karmic consequences (quick guide for teachers)

While browsing my documents I found a helpful little guide for teachers. It’s written by Robin Bacchus (PhD!). He is (or was) a program director at a Steiner teacher training program. The document is called ‘Karma and Reincarnation for Teachers’ and may still be available online but I couldn’t find it.

On page 9, there is this very handy little quick guide to karmic consequences. (They come from Steiner’s karma lectures, so nothing new.) I hope you enjoy it! Let’s speculate about which consequences I will suffer from in my next incarnation! And what will happen to some of our not so friendly friends in the waldorf fan club, one might ask? No, perhaps we’d better not delve deeper into that question…

‘can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully?’

I first thought about posting this as a comment to my previous post, but I think it deserves a post of its own. It comes from the comment thread on the Quackometer post. I think I’ve blogged about this document, published by a waldorf school, before. I think it’s absolutely essential to understand how things might work — and you will get a glimpse of a kind of reasoning that waldorf teachers don’t engage in in front of (non-anthroposophist) parents.

Sam on March 17, 2012 at 10:27 am
Daisy asked ‘Is bullying more common in Steiner schools? Not a clue. I don’t know how we could prove this one way or another.’

p9, Bullying Presentation to Faculty – Handout
May 13, 1999

Alan Howard Waldorf School

Prepared by Cynthia Kennedy and Betty Robertson

Destiny

We have labored over this section and it has been written and rewritten a number of times. Can a child’s karma or destiny be that of a victim or bully? Is it a child’s destiny to seek certain experiences to build his or her self-esteem and inner self? Should a potentially abusive situation be stopped, and if so, at what point? We do not know the answers; however, when dealing with bullying behavior we thought that caution is necessary. If intervention can change the experiences that our children encounter then conceivably it is not entirely destiny we are dealing with. And perhaps all the children are better served if they are given tools to better handle aggression, be it their own, or their peers.

For a child who is being victimized, it must be the teacher’s role and responsibility to determine how much victimization is healthy to enable the child to be strengthened through the experience and at what point the exposure is excessive and detrimental. This situation is something that all teachers must struggle with, and the obligation becomes that much more onerous given that, in all likelihood, most of what a child is subjected to will be unknown to the teacher.

It appears that the bully, primarily through child rearing, arrives at our school with a predisposition to aggressive and bullying behavior. The research is not clear as to how much these children can be helped without the support of the parents. However, parental commitment is one of the qualities expected of any Waldorf family so there may be more success with our families than the average. In addition, we understand that doing biography work with the affected child(ren) and families may increase understanding and help the situation. Curative work, including assessments and curative eurythmy, perhaps in consultation with specialists like Anthroposophical doctors, may provide additional information to both the family and teacher(s).

Is it any wonder that critics have a lot to say about bullying in waldorf schools? Is it any wonder that we keep insisting that karma plays a role? Is it any wonder when we don’t take the words of waldorf proponents that bullying is no bigger a problem in waldorf than elsewhere and that it is — of course! — out of the question not to intervene when a child is being badly treated? Is it any wonder at all? The quoted passages were not somehow invented by critics — they contain the words of waldorf professionals themselves!

ecswe’s principles and aspirations for waldorf steiner education

There are texts that people who are interested in waldorf education ought to read, whether they’re parents, supporters, politician or perhaps even critics. This is one such document; it’s a statement by the ECSWE (the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education). It (the letter introducing to the principles) begins by explaining what a waldorf school is; it’s a school belonging to the waldorf movement’s official organisations and it’s a school that shares and works with a set of principles, some of which this document purports to outline. Already in the second passage, the importance of anthroposophy is emphasized and the view that the human being consists of ‘a body, a soul and a spirit’ is laid down. It is also stated, a little later, that waldorf teachers ‘study and research’ anthroposophy as a part of their work and development as teachers. (This pretty much belies the attitude of some schools that tend to want to distance themselves from anthroposophy and its necessity as a part of waldorf education.)

The principles themselves explicitly recognize that ‘[t]he educational activity in the schools and settings is informed by anthroposophy’ and continues to credit Rudolf Steiner (‘the scientist, philosopher and educator’, a description that perhaps does not do him full justice as it neglects to mention his role as a founder and leader of a spiritual movement).

Then comes a list of bullet points about waldorf education, claiming, among other things, that waldorf education ‘is inspired by observing and understanding the true nature of the growing child’, a statement I know critics would disagree with. It ‘provides nourishment for the body, the soul and the spirit’. It ‘seeks to enable a person’s unique potential to unfold.’

Further, waldorf education, it is said, does not select based upon nationality, belief, ethnicity (other factors are mentioned too); of course, the content of some of the literature the teachers might study is not acknowledged here, nor whether this content and the study of it could have any potential effects on how these issues are met in everyday situations in the schools. I wouldn’t expect it in a document such as this one. I’m only saying there are questions with regard to genuine inclusiveness of the ‘educational ethos’, whose answers may differ compared to when speaking only about issues of selection, which these schools don’t engage in. As for not selecting on the basis of social background, well, waldorf schools in many countries are private and cost money for the parents; naturally there’s an unavoidable element of selection to that (not that the schools are at fault for it).

Speaking about the school child, they say that an assessment takes place to determine the child’s readiness to begin school. They don’t say what this assessment consists of; does change of teeth matter more than willingness to read? Is there an assessment of the child’s spiritual and intellectual maturity based upon an anthroposophical understanding of the incarnation process? The seven year cycles? There certainly ought to be more to say about this, and even if we recognize that there are space constraints, a few hints would have been useful.

However, this point is what I find most interesting, and perhaps it could inspire discussion. I’ve made a screenshot of the relevant section, as the document does not allow easy copying.

Any thoughts about this? Seeing ‘rational, logical thinking’ mentioned first seems somehow inappropriate. And I wonder, too, about the ‘questions of life and meaning.’ But I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

Further down, in the section about ‘teaching’, one notes that teachers should have ‘specialist training in the principles of practices of Steiner Waldorf education’, that is, in anthroposophical educational principles and practices. There’s also a reference to personal development and to ‘developing capacities for self-reflection’, although anthroposophy is not mentioned.

It’s also said that students are prepared so that they can enter the national education system at ‘points of exit’, but there’s nothing said about what these points are (thus it’s impossible to determine if what the ECSWE envisions is adequate).

Do read the document, and I would very much appreciate to hear your thoughts on it!

world teachers’ conference 2012

At the Goetheanum in April. The theme this time:

Rudolf Steiner‘s art of education was meant to serve the whole world, not just a single continent or country. That said, the question must be asked: What is it about this educational method that is universal?
Universal in this education is that an I, or a person, or a Self wants identify itself with an inherited body. Only with reverence can we meet this fact. How this I finds its way to the available body, finds a relationship to it, a feeling of being home in it, depends in great measure on education.
The life-long efficacy of Steiner‘s art of education lies in the fact that a right relationship between body and soul, between body and the individuality, can be established.
By means of the how and the what of education, the individuality can adjust its hold on the body, thereby bringing about a healthy, dynamic relationship between the body and the individuality. If the body dominates, this relationship can become too tight; if the relationship is too loose, a lack of purpose may result.
During this conference we hope to develop and describe the pedagogical techniques by means of which a balanced, individual relationship can be established. Such a technique can be described; it is part of the ‹musicalsculptural› study of human being. As Rudolf Steiner told the first group of Waldorf teachers, «the task of education, conceived in the spiritual sense, is to bring the Soul-Spirit into harmony with Life-Body.» [Link.]

Amazing stuff, no doubt. The reincarnating I of the child needs to ‘get into’ the physical body. The outcome of this process is not just influenced by education; it’s dependent on it. Ponder for a second in which place this — if you believe it — puts the school and the teacher in the life if the child. Ponder the impact. As Diana has pointed out several times — I often wish locating older comments were much simpler… –, for parents who actually believe these things can and do happen, waldorf education ought to be even more frightening than for those parents who reject these ideas but choose waldorf for some other reason.

What is told about the ‘live-long efficacy’ means, of course, that Steiner education’s ‘real’ success can’t be measured by the usual tests; indeed it must be immeasurable. Actually, it may not be obvious until the child — sorry, the reincarnating spirit’s — next life. I wonder, because I don’t know, what its efficacy has been on me. All this talk about ‘individuality’ is quite ironic, given how little space there was in waldorf for the individual to be… individual. But — I know. It’s just the word. It means something else — a reincarnating spirit. Yet, the irony often strikes me when I see the word used in that context, in this other, anthroposophical way.

I’m not sure what the ‘musicalsculptural’ study of the human being is, but I recommend all education enthusiasts to read Steiner’s Study of Man, which is an essential collection of lectures on the human being; these lectures were given to teachers and thus especially aimed at being used for pedagogical purposes. It is also useful to ponder Steiner’s statement about the task of education. It is a different task than most schools set themselves.

As for the program, Jost Schieren will talk about ‘The Incarnation of the I from a Teacher Training Perspective’. There’s more, of course. Look for yourselves.

‘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.

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 (http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/index.html), 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.

‘how can we see our children more clearly?’

asks the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship in the UK [pdf]. I have a suggestion: remove the esoteric glasses. They seem to cause the strangest blur to your vision. Anyway, ‘How can we see our children more clearly?’ is the title of an SWSF conference taking place at the Rudolf Steiner House in London over Easter this year. The program is spectacular.

Every human being incarnates in a unique way, and everything he is can be found in the impression he makes in the substance of the earth. It is our task as teachers to learn to read the impressions made by our students – the way they speak and move, their likes and dislikes, the things they create, everything they do. If we really learn to do this, what we discover can form the basis of our work. The aim of this conference is to raise awareness of the need to develop the faculty of truly seeing and to look at some ways in which this can be done.

The assumption — not questioned, but taken for granted as an established fact — is that the human being incarnates. I suppose it’s too late to ask for any evidence backing up this belief. By the way, what’s the ‘substance’ of the earth? It’s nice to see them admit that speculation about how a child ‘incarnates’ forms the basis of their work. I wish they had been more explicit about what ‘the faculty of truly seeing’ means, though. Not that it’s terribly difficult to interpret. Needless to say, perhaps, it involves putting on those glasses. And learning to use the supersensible eye. Being spiritual initiates, they don’t realize how blurry the vision really gets. The world looks just paradisiacal, as long as the world adapts to their worldview and doesn’t require anything from them. This isn’t necessarily the most realistic manner of seeing; and those children, they live in the real world.

Brien Masters, who wrote a doctoral thesis on waldorf education, is going to speak about birthday verses and he notes that:

The farthest that observation of children can lead us is arguably the insight it gives of their karmic background.

Now it isn’t about the child’s incarnation process as it supposedly unfolds in front of the supersensible seer, or Steiner teacher, it’s about reincarnation — the perspective of multiple lifetimes — and of karma of previous incarnations influencing this one. The child’s karmic background is what the child has experienced before his or her present existence on earth.

Ken Powers will talk about the tool used to explore a child’s incarnation process and karmic background:

Child Study: A Conscious Picture-Building.

Child study. It continues:

Colleagues from various schools will present studies of individual children (anonymously) and will lead us through the methods used in their schools, so that we can build up a picture of how Child Study is being worked with in this country. Conference participants will be able to contribute and ask questions during the studies so that it becomes a research activity from which we can all benefit.

hereford academy’s visions

The first — and still the only — publicly funded Steiner school in the UK is the Hereford Steiner Academy. This is from a document entitled Report of the governors for the year ended 31st August 2010. It seems to be a statement of their vision:

To enable children to have a full experience of childhood that can nourish and develop their innate gifts and potentials, so that they may become responsible, free individuals who think clearly, observe perceptively and act considerately and constructively for the good of the world.
The ethos and educational activity in the Academy is informed by a developing body of work initiated by the scientist, philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Essentially, the education is based on an understanding that each child develops through a sequence of physical, emotional and cognitive stages through an integrated approach to teaching and learning which emphasises the dual aspects of care and learning. Hence the curriculum content & materials and teaching methods relate to the age and developmental needs of the pupils. The teacher is guided by observing and understanding the nature of the growing child and accordingly responds to each child’s potential, emergent capacities and developing qualities with a belief that this education provides nourishment for the body, the soul and the spirit.

I can’t help but think they need to really explain a few words and concepts better, because this text paints an innocuous and deceptive picture. It’s filled with half-truths. Sure, if you know the Steiner texts and previous anthroposophical publications, you know a little about what they’re talking about. Lots of people don’t, however, and may make the wrong decision based upon reading this text and similar (they are by no means unusual). The Academy’s representatives need do be explicit about what they mean by ‘full experience of childhood’, child development and its stages (as envisioned by anthroposophy), ‘innate gifts and potentials’, ‘free individuals’, what’s ‘good’ for the world, what ‘relates to the age and developmental needs’, the teacher’s ‘observing and understanding’, what the ‘nature’ of the child is, ‘child’s potential, emergent capacities and developing qualities’, and, last but not least, ‘the body, the soul and the spirit’. The vision statement is totally inadequate — either you explain what you mean, or you can just as well leave it to everybody’s imagination. This wouldn’t be such a big thing, were it not for the fact that this text has to be interpreted in the light of anthroposophy, and everybody who supports the Steiner Academy ought to know exactly what this means. My hunch is that it isn’t unusual that they don’t. And the school, like most waldorf schools, is perfectly prepared not to be explicit about its foundation and its beliefs. Instead it serves us the usual fluff words that could be taken to mean just about anything — until you know the background of these words and concepts and can decipher them. Instead of talking broadly about child development and the nature of the child, they need to be explicit that their beliefs don’t coincide with mainstream beliefs about development and nature.

In this document, a new book is mentioned; it is about Steiner education and will be published in April by Routledge. See description here. Already in the title, we’re faced with a somewhat insidious assumption: that Steiner schools are ‘meeting the child’. It’s written by people involved in Steiner education, so I guess what is to be expected from it. Another assumption is that other school types can learn from waldorf; interestingly, waldorf educators rarely seem to think they may learn anything from others or from mainstream education. It’s usually more like this: they’re here to save the world and rescue childhood from these dreadful materialistic practices. Other schools should reform and become more like waldorf, while they never need to do anything differently at all. It makes me wonder: what about all those children for whom waldorf is a really bad fit? Why don’t waldorf ever talk about these children before failure is a fact? Then, and only then, does it suit waldorf to say: ‘Oh, but waldorf is not for everyone…’ What about the children waldorf schools can’t meet but who are still stuck in these schools?

Mary Jane Drummond and Sally Jenkinson are two of the authors who contribute. Here’s an earlier post on one of their projects. (Book cover image from Routledge.)

To return to the Hereford report:

The Academy works with the school doctor in order to gain advice and support for all the children who are moving from kindergarten into class 1.

An (anthroposophical, I assume) doctor is called upon to give advice about children who are to begin first grade. Why? Do medical doctors possess special pedagogical knowledge about school readiness?

Speaking of school doctors, parents who wish to enroll their children at the Hereford Academy have to sign an agreement. It’s called a ‘home-school agreement’ and can be downloaded from the school website. Assuming that the school doctor is an anthroposophical doctor, this should scare the hell out of any parent, because he or she would have to agree to:

Enabling my child to see the School Doctor at the Academy’s request and taking my child to any therapy sessions or special needs assessment required by the Academy. I understand this is necessary to support my child accessing the education and the teachers’ ability to meet his/her needs.

Not only will an anthroposophical doctor assess the child’s readiness to begin school (using anthroposophical knowledge to do so), he will also prescribe anthroposophical therapies. This means, e g, curative eurythmy and similar therapies with no real-world effects at all. Luckily, if the therapies are pure fantasy, so are most of the diagnoses made. (The school doctor in my school thought I would die soon. Presumably because my reincarnating spirit was gangrenous.) Another document (entitled Homeopathy Policy) from Hereford makes clear that homeopathy is used to ‘treat’ children.

Also among the things parents are required to agree to is this:

Protecting my/our child from unsuitable and unwarranted access to some of the concerns and worries of the adult world and from unmonitored exposure and un-mediated access to media such as television and DVD, computer games, internet chat-rooms and so on. Medical research shows that screen-based activity such as TV, videos, films and computer games can have a negative effect on children (brain activity, concentration, heart-beat, emotional balance and well-being). The younger the child, the greater the effect. For the well-being of your child and their ability to access the education and programme of teaching and learning, please allow no regular screen-based activity/watching for under 8s, no more than 3 hours a week for 9 to 14s and moderate and selective use for young people aged 15 and over. Please try to make sure TVs and computers are not kept in your child’s room so that his/her bedroom is free to be a place of rest and comfort. (Further reading ‘Remote Controlled’ by Dr Aric Sigman & ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer, amongst others)

I wonder if it is ok for a publicly funded school to interfere in this manner with a student’s home life? And is it really morally acceptable for an educational institution to spread unfounded and misleading junk? Clearly, the intention is to scare parents who don’t know better. Equally obvious is that what science says isn’t what informs waldorf school policies. They only refer to science when they think it reinforces their beliefs. And they will never acknowledge science which contradicts their beliefs. Thus they back up their convictions with stuff like Toxic Childhood. Besides — why can’t a TV in the bedroom offer comfort? (I don’t think it would be a bad idea at all for children who, like I was, are insomniacs.)

‘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.

misinformation by the independent

From an old article in the Independent:

After the First World War, Steiner was denounced as a traitor to Germany for suggesting Upper Silesia should be granted independence – and the political theorist of the new National Socialist movement (Nazi party) claimed, mistakenly, that he was a Jew. He was the victim of a personal attack by Adolf Hitler, who called on other nationalist extremists to declare a “war against Steiner”. His health began to suffer and he died soon afterwards.

Astonishingly, this article was written by the education editor, Richard Garner. I can only speculate about the reasons; the article reads like a press-release from a waldorf/Steiner organization. Most surprising is the statement quoted above. It’s true that the leaders of the Anthroposophical Society went to some lengths to prove to the Nazi regime that Steiner was not jewish. This, however, was long after Steiner had died. There’s an embarrassing letter (English translation) written — a decade after Steiner’s death — by the Vorstand in Dornach to Adolf Hitler. Why did they do that? Why did they suck up to an immoral regime? Why did they even consider it appropriate to offer evidence of Steiner’s racial heritage? And to continue: Steiner was a victim of a personal attack by Hitler? He called on other nazis to ‘declare a “war against Steiner”‘? The nazis caused Steiner’s bad health, thus killed him? (Is that the implication?) I do wonder where the education editor gets his ‘facts’ from.

Now let’s try to understand why this pathetic piece of promotional junk was written in the first place. Evidently, the education editor left his critical thinking capacity at home that day. If he did any research for the article, it isn’t showing. It seems like he’s blindly repeating what somebody has fed him. It was written in 2007, and state funding for one Steiner school in the UK was about to become reality — the first one to receive state funding, i e, the Hereford Steiner Academy. When the article was published, it was still uncertain if the school would succeed getting what it wished for. It did, and is now the only state-funded Steiner school in the UK. Since then, lots of Steiner schools have asked for funding in the new free-school system; all the applications were turned down, it was reported not long ago.

Garner uncritically reproduces such nibbles of misinformation and delusional thinking as this one:

One teacher summed up the school as follows. A visiting teacher would say of Steiner: “‘Aren’t these the schools where children do what they like?’ The answer is: ‘No, they’re the schools where children like what they do.'”

Why is a journalist buying crap like this? It’s promotional junk, it’s of no value whatsoever as information, it won’t help people understand what these schools are. And it is utterly delusional for any one of the Steiner teachers to believe that Steiner schools are schools where children (all of them, presumably) like what they do. A majority of children hate eurythmy. How do these teachers account for that curiosity? — after all, eurythmy is unique to Steiner schools. And that quote is but an example! The article is a really shoddy case of journalism turned to mindless PR.

So why did Garner bring up the issue of anthroposophy under nazism? Why did he reproduce that misleading information? It seems to me like a preemptive strike — on behalf of the waldorf/Steiner organizations. They knew that the history of anthroposophy would rear its head sooner or later.

When Garner’s article was written, the situation was different than it is today (with the free-school reform underway now). One should ask what (or who) prompted him to write the article, and what that misinformation meant for the subsequent development. As far as I’m aware, the Hereford Academy is still a state-funded Steiner school, though it hasn’t been without trouble. What did politicians and journalists really know about Steiner education at that time, in 2007? How much of the information fed to them by waldorf/Steiner representatives did they swallow uncritically?

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!

‘what higher beings have done before birth’

In a publication [pdf] by the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum, there’s an article by Christof Wiechert on ‘An Education for our Time’. In it I read:

‘It is pointed out [by Rudolf Steiner] that the religions tend to focus on the after-life as the time where everyone’s future lies while forgetting about the time before birth. It is the teacher’s task to explore the life before birth: ‘Our form of educating can have the correct attitude only when we are aware that our work with young people is a continuation of what higher beings have done before birth’.2

‘How can this be achieved in practice? Think of a child study: the first step is the forming of a picture of the pupil as he or she appears in space and time. In order to understand this picture we have to go a step further. How did the pupil come to develop in this way? It is easy to find out as long as one avoids the temptation of applying superficial psychology (which never leads to any insight or knowledge). We come to an understanding of the inner essence of a pupil if we ask how ether body and physical body, for instance, relate to one another; or how the soul (astral) works on the ‘learning body’ (ether body).’ [The footnote (2), refers to: Rudolf Steiner, The Foundations of Human Experience (CW 293), Lecture 1, 21 August 1919.]

Wiechert then goes on to talk about meditating on students and to say that a teacher’s inspiritation ‘arises out of the interest in the pre-earthly aspects that reveal themselves in the different parts of the human organisation.’ It’s a highly interesting article, for many reasons. 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

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

the waldorf (steiner) movement’s double bind

ThetisMercurio has written an immensely important guest post on DC’s Improbable Science. This time, it’s about the issues related to the racial doctrines contained within anthroposophy and the history of the anthroposophical movement, which isn’t quite as pleasant as the majority of its adherents likes to imagine. To me, though, a far bigger problem than what Steiner said is how present day anthroposophists and waldorf proponents deal with it. But to discuss the latter, you need to know about the former. And most of the time, it seems, waldorf fans are blissfully ignorant about it — or, if they are more deeply involved in anthroposophy, they seem to be in denial about it, if nothing else for the sake of appearances. At least as far as outsiders are concerned, they act as if the racial doctrines weren’t even an issue. As Thetis points out, the answer depends on who’s asking the question.

The structure of an esoteric belief system, with gradually imparted ‘knowledge’: impenetrable texts, study groups, a tradition of communicating certain information orally (a great deal isn’t written down) and a distrust of critical thinking, means that Steiner teachers themselves can be confused about the nature or real life implications of Steiner’s dogma, as well as largely ignorant of the Waldorf movement’s history. But there is an undeclared hierarchy of anthroposophical knowledge and influence within a Steiner school’s college of teachers; decisions about individual children are often steered by collegiate anthroposophical impulse. Obfuscation is deliberate: when explaining Anthroposophy, as far as the movement is concerned the answer depends on who is asking.

The racial thinking inherent in anthroposophical notions of karma and reincarnation is explained in Thetis’s post. One issue anthroposophists tend to dismiss, however, is how we are supposed to know which anthroposophical tenets modern waldorf teachers take seriously — and which ones they don’t take seriously and don’t follow. It would, presumably, be ‘crazy’ to think anyone would apply anthroposophical race thinking in the classroom (although the proposition is not as crazy as it may seem at first glance). But reasoning from karma, reincarnation and temperaments definitely occurs — and it is, even without the racial aspects, some mind-blowing stuff. No prospective parent, at least not one who isn’t an anthroposophist, could reasonably be expected to know which parts of anthroposophy waldorf teachers accept and which parts they reject. Continue reading

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