the dangers of living in a cocoon

a poster on the critics list made an attempt to discuss how things go bad in anthroposophical and waldorf enterprises, that is, where do things begin to go wrong? Is the problem limited to individuals who fail — the problem then having nothing to do with anthroposophy  — or perhaps a consequence of inherent characteristics of the movement as such and of its beliefs, I asked; and wrote

… it’s the humans involved in it who make it this way… . The question is — has there ever been anthroposophy (i e, a community of people who adhere to anthroposophical beliefs more or less strongly — and more or less knowingly) or waldorf without these exact problems arising? Is it even possible? Perhaps it isn’t due to anthroposophy in itself, but isn’t it nonetheless an inevitable consequence of what anthroposophy “offers” people combined with the needs of those people who seek it out to participate in it?

A viable question, it seems to me; not that I expect any kind of answer (I think some of us, who are somewhat critical of anthroposophy, have an inkling what the answer might be, but anthroposophists in general are unlikely to even acknowledge the legitimacy of the matter, perhaps justifiably so, perhaps not). Can there be anthroposophy without social and emotional dysfunction? Is it, in some ways, a set-up for failure? Are the malign consequences inevitable? Does it have to do with whom anthroposophy attracts and the reasons why certain people are drawn to it?

I’m not sure if I was right when I wrote this following passage — this was a year and a half ago (it’s available somewhere in the list archives):

Dysfunction is endemic in waldorf, that’s the problem. It can’t really be suppressed, only hidden more or less well. In the normal world, when instances of dysfunction arise, it’s possible to isolate the matter and kill (metaphorically) the (metaphorical) germs — to intervene and make things right… A problem isn’t an insult to the system, neither are criticism or discussion.

The point is, I’m no longer sure the situation is this dark. Then, at times, I am reminded that perhaps it is dark enough. Maybe I tend to ignore or downplay the negative aspects, these days. To save myself from knowing, or… I don’t really know. Then I explained the issues pertaining to waldorf’s inability — to deal with problems and disagreements — in this fashion (I’ve taken the liberty of modifying the passages somewhat, I am, after all, quoting myself, which is a bit narcissistic — but not without pleasure — I suppose…):

There is definitely a huge difference in how teachers handle things. The problems in waldorf are on a whole other level. Dysfunctional. That’s the case when dealing with bullying, with disagreements, with criticism and practically anything that is in any way “negative” for waldorf methods or waldorf teachers or the waldorf school in general. There can’t be any bad things, so everyone has to stay asleep. They can’t have a real conversation about things that go wrong, because this would be to admit to failures on a higher level.

That is, to admit a there’s a level of foundational, philosophical and even metaphysical failure.

When things go wrong in other environments, there’s no implicit agreement that silence is required. As a waldorf kid you’re supposed to shut up and suffer whatever happens. And the thing is, you’re not supposed to talk about things you dislike. Because liking or disliking is not an open issue at all. Disagreements aren’t valid. And I think children know this. That every difference of opinion is always hushed at or explained away (and then there’s the tactic to blame the victim…) — those are major clues to dysfunction.

Everyone hates eurythmy, but still the disliking is a non-issue, it’s supposed to be of no relevance. While in an ordinary school, it’s ok to express that you hate sports. (I did that, many times.) It’s a valid feeling. It’s all right, and you could deal with it from there, sort of, if for some reason an agreement must be made. The child has the right to an opinion — without the adult world going into some kind of crazy denial mode. Or attempts to devalue the child’s thoughts or blame him/her for the state of things.

And these examples could obviously be generalized to some degree — I think waldorf people/teachers handle all issues with parents and children in ways that are unsatisfactory. I think the basic problem is the concealment of anthroposophical doctrines, the whole issue of parents being only partly aware of the underlying ideology, that’s a culture of secrecy which taints the whole environment. With many of the parents in a class who aren’t into anthroposophy themselves, there are too many issues which can not be freely spoken about.

While I’m less certain about the role and the consequences of concealment, I do believe there’s a culture of silence and implicit demands that people don’t make a fuss — it is a remarkably uniform subculture of shared values and ideals. But maybe one must conclude that it has less to do with concealing anthroposophy than it has to do with more or less open claims to perfection. Anthroposophy, and waldorf to an even higher degree, offers salvation from the dreads of modern life… a salvation from normal life, actually. When you claim to save childhood or to provide a paradise for children — a cocoon, a sheltered existence pervaded with benign and nurturing forces — the descent into an abyss of very human frailty is deep and hurtful. But not that surprising. Better to turn a blind eye in order to not even see when it does happen.

At another point in time (I have no idea when), I wrote (and this seems to me to be true still) that the problem isn’t

that somebody occasionally slips up, but that the whole system supports it, all waldorf people collectively back each other up no matter what, not even another waldorf teacher, when s/he has the time to think, manages to spot even a blindingly obvious problem! That’s the really scary part.

On yet another occasion, I wrote that it isn’t necessarily the presence of problems that make waldorf what it is but rather the nature of the problems that arise and the

pathological inability to deal with them. One issue exacerbating this inability is actually that waldorf presents itself as the perfect school and environment — while ordinary schools rarely do this. It’s a set up for denial.

It’s not an absence of problems anyone would strive for — because that’s not feasible. A healthy correlation between the actual situation and the self-image would be a great start. Waldorf seems to have trouble in this particular department, eventually resulting in devastation.

I think that perhaps sometimes they see anthroposophy as a guarantee for all that is good, they have this whole foundation with answers to everything, inbuilt belief and morality, a common ground and all that — while other schools don’t operate out of such assumptions, and are less rigid and don’t have to see threats to their core beliefs when things don’t go according to plans.

And as long as anthroposophy retains this psychological position in people’s minds, how can anthroposophic operations avoid taking wrong paths, making bad decisions, putting ideology before human beings?