‘how can we see our children more clearly?’

asks the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship in the UK [pdf]. I have a suggestion: remove the esoteric glasses. They seem to cause the strangest blur to your vision. Anyway, ‘How can we see our children more clearly?’ is the title of an SWSF conference taking place at the Rudolf Steiner House in London over Easter this year. The program is spectacular.

Every human being incarnates in a unique way, and everything he is can be found in the impression he makes in the substance of the earth. It is our task as teachers to learn to read the impressions made by our students – the way they speak and move, their likes and dislikes, the things they create, everything they do. If we really learn to do this, what we discover can form the basis of our work. The aim of this conference is to raise awareness of the need to develop the faculty of truly seeing and to look at some ways in which this can be done.

The assumption — not questioned, but taken for granted as an established fact — is that the human being incarnates. I suppose it’s too late to ask for any evidence backing up this belief. By the way, what’s the ‘substance’ of the earth? It’s nice to see them admit that speculation about how a child ‘incarnates’ forms the basis of their work. I wish they had been more explicit about what ‘the faculty of truly seeing’ means, though. Not that it’s terribly difficult to interpret. Needless to say, perhaps, it involves putting on those glasses. And learning to use the supersensible eye. Being spiritual initiates, they don’t realize how blurry the vision really gets. The world looks just paradisiacal, as long as the world adapts to their worldview and doesn’t require anything from them. This isn’t necessarily the most realistic manner of seeing; and those children, they live in the real world.

Brien Masters, who wrote a doctoral thesis on waldorf education, is going to speak about birthday verses and he notes that:

The farthest that observation of children can lead us is arguably the insight it gives of their karmic background.

Now it isn’t about the child’s incarnation process as it supposedly unfolds in front of the supersensible seer, or Steiner teacher, it’s about reincarnation — the perspective of multiple lifetimes — and of karma of previous incarnations influencing this one. The child’s karmic background is what the child has experienced before his or her present existence on earth.

Ken Powers will talk about the tool used to explore a child’s incarnation process and karmic background:

Child Study: A Conscious Picture-Building.

Child study. It continues:

Colleagues from various schools will present studies of individual children (anonymously) and will lead us through the methods used in their schools, so that we can build up a picture of how Child Study is being worked with in this country. Conference participants will be able to contribute and ask questions during the studies so that it becomes a research activity from which we can all benefit.

84 thoughts on “‘how can we see our children more clearly?’

  1. The necessary addition to this is the recent ad by the SWSF for someone to help secure Steiner schools in England Free Schools funding:

    “Part-time temporary post with the SWSF

    Help is needed with our work related to Free Schools and the opportunity this creates for Steiner schools to become state funded.
    The post is 2 days a week and the salary is pro rata of £28,876.16
    For an application form email admin@steinerwaldorf.org
    Closing date 18th April 2011″

    http://www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk/_teachingvacancies.html

    Remember that no Steiner schools were granted funding for 2011. The guidelines for Free Schools have now been considerably tightened up. How do they intend to square the public face of the sunny, holistic Steiner initiative with this conference rhetoric of (potentially anti-therapeutic) occult beliefs?

  2. And — these are the kind of professional conferences tax payers will be supporting financially if the Steiner movement secures public funding for more Steiner schools than the Hereford Academy.

  3. yes, tax-payers are already paying millions for the bulldozers of the Hereford Steiner Academy to rip up the village of Much Dewchurch, they’re paying for extravagant buildings with copper fittings and expensive wooden bridges and for the teachers to indulge their fantasies about angels. And I suggest that they may well be providing a funding stream for other anthroposophical activities, in England and elsewhere.

  4. Yep, that’s a very special handbook… the advice is, as far as I can tell, not mean as joke. As difficult to believe as that is…

    ‘And I suggest that they may well be providing a funding stream for other anthroposophical activities, in England and elsewhere.’

    Not an unreasonable suggestion.

  5. Why not try it yourself:
    1. Recall all the persons which have influenced your life and see what their influence exactly was.
    2. Objectivate yourself on certain ages, 5, 14, 18, 25 etc. Try to see yourself objectively, as another person on this ages or other ages you choose.
    When you practicize these exercises during a certain period you will see interesting results.

    It is a remarkable BELIEF that life of an individual starts with conception and ends with physical death.
    I also recommend the studies of Pim Lommel (scientist and professor in cardiology) about consciousness extra the body.

  6. This sort of introspection as Jan describes could be reviewed by a mature individual. No big revelation here except you cannot possibly nail this down (relationships, influences) to these specific ages as you describe above.
    This sort of introspection could be done in the privacy of your home.

    I could only imagine a group of Anthro’s huddling around and dissecting some poor young child’s life. As if they alone hold the key ,the answers to why this young child is the way he/she is. How judgmental and arrogant, especially given that the information (beliefs) waldorf utilizes about how children develop is esoteric not scientific.

    Waldorf professes to KNOW esoteric information about a child and these silly ‘Waldorf child studies’ are clouded by Anthroposophical beliefs so therefore they remain irrelevant and harmful to a young child.

  7. Jan — I have no problem in principle with trying it on myself or other people trying it on themselves — I have nothing to object to that at all. I don’t have a general problem with people who believe in reincarnation either. (Though Pim Lommel seemed to be, last time I checked, one of the madder believers, in particular in light of his education.)

    But this changes nothing: teachers should not practice this on their students. Teachers should not work on their students from the assumption they are reincarnated and then try to speculate about karmic pasts and their present state of incarnating.

    Teachers are there to provide the children with an education, and should do this based on pedagogical considerations not esoteric ones.

  8. Does it get much simpler than that? If the kids in your classroom are reincarnated it’s absolutely none of your business. Marvel over how remarkable their parents’ beliefs are all you like – their beliefs and their children’s souls are simply not your business.

  9. Margaret — ‘This sort of introspection as Jan describes could be reviewed by a mature individual. […] This sort of introspection could be done in the privacy of your home.’

    Indeed. Or anywhere. It’s not a problem if other people’s children are not drawn into this, as they inevitably are when waldorf teachers do karma & incarnation studies on their students rather than on themselves.

    ‘As if they alone hold the key ,the answers to why this young child is the way he/she is.’

    Imagine how often they’re wrong. A perceptive teacher could, naturally, come up with valuable insights. Even if this perceptive teacher believes these insights come from meditation on karma rather than from knowing the child, when in reality it’s common sense, personal familiarity, a good imagination (yielding accurate ideas). The problem then is not the insights but the attribution of these insights. That said, this applies if the teacher is perceptive and ‘understands’ children. Some people probably do that better than others, even without any education at all. But then imagine the unperceptive teacher who doesn’t understand children (many of those teachers around in waldorf), who doesn’t have a proper education, and then begins to speculate on his/her students’ karma… Imagine the crap coming out of such an activity. This teacher will most likely misunderstand the children even more than before. What about the teacher who comes to the conclusion a child has evil in past lives to make up for in this life to make progression lasting to the next life? What happens to the teacher’s attitudes towards this child, when they teacher has this erroneous belief in the back of his/her head?

  10. Diana — ‘Does it get much simpler than that? If the kids in your classroom are reincarnated it’s absolutely none of your business.’

    It doesn’t get simpler. That’s it.

  11. My other question to Jan is just why anthroposophists think this is something profound, or why it would indicate reincarnation.

    Who doesn’t do this sort of exercise (imagining oneself at different ages, musing over who has been influential in your life, etc.)? Do anthroposophists seriously think they invented this?

  12. ‘Who doesn’t do this sort of exercise (imagining oneself at different ages, musing over who has been influential in your life, etc.)?’

    I do it all the time. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have anything to say about my past or my waldorf years or the impact on the rest of my life.

    You certainly don’t need to presuppose reincarnation to do this…

  13. Anthroposophists don’t need much evidence of reincarnation to believe.
    My son was saying today that he marvels at how many people there are in the world, and how amazing it is that one can remember so many names and faces over the years.
    I told him why anthroposophists think we can remember names and faces: anthroposophy says that people you see on the street, or meet in your life anywhere, look familiar because they *are* familiar. Even if you haven’t met them previously in this life, you met them in a past life.

    I used to really think about this, in fact sometimes I still do. It is true that if you examine the faces of people you pass on the street, or see in a store or wherever you go, everyone looks familiar. I suppose this is actually because in fact, faces come in types. Most people’s faces are not so unique or amazing that you haven’t seen someone who looked maybe not exactly the same, but similar. No one, or very few people, really look startlingly different from other people.

    To anthroposophists, that’s evidence of reincarnation.

  14. I hardly ever recognize people from their faces. I need to look at their hair. Very strange it is. So I suppose that to me all faces look too similar to mean anything. Mouth, 2 eyes, nose.

    But HEY!! Maybe it’s because I haven’t been incarnated before, so I don’t recognize anybody from previous lives. On the other hand, that wouldn’t explain why I occasionally don’t ‘see’ people I do know from this life…

  15. LOL! Either you haven’t incarnated before … or you’ve incarnated so many times, you’ve seen absolutely everybody, and everybody looks just alike!

    Ever think about that, Sune?
    Alicia just may be MORE spiritually advanced than you. What if she is a much older soul?
    We’ll have the poor man tossing and turning at night now.

  16. Yes!!! Maybe I’ve reincarnated so *many* times I’ve met everyone already! It begins to make sense now!

    A very spooky thing is I always — it can happen several times a day — see my dead neighbour. Which is fascinating because I can pass living neighbours and not recognize them (it’s also due to absentmindedness and there’s so much people around where I live, I sort of block out visual input). I constantly find myself saying to myself ‘Oh, there’s X, I have to go say hi to her!’ and it’s never her. Obviously, because she’s dead (since quite long ;-) too). It’s a bit fascinating, somehow.

  17. I want to return to Brien Masters (see original post) to show that this is not some anomaly in teaching practice. I suspect what happens is that people rarely read these kind of books (I didn’t as a Steiner parent) and if they do they’re not especially well educated themselves – or sceptical – and they don’t notice what self-indulgent twaddle most of it is. And people who might spot this never take these people seriously enough to read more than a couple of pages.

    I am not trying to be unkind here, it is absolutely effortless.

    http://bit.ly/h1u9zu

    I love classical history (who’d have guessed) and have pored over the Art of the British Museum etc and I know my Elgin Marbles (apologies) but I’d rather watch ‘orrible ‘istories than some occultist wittering on about earthly this and incarnating that and other cold forebodings from the nether regions.

  18. I’ll shorten that link, Thetis…

    Interesting examples from his book. Adventures in waldorf education include a whole lot of adventures in earlier earthly lives, apparently. Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with respectable education, I’m afraid…

  19. Why do I come up with Van Lommel here? When Van Lommel proves there is conscousness outside the body, this means an individual is more than a body alone (Van Bommel is NOT a beleiver).
    When this is so, we can ask ourselves whether this spiritual component dies with the body, or that it can live on.
    We can also examine the point this spiritual component is connected with a foetus.
    To cut it short: You can come to the conclusion that there is a life before birth and a life after death. Where does the spiritual component come from before it connects itself with the foetus? It lived in the spiritual world. It came into this spiritual world after dying at the end of former life on earth.

    Reality, the world, the cosmos have a spiritual and a material component.
    Do you do justice to the children when you reduce them to bodies?
    The body is an expression of the spiritual component.
    To look at children in this way however is only working when you deeply respect them.

  20. that’s a very good way of putting it! And adventures for adults too, since most children have no trouble enjoying adventures in their own imaginations if left alone to do so.

    In fact that’s the point, and actually there’s no harm in thinking of a profession as an adventure, although you might not want to tell everyone. The difficulty is that this is religious, if they’re honest, and it’s a ‘spiritual journey’. Spiritual journeys in Waldorf education, without telling the parents that this is what you’re doing.

    But this is an unusually honest conference flier, and there’s no going back from the SWSF’s declaration of purpose and intent ;)

  21. Jan: “When Van Lommel proves there is conscousness outside the body,”

    He doesn’t.

    Can you explain please what you mean by the word: ‘spiritual’?

  22. “See, and look for yourself” , Gallilei said to the priest, pointing at his telescope.
    “No, No!, I will not do that, it has no use, because it cannot be true what you are saying.
    The Pope said so , and also the bible.” “I don’t want it to be true”

  23. Jan – you’ve hit on something important about Waldorf ed etc. You have an idea that humanists, who might concentrate on the human aspect of children (as opposed to the ‘really human’, in Steiner-speak, which is a looking-glass occult opposite) – that humanists have an impoverished idea of what a child is, behave like soul-less automatons, cultivate ‘robotic children’ and so on. This is so laughable it’s not surprising that your education system is backed up in a siding waiting for an engine.

    If you Steineristas would only be modest and shut up about how superior you all are, and how only you understand childhood and nature and goodness and art, and practice your esoteric religion in your own time without mumbling over your pupils’ ‘souls’ like ghouls, people might want to hear about the many talents and skills and observations you really do have that could enhance and benefit education.

    Otherwise never imagine for one minute that Waldorf teachers are superior to all the other teachers, some of whom are religious while others are not, who also want to do their best for their pupils and who respect them as individuals, even if the language they use might be prosaic and ‘unspiritual’.

  24. ‘When Van Lommel proves there is conscousness outside the body…’

    As Thetis said, he doesn’t prove that. He may think he has reason to believe it is so, but he doesn’t prove anything at all — not in a manner acceptable to a non-believer.

    And, let’s face it, even if van Lommel had proved this, reincarnation and karma — and speculation on children’s karmic pasts — still have no place in education.

    ‘When this is so, we can ask ourselves whether this spiritual component dies with the body, or that it can live on.’

    Which is fine to do, but have nothing to do with giving children a proper education.

    ‘Do you do justice to the children when you reduce them to bodies?’

    And who reduces children to bodies, whatever that’s supposed to mean? The whole point of education is to develop the mind — whether you take the mind to be a purely materialistic concept (the workings of the physical brain) or something else. The philosophical speculations are beside the point — you figure out how children learn to read and write most effectively, and you apply this method and teach them what they need. There’s no need to involve reincarnating spirits or higher worlds at all — it’s got nothing to do with education. Whether children are just bodies or bodies and minds or spiritual beings or whatever else — it doesn’t matter! It’s not helpful and, at worst, it’s harmful to base education upon assumptions about the true nature of the human being and some such nonsense.

    A teacher who believes that the child is a spirit in addition to having a body will still have to teach this child to read. And it’s how the teacher manages to teach this which matters. If the teacher goes on to speculate about this child’s spirit, s/he may do lots of harm and spend lots of energy on what’s not his/her business in the first place! Why not spend the time and effort teaching instead? Or talking to the child — the child who is present right then and there, which is more than you can say of the child’s elusive spirit and its previous incarnations.

  25. ‘You have an idea that humanists, who might concentrate on the human aspect of children (as opposed to the ‘really human’, in Steiner-speak, which is a looking-glass occult opposite) – that humanists have an impoverished idea of what a child is, behave like soul-less automatons, cultivate ‘robotic children’ and so on.’

    I suspect this is the problem. If people (non-anthroposophists) really thought of children as just bodies, then, quite frankly, nothing would stop anyone from roasting a child for dinner. It’s just meat, after all.

  26. I’m going to tell my daughter that the minute she gets home. Yum yum, I want to eat you. I do, of course but it’s only a playful metaphor (except if I really were a Greek myth, quite a worrying one)

  27. @ Thetis
    About Van Lommel: of course you have to deny the prove of Van Lommel.
    Accepting it would mean a reconsideration of your world view.

    Personally I don’t like the word”spiritual”, but I don’t know a better word in English.
    I have simplified the concept here, and used it in a dichotomy as a contrast to “material’.
    But each of us has an “I” that lived through many lifes. This “I” is autonomous and makes purposes for itself when it incarnates into a body, indeed in accordance with karmic laws.
    People who met eachother nowadays, have met earlier in former lifes in most cases.
    The exercises I described above very shortly can enable a person to do observations in this field.
    They are an invitation “to look through the telescope”.

  28. @Thetis
    No doubt you know RAMMSTEIN.
    So you want to eat me huh?

    Heute treff ich einen Herrn
    Der hat mich zum Fressen gern
    Weiche Teile und auch harte
    stehen auf der Speisekarte

    Denn du bist
    was du isst
    und ihr wisst
    was es ist

    Es ist mein Teil � nein
    Mein Teil � nein
    Denn das ist mein Teil � nein
    Mein Teil � nein

    Die stumpfe Klinge � gut und recht
    Ich blute stark und mir ist schlecht
    Muss ich auch mit der Ohnmacht k�mpfen
    ich esse weiter unter Kr�mpfen

    Ist doch so gut gew�rzt
    und so sch�n flambiert
    und so liebevoll auf Porzellan serviert
    Dazu ein guter Wein und zarter Kerzenschein
    Ja da lass ich mir Zeit
    Etwas Kultur muss sein

    Denn du bist
    was du isst
    und ihr wisst
    was es ist

    Es ist mein Teil � nein
    Mein Teil � nein
    Denn das ist mein Teil � nein
    Yes it’s mein Teil � nein

    Ein Schrei wird zum Himmel fahren
    schneidet sich durch Engelscharen
    Vom Wolkendach f�llt Federfleisch
    auf meine Kindheit mit Gekreisch

    Es ist mein Teil � nein
    Mein Teil � nein
    Denn das ist mein Teil � nein
    Mein Teil � nein

  29. van Lommel isn’t offering any (scientific) proof, thus there’s nothing for anyone of us to deny. He’s offering us his beliefs, to which he is entitled. I don’t deny that he believes there’s consciousness outside the body. I don’t deny there are many people who find this plausible.

    But he hasn’t proved it. If there was proof of this, it would be splendid, but there is no proof.

    Your beliefs, as you outlined them, Jan, are perfectly alright. But they have no place in education — and no place in the relationship between a teacher and a student.

    Thetis — nom nom! remember, it’s just meat, and you’re a materialist.

  30. @Ladies, there is much projection in what you are saying.
    I never said Waldorf teachers are superior (I really thought you would know be better by now) They certainly don’t have always right.
    What I am saying is: there is a antrhoposophical method which offers you a broader view on reality. Why not use it?
    I am a teacher, but not a Waldorf teacher.
    I know the regular theories about learning and education and do respect them.
    I learn a lot from my colleagues who are no anthroposophists.

    But generally speaking you are right modesty is the key-word

  31. ‘What I am saying is: there is a antrhoposophical method which offers you a broader view on reality.’

    It’s not a broader view of reality.

    ‘Why not use it?’

    Because it has potential to do more harm than good, as indicated by the SWSF’s conference on karma speculations.

    ‘But generally speaking you are right modesty is the key-word’

    If I may say so, the assertion that anthroposophy offers a broader view of reality isn’t particularly modest. Not that one has to be modest at all times; I’m not.

  32. Actually, we could easily simplify this question. Let’s assume that a teacher has one student and an hour at her disposal. Let’s say this student is a child, aged 8. He can’t read. How would the teacher make best use of this one hour; best meaning: most beneficial to the child (rather than to, e g, the teacher’s own spiritual development or some such aspect). Would it be:

    a) using the most efficient methods she knows and try to make progress with the child and his reading ability

    or

    b) in speculation about the child’s previous earth-lives and karmic background (leaving the actual child to entertain himself)

    ?

  33. “A very spooky thing is I always — it can happen several times a day — see my dead neighbour.”

    Lol, so there you go, Sune – Alicia has across-the-threshold capabilities. Who knew. Watch out for the bogey man!

  34. They aren’t stereotypes, Jan. They’re observations of the anthroposophists I have known, combined with statements about things Rudolf Steiner taught, which anthroposophists have a rather reliable tendency to believe.

  35. Bravo Thetis (to all your posts).
    Alicia: “And, let’s face it, even if van Lommel had proved this, reincarnation and karma — and speculation on children’s karmic pasts — still have no place in education.”

    Exactly. I do not give a flip about anthroposophists’ explanations of spiritual reality.

    EVEN IF everything they say about their spiritual reality is totally true, this has nothing to do with how children should be treated in the classroom. Get your paws off other people’s spirituality. The children’s spirituality is not your business, it’s their own.

  36. ‘Lol, so there you go, Sune – Alicia has across-the-threshold capabilities.’

    As appealing as this sounds, another explanation may be that all short, 60-year old ladies look the same to me, if they have a haircut that can be mistaken for my dead neighbour’s (lots of ladies that age seem to like that haircut, I’ve noticed).

  37. “What I am saying is: there is a antrhoposophical method which offers you a broader view on reality.”

    So does LSD. You’ve not made an argument for introducing anthroposophical “reality” into a classroom of school children.

  38. ‘So does LSD. You’ve not made an argument for introducing anthroposophical “reality” into a classroom of school children.’

    LOL! At least if more illusion equals a broader view of reality. LSD would by far outdo anthroposophy then. Actually, waldorf education would be driven off the market if we chose this as the criterion for a good education.

  39. “At least if more illusion equals a broader view of reality. LSD would by far outdo anthroposophy then. Actually, waldorf education would be driven off the market if we chose this as the criterion for a good education.”

    Oh, I don’t know about that. Anthroposophy would give them a run for their money. I think they’re comparable. Anthroposophy is full of hallucinogenic imagery. Through the centuries, many similar spiritual visions have had a chemical origin.

  40. True. Simply passing out hallucinogens would be simpler and less of a burden on the taxpayers. Doesn’t require training teachers, either.

  41. About that eight year old that can’t read. First of all how sad is that? I mean 8 years old and can’t read?
    How does waldorf teach reading? I am really curious.
    At any rate my guess is that it will be
    c: find someone or something else to blame besides the teacher as to why this child can’t read.

  42. It was an example I invented. It’s not unusual for children in waldorf schools not to be able to read at 8 though.

    They don’t teach reading, they teach writing. Through ‘form drawing’. It goes on forever this form drawing. It’s about drawing various shapes with a crayon so thick it’s impossible to write words in small text with. Basically.

  43. I think this is really useful information – to explain how reading is taught to the children who attend waldorf schools because it is so out of sync with all education models I know of.
    My question is this: If a child starts to read at around age 8 it generally is a skill that builds on itself so it must take years (as it would for a child that started reading at 6) to be a proficient reader.
    Does waldorf teach children how to read phonetically or whole language?

  44. I don’t know. I don’t think reading is taught at all, it’s taught indirectly through writing which is taught through form drawing. It’s assumed that if the kid can form draw letters and later words, then the kid can read. Perhaps they teach reading, but I never saw any of it. On the other hand, I knew how to read and write already. Being forced to do tedious form drawing was very concrete, but reading? There was no reading. I mean, how could it be, there are no books? There are no printed words. The only things you read are the things you have written, i e, copied from the blackboard. I suppose other kids learned to read through this activity, but I don’t know, I never thought that learning to read was the point of any of these exercises, since I already knew it.

    This is a pro-waldorf source on the writing and reading:
    http://www.lindisfarne.org/site_pdfs/learning_to_read_and_write.pdf

    And here:
    ‘Reading is not required in Waldorf schools until the end of grade 3.’
    http://www.waldorfwithoutwalls.com/newsletter/43/

    Just imagine how boring this all is for children who already know how to read before 1st grade!

  45. Here’s another article: http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer/reading.html

    It mentions reading but also this:

    ‘For instance, if a small child asks how are the waves formed in the sea, the worst educational attitude would be to go into an explanation of the earth’s rotation, the sun and moon positions, the water’s gravitational atraction by them, and so on (notice that gravitation is a process not yet understood by Physics, and tides are due to very complex processes). One good “explanation” could be to fill up the kitchen basin with water and showing that by blowing small waves are formed. It is not necessary to say anything, and the result has a 100% analogy to the small waves one sees at deep sea (when there are no winds, the only waves are very wide ones, due to the tides). Certainly, a child will be much more satisfied with this sort of “concrete” – and true – explanation than the abstract ones. ‘

    Imagine, again, how frustrating waldorf education is for any child who WANTS TO NOW!! and who is not satisfied looking at some grown-up doofus blowing waves in a kitchen sink. The child has seen waves, has felt the wind; the child knows this and wants an explanation.

    This is what they say about reading:

    ‘Now let’s face the problem of reading. Humanity took thousands of years to develop our occidental writing. It passed through pictorial images representing objects, to symbols representing whole words (as the eastern ideograms), syllables, and finally just phonemes. This development corresponded to increasing abstraction capacities. […]Children repeat humanity’s development, and should be mature enough to face such abstraction efforts. […] In fact, the human being takes a long time to really assimilate new capacities. Not using abstractions in teaching how to read, means that one should do it through images and concrete means. […] We have said that a small child loses a lot if s/he is trained to read too early. One may ask the question: what is gained through that learning? In our opinion, nothing is gained in terms of inner positive development, on the contrary, the child has made a negative development, that is, of something that should had remained strange to him/her. One of the negative developments is precisely the early development of intellectual abilities. […] We conjecture that, as a consequence, one triggers cristalization processes, leading to eventual precocious sclerosis processes later on in life. […] If they are impaired at early ages through intellectual activities like reading, one may get an adult with less creativity, with rigidity in thinking, and with difficulties in improvising in poorly defined (that is, non-intellectual) situations.’

    My emphasis, because this makes me so angry. It’s awful. Absolutely revolting.

  46. This is amazing to me – how much judgement is wrapped around reading!
    I suppose if Waldorf children were allowed to read at an earlier age they would call BULLSHIT on the teachers!

  47. “Does waldorf teach children how to read phonetically or whole language?”

    Neither. Margaret, it’s a huge topic that I’ve written about many times on the critics list – though not recently.

    I have had many pathetic discussions with Waldorf teachers defending the reading methods, or lack thereof. Most did not even know what I was talking about when I brought up phonics versus whole language. That controversy is outside their world altogether.

    Briefly, first graders spend the ENTIRE YEAR learning to draw the letters of the alphabet. The capital letters, that is – lower case has to wait … Their methods then consist of children copying off the chalkboard things the teacher has written, and illustrating them, usually with the pictures being treated as more important than the text. There are elements of the old “look-say” in this, and surely some Waldorf teachers are dispensing bits of phonics here and there. Generally, though, the methods consist of teacher telling the class what the words say, and children parroting back. Even this much direct instruction is minimized in the overall curriculum. Far more time is spent on handwork, music, gardening etc.; all of which is well and good, of course, but in Waldorf it is deliberately done at the expense of literacy.

    Occasionally a Waldorf teacher gets the idea that “whole language” is something modern and progressive, and they’ll tell us they’re doing whole language in their classroom. They generally turn out to have no idea what this term means. A Waldorf early-grades classroom could not be farther from whole language. Often, there are no books, or very few. Print is *in itself* thought to be damaging to young children. At our school, the president of the board of trustees was heard to say that in his home, he aimed to prevent his children from SEEING PRINT before age 7. This is what Steiner thought best. Reading is to be delayed as long as possible. Steiner said it was actually better for spiritual development if the child is delayed in reading till 13 or 14. (This would be to correspond with the birth of the “astral body” at age 14.) Delaying till age 14 is simply not practical, of course, even in Waldorf schools, but the curriculum is geared to delaying children as long as possible.

    Children are in general to be prevented from “intellectual” pursuits prior to puberty, as much as possible. Reading is the classic intellectual pursuit and of course the gateway to most other intellectual pursuits; therefore it is viewed very suspiciously in Waldorf schools. Many parents are told to try to delay their children at home, too. The kindergartens often have no books at all, not even picture books. So it is not just a question of a delay; it is an entire culture that is hostile to literacy in children.

  48. Thanks Diana –
    Yes, I figured it out – Waldorf restricts reading because if the child did read he would quickly become smarter than the Waldorf teacher – then (gasp) children would most certainly ask questions that the teacher could not answer correctly!

  49. Diana: “At our school, the president of the board of trustees was heard to say that in his home, he aimed to prevent his children from SEEING PRINT before age 7.”

    I really do wonder about this. Assuming he can manage that, what happens when his children leave the safe confines of the home?

    I’m constantly amazed by how much our two year old learns by osmosis from his environment. We travel a lot by train. He’s learned to read out loud the name of our town (a short three letter word) we think, by associating the name on the station sign with the recorded announcement on the train announcing our arrival. Now he points it out to us everywhere: on street signs, on envelopes when the post arrives through the door…

  50. “Assuming he can manage that, what happens when his children leave the safe confines of the home?”

    Well, his own children have already done so, and I suppose I should give credit where it’s due: I only know one of his children now a little bit, but he’s in high school now and doing well as far as I know, so I presume he can read.

    Some such talk (avoiding print before age 7) is posturing; many Waldorf parents are doing the opposite of what they’re advised to do by the Waldorf teachers. They’re just faking in front of their friends, and feeling guilty about it. The number of Waldorf parents, or even teachers, who are REALLY doing all the wacko things Steiner actually advised, is probably very small.

    Mark – what your 2 year old is doing is wonderful, and very normal. I’m sure like any sane parent who cares to see his child develop normally, you’re encouraging this. It’s how kids learn to read. Just answer his questions and encourage his interest!

    Waldorf teachers, however, will very often advise you to NIP THIS IN THE BUD. Discourage the child from reading signs or asking what words mean. When children in the Waldorf kindergarten do this – which of course they do, all the time – many Waldorf teachers will refuse to answer. She pretends she hasn’t heard the question, starts singing, or if the child is very persistent, deflects to some nonsense answer. To your son reading the name of the town on the station platform, she would reply, “See the trains come in to the station!” or somesuch.

    Waldorf parents are usually told that the program is not to “rush” children, or to allow them to develop “at their own pace.” This is far from the truth. The point is to delay literacy as long as possible, because it is thought to be damaging.

  51. As to how you would actually do this – prevent a child seeing print before age 7 – I have to say I did see certain zealous Waldorf parents attempt it. I remember one family who, when bringing groceries into the house, decanted everything from its original containers into ceramic pots or baskets. This prevents a child from, say, reading the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table. (When you consider that you’re also supposed to not let children come into contact with plastic, the logistics of storing food become mind boggling.)

    Obviously, you have to carefully control what comes into your house, no magazines or newspapers; that’s after you’ve removed all books from your home, of course.

    Then, you have to basically keep the child a prisoner in that home. You obviously can’t bring him into a store or restaurant, with signs all over the place. You can barely walk down the road, ‘cus he’ll try to read the street signs.

    I suppose computer screens count too, as they’re often filled with print. Of course, you would never let your small child use a computer or watch television anyway. But you also have to prevent them seeing *you* work on the computer, ‘cus they might catch a glimpse of words on the screen.

    Ok that’s this morning’s small dose of anthroinsanity. LOL

  52. Thank you Diana.

    I thought that aiming to avoid any sight of the printed word before the age of 7 might be some kind of weird anthro posturing. The idea that some parents might actually attempt this is just mind boggling.

    Perhaps these poor children are transported from the safe confines of the home to school in the back of a car with blacked out windows. :-)

  53. A comment on what Margaret wrote yesterday, in comment 8027 (I wrote this yesterday night, and when I tried to post, WordPress had gone down or into read-only-mode; I hope that if any of you wrote comments during this time, you managed to press back after the error message and save your comment at least):

    They would… and many of them do anyway. It’s easy to call bullshit on eurythmy. And children who want to read, learn to read. Even if the parents and teachers don’t approve. It’s just a pity it isn’t encouraged.

    And for children who have a difficult time learning to read and write (i e, children who don’t learn it on their own), it’s also obviously disadvantageous to delay learning. There’s even more reason to start early with those kids, I suspect. Especially if it can happen at a pace that suits the child rather than in panic when it’s discovered that the kid is already 9 or even 10 and totally behind. (What a blow to such a child’s self esteem to be transferred to a public school in 3d or 4th grade once the parents have realized the kid isn’t learning the basics in waldorf.)

    _______

    To other comments, I’ll return later…

  54. Mark: “I thought that aiming to avoid any sight of the printed word before the age of 7 might be some kind of weird anthro posturing. The idea that some parents might actually attempt this is just mind boggling.”

    I do indeed know parents who tried it. In defense of their sanity, I do believe they gave up well before the oldest child turned seven. Obviously, it is impossible, unless perhaps you live in a Stone Age tribe in the Amazon. Our society is literate, and to prevent even infants from partaking is impossible and even to try is basically abusive, IMO.

    However, while this extreme nutty behavior is rare, the milder versions of it are very widespread among Waldorf parents, and that’s where the real damage lies. There’s not really much danger children will reach school age not having been exposed to print in a Waldorf school or family. There’s a real and very serious danger of children being exposed to both 1) print and 2) negative, conflicting and ambivalent messages about the value of learning to decipher the print you see all around you.

    In fact, I believe the contradiction is what is most damaging. I actually think things are easier for children in zealous Waldorf families where the school and the family are on the same page about this, and carefully control the children’s experience in this manner. These childrens’ experience is consistent and understandable to them and there’s security in that. Mixed messages, on the other hand, are confusing and anxiety-provoking and detrimental. Tension between the teacher and the parent is bad. Learning things at home that your teacher disapproves of is bad.

    That IMO is the thing Waldorf really has to answer for; that’s the damage that is done. (Their reading instruction stinks, yes, but quite often the parents are compensating for it at home.)

  55. Diana:

    ‘Briefly, first graders spend the ENTIRE YEAR learning to draw the letters of the alphabet. The capital letters, that is – lower case has to wait … Their methods then consist of children copying off the chalkboard things the teacher has written, and illustrating them, usually with the pictures being treated as more important than the text. […] Generally, though, the methods consist of teacher telling the class what the words say, and children parroting back.’

    This is exactly what it was like. Lower case letters came in in 2nd grade, I believe.

    ‘The kindergartens often have no books at all, not even picture books.’

    Mine didn’t (if there were any at all, they were only with anthro-style paintings, and definitely no text — but I don’t think there were such books either, at least not that the children could look in when they pleased). And there were no books at all present in the early grades class rooms either.

    ‘Waldorf parents are usually told that the program is not to “rush” children, or to allow them to develop “at their own pace.” This is far from the truth. The point is to delay literacy as long as possible, because it is thought to be damaging.’

    That’s true. It’s definitely not about allowing the child his or her own pace. Even if the child has learnt to read entirely on his/her own — thus without ANY rush whatsoever — or if the child is curious, again by his/her own will, they don’t view this as something positive. It’s ‘bad’ and they will try to dissuade the child from developing at his/her own pace. It’s not about the child’s pace, it’s about the anthroposophically correct pace — which often does not correspond to the pace of real children.

    ‘I actually think things are easier for children in zealous Waldorf families where the school and the family are on the same page about this, and carefully control the children’s experience in this manner.’

    I know of such examples, and sadly, I don’t think it was easy for those kids. Because sometimes the kid was not on the same page as the family and the school. This was, I guess, because it’s impossible to restrict a child’s access to the world. And you could always blame all those families who attended waldorf but didn’t live ‘purely’ and whose kids brought vicious ideas which contaminated the school environment. (I think earlier, on the critics list, I’ve written about a TV show which aired when I was a child, in first grade. It was very popular and funny and taught reading and basic maths. It was fun even for me who knew all the letters and numbers. Of course, kids raised strictly anthroposophically weren’t allowed to watch this. But how could they be unaware it existed? And children weren’t unaware that some other kids, like me, were allowed to read what we wanted.) Unless you can actually set up a waldorf school out in the wilderness somewhere, move all the families there, and require that all these families live according to the rules at all hours of the day… well, unless you can do this, you can’t restrict what they children encounter in their environment; you can’t control what the children experience, and instead you have to control what they get and, if possible, what they want. As a consequence — because you can rarely control what they want — the children will be torn between the real world and their parents’ and teachers’ fantasy world and ideals.

    The fact that the family and the school are on the same page in no way, I fear, make the contradiction the child has to live with any lesser. Maybe there’s consistency in the school’s and family’s behaviour, and maybe the child understands the ‘rules’. But these children know that there’s a whole world outside — and this world holds all the things these children desire. Watching children’s tv, reading ordinary children’s books, using normal toys, et c. I think their conflict comes to be that they desire something that they know both their teacher and their parents consider bad and forbidden. They have no support from anyone; yet they definitely do desire these things. Despite the consistent messages given by the authoritative adults around them. Another thing one might add is that there’s quite a number of families that have one parent deeply enamoured with anything waldorf and anthroposophy, and the other parent not so much into it. Which results in the paradoxical situation that one parent is a true believer (perhaps even a waldorf teacher!) and the other parent feeds the kid Donald Duck magazines and allows television. So, ok, in such families, the message can’t be consistent — but, on the other hand, the child has some kind of support and quite a few learning opportunities…

  56. I think probably you are totally right … I’ll reply in more detail later and perhaps copy it to critics as well ‘cus I think you make some excellent points. My viewpoint is the parent’s, and the child’s viewpoint is likely quite different. I’m familiar with anthroposophists’ children who were quite docile. I interpreted that as being the result of a comfort level: consistency from the adults = security for the child. But it can also indicate a child who is simply depressed, resigned, submissive.

  57. ‘My viewpoint is the parent’s, and the child’s viewpoint is likely quite different.’

    And this difference increases, I suspect, the older the child gets. It may not be a huge issue with 3 year old kindergarten kids, but in 1st grade, they’re already too aware of other alternatives than those on offer…

    (If you want to copy anything I wrote to critics, please go ahead!)

  58. “And this difference increases, I suspect, the older the child gets. It may not be a huge issue with 3 year old kindergarten kids, ”

    That might be the case. It may be that what I wrote is valid regarding 3 year olds, and what you wrote is valid for 8 year olds. However, it’s a problem to assume you can suddenly change longstanding patterns; I mean, you really need to be treating your 3 year old with an eye toward the future, how you will treat him/her as an 8 year old. Switching directions is hard, for both parent and child.

    Three year olds want to believe Mummy and want to believe and trust both Mummy and teacher. So if Mummy and teacher are agreeing, to a 3 year old, this is how the world is. An 8 year old has already figured out that some things are different out there in the world from how they are at home, and understands that her parents don’t agree with her teacher on everything and vice versa.

  59. Indeed, brilliant. I remember doing stuff like that, like what’s on the picture. Mindnumbing.

    ‘Three year olds want to believe Mummy and want to believe and trust both Mummy and teacher. So if Mummy and teacher are agreeing, to a 3 year old, this is how the world is. An 8 year old has already figured out that some things are different out there in the world from how they are at home, and understands that her parents don’t agree with her teacher on everything and vice versa.’

    I believe I had this figured out when I was three, actually, LOL! Isn’t it a parent thing to believe that their 3 year olds want to believe what mummy says? ;-)

  60. I spent more time with my grandparents, and they were most certainly not following any waldorf guidelines whatsoever! I may have believed them more than I believed my mum. Not that I remember really. For facts questions, I probably relied on dad, and, because I spent all that time with them, my grandparents. None of them behaved like waldorf teachers! And I don’t think anyone, not even my mum, had any idea what went on in waldorf or really cared about their ideas (in particular the ideas on reading/writing/academics).

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  62. Hi Zooey

    I haven’t visited for a while. Took a break from thinking about Steinerism after I cancelled my studies. I’m so glad I did. They insisted that the child’s incarnations are essential to Steiner education, on that they would not waver.

    I will never never never understand this incarnation business that they are so focused on. It would be interesting to me to find out how they discover what the child’s incarnations were. Do you have any idea about the ‘process’?

  63. halea — nice to see you again!

    ‘It would be interesting to me to find out how they discover what the child’s incarnations were. Do you have any idea about the ‘process’?’

    You mean as in previous incarnations? I suppose they observe the child and meditate. In addition, you get clues on how to interpret these things from Steiner. For example in the Karmic Relationships lecture series — I think there are 5 or 6 volumes or something.

    But practically speaking I can’t really fathom how it’s done or how it’s taken so seriously or how they don’t see that this can go dreadfully wrong.

    In reality, I suspect that not all waldorf teachers spend a lot of time and energy on this business, but rather focus on more worthwhile tasks. It’s impossible to know, though, unless they’re willing to talk about it.

  64. Well, Hakea, perhaps it’s this way:
    you did think, so, you did quit.
    Some others prefer remaining in their wooly fantasies.
    Congratulations, Hakea.

  65. thanks alfa

    I always like to go back to the originator of the ideas, rather than rely on other people’s interpretations.

    When I read the Steiner texts they didn’t make much sense, and I have read widely on other religions and esoteric practices. In parts they were downright scary, particularly the comments about parents. I have worked in child protection, I know that some parents don’t parent well, but Steiner starts with a deficit model and that’s never good.

  66. ‘But practically speaking I can’t really fathom how it’s done or how it’s taken so seriously or how they don’t see that this can go dreadfully wrong.’

    That’s the worry, it’s anti-theraputic.

    ‘you did think, so, you did quit’ – well said Alfa :)

    Hakea, isn’t it by imagining or intuiting? And who is to say what’s true? And how much is just personal prejudice?

    It’s been really interesting to read your comments.

  67. Sorry — Hakea — I see that in my comment (March 27), I mistyped you as Halea…

    ‘I always like to go back to the originator of the ideas, rather than rely on other people’s interpretations.’

    Absolutely a good idea. And with waldorf/Steiner education, essential.

    As for Steiner’s attitude towards parents; apart from the spiritual stuff, there’s something about it that doesn’t work, not in 2011. Parents, usually, want to be involved, want to know, not to be run over (by spiritually initiated ‘experts’). I would guess.

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