So, while the Kings Langley Steiner school, which I wrote about a short while ago, nurtures a fantasy of being able to reopen again soon, another Steiner school is under existential threat, this time the one in Exeter. As I also wrote, I believe, all Steiner schools are really under the same threat, and they probably need to think a bit about that, because some of their failings (or “failings”, depending on your viewpoint), that is, their not living up the expectations of laws, regulations, government authorities and sometimes (uninformed) parents, are simply a result of them being waldorf schools — they really are alike, for a reason. How would they tackle this? Except, of course, trying to rectify those failings that are of a more egregious kind, those that are actually failings regardless of philosophical or spiritual framework. That obviously comes first.
One other answer that I’ve always favoured is this: honesty. There’s always the possibility of telling everyone what a waldorf schools is and what they want to be, and what ideas inform their goals. There might actually be (unexpected?) gains from doing that. For example, in both schools that are now under scrutiny, the safety of the pupils has been one major concern. In both cases, safety failure includes pupils having left school premises unsupervised. The fact that getting run over may be part of your karma is hardly a rational argument in these safety focused times, although to some extent at least it’s an anthroposophically sound one (meaning, logical), shouldn’t exclude the opportunity to make arguments about stuff like exaggerated and unhealthy safety demands.
Because, I believe, everyone knows that anytime a school (or anyone at all) puts up a boundary that should not be crossed, children will do exactly that — unless, perhaps, as may be the case today, they’ve been taught, and have internalised and believed, that they’re very fragile and the world is highly dangerous and they always need to be protected and guided by an adult. I guess there are mishaps of safety indoctrinated minds that would actually prevent children, who are otherwise not developmentally challenged in any biological or physiological way, from exploring the unknown and the forbidden…
But… one could reasonably challenge the assumption that such a mind is a healthy mind. I suspect, or hypothesize, that one of the things that have made waldorf schools increasingly different from ordinary schools is that waldorf schools still do things the way they’ve always done (for example, they would still, though not explicitly perhaps, allow the element of karma to play out, perhaps masked as freedom!), while the rest of the world has moved on to, among other things, an ever increasing focus on safety, which is then mirrored in regulations that schools have to follow and so on. Not long ago, I bet, it was normal in any school that some kids occasionally strayed outside of school grounds. (Not having any contact with the world of children and child-rearing, I had no direct, experience-based idea that this had changed so much. But my hunch is that when the parents of today were children themselves, they did a lot of things that today would seem criminally unsafe.)
What I suspect is that waldorf schools, rather than advocate for a different culture, pay lip-service to safety demands and regulations in order to stay in business, in order to appear more “normal”, while in reality doing what they always did. They pretend they want the restrictions rather than argue against them. One pretends that one agrees that exaggerated safety rules are actually good rather than saying: well, perhaps they aren’t! Karma aside (that would be fun as a line of argument, I agree), perhaps a bit of risk is healthy and even normal? Perhaps it’s good for the mind (or to speak that other language, soul and spirit) not to arrange every part of a child’s life to be free of risk, not to schedule every minute of their existence in organized and adult-guided activity and supervise it minutely?
I mean, you know, here is a case to be had, I’m sure. But there’s a cost, too, I guess, to saying that some risk is acceptable. There’s even more risk in admitting that this is so for very crazy spiritual reasons, which are the real reasons waldorf schools never developed along the same path as everyone else (towards, among other things, greater, occasionally hysterical, risk aversion). While “normal” folks became unable to accept any potential risk or harm, even if really tiny (children are so precious! people need always to feel safe!), anthroposophy still considers even the greatest of harms, like death, to be a question of karma. Not that there aren’t spiritually good reasons to prevent it, but at the same time — it leads, perhaps, to a greater acceptance of risk to believe that things happen because they need to happen, and even the horrible things happen for reasons that are beyond mundane safety precautions.