off the hook

Steiner schools in New Zealand are off the hook over standards, ensures their minister of education. That means, they don’t have to adhere to them. And Steiner school students don’t get a chance to learn what children in other schools are privileged enough to learn.

The letter said the special character of the school would not be jeopardised, and schools would not be required to change their programmes.

“The Ministry is fully aware of the special character of these schools and you can assure both [names blanked out] that younger students not meeting national standards will not make Steiner schools a target for closure.

“You are welcome to tell your constituents that the implementations of National Standards will not require Steiner schools to change their programmes.”

That is, they won’t have to teach the children basics in reading, writing and maths when other schools are required to do this. Nor will they have to teach the basics of any other subjects, because that’s not really possible when you haven’t taught reading and maths. Instead the children will be doing eurythmy and painting water colour blobs. Way to go! What they don’t realize is that children who are not meeting national standards — because they attend schools that don’t have to adhere to them — will be locked into that particular educational environment. They can’t transfer easily to other schools, when they’re getting bored or their parents begin to realize their mistake. They’re left behind, unless they have a strong personal capacity to catch up or parents who can afford private tutoring.

The Taikura school (which seems to be the center of attention) is, naturally, happy about the development:

“… we are pleased that the minister is sending a strong signal that the Steiner schools’ special characters will not be jeopardised.”

22 thoughts on “off the hook

  1. I am one of the parents that haven’t realised my mistake, in fact I have been heavily investigating this over the past few months, due to the threat to Steiner education I have chosen for my daughter and all investigations have reaffirmed my belief.

    Your arument doesn’t seem fully informed especially when you consider that the architect and director of the PISA exams that are used to rank countries on educational performance is a Steiner graduate.

    Putting aside the experts arguments in education it comes down to a parents choice. I personally believe that a Steiner education follows more closely the Finnish model. Finland and much research has shown that the later starting of formalised education does not negatively impact a students performance.

    I base my choices for my daughters education on my own experience. I grew up in a poor neighbourhood, was not acedemic and yet I have learnt a love of learning, self belief and found the thing I was passionate about which has now placed me in the top earning bracket. (and for the government the top tax bracket). My grammar and spelling are still below standard.

    So I want my daughter to have a childhood, find her passion and fly with it. I will support her fully. It all depends on what you call success.

    You raise a point that the order of delivery is different (In the early years). I am more concerned with performance as my child enters adulthood. Steiner schools have a model that is proven to work from kindergarten to highschool and beyond. Parents do have to commit in the early years as transferring to mainstream schools is problematic due to the varience in the order of delivery of the curriculum. Maybe that is why Steiner school communities are closer and we have dialog with our school and teachers.

    I struggle to see that there is an issue assessing children inline with the order that the NZ curriculum is delivered in (as long as children are not disadvantaged when they leave school, as Steiner schools have proven). If Steiner schools are to assess against National Standards and not against the delivery of the curiculum then nobody gains any insight as to how children are performing against expectation. (It just a waste of time to tick a box)

    Let parents choose the path for their child. You may believe that constant assessment and testing will advantage your children in the unknown future but I believe that a love of learning and being able to think outside the box will set my daughter up for the future.

    Both of us have the best intentions for our children, just different paths. Let us not deny the others right to a free choice.

    At the extreme of the argument then you must also also pity the private school children that don’t have to comply at all.

    regards
    Callum Peters

    P.S. My daughter doesn’t attend Taikura. I have been there though and if it weren’t for my career tieing me to big cities she would be there.

  2. I’m not a parent and will never be a parent. I went through waldorf steiner ed myself though. And I know the theoretical background.

    If your child has no or few intellectual interests, she may be ok in steiner. Otherwise, I bet against it.

    In my country, sweden, formal learning starts pretty late, like finland. They have good schools, good teacher training, high professional status for teachers. Sweden does not. There’s the difference. That’s why finland does great. Not because they start late. As far as I know, they do formal testing annd grading in finland pretty early. And waldorf schools have been required to let their students sit final exams like other schools.

  3. May I ask — do you think I feel like I had a childhood in waldorf, that I was allowed to find my passion and fly with it? No, I don’t — is the answer.

    (It took my parents nine years to realize waldorf was never going to work out — so, yes, I do know fairly well there are parents who think waldorf is the best option and then come to a different conclusion years later when realizing waldorf was not what it promised to be.)

  4. Oh — one more thing, when parents commit themselves to steiner ed, they commit their child to be left behind. If the child wants or needs (e g, because of bullying) to transfer, this is very difficult. Not just in the early years (although that’s only what steiner schools admit to) but also later. In fact, the difficulties just grow. As long as the child’s happy with how things are in steiner, well, fine. But it is a disadvantage with potentially life-altering consequences, i m o.

  5. ‘Let parents choose the path for their child.’

    why? Does the child have any say in this?

    I’d hate to think I’ve chosen a path (urgh) for any of my children. Our genes, interests, social grouping, personality, aspirations and so on have already stamped their mark pretty firmly on our offspring – that’s quite enough.

  6. Good point, Thetis.

    In general, it’s good to make sure the child has the opportunity to choose from different paths. An education that leaves a child behind academically will of course limit the options the child has. If the child suffers from that, is probably individual. As is the capacity to compensate for bad education.

  7. “I am one of the parents that haven’t realised my mistake, in fact I have been heavily investigating this over the past few months, due to the threat to Steiner education I have chosen for my daughter and all investigations have reaffirmed my belief.”

    You really should continue investigating then… because all you’re doing is spouting off the party line. We’ve heard all this before. What you can’t possibly know is if you are actually into a good educational system or not. And the reason you can’t know this is because they don’t tell you much about the education do they? All you know, from what I can tell, is what you’ve been told by Waldorf people… certainly you didn’t investigate sites that are critical of Waldorf or you wouldn’t be here making ridiculous claims.

    “I am more concerned with performance as my child enters adulthood.” Then you should be looking at how badly Waldorf grads do in the real world. 1000 schools – operating for 100 years – You’d think we would have thousands of stellar Steiner grads to point to in society. We DON’T. Steiner schools aren’t educational institutions, they are the missionary arm of Anthroposophy. If you’d actually investigated them you would know this. I know lots of Waldorf students who wish their parents had chosen a different education for them… LOTS!

  8. Pete’s right about that — we’ve heard the same things many times. Informing oneself by looking at waldorf school websites and similar lead to this — but this information is nice words and not reality. The latter usually takes longer to spot. Even parents who later find themselves disillusioned believed in the same things that were presented here. Because thta’s the information they had at that time and upon which they based their decision. Reality, again, is more complicted and may diverge from the nice words.

  9. Sorry but it is actually dysfunctional parenting interrupts a child’s development.

    It is natural for a child to be curious, grounded, open to learning about what ever she/he is interested in.

    It negatively affects children to be held back from learning ~ thus low self esteem.

    Waldorf is a cult that asks parents to keep the child in friendship with other Waldorf children simply because if they are not sooner or later the child will realize how intellectually behind he/she is and all will be exposed.

    The the only common knowledge between Waldorf children and their parents is Anthroposophy and that is fine if that is your choice. But is it the child’s choice?

  10. Well, anthroposophy is rarely a choice a child can make… and I do think children are naturally curious about the world, and the world is certainly a lot of things not encompassed or usually ‘approved’ by the anthro environment. It is a matter of the parents’ approach though. The schools sadly help to reinforce fanatical tendencies.

  11. Thank you all for the feedback.

    I agree with most of what has been raised. Finland does succeed because teaching is a valued profession and they attract top performers who have some autonomy over how the curriculum is delivered (a National Standards approach would undermine this and unfortunately we don’t seem to value teachers here).

    In New Zealand we have private and state integrated Steiner schools. I chose a state integrated school for my daugter as the schools performance is reiewed often by the ministry of education to ensure that the performance is in line with expectation. I had the concerns Pete K raised and fully investigated the school through the Available Ministry reviews.

    Integrated Steiner schools offer the national qualifiation and Steiner certificate options. The Steiner certificate is going through the final acceptance phases as an automatically recognised University entrance qualification. The reviews showed good performance for students sitting qualifications (This is what I meant when I said entering adult life).

    What integrated Steiner schools propose is that they fall in line with National Standards in class six with flexibility on the assessment and reporting for the first few years of education.

    With regards a parent choosing for their child. I have to make choices for my daughter in her early years but fully intend to assist her in her choices. We will start to discuss the options and review what is best for her as she get older. My agrument is that I am more able to understand and assist my daughter than a blanket government policy. I see it as my job to try and provide balance for my daughter. Thetis I am interested to hear what you propose I should do?

    I am constantly reviewing my choices and am not tied into one system or the other. As you have shown there is no one size fits all solution and Steiner schools (like all schools) do have issues. Again that is why it was important for me to choose the integrated model and the government reviews are available online.

    I have heard some horrendous bullying issues from all school systems and am on gaurd for this. This doesn’t seem a big problem at my daughters school but am in the fortunate position to be able to relocate if this were an issue. I am aware of her performance and she would not require to much to align her with a state school if it were required (and I would if I saw any issue).

    I will make mistakes in my choices sometimes but will only impact my daughter and my family. With National Standards the government is introducing a system that has failed everywhere, without trialing, that has the potential to disadvantage a generation of children. This is not just a Steiner issue.

    The New Zealand curiculum provides great flexibility as to how and when skills are learned/applied but laying over the top of this National Standards then breaks this flexibility and dictates when things should be taught on a yearly basis. This is problematic in the early years as children will get it in different stages/ways. Again this is not Steiner this is what I am hearing from the mainstream.

  12. ‘Thetis I am interested to hear what you propose I should do?’

    Try a proper school?

    Choosing Steiner is as far as I’m concerned far more to do with the parents than with the children. Look to yourself and – good luck.

  13. In other words, you’re a TYPICAL Waldorf parent going in with the typical attitude. Seriously… Do you think it didn’t occur to any of us to monitor our child’s educational progress and make decisions along the way… to be “on guard” for bullying. We ALL thought we were getting something better for our children. We all went in with the best intentions. We ALL had the wool pulled over our eyes. Welcome to the party!

  14. Pete’s right. Most, if not all, waldorf parents who are disppointed (or worse) with waldorf education would have been able to write similar things.

    And, no, that bullying doesn’t ‘seem’ to be the problem in a waldorf school does not mean it isn’t. They all think bullying doesn’t happen or is extremely rare, because they have such a fantastic environment (insert a number of feel-good words and descriptions). Reality is often something else. Some people are very skilled at keeping their heads in the sand when it comes to these things — because they need to and want to believe. Preventing proper vision of what actually goes on. So they ‘don’t have a [big… or small] problem with bullying’.

  15. ‘The Steiner certificate is going through the final acceptance phases as an automatically recognised University entrance qualification.’

    You get university entrance qualification from swedish waldorf schools too. Doesn’t mean the students are prepared for university studies, of course. If they’re lucky, perhaps they are. If they’re unlucky, they’re far behind. Still.

    ‘(a National Standards approach would undermine this and unfortunately we don’t seem to value teachers here).’

    Do you know for a fact that the Finnish model does not incorporate anything similar? It’s not like they don’t require anything of the schools, you know. It’s not like schools in Finland are free to do as they please or free to disregard performance (which is what steiner schools want to do academically).

    ‘I chose a state integrated school for my daugter as the schools performance is reiewed often by the ministry of education to ensure that the performance is in line with expectation.’

    All swedish waldorf schools are reviewed by state authorities — they are, after all, state funded. But if you don’t have national standards and tests — how, then, are the schools reviewed, how are they compared against other schools, and so forth? No, if the school doesn’t part-take in this, there aren’t many clues. There is no objective measurement of performance.

    ‘We will start to discuss the options and review what is best for her as she get older.’

    If she doesn’t want waldorf, it might be too late for her to have a say by then, unless she has the capacity to catch up with her peers in mainstream schools. There will be no options but to stay in the waldorf system.

  16. There are two issues covered here.

    Firstly National Standards
    What I can see is that Finland do have wide ranging standards and assessment models that are used as they should be to highlight the children that are at risk allowing gaps to be highlighted and addressed. As teaching is a profession that attracts top talent there is flexibility in how the gaps are addressed. Teachers also seem to have in class support i.e. additioal teachers for special needs children and mentors.

    In countries that have seen issues that I know of (America, UK, Australia). The standards have had a narrow focus (on the 3 R’s) and the results have been used not just to assist identify gaps but as assement tool for teachers. This has lead to issues with leaue tables, schools discouraging special needs children, Teachers focussed on a drill and kill testing mentality and in some cases falsifying results and narrowing of the curiculum.

    These are the concerns raised by Mainstream teaching professionals (given that New Zealand is in the top 5 OECD countries for PISA results, they don’t disagree with standards, just the way they are being implemented may actually be detrimental as the government has not followed due process and trialed there version of standards and associated requirements)

    Putting aside your total disagreement of all things Steiner, Steiner schools do deliver the curiculum in a different order so the proposal is for a New Zealand Standard for Integrated Steiner schools that does align with the order of delivery which allows for a variation in the early years but ensures that students are acedemicaly inline with the expectations of mainstream schools as they enter highschool (allowing a choice then to choose a different direction).

    Steiner education
    Pete K – I have read some of the issues that you have raised with Highland Hall and am shocked. These are charges of the most serious order and I would hope would be legally investigted and addressed.

    Alicia – The comments you make ensure I question my choices. I thank you for for being so open and honest. As an insight, how did your classmates perform. What were the issues you experienced (bullying?, acedemic challenges?).

    My daughter at eight loves her school, can’t get enough reading and writing (maths isn’t her favourite yet). She has friends from school mainstream and private schools and most of our friends are not Steiner school parents so I hope she gets balance. My daughter is not shy about coming forward so believe me if she were not feeling challenged or had issues she does discuss them.

    Thetis – It just seems that you are intolarant of any that think differently to yourself. By “Proper School” I take it you mean anything but Steiner – In New Zealand that could be Main Stream, Montessori, Numerous religous based schools, Kura Kaupapa and then there’s private schools (Which are the only ones that don’t have to implement National Standards). While we’re on it what qualification is a proper qualification Steiner Certificate, NCEA (National Certificate), Cambridge, international baccalaureate. It appears that if I had not given this any thought and sent my daughter to the local mainstream school that would in your eyes have been ok.

    I’m not saying that Steiner is right for everyone and I’m not saying there aren’t bad Steiner schools (and teachers). Like all things there are good and bad, nothing is ever black and white.

  17. ‘Thetis – It just seems that you are intolarant of any that think differently to yourself.’

    No, not at all, I like lots of different schools, and I alter my opinions all the time – I read and I listen to others and I reflect, I analyse – I’m not unusual. But you’ll have to work a lot harder to convince me that you know what you’re doing.

    Alicia offers some good advice – after all, this isn’t your education. This is your daughter’s.

  18. “Pete K – I have read some of the issues that you have raised with Highland Hall and am shocked. These are charges of the most serious order and I would hope would be legally investigted and addressed.”

    Yes, they will be legally investigated and Highland Hall will be sued for their actions. Highland Hall is already at half capacity because of the publicity around their behavior. But remember, they are also the host for WISC, the teacher TRAINING facility of Southern California… so they are responsible for training NEW teachers – presumably with the same idea and attitudes that put them in hot water. So literally ANY Waldorf school can be infected. And honestly, we need to face that fact that… what Highland Hall did to my daughter was ALL JUSTIFIED in Steiner’s writings… right down to declaring her a “demon”. Steiner condoned this behavior in teachers… (hopefully, you’ve read “Faculty Meetings” by Steiner by now to confirm what I’ve said. It’s required reading in Waldorf teacher training).

    I wouldn’t want Steiner anywhere near my children either. He had lots of dumb and overreaching ideas – Creating a school to spread them was one of them.

    Bit, I’ve raised a pretty good question for you… how many of Steiner’s books have you read? And which ones?

  19. Pete:

    ‘how many of Steiner’s books have you read? And which ones?’

    Good question.

    Callum:

    ‘Putting aside your total disagreement of all things Steiner, Steiner schools do deliver the curiculum in a different order so the proposal is for a New Zealand Standard for Integrated Steiner schools that does align with the order of delivery which allows for a variation in the early years but ensures that students are acedemicaly inline with the expectations of mainstream schools as they enter highschool (allowing a choice then to choose a different direction).’

    Be prepared that they may never catch up though. It’s not just a different order of delivery — it’s that waldorf schools students don’t learn much, academically, in the early years (and less than their mainstream peers later too), and when are they to catch up? That time isn’t there.

    When I was a waldorf student, it was said that if you endured until 5th or 6th grade, transfer would work. It did not. And I was ahead of my (waldorf) grade! I had done extra work at home, so that transfer would be easier! But waldorf was far behind.

    I am very sceptical every time I hear claims such as that it’s ensured ‘that students are acedemicaly inline with the expectations of mainstream schools as they enter’ (this or that grade). Just know that these promises may not hold. They may have little foundation in reality.

    ‘As an insight, how did your classmates perform. What were the issues you experienced (bullying?, acedemic challenges?).’

    I don’t know how they performed after I left. But going to a mainstream school, I realized how far behind they must have been. From what I heard, the level of the education continued to be below what’s usually expected. I would expect that if anyone else of them transfered to another school, they had huge academic challenges. (Depending on the amount of private tuition their parents could get them or how much help they could receive at home. And, of course, their own abilities.)

    There was lots of bullying. Officially there was none, I suppose. It was the happiest place on earth. Lucky us.

    ‘My daughter is not shy about coming forward so believe me if she were not feeling challenged or had issues she does discuss them.’

    Hopefully, yes. But it’s difficult for a child to know what the alternatives are, especially (perhaps) academically. And to be able to compare and to know what’s best in the long run. I thought there were no alternatives, and saw no reason to come forward to discuss anything. I thought that if this was such a great place — as everyone pretended it to be — children in other schools would be even more awful to be around. (But in my case, I think it was fairly obvious I didn’t love my school — so if loving school is your daughter’s attitude, she’s probably ok, at least socially. And that is a huge plus. But never trust a waldorf teacher — or any other teacher, I guess — who says that your child loves her school, if your own intuition tells you otherwise.)

  20. Hello again

    Sorry for the delay but life overtook me.

    Just to make it clear none of you are supporting New Zealands version of National Standards i.e. it is only that you disagree with Steiner education?

    Pete I have no answer that will satisfy you i.e. I haven’t read much of Steiner proposed, mostly I have seen the negatives posted on websites. What I believe is that Steiner was a man that like all of us when viewed with a century’s insight had faults when looked at in a modern light. (A quick Google of Famous racist comments highlighted Lyndon Johnson, Robert F Kennedy, Jimmy carter). I feel that if you look for dirt you will find it. This in no way justifies the claims made in a modern context.

    What I am more concerned with is that the current education sytem is meeting the needs of my daughter. I would hope it has evolved through trial and hopefully limited error as I believe it has with the school I have chosen for my daughter.

    Alicia I appreciate your feedback, my daughter has just a couple of weeks ago turned nine and I am mindful that we as parents need to afford her every opportunity. All I can say is we will do our best to support her. When did you learn you didn’t love school? how did you express it to your parents? What age were you when you transferred?

    Last time I asked how your classmate performed.I know its hard but my question is more around how they are performing now once they left school – this is the most important to me i.e are they happy in thier lot in life (and that could be in non academic ways) or do they themselves feel held back by a Steiner education?

    If Steiner education were working for a child would you deny it because of bad experiences or would you want input to ensure it were improved? What is the success criteria?

    I left school wanting to go on the benefit and hangout with my friends, luckily my parents wouldn’t have a bar of it and forced me to get a job I didn’t really like. This allowed me to meet a manager that saw what I loved doing and asked me what the hell I was doing there i.e. why didn’t I study what I loved. This forced me at the right time to question my path and go back into study with a passion. All I hope for my daughter is the same.

    All systems have issues, there is no flat blanket system that suits every child and parents don’t always have all the information but I hope we try our best and go on our own intuition and feelings.

  21. Hi Callum,

    “(A quick Google of Famous racist comments highlighted Lyndon Johnson, Robert F Kennedy, Jimmy carter). I feel that if you look for dirt you will find it. This in no way justifies the claims made in a modern context.”

    OK, so, where do I sign up for the Jimmy Carter school? These people you mention didn’t start a school system built AROUND their racism. In Steiner schools, teachers are taught racist principles BECAUSE they may encounter children of different races in their classrooms. They are taught how children of each race are “different” than each other – and children are educated in accordance with their race. Steiner taught teachers to have different expectations from children of different races. That is still part of teacher training TODAY! It isn’t JUST that they taught his racist and other ideas to my child, it’s also that they used his racist and other ridiculous ideas as the basis for how they viewed and treated my children.

    “What I am more concerned with is that the current education sytem is meeting the needs of my daughter. I would hope it has evolved through trial and hopefully limited error as I believe it has with the school I have chosen for my daughter.”

    Yes, it’s all about hope isn’t it? Is there anything that you know for sure to support your notion that the school your daughter attends has evolved beyond what Steiner taught? Were the teachers trained in Waldorf teacher training? Remember, that includes teaching Steiner’s racist ideas as a way of evaluating students. Many, many teachers who sign up for Waldorf teacher training are repulsed by this and quit. Why do you suppose that is?

    My own kids, now adult age, feel they were denied an education. They now, as adults, realize how little “education” they actually received. My son’s friend, a fellow “lifer” at Highland Hall and fellow graduate, tried to go into college chemistry with what he had learned in Waldorf. It was impossible for him. He was told many of the things he had problems with were part of FIFTH GRADE chemistry.

  22. Callum —

    ‘Just to make it clear none of you are supporting New Zealands version of National Standards i.e. it is only that you disagree with Steiner education?’

    I’m not sure I could be either supporting or rejecting the NZ version of… anything, really. The only familiarity I have with it comes from those Steiner ed articles.

    ‘What I believe is that Steiner was a man that like all of us when viewed with a century’s insight had faults when looked at in a modern light.’

    Well, yes. But then I hope nobody uses my insights to run schools a hundred years from now (not that I have any such insights, I’m not an education guru) — or at least that nobody does it when what I’ve said has been discovered to be wrong/nutty/harmful…

    ‘When did you learn you didn’t love school? how did you express it to your parents? What age were you when you transferred?’

    Immediately, in kindergarten. I was 3. I refused to go. I probably couldn’t express it better than that. I was 12,5 (6th grade) when I left.

    ‘Last time I asked how your classmate performed.I know its hard but my question is more around how they are performing now once they left school – this is the most important to me i.e are they happy in thier lot in life (and that could be in non academic ways) or do they themselves feel held back by a Steiner education?’

    Frankly, these classmates were not ‘mates’ and I have nothing to do with them (I don’t really voluntarily hang out with people who behave like they did; it was a very violent and nasty place). The last time I heard anything was a couple of years after leaving, and it didn’t seem like they were getting to learn anything of value. Some got into trouble socially (pregnancy, drugs) — but these may be rumours. As I said, it’s not people I would want to ever meet again. I accidentally met someone who had been forced to leave (due to family moving away) and she had returned voluntarily (several years after I had left). I did not talk to her much though. Other than that, I simply don’t know. I assume they continued to beating each other up and squandering their intellectual resources after I had left, and I had no reasons to look back (not look back like that).

    ‘All systems have issues, there is no flat blanket system that suits every child and parents don’t always have all the information but I hope we try our best and go on our own intuition and feelings.’

    Yes. And hopefully knowledge.

    Also, back when I was in Steiner education, parents had little clue there could even be concerns about it. You had to rely on things being spoken about, or written about perhaps but then on paper. Now, if something happens that worries them, at least parents can go on google, and find out that not all of waldorf/steiner is as happy as people try to pretend it is. I think that’s worth a lot. Maybe they realize what they need to do (remove the child from this setting) much faster than (some) parents did just a few decades ago.

    Pete —

    ‘My own kids, now adult age, feel they were denied an education. They now, as adults, realize how little “education” they actually received. My son’s friend, a fellow “lifer” at Highland Hall and fellow graduate, tried to go into college chemistry with what he had learned in Waldorf. It was impossible for him. He was told many of the things he had problems with were part of FIFTH GRADE chemistry.’

    It doesn’t surprise me, unfortunately. I have sometimes given people the advice to at least buy the regular school books used in mainstream schools and work through them with their children (if nothing else to check that they’re making the progress they should be making and understanding the things they should be understanding by that age). Or get a private tutor. But don’t rely solely on the education.

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