religion and waldorf education

a recently added article on ECSWE’s website deals with religion in waldorf education. By Gise Kayser-Gantner it is entitled ‘What is the religious element in school?’ and it claims that waldorf education cannot be a matter of religion, as waldorf schools can be found in various parts of the world and in different cultures. The article argues that although

[r]eligious elements are an important component of Waldorf education and are found in all school subjects

this does not indicate the education is religious:

[the religious elements] should, however, not be mistaken for religious instruction in the sense of any specific faith or denomination; but they rather characterize a certain prevailing mood which is independent of any religious confession and which can be found in all religions.

There’s an interview with a Buddhist parent, whose son is to become a Buddhist monk, and a Sikh parent. The Sikh parent says:

In any case I would always decide again in favour of Waldorf education as in our times it seems to me to be the best choice for spiritually-orientated parents.

The Buddhist parent says:

Our decision in favour of a Waldorf school was mainly influenced by the fact that the teachers were ready to accept Hue Bao as what he is. They understood for instance that his robe is more than a garment that can be taken off any time. They were able to understand that it is part of his spiritual path. He grew up in the temple in that robe and he knows that this robe and his plait belong to his being a monk.

Let’s return to Eugene Schwartz’s speech in 1999, when he claimed (to the horror of many waldorf supporters who are less eager to spit out the truth) that waldorf’s spiritual nature is its very reason for existing:

That’s why I send [my daughter] to a Waldorf school. She can have a religious experience. A religious experience. I’ll say it again: I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience. So that she learns something about reverence. So that she learns something about respecting a higher being. …

… I think we owe it to our parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another. And if any of the teacher trainees in the room feel that I’m not saying that clearly enough to you, well, here it is, guys, if I haven’t said it to you a hundred times already: when we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education.

To deny the religious basis of Waldorf education–I would say it again–to satisfy public school superintendents, or a talk show host, or a newspaper reporter, is very, very wrong. And the Waldorf leadership, I would say, are waffling on this matter. I would say we are religious schools. Religious schools plus; religious schools with a difference; religious schools light–whatever you want to call it.

But we are, we are schools that inculcate religion in children. But it’s a different kind of religion, because it leaves them free to find their own religious path or not. …

If we are really to be a movement for cultural renewal, it is our responsibility to share with the parents those elements of Anthroposophy which will help them understand their children and fathom the mysterious ways in which we work[.] Yes, we are giving the children a version of Anthroposophy in the classroom; whether we mean to or not, it’s there. …

Roger Rawlings, a former waldorf student like me, has an essay on waldorf and religion on his website; it begins (formatting changed):

Anthroposophy is said to be a method for acquiring knowledge of the spiritual realm.
Its adherents say it is a science, not a religion.
But centering on a panoply of good and evil gods, angels, and other spiritual beings,
Anthroposophy entails prayers, reverence, meditation, gurus, and observances.
Moreover, it does not stop at gaining “knowledge”:
It offers spiritual rewards and threatens spiritual penalties —
it shows the way to salvation, and it points to the possibility of perdition.
Faithful adherents are told that they will attain increasingly high levels
of spiritual perfection and, indeed, divinity.
But those who fail to follow the true path may fall out of evolution, descend into the abyss,
or wind up with other miscreants on an “irreclaimable moon.”
A laggard or evil soul may be rescued by good souls, but then again perhaps not.
If humanity as a whole falls away from “Truth”
— if we fail to fulfill the tenets of Anthroposophy —
all humans may lose their souls.
Anthroposophy is a religion.

Read the whole essay!

He also brings up topics such as how religiousness and anthroposophy seeps into education and how waldorf teachers and anthroposophists from the very beginning of waldorf’s history have been inclined to hide its spiritual nature. There’s also another essay on anthroposophy in the classroom, entitled ‘Serving the Gods’. Roger writes:

The important point is to understand what all of this means in practice in Waldorf schools. Waldorf teachers think they are in contact with invisible beings. They think they receive guidance from them. They think their mission is divinely inspired. They use prayer and meditation, as prescribed by Steiner, to inform their work inside Waldorf schools. They are, in other words, religious missionaries, operating within a gnostic theology.

Staffed by such individuals, Waldorf schools are religious institutions. And the people Waldorf teachers work to convert are their students. Here’s how Rudolf Steiner put it, addressing the teachers at the first Waldorf school at the beginning of its very first term: “We can accomplish our work only if we do not see it as simply a matter of intellect or feeling, but, in the highest sense, as a moral spiritual task. Therefore, you will understand why, as we begin this work today, we first reflect on the connection we wish to create from the very beginning between our activity and the spiritual worlds … Thus, we wish to begin our preparation by first reflecting upon how we connect with the spiritual powers in whose service and in whose name each one of us must work. I ask you to understand these introductory remarks as a kind of prayer to those powers who stand behind us with Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as we take up this work.” [38]

Waldorf teachers have a connection with “the spiritual worlds.” They serve the “spiritual powers.” They work in the “name” of these powers. Steiner’s words on these matters are “a kind of prayer.” In overhearing Steiner talking this way to Waldorf school teachers, we are hearing a religious leader underscoring the school’s religious purpose, fulfilling its “moral spiritual task.” There is no science in Steiner’s words. There is faith. There is messianism. There is religion. That’s what Waldorf schools are all about.

Roger’s essays, as well as the material on ECSWE’s website, should be read by anyone contemplating sending their child to waldorf education. Do take another and deeper look at what the ECSWE really says (it is not religious — but religion is everywhere!) and consider what impact this approach to education may have on a child’s development towards becoming an independent, rational and critically minded adult. Notice also how the ECSWE offers uncritical support of parental indoctrination of their child to become a Buddhist monk. ECSWE respects this decision, because its core assumptions — that making life-changing spiritual and intellectual decisions for a child, to limit the child’s viewpoints and his options, to immerse him in a spiritual system before he’s been able to develop faculties of critical thinking, are well within the rights of parents and teachers — appeal to and correspond with those held by waldorf education’s proponents. They don’t pause to consider whether this indoctrination violates the child’s rights to freedom and to making up his own mind — they simply conclude that this kind of spiritual abuse is compatible, in practice, with waldorf traditions. Thus the child gets on fairly well in school, despite other discrepancies between Buddhism and anthroposophy.

Edit August 4, 2010: Quote from Roger Rawlings updated!


41 thoughts on “religion and waldorf education

  1. This is a very valuable post. There’s no doubt that a child who has these ‘spiritual’ (what DOES the word mean? Phantom imaginings?) ideas foisted on him is being abused, his self assaulted by the fantasies of his parents, the schools colluding.

    Whatever ‘spiritual’ means (and it’s a word I no longer use, such nonsense accompanies it) let’s call it a feeling of transcendence – it must be personal, it must be arrived at through one’s own experience: through passion, love or grief; it can’t be manufactured by one’s ‘elders or betters’, indeed the very best gift to give your children is to love them and leave them alone. Teachers who cross the line into the ‘spiritual’ realm are abusers, sometimes they are manifest, physical abusers. This is where reverence and awe takes us. All we need is respect and kindness. That’s enough.

  2. And what shocks me is that these parents and their choice is used as a positive example. I mean, they’re wacky enough to have decided their child is going to be a monk — what does that say about their capability to choose the appropriate school? Don’t the waldorf people see the problem in this? No, they hail this family as some kind of waldorf role models?

    Things being as they are, though, I suppose it’s marginally better for the kid to be able to stay in a European waldorf school than to be shipped of to some Buddhist monastery. I mean, if these are the only options… But the whole situation seems utterly inappropriate and very detrimental for a child’s health.

  3. Some comments about PLANS’ way of using a “quote” from the speech by Eugene Schwartz in its secular humanist “argumentation” against Waldorf schools for being “deceptively religious”:

    As part of its argument about “honesty” by Waldorf schools about their religious nature, PLANS quotes parts of sentences from a speech by a central Waldorf teacher, where he says that he has his daughter in a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience. The quote is depicted as arguing not only that Waldorf education, but also Waldorf-methods education as practiced at certain public charter schools, in general, is religious.

    What PLANS leaves out, among other things in the fragmented quote, are the specific reasons this Waldorf teacher mentions, that make him think that Waldorf education (not Waldorf-methods education as practiced at public charter schools) is religious.

    For this teacher, one reason is the way the morning verse, which is said by the children in the lower grades at Waldorf schools (but not in Waldorf-methods charter schools), mentions and addresses God. The other is how the Waldorf schools teach about the origin and dramatic history of the Hebrew people as a central theme in Grade Three, which for a time immerses the pupils, in a way, in Judaism.

    These are the specific reasons this teacher mentions for having put his daughter in a Waldorf school (and not in a Waldorf methods school, that PLANS litigation is about, dishonestly arguing about them as if they are Waldorf schools.

    Later, in the same way, during other lessons, the pupils are taught about other cultures in a way that makes them into dedicated Indians, dedicated Persians, dedicated Greeks, dedicated Romans, or — in the upper grades — into dedicated modernists, and as one possibility, dedicated secular humanists.

    The fragmented “quote” used by PLANS also leaves out how in his speech this teacher tells how upset he is that “God” has been taken out of the morning verse said by pupils at public Waldorf-methods schools to avoid a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

    In its distorted form, this quote is then used by PLANS as support both for its view that anthroposophy as such is a religion, and that public Waldorf-methods schools advance religion in a way that violates the separation of church and state stipulated by the U.S. Constitution.

    By any normal definition, such “argumentation” by PLANS Inc. does not stand out as a model of “honesty” or sincerity.

  4. I edited your signature url, Sune.

    My post wasn’t about PLANS court case at all. It is of no importance whether a school is a waldorf school or a waldorf methods school.

    The waldorf “methods” derive from anthroposophy not matter what you say. The spiritual elements of these methods are religious. Waldorf schools all have eurythmy on the curriculum. Eurythmy is applied anthroposophy. You can’t have eurythmy without anthroposophy. That is, eurythmy is inherently spiritual.

    Schwarz believes — anyone can read his whole speech where he expresses this opinion — that there should be no tax-funded waldorf methods schools. Because the requirements of the state must inevitably compromise the very nature of waldorf education; that is, the spiritual element that makes waldorf what it is must be eliminated.

    This is what Schwarz talks about in the speech. Yes, he does say he’s sending his child to a waldorf school, not a waldorf methods charter school. It is an important point to make, since he does not support the existance of the latter types of school, because they cannot — if wishing to achieve public financial support — retain the core elements of what makes waldorf waldorf.

    Thus, his argument is utterly relevant for waldorf methods practiced in charter schools. Regardless of this, my post was about the religiousness of waldorf education — not the legal permissibility of waldorf charter schools in the US.

    My conclusion is that waldorf schools cannot be anything but religious, due to their reliance on spiritual models of education and development and to their application of spiritual methods and traditions.

  5. By the way, what you designates as a “quote” is an actual quote and it comes from a speech which I linked to and which is available in transcript in its entirety. I think it is worth reading in its entirety, and I encourage people to do so. Schwarz is a prominent figure within waldorf education — Thebee/Sune does take issues with though, because Schwarz’s argumentation runs counter to Sune’s less well-founded but fundamentalistically held ideas.

    Here’s Schwarz’s speech

    Perhaps it’s even available as audio/video somewhere? I don’t know, but if so, I’d very much like to hear/see it.

  6. This is very poignant. Schwarz:

    “People in our movement are afraid, and if there’s any mark of success in what [Dugan]’s doing, it is that: we have created his reputation, more than anyone else. … So, we have demonized Dan Dugan to the point where one is not supposed to talk to him, or one is supposed to take out one’s Michaelic sword and cut off his head. And it’s all filled with fear; and as far as I understand, fear only lives in a person when they feel severed from the spiritual world.”

    You’re welcome, Sune. The quote is especially for you.

  7. Schwarz again:
    “I think it was a mistake for Waldorf education to get involved in the public domain. … So, again, if a public school doesn’t have this [Anthroposophical membership? College of Teachers?] it is not a Waldorf school, it is not a Waldorf-inspired school, nor is it a Waldorf anything. If Anthroposophy cannot be freely discussed among the faculty, then you don’t have a Waldorf school. And why pretend? Why this sham that these are Waldorf schools?”

    “By giving Waldorf out to the public school teachers in the way that we have in the courses we have been giving–and I’ve been at Rudolf Steiner College, I’ve participated in some of those courses, I’ve lectured there, and been told, “The district superintendent is coming, so please, no astral body tonight!” Okay, I promise, I swear: and [when I get up to speak I always say] Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s so nice to see all these astral bodies!” I’ve done it every time.”

    “I think we made a very big mistake in going out as far as we did into public education. … I think Ahriman in a way wove a mask of deception and Waldorf schools got tricked up. I think it would be good to help those schools that are still out there, for AWSNA not to keep pulling back and going forward, and pulling back and saying they’re two different worlds … how can they be different worlds when the same people are on the public school committees and the independent Waldorf school committees?

    “Let’s face it: we’re deceiving–and worst of all, we’re deceiving ourselves, if we really believe that. There is no door. It’s very fluid, it goes back and forth. Let’s be open and honest about that. Let’s cut our losses.”

  8. Yes, it is poignant and Schwarz is honest, for which we can be grateful. In many ways it’s the dishonesty itself that causes so much grief to families who didn’t realise the implications of anthroposophy. At least Schwarz understands that there’s no point claiming any ‘spiritual’ knowledge if you then dissemble and obfuscate in order to get the wherewithal to rehearse your insights on children. What do you become in this deceit? It’s bound to drive some people crazy – or was it always just their karma?

    Anyway: Waldorf education is by any standard religious. It has all the memes, it is a viral meme. The festivals, the movements, the colours, the songs, the universality of those shapes and objects and materials, the same in New Zealand and Germany and the UK; as if designed specifically to replicate the brand through their own replication. Except we don’t need to assume any such complex intention, it’s how all religions survive. We recognize it. We know it’s a religion.

    And Waldorf is based on supernatural insights: angels and archangels and reincarnation and karma. This isn’t science, it is in no way corporeal. It’s fantasy, or it’s religion.

  9. Zooey, I just spoted that you grade Eurythmy as spiritual which I think is some statement to make. Then a bit further up your friend, for want of a better word, ThetisMercurio, denies spirituality even excists How do you explain this, or are you both cyber lunies, or do you really have points to make.
    I have just spent 10 days skiing with my Class in Switzerland and the poor abused 13 yo’s had a great time. You are so far out with a lot of your copied material that, if I would present some of your suggestions to my class they would think you had lost the plot a long time ago.
    And after all they are the new generation of this world.
    Any how, how about this discrepancy above, how do you explain it. In your own words please.

  10. In my own words? Do you reckon I don’t use my own words when I write?

    Do you believe that I can’t come to the conclusion that Steiner held eurythmy as founded upon spiritual principles because ThetisMercurio claims that the concept of spirituality is so widely misused that it has lost any useful and coherent content and definition?

    Yes, anthroposophy is a kind of spirituality. Eurythmy is an anthroposophical activity. You can’t have eurythmy without anthroposophy, said Steiner. Eurythmy is visible speech — and it’s communication with the spirit worlds, he said too. ThetisMercurio and I may not believe in the spirit worlds (and we know that different people define and describe spirits and spirituality with great variation) — but it seems as if Steiner actually did. If it is “some statement to make” to say that eurythmy is spiritual and anthroposophical, then Steiner is as guilty of that as I am.

    You work in a waldorf school, Felix. Waldorf students can’t recognize anthroposophy even if it spits them in the eye. They’ve been immersed in it for years.

    I don’t claim your particular waldorf students are unhappy or that they were unhappy during the trip. I do know, however, that in every waldorf school — and most likely even among your students — there are those who are unhappy. And some of them will come out of the experience feeling they have been abused.

  11. Zooey, I did not say you do not use your own words, I just wanted to avoid long qoutes of other people in your reply.
    I have been working with my Class for 5 years +there are only 5 students and maybe you should trust me when I say they are extremly happy, don’t you think!?
    We sometimes have to be careful how we use language really. I am not critisising you for saying Eurythmy happens in a spiritual context. but by making such a statement you admit by default that there is such as thing as spirituallity, don’t you…. just as Steiner did.
    This is waht I ment in my previous post. …And ThetisMercurio says he is not going to use the word sprituallity any more but then comes back on him/herself.
    It just leaves me with the impression that you are, as far as the meaning of spirituallity is concerned, stuck in some deep mud… And need a hand to get out. I think philosophical consepts like these require some understanding and not just some sound bites.
    So then I ask myself, why do you use such terms?

  12. No, I don’t think you can say whether they are very happy or not. For two reasons. Basically, the first one being my knowledge of your previous severe misjudgements of people’s, and most importantly children’s, psychological capacities and states. The second reason is that this is exactly what was said about me: I was “happy”. I was not. I know of other people who were deemed to be “happy” and who were not. And, frankly, I think my teacher(s) had better insights into human beings than you have shown yourself capable of.

    I am pretty sure you have entirely misunderstood what Thetis meant when she said the word spirituality is hard to use because it has so many different and contradictory meanings and applications that in the end it’s vacuous.

    Why do you think I’m incompetent to use “philosophical concepts”? Why do you suppose that “spirituality” is a philosophical concept rather than, say, a mere linguistic designation in this case? It’s about deciding whether we refer to the Higher Worlds or to a deck of tarot cards. Or something else. Apparently, to some parents sprituality is compatible with indoctrinating their kid to become a monk. Is that child’s experience one of “spirituality”?

    “I am not critisising you for saying Eurythmy happens in a spiritual context. but by making such a statement you admit by default that there is such as thing as spirituallity, don’t you…. just as Steiner did.”

    No. I am saying that Steiner created eurythmy because he held spiritual convictions. I’m saying that the reasons why anthroposophists do eurythmy is that it has a spiritual meaning — to them. I don’t have to believe the higher worlds really exist to contend that this is the case: anthroposophists do eurythmy for a reason. I can say voodoo is a spiritual practice without in any way conceding that voodoo is, in reality, what its practitioners claim it to be. I know it doesn’t work — yet I also know that for those who believe in it, it is a part of their spirituality.

  13. Zooey expresses well our response to that ‘s’ word which I no longer use in my speech or writing without qualifying marks – it’s a Humpty-Dumpty word, meaning such varying things to different people that it has become redundant without qualification. For example: the Waldorfy-sounding phrase ‘a child’s spiritual needs’ is a daft way of saying ‘a child’s emotional needs’, except that in the case of Waldorf itself it has a whole other layer of truly dismal meaning which has been discussed elsewhere.

    Occasionally (and politely) the sloppy use of ‘spiritual’ bears pointing out to well-meaning people who intend a quite different thing by it than Steiner or the Pope, most often when there’s a risk of it turning up in health-service or policy documents. Philosopher Ophelia Benson says using the word ‘spiritual’ is: “a way of palliating non-theism (you know, as in the common ‘I’m not religious but I am spiritual’); . . . a way of disavowing atheism, reason, science . . . or at least of disavowing ‘excessive’ commitment to them. In short it often boils down to saying ‘I’m as woolly-minded as the next person, I promise.’”

    Everyone will carry on using the word, of course and while they do, we might need to comment on what we think it means. As for eurythmy: I don’t believe it has the least supernatural importance. The point is that many Waldorf teachers do.

  14. This is an intro from Wikipedia.
    Spirituality can refer to an ultimate reality or transcendent dimension of the world;[1] an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his or her being, or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” [2]. Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual’s inner life; such practices often lead to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality: a more comprehensive self; other individuals or the human community; nature or the cosmos; and/or the divine realm..[3]

    Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life.[4] It can encompass belief in immaterial realities and/or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.

    …..It is what we make of it, we can ripp it apart or respect other peoples take on it! surely?

  15. That’s exactly what Thetis says (and yes, Felix, Thetis and I are well aware of the usual dictionary definitions or explications of the term). “Spirituality” can, in reality, be taken to signify just about anything. We don’t disagree with the kind of definition(s) that you offered from wikipedia. Then you say: “it is what we make of it” which further emphasizes what Thetis says. When waldorf proponents speak — in general and fluffy manner — of spirituality, we know that it doesn’t mean much; in fact, we know it means only what the person using the term “makes of it”.

    And no, when spirituality is imposed on children — think of the Buddhist monk child — it is abusive. (You may have noticed that Thetis wrote she doubted that “true” spirituality could have anything to do with it — see the first comment in the thread.) It is also a bad thing when spiritual beliefs are at the foundation of an educational system — like they are in waldorf. Especially when this is concealed and made obscure.

    Then it should be ripped apart. We should ask these “spiritual” educators what they mean by “spirituality” — and that is something a wiki entry won’t tell us.

  16. Felix: I give you Ophelia Benson and you give me wiki. Wiki is the Waldorf Bible.

    Zooey’s right. Just as I said: you would need to qualify in every case what YOU meant by the word ‘spiritual’. Using the word does not privilege what comes after it with a right not to be scrutinized.

    I’ve no objection to anyone ‘developing their inner life’ (do we have an outer life?) by any practice, including through making or enjoying art or stretching the intellect, or by cultivating friendships. I call it imagination and empathy, you call it whatever you want. I’ve met some delightful, thoughtful people who are on what they’d call a religious path, that’s their choice as adults, it doesn’t worry me. I even find some esoteric ideas intriguing. But questioning ‘people’s take’ on the meaning of a generic word does not imply disrespect, it implies interest. It means taking them seriously.

    Returning to children and to education: I take zooey’s initial comment very seriously. Waldorf schools are to all intents and purpose religious and Felix, you seem to agree in some vague way since you appear to scold us for not respecting the ‘transcendent’ or supernatural. Let’s not get distracted.

    Zooey’s last sentence above is absolutely the point. The Waldorf movement must be honest. And if following a ‘spiritual’ impulse means having to worm a way in, dishonestly, I think an entirely other word is needed.

  17. “Waldorf schools are to all intents and purpose religious and Felix, you seem to agree in some vague way since you appear to scold us for not respecting the ‘transcendent’ or supernatural.”

    Well, that’s what makes it so odd. Unless one honestly believes that ignoring it is there is a sign of respect and, at that, the only permissible reaction (from a non-anthroposophist).

  18. This one is from Connexions website. enjoy.
    What is the definition of spirituality? I like this definition: predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone. Something needs to be added to that what this “spiritual” character is, however. I would say that it is the same attitude that a religious person would have about being religious, that is, by “spiritual character” they mean someone who is likely to be religious. Spirit is someone’s soul, so spirituality would be focused on the self, but focused on the self in a manner in which they can understand it more deeply than just standard cognitive thinking about it, so religion might help you understand yourself in that “higher” manner. That is, it is almost like faith to believe in yourself like that, so it is like religion. The relationship between faith/religion and spirituality then is that both are “higher” methods of understanding the world. Spirituality is just focused on the self, while religion is focused on god. So there is an inner peace that spirituality brings because spirituality is about yourself. You can also say it is about your soul, not just your state of being, because soul is who you really are, the core of yourself, and if you are more connected to the core of yourself you are going to be more at peace, and therefore have more of that spiritual connection, which is one that is a “higher” connection to yourself, like how religion is a “high” connection to god. This “high” connection is higher because it is connected to who you really are, which is the spirit part of spirituality which implies a soul, because when you imagine someone as being a spirit or a ghost you take away their physical form and focus more on who they are mentally, or the core of their being or soul. Also use of the word soul, like that is using energy from your soul, appeals more to your higher morals which you would consider to be more consistent with who you are at the core.

    Thanks for commenting on my understanding of my Class children, Ill take what you say to heart.
    But…..Do you think they lie in their diaries then? Do you think parents e-mailing me how great their children are feeling are just trying to make me feel better. When I,ve just spent 10 days with them in the Swiss alps With close eycontact often their whole being, so to speak, their bodylanguage, their words, their eyes filled with joy!
    Then there are dozens of comments from both hotel guests and staff, ski instuctors, resort staff, ski lift attendance, shop assistant, restaurants staff, all saying the same thing: “wonderful wonderful children you’ve got there”.
    Zooey I do not understand you, now you want to deny children being happy?
    …and it’s because I don’t understand what makes them tick?

    Do you both know how resentful you sound… And do you think a resentful person is the best judge in any given question.

  19. You can post a billion quotes on what spirituality is — by doing that, you’re only proving what Thetis and I have been saying! Don’t you see that?

    I don’t deny children happiness. What I’m saying is that I don’t have much faith in your ability to judge this happiness. What’s more, I don’t believe parents are very good judges either. The problem with waldorf is that parents are caught up in the awe and reverence and the whole enchantment thing going on. They, like tha teachers, don’t see what really goes on among the children. This was the case in my waldorf school — and as far as I can tell, this happens frequently in waldorf schools everywhere.

    I hope you’re not saying that you or the parents are reading the children’s diaries. That’s awful if it’s true. If children know this, of course they won’t write anything negative. If they don’t know it, it’s a HUGE betrayal of trust.

    Also, if there are children who aren’t happy, even children who do write about that in their diaries, do you think you will know about it then? Do you think these parents will forward you the content of these diaries? And then there’s the additional question: children (and parents) who aren’t happy in waldorf eventually leave. Some leave sooner, some later. You’d need the contents of the diaries of those students who have already left. Or those who chose not to come along on the school trip. (These are only examples. But I think you get my point. You can know if all your students — present and former — are happy. It would be pretty unlikely if all of them were. And knowing you from previous encounters around the internet, I find it even less likely. But that is perhaps, at this moment, nothing more than a side-note…)

  20. Felix Brunner – you’re crossing a line with those children. And you have so little self-knowledge you won’t even realise it until one of them punches you.

    Let’s lighten the tone. Or ascend to a higher place, as my guru describes it…

  21. Let’s ascend to the Higher Bunny-Hunting and Cat-Chasing Worlds! I’ll lead the way. Everybody will be enchanted and blissfully happy. Except cats and bunnies, but they don’t really count, do they, these non-dogs! /Dr Dog.

  22. Zooey, these children are 13 yo switched on people, you make so many assumtions, all the time that is the real problem with a lot of what you are saying.
    The diaries were part of the English lessons and everyday they read them out and there was some critical stuff which was encouraged by me even welcomed. So again you display a very narrow view of a thing you know absolutely nothing about… namely the circumstances in which these diaries were written. You do this all the time and my guess is that you are full of resentment.
    When you hear somebody read something they have written by themselves you can hear how they are feeling.
    Now Zooey would you like me to ask some of the people who interacted with my children during our skiing trip(see my last post), to give a statement here on your blog?
    NB not one of them is remotely associated with Steiner’s ideas… they have probably never heared of his name.

  23. Zooey, how about those statements then!
    Oh, I completly forgot… they, not to use the c word,also wrote a song about me… not all flattering don’t worry,I could e-mail them to get the words… if you give me a couple of days.
    We are in half term.

  24. Ah, the diaries were part of lessons — well that makes sense. On the other hand, since these were school assignments, are you so dumb as to think the kids tell the truth about how they perceive you? Actually, this interpretation — that the diaries were school work — was so far-fetched that it didn’t occur to me; I just can’t fathom that anybody would think such diary entries are honest. I tell you: they’re most definitely not!

    “When you hear somebody read something they have written by themselves you can hear how they are feeling.”

    Are you psychic?

    As I told you, my teachers probably felt — and expresesd it too, at times — that I was happy. They were wrong! And I think you’re wrong too, because you seem quite incapable of discerning the most basic human attitudes and states of mind. Judging by what you write here now and what I’ve seen you write before.

    No, Felix, you can’t “hear” what they feel. If you think you can do that, and if you apply this “hearing” — this knowledge of their emotional states that you delude yourself you possess — to your interactions with these students, you are very close to psychological abuse. You’re making assumptions about them based on your… psychic “hearing”!?

    As for your question — do what you please, but I can tell you right now that I don’t expect your character witnesses to be unbiased or even honest.

    You see, you could have found many folks who were prepared to say that kids at my waldorf school were happy and wonderful and all that. Yet, in reality, if anybody had ever cared to ask, you could have found as many who’d say the opposite (if they dared and if they got a chance to utter their opinions amid the loud stream of propaganda, self-aggrandizement and mental gluttony coming from the waldorf corner). There were always lots of complaints in the neighbourhoods of the school — it’s just that these were not considered significant. And they never altered the prevailing view that waldorf children were well-rounded, wholesome, moral, good children. The destruction, the stealing, the whole damn parade of shit that came from that school was never taken as an indication that this education didn’t keep the children in a perpetual state of bliss or in a pro-longed childhood or that it didn’t even manage to instill in the kids a sense of basic human decency!

    Don’t come talking about resentment when you don’t realize how you sound yourself! But, yeah, you do what you will with the character witnesses. I simply have to tell you that for me, that’s a moot point. It’s basically irrelevant. I get enough information about you and your approach to children and psychology (and happiness for that matter) just from reading your words. Without even using psychic “hearing”. I don’t think you’re half the successful teacher and role model that you may think you are — and I think your students’ happy states of mind are, in some cases if not many, the figments of your imagination, the ghosts of your own mind. What you want things to ideally be like is not actual reality.

    It would be odd if it were.

  25. We agree with Thetis’ sentiment: Oh My Dog. This is going to be one major exfurmination. For cats, it’s not exactly a nirvana. It’s more like a purrrrrgatory. But with hope neither for an end to it nor for redemption.

  26. Here we go, resentment really shining bright, You will insult the whole world next. I think you are digging yourself a whole that is getting bigger and bigger.
    I certainly did never imagine a human being, though through cyberspace, saying what you are… very bitter…. you must have really had a very bad time, very bad. And for that I am sorry.
    Please read your own words and have a real good look at yourself.
    Sorry I think I am not prepared to read one more word of this.
    I am now sitting in the very hotel and certainly will I not have my excellent memories even gently touched by You Zooey!!! shame on you. I wonder if you have any dignity left.
    shame, shame, shame!!!
    Stop digging at other people and have a real good look at yourself.
    I am glad I touched a nerve with you though, thank you for the chat Zooey

  27. You dug yourself deep into a whole last year, Felix. Took some time for you to get up from where you were. Now you’re ready to fall down in it again.

    You are confused. That’s truly the best and most positive thing I can say about you.

    (For those interested in Felix’s views on education and children, he made an extensive appearance on a blog — I think the name was Luckymama or something — there are links on waldorf critics yahoo-list. Search his name. He was also active on British forum Mumsnet, behaving like an asshole towards ex-steiner parents.)

  28. it’s a hole – HOLE – waldorf “pedagogy” is a black hole

    @ Brunner

    you write: “you must have really had a very bad time, very bad. And for that I am sorry … I wonder if you have any dignity left”

    do you know your famous namesake “Alois Brunner”? I wonder why this name appears in my inner eye when I read your comments …

  29. Felix’s writings from last year on Lucky Mummy’s blog:

    [not directed towards me, btw] “I do not beleave that it is only the school that is to blame… for situations to arise there normally is two parties or more and it is selldoom the case that it is only one partys fault?
    Any how it sounds as if you are full of resentment”

    “I have a girl in my class she has many aspects to her and is what I would describe as a Phlegmatic … The choleric child would draw the thick trunk.”

    “You have not convinced me that you really want to help Steiner schools to become more open. But you have clearly shown that there is something bugging you. What is it, Northernrefugee, What?”

    “Waldorf schools there are many and I think they are so brilliant, (some of them only in principle though), that it is unlikely I will ever become an disillussioned critic. They are intrinsicly good! as I said brilliant!”

    “My class would happely teach you how to errect a brickwall, basic blacksmithing, sailing recite you poems of twenty well known poet of this country, write reports, poems, essays. They will teach you the basics of architecture how to scale up a drawing. how to grow wheat, how to build a clay bread oven harvest the wheat, mill it , make it into bread and bake it in the oven they built themselves. ( they are 11 to 12 years old) These are the things I am concerned with not any theoretical whatsit. This for me is education.”

    “I can understand the pain but why did you not do your research before you comitted? really you could have saved so much agro!!! … This really reminds me of the time, when I was younger when I was cynical too. … And note who is open here!!!”

    “I do feel that there are a few scare stories circling around based on a parents experience blown out of proportion pact in a neat parcel that says danger on it.”

    “Nb I have done some antiracist work with my best friend he knows that your accusation is unfounded. I have known him for years we do a beautiful carnival float every year together with dozens of black, white and yellow people although to me they all are just people!”

    “I do know now that most WC’s [waldorf critics] are frustrated parents may be with spoilt kids, I don’t know, Kids did not get what they wanted in particular circumstances.”

    well here we go again… now I get discussed at the Waldorf Critics Yahhoo site. Marvellous. I have now also seen you want to put me on a list eh.
    Big brother…. right! caring mums protecting their innocent children. Yeh!

    “The smoke carries on years after the fire has died. … And I do not like to be pushed around by impatiant WC’s
    nb how about “Wishfull Clowns’s yndicate””

    And so on…

  30. And, to remind you, quoting isn’t unlawful.

    A few replies Felix got back then:

    From me (to Felix about his children not expressing themselves in words and how appropriate this was):

    “What happened to me in waldorf school wasn’t “age apropriate, inspiring and healthy”, I can guarantee you that, Felix.

    Maybe one reason your children express themselves by drawing rather than verbally has nothing to do with children not being able to express themselves verbally by ages 7 and 9. Either your children aren’t verbally inclined, or they have been implicitly taught how they ought to express themselves.

    When I was 9, and 7 an younger, I was expressing myself verbally–I wasn’t expressing myself through drawing, though.

    You seem to think that Steiner’s developmental model is accurate, it isn’t. For example, I think it’s wrongheaded to assume what children “would be able to express” based on Steiner’s psychology. But that’s exactly what you seem to be doing. Let’s just hope your own children fit Steiner’s model. Not all the children you teach will fit it.

    Children who don’t express themselves in waldorf appropriate ways are stifled and restricted in a waldorf school.”

    Tilly (to Felix who claimed to “know” — intuitively, psychically? — what was in his children’s hearts and who also claimed his children were better off than the neighbour’s children):

    “I know what’s in your children’s hearts too Felix and so do we all: blood. The heart is a pump, whatever the anthroposophists like to pretend it is. What you mean is: you know what’s in their heads and the answer is: neurons – electrically and chemically generated thoughts. Do you know what these thoughts are? No. You can only guess using your imagination and the indirect evidence (empirical) of their behaviour and expressions.

    Though this reductionism may seem a step too harsh for everyday it has a serious point. The idea that Daddy knows what’s in his children’s hearts is sentimentalism at best and for many: a disturbing, presumptuous intrusion. Daddy knows what’s in his thoughts and is projecting these thoughts, as we all do, onto others. Daddy should have more humility and possibly more good taste.

    As for humility: when we brag about our children, suggesting they’re in some way better than the next-door-neighbour’s (however grateful that neighbour might be) we’re doing no more than any middle-class parent bragging about how their kid’s a year ahead of others in his expensive private school. It’s nothing but a weird form of ‘pedagogical’ or ’spiritual’ competitiveness where the winning marker is time spent bird-watching.”

    Northern (to Felix who had opinions about hysterical mothers and those pitiful waldorf critics):

    “Felix said

    “caring mums protecting their innocent children. Yeh!”

    Some people are ex steiner waldorf pupils, co workers, some are Mums or Dads. If you’d bothered to read Zooey’s blog you reported, you might have found out.
    Just as you would find out things if you read Steiner’s work.
    … What isn’t usual though, is for Mums to be hounded, have pages made about them, which are then posted all over the internet, and be compared to terrorists or jew watch. And then- to be told they aren’t even mothers, and they’re uncaring.

    … Thebee makes a lot of pages about people who write things about steiner he doesn’t like. He accused Peter Staudenmaier of “forging” Steiner’s work even.

    …If we aren’t mums, who or what are we Felix? What has suddenly made you believe we aren’t mothers? Or “caring” ones?”

  31. No one addressed the mothers’ concerns directly. Instead that thread degenerated into an attempt to subvert Tilly’s observations by telling her that there were neurons in the heart too – so there! That means you’re stupid and negates all you say about my asinine comments!

    Well… to answer that, there might indeed be cells that are similar to the neurons in the brain but they don’t carry out the essential functions of the brain – thinking, perceiving, generating and creating awareness of emotions. The study of these so-called brain-like cells in the heart is a cul-de-sac, an irrelevant sub-specialization of anatomists interesting in itself but incapable of substantiating any whimsical esoteric claims. Which was I believe these fellows’ aim, if they had one, apart from pure, gleeful malice. Poor Luckymummy.

  32. From re-reading that thread — which I did this morning (not thoroughly, I admit, but I skimmed it, paying special attention to Felix’s comments) — two things hit me: 1) Felix’s obfuscation couple with responses that were wholly inadequate (pretending to reply to people but not really even trying to) and 2) his arrogance.

    Both aspects combined really make me doubt that his students would ever confide in him if they were unhappy. Also, I now doubt even more that he’s able to judge the level of happiness. He’s shutting negative responses off: blaming anything negative on the person who criticizes. What if there’s an unhappy student — which there always is, in every school and in every class, whether Felix wants to believe that or not — what’s to say that if Felix noticed this, he wouldn’t blame it totally on that person’s hatefulness or resentfulness or spoilt upbringing or crazy parents or any other factor that could possibly exculpate him? This, after all, is his tendency all through — he even does it with his own children in that thread.

  33. Here’s a Felixism from mumsnet a few weeks ago:

    ‘My own children have now between them 16 years of experience, they both love their school and I am very happy with their progress the increadible crafts they take home. The hunger for learning and living and just the sheer joy of hearing them every day sing songs they have learned. could not wish for more. I appriciate there are people with bad experiences but believe me it always takes two in those circumstances.
    I know that in our school there has been parents that had psycological problems and they caused lots of damage to the school. I am not saying that applies to all but to some. It is hard to distinguish between parents who have real issues and good points and those posing.’

    Of course if you are one of the children where ‘it always takes two’ this sounds pretty abusive. A great deal of stuff about the Catholic church’s attitude to the abused in the news atm sounds similar.

  34. Thanks, Thetis. I didn’t know he was still there. (Not banned as some of us, hehe.)

    His post illustrates this mental divide so commonly erected in waldorf thinking: between paradise and hell, right and wrong, healthy and ill, good and bad, innocent and blameworthy, and so forth:

    both children love school — the shere joy — love of life — it’s all one could wish for vs sick parents — damage — ‘fake’ issues.

    No doubt, good people experience perfection and blissful happiness. Bad people have themselves to blame.

    What I’d really like to see, from Felix, is a reply to my question: which students and parents left… and did you ever inquire as to why they left? What happens to those who are unhappy? I mean, the replies so far indicate that, despite Felix’s unease at my questioning the happiness of his students, they aren’t all happy: otherwise, there would be no need to lay blame on mentally deficient (excuse me) parents, right?

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