I wasn’t going to post this here because it’s so silly. But then I thought — having laughed at this for days now — that perhaps silly is just what we need. P Drewett, in Devon, writes:

The one thing that Steiner education will never help to produce in anyone is a saving faith in the Lord Jesus, because nearly everything that Steiner wrote about Jesus is completely heretical, as is well documented.

And, on second thought, it’s not only silly to bring this up. As Diana has been pointing out on critics, a secular society actually protects anthroposophists (as well as those atheists, so maligned, like secularism, by many anthroposophists) against the thugs of (more or less) mainstream christianity. (Or any other ‘majority’ faith.) In a religious society, ruled by minds like Drewett’s, there’s little mental space for new spiritualities (or for abstaining from religion altogether) and certainly no space for public financing of anthroposophical activities. Honestly, the Drewetts of the world are probably less likely to help fund anthroposophical projects than is secular society. If they would even allow it to exist, were they not more or less forced to (their mentality has, so to speak, been superceded by new ideas and by freedom long ago, for which we ought to be grateful).

Personally, I have much difficulty taking Drewett seriously at all. I think the quoted argument is simply bonkers and I take the gnomes any day over that kind of nonsense. But, of course, I don’t mind the heretical. (Oh Dog — does he not make anthroposophy sound so interesting, so attractive, so exciting? So seductively illicit?)


101 thoughts on “silly

  1. “You shall judge a man by his enemies as well as by his friends” (ascribed to Joseph Conrad among others…)

    “[…] Anthroposophy separates the spirit from its connection with race and the nation, and condemns all that is racial and belonging to the nation to a lower sphere of primitivism, of instincts, of dark urges needing to be vanquished by the spirit, of primeval time.
    These basic principles of the anthroposophical world view have caused it to be open in a disastrous way to all anti-nationalist, antinational, supranational, pacifist and especially Jewish influences”.

    – Report to the Head Office of the Secret Service of the National Socialist Party, Germany, May 1936


  2. Above was in reply to Shane.

    As for the Hitler stuff, that’s a real can of worms, Joe. I must go wash my hair, but, if I might, I’d suggest you look a little more into anthroposophy and waldorf during the nazi period.

  3. There was a tweet just now from someone accusing Andy Lewis of trying to do what Hitler did not manage: to destroy Steiner!

    Although it might please anthroposophists to imagine Hitler gnashing his teeth about Steiner, trying to assassinate him etc there’s little evidence he gave him much thought. And if he did, he doesn’t seem to have had a very accurate impression of the man.

  4. Thank you Melanie! Saves me the trouble of locating links.

    I hope Joe takes the time to read — it’s a good idea to know at least a little bit about these things.

  5. I gather Exeter has a lot of bizarre religious groups, people going to schools talking about creationism and so on. I don’t know it very well, just the shops, especially the Apple Store which is of course also a cult. As a cultural Anglican (altho an atheist) I’m not used to individuals actually mentioning Lord Jesus, far too embarrassing.

  6. Oh dear… I think someone may have sent me an email about this thread and I deleted it without reading it (it came to my junk mail and I did know it was a thread title here until it was too late). Feel free to resend it.

    Anyway, on topic, do Anthroposophists wonder why the Christian right is so interested in this case? The decision will be that either Anthroposophy opens the doors for Christianity to be taught in schools, or, it is excluded – just like Christianity. If Anthroposophists can have public money for their schools, how can we then exclude Christians/Catholics from having public money. All they have to say is that they don’t bring “religion” into the classroom. If taxpayers can pay Waldorf schools to have Michaelmas (an Anthroposophical event), why shouldn’t taxpayers pay for Christian schools to have Christian events… say, perhaps… school baptisms?

  7. I’d be jumping up and down in excitement if I were them and in the US.

    Here, it’s a bit different. Religious groups can run tax funded schools but participation in religious activities cannot be made mandatory for students. (Hello eurythmy and morning verse, to mention blatant examples.)

  8. I’m not sure that the Nazi/Steiner relationship was that much more complicated – the Nazis were thoroughly anti-Steiner and the Steiner School / Anthroposophical movement did whatever it had to in order to – literally – stay alive.
    There are loads of state-funded schools that teach their religious beliefs in the UK. I’d far rather my kids did eurythmy than had to sit through a morning prayer.

  9. You have a lot more to discover, Joe, about anthroposophy during nazi times. It’s far from as simple as you suggest. May I humbly suggest you read a little — perhaps the links Melanie posted — before being so sure about it? You ought to know about these things, so that you don’t serve parents untruths you will later regret (when they have googled and return to you with potentially angry questions). Because I know many waldorf schools promote the notions you just posted here. I think it’s a far better idea to deal with the movements history honestly — and to conclude that it is, indeed, history. One would hope. Not being truthful about it us not the way to success now that there is research showing that the picture is way more complex than most anthroposophists care to admit.

    Did you not know, by the way, that the morning verse is called a prayer in more honest contexts? It’s published in a steiner collection with the title — if I remember correctly — ‘prayers for children’. Your and other people’s children will be saying it every morning in school.

    I agree with you eurythmy is not worse than having teachers who waffle on about the lord jesus. But that doesn’t mean people don’t have a right to know that both morning verse and eurythmy and many other aspects of waldorf education are spiritual — they’re deeply anthroposophical. In my opinion, waldorf schools need to be open about this.

  10. Joe –
    ‘the Nazis were thoroughly anti-Steiner and the Steiner School / Anthroposophical movement did whatever it had to in order to – literally – stay alive.’

    Note that it was you who introduced the Nazis, the post is about something else. Why did you feel the need to talk (as Basil Fawlty famously did) ‘about the war’?

    Research has been conducted into the relationship between anthroposophists and Waldorf supporters and the National Socialist state, and modern Steinerites should have nothing to fear from gaining a more realistic grasp of their movement’s history. In fact the most worrying trend is a disinclination to do so, and an apparent need to misrepresent this history to parents and to the public.

    Read Peter Staudenmaier’s work. If you disagree you can discuss why, perhaps on the Waldorf Critics list. But you can’t just say it isn’t true because that’s what you’ve been told by the SWSF and it would be uncomfortable to imagine otherwise – that just makes you look, forgive me, silly. The SWSF of course should know better, and they should understand it isn’t possible to prevent knowledge of this history becoming more widely available. What will you say to the first parent who asks you why you felt the need to lie?

    As with all these issues, be well aware: seek public funding, face public scrutiny.

  11. Here’s a preview of Peter Staudenmaier’s dissertation –


    This dissertation will be available in book form at some stage, I guess with additional material. I think Staudenmaier’s work is very important, with a significance extending beyond anthroposophy (which is admittedly pretty obscure).

  12. The swsf should definitely know better. There are anthroposophists who don’t act so silly around this topic, but they are, I fear, a minority.

    Considering the nature of the topic and the reluctance of anthroposophists to deal with it, I was quite stunned to ses you, Joe, (unwittingly?) go pick that particular can of worms and open it. It does have an EU-mandated warning text that says: ‘opening this can may damage your health and your illusions’.

    I’m sure there are anthros and waldorf fans who are still ignorant about the movements history, but there are hardly any critics who are!

  13. and to discuss, seriously.

    If it helps, I was told the same things when we first got involved with the Steiner movement over a decade ago. All the schools were closed by the Nazis, I was advised, as if these were plucky little defenders of enlightened values against the darkness of Hitler’s aryan myth. I knew very little about anthroposophy at the time.

    This is a post from 2009 about the closure of Waldorf schools in 30s/40s Germany. They were not, according to Peter’s research, “closed by government order.”

  14. Peter Staudenmaier’s dissertation looks interesting – I will see if I can get a copy.
    I read through the English-language articles you linked to, Melanie (my German is not good enough for the others). All interesting, but I don’t see anything in there that contradicts the underlying pattern that the Nazis, as they rose to power, were strongly critical of Anthroposophy. Staudenmaier adds some nuances to the reasons for that – Anthroposophy as a possible rival to Nazism – but he gives nothing to contradicts the impression that the quote I gave earlier (and a couple of others you’ve no doubt seen) do seem to give an accurate flavour of the opinion of the party as a whole. Correct me if I’m wrong…
    Of course, in the atmosphere of terror that grew through the 30’s, Anthroposophists did whatever they had to do to survive. They appealed to known sympathisers like Rudolf Hess; they adjusted their public statements to chime with the language of the Nazi administration; they tried to present Steiner schools as unthreatening to Nazi doctrine. But blending in was literally a matter of life and death. Again, I don’t see anything in Staudenmaier’s online essays to suggest that the Anthroposophical movement contained any real support for the underlying racial doctrines of Nazism, just that a few people tried to present anthroposophy in a way that might deflect hostility.
    I think it’s understandable that people with an interest in Steiner schools wheel out the Nazi thing from time to time. They get labelled as racists on the basis of Steiner’s rather tangled writings on race; pulling out a condemnation of Anthroposophy by the Nazi Party is a reasonable enough response. I posted the quote earlier because I thought there was an interesting parallel with the original story. I believe it’s a genuine quote, unless anyone knows otherwise. I don’t think it’s lying if you present a quote without the surrounding nuances of historical context in order to make a point – is it?

  15. Some anthroposophists were pretty committed nazis. And were so by choice. So it’s not really only about some stupid passage of Steiner’s.

    Anyway — Peter’s articles on the German site are almost, if not all, in English.

  16. Oops – you’re right Alicia, I had just looked at Waldorfschulen in Nazi Deutschland (which is in German) and assumed that the other essays with German titles were also in German. A bit more reading matter for me…

  17. ‘in the atmosphere of terror that grew through the 30’s, Anthroposophists did whatever they had to do to survive.’

    You ask me to correct you, so I will. It isn’t the case that ordinary Germans lived in terror. The German state was not in the business of slaughtering its own (non-Jewish) citizens. Some anthroposophists however did far more than act to protect their personal safety, IF that had been at risk. They made overtures to those in positions of power because they believed that their ideas accorded with National Socialist aspirations for the German people. They saw Nazism as an opportunity.

    I’d be surprised if you had more than skim-read Peter’s work in the time since you posted your first comment here. But I recommend a polemical piece which should make matters clearer:

    The problem, Joe, is that you don’t know what anthroposophy is. ‘Steiner’s rather tangled writings on race;’ are not tangled at all – although he wrote and said a great deal, occasionally contradicting himself. The race doctrines are coherent, and intrinsic.

    So – what were YOU responding to? No one mentioned Nazism, no one called anyone a racist. You introduced the subject.

  18. I thought similar (vague) things to you on these matters, Joe though I didn’t ever put them into words, there was never a need to since (as an initiative which wasn’t seeking public funds) we were rarely challenged. Nor did I know much about the history of anthroposophy until a few years ago – we were blissfully unaware of any criticism of Waldorf, the internet was still quite new. It’s a slow realisation for a lot of people.

  19. The vorstand at the Goetheanum also wrote an appeasing letter to Hitler. They were in Switzerland — not living under nazi terror.

    In my view, however, the worst thing today is not that anthroposophists in the past were nazis or nazi friendly or whatever, but instead it is the inability of anthroposophists to deal with this — to admit that, for some, anthroposophy and nazism were compatible.

  20. From Wikipedia:
    “The first concentration camp for political prisoners was opened at Dachau near Munich in 1933 and “between 1933 and 1945, more than 3 million Germans had been in concentration camps, or prison, for political reasons.”
    I’d call that a climate of terror for non-Jewish Germans.
    Of course you’re right that for some, a belief in Anthroposophy didn’t rule out support for the Nazi Party. But as I say, I don’t think that I’ve seen anything to contradict the suggestion that the Nazi Party as a whole viewed the Anthroposophical movement with deep suspicion and dislike, which was my original point.
    But it was silly of me to post the original quote – it was a rather facile comparison without any real point to it other than to share an idle thought.

  21. First — I’m sure your argument about a climate of terror has been refuted, you’re not the first to make it. There’s an old discussion about it on the critics list. I’m sure that for some it was a time of terror. For most, life went on. You didn’t have to become a nazi, you didn’t to become a paty official, you didn’t have to take part in atrocities. Lots of people, incl anthros, didn’t.

    Second — how does a climate of terror in germany excuse the vorstand in Dornach from sending a letter sucking up to Hitler?

    Mind you, I’m not suggesting these historical events are the responsibility of present day anthros or waldorf proponents. So making excuses for them isn’t either.

  22. ‘ …judge a man by his enemies ‘ quotes Joe.
    You try to make anthroposophy look good by portraying it as victimised by Nazism as well
    as by mainstream religions.
    My mother, a religious woman, used to fervently warn me about the occult being dangerous and wicked, but when I was old enough to work out there was nothing in Christianity, I also worked out there was nothing in the occult.
    There is also the matter of the Christian Community and their apparent commitment to both Steiner and Christianity. Steiner seems to have tried very hard to make anthroposophy acceptable to Christians, writing prayers which could be interpreted as Christian.
    I am not sure whether he was devious or off his trolley.
    I read chapter 5 of Peter’s dissertation which he kindly sent me, and it seems the main reason the Nazis were suspicious of anthroposophy was the spiritualism.
    Yes, Drewett does make anthroposophy seem ‘seductively illicit’ Alicia, but you have already been
    doing that much more effectively yourself.

  23. Oh no! Is it back?! Crap. I don’t know why they try that again and sadly can’t do anything about it. Hope it’ll be taken care of by wordpress. I had some issues and tried to enlarge the box by standing in it and pressing enter many times before even starting to write. But if the box is now auto-collapsing again, that won’t help either.

  24. Joe writes: ‘I don’t think that I’ve seen anything to contradict the suggestion that the Nazi Party as a whole viewed the Anthroposophical movement with deep suspicion and dislike, which was my original point.’

    Joe – The Nazi party viewed some of its own members with deep suspicion and dislike. But some prominent Nazis supported anthroposophical enterprises, until the very end of the regime. Since you mentioned Dachau:

    ‘The Dachau plantation was overseen by anthroposophist Franz Lippert (2), who had been head gardener at Weleda for many years. Under Lippert’s biodynamic supervision, the Dachau plantation made a considerable profit for the SS.
    Lippert also published two books for the SS publishing house in 1942 and 1943 based in part on his work at the Dachau plantation. The labor at the Dachau plantation, as at all of the DVA biodynamic estates, was performed by concentration camp inmates. The SS commitment to biodynamics continued until the camps were liberated in 1945.’

    I find this literally chilling.

    ‘I’d call that a climate of terror for non-Jewish Germans.’ That’s extraordinarily naive, Joe. The
    Nazis had specific targets: Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, disabled people, Communists, gay men. There is significantly no evidence of any anthroposophical resistance to Nazism, indeed, as Alicia says:

    ‘The vorstand at the Goetheanum also wrote an appeasing letter to Hitler. They were in Switzerland — not living under nazi terror.’

    The point is again, not that modern Waldorf supporters should feel personally implicated in events which took place decades before they were born. It is that they need to understand and come to terms with this history, not continue to tell foolish stories about it. This has implications of course for their comprehension of their own pedagogy, based so squarely on anthroposophy.

  25. I meant spirituality, not spiritualism, but it seems all very similar to me . It is all to do with an after life, is it not?

  26. Pete makes the USA seem like a haven from religion! Schools here are infused with
    it in one form or another, and I do wonder why Waldorf don’t just admit they are religious, sit back, and wait for the cash to roll in. I suppose the trouble is they would have to say what religion they espouse. That could be tricky.
    ‘Bringing religion into the classroom’ is exactly what most schools in the uk are supposed to do. Astonishingly.

  27. And in case Joe drops by tonight, Peter S has posted two posts on the critics list about this discussion. One begins ‘Nazis…’ the other one ‘Myths…’. Sorry, I can’t manage to post the direct links at the moment; I get the posts in my email. I hope Joe can find the posts.

    I’ll be back later…

  28. thanks Alicia – Peter’s posts are here:

    and here:

    ‘Quite apart from anthroposophical ignorance of their own movement’s history during the Nazi era, anthroposophist images of Nazi Germany are severely at odds with historical reality. This helps account for the allergic reaction of so many Steiner enthusiasts to historical discussion of Nazism.’

  29. Helen – the spiritual is a tricky one, isn’t it? Ofsted talks about the spiritual needs of children, almost as if they know what that means. I don’t think they do – and because of that uncertainty, some dubious ideas are encouraged.

  30. Yes, Melanie, we are in a time where ‘the spiritual’ is given great respect and prominence but no-one can define what is meant by it. There is no consensus on what it means.

  31. Joe – Can you explain why Rudolf Hess, a member of the right-wing occultist Thule Society, one of the first members of the Nazi Party in the 1920s, transcriber and part editor of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi Party in the 1930s and early 40s, perhaps the third most powerful man in Germany at points and found guilty at the Nuremberg Trials of crimes against peace and conspiracy with other German leaders to commit crimes…was a ‘known sympathiser[s]’ with anthroposophy? Since you mention him and his connection it seems to me that it, potentially at least, takes anthroposophy during that period to one of the roots of Nazism.

  32. It’s good he provides some arguments against steiner education (of course, for him they speak for public funding rather than against!). Better arguments against than Drewett’s silly arguments.

  33. it’s interesting what was provoked by the silly arguments. We perhaps ought to write a few letters ourselves?

  34. Yes, but wait! Perhaps someone will mention Jennifer Aniston and then you and all these parents will be speechless. Also, everyone will forget about Steiner and anthroposophy because, well, *Jennifer Aniston*!!! And that American Express guy!!

  35. I liked your comment, Pete.

    As for the Amex guy – didn’t Amex complain? Anyway ‘financial services’ isn’t too popular atm, in case Sune hasn’t noticed.

  36. Is there a better way to make anthroposophy look shallow and ridiculous than to carry on about Jennifer Aniston?

    I was going to leave a comment over there, but I get tired of having to sign up and log in zillions of places. I’ll skip this one …

  37. Yeah, I’m already signed in to these little papers so it’s fairly easy to comment. The idea is to have every puff piece on Waldorf backfire (with facts).

  38. Jennifer Aniston. I mean, come on. She’s not even a good actress. Some people think she looks attractive and ‘hot’, but I’m sure that’s not something waldorf can take credit for.

    I’m sure there are better, more interesting, more intelligent and more talented people who’ve been waldorf educated.

    Shallow and ridiculous sums it up.

  39. “eventually you might get an OBE out of this, Pete.”
    LOL… I think maybe the royals are on the wrong side of this issue… but I’ll take it…

  40. If the heir to the gnome, prince Charles, is in charge of deciding who gets them, the prospects look pretty bleak! But if the royal dogs, the corgis, are deciding, I’m sure things look better (they’re canineosophists, of course).

  41. For Pete, before I fall asleep:

    ‘An AWSNA member Waldorf school means a quality education.’

    This means Highland Hall, too!! According to the post, some myths are supposed to be dispelled in an article. (Reminder to self: look tomorrow.)

  42. ‘… becoming fully human.’ What does that mean? Are the rest of us not human? (Of course I know what it means but I doubt THAT would occur to most parents).

  43. Pete – honours go through various committees and thence to the Queen, who would say ‘Pete K – isn’t he the chap who writes in CAPS?’

  44. Fully human? No thanks! /mr Dog

    Isn’t it fascinating that the use expressions like that and so few ask — what’s this supposed to mean and what is the absence of fully human? (Unless it’s fully canine instead.)

  45. Kind of like “whole child” … apparently other schools will only educate a part of your child.
    Actually, in Waldorf you will find yourself wishing they WOULD only educate part of your child.

  46. Like a toe or something.

    I found waldorf somewhat lacking, though, because not only did they not educate the whole child, some parts of this child weren’t even welcome. Parts of the brain used for reading, e g…

  47. Read the 22 “myths”… I’m starting to think I know more about Waldorf education than Steve does. Some of what he is saying is just plain crap… especially the parts about “faculty-run” schools and that this wasn’t part of the original plan… it absolutely was!

  48. Oh, it was a post by Steve.

    Sometimes they even seem to invent the myths in order to refute these myths as it then looks as though they’re engaging with criticism. Or something. I really don’t know.

    On another note, I’d like to repeat Melanie’s description, on twitter, of Sune: ‘he’s a herring short of the full Smörgåsbord.’ He’s sending David Colquhoun a link to his thebee-website. Seems like a good idea, at least from a steiner critical viewpoint…

  49. I almost feel sorry for Sune as he meets ever increasing numbers of Brits (and others) who know who he is, and scientists who scratch their heads over his comments.

  50. There are even dogs who scratch their heads on the carpet in confusion because they can’t reach the top of their heads with their paws. They don’t know what to think. Although mr Dog would be pleased if Britain came floating with some british mrs Dogs. You have to ask the stars to lose their grip, I tell him.

  51. There is a Saramago novel in which the Iberian peninsula breaks free of the European continent and floats about the oceans. It’s a great book – very highly recommended. FICTION.

  52. Are you sure? Mr Dog is dreaming of islands breaking free and travelling the big oceans in the quest for more and funnier bunnies and fur girls. As a kid, one of my favourite books was about an eskimo troll who fell asleep on an ice floe and ended up in Africa, meeting the ‘negro king’ and his family. Very funny book, actually, but some parts of it look quite odd today.

    Anyway, I was reading the Quackometer thread (there’s a new post, too, by the way), and found this comment by Diana… July 5, 2012 at 2:40 am:

    ‘3) When you write “I’m not sure how much fact-checking is done since I do know that making sure things are right is not a priority,” you are misusing the word “since,” which should only be used in a temporal sense. The word you want is “because”; the resulting sentence would not be exactly eloquent, either.’

    I have a feeling I do this all the time!!! (In Swedish, there are several words to use for ‘because’ — and one of them has this double use, as the same word is also used in a temporal sense.)

  53. This is an extremely trivial and extremely common error; it’s actually BARELY an error, as most people do use the word “since” that way. I do it all the time too. It’s something editors correct in formal writing, but in everyday speech, it’s accepted. I just had to swing back at that uptight idiot complaining about a missing apostrophe. It’s a Law of the Internet, that the people calling other people out for spelling and grammar are only marginally literate themselves. It really never fails.

    Really, if I had to advise you about conversational English, I’d say go on using “since” for “because,” because the opposite way actually sounds odd in conversation.

  54. “It’s a Law of the Internet, that the people calling other people out for spelling and grammar are only marginally literate themselves. It really never fails.”

    Hey, I resemble that remark! I’ll admit, I like to call out Waldorf students for bad spelling. I think this is a common issue with Waldorf kids (and some teachers too) but it may be that I just happen to notice it quite often.

  55. Oh, I completely understand why you did it, Diana! But I always read what you write on things like these, because I hope to learn (if I remember what I learn is another thing…)! Well, then I don’t have to be nervous about this particular mistake.

    In my six years in waldorf, I don’t think we had even one spelling test. I’m not sure we even trained spelling. But if we did, it might have been so insignificant to me that I have forgotten all about it. I don’t think we did, however. You were supposed to learn writing from copying texts from the blackboard during block lessons. I had a teacher who could spell so the dreadful scenario of students copying wrong spelling was probably not happening in our case. I’m sure students who were naturally weak spellers, e g dyslectics, would have needed some actual and serious training though.

  56. Sorry, Pete … I guess I shouldn’t say it’s a hard and fast rule. It seems to be generally accepted as “netiquette” that pointing out spelling and grammar errors and typos is “not done.” And the danger is very great that the person pointing out the mistake(s) makes a few of their own.

    However, I think there’s a time and a place. Discussions of education are one of them. It is impossible to avoid remarking on the irony when defenders of a mode of education continually show themselves to be barely literate. How can one let this pass? It’s essentially what I did with the guy on the Quackometer. He was using a very trivial error to suggest this discredited the person who made it. Leaving out the apostrophe in “it’s” is basically a typo – most people know the difference between “its” and “it’s” but as the fingers fly over the keyboard, including the apostrophe is hit or miss. There is no one – no single human – who posts online who does not make typos. We are not machines. (And machines make worse errors anyway.) To bat that back is just to say, if your point is that such a trivial error disqualifies someone, then … well you really don’t have a point, ‘cus your own post is invalidated for the same reason.

    A while back when Arizona first passed its draconian anti-immigration legislation, I had a loud exchange online with someone complaining that elementary school teachers should be required to speak English as a first language – we can’t have teachers with “accents” teaching children to speak English “wrong” (in Arizona, Hispanics). Of course a lot of people pointed out that we all have “accents” and there isn’t a true “American” accent anyway – there are only dozens of regional accents. (Practically any word you could think of, American pronounce it 10 different ways.) But moreover, I could not resist taking apart this person’s post for the literally dozens of examples of poor or awkward English usage that it contained.

    Irony! It’s totally true that people who go on about others’ poor English often don’t speak it so well themselves.

    In my current job, I edit a lot of material written by people whose first language is not English. It is often better written than material written by native speakers. Every editor knows this. We also know our own English is not perfect and that critiquing other people’s is a very dicey business. When I look back at my posts online – or even my business emails, though of course I am more careful there – I always see errors – always. Some are trivial typos, others are truly poor or incorrect English usage.

  57. I’m sure Pete remembers the discussion on AT years ago about the Waldorf teacher who taught her students that to make an adjective into an adverb, you add “-ly” to the end. Sometimes, you double the final consonant … Thus, she taught them that the adverbial form of “big” is “biggly.” She put “biggly” on the spelling test. She was, of course, a native English speaker, and an anthroposophist. Should she have been teaching third grade? Me thinks not.

  58. hello – great comments at Andy’s. I’ve been out all day but also don’t know what to add – maybe it will come to me in a dream tonight. If they get funding for Exeter, Leeds or Fullfledge eco-loony school in Suffolk there will be more of this kind of thing.

  59. Yes — really great comments!

    My brain appears to have atrophied or something, but hopefully it will recover.

    I catch myself making that mistake (it’s/its) occasionally. I also sometimes confuse other things (eg, they’re/their) that I definitely KNOW. It’s a very special category of errors: things that you really do know the difference between, the why, the how…

    ‘We also know our own English is not perfect and that critiquing other people’s is a very dicey business. When I look back at my posts online – or even my business emails, though of course I am more careful there – I always see errors – always. Some are trivial typos, others are truly poor or incorrect English usage.’

    But without your knowledge and your skills as an editor, most of these errors would perhaps have gone unnoticed even when looking back! What you write most likely contains way less errors than the texts of most people, but the difference is you can and will detect the errors you make.

    ‘Biggly’ — LOL! It is a funny word, I almost want to believe it exists a possibility! Anyway, it could be used, though, to illustrate… well, when the rule does not apply and that you can’t make adverbs of all adjectives…

  60. If the education minister has his way children will soon be required to ‘read’ such nonsense words as ‘biggly’. It is part of the obssession with phonics in England.

  61. The education minister is right. There’s a specific principle behind such an exercise. If you can invent nonsense words based on phonetic principles, it’s a very good way to test whether you actually grasp the principle. This is excellent pedagogically, and kids love it.

    There is nothing at all wrong with nonsense words. Children love nonsense words – inventing them, reading them, and hearing them. Did you ever read Edward Lear, or Lewis Carroll? Waldorf education is supposed to be in favor of the imagination, right?

    The problem only comes when the teacher doesn’t actually know the difference between the nonsense words and real words, and confuses the children.


    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought—
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! and through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.

    ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  62. I
    The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea green boat,
    They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
    The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
    ‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
    You are,
    You are!
    What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

    Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
    O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?’
    They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
    And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose,
    His nose,
    His nose,
    With a ring at the end of his nose.

    ‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
    So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
    They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
    And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
    The moon,
    The moon,
    They danced by the light of the moon.

  63. Falk, to be perfectly honest that sort of thing is EXACTLY what I thought Waldorf was going to be all about, when I first heard their rhetoric about encouraging imagination, learning through stories and song, etc. It is a shame they mean something so far different from what they advertise.

  64. I believe in the teaching of phonics, but found through experience that there are 4 essential components to learning to read in english. One is phonics, the second is ‘how words look’, the third is a sense for english syntax and the fourth an understanding that when one is reading one is searching for meaning. When one can actually read quite well playing phonics games with nonsense words is fun, before that it can undermine the fourth component. In her thorough research into the teaching of reading and why some children fail to learn to read, Marie Clay discovered that a large percentage of those who were failing quite simply did not see it as a process of trying to find meaning in words.

  65. I love nonsense verses and nonsense words.

    I have no idea what phonics is, however. To flaunt my ignorance: why not just tell the kids what the letters of the alåphabet stand for, and they’ll be reading and writing in no time? Why wouldn’t they — unless they’re retarded or dyslectic? With the abundance of words everywhere, I assume that if parents were just telling kids, ‘this is an A’, ‘this is an N’… kids would be deciphering words like ‘anthroposophy’ in a few days if they were mature enough. Which perhaps at 3 they aren’t but at 5 or 6 they are.

    I don’t see what the fuss is about. Why aren’t parent just doing this? Why do waldorf schools spend days copying the letter A, painting pictures, et c?! And this after an eternity of ‘form drawing’.

    The wikipedia entry about phonics says it’s used in the english speaking world, so perhaps it’s not used in Sweden? I have no idea. Reading the article, I must admit I understand very little.

  66. Problems occur in English because the names given to the letters are different to the sound associated with the letter when used in a word, and there are a limited number of phonically regular words.

    It is easy to learn ‘sat’, ‘let’, ‘mum’, but you can’t write many sentences in English before you have to use ‘was’ and ‘once’, or ‘only’. Can you think of many words where the ‘o’ and ‘e’ are used in the way they are in ‘women’?

    One can’t easily get to read the following words using phonics in the simplified way it is taught to children -‘through’, ‘though’, ‘cough’, ‘rough’.

    It is a bit the same with the ‘sj’ sound in Swedish (sjera ljud?). It can be spelt many different ways and pronounced in several different ways with regional variations thrown in, from Malmö to Skellefteå.

  67. True. This is more complicated in English. But once you have the basics, know the letters, you need to familiarize youreself with all the words. As far as I can remember, when you were a child you absorbed things so easily that once you had seen a word and knew what it was (I remember trying to read the Swedish word ‘och’, wondering what on earth it was — not realizing it was pronounced ‘ock’), you would be able to read it and understand it for the rest of your life. Once you’ve seen a word and known it, you never actually *read* it again. You just see the ‘picture’, so to speak. You don’t read ‘picture’ you see ‘picture’ and it’s like seeing a dandelion and immediately knowing it’s not a poppy.

    I always — and still — have a problem with the sje-ljud. It was much worse when I was a kid and my paternal relatives were quite nasty about it, assuming, I take it, that it was due to inherited stupidity on the maternal side. My mother and maternal grandparents were, however, Swedish speaking Finns. There is a regional variation there, I think.

    I couldn’t pronounce ‘sked’, for example. I still make the mistake saying ‘sjed’ sometimes. The same with ‘stjärna’ och ‘kärna’ — I always have to stop and think and then say the wrong thing anyway. BUT I would never ever spell these words wrong, because ‘stjärna’ is the image that goes with the stellar object and ‘kärna’ is the image the goes with core or seed. It’s just very simple.

    I wouldn’t understand why one would want to mix sounds with images when it’s so much easier to read using images!

    Unless it’s new words you have to struggle with and try to learn how to pronounce. But with most basic words, you already know.

  68. The Beskow/Siegvald book ‘Vill du Läsa?’ from the middle of the last century, which I have, is certainly using a phonic approach.

    Lisa Lär Läsa

    Far-far är Lisas fars far.
    (He writes on the ground for her)
    “Läs, Lisa lilla!” sa far-far.
    “Läs; is, sil, mil, ris!”
    “Is, sil, mil, ris”, sa Lisa.
    Far-far är rar,
    som lär Lisa läsa.

  69. It seems as if you have a very good visual memory, and learn most easily in that way. It is important in English also, which is why I referred to ‘how words look’.

  70. Ah! I had that book. It never made much sense. Once you can read those words, you *can read*. And then it’s just about annoying, not even funny, verses with simple words that rhyme. Sort of.

    I would have guessed that the point of a title like ‘Lisa Lär Läsa’ was to teach some kind of simple alliteration to kids who can already read.

  71. ‘Once you’ve seen a word and known it, you never actually *read* it again. You just see the ‘picture’, so to speak. You don’t read ‘picture’ you see ‘picture’ and it’s like seeing a dandelion and immediately knowing it’s not a poppy. ‘

    That is how adults read. But learner readers have to look at and work out each word. and they need to use 4 different strategies, which I referred to above, in order to become competent readers. I have to do this when reading German.

  72. ‘It seems as if you have a very good visual memory, and learn most easily in that way. It is important in English also, which is why I referred to ‘how words look’.’

    Definitely. I don’t think I could have learnt any other way; how words sound seems like a totally unnecessary detour and destraction. Going by how words look has another advantage: you don’t have to know how they sound first.

    It must be much quicker to read visually, as well, not bothering with how things sound? It’s one image vs often several different sounds in a word, and reading is about seeing, not hearing. Or is the idea that the ‘sound-reading’ kids convert to reading words as images later?

  73. Ah, cross-posting. I guess that’s the idea then — that they move from sounds to word images.

    I didn’t learn to read in school, so there was no conscious strategy. I know I learnt the letters and I know I was looking at printed words and one day, my mother tells me,* I simply knew and then I read. Except complicated words like ‘och’ which I needed help with to learn the ‘picture’ and what it meant. Not sure how phonics would help in such situations.

    (*She says we were in the kitchen and she told me that when you read the alphabet you think ‘a’, ‘be’, ‘ce’, but the letter ‘b’ is just ‘b’ not a ‘b’ and an ‘e’. I lighted up, didn’t say a word, went away, and then I read. After that, I don’t think sounds mattered at all anymore.)

  74. Phonics is basically helping kids match letters (and letter combinations) with the sounds they correspond to. A lot of kids definitely need phonics – they need direct instruction in this relationship or they may not even understand there IS a relationship – that is, they may not understand that the rest of us make this connection and it is one way (though not the only way) we make sense out of the little squiggly black lines on the page/screen.

    Phonics isn’t the only needed element though some zealots will tell you so. Deaf children learn to read, too, and obviously they aren’t connecting sounds and letters.

    I only meant to point out that reading/writing nonsense words can indeed be a valuable phonics exercise. The exercise basically makes the point to children about the letter/sound relationships. We know how to say “biggly” even though it doesn’t mean anything. In some ways, focusing on the sound/letter relationship is easier when the word DOESN’T mean anything – that’s what makes it a good teaching tool, in its place. The fact that children find it loads of fun helps.

    If all one did was make kids read and write lists of meaningless words, to teach phonics principles, obviously this would be awful, but I doubt Gove’s plan encourages this. Obviously reading for pleasure and meaning has to be the overall project. Nonsense words are a game – they make you stop and think about and experience “words as words,” and it can be a crucial part of learning to read, and to appreciate language in itself.

  75. I can actually envision someone walking biggly…

    It would be interesting to know if Swedish kids learn reading through [with?] phonics too. I’ve never seen a school book teaching reading to Swedish kids except ancient ones (one was mentioned by Falk, it’s very old).

    I assume waldorf kids don’t use phonics?

    As far as I can remember, you copied letters. One day you typed a ‘B’ and draw a bear.* Another day, some other letter and some other drawing. None of it made much sense for kids who already knew how to read. Then, once all the necessary letters were gone through, you copied words from the blackboard, perhaps ‘BEAR’ and draw another bear. Not much point to any of that either. Can’t remember anything that even resembles phonics. It may have made no sense to me, so I forgot it.

    (*Here’s an example: Not mine. The photo is mine, but not the drawing.)

  76. I’ve never actually known any children. My mother, who realized waldorf wasn’t teaching children a lot of things, but who nevertheless thought of sending my brother there, decided to start to teach him to read when he was very young. She wrote down words that appealed to his sense of humour and he learnt and he was reading fluently when he was 3. She had realized that if I hadn’t taught myself to read before school, there was no guarantee the school would have taught me or they would have discovered if I’d been dyslectic. So for him to go to waldorf, she thought he had to learn to read independently of school.

    And, on second thought, I think one thing was crucial in my learning to read: my parents read to me a lot and I followed the text they were reading and, probably, gradually learnt to decipher it. Not sure how to implement that in a classroom though. Especially not a classroom without books or printed texts…

  77. ‘The same with ‘stjärna’ och ‘kärna’’.
    To my ears, Anne Sofie von Otter pronounces them the same. I always thought it was a ‘posh’ Stockholm thing.
    Helen Sjöholm , from Sundsvall seems to differentiate them.

  78. It did not fly with my relatives in Djursholm, that’s for sure… But I always doubted their genuine level of poshness anyway, so their attitude towards this stuff might not be a clue.

    As for ‘stjärna’, it can be pronounced in several ways. Like ‘s-t-järna’, almost expressing every letter, and the more ugly version, sounding something like ‘schärna’.

    I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to have stjärnor in your grapes or your apples actually!

  79. Like the one on p 14 here:

    (Sorry everyone else, Swedish.)

    Edit: I’ll just copy the verse here. It was very important. I even remembered enough of it to find it easily with the help of google…

    Jag har ett litet äpple
    Som jag har fått av mor
    Därinne finns ett kärnhus
    Där tio kärnbarn bor
    I varje rum av huset
    Två kärnbarn ligga får
    Där sova de och drömma
    Om sol och ljus och vår

  80. “my parents read to me a lot and I followed the text they were reading and, probably, gradually learnt to decipher it. Not sure how to implement that in a classroom though. Especially not a classroom without books or printed texts…”

    Ha, yes, well, you’ve put your finger on the major problem …

    The controversies about reading instruction (phonics, “whole language,” etc.) are generally irrelevant to Waldorf, where they have yet to be persuaded that BOOKS are needed in a classroom where you want to help children read. We cannot have a meaningful discussion about reading strategies with people who think that books are something that children need to be actively sheltered from as a damaging influence. Some Waldorf teachers even actively dissuade parents from reading to their children at home.

    Let’s discuss methods of reading instruction AFTER they figure out they need to get some books in the classrooms – yes, horrors, even the preschool and early childhood classrooms.

    (A rhetorical “Let’s discuss …” meaning, we as critics overall, not meaning to make statements about what should be discussed on your blog …)

  81. ‘AFTER they figure out they need to get some books’

    will that ever happen?

    One of the waldorf ideas is that you teach writing the letters and then words before teaching reading. Books would wreck that, as children would realize (which they do outside school anyway, of course) that you can read without being yet able to write very well (especially not with thick crayons) and even without knowing form drawing!

    Absolutely one of waldorf’s weakest parts, not allowing books or printed texts. It’s absurd when kids are in 4-5-6 grades and have barely encountered anything printed in school.

    Also, in general, I think it’s an awful idea to keep books away from children, no matter how young. They should be there to entice them — to give them the idea that one day they’ll be reading these books! To make them want it.

  82. “One of the waldorf ideas is that you teach writing the letters and then words before teaching reading.”

    It’s not a bad idea in itself (although there’s no reason not to do both at once, if the child is interested). It’s just that whatever you do, you should start it about 5 years earlier than Waldorf suggests. Lovely to teach children to draw letters – 2 and 3 year olds are really into it. To make this the centerpiece of your reading curriculum for first graders is to place serious impediments in their paths.

  83. And bore them. It felt more like something for kindergarten, an activity that could be sort of enjoyed both by children who would have wanted to learnt he letters and to those who just wanted to draw.

    It’s quite extreme when, as in Sweden, you start school at seven. And then spend first grade drawing each and every letter like that. With these thick crayons. Not reading at all. If it’s not an impediment — and I suspect that for many children it is — then it certainly seems like a waste of time and a way to teach them school is boring and slow.

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