comment on alan swindell’s comment

(Because I really am too lazy and uninterested to create a user profile, I gave up. And as I had already written the comment, I didn’t feel like wasting it. So it — albeit a quite insignificant contribution — ended up here instead.)

Alan Swindell writes in a comment (Saturday, March 02 2013, 9:26AM): ‘The only `belief system` that has a place in a school worthy of the name is the belief that children must be educated to make their own choices and find their own way in life, learning to question everything.’

Well, then, that settles it. Or not. Perhaps someone should ask Alan Swindell if there’s any evidence Steiner education manages to do this. To make your own choices, you need knowledge and skills. Does Steiner education accomplish giving the students this? You need, as Swindell puts it, to be able to ‘question everything.’ Are Steiner schools encouraging this?

Children aren’t educated to make their own choices, and this is particularly true of children who don’t naturally fit the Steiner education model; they’re educated to tolerate the choices Steiner education sages, in their supreme wisdom, have already made for them.

(I know they insist it isn’t like that. But I still see very little evidence of that claim being true. Basically, waldorf pedagogy supposedly builds on a true picture of child development; that’s it. It tells you what children are, regardless of the needs, interests, and so forth, of the individual child. This is as confining as standard pedagogy — perhaps even more so, given a significant risk that Steiner education is applied in a religious manner.)

It’s rather unfortunate that a representative of Steiner education would even want to be disingenuous regarding the fact that an esoteric belief system — anthroposophy — does underpin Steiner education and informs both ideas on child development and the educational practices. It would cost very little to be open and honest about this — and if Alan Swindell truly cares about choice, accurate information is paramount. (As usual, children are left without a choice. But at least their parents can exercise it, if they are allowed to.) You can’t both say that information about anthroposophy is available with a mouse-click and then in essence deny its importance — by deflecting the discussion to an entirely different kind of belief (in children’s choices, et c) — because this is completely confused.

steiner waldorf teacher training and the university of plymouth

This post is complicated to write, I must admit. In short, Daisy, a BA student on the now terminated Steiner waldorf teacher training program at the University of Plymouth contacted me and asked if I were willing to answer some questions related to waldorf criticism. I said I’d do that, if I could do it on the blog. Subsequently, I received the ‘final’ set of questions. (I have posted all of them in full at the end of this post.) I will attempt to discuss a few of them, not all. I will first try to express my concerns about this project in particular and the Steiner program at Plymouth university in general.

These concerns are important. I agreed to discuss the questions because I thought they could lead to interesting discussions. However, I recognize that there is a problematic side to this: one part of the problem is the previously expressed attitudes of students and staff at the Plymouth Steiner program. This background story should certainly not go unmentioned. One staff member and tutor, Alan Swindell, who is also working for the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship (SWSF), has written about waldorf critics in a way that is pretty damning — for him and the SWSF. (A recent SWSF document — pertaining to an intriguing SWSF teachers’ conference in april 2012 at the Rudolf Steiner House, London — confirms that Swindell works at the SWSF and is still tutoring the Plymouth Steiner course.)

I’m not sure one can have confidence in those who teach the Steiner program at Plymouth University or in their students. My bet is, probably not. This, for me, is virtually a non-issue. I’ve written about the questions that have been raised before, and I can’t stop anyone from picking from what I have already written, should they want to include my views in whatever texts they’re writing. I suppose past behaviour displayed by people connected to the Plymouth course gives legitimate cause for concern, but there always is such cause for concern. Therefore I’m going to say, wise from previous mistakes, that I don’t endorse anything. I don’t vouch for anything. I cannot be the judge of what is ok and what is not — you have to work that out for yourself.

I can only discuss those matters and questions I find interesting; that is as far as my own involvement goes. Whoever decides to participate needs to make their own decisions. But before you answer any personal questions, be ware that your answers might very well end up in the hands of the waldorf organisation. There are people who can gain from misusing and abusing any personal information they can find about former parents, especially those who are anonymous. Please do read Swindell’s text and my blog post and the discussion thread about it.

I also want to include here what Daisy herself wrote to me about her project:

… I’m doing this because I think the Waldorf movement generally has not been sufficiently open to criticism and scepticism in the past, and that particularly in light of state funding, more effort needs to be made to engage with critics. […] although I’m studying Steiner ed I don’t have a personal agenda for or against it, and thus am stepping back and looking at the debate as objectively as I can.

I very much agree with the first part of the quote; and in that context, one must appreciate efforts taking another course. As of yet, I don’t know that there is no agenda, though. And I don’t know the level of objectivity. Most of all, it’s impossible to know what this project (or any data gathered in the process) can be used for once it’s finished; and that, I’m afraid, may be outside Daisy’s control, and certainly outside our control. She also writes that

…I won’t mention names in my work if they don’t want me to, and I don’t have an agenda to portray critics in a negative light, so they can respond in confidence.

I would say though that even if Daisy’s intentions are ‘clean’, there are people involved in Steiner teacher training at Plymouth University that I wouldn’t trust with access to personal information or even my identity (were I anonymous). That has to do with their ties to the waldorf movement and to the SWSF and also with the fact that so much is at stake — money, prestige, PR — for this movement that people might be prepared to use personal information in unethical ways. I wish I could tell you something differently, but this movement has a lot to prove in this department.

steiner, waldorf and anthroposophy at plymouth university

Another cause for concern is that any collaboration or any attention could potentially serve to legitimize waldorf teacher training at universities (but let’s not overestimate the importance of critics). In my opinion, waldorf teacher training has a very long way to go before it should even be considered appropriate for a university program at a public, state-funded university. I don’t think it will happen any time soon — if ever.

Despite having terminated the waldorf teacher training program, there’s still a ‘Steiner-Waldorf/Hereford Academy research project‘ based at the University of Plymouth. The credentials of some of the researchers seemingly amount to long-time involvement in the waldorf movement, for example work within the SWSF. The project claims to include mainstream researchers too, but I would not take their word for it (none of the listed researchers appears to belong to that category). It would be interesting to know what this group of researchers has actually achieved (for example in terms of peer-reviewed articles in mainstream educational journals), but I have no time to investigate it further. Plymouth University ought perhaps investigate this project further, though, as the university affiliation helps boost its academic credibility. As if this was not enough, Plymouth University lends academic credibility to a master’s program in eurythmy. This program is offered by Rudolf Steiner college in Järna, Sweden, together with the university (sorry, no intake 2012!).

I suspect that one of the movement’s major goals right now ought to be to get back into a UK university with their teacher training programs. This background might be worth keeping in mind when pondering Daisy’s questions and perhaps also the reason for them. Given Plymouth University’s involvement in other Steiner activities (mentioned above) perhaps Plymouth is the horse to bet on, despite the fact that the present teacher training was closed down. (Aberdeen would be another interesting possibility.) Plymouth University tells us:

Please note: the University of Plymouth has ceased recruitment to its undergraduate Steiner Waldorf degree courses. However the courses have not closed and students who started in September 2009 will be fully supported throughout their studies. The University of Plymouth remains strongly committed to Steiner Waldorf Education and continues to offer postgraduate and research opportunities in this subject area. It is also actively engaged in discussions with the international Steiner Waldorf community concerning ambitious plans for a range of academic and professional practitioner offers.

One important reason why waldorf teacher training courses (or even waldorf research projects, for that matter) don’t belong in public universities is anthroposophy, the foundation of waldorf education. There is no waldorf teacher training that isn’t anthroposophical. If there were, it would be a failure from all points of view. Even at Plymouth University, the Steiner program reading lists are heavily Steiner-based. Unsurprisingly so, because otherwise these students would not (and should not) be able to thread the professional path they have chosen. It is not, however, the appropriate course material for a university program, which, supposedly, is to have a more scientifically sound basis. Anthroposophy potentially serves well as a personal belief system or spiritual worldview that students can entertain in their spare-time, but it can’t be the very basis for academic studies in the way that it is in waldorf teacher training.

state-funded steiner waldorf schools

Yet another problematic aspect is the current striving to attain state funding for waldorf steiner schools in the UK. One reason for Alan Swindell’s screed last year and his thinly veiled threats against critics was that more people had begun voicing their opposition to the government’s plans to fund these schools. There was already the Hereford Academy, which had been receiving criticism. There was the dubious Woods report, which aimed at paving the way for the funding (more on the Woods). Swindell rightly suspected that were the free school applications to go ahead, and even succeed, the criticism would become more frequent and harsher. For some reason, he did not seem to understand or want to acknowledge that the criticism was legitimate and critics had valid points.

The main potential threat against waldorf teacher training and other anthroposophical courses at public universities and against state-funded Steiner schools is people becoming aware of what these educational ideas consist of or what anthroposophy is, in general, and what impact it has on the practical anthroposophical applications, among them schools. When people know, they will start to ask whether funding is such a splendid idea or whether perhaps there are better things to allocate public resources to. When people begin to realize there is a need to question the merits of anthroposophy in education and other areas, the image that anthroposophical institutions, waldorf organisations and schools and their PR people want to convey of their own work will no longer remain unchallenged.

the background and the context of the project

Some of the background has already been mentioned above. The reason Plymouth Steiner teacher students found their way to this blog was, presumably, Alan Swindell and the post that commented on Swindell’s text in the SWSF newsletter. I can but recommend that you read at least some of the comments on that post, because they form part of the background to Daisy’s project. Of course, it wasn’t originally about this blog; Alan Swindell was, I assume, inspired to write his article when reading the posts at DC’s Improbable Science blog and other online sources that are more influential on the debate in the UK.

At some point, criticism of waldorf education — and possibly Swindell’s efforts to ‘understand’ it — seems have been brought up and discussed in the courses at Plymouth. Suddenly, several (although let’s not again delve into the question of how many they really were) teacher students appeared on this blog. (Daisy was first, so you might decide to begin reading here.) I wasn’t highly impressed by their argumentation. I was very unimpressed by some of the tactics (for example, one of them decided to pretend to be a regular teacher in order to make the arguments superficially more credible). One might suspect the tone of these discussions at the university wasn’t exactly benevolent.

Anyone involved in any way in Daisy’s dissertation work should be explicitly aware of this context in which the project arouse. In a sense, one might actually say that the behaviour of at least one of the Plymouth tutors, Swindell, and the behaviour of the movement at large has made a project such as this one much more complicated than perhaps it ought to be, for the simple reason that neither critics nor anyone else can be expected to have any confidence in the integrity of the project or of the people involved.

personal questions in the questionnaire

Of course, with or without questionnaires you’re able to find out why waldorf critics have criticized waldorf education. The internet is full arguments, opinions and viewpoints; for example, you can find out my views through browsing the posts and comments on this blog, you can read the archives of the waldorf critics list, you can look at websites and blogs and articles all over the internet. Many of those who comment here have already explained their viewpoints on a number of topics both here and elsewhere. So you can certainly write about criticism without relying on a questionnaire. In some ways that would probably be preferable, considering a situation where confidence may be virtually absent.

Most of all, there’s little use posing personal questions, since few people on ‘our’ side of things would be willing to answer them, knowing the background. (To give the Steiner community the benefit of doubt, perhaps their movement doesn’t fully realize how intimidating its tactics and its proponents can be.) Basically, if such questions are going to be of any value at all they must be handled only by people who have shown ethical integrity. Realistically, I can only see that happening with objective researchers who are independent from the movement. People working in or for the movement are not in that position and a student dissertation is still only a student dissertation (and the integrity of Daisy’s supervisors might be more important than Daisy’s own).

Some of the questions Daisy poses are decidedly personal. I’ve said it already, but there’s no guarantee for how the information gained this way can be used. The SWSF should never be allowed to get access to answers to questions like this one: ‘Describe your experience in as much detail as possible, including any problems you had during this time.’ So you need to remember that the people who run the Steiner teacher training have tight connections to the SWSF. In some instances, they are the same people who work for the SWSF. Private and personal question such as these should have been discouraged by the supervisors of this project. I don’t think the Steiner education staff will feel bound by the ethical guidelines of the university once they’re out of there (and perhaps not even as long as they are still in). Anyone who decides to formally respond to the questionnaire should ask to see the research protocol. This protocol should include indications about the context and origins of this research project, among other things.

I personally wonder if the theoretical grounds for criticizing or rejecting waldorf education aren’t more interesting than details about people’s personal lives and experiences. The objection I have here is that if we’re going to deal with the principal, theoretical, philosophical, ideological objections to waldorf education in a meaningful way, a customer survey among satisfied and dissatisfied customers is simply not enough. And the personal questions are more of a customer survey-nature.

In this context — Steiner training at a university, even if it’s only about a student essay — I’d much rather stick to discussing waldorf education, certain elements of it and its foundation and background than to expound on my own experiences and background. Not that such things are secret or can’t be discovered on this very blog, but in my opinion they are not proper subjects for Daisy’s dissertation.

I don’t want to give unnecessary room to the notion (sadly so prevalent among waldorf defenders) that waldorf criticism is due to the (often interpreted as bad and nasty) characteristics of the critic and doesn’t reflect on the movement; it’s all about the critic, not about waldorf education or its actual downsides and failures. Only read Alan Swindell’s text, and you’ll see. There’s a lot like it, and worse, out there. The personal always seems to give waldorf fans a reason to reject criticism. But, naturally, many of those who start to investigate waldorf education, its content and background initially have a personal reason for doing this. Not many others would care or understand the need for it.

My own experiences are decades old, were made in a waldorf school in another country and are completely irrelevant to any dissertation project at a university in the UK. Moreover, they spanned over a nine year period; it’s not something you describe in detail unless you were to write an autobiography.

‘Do you think Waldorf education can exist without anthroposophy? Would it be better off without it?’

This is one of the questions Daisy has included in her questionnaire. I have discussed this question many times before, directly and indirectly. The answer is no (and to the second question: the notion is silly). Waldorf education that does not have anthroposophy as its foundation is waldorf education only to the name, that is, it isn’t waldorf education. What is unique to waldorf education is anthroposophy and ideas, methods, traditions that are derived from anthroposophy. Waldorf education has its basis in the anthroposophical conception of what the human being is, how she’s constituted and how she develops. Waldorf education is anthroposophy applied to the educational context.

For formal reasons, too, waldorf education can’t exist without anthroposophy. Waldorf education is ultimately controlled, not by the PR division at the SWSF, but by anthroposophy itself, that is, by anthroposophical organisations above the local waldorf schools and associations, and they unequivocally say that anthroposophy is its foundation. I recommend this post on the Hague circle: ‘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”.’ That is the truth. The ECSWE is also clear on the importance of anthroposophy.

Some waldorf school claim something different. That is stupid, and they make claims they shouldn’t be making. But in the aforementioned post you’ll learn, among other important things, that the SWSF also acknowledges that ‘[a]n Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum’ — well, of course! Why would it be different? Anything else would be ridiculous. Anything else would make waldorf education entirely superfluous, no matter what we critics might think of an education founded upon an esoteric belief system. Basically, waldorf schools without an anthroposophical foundation is way more ridiculous than anthroposophical waldorf schools. Simply because they would have lost the point and the reason for being (whatever we might think about their ‘being’).

Without anthroposophy, there’s certainly no point to having waldorf education at all. There’s nothing left — it’s an ordinary school, with extra painting, extra flute-play and extra knitting. But without a foundation. Everything that has to do with what you teach, how you teach, when you teach the stuff you teach comes from anthroposophy. Very basic ideas that govern waldorf education would go out the window. It would be an empty shell — ideologically, philosophically, in every way. A body without a spine. An amusement park without the attractions. It would be of no importance, meaningful to no-one. Not to critics, not to anthroposophists. The manner in which the teacher interacts with the students, the way the teacher observes the students and draws conclusions about them, the means she has to help them — anthroposophy. The colours of the wall. The building design. Virtually nothing would be what it is in a waldorf school without anthroposophy. So what would you even keep that had no anthroposophy in it and still was valuable enough?

If waldorf education is to be of any value — not as a shell but as an institution doing something at least some people can appreciate — it has to remain true to its core. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to go more anthroposophical — openly, honestly, of course. In any case, that is more reasonable than removing anthroposophy. Making the most of what it has that is unique. If there is to be waldorf at all. Naturally, improving the schools in every way possible is paramount. But removing anthroposophy would just make them schools, plain schools. And there are lots of good schools competing for the attention of non-anthroposophist parents. What’s unique to waldorf is that they are anthroposophical, not that they’re particularly good (or academically successful). Anthroposophist parents, of which there still are a few, want a school with an anthroposophical foundation. Any changes to waldorf education, although not impossible, would have to be compatible with anthroposophical ideas. Or, I say it once more, waldorf education is only a name, not an education system built around a specific spiritual and educational philosophy or body of ideas.

the rest of the dissertation questions

I don’t want to delay posting this anymore, and am intending to use the comments section for discussion of other questions. This is the complete set of questions Daisy sent to me. Feel free to discuss any of them in the comment thread. If you want to discuss them or anything else with Daisy but don’t want to do it in the thread, I’m happy to get you in touch with her.

“Can the Steiner Waldorf schools movement break out of its niche by engaging with its critics?”

Questions for critics

What are/were the nature & extent of your involvement with the Waldorf world? (e.g. ex-parent/ex-pupil) Describe your experience in as much detail as possible, including any problems you had during this time.

What key criticisms do you have of the school(s) you were involved with? Do these criticisms apply, in your opinion, to the Waldorf movement as a whole?

Is your negative view of Waldorf informed to a greater extent by direct experience, or by what you have read from other people or of Rudolf Steiner’s writings? Or have both factors had an equal influence on your views?

What is your attitude towards anthroposophy and/or Rudolf Steiner?

What are your motives for airing your critical views of Waldorf on the internet? For example, is it a cathartic way of healing from a negative experience, or do you hope to influence parents who are considering this type of education for their child, or campaign against state funding for Steiner schools, etc.?

Have you ever engaged directly with Waldorf proponents who have challenged your views? What was the outcome of this? How well (or not) do you think criticism and scepticism is handled by the movement?

Can you identify anything positive about Steiner education, whether from your own experience of that of others?

Do you think Waldorf education can exist without anthroposophy? Would it be better off without it?

Do you believe Waldorf education has a future? If so, how would you like to see it change? Or would you prefer it ceased to exist?

What is your view of state schools? How do you think state education could be improved, if at all?

Do you think a fusion of the Steiner methods with other educational methods is possible/desirable?

new masters degree in steiner ed (+ more paradigm shifts)

NNA reports that there is a new ‘postgraduate Steiner education degree programme’:

A new Masters degree course in Steiner education looks set to be launched at Canterbury Christ Church University in England.

The programme, which has been set up in collaboration with the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship by John Burnett, programme director of the Steiner Waldorf BA degree at Plymouth University, and Alan Swindell acting on behalf of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, has now successfully completed the initial stages of preparation.

According to an announcement by the two organisers, the design of the new programme has been agreed and will have advanced to formal validation by the university’s approval committee in the very near future.

This seems just great, or perhaps not:

“A central aspect of this work will be a critical exploration of the role Steiner education might play in an uncertain world of shifting paradigms and social disintegration.”

In an uncertain world of shifting paradigms? Give me a break. What happened to actually helping children acquire knowledge and to teaching them basic skills? Reading, writing, maths, science, history, art — all very useful basics even in an uncertain world of shifting paradigms… (whatever that is — I’m not sure at all that the world is more uncertain now than before or that the ‘paradigm shifts’ are more traumatic or likely to render invalid what we know about the world now).

Read more.

SWSF threatens to sue critics if they GO TOO FAR

A friend (whom I thank for both ideas and the title!) sent me a link to this mindblowingly stupid Spring newsletter by the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship in the UK. It’s actually shocking to see how many lies and how much deception they manage to squeeze into such a short text. Here it is [pdf], view page two: ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, or Friends in Disguise?’ Alan Swindell of the SWSF goes to the movies and watches Alice in Wonderland, he returns home, and…

But within 24 hours there I was again, repeating the whole experience, not with Johnny Depp and co. but glued to a screen, struggling to recognise what should have been familiar landmarks, caught between reality and illusion, expanding and contracting giddily and being grinned at malevolently by any number of virtual cats. The context? Down the rabbit hole of the Internet, through the looking glass of the lap-top, down into the virtual underworld of the Waldorf Critics.

Reality and illusion, mr Swindell? Might I suggest that you’re so unfamiliar with reality and so stuck in your illusions that this, and not any of the actions of waldorf critics, is what causes your confusing struggle? It’s reassuring to know that to the SWSF, former parents and students are grinning malevolently. Nothing to take seriously: only a number of virtual cats grinning malevolently.

For any parents reading this who have not yet discovered for themselves let me spell it out: our schools are not perfect. Like all schools every where we make mistakes, we fall short of our ideals, we play host to human weakness and failings, we offend and disappoint each other; in short our schools are very much part of the real world with real-life problems and shortcomings.

It appears that the SWSF is deluded enough to believe that critics of waldorf education ask for the impossible. Nobody has ever required that your schools are perfect. Only that you recognize your failings and try to correct them (which you don’t do). Nobody has ever said that you cannot make mistakes; only that you take responsibility for the mistakes you make (you don’t). Nobody ever asked of you that you be superhuman; only that you be aware of your humanness and your weaknesses, because the only way to compensate for weaknesses is through knowledge (you’re not prepared to do any of this either). Nobody says your schools should not be a part of the real world (in fact, it’s you who often claim to offer a sanctuary away from the world the rest of us call real). Nobody tells you real-life problems are not to exist; our problem with you is that you don’t own up to your problems and shortcomings, and, in fact, you go blind and deaf as soon as any problems or shortcomings are mentioned. Problems and shortcomings don’t exist in paradise, and paradise is what you’re offering to parents who are too scared to let their children live in the real world. Again, being stuck in illusion, mr Swindell, is not the best way to organize reality. When people suddenly begin to talk about that reality, you don’t understand what hit you.

Of course there are tremendous positives: our schools inspire, uplift, give sense and meaning, create community and provide an education that can transform lives for the better.

Here we go: the illusion. This is the illusion the SWSF lives in. That’s why they cannot comprehend that this does not correspond at all to the reality experienced by many of those who have been inside the waldorf world.

But once down the rabbit hole all that is forgotten.

News flash: the critics didn’t find inspiration, didn’t become uplifted, weren’t given sense and meaning, didn’t experience community and didn’t get an education that transformed our lives for the better. We haven’t forgotten these things; they weren’t part of our waldorf experience. That’s why the critics don’t promote the Steiner movement’s illusions as truth. Critics know they are illusions.

The internet has provided a forum for people to be critical and to disseminate their ideas broadly, swiftly …

How awful! People can actually speak their minds! People can actually give voice to the concerns they have over your schools!

… and without any accountability …

Just who is avoiding accountability, exactly?

Down there you can accuse anyone of anything.

Apparently. Just look at your friend Sune Nordwall. But he’s dug himself into a very deep hole indeed.

Criticism of Steiner education via the internet began in earnest some years ago in America. The Waldorf Critics web-site gave a forum for concerns, frustrations and even anger that took the American schools by surprise.

It always takes waldorf promoters by surprise. They just cannot comprehend that anyone would be unhappy with the paradise waldorf offers.

… parents and teachers supportive of Steiner education began to add their voices and there is even a web-site in the USA, Americans4Waldorf, set up specifically to counter the attacks.

That website is written and maintained by a Swede, Sune Nordwall, the master of accusing anyone of anything, mentioned above. Not by parents or teachers. It’s clear that the SWSF has listened to intently to Nordwall.

In any case it’s instructive to see, once again: criticism is rejected as ‘attacks’. That’s all we — former students and parents — are to the waldorf movement: attackers. This is the mentality of a cult who cannot abide dissent.

What I don’t understand, though, is why the SWSF neglects to mentioned the British Steiner criticism? Why don’t they reply to the articles on DC’s Improbably Science? (iiiiii) Are they too clever? Too… right? Hitting too close to home?

But who will you find at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party? What kind of person sits up until the early hours unpacking Steiner, anthroposophy, the curriculum, Ofsted reports on our schools, even articles like this one?

You bet. In particular articles like this one. It’s a magnificent specimen. The SWSF looks so much like a cult, it’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable, because (presumably!) they are trying not to. And this is the best they can do. It does tell us something pretty important, I think: that they are prepared to continue to treat their critics in a manner typical of a cult.

It would be unfair to generalise, except to acknowledge that in any public forum, whether on-line, in the village hall or at Hyde Park Corner you will find an uneasy alliance of recognisable types: those who have a grievance that still angers them, those who like a good shouting match, those of a more academic bent who have found an issue to contest.

Ah — people who were hurt by waldorf education, people who speak their minds about waldorf education, and people who are too clever for you to handle?

What you will find very few of, however, are those who have not already made their minds up.

I think you’re talking about one of SWSF’s conference here, mr Swindell.

At Plymouth University on the Steiner Waldorf BA we introduce our students to the critics’ web-sites …

I very much doubt that you do, unless the introduction is done with the help of Sune Nordwall’s ‘descriptions’ of the individual critics; i e, you introduce the critics only to badmouth them. Anyway, it seems mr Swindell is neglecting to mention one important thing: the Steiner courses at Plymouth Uni have been closed down, as far as I’m aware.

The students are often changed by the experience …

Not to the better, I presume.

… sometimes angry with the rhetorical style of many critics …

The students are true believers and the critics are too clever, too well-informed and too set on crushing the believers’ dearly held illusions.

… sometimes indignant at the claims being made.

Indignant, how come? Now, that’s silly — well, at least it would be if Steiner education were about education and not about spiritual beliefs.

How could it be otherwise when you hear Anthroposophy described as a cult …

This very article sure reinforces the impression that it is, indeed, a cult.

… and Steiner as a racist…

It would be a great thing if the waldorf proponents learned to recognize nuances, taught themselves some history (including the history of anthroposophy), and at least tried to take their own ideology seriously. What about reading what Steiner wrote and said? It’s not really that complicated. You’re just miffed that others do this, and have the audacity to point out his not so nice sides. These sides aren’t a huge problem, really. Denying them, well, that is a problem. It makes you look ridiculous and uninformed and like a cult who cannot bear the truth — and definitely not like a movement who should be allowed to run educational institutions. As I said, it’s not a huge problem — it’s just that you’re not allowed to lie about Steiner’s race doctrines. It’s not about whether Steiner was a ‘racist’ or not. It’s about what these teachings contain.

… or read that bullying is tolerated because it is a child’s `karma`!

Now, it’s plain stupid to try to deny this.

However, sometimes the students find themselves in agreement with some of the claims, identifying elements of the education that they also see as needing critical
interrogation. The majority, if not all, return even more committed to this style of education, the exact opposite of what the critics would expect to achieve.

Haha! Yeah, right, the Steiner leaders present the critics’ and the views of the critics. The students come out of this process believing even more fervently than before. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for this. Maybe in the research on cults?

Digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Mumsnet mean that they can reach a wider audience than ever before and in immediate response to breaking news …

Oh, the deception! Why don’t they tell their readers what happened on Mumsnet? This happened, according to a Mumsnet admin:

We still find our inbox filled with reported posts and have received a fair few threats of legal action too. Here’s the sort of mail we are getting:

“If I see her posting promotion of libel at Mumsnet once more, I won’t tell you about it, but ask Percy Bratt of Bratt and Feinsilber in Sweden to contact you in cooperation with the legal representatives of The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship in the UK and Ireland (, about your negligent way of allowing libel to be published at Mumsnet and the one who is the most fervent publisher of it to continue to publish at Mumsnet.” […]

So you can see it’s all very wearing. We have no wish to engage in correspondence with Percy Bratt.

That’s how the SWSF and its collaborators engage with criticism! That’s how they worked to shut people up on Mumsnet.

… there is no doubt that any school advancing along the path toward Free School Status will become an immediate focus.

Rightly so.

At present there is a policy of non-engagement …

Because they don’t really care. They don’t think there’s any merit to the criticism — it’s all about rejecting it and to keep the believers believing.

We monitor and respond with simple statements that direct people to appropriate web-sites.

Their own, and Sune Nordwall’s. How pathetic. It would be so horrible if people found out that there is something to what critics are saying by reading what they are actually saying. Thus the need for ‘appropriate’, i e, deceptive, websites.

This is probably experienced as dismissive and arrogant by some critics but it is not about to change …

The behaviour of waldorf proponents is generally dismissive and arrogant, and we don’t really expect it to change. This article proves there’s nothing to expect. Not from people who write things like this:

… however we are always ready to respond to defamation, personal attacks and anything that would be deemed illegal outside of the internet.

Are you threatening the critics, Alan Swindell? Are you indicating that you’ll continue to act like you did on Mumsnet? Are you going to continue to have people silenced through threats of legal action? Are you going to continue to support people, like Sune Nordwall, who handle criticism and critics in this manner? You thugs.

My own forays are always under-pinned by the belief that there is a grain of truth in all criticism, no matter how it is delivered.

No, you don’t really believe this. You’ve just spent an entire article dismissing practically all kinds of criticism, calling critics grinning cats and attackers, too academic and rhetorically cunning (these aren’t compliments in the world of waldorf), and then threatened to sue. You didn’t even have the guts to direct readers to criticism relevant to the UK.

Get down there, get the gist, get out quickly and make your school a better place.

How about trying to understand what critics are saying? How about taking it seriously? How about stopping the ‘I’ll sue you if you do what I don’t like’-silliness? It’s nothing but foolish, empty threats from a toothless cult anyway. You depend on people believing these threats — because that’s all it is, make-believe. There’s no reality behind. It’s illusion, like so much of what you have on offer.