hallowed traditions

Oddly, I never managed to reply to this short comment posted by Diana on the critics list in october (October 29, 2012). I saved it as ‘unread’ in emails and didn’t return to it until now. I believe it neatly sums up so many things in one short comment. Unfortunately, I don’t know who it is that Diana is quoting, presumably it is some waldorf parent or other. It doesn’t matter much. Here’s Diana’s insightful comment:

“‘awakened’ as compared to the rest of the children – they are both younger siblings so they’ve been exposed to a lot more of the world/tv/adult concepts than most children their age”

Unfortunately, this parent has obviously already been influenced by Waldorf baloney. Notice the Waldorf jargon about “awakened” children and the whole nonsense about exposing children to “the world” and “adult concepts” that Waldorf teachers proactively fear monger about. (“Adult concepts,” with its frisson of sexual hysteria, actually means things like Big Bird, or the purple dinosaur or the ABC song.) The teacher blames her problems in the classroom on TV. Blaming television (and parents who let their children watch it) and “the world” because you can’t manage rowdy children is BS. The parent should remove her child. It’s unlikely the teacher will agree to actually discipline the boys that are causing problems. Her discipline model – letting rowdy children pound on younger or less aggressive children – is a hallowed Waldorf tradition. The teacher has been ecouraged to believe that evil outside influences (not her) are to blame if she has trouble managing her classroom. She’s also been taught to sow conflict among the parents – blame other parents who let their kids watch TV – in order to deflect criticism from herself. Anyway, if a younger child is being victimized as a result, remember Steiner spoke about karma. “Steiner is difficult.”

Notice the teacher (or some Waldorf bliss ninny) has convinced her that as “younger siblings,” these out-of-control children have somehow been “exposed to more of the world.” Um, a lot of children have older siblings …

I find this particularly useful as it explains how waldorf philosophy helps the teacher to transfer responsibility for not managing the children and the situation in the class to external factors — nothing is ever the school’s fault (or responsibility). Children needing to ‘punish’ each other — unresolved conflicts, karma, not the teacher’s business to interfere with. Discipline problems, management problems, difficult children — the fault of the world, modern media, anything but the school, which, if parents weren’t so disobedient (and did keep their children sufficiently secluded), would be a peaceful haven away from the world. And, in case someone might have thought so, Diana is not joking when she mentions an ABC song. Premature intellectual pursuits, not only television and computer games, lead to unbalanced development. The child becomes difficult as a consequence of knowledge and learning, when according to anthroposophical ideas — and dogmatic waldorf teachers — the child is not yet ready for those, not yet at the correct stage of development for such activities.

For some reason, the fact that unwanted behaviour can arise as a consequence of boredom and intellectual under-stimulation — in turn directly caused by the pedagogical approach itself — rarely seems to occur to the believers.

74 thoughts on “hallowed traditions

  1. Hi Alicia,

    Every time I read something here — I just breathe a kind of sigh of relief — like walking into the bracingly cold air after being in a closed room; I’ve been interested in the whole of the discourse happening here concerning anthroposophy (side note: it seems that the movement’s pushing for public funding in the UK has really opened Pandora’s box for Steiner/Waldorf schools — or am I misreading this? It would be interesting to know what kind of momentum there has been for Waldorf charters here in the US — not many I don’t suppose — I can’t see how they would possibly fit their criteria into the standards-based education reform that public schools are accountable to these days) but especially interested when I come across posts like these which speak so directly to my own experience with the school.

    I don’t even know where to begin. I wanted to respond to the conversation thread concerning Perra/French Anthroposophists — as I read the comment thread concerning cult/cult behavior I couldn’t really respond adequately because I didn’t feel as well-versed as those discussing it — but what I did want to share is this:

    I am a relatively typical 40 year old American middle-class woman, raised in the Upper-Midwest of the US — I have an advanced degree, am married to a lawyer — I’m a lapsed Catholic raised by a quasi-spiritual but largely secular widowed mother (my father was Catholic, a professor — my mother a high-school teacher.) My husband’s family are Austrian immigrants — he was raised here from infancy (and had no knowledge, btw, or interest in Waldorf/Steiner).

    I’ll spare you the entire life story but want to explain how I came to know about Waldorf — and my initial perception of the school — and I wonder how common that (mis)perception is.

    I first heard about Waldorf in graduate school in a small University town in Montana. (At 18 I moved to Boulder, Colorado where I went to undergraduate school — and embraced a kind of lifestyle that I associate with the most liberal meccas of the US — environmentally conscious, politically liberal — many of these communities are also fairly affluent — though I was not). In that small Montanan town there was this amazing art project in the town square — I can’t remember now if it was a chalk drawing … or a mandala of some sort? A circle? Anyway — it was gorgeous and I asked someone what it was all about and they said matter-of-factly “the Waldorf school” — and when I asked what it was I was told “oh, an arts-based private elementary school” — which sounded, frankly, quite idyllic.

    A few years later after I’d moved home and begun teaching at the college level — I was at a writing conference in Santa Fe and met a woman nearly ten years my junior — she had this lovely, ethereal quality about her — she physically beautiful — which drew people to her of course — but too — seemed driven by a kind of magical thinking that was infectious and paired with her creativity and eloquence it was quite a combination. When she told her life story she remarked that she’d been through a Waldorf school in Oregon.

    Fast forward ten years and I was looking for a preschool for my daughter. When I found out that there was a Waldorf school here (more than one, actually) — I was excited — there had been numerous articles in the local paper that had touted the arts-based school — and describing it as a place that more and more progressive, liberal, artists and musicians — were choosing for their children (could they afford the hefty pricetag.) I just now remember that my brother’s partner also had a cousin who lived here — and his cousin’s children attended the local Waldorf and how they’d begged their parents to switch them out of the school “it’s great I can knit mom, but I want to learn physics” — and though I remembered that story I ignored it — It seemed to dovetail so nicely into this “lifestyle” — that buzzword of ‘natural parenting’ that you hear so much about. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read thread after thread about Waldorf on the Mothering magazine thread — or the Berkeley Parenting Network — anyway…all of these places would only mention the arts-based world of Waldorf — though plenty of discussion would arise out of the stance on media — very little conversation ever seemed to focus on the pedagogy.

    When I first arrived with my daughter last year (she was just 18 months then) — I was enchanted by the environment — and for my daughter, someone who had been colic-y, and somewhat shy — never engaging in the more traditional environments — she immediately ran through their backyard as the mother’s chatted in a circle — and I remember the teacher telling this story about how Steiner believed that children chose the parents they were born to — and I, who had had a long, hard-fought battle with infertility — finally conceiving her with IVF — teared up — because, see — I thought at first this was personal idiosyncrasy — so too her comment that I should carry Z on my other hip because of some left/right brain something or other…and then there was the time I came to school distraught because my best friend had been diagnosed with metastatic stage 4 cancer and the teacher shared the loss of her own sister to breast cancer but how Steiner believed it was self-manifested…or…I can’t remember exactly what because my brain began to buzz then…it was at that moment that I knew something else was afoot here. Or when I brought up Steve Jobs’ commencement speech about becoming … and she had no idea who he was…and pronounced it like the biblical Job — (Really???!)

    I’m sorry this is getting so long — but as this relates to an earlier point about the discussion thread about whether or not this is a cult — my husband implored me not to write about this on my own personal blog — because I had shared with him how much negative attention critics have received … and didn’t want to bring that same kind of attention to my own blog — but I also feel the need to share this somewhere — and have wanted desperately to share this with the women I’d made friends with there — many of whom are still involved with/enchanted with the school — but not, I feel, in any kind of informed way.

    Now that I have acquainted myself with many of the points brought up here — read the translation of Perra’s work — learned more about the actual pedagogy that drives the school — I feel like I dodged a bullet here — I told my husband that I feel like I can’t believe I was almost persuaded to hand over my daughter to be educated by this movement…and I was never informed that their pedagogy was based on anthroposophy — merely influenced by Steiner’s approach… I am chilled when I come across the term here or elsewhere — of ‘spiritual midwifery’

    I think about the woman I know, a successful doctor, who spoke of it as feeling like her children were ‘shielded’ from the fast-moving, unpredictable torrents of popular culture — that she at least didn’t have to worry about them during the hours they were at Waldorf.

    I just don’t believe that most Americans who are sending their children to these schools have any idea of the larger context…

    Again, I’m sorry this was so long — I didn’t mean to hijack your comment section —

  2. I think you should write about this on your own blog too. I don’t think you’ll get attacked. What you may be able to do though is start a discussion, and it could have positive consequences for others who may already have a few concerns. Your insights are valuable.

    best wishes, Melanie.

  3. Margem, google around a bit and you might find differently. It might not be an AWSNA-accredited school, but “Waldorf inspired.”

  4. It IS interesting isn’t it?

    http://missoulian.com/article_865820c1-c152-56e3-b214-f40594d33816.html

    A matter of semantics. I should have stated “Waldorf-inspired kindergarten”

    I didn’t mean to imply that this was a school backed by ANSWA. It doesn’t change the facts, nor how I was introduced to the beauty and art of the children at this “waldorf-inspired” school.

    See — this is THE POINT of my comment here. I have learned more about Waldorf and the community through the people who are responding to the critics here (but I should be clear — not all supporters; there have been many thoughtful, respectful and articulate commenters that gave me pause enough to remain for sometime)– it is so immediate, so rote, so didactic.

    A writer by trade — a bit of internet research pulls up the information at my fingertips — I need a fact-checker no doubt!

    Alicia, again — thanks for the forum.

    Pam

  5. Gives me a chance to comment on “Waldorf inspired.” You will probably hear, if you have not already, that that explains ALL THE PROBLEMS (whatever they are). Oh well then! This school where you had some weird experience, or where you felt something was “off,” wasn’t officially accredited by AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America)! That’s not like a “real” Waldorf school! Real, accredited Waldorf schools don’t have these problems!

    Don’t buy it. Waldorf-inspired schools are TRYING to be accredited, usually. They just aren’t there yet. The process takes, if I recall, seven years, and they can’t call themselves “The XX Waldorf School” until AWSNA says so, but they’re allowed to use the appellation “Waldorf-inspired” in the meantime. Sometimes they have got everything in place except one item – say, they have not been able to hire a full-time eurythmist. That is to say, they are exactly like larger, accredited schools except for one or two points on AWSNA’s checklist. There is likely to be an anthroposophical school culture in full bloom.

    Sometimes the little start-up schools are even more fanatically anthroposophical than established schools because they are striving so hard to get accredited. And make no mistake, being fully anthroposophically correct – having mostly Waldorf-trained teachers, and having demonstrated an earnest commitment to doing everything according to what “Steiner said” – is what AWSNA is looking for.

    On the other hand, sometimes in the early years, these schools are better, because there is still youthful passion for the project, less rigidity, and a few people hanging around who keep saying, “Why do we have to do everything Steiner said?” The problem is will that last? Not if they really want AWSNA accreditation. Those less-rigid people will be run off.

  6. “I just don’t believe that most Americans who are sending their children to these schools have any idea of the larger context…”

    Its impossible to know what other people know without testing or questioning them in some substantial way. Setting that general problem aside, its probably fair to assume that most parents have access to google and the same resources you have had access to. Its a logical error to assume that because people don’t see things the same way you do that they don’t know what you know. They may just disagree with the conclusions you have drawn because their experiences and their assessment of things comes from a different place.

  7. No, it isn’t impossible to know. We can listen to what they say and read what they write, and although we may not have statistical information on their exact knowledge of anthroposophy, it is quickly apparent that many if not most Waldorf parents are not aware of the larger context of anthroposophy at the school.

    “They may just disagree with the conclusions you have drawn because their experiences and their assessment of things comes from a different place.”

    Sure. They’ve been lied to and they believed the lies

  8. “Setting that general problem aside, its probably fair to assume that most parents have access to google and the same resources you have had access to.”

    It is impossible to know. What I do want to state here is that it wasn’t as if this was an easily drawn conclusion — nor was the information readily accessible. Not only have I been using the internet for scholarly research for as long as its been around…but I have been blogging in a community of women for over five years now and consider myself to be fairly comfortable with the medium — and STILL I had to dig. It was complicated by, if the suggestions raised in this forum have any merit, the fact that there was a very vocal component responding to the critics that may have gone so far as to create online aliases posing as other mothers on forums — the strange thing for me — being a lifelong academic whose primary study is that of language/literature — that syntax is almost like a thumbprint — for those paying attention it’s the equivalent of a verbal tic. Yes that’s just my supposition, or “intuition”. All of this to say — it wasn’t easy sussing out what I felt to be a whole picture of Waldorf/Steiner in order to make my own personal decision concerning my daughter’s education. A simple solution to this would be for the Waldorf Schools to be completely transparent about their connections to anthroposophy. As a parent I might certainly “take what I want and leave the rest” but if the entire pedagogy is shaped by the beliefs of Steiner and arises out of the impulses of an anthroposophical worldview — what does it matter if I, as a parent — not in the school everyday — wish to leave some parts out? There is no leaving behind the shaping of a child’s worldview in a particular way — that would be happening should I choose to educate my child in a Waldorf school — but in presenting it as a peripheral part of the education when it is clearly central — seems misleading to me. I can, you are correct, only speak for myself.

    “Its a logical error to assume that because people don’t see things the same way you do that they don’t know what you know. They may just disagree with the conclusions you have drawn because their experiences and their assessment of things comes from a different place.”

    Although I was musing about American parents as a whole (as I see more and more discussion and interest arising in Waldorf education) the musing was prompted by my personal experience with the women I do know who have chosen Waldorf — women I know well enough to have had fairly deep conversations about pedagogy and parents who, I might add — seem to know very little about the PEDAGOGICAL direction of the school — drawn, as they are to the idea that they have found a kind of holistic, natural haven … a kind of oasis in their modern lives (and here I am quoting directly from mothers I have known.) I’ll point out the article from the Montana paper that I included earlier — as well as this one from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Where is the larger discussion and transparency? This isn’t simply a school that eschews media — this is a place where an anthroposophical soil is tilled– and I have no issue with the existence of the schools, don’t misunderstand me, but to seek a larger enrollment without being clear about the mission of its pedagogy is unconscionable — my son attends a parochial school and we are clear that his education is being filtered through a Catholic lens — we were able to weigh what that meant, if we still were inclined to send him there, question where the philosophy of the school might differ from our own… in short we were able to be informed. That is all I’m suggesting that the Waldorf schools do.

    I still think its a valid question.

  9. Thanks for the thoughtful response, PK. All I can speak from is my own experience and I didn’t feel that I had to dig very hard to understand the underpinnings of the school system in order to ask direct and informed questions. I sympathize with parents who enrolled their children before the internet. It would have been immeasurably harder to do this without the internet. I am not sure what else to say. I do agree that there is a gap between what is provided and what may be needed for some parents to feel they have made a fully informed decision. As a parent who is happy with Waldorf, this frustrates me because it would be better for people to realize they’re not a match sooner. Since I am still involved as a parent, what specific things would you recommend so as to avoid your experience if thinking it was merely arty school and then coming to the conclusion that “this is a place where an anthroposophical soil is tilled.” (I like that btw.)

  10. Speaking as a former Steiner parent – it’s easy. THEY TELL THE TRUTH so that you don’t have to look it up on the internet. They stop lying – so you’re not deceived. They stop suing people for writing about it (in France) and they stop editing Wiki to ‘cleanse’ it of uncomfortable information which might disturb their pretty shop front. Anything else is frankly dishonest. And you could help too – by telling every parent you know who’s involved in your school that “this is a place where an anthroposophical soil is tilled.”

    Simples.

  11. I think that Bell is right: it’s difficult to see how any parent can be unaware that the ethos of the Waldorf schools is based on anthroposophy in the internet age ( in spite of some schools’ apparent unwillingness to make this clear). None of Steiner’s writings on this basis have ever been hidden. For people like Melanie, for whom such a basis could only be off- putting and appear ‘cultish’, a Waldorf school was never going to be a good fit. Its hard to understand how she wasn’t aware of this from the start.

    Melanie’s complaint about the ‘cleansing’ of Wiki is little more than a request for Wiki to accommodate her own biases. Most of the fault lines of the various Waldorf controversies are already  represented there, as one would expect for a community encyclopaedia – for instance, there is: the view of the British Humanist Association that Waldorf promotes ‘pseudo-science’; Waldorf detractor Ullrich’s doubts on Steiner’s “extra-sensory anthropology”; etc.

  12. Ted Wrinch –

    ‘I think that Bell is right: it’s difficult to see how any parent can be unaware that the ethos of the Waldorf schools is based on anthroposophy in the internet age’

    Ah, but the schools lie.

    ‘For people like Melanie,’

    You’re impertinent and rude, as usual.

    ‘Its hard to understand how she wasn’t aware of this from the start.’

    But I was not. Am I lying? No. Were they? Yes. I was a trustee at the Steiner school I helped to start, I did not understand the central role anthroposophy played in the pedagogy because they were not honest. Simple.

    You’re going to lose the battle for wiki.

  13. (Very quickly, am on the run…)

    It’s an outrage that wiki has been written and guarded by people of the most fanatical anthroposophical conviction for years — with wiki entries on other cults, this unfortunate phenomenon has been stopped. Ideally, someone not too invested in these issues but still knowledgeable should write these entries.

    With other reference books — ie, the ones that cost — you’d bring in someone with expert knowledge. I know a big norwegian reference book replaced anthroposophists writing about anthroposophy with an outside scholar (a historian of ideas). Clearly preferable. But if this is a problem with reference literature that costs money, I don’t know how wiki is going to be able to handle it; I guess they never pay anyone, which probably means that with tiny subject areas such as this one, there’s always a risk it stays in the hands of a few fanaticals. But they have dealt with other movements, so there’s hope.

    I suspect that many parents do know that anthroposophy exists — but there is a problem when the schools misleadingly insist that anthroposophy is virtually irrelevant to the daily business, as it were. As long as they don’t speak the full truth about anthroposophy’s role, then certainly they bear a huge responsibility for giving people the wrong impression.

  14. (‘on the run’ — is that an expression only used when you’re on the run from the police? If it is, I didn’t mean that… Only dog walk and stuff. But that’s dramatic enough.)

  15. “You’re impertinent and rude, as usual.”

    Pot and kettle. And obviously far from ‘impertinent’.

  16. Ted, here’s another data point for you.

    A couple of years ago I went to a Steiner parent & child group with our then 18 month old son with every intention of sending him to the kindergarten. There would have been some critical material on the internet back then: the PLANS website, CHASE, discussions on mumsnet, this very blog. I hadn’t read them. I don’t recall looking specifically for anything critical of Steiner education. It didn’t occur to me that anybody would have any reason to be critical. I had read the SWSF website, Sune’s various sites, the Wikipedia article, because those were the sites that came up most prominently on Google. If anthroposophy was mentioned (and it certainly was not in anything from the school) it was perhaps as a footnote or part of a disclaimer. There were no explanations or pointers to the anthroposophical literature. It didn’t get my attention and I didn’t realise it was something I needed to find out about.

    It was quite by accident that I read the 3 articles co-authored by Melanie because I happened to already be a fan of David Colquhoun’s blog. As you can imagine, it was a shock. We never went back to the parent/child group. I asked one of the school parent trustees about the critical stuff I had just found. He shrugged his shoulders and admitted that there was a vocal band of “haters” out there but that he couldn’t understand what their problem was. I asked about anthroposophy. Apparently there were a few people at the school interested in that, he wasn’t though and it didn’t seem all that relevant or important. I don’t believe he was being deliberately deceptive. More likely, that’s what he’d been told and is what he preferred to believe.

    As our son has grown into an early reader, a persistent asker of surprisingly profound questions and a confident user of technology, we’ve realised what a bad fit the school would have been and that we had a lucky escape. “Dodged a bullet” as Pam put it, is very apt.

    I do think a lot has changed online in the past couple of years. After all, this is a long time in internet terms. This “internet age” of which you speak, Ted, has only just arrived. There is much more critical material now and it’s therefore easier to find. In the UK I get the feeling that the SWSF in particular is reluctantly beginning to accept that they can no longer neglect the connection with anthroposophy, due to the increased level of attention the movement is getting with the approval of the free schools. Just in the past couple of weeks http://www.swsf.org.uk/faqs.html#anthroposophy was rewritten – in particular the link to the Rudolf Steiner archive is new.

    You do realise the Wikipedia article hasn’t always included the “fault lines” and controversies it now has? There have been significant edits since the BBC programme went out and the BHA publicity a couple of months ago.

    We’re in new territory now. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  17. Some sentence to the effect of “Waldorf education was developed by Rudolf Steiner and the first Waldorf school was opened in Stuttgart in 1919 at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory” has been in Wikipedia and most school materials I have ever seen. In Wikipedia and elsewhere, the first mention of Rudolf Steiner is usually accompanied by a description of him as the founder of “anthroposophy,” a spiritual philosophy. Sometimes the description mentions anthroposophy in terms of theosophy.

    One can debate whether anything after this basic information is biased or incomplete but IMO this is certainly enough information to rule out this education if you think “spiritual philosophies” should have no part in education. Moreover these basic sentences provide a person with all of the key words necessary to investigate this further: Rudolf Steiner, anthroposophy, theosophy, spiritual philosophies in Germany circa 1919. Waldorf education is listed in encyclopedias of education and Rudolf Steiner is listed in encyclopedias of religion and spirituality. You may not get everything critics feel you need to know but there is certainly enough to rule it out if you are seeking an explicitly non-religious college prep education for your children.

    When people say they never thought it would be necessary to look beyond the brochures, I can understand this to a certain extent. I’m a trusting person by nature too. However, if you know you have strongly held beliefs about religion and pseudoscience (for ex.) then why wouldn’t words like “spiritual philosophy” or basic descriptions of “anthroposophical medicine” or “biodynamics” encourage you to look a little further to make sure that this wasn’t something that ran contrary to your own beliefs and principles? Even basic descriptions of these things talk about spiritual forces and other stuff that should at the most superficial level raise alarms for someone with opinions against them. With the internet, this is easy to see within minutes—no trip to the library is required. As someone who considered many alternative forms of education, none of this entailed what I would consider much “digging” at all but I do acknowledge that this would be much harder if you couldn’t just google the search terms I noted above.

    Ok. Don’t hate on me. I’m just as invested as many of you in wanting to make sure that parents only enroll their children if this is the kind of education they want for them.

  18. Ted Wrinch – you’ve a track record of pointless nastiness. I cannot hope to compete.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorf-critics/message/15198

    I will let you go your way, and I will go mine. I will still be here in the kiosk, but you’ll have to refer any further comments to the baboon – a slip of paper on his silver tray is best. I can then make your impertinent comments into paper hats, boats and fire-lighters.

  19. If you’re lucky, the baboon is not too drunk, because if he is, he’ll eat the paper.

    Now — that, i e paper, was a feature of waldorf birthday cake boats. Their sails were made from edible paper. I thought the paper was really tasty and interesting (interesting, mostly). I don’t think anybody else did; most children prefer the sweet cake.

  20. Pam: ‘it seems that the movement’s pushing for public funding in the UK has really opened Pandora’s box for Steiner/Waldorf schools — or am I misreading this?’

    It seems so to me. Things happened before this too, but it seems as though the topic became current and interesting to many who wouldn’t otherwise have cared as much or noticed it. There came an awareness as a consequence of it. In Sweden (and the US) the state-funded free schools (and the charter schools) arrived before people were actively discussing things and sharing information on the internet. I think it’s made a difference, not only that they have pushed for public funding but the point in time when they have done so; ie, the time when state-funding became a possibility was the wrong time for them. Ten or fifteen years earlier, and there would have been much less, if any, resistence.

    Your background seems… so familiar! I think it’s not unusual at all — well-educated parents who want to do the best, very conscious about choices, caring about the world and the children’s well-being… well, I think I see a pattern!

    As for the mandala-like art you saw from the waldorf school — there’s something in anthroposophy called sacred geometry. And children in waldorf schools spend a lot of time doing various geometrical shapes. Starts with form drawing and moves on to more advanced geometrical patterns. You don’t actually learn geometry like in other schools, but you do these forms, shapes, patterns.

    ‘Again, I’m sorry this was so long — I didn’t mean to hijack your comment section –’

    No, thank you very much for writing it! I wish I wasn’t falling asleep, because I really would have wanted to comment on more things.

    *

    As for the waldorf school, I notice others have replied already, but there are schools and kindergartens that aren’t officially waldorf accredited. There is one such school in Sweden, and it seems to be at the same time less dogmatic and more extreme. I know it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t. It doesn’t belong to the waldorf federation (our awsna) and this is, as far as I understand, a deliberate choice.

    *

    Pam: ‘All of this to say — it wasn’t easy sussing out what I felt to be a whole picture of Waldorf/Steiner in order to make my own personal decision concerning my daughter’s education. A simple solution to this would be for the Waldorf Schools to be completely transparent about their connections to anthroposophy.’

    Exactly! The mere idea that waldorf schools don’t reveal all and that their proponents defend this — saying it’s so easy to find out, parents can use the internet, its their responsibility — is cause enough for worry. Now, I don’t have to send mr Dog to school, thank Dog…, but even with him — I would want to know everything about where he was going. If someone was withholding that they were cat-lovers, I wouldn’t trust them. I might trust them if I felt they were entirely honest about it. But if they weren’t totally honest and then claimed I didn’t need to know or, if I found out by chance, they would tell me that I have the responsibility to search the internet and they have little responsibility to tell me anything… well, you know, I would not consider them reliable. I would not entrust mr Dog to them. And I would be livid if I had mistakenly done so. The whole point here is the dishonesty. They can easily inform parents about the important things and refer parents to sources about anything else. This is actually the right way to go about it, and would prevent a lot of resentment and disappointment and feelings of betrayal. (Yes, I’m tired. And very fond of mr Dog.)

    Bell: ‘I sympathize with parents who enrolled their children before the internet. It would have been immeasurably harder to do this without the internet.’

    In a way it was. On the other hand, back then there was more of a sort of proudness around anthroposophy. Anthroposophy was a bit fancy — it was a good thing, basically. Then — talking about Sweden now, but I wonder if one can see similarities elsewhere — with public funding and the growth of the movement, going from a few schools to almost 40, there arouse a need to downplay anthroposophy, because anthroposophy was only going to be attractive to relatively few parents, not enough to fill all those schools the movement wanted to start.

    So — on the one hand, finding criticism of anthroposophy back then was hard, not to say impossible. This is much easier today, although I suspect parents don’t seek it out until they’re already having second thoughts. On the other, the schools perhaps weren’t as eager to deny anthroposophy back in those days. (In addition to wanting to attract more clients today, they know that there is criticism out there, so the less you’ve committed yourself publicly to anthroposophy, the more you’re able to deny it’s influence or even knowing about the unpleasant sides.)

    I think Mark summarizes one problem very well: ‘It didn’t occur to me that anybody would have any reason to be critical. … [Anthroposophy] didn’t get my attention and I didn’t realise it was something I needed to find out about.’

    This must be the case for many parents. Even today. Even with the internet.

    *

    Diana: ‘Nah, you can say “on the run” just to mean you’re in a hurry.’

    Oh, phew, I can now sleep well. Which I must do, or I’ll faint soon. (Excuse me for any strange things I’ve written. I’m glad I don’t have to screen and moderate my own comments…)

  21. (Hey, Ted. Either Melanie wants to talk to you, or she doesn’t. It’s perfectly fine to step back from any discussion at any time. I will publish your comments if they address some topic or issue raised in the discussion. It doesn’t seem meaningful to continue along the lines of your most recent — unpublished — comment. I’m sure you’ll think this is unfair, but at this moment in time I need to try to steer this, er, thing, with a life of its own, in a direction I can handle. You slinging some additional baboon turds on Melanie won’t help. It makes the kiosk messy, and the dogs will roll in them, as they roll in anything that stinks; it is a spiritually meaningful activity in canineosophy. And now I am going to bed. For real.)

  22. Bell: “In Wikipedia and elsewhere, the first mention of Rudolf Steiner is usually accompanied by a description of him as the founder of ‘anthroposophy,’

    No, it most certainly is not. In Waldorf related materials, he is usually described first as a “philosopher and scientist.”

    The word “anthroposophy” is often nowhere on the first page of Waldorf school web sites.

    Try these – a more or less random google, picking Waldorf schools around the country:

    http://www.phillywaldorf.com/
    http://www.cincinnatiwaldorfschool.org/
    http://www.seattlewaldorf.org/
    http://www.santafewaldorf.org/
    http://suncoastwaldorf.org/
    http://www.merriconeag.org/
    http://www.shiningrivers.org/
    http://www.waldorfatlanta.org/

    Where is the word “anthroposophy” on those introductory pages?

    The Santa Fe Waldorf’s “About Waldorf” page is typical:
    http://www.santafewaldorf.org/about-sfws/about-waldorf-education/

    “a spiritual philosophy. Sometimes the description mentions anthroposophy in terms of theosophy.”

    No. That’s false. You’d be hard pressed to find a Waldorf school web site that discusses anthroposophy in the context of theosophy.

  23. I will just raise my hand amongst all you youngsters and say that yes, way way way back in the old days, it was harder before the Internet. We enrolled our son in a Waldorf preschool in the fall of 1996. We did not have Internet at home – we did not even have computers at home. We got online in 1999 – the year we LEFT Waldorf. Boy, to have those three years of my son’s first exposure to school back again!

    We really had absolutely no way whatsoever to research Waldorf, beyond the materials we were given and word of mouth. I knew one person whose brother had attended a Waldorf high school (which is quite a different thing from the earlier grades). He said the place was a bit out of the mainstream but that he had basically had a good time there. I remember I used to be on an “alternative education” mailing list – the old-fashioned kind, stuff actually arriving in the US mail, and some materials I had from them described Waldorf as artsy and organic, or something like that.

    That was it. We knew nothing other than what the teachers told us. I’m quite sure our local library had no books on Waldorf education. Probably, something might have been available through university libraries, but it would never have occurred to us in a thousand years that an educational movement might have some kind of shady past or some strange philosophy that they were not disclosing to us. Never. would. have. crossed. our. minds.

    I know, this all sounds prehistoric, but it is not really that long ago. The effects of Waldorf education lasted a long, long time for my son. It is fair to say it was one of his formative experiences.

    Please note, however, those of you who think information on Waldorf only became available online in the past few years! Dan Dugan started a mailing list, yes, on the Internet, in 1995. He and Debra Snell teamed up to form PLANS and file their lawsuit not long after that. It’s been a long slow process, but Dan and Debra deserve immense credit as the first to attempt to systematically disseminate information on Steiner education from outside the cult.

  24. It’s sometimes not mentioned at all. Not on the first page,not on any other page. I’ve heard objected that although the information on the websites is so bad, the schools might inform parents orally. I don’t see any reason, however, for the most important piece of info to be neglected on the website. It’s sinply silly, no matter what.

    (Ted is complaining that I’m denying him his ‘right’ to reply and that this is censorship. If I want this discussion to be more than baboon turd slinging and personal insults, I really have stop comments that are nothing but. Unfortunately, Ted’s two latest are nothing but. Discuss the topic, provide something of content — then it won’t be a problem, Ted. But I very consciously want to minimize the rest of the crap — for MY sake, too. That means the supposed ‘rights’ — which aren’t actually rights — you’ve come to take for granted no longer apply. I have no duty to host such pointless comments. I have a suggestion: adapt. I think you know how to do that when you visit people irl too. Think of this as my living-room. Enough said.)

  25. Bel – don’t feel hated on. Don’t take it personally. It isn’t your fault – and if I’d been writing here while my children were in the early stages of Steiner ed (the first 4+ years out of 5) I would have defended my choice too.

    If I’m terse it’s because I’m too busy to beat about the bush about these things – anyway the ground around the bush is already well beaten.

    Thank you Mark – you’ve raised the game considerably yourself :)

  26. Please note that Diana wrote two comments. I had to download a new version of the blog app last week, and it’s quite hopeless. I saw only one comment — until I reloaded later and realised there were two. So scroll up and read the other one as well.

    I’ll have you know that my waldorf experience was 1980-1989! No internet. Nothing.

    The first time I searched the topic on the internet was around 2000. Perhaps some year before. Found Plans and the mailing list archives. Very valuable indeed.

    But I think the difference today is that it’s so much easier to spread and exchange information compared to the early internet. News items are discussed more widely and immediately. It’s easier to get people interested or even just aware that there’s this topic and it’s being discussed. For those who want to be activists now, it must be much easier.

  27. Something else: the internet might be an advantage for parents now, as compared to in the 80s and early 90s. For one other group, however, nothing has changed: the children. Once the parents have fallen in love with the pretty promise waldorf makes, the children have no voice and no options. I child can’t go online and search for info to present to the adults. And protests and misbehaviour and discontent or even tears and depspair won’t help because waldorf teachers have ‘plausible’ excuses.

    I know — it’s a bit off topic, perhaps. But I guess I find the parents’ perspective and their right to have information before making decisions — well, that’s just one part of the picture. Talking about parents’ being able to make informed decisions, it’s so easy to forget those who can’t make any decision whatsoever.

    I do want people to understand that even if a child is unhappy in the most obvious ways, the waldorf school will never tell the parents that perhaps this approach they’re offering is wrong for the child who has other needs. Instead of recommending that they take the child who wants to read (e g) to another school, they will try to supress the child’s nature. And they will not care about the needs of the individual child and they will not give the parents the information they need to be able to help the child to a more suitable education. Instead they will justify the child’s unhappiness.

    And, actually, it’s not mainly the parents who end up suffering for it.

  28. “You’d be hard pressed to find a Waldorf school web site that discusses anthroposophy in the context of theosophy.”

    Agreed. Schools would probably never refer to anthroposophy in the context of theosophy but if you go looking for anthroposophy itself, this is very common. That is what I was referring to when I made that comment—not that schools do it. Of course, maybe Montessori schools should mention theosophy, given that Maria Montessori was a member of the Theosophical Society. :)

    ———-

    Okey-dokey. I checked all the schools mentioned, so y’all don’t have to do it. I didn’t mind. I like looking at Waldorf school websites. All the schools mention Rudolf Steiner as the founder of Waldorf education on a “about us” or “FAQ” or “school history” page. These sections are one of the first places a prospective parent would go to find more about the school. Generally speaking, I would give lower points to Seattle Waldorf and Waldorf School of Atlanta for not having the name Rudolf Steiner as front and center (if this is the criteria of interest.) In terms of mentioning anthroposophy, several schools provide an immediate link to the whywaldorfworks page which then immediately provides the key word “Anthroposophy” as described below. Schools are numbered in the order Diana listed their links. I didn’t spend a lot of time doing this. I have other things to do but I was curious.

    1. Under “our mission”: “Applying the innovative educational philosophy and curriculum of Rudolf Steiner in a contemporary context;”

    2. Under “Waldorf education”: “Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf School in 1919.” There is an immediate link to the why waldorf works website where they say Steiner developed “a path of inner development or spiritual research he called, “anthroposophy” and they mention Camphill, biodynamics, etc. When you pull up this school on google the full heading of their school is: Cincinnati Waldorf School, a Rudolf Steiner School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

    3. “Developed in 1919 by scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner;” Anthroposophy is mentioned in the context of a visitor/speaker.

    4. Under FAQs: “Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919” & links to the Why Waldorf Works website

    5. Part of the School Mission states: “Inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s educational insights, we teach according to a developmental curriculum that honors each child’s unfolding individuality…”

    6. Under About Us: “research into child development conducted by Austrian educator and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925)”. Under Parent Education: “Why is your child studying medieval history in 6th grade? How is your child learning to read in 1st grade? What is eurythmy? Foundation Studies offers a window into the philosophy underlying Waldorf and the vision of human development that informs it. The Center for Anthroposophy in Wilton, NH brings this program… Foundation Studies is a two-year part-time program in self development and the arts which helps one understand the roots and reasons behind Waldorf Education.”

    7. Under “School Philosophy” and “Why Waldorf” Based on the insights of Scientist and philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925); there is a picture of and quote from Rudolf Steiner; refers to whywaldorfworks.

    8. Under “About us” notes Rudolf Steiner as the founder of Waldorf; mentions Anthroposophy in a description of how the faculty work.

  29. Regarding this bit

    Bell: “In Wikipedia and elsewhere, the first mention of Rudolf Steiner is usually accompanied by a description of him as the founder of ‘anthroposophy,’

    —No, it most certainly is not. In Waldorf related materials, he is usually described first as a “philosopher and scientist.”

    Just to be clear, I agree that is how he is usually introduced in Waldorf materials. But if you look up Steiner in other resources, you generally get a description of him as the founder of anthroposophy and some basic description of what that is. That is what I was referring to. I can’t recall my entire journey in figuring this out but I think “who the heck was Rudolf Steiner?” was one of the first questions I had when I encountered these schools. For me, it was a pretty fundamental question that I felt I needed to answer for myself. From there it was exceptionally easy to learn basic biographical details but also that people viewed his work as a “spiritual philosophy.” IMO, this level of investigation would have been more than enough for me to stay away if I was looking for alternative educational methods but only if they were in a strictly secular college-prep setting. It would have been much harder if I were relying on paper brochures and a trip to the library.

  30. ‘Of course, maybe Montessori schools should mention theosophy, given that Maria Montessori was a member of the Theosophical Society. :)’

    I’ve wondered if anything of her theosophical interests seeped into her pedagogy. I know too little to say anything at all about that.

    The thing about Steiner isn’t that he was a member* of the anthroposophical (and before that the theosophical) society — but that he based the pedagogy on anthroposophy. The pedagogy is anthroposophy put in practice. That is very different from him being a member of an organisation in his sparetime.

    (*Curiously, he wasn’t. I think he became a member at the end, but for a long time he wasn’t a member.)

    The school website quotes/statements are so extremely familiar. I would consider it from this viewpoint: what is it they say, and what is it they neglect saying?

    1. so anthroposophy has become ‘innovative educational philosophy’ and not an esoteric/religious worldview? People would get a very different impression if they didn’t misleadingly call it what they call it instead of what they should call it. Why would parents feel alarmed and go check other sources for an ‘innovative educational philosophy’? They might, however, if anthroposophy were presented as what it is.

    3. ‘scientist and philosopher’ (also school 7) — not mentioning something more relevant, e g, ‘spiritual leader’… It’s questionable to call him scientist. I can buy philosopher, but scientist… — why don’t they at least say ‘spritual scientist’ and preferably explain that that’s not science.

    5. ‘educational insights’ — why do they call them that? why not ‘spiritual insights’. I would object to ‘developmental curriculum’. All curricula are ‘developmental’, aren’t they? Most, however, aren’t based on a specific theory about spiritual development.

    6. ‘educator and philosopher’ — again, what do they say he was in order to cover up what they do not want to say he was? What are they saying instead of what they ought to be saying?

    Well, I think it’s good that they mention Steiner, but that’s about all there is to commend them for. There’s a lot more they could be saying to avoid giving readers the wrong impression and to avoid future angry parents who feel misled.

    This said, I do think the parents do have a responsibility to look things up for themselves. But, come on — why are the schools presenting things in the way they present them instead of more correctly and honestly? It’s not because they can’t — they very well can –, they just don’t want to!

  31. “This said, I do think the parents do have a responsibility to look things up for themselves.”

    Well in my case I didn’t necessarily want to hear about him from the schools. I was entirely interested in third party points of view. That is what I am saying about the importance of key words being there or not.

    “so anthroposophy has become ‘innovative educational philosophy’ and not an esoteric/religious worldview?”

    This is Waldorf schools separating the pedagogical approach—the educational philosophy—from anthroposophy itself. I understand critics don’t accept this but this is how the schools view it. IMO this is not being deceptive, its a difference of opinion. To refuse to call anthroposophy itself an esoteric/religious worldview would be a different issue. I can’t think of anyone who does that offhand.

    “I’ve wondered if anything of her theosophical interests seeped into her pedagogy. I know too little to say anything at all about that.”

    Of course they did! Her time in Adyar was profoundly important for conceptualizing what she began to call “Cosmic Education” in the latter part of her career. For example, read “What You Should Know about Your Child” originally published in Adyar, Madras, India by Kalakshetra Publications (the Theo. Society’s publishing arm). I could discuss more but I don’t want to derail this thread. I think its fascinating. And talk about unspoken ideas. Mario and Maria’s years in Adyar, her friendship with Annie Besant and the role of prominent Theosophists in getting the international Montessori movement off the ground is not at all clear to the casual observer.

  32. “Agreed. Schools would probably never refer to anthroposophy in the context of theosophy but if you go looking for anthroposophy itself, this is very common. That is what I was referring to when I made that comment—not that schools do it. ”

    Well, ya know, Payne, that’s pretty much what we’re saying, isn’t it? Will it take five million more words to get this point across to you? THE SCHOOLS SHOULD DO IT.

    Of course, maybe Montessori schools should mention theosophy, given that Maria Montessori was a member of the Theosophical Society. :)

    No, because theosophy didn’t substantively influence her educational theories and isn’t bound up in the life of Montessori schools. Montessori pupils don’t celebrate theosophical holidays, etc.

  33. Bell, the rest is simply absolute nonsense. Putting Rudolf Steiner’s name somewhere on the web site and calling him a “philosopher” or “scientist” or “educational innovator” is not adequate. We all can see this.

  34. “This is Waldorf schools separating the pedagogical approach—the educational philosophy—from anthroposophy itself. ”

    The Waldorf schools do not separate the pedagogical approach from anthroposophy. They just change the *language* when they talk to parents.

  35. “No, because theosophy didn’t substantively influence her educational theories and isn’t bound up in the life of Montessori schools…”

    I was kidding but read the book I just recommended and also the Cosmic Fables that are told to children in the second plane of development (6-12 yrs). Look at the pictorial charts that are supposed to accompany the stories and consider what she says concerning the part/whole, how all mankind forms an organism and let me know if you see any Theosophy. I am not trying to knock her at all. I think she was a great and inspired educator and I would definitely send my kids to a Montessori school. But the idea that aspects of her educational theories don’t contain theosophical ideas is silly—both in terms of their content and her own personal biography.

    Sorry to take a detour in this direction. I’ll shut up about this off-topic issue and in general. I have a long list of things to do today. Cheers.

  36. Just for fun I set up an automated web crawler to index the home pages of all 34 Steiner schools in the UK plus the SWSF home page and all the pages you can get to one click away from the home pages. I generated a word cloud where the size of each word represents the total frequency it occurs. There is a JPG image here: http://bit.ly/TPr0gf and a PDF (which is easier to read when you zoom in) here: http://bit.ly/Z0zn08

    Can you find the word ‘anthroposophy’? How about ‘spiritual’? Words like ‘philosophy’, ‘creative’, and ‘development’ are somewhat easier to find.

    Bell, you asked an interesting question way up near the top of the thread: what would I prefer the schools say about themselves which, as a prospective parent, I would like to have read? I’ll have a go at that. Here’s what my ideal fictional Steiner school would say on its home page:

    “The Puddleton Steiner school bases its teaching methods on the indications of Rudolf Steiner, the spiritual leader of the Anthroposophical movement. Every detail of the school, from the colour of the walls to the delivery of lessons, is informed by Steiner’s ideas and traditional Anthroposophical culture.

    We believe that the most effective approach to education engages and develops a child’s mind, body and soul. The Anthroposophical understanding of these three aspects of the human being leads to a model of child development that advocates a delay in reading and more traditional intellectual pursuits until a child is 7 years old. Adolescents develop their critical and logical thinking ability around the age of 14. The curriculum of our school reflects these stages.

    We maintain links with the wider Anthroposophical community. Besides the traditional subjects, Eurythmy is an important and compulsory lesson. A dance form that aims to translate the spoken word into movement, it also has spiritual significance and can be used in a curative, therapeutic way in case of medical or learning difficulties. The school employs an Anthroposophical doctor who can advise on the use of Eurythmy and other complementary therapies in these cases. The school maintains a bio-dynamic garden where students grow their vegetables following Steiner’s agricultural indications. Some members of staff belong to the Anthroposophical Society and we regularly invite speakers to give talks on Anthroposophical subjects to parents.”

    That’s just 3 paragraphs. It wouldn’t necessarily have scared me off immediately but would have given me plenty of food of thought and directions to read up on myself. If there’s anything inaccurate in there, I’d welcome corrections.

  37. I might make some minor changes but, overall, (and for three paragraphs) nice job. I can see many ways that sections in the overall website could explain these aspects more deeply.

    I agree world clouds are an awesome way to convey content. Better than what I did. :) The only thing they can’t do is weigh where these words appear on the site. I would say that information in “about us” “school history” and FAQs (ie all the highly trafficed areas) will have more impact because the reader is expecting a certain kind of information there. Key words there should have more impact. But overall words and language counts too.

  38. Thank you Bell.

    Just to be clear, the word cloud does include content from the “about us”, FAQ pages and even PDFs of parent handbooks etc., so long as those are accessible one click away from the home page. But you’re right in that it does sort of collapse the structure of a web site into one dimension.

  39. Interesting to see Maria Montessori’s connection to theosophy. I recently learned that Montessori teachers are required to read a very moving prayer. They have the option to substitute God with something like “Nature”. That practice is probably illegal in Sweden. My superficial knowledge of the pedagogical methods however, says that they are more informed by science than religion, christian or theosophic. In contrast to Rudolf, Maria was a real scientist. And in some exoteric ways a much more fascinating character I’m really curious about what happened in India!

  40. Thank you Mark, that’s so interesting, and it’s much better to do it that way than the old fashioned away googling around and cutting and pasting.

    As for Montessori, well, if I have time I’ll go look at the pictorial charts or whatever but I doubt I’m going to come away persuaded that therefore the Montessori schools somehow need to “disclose” Montessori’s connection to theosophy. It is not analogous to Waldorf and anthroposophy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were theosophical influences or even bits of theosophical lore seeping into the content here and there. That – as critics of critics are quite wont to point out themselves – is probably true of any or every pedagogy out there. Everybody’s influenced by *something*, educational theories don’t spring full-blown from the ether without antecedent, and given the religiosity overall of the human race, it’s fair to say practically all educational systems and movements were influenced by religion in their formation.

    But in Montessori, as in most other pedagogies that are not explicitly religious, this influence is mainly historical, and largely irrelevant to what happens in the schools today. While it is likely that traces linger, theosophy is not a driving force. Theosophy as it exists today is not connected to the Montessori schools. There is no accrediting organization for the schools whose leadership is mostly theosophists. Teachers don’t study theosophy for a full year before they can teach in a Montessori school, and they aren’t asked their relationship to theosophy when they apply for jobs. Theosophy is not the basis for much of the curricular content or for the life of the school. The students do not celebrate theosophical festivals or enact theosophical rituals in the classroom, or paint images from Montessori’s clairvoyant visions. The classroom walls aren’t painted “peach blossom” because Montessori said that was the “color of human skin” to “occult vision.” There’s no “College of Teachers” that consists largely of theosophists. The faculty don’t have a weekly theosophy study session, and theososphical “study groups” for parents and community members don’t spring up at Montessori schools. You get the point, I think.

  41. Mark, I think your summary is great, though I would make sure that “karma and reincarnation” figure in the first paragraph as well, as the basis of anthroposophy and thus the basis for the understanding of the human that the teachers work from. Teachers view themselves as spiritual guides of your child, and believe that the child was karmically drawn to this school and to this relationship with this teacher; this is the child’s “spiritual heredity,” as opposed to their merely physical heredity (i.e., their parents). Teachers will help prepare your child for the spiritual “tasks” he or she may face in the present incarnation. In trying to guide your child, the teacher will keep in mind your child’s karma in mind, – i.e., what influences he or she may have brought from past lives. This is what is meant in Waldorf by attending to “individual needs” (the individuality stretches over more than one lifetime), and this is why Waldorf calls itself “developmental.”

    I would also be explicit that the “child development model” is based on Steiner’s occult visions of the “four members” of the human and stress that the faculty believe these “members” of your child do not incarnate physically all at once. It is only the physical body that is born when the infant is born. The “etheric body” is born when the child is approximately seven, and this coincides with “change of teeth.” The child is thus not fully incarnated prior to this time. (This is the basis of their treatment of small children; they aren’t thought to be really fully “here”.) The “astral body” is not born till the child is approximately fourteen, and this is why the child should ideally not be asked to pursue intellectual efforts until this time. Prior to age fourteen, reading and writing are potentially damaging, and while we recognize that your child does need to learn to read and write, the pedagogy will attempt to mitigate the negative effects of literacy with a primarily “spiritual” curriculum. Finally, the “Ego” or “I” is born when a person is 21 years old.

  42. A quick note. My comment regarding Maria Montessori and Theosophy was intended to be a lighthearted comment and not an assertion that current schools are obligated to disclose anything more than they do. I thought I was making that clear with the smiley-face. I do not think Montessori schools need to discuss theosophy on their websites or in their marketing materials. However I do think that for people who understand theosophy as a worldview it’s possible to see it reflected in her educational theories, particularly the things she wrote while living with the Theosophists and thereafter. I find this very interesting and have read a lot about it. But that is not the topic of this thread or blog so I am 100% ok with dropping it and returning to saying things that will demand “five million more words to get the point across” to me about Waldorf schools. :) Actually, I am not trying to do that either. Now that MarkH has answered my question (thank you) perhaps I should wander out of here and join the photography smackdown being held in the kiosk darkroom. I am definitely team canineosophist on that one and I think Rudy is too. He thinks the theosophists have been pursuing an entirely materialistic use of this medium with their fairy hunting and all. He’s desperate to come up with something better. He says, quite reasonably, that the canineosophist method will at least lead to a pleasant walk and further justification for more ice cream.

  43. Well, Bell, it’s nice to hear that you didn’t ever really mean the comparison seriously. We have heard the “So did you know Maria Montessori was a theosophist” gambit many times.
    It is a standard minimize-and-distract response from Waldorf advocates.

    See, we DO mean it seriously when we say the connection between anthroposophy and Waldorf needs to be disclosed. It is a REAL connection, pertinent TODAY, with REAL consequences for students. We weren’t having a “Gee, here’s an interesting but trivial historical factoid” type of conversation.

  44. Bell: ‘I am definitely team canineosophist on that one and I think Rudy is too.’

    Haha! Brilliant!

    As for montessori and theosophy — I wouldn’t say it’s entirely off-topic, so it’s quite ok. I’m reading the thread backwards now, so I’ll probably be nothing but confusing. I figure that if the issue with montessori and theosophy ran as deep as it does with waldorf and anthroposophy and their marketing was similar, you’d find people saying the same things critics of waldorf say. These people may exist (but I’m unaware of them!). Reading the Blavatsky book (mentioned in another post yesterday), I came across a couple of other theosophy offspring movements running schools. It’s not difficult to imagine that similar issues could arise there too. (Waldorf and montessori are much larger movements though.) When you mention that stuff in the earlier comment, I remember seeing some title (of some article or book I then didn’t read) of hers that made me wonder how close montessori of today to… the impression I got from that title. (Maybe it was something like Cosmic Education, I don’t remember anymore. Could have been!) I also remember a discussion with a montessori teacher who presented some montessori doctrine that I personally found repellant, or at least bonkers. Something about small children’s ability to learn. It seemed as unscientific as anything I’ve read by Steiner. What I don’t have a clue about is how representative it was for montessori, knowing nothing else about it. But given any absence of objections similar to those from waldorf critics against waldorf schools, I’m inclined to agree with Diana here: https://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/hollowed-traditions/#comment-21836.

    Bell (quoteing me): ‘“so anthroposophy has become ‘innovative educational philosophy’ and not an esoteric/religious worldview?”
    This is Waldorf schools separating the pedagogical approach—the educational philosophy—from anthroposophy itself. I understand critics don’t accept this but this is how the schools view it. IMO this is not being deceptive, its a difference of opinion.’

    I don’t think it’s an opinion whether you can separate waldorf from anthroposophy — I think it’s a fact that you can’t do so. As Diana points out, they don’t do it themselves, they just change how they speak about it, depending on whom they’re speaking with.

    It might be a matter of opinion how this connection between waldorf and anthroposophy should be presented though. (And these schools need to listen to opinions they think won’t serve them in the short run, i e, to be upfront.)

    Mark: That word cloud is brilliant! (I’ve taken the liberty to make a small screenshot for a post — I hope it’s all right!) The description of waldorf is brilliant as well — it would be great to see something like that from waldorf schools themselves.

  45. “We have heard the “So did you know Maria Montessori was a theosophist” gambit many times.”

    Ok. I wasn’t aware this was a source of past irritation in terms of those 5 million words. :) I hardly see or hear anyone talking about this (most people have no idea what theosophy is). It’s certainly downplayed in her biographies, as is her role as government inspector of schools under fascist rule. I knew people here would know of the connection (hence the joke) but I hadn’t realized some people would view me mentioning it as a minimize-and-distract tactic. I’m not even sure how I developed the interest but I think it came about when I was researching both school systems and I noticed that their life spans overlapped somewhat but they never met each other. Add the connection both had to theosophy and you’ve got yourself one interesting story! But you can only discuss it if someone has any sense of what theosophy is, and few people do.

    “Reading the Blavatsky book (mentioned in another post yesterday), I came across a couple of other theosophy offspring movements running schools.”

    Krishnamurti Schools?

    “I also remember a discussion with a montessori teacher who presented some montessori doctrine that I personally found repellant, or at least bonkers. Something about small children’s ability to learn.”

    This is just a guess, but you probably don’t like the planes of development because it’s still an age graded expectation of how children want to learn. However, the montessori classroom probably lessens the possibility that this would be experienced rigidly by the child. My guess is that you would like that aspect.

    “But given any absence of objections similar to those from waldorf critics against waldorf schools, I’m inclined to agree with Diana.”

    Again, I don’t think Montessori schools have a problem. From where I am coming from, I see the theosophical influence. Everyone else just sees this as “Montessori,” which is fine because it is. You don’t need to understand theosophy to understand Montessori although I do think it sheds light on some things. I would say Steiner’s pedagogical work is incomplete (perhaps even intentionally so) and therefore you have to look in several places (including books by early teacher/trainers) to understand Steiner education. Because of this it’s less clear how to separate his philosophy of education from the method. I know everyone here disagrees on that last bit but this is what I think.

  46. Bell: ‘I wasn’t aware this was a source of past irritation in terms of those 5 million words.’

    I’ve read it a few times, not as many as thousands (but I have not been around for as long as others!). I believe it is an interesting parallel as far as it goes: as far as theosophy has any significance at all for montessori today.

    ‘Krishnamurti Schools?’

    Yes, those and also another movement active in the UK. I forgot its name (I think it had something misleading like ‘economic’ in its name — at least it didn’t sound like the schools of an esoteric spiritual movement).

    ‘This is just a guess, but you probably don’t like the planes of development because it’s still an age graded expectation of how children want to learn.’

    I don’t have much of a problem with that — if it’s not applied the same for all children and if, preferably, the idea (from which an individual child is allowed to deviate) it’s based upon some kind of — as far as possible — scientifically vald hypothesis.

    But, yes, it was something similar — basically, if I remember it correctly, small children were denied capacities that at least some of them possess. And this in the interest of preserving the ideology. But things were probably polarized in that discussion.

    ‘You don’t need to understand theosophy to understand Montessori although I do think it sheds light on some things.’

    Well, actually, if it is true there are theosophical influences, I do think people need to understand (some) theosophy to understand montessori. Perhaps not to the same extent that it’s necessary to understand waldorf, but I still think it would be necessary.

    By the way, I think it’s absolutely correct that the work of Steiner education pioneers is essential. But, in a way, Steiner’s work is extremely complete — you’ll find the answer to almost any question. He talked about everything.

  47. “Well, actually, if it is true there are theosophical influences, I do think people need to understand (some) theosophy to understand montessori.”

    This is so funny. I totally disagree! To “get it” and to work with it productively, I don’t think its necessary to know anything about Theosophy. Her work is internally consistent. Knowing both might be useful but how deeply do we need to reconstruct someone’s thought processes in order to say we “understand?” And how can we be sure we’re not muddying things up by taking this extra step? (You know like in literary criticism where scholars draw in their own shite and the actual story everyone formerly understood is now unintelligible as a result?)

    All in all, I think we can work with ideas at face value and achieve a certain level of understanding. In most cases this is enough for what we want to do. It all depends on how much of the work relies on or builds upon arguments within it rather than outside of it. I think this is what I was trying to say about Steiner’s pedagogical writings being incomplete. They are not a system unto themselves and you need to draw from ideas that are developed elsewhere…but not all of the ideas that can be found elsewhere. And its hard to know where to start or stop.

  48. Montessori and theosophy:
    “It’s certainly downplayed in her biographies,”

    Is it “downplayed” or is it not emphasized because it was not that important in the long run? Keep in mind, Montessori explored theosophy at one point, but she didn’t invent it. Steiner is the founder of anthroposophy. The educational doctrines Steiner developed came OUT OF anthroposophy. They embody anthroposophy; they’re an “incarnation” of anthroposophy. They weren’t some other thing he did later, he developed them TOGETHER as his life’s work. In the case of Montessori, you’re just tracing interests and influences.

  49. “Keep in mind, Montessori explored theosophy at one point, but she didn’t invent it. Steiner is the founder of anthroposophy. The educational doctrines* Steiner developed came OUT OF anthroposophy….etc”

    Very much agreed on everything you wrote, especially this regarding MM “you’re just tracing interests and influences.” MM wasn’t a philosopher. So the epistemological foundations of her practical work aren’t as closely connected to the work itself. She took what she wanted from various sources, didn’t dwell on it as epistemology itself and then used it to frame the point of her more straightforward conclusions based on her observations of how children learn + developmental theory at the time + her medical knowledge. This is so much of “Montessori” that if you just read what she writes and observe it in practice you’ve got a pretty good understanding. However, I think her grander philosophy of education, and especially her desire to create an education towards peace, is grounded in her personal experiences with world war and a theosophical outlook on the human condition (but Christian/Catholic elements too). I would say a montessori scholar or teacher-trainer ought to investigate these things because they are going after a different level of understanding. Parents don’t need it which is why I think there is no disclosure issue.

    So when you say “Is it “downplayed” or is it not emphasized because it was not that important in the long run?” I would say yes and no. Yes for the aforementioned reasons but “no” because I think she became such a beloved figure (deservedly so) and these elements of her biography are difficult. She returned to Italy and became the schools inspector in 1922, the year Mussolini came into power. She was able to promote her method with government assistance (Mussolini was honorary chair of the Montessori Society) until around 1930 and then there were 4 years of great difficulty working with the regime before her schools were closed and she returned to Spain, where she was working before Mussolini came into power. Then in 1939 she was invited by the head of the Theo Society to come to India. She lived, lectured and researched there for about 7 years and two of her most important books were published by the Theo Society as a result of the lectures she had given there. And then she went back to lecture in India in 1947. I will be frank about this and say that it helps the Montessori image to gloss over these aspects of her biography, the Theosophical interests/membership of early proponents, and emphasize her medical degree and her scientific method. But the heart and beauty of Montessori when you get into it revolves around the sense of unity she seeks to form in the minds of children across a wide variety of academic subjects as well as a vision of the human being as already having within them the ability to develop its own faculties. The role of the teacher is to prepare the environment so that this inner miracle can culminate to its fullest potential. Should we take it as a coincidence that these ideas were developed at the same time she was living and working with theosophists? I think not. Again, I see no problems whatsoever. But its patently obvious to me why this context is seldom discussed. Its easier to say it doesn’t matter for the big picture which, in its own way, is very true.

    *I wouldn’t call them “doctrines.” Actually, I oppose the use of the word “doctrine” when applied to most of Steiner’s work. He wasn’t that kind of thinker. It’s a word that superimposes a level of rigidity that he actively sought to combat. One can argue how successfully he did that and how, in reality, his followers treat his ideas but he was purposely trying to create something other than doctrines.

    Your use of the word “doctrine

  50. If my previous comment gets published, thank you zooey for letting me pursue this offshoot to the main topic once again. I find this period of MM’s life very interesting and really can’t help myself!! I keep telling myself that I will shut up—a few things I need to be doing are falling to the wayside in the meantime! Maybe I should ask not to be “encouraged”? Its much easier for me to ignore episode 5,981,0234 of what Steiner did/did not say. :)

  51. “that it helps the Montessori image to gloss over these aspects of her biography”

    I suspect you’re right, but I doubt, overall, that this all amounts to much. Everything you’re saying about Maria Montessori is interesting but mainly to serious scholars of her work or those interested in in-depth theoretical understanding of the Montessori approach. The issue at hand was a comparison to Steiner schools *in terms of disclosure to parents*. I don’t believe most of what you’re raised needs to be disclosed to parents who are considering enrolling their children in a Montessori school. It’s mainly interesting historically, or to professional educators studying the pedagogy. It isn’t “need to know” for Montessori parents or students, the way anthroposophy is “need to know” in relation to Waldorf education.

  52. ‘a vision of the human being as already having within them the ability to develop its own faculties.’

    Well, yes. A deepity.

    Montessori struggled to become a doctor when such a career was closed for Italian women. She fought hard to pursue her scientific studies. She was amongst those who developed early years education (another was Margaret Macmillan, whose Deptford nursery Steiner visited). These are real achievements against the odds – Macmillan is still a heroine in SE London – where I once lived. She transformed the lives of the children she worked with.

    Steiner though is a pallid ghost, wandering amongst the dead. He gave his lectures in Torquay while the living holidayed on the seafront – there’s a film from that very August where a bonny child plays on the sand only a few hundred yards from the Town Hall. Theosophy is still big in Torquay: spiritualism, the crystal ball, end-of-the-pier fairground mystics. Steiner’s Torquay lectures are looping nonsense – Sophia.. Soophia… Sophiiia… the angel Michaaael.. nonsense… the tide should have washed it away.

  53. Bell: ‘“Well, actually, if it is true there are theosophical influences, I do think people need to understand (some) theosophy to understand montessori.”

    This is so funny. I totally disagree! To “get it” and to work with it productively, I don’t think its necessary to know anything about Theosophy.’

    Well, then — people would be sending their kids to a school with a theosophical influence without understanding the theosophical influence. I think that’s a recipe for future disappointment, once you find out.

    ‘I think this is what I was trying to say about Steiner’s pedagogical writings being incomplete. They are not a system unto themselves and you need to draw from ideas that are developed elsewhere…’

    But they don’t. They draw the ideas from anthroposophy. Not necessarily only from the pedagogical writings, but these complemented by other anthroposophical texts.

    Diana: ‘I don’t believe most of what you’re raised needs to be disclosed to parents who are considering enrolling their children in a Montessori school.’

    Depends on how significant the influence is. Well, really, if there’s anything of theosophical ideas in how montessori schools view the development of the child and how it’s to be educated accordingly, then they deserve to know it.

  54. We’d have to see the teaching materials, to understand what’s in the training courses. We’ve done this, of course, with Steiner Waldorf which is why we know that the dominant and most important aspect of that training is.. anthroposophy. Even though some of the ex-Steiner trainees I’ve met wish it were not so. And cannot bear even to talk about it.

  55. Exactly. I can’t even guess, when it comes to montessori. As far as I know, they do not have an exception from hiring only trained (conventionally trained) teachers they way waldorf schools do in Sweden. In any case, if there’s theosophy, it seems reasonable people should know.

    I google criticism of montessori. I found a few things, like this:
    http://www.mothering.com/community/t/434397/montessori-critics

    I found a fundamentalist christian blog saying that montessori is a danger because of theosophy.

    But really, it’s not easy to find anything. Maybe it isn’t with waldorf either — people searching for info would end up on pro-waldorf/pro-anthro websites. I suppose google knows my search history.

  56. ‘In any case, if there’s theosophy, it seems reasonable people should know.’ Absolutely. Curiously Martin Bradley of the Montessori assn is also involved with the Steiner Academy Hereford, and the School Inspection Service. But there are only so many hours in the day.

  57. I, frankly, don’t believe there’s ANY kind of education upon this earth with which there are no problems! Unless the apocalypse has happened and we now, oddly, live in utopia.

    I don’t think you can have problem-free education. And I definitely don’t think montessori is better than most other brands. I only skimmed through the first page of the ‘mothering’-thread, but I thought some of the criticism seemed, I don’t know (saying this without background knowledge), reasonable.

  58. ack! This is so frustrating! I will quote from a wise woman who has already summed up everything else I have to say on the matter: “Everything [I’m] saying about Maria Montessori is interesting but mainly to serious scholars of her work or those interested in in-depth theoretical understanding of the Montessori approach.” Thus, in 10 words or less— there is no problem with Montessori education.

  59. Bell – you seem to want it both ways. The woman’s impulses were theosophical – the core of the work:

    ‘Should we take it as a coincidence that these ideas were developed at the same time she was living and working with theosophists? I think not. ‘

    But on the other hand it’s only interesting to scholars. So: there’s no problem with Montessori education.

    There are probably lots of problems, which may not have anything to do with theosophy. There are problems with every education system.

    Nor are these problems (in the case of the system in question here) the fault of the silly parents who should have done their homework because it’s all so obvious, even if you have to dig like terriers to get at the truth. Perhaps digging like a terrier is the necessary spiritual exercise. And perhaps lying, or condoning lying, is a higher one.

  60. I thought I might re-post this from the critic’s list since it’s relevant here:
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/testing/gov-rick-scott-wants-testing-for-\
    students-getting-tax-credit-scholarships/1265916

    TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott wants students who use tax-credit scholarships to attend
    private schools to take the same standardized tests as their peers in public
    schools, stirring a backlash from some private schools.

    Scott said Wednesday night that he plans to include these private-school
    students in Common Core State Standards tests, which would replace the Florida
    Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2014 under his education proposal to the
    Legislature.

    Barbara Bedingfield, founding director of Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm
    Harbor, dislikes the idea of teaching to the tests.

    “It’s like planting a plant and pulling it up out of the ground repeatedly to
    see how it’s doing,” she said. “Of course it’s not going to thrive.”

    Dawna Nifong, director of the American Montessori Academy in Pinellas Park,
    doesn’t mind state testing if reasonably priced.

    “I think private schools should be held accountable,” she said.

    Any more question about the differences between Waldorf and Montessori?

  61. Bell, we’re in agreement as long as we are focusing solely on the question of what schools should disclose to prospective parents. Regarding the disclosure question, there is “no problem” with Montessori schools wrt Montessori’s connections to theosophy.

    As to whether these connections are in any OTHER sense a “problem” for Montessori, I don’t know enough about it to say. I’m quite certain her dabbling in theosophy doesn’t have the connection to Montessori education today that anthroposophy has to Waldorf education today, but that still is hardly the same thing as saying “Montessori schools have no problem.”

    I think you’d be less frustrated if you took care to hone in on your overall point. People are responding to lots of different elements of a given thread.

  62. Just thought I would add, Montessori was exposed to Theosophy in 1939 at age 69. Her educational/teaching/books and methods by this time had been in use for over 32 years.

  63. If that’s the case, then why in the world has Bell been insisting theosophy is some significant influence in Montessori education? Makes no sense.

  64. I am offering the following so that people may understand the basis for my thinking that India, 1939 was not the first time Montessori became acquainted with Theosophy or Theosophists. I still maintain there is no disclosure issue for Montessori schools. Personally, I like them very much & have nothing more to say on that issue.

    Renato Foschi reports in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 44(3), 238–257 Summer 2008 that Maria Montessori joined the Theosophical Society on May 23, 1899. There was no Italian section at the time and so she had to join generally as a European. Sometime after, her membership lapsed so it doesn’t appear she was a continuous member from 1899 – 1939, the year in which she and Mario traveled to India on an invitation from the head of the Theosophical Society. In India, it also appears that she did not formally become a member of the Theosophical Society. However, biographer Rita Kramer says “Montessori’s associations with India and with the leaders of the Theosophical Movement had begun many years earlier [than her first trip to India]….[Montessori] had attended a meeting in London when she was young and not yet famous at which she heard Annie Besant give a talk in which she spoke with admiration about the then very new Montessori method. It must have been [before Montessori’s name] would be mentioned as a matter of course by anyone discussing new trends in education.” (p. 341) Kramer goes on to suggest that Maria Montessori personally met Annie Besant sometime after 1907 and “formed a friendly relationship that was renewed whenever Dr. Besant came to Rome in the years before WWI and Montessori’s move to Barcelona.” (p. 342)

    Obviously, I have not seen primary source material on MM’s membership application for May 23, 1899. I am only relying on published accounts of when she is likely to have encountered Theosophy for the first time.

  65. ‘Perhaps digging like a terrier is the necessary spiritual exercise.’

    Yes.

    ‘And perhaps lying, or condoning lying, is a higher one.’

    No! Unless you’re trying to trick a cat, in which case it might be necessary.

    I suppose that, as far as Maria M is concerned, this is a matter, ie, the matter of whether theosophical ideas influenced Montessori educational practice, by comparing the theosophical ideas with the ideas put forth by/in Montessori pedagogical literature.

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