A friend (whom I thank for both ideas and the title!) sent me a link to this mindblowingly stupid Spring newsletter by the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship in the UK. It’s actually shocking to see how many lies and how much deception they manage to squeeze into such a short text. Here it is [pdf], view page two: ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, or Friends in Disguise?’ Alan Swindell of the SWSF goes to the movies and watches Alice in Wonderland, he returns home, and…
But within 24 hours there I was again, repeating the whole experience, not with Johnny Depp and co. but glued to a screen, struggling to recognise what should have been familiar landmarks, caught between reality and illusion, expanding and contracting giddily and being grinned at malevolently by any number of virtual cats. The context? Down the rabbit hole of the Internet, through the looking glass of the lap-top, down into the virtual underworld of the Waldorf Critics.
Reality and illusion, mr Swindell? Might I suggest that you’re so unfamiliar with reality and so stuck in your illusions that this, and not any of the actions of waldorf critics, is what causes your confusing struggle? It’s reassuring to know that to the SWSF, former parents and students are grinning malevolently. Nothing to take seriously: only a number of virtual cats grinning malevolently.
For any parents reading this who have not yet discovered for themselves let me spell it out: our schools are not perfect. Like all schools every where we make mistakes, we fall short of our ideals, we play host to human weakness and failings, we offend and disappoint each other; in short our schools are very much part of the real world with real-life problems and shortcomings.
It appears that the SWSF is deluded enough to believe that critics of waldorf education ask for the impossible. Nobody has ever required that your schools are perfect. Only that you recognize your failings and try to correct them (which you don’t do). Nobody has ever said that you cannot make mistakes; only that you take responsibility for the mistakes you make (you don’t). Nobody ever asked of you that you be superhuman; only that you be aware of your humanness and your weaknesses, because the only way to compensate for weaknesses is through knowledge (you’re not prepared to do any of this either). Nobody says your schools should not be a part of the real world (in fact, it’s you who often claim to offer a sanctuary away from the world the rest of us call real). Nobody tells you real-life problems are not to exist; our problem with you is that you don’t own up to your problems and shortcomings, and, in fact, you go blind and deaf as soon as any problems or shortcomings are mentioned. Problems and shortcomings don’t exist in paradise, and paradise is what you’re offering to parents who are too scared to let their children live in the real world. Again, being stuck in illusion, mr Swindell, is not the best way to organize reality. When people suddenly begin to talk about that reality, you don’t understand what hit you.
Of course there are tremendous positives: our schools inspire, uplift, give sense and meaning, create community and provide an education that can transform lives for the better.
Here we go: the illusion. This is the illusion the SWSF lives in. That’s why they cannot comprehend that this does not correspond at all to the reality experienced by many of those who have been inside the waldorf world.
But once down the rabbit hole all that is forgotten.
News flash: the critics didn’t find inspiration, didn’t become uplifted, weren’t given sense and meaning, didn’t experience community and didn’t get an education that transformed our lives for the better. We haven’t forgotten these things; they weren’t part of our waldorf experience. That’s why the critics don’t promote the Steiner movement’s illusions as truth. Critics know they are illusions.
The internet has provided a forum for people to be critical and to disseminate their ideas broadly, swiftly …
How awful! People can actually speak their minds! People can actually give voice to the concerns they have over your schools!
… and without any accountability …
Just who is avoiding accountability, exactly?
Down there you can accuse anyone of anything.
Apparently. Just look at your friend Sune Nordwall. But he’s dug himself into a very deep hole indeed.
Criticism of Steiner education via the internet began in earnest some years ago in America. The Waldorf Critics web-site gave a forum for concerns, frustrations and even anger that took the American schools by surprise.
It always takes waldorf promoters by surprise. They just cannot comprehend that anyone would be unhappy with the paradise waldorf offers.
… parents and teachers supportive of Steiner education began to add their voices and there is even a web-site in the USA, Americans4Waldorf, set up specifically to counter the attacks.
That website is written and maintained by a Swede, Sune Nordwall, the master of accusing anyone of anything, mentioned above. Not by parents or teachers. It’s clear that the SWSF has listened to intently to Nordwall.
In any case it’s instructive to see, once again: criticism is rejected as ‘attacks’. That’s all we — former students and parents — are to the waldorf movement: attackers. This is the mentality of a cult who cannot abide dissent.
What I don’t understand, though, is why the SWSF neglects to mentioned the British Steiner criticism? Why don’t they reply to the articles on DC’s Improbably Science? (i — ii — iii) Are they too clever? Too… right? Hitting too close to home?
But who will you find at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party? What kind of person sits up until the early hours unpacking Steiner, anthroposophy, the curriculum, Ofsted reports on our schools, even articles like this one?
You bet. In particular articles like this one. It’s a magnificent specimen. The SWSF looks so much like a cult, it’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable, because (presumably!) they are trying not to. And this is the best they can do. It does tell us something pretty important, I think: that they are prepared to continue to treat their critics in a manner typical of a cult.
It would be unfair to generalise, except to acknowledge that in any public forum, whether on-line, in the village hall or at Hyde Park Corner you will find an uneasy alliance of recognisable types: those who have a grievance that still angers them, those who like a good shouting match, those of a more academic bent who have found an issue to contest.
Ah — people who were hurt by waldorf education, people who speak their minds about waldorf education, and people who are too clever for you to handle?
What you will find very few of, however, are those who have not already made their minds up.
I think you’re talking about one of SWSF’s conference here, mr Swindell.
At Plymouth University on the Steiner Waldorf BA we introduce our students to the critics’ web-sites …
I very much doubt that you do, unless the introduction is done with the help of Sune Nordwall’s ‘descriptions’ of the individual critics; i e, you introduce the critics only to badmouth them. Anyway, it seems mr Swindell is neglecting to mention one important thing: the Steiner courses at Plymouth Uni have been closed down, as far as I’m aware.
The students are often changed by the experience …
Not to the better, I presume.
… sometimes angry with the rhetorical style of many critics …
The students are true believers and the critics are too clever, too well-informed and too set on crushing the believers’ dearly held illusions.
… sometimes indignant at the claims being made.
Indignant, how come? Now, that’s silly — well, at least it would be if Steiner education were about education and not about spiritual beliefs.
How could it be otherwise when you hear Anthroposophy described as a cult …
This very article sure reinforces the impression that it is, indeed, a cult.
… and Steiner as a racist…
It would be a great thing if the waldorf proponents learned to recognize nuances, taught themselves some history (including the history of anthroposophy), and at least tried to take their own ideology seriously. What about reading what Steiner wrote and said? It’s not really that complicated. You’re just miffed that others do this, and have the audacity to point out his not so nice sides. These sides aren’t a huge problem, really. Denying them, well, that is a problem. It makes you look ridiculous and uninformed and like a cult who cannot bear the truth — and definitely not like a movement who should be allowed to run educational institutions. As I said, it’s not a huge problem — it’s just that you’re not allowed to lie about Steiner’s race doctrines. It’s not about whether Steiner was a ‘racist’ or not. It’s about what these teachings contain.
… or read that bullying is tolerated because it is a child’s `karma`!
Now, it’s plain stupid to try to deny this.
However, sometimes the students find themselves in agreement with some of the claims, identifying elements of the education that they also see as needing critical
interrogation. The majority, if not all, return even more committed to this style of education, the exact opposite of what the critics would expect to achieve.
Haha! Yeah, right, the Steiner leaders present the critics’ and the views of the critics. The students come out of this process believing even more fervently than before. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for this. Maybe in the research on cults?
Digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Mumsnet mean that they can reach a wider audience than ever before and in immediate response to breaking news …
Oh, the deception! Why don’t they tell their readers what happened on Mumsnet? This happened, according to a Mumsnet admin:
We still find our inbox filled with reported posts and have received a fair few threats of legal action too. Here’s the sort of mail we are getting:
“If I see her posting promotion of libel at Mumsnet once more, I won’t tell you about it, but ask Percy Bratt of Bratt and Feinsilber in Sweden to contact you in cooperation with the legal representatives of The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship in the UK and Ireland (http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/index.html), about your negligent way of allowing libel to be published at Mumsnet and the one who is the most fervent publisher of it to continue to publish at Mumsnet.” [...]
So you can see it’s all very wearing. We have no wish to engage in correspondence with Percy Bratt.
That’s how the SWSF and its collaborators engage with criticism! That’s how they worked to shut people up on Mumsnet.
… there is no doubt that any school advancing along the path toward Free School Status will become an immediate focus.
At present there is a policy of non-engagement …
Because they don’t really care. They don’t think there’s any merit to the criticism — it’s all about rejecting it and to keep the believers believing.
We monitor and respond with simple statements that direct people to appropriate web-sites.
Their own, and Sune Nordwall’s. How pathetic. It would be so horrible if people found out that there is something to what critics are saying by reading what they are actually saying. Thus the need for ‘appropriate’, i e, deceptive, websites.
This is probably experienced as dismissive and arrogant by some critics but it is not about to change …
The behaviour of waldorf proponents is generally dismissive and arrogant, and we don’t really expect it to change. This article proves there’s nothing to expect. Not from people who write things like this:
… however we are always ready to respond to defamation, personal attacks and anything that would be deemed illegal outside of the internet.
Are you threatening the critics, Alan Swindell? Are you indicating that you’ll continue to act like you did on Mumsnet? Are you going to continue to have people silenced through threats of legal action? Are you going to continue to support people, like Sune Nordwall, who handle criticism and critics in this manner? You thugs.
My own forays are always under-pinned by the belief that there is a grain of truth in all criticism, no matter how it is delivered.
No, you don’t really believe this. You’ve just spent an entire article dismissing practically all kinds of criticism, calling critics grinning cats and attackers, too academic and rhetorically cunning (these aren’t compliments in the world of waldorf), and then threatened to sue. You didn’t even have the guts to direct readers to criticism relevant to the UK.
Get down there, get the gist, get out quickly and make your school a better place.
How about trying to understand what critics are saying? How about taking it seriously? How about stopping the ‘I’ll sue you if you do what I don’t like’-silliness? It’s nothing but foolish, empty threats from a toothless cult anyway. You depend on people believing these threats — because that’s all it is, make-believe. There’s no reality behind. It’s illusion, like so much of what you have on offer.