‘can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully?’

I first thought about posting this as a comment to my previous post, but I think it deserves a post of its own. It comes from the comment thread on the Quackometer post. I think I’ve blogged about this document, published by a waldorf school, before. I think it’s absolutely essential to understand how things might work — and you will get a glimpse of a kind of reasoning that waldorf teachers don’t engage in in front of (non-anthroposophist) parents.

Sam on March 17, 2012 at 10:27 am
Daisy asked ‘Is bullying more common in Steiner schools? Not a clue. I don’t know how we could prove this one way or another.’

p9, Bullying Presentation to Faculty – Handout
May 13, 1999

Alan Howard Waldorf School

Prepared by Cynthia Kennedy and Betty Robertson


We have labored over this section and it has been written and rewritten a number of times. Can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully? Is it a child’s destiny to seek certain experiences to build his or her self-esteem and inner self? Should a potentially abusive situation be stopped, and if so, at what point? We do not know the answers; however, when dealing with bullying behavior we thought that caution is necessary. If intervention can change the experiences that our children encounter then conceivably it is not entirely destiny we are dealing with. And perhaps all the children are better served if they are given tools to better handle aggression, be it their own, or their peers.

For a child who is being victimized, it must be the teacher’s role and responsibility to determine how much victimization is healthy to enable the child to be strengthened through the experience and at what point the exposure is excessive and detrimental. This situation is something that all teachers must struggle with, and the obligation becomes that much more onerous given that, in all likelihood, most of what a child is subjected to will be unknown to the teacher.

It appears that the bully, primarily through child rearing, arrives at our school with a predisposition to aggressive and bullying behavior. The research is not clear as to how much these children can be helped without the support of the parents. However, parental commitment is one of the qualities expected of any Waldorf family so there may be more success with our families than the average. In addition, we understand that doing biography work with the affected child(ren) and families may increase understanding and help the situation. Curative work, including assessments and curative eurythmy, perhaps in consultation with specialists like Anthroposophical doctors, may provide additional information to both the family and teacher(s).

Is it any wonder that critics have a lot to say about bullying in waldorf schools? Is it any wonder that we keep insisting that karma plays a role? Is it any wonder when we don’t take the words of waldorf proponents that bullying is no bigger a problem in waldorf than elsewhere and that it is — of course! — out of the question not to intervene when a child is being badly treated? Is it any wonder at all? The quoted passages were not somehow invented by critics — they contain the words of waldorf professionals themselves!

42 thoughts on “‘can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully?’

  1. The day waldorf schools voluntarily paste passages such as those in this post on their websites (not as internal documents), i e, the day they concede, to parents and everyone, that this is their way of dealing with bullying — that day, criticism will have accomplished something major. Instead of criticizing Alan Howard waldorf school, we should applaud it for honesty… at least if this is what they tell people publicly. The day waldorf schools are honest about these things, that day they become much less dangerous.

  2. Off topic:

    In that discussion thread Jan Luiten linked to a research report about Waldorf, claiming that it proved Waldorf is a good choice if you want a “broad development” for your child.

    Click to access VrijeScholen.pdf

    What the report in fact DOES prove in a VERY convincing way is that Waldorf is a bad choce if you want your kids to learn language, mathematics and problem-solving skills. Why those skills are not essential parts of a broad development is beyond me. Now this is the third time a research report shows the opposite of what anthroposophists claim they do. It is becoming a bit … boring.

  3. Must go an shampoo a certain dog because I can’t do it too late in the evening as he whines too loudly and the neighbours might report me for illegal pig slaughter or something if the building is too quiet at the time…

    But. As far as I know, yes, it is authentic. I saw it first time some years ago (though that in itself means nothing, really). It has been removed from the internet of course — I don’t think it was intended for publication… I have the document and will send it to you via email. It contains a lot more than those three passages.

    Perhaps Jan Luiten posted that hoping nobody would actually read his links!! ;-) Unfortunately, people do that a lot. With people, I mean anthroposophists, among others…

  4. I’d like to copy the fourth bullet point from the document already quoted:

    ‘1. Cruelty
    There are normal levels of aggressive behavior particularly as children are exploring the cruel aspects of their nature. Every school provides the opportunity for some bullying to take place, as children test each other out and work out their roles in the classroom and playground relationships.1 However, at some point, this behavior may be excessive and represent a behavioral problem.’

    There’s one insight here that I actually appreciate: that children don’t lack ‘cruel aspects of their nature.’ Way too many adults seem to want to deny that. Which may be a particular danger in waldorf schools, as they’re seen by both parents and teachers (and many other people) as such perfect environments for children, and people tend not to see what they don’t want to see. And many seem to have problems accepting that children can be cruel at all. (I mean people in general, and that this is a tendency that would exacerbate the problem in waldorf.)

    Whether every school ‘provides the opportunity’ for bullying… well. I’m sure it happens in every school. But to use words like ‘provide’ and ‘opportunity’…!

    (Edit: I’d also like to add that not everything said in that document is daft. Some of it is fairly reasonable. The quoted passages are interesting because they explain the anthroposophical side of things, a side which is rarely made explicit in this manner.)

  5. I got the original document from Alicia and it seems definitely genuine. And apart from the anthro-specific karma parts it is a fairly reasonable text.

    But I lack a discussion of school organization. The weak leadership in Waldorf schools is a huge risk factor for bullying behavior. As is the “loneliness” of the individual teacher described in the norwegian report on the organization of Steiner schools. The document refers to Dan Olweus, but I couldn’t see one of his recommendations; that the staff work on developing common and clear values and an ethical framework. I suggest anthroposophy is an obstacle here, especially as it is hidden. How can any group with a secret spiritual agenda communicate an honest moral (I’m not sure of what english words to use here). Should they inform the bully that his or her behaviour might cause trouble in the next incarnation or already in the anthroposophical version of hell?

    Having worked a lot with childrens groups (with zero tolerance for bullying behavior) I can agree that it isn’t always wise (or possible) to intervene in “power struggles” and that SOMETIMES children or groups can solve conflicts better than well-intentioned adults. Bullying behavior is another matter and if an adult notices and doesn’t intervene it will be interpreted by all the children as if you approve. Or as cowardice.

    And even considering the idea that any kind of bad treatment or bullying could ever be karmically determined or justified is ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING!

  6. Hi Alicia,
    I’ve been thinking about life experience with regard to being a victim of a bully or in fact being the bully. From what I’ve observed (not researched) personally throughout my life, bullies and their victims are made. I have also come to the conclusion that bullies and victims can be unmade. I truly believe that handing over responsibility for one’s behaviour to some deity or concept such as reincarnation, be your behaviour positive or negative doesn’t actually release one from one’s debt. I think the worst I have been involved with are “born again christians.” Note “born again.” Interesting when discussing reincarnation. This concept pops up everywhere. But no way should it be confused with being an excuse to bully or indeed to be a victim.

  7. Ulf: that’s a very real problem in waldorf schools — it’s all up to the individual teacher and on the higher level a group of many teachers who try to get along and make decisions collectively or something like that. And if some kid is having a problem, this group of teachers do a child study; of course, there are lots of kids who have problems and… a school of 600+ students and the groupd trying to solve every problem collectively!? Completely inefficient of course. Basically, they all meditate a bit on the child, most of them have no idea who the child is. Sometimes there’s a decision to send a child to extra eurythmy. But nobody is accountable for anything. The parents don’t know who’s involved or who bears the ultimate responsibility. (If the parents know what’s going on at all.) The individual teacher has but this group to turn to. These days they have to appoint a principal (in Sweden) and I think that’s good — but I fear the old model is deeply ingrained in waldorf schools and that the principal becomes just a person appointed to fulfill the requirements. Ie, that it’s just formalities and nothing changes in reality, in how the school operates in reality.

    ‘How can any group with a secret spiritual agenda communicate an honest moral (I’m not sure of what english words to use here). Should they inform the bully that his or her behaviour might cause trouble in the next incarnation or already in the anthroposophical version of hell?’

    That’s the problem — they can’t! One reason, of course, is that children aren’t supposed to hear about these things in a direct manner.

    And in the kindergarten and early years especially the teachers don’t talk *with* the children anyway, don’t reason with them, don’t try to explain things to them. They talk *to* the children but there’s not much communication. Even to help kindergarten kids stop tormenting each other, I think you would need some kind of two-way communication with them. On their level of course. (I’m sure there are better and worse ways of communicating ‘you can’t hurt others’ to small children… but I fear all these methods would require actions that run counter to waldorf traditions.) I think they ought to inform the parents that their child’s behaviour might cause trouble in the next incarnation and unpleasantness in kamaloca though!

    ‘Having worked a lot with childrens groups (with zero tolerance for bullying behavior) I can agree that it isn’t always wise (or possible) to intervene in “power struggles” and that SOMETIMES children or groups can solve conflicts better than well-intentioned adults. Bullying behavior is another matter and if an adult notices and doesn’t intervene it will be interpreted by all the children as if you approve. Or as cowardice.’

    Yes. And it’s not just the bullying. Other destructive and antisocial behaviours also appear to the children to be tolerated, thus ok, even good.

    I agree that it’s not a good idea that adults interfere in everything; it’s important that children learn to be independent and handle their interactions on their own. Even more important because the teachers can’t see everything.

    But waldorf schools are in a unique position. The idea is to keep the kid in the same group, in the same environment for many years. When I started kindergarten at three, the idea was that I would remain in this same environment for 15 consequtive years! The kindergarten teachers are involved in the transition to school. When school begins, you stay with the same teacher for 8 years, the same class for 12. (That’s the theory. Lots of families leave though. The new kids who arrive are often kids who had severe problems in regular schools, their parents threatened with special school and feeling that waldorf at least has the appearance of ‘normal’, et c. — this, unsuprisingly, is an additional problem for waldorf.) Anyway, they can work with some of these children from the age they’re 3/4 and with the others from age 7. Long before the problems entirely get out of their hands when the children are 10/11. In addition, there’s lots of talk about the unique cooperation with families, and, indeed, they often know the families fairly well — community, siblings, anthroposophy, shared ideals, and so forth.

    ‘And even considering the idea that any kind of bad treatment or bullying could ever be karmically determined or justified is ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING!’

    Yes, I think so to. But it doesn’t appear so to people who believe this. To them, karma is justice. Even the non-intervention by teachers will be dealt with by karma, so justice will be served.

    The thing is — they’re good people who honestly believe that they’re doing the right thing, the best thing. They’re well-intentioned. Which is, I think, a reason why people (also non-anthro parents) have such difficulties noticing when things go wrong. They can’t reconcile all this well-intentioned goodness with the actual bad consequences it has in some, or even many, cases. It’s much easier to identify bad when the person doing something bad seems like someone who might do something bad. In the case of anthroposophy, many parents don’t know which questions to ask anyway and, if they did, would get nonsense answers.

    Shane: I think, re responsibility, you’re right. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s entirely a question of bullies and bullied being made. I think some people come into situations with weaknesses (and strengths) that make them more or less likely to end up in one category or the other (or a thrid: the ones able to float around in the middle, as passive bystanders who don’t get in trouble personally). I’m absolutely sure I came into that kindergarten situation destined to have certain problems with other children. It was nobody’s fault, certainly not the other children’s fault. That I ended up in a group (and later class — they should have avoided that) with a very disturbed child who acted out against someone like me, well… there is a problem. But I was deadly afraid of other children and avoided them (which was interpreted as ‘provocative’). I’m not sure the teachers could have done anything to help me with that. But they could have stopped blatant attacks as I was unable to defend myself or get away from the situation.

    I’m quite sure I came into the whole thing with these weaknesses already manifest though and that they were only made more severe by the environment. (In other words, to imagine that any other kindergarten would have been trouble-free would be a ridiculous fantasy.)

    So… although I don’t think it’s karma, I do think some kids come into social contexts destined for some misfortune or other simply because of their own personalities. And there’s not always something to do about it, other than try to help, even if it is ultimately unsuccessful.

  8. This document has been discussed on the critics list a number of times, and I’m pretty sure it’s authentic. It’s chilling from the first couple of lines; the rest of us don’t have to “labor” over whether to try to stop bullying. I agree, though, it’s at least honest; if I’m recalling correctly, it was when they found out critics were discussing it that they took it down from public view.

    To bend over backwards to be fair to these people … I think the wording shows signs of a struggle – the reference to “laboring” and rewriting, the “We understand that” phrases – it all suggests to me that they originally wrote something rather different and having submitted it to (anthroposophical) authorities, i.e., the director or College of Teachers, they had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that would pass the anthroposophical purity test. It’s actually a fascinating document in this regard. If only one could have been a fly on the wall in these meetings! You can practically watch these well-meaning parents put aside their compassion and common sense and (painfully) buckle under to anthroposophy. (The preliminary “We understand that …” reads to me like, “You’ve told us and we get it now; we have to comply and add this part that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own.”)

    The other thing I think is that they don’t actually understand the meaning of the word “bully.” They lost sight of the problem they were working on. “Bullying” is systematic behavior – behavior that is ALREADY focused, entrenched, organized and deliberate. Bullying has an aggressor and a victim and the bully is enacting a well thought-out plan of attack. Bullying isn’t a spat, or name-calling in anger, or a schoolyard fistfight, or a tendency to get mad and start shoving people. Probably most of us agree in these perfectly normal incidents, which obviously happen in every school in the world, adults shouldn’t be too quick to always intervene. That’s the realm where it’s advisable to let children try to “work it out,” build their confidence by learning that they can defend themselves, etc. It’s when they plainly can’t, or the situation escalates or becomes a pattern, that no sane, compassionate adult hesitates over whether he/she ought to be taking steps to stop it.

  9. “It appears that the bully, primarily through child rearing, arrives at our school with a predisposition to aggressive and bullying behavior.”

    Though it’s probably obvious to those of us discussing it here, this sentence may still be a bit opaque to ordinary parents. They mean the child arrives here FROM A PAST LIFE with this predisposition. They’re pointing out that from the anthroposophical POV, not only has the victim caused the situation karmically, but also the school may be relatively powerless to do anything anyway. Karmically you arrive in life with a disposition like this that you have constructed from actions in a previous life. This is way worse than nature/nurture – they view themselves as facing something far more “predetermined” than simple “nature.” (And they would have little interest in assessing whether such a child had problems at home, or was perhaps him- or herself a victim of abuse – IN THIS LIFE.) Karma takes lifetimes to work out. A teacher isn’t going to undo it no matter how hard she tries, anyway, because the child NEEDS to be whatever way they are in this life, to balance a past or future one. Meanwhile, victims of such a person have chosen their association with this person for their own karmic reasons, so are really not to be unduly pitied.

  10. As far as I understand from the readings of the rosicrucian lectures, it is impossible for an anthroposophist NOT to consider karmic explanations/justifications for all kinds of suffering (or for someone causing others pain). There is no reason why karmic laws shouldn’t be applied to bullying. Other than that it makes the cruel “unnaturalness” of anthroposophy visible to outsiders and parents.

  11. That pretty well sums it up.

    The lecture that I missed, and plan to summarize tonight, includes comments from Steiner that are very explicit that karma should not be considered an indication NOT to intervene to stop someone else’s suffering. It is obvious, though, that a lot of people have trouble reconciling this statement with the detailed explanations of how karmic suffering is actually good for you, necessary, unavoidable, determined by exalted heavenly beings many cosmic levels above you in the spirit world, etc. You really can’t take Steiner seriously on both counts. Or, perhaps, you can, but it is difficult if not impossible to figure out in practice what this would mean. This is exactly the cause of the struggle the authors of this dreadful document were apparently experiencing. It’s all right there. To me, it reads like, “We know we should intervene. We know it is terrible to watch a child suffer. We want to help. But we have this damn ideology here … we are so confused.” Thank you Steiner.

  12. Ulf: “it is impossible for an anthroposophist NOT to consider karmic explanations/justifications for all kinds of suffering (or for someone causing others pain).”

    I think, if we try to really tease it out, you’re supposed to consider the karmic explanations, but then consider yourself not really qualified to understand them, so you’re supposed to go ahead and help anyway. Even if you can’t figure out the victim’s karma, helping others is good for your own karma.

    It isn’t hard to understand, though, why this feels dubious and tentative and confusing. The rational basis for acting on the basis of the karma theory is plainly NOT to intervene. One would have to struggle with the logic to reach a decision to go ahead and help anyway. Given the very best and most generous understanding of Steiner that I can come up with, karma is a very strong reason to hesitate before helping someone who is suffering. Which just isn’t what should happen when a child is being harmed.

  13. The document is an interesting illustration of your point here, anthroposophy creates a kind of “hesitation” when dealing with bullying. Which undermines the fundamental point of the Olweus anti-bullying program; that teachers communicate a united, clear and unhesitating “code of conduct” concerning bullying behaviour.

  14. I think it’s impossible to avoid concluding that in cases like Alicia’s, the teachers were acting on the karma theory. I imagine there are less clear-cut cases where “whether to intervene” really is a point worth mulling over, and a conscientious anthroposophist might decide that the karmic indications were murky or unknowable and that intervening was the right choice.

    The place where the theory is really dangerous is cases like Alicia’s. Where one child seems to choose to torment another child for no discernible reason, karma steps into the gap. The fact that she appeared not to provoke the child in any way, says to the teacher that the cause, or provocation, is in another lifetime. On the critics list we have heard many stories like this. When one person attacks another person seemingly out of the blue, they have no known prior conflict, the attack seems completely without cause and the aggressor APPEARS to have chosen someone almost at random or someone seemingly completely blameless … that’s where karma enters in.

    In a sense, bullying is the quintessential karmic scenario. Bullying is different from childish quarrels, or quarrels that have an immediately obvious cause, like two children want the same toy, or perhaps a particular child is prone to hit or bite and just needs some help learning to rein in this impulse. Bullying by definition means someone has been targeted for no real good reason that can be discerned on either side of the conflict. The victim just looked victimizable, and maybe almost seemed to “step into” the role. Anthroposophists think they have the explanation for the “no good reason” part. The fact that Alicia actually avoided this child was in the karma theory ALL THE MORE REASON to believe she had actually provoked the attacks.

  15. Interesting. What provokes karmic explanations? And is there a way to provoke some anthroposophist to expand on the Parzival story? Because one theme there is whether to act on your spontaneous compassion or obey the advice of an authority not to be too curious. Parzival didn’t ask about the wound of the Fisher King and fails in the search for the Grail.

    At a summer camp, a girl once asked me; “Ulf, why do you always smile when you are angry?” This is an example of a child sensing ambivalence in adults, and to me it was very enlightening. Or therapeutic.

    The moral of the anecdote in the present context is that even if you have finally decided that it is your duty to try to stop bullying, some children will be able to sense if you entertain a hidden notion that what happens is justified according to the Law of Karma. Some troubled children are especially skilled at reading such complex attitudes of adults.

  16. Many interesting comments!

    I think many children are very good at sensing such ambivalences, while adults usually think that, because they’re more advanced in many other ways (knowledge and skills in general, and even being able to describe all those emotions children only sense) they are also great actors. They aren’t, and I remember that vividly. You heard that slight difference in tone of voice, for example, even if the adult tried to appear just his or her normal self. Or the shape of the mouth or the wrinkles around the eyes. I’m sure they were small things that the adults can’t control because they weren’t aware of it. But I think they felt that if they just did the superficial things people do when trying to appear friendly, a child — in particular a child! so easy to fool, no life-experience! — must certainly find the performance believable. (Not suggesting it’s a conscious decision, most of the time when we fake things, we do it almost automatically to smooth things out. I think.) Well, I’m afraid of children for this reason. Unlike many other adults, I have a fear they’re able to see right through me. And of course then they’d see how uncomfortable they make me.

    So I’m not disinclined to believe that children sometimes sense a hidden notion that subtly invalidates the teachers’ words or actions.

    I can see, by the way, why not responding can be seen as a provocative behaviour, from the point of view of the other child. Another aspect worth remembering is that when they failed to help me, they really failed helping that other child too (and, Dog, believe me when I say there was certainly a need for that). It’s just that karma-thinking wouldn’t help anyone of us. More importantly — I think my behaviour provoked the teachers, even if they would never have admitted to that. Not for particularly anthroposophical reasons, but for ordinary human reasons. I vividly remember one incident in the playground in town. One parent went quite bonkers when I ignored her child, who was a complete stranger to me. I kept to myself, and it did provoke people. I didn’t cry if someone went for me, I didn’t seek support from adults, and so forth. I understand now that I didn’t live up to the expectations people have on children! (I would like to have met myself as a child though. Though obviously I would see right through myself and scare myself crazy.) Maybe they thought that eventually I would respond and our common karmic fate would be sorted or progressed.

    All of this becomes more dangerous when a group is considered a unit brought together by destiny, having a karma with each other, a karma that might need acting out also in destructive ways.

    As Ulf points out, there’s a particular risk there’s an ambivalence in any intervention that actually takes place. It’s only half-hearted and hesitant and the adult isn’t clear about why and what.

    Diana is right that Steiner created the difficulty reconciling two almost irreconcilable points. Perhaps he struggled to sort that one out himself. I think perhaps he more clearly saw the risks with that kind of thinking, while many anthroposophists actually fail to see risks. Karma seems like a very just system and with reincarnation everything is sorted out.

    Diana wrote: ‘You can practically watch these well-meaning parents’

    Are they really parents? It doesn’t seem like they are non-anthroposophist parents. They could be anthroposophist parents or teachers or both. Parents, unless they’re teachers at the school, aren’t very likely to attend these faculty meetings, are they? I wonder if this was even intended to be presented to the parents at the school?

  17. Both my children had a friend at school who were victims of bullying, and these children were both helped and supported by their friends, and came through not unscathed but knowing that their problems had been acknowledged and appropriately dealt with.
    There was no question about the right and wrong of one child being picked on by another, it was accepted that the victim needed support. This was reinforced by staff and discussed among parents.
    A school where there is ambivalence about whether to ‘interfere’ whether this is due to ‘karmic suffering’ or ‘leaving children to sort things out’ must leave victims feeling isolated and threatened.
    The school also showed a caring supportive attitude to bullying children, which sometimes caused anger among other parents who saw a ‘bully’ receiving extra attention, but the achievements at this highly successful and popular state primary show they must be doing something right.

  18. You’re right, Helen. Even if the bullying has happened and isn’t easy to stop immediately, I think it makes a huge difference if the child feels there’s support, s/he’s not alone, not isolated, has someone to turn to.

    Without caring and support for the bullying child, the problem can’t be solved, and parents should understand that. And since it’s often (?) a group of children who are involved, more or less actively, one must also look at the group and the dynamics.

  19. Yes the dynamics of a group within a class is important too, and once again it comes back to openness about the kind of judgements being made.
    Everyone must ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and this is impossible if some staff, parents or even children are operating in an environment where karma counts, and others are not.

  20. I’m not totally positive but I do think the authors of that document were parents, not teachers.

  21. Very advanced parents (and unusually involved — I had an impression involvement was mostly practical not theoretical)… I must google. I googled one of them before, and had the impression she worked in a waldorf school, but I must double check it.

  22. Helen — and anthroposophists and non-anthroposophist teachers are bound to sing from different hymn sheets. Even if the latter ‘know’ the stuff from studying to become waldorf teachers.

    One additional problem is that some waldorf schools, like mine, seem to tolerate a lot of violence in general and quite a lot of verbal abusiveness. And although most bullying is probably psychological rather than physical, I wonder what this general environment contributes to the problem of bullying — increasing it, making it seem acceptable, making it more difficult to detect? I guess allowing children to be violent works from the same assumptions — that they have to work it out between themselves. In the end, though, what you get is an environment that is unpleasant. I’m not sure it was bullying anymore, but even during my last years there was a lot of hitting, pushing (into walls, into rocks, et c), shoving. I can’t call it bullying really, as the people doing it were perfectly possible to get along with outside school or one-on-one. I can’t classify the behaviour as anything other than just general violence. Some people were not subjected (but were more likely to be perpetrators), some subjected all the time. But it wasn’t even considered something done in order to torment. It had served no other purpose than to entertain bored children. What is that kind of behaviour? Is there any terminology for it? It’s clearly systematic and pervasive, but not exactly bullying.

  23. Let me add an observation from a teacher I know, visiting a Waldorf school: “We would never allow that kind of mean language and bad behaviour between the pupils”. Now of course a similar atmosphere can be found also in some mainstream schools. But the Dahlin report actually has some data indicating that it is more frequent in Swedish Waldorf schools. Add to this the weak organization and the problems described in the recent norwegian report. And Ofsted reporting bored pupils engaging in “low-level destructive behavior”. Not to mention the karmic complexities discussed here. And the difficulties to establish a clear code of conduct, based upon partly hidden doctrines where staff also might be on different levels of mastery … I think we have quite a few problems here.

    Working with group behaviour and “atmosphere” is an area where I see one of the main problems with swedish mainstream schools. There are too many indications that Waldorf is even worse in this respect.

  24. Alicia this
    “during my last years there was a lot of hitting, pushing (into walls, into rocks, et c), shoving. … I can’t classify the behaviour as anything other than just general violence.”
    is appalling.
    I have not seen this in any school where I have worked,including the Waldorf one. It sounds like an environment where no-one would feel safe. I think boys have a tendency to be ‘boisterous’ with one another, and this can become a problem sometimes, but should not be seen as acceptable, and of course picking on a smaller child is always bullying.
    I suppose there must be schools where this kind of behaviour occurrs routinely, but one would hope they would be classed as ‘failing’ by ofsted.
    So much depends on the ethos of the school and in my view this has to come from the ‘ top’, the headteacher.
    A good head will have the support of staff in general behavioural matters and in return they know that they will be backed up by her when they insist on certain standards of behaviour and language inside and outside the classroom.
    Waldorf schools are at a distinct disadvantage here if they have no effective leadership.

    Your description is so different from the view people have of Waldorf as a caring nurturing environment.

  25. Diagnosing people is a risky business. After working as a psychologist for many years I know how provocative that can be. Even “children observations” sometimes upsets people. I think it is wise to be wary of theories which significantly change how you perceive others. And I think it is really important that parents are informed of the basis of how such things are applied and what consequences different outcomes will have for their children.

    So far, all waldorf practices I have come across have proved to have some occult and esoteric meaning, not immediately apparent to outsiders. Does anyone know what the temperaments mean in a spiritual science context?

    Heiner Ullrich writes in a UNESCO report:

    “From a belief in reincarnation stems the image of education as an aid to incarnation and spiritual awakening—the educator becomes a priest and a leader of people’s souls. The theory of the four temperaments leads on to the educational task of harmonization—the educator then being understood as a master of the healing art.”

    A teacher as a master healer? Is that really a good idea? Although psychologists and anthroposophists use words as “temperament” and “personality” in different ways, most psychologists would probably not try to mess with someone’s temperament or personality. It could be seen as futile brainwashing. Helping someone with e.g. “anger management” is a different matter.

    If serious healing and “harmonizing of temperaments” is going on in Waldorf schools, it should be monitored by the health authorities. If applied to “consenting adults” I have no problems with this type of activities, but in an educational context it is a much more serious matter.

  26. Excellent point Ulf, re: regulation by health authorities. Of course they already think they’re health authorities themselves.

    Just quickly, the temperaments are each associated with one of the four “members” of the human – in melancholics, the physical body predominates; in phlegmatics, the etheric; in sanguines, the astral; and in cholerics, the “I.” (Which may explain why angry children, a.k.a. cholerics, are not reined in better; they may be more spiritually advanced. There are supposed to be “so many” cholerics in the Waldorf schools these days because humanity overall is supposed to be “working on the ‘I’.”)

  27. Sorry for mixing up the threads! I’m not sure how to diagnose that kind of confusion ;-) Although Diana’s explanation adds to the bullying theme too. As if there wasn’t enough factors contributing to make waldorf ill-equppped to deal with bullying …

    (I suggest that you head over to https://zooey.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/waldorf-and-the-temperaments/ if you want to comment on the temperament theme, so the questions about bullying can continue here. I will quote and resond to Diana’s quote in the correct place)

  28. At least you caught your mistake :) I’m still trying to figure out what happened …

  29. ‘Sorry for mixing up the threads! I’m not sure how to diagnose that kind of confusion ;-)’

    Steiner didn’t give any indication so we will have to do our own spiritual research. Any mix-ups of such kinds can change the karma of a blog thread, though, and drive it in unpredictable directions ;-) Of course, everything happens for a reason… (Although right now I find that difficult to believe, trying to deal with an unfortunate sequence of events: an electricity bill that got lost in the mail, a reminder that got lost, a payment that also got lost… Apparently, the higher worlds think I have something to learn karmically from an unpaid bill… And, if nothing else, headache is probably good for something.)

    Very interesting about the cholerics, Diana! Also how the temperaments relate to the different members of the human being. And, of course, the temperaments have a karmic element. So — not only do the bullied person and the bully have a karmic past and destiny together, a certain temperament that may be more likely to be associated with bullying behaviour also has a karmic origin, appear for karmic reasons… and may actually be favoured for a number of reasons.

  30. Pete mentioned Rene Querido in the other thread (these topics do overlap significantly, actually). And I wanted to mention a book by Querido, a book that has been translated to Swedish! http://libris.kb.se/bib/7795025 His work is interesting because he is (was) such an important person in waldorf education. http://www.steinercollege.edu/store/product.php?productid=16919&cat=863&page=1 You can see that his work has been used in teacher training: http://www.waldorfcritics.org/articles/RSC_reading_list.html

  31. I posted this on the Quackometer page:

    I couldn’t let this go without comment:

    “For a child who is being victimized, it must be the teacher’s role and responsibility to determine how much victimization is healthy to enable the child to be strengthened through the experience and at what point the exposure is excessive and detrimental. This situation is something that all teachers must struggle with, and the obligation becomes that much more onerous given that, in all likelihood, most of what a child is subjected to will be unknown to the teacher. ”

    So, again, it falls to the best-trained psychologists in the world… WALDORF TEACHERS to determine exactly how much VICTIMIZATION must be endured by the child before it becomes detrimental. They must do this by clairvoyance, I’m guessing, since they admit that most of the victimizing will be unknown to the teacher anyway.

    So parents… if your child is being victimized at their Waldorf school, you can TRUST that your child’s Waldorf teacher will step in at EXACTLY the right moment – before anything detrimental to your child actually happens… to console the bully!

  32. Speaking of karma, I’m right now reading GA 253. Which might just be the most entertaining GA. Anyway, it’s so good. He’s so funny.

    In it, he talks (among other things) about what happens when people start interpreting the very human affairs in esoteric terms.

  33. yep, ever since I read that essay, some years ago, I wanted to get that GA. (I read some of the lectures in German already, online, but I hate reading truly good stuff online… so I finally got it.)

    It is… wonderful. He’s sharp and funny as hell.

  34. Good! I read almost all of my Steiner on-line though. So what did you think about Catherine MacCoun?

  35. I find it much easier to read print, although I have read a lot online too.

    I think there’s an old blog post about that article but I don’t even remember if I wrote anything intelligent in it. Presumably not. If I remember her article correctly, I thought she had good points and that she was a rather good writer. What really got me interested was her Rudi quotes though…

  36. To be honest, I was reminded quite a bit of Catherine’s writing style and that article as I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago. On the other hand, you two are the only female anthro critics I’ve read (and neither of you are really text book anthro critics either – so you have that in common too), so I might be overstating the similarities for such superficial reasons.

  37. thank you — I think ;-)

    (No, I’m probably not the text book anthro critic. And have no intentions of becoming one ;-) Though I suppose I’m non-text book in another fashion than MacCoun. Not that I have read any of her writings except that text, so I don’t know.)

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