‘this is normal for cults, they are seclusive’ (waldorf)

This article in Austrian newspaper Der Standard is interesting and worth running through google translate (I have written small summaries of important points below). It includes an interview with a researcher at the education department at the University of Vienna. He is quite critical of waldorf edcuation.

„Die Schulpraxis der Waldorfschulen ist ein Gemengelage aus der typischer Reformpädagogik der Jahrhundertwende, das ist nicht sehr Steiner-spezifisch …”, meint Stefan Hopmann, Institut für Bildungswissenschaft der Uni Wien ….  Was Steiner auszeichne, sei weniger der Fokus auf Musik, Bewegung und Kreativität, sondern das Drumherum einer „höchst merkwürdigen Anthropologie”, die laut Hopmann „grober Unfug” sei.

The majority of waldorf students come from socially privileged family settings, thus:

„Das Elternhaus kann dafür sorgen, dass das Bildungsgut, das von der Schule liegengelassen wurde, am Mittagstisch zu vermitteln”, meint Hopmann. Die Eltern sorgen für die „nötige Dosis Welt”.

Hopmann believes waldorf education can be described as a totalitarian ideology which attempts to control child development –that it is a manner of using children to attain ideological goals:

Eine heile Schulwelt kann der Bildungsexperte bei Steiner-Schulen … nicht erkennen. Er bezeichnet Waldorfpädagogik als totalitäre Ideologie und sieht das Problem darin, dass diese Art von Anthropologie die kindliche Entwicklung kontrollieren wolle. Das sei nichts Anderes als eine Vereinnahmung von Kindern für bestimmte ideologische Zwecke.

Further on in the article, he explains that the immediately visible ‘attributes’, which are typical for waldorf schools, are not what the schools are about, moreover, there’s no evidence to back up waldorf methods and theories:

… Hopmann hält die esoterischen Elemente, wie Eurythmie, nicht für schädlich. „Das können sie überall praktizieren, das ist auch nicht das, wo Steiner originär war. Was ihn originär macht, ist seine anthroposophische, biologische, theosophische und rassistische Ideologie.” Der Wissenschaftler fügt aber noch hinzu: „Wenn man sich die Theorien genau anschaut, die Modelle und die sogenannte Forschung, die dahinter steckt, wird man schnell merken, dass es ein grausliches Gemengelage von Behauptungen ist. Sie basieren auf keiner entwicklungspsychologischen Forschung, auf keiner didaktischen Forschung, auf keiner unterrichtswissenschaftlichen Forschung. Auch die Behauptung, dass die Kinder dadurch freier, kreativer werden, ist durch keine Studie abgesichert.”

And, ending the article, he says that one central point of criticism concerns the lack of transparency which results in a lack of independent research:

Für Hopmann ist ein zentraler Kritikpunkt, dass keine Forschung, wie reelle vergleichende Forschung über Schulalltag und Bildungsverläufe, zugelassen werde: „Die Schwierigkeit dabei ist, dass die Steiner Schulen systematisch einen vernünftigen Einblick von außen verhindern.” Deswegen gebe es auch keine unabhängige Forschung über das Innenleben von Waldorf-Schulen. „Das ist aber normal bei Sekten, die machen von außen zu”, lautet das abschließende Urteil des Wissenschaftlers.

That is, Hopmann says that being seclusive — not open to the outside world — is normal for cults.

18 thoughts on “‘this is normal for cults, they are seclusive’ (waldorf)

  1. This article must have really hit a nerve. There are 375 comments already in less than a day and a half! In fact only 32 hours between the first and latest comment. That’s about 12 comments per hour, one every 5 minutes.

    I scanned through the comments and didn’t find anyone I knew, although one guy linked to an article by Andreas Lichte from 2 years ago.

  2. This is fascinating. I looked at the comments but translation from German is appalling, so I mostly got the impression that more were negative than I’m used to seeing on this kind of thread. Someone seems to be threatening a critic with charges of libel, and confusing criticism with hate – again. Except it isn’t a genuine confusion.

    Thanks for translating the Zander article, Tom!

  3. I usually don’t read German comment threads, so I haven’t read this one. They usually consist of one and the same person posting the same old tired and endlessly long quotes and making all sorts of insults under the guise of various names. Maybe this is an exception to the rule, then.

  4. “And, ending the article, he says that one central point of criticism concerns the lack of transparency which results in a lack of independent research:”

    I agree with this. I believe that any mention of esoterism and occultism linked with Waldorf Steiner teaching immediately paints a picture of a cult. And it is fair to say that the movement is still populated by a core of people who still believe in the “initiate” way. I personally believe this is very damaging.

    Any system that wishes to grow and develop learners needs to have total transparency. The idea that anyone would or should trust educators who feel secrecy or elitism is acceptable is ridiculous. There needs to be a shift towards openness and extensive research in to evidencing the many positive results from having a different type of education.

    I really like this argument by Sir Ken Robison, which doesn’t advocate any specific teaching dynamic, but in my opinion really advocates some of the ideas behind Steiner teaching, the ideas that are not linked with any spiritual science, but link very clearly with the ideals of my organisation and SEN androgogy.

  5. Well, waldorf is doing what it did in the past. They teach stuff children don’t care about and don’t need in a modern world. Having seen 5,5 minutes of Robinson, it seems to me that he talks about lots of things he knows nothing about.

    He doesn’t know about education (he seems to base his views on run-of-the-mill waldorf prejudices about conventional education). He doesn’t know one shit about ADHD or ritalin either. I hate to see people who think waldorf type methods will offer ANY help whatsoever to children with neuropsychological disorders.

  6. And NO — ritalin is not a way of anesthetizing kids. For Dog’s sake, what a load of crap. ADHD kids do NOT need something that will make them fall asleep/unconscious. They need help to stay awake, to stay attentive. And not to knit a fucking gnome — but to learn important things that will help them, like reading and writing and maths and science!

  7. That said, I don’t think children should be medicated unless it’s necessary — and that, if possible, it should not be used as a permanent solution, but as a way of dealing with obstacles that are insurmountable* without this kind of intervention. (*I mean: would cause too much damage or too much pain. Slipping rapidly behind in school, losing self-confidence, et c, if one can turn a bad trend around, it’s probably better to do it sooner rather than later. And if this is done carefully, medication may just be a temporary solution, a help in getting over an obstacle or a though time.)

    Spreading misinformation and use medical needs for propaganda reasons, like Robinson does, I do not like.

    Unnecessary medication is usually a bad idea. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about ritalin or something else. It should never be thought of as a first resort and, if used, be used wisely. But nobody (and certainly not the children) will be helped by the turning of a sometimes necessary medicine into a propaganda weapon for people who are against it without understanding it.

    And I really want to emphasize this since waldorf education (or people who are anti-mainstream education) seems to increasingly want to market itself as an alternative for ADHD or autistic kids. In the case of waldorf, this is wholly inappropriate, given the anthroposophical teachings that underpin waldorf education. And also, I would stress, because these kids need a structured environment, they need to be protected against bullies, they need educated teachers who can monitor their development, and so forth, in short they need exactly the things waldorf does not provide.

    In addition, the waldorf school environment — both teachers and parents generally — is negatively inclined towards medication. Even if it is truly needed. Waldorf nurtures the same attitudes you’re served by Ken Robinson. To the detriment of actual children who need help.

    (I have only ever seen one curative pedagogue say that occasionally medication, like ritalin, can and should be used, simply to meet the needs of a child at that moment in his/her life. Other than this one example, I’ve only seen anthroposophical therapists, waldorf teachers and anthro doctors completely dismiss it.)

  8. I don’t think many people disagree that some children, especially in the US are given ritalin too readily. There are times however when it’s useful and where it would be unkind not to offer it.

    The right time to continue to use ritalin for an individual with symptoms of ADHD is when, after an n=1 trial, symptoms and function have been shown to improve. If Ken Robinson would like to find out how to do a n=1 trial, he need only ask. Otherwise it’s certainly the case that it would be better not to have to resort to using a drug – he’s not the only enlightened boy on the block – he could read the current NICE guidelines for an overview of the expert opinion (it’s very detailed, so it might take him a while)
    http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/12061/42060/42060.pdf

    Nowhere in those guidelines does it recommend placing a vulnerable child (or any child) in the hands of an obscure esoteric (or exoteric) cult who believe in karma, reincarnation, incarnating souls, angels, gnomes, and who pay even the slightest attention to a nineteenth century guru (who most people have never heard of) who believed in a hierarchy of races and that he could talk to a dead.

    Robinson is a charming after dinner speaker. I think you’ve made a very good first assessment, Alicia.

  9. ‘I agree with this. I believe that any mention of esoterism and occultism linked with Waldorf Steiner teaching immediately paints a picture of a cult. And it is fair to say that the movement is still populated by a core of people who still believe in the “initiate” way. I personally believe this is very damaging.’

    If it is linked (which it should be, since that’s the truth of it) would it then be better to continue to lie about it? And what are you going to do about all those annoying people? I suspect you’ve missed the point here, about anthroposophy.

  10. It’s a pity the gnomes weren’t even fucking. They just sat there looking lethargic, woolly and deformed.

    Thetis — re meds: that’s what so annoys me. Every time waldorf proponents and like-minded people talk about these kinds of medication, their argument builds upon a false assumption: that everyone else thinks medication is a splendid idea, and a method that can replace other interventions… Not many — if any at all! — parents, teachers or doctors believe that; not even in the dreaded world of conventional medicine and education!

    ‘If it is linked (which it should be, since that’s the truth of it) would it then be better to continue to lie about it?’

    They should mention it more often, instead of bothering about what picture it paints. It should be all about truthfulness and honesty, not about PR and popularity.

  11. Would a waldorf school actually enroll a child who is on medication for ADHD? My understanding is that they want compliant children with rich parents.
    Yes there are children who struggle with behaviors. What is proving beneficial is to have the child involved with Pediatric Occupational Therapy. No drugs, no altering personalities. Just helping the child modulate his or her body. Have you heard of this in Europe? I can say what I have witnessed is that it is very successful.

  12. ‘Would a waldorf school actually enroll a child who is on medication for ADHD?’

    I’m not sure what they do elsewhere, but in Sweden they can’t, I believe, reject a child for that reason. (Neither can they reject a child with poor parents — besides, schools are not allowed to require the parents to pay anything at all, which of course don’t stop them from begging for voluntary donations… but they can’t select the students on that basis, i e, not depending on the wealth of the parents.)

    ‘Just helping the child modulate his or her body.’

    Not the mind?

    ‘Have you heard of this in Europe?’

    I haven’t, but that’s probably only a testament to my lack of knowledge in this area. I know a few things about metylphenidate, though…

    Looking at google images, I have a sense that this kind of therapy would have made me utterly depressed, it would have driven me bonkers, much like eurythmy and sewing wool horses did. (Google images: http://bit.ly/gnCHaW)

  13. On the other hand, I perhaps never really belonged to the target group which POT (LOL! I like that abbreviation*) was designed for. Putting paint all over my hands and fingers sounds just like nastier version of wet-on-wet painting…

    (* @thetis — perhaps that’s the right treatment for the Houseplant?)

  14. Margaret – absolutely. Pediatric Occupational Therapy is a profession, not a ‘therapy’ – so they should have the skills to gain an understanding of a child’s complex needs. Including realising that Alicia was in the Wrong Room and they were getting in the way of her reading.

    As for the House-Plant.. he would need to explain (truthfully) his pedagogy to a group of POTers, who would think him a daffodil who probably needed medication for his delusions.

  15. It really is the difference between parents who educate themselves and have the child work with professionals versus allowing an uneducated waldorf teacher to practice Anthroposophical voodoo on their child!
    Yes – let the child read if that is what he/she wants – why in the world do Waldorf teachers take this right away from a young child? And the bigger question why would a parent allow the Waldorf teacher do this?

  16. I have a feeling only parents who *already* agree with the waldorf non-reading agenda will let this happen. My mother never understood what the teachers and some parents were on about, denying children books. She still doesn’t understand how anyone could make this their policy.

    ‘Including realising that Alicia was in the Wrong Room and they were getting in the way of her reading.’

    But lots of professionals don’t realize that. They think they’re helping when they’re only humiliating the child. The risk is much higher when there’s a belief system without evidence to support the practices, but I suspect there are trained professionals who really believe that having paint smeared all over one’s hands will help the child mature.

    Oh Dog, this is why I hate children, they’re just being subjected to all kinds of stupidity and they can’t do anything about their humiliation.

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