Before I begin I'd like to send my thanks to all on this list whom I've seen contribute [to the Waldorf Critics discussion] over the past few weeks, and that is both for and against [Waldorf schooling]. It's been intellectual, at times emotional but one thing that has been clear to me is that everyone here is passionate and engaged. Now, if I'm frank I have seen some childish behaviour too and disappointing as that is given the calibre of most of what I've seen I think I can swallow it.
I don't yet feel comfortable giving a full back story but I will tell the following. I'm a child of a regular (read non-Anthroposophic) family. I went to a conventional school and eventually ended up gaining a degree as a Mathematician. I have studied philosophy, religion, politics and many other things which drive human beings, beyond that many fields which brought them to where they are today. Personally I feel both accomplished and satisfied as an intellectual individual on a long road to learning many and more varied things.
Here is the reason I joined this group, and I encourage all sides to opine here, I married into a family of quote, unquote, Waldorf students and teachers. I was somewhat foolish in that I never made the effort to truly understand the background to this whole movement; at the time it was purely hypothetical and an abstract discussion. Moreover, to put it simply I don't think my in-laws ever really understood a great deal about Anthroposophy or even Steiner, it was all pseudo-religious to them and I'm not sure they were ever given the tools to be able to question, criticise or even doubt the esoteric nature of what they'd been taught. Note that they take Steiner to be a Christ like figure who is beyond question. One of the very smart, and if you look at it another way, benevolent, things they do at Waldorf schools is to give free education to the parents who work there. Many of my in-laws family took jobs in Waldorf in order to put their children through the system. This is indeed a great way to proselytize.
To return briefly to my childhood I was brought up in a moderate Muslim household. I was never forced to go to the mosque but it was certainly expected of me. It never sat right with me and from an early age (my mother taught me to read from the age of three!) I would read about different ways of life, from different people, in different parts of the world, and from different parts in history. Moreover I thought about how scripture I'd been taught made no sense (Islamic, Judaic, Christian, ...). How would a man pray five times a day on the moon. Which day is Sunday Mass on Saturn. How do you obey the rules of Shabbat in space. Which direction is Mecca when you are not in geo-stationary orbit. All this made it clear (at least to a child) that the concept of god was man-made. Please endure my ramble a moment longer, I'm about to change tack. In short I was allowed to explore things outside the realms my family were comfortable with, they were not happy with this and it didn't make for the most pleasurable conversations, however, it was not blocked.
Let me come to present times. I have two young boys 4 and 7 years old. Both at a Waldorf school in the US. I personally do not feel this is the right place for them on an individual level but do not want to get into that here, not at this point anyway. The key point I wanted to get to, and I hope some of my preamble assists is that my research and experience tells me that a Waldorf school only really exists when a group of teachers are brought together by a group of Anthroposophists (which may well be the teachers themselves) to expand a movement they truly believe in (or at least something they think they do; I have to say both the supporters and detractors in this group have taught me far more in a few week than I have learnt in 8 years being married into such a family). I'm now divorced from my ex-wife but have my children's education and development at the forefront of my thoughts. However, I'd previously agreed (before I'd learnt more detail) for them to attend a Waldorf school. I now regret this decision. Key reason being that I would not send them to an Islamic, Judaic, Catholic or any other school based on a pre-determined world view. I have to say (come on Steve you know you want to respond) that I find Waldorf even more insidious simply because it hides it's true intent behind some hippy dippy, world is beautiful, love the moon simplicity but I feel it is trying to push a somewhat dangerous world view into children who have no better idea nor are allowed to have one in the community they are brought up in. This I know very well from my childhood and it requires a lot of strength to overcome.
I intend to to my best to move my children to another school system and be there to teach them the various philosophies people follow in life (yes even esoteric ones) and allow them to make a choice when they are adults. For now I look to gain any words of wisdom from all on this list (yes Steve, you too sir) as to how to help them best whilst they are in this system.
Thanks for reading the entire post and I look forward to any help and advice you all have.
Hi Naz, welcome, thanks for telling your story. Are you children at present happy in their school? How do you plan to approach this — will your ex resist moving them?
Hi, Naz, and welcome.
I think you are certainly on the right track. Most people who join Waldorf schools are well-meaning, but most do not really understand what they are getting involved in. Waldorf schools are stalking horses for the religion of Anthroposophy. If the schools were honest about this, much suffering and confusion would be avoided.
As you may have learned by now, I host a website called Waldorf Watch. At it, you will find numerous statements made by former Waldorf teachers, parents, and students. You may find some of these useful. Thus, for instance, one former Waldorf teacher writes:
"Anthroposophical Waldorf often fails to address the needs of the individual child and family. Diana's comments regarding childhood, joy and magic touch upon a major problem that's at the heart of Anthroposophical Waldorf in general.
"The reason many Anthroposophical schools exist is because of the Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world. That's the Michaelic spiritual task [i.e., the spiritual task directed by the archangel Michael]. Educating children is secondary in these schools; or, it's the means by which these many Anthroposophical and cosmic Christian impulses are incarnated." [ http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/ex-teacher-7 ]
Indeed, as you say, Waldorf schools are insidious. I would like to reassure you, however, that your kids may not be in immediate danger. The effects of Waldorf indoctrination tend to accumulate gradually, since Anthroposophical doctrines are usually not laid out openly. So, I fully support your desire to move your children to a different, better form of school, but I'd like to say that I think you can do it in a thoughtful, methodical fashion (which seems to be your approach) and thus minimize the disruption for the children.
To read about the experiences of other parents who have had children in Waldorf schools and regretted it, you might look at http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/our-experience,http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/coming-undone, and http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/pops
If you would like to ask any specific questions, I'm sure several participants here — including myself — will try to provide helpful answers.
- Roger Rawlings
Are they happy, I think overall yes, certainly my four year old. I'm more concerned about my seven year old. His 1st grade teacher was not ideal by any stretch and eventually communication completely broke down with her to the point where a full faculty meeting was called to see if he could be moved to the 3rd grade. They agreed on a 6 week trial basis. A day later we found out the 3rd grade teacher quit! The level of disorganisation has bordered on comical. I don't think this uncertainty has helped him.
The worry here is that academically he'll be fine in third grade (i taught him to read and write some years ago and he has an innate mathematical ability) but he struggles with many of the other expectations on him, dance, craftwork, art etc. He may well feel like an under performer when measured against their standards.
All of this aside my true concern is really about religion via a backdoor. Worse still is the slow drip over time. At least with a catholic school It's all pretty clear what is going on and as a parent you can temper it. Here they use the very clever trick of boiling the frog slowly.
How do I intend to move them? Well as any secularist intellectual would ... by constructing a sound argument based on logic and agreed axioms. Does that not tend to work ?
In all seriousness I'm not exactly sure but I likely begin with the above.
[You wrote] A day later we found out the 3rd grade teacher quit! The level of disorganisation has bordered on comical. I don't think this uncertainty has helped him.
Oh dear. Unfortunately this level of disorganization [at Waldorf schools] borders on TYPICAL in my experience. This is how it will go.
[You wrote] The worry here is that academically he'll be fine in third grade (i taught him to read and write some years ago and he has an innate mathematical ability) but he struggles with many of the other expectations on him, dance, craftwork, art etc. He may well feel like an under performer when measured against their standards.
This also is a very reasonable worry. Alicia here can relate I'm sure, as a Waldorf child who was advanced academically and less skilled in the 43 crafts you have to master before third grade in Waldorf. (Actually, in her case, she was skilled in some of them before she ever even got to Waldorf, and Waldorf drove the interest out of her. She was crocheting with her grandmother when she was three, and post-Waldorf can't look at a crochet hook. My son had the same problem, he liked reading and writing, he broke out in a sweat whenever they handed him yarn or sewing needles.)
[You wrote] All of this aside my true concern is really about religion via a backdoor. Worse still is the slow drip over time. At least with a catholic school It's all pretty clear what is going on and as a parent you can temper it. Here they use the very clever trick of boiling the frog slowly.
Well put, "slow drip over time" and boiling the frog slowly. Indeed.
[You wrote] How do I intend to move them? Well as any secularist intellectual would ... by constructing a sound argument based on logic and agreed axioms. Does that not tend to work ?
Well, I don't want to sound discouraging, but no, that doesn't tend to work. I guess I was more wondering your actual strategy - legal means, attempting to reason with your ex, etc.?
But of course if you aren't prepared to share the details that's fine too, and I surely don't wish to encourage legal means. at the risk of unsolicited advice, anything you can do to keep a friendly relationship with the other parent is in your children's interests.
So a general question to all. I continually hear that public school is bad, Waldorf is good. There is never any real explanation of this statement that one could debate.
What is their rationale behind this ? I don't even mind hearing good answers to the above. Any answer would be useful.
There are certainly bad public schools, but there are also many good ones. You really need to examine this on a case-by-case basis. If there is a good public school available to you, I would certainly consider it seriously.
There is little reliable evidence that Waldorf schools work well. Indeed, because Waldorf schools are rooted in occultism, the presumption must be that they are rarely very good. Occultism leads to blindness, not sight.
Much of the available evidence suggests that public schools are at least as good as most charter schools. As reported recently, up to 37% of charter schools are inferior to public schools, and another 46% are no better than public schools.
“A 2010 study of 2,330 middle school students at charter schools in 15 states found that they performed no better [than students in regular public schools] in math and science. And a Stanford University study in 2009 concluded: ‘Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.’” — Paul Farhi, “Five myths about America’s schools”, THE WASHINGTON POST, May 20, 2011.
A report on NBC Nightly News said that only 17% of charter schools achieve better educational results than average public schools.
Waldorf schools usually postpone reading, writing, and arithmetic until the children are at least 7 years old. Thus, Waldorf students are almost always behind students in other schools for the first several years of schooling. [See http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/incarnation and http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/academic-standards.] Waldorf spokespeople claim that Waldorf students eventually catch up, but catch up to whom? If Waldorf schools believe that public schools are terrible, and if Waldorf schools make the claim that their students eventually catch up with or even surpass public school students, they are not claiming much. By their own standards, they are saying that their students wind up no worse off than — and possibly better than — kids who went to terrible schools.
This leaves the question of whether Waldorf students really do catch up. Some may. Some don't — and never do. Here is one indicative message:
"I had become aware that Steiner School was inadequately preparing my children for academic studies in later grades, and had attacked the school’s curriculum and pedagogical preparation. As a math teacher, I had been approached by the school to tutor some students in the 7th grade, and been very disappointed and surprised to see that these students were far behind mainstream math curriculum." [See http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/help-too.]
In this case, Waldorf students were behind in elementary school and they remained "far behind" at least until junior high. Did they ever catch up? And why should they need to catch up? If they had been given a better education to begin with, they would not have lagged behind.
The claims Waldorfs make for the superiority of their system are largely unfounded. These claims proceed from the genuine but unsubstantiated beliefs of people who are, in many ways, true believers — that is, Anthroposophists. Belief is fine, but it is not knowledge.
[Alicia H. wrote] Heck, even the anthroposophists had academic backgrounds, they had books and culture and all of that. I think no matter what nuttiness they also happened to believe in, the relative sophistication of their environment should have provided the kids with something.
I agree with Alicia, at least partly. She points to one of the things that makes Waldorf schools hard to evaluate. The education they provide is often very poor, but there are some valuable resources within the schools, and the students often have multiple outside resources that help compensate, to a degree, to problems within the schools. Also, in some cases, the admissions policies ensure that the kids in a Waldorf school are quite bright and creative. The schools didn't bestow these qualities on the kids — the kids arrived with them. The students at my Waldorf school were generally quite bright and many came from homes brimming with encyclopedias, large home libraries, etc. Moreover, the students' parents were generally quite supportive and engaged, which is often the most important element in any education. Thus, the school seemed to do well by its students when actually most of the accomplishments of the students can be traced to influences outside the school.
All of that said, it is worth noting that the children of Anthroposophists often have special problems and difficulties. At the very first Waldorf school, Steiner was surprised that Anthroposophists' kids were turning out so badly.
"I have to admit it is, in a certain sense, very strange that it is particularly the children of anthroposophists who develop so poorly in the Waldorf School. The children who were expelled some time ago were also children of anthroposophists." — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998) , p. 782.
Children of Anthroposophists may have very good reasons to rebel against their parents and against the Waldorf schools to which they have been consigned.
Tangentially, there is another worrisome component in all this. Students who go through Waldorf schools and become indoctrinated sometimes choose to skip college, going instead of unaccredited Steiner teacher-training programs, and then they proceed to become Waldorf teachers. These are people with very, very little knowledge of the real world, and they are given extraordinary powers over the education of the children in their Waldorf classes.* Thus, the cycle of indoctrination reinforces itself.
* Waldorf teachers are meant to be unquestioned authority figures, even if they have little or no knowledge of reality. As Steiner said to teachers at the first Waldorf,
"[I]t will be very good if you can keep the children from losing their feeling for authority. That is what they need most. You can best achieve that by going into things with the children very cautiously, but under no circumstances giving in." — FACULTY MEETING WITH RUDOLF STEINER, pp. 14-15.
He also told them never to "justify" themselves — i.e., explain themselves — to their students. It only makes the students proud of themselves and weakens their love of authority.
"Surely you did not justify yourselves to the students? ... You can't do these things ... [Y]ou cannot allow [students] to believe that you are just as young as they are. That is impossible. We cannot do that. The children will be caught in delusions of grandeur ... You cannot justify your views ... to the students. That is absolutely out of the question." — Ibid., p. 391.