video advertisement starring former students

I’m certain that these comments, made by former students in this video, were not written by those former students. In fact, I’m strongly suspicious that they were all written by some crook in charge of waldorf’s public image, and that the former students were enlisted to read them out in front of the camera. Not because the comments are positive towards waldorf; I would expect that. No, there’s something else. There’s something in the way they use language, in how they talk and in how they present their opinions and what words and expressions they choose for the purpose. Ok, there are a few personal details about their later careers that have been worked into the script and fitted to the message, but that’s easily achieved. It’s not only that they all seem too identical and express themselves in too identical a way, it’s also that what they say often seems to be directly derived from waldorf advertisement materials.  They’re using the same words and expressions and arguments to describe their experiences as those that are found in waldorf brochures and similar sources. In other words, they don’t appear ‘natural’. Nothing seems to come from the heart (to express myself in the most banal way).

All that comes from these former students is run-of-the-mill waldorf advertisement buzz, of a familiar, but often mendacious, kind. Unsurprising, perhaps, as it is a PR video.  I do not hear honesty, I do not hear anything genuine, I do not hear anything spontaneous; I do not hear anything that wasn’t read from a script, written by someone in charge of the ‘official waldorf message’. Again, perhaps not surprising, but I hardly think this was the desired effect (on the other hand, they aren’t trying to woo me). These students come off like robots, impersonal, like automatons programmed to fulfil a mission. Or, to be kinder, actors (not good one). It’s so typically waldorf, but presumably not in the way the PR department anticipated.

I know, I express myself above in a deliberately provocative way; I do impose my interpretation on the appearances of these students, and maybe I’m wrong. But what do you think? What do you hear, when you listen to these former students? Let’s assume they are all genuine and this is the way they talk and these the opinions they honestly hold —  contrary to what I argued — what would that tell us (about their education)? Isn’t it still as bad? Even if it were genuine — is it not too robotic? Are they ‘free thinking’ or some kind of automatons, albeit genuine ones? And do people fall for this? Really? Would you?

52 thoughts on “video advertisement starring former students

  1. Way to go, Alicia! You’re an “agent provocateur” after my own heart.

    Now these students are all graduates of the Sacramento Waldorf School, which is just down the road from Rudolf Steiner College, both located in the Northeast suburb of Sacramento called Fair Oaks.

    One of them is the son of Dennis Klocek, an old friend of mine at RSC and another is the daughter of Betty Staley. So I’m right now getting in touch with a few of them and hopefully many will read your provocative posting here and make some comments.

  2. Alicia,

    Actually there is a good reason for you to pick up vibes of their presentation being scripted because it actually was part of a formal occasion, which was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Sacramento Waldorf School two years ago. All of them were specifically invited to be on a special panel of alumni, so clearly they all felt the gravitas of the situation and were much more polished in their presentation than if it were a spontaneous interview.

    Check out this page:

    As a part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations, the Sacramento Waldorf School has invited a handful of alumni back home to share how their paths were shaped by their Waldorf education. Come hear their stories.

    http://www.waldorflist.org/schools/sacwaldorf/wp-content/uploads//2010/04/Alum-Panel_final1.pdf

  3. Well, obviously it is polished PR, not exactly spontaneous comments on their Waldorf educations, but I would give the benefit of the doubt that most of them are sincere. Nevertheless, there’s a familiar sort of unnatural dreaminess about the way many of them speak, almost like they’re drugged. The teacher, at the end, has clearly been lobotomized.

  4. that’s almost… worse! I guess that the dreamy-drugged impression might be the same as what I experienced as robotic. Not quite there, so to speak. Or, to speak fake and amateur anthroposophese, a lack of I…

  5. Diana,

    What perfect timing! I am actually in the middle of typing an email to Liv Beaven, who is the Administrator at the Sac WS! I shall definitely include your comment now to her about how you mistook her for a teacher and claimed that she was lobotomized.

    But don’t worry, Diana, I’ll explain to her that you are actually also something of an administrator in your profession as editor at an institution of higher learning, plus, like Liz, you share being at one time Waldorf mothers, so that mayhaps you are just doing a little projecting of your own self-deprecation on her. After all, it takes one to know one, right?

  6. I hope that gives you great enjoyment, Tom. Do you ever consider getting a job yourself? Doing something constructive with one`s time can be rewarding.

    Or if that`s not an option, why don`t you just go fuck yourself?

  7. That’s quite enough, Tom. You seem to derive great satisfaction from intriguing and some not so subtle meanness towards people, in this case Diana who was never your enemy. It isn’t a very nice side of you, and sometimes I wonder if that’s the only true side. Not that there’s any point to wondering. I don’t honestly think I care. But I don’t want my blog to be the location for your attempts to rile people up or to try to get people to beat each other up. Or for such meanness as you just showed. I know there’s no point in trying to explain this, but when you have to use others in such way to cause the kerfuffle you get high on, it’s not ok. There’s more point to saying: it won’t be ok with me, and I’m going to screen your comments before they appear.

  8. You could interview boys from my son’s school – which is let’s say traditional – and they would say they were not afraid of challenges, could apply skills learnt in certain areas to other areas, and so on – it isn’t unique to Waldorf. There would be more variety (and far greater intellectual clout). There would be criticism (I’ve heard it) and there would also be praise for certain teachers – I just saw a magazine the boys made with one of their favourite teachers on the cover – dressed eccentrically and praised for the great British virtue of not taking himself too seriously.

    There would be NO reverence at all. But by Jove they get university places and jobs, which is more than you can say for most of the poor sods from the Steiner school a few miles distant.

    I don’t see what’s so special about what these young people are saying (in video) it’s fairly standard stuff people say about an old school. What’s really odd is the teacher who looks and sounds like a priestess of the temple of Steiner, and yes, as if her brains have been removed through her nose. Please pass this on to her with my compliments and tell her she makes it 100% obvious that this is a RELIGIOUS school.

    Cheers.

  9. Perhaps that’s what they do in steiner teacher training. Remove the brain in the old egyptian mummy way.

    I actually find it difficult to see myself talking like that. On the other hand, I would never be brought in to help make a propaganda film… Never been good with the standard PR bullshit…

  10. well that’s it – you don’t bring in the student who had a dreadful or a mediocre time. In either case (Waldorf or traditional).

  11. Well, I thought the other school I went to was pretty good. But I wouldn’t be able to master that kind of talk anyway. I was never able to even feign the slightest bit of enthusiasm for the school’s sports achievements either — which I feel is the same thing. Junk with a cloak of proud fakery around it. Unnatural. I’ve always been brutally upfront and telling people I don’t give a damn. Sports and PR talk, same shit. I encounter it and feel despair over the emptiness of the human soul. And am overwhelmed by a desire only to socialize with dogs.

  12. Yes, revisiting the comment about the lobotomy, I stand by it. My point was the students – as opposed to the teacher – all strike me as sincere – they were obviously given certain talking points, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s only obvious to us because we know all the talking points so well – Waldorf-naive viewers would not recognize that, not having heard the talking points ten million times. I don’t disbelieve that they are successful individuals who look back on their Waldorf education fondly and/or credit their experiences there with giving them a good foundation for future successes. True, there is that slight air of “drugged,” but that’s either a result of being coached quite a bit – they were told not to be too animated, probably – and/or a result of automatically reverting to that preferred mode of existing that they remember from their years in Waldorf – that sort of floaty, slightly “far away” air (inculcated by eurythmy?), where no one ever gets animated, everyone carefully controls their voice and their posture etc. If they went through many years at Waldorf they are quite used to acting that way all day. They probably act normal in the rest of their lives.

    As for the teacher, however, “lobotomized” is the nice explanation for it. “Lobotomized” gives her the benefit of the doubt that she is a sincere individual who believes everything she is saying, she has simply had a chunk of her brain removed.

  13. What would be interesting is a history of the making of this video. To be a fly on the wall and see, for instance, who they asked to participate who refused. (Or how *many* people they asked who refused.) Or how the video participants were coached – how their scripts were written and/or vetted. Did they submit a copy of their own words first, which came back to them edited? Or did someone actually write it for them and ask them to just insert their personal details Or who made a video that they decided they couldn’t use. How many “takes” did each video require, and how were the videos edited? Did the students then see the edited videos and give approval?

    Not that this is any different from the production of most PR pieces. But I suspect the left-out bits would be pretty interesting. The stuff on the cutting room floor in Waldorf is always interesting.

  14. Alicia: “Sports and PR talk, same shit. I encounter it and feel despair over the emptiness of the human soul. And am overwhelmed by a desire only to socialize with dogs.”

    Strangely, that’s pretty much how I felt by my mid/late twenties – to the point of wanting to end it all, somehow, and spending months walking the in the psilocybin enhanced, Autumn glory of the Pentland hills. This was my reaction to trying to conform to Melanie’s empty world of ‘universities and jobs’. It’s only really kicking against all that crap that makes life bearable.

  15. Choosing your company might actually help.

    What makes this video noteworthy is that waldorf presents itself as an alternative that gives meaning to young people’s life and learning. And there they are, in a pr movie, displaying a total hollowness of human existence. They’re more robots than most of what mainstream society produces.

    Got to stop typing; my fingers are ice.

  16. Btw, i get that they are not utter idiots irl. But in the movie they’re soulless robots, cheering on a sports team. And i wonder why any school would want to present themselves like that.

  17. The aspirations and working lives of the majority of Brits, Ted – do not preclude walking in the hills, or rich interior lives you do not see. Get over yourself.

  18. here’s an alternative school film – (I hope it doesn’t get imbedded, you’ll hate it) – it describes the cream of British society:

  19. “The aspirations and working lives of the majority of Brits, Ted – do not preclude walking in the hills, or rich interior lives you do not see. Get over yourself.”

    The expected response, Melanie (can we say lack of compassion? Anyway, certainly not much evidence of a ‘rich interior life’). I was describing my response to your values (and five years of university study and a shorter period in work say it’s not as if I hadn’t tried them). You assume I judge others or wish to impose on their choices; I don’t. But you, and the rest of the skeptocracy, do appear to wish to impose themselves on others.

  20. “here’s an alternative school film – (I hope it doesn’t get imbedded, you’ll hate it) – it describes the cream of British society:”

    Yes, we have Winchester college up the road from us – my Dad offered to pay tuition for my son (though he’d call Eton ‘borstal for the rich’) which I, as a child of the socialist republic of South Yorkshire, rejected. ‘Cream’? Yes, and that’s got thicker in the last two decades; Oxbridge try to dilute it but still, as always, the UK establishment is largely drawn from it.

  21. Excuse me for saying this, but the inner lives of Ted and of most ‘spiritual’ people remain a complete mystery too. Ted I don’t, and as for a huge many of the spiritual they just appear trite and shallow.

    For me, university was partly a disappointment — intellectually and culturally. Humanities was worst, law much better, oddly. I do not see anything would improve from replacing already low intellectual standards with mumbo-jumbo, however. Rather more rigour. High school was better, intellectually.

    But you, like me, know nothing about the inner lives of all these other people. For all I know, as long as they don’t express theselves, their inner lives may be richer than yours, which I know very little about.

    What we can know, however, are what we might call cultural tendencies. Like replacing content with empty but superficially fancy-sounding pr talk — an art waldorf folks excel at.

    (Sorry for errors. Small phone, icy fingers.)

  22. Now that my fingers aren’t ice cold…

    ‘Ted I don’t, and as for a huge many of the spiritual they just appear trite and shallow.’

    Supposed to say: ‘Ted I don’t know, and as for a huge many of the spiritual they just appear trite and shallow.’

    Meaning, I don’t actually know Ted or his inner life.

    There were probably other writing errors, but the loss of the word ‘know’ was rather fatal for that clause.

  23. “a mere sylph, Ted.”

    Maybe why I missed the gossamer feet. What is your view on the ‘cream of British society’, Melanie?

  24. Melanie,

    It’s also possible, of course, that your ‘irony’ is as well conceived as your ‘satire’.

  25. Apropos of Melanie’s Eton post, of course the English public school system is also a source of good, of high scholarly standards and ‘good egg’ Englishness (it’s a bit different in the Celtic hinterlands). Poet Laureate John Masefield represented this side of the things beautifully in his classic adventure story, The Box of Delights. Here’s episode one for Christmas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR0ccgsS0To .

  26. In a sense I actually did think that a lot of university was empty. Or, somehow, barren. Certainly not a kind of intellectual adventure, which one might have expected. It varied quite a lot. But there was a lot to wish for.

    I do have a feeling I’m not speaking about the same ‘issues’ as Ted is though!

  27. actually I meant Alicia will hate the song, or rather the music, which has been parodied literally hundreds of times. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a Waldorf style.

    My children are in state schools. I don’t care for the coalition government (many of whom went to Eton) and I’m a republican (the British version).

    But the beagles in the Eton parody really do belong to the school.

  28. completely correct, Melanie — I hate it! I see that word (‘gangnam’ or whatever) everywhere, but I’ve never understood what it is.

    Maybe there’s a gnome version? ‘gnomenam’?

  29. One of them, the red-bearded one with a brown hat, has a dog bone attached to the hat. What are we to make of that, I ask mr Dog… He shakes his head in disbelief at the entire spectacle.

  30. Melanie:

    “It’s only a matter of time before there’s a Waldorf style.”

    No time at all:

    Waldorf Rap “The Gnomies Are My Homies”

  31. My impression is that the former pupils talking in the video feel forced, uncomfortable and hesitant. There is an interesting lack of passion, life and flow in the way they speak. They could be uncomfortable with the situation of course or the question they are trying to answer could be badly phrased. But considering all the usual waldorf claims about self-expression and developing pupils as inividuals, they should have been able to handle even a bad interview much better. For their sake I hope the explanation is that they aren’t really convinced that their school experience is superior to what others got from their schools.

  32. Watching the video again, a couple more thoughts.

    Part of the effect people are picking up about the odd lack of passion (or I called it a “drugged” air) may be editing or technical disjoints. Or the copy here is not a first-generation copy? (That doesn’t totally explain it, but it may be enhancing the effect.) In some parts the sound is delayed, and there’s a weird “muffledness” that was either done on purpose or else the video editor wasn’t skilled. Some of the segments may even have been done on a smartphone. Which would be strange, if you want professional looking PR … But they may really have thought it looked more spiritual somehow – anything that enhances that “feet not quite on the ground” impression, they think is good.

    I absolutely stand by the “lobotomy” comment. Obviously it is an exaggeration, but as I said, IMO it’s a *nice* explanation for the administrator’s affect. (Tom M. is at some pains to note she is an administrator and not a teacher, though I’m not sure why he sees that as a significant error. Okay, she’s an administrator.)

    My first impression of her was that she was reading from a prompter, which may be the case, or she didn’t have enough time to learn her lines or she may simply not be very good at delivering memorized lines, or she badly needed a cup of coffee.

    But I’m hardly imagining that she is not speaking in a genuine or authentic manner. Sorry, but if you’re human, you can see this person is not acting like humans act when they’re 1) healthy and 2) feeling at ease, as opposed to under the influence of either substances or mental impairment or some form of indoctrination. It could come from meditating too much or doing too many spiritual exercises. In my experience, however, among zealous anthroposophists, this affect is deliberately cultivated. It comes from deliberate, prolonged, and strenuous self-restraint of normal affect.

    It is intended to seem calming and serene and to soothe children. In fact it frightens them, because children understand that it is actually repressed rage.

    Bottom line, the students? well, the students are a mixed bag, clearly they were given fairly strict parameters and did their best. The administrator’s performance is creepy.

    Tom has called my comments “vicious.” I think this upbringing is potentially very damaging to children. The administrator’s performance in this video evokes much in Waldorf that I think is unhealthy for children. And what is so distressing about it is that exactly the “drugged air” or “lack of passion” or “looks lobotomized” affect is not just because a couple of odd birds found a perch at a particular school – parents need to understand this teacher’s affect is DELIBERATELY CULTIVATED. This is just how they are taught, in their training, to act around children. (They tried hard to coach me to act this way, but I just couldn’t do it – most people can’t. It takes TRAINING. – “Spiritual” training.)

    Run the other way from such a setting! It isn’t a healthy environment for children.

  33. Ulf: ‘But considering all the usual waldorf claims about self-expression and developing pupils as inividuals, they should have been able to handle even a bad interview much better.’

    Exactly. In addition to this: the focus on performing — verse recitals, plays, music, eurythmy, et c — in waldorf makes it even more odd. It should have made them less uneasy performing this ‘show’ than other students.

    Diana: ‘It could come from meditating too much or doing too many spiritual exercises. In my experience, however, among zealous anthroposophists, this affect is deliberately cultivated. It comes from deliberate, prolonged, and strenuous self-restraint of normal affect.’

    Yes, in other words a kind of ideal among them, an ideal they don’t recognize as ‘strange’ but that deviates from what other people would expect?

    ‘The administrator’s performance in this video evokes much in Waldorf that I think is unhealthy for children. And what is so distressing about it is that exactly the “drugged air” or “lack of passion” or “looks lobotomized” affect is not just because a couple of odd birds found a perch at a particular school – parents need to understand this teacher’s affect is DELIBERATELY CULTIVATED.’

    It’s difficult with people you can’t interpret, and children are, I suppose, in the process of learning to interpret interactions, attitudes, feelings, of more ‘normal’ behaviour.

    Try interpreting a eurythmy teacher. All you know is that there’s tension and seriousness and then it explodes when the zombie mask can no longer stick.

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