teachers don’t know much about anthroposophy

Is the claim in the title true? Perhaps it is. Perhaps some waldorf teachers today don’t know much about anthroposophy. I’m talking now about trained waldorf teachers. (I know many waldorf schools have to hire unqualified staff as teachers, people who have neither traditional teacher training nor waldorf teacher training. To assess what they know about anthroposophy is of course almost impossible.) I’ve been told, not a few times, that waldorf teachers today don’t know all that much about anthroposophy, as though this were something good. I suppose it might sound like something that ought to please me — it doesn’t. This topic is loosely connected to another question talked about here recently — would waldorf be better off without anthroposophy? (Or would anthroposophy be better off without waldorf? for that matter.)

For better or worse, back in my days (when there were also dinosaurs roaming the streets… no, just kidding), I don’t think you could say the teachers didn’t know much about anthroposophy. Rather the opposite was true — many, if not most, were committed anthroposophists, and I have a feeling that the few who weren’t, were deeply sympathetic towards it and fairly knowledgeable about it. They did not practice their things superficially, they did not go through the motions without experiencing the meaning of and knowing the reasons behind what they were doing. Picking and choosing among the pretty parts of waldorf — the ‘superficially attractive parts — would be absurd in this context, it would, in fact, be ‘anti-waldorf’. Waldorf, in this sense, is less about what is done, and not, and more about what lies behind. (Mind you, I’m not saying what they do isn’t important — I say there are even more important motives behind what they do.) In the end it’s about what gives meaning and purpose to methods, practices, rituals, whatever. It’s about the essence of what this is all for and about what is held for true and necessary — it’s not about the surface. As I’ve said (on another thread recently), without this core, you have the shell. The shell alone. And this may attract some people — that’s for sure. But you don’t get people who commit to it for the same reasons, who feel the importance of it or who even know what it’s all about. The meaning of it. The depth of it.

If the teachers don’t understand these things, you don’t have waldorf, you have a name and possibly some nice walls. Stuff like that. But that’s all there is. Let’s think about it. Let’s use a blatant example of a very anthroposophical ritual in waldorf: the advent spiral. I’m positive you can go through the procedure, whatever you think about it and whichever way you experience it. But the reason it was what it was, was that waldorf teachers were committed to and understood its meaning and its depth (in their minds at least) and, therefore, it was a matter of seriousness. It was a matter of consciousness, too. The end result was characterized by this seriousness (sometimes in a way that could, I’m sure, be frightening) and by this very conscious carrying through of the act. You can like it or not, but the fact is, it’s a different experience than when you have people simply going through the procedures while committing to them outwardly than when they do it and commit themselves inwardly. And I would say that — again, whether you like the practices or results or not — to commit only to the surface, not to the core would be the very antithesis to what waldorf is really meant to be. As it is actually characterized by what is supposed to be (quest for) the damn foundation of human existence — that is, that’s where anthroposophy is supposed to lead you. That’s as far from the superficially attractive bling-bling you’ll get. If you think about it and take the proposition seriously, it’s something very different from that. It’s supposed to teach you what humans are, even lead you to know what you are, not only how to paint your walls. Without that, there’s no point to the wall paint anyway.

But, to return to the topic, let us discuss that claim — the claim that teachers don’t know much about anthroposophy. Might it not be that many of these trained waldorf teachers, having been trained in anthroposophical pedagogy and child development theories, know more about anthroposophy than they consciously think? Perhaps it’s a question of them being unable to distinguish anthroposophical knowledge from mainstream knowledge? To a much greater extent than should be the case, they believe they have been taught pedagogy, psychology, et c — that they have acquired mainstream knowledge about the topics these subjects and the subjects they’re going to teach? That is one possible explanation. This claim comes up now and then, so apparently both teachers and parents must believe in it. Some even seem to take pride in it — why worry about anthroposophy in waldorf education when teachers know so little about it anyway?

As far as I’m concerned, the claim might basically be bullshit. Not all bullshit, but mostly. With all probability. Or, if by any chance it isn’t bullshit, it should be bullshit. We know which literature the teacher students study — mainly Steiner-based –, and I hope we’re not supposed to be convinced they don’t actually read the literature, for example Study of Man. We also know what is required of waldorf schools to be allowed to call themselves waldorf schools. It would be quite shocking if waldorf teacher training was so crap that the students weren’t even familiar with the basics when they enter their (supposedly) professional lives. What of such a training that so ill prepares the students for their chosen professional paths? If teachers trained at these institutions remain ignorant of anthroposophy, this is a major failure. These teachers should not have graduated and they should not have been employed as teachers in waldorf schools, because they have not accomplished the degree of anthroposophical understanding that a waldorf teacher needs — whether we, as critics, think the body of knowledge is bogus or not is beside the point — to fulfill his or her professional role. The teachers should not be waldorf teachers, the schools not be waldorf schools.

Even to a critic of waldorf education — someone who should, I suppose, embrace every sign that there is little anthroposophy in any school’s education — the claim seems like disastrous to waldorf. It indicates incompetence at several levels — teacher training centers, among the teachers, in the school administration, in national (and even international) waldorf organisations… But most of all, the claim is ridiculous, whether there’s truth to it or not. If it’s basically untrue, it means those who purport this view lie. If it’s true — more or less — it means waldorf has no future. Moreover, it means waldorf schools today operate under false flag in quite a serious manner.

I actually do think that the trained waldorf teachers know more anthroposophy than they consciously identify as ‘anthroposophy’. But one might ask what the modern waldorf teachers’ education is worth if it were true that they don’t know anthroposophy. They are then — obviously — not qualified to teach in a waldorf school. But neither are they qualified to teach in a mainstream school. They don’t have a regular teacher training, after all. Waldorf schools are required to fulfill certain criteria, or they can’t be waldorf schools, that is, they can’t belong to the national organisations for waldorf schools, which in turn are organised in international networks. One aspect of these criteria is knowledge of anthroposophy in the college of teachers. The schools themselves should be operated according to certain principles established by the international organisations — most importantly, by the (more seasoned and experienced, one hopes, although what that means in this context is… well, another question) teachers who work at or with the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum. Anthroposophy is a non-negotiable part of these criteria. (Steiner’s Study of Man should be mentioned again here, it’s absolutely pivotal.) If waldorf teachers don’t understand anthroposophy, they can’t run a waldorf school that meets the criteria. Waldorf teachers are supposed to continuously study and develop their understanding of anthroposophy — individually and in group. So when people say anthroposophy is not so important — or is not really even something they know much about — then, in my conclusion, they’re either not telling the truth or they’re marketing the school as a waldorf school when in fact it is no waldorf school. Why would a parent who wants a waldorf school want that?

That waldorf teachers know little or nothing about anthroposophy — were this actually true — is not something positive. It’s a sign of a movement in decline (which perhaps is a good thing but also tells us that the schools today may be even worse than they ought to be, as would seem natural in a situation like that). Having to use deceptive marketing might also be a sign of the same basic problem, with some desperation added. Even as a critic, I think ignorance — ignorance of anthroposophy — is a definite failure. With ignorance, the schools can’t be what they intend to be, and they can’t function as regular schools do either, because the teachers don’t have that competency. In fact, everyone is short-changed. And you’re not getting what the label says. Or ought to say, if waldorf officials don’t try to conceal what waldorf is actually about: education based on anthroposophical ideas.

This, by the way, is the reading list for the (now terminated) teacher training program at Plymouth University. It is a list full of anthroposophical literature. I would bet that entirely private teacher training courses at wholly anthroposophical institutions are even more Steiner-based than this, but let’s use the Plymouth students as an example: if they don’t know what anthroposophy is about (I would say even to the details), they have not read their books, much less studied them. What would that tell us about waldorf teacher training and about waldorf schools?

What if, perhaps, there are contradictory claims on this matter? Maybe how much anthroposophy waldorf teachers (and waldorf schools) admit to has to do with whom they’re talking to. Oh, no — that’s the oldest and most tired observation in this game.

steiner waldorf teacher training and the university of plymouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

steiner, waldorf and anthroposophy at plymouth university

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

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

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

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

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

state-funded steiner waldorf schools

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

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

the background and the context of the project

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

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

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

personal questions in the questionnaire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For formal reasons, too, waldorf education can’t exist without anthroposophy. Waldorf education is ultimately controlled, not by the PR division at the SWSF, but by anthroposophy itself, that is, by anthroposophical organisations above the local waldorf schools and associations, and they unequivocally say that anthroposophy is its foundation. I recommend this post on the Hague circle: ‘The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”.’ That is the truth. The ECSWE is also clear on the importance of anthroposophy.

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

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

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

the rest of the dissertation questions

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

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

Questions for critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

education, the limb man, the chest man (and some other oddities)

There are a some interesting things about Claus-Peter Röh’s lectures at an american waldorf teacher training center (the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training). Claus-Peter Röh is a leader of the pedagogical section at the Goetheanum in Dornach. I’m going to subject the text to a rather crude — even impudent, I admit — treatment. I’ve simply picked out the sentences or passages I think you ought to pay particular attention to while reading the summaries of the lectures.

The first graders live strongly in their will forces. […] Growing up is a gradual process of moving from doing, where the young child lives in their surroundings, to the thinking realm where the young adult lives largely in the head. […] Nowadays, children are waking up and are being called upon to use their head forces too early. This can lead to imbalance and rigidity. […] Our astral body is much better at sensing and exploring an impression, of having a correct feel for it. […] The teacher must then use the curriculum to bring about the balance between the ego and the body. […] Forces of soul cultivated early on transform into forces of cognition in later years. […] Rudolf Steiner indicated that it was our task as teachers to develop the limb man and part of the chest man and then let them awaken the other part of the chest and the head. […] In the case of his example, Claus-Peter’s students were too deep in their limbs and needed awaken the chest through music and speech before they could work from the head in language class. […] The teacher who radiates this care for the child is not judgmental but interested in seeing the child as a spirit force that comes to the teacher for higher reasons. The teacher does not fixate upon pushing the children to have success, but rather seeks to appreciate the mystery of this spirit force that the child bears. […] Claus-Peter spoke about how daily meditation can help us reach deeper levels in our teaching, allowing us really to see the children. We strive to reach beyond our conscious mind, into the realm of living pictures, and even beyond that to the realm of will, so that we will be able to follow through and actually carry out our ideas and plans for teaching.

Read the lecture summaries in their entirety.

I wish I could comment on everything, but just a few things then. The spirit force has to do with reincarnation; the higher reasons have to do with karma. Lots of what he says has to do with how human development during childhood appears in an anthroposophical perspective, the unfolding of the ether body, the astral body, the 7-year cycles, will for the 7-year old, head for the child of over 14, et c. This ‘determines’ what they’re thought capable of emotionally, academically and intellectually. For anyone reading the summaries of Röh’s lectures the notion that anthroposophy is not deeply ingrained in waldorf education becomes ludicrous. Also anyone will notice that anthroposophical ideas and concept are presented as though they were factual. One question: what method would you use to refute the astral body’s ability to sense and explore an impression? Is it even possible? And what conclusions can we draw if it turns out it is actually not possible to dispute this supposed fact scientifically? (Perhaps: that we’re talking about belief, and that, thus. waldorf teacher training needs a lot more imput from scientific theories about the human being, the development of the child and from research on education in general.)

a new paradigm reaching across the threshold (courses)

via Melanie who linked to Roger who comments on this here. It’s a course with Christoph Wiechert.

Our educational tasks draw us into a new paradigm that reaches across the threshold — beyond the intellectual and emotional to the moral and spiritual. Today, more than ever, we must come to understand the spiritual foundations of pedagogy and appreciate the many challenges in the life of the teacher and the children who draw near us. As teachers we need to respect the sanctity of the child’s individuality by developing moral techniques based in imagination, inspiration, and intuition.

In this advanced seminar for Waldorf educators, we will seek new insights into ourselves as well as the children we teach, mindful that education works as a healing process based on the study of the human being, as well as the study of the children before us.

‘[T]he children who draw near us’ — am I right thinking that this is about karma? I mean, I know it is, but this weird statement somehow screams karma, without saying the word. Even though they draw rather than are drawn. (Draw is easier to combine with a message about the freedom of the individual?)

I wonder, too, what ‘respect[ing] the sanctity of the child’s individuality’ means in the context of waldorf education. (Are they? Perhaps they can have that respect in an anthroposophical sense — and, yet, from the viewpoint of the individual be interpreted as doing the opposite?)

I think it might be interesting to look at some of the center’s other courses too. Here’s one, on cancer.

Through an anthroposophical approach the patient can be seen as a spiritual being who existed before birth. From this perspective the disposition for cancer was acquired before conception in the spiritual realm.

However, how the illness actually manifests itself and which course it takes, depends on the presence of the Higher Self in body and soul during the earthly incarnation.

One on a special bridge:

Building a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead is a central task of anthroposophy.

Returning to waldorf education, crossing the Rubicon this time rather than reaching across a threshold or building a bridge to the dead:

In this course, we will explore the deeper aspects of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. We will experience the profound implications of the “incorporation of the astral body” and its ramifications for the physical and emotional life of the child. We will come to appreciate the prescient ways in which Rudolf Steiner’s grades school curriculum meets the needs of this age group, particularly when it is interpreted by teachers who are on a path of inner development.

You can also get to know thyself through watercolour painting.

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

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

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

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

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

This seems just great, or perhaps not:

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

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

Read more.

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
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.)

‘it’s called anthroposophy’

In the Sacramento Bee today, ‘Public Waldorf schools booming in Sacramento — but are they legal?’:

While enrollment climbs, the district faces a lawsuit this summer from a Northern California group that claims the Waldorf system cannot be separated from founder Rudolf Steiner’s religious philosophy, making public Waldorf schools ineligible to receive taxpayer dollars.

The People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools filed the lawsuit in 1998, and after several appeals, a trial is set for Aug. 31 in Sacramento federal court.

“We are excited to finally make it to court,” said Debra Snell, president of PLANS. “These schools are spreading like wildfire. It’s a nationwide concern.”

The students, though, wouldn’t recognize religious if it bit them in their noses. As usual:

Bentley said he was attracted to the art focus but heard murmurs that Waldorf was religious-based. He says he knows now that it’s not.

And, in addition, lots of people don’t recognize the spiritual elements of waldorf education as religious, or they don’t realize that religious and spiritual are pretty close to each other and that ‘holism’ and ‘consciousness-raising’ and whatnot are just other ways to describe a worldview based essentially on belief in all manners of stuff that cannot be objectively observed.

“All of us know that a Catholic-inspired school wouldn’t fly, but many people aren’t aware of new-age religions, so they sneak in the back door,” said Snell, PLANS president.

“We are trying to make a point that it’s easy for schools to be duped and people to be duped,” Snell said. “We don’t blame the schools for doing this. These people are really good and deny that this is religion.”

The public waldorf schools have led to a decrease in enrolments at private waldorfs. But even in private waldorf schools ‘where religion can be taught, Waldorf educators say their philosophy is not religion-based.’ However, both teacher training and the pedagogical foundation are the same, whether a waldorf school is operated privately or publically.

Private and public school teachers receive the same training, said Betty Staley, director of the high school training program at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks.

“We want (teachers) to know what the philosophy behind Waldorf is, although it’s not taught in the school,” Staley said. “It’s called anthroposophy and it’s the philosophy of the human being. In public school, they would not ever mention the spiritual, but it’s important for (teachers) to know it, so it’s not a secret.”

That comment by Betty Staley is perhaps the most important in the entire article. They won’t mention the spiritual, and it wouldn’t be taught to the students directly (indirectly, though, it is), but it is important. It is the foundation. It is what it is all about, and what Rudolf Steiner wanted waldorf education to be about. Anthroposophy applied to education.

Read the article!

the micha-el institute

it’s too hot to think (finally! something to blame for the lack of thinking) but @thetismercurio tweeted an interesting link today — to the Micha-el Institute which offers teacher training for presumptive waldorf teachers. Why not Mi-cha-el Institute? Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t that make more sense? Anyway, they certainly can’t be blamed for offering a run-of-the-mill teacher training. No, this program aims at the development of ‘a deep understanding of the human being and his/her development through incarnation and excarnation.’ Something prospective waldorf parents are rarely informed of when they enroll their children in a waldorf school, one might add. The excarnation bit was a funny but unusual twist.

The child’s eventual excarnation is probably not a paramount worry for most parents deciding on a particular school for their small child. It is my guess that many parents are largely unaware that some waldorf teachers concern themselves not only with the present situation of the child but with its present entire incarnation (as in present physical existence from birth to old age) and what ensues after it ends (the child’s fate over several lifetimes even). It is also indicated that teacher training is meant to assist the teacher student in developing spiritually, as it is said to help him or her gain self-knowledge (in an anthroposophical sense, obviously).

What might the teacher training student expect?

Most of our students go through some sort of catharsis during the first few months of the course, though some have also faced difficulties at other times on the course.  There is not really a pattern to this as each person meets their own individual problems in their own individual way and time.  However, it is good to be prepared for this to happen for once such things are overcome there is usually a new found enthusiasm for life and to some extent a new found identity.

This is a most troubling aspect of the program. Aren’t they saying that, essentially, that waldorf teacher training students will go through a cult experience, extending far beyond the more common feelings of upheaval which may accompany a change of environment, a new social setting or an influx of novel impressions? According to some literature on cults, there is commonly a powerful experience in the introductory phase when the individual is getting involved in the cult. In this context, it is rather spooky to learn, in the end of that passage, that there is usually ‘a new found enthusiasm for life’ and also a ‘new found identity.’ What kind of enthusiasm? Why the new identity and what is it for? And what happened to the old identity, or is there perhaps a point in attracting a kind of student who may have a relatively fragile sense of identity to begin with? The risks this may entail for the individual are rather obvious. Of course, questioning the potential perils is futile in light of karma. If people are harmed, this may simply be explained as fate, as something meant to happen because they needed it to happen. (Not to imply the program organizers are aware of any inherent risks. I bet they’re more focused on the supposed greater good. And that they don’t possess any knowledge which would prevent them from causing harm when messing with people’s minds.) In any case, the decision to become a waldorf teacher, and where to do your training, is not a matter of rational consideration.

Where you choose to do your Waldorf Teacher Training is largely a question of destiny or karma.

This kind of stuff isn’t exactly something positive for those who wish to present waldorf education as a non-cultish community. The catharsis mentioned above is quite clearly not just a procedure essential to the education of a teacher (as commonly understood); it is a religious experience aimed at creating a commitment to a movement, and the way to ensure this commitment is by making certain the person changes and feels this change profoundly. He or she is in some ways getting a new life, which conveniently aligns with the life prescribed by his or her anthroposophical elders.

[Quote source: The Micha-el Institute FAQs page.]

university of stockholm dumps waldorf teacher training program

University of Stockholm dumps Waldorf teacher training program: not up to standards of higher education


Earlier this year, when the Stockholm Institute of Education (a teacher training college) merged with Stockholm University, the university also took over the responsibility for the Waldorf teacher training program and courses included in the Institute of Education. The Waldorf program had been arranged in co-operation between the teachers’ college and Rudolf Steiner College. Rudolf Steiner College was really the most influential power in this partnership. Being under the umbrella of a public college endowed the Anthroposophists with an aura of prestige and credibility that they had previously only dreamt of. This dream has suffered a rude awakening. Continue reading “university of stockholm dumps waldorf teacher training program”