comment on elevator speech

Steve Sagarin has posted another post on the waldorf elevator speech. I commented:

I sincerely hope no parent would be naive enough to send their child to waldorf education based upon this elevator speech. It does not tell the parent what s/he needs to know to make an informed decision, I’m afraid. And, also, this kind of thing is what gets waldorf into trouble — this is what parents, once they feel they’ve been let down, will be angry at. They will feel it’s deceptive — even if that was not the intention.

Waldorf needs to do better than this — present itself more accurately and honestly than this, and not provide a lot of *blah blah blah* instead of getting to the point — or waldorf will have fuming parents on its hands.

There was an earlier post, with a long discussion thread, on which I also commented. Not sure I ever made any comment on my own blog about it (my memory fails me — no, I did comment, didn’t I? Oh damn…), but here’s that thread in any case.


17 thoughts on “comment on elevator speech

  1. Hi Alicia,

    This is a no brainer… here is a good answer for Steve:

    Steve: ‘Well, let me give you my (business) card and on the back I will write the word ‘Anthroposophy’. Look it up on line, it is a religion founded by Rudolf Steiner and what Waldorf teachers are taught about how children grow and develop.

    If you are still interested give me a call and you can come observe our classroom anytime.”

  2. It’s interesting that the answers deemed acceptable (or what shall I call it) were generally too long and always failed to mention that one word.

    Diana posted a very good reply on the first thread. Actually, I think the waldorf movement would greatly benefit from using an elevator speech like the one she suggested. It would remove comfusion — and a certain kind of complaints that might appear in the future (when the parent is not so rosy-eyed anymore).

    Also funny is that Steve highlighted this reply, through this new post, while on the old post he said that even mentioning anthroposophy would be confusing because then one would have to explain anthroposophy (no, one doesn’t — just say, ‘look it up!’). But in this new post — there are many words and concepts that would also need to be explained, at least to some people. And there are many of them — not just one, like in the case with anthroposophy. And anthroposophy is actually essential *in this context* — while ‘holistic’, ‘kinesthetic’, ‘experiential’, ‘phenomenological’ are not, by far, as important.

  3. I know – the eyes gloss over immediately upon mentioning words that can fit any method of educating children. Waldorf educators seem to love and claim ownership of the above concepts when in fact only one concept needs to be explained to parents, Anthroposophy.

    I am amazed that Waldorf educators go to such lengths to mask the foundation of Waldorf education. That alone is a huge red flag!

  4. Double-posting my new comment on Steve’s blog here (he asked what a a more accurate and honest reply should contain):

    I think it has to mention anthroposophy — and I quite liked Diana’s definition in the earlier thread. You then objected that anthroposophy is another word that needs another explanation. Which would possibly require another elevator ride! Well, that may be — or people could go find out elsewhere. Anthroposophy is still just one word — and one *essential* word. But in this new suggestion for an elevator speech that you’ve posted, there are many words and concepts that would also need to be explained, at least to some people. And there are many of them — not just one, as in the case with anthroposophy. And anthroposophy is actually essential in the context of waldorf — while ‘holistic’, ‘kinesthetic’, ‘experiential’, ‘phenomenological’ are not, by far, as important. But some of these words, too, would require either of the person to look them up or ride again in the elevator.

    So, in my opinion, if one complicated word is to be used — it is anthroposophy. And complicated or not, it should be used.

    ‘Waldorf education is an education based upon Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual conception of the world and man, anthroposophy.’

    I don’t think that can be left out. It’s the first parents should know, albeit not the only thing they need to know of course.

  5. Alicia – GEEZE! As much as Steve touts his own education, you would think he could figure this out.
    I think he is just having fun and trying to be agitating.

  6. Oh, yes, to a certain extent he’s having fun. Although I think he’d also rather not mention the a-word unless he has to. Especially not in an elevator with a new, innocent parent.

    He can figure it all out, of course. It’s not impossible! I encourage him to do it ;-)

  7. I agree with Alicia, You can’t honestly say what Waldorf Education is without mentioning anthroposophy. So many fundamental concepts are derived from it.

  8. I’ve commented again over there (some of which have been posted and some not yet).

    It’s like pulling teeth. I think in the last round we got him to understand that the name “Rudolf Steiner” belongs in an “elevator speech” explaining Waldorf education (while names like, for instance, “Froebel” and “Pestalozzi” do not).

    Maybe with this round, we’ll get the idea through his head that “anthroposophy” needs to be mentioned in any brief introductory remarks on Waldorf education.

    Of course, the problem is that he knows that. Any Waldorf educator knows that. Most also get that these words are to be avoided until AFTER the prospective parent has been lured to an open house, festival, of parent information evening. If these words are mentioned BEFORE the first visit, many prospective clients will quickly google, and never make it to the open day.

  9. I can’t think he doesn’t realize that Steiner needs to be mentioned, while Froebel and Pestalozzi definitely do not need to be mentioned. It’s so obvious that any other viewpoint is ridiculous. I’m sorry but that’s the truth. Waldorf education is Steiner’s invention.

    But yes — I guess that’s the explanation: they prefer to wait until the parent has already found that other stuff appealing enough to be prepared to look away… or to read about anthroposophy and Steiner with rosy-coloured glasses.

  10. … or simply to be told that there is nothing more they really need to do or know, not to bother with “research,” or perhaps it is mentioned offhand that there are a few disgruntled parents here and there, you know how it is on the Internet, etc. … just take our word for it that the criticism doesn’t amount to much, it’s just a few strange rumors. This really does work for the schools much of the time; the smell of the home-baked bread, all the quaint knitted fluff, old-fashioned calligraphied “Main Lesson Books,” the sweet sounds of the recorders and the violins, the multicolored ribbons and children dancing ’round a Maypole … all this is very powerful and one should just ignore a bunch of angry bloggers on the Internet, there are always misfits and complainers, right?

    But none of that will work if they google anthroposophy or Rudolf Steiner BEFORE they visit the school. This is the explanation for an “elevator speech” full of bullshit buzzwords like “holistic,” “phenomenological,” “kinesthetic learning” blah blah.

  11. It’s better to say too little than to say too much, apparently.

    I think what Diana said on Steve’s blog is right to the point:

    ‘Don’t you understand that the only kind of parent who belongs in your school is a parent who understands what anthroposophy is and wants an anthroposophically guided education for their child?’

  12. In case someone has forgotten the thread over at Steve’s, there are many new comments. I think this reply by Diana, was simply brilliant, and I’m going to steal it:


    “you need to be clear and keep to the topic which is: what makes Waldorf Education different? How are subjects taught? What is its basic premise?”

    Absolutely agree. The answers are, what makes Waldorf education different from other types of education is that it was invented by Rudolf Steiner, whose teachings are called anthroposophy. No other education in existence was invented by or draws from Rudolf Steiner’s teachings or from anthroposophy. None. None are even similar. Even if we granted it is “holistic,” lots of other schools and systems call themselves holistic, so this does not distinguish Waldorf or tell us anything unique or useful about Waldorf. Likewise, other schools use “kinesthesiologic” methods. If you want to explain WALDORF, you point to the things that are different about Waldorf. You might as well say, oh, well, in Waldorf schools, the children each lunch around mid-day. Yeah, probably they do, but that’s no different from most schools. And believe it or not, most schools out there do the things you consider “holistic.” It’s truly a meaningless buzzword, like educating the “whole child” (other schools aren’t trying to educate part of a child; honest).

    Steiner and anthroposophy are what make Waldorf, Waldorf. The premises of Waldorf are all anthroposophical, and no one else invented anthroposophy – Rudolf Steiner did.

    Most of the same subjects are taught as elsewhere, but always with an anthroposophical slant or according to anthroposophical pedagogical methods The few subjects that are completely unique to Waldorf, such as eurythmy, originate directly from anthroposophy; they have no other real antecedents, and they bear little resemblance to any subject taught in another school. The word that explains them is “anthroposophical.”

    An “elevator speech” that does not mention the word “anthroposophy” is definitely dishonest. There is no good reason to leave out this most crucial piece of information, unless you really would prefer parents not know about anthroposophy.


    I don’t really know why some people find this is so hard to understand and accept. It’s very, very basic. It’s as basic as it gets.

  13. Posted a comment; double-posting it here, in case…


    ‘It is not a secret that most parents in Waldorf schools are perfectly happy not to have anthroposophy too much “in their face.” They often don’t understand that it is in their kid’s face all day, every day.’

    This is very true. Not even parents who are happy with the school having anthroposophy in the background have any clue how big of an influence on everything that it is. They aren’t there. And I’m not sure they always know what to look for either, when they aren’t alerted to this — they don’t know they should be looking when waldorf folks tell them anthroposophy is not significant. But the child will experience the effects of anthroposophy — daily.

    And Steve: Of course lots of parents think waldorf is absolutely great — and they think so without knowing much about anthroposophy. They are non-anthro fans of waldorf. But that is a problem. Some of them, upon finding out (usually when some severe problems turn up), will change their minds and realize how little they knew. My mum was really supportive too. Not a great idea.


    ‘One of the most joyful and least expensive ways to get a child on this path is to appeal to their natural desire to hear and tell stories and act out their ideas through open-ended play.’

    What about the child who has an equally natural desire for printed books and for learning to read? Don’t you realize that is just as natural? And, thus, appealing to that desire is also natural. (Needless to say, children with such desires will find waldorf dull.)

    ‘If current parents feel this way (and we are the ones on the front lines answering questions at open houses along with teachers) why does this have to be seen as hiding something?’

    It might be worth, in this context, taking into account what former parents say — parents who were disappointed with the education, parents who felt that something was indeed hidden. Because some of these new parents that you current parents speak to will sooner or later be these former (sometimes disgruntled) parents. It is, I think, a fact that this is so.


    ‘ Are you under the impression children in Waldorf classrooms are somehow allowed to be atheists? Good luck to such a child; his or her reality would simply not be visible or permissible. His reality would not EXIST in a Waldorf classroom; such a child in Waldorf could well go crazy. It’s very nice if his atheist parents are having no trouble getting along with anthroposophist parents, over coffee down the hall … for his PARENTS it’s very nice, see?’

    Exactly. You could have been describing my situation there.

  14. I need to get back to this stuff about what’s ‘natural’, which is apparently something of a buzzword, like holistic. Waldorf education is ‘natural’; mainstream education, in contrast, would have to be less ‘natural’ (or else: why use it as a selling point?). I believe waldorf teachers need to hear this from someone who, as a child, clearly failed to meet waldorf standards for what’s natural and normal. And I think it’s time that waldorf teachers show some evidence for what’s natural and not, because if you don’t, you have no reason whatsoever to deem a certain behaviour or preference ‘natural’ and, effectively, to deem everything else — everyone else who doesn’t follow this template of waldorf normality — ‘unnatural’. Whether you believe it or not, those children who have ‘unnatural’ desires can sense what you feel about them. So, at least, if you’re talking about what’s natural (or, for that matter, good), offer some proof that it really is. Until you can do that, I think it would be much preferable if you treated reading as just as natural activity for children as listening, clapping, whatever. Because chances are it is! And you *will have* intellectual children in your classes and as long as you assume there’s something unnatural about their desires, you’re not able to treat them with the respect they deserves — as human beings who have their own inclinations and their own reasons and their own capacity for making choices. Even at a young age. If they want books, they should be allowed to enjoy books and, most of all, they should not be met with the attitude that books are ‘unnatural’.

    When I read explications of waldorf that include words like ‘natural’, I think that this is not about ‘natural’, it’s about ‘judgmental’.

  15. Without even an elevator speech, how can you have a definition of waldorf?

    ‘Most important, I believe, Steiner himself never defined Waldorf education! When I first started looking into this, I thought I’d look up Steiner’s definition of Waldorf education and go from there. Then I discovered that there simply wasn’t one. I go into this in detail in the book.’

    I bet Sagarin is not going to settle on a definition that includes the word anthroposophy.

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