comment on an interview with rene querido

Interview with Rene Querido. Querido is a prominent figure in waldorf education (as well as in anthroposophy, I guess), and has long experience in training waldorf teachers in the US. (It took me a while before I realized I was commenting on a old article which must be ten years old now. Anyway, since I went through the trouble, and Rene Querido said a couple of crazy things, here it is.)

the Austrian philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner

Most importantly, though, he was the founder and leader of an esoteric movement and a spiritual guru.

Anthroposophy remains in general, poorly understood and little recognized outside Europe, despite its many achievements.

Achievements, well… But that’s the point: people are supposed to enjoy the ‘achievements’ without asking too many questions about foundations, unless they are among those who are willing to adopt these foundations as their own worldview. This means, I would say, that among most Europeans too, anthroposophy is poorly understood and little recognized. To Rene Querido’s replies, then:

I usually say we need [to establish a waldorf school /z] a group of dedicated parents who are prepared to find out something about Waldorf education and about the spiritual background of anthroposophy …

Or a group of dedicated parents (preferably with money to waste) who buy into the myth of waldorf as a paradise that will rescue their children from the dreads of mainstream schools. It’s a lot more beneficial for waldorf if not all parents are too curious about anthroposophy. It’s enough that anthroposophists — parents and teachers — focus on anthroposophy and the rest of the customers remain in the (relative) dark about it. Querido is then asked what is missing from mainstream education that makes parents flock to waldorf.

… most state schools don’t meet the needs of the children …

And parents delude themselves that waldorf education meets the needs of children to a higher degree than state schools do. Again, because waldorf schools present themselves as something they are not. Just because you claim to meet the needs of children doesn’t mean you’re actually doing it. But fooling people — who are scared and nervous to do the right thing and to save their children from various types of horrirs — is easy.

… it’s not only of course the intellectual abilities that have to be promoted so to speak.

And waldorf schools thrive on the myth that mainstream schools only promote the intellectual sides of a child’s life, while in reality waldorf is probably the one option which offers the most uniform education.

It’s the whole child. And the whole child consists of body, soul, and spirit.

What parts of the child does the waldorf school educate? What’s the difference from state school?

So it depends upon how you look at the child. If you think of a child as a spiritual being who incarnates and brings something with her or with him …

That’s what every parent needs to know before enrolling: waldorf teachers think the child is a reincarnated spiritual being, and will act accordingly. This world-view isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, though admittedly it attracts a select group of people.

… we feel that Waldorf education is holistic and it touches upon the hands, the heart, and the head… in that order …

Yes, because of the supposed development of the physical, the etheric and the astral bodies — that’s an anthroposophical belief. It does not necessarily provide a more ‘holistic’ conception of man than any other belief system does.

So that in the younger grades we do a terrific amount of activity and then out of the activity the heart is warmed, the feelings are warmed, the artistic life becomes creative.

No, it’s imitation, imitation, imitation. And as for the statement that ‘the heart is warmed’ — how? and how would you know that? how would you know that the heart has not been warmed? Is waldorf a better heart-warmer than other types of education? Am I cold-hearted to be skeptical of outlandish claims like these?

And out of the creativity the head awakens.

Out of the constant, mind numbing imitation, the head becomes bored to death and the child begins to despise the entire notion of education. That could happen — and does happen — in waldorf too.

Parents then, not always very consciously go into a Waldorf school …

Indeed, it is the parents who are in a dreamy state. Not the children…

… and they see the paintings, they see the work, they notice what the children are like …

They see the fantasy. They see a fairytale and prefer to ignore reality.

Many of [the students] of course have gone to the major universities and have done very well. […] they’ve worldwide interests, they’re cosmopolitan […] they take a great interest in people […] The interest in people predominates and a great sense of compassion and wanting to help.

Except all those waldorf school students who did not succeed. Except those waldorf students who were taught only the absence of compassion through the rampant and unchecked bullying in waldorf schools. Waldorf is perhaps all right for those who enjoy high social status in their peer group. For others, it’s not so much fun. Compassion and wanting to help — no, not so much. Not in waldorf. Though, for some reason, most waldorf schools, even the most troubled, continue to boast about their students’ social skills and compassion and feeling for others. I don’t know why. Reality check fail.

Practical life very often deadens the spirit, but spiritual striving very often, not always, but very often becomes selfish. It is not a giving but wanting for oneself: blessedness, happiness, contentment, all those sales points of so many of the spiritual movements today. And fundamentally a spiritual path should lead one to be more practical and more able, more giving, more loving in the world — with one’s fellow human beings.

It’s just that anthroposophy isn’t succeeding. It’s not conducive to a greater love for ‘one’s fellow human beings’ than any other path. Anthroposophists are no more ‘loving’ than rationalist skeptics. (Some of us have experienced some anthroposophists are less so, but perhaps it’s unnecessary to draw any general conclusions about this at the moment.)

… I think it’s perhaps fair to say that especially since the beginning of this century, we have crossed the threshold of consciousness.

A fact, but only from the anthroposophical viewpoint. It’s nothing more than a belief; it’s the anthroposophical conception of the evolution of the world and the human being.

The human situation can only be solved as a social situation if we are able to develop new powers of understanding. I think there will be more and more young people born with supersensible insights or the beginnings of it.

Perhaps not. Imagine, though, waldorf teachers on the look-out for children with potential ‘supersensible insights’. Will these beliefs really be helpful in education?

… I think there are illicit ways of coming into the spiritual world, through drugs etc …

Ah…

… we should be careful that we go through the gate in the right way …

The anthroposophical way. Or are there alternative, ‘right’ ways? How do we know which way is right, if we don’t wish to put our blind trust in the insights of the spiritual aristocracy?

… anthroposophy has the task rightly understood of meeting evil.

I doubt that anthroposophists are particularly well-prepared for this task. I remember waldorf teachers who were unequipped to handle a group of unruly kids.

… work spiritually in situations which are very very dark and offer a great sacrifice in doing so.

I don’t think the world needs more martyrs for great imaginary causes.

… you have a Waldorf school in the slums …

The vast majority of waldorf schools are not the slums though. The vast majority of waldorf schools cater to families which are economically and socially stable. The vast majority of schools which cater to poor people or operate in slum areas are most definitely not waldorf schools. So who are really doing sacrifices? (Another relevant question is: do children in the slums need knowledge or do they need eurythmy?)

The lying, the machinations against human beings, it’s absolutely dreadful.

Well, yes. Though sometimes it seems to me anthroposophists aren’t lying less than other people. Some of them seem to be quite skilled at it too.

… I also think and this is perhaps very typical of anthroposophy that it speaks of the reappearance of the Christ, but not as a physical being, not as a physical incarnation — but on the etheric plane, the plane of the life forces.

And this will be helpful… why, exactly?

One can oneself find ways of, what shall I say, entering into these deeper aspects by imagining or sitting in an absolutely darkened room for a while and then lighting a candle and noticing that the darkness was huge and the candle is very small but that one candle can transform the whole of the darkness.

Well, yes. But you don’t really need spirituality or anthroposophy or the Christ for this. You don’t need anything, except a candle, a room and a (functional) brain.

And I think that’s the nature of the spirit of the human being.

Nice but trivial.

At the end of the interview, there’s a list containing a few ‘facts’ about waldorf education (most of them presenting the ideal picture of what waldorf proponents like to believe waldorf education is). Here are two of them:

Waldorf educators acknowledge within every child a spiritual core that is far greater than the immediate presence. To allow this individual genius to manifest as completely as possible is the teachers true task.

And waldorf education does not have a religious nature? It’s not based upon religious beliefs? The ‘task’ of the teacher is not a question of faith?

Teachers see children as whole beings in the process of realizing their potential rather than as empty vessels in need of filling.

LOL! But, sadly, empty vessels in need of filling is quite an accurate description — of waldorf’s own view of the child and the task of the teacher. Children aren’t able to think for themselves; they are only able to imitate or absorb what is shown them or taught to them by a person in an authority position. This reason for rejecting other educational systems could as well be attributed to waldorf — without much effort. It’s in alignment with some of what Steiner taught about the child’s development. Though, for some reason, when waldorf educators fill empty vessels (or help activate their supposedly incarnating spirits), they’re doing a good thing, fulfilling a spiritual task — while regular teachers, who are trying to give their students knowledge and skills, are doing something presumably insignificant in terms of the spiritual future of mankind.

9 thoughts on “comment on an interview with rene querido

  1. I don’t see that it matters you took a few years to reply when so much of this business is seen in terms of epochs.If you’d taken an epoch – well – that would be something.

  2. It is hard for me to believe that a parent would not at least go and observe a public school classroom before enrolling their child in a Waldorf school. Why would a parent choose a Waldorf school where wrong headed thinking by teachers and administrators prevail? Which denies parents the opportunity to observe the classroom and be intimately involved with their education?

    I really cannot be alone here when I write about the remarkable teachers and administrators we have here in my city in the Northwest. This is within the public school system. Here my son has gained respect for community and differences. He has learned about many artists and their styles while being able to create art from his own imagination. He participates in music – doesn’t choose to play an instrument. He loves to read, to learn and feels safe and respected in his classroom and school community. In his public school teachers exercise healthy boundaries between themselves and the parents.

    Is this an isolated example of what is right about public education? Not in the city where I live in.

    Obviously, most parents who choose Waldorf school for their child and do not examine Anthroposophy are in it for their own selfish reasons – they seem to be looking for their own utopia not what is developmentally appropriate for their child.
    I will get off my soap box now!

  3. Zooey,

    I first met Rene “Old King” Querido in 1978 in Austin, Texas and got to know him well from 1980-1985 when I was out at Rudolf Steiner College and he was Director. Now the first thing to know about him is that he has been dead for 6 and a half years and that this interview is at least 9 and possibly 13 years old. (You know why they don’t date the Lapis Magazine issues? You guessed it. An Anthro is involved. More on him later.)

    Now there are mucho issues to talk about Rene, but first and foremost is the Christian issue because Rene was the foremost promoter of anthroposophy and Waldorf as Christian movements. Unfortunately, Dan Dugan misses the boat of proving anthroposophy is a religion because he fails to focus exclusively on anthrposophy as a CHRISTIAN religion. But Rene Querido is the primary source for showing the Christian essence of Waldorf education.

    And I suggest that you begin to focus on this dimension of Waldorf because it really is the most “occult” and I mean “occult” as in “hidden.” And it is only hidden to the extent that Waldorf Critic focus on the trees and lose the overview of the forest.

    As a start, check out Rene’s book here. I quote from his preface
    http://www.steinercollege.edu/?q=node/397
    The Esoteric Background of Waldorf Education:
    The Cosmic Christ Impulse

    “On the Occasion of the Annual Teachers’ Conference in the summer of 1993, I was asked to give a series of 5 lectures on the theme: “What is the significance of a Christ-centered impulse in Waldorf education? The first lecture was addressed to members of the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science and dealt with the question of how one might recognize one’s relationship to the historical event of the Mystery of Golgotha.

    Rudolf Steiner dealt with the Christ Impulse in pedagogy even before the founding of the first Waldorf school in 1919. During the subsequent 5 years, however, he addressed the topic repeatedly. Yet, because he did not speak about the subject in a long, systematic statement, its essential presence can be overlooked.

    In his pedagogical lectures what Rudolf Steiner did was to draw our attention to the Christ Impulse, often in the form of a brief statement or meditation meant to enhance the awareness of the early teachers. And what was said then is at least as valid today, 75 years later.

    I have made an attempt to bring many of these indications together and especially to follow the “golden thread” of teaching out of the background of the Father (and Mother) forces in the early grades, of the Son forces in the middle grades, and through the Holy Spirit in the high school. Three chapters have been devoted to the curriculum and the development of the child and teenager at these different stages.

    I have decided in this book not to deal with two facets of our work: the celebration of the festivals and the role of the independent religious education and services as given by Rudolf Steiner. It is clear that there is a need for both themes to be discussed in depth at the level of the College of Teachers. We cannot, out of habit or tradition, continue year in and year out to celebrate festivals unless we understand their profound significance and are able to convey their importance to the parents.. . .

    The Leitmotif of this book is inspired from passages in the fifth lecture of Education as a Social Problem, given by Rudolf Steiner in Dornach on 16 August, 1919, shortly before the opening of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart:

    One should not look superficially at the so-called cultural phenomena of our age. Nor should one doubt that modern human beings have to arouse themselves to a real comprehension of the Christ Impulse if evolution is to go forward in a healthy way. . . .

    This is also something future educators and teachers must take into their consciousness. . . . One must teach out of an awareness that one has to bring about salvation in the case of every individual child; one has to steer him towards finding the Christ Impulse in the course of his life, towards finding a re-birth within himself. . . .

    Such things must not live in the teacher as mere theory; they can be introduced into one’s teaching only if one is strongly taken hold of by them in one’s own soul. . . . ‘The best in me as a human being of this and following incarnations is what I find in myself as the Christ Impulse.’ . . . We must, however, be clear that this Christ Impulse must not be the dogmatism of some religious body. . . .

    Human intelligence left to itself travels on the path towards the Ahrimanic; it can become active for the good only through taking in the true Christ Impulse.
    —R. M. Querido
    Boulder, Colorado, Midsummer, 1995

  4. Margaret:

    ‘It is hard for me to believe that a parent would not at least go and observe a public school classroom before enrolling their child in a Waldorf school.’

    Because they *know* public schools are *so* bad. They exclude the possibility entirely, and then, when they come to waldorf, their beliefs are validated by others. I suppose that must feel nice and comfortable.

    ‘Obviously, most parents who choose Waldorf school for their child and do not examine Anthroposophy are in it for their own selfish reasons – they seem to be looking for their own utopia not what is developmentally appropriate for their child.’

    Yes, undoubtedly. I also think they actually believe that waldorf is what it says it is, and they want what waldorf pretends to be — for themselves *and* for their child. They think it’s good.

    Tom:

    ‘You know why they don’t date the Lapis Magazine issues? You guessed it. An Anthro is involved. More on him later.’

    Ha! yes, it didn’t occur to me the article was so old until I realized they were talking about the turn of the millennium. (I got it via google alerts, thus initially supposed it was new…)

    Thanks for the Querido quote — very interesting, and revealing.

  5. About the quote: ‘Many of [the students] of course have gone to the major universities and have done very well. […]’

    This is what Steiners followers always say. But recent study done by the University of Leuven points out that former steinerschool students only have less than 25% chance to succeed in their first year at the university. Other students (from the same study-level) score significant better, with statisitics going up to 77% chance to succeed at university. (sorry, I only have a Dutch source http://www.econ.kuleuven.be/vives/PUBLICATIES/BRIEFINGS/20100927declercq_verboven.pdf )

    What I do have in English is an old entry from my website, in which I describe the situation in Belgian steinerschools, related to the Dutch and German steinerschools. http://antroposofie.wordpress.com/eng/

    Maybe it’s usefull?

  6. ‘But recent study done by the University of Leuven points out that former steinerschool students only have less than 25% chance to succeed in their first year at the university.’

    Doesn’t come as a surprise (except to Steiner school supporters, I guess). Considering that waldorf students generally come from academic and/or middle class families, the results are even more negative. And how many families don’t have to pay for tutoring — because they realize, too late, that the waldorf education is inadequate. (And, at least to some extent, these parents know what they are doing and can afford to attempt to correct their earlier mistakes.)

    And then we have all the waldorf students who never finish 12th grade (in waldorf). I think what happens to them is interesting too. Those who are most troubled in waldorf will have left before graduating. How did waldorf manage to help them?

    Great article. I found this at the end, and I know it’s slightly unrelated to the topic (waldorf students going to uni) but it’s so true: ‘From modern child psychology however, we know that children take any situation in which they grow up as a normal situation, wether it’s a good situation or a bad. They do this out of selfprotection.’

    People often fail to understand this. They say, ‘why didn’t you do anything about it then, it’s too late to whine about it now’ — well, it’s true that it is too late for me, personally, but at the time, I had no clue that I could expect something else, something better. It was normal to me, and not something you could choose to have differently. It took me years (it took becoming an adult, actually) to understand quite how dysfunctional the waldorf environment had been.

  7. Enjoy reading your blog and admiring your beautiful photos, but this “deconstruction” of Rene Querido’s thoughts and comments strike me as unbelievably petty and one-sided. Having taught 30 years in public education in the US as well as Waldorf in Sweden, I have definitely experienced daily both sides of these two worlds…or perhaps I should qualify that and call it four worlds. That there are good and bad parts of both is a reality, so much really depends on the individual human being that lies behind the practicing of the pedagogy, the interaction with the child, the development and understanding of the curriculum. What I really wanted to say here is that I had the privilege of experiencing the wonderful, inspiring personality of Rene Querido as teacher, lecturer and adviser and can only point out that he was the rarest of human beings, able to inspire, instill hope and desire for forward movement, creative endeavor and warmth…qualities, unfortunately, sadly lacking in many of the folk I encountered during my time in Jarna, but that is another story. For those who may be interested in a more complete picture of Rene: http://www.steinercollegejournal.net/A_Celebratory_Remembrance.html

  8. Hello Robert, thanks for the comment. I’ve attempted to shut down the comment function entirely on the blog, but for some reason I don’t manage to close it off completely for all old comments. So I’m sorry if my reply now will be quite quick.

    The problem with the waldorf curriculum is not the individual — it is the theory behind it (and sometimes a lack of understanding of it or bad application of it by its practitioners). It does not suffice for me to say ‘oh well, it’s all down to the individuals’ because it patently is not. The beliefs underpinning waldorf education are different, and that is the point of waldorf existing at all. That there are worse teachers and better teachers in every system is self evident, but it is, after all, something else.

    I cannot speak about Querido’s personal qualities — and I’m sure I do not pretend to be able to do it either. It isn’t about him as a person — it is about his beliefs about education and about the nature of man. Which is why I would urge people to read some of his texts about these topics rather than a celebratory remembrance, which by its very nature has a completely different goal. What should matter most to people who are waldorf teachers or parents (and not his personal friends) is what he taught. That’s what’s likely to have an influence in the classroom, as his texts are read by waldorf teachers and teachers in training.

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