steiner waldorf teacher training and the university of plymouth

This post is complicated to write, I must admit. In short, Daisy, a BA student on the now terminated Steiner waldorf teacher training program at the University of Plymouth contacted me and asked if I were willing to answer some questions related to waldorf criticism. I said I’d do that, if I could do it on the blog. Subsequently, I received the ‘final’ set of questions. (I have posted all of them in full at the end of this post.) I will attempt to discuss a few of them, not all. I will first try to express my concerns about this project in particular and the Steiner program at Plymouth university in general.

These concerns are important. I agreed to discuss the questions because I thought they could lead to interesting discussions. However, I recognize that there is a problematic side to this: one part of the problem is the previously expressed attitudes of students and staff at the Plymouth Steiner program. This background story should certainly not go unmentioned. One staff member and tutor, Alan Swindell, who is also working for the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship (SWSF), has written about waldorf critics in a way that is pretty damning — for him and the SWSF. (A recent SWSF document – pertaining to an intriguing SWSF teachers’ conference in april 2012 at the Rudolf Steiner House, London — confirms that Swindell works at the SWSF and is still tutoring the Plymouth Steiner course.)

I’m not sure one can have confidence in those who teach the Steiner program at Plymouth University or in their students. My bet is, probably not. This, for me, is virtually a non-issue. I’ve written about the questions that have been raised before, and I can’t stop anyone from picking from what I have already written, should they want to include my views in whatever texts they’re writing. I suppose past behaviour displayed by people connected to the Plymouth course gives legitimate cause for concern, but there always is such cause for concern. Therefore I’m going to say, wise from previous mistakes, that I don’t endorse anything. I don’t vouch for anything. I cannot be the judge of what is ok and what is not — you have to work that out for yourself.

I can only discuss those matters and questions I find interesting; that is as far as my own involvement goes. Whoever decides to participate needs to make their own decisions. But before you answer any personal questions, be ware that your answers might very well end up in the hands of the waldorf organisation. There are people who can gain from misusing and abusing any personal information they can find about former parents, especially those who are anonymous. Please do read Swindell’s text and my blog post and the discussion thread about it.

I also want to include here what Daisy herself wrote to me about her project:

… I’m doing this because I think the Waldorf movement generally has not been sufficiently open to criticism and scepticism in the past, and that particularly in light of state funding, more effort needs to be made to engage with critics. [...] although I’m studying Steiner ed I don’t have a personal agenda for or against it, and thus am stepping back and looking at the debate as objectively as I can.

I very much agree with the first part of the quote; and in that context, one must appreciate efforts taking another course. As of yet, I don’t know that there is no agenda, though. And I don’t know the level of objectivity. Most of all, it’s impossible to know what this project (or any data gathered in the process) can be used for once it’s finished; and that, I’m afraid, may be outside Daisy’s control, and certainly outside our control. She also writes that

…I won’t mention names in my work if they don’t want me to, and I don’t have an agenda to portray critics in a negative light, so they can respond in confidence.

I would say though that even if Daisy’s intentions are ‘clean’, there are people involved in Steiner teacher training at Plymouth University that I wouldn’t trust with access to personal information or even my identity (were I anonymous). That has to do with their ties to the waldorf movement and to the SWSF and also with the fact that so much is at stake — money, prestige, PR — for this movement that people might be prepared to use personal information in unethical ways. I wish I could tell you something differently, but this movement has a lot to prove in this department.

steiner, waldorf and anthroposophy at plymouth university

Another cause for concern is that any collaboration or any attention could potentially serve to legitimize waldorf teacher training at universities (but let’s not overestimate the importance of critics). In my opinion, waldorf teacher training has a very long way to go before it should even be considered appropriate for a university program at a public, state-funded university. I don’t think it will happen any time soon — if ever.

Despite having terminated the waldorf teacher training program, there’s still a ‘Steiner-Waldorf/Hereford Academy research project‘ based at the University of Plymouth. The credentials of some of the researchers seemingly amount to long-time involvement in the waldorf movement, for example work within the SWSF. The project claims to include mainstream researchers too, but I would not take their word for it (none of the listed researchers appears to belong to that category). It would be interesting to know what this group of researchers has actually achieved (for example in terms of peer-reviewed articles in mainstream educational journals), but I have no time to investigate it further. Plymouth University ought perhaps investigate this project further, though, as the university affiliation helps boost its academic credibility. As if this was not enough, Plymouth University lends academic credibility to a master’s program in eurythmy. This program is offered by Rudolf Steiner college in Järna, Sweden, together with the university (sorry, no intake 2012!).

I suspect that one of the movement’s major goals right now ought to be to get back into a UK university with their teacher training programs. This background might be worth keeping in mind when pondering Daisy’s questions and perhaps also the reason for them. Given Plymouth University’s involvement in other Steiner activities (mentioned above) perhaps Plymouth is the horse to bet on, despite the fact that the present teacher training was closed down. (Aberdeen would be another interesting possibility.) Plymouth University tells us:

Please note: the University of Plymouth has ceased recruitment to its undergraduate Steiner Waldorf degree courses. However the courses have not closed and students who started in September 2009 will be fully supported throughout their studies. The University of Plymouth remains strongly committed to Steiner Waldorf Education and continues to offer postgraduate and research opportunities in this subject area. It is also actively engaged in discussions with the international Steiner Waldorf community concerning ambitious plans for a range of academic and professional practitioner offers.

One important reason why waldorf teacher training courses (or even waldorf research projects, for that matter) don’t belong in public universities is anthroposophy, the foundation of waldorf education. There is no waldorf teacher training that isn’t anthroposophical. If there were, it would be a failure from all points of view. Even at Plymouth University, the Steiner program reading lists are heavily Steiner-based. Unsurprisingly so, because otherwise these students would not (and should not) be able to thread the professional path they have chosen. It is not, however, the appropriate course material for a university program, which, supposedly, is to have a more scientifically sound basis. Anthroposophy potentially serves well as a personal belief system or spiritual worldview that students can entertain in their spare-time, but it can’t be the very basis for academic studies in the way that it is in waldorf teacher training.

state-funded steiner waldorf schools

Yet another problematic aspect is the current striving to attain state funding for waldorf steiner schools in the UK. One reason for Alan Swindell’s screed last year and his thinly veiled threats against critics was that more people had begun voicing their opposition to the government’s plans to fund these schools. There was already the Hereford Academy, which had been receiving criticism. There was the dubious Woods report, which aimed at paving the way for the funding (more on the Woods). Swindell rightly suspected that were the free school applications to go ahead, and even succeed, the criticism would become more frequent and harsher. For some reason, he did not seem to understand or want to acknowledge that the criticism was legitimate and critics had valid points.

The main potential threat against waldorf teacher training and other anthroposophical courses at public universities and against state-funded Steiner schools is people becoming aware of what these educational ideas consist of or what anthroposophy is, in general, and what impact it has on the practical anthroposophical applications, among them schools. When people know, they will start to ask whether funding is such a splendid idea or whether perhaps there are better things to allocate public resources to. When people begin to realize there is a need to question the merits of anthroposophy in education and other areas, the image that anthroposophical institutions, waldorf organisations and schools and their PR people want to convey of their own work will no longer remain unchallenged.

the background and the context of the project

Some of the background has already been mentioned above. The reason Plymouth Steiner teacher students found their way to this blog was, presumably, Alan Swindell and the post that commented on Swindell’s text in the SWSF newsletter. I can but recommend that you read at least some of the comments on that post, because they form part of the background to Daisy’s project. Of course, it wasn’t originally about this blog; Alan Swindell was, I assume, inspired to write his article when reading the posts at DC’s Improbable Science blog and other online sources that are more influential on the debate in the UK.

At some point, criticism of waldorf education — and possibly Swindell’s efforts to ‘understand’ it — seems have been brought up and discussed in the courses at Plymouth. Suddenly, several (although let’s not again delve into the question of how many they really were) teacher students appeared on this blog. (Daisy was first, so you might decide to begin reading here.) I wasn’t highly impressed by their argumentation. I was very unimpressed by some of the tactics (for example, one of them decided to pretend to be a regular teacher in order to make the arguments superficially more credible). One might suspect the tone of these discussions at the university wasn’t exactly benevolent.

Anyone involved in any way in Daisy’s dissertation work should be explicitly aware of this context in which the project arouse. In a sense, one might actually say that the behaviour of at least one of the Plymouth tutors, Swindell, and the behaviour of the movement at large has made a project such as this one much more complicated than perhaps it ought to be, for the simple reason that neither critics nor anyone else can be expected to have any confidence in the integrity of the project or of the people involved.

personal questions in the questionnaire

Of course, with or without questionnaires you’re able to find out why waldorf critics have criticized waldorf education. The internet is full arguments, opinions and viewpoints; for example, you can find out my views through browsing the posts and comments on this blog, you can read the archives of the waldorf critics list, you can look at websites and blogs and articles all over the internet. Many of those who comment here have already explained their viewpoints on a number of topics both here and elsewhere. So you can certainly write about criticism without relying on a questionnaire. In some ways that would probably be preferable, considering a situation where confidence may be virtually absent.

Most of all, there’s little use posing personal questions, since few people on ‘our’ side of things would be willing to answer them, knowing the background. (To give the Steiner community the benefit of doubt, perhaps their movement doesn’t fully realize how intimidating its tactics and its proponents can be.) Basically, if such questions are going to be of any value at all they must be handled only by people who have shown ethical integrity. Realistically, I can only see that happening with objective researchers who are independent from the movement. People working in or for the movement are not in that position and a student dissertation is still only a student dissertation (and the integrity of Daisy’s supervisors might be more important than Daisy’s own).

Some of the questions Daisy poses are decidedly personal. I’ve said it already, but there’s no guarantee for how the information gained this way can be used. The SWSF should never be allowed to get access to answers to questions like this one: ‘Describe your experience in as much detail as possible, including any problems you had during this time.’ So you need to remember that the people who run the Steiner teacher training have tight connections to the SWSF. In some instances, they are the same people who work for the SWSF. Private and personal question such as these should have been discouraged by the supervisors of this project. I don’t think the Steiner education staff will feel bound by the ethical guidelines of the university once they’re out of there (and perhaps not even as long as they are still in). Anyone who decides to formally respond to the questionnaire should ask to see the research protocol. This protocol should include indications about the context and origins of this research project, among other things.

I personally wonder if the theoretical grounds for criticizing or rejecting waldorf education aren’t more interesting than details about people’s personal lives and experiences. The objection I have here is that if we’re going to deal with the principal, theoretical, philosophical, ideological objections to waldorf education in a meaningful way, a customer survey among satisfied and dissatisfied customers is simply not enough. And the personal questions are more of a customer survey-nature.

In this context — Steiner training at a university, even if it’s only about a student essay — I’d much rather stick to discussing waldorf education, certain elements of it and its foundation and background than to expound on my own experiences and background. Not that such things are secret or can’t be discovered on this very blog, but in my opinion they are not proper subjects for Daisy’s dissertation.

I don’t want to give unnecessary room to the notion (sadly so prevalent among waldorf defenders) that waldorf criticism is due to the (often interpreted as bad and nasty) characteristics of the critic and doesn’t reflect on the movement; it’s all about the critic, not about waldorf education or its actual downsides and failures. Only read Alan Swindell’s text, and you’ll see. There’s a lot like it, and worse, out there. The personal always seems to give waldorf fans a reason to reject criticism. But, naturally, many of those who start to investigate waldorf education, its content and background initially have a personal reason for doing this. Not many others would care or understand the need for it.

My own experiences are decades old, were made in a waldorf school in another country and are completely irrelevant to any dissertation project at a university in the UK. Moreover, they spanned over a nine year period; it’s not something you describe in detail unless you were to write an autobiography.

‘Do you think Waldorf education can exist without anthroposophy? Would it be better off without it?’

This is one of the questions Daisy has included in her questionnaire. I have discussed this question many times before, directly and indirectly. The answer is no (and to the second question: the notion is silly). Waldorf education that does not have anthroposophy as its foundation is waldorf education only to the name, that is, it isn’t waldorf education. What is unique to waldorf education is anthroposophy and ideas, methods, traditions that are derived from anthroposophy. Waldorf education has its basis in the anthroposophical conception of what the human being is, how she’s constituted and how she develops. Waldorf education is anthroposophy applied to the educational context.

For formal reasons, too, waldorf education can’t exist without anthroposophy. Waldorf education is ultimately controlled, not by the PR division at the SWSF, but by anthroposophy itself, that is, by anthroposophical organisations above the local waldorf schools and associations, and they unequivocally say that anthroposophy is its foundation. I recommend this post on the Hague circle: ‘The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”.’ That is the truth. The ECSWE is also clear on the importance of anthroposophy.

Some waldorf school claim something different. That is stupid, and they make claims they shouldn’t be making. But in the aforementioned post you’ll learn, among other important things, that the SWSF also acknowledges that ‘[a]n Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum’ — well, of course! Why would it be different? Anything else would be ridiculous. Anything else would make waldorf education entirely superfluous, no matter what we critics might think of an education founded upon an esoteric belief system. Basically, waldorf schools without an anthroposophical foundation is way more ridiculous than anthroposophical waldorf schools. Simply because they would have lost the point and the reason for being (whatever we might think about their ‘being’).

Without anthroposophy, there’s certainly no point to having waldorf education at all. There’s nothing left — it’s an ordinary school, with extra painting, extra flute-play and extra knitting. But without a foundation. Everything that has to do with what you teach, how you teach, when you teach the stuff you teach comes from anthroposophy. Very basic ideas that govern waldorf education would go out the window. It would be an empty shell — ideologically, philosophically, in every way. A body without a spine. An amusement park without the attractions. It would be of no importance, meaningful to no-one. Not to critics, not to anthroposophists. The manner in which the teacher interacts with the students, the way the teacher observes the students and draws conclusions about them, the means she has to help them — anthroposophy. The colours of the wall. The building design. Virtually nothing would be what it is in a waldorf school without anthroposophy. So what would you even keep that had no anthroposophy in it and still was valuable enough?

If waldorf education is to be of any value — not as a shell but as an institution doing something at least some people can appreciate — it has to remain true to its core. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to go more anthroposophical — openly, honestly, of course. In any case, that is more reasonable than removing anthroposophy. Making the most of what it has that is unique. If there is to be waldorf at all. Naturally, improving the schools in every way possible is paramount. But removing anthroposophy would just make them schools, plain schools. And there are lots of good schools competing for the attention of non-anthroposophist parents. What’s unique to waldorf is that they are anthroposophical, not that they’re particularly good (or academically successful). Anthroposophist parents, of which there still are a few, want a school with an anthroposophical foundation. Any changes to waldorf education, although not impossible, would have to be compatible with anthroposophical ideas. Or, I say it once more, waldorf education is only a name, not an education system built around a specific spiritual and educational philosophy or body of ideas.

the rest of the dissertation questions

I don’t want to delay posting this anymore, and am intending to use the comments section for discussion of other questions. This is the complete set of questions Daisy sent to me. Feel free to discuss any of them in the comment thread. If you want to discuss them or anything else with Daisy but don’t want to do it in the thread, I’m happy to get you in touch with her.

“Can the Steiner Waldorf schools movement break out of its niche by engaging with its critics?”

Questions for critics

What are/were the nature & extent of your involvement with the Waldorf world? (e.g. ex-parent/ex-pupil) Describe your experience in as much detail as possible, including any problems you had during this time.

What key criticisms do you have of the school(s) you were involved with? Do these criticisms apply, in your opinion, to the Waldorf movement as a whole?

Is your negative view of Waldorf informed to a greater extent by direct experience, or by what you have read from other people or of Rudolf Steiner’s writings? Or have both factors had an equal influence on your views?

What is your attitude towards anthroposophy and/or Rudolf Steiner?

What are your motives for airing your critical views of Waldorf on the internet? For example, is it a cathartic way of healing from a negative experience, or do you hope to influence parents who are considering this type of education for their child, or campaign against state funding for Steiner schools, etc.?

Have you ever engaged directly with Waldorf proponents who have challenged your views? What was the outcome of this? How well (or not) do you think criticism and scepticism is handled by the movement?

Can you identify anything positive about Steiner education, whether from your own experience of that of others?

Do you think Waldorf education can exist without anthroposophy? Would it be better off without it?

Do you believe Waldorf education has a future? If so, how would you like to see it change? Or would you prefer it ceased to exist?

What is your view of state schools? How do you think state education could be improved, if at all?

Do you think a fusion of the Steiner methods with other educational methods is possible/desirable?

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92 comments

  1. From a quick skim-read before I go to bed, this seems like a fair introduction to my dissertation, given the context. I understand your hesitation, and perhaps some of the questions relating to your personal experience are too, well, personal. Thanks for doing this, anyway. I look forward to the discussion (and controversy?) that will probably ensue!

    Couldn’t help noticing this:
    “A recent SWSF document – pertaining to an intriguing SWSF teachers’ conference in april 2101″

    They sure are planning ahead ;)

  2. Daisy – what’s your research protocol?

  3. Daisy — Haha! Oh dear! That might be the first conference in the next cultural epoch or something!

    (It’s supposed to be 2012. Not even 2011. So not only is the order wrong, the numbers are wrong too… WIll have to edit that.)

  4. ukanthroposophy · ·

    When conducting research of this kind it’s standard procedure for the student to offer or provide proof of student ID together with contact details of the academic supervisors of your project.

    Alicia has presumably already checked on this but it can’t hurt to have it confirmed so, Daisy, please provide us proof of who you are and what you’re doing by providing the following information:

    - name of the course are you currently enrolled on and place of study
    - your full name and your university email address
    - name, university email address and telephone number of your dissertation supervisor(s)

    Forgive my caution but for all I know ‘Daisy’ could be the latest incarnation of Sune.

  5. Just to make clear: I have not checked on anything. Anyone who wishes to participate must check and judge for themselves. This is very deliberate: I’m taking no responsibility whatsoever. Whether Daisy even exists as a student on that program is beyond my certain knowledge.

    For me personally it doesn’t matter — I’ve written about the same things before and I can’t stop anyone from readin or using my arguments or opinions or experiences. That is the reason I’m not overly concerned with the questions asked by UKanthroposophy. I understand other people ought to be but I’m not going to put myself in a place where I guarantee them anything on behalf of someone else.

    So I really have to emphasize: do *not* think I have checked those things and therefore this project and Daisy are ok.

  6. Oh I see, a can of worms.
    I would just like to warn anyone considering participating that I am recieving nuisance phone calls since having written letters about waldorf to my local newspaper. This has never happened to me before and so far the calls have not been traced.(this is in hand).
    I have never used any name but my own in print or on line, as I do not see why I should be frightened of doing so.
    Clearly people here are already cautious and as Alicia says it is as well to prepare oneself for any consequences of taking part in this kind of study.

  7. OK, here’s my university email address: daisy.powell[at]students.plymouth.ac.uk . The course is a BA in Steiner Waldorf Education at within the Faculty of Education at Plymouth University. I’ll have to check with my tutor before I give you his email address.

    My research involves scouring the web for criticism, counter-criticism and everything in between, as well as sending the above list of questions to critics and a different set of questions to Waldorf teachers, teacher trainers, parents, etc. I’ll show you those questions if you like (already sent them to Alicia). I haven’t had a great deal of responses because apparently both the Waldorf world and the critics are suspicious of me. I suppose I can see why!

  8. Daisy I am wondering what were your reasons for enrolling on this course?
    I note that you say
    ” I don’t have a personal agenda for or against it, and thus am stepping back and looking at the debate as objectively as I can.”
    Does that mean you began the BA purely for philosophical reasons, with no intention of applying what you learn about Steiner Waldorf education practically?
    Have you already qualified as a teacher in mainstream education or are you a parent at a Waldorf school?
    I am just interested in why someone with no personal agenda would consider it worth spending 3 or 4 years studying a subject they are ambivalent about. One may spend years studying a subject with no clear idea of how they will apply it in practise, but the title of this course does suggest students are intending to use their qualification in a specific way.
    When I was studying for a BEd and mentioned to my tutor I may not go in to teaching after all, she advised me to ‘keep quiet’ about it as my indecision would be frowned upon.
    Maybe you have encountered something similar if you are not committed to Waldorf teaching as a career?

  9. Helen — an extraordinarily stupid way of reacting to opinions they don’t like. I wonder what whoever is making the calls is trying to achieve. Hopefully you can find out whom they’re from.

    In general — it’s a pity the waldorf/steiner program doesn’t even seem to have its own page on the uni’s website. That would be the ‘normal’ thing, even though the program is closing down. Would be very surprised to find that any department at Stockholm uni didn’t have its own page, listing those who work there, what they are doing, et c. But there’s very little on the steiner/waldorf program.

    I have to say, too, that I know very little about how these things are conducted in a discipline such as education. When I wrote my final essay in law (a masters, 4,5 years of study) some years ago, there were very few formal requirements. It was a solely theoretical treatise and I didn’t need to ask people questions, which may make a difference. I wasn’t even registered properly with the uni and a supervisor until I was more or less done. Research protocols and stuff — I know nothing about it, and am very grateful I didn’t need to ;-)

    Daisy — ‘…apparently both the Waldorf world and the critics are suspicious of me.’ — I think this is a huge problem in general. In a way it’s unfortunate to have to emphasize that the problem does exist — as I’ve done in my post — as its bound to increase it. In the end, perhaps, there’s something good to come of it anyway. I’m still stupid enough to think there are decent people in the waldorf movement, and I know there are those on the other side (supposedly mine) who aren’t. Nuff said.

  10. Helen — those are some very interesting questions!

  11. I started the course because I liked the diversity of subjects we’d be studying – art, philosophy, music, social and educational issues – and at the time I was very much into esotericism and spirituality, which made anthroposophy appealing to me. However, despite being open-minded to diverse ideas, I’ve always been a critical thinker and over the past year I’ve developed a more sceptical attitude towards Steiner and anthroposophy. When I read critical views I can usually understand and sympathise with them, but then I see good things about the Waldorf movement as well, things which mainstream education is lacking. It isn’t black or white for me. When I say I don’t have a personal agenda, I mean I entered into this with a completely open mind, not needing to prove that Steiner education is right and the critics are wrong, or vice versa.

    No, I’m not a qualified teacher or a Waldorf parent. Surprisingly few people on my course are going straight into teaching at a Steiner school. Some have applied for PGCEs as they want to be state teachers. Others feel they aren’t ready to teach yet. Personally I went through a phase of wanting to go straight into teaching, but now I don’t have any clear plans for after the course and my tutors are aware of this.

  12. ukanthroposophy · ·

    Daisy, you could email me your tutor’s email address and his telephone number. My contact details and information about me can be found on my blog over at
    http://ukanthroposophy.wordpress.com/

    As stated on my blog, confidentiality is assured, something I’ve stuck to for the five years and more I’ve been researching the UK Anthroposophy movement.

  13. Seems like an interesting iniative, Daisy, and I intend to give you at least some partial answers later. I think an honest dialogue between critics and people who are more or less close to anthroposophy can be fruitful. I can see that happening quite a few times here at the cafe. Which makes it perfect for a “participant observation” research strategy.

    And I have a question, which you might have answered already somewhere; will the final report be available on the net?

  14. I am still interested in an actual research protocol. “Scouring the web” on a particular topic – while a worthwhile activity in itself and something I’ve spent copious amounts of time doing as well – isn’t a research protocol. I would like to see the actual plan for the project. In other words, what are your search criteria? What search engine(s) are you using and what search terms? Where online are you posting your requests for interviews, and how have you selected those sites or forums? Is your search limited to a particular time period or particular languages? To come up with research results that have any validity, it is far too vague to simply”scour the web for criticism.” All you will be able to conclude from that is that there is a lot of it, which hardly takes a research project to determine.

    After your material is collected, how will you analyze it? What are you looking for in the data, in other words? For instance, you might be trying to analyze differences in criticism of young versus older schools, or public versus private Waldorf, or European versus American, or the attitudes of parents versus the attitudes of students, or you might focus on criticism of a particular aspect of Waldorf/Steiner – academics (or even better a particular piece of academics, e.g., reading or math or science); pedagogy; art; sports; discipline; role of anthroposophy in the culture of the school; or … there are hundreds of other possible variables. What form will the final report take, that is, what will this be a report ON? Will you publish all the interviews, with or without names removed? If some interviews are anonymous and some are not, how will you account for the differences in reporting your results?

    I do hope your project has somewhat more “shape” and academic credibility than you’ve explained thus far. I’m sure your tutor has counseled you that without a much more specific focus than you’ve explained so far, it would be impossible to produce “research” that shed light on any particular question.

  15. All of this is said not to discourage people from replying to Daisy if they find it valuable to do so, but OTOH, life is short, and I’d be wary of giving my time and energy to an ill-focused “research project” that would likely have its findings repeated ad nauseum all over the Web, whether or not they have any validity. Daisy needs to show that her project is not only bona fide but has the guidance of someone (the tutor) who is him- or herself qualified to supervise research. Otherwise, we’ve already got lots of people, myself included, opining online about Waldorf. Critics are rightly distressed to read about Waldorf “research” that, well, isn’t research, yet gets cited as if it proved something. My personal feeling is, let’s not contribute to THAT.

  16. The title is, “Can the Steiner Waldorf schools movement break out of its niche by engaging with its critics?”. Implicit in the title is the fact that schools are applying for state funding in the UK, which would make them accessible to a far greater demographic than they have previously been. I feel that if schools want taxpayers’ money, it’s only fair that they address criticisms and concerns openly, and with my dissertation, I would like to kick-start that process. It’s probably a lofty “ill-focused” goal, but that won’t stop me from trying.

  17. Anonymous · ·

    Still waiting to hear who the tutor is, any ETA on that please?

  18. ukanthroposophy · ·

    Scuse my anon comment above, dropped my WordPress log-in thingy for a bit.

  19. It isn’t implicit in that title that the schools are applying for state funding in the UK – you might want to redraft that.

    How are you going to test whether the schools can break out of their niche by engaging with their critics? Possibly you could analyze specific scenarios where Waldorf proponents have “engaged with their critics” and analyze whether they were successful in some way. (An easier variable to measure is “perceived” success, rather than actual success.)

    What counts as “engagement” and what counts as “successful”? What outcomes will you analyze? Is a “successful outcome” for the schools to GET state funding? Does “break out of their niche” actually mean “get state funding”? Surely you’re aware that critics and proponents are going to define “successful outcome” rather differently. You need to focus this question quite a bit more than you have thus far explained.

  20. Ok, life is short, and of course Diana’s questions are perfectly valid. But the investigation could be seen as a kind of dialogue. No research is needed to predict that whatever Daisy writes will be selectively or blindly interpreted by some anthroposophists as showing support for waldorf education. Or how ill-founded criticism is. That has been the case for the Dahlin report, the Austrian PISA study and even our occasional dialogue partner Jan Luiten doesn’t seem to hesitate recommending a Dutch report. Which, if the results were known to parents, would scare away most who aren’t committed esotericists. And make school authorities think twice.

    To be fair, if you give too much information in an invitation to online reseach, you will discourage people from responding. For me, the important point is if there will be open access to the final report or not. If not, I would rather spend my time researching the waldorf-critic-critics ;-)

  21. “if you give too much information in an invitation to online reseach, you will discourage people from responding. For me, the important point is if there will be open access to the final report or not.”

    True. I know I’m being very harsh and demanding. Chalk it up to years of such interactions, where attention to basic points of “critical thinking” are ignored or even considered evil by anthroposophists and their defenders. Many people consider themselves “critical thinkers” and haven’t the faintest idea what that even means – all they mean is they once thought a critical thought about something. They have little or no appreciation of how to think about something critically in a structured way, nor any idea why anyone else might ask for this, or be skeptical of research findings otherwise. I’m afraid these are not exactly hot topics in Steiner teacher training programs.

    The research protocol doesn’t need to be outlined in detail in an introductory solicitation to participate, but it should certainly be immediately available on request.

    Whether there will be open access to the final report is certainly important; if it contains even a few positive remarks about Waldorf education – which it certainly will – these will appear on wikipedia within a few hours, and the source will likely be fiercely defended as academic and thus credible.

    So while I totally realize I come across as a total bitch on wheels, I do think throwing up a few roadblocks to this at the very start of her project isn’t going to hurt her project in the long run, if it’s legitimate (which I assume it is). If she hasn’t thought about some of these things, then well she should before spending hundreds of hours on such a project.

    Daisy, it can only enhance the credibility of any findings you publish, to attend to these annoying questions upfront. And I’m sure you can understand why if you are not, in fact, conducting research in a rigorous fashion, critics are going to make sure that fact is publicized along with your findings.

  22. Hello everyone — I’m in a bit of a hurry, so I’ve only had a brief look on what you’ve been saying this afternoon (or morning, depending on where you are!).

    Right now I only have time to recommend Peter Staudenmaier’s comment on a couple of Daisy’s questions:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/23428

    Worth reading!

  23. “To come up with research results that have any validity, it is far too vague to simply”scour the web for criticism.” All you will be able to conclude from that is that there is a lot of it, which hardly takes a research project to determine.”

    Yes there is a lot of it, but the same points crop up over and over again. I’ve identified the most common criticisms to determine whether they pertain to actual practice in schools, or the underlying philosophy, or both; and whether the Steiner movement has responded adequately to oft-voiced concerns, and if not, whether it can/is willing to respond at all. The subjective part involves my assessing whether criticisms are founded or not, and whether the Waldorf movement’s rebuttals are satisfactory or not.

    “It isn’t implicit in that title that the schools are applying for state funding in the UK – you might want to redraft that.”

    It is explained in the introduction to my dissertation. By implicit, I meant that when I came up with the title, I had the issue of state funding in mind. To rephrase it: Can the Waldorf movement become accessible to a wider demographic than its current middle-class niche (which can only happen if it receives state funding) by responding to its critics? And if it can’t respond in a satisfactory manner to criticism, then should it be state funded at all?

    So, Diana: “Does “break out of their niche” actually mean “get state funding”?” – pretty much, as I said, they can ONLY break of out the niche and become more accessible through state funding.

    “How are you going to test whether the schools can break out of their niche by engaging with their critics? Possibly you could analyze specific scenarios where Waldorf proponents have “engaged with their critics” and analyze whether they were successful in some way.”

    I did pose a question of this kind to Waldorf proponents in my questionnaire, yes. But a ‘successful outcome’ is not necessarily what I’m aiming for. Maybe seeing more openness from the Steiner movement and a willingness to debate without becoming defensive? To find the essence of what is good and practical about Waldorf (because I think it has its positive aspects, though I’m probably alone in that here), and separate that out from the dogma and mysticism that plagues it? I don’t know. Good questions!

  24. A bit off-topic:

    Diana, one of many reasons why I got involved in investigating Waldorf, was that I was irritated at foolish media interpretations of statistics. You rarely see more than two variables and a stupid one-way causal relationship. Make one of the variables men/women or girls/boys and you have an attention-grabbing piece demanding practically no journalistic work.

    So I was searching for “good” examples of false statistical reasoning, intended for use in schools. Then I stumbled upon the Dahlin report. I even wrote a sketch of an analysis of it (the report itself is probably too complicated to be of use in a school). To make a long story short, I got more than I bargained for and one thing led to another.

    Anyway, you say some interesting things about critical thinking. I know there already is a lot of academic works on that subject. And even books intended for school use on various levels. You or other visitors here don’t happen to have any favourites or links about developing critical thinking?

  25. Yes, Ulf – dialogue is what I want!

    Trying to get the OK from my tutor about passing on his details, if not I should be able to get confirmation from my faculty.

    Yes, I’m happy for the final assignment to be widely accessible, because, although critics and proponents alike might not agree with some of my conclusions, I’m going to be absolutely fair and objective as I can be in my analysis. I’m not going to be demonising anyone. And I don’t mind if it gets picked apart.

    Thanks for linking to Peter Staudenmaier’s response, I might have to get involved with the yahoo group.

  26. I have a letter written by my tutor confirming my legitimacy, with his contact details included, in a Word doc format. Before I send it to anyone, my concerns are that:

    a) His contact details may be misused. The trust goes both ways.

    and that

    b) jumping through this particular hoop is a pointless exercise anyway, because people will find other reasons not to get involved in my project.

    Nevertheless, feel free to email me on my university address, given above, and if I’m happy that everything’s in order then I’ll send it to you.

  27. Daisy, the yahoo group is involved in a weird kind of dialogue with a waldorf-critic-critic group. This is a good place to get a quick sense of one of their more peculiar attitudes towards critics:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anthroposophy_tomorrow/message/48110

    Studying more or less successful attempts at dialogue could be a very interesting context for your main research questions.

    Perhaps Diana could tell us more about how anthroposophists view dialogue, criticism and “opposing forces” (I’m quite sure there are some peculiar notions there which I haven’t fully understood yet, apart from a Steiner quote directly discouraging dialogue) Perhaps on the Waldorf Critics list which would immediately get the attention of the “Anthroposophy Tomorrow” list. And then we could all enjoy observing ourselves ;-)

  28. Ulf – what on earth was that? (in the link you provided). It’s almost unreadable.

  29. Anonymous · ·

    how can you do a masters in eurythmy?

  30. Daisy – sorry, I should have realized and warned you that the post is incomrehensible without more context. If you check out some of the later messages on the list, you will find that the participants excel in name-calling of individuals and groups. Critics on the Waldorf Critics group (labeled a “hate group”) are called “Sugar Cherubs”, more or less crazy anthroposophists are called “Adorable Darlings”, Diana and Peter Staudenmaier are given more or less condescending nicknames. This was the first post I found searching for the expression “Sugar Cherubs”. There seems to be some tough spiritual paradoxes involved in critizizing or directly attacking critics while at the same time acting in a loving way

  31. ‘Ulf – what on earth was that? (in the link you provided). It’s almost unreadable.’

    Daisy, it is unreadable… don’t worry. I don’t read it. I don’t want to know if I’m a ‘sugar cherub’ or Heinrich Himmler this week.

    ‘And even books intended for school use on various levels. You or other visitors here don’t happen to have any favourites or links about developing critical thinking?’

    Here’s one for children that I saw the other week: http://youtu.be/iSZ3BUru59A

    (It’s a series in several parts.)

    I only have time to respond to one thing right now, and I chose this:

    ‘Can the Waldorf movement become accessible to a wider demographic than its current middle-class niche (which can only happen if it receives state funding) by responding to its critics?’

    Like Diana, I didn’t see the state funding implication in the earlier version of the project ‘title’. I thought you meant coming out of its niche in a sort of mental isolation way. Like, they’re off there, not speaking to many people but ‘their own’. Didn’t occur to me that that line had to do with funding!

    Personally, I don’t think there’s much chance waldorf appeals to a wider demographic — it will continue to be a middle class choice, funding or not. It has appeals for people with certain values, aesthetics, ideas…

  32. Daisy – “The subjective part involves my assessing whether criticisms are founded or not,”

    ?! That seems a rather tall order, Daisy. I admire your enthusiasm for the project and I know everyone thinks I am being quite harsh but if I were your tutor I would be telling you FOCUS THIS ‘cus you’re just all over the place.

    As for providing information about your tutor etc., that is not “jumping through hoops” and it doesn’t matter if someone then decides not to complete your survey. That’s just how research is done. I’m not planning to complete the survey – at least not officially – I’ll likely get drawn into the ensuing discussion anyway.

    Ulf – sorry, I don’t have any specific links regarding critical thinking. I don’t think it can be picked up from superficial instruction; I think it’s got to be cultivated from an early age and be inherent in the whole philosophy of education.

    No, I don’t advise getting involved reading “anthroposophy tomorrow” – I’m embarrassed by my own involvement there. I have a long running dysfunctional thing with Tarjei Straume, he thinks he’s toying with me and I think I’m toying with him when in reality we’re both pathetic. Others are telling me as well to knock it off because it is unreadable and drives people away from critics.

  33. Diana — I managed to spam mark your comment from the phone (I was going to read it, not bin it… my fingers are too clumsy), had to start to computer to de-spam it… Sorry if it just disappeared mysteriously for a while there. Re Tarjei — I don’t think you should knock it off (unless you wanted to, in which case it would be different). The only time I bother with it is when you comment on something. So then I sometimes read. But in general, I prefer to stay away from AT.

  34. My wife studied eurythmy, it was her life and she loved it.
    It was traumatic for her to finally realise that it was not real. Anthroposophy has much to answer for.

  35. Actually I don’t recommend following or interacting with the Anthroposophy Tomorrow group. But I think it could be worth studying. Occasionally …

    And I’ll continue to reflect on the possibilities of integrating critical thinking in a variety of school subjects. And what can be done in the early ages.

  36. ‘how can you do a masters in eurythmy?’

    I have no idea.

    But there is a eurythmist who wrote a doctoral dissertation on eurythmy! It’s about its history though. http://bit.ly/GP3Osi

    Returning to a few things earlier in the thread.

    Daisy wrote:

    ‘To find the essence of what is good and practical about Waldorf (because I think it has its positive aspects, though I’m probably alone in that here), and separate that out from the dogma and mysticism that plagues it?’

    Most of the parents here probably saw lots of positive aspects too. I think they can remember that. There was a reason they chose this kind of education, after all. I don’t think you can get rid of the mysticism though. Without making waldorf a shell.

    ‘Yes there is a lot of it, but the same points crop up over and over again. I’ve identified the most common criticisms to determine whether they pertain to actual practice in schools, or the underlying philosophy, or both; and whether the Steiner movement has responded adequately to oft-voiced concerns, and if not, whether it can/is willing to respond at all. The subjective part involves my assessing whether criticisms are founded or not, and whether the Waldorf movement’s rebuttals are satisfactory or not.’

    I think you’re off in the deep end! Honestly, I suspect that to be able to assess whether the criticisms are founded or not, you’d need more familiarity with waldorf — its theory, practice, background (incl anthroposophy) — and more familiarity with an an understanding of what critics are saying. What I’m thinking here is that it’s really a project that would require more time, attention and resources than you’re able to give it within the scope of a BA dissertation. Maybe I’m saying this because I see a risk here: if you pronounce that a certain criticism is unfounded, you’ll give the movement a reason to dismiss all arguments of the same kind. Let’s say you find a fault in my argument above about the inseparability of waldorf and anthroposophy, thus it would be ‘unfounded’. The waldorf schools that want to pretend anthroposophy plays no role would then have their marketing deception justified: waldorf is not anthroposophy (they’d jump to any conclusion that suits them). Well, I don’t manage to make the example illuminating enough, but suffice to say: it’s quite a tricky business, to judge whether a specific criticism (in all its nuances, with *all* its arguments to back it up) is valid or not, and it’s a business that may have consequences. (I mean, detrimental consequences for any discussion between the waldorf movement, critics and the rest of the world.)

  37. What kind of confuses me is that few of the questions (thinking about Daisy’s questions to critics now) have much to do with the actual points of criticism of waldorf education. Are examples of points of criticism — and the arguments for these criticisms — to come from researching already existing texts and discussions on the internet rather than through the questionnaire?

    That aside, I’ll try to tackle another topic.

    ‘Can you identify anything positive about Steiner education, whether from your own experience of that of others?’

    Some people apparently like it; I guess that must be counted as a positive. It’s a prettier environment than mainstream schools. I don’t think the children care all that much about that, however. I assume that for children who like to paint wet-on-wet, sing, play flute, do eurythmy those activities are ‘positive’. I think lots of fairytales and stories is good. I don’t think any of the things that are good are unique to waldorf though, even though looking at waldorf PR you get that impression. For example, waldorf did not invent the fairytale. Using natural materials, which many parents seem to fall for, doesn’t need to be a waldorf ‘thing’ either. More importantly — these are the more superficial qualities. Is there anything positive about the core philosophy that is positive? In the theory of development according to anthroposophy? Temperaments? The belief that children are incarnating (in this life, and reincarnating in the bigger perspective) and that teachers are to assist them in this process? Is there anything positive in immersing children in a worldview where the ‘unseen’ is so important and critical thinking so unimportant? Where intellectual pursuits are considered unsuitable for young children? Where wacky beliefs determine whether children are ready to start school or not? Where children are deliberately kept behind their peers in mainstream schools when academic school subjects are concerned? Where reading and writing is delayed as much as possible (you should know that in Sweden, where children can start school as late as at 7, waldorf schools still want to delay teaching reading and writing)? Just because anthroposophical belief is that children before a certain age can’t do, don’t need or might even be harmed by certain activities, doesn’t actually mean this is true or good. So when we get close to the core of waldorf education, I’m sure there’s more confusion than good to be had, while you find the good things on the surface.

    So on the one hand there are the superficial aspects that people often fall for. They’re fairly easy to like or at least it’s not too difficult to understand why some people might like them (even if you hated the flute yourself). On the other, there is the foundation upon which this is all built. Sure, anthroposophy is enjoyable. Whether there’s anything positive about it, when applied to education, I’m far less sure of. My hunch (and experience) is that these beliefs and ideas have a potential to cause much unnecessary harm.

  38. Although this is an interesting post to discuss on the blog I find myself repelled by the thought of someone so immersed in Waldorf as Daisy using to further her ambitions, and put letters after her name in such a ridiculous manner.
    The course is being terminated and I am grateful for that.
    I am sad that Plymouth a city I love, (I was born there) should be associated with Waldorf education. My son considered studying there, I would certainly not consider encouraging another child to apply.
    I am not even a ‘survivor’ just disgusted by the way through Waldorf, religion/occultism is finding a way to infiltrate education by the dissemination of false information.

  39. “Like Diana, I didn’t see the state funding implication in the earlier version of the project ‘title’. I thought you meant coming out of its niche in a sort of mental isolation way. Like, they’re off there, not speaking to many people but ‘their own’.”

    Yes, that’s another facet of the ‘niche’ phenomenon.

    “Personally, I don’t think there’s much chance waldorf appeals to a wider demographic — it will continue to be a middle class choice, funding or not. It has appeals for people with certain values, aesthetics, ideas…”

    Interesting, perhaps you are right. But I am constantly plagued by the question…..what if ‘Waldorf’ isn’t what everyone thinks it is? What if it isn’t the wax crayons, the knitted gnomes, the peach walls…. I’m thinking of Stephen Sagarin’s article here. http://southerncrossreview.org/68/sagarin-waldorf.htm . But I suppose that, as far as state funding is concerned, we’re talking about what already exists in Waldorf schools, not what Waldorf theoretically could or should be.

    “That seems a rather tall order, Daisy. I admire your enthusiasm for the project and I know everyone thinks I am being quite harsh but if I were your tutor I would be telling you FOCUS THIS ‘cus you’re just all over the place.”

    I do have a focus, I don’t see what the problem is. Nor does my tutor. I think what I’m doing is fine for an undergraduate dissertation. I’m not seeking to become the ultimate authority on this subject, or conduct ‘official research’ for the Waldorf movement which will end up on Wikipedia within five minutes (as somebody suggested)! I chose this topic because I have a personal interest in it – I take the criticism seriously and I want to investigate it. Was I naive to think you guys would welcome the idea a bit more than you are?!

    “Maybe I’m saying this because I see a risk here: if you pronounce that a certain criticism is unfounded, you’ll give the movement a reason to dismiss all arguments of the same kind”

    I’m not going to do any such thing. All criticism is valid in the sense that it’s worth considering, but the kinds that I’d give less credibility to would be sweeping generalisations (“Waldorf schools tolerate bullying because it’s the child’s karma”) and accusations from people that have no direct experience with schools and are just repeating what they’ve heard from others. I would never invalidate anyone’s personal negative experiences, and if there is a philosophical argument (such as yours pertaining to whether waldorf can be separated from anthroposophy) that is well-reasoned, I’m not going to tear it to shreds.

    As for this:
    “if you pronounce that a certain criticism is unfounded, you’ll give the movement a reason to dismiss all arguments of the same kind.”

    Lol, you assume that ‘the movement’ is paying any attention to what I’m doing, or cares about my conclusions. They may well be as wary of me as you are.

  40. Sorry, got carried away above and quoted the same sentence twice.

    “I find myself repelled by the thought of someone so immersed in Waldorf as Daisy using to further her ambitions, and put letters after her name in such a ridiculous manner.”

    What ambitions? How immersed in Waldorf am I?

    “I am sad that Plymouth a city I love, (I was born there) should be associated with Waldorf education.”

    This is a tad melodramatic. It hasn’t exactly tarnished the reputation of the city (or even the university) in any way. Nobody here has heard of Waldorf.

  41. Good things?
    Oh yes, the food. Even Jamie Oliver couldn’t improve on that.

  42. ‘Lol, you assume that ‘the movement’ is paying any attention to what I’m doing, or cares about my conclusions. They may well be as wary of me as you are.’

    If you come to conclusions they like, I’m sure they will be more likely to pay attention ;-) (I’m not so wary of you, btw — I’ve babbled so much already, I think I’m beyond the point where it still pays to be wary! ;-))

    Re unfounded criticism: ‘I’m not going to do any such thing.’

    It sounded like you were going to make some kind of judgement on it — and, having seen waldorf proponents in action, I’m sure how they ultimately would use it (provided they paid attention) would be in such a way as to perhaps not represent the, er, complexity.

    ‘the kinds that I’d give less credibility to would be sweeping generalisations (“Waldorf schools tolerate bullying because it’s the child’s karma”)’

    Actually, that, in my view, is a very real problem — although it is hardly the only reason that waldorf schools tolerate bullying when they shouldn’t. It’s one factor that plays a part in some cases. So I wouldn’t call it a sweeping generalisation — if I were to rephrase this criticism as ‘there is sometimes a tendency in waldorf schools to interpret bullying in anthroposophical terms and therefore to remain passive, instead of intervening’, that, to me, would not be a sweeping generalisation but a criticism with some substantial truth to it. And worth taking seriously! But I can vividly imagine a waldorf proponent thinking that your pronouncement on this — let’s say you reject the criticism as a sweeping generalisation, without leaving room for the kind of argument I just used as an example — can be used to debunk the entire notion: ‘research shows that the accusations that bullying is tolerated because of karma is completely wrong’… just making making up what they could say, but you get the drift, I think. It would be a pity, since there’s definitely reason to take the karma angle seriously indeed.

    ‘But I am constantly plagued by the question…..what if ‘Waldorf’ isn’t what everyone thinks it is? What if it isn’t the wax crayons, the knitted gnomes, the peach walls….’

    That is, for what it’s worth, exactly what I’m saying too: waldorf isn’t about wax crayons, et c. But the other things waldorf is have even less appeal than the wax crayons. And, moreover, the other appeals are way more complex. It is middle class parents who have the time to fuss about their children’s education. They research schools. They go online, they do all these things, make choices… In some ways, it’s even more basic than about what the school looks like or their philosophical underpinnings or any of these questions that might arise for middle class parents. It’s the difference between parents making choices — and having the knowledge and general personal resources to do so — and parents not making choices. And this would remain, even if waldorf schools were different than what they appear to be. (Which they actually are, in my opinion, but not in a way that would attract other, new groups of customers!) Even if there were something to what Sagarin writes. They still would be for middle class parents. I think that’s inevitable. But the fact is, waldorf schools, as they manifest in the world, appear in a certain way, have a certain appeal, no matter what is ‘behind’ — and I don’t see that changing either. And this is what we have to reckon with — not all of what they potentially could be, if everything in the world was different! Funding won’t change that.

  43. ukanthroposophy · ·

    OK I’ve had confirmation direct from Daisy’s tutor she is undertaking this research as part and parcel of her BA studies at plymouth. Thanks Daisy for your help in sorting this out for me.

  44. ‘It hasn’t exactly tarnished the reputation of the city (or even the university) in any way.’

    Frankly, I think it can tarnish the reputation of the university to be associated with programs that are academically of low quality. That is always the case — and that risk is certainly there with Steiner courses.

    ‘Nobody here has heard of Waldorf.’

    Well, that is unfortunate! It is, actually.

  45. Just saw this

    “What kind of confuses me is that few of the questions (thinking about Daisy’s questions to critics now) have much to do with the actual points of criticism of waldorf education.”

    True. I hoped that the points of criticism would be touched upon in some of the questions, but as you suggested, criticisms and the reasoning behind them are widely available on the internet, so there isn’t a great need to go over that in depth in the questionnaire. What also interests me though, as you can see from the other questions, is how many critics have had direct experience and to what extent they are influenced by that – or if they are arguing against W.E. largely on philosophical grounds. For many people it’s probably both factors influencing their views. And I think both reasons are valid, BTW.

    I’m also interested to know how critics envision the future of Waldorf, if it has one or not, and whether there’s an end goal or not – who are you hoping to influence with your writing? I’m just repeating the questions….. rather than talking ABOUT the questions, I’d prefer that people answered them! ;) if that’s not going to happen I can’t spend much more time on this, really.

  46. “if I were to rephrase this criticism as ‘there is sometimes a tendency in waldorf schools to interpret bullying in anthroposophical terms and therefore to remain passive, instead of intervening’, that, to me, would not be a sweeping generalisation but a criticism with some substantial truth to it. And worth taking seriously!”

    Absolutely!!

    “let’s say you reject the criticism as a sweeping generalisation, without leaving room for the kind of argument I just used as an example”

    That would be dishonest of me because I am very aware of the kind of argument you just gave. There will be plenty of room for nuanced arguments in my essay. That’s what it’s about, nothing’s black-or-white.

    Thanks for verifying that, ukanthroposophy.

  47. Daisy says
    “….. rather than talking ABOUT the questions, I’d prefer that people answered them!”
    Can’t she see, thats what we love to do here?

    Speculating on the questions for parents, I wonder if they contain the words occultism, clairvoyance, hierarchies, race, or quack medicine?

  48. Helen – Why don’t you address me directly? Would you like to see the questions I’ve sent to Steiner proponents?

  49. Ha, Alicia, if you put me in spam I didn’t notice, I was sleeping :) probably appropriate anyway …

  50. Daisy: “I do have a focus, I don’t see what the problem is. Nor does my tutor. ”

    I get that that you don’t see a problem, and the fact that your tutor doesn’t either doesn’t surprise me. *That* is the problem. You don’t have academic guidance here. You’re in a program that is not too credible academically, which is why it’s being cancelled, and it’s not surprising that you’ve been assigned to do a research paper but haven’t been introduced to research methods. You’re trying to do research and haven’t had anyone explain to you how it’s done. It isn’t “scouring the web” for stuff and then interviewing people and writing up what you think about it. That’s an interesting and worthwile activity, but it isn’t research – not even at the undergraduate level.

    I’m sorry to sound so nasty, you are obviously very well intentioned and smart and enthusiastic, all of which should be encouraged, but not in that program. You should consider enrolling in a more credible academic program if you want to do research – I’m sure you’re quite capable.

  51. I doubt parents will be asked to comment on anything that would awaken them to the nature of anthroposophy and the way it is put into practice without their informed consent.
    Few parents would consider occultism a desirable foundation for their child’s education and yet that is what they are unwittingly signing up for.

  52. Diana — good, I managed to pick you up again before you noticed where I’d sent you ;-)

    Daisy and everyone — if it’s any help, I can post the other set of questions (add them to the blog post after the critics questions). If you want me to do that, send them to me. If pro-steiner people have things they like to add to this thread, to the questions, to the responses so far — they are of course very welcome. It could become more interesting that way.

  53. Fair enough, Diana. I’m going to continue with the project as planned.

    Hello Helen, are you talking to me? The document for parents, teachers etc does contain challenging questions, including the words occult, religion, and racism. I’d post the list of questions here, but why bother when you’d prefer to stick to your assumptions and disdainfully refuse to engage with me directly.

  54. Oh, just to pick up on Diana’s concerns again: all our work is moderated by an external, independent examiner, so I hope that if my assignment is academically sub-par, this will be reflected in the mark.

  55. Questions for critics

    “What are/were the nature & extent of your involvement with the Waldorf world? (e.g. ex-parent/ex-pupil) Describe your experience in as much detail as possible, including any problems you had during this time.”

    I won’t go into detail on this one. My experience with Waldorf is detailed exhaustively on my blog: http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/

    “What key criticisms do you have of the school(s) you were involved with? Do these criticisms apply, in your opinion, to the Waldorf movement as a whole?”

    1. Permitted bullying and abuse
    2. Non-responsive to parent complaints
    3. Covert in what they teach and why
    4. Curriculum based on Anthroposophy

    I believe these criticisms apply to ALL Waldorf schools.

    “Is your negative view of Waldorf informed to a greater extent by direct experience, or by what you have read from other people or of Rudolf Steiner’s writings? Or have both factors had an equal influence on your views?”

    My view was informed by my experience and later my own experience was confirmed by the experiences of others.

    “What is your attitude towards anthroposophy and/or Rudolf Steiner?”

    It’s basically very bad science fiction. There is very little of value in Steiner’s teachings. If they are so wonderful, why don’t Waldorf schools advertise them instead of hiding them?

    “What are your motives for airing your critical views of Waldorf on the internet? For example, is it a cathartic way of healing from a negative experience, or do you hope to influence parents who are considering this type of education for their child, or campaign against state funding for Steiner schools, etc.?”

    I want Waldorf to realize and be held accountable for the harm they do. I want parents to be informed – and since Waldorf won’t inform them, it falls on critics to do this.

    “Have you ever engaged directly with Waldorf proponents who have challenged your views? What was the outcome of this?”

    Yes. I literally tear them to shreds each and every time.

    “How well (or not) do you think criticism and scepticism is handled by the movement?”

    Um… not very well.

    “Can you identify anything positive about Steiner education, whether from your own experience of that of others?”

    It’s a great education for the children of Anthroposophists.

    “Do you think Waldorf education can exist without anthroposophy?”

    No… but I used to. I used to think they might be interested in dumping some of the most problematic material. I don’t think reform is possible in Waldorf.

    “Would it be better off without it?”

    Waldorf wouldn’t exist without Anthroposophy.

    “Do you believe Waldorf education has a future? If so, how would you like to see it change? Or would you prefer it ceased to exist?”

    I don’t see much of a future for Waldorf. They’ve had plenty of time to accept criticism and refuse to change ANYTHING about the way they do business… in fact they have become even more underhanded in trying to avoid criticism. I don’t think they WANT to change… so discussing it is pointless.

    “What is your view of state schools? How do you think state education could be improved, if at all?”

    I had a wonderful and very rich state education. I’m sure it has degraded some since my day, but I think it’s still the best thing we have going.

    “Do you think a fusion of the Steiner methods with other educational methods is possible/desirable?”

    Enki has tried this… so I guess it’s possible. I can’t imagine why it would be desirable.

  56. Thank you, Pete! This was exactly what I wanted. I’m going to check out your blog now….

  57. Pete:
    ‘Yes. I literally tear them to shreds each and every time.’

    I can see this being an inspiring force behind another SWSF screed. Critics are not just cats, they’re LIONS tearing meat (waldorf) to shreds!!

    Helen:
    ‘I doubt parents will be asked to comment on anything that would awaken them to the nature of anthroposophy and the way it is put into practice without their informed consent.’

    It depends on which parents you ask. It would be less of a problem asking this of anthroposophist parents…

  58. If somebody is still reading this thread and not the discussion at critics, I recommend Dan’s reply to Daisy’s questions:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/23486

    And Peter’s:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/23448

    (In addition to the link I posted earlier in the thread.)

  59. Deep breath..!

    Can the Steiner Waldorf schools movement break out of its niche by engaging with its critics?

    Questionnaire

    Name (optional): Pip

    Connection to Waldorf education (circle/underline all that apply):
    Teacher / former teacher / trainee teacher / former pupil / parent / SWSF member
    Other: Qualified but non practicing steiner teacher

    Any other information you feel is relevant:

    I didn’t go to steiner school and wouldn’t call myself an ‘anthroposophist’.

    Question 1. To what extent are you aware of the criticism being expressed, particularly on the internet, in regard to Steiner Waldorf education?

    I have been aware of the online criticism of Waldorf since I have known of Waldorf. I came across Waldorf when I came across some Waldorf educated children at a music festival in Spain. There was , in my opinion, an obvious difference between the Waldorf kids camping to the right of me and the state children camping to the left of me. As I got to know them it transpired that the children to the right of me were Waldorf educated. Intrigued, I set about looking into it when I arrived home. This ‘looking into’ took me to the library but also to the internet and this is where I first came across criticism (and LOTS of it!!!!) However, far from this putting me off it made me all the more intrigued to find out more.

    Internet aside, as soon as I told my friends that I had enrolled on the Steiner BA I was either met with “why do you want to join a cult?” or “what’s that?” – nobody knew anything positive of waldorf :/ !

    Question 2. If you are aware of the nature of the criticism, what has been your personal reaction to it? For example, does it worry you, interest you, or are you indifferent towards it? Do you feel there is any truth or validity to the criticism?

    Criticism massively interests me. I myself wrestled with the course significantly in the first year of study and very nearly dropped out; convinced that I’d found myself in some bizarre ritualistic pantomime, masquerading as an educational movement (Waldorf in general, not the university of plymouth). I had done some prior reading re: Steiner and Waldorf but hadn’t bargained for the depth of it’s foundations. I had seen the word ‘anthroposophy’ and knew to expect ‘spiritual schooling’ but not to the extent that I saw. I think I was continually spurred on by the lasting impression that the children at the festival had left with me (an incredible bunch of young people). A placement at a kindergarten terrified me (children silently floating past you…yikes!) and my first placement at a Waldorf school left me reeling with lots of unanswered questions. I wasn’t critical at the point of having questions to ask but grew critical when nobody came forward to answer. This had me turning to the internet where I consoled myself with lots of peoples thoughts that were similar to my own. When I questioned a Waldorf teacher about the lack of answers to my questions she said “much of it you have to work out on your own” – at the time I thought “pah! pull the other one! what a cop out!!” but as time went on, for me personally, she spoke the most truth of any other teacher I met on a placement. For me, Waldorf is about making it my own – taking on board what resonates and sacking off what doesn’t – particularly if the education of children is at stake.

    In terms of my relationship to the criticism, I went from being intrigued by it to comforted by it to marginally annoyed by it and back to intrigued – annoyed because all the while it exists, I felt it denied others the time or space to ‘work it out on their own.’ Annoyed isn’t the right word – perhaps disheartened?

    Through reading blogs I found that as soon as someone joined a discussion declaring they were connected to Waldorf, it was game over; it didn’t matter what they had to say. For this reason I decided to pretend to be a state school teacher, interested in Waldorf. This was for nothing more than my own interest, to see if I could debate the points of Waldorf that I wanted to debate without being immediately shunned. At the time, I was about to graduate and was thinking seriously about doing a PGCE so I figured whilst it wasn’t true, it would be soon enough. Anyway, the point is I lied. And I hate liars. And in doing this lying…bla bla bla… yes, I regret lying. That said, other bloggers seemed far more receptive to my ideas all the time they thought I wasn’t officially steiner affiliated. But I suppose that is like pretending to be a doctor to recommend a remedy when actually you’re just a house wife that has happened upon a miracle cure for something. But imagine for a second that you are a housewife that has found a miracle cure for something and nobody will take you seriously!??! for the record, I don’t claim to have found miracle cures, haha. nor do I claim that Waldorf has but good and honest (no lying..) dialogue is what will fairly ascertain this.

    There is certainly truth and validity in some of the criticism. People are what matter to me and if people have had bad experiences, that is of utmost importance.

    Question 3. Have you ever had to/chosen to engage with critical views of Waldorf (that impinge upon Waldorf pedagogy/anthroposophy in general, rather than day-to-day issues that arise naturally in the course of school life)? Did this take place on the internet, in person or in some other form? Please give details if possible. If you have not, would you feel capable of defending Waldorf education against criticism?

    I chose to engage online – this was largely futile but I continue to read and occasionally comment/email if I have anything I consider of worth to add. I find the blogs a bit overwhelming in the way that a serious question/criticism will get about a week’s interest before the subject changes to something else. Suddenly there will be 4 or 5 different threads, each with multiple bloggers asking different questions – to be honest it fries my mind a bit!!

    I find it very difficult to defend Waldorf. My own partner (at the time) told people I had gone back to university to study creative writing!!!!! He wouldn’t look beyond some of the negative stuff he had read. Similarly, I find some people won’t look beyond the positive stuff they feel. I think we need to take it as it is, with good points and bad points and hopefully do something to tackle the bad.

    re: anthroposophy in general, I’m working with it myself, bit by bit. I don’t therefore often engage with talk about it as I simply don’t know it well enough. I am thankful that at University we were given the space to ‘work it out for ourselves’. For me the key point to anthroposophy is that it is practical. Anthroposophy in application, as a practicing teacher, is what interests me. I want to know how its application effects a classroom – I don’t want to mull over it theoretically. I want to be a teacher, not a philosopher.

    Question 4. Do you think that criticism has thus far been adequately handled by Waldorf proponents, or do you agree with my assertion that a greater openness towards dealing with sceptics and critics is called for, especially in light of state funding?

    I’m certainly for more openness but I think this can come from both sides. I hate that the blogs can turn into name calling (on both sides) and pointless nit picking – even though this can be humorous ;) I think people write on the blogs for different reasons. Some go there for giggles and some go there for serious chat while others stumble across it because they are trying to make sense of their horrific time in waldorf and others are currently in waldorf and trying to make sense of it. I don’t know how dialogue could improve between pro and anti camps – I guess make more space for the fence sitters – but sitting on fences isn’t what the ethereal kiosk is all about!!!

    Question 5. Some critics have branded Steiner schools as religious schools – discuss.

    I, personally, think that Steiner schools are religious. I have often thought that Steiner schools would do better to put their hand up and say so. But maybe they’re not!? There must be a reason why Waldorf are vehemently claiming not to be religious. I hope it isn’t so as not to put prospective students/parents off but any critic (in my opinion) could be forgiven for coming to this conclusion. I remember discussing (I think it’s called the passion play?) with my class at uni – the adam and eve tale. I was trying to ascertain why it was important that the children saw this play at this particular age. I was told that it matched their developmental stage (I think around 9th year?) of becoming separate from the world. In my own way I understood this, but I couldn’t see why that biblical story had to be used. There must be plenty of stories echoing that sentiment – wouldn’t pandora’s box, for example, work? Or couldn’t they even write their own?

    If not religious, the schools are certainly spiritual but shouldn’t all school have an element of spirit!? The chanting and verses and candles and festivals all contribute to this spiritual feeling. I could be wrong but I’m pretty certain that one of the declarations of ‘every child matters’ is that a school will nurture a childs spirituality..?

    Then one has to think is anthroposophy a religion? For me, I’m not sure. I think it can be for some people but for people like me that take what they like and discard the rest it is a very flexible religion, if at all!!!

    Question 6. Do you view Steiner schools as a “niche” phenomenon, only appealing/accessible to a certain demographic? Explain your answer.

    Unfortunately yes. It is a shame that parental contribution schemes are few and far between – this worked very well at a school that I did placement at and consequently the social dynamic of the school was atypical (but great!) of waldorf. All the time the schools are entrance by fee they exclude a portion of society. There is also the issue of the initial interview- which to be honest I know little about but I am aware that some people, even with the fees up front, are not accepted into a Waldorf school based presumably on their ‘interview’ and/or lifestyle.

    Those that site academia as the be all and end all will unlikely choose a Waldorf school for their children….in my opinion :/

    Those that turn up to look around the school and see tie-die teachers will feel a certain way about this. Waldorf does, in my opinion, exude a certain middle class hippiness – prospective parents will either love or hate this – I guess that goes for the whole aesthetic.

    The work Phil Forder is doing in Parc prison is key here. His art of living course is doing incredible things for convicted men (few of which, I assume, are middle class hippies) – so it certainly is accessible to others if offered appropriately.

    Question 7. How would you respond to the following common criticisms of Waldorf education, which implicate both its underlying philosophy and actual practice in schools:

    “Anthroposophy is an occult religion, not a science.”

    I’d say “what makes you say that?” and start a dialogue!! or just “yikes”

    “Waldorf schools are secretive about their anthroposophical foundations.”

    I haven’t personally experienced this but I guess a song and dance isn’t made of anthroposophy on the schools websites. I would encourage interaction and dialogue with teachers – I think parent and teacher study groups are a great idea. I personally think Steiner teachers don’t know nearly as much anthroposophy as the critics think!!

    “Bullying is justified in Steiner schools, on the grounds of karma.”

    Yikes. I have read of cases whereby parents claim this is the case. BUT…I would like to think that anyone who wants to teach cares about children enough to not stand by and watch this happen. At my own primary school (not Waldorf) ‘bullying’ was often looked over. If you ‘told’ you were ‘telling tales’ – what I am about to say may be somewhat controversial but I think a certain amount of playground scuffle is good for children. Children (I think) need to work out boundaries and compromises and how to stand up for themselves, etc by themselves. It isn’t always useful to step in straight away, as an adult. That said, there is a line and any scuffling children should have a watchful eye looking over them to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. If it gets physical, every teacher of sound mind would step in. I don’t put my ideas down to karma. I would have to read and digest the relevant Steiner to pass comment on that exact comment.

    “Steiner’s teachings were racist/Steiner schools are racist.”

    I don’t think so! But again, I haven’t poured over all the relevant literature on that yet. I suppose there is a chance that his teachings were racist, or can be interpreted in that way. Perhaps even a high chance if you read all there is to read written by the critics on the subject. I don’t think steiner schools today are racist – even if there foundations perhaps were.

    “Steiner schools are anti-intellectual and hold children back.”

    Id say on the contrary that they are pro intellect but intellect from within – nurturing a child’s own capacities, not bombarding them with the skills they think a child needs. Steiner schools don’t help themselves with the lack of formal exams. They would do well, in my opinion, to remedy this….if at all possible!!?!

    “holding children back” is interesting as I feel that state schools (particularly prep schools) can be seen to “push children too fast.” I think both parties are guilty and am not entirely sure what a child’s natural pace is.

    “Waldorf pupils are expected to imitate too much, and imitation is not creative.”

    To an outsider observing guided watercolour paintings, it looks as though the children have all produced the same thing. But the beauty in my opinion lies in the subtle differences created. This goes for chalkboard drawings too. These subtle differences are in my opinion pure, unintentional and unconscious springs of creativity; far more ‘real ‘ than if you were to tell the children to paint what they liked – they’d all paint something they’d seen before and thinking would take over leaving the doing aspect (the point of such activities) by the wayside. I think imitation is a lot trickier than we give credit and I think the focus required to imitate well is a useful kind of focus to nurture.

    “Waldorf education is not suited to everyone.”

    I agree. But I don’t think any one type of schooling is suitable for everyone – such is the beauty of the human race!

    Question 8. Do you see potential for the Steiner schools movement to evolve and meet the needs of the future? If so, how? Can a spiritually-oriented movement such as Waldorf education, struggling to find its feet in the public domain, realistically survive in the sceptical-scientific age?

    I really hope Steiner Waldorf schools have the potential to evolve. I fear that if they cannot meet the demands of said sceptical-scientific age that they will retreat into their own little bubbles and continue to exist but outside of the public domain. I fear this would be a great shame as I believe there are merits in Waldorf that are worth sharing.

    Question 9. Some critics are wholly negative about Waldorf education, whilst many others have acknowledged that it has positive aspects, be they the ‘whole-child’ approach, the Waldorf aesthetic, or the emphasis on the arts. Some might suggest a fusion of ‘the best’ of Steiner’s ideas with other educational approaches, such as the typical methods seen in UK state schools, or less mainstream methods such as Montessori. Do you think such a fusion is possible/desirable? If so, what aspects of both (Waldorf vs. mainstream or other pedagogy) would you favour? Which would you drop?

    ‘fusions’ are happening all over the place. Each and every new teacher will bring something new to their school. I believe teachers should be able to honour their intuitions, so long as certain standards are met. There are Steiner inspired schools (the acorn school is as such I think?) I don’t think a school with some and not all Steiner ideas should be called a Steiner Waldorf school but I think mixing ideas is a good idea if what one is trying to achieve is “a really good school” – and isn’t that what every teacher wants to be a part of?

    Personally, I’d favour the stuff that ‘worked’ and stop the stuff that didn’t but more likely, will unlikely ever work in a mainstream Waldorf school anyway.

    Specifically, of Waldorf, I don’t find temperaments all that useful. I also query the ‘whole class teaching’ approach and believe there are some lessons where it would be helpful/useful to put children into flexible ‘sets’.

    **

    Question 10. Much of the criticism involves scepticism of or outright hostility towards what is seen as the “esoteric belief system” of anthroposophy. The website WaldorfCritics.org describes it as a “cult-like religious sect following the occult teachings of Rudolf Steiner”; a parent on an internet forum explained her decision to remove her child from a Waldorf school due to its underlying philosophy, despite being happy with the methods, saying, “If only I could find a school similar to Waldorf but without the anthroposophy”. Do you think Waldorf education could or should exist independently of anthroposophy? Or are its methods inseparable from the spiritual philosophy?

    Big question. Personally I sometimes think Waldorf could exist without anthroposophy – in the way that the UK exists on Christian foundations without being consciously Christian. I feel as though anthroposophy provided a way of thinking and out of this was born an educational approach, biodynamics, homeopathetic (!) medicine, loads. After these projects came to light, I’m not sure how important it is to mull over their foundations. It’s only important if someone wants to make a change, you have to go back to why you were doing it a certain way in the first place. Presumably the reason that you started doing it in an anthroposophical way is that it worked? Rather than for the reverence of anthroposophy?! I don’t know, I find it hard to articulate. I understand that waldorf IS anthroposophy but don’t think its too far fetched that a teacher that knows nothing of anthroposophy or Steiner could be teaching in line with anthroposophy and providing very Steiner like lessons; because she has found ‘her’ methods to work.

  60. Pete:
    ‘Yes. I literally tear them to shreds each and every time.’

    I can see this being an inspiring force behind another SWSF screed. Critics are not just cats, they’re LIONS tearing meat (waldorf) to shreds!!

    Forgive them Dog, for they know not what they do.

    Or, the SWSF could join with the AT crowd and say critics are homicidal psychopaths. I wonder if my comment will fit on my “Pete the Ripper” superhero costume (was it Mike that suggested I need one)?

  61. LOL, Tarjei et al. are seriously on a roll at the moment. Tarjei’s the source … it’s spring, and an early one in Scandinavia. He is always energetic in springtime.

  62. I’ve got Joel doing the “there’s no point in discussing” song and dance over on this page:
    http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Steiner-research-raises-questions/story-15435184-detail/story.html

    Sometimes, I feel like Pete the Puppeteer.

  63. Will be back later but… What if waldorf can’t exist without anthroposophy — it can’t — but anthroposophy would be better of without waldorf? Honestly. I think this might very well be the case. For many reasons. Integrity, honesty, as well as for the ideas/methods/whatever themselves.

  64. Interesting. I’ve always assumed anthroposophy was embarrassing Waldorf, but maybe Waldorf is embarrassing anthroposophy – holding them back in completing their true mission, rather than helping.

  65. In conversations with (often disingenuous) anthroposophists about Waldorf teacher training, who want to downplay the way anthroposophy dominates the teacher training, I have pointed that it’s not that the training includes anthroposophy … it’s more that anthroposophy includes Waldorf teacher training. I think this is something like what you’re getting at. I think you’re on to something.

  66. [...] who was writing a BA dissertation on waldorf critics and criticism (but who might have given up by now, grinding her teeth and [...]

  67. “I’ve always assumed anthroposophy was embarrassing Waldorf”

    So did I, and surely this line of thinking implies that the two can be separated. You could keep the aesthetics, the artistic approach to teaching, and the goal of nurturing individual potential – the exoteric aspects – without the esoteric basis. What you’d need is a different model of child development not based on Steiner’s insights. And then perhaps it would be indistinguishable from other alternative educational approaches, which I wasn’t aware existed until Peter Staudenmaier mentioned it – and which aren’t generally known about, let alone available, in the UK, so I can see why parents seeking something different are drawn to Waldorf, having little other choice apart from perhaps Montessori. I still think you could have schools inspired by Steiner without being bogged down by unprovable esoteric theories, nor being “an empty shell” or “National Curriculum with wax crayons” or other derogatory terms.

    BTW, Pip’s lengthy post above is her response to my questionnaire for people associated with Waldorf. I wonder what you make of her assertion that “Steiner teachers don’t know nearly as much anthroposophy as the critics think!!”

  68. One more thing related to the above…….. I heard about a primary school teacher who attended a part-time training in Waldorf education in order to enrich her teaching in a state school, and the school paid the course fees for her. That suggests that people can take what’s valuable from the Waldorf approach and use it in a non-anthroposophical environment.

  69. For what it’s worth, Daisy, there’s nothing derogatory in saying that without the philosophical/spiritual foundation, waldorf is an empty shell. The things you mentioned — that’s the shell. Pretty, but nonetheless a shell. It’s not content. It’s the outside. Sure, you can make that school look waldorf in a superficial sense. But it isn’t. It lacks the core.

    Speaking about individual potential in this context is odd as that concept can hardly be separated from Steiner’s esotericism, unless you redefine it. But then it’s not waldorf, so why use that brand?

    I think you might have difficulty making sense of critics’ positions if you so easily interpret them as derogatory.

    (Sorry for neglecting comments.)

  70. “For what it’s worth, Daisy, there’s nothing derogatory in saying that without the philosophical/spiritual foundation, waldorf is an empty shell. The things you mentioned — that’s the shell. Pretty, but nonetheless a shell. It’s not content. It’s the outside. Sure, you can make that school look waldorf in a superficial sense. But it isn’t. It lacks the core.”

    OK, I understand what you meant better now.

    “But then it’s not waldorf, so why use that brand?”

    I’m not saying anyone SHOULD use the brand. Apparently Steiner’s vision wasn’t that a separate movement of schools would arise with his name attached. But that’s what we’ve got.

  71. ‘I’m not saying anyone SHOULD use the brand. Apparently Steiner’s vision wasn’t that a separate movement of schools would arise with his name attached. But that’s what we’ve got.’

    I’m not sure what you mean or what we’ve got, but waldorf/steiner is certainly not a movement separated from anthroposophy.

    Apart from that, not only should people not want to use the brand if they can’t provide the content only the surface, but the anthroposophical movement should not — and, at least formally, does not — allow it. A diluted waldorf concept with only surface and no core is not an opportunity, it’s a liability. Nobody would know what they’re getting and the brand name would, eventually, mean very little. (This perhaps ties into the other question — would anthroposophy be better off without waldorf? Definitely better off without diluted waldorf, without the core.) Waldorf isn’t bogged down by esoteric theories — esoteric theories are its core! Some people may not like or agree with the esoteric theories, but there you are. I don’t see why waldorf needs to appeal to the masses anyway. In fact, I think they should decrease the number of schools and make a huge effort with a few of them.

  72. Enki education is basically Waldorf without Anthroposophy. http://www.enkieducation.org/html/enki.htm

    Not that it doesn’t have problems of its own.

  73. Daisy says, ‘That suggests that people can take what’s valuable from the Waldorf approach and use it in a non-anthroposophical environment’.
    I think this true to a certain extent, for example the rhythmic stamping and clapping used when learning multiplication facts, the introduction of foreign languages through speech, song and rhymes. There are bits and pieces that can be used by any teacher in any context. It would be very interesting to hear what an experienced Steiner teacher would say about this.

  74. Re Enki — fascinating. They’ve taken the ‘surface’ of waldorf, I guess, and added it to what’s essentially mainstream education? (I’m thinking that the ideas — e g, about child development — are so specific to anthroposophy, that they can’t rely on them.)

    Pete: ‘Or, the SWSF could join with the AT crowd and say critics are homicidal psychopaths.’

    For what it’s worth, Pete, I never quite understood that comment that got you banned… But, of course, that was the reaction. And they will keep at it for a long time. But I think the SWSF should join. And AWSNA. The swedish waldorf federation is already represented by Sune — but he doesn’t post that often… He did post there about me in the past… I’m sure the waldorf federation is thrilled at and proud of his participation over there. (Secretly. But they don’t want to say it out loud.)

    Diana: ‘LOL, Tarjei et al. are seriously on a roll at the moment. Tarjei’s the source … it’s spring, and an early one in Scandinavia. He is always energetic in springtime.’

    The winter is returning now, it has been said, so maybe he goes back into hibernation. Would probably be for the best. (If the weather in Norway is similar to the weather in Sweden.)

    Pip: thanks for posting the questions and your answers! Interesting read. I’ll just give my perspectives on a few things.

    ‘… annoyed because all the while it [criticism] exists, I felt it denied others the time or space to ‘work it out on their own.’ Annoyed isn’t the right word – perhaps disheartened?

    Well, for me personally, the problem I see is the risk that while people are ‘working it out on their own’ other people (children) are getting short-changed. I would say, too, that it doesn’t have to be disheartening. It could be the opposite. What if people don’t honestly talk about and discuss what things they saw as wrong in a system, with an education? In some cases, disheartening views are necessary for progress. (This said, I wouldn’t claim I personally do any of this to help waldorf education progress — it’s not my thing, one way or the other. I simply think the fact that people do say what they think is an opportunity, too.)

    The regular teacher thing — well, that was simply not a very good idea. It might not have been such a big deal, in oen individual case, if critics weren’t so used to waldorf people/anthroposophists trying to pull this trick over and over again. Pretending to be someone they aren’t, pretending to have qualifications they don’t have, et c.

    ‘I find the blogs a bit overwhelming in the way that a serious question/criticism will get about a week’s interest before the subject changes to something else.’

    Imagine having a conversation or debate with some people in real life — it would be pretty similar. People do that, they start talking about other things… the longer the discussion runs, the higher the risk ;-)

    ‘Anthroposophy in application, as a practicing teacher, is what interests me. I want to know how its application effects a classroom – I don’t want to mull over it theoretically.’

    You would need to know the theory to apply it, though. I think. Or else you have to imitate someone who (presumably) knows.

    ‘I guess make more space for the fence sitters – but sitting on fences isn’t what the ethereal kiosk is all about!!!’

    I urge the fence sitters to get down from the fence. It’s never a good idea to get drunk while sitting on a fence (especially if it’s high). Getting drunk on champagne is after all what we do here. (True!! Actually.) Plus, sitting on a fence is much less comfortable than sitting on the sofas.

    ‘I remember discussing (I think it’s called the passion play?) with my class at uni – the adam and eve tale. I was trying to ascertain why it was important that the children saw this play at this particular age. I was told that it matched their developmental stage (I think around 9th year?) of becoming separate from the world. In my own way I understood this, but I couldn’t see why that biblical story had to be used.’

    Yep, that’s the passion play. It’s necessary for some such reason yes. The 9-year old supposedly goes through a transformation that relates to that story or kind of story or stage of human development (even if it never happened for real). And why it has to be that one… waldorf/anthro tradition… Steiner was a fan of the oberufer plays, this is one of them, I think.

    ‘I could be wrong but I’m pretty certain that one of the declarations of ‘every child matters’ is that a school will nurture a childs spirituality..?’

    The question is whether every child’s spirituality aligns with the anthroposophical version of spirituality. Or whether it’s better to leave the child free (I know waldorf schools basically claim they do, but I take exception to that… to a degree).

    … must now rush, mid-comment…!

  75. … ok, continuing. (I discuss these things not to distract from the answers Pip gave, by the way. But discussing what people think was my reason for doing this in the first place, so, to me, this makes it much more fun.)

    ‘Id say on the contrary that they are pro intellect but intellect from within – nurturing a child’s own capacities, not bombarding them with the skills they think a child needs.’

    When children are not considered thinking human beings and when they aren’t allowed to explore their intellectual sides and interests — well, that is anti-intellectual. And that is what waldorf schools do. Why is reading not one of the child’s ‘own capacities’? Of course it is. But not in waldorf. There, you’re wrongly incarnated if you have such interests. Or even if you use your brain in a way that you’re not supposed to be able to. Or if you don’t want to do the things that waldorf thinks nurtures the ‘child’s own capacities’ because, really, you’re more attracted by other activities. Why does eurythmy nurture the ‘child’s own capacities’ while learning to read does not? … that’s the question I would ask (or would have asked) my tutors if I were you!

    ‘To an outsider observing guided watercolour paintings, it looks as though the children have all produced the same thing.’

    Even worse, I’d say, is that they produce virtually the same painting every week, year after year. Same technique, same result.

  76. Re: the art, for what it’s worth I’ve seen artwork done by Class 8 & Upper School students that is very impressive, across the board. Everyone in the class produced something beautiful, and they weren’t all the same. So perhaps the techniques learned in the younger years can bear fruit when the children are older?

  77. Thanks for the reminder about Enki, I know a Waldorf teacher who uses their materials. I’m going to check out the website.

  78. Or perhaps these kids had a particularly good art teacher? or particularly good circumstances? or particularly good genes?

    (I’ll say this because when we talk about things going wrong, it’s always said to be isolated cases. That particular student, that class, that school, that teacher…)

  79. Waw, what an interesting post Alicia, and what an interesting conversation. I have just started my Steiner teacher training. I have to say that in our training Anthroposophy is not hidden at all, we have a subject exclusively dedicated to it. So far we’ve just had two classes on this subject during our first class we were asked to read some pages from the recommended reading to comment during our second class. I couldn’t read them for lack of time, but as I understood from the other students the reading was very direct on explaining the foundations of the classifications of ages, and temperaments, not many students were convinced about these teachings. However, during the class, only one of them raised the issue something like this: “since Steiner developed these ‘theories’ nearly a century has passed and many new things have been discovered, is there any type of ongoing debate within Steiner Education about it?”. The teacher gave a lengthy answer that didn’t really answered the question, that caught my attention because a simple yes or no would been perfect as a start of his answer. However, only until I was researching about Steiner view on individualism and community on-line, I came across critical voices of Steiner education.

    I have been trying to read as many critics as possible, but the one that shake me really bad was http://www.waldorfeducation.me.uk/ I can’t believe the teachers allowed bullying to take place. I was being bullied myself when I was a child (at state schools). It is the most disgraceful thing to say that the child needs to go through it because of some karmic stuff. If somebody is bulling somebody else measures have to be taken right away, teachers are living examples for the children, if we overlook abuse and corruption in the playground then it is like saying to children that we must overlook abuse and corruption in society for karmic reasons: what a nonsense!

    I have to agree with Daisy and Pip that most of the critics a reasonable. Actually, I am not surprised that there are not more Steiner schools, I understand why. Nevertheless, I do think there is room for improvement, as far as there are human there are no impossibles. I believe that at some point a debate within Waldorf education will have to be taken around the contradictions on Steiner: if Steiner himself claims that we should question everything, and to make sense of the world based on pure reasoning, doesn’t that contradicts with accepting his dogmas that he attained through non-scientific means? Anything that is subjective is personal and thus biased to your personal culture. Anything that is objective is universal and should be open to scrutiny through non-biased means like the scientific method. But teaching children based on subjectivities is like any other religion based education, totally biased. Regardless, of all critics I think that I will pursue the training for the good stuff and dish the ‘other’ stuff.

    Good luck with your work Daisy, and please keep us informed :o)

  80. michaelpesca · ·

    Anthroposophy is a philosophy as worth of study as Marxism or Existentialism. Of course it has a place in University. This blog is fascist.

  81. Of course it does have a place, for example in the study of religion and religious and spiritual beliefs and history. But that’s different from being worthy of study as a body of truth. Its pedagogical tenets and ideas about human development and psychology are based on belief, in turn based upon a spiritual worldview, not on knowledge. That we need to be critical of.

    As you can probably imagine, I object to the characterisation of this blog as ‘fascist’. I can think of one or a few things to say about people who say make such ludicrous statements though.

  82. Hello, by the way, it occurred to me to check the email address you submitted (without even having to). Am I right in thinking you’re perhaps a teacher at the Holywood Rudolf Steiner School? I hope you don’t teach history or political idoelogies… you know, stuff like: what fascism is.

  83. Hollywood Tomfortas · ·

    Good Dog, Alicia! You gave me quite a start! When I first read “Holywood,” it registered as “Hollywood” and I thought you were talking to me (since I actually do have a secret Hollywood Rudolf Steiner School, but that’s another incarnation)!

    However, I was saved by my forensic linguistic study of the commenter’s text. I knew he had to be a Limey and not an Ami. How?

    Elemental, my dear Zooey.

    He wrote in characteristic British fashion:
    Of course it has a place in University.

    Whereas an American would have written:
    Of course it has a place in the University.

    Similarly, a Brit would say:
    She was injured and taken to hospital

    while an Ami would say
    She was injured and taken to the hospital

    Finally, I don’t find the blog fascist. But I do find it fascinating.
    (Must pronounce this latter word as “fashion-ating.”)

  84. Of course — it’s the northern ireland version, with one L only.

    Let’s hope this person doesn’t know the difference between fascist and fascinating… and isn’t teaching kids anything with language either!

  85. [...] dissertation was previously discussed in this thread, and some critics replied to all or some of her questions (for those interested, there were also a [...]

  86. I studied Waldorf education for 2 years at Edinburgh, Scotland and I also studied Primary Education at a state funded University. All teachers have the same plan, to educate their pupils. However my experience of the state funded University course was because there no understanding of our spiritual being, everything they worked on was pretty much theory and subject to regular change. Steiner on the other hand understood only to clearly, and was a very successful teacher, exactly what children where and at each age, and what was appropriate to help them leave school self confident and self reliant and uniquely individual. The state sector Education establishments were nationalised from the mid 19th century so that children could be molded a certain way. This is only a crude generalisation, but has been my experience and I see my own children struggle with the state sector system. All of life will suffer as long as we persist in a one sided material approach to understanding Education, Health . Ecology etc.

  87. robin bate – I am very very glad you never got your hands on my children. You’re completely out of your tree.

  88. Melanie, please explain, Robin

  89. I agree with Melanie. That stuff you wrote, Robin, makes it pretty evident why waldorf schools should enroll only children whose families fully understand the underpinnings of the pedagogy.

  90. Robin – it’s Christmas and I don’t have time to explain fully the distance between yourself and the nearest available twig. However I will just add that you are nowhere near it.

    Season’s Greetings.

  91. Now, that’s a great reply. Merry dogmas!

  92. “Steiner on the other hand understood only to clearly, ”

    I love it when Waldorf teachers show up here to display their bad grammar…

    “and was a very successful teacher,”

    Really? He NEVER stood before a classroom. He was an UNsuccessful tutor who was fired from his position. Steiner was NOT a teacher… not by any stretch of even the Waldorf imagination.

    ” exactly what children where and at each age, and what was appropriate to help them leave school self confident and self reliant and uniquely individual.”

    Only when they were fully indoctrinated… not before.

    ” The state sector Education establishments were nationalised from the mid 19th century so that children could be molded a certain way.”

    “Educated” is a better word. It’s better if the state is involved in what children are learning… at least there’s some accountability.

    “This is only a crude generalisation,”

    Ya think?

    ” but has been my experience and I see my own children struggle with the state sector system. ”

    Walk a mile in my shoes, friend.

    “All of life will suffer as long as we persist in a one sided material approach to understanding Education, Health . Ecology etc.”

    Unfortunately, a lot of the suffering seems to be coming FROM students in Waldorf schools.

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