alternative or trendy but have no true understanding of the nature of the education model, they then proceed to judge and challenge the very essence of this education model expecting teachers to change it because it doesn’t suit them. This leads to enormous stress on the teachers and the families of children who do truly embrace his teachings and only distracts from the work they are doing and there are a lot of them. If you don’t like it or understand it then don’t choose it, but let that not be a reason to tear it down and make it wrong.

  9. Yvette, you seem uniquely qualified to explain how you use the four temperaments in pedagogical practice. Can you give an example of when it was useful? What did you do and why?

  10. Yvette succumbs to the prime temptation for most people who post anonymously on the internet – she has a rant, in which she says quite a lot of uninformed and spiteful things including, “.Small minded dissection of something you clearly don’t understand or even try to understand taken from bits and pieces of misrepresented information is the only evil I can see here.”
    and
    “I found your site with excitement and interest thinking there would be some healthy debate and reflection on a great mans work but sadly all I find is so many small and closed minds so quick to judge what they don’t understand, too concerned with being seen as wise and intellectual and not concerned enough with improving the nature of our world.”

    She may not be very familiar with the Ethereal Kiosk or she would know that what she says is not true.

    To give but one example, the recent debate on, ‘can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully?’ contains some of the most balanced discussion of this topic that I have encountered anywhere.
    Alicia herself, and some of the other people who post on the blog ARE well informed, they have read the lectures and books. And some of them are speaking from bitter experience of how Steiner’s teachings, interpreted in an inhumane way have led to suffering for both pupils and parents in Steiner Schools.

    What I don’t find in the Kiosk is any reasoned contribution from any public body or person who represents Steiner education, only the occasional rant or dishonest intervention from someone like Sune Nordwall.

    Yvette has clearly made it her business to read some Steiner, perhaps she can answer Ulf’s perfectly reasonable question above or explain in a reasonable way how Steiner schools do NOT in fact allow the victims of bullying to suffer while they are ‘supporting’ the bullies. What sort of protocols, monitoring systems, guidance etc,. are routinely in place?

  11. Each time I read about how Waldorf teachers ‘love’ and ‘care for’ the children so much, as described by Yvette,and then in the same breath hear how they are categorised and assessed using such bizarre (unprofessional) values, it makes me more worried.
    In mainstream teacher training we learn how to assess, teach and nurture children according to accountable methods which are completely transparent and comprehensible by all parents and other professionals.
    When a child starts at a Waldorf school the parents should be present when the child is assessed according to temperament, all reasons discussed openly, then everyone would know where they stood, as in a mainstream school.
    If the teachers feel parents are not qualified to contribute to the discussion, and therefore should not be present, this should be explained also (along with the reasons, of course).
    The thought of someone(who may not even be a qualified teacher and is not even assessed themselves as one would expect) using dreamt up methods to judge my child on his or her appearance sickens me.
    There seems to be so much secrecy involved in Waldorf, and when you see how the schools oprerate, it is not surprising.
    The response to critics is always ‘if you don’t like the methods, or are not a spiritualist, it is not for you.’ No, but people need to know from the outset.
    ,

  12. Thank you falk and good questions by you both, Ulf and falk.

    As anything I could possibly write would probably decrease the chance of Yvette answering, and I think it would be very good if she cared to do that, I will only say two things:

    1) ‘no comments that I read here have any basis in the truth of my experience.’ — that’s unsurprising since none of them were based in the ‘truth’ of your personal experience, until you came along!

    2) ‘If you don’t like it or understand it then don’t choose it’ — What do you think about those children who didn’t get to choose? Whose education was wrecked because their parents made a bad decision for them, in some (or even many) cases based upon desinformation from the school and the movement?

  13. Helen — ‘In mainstream teacher training we learn how to assess, teach and nurture children according to accountable methods which are completely transparent and comprehensible by all parents and other professionals.’

    This is a huge asset even if the methods aren’t perfect or everybody happy with them. At least everybody can find out what is going on and question it.

  14. Yes Alicia, and i accept the methods are not perfect.
    When we are dealing with children, we have a duty to be open and transparent. They have a right to be dealt with fairly and teachers are protected too, by working according to acknowledged standards.
    If something goes wrong,this gives everyone an opportunity to look back and try to learn from mistakes and make improvements.

  15. I am one of the people of ‘small and closed mind’ who are ‘quick to judge what they don’t understand’. since I have not made a study of Rudolf Steiner’s work.
    I am not and never will be a spiritualist or any other kind of religious nutcase.
    But I am concerned about education and where tax- payers money goes, so I think this does give me a right to comment on Waldorf and anthroposophic medecine, both of which are being carried out in my town at tax-payers expense.
    Once people are caught up in a cult there is a tendency to forget how weird it all looks to those on the outside, and start to use all sorts of arguments to justify their practices, so I consider it my duty to remind them

  16. Absolutely Helen. What anthroposophists and waldorf proponents do affect other people; that alone is reason. It affects children, parents, citizens. To leave the discussion to those who are (still) committed to the worldview in question would be a very bad idea. It’s not just about them. And it makes me rather angry when people say, well, if you don’t like it, why do you comment (implicitly — why do you think you have the right?)? I’m also very suspicious of a movement behaving like that. A movement that runs schools (in particular on other people’s expense, and it is always like that, whether they’re financed by tax-payers or parents) should always be curious as to why parents and students and sometimes former staff are discontented. Most people who are critical of waldorf education (or anthroposophy) are not ‘small and close minded’ and ‘quick to judge what they don’t understand’ — often they speak from both personal experience and theoretical knowledge. Or they’re trying to learn more. Doesn’t mean they can’t be mistaken about things — but a discussion can cure such mistakes. (For example, one good start of such a discussion would be if Yvette took the chance to respond to Ulf’s question! Supposedly, her perspective is different than the ones already heard, and hers is presumably convincing to her — but from her one comment so far, I fail to be convinced. Steiner makes more sense to me.)

  17. Like most breathless, erratically punctuated rants, Yvette’s has a few errors, for instance this:

    “Waldorf teachers do many years of additional study and devote much time to educating and loving children way above and beyond any other primary/secondary educators that I know of.”

    No, Waldorf teachers don’t do “many years additional study” compared to mainstream teachers. Not correct.

    “My son was a ‘choleric’ child who, I have no doubt, would have ended up as a serious bully if he had not attended a Waldorf school where his teachers lovingly accepted this part of his nature and worked to help him balance this aspect without judgement and instead focused on and encouraged all the positive aspects of this temperament, along with the others. He is now a very balanced and beautiful person with great leadership qualities and a strong compassionate heart who seeks only to help those who are less fortunate than himself.”

    You do realize you’re a little scary?

    Just go have another little tip of that koolaid, you’ll feel better.

  18. The usual irony: the commenter who is outraged that the people she is talking to supposedly haven’t studied much Steiner … thereby revealing that can’t have actually read the blog she’s commenting on.

  19. ‘no comments that I read here have any basis in the truth of my experience’

    LOL. Wow, missed that. That’s a great quote – really sums up the self-involved world-view of such people.

    Gosh Yvette – could it be your experience is not reflected here because you don’t write this blog, Alicia does?

  20. One might even add that it’s all a bit close-minded and judgmental. Both when it comes to other (non-waldorf) teachers and to the people who comment here. But anyway.

    I’m quite unimpressed by the story about her son. Many parents have quite unrealistic notions about their children, regardless. Almost everyone’s child is fantastic, beautiful, the most successful, the most compassionate — at least I’ve heard it way too often to take it seriously. I’ve heard things like that said about people who show none of these qualities. I can’t evaluate what’s the case here, just note that I’m not impressed. (One curious thing: I have noted, it may be prejudice, that americans can be quite extreme when taking to hyperboles describing their children. Worse, in my opinion, than the average european. When you see an american describe their child, for example on tv, you often get the impression that the child is Einstein and Jesus combined.)

    Not because I’m not for helping kids like that. I just doubt that waldorf is highly capable of it. I also don’t think that help should come at the cost of other children who happen to cross the path of the ‘choleric’ whose nature waldorf teachers ‘lovingly accept’. This loving acceptance, it seems to me, might involve ignoring the risks to other children.

  21. Diana — I agree, it’s a great quote!

  22. If his mother says she has “no doubt” he was en route to becoming a bully, I’d like to hear from some of the other kids this boy interacted with, while the teacher was lovingly accepting and balancing everything.

  23. Interestingly, when looking back on the post itself, it quotes several anthroposophist (at least three, incl Steiner). One of them, Wilkinson, who had this to say about the melancholic:

    ‘MELANCHOLIC: Large, bony, with heavy limbs and bowed head; slow, drooping, sliding gait; tragic, mournful eyes; makes drooping gestures; speaks haltingly, hesitatingly, leaving sentences unfinished; unfriendly, but sympathetic with fellow sufferers; likes solitary occupations; finicky about food, likes sweets; picky about clothing, dresses drably; not observant but has a good memory, especially concerning himself/herself; egocentric; interested in the past; helpful, artistic, self-sacrificing with fellow sufferers, but vindictive, fearful, easily depressed, moody, tyrannical.’

    I wonder if assigning a child the melancholic temperament (as the dominant one) can’t be, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The teachers will start to see certain characteristics in the child. The teachers may even — unintentionally — reinforce these characteristics. Or perhaps even allow other children to discipline the child for certain traits. I remember reading somewhere that for the melancholic child to experience, be confronted with, more ‘actual’ suffering might be a good thing for that type of child.

  24. Yvette: “From my experience the biggest issue in Steiner education is the uninformed parents who send their kids because it is alternative or trendy but have no true understanding of the nature of the education model”

    Absolutely. Totally agree. But do you agree that the schools also have a responsibility to ensure that parents make an informed decision? That this would go a long way to avoiding the sorts of problems you describe? Why do they so rarely mention the “very essence of this education model” in the promotional material and the open days? I suspect it is because most parents would run a mile.

    “This leads to enormous stress on the teachers and the families of children who do truly embrace his teachings”

    Perhaps, but surely the biggest loser in these situations is the poor child stuck in the middle?

    We were lucky enough to avoid this happening to ourselves partially due to the well informed and good natured discussions here on Alicia’s blog.

  25. Actually, also children of ‘informed’ parents, even children of anthroposophists, get stuck in the middle when they can’t cope with waldorf (or don’t get the education they wanted/needed/deserved). And in an even worse way because their parents are even less likely to change their minds.

    An other impression I have is that anthroposophy is more hidden away today than it was 30 years ago, and even then parents knew too little (in particular about the waldorf consequences of beliefs in temperaments, karma, and so forth). Nobody is proud of Rudolf Steiner anymore. That’s a pity.

  26. Unfortunately I can’t move comments, so I have to copy-paste. Ulf intended to post this comment (http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/can-a-childs-karma-or-destiny-be-that-of-a-victim-or-bully/#comment-14933) on this thread:

    Ulf Ärnström PERMALINK
    March 20, 2012 10:22 am
    Diagnosing people is a risky business. After working as a psychologist for many years I know how provocative that can be. Even “children observations” sometimes upsets people. I think it is wise to be wary of theories which significantly change how you perceive others. And I think it is really important that parents are informed of the basis of how such things are applied and what consequences different outcomes will have for their children.
    So far, all waldorf practices I have come across have proved to have some occult and esoteric meaning, not immediately apparent to outsiders. Does anyone know what the temperaments mean in a spiritual science context?
    Heiner Ullrich writes in a UNESCO report:
    “From a belief in reincarnation stems the image of education as an aid to incarnation and spiritual awakening—the educator becomes a priest and a leader of people’s souls. The theory of the four temperaments leads on to the educational task of harmonization—the educator then being understood as a master of the healing art.”
    A teacher as a master healer? Is that really a good idea? Although psychologists and anthroposophists use words as “temperament” and “personality” in different ways, most psychologists would probably not try to mess with someone’s temperament or personality. It could be seen as futile brainwashing. Helping someone with e.g. “anger management” is a different matter.
    If serious healing and “harmonizing of temperaments” is going on in Waldorf schools, it should be monitored by the health authorities. If applied to “consenting adults” I have no problems with this type of activities, but in an educational context it is a much more serious matter.

  27. Diana commented on my comment above on the bullying thread. I’ll quote:

    Excellent point Ulf, re: regulation by health authorities. Of course they already think they’re health authorities themselves.

    Just quickly, the temperaments are each associated with one of the four “members” of the human – in melancholics, the physical body predominates; in phlegmatics, the etheric; in sanguines, the astral; and in cholerics, the “I.” (Which may explain why angry children, a.k.a. cholerics, are not reined in better; they may be more spiritually advanced. There are supposed to be “so many” cholerics in the Waldorf schools these days because humanity overall is supposed to be “working on the ‘I’.”)

    Thanks a lot, Diana! I knew it ;-) I prefer just common sense and ordinary empathy any day to this system, which in my mind, just confuses a normal, healthy response to what children actually do.

    And yes, claims to be a health authority should be questioned.

  28. Here’s a peek at how the temperaments may be applied in Waldorf – from master Waldorf teacher Rene Querido:

    “If you put on a play, you should cast the characters according to the temperaments of your students. You might, for example, ask your cholerics to play Julius Caesar, and you might cast your sanguines as the messengers, since they would enjoy running in and out with the news. The melancholics love philosophical roles. … The phlegmatics, on the other hand, like the parts where they can sit and think, removed from the central action of the play.” (From “Waldorf Education – A Family Guide” – p. 65-66 The Role of Temperament in Understanding the Child by Rene Querido)

    Optimally, Waldorf teachers would apply their notions of the temperaments to EVERY activity with the children. To me, this says the Waldorf teacher is reinforcing the temperament. If someone needs to run to the office… the Waldorf teacher will send the sanguine child. The phlegmatic (overweight) child is happier just to sit there (according to Waldorf teacher thinking).

  29. “You say Waldorf teachers don’t have the relevant knowledge and education to make ‘diagnoses’ like these, I would like to ask according to who, mainstream psychology?”

    Along with the temperaments, Waldorf teachers use criteria like “small-headed” and “large-headed” to differentiate children. Steiner said this was valid until age 17 or 18. Below, the school doctor complains that he can’t distinguish a “small-headed” child from a “large-headed” child. Steiner immediately blows off his question:

    The school doctor: It is difficult to differentiate between large- and
    small-headed children.

    Dr. Steiner: You will need to go more thoroughly into the reality
    of it. So many things are hidden. It sometimes happens that these
    things appear later with one child or another.
    I would now like to hear about the first grade. Are the children
    taking it up? We need to follow the psychology of this first grade.
    Every class has its own individuality. These two first grade classes
    are very interesting groups.

    http://digitalseance.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/faculty_meetings_1_2.pdf pp 633-634

  30. Speaking of Rene Querido, I found this old post: http://zooey.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/voices-on-temperaments/

    Ulf wrote: ‘A teacher as a master healer? Is that really a good idea?’

    I think, no. It’s a risky business. What they do, in this process, might affect children’s mental health in a manner that ordinary education doesn’t do. (Of course, if you share the beliefs of anthroposophists, you would think that ordinary education does this too. That it can be harmful in a number of ways. Basically, they see the task of education as something much bigger than… education.)

    ‘If serious healing and “harmonizing of temperaments” is going on in Waldorf schools, it should be monitored by the health authorities. If applied to “consenting adults” I have no problems with this type of activities, but in an educational context it is a much more serious matter.’

    I agree. I’m afraid they don’t see it that way though. Things like this — eg, taking into account and dealing with temperaments — is supposedly an intrinsical element of good education. And education — if you have this perspective on it — is ‘health care’, spiritual health care. It’s so self-evident within anthroposophy that I don’t think there’s any questioning it or any realization that if this is what’s going on then they’re really doing something that should be monitored better. Parents should be informed, health authorities should know, there should be full documentation, and so forth. The boundaries between what’s ok and what’s not ok become a bit hazy in this area, I suspect. The teachers are going to influence the children, even their personalities, it’s more a question of whether it’s done in an acceptable manner for acceptable reasons. Even an ordinary teacher would have to curb ‘choleric’ — to borrow that concept — tendencies if they interfere too much. Or get the ‘phlegmatic’ to be less ‘phlegmatic’ in order to achieve something.

  31. Supposedly, children are seated according to temperaments in the classroom and they can even be taught things differently according to their temperament. How the latter works, in reality, I don’t know, since everything that is taught is simply taught through the teacher’s writing on the black-board the children copying it. At least in the academic subjects. But the practical ones are basically the same: the teacher does whatever it is the children are then to do, and the children try to copy it.

  32. First Day of Spring · ·

    Let’s clarify something Steiner does not suggest that any child will fit neatly into any one temperament in fact most children have at least 2 that dominate and some have all.
    Do you explain to propective “uninformed” parents that you’ll be teaching their children based around the 4 temperaments?
    You say Waldorf teachers don’t have the relevant knowledge and education to make ‘diagnoses’ like these, I would like to ask according to who, mainstream psychology? If so what makes a psychologists education more relevant than a Waldorf trained teacher, the fact that it is mainstream and so “normal”, comfortable and familiar?
    Erm, because they have the necessary qualifications. I seriously doubt that it qualifies waldorf trained teachers to be educational psychologists as well.
    Come on are you really that naive?
    No but you are.
    Waldorf teachers do many years of additional study and devote much time to educating and loving children way above and beyond any other primary/secondary educators that I know of.
    Really, do you know that for a fact? Can you prove it?
    Do the same training yourself then spend 6-8 years with one group of children teaching them and then I may have some respect for what you have to say.
    That one sentence explains a lot and why our children struggled to differentiate between respect and disrepect. Are you really teaching children? Do you know how to gain respect?
    Small minded dissection of something you clearly don’t understand or even try to understand taken from bits and pieces of misrepresented information is the only evil I can see here.
    What don’t we understand?

  33. First Day of Spring · ·

    I am a parent of 2 Waldorf educated children and I have done the teacher training, no comments that I read here have any basis in the truth of my experience.
    I was a parent too and didn’t do the teacher training – perhaps that’s where it went wrong for us :/ What are you trying to say here?
    These temperaments are used as examples of tendencies in children to help teachers understand and have compassion for the children they teach and hence to be wary not to teach them all in the same way, unlike most mainstream schools who put kids in uniforms and seek to turn out institutionalised robots who all think the same, at least that was my experience of both private and public “mainstream” schooling.
    Utter carp. Do you really tell the parents this? No don’t bother to answer it because I know that it happens.
    My experience is the opposite by the way and it’s quite frightening to read that you really, truely believe that mainstream schooling churn out robots who all think alike. Remind us all about the reasons behind the wet on wet paintings again and why they all look the same?
    Steiner fundamentally taught that children are unique and special all with their own journey.
    I don’t think that is unique to steiner.
    He believed that we must love and nurture them all regardless of their natural tendencies (including the ones who bully or have choleric tendencies) in order to develop balanced and loving children………………oooh that’s so evil!
    Yes I can vouch for that. The bully ruled!
    Would you have us all assume that a kid who bullies should be thrown out of society because there is no hope for them?
    No I expect them to be brought into line be it waldorf or mainsteam. I expect the bully to face the consequences of their actions and not the other way round.
    If this is the “mainstream” view then no wonder crime is growing exponentially, all these perfectly normal kids are being labelled bullies and hence love is withdrawn from them, oh and surprise surprise they never grow out of it and only become worse.Yes that is so much more preferable than tolerance and compassion as a basis for society isn’t it!
    Strawman. I thought you said you had experience of both public and private?
    The fact that there may be some Waldorf teachers who don’t have the right take on his teachings does not mean that his teachings were flawed. Steiner himself rallied against the human tendency to take his teachings and turn them into a doctrine and always encouraged and challenged teachers to continually evolve and test his teachings rather than to simply preach them.
    Can you give us a couple of examples please.
    My son was a “choleric” child who, I have no doubt, would have ended up as a serious bully if he had not attended a Waldorf school where his teachers lovingly accepted this part of his nature and worked to help him balance this aspect without judgement and instead focused on and encouraged all the positive aspects of this temperament, along with the others. He is now a very balanced and beautiful person with great leadership qualities and a strong compassionate heart who seeks only to help those who are less fortunate than himself.
    How very nice, I’m glad it worked for you. You actually have proved that this was a problem for us and no doubt countless others.

  34. First Day of Spring · ·

    Thank goodness for Waldorf education and Rudolph Steiner for his courageous and provocative teachings in them I see much hope for the future of humanity.
    Your opinion. Unfortunately in reading your website and Blogs it leads me only to despair and worry for our future.
    Oh I am sorry that you fear for our future based on a blog. Are gnomes part of the future too?
    I found your site with excitement and interest thinking there would be some healthy debate and reflection on a great mans work but sadly all I find is so many small and closed minds so quick to judge what they don’t understand, too concerned with being seen as wise and intellectual and not concerned enough with improving the nature of our world.
    It is healthy debate.
    As a manager I say to my staff “come to me with a solution not just the problem” I say the same to you.
    Shame that sentiment isn’t promoted in the system then.
    If you know a better way then go out there and test it, teach it and promote it, then change the world with it for the better, I would be the first to cheer you on if you did. Until then please stop bagging those who do genuinely and lovingly put themselves on the line opening themselves to this kind of ridicule in the hope and belief that there is a better way.
    Waldorf is not the way forward because you are not honest about the education.
    Of course Waldorf teachers are still human and flawed and hence make mistakes (show me a teacher or person who isn’t) it is for this reason they need our tolerance and support for the great and important work they are doing.
    Too right they are human and flawed – thank goodness you accept that. It’s just a great shame that they made huge mistakes at my children’s expense and probably other children that you don’t know about.
    Yvette, why should I tolerate and support a teacher who chooses ‘not to listen or see’? Why should I continue to tolerate and support an education system that isn’t honest? Are you saying that until I am informed I will gain the respect of the teacher and ’til then ‘effing’ well tolerate the ‘flawed’ teacher cos it’s not their fault?
    Can you also please explain what you mean by “great” and “important” work.
    One of the first things I learned in Steiner teaching training is that as a teacher you are always growing and learning, the child is educating you while you educate them.
    Oh dear, this is not unique to waldorf.
    Even the teachers are accepted for their whole selves and not just their good side.
    I think you have an unbalanced fairy tale view of what is reality here. Not all of the parents and children accept the teachers for their ‘whole selves.’ If you think that then you are seriously deluded and in all honesty shouldn’t be teaching children.
    From my experience the biggest issue in Steiner education is the uninformed parents who send their kids because it is alternative or trendy but have no true understanding of the nature of the education model, they then proceed to judge and challenge the very essence of this education model expecting teachers to change it because it doesn’t suit them.
    But you said earlier that the point is to challenge the system and to evolve it ….oh never mind……
    This leads to enormous stress on the teachers and the families of children who do truly embrace his teachings and only distracts from the work they are doing and there are a lot of them. If you don’t like it or understand it then don’t choose it, but let that not be a reason to tear it down and make it wrong.
    Yvette, why do you, as an experienced teacher, accept uninformed parents into the school?
    Why do you put their children through this when you know the outcome?
    Why are you blaming the parents because of your lack of transparency?
    Do you not see what you have written? This is one of the many point’s of this BLOG!
    What about this for a solution to help you create that idylic future you dream about.
    How about YOU to take responsibilty and practise what you preach; get “rallying against those human tendencies of taking steiner’s teachings and turning them into doctrines”. Start ‘evolving’ instead of revolving.
    BE THE FIRST to be honest and open about the full education system.
    Problem sorted!

  35. this is all extraordinary.

  36. I’ll return later (thanks for the comments ‘First day…’!) but reading an article this morning made me think of what Ulf wrote:

    ‘Diagnosing people is a risky business. After working as a psychologist for many years I know how provocative that can be. Even “children observations” sometimes upsets people. I think it is wise to be wary of theories which significantly change how you perceive others.’

    Here’s the article:
    http://www.dagsavisen.no/samfunn/-barnehager-stempler-friske-unger/

    (Sorry, it’s in norwegian!)

  37. First Day: many good questions to Yvette and valid objections to her claims. I still hope she returns to respond!

    What you wrote about this quote from Yvette

    ‘unlike most mainstream schools who put kids in uniforms and seek to turn out institutionalised robots’

    I agree with. The mainstream school I went to was much less prone to seeking to turn children into ‘institutionalised robots’. In my opinion, if you want independent thinking and critical thinking, waldorf is not the place. (Schools in Sweden don’t put children in uniforms. I mean physical uniforms.)

    ‘Oh I am sorry that you fear for our future based on a blog. Are gnomes part of the future too?’

    Oh but the gnomes don’t fear…! They are my friends! Anyway — it’s an utterly ridiculous notion to fear the future because arguments and (some negative) opinions are published on a blog. I would say the opposite — the day things are not questioned, discussed, debated and disagreed on, then we should really fear the future. Not before.

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