This text of mine was published on Life before death as a guest post on Jan 14th 2008, see Guest blog: A waldorf tale, for a nicer layout with pictures (that may include less crazy typos and mistaken english as well) ;) I think the text should be here too, since many of the readers of this blog share my experience of waldorf and anthroposophy.
So, here it goes.
The atmosphere is so much nicer in waldorf schools,” is a frequently occurring argument put forth in the defense of waldorf pedagogy, waldorf schools and their organization. Another argument often repeated is that waldorf schools offer more acceptance towards ‘odd’ or ‘different from normal’ students.
What is it that they mean with this talk about ‘a good atmosphere’, I have always wondered. As bad an atmosphere as the one I experienced in waldorf during my years spent there, I’ve never encountered anywhere else. Neither was the attitude towards the critics, the unconvinced or the quitters particularly amiable. In the waldorf school I attended (Kristofferskolan, Stockholm), the general atmosphere was so bad that I dare call it abusive to keep children in such an environment, under such lack of responsible adult supervision and with such an attitude towards group dynamics and the role of the teacher as the responsible adult in charge of the kids’ well-being.
The so called acceptance for oddity left much to be wished for. I was odd, but wasn’t accepted in the least, neither by most of the teachers nor by the other children; neither in school, nor in kindergarten. Waldorf schools cultivate an image of their own acceptance of different minds and the non-mainstream culture, but the acceptance is not a real world fact. They accept oddity when and where it coincides with their own image of anti-establishment ideas. To be waldorfy or to adhere to anthroposophy is odd seen from a perspective of ‘normality’, and this is the sort of oddity they take under their wings. Odd in the sense that you like to read books or enjoy doing maths or have a materialistic or atheistic worldview isn’t accepted, rather it is fought against.
At such an early stage as the kindergarten years, every day life in the waldorf school was filled with physical and emotional violence. Children beating, abusing and hurting other children was accepted to a very high degree, and no adult ever took responsibility or tried to insure safety and security for the children who were abused. In short, there were no restrictions on what children were allowed to subject their classmates to, and this made every day torturous because you could never figure out what horrific events lay in front of you.
Once, when I returned home with my hands clawed, scratched and thorn with wounds, and my mother made inquiries about how this could have happened, the kindergarten staff told her an anthroposophist’s child did it to me, but it was all my own fault. By not having given the “appropriate” responses to this kid’s harassment, I hade brought this treatment onto myself. I had deserved it. Incidentally, this was a child who tormented me in various ways from the first year of kindergarten all the way through school, until I finally quit after 6th grade. Never, ever did i do anything that could have merited this treatment – much less did I do anything that would have excused the teachers and staff from interfering. Unless, of course, me being a non-anthroposophist and the other kid being an anthroposophist, counts as sufficient ground for maltreatment.
In kindergarten there was also a kind of play, or game, which teachers initiated. This game is a good example of the inherent sadism in anthroposophy as wall as of the beliefs in nature spirits. The game consisted mainly of the children “acting” dead unmoving rocks or stones, which were one by one being “brought alive”. This is in effect meant to seductively instill in the kids the “openness” towards spirituality, namely the beliefs that everything in nature is ensouled and has spiritual meaning. The game had a twist – the “stones” that were “transformed” and alive, was in their turn supposed to bring another one alive. This game was well suited for the kind of organized ostracism that waldorf teachers’ excel at tolerating or even, as in this case, co-arranging. In itself, this game wasn’t so bad, perhaps, but since it was part of teachers’ approved systematic bullying, of freezing out the unpopular children and of a grim and ugly outlook on humans, it made it all so much powerful for those who had to endure it. Worth noting is that this school and kindergarten employed teachers and staff who were diehard anthroposophists.
The early school years were marked by one single retarded child who terrorized the rest of the children with his violent outbursts. Since he was placed in foster care in an anthroposophical home, what would have been the normal procedure in any other school didn’t follow: taking the kid out of school, and minding the other childrens’ safety. For example, one child had to go to the emergency room to have his/her head stitched after being thrown into a clothes’ hanger (this was one instance of the usual anthro meds just not doing the trick). This situation created a sense of being in a state of permanent terror, if that wasn’t the case regardless. And no adults took responsibility. Ever.
My personal misery continued throughout those school years as well. As a consequence of my refusal to go to school, and to stay there, my parents were recommended to hire an anthroposophist who would pick me up and bring me to school. It was implied that my resistance to go to school was entirely my fault and had absolutely no real causes. I was to be subdued, and would budge eventually. However, my parents obviously were to emotionally charged, and couldn’t act with the cold determination of an anthroposophist. Crying children is not a problem for anthroposophists who focus on the future of anthroposophy rather than individual suffering. So instead of seeing me cry and scream every day at school, they had to witness it everyday at the underground station as I was hauled away by the anthroposophist. You see, for anthroposophists there is nothing objectionable in having to use force and violence to get a child to school. They don’t balk at proclaiming that 1) it’s the child’s fault 2) the child is really content with the school, but because of the child’s faults s/he doesn’t realize it and 3) the waldorf school is so much better compared to any other place anyway. It doesn’t ever hit them that for this particular child – whose needs the school can’t fulfil, who is clearly unhappy with the whole situation, who may never succeed in waldorf but could be happy somewhere else – waldorf may not be right at all. This is because they demonize the outside world, and there’s never a chance that someplace else may be better. They know best, and nothing can beat waldorf. If the child’s preferences depart from waldorf’s, the child is at fault.
As for atmosphere and violence, I had many harrowing experiences. During lesson, in the presence of a teacher, I was forced to silently accept the following: having my hands clawed and scratched until they bled (yes, this happened both in kindergarten and in school), being kicked so hard on my back that I could hardly breath standing up straight nor walk properly, being hit with a wooden hammer in my head repeatedly (which left lasting problems that resurfaced years later). The problematic thing in waldorf is: these things can go on right in front of a teacher. Teachers are just not mentally present, or they make a decision not to see or register what they see. A lot of the time it just seems as if they think you get what you deserve. Beside those incidents, the years in waldorf were spent in a regiment of horror, when so-called friends repeatedly and persistently engaged in various kinds of violent behaviour. During some particularly violent periods there wasn’t one single day when you’d escape being thrown into walls and cabinets, hit, thrown to the ground, being held with forced against your will… and in addition there was the verbal abuse. Being in waldorf was a veritable war against physical and psychological health.
This kind of atmosphere just wouldn’t have happened in the school I transferred to after waldorf. First, there was no culture of violence there. Secondly, there were teachers who were present, in mind as well as in person, and participated in the everyday life of the students.
I think that for a large part the particular culture of violence in the waldorf school was sanctioned by the whole environment and the ideas that waldorf build upon. Since waldorf’s function is to help fulfil the spiritual goals of anthroposophy, “education” will always be secondary to spirituality. My feeling is that physical, verbal and psychological violence between children is allowed as a means of subduing the “unfaithful” children. The “righteous” are given the freedom to “discipline” – school personnel only have to stay absent or pretend blindness. Because what they really think is that what ever is going on is right, and you have to make room for karmic destiny to play out. The welfare of the individual child isn’t their responsibility. As a bonus, the ostracized child is a living show case of an unsuccessful (re-)incarnation, and the waldorf school’s agenda is to better the children’s upcoming incarnations since this is a way to improve on the evolution of mankind, so higher stages of development can be reached.
Another problematic aspect of anthroposophical childcare and schools is that most anthroposophists are far out there and too busy minding their own personal spiritual development, which prevents them from taking responsibility for the children. They don’t take the time and commitment to see and understand the children they are paid to take care of. They do see a lot of angels, gnomes, fairies, elves and non-existing beings, but they don’t see the children. They don’t care, they don’t participate, they don’t stay present.
It’s probably a struggle of sorts to stay tuned to the material reality when there’s a pink coloured angel fluff buzzing around your head. This is however not a problem for anthroposophists, since they believe there’s so much more to cosmic existence than the material facts of reality. Sadly this reluctance to stay in touch with factual reality interferes with their understanding of the childrens’ social environment or the suffering of an individual. There’s no way for them to discover when something has gone wrong, when the kids are out of control and the social environment has turned to disaster, or when school, education and learning aren’t working…
In my yearly written message from teachers to parents it is said that I seem to be happy with my life and with my school. I’m stunned at how and why the responsible class teacher could produce such lies. It must have been so blindingly obvious that I was suffering a lot from what went on in school. That I refused to even go there would have been just one hint… The teacher must have been aware of how dysfunctional the whole class was. S/he must have known very well that on top of my not fitting in with the class, I hated every single one of the activities anthroposophists hold high – eurythmy, flute playing, wet-on-wet painting, crafts… S/he obviously knew I had intellectual needs that would never be met by the very anti-intellectual waldorf pedagogy. It’s absolutely insane to notice all those things, and yet persist in saying the child is just fine here. Their only mission is to make sure no one leaves or dissents. Telling the truth would expose the failings of the school to the parents, who, if they are not anthroposophists themselves, will eventually realize that leaving is the only sane option.
Waldorf schools subsist because of a number of big collective lies, one of them is: waldorf atmosphere is so good, consequently everyone is fine in waldorf. And violence in waldorf isn’t violence, because the atmosphere in waldorf is so good it makes anthroposophy’s adherents blind to reality. If, by any chance, violence would occur, it probably only affects the non-humans:
“Quite a number of people have been born…[who] are not reincarnated, but are human forms filled with a sort of natural demon…” [From Faculty Meetings with Rudolf Steiner]