perhaps not entirely honest (about bristol steiner free school)

One of the prospective Steiner free schools, Bristol Steiner Free School, offers this presentation of Steiner education. To begin with, they neglect to present Steiner himself in an honest way which would shed light on who he was and what he accomplished not as an academic but as a founder and leader of an esoteric movement.

The school boasts about ‘joy in learning’ and ‘experienc[ing] the richness of childhood’; one can argue that these are misleading claims, or, in any case, that waldorf education does not set itself apart in this regard. But I will focus on a few other aspects of the presentation. This is a particularly bold claim:

The Steiner curriculum is a flexible and adaptable set of pedagogical guidelines.

For a type of education that has looked pretty much the same for 90 years, that shuns development and new ideas, that avoids to bring in anything modern (including technological aids), the statement would be surprising, were it entirely honest. An education which, many decades later, diligently follows the advice and ‘indications’ presented by its founder, Rudolf Steiner, the ideas about child development put forth by anthroposophy (more or less considered immutable truths, as far as education is concerned; at least, so-called spiritual science is not doing anything much to improve on or modify these ideas) and is ultimately governed by the anthroposophical movement (which, on the whole, has not proven itself to be particularly flexible and adaptable). Moreover, whatever the Bristol Steiner Free School claims, there’s not much room in waldorf education for flexibility and adaptability concerning the education of the individual child. The education is for the most part a collective experience — the children all do the same thing, at the same time, at the same pace. For example, there are no text books, so all students are supposed to copy the subject matter at the same pace from the blackboard and be able to follow the teacher’s instructions, given verbally and collectively. But these are just examples. The school explains: ‘Whole class, mixed ability teaching is the norm’. What that means, in this context, I do not know.

Let’s continue to another bold claim, no, an audacious claim.

‘… Steiner schools have an enviable reputation for imbuing an ethos of intellectual curiosity, motivation, creativity and self-expression.’

Is that so? Not only a reputation, but an ‘enviable’ one. I agree that some former waldorf students are capable of self-expression, but having seen some others express themselves, my respect, over all, is quite weak. The claim about the ‘ethos of intellectual curiosity’ leaves me quite baffled. What does the Steiner school offer to back up this ‘enviable reputation’?

For example, an Australian study comparing the academic performance of students at university level found that students who had been at Steiner/Waldorf schools (the terms are interchangeable – the Waldorf School was the first school run according to Steiner’s educational principles) significantly outperformed their peers from other schools in both the humanities and the sciences.

So that’s another study — I haven’t read it, and first didn’t know what they were talking about.* They don’t offer a reference, so how are people going to know and how are they going to be able to check it out for themselves? Often with these studies, there is a lot to be said about methods, interpretation and, finally, the presentation of the results by the waldorf movement for promotional reasons, which is why providing a proper reference is paramount. In short, the research, upon closer inspection, is often found lacking rigour, it is flawed and interpreted dishonestly… and presented deceptively. As for this study, I don’t know it. (There are other studies. I’d like to recommend Ulf Ärnström’s comments in this thread, and here.) In general, good research on waldorf education is sorely lacking. In addition, they then claim that the ‘Steiner Academy Hereford has built a strong record of educational excellence within the state-funded sector’, a claim which is highly questionable. (Hereford and its results have been discussed in several places on the blog, for example here, there are relevant links to inspection documentation in that thread.)

The new free schools, they write

… can have a great deal more freedom in how they teach and in how they measure success.

This, of course, is what waldorf schools have always wanted. More money, less accountability. They want to teach their own curriculum, based upon anthroposophical ideas and ideals, and they want to control, inspect and evaluate their own work according to their own standards. The problem is — they should have to show that how they teach works and that they are successful first. Only then is it possible to discuss whether it is — academic results apart — a reasonable idea to state-funding of an education based upon an esoteric worldview. It might be, but the burden of proof is on the waldorf movement.

There’s an interesting FAQ as well, I thought perhaps we could discuss it, too, in the comments. If you want.

__________________

*As I was finishing this post, I got to see this post on Sune’s blog. I assume that’s the Australian study the Bristol School is talking about (why no reference?). I’ve not read it, but have come across Gidley’s name before. It would be interesting to hear if anyone knows about this study (viewpoints? links? criticism of it?). I’d caution you to take Sune’s post with an entire ocean of salt. As usual. I mentioned other studies and their flaws. But I guess Gidley’s study may be the exception to the rule — maybe this is the one?? If so, you’d still have to weigh it against the results from the other studies. Here’s an article by Gidley in the Waldorf Library (and here’s another selection of writings). She is, apparently, a waldorf school founder and waldorf school teacher, later turned academic, with 30 years total of waldorf experience. Interpret that as you will. That list of her articleswill probably seem a bit suspect to the skeptically inclined reader. Here’s Gidley’s PhD thesis: ‘EVOLVING EDUCATION: A Postformal-integral-planetary Gaze at the Evolution of Consciousness and the Educational Imperatives’. I like that: a postformal-integral-planetary gaze.

Addendum: no, it was another Australian study, not the one Sune mentions. See discussion thread.

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158 comments

  1. Cheesus. Life on old Saturn does not seem so bizarre after all.

    ‘This essay is a postformal rejoinder to Ziauddin Sardar’s Welcome to Postnormal Times. I have no quarrel with Sardar’s conclusion that these times are postnormal, nor do I disagree with many of his observations, but our standpoints regarding implications are somewhat contradictory. Paradoxically, rather than jump into an old paradigm form of debate with Sardar’s interpretations of postnormalcy, this rejoinder is a playful postformal response. I celebrate our complementary views as expressions of the complex truths of multiperspectivality. First I question the meaning of normal and postnormal in the context of such notions as “the pathology of normalcy.” Secondly I begin to explore the postnormal circumstances from a postformal perspective. This involves discussion of notions of progress, development, evolution and co-evolution from different points of view as an opener to coming to terms with complexity. I then explore how concepts such as complexity and paradox can be understood as paths to wisdom; how active imagination can be engaged in the service of life; and how engaged imagination can unfold new normative narratives of alternative futures. Such imaginaries of hope are vital for the wellbeing of young people. The essay closes with a call to embrace the richness of complexity and play with—rather than fear—the paradox of planetary pluralism.’

    http://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/eserv/rmit:4239/g2006018997.pdf

  2. ‘This paper takes as its starting point the notion that human consciousness is evolving beyond the boundaries of formal, reductionist modes of thinking and beginning to open to postformal, integral and planetary consciousness. It explores the theoretical relationships between several themes arising from the evolution of consciousness discourse and a diversity of postformal educational discourses. Four core pedagogical values emerge from the intersection between these two clusters: love, life, wisdom and voice. These core values are elucidated theoretically in relation to philosophies of education, and practically through examples from the art of education. They are offered as pedagogical seeds for evolving consciousness through education in the 21st century.’

    Later:

    ‘The modernist phase of formal school education is trapped within industrial, mechanistic and technicist metaphors. Its entrenchment hinders the emergence of new consciousness. Formal thinking and educational practices limit cultivation of other ways of knowing in several ways.’

    http://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/eserv/rmit:3679/n2006012545_pre-print.pdf

    The other ways of ‘knowing’ are evolving all the way to Jupiter-consciousness…

    It’s interesting that if you mention the word ‘wisdom’ enough times, it is guaranteed to cancel out any wisdom in the text. I’m sure there’s a law to describe this inverse correlation.

  3. I have to admit, though, that I understand why the Bristol school doesn’t refer to Gidley’s PhD. I’m not sure it has the capacity to help the steiner school attain public-funding. She may be solving the ‘youth problematique’ but in what manner? ‘… core values that are seeds for evolving education in line with emerging shifts in consciousness’!? ‘The Metalogue discusses my integral evolutionary philosophy, my transdisciplinary epistemology, my complex methodology of theoretic bricolage and my objective-subjective role as researcher. … It is proposed that a more conscious evolution of cultural pedagogical practice informed by postformal-integral-planetary consciousness may be more responsive to addressing the crises and complexities of the future.’ http://epubs.scu.edu.au/theses/145/

    Come on. This isn’t even spiritual, it’s nothing but superficial, spiritual vanity. Dressed up to look something like academic discourse. If this is the future, then I fear. It’s the abrogation of thinking, for Dog’s sake; if a shift in consciousness, then only the kind of shift that happens when you press an off-button. There’s nothing conscious about it — only a damn mind-fog and an bland soup of words that in reality mean nothing.

    PS (a small update, I don’t want to clutter and derail anything, but…): ‘… as an expression of my desire to foreground philosophy and aesthetics in an
    age of scientism, there is also a short Prelude, which opens the dissertation with a poetic-philosophic apéritif and a closing Coda, which offers a philosophic-poetic liqueur for the onward journey.’ — I’m now actually looking in the dissertation itself. I will have to stop, and have a cognac with Rudi. Really.

  4. Melanie · ·

    great post Alicia!

    Very revealing. There is btw no mention of anthroposophy on the Bristol Free School site – just a link to the SWSF which itself dismisses it as if embarrassed by the very ‘philosophy’ which informs every aspect of the Steiner Waldorf pedagogy. In other words – the SWSF too isn’t honest with parents. It’s bait and switch.

    http://www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk/whatissteinereducation.html

    “Who was Rudolf Steiner?
    Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) was an innovative academic born in Austria whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy.
    He applied his ideas to education as well as agriculture, medicine, architecture and social reform. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship acknowledges Rudolf Steiner as the founding inspiration of modern day Steiner schools, but does not promote Anthroposophy or endorse every aspect of it.”

    Rudolf Steiner was a mystic – something that parents should understand at the start. Of course the SWSF promotes anthroposophy – SWSF representatives don’t walk through the streets with a banner, because anthroposophy is an ESOTERIC new religion/belief system and because it doesn’t suit them to have new parents understand what’s really informing the pedagogy of Steiner schools. It would put a great many parents off at the start – and they need a steady stream of new recruits.

    But they DO promote by supporting and actively encouraging anthroposophy – and here is why:

    From the SWSF accreditation document:

    http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/downloads/documents/membershipcriteriaJune2011.pdf

    “Provisionally Sponsored School status will normally be conferred at the point a school opens, provided it is shown that:
    There has been adequate preparation, including anthroposophical study,
    An Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum”

    So what needs to be explained at the very beginning to parents looking at the Bristol Steiner Free School?

    Anthroposophy.

  5. Melanie · ·

    In its FAQ the Bristol bid states:

    “Steiner schools accept that spirituality is important to many people without making any rules about what that spirituality should be like, and this can be attractive to parents who have their own beliefs and do not want their children to be educated within one specific faith.”

    Well, you can be ‘spiritual’ in any which way you like, but not to mention (and explain) the fundamental credo of Steiner education is dishonest. Here is Steiner teacher training at the London Waldorf Seminar:

    “Anthroposophical study – study of Steiner’s education and other lectures to support and deepen understanding of Anthroposophy as the basis of Steiner Waldorf education. Essential texts are The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy and The Study of Man (The Foundations of Human Experience) and these have been supplemented at various times by The Kingdom of Childhood, Waldorf Education for Adolescents, The Spirit of the Waldorf School, Practical Advice to Teachers and Discussions with Teachers, as well as individual lectures and passages from other books and lecture cycles, chosen by individual tutors. Study of lectures on festivals is also an important part of the study curriculum. While these are not studied directly on the course, students are encouraged to read Steiner’s basic books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (How to Know Higher Worlds), Theosophy and Occult Science (Esoteric Science) to gain a good grounding in Anthroposophy.”

    http://www.waldorftraining.org.uk/courses.html

    Parents organising this free school bid may be well-meaning but naive. I can understand how this works, having been involved in a similar process myself over a decade ago. The Steiner movement uses parents to promote Steiner education in a way that could be described as cynical, and many of the parents active at the start will slip away. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bristol Free School site itself was put together by people who do not understand the education system they’re promoting, even if their children are already involved.

  6. Those are very good comments.

    You’re right — no google hits at all for ‘anthroposoph*’ on the website. How nice that they ‘accept’ that some people are spiritual, but what about themselves and the name of their spirituality…

    Here’s Bristol’s FAQ presentation of Steiner, btw. It includes more than the steiner/waldorf presentation I commented on in the post, but still not the relevant bits:

    ‘A Steiner School is a school that is based on the educational ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He was an Austrian writer, philosopher and educationalist who inspired a worldwide movement of schools, providing an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find the joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood rather than early specialisation or academic hot-housing.’

    ‘Writer, philosopher and educationalist’. Something is missing here.

  7. Melanie · ·

    well, he wasn’t an educationalist.

    Talking of Australian studies (and you certainly have) here is a good article by Ian Robinson of the Australian rationalists. Note that ‘Victorian’ refers to the region in Australia. It has a direct bearing on English Steiner Free Schools/Academies:

    http://www.rationalist.com.au/archive/78/p2-5_AR78.pdf

    “The Steiner beachhead has succeeded due to the partisan lobbying by groups of acolytes who seek to provide a spiritually-based education for their children at the secular system’s expense. Most of them seem to know little about Rudolf Steiner or his crazy theories on just about everything, but are sucked in by the superficially attractive rhetoric and egged on by the hard-core disciples of this weird early twentieth century German guru.

    Part of the propaganda is that Steiner education is not ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’. It may be true that religion or spirituality are not overtly proselytised in Steiner annexes, although we can’t be sure of this because there is little monitoring or evaluation. The whole basis of Steiner education, however, comes from Steiner’s excursions into what he called ‘spiritual’ or ‘occult science’, which was code for him going into a meditative state, free-associating around a topic, and writing down the results of his ruminations as though they were incontrovertible truth. Using this method he came up with a number of amazing break throughs in modern thought, such as the importance of burying stag bladders full of yarrow flowers in a field to stimulate the growth of crops!”

  8. Melanie · ·

    Robinson also writes:

    “There is clearly no evidential or experiential evidence for such ideas, nor for the many other gratuitous absurdities that riddle Steiner education, so any resemblance between Steiner education and good educational practice is purely coincidental. That a number of children have survived it, and some even thrived, says more about the resilience of the human spirit than about the efficacy of this empirically groundless theory.

    Whether parents have the right to impose such aberrations as Steiner education on their children is a moot point, but it is absolutely certain that they have no right to exploit the state system so that other children are exposed to this nonsense.”

  9. Melanie · ·

    Another article is Ian Robinson’s ‘Six Facts You Need to Know About Steiner Education’, which he kindly allowed Roger Rawlings to feature on Waldorf Watch (which I recommend):

    http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/six-facts

  10. I don’t even know what an ‘educationalist’ is.

  11. Too bad it should be so difficult to locate the research which the school (and Sune) says shows the academic success of former waldorf pupils. It is amazing to see that all three I’ve seen so far shows the OPPOSITE of what anthroposophists claim they do. In the unlikely event that this one would survive basic critical study, the results would still be questionable. Because the Dahlin report shows that waldorf pupils don’t continue to university education as much as pupils from mainstream schools.

  12. Does anyone know what anthroposophists think about Ken Wilber? I have an impression Gidley might be straying a bit too far from more orthodox Steiner thinking.

  13. Interestingly, it seems that he provides other references and even links, but he doesn’t provide any info on that particular study. It can’t be that first reference in his list, can it? although it does talk about views and visions.

    - Gidley, J. (1998). ”Prospective Youth Visions through Imaginative Education.” Futures: The journal of policy, planning and futures studies 30(5): 395–408.

    It is available here: http://bit.ly/KADv9K Seems wholly irrelevant and can’t possibly be what the Steiner school is thinking of, as they’re talking about academic success. It must be what Sune refers to here:

    ‘An Australian study comparing the academic performance of students at university level found that students who had been at Waldorf schools significantly outperformed their peers from non-Waldorf schools in both the humanities and the sciences.’

    But he’s not talking about the same study in the next passage, but another one, is he? It’s very difficult to follow. That one, referred to in the second passage, Turning tides, is available from the Steiner association, but it’s only ‘A Brief Report on Steiner based Academic Research …’. http://bit.ly/J99PRq

    Reading his post, I’m completely confused.

  14. The wiki article has the same reference as Sune… (although he doesn’t connect the statement with the reference):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education#Studies

    ‘An Australian study comparing the academic performance of students at university level found that students who had been at Waldorf schools significantly outperformed their peers from non-Waldorf schools in both the humanities and the sciences.[81]‘

    81 is a television/radio broadcast… or something. Quite pathetic. Why don’t these wiki zealots who maintain the waldorf pages dig out a proper reference?

  15. re Ken Wilber — I know some are into that stuff, some are even into Andrew Cohen, who I guess is a more extreme guru in the same vein. Not sure how popular it is though.

    Edit: for example the Info3 magazine has some stuff on it. http://www.info3.de/c5-style/ Search Wilber.

  16. If what Sune writes would be true, why wouldn’t this absolutely amazing finding be made more public? Well if it is Gidley, the most confusing academic I have ever read, who is behind the research, I understand why they are trying to hide the original report in the deepest esoteric vaults ;-)

  17. There was only one copy and they have buried it under the Goetheanum. That way it will be safe (that is, not land in enemy hands) even during a world war III.

    I wonder what could entice Sune to give us a proper reference. He must have one, surely. Sune?? Wake up! Or we’ll conclude the research is pretty crap.

    Interesting that the Steiner school refers to this old research — that nobody can find — instead of something more recent that can be found.

  18. “Why don’t these wiki zealots who maintain the waldorf pages dig out a proper reference?”

    Trust me – it was a FULL-TIME job getting them to provide proper references – ONCE. It took a Wiki tribunal, equivalent to the amount of paperwork filed in a divorce case, to get Wiki to exclude “Anthroposophical” references. Of course, now that they’ve frustrated any legitimate Wiki editor, they use Anthroposophical references freely as well as bogus links to articles and studies they claim support them (but actually don’t) throughout the Wiki articles. There is no longer any balance in the Wiki articles… only heavy-handed editing by Anthroposophists.

  19. In this case, where there is an actual claim, the claim should really be deleted if they can’t provide any reference at all. I had assumed that this was academic research…

    If they can’t even provide an anthroposophical reference — which I guess they can’t — the claim is really pathetic beyond belief.

  20. Of course, I’m not wikipedia, and I invite anthroposophists, waldorf defenders and wiki zealots to post the reference here or send it to me via e-mail!

    A link to the research in full-text would be gold.

  21. I used to catch them supporting their claims with documents written in a different language… only to find the documents had absolutely nothing to do with the claim they were “supporting”.

  22. Ha! Well, that is typical…

    There’s no way to interpret that favourably — either they’re trying to take people for fools or they are ignorant fools themselves. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both. I guess that’s possible too.

  23. Evening all,
    I’m one of the people involved in the Bristol Steiner Free School group. One of our group came upon your blog while checking Google rankings for our site and I can’t resist coming back on a couple of points…
    We’re able to put in this bid because of the Free School system, which is based on the government’s idea that there should be more choice and diversity in education. You can agree or disagree with that concept, but clearly if there is more diversity in education, you’re going to get schools that you approve of, and schools that you don’t approve of, whatever your point of view. Our school will have to meet set academic standards and use approved means of accreditation (probably GCSE’s initially although we’re intrigued by the Scottish ‘Curriculum for Excellence’), so we’ll be working within a framework of standards; personally I think it’s a good thing that schools can have some flexibility as to how they work to those standards.
    Regarding Steiner himself, his writings are always brought up as a criticism of contemporary Steiner/Waldorf education, understandably enough. As a group, we’re very much ‘reform’ Steiner rather than ‘orthodox’. We’re interested in Steiner education as it is now, a hundred or so years after Steiner himself, and we’re interested in developing current teaching practice still further rather than looking backwards. Steiner was a mystic – someone called him a ‘mystical barmpot’, which is a fair description: barm is yeast, and he was a constantly bubbling pot of ideas and intuitions which he expressed in the language of his time and through the ideas that he was influenced by. Personally I take his writing more as metaphorical poetry than as literal truth, but there’s no doubt that the movement that he started still has meaning for people – we have had a huge number of positive responses to our project.
    Right now, though, the challenge is to create a school that gives children a creative, happy, rich, loving experience of education. We want our school to be open and diverse; we want a strong emphasis on environmental science, alongside Steiner education’s traditional emphasis on the arts and foregin languages. We see the Free School system as a chance for Steiner education to open up and move forwards, and in doing so, we hope to contribute to the development of education as a whole. And I’m very happy to have an open dialogue about what we’re doing with anyone else who cares passionately about education, as we do.
    Joe Evans, Bristol Steiner Free School Group.

  24. Welcome Joe! Perhaps you could tell us which Australian study you are talking about on the website? Or from where you got the information about it?

  25. Sorry, that wasn’t a very friendly answer to your invitation to a dialogue. Personally I care both passionately and critically about both mainstream and alternative education. And I think a lot of what you say deserves more comments than what I’m capable of atm in my timezone ;-)

  26. Hello Joe!

    Like Ulf, I’d like to know about the Australian research. Do you happen to have a reference?

    I’m not against free schools (here in Sweden; it’s more difficult to say anything general about the UK). I believe it has to be implemented wisely, though, and that perhaps sometimes the ‘wise’ part is a bit lacking.

    ‘As a group, we’re very much ‘reform’ Steiner rather than ‘orthodox’. We’re interested in Steiner education as it is now, a hundred or so years after Steiner himself, and we’re interested in developing current teaching practice still further rather than looking backwards.’

    Good luck. Lots of people have tried that, but ultimately, the name Steiner or waldorf isn’t yours, it belongs to anthroposophy, and unless you comply you can’t be a steiner/waldorf school and should not be one. I find it somewhat dishonest, too. A steiner school carrying that name should be a steiner school and meet certain expectations. Other schools are simply other schools.

    But most importantly, the SWSF has certain requirements that need to be fulfilled; a school can’t simply decide to discard these and remain ‘steiner’. SWSF is a part of an international movement, so they don’t decide everything and anything either.

    ‘there’s no doubt that the movement that he started still has meaning for people – we have had a huge number of positive responses to our project.’

    I don’t doubt that his movement has meaning for many people; I quite understand this, in fact. I’m less sure it provides a satisfactory approach to education, however.

    Of course, as a former waldorf student, I realize waldorf projects elicit positive responses from lots of people — for all appearances, even from my own parents!

    ‘Steiner was a mystic – someone called him a ‘mystical barmpot’, which is a fair description’

    Why doesn’t the website tell us that he was a mystic then? Or a mystic barmpot, but I’m not picky, just mystic works fine ;-)

    -a

  27. Hi again,
    This is the research that our website refers to:
    Woods, B. (2003). Innovation, difference, performance. Educational Research Conference: Designing the future 2003. School of Education, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.
    But I read about it here:
    http://steinereducation.edu.au/files/ascf/ascf_foundations_graduate_outcomes_paper_oct_2011.pdf
    I have to confess that I haven’t read the full original research, so it’s just possible that the second paper grossly misrepresents it’s findings; it’s also possible that the better performance of Steiner educated pupils at university is linked to their socio-economic background – I don’t know enough about how Steiner Schools operate in Australia to comment.
    I do think that it’s going to be interesting to see how Steiner education works with a more diverse pupil group, if our bid is successful. We will need to be flexible and responsive, and I want to have a good system of internal and external evaluation in place so that we can see what works and what doesn’t, and share that knowledge.

  28. Hello again and thank you for the reference! That’s clearly another study than the one we were speculating about here; googling, we couldn’t find anything that seemed relevant except Gidley’s research. (I can’t see any reference on your website — but perhaps the reference can be found on another page than the one we were discussing and where it was mentioned.)

    ‘I do think that it’s going to be interesting to see how Steiner education works with a more diverse pupil group, if our bid is successful.’

    I suspect that it’s not going to be very diverse. Possibly slightly more diverse compared to completely private steiner schools. But Sweden has had state-funded waldorf schools for decades. They’re not exactly diverse. Even research commissioned by anthroposophists had to conclude that! Steiner schools do attract certain types/groups of parents.

    ‘I want to have a good system of internal and external evaluation in place so that we can see what works and what doesn’t, and share that knowledge.’

    I think that is very good. If the bid goes through, I hope you manage to keep to that intention!

  29. Ok. I’ve not been able to locate the study itself or any references to it except by the australian waldorf/steiner school organisation. Perhaps someone else can find something?

    I did, however, find something that seems to be (not at all sure) the conference program referred to.

    http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/education/iej/articles/conferences/ERC2003.pdf

    ‘Bill Wood
    Graduate School of Education, University of Adelaide
    Innovation, difference, performance: the Mount Barker Waldorf School, South Australia’

    So when I use the name ‘Wood’ instead, I still don’t manage to come up with anything very interesting.

    It seems, from what I can determine, that it is a paper that was presented at a conference in 2003. I can’t find any more info about it.

    The Mount Barker school — whose students were studied (I assume, not actually having access to the research) — seems to be a mid-sized waldorf school — just 340 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. In a rural location outside Adelaide. This is the only thing I find on their website about this:

    ‘During the school’s past three decades, our students have demonstrated success in their post school studies across a range of disciplines including arts, the trades, commerce, education, ICT, medicine, nursing, allied health, the sciences and engineering. Research indicates that our students are extremely well equipped for tertiary study. Of the 179 students who graduated from Mt Barker Waldorf School between 1991 and 2001, 78 (43.6%) attended university. Of these, 84% achieved grades of credit or above, compared with 47% of their non-Waldorf peers studying Science, and 60% studying Humanities. (Wood, University of Adelaide, 2003).’ http://bit.ly/KMf5dk [pdf]

    And here’s a little more:
    http://steinereducation.edu.au/steiner-education/tertiary-entry/

    Wood’s research seems to be mentioned in this document too, but the year is mistaken(?).
    http://steinereducation.edu.au/files/ascf/ascf_science_inroduction_oct_2011.pdf

    Where’s Bill Wood now? Who is he? Is he a researcher in education? If so, where? Are there other publications?

    On Uni of Adelaide’s website I find only one document that refers to him, it’s about waldorf teacher training courses in the world:

    http://bit.ly/KDhMUR [pdf]

    I have made a screenshot of the relevant part:
    https://zooey.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/wood.png

    I don’t think there’s anything more to say about that, really.

    But I do think it would be good if his research was unearthed and someone would take the trouble to read it. As it is now, I can’t help but feel waldorf schools might be parroting reporst about research results that are little known, difficult to find and even more difficult to scrutinize, since they’re apparently not available and you have to dig through the whole dogdamn internet to find out anything at all.

    (And a side-note: Unfortunately, in the Aussie steiner website pdf, I notice that they’re referring to the English summaries of Dahlin’s research. Here’s one problem — these summaries are even more suspicious than the research itself.)

  30. That’s a fair point, Alicia – I will try and track down a copy of the research paper. I’d be surprised if the basic statistics were being misquoted but it would be interesting to understand the context a little better.

  31. Sounds good — it’s kind of interesting now that it turned out to be so elusive. It’s like the elves and the gnomes!

    No, I don’t think the basic statistics have been misrepresented (sure, they might have been, but it’s not the first thing I’d suspect), but there may be other factors that impact on the interpretation and evaluation of these results.

    Research papers, it seems to me, should not be this difficult to track down. Even Gidley’s (sometimes rather odd) work was possible to find in databases. I was expecting to find something similar for Wood — a database listing of his academic stuff, incl, hopefully, this study. But I didn’t. (I might have missed it, so I’m not saying it doesn’t exist.)

    Even if the document itself is not available, it would still be interesting to see a reference in an academic database. Or something on the uni’s website.

  32. I think it’s probably rather a minor piece of work, a PhD thesis or some such, at any rate not published in a journal. I’ll dig it out and let you know.

  33. Joe, now we really need to see the original research. Not in order to cast doubt on the well-earned success of a waldorf school, but to check if there is something which could EXCUSE the FAILURE. At the moment it looks like only 44% of the pupils continue to university. THAT is the important figure. Not how these select few perform. Focusing on that would be like saying to your parents: “We are using a pedagogy that will make it harder for your kids to continue to higher studies. But if the do, they will probably be successful!”

    I’m not saying the reported results proves without doubt that the school or it’s pedagogy is a bad choice. I haven’t even checked if the 44% figure is as bad in Australia as it would be in Sweden (I have no reason to believe it would be much different). I’m saying that ATM it looks like this report confirms the findings in the Dahlin report, the Austrian PISA study and the Dutch dissertation discussed here previously; waldorf pedagogy is less successful than just ordinary mainstream education.

    Joe, it might be a good idea for your anthroposophist friends to help find the report ;-) Seriously, anyone passionate about education should be really worried about the bad results. And if I may be so presumptuos, it might also be a good idea for your school to look for good pedagogical methods outside the world of waldorf.

  34. That’s certainly quite interesting…

    Another question I’m interested in is where those 44% had the major part of their education — were they waldorf educated all through? I suppose that’s a question that might be elucidated by access to the study itself.

    It does seem to be a small study, focusing on one school and its minority of students who go on to university.

    But even so, I hesitate to call a PhD, if that is what it is (so far we don’t know, of course!), a ‘rather minor piece of work’. A PhD is not minor, is it? I’ve seen waldorf proponents refer to research of vastly lesser importance than that.

    And in this area of reseearch, with its lack of good research, if there’s a PhD on the academic sucess of waldorf students, that’s certainly not minor, it’s major.

    Moreover, if it is a dissertation for a PhD or even if it’s a smaller academic paper, it should be easy to find it. I would think.

    I’m glad Joe is making an attempt to locate it or find out more about it!

  35. Ulf – yes, I am going to get hold of the original research and post it here, so there’s no point going into too much detail until we have that to argue over…

    But regarding the figures in the research, the summary given in the link I posted says:

    “Percentage who undertake teritary [ie university] study: 49%, compared with 14 to 16% average in mainstream students who take up university study.”

    If that’s correct the Australia has a very low percentage of students going on to university compared to Europe, but with Steiner pupils dramatically out-performing others. The only stats I can find on Australian education suggest that around 24% of Australians have a degree, so 49% entering university looks impressive against that; presumably the general percentage entering tertiary education was lower than the national average in the catchment area that the report covered.

  36. The only PhD dissertation we have seen in the ethereal kiosk so far is the Dutch study. It is also the only study which tries to compensate for differences in the socio-cultural background of the pupils. The methodology is far beyond anything else I’ve seen. And it is the study which most clearly and unequivocally says; if you care about reading, writing and mathematics, don’t choose waldorf.

  37. 44% entering university. And of those — how many exit with a degree? That’s also a relevant question (hopefully answered in the study!). We can’t compare one group’s entering uni with the other group’s exiting the uni with degrees. That just doesn’t fly.

    I don’t know what the 24% who has a degree figure means, but in order for the study to be meaningful, you have to compare to Australian students from mainstream education during the same period of time. If 24% of Australians have a degree — that figure might encompass the entire population for all I know! And think about it: people born in the early part of the 20th century are significantly less likely to have higher education.

    After all, according to the available information some Australian unis seem to have some special agreement (I might have misunderstood this) to accept students from the waldorf school (despite them not having mainstream degrees or test results possibly?). A relevant question, re the 44% who do go on to uni, is whether they make it or not.

    (Another factor here is of course the social and economic factor, which we don’t know if the study has taken into account, disregarding the question of exact numbers now. The influence of the social environment in the home, hte parents’ education and profession, the parents’ opportunity to provide and assist their children, and so forth. It’s happened before: waldorf proponents and even researchers neglect to take into account the fact that waldorf students come from relatively privileged backgrounds — that will most likely be the case, for that matter, even if the free school system is more widely implemented.)

    At this point, it’s just speculation though!

  38. Neither can I remember any phd that deals with waldorf students and higher education. Gidley’s was about something else.

  39. Both – yes to all your points. I’ll track it down and post it here, and I’m going to resist speculating until then.

    But if you follow the link I posted it does have comparative figures for how Steiner and non-Steiner students did once at university; the Steiner students ‘significantly out-performed their non Steiner-educated peers’, to use the wording on our website that started this off…

  40. I know I should wait for the report, but I can’t resist a totally useless mathemathical speculation. If only 15% of all Australians enter university, how come 24% have left with a degree? They somehow managed to multiply within the university? Well in the country where swans are black and ravens are white, I guess even stranger things might happen …

  41. Ulf – maybe 24% of Australians have a degree but only 15% of Australians in the study area go to university? The Steiner students in the study were all from one school; presumably the stats were compared against other local schools rather than nationally.

  42. Ulf — Perhaps they have already entered the future and are speaking forth, through their larynxes, new fresh humans with degrees? We all know there’s a lot of speaking and words and stuff at unis. On the other hand, there’s materialistic knowledge. Might have to study the Rorsicrucian again.

    Joe — I understand! We’re waiting eagerly, as you can tell? (Speculating wildly in the meantime.) It will certainly be interesting to see if they ‘significantly out-performed their peers’ and how this conclusion was made.

  43. As far as the numbers go, I have a suspicion that we’re mixing apples with pears, or even worse, bananas with grapes, or — Dog forbid — gnomes with fairies.

  44. Melanie · ·

    While we’re waiting – Joe: a couple of quotes from your comments:

    “I want to have a good system of internal and external evaluation in place so that we can see what works and what doesn’t, and share that knowledge.”

    Could you explain in more detail how you will conduct these evaluations?

    ‘We see the Free School system as a chance for Steiner education to open up and move forwards,’

    Do you mean by this that the Bristol Steiner Free School (Academy) will open up the teacher training of Steiner teachers to public scrutiny, particularly with reference to this description of the very basis of Steiner Waldorf education, as outlined here:

    http://www.waldorftraining.org.uk/courses.html

    “Anthroposophical study – study of Steiner’s education and other lectures to support and deepen understanding of Anthroposophy as the basis of Steiner Waldorf education. Essential texts are The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy and The Study of Man (The Foundations of Human Experience) and these have been supplemented at various times by The Kingdom of Childhood, Waldorf Education for Adolescents, The Spirit of the Waldorf School, Practical Advice to Teachers and Discussions with Teachers, as well as individual lectures and passages from other books and lecture cycles, chosen by individual tutors. Study of lectures on festivals is also an important part of the study curriculum. While these are not studied directly on the course, students are encouraged to read Steiner’s basic books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (How to Know Higher Worlds), Theosophy and Occult Science (Esoteric Science) to gain a good grounding in Anthroposophy.”

    How will you move forward from these essential texts? Move upward perhaps from the Higher Worlds into even higher ones? Or perhaps you’ll whistle and look the other way.

    I note that you are also say:

    ‘Steiner was a mystic – someone called him a ‘mystical barmpot’, which is a fair description’

    In fact it was my friend Prof David Colquhoun who called Steiner a mystic barmpot. It may amuse you (it amused me too) but the clairvoyant insights of a mystic barmpot are no basis for the education of children, I think you’ll agree. Except that is, in fact, what you’re endorsing. Unless you want to re-write the pedagogy, train your own teachers on completely new courses, refuse to take any experienced Steiner teachers who have an allegiance to anthroposophy, reject the assistance of the SWSF (remember you need an anthroposophical impulse at the heart of your school) and start a completely new movement. You must then in all conscience – and because it is a brand – remove the name ‘Steiner’ from your publicity.

    Joe – you say you think Steiner’s doctrines were ‘metaphorical poetry’. This would be fine if the children were also to be metaphorical children. But if Steiner’s doctrines are just a vague thing to you, not to be taken very seriously, why are you planning an essentially anthroposophical entity, a Steiner School?

    This all sounds pretty critical but believe me, I said exactly the same things myself about the Steiner school I helped to found, and I thought anthroposophy was a bit out there, not entirely relevant, even a joke, and we were different etc etc. It took me years to work out what I’d been involved in, and to understand how serious the consequences can be for some families. Sooner or later you’ll realise those nice anthros who are helping you do not think Steiner’s doctrines are metaphorical poetry. You’re not the ones in charge.

  45. Melanie,
    You’re right that the SWSF control the Steiner name as a legal trademark. However, we will control our own school – how we teach, how we recruit, how we monitor and evaluate our work and so on. If we feel that our values are in danger of being compromised by being an ‘official’ part of the Steiner school movement, we can of course remove ‘Steiner’ from our name and carry on – it won’t affect our funding.
    We have our own beliefs about education, collectively and individually, and we intend to build the best school we can. The Steiner educational movement as it stands now in 2012 is our starting point.

  46. Melanie · ·

    But Joe, you don’t understand what Steiner education is. How can it be your starting point?

    ‘it won’t affect our funding.’

    But you say you are a Steiner school. What right do you have to take money from the taxpayer saying you are a Steiner school when you clearly are not one? Are you using the umbrella of the SWSF to get funding, knowing that as soon as you can you’ll ditch the name and affiliation?

    If you have your ‘own beliefs about education, collectively and individually’, why not express those? Why use an established brand you don’t really like and don’t understand – plus research ‘evidence’ you can’t locate and you don’t understand, to create an illusion that you know what you’re doing? Which I very much doubt you do.

  47. Melanie · ·

    There are some really daft free schools proposals, I had a look at some the other day. http://newschoolsnetwork.org/network/free-schools/applicants?field_profile_localauthority_value=All&field_profile_agerange_value=All&field_profile_typeofschool_value=All&=Apply

    All of these people think, I assume, that they have the right to that choice they’ve been promised. Some ideas, particularly for specialist provision, are laudable. Like Alicia, I’m not against Free Schools where they’re needed, and where genuine professionals and community minded parents are prepared to work together. I’m a fan of democratic education too, which Steiner Waldorf most certainly is not. But all too often these projects are whimsical and naive.

  48. Melanie · ·

    and the really scary thing about free schools (academies) is what will happen to families when things go wrong. Here is my site of the moment:

    http://davidwolfe.org.uk/wordpress/archives/1303

  49. Hi Melanie,
    I don’t want to get dragged into a long debate on this – I’m not sure what purpose that would serve. But I do want to answer a few of your points because I think you’re jumping to conclusions somewhat.
    The group that I am part of includes current and ex Steiner school teachers, mainstream teachers including an ex deputy head, and current or ex youth work managers. Most of us have children at a Steiner school and several attended Steiner schools. So we do have some experience of education including Steiner education. You write:

    “But Joe, you don’t understand what Steiner education is. How can it be your starting point?”

    Well, we don’t agree with you as to what Steiner education is; that’s not the same as not understanding it. You say:

    “‘But you say you are a Steiner school. What right do you have to take money from the taxpayer saying you are a Steiner school when you clearly are not one? Are you using the umbrella of the SWSF to get funding, knowing that as soon as you can you’ll ditch the name and affiliation?”

    We can’t get money from the taxpayer just for being a Steiner school. We have to put together a detailed bid based on how we would run our school; if that’s approved, we get funded. If at any stage before or after approval we feel that membership of the SWSF would compromise our ability to run our school in the way that we had proposed, we are probably obliged to drop the Steiner branding; at any rate, our school’s funding would depend on our plan and not on the Steiner brand name.

    “If you have your ‘own beliefs about education, collectively and individually’, why not express those? Why use an established brand you don’t really like and don’t understand – plus research ‘evidence’ you can’t locate and you don’t understand, to create an illusion that you know what you’re doing? Which I very much doubt you do.”

    I hope that our website sets out the basics of what we want to achieve. We’ve tried to express our beliefs about education on the ‘Our vision’ page (www.bristolsteinerfreeschool.org.uk/our-vision/). The website also contains a passing reference to a piece of research; I’ve posted a link here to a summary of its findings and I have agreed that the full paper needs to be made available; I will post it here once I have it.

    As I said in my first response, the Free School system is intended to allow greater diversity in the school system. Where you get diversity, there will always be schools that some people like and some don’t. You don’t like Steiner schools – that’s fine. But we’ve had a very large number of very positive responses to our project, including past Steiner pupils who would love to send their own children to a Steiner school but can’t afford to; parents whose children are currently at Steiner schools; and parents whose children are currently at mainstream schools that they are very dissatisfied with, who would love to send their children to a Steiner school but can’t afford to. I think that the opinions of those people should be given a degree of respect. People are not ignorant or stupid; they are able to form their own opinions, and the Free School system allows them (and us) to at least try to get the kind of school that we want for our children.

  50. Melanie · ·

    ‘I don’t want to get dragged into a long debate on this – I’m not sure what purpose that would serve.’

    You are asking for a large amount of public money. You should expect to be asked a great many questions.

    ‘Well, we don’t agree with you as to what Steiner education is; that’s not the same as not understanding it.’

    I’m reading your comments here, Joe. You seem, yourself, to have little idea – but perhaps that’s an impression you’d like to give us. It matters very little whether I personally like Steiner education or not – what matters is the impression you’re giving parents on your site. Steiner education is based on anthroposophy. Why are you not honest with parents about that fact? I find it very difficult to believe that a group of people which ‘includes current and ex Steiner school teachers’ is collectively incapable of explaining the fundamental credo of their own education system.

    Pull the other one.

    “If at any stage before or after approval we feel that membership of the SWSF would compromise our ability to run our school in the way that we had proposed, we are probably obliged to drop the Steiner branding;”

    Be honest and pull out now, or people will conclude, quite rightly, that you are a Steiner school. Such a course of action – waiting until you’ve secured funding to repudiate the brand – appears highly unethical. If your proposal is so good, why do you need the Steiner name? But I suspect you’re doing a little two-step at this point.

    ‘I hope that our website sets out the basics of what we want to achieve.’

    It’s the usual load of vague old waffle. But misses out some vital information.

    “But we’ve had a very large number of very positive responses to our project, including past Steiner pupils who would love to send their own children to a Steiner school but can’t afford to; parents whose children are currently at Steiner schools; and parents whose children are currently at mainstream schools that they are very dissatisfied with, who would love to send their children to a Steiner school but can’t afford to.”

    Joe – do you think any of this is surprising in the least? Of course people who are paying Steiner school fees would like to stop paying. They will come from far and wide to stop paying. It’s this community you’ll serve – including the existing Bristol Steiner parents – not the wider community in Bristol, from whose schools you will divert funding. I agree, all those parents not yet involved in Steiner education who have shown an interest deserve to be treated with respect. They deserve honesty, and it doesn’t look too good if at the start free school proposers are citing research they can’t substantiate, assuming no one will check up on it.

    btw – what’s your relationship to the anthroposophical movement?

  51. “But we’ve had a very large number of very positive responses to our project, including past Steiner pupils who would love to send their own children to a Steiner school but can’t afford to”

    I think the SWSF should collect money for those families and pay their tuition. Many Waldorf schools have tuition assistance programs – especially for 2nd generation Steiner students. If they can’t afford the education but want it, Steiner schools will find a way to give it to them. It’s their purpose and mission to do so.

    Leave taxpayers out of this… it’s a private thing between Waldorf and their clients.

  52. Melanie – just to explain the process a bit more, we’re currently just a group of people with the backgrounds I mentioned above. Because we want to start a school that is broadly in line with the contemporary Steiner education movement, we’re calling ourselves the Bristol Steiner Free School group. That won’t be the final name of the school whatever happens, for various reasons.

    The deadline for applications is not until Feb 2013, so we are quite a way off. At the moment we are gathering supporters and working on our plans, and as the year progresses we will publish some proper detailed information about our educational plans, the ethos of our proposed school and so on. At that stage we will sit down with SWSF and discuss whether our plans fit within their interpretation of Steiner/Waldorf education; they are the trademark holders so to call ourselves a Steiner school we will need to be members. But as I mentioned above, we are a fairly independent-minded bunch and I don’t want to commit just yet as to whether we will be an ‘official’ Steiner school or a ‘Steiner-influenced’ school.

    Free schools are not funded by local councils – they get their money direct from the Department for Education. As such we would be bringing additional money into Bristol education, not taking it from existing schools. There is currently a severe shortage of school places in Bristol and Bristol City Council (who we have met with) have been very receptive to our project, which we and they perceive as being part of the solution to Bristol’s education problems, not part of the problem.

    Pete K, Steiner parents are also taxpayers. The government has decided to allow more diversity into the education world, so that taxpayers get more choice as to how their children are educated. They feel that if people are paying taxes they ought to get more choice in the kinds of services they get in exchange. You can agree or disagree with that, and with the mechanisms that they have used to obtain those choices, but that’s the context here.

    I’m going to leave this discussion for a while – I’m busy with work. I’ve also been commenting here from my personal perspective; as part of a group, I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes by nominating myself as spokesperson. But I’ll be back in a week or two and I would be happy to expand a bit on our position re anthroposophy, the current mood within Steiner education in this country and suchlike. Also, with a bit of luck I’ll have the study available too…

  53. I should also add that the primary criteria in our admissions policy will simply be distance from the school – that’s the rules, as far as Free Schools go. So we will primarily be serving our local community, not existing Steiner parents from long distances away.

  54. MarkH · ·

    Joe, I’ve been following the discussion here and wanted to thank you for engaging in it the way you have. Looking forward to hearing more when you have the time.

    My own experience as a Steiner parent was that there were only a small number of staff and parents, including the founder of the school, that were apparently quite committed to Anthroposophy. The rest, I’m guessing, were either ignorant or aware of the Anthro background but not bothered by it enough to reject what they otherwise thought was a good education.

    So I’ll be interested to hear of your proposed schools position on Anthroposophy. How will you avoid the ambiguity and obfuscation around it to which many Steiner schools seem prone?

  55. Melanie · ·

    ‘As such we would be bringing additional money into Bristol education, not taking it from existing schools’

    Joe – this isn’t how it works. I follow so many groups challenging Free Schools all over the country. The impact is far more complicated.

    BUT… I am interested that you’ve elaborated your plans, and if Alicia’s post has made you consider your position more than before, I’m glad. I urge you to think very carefully before allying yourselves with a belief-system you don’t yourself support.

    I assume, to reflect your statements here, you will suggest to your team that the Bristol Steiner Free School site should be altered, to reflect your stance as a group who are undecided about the nature of your school and its affiliation to a specific movement with an internationally consistent pedagogy.

    I agree with Pete – and it is what Steiner said himself. The state has no role funding Steiner education. A great many people would like their taxes to fund an expression of their own prejudices or whims. That doesn’t mean they should be satisfied.

    btw – you misunderstood me. People would move to be near a Steiner Academy. If it is a large Steiner school, this will distort the community and will have a significant impact on other residents. Local people should have the chance to decide if this is what they want – they have rights too.

  56. “Pete K, Steiner parents are also taxpayers. The government has decided to allow more diversity into the education world, so that taxpayers get more choice as to how their children are educated. They feel that if people are paying taxes they ought to get more choice in the kinds of services they get in exchange.”

    Steiner parents are taxpayers who have opted out of public education… that’s their choice. I’m all for choices… Speaking of which, and I suspect you aren’t aware of this, but Steiner schools tend to hide their underlying philosophy, Anthroposophy, from parents – essentially denying them free choice. I assume, as a free Steiner school, you will be up-front about the philosophy that underpins Waldorf… including the not-so-pretty parts, right? You can’t call yourself a Steiner school and ignore Steiner, can you? And while you may believe it’s possible to have a Steiner school and work counter to Steiner, I think you lose some credibility with the more seasoned observers here. I’ll be curious to see how this all plays out… but I think you’re going to find that “in for a penny – in for a pound” is what many people are thinking.

  57. Melanie · ·

    .. and I know about the consultation process for free schools. It isn’t good so far..

  58. Melanie · ·

    Pete, you took the pennies right out of my pocket.

  59. I posted here about a charter school that was rejected only a few months ago…

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/23984

    February 28, 2012|By Marion Callahan, Of The Morning Call

    The Parkland School Board denied a charter to Circle of Seasons Charter School
    on Tuesday night, refusing to sign off on an application that district officials
    said failed to meet state standards.

    “We use public dollars,” school board President Jayne Bartlett said. “We can’t
    ask taxpayers to fund a public school that does not meet state standards.”

  60. Melanie · ·

    Mark – I agree – Steiner parents can be quite oblivious. Except perhaps when something happens – sometimes to another person’s child, or a family slips away in distress. Most people become aware that something is up even if they don’t understand it. They learn to live with it.

    This post on another thread here needs to be read by every prospective Steiner parent:

    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/no-anthroposophy-no-steiner-values/#comment-15776

    The post itself is important. ‘no anthroposophy, no Steiner values’.

  61. I need to return to this tomorrow, there are too many interesting things here! I don’t know very much about the process to attain free school, tax-funded status in the UK. What surprises me is that new Steiner schools pop up everywhere — why not instead focus *first* on seeking funding for the already existing Steiner schools; after all, there should be a record of their successes (or failiures?) to base such a decision on. Instead, a decision is made to fund a school that doesn’t seem entirely sure of what it wants to be. It sort of surprises me.

  62. Now, I think we should get back to this thread. It’s at least somewhat productive. And I do think that talking about meaningful things is, well, more meaningful.

    One thing I’ve been thinking of is that the Steiner school requirements (ie, what you need to do and be to be a membership school) mean that the faculty should include a minimum number of teachers/staff who have studied anthroposophy. Now, these people are, presumably, committed to anthroposophy. How would they react if some other people in the school don’t want it to be a steiner school anymore? If they want to discard steiner ideas? Why would the anthroposophically incined allow that?

    Regardless of the funding process, I think it’s a matter of honesty to be clear about what one wants to achieve. To think it through. To base decisions on good information. It is a school after all, one that wants to get funding from the state.

    I’m probably not as opposed to funding as Pete and Melanie are. We have a different system in Sweden (especially compared to the US, where state-funding of religious/spiritual organisations is out of the question, or should be), and no significant tradition of parents paying for private education. And I don’t think there’s any turning back the clock here, the free schools will stay. And the waldorf schools must be judged the same way as other schools to recieve funding and be able to operate. That means adhering to certain standards, and so forth. It should also mean an absolute requirement to be a hundred percent open about anthroposophy.

  63. I hope all the Bristol ‘group’ has read this post, as it is possible some of them may be better informed about anthroposophy than others. As has been said before it is important to provide everyone with a copy of the same hymn sheet otherwise there may be disharmony.
    For the final question on the faqs for this school on religion, the answer is inadequate. No mention of the occult or Christianity, both of which feature in waldorf.

    I hope there is some ice-cream left from Saturday?

  64. Melanie · ·

    Salcombe mud? As much as you like :)

  65. There’s lots of ice-cream! I just heard the old archangel arrive back from the store; he’s bringing a truck-load of it!

    I’ve had posts about waldorf schools that don’t want — or don’t want to admit to — anthroposophy or steiner before. Perhaps I should dig up a few of those posts.*

    What about this for a school name, by the way, should it be needed: Bristol Steiner-free Steiner Free School? Sorry sorry sorry ;-)

    *Here’s one that may contain some links to older posts: http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/no-anthroposophy-no-steiner-values/

    Other half relevant posts that come to mind (because they were recent):
    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/no-waldorf-without-anthroposophy/
    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/steiner-waldorf-teacher-training-and-the-university-of-plymouth/
    http://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/teachers-dont-know-much-about-anthroposophy/

  66. They do mention Christianity, I was confused with the school I just phoned who claimed not to teach religion when I asked about their 3 rs, which include reverence. That was the only answer I got, (not having mentioned religion myself).
    Perhaps they don’t teach religion in the same way they don’t teach anthroposophy.

  67. Yes, they don’t teach christianity either. They’re sort of christian values and stuff. So if you ask them if they teach christianity, they’d answer the same as they would about anthroposophy! Reverence is without denomination, in their minds. The morning verse is not religious either, despite its content and function. I have a feeling, also, that it depends a little on who’s asking…

    It’s… well, quite confusing for anyone trying to get something resembling accurate information.

  68. Melanie · ·

    while we’re waiting for clarification about that research evidence backing up claims about Steiner Waldorf ed on the Bristol Steiner-Free Steiner Free School site, here’s a new blog by Pete K with some reviews of Waldorf schools, mostly in the US: http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.co.uk/

  69. Thank you Melanie. I hope to cover ALL Waldorf schools eventually. The US has a pretty good system for reviewing schools – (but anonymous people get to review as many times as they like). I need to locate international reviews of Waldorf schools… I understand I may even have to translate them from other languages, but I don’t mind. I also need to add the gadget that translates my blog for foreign readers. Still a lot to do.

  70. I think it’s very good; it’s not like waldorf schools and AWSNA will promote these reviews, while they will certainly promote the good ones. And that there are many will give a better overall picture of the negative sides. I actually didn’t know that these school reviews — like websites for things like that — existed and were active to such an extent. I probably have come across them, but didn’t quite realize what it was. I have no idea if they exist in Sweden. Or in Germany.

    I think google blogs have a kind of translation thingy you can add or just activate? (It seems they should be easy to integrate with google translate…)

  71. The school promises to celebrate ‘old British cultural traditions’.
    Are they just British traditions or are they traditions that also happen to be German/European?
    I was wondering what about waldorf around the world, do they also celebrate the cultural traditions of their home countries, or does ‘Michaelmas’ feature say in New Zealand too?

  72. Yes. I can’t think of a waldorf school not doing michaelmas. And in the southern hemisphere they hold the advent spiral in the middle of summer — they need very heavy curtains to achieve the right ‘mood’, obviously!

    There’s a flixibility, sure, sometimes local traditions can be added. I think. At least, I get that impression from some waldorf websites.

    But traditions like michaelmas are typical for waldorf — it’s not, as far as I know, a generally accepted custom in Germany either… certainly not in Sweden (and we’re probably closer to Germany than Britain).

    It would be interesting to know which cultural traditions they mean though — or perhaps, which ones they celebrate, whether they’re british or not.

  73. I like the idea of celebrating the seasons,a harvest festival is nice and I always think of christmas as a midwinter festival, going back into prehistory, with holly and ivy being pagan symbols. But Easter as Falk described in your Easter bunny post cannot be anything but christ centred.
    Michaelmas is important in waldorf because st michael was supposed to have fought the devil, I suppose. But I can’t work out whether in England that came before Christianity or not. I think it has got mixed up with autumn just because of when it happens to fall in the calendar.
    Many waldorf parents are just thinking of michaelmas daisies, I guess when they go to a festival, whereas the school ‘group’ maybe thinking of something different.
    Why not just have a festival for each season, and name them appropriately, I think that would be acceptable to most parents.

  74. Oh easter doesn’t have to be christ-centered! Witches, bunnies! It’s very unchristian in Sweden. I suspect there are older traditions that are not christian, but that they have merged. And people are more interested in these than the christian stuff, I think. Plus eating and drinking — that’s the greatest appeal, I guess!

    Michael is the archangel of our time, thus very important. His time started… 1879 I think (may have the year wrong now, but it’s a specific year). And the dragon symbolizes things that anthropsohists think are bad — materialism… I’m absolutely certain that waldorf teachers/anthroposophists think of other things than parents who are not anthros. (I don’t remember any daisies myself… How are they used?)

    I think that nowadays they sometimes disguise michaelmas as harvest festival, but that’s not much better… (when it’s only disguise). That may be a consequence of there being so many parents who aren’t anthroposophists and who don’t understand (and they’d rather avoid too many questions or too much incomprehension… harvest festival is easy to grasp…).

  75. Eating and drinking – yes, that’s what we want.
    The daisies are the only way most people in the UK ever say the word michaelmas. (aster novi belgii, apparently). I would like to say they have some ritual significance…Just put them in a vase in September and they make the house look pretty. I asked my husband what he thought michaelmas was and he said ‘something to do with spring’. It’s just not a word in general use. To call it a British festival is not really accurate.
    I thought the waldorf festival must have come from Switzerland.
    I just wish there were answers to these questions, but there aren’t. The words mean what you want them to mean. But if it was my child going to one of these schools I would want to know what was meant. I need to stop fixating on it.
    It’s so odd, a school where nothing is as it seems. Creepy.

  76. The waldorf festival is definitely anthroposophical. It’s not particular german or swiss or anything. It’s not something that ordinary german/swiss/austrian (Steiner was austrian) schools celebrate! As far as I know… And as for sweden, nobody here would be able to guess if it was spring or autumn or so. (There’s a swedish celebration — very uncommon these days — called ‘mickelsmäss’, it’s some time during the autumn, but I don’t know anything about it and as far as I know it has nothing to do with archangels or dragons!)

    The daisies are certainly a british tradition though — never heard of it! And never associated them with michaelmas. The waldorf equivalent of michaelmas in sweden — it’s called ‘mikaeli’ (note: not even the same name as the tradition ‘mickelsmäss’) — is totally unheard of outside waldorf circles.

    I think you’d be right in wanting to know. Though perhaps that’s more important when it comes to everyday aspects of school life and how anthroposophy sees the developing child, for example. Michaelmas is, of course, very important, but its (negative) impact is probably smaller due to the fact it takes place only at that time. It’s a kind of drama, and not knowing the anthroposophical interpretation of it, it’s just a fairytale to the child. But of course parents should know, even so.

  77. Not swiss, German or Austrian, definitely not British. Waldorf is just one big confidence trick.

  78. They could cure that confidence tricking easily, by calling it anthroposophical!

  79. For hundereds of years Michaelmas WAS part of english cultural life, marked by fairs and traditional ceremonies.(the Nottingham Goose fair is one that springs to mind)
    At Oxford and Cambridge and at the Inns of Court the term beginning in September is known as the Michaelmas Term. I would guess many educated people will be familiar with the association of St. Michael and the beginning of Autumn.
    I don’t see that Steiner Schools by celebrating the Feast of Michael are trying to trick or mislead anyone. Any more than church of England schools would by celebrating St. George on 23 April.
    It is true that the archangel Michael has special significance for anthroposophists but that way of understanding Michael is not part of what is taught to the children.

  80. But anthroposophy is part of the play and rituals performed — it is very anthroposophical. Its symbolic importance, et c. What is explicitly taught is another matter, on which I agree with you. (Just said in a hurry.)

  81. Falk you are starting to get up my nose. I can only assume that is your intention.
    Michaelmas is just not celebrated here except in waldorf, as you will know, being educated.
    Harvest/autumn is celebrated in many ways.

  82. Mr Dog just got a whiff of cat up his nose this morning. I won’t tell you what happened ;-)

  83. It’s ok, the aroma of coffee is filling my kitchen now.
    ‘Melanie did not get an answer from Joe:
    ‘what’s your relationship to the anthroposophical movement?’
    I can guess the answer, the use of the ‘L’ word in the same sentence as ‘school’ is a giveaway.

  84. Joe said
    ‘I should also add that the primary criteria in our admissions policy will simply be distance from the school – that’s the rules, as far as Free Schools go. So we will primarily be serving our local community’.
    I feel sorry for the local community.Their nearest school will be one where their children will be part of a spiritual experiment carried out by mad professors in disguise as teachers.
    They will be acting out dramas and made to dance for the gratification of highly suspect individuals who should not be allowed to be in charge of children.

  85. Melanie · ·

    It’s possible that Joe himself is not connected to the anthroposophical movement – but a school called ‘Steiner’ sure as hell is.

    I’m waiting for Joe to come back with a ‘sanitised’ version of anthroposophy which the team in Bristol can agree to.

  86. Melanie · ·

    Helen – indeed.

  87. If the Michaelmas in waldorf school is “disguised” as a harvest festival, it could mean that cultural history has completed a full circle. According to swedish wikipedia the church failed to ban a pagan harvest festival. I guess there was to much drinking, dancing and related activities. Instead they adopted it with St Michael as a new stepfather. So we are only witnessing the third incarnation of the festival-soul, always progressing towards higher spiritual levels. Though some might miss the drinking and related activities. But who knows, I’ve never been invited to one ;-)

  88. Alicia says, ‘But anthroposophy is part of the play and rituals performed — it is very anthroposophical.’
    I am not sure what exactly she means by this and I would like her to explain.

    When I was head teacher, though not a church school, we used to celebrate Saint George’s day by allowing those who wished to wear special clothing. – their cub and brownie uniforms. We had a story about St. George and the dragon in assembly, which sometimes was acted out. Maybe we had made a wonderful dragon to go along one side of the hall. The stress in the story was on the courage of both the princess who was being sacrificed to the dragon as well as the knight who saved her.
    You could say that we were celebrating moral and physical courage. All this took place in an education system where ( by law!) we were supposed to be developing the moral and spiritual welfare of the children. So what is different in a Waldorf school or Camphill Community celebrating St. Michael?
    Helen says, ‘Michaelmas is just not celebrated here except in waldorf, as you will know, being educated.’ I didn’t say it was being celebrated just that it was and still is in some respects a part of our culture. Stories about St. Michael casting the devil and his angels out of heaven are still told in Sunday schools all over England.

    How many people now call the spring term, the Hilary Term? – but if you are an Oxbridge graduate you know exactly what is meant.

    Ulf, I don’t think Michaelmas is ever disguised as a Harvest Festival – that is something else which just happens to take place around the same time of year.

  89. The last parent/child group I attended happened to be at the end of September. We parents made little dragons out of bread dough which were baked and ‘slain’ with a butter knife at snack time! Being naive in the ways of Steiner schools at the time and despite being an Oxbridge graduate, I didn’t make the connection with the Archangel Michael. As you might expect, we weren’t *told* we were celebrating Michaelmas!

  90. A very good case of anthroposophical deceitfulness. “Michaelmas” is an anthroposophical festival. Michael is the archangel of the current “era” in anthroposophical lore; it is celebrated in order to teach the kids to venerate Saint Michael. Steiner schools are not staging this because it is a “traditional English festival” and Falk knows that very well. If so I wonder why then we were celebrating it in Philadelphia, as I assure you Michaelmas is a very long way from traditional Philadelphia culture (SNORT).

    A verse our kindergarteners changed every morning in the fall:

    The autumn wind blows open the gate
    O Michael, for you we wait
    We follow you, show us the way
    With joy we greet this autumn day.

    - Teaches veneration of Saint Michael.”We follow you, show us the way.” This isn’t about “the harvest.”

    Falk: “It is true that the archangel Michael has special significance for anthroposophists but that way of understanding Michael is not part of what is taught to the children.”

    In our Waldorf school that is exactly what was taught to the children.

  91. “(I don’t remember any daisies myself… How are they used?)”

    Michaelmas daisies are little tiny white flowers, I don’t recall them actually being used in festivals, they just appear around the time of Michaelmas, and I’m not sure if anyone besides anthroposophists calls them that. My mother calls them something else but I can’t remember what.

  92. I wrote: “A verse our kindergarteners changed every morning in the fall”

    That’s supposed to be “chanted.”
    (Of course, given the frequent out-of-control disciplinary situation, some of them changed it, too …)

  93. Diana I am so interested to hear that about St Michael, it was something as I imagined it might be. And is it a coincidence that as Alicia said his time started during Steiner’s life time, I wonder.
    And the dragon bread rolls as described by MarkH – could that happen anywhere else in the world except in Waldorf, it’s just so improbable. You’ve got t hand it to these people they are master manipulators.

  94. master manipulators of the blogs too. the trouble with waldorf is that anything is believable because it all reeks of fish.
    The bread recipe is in the teachers handbook, under handy hints at the back.

  95. I remember dragon bread rolls as a child at Easter. It was common in my family to have bread shaped like a dragon with an bright red Easter egg in its mouth. Don’t know where the tradition came from – but it definitely wasn’t Waldorf in origin. Here’s something like *feel* of what it looked like… http://images.tastespotting.com/thumbnails/158629.jpg

  96. Regarding my question about St George. He is regarded as the patron Saint of England. This means many people in the past and some people today regard him as a real spiritual being who has an influence on the destiny of everyone who lives in England, and whose story represents an aspect of the Christian ethos still manifest in some aspects of English culture. Many people fly the St, George Flag on their cars and houses on 23rd April. When we celebrated St George’s day it was in that context.

    The parallels with St. Michael is obvious. He is seen as a real spiritual being who has a significance for ALL human beings in this day and age. He stands for moral courage, his feast is celebrated. Among all the Angels he has a special significance for anthroposophists. So does the Blessed Virgin Mary for Catholics.
    Without being or ending up as a Catholic, one can go to a catholic school and daily witness the reverence for the BVM of all those around you. There will be pictures of her in every room, there will be special devotions going on. There will be special feast days.
    In my class of 28 at a private junior school run by nuns there were 2 Jewish girls. Their parents were not afraid that their daughters would turn into Catholics. How is the devotion to Michael any different to or more reprehensibe than what happens in different contexts?

  97. I am interested in Falk’s comparison of anthroposophy (in this case veneration of st michael) with Catholicism. I guess he already realises what makes it reprehensible in waldorf is the way it is kept out of sight from families. If I found out a teacher at my child’s school had been educating the children according to Catholic principles without my knowledge I would be livid.
    As Alicia has said before, what people do in their own homes without harming others is arguably not so important.
    But to me Catholicism has always seemed one of the most unpleasant religions, even before the latest scandals with the priests and their abuse of children.
    It does amaze me that otherwise intelligent individuals can cling to beliefs such as those of Catholicism, once they are adults and can figure things out.
    The most likely reason is a reluctance to realise they have been misled all their lives, and having been taught about heaven and hell and the sanctity of human life they cannot overcome these ideas.
    So spirituality and reincarnation are a substitute for this. They seem more ‘grown up’ than traditional religion yet still offering the comforting notions which would otherwise be missing, and which some people cannot do without.

  98. As for the people (including my husband and son on occasions)who wave the flag of St George, if you ask them whether they are doing so because St George was a ‘real spiritual being who has an influence on the destiny of everyone who lives in England, and whose story represents an aspect of the Christian ethos still manifest in some aspects of English culture’, I think you would be on the receiving end of some incredulous stares.
    By the way my neighbour told me we were letting down the tone of the lane when the flag was hanging out of the window during the world cup! I think she was joking.

  99. This year on St George’s day there were several reports about how St George is also muslim saint who had his origins in Syria.
    So apart from George and Michael what other ‘old British cultual traditions’ will be celebrated, I wonder.

  100. St George is the patron saint of Stockholm. (Melanie has met him!) But, come on — what Steiner teaches about the role of Michael in our time, the meaning of the dragon, and so forth…

    I can’t do it right now but I know the internet is full of waldorf folks who are pretty open with the esoteric meanings of this tradition — *in this context*. Certainly not just a harvest festival. Or why not try the rsarchive.org on ‘michaelmas’. If one is unsure, that is… Why is this Michael’s time? What does the dragon mean? These things are not difficult to find out.

    And the point is, as has probably been said, not to make the kids anthros. But the ritual is supposed to work at a deeper level, on their soul life, not just this day but — as with everything in waldorf — for their lives and more.

  101. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad or evil (I don’t consider michaelmas to have been bad for me, absolutely not, I don’t have a problem with it) — I only think one has to be honest about what it is *in anthroposophy*.

  102. Just for the record, I certainly don’t feel there is anything even slightly “reprehensible” about celebrating Michaelmas. I always enjoyed Michaelmas. What is reprehensible is not being forthright with the parents about the religious meaning of the festival in anthroposophy, i.e., why the school is celebrating it. In the charter schools in the US, calling it a “harvest festival,” for instance, to avoid any religious connotation.

  103. Falk:
    “Without being or ending up as a Catholic, one can go to a catholic school and daily witness the reverence for the BVM of all those around you. There will be pictures of her in every room, there will be special devotions going on. There will be special feast days.
    In my class of 28 at a private junior school run by nuns there were 2 Jewish girls. Their parents were not afraid that their daughters would turn into Catholics. How is the devotion to Michael any different to or more reprehensibe than what happens in different contexts?”

    The analogy is perfect. Obviously one can attend a religious school and not be converted, despite participating in the rituals and pageantry and listening to the legends countless times and internalizing all the symbolism. That’s religious school. The only place the analogy fails is that Waldorf schools insist they are NOT religious schools.

    These arguments are about having it both ways, then. If you want to carry on that why is it so awful if Catholic schools do it, too, then please … ditch the claim that Steiner education isn’t religious.

  104. Just a funny piece of info: in Sweden free schools are categorized by the school authorities as either “Religious” or “General”. Guess where waldorf ended up:

    a) religious
    b) general
    c) none of the above

    I knew you would immediately spot the correct answer ;-) We now have three categories; religious, general and … waldorf!

  105. Does that mean they’re generally religious?

  106. If swedes knew about this (I discovered it just by accident in a dark corner of the website of “skolverket”), most would conclude that the school authorities consider waldorf as “half-religious”

  107. As for michaelmas, I’d like to say that to get a grasp of what Michael and michaelmas means in anthroposophy, and thus in waldorf education, it’s worth looking at what Steiner said as well as what more open and honest waldorf schools say (I think I’ve seen more honest descriptions… and many of the less honest ones). Here’s Steiner:
    http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/Michaelmas/MicMas_index.html

    That’s the reason I’m saying michaelmas is anthroposophical and should not be presented as something else. It’s not michaelmas that is the problem, as Diana pointed out (and maybe I did too, I’ve forgotten), it is how it is presented and what it is presented as. It’s true that there is something of courage to it, as falk wrote, of course there is: that’s the idea. The courage to fight the ugly dragon of materialistic thinking, for example.

    Thanks to Diana for explanation and verse. I’ve forgotten most verses, but that’s probably one well-known from Steiner himself?

    The bread dragons seem quite adorable — I might bake a few in september… well, if I manage to slaughter that dragon called kitchen-related impairment.

    Surely we’re talking about St George because of his semblence to Michael not because he’s the patron saint of England? Or Stockholm. That is the obvious parallel? It’s the same George? I’m thinking about the George (called Göran, in Swedish) who slayed a dragon to rescue a princess (symbolizing whatever the interpretation will have it).

    Ulf:

    ‘If the Michaelmas in waldorf school is “disguised” as a harvest festival, it could mean that cultural history has completed a full circle. According to swedish wikipedia the church failed to ban a pagan harvest festival. I guess there was to much drinking, dancing and related activities. Instead they adopted it with St Michael as a new stepfather. So we are only witnessing the third incarnation of the festival-soul, always progressing towards higher spiritual levels. Though some might miss the drinking and related activities. But who knows, I’ve never been invited to one ;-)’

    But, wow! Now I’m getting it. This festival has incarnated once more — as the ethereal kiosk! The drinking, et c, is back! And open all year around too, not only at harvest time. Surely, this means something. No wonder Michael is hovering around here, constantly half-drunk and half-religious.

  108. Melanie · ·

    back to the Bristol Free School bid. A short article in the local paper outlines their plans, but the comments are not favourable. I wonder if they’ll stay – one comment (‘nutters’) disappeared.

    Pithy observations aside: “Every day I spent amongst the Steiner volk, I died a little,” it isn’t so good to call people nazis (unless they are/were nazis). It isn’t the first time I’ve heard Steinerites called this and now they’re intent on acquiring public funds, it won’t be the last. A history ignored or lied about is one they’re not in a position to rise above.

    http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Campaign-launched-new-Steiner-free-school/story-16170771-detail/story.html

  109. Melanie · ·

    and someone posts another piece in the paper, as if in response:

    “Thanks for the article about the plans for the proposed Steiner Free School in Bristol, what a fantastic addition to our city that would be! Especially interested in the ‘Environmental Sciences’….”
    http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/discussions/Thanks-article-plans-proposed-Steiner-Free-School/discussion-16175491-detail/discussion.html

    I was once like Sheena Louise (except I would have agreed with one of those commenting about science and a particular kind of ‘green’ agenda – he has it in one when he mentions free-thinking). I can’t help wondering how our Steiner initiative would have coped with these responses (we didn’t use the web as much a decade ago) but I do remember wondering why we weren’t more popular than we were. There were no free schools of course, so at least that wasn’t an issue.

  110. Is it too much to hope that the internet is really going to finish waldorf?
    i feel quite optimistic having read those comments.

  111. I’m not sure. I think there will always be people who’ll like that kind of thing, sometimes because they will already be emotionally committed before seeing such comments. Of course the internet makes a difference but they also gain support and adherents through the internet. People don’t necessarily look for the bad stuff. They look for the good and cosy stuff.

    Good observation about ignored history. That is one of their problems. They should have dealt with it themselves much earlier, and it would not have been among the troubling issues. Well, that goes for many other things.

  112. Melanie · ·

    update (for the ethereal records) – today after the first Bristol article the reference to Steinerites being nazis has been removed, although the Steiner quotes (related to his race doctrines) remain.

    After the second article there’s no change, so someone has still been allowed to say ‘These people sound like nazis’.

    I wonder what the moderator at ‘this is Bristol’ is thinking.

  113. Melanie · ·

    If you have come here from the Bristol Free school bid, this is a way of contextualising Steiner’s race doctrines, within the history and epistemology of anthroposophy: http://www.dcscience.net/?p=3853

    The race issue is the one the Steiner Waldorf movement most fears, but if they themselves don’t subscribe to a spiritual hierarchy of races, the remedy is clear. It does mean admitting that Steiner wasn’t clairvoyant, thereby questioning the entire pedagogy, and it would be very difficult to disentangle themselves, but it isn’t impossible. Until they do this they certainly shouldn’t, at least in my opinion, be trusted with public money.

  114. Presumably just comparing people to Nazis is not going too far.

  115. Melanie- ‘I do remember wondering why we weren’t more popular than we were’.
    Did anyone object to your initiative? Or was there just not much support?

  116. Melanie · ·

    we could never raise any money and only we went to our own events. Plus someone in the local council knew more than we did about Steiner ed, I suspect, and made things difficult.

  117. My head is like, gone, sorry. These temperatures make it impossible to think and my apartment is an oven. Thanks for keeping the ethereal records updated!!

  118. Melanie · ·

    I want chew bones as a reward.

  119. You may.

    I have suffered a heat-stroke and can’t chew. Everybody is out on their balconies and there’s a lot of social chatter and sounds from cutlery and plates and I think I’ll go hide in the ethereal kiosk… is there any chilled champagne? That might help…

  120. Melanie · ·

    funny you should say that! Two bottles of Veuve Cliquot for the man of the moment – my super cool son. Let’s repair to the ethereal sofas..

  121. oh, that sounds lovely.

    I need a bucket of ice on my head as well. I’ll send the gnomes to fetch ice-buckets.

  122. Hi all,
    I’ve finally got hold of the Australian study that we referred to on http://www.bristolsteinerfreeschool.org.uk, and I have linked to it from the site. You can download it here:
    http://www.bristolsteinerfreeschool.org.uk/files/7313/3819/4234/billwoodsmountbarkerstudy.pdf
    It seems to be quite well done, although I shall leave you to make your own judgements… Unfortunately the file that I was sent does not include subsequent chapters in which the author promises to unpick exactly which aspects of Steiner education are responsible for the performance of Steiner students in university, but I may yet manage to track down the whole document.
    We’re still discussing exactly how to present our school’s relationship to Anthropospophy and Rudolf Steiner’s body of work. It feels like a very important thing to get right, especially in the current climate when there is a lot of public discussion of Steiner education (eg Guardian on Saturday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/may/25/steiner-state-funded-free-schools?INTCMP=SRCH ) and when the opportunity to access public funding gives Steiner education a chance to move forwards but also a responsibility to be a lot clearer about its philosophical underpinnings.
    The plan is to add a page to our website headed ‘Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy’ which will set out our position – I will post a link to it here once it’s up.

  123. Thank you Joe! I’ll have a look at it later today!

  124. Melanie · ·

    Joe: ‘We’re still discussing exactly how to present our school’s relationship to Anthropospophy and Rudolf Steiner’s body of work.’

    There’s only one way: honestly. If you are a Steiner school, an anthroposophical impulse must lie at the heart of your school. And not your own version of an anthroposophical impulse (Steiner-lite) – because the teachers who will work in your school will be trained on courses which are based squarely on very little but anthroposophy. You will run into the usual difficulties.

    I don’t know if Bristol needs or wants another free school proposer (that’s another subject) and I suspect what’s happening in the media may make Steiner as a brand unattractive, there are other forms of ‘alternative’ education which are appealing and lack Steiner Waldorf’s dubious baggage, especially democratic schools (in which I have a feeling many of your children will end up, especially if they become more common).

    It might be better to skip the Steiner phase you may very well later regret (unless of course you are an anthroposophist) and go straight for something new of your own: something the children and the staff together help to create. A friendly word to the wise, Joe.

    http://www.eudec.org/

  125. Hello — I have not forgotten… I’m hoping Ulf will comment first on the research; he’s usually wiser as far as these things are concerned ;-)

    I completely agree with Melanie about this:

    ‘There’s only one way: honestly. If you are a Steiner school, an anthroposophical impulse must lie at the heart of your school. And not your own version of an anthroposophical impulse (Steiner-lite) – because the teachers who will work in your school will be trained on courses which are based squarely on very little but anthroposophy. You will run into the usual difficulties.’

  126. And I haven’t forgotten … There is some interesting maths in the report. I hope it will be good for my brain ;-)

  127. Yes yes, it *will* be good for your brain, I say, soothingly ;-)

  128. I wonder how many of the group working on this free school application have read this. I wonder if they have discussed between them who believes in reincarnation and who does not.
    Joe, have you referred anyone else here from your group? Do you think they should read the post?
    This is not just idle curiosity. Bristol is not a million miles from where I live and it is not inconceivable that one day it or another similar school may be the nearest for any future grandchildren I may have.
    I really hope not.

  129. Hi Helen,
    The group are quite mixed in terms of cosmicness – in terms of reincarnation I think a couple of us have a reasonably strong belief in it, three of four are agnostic on spiritual matters and one or two who don’t really believe in it. We’ve all talked about this stuff – it’s not an especially big deal, we’re all happy with the diversity in the group and we accept each others personal beliefs. Our personal, private beliefs are just that, and don’t intrude into our educational or practical planning.
    But you know, people who believe in reincarnation don’t eat babies or anything. Lots of people in my life do – old hippies, younger people who are very into yoga, some Indians… All nice, normal people. It’s not really a big deal as long as you’re not dogmatic and you respect other people’s own beliefs.

  130. It’s worse than I thought.

  131. “Our personal, private beliefs are just that, and don’t intrude into our educational or practical planning.”

    This is the crux of it. It would be surprising if, during a Child Study for example, they did not intrude. I’m tempted to go through the tenets of Anthroposophy asking for clarification on which are personal, private beliefs and which are useful pedagogically, but I bet this classification would vary from one individual teacher to another.

  132. Helen

    “It’s worse than I thought.”

    Ha! That made laugh out loud (although I know it’s not actually so amusing, but thanks, I needed it!)

    MarkH

    “I’m tempted to go through the tenets of Anthroposophy asking for clarification on which are personal, private beliefs and which are useful pedagogically”

    Yes! Exactly! And which beliefs are actually anti therapeutic and harmful.

  133. ‘It’s not really a big deal as long as you’re not dogmatic and you respect other people’s own beliefs.’

    I’d say it’s not a big deal at all (in fact, it’s a personal and private matter) *unless* the beliefs are enshrined in the pedagogy itself, *unless* the beliefs inform how children’s development is seen, and so forth. Then the deal is bigger. It’s a big deal you’ve got to deal with — on another level than the purely personal one.

    I second Mark’s concern. And reincarnation is not the only belief of this kind, and yes, they do influence, e g, child study and much more, that’s the whole point of studying anthroposophy in teacher training…

  134. Hello again Joe – and others interested in the truth of the claims of superiority of Mount Barker Waldorf School. You can easily check the figures for yourself in the link provided by Joe above.

    Now if you could raise the percentage of pupils entering university from 14-16% to 44% it would be truly extraordinary. And that’s what Steiner Education Australia says in the report which Joe found here: http://bit.ly/K4hsds

    Fortunately for the Adelaide University which lends credibility to the report, that’s not what Bill Woods, the author, says. The figures are based on such an embarrassing misunderstanding it’s almost unbelievable. This is what Bill says:

    ” … the rate at which school-leavers entered university in South Australia during this period was approximately 40 percent.”

    There are in fact percentages of approximately 14 and 16 percent mentioned elsewhere in the text, but intended for a completely different analysis, a “comparison of the ages of ex-MBWS students attending university and the ages of the wider university student cohort.”

    So shouldn’t the Mount Baker school and Joe be happy that 4% more of their pupils enter university? I don’t think so. At least not until someone can show that the family background of their parents is comparable to mainstream schools. Usually Waldorf parents are better educated which means their children should be more successful academically. In the part of the report Joe managed to find, there is no data on this. Which also invalidates the figures about the better grades by those who entered the university doors.

    I’m not saying Mount Barker is a bad or mediocre school. For all I know it could very well be a fabulous place of learning. And they are certainly not responsible for the lack of reading and mathematics skills of the author of the Steiner Education Australia text. I am saying that as far as I and Joe can know at the moment, we cannot even honestly testify that one single Waldorf school on the other side of the planet is better than mainstream schools.

    And Joe, you and your friends in Bristol have even bigger problems than that. If you want to give parents and authorities an accurate and honest picture of the evaluations of Waldorf pedagogy, you should tell them something completely different. To make a long story short, there are no studies I am aware of which shows that Waldorf education is superior to mainstream education. Quite the opposite. The best so far, and the only one taking the influence of family background into account, is a Dutch doctoral dissertation by Hilde Steenbergen (2009). It clearly states that Waldorf is a bad choice if you care about reading, writing and math. Of course you might get something else from Waldorf pedagogy, but it seems you have to pay for that …

  135. I’ve now read this study too. Thanks for posting the link Joe. Unfortunately, there’s a serious problem in the section on student grades once they’re at university, which I think invalidates your statement that ex-Waldorf students significantly out-perform their peers from other schools.

    Woods considers the grades obtained by the entire cohort of ex-Mount Barker Waldorf School students, who attended 3 different universities: The University of Adelaide, The University of South Australia and Flinders University. His control group consists of students from only the University of Adelaide. Now, UoA is a very distinguished institution in the equivalent of the US Ivy League or the upper reaches of the UK Russell group. The other two universities… aren’t in the same league. Is it possible that courses are less demanding there than at UoA? Could it be easier to obtain higher grades? Woods doesn’t take this possibility into account at all.

    If I were examining Woods’ thesis, based on this extract alone, I’d be tempted to fail him.

  136. This is brilliant!

  137. I was going to make this into a post, but am now confused. The number the Australian association uses is 49%, not 44%.

    http://steinereducation.edu.au/files/ascf/ascf_foundations_graduate_outcomes_paper_oct_2011.pdf (p 5)

    That would mean, compared to 40%, 9 percentage points more.

    Another question that hit me was this: for waldorf students, Wood counts ‘tertiary and vocational study’. For mainstream students, he counts ‘university study’. This when examining the percentage going on to higher studies.

    Vocational study seems to be a broader concept than university study. Presumably it includes kinds of training that academic studies don’t? See again p 5.

    Does Wood say anything about this in that document? Do you remember?

  138. I’ll have another look at this, the 44% is from my own calculations based on Woods data. And I missed the vocational issues too, so the 40% is probably misleading.

  139. ok, good. I’d like to make this into a post. I think it might be good. Or useful. Or something.

    I must say I actually despair at how they present things to screw up results to their own favour.

    Just now I saw calls for presenting all the positive research — about how successful waldorf is — from around the world in order to convince politicians to fund waldorf teacher training. Of course, with the help of PR consultants. There’s really no way to stop this. Once people have made up their minds that others should pay for their personal beliefs, they’re very determined. And, as you know, scrutinizing their dishonest claims is quite a task.

  140. Seems like the Australian association is using some wild luciferic maths. Woods is also speaking of 44%. The fortynine percent simply doesn’t exist. And when they refer to the Dahlin transfer rates they write “58 – 60%”. Dahlin himself says 58%. Why add the 60%? Curiouser and curiouser and curiouser …

  141. May I recommend a wonderful little book: “How to lie with statistics” by Darrell Huff? It’s very readable even if you’re not particularly mathematically inclined.

  142. Seems like the perfect book for me and the waldorf/steiner movement! (Maybe they’ve alread read it though.)

  143. Or, possibly, they’re just naturally talented.

  144. I think they have a secret manual for CONFUSING outsiders with statistics. Could of course be a natural talent too. Whatever the source of these arcane powers, it works ;-)

  145. Confuse and conquer. It’s a tactic they learnt from the gnomes.

  146. Do you mean the super-intellectual gnomes which Rudolf says are impossible to count? My favorite gnomes! Should be perfect for the job of making a mess of any type of statistics.

  147. Yes! Those gnomes! They’re brilliant. But it’s not their fault that the anthroposophists have stolen these tactics. It’s worth saying so that nobody goes on to blame the gnomes.

    (For those who don’t know: http://wp.me/p1nCt-34h)

  148. [...] website about the success of former Steiner students, referring to an Australian study. I wrote a post about the Bristol Steiner school a while ago. After a while, Joe Evans, who is involved in the [...]

  149. It is such a shame that Steiner education seems to be taking precedence over other ‘common sense’ approaches such as Montessori or ‘democratic’ schools. What a missed opportunity, really.

    As a parent, the choice is between home schooling (we cant realistically do it), the new age religious ‘craze’ of steiner education, and the traditional state school approach.

    It speaks volumes about the current state of ‘mainstream’ education that I will choose for my children the antroposophy-based (arrghh !) Steiner education over the traditional state school.

    Let’s not forget (especially those who talk about HONESTY) that the existing educational system was created at a particualr moment in history, with a set of underlying values, and an ideological agenda behind it.

    I could be wrong , but I doubt many schools approach prospective parents by sending ‘Culture and the State’ (David Lloyd) through the post, then inviting them for a meeting to discuss the school’s role within an institution whose main objective is to help maintain the satus quo and a particular economic model, while at the same time claiming they are an unbiased, rational, objective and scientific educational institution.

    Of course one hopes there’s enough room to manouver for specific schools and teachers, both within Steiner and mainstream approaches. It’s just at this moment in time looks like Steiner might give you more room to manouver, and (amazingly!) be the lesser of two evils.

  150. Melanie · ·

    you left this comment on Andy’s blog too – word for word – and it’s no less silly here.

  151. I’m pretty sure Steiner schools don’t give you more room to manouver, however, they might give you the kind of room you’re happy to be in.

  152. [...] things are of course good. But the criticism of Steiner Schools is that they are not open and honest about the mystical and spiritual aims of Steiner education. Indeed, there appears to be a refusal [...]

  153. I am surprised that you found this strange about the Steiner Free Schools, quoting from your post: ” The education is for the most part a collective experience — the children all do the same thing, at the same time, at the same pace. For example, there are no text books, so all students are supposed to copy the subject matter at the same pace from the blackboard and be able to follow the teacher’s instructions, given verbally and collectively. But these are just examples. The school explains: ‘Whole class, mixed ability teaching is the norm’. What that means, in this context, I do not know.”

    Please, explain, what is strange about this? When this is how all schools in Britain operate these days? Most schools don’t even have textbooks anymore. The only difference is that teachers in government run schools copy from a “fancy” powerpoint displayed on a very expensive interactive whiteboard instead of a plain old blackboard that does the same job for a fraction of the price!

    Then your comment: The school explains: ‘Whole class, mixed ability teaching is the norm’. What that means, in this context, I do not know.” You say that you don’t know what this means…. well, I assume you are not involved in education then, anybody involved in education, parents, teachers, students, dinner ladies and even the receptionist would know what this means in modern educational jargon. This is not Steiner jargon, it’s general educational jargon. Any school, private, independent, comprehensive, primary, secondary…. uses this type of phrases. All schools will say that they develop individuality and they nurture learning in each child… this is not “Steiner” jargon, it’s general modern educational jargon. You may agree or disagree with it, but this actually has nothing to do with the Steiner ethos in particular but modern educational philosophy in general.

    I appreciate the fact that you are pointing out at quotes from the Steiner website that are not “backed up” by references, okay, but saying that there is not a reference does not make it a “lie” without backing it up yourself with a real “reference”. If I am not to believe their site because they don’t have any “reference” why do I have to believe your claims when there is no reference either?

    In my opinion people who like Steiner schools and send their kids there do it because they know the quality of the teaching is the same as in other schools minus the disruptive behaviour and oppressive rules of other schools. Once you take out of the equation the pressure kids feel in schools with all the useless rules like wearing the right type of shoe or the bullying, children are happier, happier people learn better. It may not have anything to do with the philosophy or the type of education, but more with the sense that you are not sending your kid to the jungle, where either he has to be bullied or turn into a bully to survive.

  154. Presumably other schools don’t use expressions like develop individuality and nurture each child’s learning while not being able to offer any of that but rather just a one size fits all approach.

  155. And, Lidia, I’ve been to Steiner ed. Shitty quality. Awful experience. Incompetence. You’re right — the underlying philosophy is but one aspect of the problem.

  156. Alicia, unfortunately, this is the disease of “modern” British education. So, yes, schools will use expressions like “develop individuality and nurture each child’s learning” while not being able to offer any of that but rather just a one size fits all approach. If you don’t believe it you just have to get a job as a teaching assistant in any school and see for yourself, or just read the “National Curriculum” and see if you can make any head or tails of it.

    I take your word for it that your school was crap. However, I don’t really think that spending years training our children to learn how to pass an exam (SATs) is proof of “good” education. You see, that is the “mass education one size fits all” that you mention. What do you think happens to the kids who “don’t do well” at SATs? Nothing, their data gets sent to the secondary schools and they probably get placed on the bottom sets and labelled. The lucky ones may be able to work out of the label, the unlucky ones will leave secondary school after five years with no qualifications and still being unable to read and write properly.
    Do you think that in secondary schools teachers with 30 students in one class can sit and teach reading and writing with specific students? Who do you think does that? Well, if you are lucky an underpaid teaching assistant who probably has not even received any relevant training.
    I am sure in private schools with 5 students in one classroom everything is much easier.

  157. I’m not going to discuss mainstream education with you. I don’t see the point. You appear beholden to the same negative view of conventional education as many other steiner parents — steiner supporters like to revel in the supposed horrors of school systems other than their chosen one. In general, I think a teacher with proper training can do a better job than an uneducated teacher. Training in anthroposophy doesn’t count.

    Of course 5 kids in a class in a private school is better than a big class (in state school or elsewhere) — the fewer kids, the more time for each kid’s needs. In public funded Steiners they aren’t aiming at 5 kids a class though. That would be silly. Steiner’s own ideal was for a class to consist of around 50 students; according to him, that was the best. German waldorf schools have had big classes for this very reason. Small classes is *not* a steiner school phenomenon (even though I’ve come across such misunderstandings occasionally) — where they *can* (ie, have willing customers), they enroll at least as many pupils as conventional schools.

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