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.