Leeds Steiner school has written a letter to the city of Leeds. One reason for the letter is that the school hopes to secure public funding in the future and hopes for Leeds to support it in its striving. The Steiner free school in Frome as well as (before that) the Hereford Steiner academy have met local opposition. Presumably, it’s wise of Leeds to tackle this head on. (I assume the school is reapplying to become a state-funded free school, perhaps the blog readers can enlighten us.) I’m not a Leeds local, not even a Brit, but I thought I’d reply to Leeds Steiner school’s letter anyway. Because I can. And because I noticed how they avoid using that dreadful and scary a-word.
A Steiner school in the heart of our city would offer us […] a new and special partner in pedagogical excellence.
Do we know that? Do the Steiner schools have a record of pedagogical excellence? I didn’t know. How come, then, they need their own inspectors? If there’s excellence, surely any inspector would see it — without carrying Steiner-coloured glasses.
… Steiner offers answers to most of the issues that mainstream education has been struggling with …
That seems highly unlikely somehow.
Steiner education is a fully formed philosophy education and long experience of delivering education.
What does this mean? It’s a ‘philosophy education’?
It is founded on the idea of community and of communication.
No, it’s founded on the idea of anthroposophy. That’s the idea. That’s the point. That’s the reason it exists.
… children have benefited from the deep understanding of child development that Steiner education brings.
Again, this ‘understanding’ is the anthroposophical understanding of child development. It’s deep. If you buy it. It’s deep enough to drown in. If you’re not a good swimmer.
There is a constant connection to the rhythms of the world outside of the kindergarten, the changing seasons, the festivals and holidays.
Surprisingly, the seasons change for everyone. People celebrate festivals, there are holidays. These are aspects of normal life in the real world. Quite banal and unexciting as this seems, it’s actually true: there’s nothing exotic or unusual about seasons, festivals and holidays. Sure, these things can be fun and rewarding, but enjoyment of them is not limited to the waldorf/steiner community.
The world within the walls of the kindergarten are similarly a place of routine, where children can feel secure in the patterns that are created by the day’s structure, whilst at the same time progressing at a pace that is consistent with their needs.
Consistent with their needs… according to what anthroposophy teaches about children’s needs. This is essential. Leaving it out is deceptive. Stop deceiving, or you don’t deserve the support of the people of Leeds.
Personalisation is implicit in Steiner. […] Based on 7 year cycles, Steiner recognises distinct stages that a child must navigate and that we all too often stifle in our education system.
Exactly. Steiner. Now we’re getting there, talking about Steiner is a step in the right direction. Just make sure you’re always explicit about this; and, also, make sure you don’t forget that very important a-word.
What does ‘personalisation’ mean? And how does it relate to what comes next: there are stages — neatly ordered in 7-year cycles — that a child must navigate. Is this personalisation? And has it occurred to you that, in the process of implementing anthroposophical teachings about stages the child must go through, you’re stifling something else instead? That, perhaps, you even suffocate some children’s personalities when you try to squeeze them into your preordained stages, your schedule, your methods, your understanding of how things ought to be (but aren’t, in reality, because children are individual human beings)?
In Steiner we do not start formal learning until the age of 6 but learning certainly takes place.
You start it as late as you can get away with. Thus, when you start it varies from country to country. Always seeking exemptions.
Children learn to use their hands and their bodies with confidence, their minds through sharing and observation and exchange their own ideas whilst listening respectfully to others.
This is something you dreamt?
Each time we ask our teachers to sit our children down to learn to read and write at 4 and 5 years old we are dismissing the children’s instincts to get up and find out for themselves and we lead them to the disengagement that I and so many others are powerless to reverse …
What do you think happens when you’re dismissing children’s instincts to want to learn to read and write at 4 or 5? Some children do want exactly that, whether you believe it or not. But, right, I forgot, books are not natural. So it’s ok to stifle that impulse. But I can tell you one thing: reading and writing does not lead to disengagement, and instead of trying to find ways not to present the opportunity to children — in some cases even actively discouraging children from engaging in these activities — you should do everything to ensure they have a choice, lest they be disengaged and, eventually, begin to find all education boring, because it doesn’t stimulate their intellectual needs (the ones you deny exist).
… Steiner’s holistic approach demands attention.
No. Not if it doesn’t meet the needs of the individual child. All it taught me was to day-dream. To imagine I was elsewhere. To avoid the perpetual boredom.
Where Synthetic Phonics insists on using Visual, Aural and Kinaesthetic prompts to aid learning (adopting the multiple intelligences principles) Steiner, uses rhyme and rhythm in song and dance and thereby nurtures memory of language and number, through pleasurable activities that are inherent human impulses.
Pleasurable? Why is any of that more pleasurable than learning to read a book or do maths on a piece of paper? I just don’t get it. Maybe the singing and clapping and dancing just don’t make any sense to some children? How do you plan to handle the needs of these children so that they too find their time in school stimulating?
When we arrive at formal learning, Steiner has laid foundations of communication in its insistence on the speaking and listening imperative that we are ‘grafting on’ in mainstream education.
Blah blah blah? What is this supposed to mean? The ‘insistence on the speaking and listening imperative’, eh? Is this supposed to be good?
There is an emphasis on oral repetitions of stories and when we arrive at the curriculum we move through literature with genre following the child’s developmental arc; fairytale>fable>bible>myths, thereby also accessing a ‘classical’ arc.
Developmental, according to anthroposophical ideas about development.
Children learn to write using their own words …
No, they learn it copying the words and texts the teacher writes on the blackboard. To pretend anything else is plain silly.
The process is wholly organic.
Is this… what? Holistic, organic, well… what are these words supposed to mean? And why does mainstream education not seem to need them? Strangely, the same words are used to sell vegetables.
Steiner has no need to revise its attitude to technology, as current government advice suggests.
No, why on earth revise a silly attitude to something?
The Steiner philosophy teaches that the most important tool a child has is their own mind …
and then tries to persuade the child not to use it too much or at all. Because it’s much better to delay intellectual development and do eurythmy instead.
We move seamlessly into History, which is taught in a linear way …
Yes, but it’s old myths taught as history. Old myths are good and interesting. But they aren’t actual historical records; they belong to the history of beliefs, the history of religion, of literature. Fine. But don’t get things mixed up. Be clear on what you’re teaching. (Perhaps one or several of this blog’s readers would like to remind Leeds of what is sometimes taught as history in waldorf schools…?)
Steiner has a determination of global responsibility that encompasses languages other than English …
A global responsibility that stretches all the way to the German language. Because, oddly, since Steiner was German, all waldorf school students — apart from those who already live in German-speaking nations — learn German as their first foreign language. Steiner’s global responsibility was, in fact, German-centered and, well, not all that global, come to think of it. Though he kind of would have liked things German to gain global importance, I’m sure. (German is good. I like German a lot. I didn’t learn much German in waldorf though — despite having, for several years, a German teacher who was German!)
The abstractions that our children are asked to encounter at too early an age in mainstream education is something that many of our children fail to negotiate.
Eurythmy is another thing many children ‘fail to negotiate’. However, that does not seem to stop Steiner schools from using it in education.
Leeds is one of 5 major cities in this country. It should be at the heart of educational excellence.
And Steiner education is taking it there? That certainly remains to be seen and until I’ve seen it I remain skeptical. Has Steiner education ever taken a city, a village or even a small community to educational excellence? Show me.