an essay by grégoire perra

Grégoire Perra is often a much better, much more nuanced and more eloquent defector than the anthroposophical movement appears to deserve. This is an intensely interesting essay written by Grégoire about his time as a waldorf school student and later as an anthroposophist; it also recounts his adventures in court. Roger Rawlings has worked on providing the translation into English — unfortunately it isn’t finished yet.  If you’re able to, you might choose to the original version in French instead. (I’ll try to remember to update this post if I find out that Roger’s translation is finished.) Grégoire introduces his essay in this way, and I take the liberty to quote his introduction in full, which I hope will pique your interest in the whole essay:

Le projet de raconter dans le détail le récit de mon parcours dans le milieu anthroposophique depuis l’âge de neuf ans est un projet ancien. Il avait simplement été retardé par le procès que la Fédération, des écoles Steiner-Waldorf m’avait intenté, suite à la parution de mon témoignage paru sur le site de l’UNADFI. Depuis plusieurs années, je prends en effet des notes, retrouve de vieux souvenirs, qu’il me semble de plus en plus important de donner à connaître à ceux qui veulent connaître la vérité sur les écoles Steiner-Waldorf et l’anthroposophie. Bien sûr, mon but n’étant de nuire à personne, mais d’exposer des faits significatifs, j’ai décidé d’occulter tous les noms. Si certaines personnes se reconnaissaient et se sentaient blessées, qu’elles sachent que telle n’était pas mon intention.

Je pense que ce récit pourra permettre à ceux qui le souhaiteront de se faire une image plus précise et plus juste de ces écoles, venant compléter mon témoignage publié sur le site de l’UNADFI. Je ne prétends nullement détenir une vérité absolue sur ce sujet, mais simplement la mienne, celle qui traverse mon vécu. Mon projet n’est pas non plus de me présenter comme une victime ou de désigner des bourreaux. Ayant été parmi eux, j’ai aussi été l’un d’eux. Certes, je n’y étais pas moi-même. Car ce milieu, comme tout milieu à caractère de dérive sectaire, ne permet pas de l’être. Cependant, si quelque chose en moi ne s’était pas opposé de toutes ses forces, jamais je n’aurais pu en partir. Ce petit quelque chose qui a finalement pu faire entendre sa voix, je pense pouvoir dire que c’est mon être profond et véritable. Celui que les anthroposophes n’ont pas su atteindre ni éteindre. Celui qui a résisté à leur emprise.

Cependant, malgré cette résistance, qui n’a pu percer que vers la fin, il m’est pratiquement impossible de dire ce qui a été de mon fait et ce qui, dans mes actes comme dans les événements que j’ai traversés, appartient au milieu anthroposophique. Cette réalité de mon passé n’est pas toujours simple à porter.  Il arrive même parfois que cela m’effraie tout autant que cela m’interroge. Ou que je sois empli d’une immense pitié, ou d’une profonde colère, quand j’ai connaissance de personnes qui sont dans un état similaire à celui qui a été le mien. En témoignant ainsi, je ne me cherche donc aucune excuse. Bien au contraire, j’essaie de rendre compte de manière honnête des faits. Lorsqu’il est impossible à une conscience humaine de démêler ce qui est de sa responsabilité et ce qui est celle de son entourage, elle peut encore s’en remettre au pouvoir du récit. Si la cohérence de son chemin de vie ne lui apparaît pas, elle peut au moins tâcher d’en laisser une trace aussi clair que possible à ceux qui pourront un jour, peut-être, comprendre.

In Roger’s translation:

Some time ago, I decided to tell in detail the story of my life in the Anthroposophic community, which started at age nine. This project was delayed by the lawsuit brought against me by the Federation of Waldorf schools, following the publication of an essay of mine at the UNADFI website. For several years, I have written notes to myself, and dug up old memories, to prepare for the day when I could freely tell the truth about Steiner-Waldorf schools and Anthroposophy. Of course, my goal is not to harm anyone, but to lay out significant facts, so I have decided to disguise the identities of most individuals I mention. If some people recognize themselves and feel injured, they should know that this was not my intention.

I believe this narrative, supplementing the account I gave at the UNADFI webite, will allow readers to get an accurate and fair picture of these schools. I do not pretend to possess the absolute truth on this subject, but I have the personal perspective that results from living through the events I will recount. My purpose is not to paint myself as a victim nor to apportion blame to others. Having lived among the people I will describe, I was also one of them. Admittedly, I was not fully myself, then — the environment, with its sectarian mists, did not allow it. But if I had not had something inside myself that strongly opposed that environment, I would never have been able to leave. That little something deep inside, which finally made its voice heard — I think I can say it was my deep and true self. This is what the Anthroposophists failed to reach or turn off; this is what ultimately resisted their control.

Despite this resistance, which nearly collapsed towards the end, it is very difficult for me to fully distinguish between what was done to me and what I did to myself — the actions that I myself undertook as a member of the Anthroposophic community. The reality of my past is not always easy to bear. It sometimes frightens me as much as it ovewhelms me with wonder. Likewise, I am often filled with an immense pity or a deep anger when I learn about people who now are in the same situation I experienced. So in telling this tale, I am not trying to excuse myself. Instead, I am trying to give an honest account of the facts. When it is impossible for a human consciousness to sort out what is its own responsibility and what is the responsibilty of others, at least one can rely on the power of narrative. If full comprehension is elusive, at least one can give a clear accounting for those who one day may, perhaps, be able to truly understand.

(One reference to an endnote excluded, you’ll find it at Roger’s site.)

good news from france!

The French anthroposophists (or rather the French Federation of Steiner Waldorf Schools) appear to have lost the defamation lawsuit they brought against Grégoire Perra for writing about his time as a waldorf student, anthroposophist and waldorf teacher in this essay (also here). Thanks to these anthroposophists’ foolishness in thinking that it’s ok to try to suppress people’s viewpoints by taking legal action, a lot more people have now read Grégoire’s essay. Which, I gather, was not part of their plan. Lesson to learn: if you don’t want to look like a cult, it’s better to avoid such frivolous lawsuits or other equally silly behaviours.

I got the great news this evening, and we’re still howling, cheering and tail-wagging, mr Dog and I!

Hopefully, there will be some more information later.

Meanwhile, here are my old posts about the case and related stuff. They contain many relevant links, et c.

You’ll find Grégoire’s blog here.

the french trial, an update

The trial in the defamation case brought by the French Federation of Steiner Waldorf schools against Grégoire Perra and Unadfi took place on friday last week (I wrote a post then) — the outcome will be known in may. Grégoire is summing up* the court experience with great hilarity on his blog. You should read it. (*Not available, read it here instead.)

I’d like to say something about a document I have had the opportunity to look at, and which Grégoire mentions in his blog post as well. It was written by the Federation and sent to people within the Steiner movement. From this document, it is clear that the Federation’s intention was never to contradict the actual claims made by Grégoire — claims which they describe as ‘harsh, well written and a blend between true and false’ — but it was to make his text go away entirely. The less distribution it got, the better. The less people read it, the better. They were not, they say, going to make any arguments against Grégoire’s points. These events preceded the letter sent by them to Unadfi, reproduced here (and responded to by Unadfi), which contains a threat of legal action. When the response was not the desired one, the Federation chose to make real of the threat.

That’s an example of what to me looks like the frivolousness of this lawsuit. Basically, they wanted the text to disappear; that was all. It wasn’t about the claims made in it — or the truth of them — it was about it simply being better (for them) if this criticism was retracted and not available for people to read anymore. True or false wasn’t the point, fair criticism or unfair criticism wasn’t the point either; good or bad PR was the point. They were just going to attempt to stop what they didn’t like. Even if they knew better. Even if, clearly, they — like everyone else — must accept that people disagree and have a right to write about it.

So back to the document from the Federation. It surprisingly confirms that ‘Grégoire Perra raises important questions, he is not the first to do so …’. Well then. Perhaps better learn to live with it, than to try to suppress the questions.

Now head over and read Grégoire’s summary. (He has made updates to it, so if you read it earlier, there might be more now.)

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Update: I didn’t double-check before I published, and it turns out that unfortunately Grégoire has removed his post. This due to potential trouble. I’m sure you can imagine. This is the big problem with these lawsuits — they do stifle free speech and free debate. And, of course, that is one of the aims, not to say the main one.

Update, april 10: You’ll find Grégoire’s summary of the day in court here!

the dangers of grabbing your pen and using it

You don’t expect to end up in court for saying what you feel is true and justified. If you’re saying what you feel is true and justified about a cult, you may end up in court nonetheless. Yes, it is completely justified to call anthroposophy a cult. A movement which sues someone for expressing his opinions, for voicing concerns or for telling others about his experiences – has splendidly deserved to be recognized as a cult. A dangerously intolerant one, at that.

This week my thoughts are with Grégoire Perra in France. Together with the Union Nationale des Associations de Défense des Familles et de l’Indivu Vicitimes des Sectes (handy abbreviation used hereafter: Unadfi) he’s standing trial for a text he wrote (and Unadfi published) based upon his experiences within the Steiner movement in France. The Féderation des Écoles Steiner-Waldorf made the spectacularly moronic decision to sue him for it. You’ll find the text here. Roger Rawlings has a copy of the original French text here and an English translation here.

I’ve looked at the document handed in to the court by the Féderation, and the organisation is objecting to large parts of the text, claiming they are defamatory. Not a passage or two, but big chunks. Page after page. Basically, there’s a whole lot they think Grégoire should not be able to say. For example, he shouldn’t be able to say, as a former waldorf student himself, that waldorf schools indoctrinate. He shouldn’t be able to argue, based upon his theoretical and practical knowledge from working within waldorf education and the anthroposophical movement, that — in his estimation — waldorf schools indoctrinate. It isn’t enough for the Féderation to disagree with his viewpoint, and make the argument that Grégoire is mistaken. They want to shut him up instead.

They don’t want you to make up your own mind about the level of indoctrination by reading the arguments. Arguments which are undeniably informed by both theoretical and practical knowledge, something which has to be conceded, even if you might disagree with all or some of the conclusions. They want to decide for you that you’re not to think that there is any indoctrination. All cults deny that there is indoctrination. That’s worth pointing out. Most of them would probably prefer it if people didn’t talk about indoctrination, and many would stop it if they could. (Should we really allow these cults, too, to dictate what is allowed to be said about them?)

They will never be able to suppress the text Grégoire wrote. It’s online, and it will never disappear. People will read it. People will share it with each other. It won’t go away. I don’t even need to agree with Grégoire on exactly everything to realize why this is important; everybody can read his text and make up their own mind. The text, however, is even more important simply because the movement feels he shouldn’t have the right to say what he says. That in itself tells us something about the movement. It tells us something about the conditions for criticizing it.  The movement’s own actions has made the text more important.

What this is, is not mainly an attempt to make Grégoire’s text disappear (because it won’t, and they know it), it is a blatant attempt to dissuade anyone else – people who, today, are still in or close to the movement – from doing what he did, from choosing to go public with concerns about how the movement operates.

The fact that – to my knowledge – no other anthroposophical organisations are standing up against the thuggish behaviour of the French Féderation says a lot about the movement’s ideals, when it comes to facing reality. So much for the respect for freedom. So much for respecting the individual, and the individual’s moral choices.

And so much for the movement’s faith in its own worth. If you have to sue to suppress dissent, then you have no faith in what you’re doing. None whatsoever. You’re weak. Fragile. Anxious. Uncertain. Even desperate. The problem is not – emphatically not — that anthroposophists disagree with Grégoire’s interpretations. I would expect them to – more or less at least. Some would perhaps be able to make a good argument against Grégoire’s viewpoints. Some would fail. Suing, however, is failing completely.

What this all is about is the measures they take to protect themselves against the freedom of others, a freedom which they can’t abide, much less respect.

As I said, this event is revealing. It isn’t revealing about Grégoire or the Unadfi. But about anthroposophists and about where anthroposophy finds itself.

This is perhaps most of all a cautionary tale. It isn’t the first lawsuit the movement has engaged in to protect itself from a bad reputation. In addition, there have been several threats in the past. In countries where waldorf education is partially or wholly state-funded, tax-payers will be financing these threats and these lawsuits. It will add to the social and emotional pressure on former students, members, teachers and parents not to complain or to voice concern. At the same time the French Féderation sues a former student and teacher, it happily reports on its own website that the dream of public funding has come true in Great Britain.

Suing is rarely a successful way of protecting a reputation, especially not when you’re using the tool unfairly to suppress dissent rather than dealing with actual defamation. But I guess that, as far as the movement is concerned, I’m talking to deaf ears and writing for the blind. It’s an ideological blindness and deafness; it’s religious zealotry and blind, irrational survival instinct, which prohibits thinking and reasoning. Also, needless to say, prevents compassion and understanding for the opposing viewpoint – and for the mere fact that there will always be an opposing viewpoint. I’m talking and writing to – perhaps rather about – people who have lost faith in their beliefs and their ideas and in their ability to defend themselves through arguments rather than force.

When waldorf proponents complain that critics aren’t acknowledging the positive things or aren’t being constructive, then I’d say, given the circumstances, should we be positive and constructive? When those who criticize the movement risk having to stand trial for doing so, what more is there to say but this: if the movement can’t accept that there is criticism or that people will disagree with what they do or that people present arguments that they don’t like, then waldorf education deserves to perish. There’s nothing to be constructive about. There has to be tolerance for dissent, or everything is lost.

Anthroposophy, at least for some anthroposophists, is supposed to be the philosophy of freedom. For everyone else the message appears to be ‘shut the fuck up’ – don’t think for yourself. That’s a spiritual philosophy too. Albeit not one of freedom.

french anthroposophists determined to proceed with their legal folly

The Steiner Waldorf School Federation in France is not backing down from its legal claims against Grégoire Perra, a former waldorf student, anthroposophist and Steiner school teacher. They are pursuing the proper course of action… proper, for a cult: they’re suing to protect themselves from a reputation as a cult. One could have hoped that, in order to spare themselves embarrassment, they would have realized that this is a genuinely bad idea, and that they would have backed off voluntarily, once they had given it some more thought. Even if they win, they lose. The desire to deprive people of their right to speak their minds — about their beliefs, their experiences or whatever they wish to — is unfortunately characteristic for a cultish mindset, and it is clear that anthroposophy in France is exactly the cult it claims not to be.

How the anthroposophical movement has come to believe they have something to gain from this, is beyond me. The actions of the French Steiner Waldorf Federation reflects badly on the entire movement. Other parts of the movement remain silent, and although this is hardly surprising, it is regrettable. It is unfortunate that the freedom this movement claims to espouse only applies to themselves, and rarely to detractors. It seems to me that even if there are people who agree that this behaviour — taking people to court instead of accepting free speech and engaging in debate — is wrong, they are too few, do not care enough or are not daring enough to protest.

One thing that could wake up the French Federation is that other anthroposophical organisations and individual anthroposophists object to their dragging the movement into the gutter. The might be the only thing — with one exception: huge amounts of bad press. In other words: public shaming. Hopefully, when the trial gets going, the French press will come to consciousness and sniff out the rotten anthroposophical carcass — and begin to unveil this movement. They might — if they do what they should, and I hope they will — not stop at the lawsuit and they may not be as balanced and knowledgeable in their criticism as Grégoire Perra is. They may cause a lot more PR damage than he could possibly do. I guess the French anthroposophical movement is too dumb — and too blind to the rest of the world — to realize this.

*

Grégoire Perra has written a new blog post. In it he reveals the name of the lawyer chosen by the French Waldorf Federation to represent them in this court case; this is, apparently, a lawyer with a previous reputation for representing large corporations wanting to quash criticism. As Grégoire notes, it is remarkable that the Waldorf Federation has the financial means to proceed with this — as it must be excessively expensive (unless, I suspect, the lawyer is himself an anthroposophist). What is even more telling — regarding the movements moral standing — is that they are prepared to spend so much time and resources to silence criticism, to stop someone from talking about his experiences. I agree with Grégoire’s interpretation that it might be a symbolic move for them — that they are not only trying to eliminate him and the danger they must be perceiving he poses to them, but they’re attempting to dissuade anyone from ever again doing what he did. I don’t have to point out the inherent dangers: when future wrongs take place, which they inevitably will, there’s a risk nobody will be prepared to come forward, nobody will call attention to these things and nobody will dare to report anything either to authorities or the media. The waldorf movement wants a bubble of silence and secrecy around themselves, and are trying to create it by force.

Hopefully the mask falls off, and they reveal themselves for who they are. They have already revealed that they are thugs who, in their supreme intolerance, want to stop others from voicing their opinions, expressing their concerns and speaking about their experiences. It is my conviction, though, that once the mask falls, a lot more than that will be revealed. And it won’t necessarily be pretty or fun. The lawsuit brought by the Waldorf Federation ought to prompt French media to launch thorough investigations into the anthroposophical movement. Any organisation that tries to suppress criticism and free speech deserves attention — and scrutiny. To quote Grégoire:

Quoiqu’il advienne, tout ceci permet d’ores et déjà de faire en sorte que les masques tombent. Par le choix qu’elle a fait, par les sommes qu’elle investit et la rage que cette entreprise manifeste, par les personnes qu’elle choisit pour la représenter publiquement, la Fédération des Écoles Steiner-Waldorf aujourd’hui se dévoile, qu’elle le veuille ou non. C’est pourquoi les anthroposophes devraient tout bonnement avoir honte d’eux-mêmes et de ce que certains dirigeants font en leur nom. Que ce dévoilement puisse devenir un signe, un appel à la lucidité, pour tous ceux à qui le courage manque encore de sortir de l’entre-deux, qui savent des choses mais préfèrent les oublier ou ne pas les dire, qui ont peur des conséquences d’une prise de parole libre, ou qui préfèrent se réfugier dans le confortable compromis consistant à ne pas y regarder de trop près dès lors qu’il s’agit de porter un jugement sur ces écoles et cette « pédagogie » !

*

The text that caused the Steiner federation to sue Grégoire Perra can be found here. (Link to pdf-file at the end.) Here is a translation into english.

I have previously blogged about the case, e g, here.

translations of grégoire perra’s article

Most people who read this blog are already aware that both Pete and Roger have posted translations of Grégoire Perra‘s article. I wrote about it last weekend, and I think I’ve already said the important things that need to be said. This is basically only intended as information about the available translations by Roger and Pete. Roger’s is still a work in progress. I regret not having read through these translations before posting this, but I figure that information about their existence is more important than me reading them.

I also wish, some time in the future, to discuss what Grégoire has to say in his essay (something which will be much easier now that there are English translations of it). There was an interesting discussion on Facebook after I posted the link to my previous post. I happen to think there were several strands of thought worth pursuing again, not only in that discussion but in the article itself. (I discussed a few things in a response to one of Grégoire’s blog posts earlier, although I feel my random reflections then were quite inadequately developed.)

However, at this point, the one thing that really matters is this: expressing one’s thoughts and experiences, the way Grégoire has done, should not end you up in court. No matter how frustrated, hurt, insulted, defamed, et cetera, the anthroposophists, with their sensitive toes, feel — there’s no way taking legal action is the right path to tread. Even if Grégoire was entirely wrong about everything — which is not the case — would this be the correct manner of dealing with it. I have already argued this emphatically, and I can only reiterate: anthroposophists can’t win this fight about their reputation in a trial. Even if they won, they would have proven what they set about to disprove, namely that they’re a cult to beware of. Which seems pretty stupid, quite frankly.

french anthroposophists practicing the (perhaps not so) michaelic art of slaying dissenters

Grégoire Perra is no longer an anthroposophist. He used to be one, however, and spent many years within the anthroposophical movement, first as a Steiner school student from the age of nine and later becoming a committed anthroposophist and a Steiner teacher himself. But he chose to quit, and he wrote an article about his experiences in the world of Steiner education and anthroposophy. In a blog post, he eloquently describes the reasons compelling him to do this. I’m sure I can’t do his case justice in a short blog post, but if I can I want to try to call attention to what is going on.

His writing was not tolerated by people in the anthroposophical movement in France. They could not accept that a person should have the freedom to express himself, to tell others what he thought was true and to recount his experiences in his own words. These words, they thought, defamed the anthroposophical movement. So one anthroposophical organisation — the Federation of Steiner Waldorf Schools in France — decided to take legal action against Grégoire Perra and the organisation (UNADFI) which had published the article.* A letter in which they make the initial threats to take action is available here and Grégoire confirms that he is awaiting trial.

It is still not too late, of course, for the Steiner Federation to back off from what appears to be a rather ill-conceived and counter-productive mission. They have embarked on a journey that is intellectually barren and ethically compromised, and I for one am not at all sure why they would want to go where they seem to be heading. They are  not, by any means, a Michael bravely slaying the dragon.

If there’s one phenomenon I’m strongly averse to, it’s when people use the law as though it were a tool for clowns who can’t abide seeing their ways and ideas challenged openly. My intolerance for such shenanigans is the main reason I care about this. I intend to inform myself better of Grégoire Perra’s case, but from what I’ve seen and read so far, it appears to me that the anthroposophical movement in France, and in particular the Steiner Federation, would be well advised to act less foolishly.

What seems to have happened is this: the anthroposophical movement has come up with the idea that in order to protect themselves from the unfortunate reputation of being a cult, they would happily (and in a magnificently paradoxical way) behave as a cult would behave. A cult, which will not tolerate dissent. Cults often don’t. Anthroposophy, unfortunately, sometimes (this is not the first time) seems all too willing to join other cults in this untoward habit. Again, I can’t comprehend why; it is not criticism or dissent — even if it were unfair — that will suffocate anthroposophy, it is lack of breathing space that will. The enemy is within the movement itself. It is its own mentality — or perhaps, to speak Anthroposophese, the aberrations, nay, the pathologies of its group soul.

Naturally, this development ought to concern not only critics of anthroposophy but also — and perhaps even more — other anthroposophists.

I can certainly understand if anthroposophists and adherents of waldorf education don’t feel flattered by Grégoire Perra’s criticism and that they fear that a dissident who thinks what he thinks and writes what he writes poses a serious threat to the movement. It is understandable, even predictable, that people who are still anthroposophists don’t share Grégoire’s perspective. It is not difficult to comprehend that they feel the need to defend themselves, even against arguments which are likely to be more true than they would be able to admit. But will they be able to rescue their reputation in a courtroom? Of course not. They have lost such a battle before they have even begun fighting it.

You see, it doesn’t even matter much if they are right or wrong, they have lost already, because they have, by their very own actions, proven themselves to be a cult worthy of being called a cult. Simply by initiating a procedure of this kind — instead of arguing openly and fairly for their cause — they lose. They lose the moment they attempt to suppress another individual’s right to freely express himself. They lose, because merely by doing this, they show us their real intentions, their true mindset. They display disrespect for other perspectives on and experiences of their movement. They show their disdain for the right and freedom of other people to form their own views, make their own interpretations and to voice them. They prove they can’t tolerate criticism very well or at all. Cults usually can’t.

There is no point insisting anthroposophy is not a cult, if it acts as a cult (even Steiner had a glimpse of an understanding of this basic fact). And the movement has to show it is not a cult out there in the real world, not in a courtroom. It has to do so by anthroposophists meeting dissent with fair arguments and by presenting their side, their views and ideas, not with threats or trivial legal action.

So far everything suggests to me that the Federation of Steiner Schools in France deserves a fair bit of negative attention. Thus, let’s help give the French anthroposophical movement the reputation they vainly — and desperately, perhaps — tried to avoid by taking Grégoire Perra to court: that of a menacing cult. Because the moment they showed they can’t tolerate the existence of dissenting views or criticism, that is exactly what they are.

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* UNADFI (Union Nationale des Associations de Défense des Familles et de l’Indivu Victimes de Sectes) is an organisation which ‘gathers and coordinates the Associations de défense des familles et de l’individu (ADFI), whose purpose is to acquire information on the cult phenomenon, with prevention and assistance for its victims’, according to Wikipedia. Read more in French here. You’ll find Grégoire Perra’s blog here, and the website of the French Steiner Federation is here.