books are not natural

Yesterday, I tried to reply to a point someone calling herself ‘Waldorfmommy’ was making on Steve Sagarin’s blog. She explained to MarkH why there were no books in waldorf kindergarten (there aren’t books in school either — at least not during the early years). He had asked, in school, and got the usual evasive answers. Waldorfmommy’s answer to MarkH is no less evasive — like the rest of the discussion, which focuses on what an ideal short explanation of waldorf would be, the readiness to provide an answer that honestly reflects the anthroposophical background is rather limited. Reading is bad for spiritual development. That said, I thought it still might be worthwhile to look closer on Waldorfmommy’s reply to MarkH. I wrote two comments that I posted here on this blog (and on Steve’s but they haven’t showed up there yet) yesterday, and I want to lift them as posts. I’ve also made a number of additions, so read this post too, if you have time.

Waldorfmommy: 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 this is just as natural? And, thus, appealing to that desire for reading and for books ought to also be regarded as natural. Needless to say, children with such desires will find waldorf dull — waldorf provides them with (some of) the things Waldorfmommy mentions — ‘listen to complex stories, move their bodies in rhyming games, recite verses and songs’ — but that just won’t be enough. And I know it won’t be; it wasn’t enough for me.

But we also need discuss to this stuff about what’s ‘natural’, which is apparently something of a buzzword, like ‘holistic’. It is assumed, then, that waldorf education is ‘natural’; mainstream education, in contrast, would have to be less ‘natural’ (or else: why use ‘natural’ as a specific selling point for waldorf?). I believe waldorf teachers need to hear a few words from someone who, as a child, clearly failed to meet waldorf standards for what’s natural and normal. They probably rather not, because actually hearing it would mean doing some damage to their own self-image. There are beliefs so deeply ingrained in the waldorf personality. They’ll brush it away, saying ‘waldorf is not for everyone’, but that’s just an after-the-fact excuse. If waldorf is the natural way, then it is for everyone. If it is natural not to read before this or that age, then the non-reading is the thing to promote. For everyone. Provided that what’s natural is also good — another assumption waldorf folks seem unwilling to examine. Of course, many waldorf children read — or have a desire to learn it — prematurely according to anthroposophical standards. But waldorf teachers ignore this and raise the slow-learners to ‘natural’ standard. They have to. This strategy helps support their dogma. Some, few children aren’t eager to learn, don’t want to be engaged intellectually, let’s make them the blueprint for everyone.

This leads me to the next important point: 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’. And you also need to prove that what you’ve shown to be natural is also good, beneficial, in other words, something we ought to promote because it has the effects we desire to achieve. So far none of this has been shown. Ever. All we get is emotionally based arguments about what’s natural… and fluffy nice and cute and seemingly comfortable. At least for adults who believe in a certain type of paradise for children and who like to close their eyes to the not so paradisiacal aspects of their preferred paradise.

Whether you believe it or not, those children who have ‘unnatural’ desires can sense what you feel about them, they can sense that, in your eyes, they are wrong, they do wrong. They, their personalities, their individualities, don’t fit into your worldview; their way of being and of expressing themselves is undesirable to you. Thus, they’re bound to feel deficient, defect — they’re failing in the eyes of the adults they often look up to: their teachers (and parents). There is a standard they try to meet, but constantly fail. They have to try to become someone they are not. And, in this instance, they will have to dumb themselves down to try to meet this standard, they will have to become stupid — to reject their intellectual desires — to be a good waldorf child in the eyes of the adults who care for them. All of this, I believe, is a very bad thing for self-confidence.

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 an 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 deserve — 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 really about ‘natural’, it’s about ‘judgmental’.

It’s about passing judgment over people (children) who do not live up to your own particular spiritual standards. Them being individuals in their own right doesn’t seem to be much of a concern, sadly.

48 thoughts on “books are not natural

  1. Thank you for this important post, Alicia. I’ve just posted a follow-up comment over on Steve’s blog that I expect will appear in due course. Our own experience confirms your view that it can be just as “natural” for a young child to want to learn how to read long before they would be encouraged to do so in a Steiner/Waldorf environment.

    Reading ‘The Education of the Child’ again, I’m reminded that Steiner wasn’t so keen on the flowery, evasive language you often hear from Waldorf advocates. Just give me the spiritual facts, he would have said!

  2. Thank you Mark! (I often wonder what Steiner would say if he saw the waldorf movement today… honestly, I do wonder. I’m not sure he’d be entirely happy with things…)

    I looked just now and couldn’t see your comment yet. Diana’s two new comments had appeared though, and I recommend everyone to read them: http://ssagarin.blogspot.com/2011/11/elevator-speech-part-ii.html?showComment=1323110258356#c8180899894361369321

    I replied, and will double-post here:

    Diana is absolutely right. Some kids know that this fantasy world the teachers are creating is just fairy-tale. Others do not, I guess. And the teachers, it seems, pretend that none of the children are doubting its reality (they ignore the signs that some children are desperately doing so). Presumably because they themselves believe in this stuff, or the spiritual context in which it has appeared. And, yes, this is why it is so extremely important that anthroposophy, and its influence, is spoken about honestly and openly.

    Children do indeed question things, they do refuse to believe in things adults tell them, but waldorf teachers — it seems to me — don’t want to know this, don’t want to hear it, don’t want to acknowledge these children and their needs. It’s easier to pretend these children don’t exist. Or that, if they do, they’re somehow destroyed. (Maybe because it’s not ‘natural’? They’re unnaturally intellectualized? Well, nice. Said sarcastically.)

  3. (sorry double-posting again, I want this to be public even if Steve doesn’t let it through… it might be a bit off topic, I guess) replying to http://ssagarin.blogspot.com/2011/11/elevator-speech-part-ii.html?showComment=1323204092630#c4773502683232414064

    waldorfmommy: it has everything to do with it — waldorf has lots of ideas about what is natural and what is not, and you expressed one of these ideas about reading. And children who aren’t behaving according to waldorf teachers’ preconceived notions about what is natural are treated accordingly — they are made to feel ‘unnatural’. Subtly, but yes. (They notice, you know. It’s not difficult to understand, not even for a child, what a waldorf teacher thinks is good… and bad.)

    If both activities are ‘natural’ — why even point out that listening is natural? And to use this as a reason specifically for delaying reading, ie, for not providing the children with books — which is the practice you were defending to MarkH. If it’s not unnatural for children to have access to books — then let them have access! Let the children, who want to read, read. Let them have what they want, and don’t stop them because of a silly idea about what’s natural and not. Let the children who want to listen and do play-acting or whatever do that — but why deprive children of books?

    If you really believe this:

    ‘I never argued that children who have the capacity to start decoding earlier (or later for that matter) are somehow progressing along less naturally than children who are ready to start in first grade.’

    you have no reason whatsoever behind the argument you made about having no books in kindergarten, because it’s supposedly natural for children to listen and all that. After all — it’s natural to want to read too! Or are they supposed to sit around decoding… nothing? Or are waldorf teachers dedicated to stopping children having access to books for no valid reason at all?

    Maybe that should be mentioned in the elevator speech… ;-)

    (I strongly believe waldorf education’s anti-intellectual element is one of its most destructive components for some children. Sadly. I frankly don’t understand how anyone in education can not be pleased when young children want books. How you can you deprive children of books! It’s just too silly. One should have very good reasons for doing such a monumentally silly thing.)

  4. You said it … I hope he publishes your comment. I can only splutter with rage at the “no books in kindergarten” nonsense.

  5. It’s one of those things that makes waldorf unnecessarily stupid. It wouldn’t hurt anyone to have a selection of good books in kindergarten. They wouldn’t be forced upon any child. They wouldn’t exclude that the children participate in the activities waldorfmommy mentioned. But lots of time is spent not doing organized stuff with the teacher(s). If some children choose to play with wooden toys and other children choose to read — what is the harm?! (Actually, for children who find themselves without anyone to play with, books are perhaps the thing that can make it all endurable.)

    It’s just so utterly stupid to take away books. They are a great pleasure for many kids — but waldorf folks seem to conceive of books as some kind of torture equipment that children could not possibly want to be subjected to or, much less, benefit from.

    At least they could have a selection if waldorf-approved books…

  6. Some Waldorf kindergartens do have a selection of Waldorf-approved books. “Approved” for this age tends to mean no words, only pictures. Still, that’s better than simply banning them.

    Our school (at the time we were there) had three kindergartens. Two of them had no books at all. The third had a set of these “Waldorf-approved” books with no print in them. They were kept out of reach on a high shelf. On rainy days, the teacher (sometimes; not every rain day, just an occasional treat) brought them down for about 10 minutes.She strictly controlled who got which book, i.e., she selected a book for a child rather than letting them select freely or trade them. You get what you get and you don’t cry a bit … and of course after the 10 minutes is up they would disappear again, not to be seen for maybe a month. It was not considered generally a wholesome activity;

  7. Having some books is a step in the right direction.

    Of course, I meant books *with* texts. Books without texts are pointless for children who want to read and it was their needs I was thinking of. Didn’t even consider the other variety, but good you pointed it out so I could clarify.

    With waldorf approved books I was thinking more of books that would fit into the aesthetic and general philosophy, sort of. Even anthro publishers have books that are suitable — and contain text as well as pictures. I was thinking of something like that. There is suitable stuff to choose, they wouldn’t have to allow any ‘modern junk’ they don’t like or Donald Duck or whatever they don’t approve of.

    I wonder what kind of impression the children will get from such a behavior (as the one you describe).

    That’s far from how I envision the ideal access to books in a kindergarten ;-)

    Sure, you can have books on a shelf. In a cupboard. Behind a silk cloth for all I care. You don’t have to ‘force’ them on any child. You can perfectly well do other activities with all the children — not even children who like to read need to do it all the time, of course. But to treat books — and written texts… — as an evil force that children should not experience… that makes me angry. And I just fail to understand it. And to motivate it through junk notions about what’s natural… yeah, that makes me want to splutter with rage. It’s so silly. For no good reason at all. Especially for an education that brags about children developing their own individuality at their own pace. And stuff like that.

  8. Copying myself again.

    Response to

    http://ssagarin.blogspot.com/2011/11/elevator-speech-part-ii.html?showComment=1323218209526#c1281772500489714749

    ‘A: Responding to the child…taking interest in what they are taking interest in…telling them verbally and non-verbally that you are a resource for them to learn about the world.’

    I hope this means helping the child with what s/he asked for: reading the words. Telling them ‘that you are a resource…’ is not the same as telling them what they feel a desire to know. The response I’m fearing — one not actually helping the child — is a response that will be utterly frustrating for a child. Why not say: ‘books are a wonderful resource for learning about the world; this is what this text says …’ — I mean, why not?

    ‘…or more likely, offer some gentle encouragement to have the child enjoy the book at home. The reason for this is that class time is for developing the kinds of skills I have been describing in my comments about literacy as well as: learning how to transition between times of quiet, times of high energy, times of responsibility, etc.’

    Some of the time (not to say a lot of it) in waldorf kindergarten is free play. I have not been suggesting that children should be allowed to disrupt organised activities. I’m saying that a child who wants to sit down and read a book while other children play with whatever they’re playing with (and that they choose themselves) ought to be allowed to do so. And in first grade, there’s recess. Why don’t allow small kids into the library?

    ‘Futhermore, class time is special because its when the children are together.’

    Don’t you think that a child who has nobody to play with — during the times I just mentioned — would be happier if s/he was allowed to read a book every now and then?

    ‘Waldorf teachers are interested in the development of the students as individuals and as a group.’

    My personal experience: they don’t give a shit. Or, perhaps they do on some elusive spiritual level, but not on the level that concretely affects the kids. I have never seen a waldorf teacher do anything when children beat each other up, bully, behave badly towards each other in general.

  9. I also think you should really look at that response from waldorfmommy. It is in a way similar to the elevator speech suggestion in the main post. Instead of telling people what’s specific about waldorf, there’s a whole lot of blah blah about things that sound important but really aren’t (at least not the most important) and the parent is supposed to feel ‘oh lots of what seems like information’ and accept it for relevant information. And preferably not ask more, because what could you really ask? If they said, instead, it’s based upon anthroposophy — the parent would have a chance to ask, well, how does anthroposophy influence the day in school? What conseqences does it have for my child’s academic progress? and so forth.

    Same here. Instead of saying, well, no there are no books and children are discouraged from reading or engaging with written texts (told to keep such nasty activities to their home) — instead we’re told a whole lot of blah blah blah that, if hearing this in a more stressed situation rather than reading it, would probably leave us still wondering: what was really said? Are books allowed or not? Will the adult answer the child’s question about the text? Well, actually, reading the text, I still wonder about some of the things.

    It’s evasive. I think a more honest answer would be: no, sorry, if you or your child wants books and reading, this is not the place. We don’t even allow it during the time the children dispose over freely. If a child asks about the contents of a text, we’ll obfuscate and tell them something else (that we’re such a great source of information, e g).

    Imagine how frustrating these waldorf teachers are to children! Especially to thinking children.

    You want to learn and to know and all you get is an endless *lalalalalala*.

  10. Short on time (you know, earning a living …) but quickly: even books with only pictures and no texts are better than no books at all. They do not help the child start to decode print, obviously, but at least they send a message that reading a book is a good thing to do, and help kids get into the habit, get comfortable with books etc. With a picture book you get oriented to right side up, proceeding left to right through a sequence, etc. That’s a huge step up from simply eliminating books entirely from the child’s environment. For a school to entirely eliminate books AT ANY AGE, I don’t even care if we’re talking about infants – they need board books, even if they’re just chewing on them – is basically unconscionable.

    Secondly, a kindergarten that wants to facilitate literacy does not “force” books on kids, or incorporate them into structured activities, but they are simply part of the normal environment. This is how a kid gets used to school, to normal school activities – gets “enculturated” to school. A kindergarten with no books is like a fake kindergarten. Kindergarten is a preparation and a transition to school. Books are needed. This doesn’t mean the kids are being taught decoding yet. You just have the books around. The teacher reads a story at nap time. Sitting with a book is an option during free play. Kids are allowed to talk about the stories they’ve read, or that the teacher has read to them. Kids act out during play, or illustrate (drawing, painting), scenes from stories they’ve read or that the teacher has read to them. None of this happens in a Waldorf kindergarten. It’s a disgrace.

    I’ll post later on Sagarin’s blog – is it me, or does he seem to control the timing of posts pretty carefully? He’s got every right, of course, it’s his blog, but it seems to me he aims to control the back-and-forth.

  11. ‘even books with only pictures and no texts are better than no books at all.’

    Absolutely. If the alternative is nothing at all, no books at all. But only then…!

    ‘Secondly, a kindergarten that wants to facilitate literacy does not “force” books on kids, or incorporate them into structured activities, but they are simply part of the normal environment.’

    Well, yes. (But that’s the familiar old canard: mainstream education forces children to progress at an unhealthy pace. It forces children to develop intellectual skills they’re not ready for… and so forth.) I guess they sometimes read aloud from books though — and that’s sort of a structured activity (in contrast to free play).

    ‘Books are needed. This doesn’t mean the kids are being taught decoding yet. You just have the books around. The teacher reads a story at nap time. Sitting with a book is an option during free play. Kids are allowed to talk about the stories they’ve read, or that the teacher has read to them. Kids act out during play, or illustrate (drawing, painting), scenes from stories they’ve read or that the teacher has read to them. None of this happens in a Waldorf kindergarten. It’s a disgrace.’

    This is exactly how I feel books should be included in kindergarten. And, yes, it is a complete disgrace. It’s just so unnecessary. Rigid and stupid.

    ‘I’ll post later on Sagarin’s blog – is it me, or does he seem to control the timing of posts pretty carefully?’

    Not sure, but it sometimes takes quite a while — which is understandable, as it’s moderated, but also a tad bit frustrating… — though I haven’t checked if waldorfmommy’s comments go through quicker ;-) Since I’m on another continent, there’s that to consider too.

  12. It seems to me that criticisms of Waldorf don’t sit for long without a defense being posted; positive comments about Waldorf sit unanswered for a good little bit, giving the impression the critics are tongue-tied – whereas of course in reality we’re pounding our keyboards within hours or even minutes of seeing the reply …

    Like I say, I can’t really blame him if he coordinates comments on his blog a bit, to give whatever impression he wants to give. It’s his blog. It’s just interesting. I could also be totally wrong, and just impatient to see my own words appear, or yours or Pete’s.

  13. He could be sending our replies to her (Waldorfmommy) before posting them, to give her a head start composing a reply. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course.

  14. He could be doing that. But I don’t know why, except for time constraints — he’d write better replies himself!

    I haven’t checked the time stamps on comments but that would perhaps give a clue. I think the time stamps are the times when the comment was posted, not when he approved it. (It is like that on wordpress blogs anyway.) But then (I realize, in a sudden moment of lucidity) one would, of course, need to know the times the comments were approved… and that’s more difficult, because there’s no time stamp for that.

  15. The gist of what I want to say to her about the books in kindergarten:

    Everything she says about the importance of rich oral blah-blah is quite true and right … it just doesn’t explain why the children can’t be looking at print AT THE SAME TIME, i.e., at the same time in their education. This is what promoting LITERACY requires: having books and other printed matter around. If it’s something else they aim to promote, they ought to be saying so. In terms of promoting literacy (probably a school’s single most important function), there is no justification at all for an early-childhood setting where there is a rich tradition of oral this and that and wonderful storytelling and a rich metalinguistic context etc etc etc and yet there are NO BOOKS. It is the latter that must be defended. The rest, we all know about, and all the other, non-Waldorf kindergartens do it, too (tell stories; encourage oral vocabulary development, make plenty of time for creative play etc.)

    It is a smokescreen to go on about all the storytelling and try to intimidate parents out of questioning with a lot of pretentious talk about metalinguistic contexts as preparation for teaching decoding strategies etc. – and yet fail to explain why THERE ARE NO BOOKS.

    The kids sure as heck aren’t going to learn decoding strategies if there is nothing around to decode. Clearly, the aim is to PREVENT them from learning decoding strategies at this age. WHY?

    I’ll post it over there without all the caps :)
    actually reading it back through I kind of like the caps …

  16. Or maybe… I realized while the comment posted… her replies are ideal: they aren’t there to impress us, they’re there to impress current waldorf fans and prospective waldorf parents. Which is an entirely different thing than giving replies that would be perceived as upfront by people like us.

  17. Right, I assume that due to technological glitches or just normal grinding of cybergears, sometimes things don’t get posted the moment they’re approved.

  18. That is precisely it, Diana!! Nobody’s saying: take away all that other stuff and replace it with books (and formal reading education and a number of other horrors). The question is: why can’t there be books too? If it’s possible to do both flute playing and wet-on-wet painting, why not?

    It’s not even a big thing, it’s not like demanding there be a eurythmy room or copper rods for every child — it’s a minor thing but a minor thing with huge importance. It’s about providing the opportunity. A kind of environment that encourages (rather than discouarges) children to feel good about books, to just try it, to be around them. And for children who read, to let them read. If they want to.

    As you say, it’s not having all the other things that must be defended (they’re perfectly fine), it’s the policy to not have books that must be defended.

  19. in the comment above I was replying to https://zooey.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/books-are-not-natural/#comment-13251 … (just to clarify since there were comments in between).

    ‘Right, I assume that due to technological glitches or just normal grinding of cybergears, sometimes things don’t get posted the moment they’re approved.’

    I think that if he didn’t moderate comments, they would be posted immediately. When looking at comments here, the time stamp reflects both the time the comment was posted and the time it was published (except for those short time periods when I’ve had to moderate and approve comments manually, which is a nuisance and nothing else). Moderated blogs can take hours… or days…

  20. I’ve submitted another reply … so just check back in about 24 hours …

    It’s hard to believe people like Waldorfmommy are for real. I start thinking it’s unforgivable, parroting such tripe. I have to try to remind myself it’s possible she BELIEVES it.

  21. I think she does.

    But the stuff (irrelevant non-answers) she’s parroting as well as the reasons for parroting (obfuscation) it are what makes waldorf such a bad choice.

  22. Steve isn’t very active. I wonder what he thinks about books?

    In general, I would be interested in hearing any waldorf teacher who would be defend or reject the no-books policy without resorting to irrelevant babble about all these other things they do or don’t do that have nothing to do with the no-books stance. Because then we’d get to the bottom of things: why aren’t there books?

  23. Steve seems like an amiable guy who isn’t very interested in controversy. I don’t think he really wants any of this to go on on his blog. I think his method of keeping it under control is clever – keep the pace very slow (in internet terms) by delaying comments, don’t throw any fuel on the fire, and shut it down after a week or so.

  24. I have been watching this and I agree with you and Diana, Steve is waiting for the ‘ugly bite’ so he can shut down the comments.

    Any person educated in child/adolescent development OR with any common sense would view Waldorfmommy’s comments as nonsense!

  25. Diana — it’s a method that works…

    But yes, that’s what I think too. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’m more interested in what Steve has to say about books. He’s usually more reasonable and less fanatical too… or so it appears.

    Waldorfmommy *must* defend no-books at any cost and with any silly arguments (irrelevant since they’re not about the books). Maybe she’s very typical, but I think it would be interesting see it approached from another angle. Also, if it became apparent that not even someone like Steve could free himself from fanaticism on this account — waldorf is in a very bad state. It would tell us something about waldorf that reveals more than waldorfmommy’s ill-concealed fundamentalism does.

  26. Margaret — yep, utter nonsense.

    But I don’t think Steve waits for any bites. He can close it when he likes, saying the thread is long enough. He may not be all that into debating things though.

  27. The Steves of Waldorf education are worse than the Waldorfmommy’s. She’s delusional, with stars in her eyes, and readily swallows and repeats the most inane, pretentious edu-jargon. She’s comical really, and as Margaret says, anyone not similarly star struck about Waldorf education is going to view much of what she says as highly ridiculous.

    Steve, on the other hand, is not at all a newbie with stars on his eyes. He knows how to handle stuff like this, and very carefully aims not to fuel dissent, or call attention to it. This is a much more deliberate strategy. Waldorfmommy is saying just what she really believes, but she’s an amateur. Steve is professionally dedicated to promoting Waldorf and knows better than to air (or respond publicly to) the more damning Steinerisms or the more damning criticisms of what goes on in the classroom. Anyone who’s been devoted to Waldorf ed. that long (and earning a living from it) has heard every single point the critics make, probably many times, and is aware of all the negative experiences of families who have left. He responds politely to everything saying it is not his experience. It’s a very low level of debate and many of his responses are content-free. But from a public-relations POV, it’s a winning strategy.

  28. … which indicates his beliefs about it are just as fanatical, but he wouldn’t air them, as you say. And if it’s about strategy, yes, it works. That’s what I find so furstrating and boring about much of it — it’s strategy. No serious will to understand what other people are saying, what they found wrong, and so forth. Only strategy, only marketing. (And I hate it when I start to assume that’s how people operate… because then it all becomes so dull and uninteresting. There’s nothing genuine about it anymore.)

    I guess the problem is that Steve believes in the no-books policy and responding would mean defending it, in some way, so he doesn’t. Which is a sad thing, all of it — it means all the other waldorf teachers, the ones who are more stupid, more uneducated, more gullible, are believing this stuff even more fervently. Still, no matter the degree of strategy in Steve’s dealings with critics (and ‘outsiders’ in general) and no matter the degree of cunningness in this, if he can’t actually see that depriving children of books is wrong, how can it ever be expected that these other waldorf folks will? He may be more strategical, but their beliefs are at least as strong as his — even stronger. Who will ever be able to question the lunacy of these waldorf traditions that really should just be ditched?

    I’m not suggesting that there were ever anything to hope for, but since children are going to continue to suffer from these rigid methods (because, obviously, these schools are not going to be stopped, no matter what damning things we say), I would greet any sign that things were getting better rather than worse.

  29. >which indicates his beliefs about it are just as fanatical, but he wouldn’t air them, as you say. … guess the problem is that Steve believes in the no-books policy and responding would mean defending it, in some way, so he doesn’t.

    Exactly. Which pretty much explains why this movement has staunch critics.

    Steve shouldn’t be taken quite at face value as just a mild-mannered guy (though I’m sure he is) whose “experience” with Waldorf education is different from ours. Steve is a public face, an administrator, teacher trainer, and author of books on Waldorf ed., and it’s definitely a strategy. It’s much “winning-er” to cheerfully duck debate than to take it on.

  30. ‘Exactly. Which pretty much explains why this movement has staunch critics.’

    Which brings us back to the inadequate elevator speech. Again, that some things are *not* said may have great PR value, but you end up disappointing people who sense that there were things that were not said. Or who don’t understand that elevator speech at all (thinking about the recent post in particular) or who hear mostly blah blah blah in waldorfmommy’s no-books defence, but who still thinks, well, it sounds like something substantial… and then realize they did get more eurythmy than education and the child is academically far behind. Mysteriously, because how would you really know that from either the elevator speech or the no-books reply unless you were very perceptive or already knew so much you didn’t really need those speeches in the first place.

  31. I think he’s closed the comments?

    Waldorfmommy is now incensed that I suspected her of not wanting to reply directly when a child asks what does this word say?

    Thinking I might have judged unfairly I looked back at her reply. It says:

    “Q: “What would be the recommended Steiner/Waldorf response to a 3 year old handing you books and asking you to help him “say the words”?”

    A: Responding to the child…taking interest in what they are taking interest in…telling them verbally and non-verbally that you are a resource for them to learn about the world.”

    I’m pretty sure that means she would NOT tell them what the word meant. I have seen this song and dance many times when a child asks a Waldorf teacher what does this word say? Of course they “respond to the child.” But the aim is definitely NOT to tell them what the word says. I’m not inferring this, I was told this explicitly by Waldorf teachers.

  32. No, my bad, comments are still open. I plan to reply to her indignant request for some evidence that, um, it’s considered a good idea to have books around if you want to help young children learn to read. I just hope he keeps comments open long enough for me to do this this evening.

  33. He hasn’t closed them, but my comment is (or comments, I think there were more than one) not through yet — that may be because he’s moderating one comment at a time, so I’ll have to be patient!

    Where’s the evidence for waldorf methods, I wonder. That should exist after so many years — so many years, so much time, so much potential data…

    ‘I’m pretty sure that means she would NOT tell them what the word meant.’

    That was my impression too, or I wouldn’t have written what I did in that comment. (‘I hope this means helping the child with what s/he asked for: reading the words. Telling them ‘that you are a resource…’ is not the same as telling them what they feel a desire to know. The response I’m fearing — one not actually helping the child — is a response that will be utterly frustrating for a child. Why not say: ‘books are a wonderful resource for learning about the world; this is what this text says …’ — I mean, why not?’)

    And all this time she hasn’t actually said that she meant she would tell the child what the words meant!

    A parent who doesn’t know about this particular waldorf teacher tactic of avoidance would perhaps not realize she might be saying she (or the teacher, as she’s not one, if I understand it correctly) wouldn’t actually tell the child the answer. And that’s perhaps the point of it; unless you know what might be going on, you wouldn’t suspect anything. Knowing about it, however, her reply strikes me as evasive.

  34. All righty then, I’ve submitted a couple more rather lengthy replies in response to the indignant request that I justify some of my outrageous demands for print in the classroom and for teachers to actually answer children who ask, “What does this word say?”

    Yes – it’s difficult not to come across as a merciless interrogator, in these conversations. “But EXACTLY what would you say to the child,” and pressing on, insisting that she hasn’t actually explicitly answered our question – but it’s because we know all these evasive strategies, all the beaming smiles and now it’s time for a fairy tale … I am definitely convinced she would not tell the child what the word said … or if she did, it would be a quick, brief, dry answer wrapped round in lots of other nonverbal messages meant to discourage the child from similar questions, or make the whole thing sound uninteresting, now it’s time to bake cookies and no, you can’t look at the recipe, Mommy has the recipe memorized because Mommy knows everything. LOL

  35. Haven’t yet had time to look at the thread today.

    But I don’t understand how it comes they can’t see how disrespectful that kind of attitude this is to the child. And I don’t understand why they don’t see how this way of handling it will disappoint the child to the point when s/he stops trusting adults and stops asking things. They won’t feel — at all — how ‘mommy knows everything’. They will know mommy is useless when you need to know something. And they will feel that communication with the most important people in their lives — parents, teachers — have failed and they can’t get through to them. Not getting an answer, especially when it’s really simple and easy for the adult to give an answer, just proves there’s no way to get through to them. The child will accept when the adult can’t give the an answer because s/he doesn’t know it and explains this — but won’t accept it when it’s apparent the adult just ignores the child’s request.

    ‘I am definitely convinced she would not tell the child what the word said … or if she did, it would be a quick, brief, dry answer wrapped round in lots of other nonverbal messages meant to discourage the child from similar questions, or make the whole thing sound uninteresting …’

    Exactly my suspicion. That’s why she wouldn’t say yes or no to the question. Better to leave it open… most people reading won’t know this background.

  36. Just for the record, I’m giving up over there. He definitely selects certain posts and not others. After keeping everything on hold for the whole weekend, today he let through several comments, but not mine. Admittedly, they were lengthy. It’s his blog and he can do what he wants, but I think it’s a little shabby to control the conversation that way and not even explain this to his readers.

    I’m not surprised, just disappointed. It’s a blog to promote Waldorf education. I sent a long post with a link to an article giving dozens of sources on early literacy and followed up with a second long post detailing what parents and teachers should do to help kids learn to read and write. There was no reason to think a blog supporting Waldorf education was going to publish THAT.

  37. Thanks, I’ll post them here or on critics or both I guess. Don’t have them at the moment (other computer).

    He did post my comment on the other thread (the one about all the erudite and successful people in his graduating class). The last time mine didn’t get posted, he said it was a mistake and he hadn’t seen them. I could certainly see how that could happen considering his blog is not usually active that way and he probably wasn’t used to it. But now it seems deliberate.

  38. Didn’t Steve say his children read early? I would say that alone totally discounts his loyalty to the Waldorf early education beliefs. At any rate Alicia and Diana thanks for trying to shed the truth on this topic.

  39. Just as many Waldorf children “read early” as any other children. The only difference is guilt, lying, hypocrisy, etc. – and abandonment of children with learning disabilities and children from a disadvantaged background.

    Waldorfmommy’s posts actually spell it out. Her own children have lots of books at home. So it’s ok they don’t have books at school. It’s like some weird reversal of what school is. Educate them at home … while pretending at school that we don’t believe in things like books for young children. It’s just stupid snobbery. An approach that can only work for privileged children, and sends confusing and harmful messages.

    Alicia is a good example. Obviously, she had books at home, and in terms of reading and writing, came out unscathed, largely because coming from the family that she comes from, there was really no way she wasn’t going to learn to read and write. The Waldorf school’s contribution was simply to make her life hell in the meantime. But technically she “counts” in their stats – she counts as someone who came out of a Waldorf school with no difficulty reading and writing. Right?

  40. Of course these children read… and it is no surprise at all that Steve’s children read early too. I bet he has books at home. I bet his kids have seen their parents read. They’re curious and figure it out.

    I read only yesterday some news headline about how many children in the UK who grow up without having ONE SINGLE BOOK. No books at all. Imagine what a school without books would do to such child. My worry is that parents who think it’s ok for children to grow up without books at home aren’t likely to bring their kids to the library either. (Sadly, because that would compensate somewhat.)

    Exactly — I’m a perfect example. There are many like me. Even children of anthroposophists grow up in homes with books. They’re never as deprived as these kids in the news. They can’t be, because of the environment that their parents can afford and that they raise them in.

  41. WTF is this?

    ‘Bowker-Wright grew up in Hastings, where she attended a Rudolf Steiner school, which she credits with giving her a love of books.

    “You get read to a lot at a Steiner school, so you’re constantly thinking about books and putting books in your life. I think that was really important.”‘
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/culture/6222050/Bright-literary-sparks-on-the-rise

    it’s just patently bizarre. In fact it’s very interesting — most steiner schools are certainly NOT like that. Yet, how’s she to know that? The problem is that ignorance such as hers will lead to her version being reproduced all over the internet for years to come — OH WOW ONE PERSON SAYS THEY READ A LOT IN WALDORF AND SHE’S EVEN (almost a tiny bit) FAMOUS.

Comments are closed.