my mind was always some place else

partly because I was bored to semi-consciousness — partly because my mind took any opportunity to race. It took off in its own direction — seemingly aimless — at any chance, at any minor stimulation. Still does, by the way, but not being at school anymore, gives me leeway in a way I didn’t have back then. My mind would jump from one item outside the window, to another, to items in memory, to mental concepts, to dreaming, to… just about anything. Lots of the time I was half in a kind of sleep mode, my brain hibernating drenched in its own dreamy substances, feeling as if on endogenous overdoses of valium. Or on what valium is supposed to be like, but isn’t to me. Ordinary sleeping pills don’t make me tired. Alcohol awakens me too, most of the time.

At nights my mind raced. My body raced. At night there was never any natural valium, never any sleepiness, never any respite. It worked overtime. Hypervigilance as a method for staying awake at any cost. I lay awake. I spent my childhood and my youth laying awake in bed, evening, nights, into the mornings. When I was in kindergarten, I used to watch, or listen to, TV secretively in the hallway where mum and dad couldn’t see me. (Or I lay in bed screaming, but that’s another story… And as a baby, I screamed too, and never slept much. I was a horror.) Or I lay counting patterns on the bed, the linen, the wallpapers. Or pondering the cracks in the wooden floor or the transitions from dark to light in the gleams from doors and windows. When I was older, I read. Children should sleep at night. But what if they just can’t sleep?

I was always sleepy at the wrong time. I was always relentlessly hyperactive at the wrong time. There was a restlessness that never let my brain relax and naturally sleep inclined — except, apparently, when it was under the requirement to be attentive and I was required to sit still in a chair.

I still have a mind that gives me no rest. It’s not to much use, as a matter of fact. I still can’t sit on chairs. Unless I am to drift off to sleep, I need do all kinds of strange contortions. Physically. Or I must move around. Fatigue comes from being still and being bored by the lack of relevant mental input (that is, of such nature as I can process it), but then my body and my brain battle it by fighting, by drifting, by moving around, which means I can’t fall asleep — unless I fall asleep sitting up and — well, pretty much — involuntarily.

So for the past half decade I’ve been on medication that makes me actually sleep. Sleep like people normally do. They go to bed, and they fall asleep (reasonably fast). I didn’t know what that was like, but it’s a relief. If I forget the medication, I spend hour upon hour with a mind racing in every direction and a body that just can’t be still. I’d be bored, but because my brain is busy, there’s no falling asleep. I’m not bored in the same way I was bored during school days. My mind occupies itself. It did then too, but at night I’m consciously wanting it to bore itself unconscious, at day I want it to be constantly active as not to fall asleep (and the not sleeping at night leads to unbearable tiredness). So it’s like I’m my own worst enemy. As I said, nowadays I’m blessed with the drug-induced ability to sleep.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m writing this. Perhaps it was my realization that I still suffer from recurrent states of unfocus and inattention, that I still can’t go to the supermarket without losing concentration, without feeling disassociated. And then it’s this feeling that I waste so many years — not learning. Not being allowed to learn anything. Being made to sit and listen and listen and listen — and not really hear anything. Never being instructed in a way I could have understood. Because I always was very capable when I got written instructions — but waldorf schools look with contempt upon children who read. You’re supposed to imitate. But what if you can’t? Well, you’re a lost cause, a hopeless child. You’re supposed to listen — preferably in awe and reverence (remember, these are characteristics waldorf aims at instilling in children) — but what if you just can’t get much out of it? What if listening and having to remember everything — rather than being allowed to write it down — means you can never do anything but fail? Well, then you’re the retarded child. And even if you really aren’t retarded, you’re compared to a model anthroposophic child and you fail and you fail and you fail. It doesn’t matter if you’re bright. If you can’t remember the instructions for wet-and-wet painting — you fail! And nobody will explain why you fail all the time.

Maybe you’ll be sent to “curative” eurythmy, which you hate. Or you’ll be evaluated by the anthroposophic doctor who diagnoses you with soul failure. You’re going to die. No more human incarnations for the failed children.


26 thoughts on “my mind was always some place else

  1. To an English eye this picture is like Narnia recurring – so many lampposts in the snow… but of course CS Lewis, who knew about Anthroposophy, was not so keen on it.

    To me this is the torment of the very clever child who was not allowed to think. Maybe you were unlovable – I somehow doubt it. Maybe you were wonderfully difficult to pin down. A truly child-centered education, or a compassionate teacher, would have let you be.

  2. It’s our nearest park. It’s very nice, but hard to find opportunities to take photos without people. I’d like it more if people looked more late 19th/early 20th century. They would fit the park better ;)

    I’m not sure if my teacher lacked compassion… but the waldorf system lacked compassion.

  3. Hi Alicia,

    If I understand you correctly, you were sent to the wrong school because that school didn’t give much effort to help you?

    You think a regular school would have given your restless mind the mental challenge it needs?


  4. Well, the answer is more complex than that. I was sent to the wrong school, but it wasn’t wrong simply or only because I never got what I needed. It was wrong because I was treated badly, and because the school relied on knowledge taken from Steiner rather than from modern sources on pedagogy and psychology. It was wrong because I was never into eurythmy, archangels or wet-on-wet-painting. It was wrong, because everything I knew how to do or wanted to learn was off-limits. It was wrong, because bullying and violence was commonplace. And so forth.

    I’ve been to a regular school, from 7th grade and onwards. Yes, it was a lot better. At least you were allowed to learn things and you were allowed to develop your interests (waldorf was rigid — how children develop and what they should do is already established beforehand, and the theory is built on a flawed model), as well as learning academic subjects. No damned eurythmy. No archangels. No teachers speaking incomprehensibly about encounters with fairies, gnomes and the dead. Written textbooks and reading — what a relief.

    That said, I still despised being in school. I continued to cut classes. Most of the time I went to the library, but still… I can’t say school was ever the place for me. You know, sitting there all day long, and all that comes with it. I had to struggle like a gnome in a mine to stay at least semi-aware of what went on. University, same problem.

    So, to a certain extent — no, I would still have been me in another environment, I’d still have had that restless mind to deal with. At the same time, I’m convinced that most other non-waldorf alternatives would have been better, and that I could have suffered less than I did. I just think that waldorf is particularly bad for a child like me. Even if I could — to some extent — catch up academically, I would have needed other things as a younger child. The waldorf methods, being so badly in tune with what I needed, rather reinforced my “habit” of spacing out, they taught me that school was boring and meaningless and that there was no hope.

  5. Thank you for your answer, Alicia. Now I understand better why you criticize steinereducation. Besides the woolly teachers or teachings which are often ennoying for children, you were maltreated as well (btw. also happened to my eldest son. For me that meant the birth of my first critical pamflet about the steinerschool).
    I recognize what you say with ‘they taught me that school was boring and meaningless and that there was no hope’.
    Many children in steinerschools lack motivation to study, because their teachers ‘let them be’ (who knows what?). So they start wandering around. Not only in their own minds, but also with a backpack.
    Behind this unpedagogical behavior of teachers lays the well known theory of karma. it is all in the childs destiny to ‘let it be’ (whispers words of freedom …)


    PS: Now going to read your next text

  6. Yes, and instead of learning to focus, one learns to “unfocus” — not giving a damn anymore. I did have motivation as a kid, I had motivation to learn reading, writing, maths… but waldorf isn’t about those things. (Indeed there was something karmically wrong with me… they didn’t want me to begin first grade (my parents disagreed, so I started anyway), because I was thought not mature (not completely incarnated, I suppose), and yet I could read when I began — I don’t think anybody else could, actually, not even kids who were months or a year older than me; it was waldorf, parents and teachers didn’t promote reading… Karmically I had many wrongs ;))

  7. I think it wasn’t just Steiner education but the lack of professionalism of the teacher and staff. After an independent Waldorf School Kindergarten, we picked a Charter Waldorf School, which mixes Waldorf methods and public school standards, for his first grade. My son is starting to read in first grade and he is not dreaming around like you said happened in your school.
    I also received my Waldorf teaching certificate. There is some “interesting” filler that accompanies the pedagogy, which needs to be taken in context. That is to say Steiner was a philosopher and he may have been philosophizing about some of the indications, and they should have been left at that pure philosophy.
    Common sense must override over zealousness to imbibe a teaching.

  8. Oh, I don’t think so. That teachers and staff were particularly bad, that is. Unless all teachers in my waldorf school were unprofessional. And that’s a strange notion. Of course, it was a waldorf school, so universal professional incompetency may be considered a possibility. I do think I had a relatively competent teacher though, i e, my class teacher. She was a trained teacher, had an education in addition to waldorf training — and had worked in public school. But the school was shit — and nobody took responsibility for it.* And my opinion is that an educational system founded upon spiritual beliefs cannot offer anything.

    Because that’s what Steiner was, primarily — an esotericist. Sure, he began in philosophy. But the bottom line is: astral bodies and reincarnation really aren’t mainstream philosophical tenets — they’re spiritual beliefs.

    The problem with Steiner’s educational ideas isn’t that they’re too founded in philosophy or that he was “philosophizing” too much. The problem was that he used his spiritual epiphanies and applied them to pedagogy. The context isn’t philosophy — it’s spirituality. The issue with spirituality is that it’s all too easy to let zealousness override common sense, all in the name of higher spiritual goals.

    And if you lead parents to think otherwise, you’re deceiving them.

    As you’re involved in waldorf charter schools, I can but recommend and the associated mailing list

    (*This wasn’t some waldorf “light” version of a school — it was the oldest and largest one in this country. It was staffed by anthroposophists. People had proper anthroposophical training. Many were trained in Germany/Switzerland. Certainly people who knew what they were doing. But the scary thing is — all waldorf schools have tremendous problems. Some may be better at hiding them.)

  9. We can equally say, all schools have problems. We haven’t found one that doesn’t. They all have hidden skeletons.

    I am wondering where your parents were and what they were doing when you were suffering. A lot of people swtich to and from Waldorf, some are happy there, and some are not. When a child does not fit a school the parents need to help the child into a better place.

    What was that better place for you, do you know?

  10. Of course all schools have problems. I would hope that most of them — unlike waldorf schools — are doing their best to deal with their problems and that they don’t blame the victims, don’t try to abdicate from responsibility, don’t do their best to obfuscate. And for most of them, the hidden skeleton doesn’t happen to have anything to do with anthroposophy.

    I agree that parents need to do what you say. However, the problem is — in my case and in many other cases I know of — that waldorf schools don’t tell parents what it’s like for the child. Waldorf schools very actively seek to obscure matters — often through outright lies. In my case, they gradually came to accept lies. From the first time when my mother question them as to why I came home with physical bruises and she was told it had been my fault for being me. (According to karma thinking, me and the other kid had some past-life issues — justifying her abuse of me. This was in our first weeks of kindergarten. I don’t even remember it — but I remember being terrified to death of this kid all through those nine years I was at the same school.) Then it went on. I was completely unhappy, I protested. They told my parents that I was happy once they were gone. It wasn’t true. During one period the school and my parents had an agreement that an anthroposophist and teacher would supervise me in school to make sure everything was ok. She was also to forcibly bring me to school in the mornings. My parents trusted her; she told them everything was all right. There were no problems. She lied.

    By this time, my parents were used to the thought that I was an abnormal misfit. Which, by this time and after this treatment, I certainly was. Everybody was thinking, and saying, that if I can’t be ok in this paradise of a school, then I’d be hopeless anywhere else. School in Sweden is obligatory — if you don’t send your child to school, you’d be in trouble with social services. Home-schooling isn’t an option, and in any case both mothers and fathers need to go work. They can’t stay home because their children have trouble in school. So, for people who have a supposed problem child, they’d be happy for anybody to solve the problem. And waldorf school pretended they could solve the problem at the same time as they reinforced the view that I was the problem and all the fault was with me.

    So you see, in my opinion, the waldorf school had a very active part in creating the idea that it was the child’s fault. I was the bad person. And as a waldorf teacher, you probably know that the doctrines on temperaments say that melancholic children — which I was thought to be — benefit from suffering. It’s good for their karma. I needed it. Of course, crap like that is not among the things they tell parents. Also, it influences how children view themselves. I thought I was a horrible human being who deserved all I got. I thought my parents had approved of my being treated the way I was. I never ever thought of actually speaking of what happened, all I did was scream, refuse, misbehave. Remember, I was 3 years old when it all began. I was totally unaware that I, as a human being, could expect and demand better treatment from other human beings.

    And those are still only parts of the picture.

    A better place would have been any other school. I can’t see it differently. I am aware that it wouldn’t have been without problems, absolutely not. Socially I may have been an outcast there too (although I am sure public school staff don’t justify bad things through karma). But at least I had been allowed to learn and do meaningful things. To me, eurythmy, knitting, wet-on-wet painting and flute playing aren’t meaningful. (Another thing waldorf teachers were clearly aware of — but waldorf teachers maintain the incorrect idea that such activities are spiritually meaningful even for children who hate them, thus pretending the children will eventually begin to appreciate them doesn’t seem out of place.)

  11. I very much hesitate to enter into this discussion. But isn’t your self description slightly incomplete? At your blog, you have at one time told that the reason your parents put you at the Kristofferskolan Kindergarten at age three was that you as a child were “more difficult to handle than the average child”. This is not to put the blame on you for what happened to you, just to give a slightly more complete picture of what you describe.

    Your self descriptions at an earlier time also have given the impression that you had sort of an autistic tendency that still lingers on at times. I don’t mention this to put the blame on you for what happened to you, just to give a slightly more complete picture of your painful situation.

    Also, one maybe not that truthful description by you. You write “as a waldorf teacher, you probably know that the doctrines on temperaments say that melancholic children — which I was thought to be — benefit from suffering. It’s good for their karma. I needed it.”

    That seems to be a misdescription, that I’d be interested in getting your source for. What is good for children with a melancholic tendency is not to experience suffering as sufferers, but to get pictures of suffering from outside. That is the reason children with a melancholic tendency may be placed together in class at Waldorf schools, to make them experience the melancholy in each other, and be incited to out of themselves develop what balances what they experience in their bench neighbors.

    This just as some short comments.

    Best wishes,

  12. “Daher ist es nützlich, wenn wir diesem [melancholischen] Kinde – so sonderbar das klingen mag – wirkliche Hindernisse, Hemmnisse aufbauen, so daß es über gewisse Dinge berechtigtes LEID und berechtigten SCHMERZ erleben kann.

    Die beste Erziehung für ein solches Kind ist es, wenn die Hinlenkung auf das innere Leidgefühl, Gramgefühl dadurch abgelenkt wird, daß das, was nun einmal als Anlage vorhanden ist, sich entfalten kann an dem äußeren. Das Kind soll lernen sich aufzurichten, ZU LEIDEN an den äußeren Hindernissen und Hemmnissen, dann wird die Seele des Kindes allmählich in andere Bahnen kommen.”

  13. Yes, Sune, I say that all the time — I just figure I can’t repeat the same things in every post (it would be pretty tedious, don’t you think?). I was a lot more difficult to handle than the average child.

    That’s one of the reasons the waldorf folks should have realized — acknowledged! admitted! — that they were wholly incompetent in this regard. It was their responsibility to say this to my parents — i e, not say that everything was OK — and it would have been my parents responsibility to remove me from this environment. Clearly, waldorf teachers aren’t qualified to handle children with “autistic tendencies” — whatever these may be in my case — thus they should not be put in charge of children with such and other problems.

    But then again… when it comes to kids like me — kids who don’t fit in — the important thing is to be able to recognize that this (school) setting is not the right place. That educationally or socially (or for some other reason) the child is not happy here. It’s not necessarily about pinpointing what’s wrong — with the child or with the setting — but about seeing things as they are.

    So, I was a difficult child. But the huge problem was that I was MISERABLE in waldorf — which surely made me even more difficult. And it was the miserableness that SHOULD have caused responsible people to conclude: the child needs to try something different than this. But what happened was that they pretended everything was just fine. This was dishonest.

    I don’t have a problem with the fact that they couldn’t help me. I have a problem with them being dishonest about it — them lying about it. Big difference!

    I have no idea whether I was placed among other supposed “melancholics”. I am just saying I was designated “melancholic” — which is freaking ludicrous in the first place. Waldorf uses this ridiculous old teaching in inappropriate ways. That’s it. Look at this

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

    Anyway — the problem is saying “this child is melancholic, it should be treated this way”… it’s unscientific bullshit. It isn’t helpful. There are no excuses for relying on old misguided beliefs when dealing with children. That “melancholic” children benefit from sitting together with (mirroring their selves in) other “melancholics” is nonsense. As is the assumption that I was a “melancholic” in the first place, and that this in any way or shape ought to influence who sat beside me in the classroom. (Besides, I’m quite doubtful that the temperament teachings actually influenced the seating arrangements in class at all. (And that is a positive acknowledgement, mind you…))

  14. My thoughts about karma . . . if someone is suffering it is my job to try to ease that suffering.

    Your Waldorf journey was very twisted. So far so good on our journey with our son, but we’ll be careful to watch out for incompetence something I would do in any school.

    Best to you.

  15. Well, surprisingly I seem to share this twisted kind of journey with so many other waldorf families that I suspect it isn’t very twisted but — more likely — the rule. Sure you ought to look out for incompetence. But being a skeptic is important in addition.

    In any case, the mere notion of including karma thinking (even in the “nice” way you suggest — even if the aim is to help ease the suffering whatever the cause of it) is a sign of incompetence. Because karma has nothing to do with suffering. Bad karma doesn’t cause suffering. But I do think that at any time when people rely on misguided ideas there’s a risk they’re causing suffering themselves. So to me it doesn’t help that you say it’s about easing suffering.

    The bad thing about this is introducing the concept of karma at all.

  16. And, by the way, why are all waldorf people on a “journey” — attending school is about getting an education. Sure, that’s one kind of intellectual journey (could be, but isn’t in waldorf — unless you call it a journey to hell, and I suppose that’s really one kind of a journey…). Still you never see other schools/parents/teachers harp on about being on a “public school journey” for example. But waldorf forgets about education as education, isntead obsesses about journeys, communities, and so forth.

  17. “in every temperament there lie two dangers of aberration, one great, one small. One danger for the young choleric is that he will never learn to control his temper as he develops into maturity. That is the small danger. The greater is that he will become foolishly single-minded. For the sanguine the lesser danger is flightiness; the greater is mania, induced by a constant stream of sensations. The small danger for the phlegmatic is apathy; the greater is stupidity, dullness. For the melancholic, insensitivity to anything other than his own personal pain is the small danger; the greater is insanity. ”

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


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

    As for journeying, I can’t agree with that either. Most of all, when speaking of waldorf education, calling it a journey seems to me nothing but cynical. You’ve got to accept, then, that part of the parcel of this journey is the fact that quite a number of kids just want the plane to crash, because that’s the degree of discomfort they’re feeling during this journey. It’s like a trip to disaster.

    No, really — I think that the only reasonable way to achieve what you set out to achieve is to refrain from pretending that something is what it plainly can’t be. You can give children an education. That should be the imperative. Children will get what they’re there to get: an education. It is reasonable — both to the children and to the school/teachers. There are defined goals and a purpose that can be fulfilled.

    Journeys can be had, but has nothing to do with the basics of education; any child should experience the basics of education — knowledge, skills, all these things — but there’s no way it’s fair to put on the extra pressure of enjoying a damn journey too.

    When I see all the propaganda texts extolling the blessings of waldorf in terms of ‘journeys’ and ‘communities’ I think about all children who are trapped within this educational system with its pretenses to be a whole life solution incl theme park, a zoo and — if successful — the replacement of all alternative social and material joys of existence.

    No, I’d say: give them the knowledge and skills they need to find/create their own individual journeys. School’s not supposed to be some kind of agency for soul travel.

  19. these are great replies from you zooey – every time I plan to contribute something here you say it first.

    If people must call it a journey (and to British ears that’s a sentimental Americanism) it’s a child’s own business. The most illuminating thing I read from Elizabeth (apart from the troubling mention of karma) is: ‘So far so good on our journey with our son,’ Because it isn’t ‘our’ journey (or mine with my own children) it’s his. It’s theirs. Believe me, it’s best to find another hobby. It’s that ‘parent-led’ education that causes many of the problems: the charming trees you want to see screen the darker woods beyond.

    Occasionally Steiner hit upon a moment of acuity. He then immediately afterwards veered off into a fantasy world which might have made him a good living in science-fiction but which is no basis for an education system, or a way of understanding children. If he was occasionally right, he was usually involved at the same time in satirizing his followers. This is why he celebrated his birthday here, on zooey’s blog, where presumably his unearthly spectral self feels most at home.

    As for those followers: here is a word for you all: anti-therapeutic. Mark it well.

  20. And it was a very happy birthday. A temperamentally blessed party, but maybe this was due to the biodynamic drinks which were quite splendid. Steiner brought neither melancholy nor absolutism to the life between death and re-birth.

    True — the journeying is definitely very american. There are, of course, several other similar and (more or less) vacuous concepts in the world of waldorf. With some national variations…


    I thought I would add a comment from Janet Street-Porter, a famous & outspoken British journalist with her finger on the popular Brit take on that word ‘journey’, a word now being used by our once Prime Minister, the one who believed in imaginary but convenient weapons of mass destruction thus going to war in a sieve. Here she is:

    ‘From A to B is the new religion

    Is “journey” the most over-used word of the moment? Tune in to any prime-time telly from X Factor to Strictly Ballroom, and everyone’s on their own personal journey. Once upon a time, we tried to do our job at work, we set ourselves tasks, we had hobbies which we either succeeded at or gave up. Now, we’re on a journey.

    Which is why, presumably, Tony Blair’s autobiography, due out in September for the princely sum of £25, is to be called The Journey.

    That’s to distinguish it from the more basic journeys we’ve enjoyed with Heather Mills on ice or our fabulous winter Olympic gold medallist on her tin tray. Tony’s letting it be known that his Journey has a capital J and is the most important story of the 21st century.

    He even looks like a new age guru on the bloody cover, in his midnight blue shirt with the top button undone. I won’t be buying it.’

    I suspect the phrase ‘education is a journey not a race’ might need to be quietly dropped.

  22. LOL!

    Well, this means waldorf people who were speaking about ‘journeys’ were ahead of their time — but as always, the trite and banal, the empty phrases that seem superficially ‘wise’, will attract a number of other utter nitwits too. Thanks to moronic tv shows and politicians with little sense for aesthetics the word ‘journey’ will become unusable.

    Or, being cut off from reality and not understanding that other people begin to laugh at certain things and phrases, waldorf people will think they’re really hip and cool now that people talk like some of them do. ‘Journey’ will become the Jennifer Aniston of the vocabulary.

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