‘no anthroposophy, no steiner values’

This is a tricky one. My first reaction was: there are two alternative interpretations here, either the people at Leeds Steiner school don’t know what they’re doing or they’re trying to mislead or deceive the public. Neither alternative reflects very well on Leeds Steiner school, which is a member of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF). But… and there is a but: the question asked provided the school with a cop-out. As everybody knows, waldorf schools claim they don’t teach the children anthroposophy or the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. This is a ‘truth’ worth discussing though. Sometimes what Steiner taught his anthroposophists is actually taught to waldorf school children. The teachers study Steiner’s work when they study to become teachers. (We’ve recently talked about history education and the culture epochs on an other blog thread; one might reasonably ask if this is not a school subject where the ‘facts’ of anthroposophy seep through to the students in a direct manner. And, in any case, teaching a subject such as eurythmy is to teach anthroposophy. What else would it be?) This said, anthroposophy is always indirectly present. Let me get to that.

But here’s the question that left Leeds Steiner school with the opportunity to exclaim ‘No anthroposophy, no Steiner values’:

First, no they won’t teach the national curriculum, they have their own Steiner curriculum. Second, here’s the problem. Steiner schools claim they don’t teach anthroposophy to students and, of course, if someone asks if they will be ‘teaching anthroposophy’, it’s pretty easy to deny it (and hope there won’t be any more questions). This does not mean that anthroposophy is not the foundation of the entire school down to every detail of the curriculum. This in no way implies the school isn’t immersed in anthroposophy. But Steiner schools aren’t supposed to teach anthroposophy; I think even Steiner was clear on that: the tenets of anthroposophy weren’t to be taught… but he doesn’t object to teaching some of the ‘facts’ derived from ‘spiritual research’ and waldorf schools have done so in the past and will most likely continue to do this (or at least they’re unable to distinguish between scientifically established facts and spiritual fancies and thus getting things mixed up due to ignorance).

All this means is basically that waldorf school teachers won’t stand in front of their classes giving lessons on anthroposophy. It’s more likely anthroposophy will never be mentioned, but still have a huge, though less direct, influence on everything that happens in the school, from the subjects that are taught, how they’re taught, when they’re taught to how teachers interact with students to the traditions and rituals that are observed. But anthroposophy won’t normally be talked about. (Given the influence it has, I think it should be talked about. The children, at least when they’re older, deserve to know about it, in a direct way, in order to help them make some sense of what they’ve experienced.)

This, unfortunately, means that Leeds Steiner school probably felt honest and upfront about the answer, even though it is, in effect, an answer with a potential to mislead. The reason is that people are possibly unaware that there exist, in this context, some welcome opportunities for waldorf schools to deny teaching anthroposophy while still operating fully according to anthroposophical beliefs and adhering strictly to ‘Steiner values’. As they should do, if they want the label ‘Steiner’.

Sometimes it appears as though, when speaking or writing publicly, Steiner schools would rather denounce Steiner and anthroposophy. They’d rather not be too tightly associated with Steiner’s name or with anthroposophy, even though they really should thank anthroposophy and Steiner, without whom they would just be… schools, and probably not very interesting ones at that. (Even the SWSF has wished to ‘rebut’ Steiner.)

I would seriously want to ask a school like the Leeds Steiner school why they’re so happy to announce their lack of committment to anthroposophy and Steiner values — if this is what they’re doing in the reply to Jan; certainly they don’t seem too eager to expand on their actual association with anthroposophy and we’ve certainly seen similar behaviour from other schools and waldorf proponents –, when, in fact, they’ve chosen to use the name ‘Steiner’ and when they’ve chosen to belong to the Steiner movement. Because, actually, Steiner, waldorf and anthroposophy are not concepts without content. They mean something, and choosing such a school (or avoiding it) is a decision based upon what these schools are. Well, at least — that is how it should be. But waldorf schools are sadly all too happy enrolling the children of uninformed parents — and are constantly surprised when it turns out that parents are sometimes not all that happy when they find out more.

As said, Leeds Steiner school is a member of the SWSF. This means the school has to adhere to the criteria set up by the SWSF.

SWSF, in turn, collaborates internationally. The anthroposophical movement’s pedagogical center is the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum, Dornach. The Hague Circle — now reportedly renamed the ‘International Forum’ — is one interesting entity to look at; The Hague Circle has held conferences on important topics, and I’d recommend Leeds Steiner school (and everyone else) to read more about this one, which is especially pertinent to the topic at hand here. SWSF’s membership criteria are perhaps a little less clear about anthroposophy than the Hague Circle is (see my earlier blog post for references). Nonetheless, the SWSF states that

Steiner Waldorf education centres are independent, self-administering bodies that have chosen to associate  in order to promote, advance & develop the method of education, founded upon Spiritual Scientific activity & study as indicated by Rudolf Steiner.

Further down SWSF lists some provisions, among them

a) There has been adequate preparation, including anthroposophical study,
b) An Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum
c) A registered company with charitable status has been established which includes a wording to the effect that the purpose of the activity is to provide education based upon the principles of Rudolf Steiner (or similar)

On SWSF’s website’s main page, it is stated that the purpose of the association is ‘to safeguard the Steiner ethos’. This, too, actually means something. They’re not just random words we don’t need to take seriously. (By the way, the SWSF’s own description of Steiner waldorf education is lamentably inadequate.)

Leeds Steiner school ought not be so eager and happy to announce ‘no anthroposophy, no Steiner values’. Instead they should make a real effort to explain what exactly this means and to make sure to represent, openly and honestly, the role of anthroposophy in the school.

‘too densely incarnated’

The Hague Circle’s meetings are among the most important meetings in waldorf education. This is a report from the most recent meeting, which took place in Dornach a month ago. Claus-Peter Röh, a leader of the pedagogical section at Goetheanum

addressed the dynamic between “upper” and “lower” in both teacher and child, and how these can find balance and freedom through a continual interplay between these two realms. Bringing in contemporary phenomena such as technology in education, Claus-Peter described the modern human being as wanting to live at the threshold of the extremes, rather than in a state of harmonious balance. The teacher needs to provide a steady, well-balance middle realm, so that children who are still in a dreamy state and not yet incarnated, as well as those who are too densely incarnated can find a right relationship to their own, individual incarnation. That means the teacher has to know what each child needs in this process. “How can I help the child in his or her incarnating activity?” is the question for every teacher with every child.

This is the kind of stuff Steve Sagarin needs to squeeze into his waldorf education elevator speech. At least a hint of it. This is it, and this is what people need to know about waldorf. Worryingly, there’s then a description of ‘freedom’ for — I believe — younger school children. Freedom is ‘when the child experiences freedom in doing what the teacher expects.’ That’s a way of defining freedom that would only make sense to waldorf educators (and anthroposophists) and when parents are attracted to waldorf because if offers ‘freedom’ they are better off for being aware that the definition used is not the standard one. Granted, children do have to do what a teacher expects — at least some of the time. But is it right to call that freedom for the child? Is wanting to do something differently from what the teacher expects… unfreedom? Isn’t it just a part of normal development, that of the child wanting to explore his or her own desires. (You see how easy it could be to be deemed wrongly incarnated or not ‘natural’ in some way or another — see recent discussion here and at Steve’s blog — when these ideals are applied. By the way, the above quote indicates that it might actually be the teacher’s task to stop inappropriate activities causing premature — too dense — incarnation; reading is one such activity.)

But I really think you should read the post. There’s one guy from the Witten-Annen teacher training in Germany who claims waldorf education — in contrast to mainstream education (the german model of it) — is for the human being. The participants studied class lesson 14. A lady from New Zeeland talked about the earthquake: ‘The school lost many children to loss of homes, businesses, and jobs. Sue spoke of a subtle change in the souls of the people – a new possibility for relating to the spiritual world.’

Edit: forgot to say thanks for the tip. So, to the person who sent the article, thanks!

books are not natural

Yesterday, I tried to reply to a point someone calling herself ‘Waldorfmommy’ was making on Steve Sagarin’s blog. She explained to MarkH why there were no books in waldorf kindergarten (there aren’t books in school either — at least not during the early years). He had asked, in school, and got the usual evasive answers. Waldorfmommy’s answer to MarkH is no less evasive — like the rest of the discussion, which focuses on what an ideal short explanation of waldorf would be, the readiness to provide an answer that honestly reflects the anthroposophical background is rather limited. Reading is bad for spiritual development. That said, I thought it still might be worthwhile to look closer on Waldorfmommy’s reply to MarkH. I wrote two comments that I posted here on this blog (and on Steve’s but they haven’t showed up there yet) yesterday, and I want to lift them as posts. I’ve also made a number of additions, so read this post too, if you have time.

Waldorfmommy: One of the most joyful and least expensive ways to get a child on this path is to appeal to their natural desire to hear and tell stories and act out their ideas through open-ended play.

What about the child who has an equally natural desire for printed books and for learning to read? Don’t you realize that this is just as natural? And, thus, appealing to that desire for reading and for books ought to also be regarded as natural. Needless to say, children with such desires will find waldorf dull — waldorf provides them with (some of) the things Waldorfmommy mentions — ‘listen to complex stories, move their bodies in rhyming games, recite verses and songs’ — but that just won’t be enough. And I know it won’t be; it wasn’t enough for me.

But we also need discuss to this stuff about what’s ‘natural’, which is apparently something of a buzzword, like ‘holistic’. It is assumed, then, that waldorf education is ‘natural’; mainstream education, in contrast, would have to be less ‘natural’ (or else: why use ‘natural’ as a specific selling point for waldorf?). I believe waldorf teachers need to hear a few words from someone who, as a child, clearly failed to meet waldorf standards for what’s natural and normal. They probably rather not, because actually hearing it would mean doing some damage to their own self-image. There are beliefs so deeply ingrained in the waldorf personality. They’ll brush it away, saying ‘waldorf is not for everyone’, but that’s just an after-the-fact excuse. If waldorf is the natural way, then it is for everyone. If it is natural not to read before this or that age, then the non-reading is the thing to promote. For everyone. Provided that what’s natural is also good — another assumption waldorf folks seem unwilling to examine. Of course, many waldorf children read — or have a desire to learn it — prematurely according to anthroposophical standards. But waldorf teachers ignore this and raise the slow-learners to ‘natural’ standard. They have to. This strategy helps support their dogma. Some, few children aren’t eager to learn, don’t want to be engaged intellectually, let’s make them the blueprint for everyone.

This leads me to the next important point: I think it’s time that waldorf teachers show some evidence for what’s natural and not, because if you don’t, you have no reason whatsoever to deem a certain behaviour or preference ‘natural’ and, effectively, to deem everything else — everyone else who doesn’t follow this template of waldorf normality — ‘unnatural’. And you also need to prove that what you’ve shown to be natural is also good, beneficial, in other words, something we ought to promote because it has the effects we desire to achieve. So far none of this has been shown. Ever. All we get is emotionally based arguments about what’s natural… and fluffy nice and cute and seemingly comfortable. At least for adults who believe in a certain type of paradise for children and who like to close their eyes to the not so paradisiacal aspects of their preferred paradise.

Whether you believe it or not, those children who have ‘unnatural’ desires can sense what you feel about them, they can sense that, in your eyes, they are wrong, they do wrong. They, their personalities, their individualities, don’t fit into your worldview; their way of being and of expressing themselves is undesirable to you. Thus, they’re bound to feel deficient, defect — they’re failing in the eyes of the adults they often look up to: their teachers (and parents). There is a standard they try to meet, but constantly fail. They have to try to become someone they are not. And, in this instance, they will have to dumb themselves down to try to meet this standard, they will have to become stupid — to reject their intellectual desires — to be a good waldorf child in the eyes of the adults who care for them. All of this, I believe, is a very bad thing for self-confidence.

So, at least, if you’re talking about what’s natural (or, for that matter, good), offer some proof that it really is. Until you can do that, I think it would be much preferable if you treated reading as just as natural an activity for children as listening, clapping, whatever. Because chances are it is! And you will have intellectual children in your classes and as long as you assume there’s something unnatural about their desires, you’re not able to treat them with the respect they deserve — as human beings who have their own inclinations and their own reasons and their own capacity for making choices. Even at a young age. If they want books, they should be allowed to enjoy books and, most of all, they should not be met with the attitude that books are unnatural.

When I read explications of waldorf that include words like ‘natural’, I think that this is not really about ‘natural’, it’s about ‘judgmental’.

It’s about passing judgment over people (children) who do not live up to your own particular spiritual standards. Them being individuals in their own right doesn’t seem to be much of a concern, sadly.

computers — and the ‘spirit’

Here’s yet another article on waldorf education and technology. (See earlier post.) As always, what kills these ideas is, has always been and will always be the fanaticism with which they are pursued. It’s good to go out playing instead of spending every minute in front of the screen. But there’s more to this than reasonable philosophy. And, as usual, nobody asks why waldorf eschews technology. At least, in this article, anthroposophy is mentioned, so is Steiner. That’s all good and well. But not connection is made between anthroposophy itself and the anti-technology position taken, and few critical questions are asked. (Some general observations about the nature of waldorf education are made, but the ideas behind are not explored at all.) They just rehash the pro-waldorf side’s PR.

‘But the end results are striking’, the article’s author writes, after having taken AWSNA’s word for the method’s successes. And, of course, they have found the committed waldorf mother to speak up on behalf of waldorf, and, of course, that means spreading rather odd ideas about the differences between waldorf and mainstream education:

But her belief is that in traditional classrooms, all children are expected to learn the same things, at the same time, in the same ways.

That’s exactly how I experienced the expectations of waldorf! If your children want to learn at waldorf’s pace, want to learn the same things as the other children at the same time, in the same ways — then, I guess, the limits of waldorf aren’t so consciously experienced. It may even seem like they aren’t there. Doesn’t mean they aren’t, though.

“[My children] both conveyed to me that this style of learning was threatening,” Douglas says.

And the waldorf style isn’t? Well, again, that would depend on perspective. Actually, and it should be said, Douglas isn’t just any waldorf mother — she’s ‘working to establish the Waldorf-concept school locally’ and is thus more like a spokesperson for waldorf. She has more than one stake in its ‘success’.

Waldorf’s site notes that after spending their young lives away from technology, kids in Waldorf high schools often go on to build their own computers as school projects, surpassing their traditionally schooled peers.

This ‘information’ should not be repeated as fact without critical inquiry — it may very well be based on wishful thinking.

Waldorf, especially, is chastised by some for its focus on a child’s “spirit,” and its tendency to come off as artsy or lax.

There’s more to criticize in waldorf than it being ‘artsy or lax’. I’m not sure it’s very artsy — and I don’t think it’s lax. It just requires adherence to a different regiment.

Also, it’s worth noting, spirit — in anthroposophy — is not a concept with quotation marks around it. For better or worse.

history and clairvoyance

Roger Rawlings has found a quote about the teaching of history in waldorf schools.

‘This is from the description of a Waldorf  teacher’s guide, published by the Rudolf Steiner College Press. The subject is history. The subtext is clairvoyance. “The History curriculum for fifth and sixth grades in a Waldorf school follows the thread of development of cultures through Ancient India, Persia, Egypt and Chaldea, Greece, and Rome. This provides a picture of the changing human consciousness from ancient clairvoyance to the loss of spiritual vision and, with it, the awakening of independent ego awareness and materialism. The teacher is guided to a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance of mythologies and great epics, and shows how the ancient world points the way to the future.” TEACHING HISTORY, Vol. 1 (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2000).’

Here’s the link.

reading and writing in waldorf

People will object that the children then learn to read and write too late. This is said only because it is not known today how harmful it is when the children learn to read and write too soon. It is a very bad thing to be able to write early. Reading and writing as we have them today are really not suited to the human being till a later age—the eleventh or twelfth year—and the more a child is blessed with not being able to read and write well before this age, the better it is for the later years of life. A child who cannot write properly at thirteen or fourteen (I can speak out of my own experience because I could not do it at that age) is not so hindered for later spiritual development as one who early, at seven or eight years, can already read and write perfectly. These are things that the teacher must notice. — Steiner, The Kingdom of Childhood, pp 26-27. (Available for free online via Steinerbooks.)

There’s a discussion on the critics list. If you only read one post on this topic, let it be this one, by Diana in reply to Frank; I quote a couple of passages (but you should really read the entire post!):

No. I am not “confusing” early Waldorf with later Waldorf. I assert that the anti-literacy bias, which children first encounter in the kindergartens and early grades, continues throughout a Waldorf education, though most of the damage is done in the very early years. Of course children do read in the later grades and upper school in Waldorf; a Waldorf high school may or may not be much different from any high school in this regard. The striking difference is in the early years education.

What parents need to know is that when Waldorf says they don’t believe in “early” reading, they are defining “early” differently from the mainstream. Many people will agree that pushing children to read “too early” can be damaging. But by “early,” they tend to mean 3, 4, 5 years old. They don’t want their children doing worksheets in preschool.

However, when a Waldorf teacher tells you they don’t push children to read “too early,” they mean 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years of age. Steiner said that ideally adolescence was better spiritually for reading and writing. Waldorf schools know they can’t delay it THAT long, but they get as late a start as possible, and keep tamping the brakes for a long, long time. And they know they can’t explain this pedagogy in so many words to parents, since very, very few parents who are concerned about education are in favor of their child’s literacy being permanently hampered.

But to approach this from the beginning, Frank said it’s bullshit (and nonsense) that waldorf schools want to prevent children from reading and writing and from learning to read and write early, giving lots of more or less irrelevant arguments, among them how bad it is to pressure children. That may be. But what Diana had written was not bullshit. I wrote:

In my own experience, and in the experience of lots of other people I’ve heard the same thing from, it’s certainly not bullshit. A child who knows to read and write before 1st grade begins — like I did — will definitely be discouraged from pursuing these interests in many waldorf schools.

Diana replied to this, and also replied to Roger’s comment. The picture they paint is very familiar. The picture Frank tries to paint is strangely unfamiliar, which leads me to think that either his waldorf school(s) is (are) unique, or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s making shit up. Lots of irrelevant arguments from Frank, since they don’t really address the fact that waldorf teachers actively discourage or prevent children from reading, and why they do this, to which I replied:

No, Frank, I wasn’t talking about kindergarten (or early grades, which I take it refers to education for 7-year olds and younger children), even though I learnt to read while I was still in kindergarten. I’m talking about first grade. In Sweden, first grade starts the year the child is seven. This is later than in most other countries. I was 6 1/2 because my birthday is in december. I already knew how to read and write. I was EXPLICITLY told I should not write words even if I knew how to. I was clearly mature enough to read and write, because I knew it without anybody teaching me. I wasn’t pressured. I WANTED to read and write. Yet I was told not to do it. What do you think the message is? That it’s bad. Shut up and play the flute. There was a very popular tv show for children, it aired when I was in 1st grade — it taught reading, writing and simple maths. Talking about this tv show in school — or bringing to school the booklets that were published and were supposed to accompany the programs — was prohibited. Why on earth? Every other educational institution would have been thrilled to see children enthusiastic about such a tv series. Not waldorf.

And:

… lots and lots of children learn to read and write despite waldorf education. I know this. Some of the children who weren’t allowed to read and write at home were very eager to learn anyway … These kids were striving to learn — despite the fact that the school tried to delay it. I’m sure they learnt — because they hungered for it. School is by no means necessary for driven children to learn these things. They do it anyway. I think this is one reason waldorfs schools don’t manage to fuck up children’s lives to a greater extent than they do.

Judith chipped in. She also raised another issue, namely that of waldorf parents usually being educated themselves — these children don’t grow up in homes without books. And many parents provide their children with reading material — despite the school’s policy and wishes. They’re even helping the children learn, so as to make sure they don’t fall behind. Diana asks for the statistics we really need in order to know it the approach to delay and/or prevent reading writing is successful. Walden points to hypocrisy. Frank suggested that if the waldorf schools Diana, Roger and I experienced were like this, we must have lived in a parallel universe. We didn’t, of course. Well, waldorf itself is a parallel universe, but it’s surprisingly uniform from country to country, continent to continent. To which I replied:

This self-delusion is what prohibits waldorf staff from honestly saying to parents: ‘Your child has needs we can’t meet, needs we aren’t prepared to meet, because they aren’t part of our educational philosophy. Your child wants and needs intellectual stimulation, and there are other schools which are prepared to offer this. We are not.’

Waldorf schools would prevent a lot of anger and disappointment if they actually had insights into and were honest about what it is they’re offering and how it differs from mainstream education. And if they had the insights into children’s individual needs — insights which they claim to possess but don’t.

When waldorf proponents argue for late reading, like Frank did in one post, they like to mask their arguments, as Diana pointed out in the post I quoted initially. They ‘make statements about child development that use mainstream terminology and hence aim to deceive by coming across as actual educators, when they’re nothing of the sort, and the spiritual mission is masked’, she writes. This we need to be wary of.

Not all waldorf teachers will be equally fanatical about reading and writing; I suspect my teacher was not very fanatical, she wasn’t judgmental about it, she followed the school’s rules on what kids could bring to school, and when it came to writing, what mattered was, I think, the concern that other children, who didn’t yet know how to write, would be prematurely exposed to writing if another child wrote entire words. And this some convinced anthroposophists — among parents and teachers — would be opposed to. (Some waldorf schools I’ve read about even have policies on clothes with print on — no text! I’m not sure such a policy was in place in the waldorf school I attended, and at least it wasn’t strictly adhered to.) Not all anthroposophists are fanatical about this either; some probably allow for the child’s own interests and desires to guide the learning; some probably aren’t anti-books at all — thinking that the child’s reading will happen when it happens — and don’t fuss too much, or at all, about ‘premature’, albeit voluntary, reading. But that there is a negative and discouraging attitude towards early reading — even woth regard children who have taught themselves to read — is certainly not bullshit, as Frank claimed. He should know better, much better.

wiechert on depression

Christoph Wiechert of the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum says that waldorf education offers a solution to the problem of depression and other social ills:

So archaisch seine Feststellungen daherkommen, Christof Wiechert begründet sie immer wieder mit neuesten Forschungen aus der Hirnforschung. Die jetzige Gesellschaft nennt er eine entgrenzte Gesellschaft, die zwar nicht alles erlaube, in welcher man sich aber alles erlauben könne. Die Folge des entgrenzten Ichs sei die Einsamkeit des modernen Menschen – zwei Drittel der Amsterdamer Haushalte seien Single-Haushalte, so der Niederländer Christof Wiechert. Er benennt die Depression als Volkskrankheit einer Gesellschaft, die individuellen Erfolg als Maßstab setze.

Dem setze die anthroposophische Pädagogik, die nachhaltige Erziehung entgegen. Der junge Mensch solle lernen, “die einzige Begrenzung in der Entgrenzung bin ich selbst.” Der Mensch solle durch die schulische Bildung einen ethischen Selbstwert erhalten, damit er die Freiheit, welche ihn umgibt, zu nutzen weiß.

That’s the opposite of real waldorf education, isn’t it? Wiechert lives in a dream, or a delusion, where waldorf actually accomplishes the things he hopes it would. (Besides, focusing on one-person households is a rather one-sided way to measure loneliness. Being among people surely is no guaranteed antidote to the feeling of loneliness, which can be more powerfully experienced in social settings than in states of voluntary solitude.)

In my opinion, waldorf is nothing but restriction, nothing but limitations, nothing but repression of individuality, nothing but suppression of self-esteem — for the good of the ‘community’, for the good of the group. It’s ok to sacrifice the individual child on the altar of collective progress (whether real or imagined). In addition, waldorf makes intellectual children depressed and lonely. They don’t fit in and they are not allowed to develop their own personality (it would corrupt the spiritual good of the group).

Freedom, not quite. Not if you don’t adapt to the ‘freedom’ they have on offer.

Wiechert also uses scientific research to support waldorf education or, more likely, his ideal image of what waldorf ought to be. I assume he’s picking and choosing, because I don’t think there’s any consensus on the benefits of late reading/writing, or of eurythmy, or of any other waldorf specific art form. Or, for that matter, Steiner’s theory of human — and child — development.

Waldorf isn’t an old solution to new problems, it’s an old solution to problems anthroposophists imagine plague the rest of the world. I bet there are as many depressed children, or children deprived of self-esteem, or lonely children, in the average waldorf school as there is within any other educational system. Possibly the situation is even worse in waldorf — because waldorf isn’t what Wiechert desires it to be. Everyone pretends waldorf is paradise and every child in waldorf is lucky — how would this delusion contribute to the well-being of the child who is unhappy or even suffering in waldorf? And eurythmy is no cure for depression. Forced intellectual stagnation isn’t either.

Nur bei der künstlerischen kreativen Arbeit würden alle Hirnregionen gemeinsam aktiv sein, so Wiechert …

Yes, but would this apply to monotonous copying of virtually the same wet-on-wet-painting, week after week, year after year?

“Jedes Kind habe ein Recht auf einen Überschuss an positiven Schulerinnerungen”, so Christoph Wiechert.

Avoid waldorf then. In particular if your child hates it.

What I dislike is the underlying assumption: that waldorf provides positive educational experiences and, in contrast, mainstream education is unable to provide this. This is an unfounded assumption, and it seems tenable to Wiechert only because he has devoted his life to waldorf — or the fantasy of waldorf, ideal waldorf, untainted by actual waldorf reality. Perhaps sympathetic, but very naïve. It works better if you think anthroposophy holds the truths — and that we’re only waiting for mainstream research to catch up.

‘this is normal for cults, they are seclusive’ (waldorf)

This article in Austrian newspaper Der Standard is interesting and worth running through google translate (I have written small summaries of important points below). It includes an interview with a researcher at the education department at the University of Vienna. He is quite critical of waldorf edcuation.

„Die Schulpraxis der Waldorfschulen ist ein Gemengelage aus der typischer Reformpädagogik der Jahrhundertwende, das ist nicht sehr Steiner-spezifisch …”, meint Stefan Hopmann, Institut für Bildungswissenschaft der Uni Wien ….  Was Steiner auszeichne, sei weniger der Fokus auf Musik, Bewegung und Kreativität, sondern das Drumherum einer „höchst merkwürdigen Anthropologie”, die laut Hopmann „grober Unfug” sei.

The majority of waldorf students come from socially privileged family settings, thus:

„Das Elternhaus kann dafür sorgen, dass das Bildungsgut, das von der Schule liegengelassen wurde, am Mittagstisch zu vermitteln”, meint Hopmann. Die Eltern sorgen für die „nötige Dosis Welt”.

Hopmann believes waldorf education can be described as a totalitarian ideology which attempts to control child development –that it is a manner of using children to attain ideological goals:

Eine heile Schulwelt kann der Bildungsexperte bei Steiner-Schulen … nicht erkennen. Er bezeichnet Waldorfpädagogik als totalitäre Ideologie und sieht das Problem darin, dass diese Art von Anthropologie die kindliche Entwicklung kontrollieren wolle. Das sei nichts Anderes als eine Vereinnahmung von Kindern für bestimmte ideologische Zwecke.

Further on in the article, he explains that the immediately visible ‘attributes’, which are typical for waldorf schools, are not what the schools are about, moreover, there’s no evidence to back up waldorf methods and theories:

… Hopmann hält die esoterischen Elemente, wie Eurythmie, nicht für schädlich. „Das können sie überall praktizieren, das ist auch nicht das, wo Steiner originär war. Was ihn originär macht, ist seine anthroposophische, biologische, theosophische und rassistische Ideologie.” Der Wissenschaftler fügt aber noch hinzu: „Wenn man sich die Theorien genau anschaut, die Modelle und die sogenannte Forschung, die dahinter steckt, wird man schnell merken, dass es ein grausliches Gemengelage von Behauptungen ist. Sie basieren auf keiner entwicklungspsychologischen Forschung, auf keiner didaktischen Forschung, auf keiner unterrichtswissenschaftlichen Forschung. Auch die Behauptung, dass die Kinder dadurch freier, kreativer werden, ist durch keine Studie abgesichert.”

And, ending the article, he says that one central point of criticism concerns the lack of transparency which results in a lack of independent research:

Für Hopmann ist ein zentraler Kritikpunkt, dass keine Forschung, wie reelle vergleichende Forschung über Schulalltag und Bildungsverläufe, zugelassen werde: „Die Schwierigkeit dabei ist, dass die Steiner Schulen systematisch einen vernünftigen Einblick von außen verhindern.” Deswegen gebe es auch keine unabhängige Forschung über das Innenleben von Waldorf-Schulen. „Das ist aber normal bei Sekten, die machen von außen zu”, lautet das abschließende Urteil des Wissenschaftlers.

That is, Hopmann says that being seclusive — not open to the outside world — is normal for cults.

eurythmy, a homeopathic dose of fun (awsna conference)

An AWSNA conference this summer [pdf]. From page 1, the intro:

Our ability to meet the adolescent today is deeply dependent on understanding Rudolf Steiner’s overarching conception of child development. When we weave together the practiced observations of the doctor with the experience of the teacher, the genius of Waldorf Education becomes apparent.

Oh really? The ability to ‘meet’ young people today is dependent on knowing Steiner’s teachings? Seems slightly exaggerated. Page 4, ‘focus groups’:

Why is my life where it is at this moment? Who are the members of my karmic family and what are we truly meant to do together? […] Parzival, the story of the soul in modern times, can help us recognize and shape our karmic relations and intentions for our current life.

Yes, who are they, these members of the karmic family? And why does waldorf education, once again, seem more like a self-realization program for spiritual seekers (i e, the teachers) than an educational system whose goal is to teach children stuff they need in life?

On page 8, we learn of a eurythmy workshop, about which they say:

we imagine this focus group as a homeopathic dose of fun.

Not fun at all then, I presume. Or, more accurately, so extremely diluted fun it can’t be recognized as fun anymore, much less cause any effect (such as pleasure or laughing).

Go ahead and read the brochure. It includes drugs, sex, diversity and islam. And some more eurythmy. Just to tempt you.

wool horses

To anyone who thinks waldorf offers education without pressure and allows children to develop at their own pace: you have no idea what it’s like for children like me. You don’t understand what it’s like to get detention in kindergarten because you’re not able to sew hairs and ears fast enough on a wool sock horse mounted on a wooden stick.

Detaining a small child, aged five or six, over recess because that child cannot do what you require him or her to do or what your dogmas prescribe for a child of this age — that is to put pressure on that child. Over something which, moreover, doesn’t matter one bit. I’ve never sewn hair and ears on a wool sock horse again in my life, and will never do it. Waldorf education saw to it that I had had enough of stupid tasks like that in my life; these tasks are nothing but meaningless shit, really, teaching you that being alive is tedious, going to school a waste of time, and that resisting authority is futile. (As far as I’m concerned those may very well be the intentions of waldorf education.)

You may not think that demanding skills at crafts is a kind of pressure — as an adult, you may think handwork as a fun and relaxing hobby — but this is, nonetheless, precisely what it is. For the child it’s definitely not fun, not in the least. It’s not relaxing, it’s not a hobby. It’s a pain. It’s about constantly failing to meet the demands of the grown-ups, the teachers. And you’re certainly aware of your failings. All the time.

Why do waldorf education proponents keep insisting that waldorf lets children be children without pressure? Sure, they don’t want children to be intellectual, thus, the children who are, are taught to hide it. (Another kind of pressure right there!) Stupid children might be happy, because they fit right in. Not being able to read or do maths is, after all, a positive thing in the world of waldorf. There is no academic pressure (other than of the negative variety — the pressure to suppress academic inclinations).

But, honestly, does anyone believe that the child who sucks at crafts, who cannot do eurythmy, who cannot master the flute, who cannot find wet-on-wet painting or form drawing meaningful, et cetera, won’t feel pressure? I suppose adults like delude themselves about this. The no-pressure waldorf childhood is an illusion they cherish and need to keep — not for their children’s sake, but for their own. There’s no paradise of childhood.

If there were one, it certainly wouldn’t involve forcing children to sew useless wool horses.

the specifically waldorf

Waldorf defenders regularly seem to want to chop the heads off of us critics when we say that what’s specific to waldorf is anthroposophy. When the waldorf training institutes say the same things themselves, it’s ok. Seemingly. Here’s what the London Waldorf Seminar has to say:

The course aims to provide a foundation in the fundamentals of Steiner Waldorf education that is essential for anyone who aims to teach in a Steiner Waldorf school.

They then list three ‘strands’ which are central to the course. All three of them are deeply related to anthroposophy and anthroposophical ideas, but it’s sufficient, I think, to quote the second of them:

Anthroposophical study – study of Steiner’s education and other lectures to support and deepen understanding of Anthroposophy as the basis of Steiner Waldorf education. Essential texts are The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy and The Study of Man (The Foundations of Human Experience) and these have been supplemented at various times by The Kingdom of Childhood, Waldorf Education for Adolescents, The Spirit of the Waldorf School, Practical Advice to Teachers and Discussions with Teachers, as well as individual lectures and passages from other books and lecture cycles, chosen by individual tutors. Study of lectures on festivals is also an important part of the study curriculum. While these are not studied directly on the course, students are encouraged to read Steiner’s basic books Knowledge of the Higher Worlds (How to Know Higher Worlds), Theosophy and Occult Science (Esoteric Science) to gain a good grounding in Anthroposophy.

Most of these books are available online:

The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy
The Study of Man (The Foundations of Human Experience)
Waldorf Education for Adolescents
The Spirit of the Waldorf School
The Kingdom of Childhood
Practical Advice to Teachers
Discussions with Teachers
As for festivals, see for example these collections
How to Know Higher Worlds
Theosophy
Occult Science (Esoteric Science)

This is, indeed, what is specifically waldorf. These books are specific to waldorf — they are unique for waldorf. No other teachers go through teacher training reading these books. It makes it all the more apparent why a regular teacher training is necessary as a foundation. The waldorf courses could serve as decoration, at most, but they surely cannot be the main attraction. I thought you all might be worried too, but then I realized that any concerns you might have developed by now will surely evaporate when I tell you that the seminar ‘is recognised by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship’. Knowing this, a state recognised teaching qualification seems like a secondary, almost irrelevant notion. (The Waldorf Seminar, as you may have guessed, is not offering such a thing.)

nzz interview with heiner ullrich

There was an interesting interview with Heiner Ullrich in NZZ yesterday. Heiner Ulrich is professor of education and has written about waldorf education. I found a couple of his replies particularly interesting. The first of the two questions deals with the — sometimes misguided — reasons parents have for choosing waldorf:

Sie suchen ein Arbeitsbündnis zwischen Elternhaus und Schule. Das klappt dann allerdings nicht immer. Denn Waldorfschulen, so heissen sie in Deutschland, sind für viele unerwartet stark weltanschaulich ausgerichtet, und ihre Lehrer, die häufig selbst Anthroposophen sind, nehmen für sich in Anspruch, in Sachen Erziehung und Bildung die Definitionshoheit zu haben. Dem muss man sich als Eltern unterordnen. Sicher kommt das nicht sehr doktrinär daher, aber Experimente und Versuche – das gibt es hier nur selten, denn die Fragen sind nun mal beantwortet. Es kommt deshalb auch zu Missverständnissen: wenn Eltern zum Beispiel eine antiautoritäre Schule erwarten. Dies ist die Waldorfschule überhaupt nicht, im Gegenteil: Sie führt sehr stark.

The second of them asks what the main drawback of waldorf education is.

Ein offensichtlicher Schwachpunkt ist die Ausbildung der Klassenlehrer, die ja bei manchen nur an den anthroposophischen Lehrerbildungsstätten stattfindet. Das reicht heute einfach nicht mehr. Wie die anthroposophischen Mediziner zuerst Schulmedizin studieren, würde ich mir auch in den Waldorfschulen den «Lehrer plus» wünschen, der zuerst die normalen pädagogischen Konzepte kennenlernt. Es ist gut, dass sich die anthroposophischen Lehrerbildungsinstitute heute in vielen Ländern akkreditieren müssen und dadurch ein Öffnungsprozess zu den Pädagogischen Hochschulen in Gang kommt.

Read!

understanding (the ‘real’) anthroposophy

(Whatever that is.) On DC’s improbable science blog, there’s a discussion going on right now. Begins around this comment.* The latest one is this however; Jan Luiten wrote:

Please don’t become an anthroposophist of the kind you think of as an anthroposophist, rather stay a critic, stay who you are.
You mentioned the “standpoint of anthroposophists”. Should I have that standpoint too ? It is just that generalizing thought that leads to so much misunderstanding. You cannot say: “ he is an anthroposophist so this is the way he looks at the world”. I can assure you there are very few people who see the things like I do. It would be nice when you and others would take me as an individual and not just as a member of a group about which you have stereotypical thoughts.

Of course, you ‘shouldn’t’ have any standpoint at all, unless you happen to agree with that standpoint. What I was pointing out, however, was that your expressed stance — that we don’t know or understand what anthroposophy really is — happens to be quite common to anthroposophists. If ‘we’ — whoever we are — don’t agree, it must be because we don’t understand, rather than because we do understand but nonetheless choose to reject what we understand. The assumption is, apparently, that nobody who truly ‘understands’ will say what critics say about anthroposophy.

I would say, too, that it would be impossible to talk about anthroposophy and anthroposophists if there didn’t exist a set of beliefs typically held by anthroposophists. Paths and processes and whatnot aside, there are some beliefs typical for anthroposophy. There is a way of looking at the world that is typically anthroposophical. Continue reading “understanding (the ‘real’) anthroposophy”

essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)

Can waldorf schools ditch ‘spiritual science’ and still be waldorf schools? Can they ditch what Rudolf Steiner taught and still call themselves waldorf or steiner schools? It’s question which has been discussed over and over again, here on this blog and elsewhere. (Only yesterday I wrote this, but I think I’ve written better and more in dept elsewhere.) Now I’m reading another newsletter from the pedagogical section of the Goetheanum. It’s available here [pdf]. On page 12 and onwards, this document describes the consensus — on what waldorf steiner education is — arrived at by a conference in Hague 2009. And it makes quite clear that waldorf cannot be just anything its proponents (or happy, but clueless parents) wish it to be:

Irrespective of their name and their rich, cultural diversity, they are all unified through several essential characteristics which are described below. Schools or kindergartens which do not reflect these characteristics don’t belong to the worldwide movement of Waldorf schools or Waldorf kindergartens.

The first characteristic mentioned is this:

The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”.

Continue reading “essentials of waldorf education (hague conference 2009)”

comment

Via @thetismercurio I found this blog post. I think it brings up several important criticisms of waldorf education, including one of my pet topics, the delay in teaching literacy and the discouragement of reading and writing. I think this is one seriously harmful aspect of waldorf pedagogy. Waldorf proponents either don’t acknowledge that it happens at all (at most admitting that waldorf students learn at a ‘different pace’ or something similar) or they claim that no harm comes from it anyway. The harm to me is obvious: the child is not allowed to learn to read and write, and this, in turn, restricts the child’s experience of the world. It’s actually a confinement of the mind. Because waldorf schools don’t stop at refraining from ‘pushing’ (as they often call it) literacy; they intentionally delay it, and actively discourage children’s interest in reading and writing, if these interests are appearing prematurely according to anthroposophic dogma. Continue reading “comment”