honesty, compassion, responsibility

When the pain that cuts through your chest is so sharp you cannot keep walking, feelings are a strange blend of desperation and detachment. Yet you have to keep walking, because if you don’t, you show your weakness, and showing weakness equals defeat. You do keep walking, because there is no other option. You keep walking, but avoid inhaling properly; you take shallow breaths that give you enough oxygen to still be standing up. But nothing more.

And the pain doesn’t stop there; pain is never merely physical. There’s the pain that tortures your mind like a chain-saw cutting through it, and the tears that burn like fire behind the half-closed eye-lids where they have to be contained at any cost. I didn’t cry. That was the one thing still in my power — to disallow the world the satisfaction from seeing me acknowledge pain. I, unconsciously, trained myself to detach.

I remember the spot where I felt I cannot take another step. I could not talk, and I could not laugh (although I knew I should laugh), because all the air I could get into my lungs had to be used to keep me moving forward. I needed to get home. I had to reach the train station. Not far away in material terms, but an eternity away in every other sense.

I could not stand upright, yet I did because, as you know, especially in such situations, walking upright is a matter of dignity.

*

You know that this is the kind of writing that waldorf defendants reject. It is subjective. It is, by its very nature, emotional. It is, thus, not ‘serious’. It does not take into account the pleasure experienced by the other students in waldorf schools. To be objective, and to be serious, one has to do that, I’ve been told numerous times. (I advise you all: go to the website of any waldorf school. And ask yourself: is this objective? Does their advertisement take into account other perspectives than the rosy-coloured?) This all contributes to making it immediately invalid, of course; I can live with that, but I would also say that there are not so few waldorf students who have such invalid experiences. But as enthusiastic waldorf parents occasionally put it to me: ‘You’re not objective! I love waldorf for my children!’ As if my starting point were or should be their feelings. It is not.

I can be more or less objective — I can strive to be objective — about the ‘facts’ part of things. I cannot be when it comes to my own experiences. They’re mine. And they don’t belong to any emotional zone governed by happy waldorf parents. All of this would make them retort: ‘I’m sorry you hate waldorf so much, you bitter old hater’, but in worse language. Because, as if by coincidence, these people not only display cultish devotion to waldorf education they are not all too rarely borderline illiterate. I avoid, if I can, interaction with such people these days.

As usual, double standards are applied. If only these people voiced a demand that waldorf schools and organisations presented themselves more accurately and honestly. But they won’t. Because to them a description of waldorf as paradise is ‘objective’. Instead they demand, of the individual critic, that he or she does what these institutions don’t manage to do. The schools and organisations and their officials and adherents lie through their teeth while they smile seductively, and everyone who is still a believer in the dream happily endorses it all.

My knowledge is troubling, so they prefer not to focus on that (often they can’t). My experiences, on the other hand, are easily rejected as irrelevant. There’s always a reason to reject a negative waldorf experience, no matter how many and how powerful they are together (sadly, most people remain silent in public, to avoid attacks or simply to be able to move on in life at all). Always a reason to justify ignoring it or to justify attacks on the individual (who must have been defective, not to appreciate waldorf!). The positive, albeit just as individual, experiences, however, are universally applicable. They give the real picture, think those who are still convinced. Even illusion can expect to be taken as reality. And any emotional argument I make will, for the supporters of waldorf education (who are heavily emotional themselves), only serve to prove that my knowledge must be worth as little as my experience. It’s invalid, too, because I gained it for the wrong reason. It’s invalid, because my experience does not match theirs. Moreover, none of what I’m saying matches the advertisement brochures and the presentations they were given by the school. Well, it’s the way things are.

It makes me sick and tired. It makes me think: you know what, why am I avoiding making it personal? Am I avoiding it in order to spare myself from personal attacks? Why am I avoiding emotion? Is it because making it emotional gives the other side another reason to reject and scorn you — as unhinged? If so, is that not cowardly? I mean, cowardly of me. What I actually saw in that school may be a more powerful weapon than any theoretical knowledge — and coupled with theoretical knowledge, it should be poisonous.

The accusations are ever-present: you’re bitter, you’re a hater, you’re not worth taking seriously… Well, then. Let it be so. I’ve said a thousand times: I don’t require that people take me seriously. But my writing and my arguments — both the more ‘objective’ ones, and the personal ones — have always been about a lot more than bitterness and hatred.

*

I still want to return and pick that child up. Carry it home. But I won’t. I can’t. Nobody ever will. You cannot save your past selves. They are dead, and their once burning tears frozen in time.

*

About three minutes into this youtube movie (it’s an advertisement movie for the waldorf school I attended), you encounter a waldorf teacher. She claims she ‘likes honesty, compassion and responsibility’ (and dislikes the absence of those qualities). She happened to be one of the worst teachers at the school; her lessons were all too often unpleasant chaos. She never reacted when some children kicked another child so badly during a lesson that this child could barely walk home afterwards. That child was me. I don’t know what she saw. I never spoke about this incident or any other incident. I never protested, because I never knew I had rights. I had no integrity, I had no guts, I wasn’t brave, I let myself down. I should have screamed and kicked every day I had to be in this school, but I had given up, I had no illusions, and I thought I deserved what I got. I was told that if I don’t enjoy waldorf school, everything is much worse elsewhere. That was untrue, it was a blatant lie. But waldorf is full of people who believe in the illusion — not to say delusion — that, despite all the flaws which ought to be obvious, waldorf provides a paradise for children, a place where children can be children and grow up at their own pace. These people wear rosy-coloured glasses and do not speak about the experience I had. Truth has more layers than they want to know.

*

About the photo: maple leaves, were used — in kindergarten — with a special kind of cardboard to make crowns as though the children were kings; they never were. There was only a queen, only one queen. One overarching interest, one overarching cause, that made individual human beings irrelevant.

*

Addendum: I wrote about this advertisement movie and this teacher (without mentioning her name) in a post on Facebook. That post is now gone. I have not deleted it myself. I have spent a very long time today trying to locate the post, and it is gone. It is even more unfortunate as there was a discussion afterwards, and I very much would have wanted to keep it. I thank everyone who showed support in that thread and everyone who contributed with their thoughts. People cared, and that made me happy. Thank you. Update: see comment.

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10 comments

  1. [...] specifik situation har jag beskrivit i mitt tidigare inlägg alldeles nyss, och gör det därför inte igen. Det är inte den enskilda situationen som är det [...]

  2. curt jansson · ·

    Alicia,
    firstly, I have searched that thread on FB, as I was myself active in it. I cannot find it either. Some underhanded skullduggery seems to be at hand, regrettably, I do not know wether FB automatically deletes marked comments and threads, perhaps one could ask some knowing person.
    Secondly, I know personally (rather well) both your old “teacher” (not really worthy of the title) and her new rector. I feel strongly tempted to call the rector and spill my guts (or, rather, yours) on her. She is a very clear sighted person and would propably create a little hell for her collegues if she found out what was going on, even if it was long ago. She knows, as we both do, that these things weigh you down for the rest of your life if you are not capable of bringing it to the front and fight it through.
    Thirdly, my own elder son had no social problems at his first w. school, just a teacher who neglected his reading and writing (even in English). What saved him was a teacher in the new school (also w.) who performed bloody miracles with him. He is now studying architecture in London (!). This first school had many similarities with Kristofferskolan and was the main reason that the boys´mother, and ultimately I, too, moved down into the bush, to obtain a better school, which we got. That is already long ago, that school is also on the brink of being like Kr. skolan. I think these things alter with time, as long as there are people of professional excellence active, it all goes well, when they retire, the replacements are often rather sorry figures. Sadly, Kr. skolan reached that stage just in time for your stint there. I know this does not help your memories. They stay with you. But we are a bunch who know about them and even have had similar experiences, not in Waldorf though.

  3. Curt,
    thanks very much for looking for the thread. I guess that *if* it was deleted because someone reported it, then this someone must have hoped I would not notice it. Unfortunately for whoever it might have been (still *if* it was what happened), this blog has a lot more readers than my facebook feed… However, I can’t be sure, but nothing would surprise me in this regard. I did google the issue, and it seems that posts on facebook can be reported and removed for a number of reasons. Realistically, they can’t investigate every report, so if someone reports a post as a personal attack or even claims there’s nudity in the youtube-video, they probably don’t check it thoroughly. Most of the time, nobody will know a post is gone anyway.

    I once read an interview somewhere with the present headmaster, she did seem more level-headed than I would have expected from a waldorf headmaster… And I do think it’s a good development that they have one (an even better development if they choose a good one); when I was in that school, in the 80s, there was only a very undefined and fluffy group — also known as the college of teachers of course (and obviously still a big thing in waldorf school) –and *nobody* was in charge. Nobody was ever responsible for anything. Nobody had the whole picture, as it were. I think this situation made the school inefficient in dealing with pretty much any problem. Let’s say there were bad or incompetent teachers — with nobody taking responsibility, who would talk to them, try to improve things? The other teachers, their colleagues? Of course, the principal is a colleague too, but everybody understands that the principal has a higher kind of responsibility, a duty the ordinary teacher doesn’t have and doesn’t want to take on.

    Because, naturally, the problems were much deeper than this one incident (which may or may not have been recognized by that particular teacher, given the general mayhem that her lessons turned into… which in itself was a problem). Academically the education was poor (although I don’t think I had a bad class teacher, not at all, but the circumstances were too unfavourable to do a decent job). Socially it was a disaster. Not just for me. I remember one kid in another class who used to sit and hide from the classmates behind a door — between the door and the wall — every recess. Did you ever see the kid’s teacher do anything? Nope. Just completely ignoring it. Children were beating each other up during recess and even during lessons — nobody ever did anything. Lots of adults who were on their spiritual paths and feeling superior and, no doubt, more enlightened than the hoi polloi — but at the same time rather incapable of running a school or to *see* the individuals, the children, they were supposed to teach and care for and act to protect and help in a responsible manner.

    As I so often have said, it’s not really that bad things happen that is the problem — but when the failures to deal with things that are wrong seem to be systematic, then there’s a massive problem right there.

    Obviously, there are many who think that during the time I’m speaking of, this school was really a paradise. I have difficulty seeing how they come to such a conclusion, but I can think of several explanations.

    ‘…as long as there are people of professional excellence active, it all goes well, when they retire …’

    Exactly. And the school, or whatever institution it is, quickly becomes unattractive for people who are accomplished professionals. They don’t want to find themselves in such a work situation. It’s a bad circle. I think Kristofferskolan was definitely in such a bad circle, although it’s of course a tad bit more complicated; some of the very old guard was still there, and some were rather dubious types. The problem with the replacements was that they often lacked most things. An education, teaching experience, capacity to handle children, understanding of children, et c. Some seemed simply to be people who happened to enjoy anthroposophy and needed a job.

    (Another interesting example of a relatively young, clueless and quite incompetent teacher is the present study adviser/career counsellor. She was a teacher back then — though her education was in arts — and we were taught by her when our teacher was away. Although she was a kind person, her teaching was an absolute, complete, total disaster. She did not know what she was teaching. And then the disorder in the classroom… Dear Dog.)

  4. The thread magically appeared again. It really was nowhere to be found before; several people looked for it. I looked and looked and looked. It wasn’t there. But now it is:

  5. curt jansson · ·

    Miracles do happen (rarely, but still..).

    You say “some of the very old guard was still there, and some were rather dubious types. The problem with the replacements was that they often lacked most things. An education, teaching experience, capacity to handle children, understanding of children, et c. Some seemed simply to be people who happened to enjoy anthroposophy and needed a job”.

    Well, the old guard is not necessarily good just because they are old hands. And some of the geriatrics at Kr. skolan were AD 1984 more ripe for the nursing home, psychologically, than for teaching. Some of the younger recruits were exactly what you describe; well-meaning, bloody amateurs.

    As for the career counsellor, what would such a figure have counselled for Albert Einstein in the 8th grade? The mind shudders…

  6. ‘were AD 1984 more ripe for the nursing home, psychologically, than for teaching’ — well, there is some truth to that.

    It is possible the career counsellor is a career counsellor because she’s gotten herself some training and education she didn’t have back then. On the other hand, knowing how things were, I find it far more likely she attained the position as a career counsellor because that way she didn’t have to be employed as a teacher which was clearly not her thing. No matter what alternative is closer to the truth — I think she’d been completely unable to advise Einstein…

  7. David Clark · ·

    What a tangle! Possibly not a lone voice. Invited by Early Years to give Adult Education sessions at a Waldorf School, there has been a small response as yet. I’m still going ahead. My experience of anthroposophy has been in general professional life. Over many years that proved fruitful according to colleagues’ comments at different times. Looking back, I suppose it was important to just focus on delivering professional tasks. In this way, I both related closely with others and learnt a great deal. Of course, this was not always “easy” and I am now preparing to research into anthroposophical fruits from that time in an academic context. My main interest is in applicable economics that can relate to current conditions. For me, “responsibility” is a powerful word. From my experience, it can be carried and it also has consequences.

  8. ‘I am now preparing to research into anthroposophical fruits from that time in an academic context.’

    Good luck! Doesn’t sound easy.

  9. David Clark · ·

    Hi. Writing again, with hidden memories prompted by reflecting upon your blog, While I didn’t attend a Waldorf School, my time was also quite difficult. For me, the problems related to repeated stamping on my feet, as well as the seemingly unconcerned and self-absorbed attitudes of the teachers. At the time, my parents seemed deaf to my fear and pleas and I couldn’t change schools. Several operations on my feet. Only on leaving school did I start to grasp circumstances for myself through making my own connections. Thank you so much for bringing forward your account.

    Tail wag!

  10. Awful, absolutely awful. The things that happen in schools, the things children do to each other, the way adults just look the other way and ignore it all because they (the adults, the teachers) are complacent or stupid or blind or plain lacking all empathy or ability to care. The negative consequences are so immense.

    Tail wag!

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