Alan Whitehead has been a longtime Waldorf teacher, and at one stage he was head of a Waldorf teacher-training program. Here are excepts from his autobiography, A CREATIVE LIFE - Memoirs of a Rudolf Steiner Teacher, Vol. 3, "Into the Wind" (Golden Beetle Books, 2001).
— Roger Rawlings
Whitehead gives a brief account of two small Steiner schools he helped found, Melaleuca and Meander:
"[A] crisis of finance, and Melaleuca's lack of growth, led shortly to an amalgamation; the two schools became one ... The schools may have merged, but the staff didn't. Carol could not work with the 'gun-slinging' Yvonne ... Indeed, many student teachers I sent out west to help at the new school returned discouraged or in tears. Yvonne had no patience with anyone whom she perceived to be less competent than her — or more even." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, p. 12.
Whitehead discusses his own Steiner school, Lorien Novalis:
"[One] of my endless grant submissions hit the jackpot, with $72,000 being allocated from the Federal Government [for Lorien] ... The school was growing in all areas, therefore more difficult to administer on the seat-of-the-pants methods [used] hitherto; so a separate School Executive...was formed. This may have been a mistake, as the teaching community was now clearly divided into senior and junior. Resentment by younger towards older teachers began about this time. [p. 17]
"I was nominated for the position of Executive Officer ... This was a title akin to 'principal' ... My standing with the younger teachers began to erode after this appointment, as they saw me now as 'the boss', rather than just a senior — and helpful — colleague of theirs." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, p. 18.
Douglas Waugh was Whitehead's mentor, and a powerful figure at Lorien Novalis. At one point, Waugh lost confidence in the school's fifth grade teacher, Ranier, who had responsibility for the school's finances. Waugh eventually urged Whitehead to fire Ranier.
"Ranier, while still a rock of support at the school, had been losing Douglas Waugh's confidence, especially as a financial administrator. If this happened at Lorien, you were in real trouble! When I — and others — reported on some of the peculiar deals the 5th class teacher was making, like strong-arming the bank into giving the school a loan on the basis of threatening to withdraw the children's saving accounts, Douglas thought he might be better out of the way. This was reaffirmed by Ranier's inability to manage his personal finances. He was always in trouble with the tax departments and angry creditors.
"The clear instruction from Douglas to the troubled Executive Officer, me, was — sack him! This of course could only be done through the College [of Teachers — the school's central committee] ... A battle royal raged in the next meeting, with me jockeying support to have my colleague and friend removed. However there was an equal number being convinced by the stunned and angry Ranier to remain.
"The deadlock was relieved by Carol, who swung over to my motion ... Ranier was deeply wounded by [the resulting] vote of no confidence ... From this point on, Ranier — a founding father of the school — saw his fortunes deteriorate. Sometimes, in reflection, I wish that I'd lost the vote, the [subsequent] history of the school may have been quite different. If it wasn't betrayal, it certainly felt like it." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, pp. 24-25.
School inspectors became skeptical about Lorien Novalis, and they withheld approval for Lorien Novalis to develop a high school. Whitehead found that even some teachers and parents at Lorien misunderstood or opposed the "innovative" high school curriculum he and his supporters proposed to implement.
"This innovative scheme was incomprehensible to the inspectors — and many of the parents — and some of the teachers! ... Naturally [the inspectors] presumed their rejection would stop this budding enterprise in its tracks, but the school had grown strong on opposition, and the high school was going to be no exception ... If I had earlier wavered in my high school convictions, this bloody-minded rejection set them firmly in place again. The Lorien Novalis high school...would proceed into Class 8 in 1981, with or without registration ... The rest of the school would just have to subsidize it....
"This simple equation could not be grasped by some of the junior class teachers, who began to mount an insidious anti-high school campaign. They claimed that teacher resources were 'being drained upwards'! ... Over the next five years the opposition from within the school to the new infant high school was far more damaging that from without, scowling inspectors notwithstanding!" — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, p. 27.
By Whitehead's account, the new high school was a success in many ways, despite internal opposition and even conspiratorial efforts at sabotage.
"The high school had been in existence in the Spring of '81 for two terms, and as promised, innovation occurred in almost every lesson. The school had courageously agreed to establish a non-exam program; external exams were replaced by an assessment system...supported by a voluminous Report system ... These reports were hard to extract out of the teachers, many of whom had an aversion to paperwork of any kind ... The worst however was [teacher X]; perhaps this was because, in spite of teaching History...he was semi-literate. His lack of cooperation however was a more sinister warning sign, one I ignored, on his intrinsic lack of support for the new high school initiatives ... On one occasion he was overhead — by me! — to refer to the Reports, the single most important reform in modern secondary education — in Lorien or anywhere! — as 'Bullshit'! This perversity would one day fester into a full-blown conspiracy to destroy me, my children's education, my class — and in the extreme, the very Spirit of Lorien Novalis itself. Fortunately...he failed." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, p. 45.
After describing a seminar and play that he says were highlights of 1982 at Lorien, Whitehead reports that internal turmoil again flared at the school.
"In spite of the unifying spirit brought into the school by the seminar in general, and the play in particular, there was an increasing feeling of dislocation pervading the teaching community. The halt in progress suffered on many fronts in 1982 became actual in 1983. Little building was accomplished, income fell, student numbers slid backwards from a healthy 200 in '82 to 175 a year later. [My wife] Susan [who taught at the school] continually made veiled references to 'the Emerald Serpent of self-assertion'; usually having the school's bursar in her sights. Whatever it was, it became an insidious and growing cancer." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, p. 65.
Disaster struck the school, a setback that Whitehead suspected was a criminal act.
"Not only did the school's building program slow up, but we actually lost space. The portables [i.e., temporary classrooms], in which Verena and I housed our classes (including the high school common room) burnt down — or to be more precise, WERE burnt down. (Although I have no proof of arson.) Early one Sunday morning in 1983, Norman had arrived back at the school with his Class 6 after an excursion. Within a short time of their dispersal home, the portable complex was alight.
"The fire was spotted by a student teacher ... Alas by the time she got to a neighbor's phone...the two portables were essentially destroyed. It appeared that the fire started in the common room; we just couldn't figure out how, assuming no-one was in there?! Being of a suspicious nature, I suspected arson, as the most vulnerable (and hated!) part of the school, the high school, was the target. Subsequent events, namely a full-on assault on the high school in general , and me in particular, by the younger male class teachers — supported by disgruntled ex-teachers of a more senior status — has even deepened my suspicions that the fire was an inside job.
"Pam, the financial administrator, was scandalously negligent in not having the building insured. The loss due to her incompetence was the equivalent of many years fundraising ... To add to the school's misery, we now had a charred and twisted hulk of a building, the estimates for its removal being in the thousands of dollars — and we were broke." — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, pp. 66-67.
I'll skip forward a few years here. Whitehead's narrative becomes a bit repetitive, with self-reported moments of spiritual glory punctuated by seemingly interminable staff conflicts. In Whitehead's perhaps not fully objective view, he himself was often a primary victim of the squabbling. Early in 1985, the school hosted another seminar and play, which were again great, Whitehead says. But then, again, troubles washed away the goodwill that should have prevailed.
"At the conclusion of the play — and the seminar — it appeared that there was a new spirit of harmony and cooperation in the school. However as Susan and I once again [departed] for the...holidays, the Boys from Brazil [i.e., opponents within the faculty] removed their masks of goodwill and began — quite literally — to trawl through the school files. Their squalid mission — to find documentary evidence of unlawful activity in order to demand my dismissal!
"There was no hint of this nefarious plot in...late January 1985. Indeed the opposite was the impression, with jocularity and happy banter the order of the week. On the evening of the first College meeting of the year, I received a phone call from Douglas.
"Douglas had himself earlier been called up by a worried Eva, asking his advice on whether to vote with the Young Turks, or with me. This was the first he had heard of the plot ... [Subsequently he] spilled the beans to me....
"[At the College meeting] Bruce...handed the dozen or so members a document listing my professional shortcomings, character defects and lawless activities. This missive, in the spirit of cowardice in which it was created, was unsigned. Did he think it wouldn't be noticed?!" — Alan Whitehead, A CREATIVE LIFE, pp. 102-103.
I will drop the narrative here. If you want to learn more, you certainly should get ahold of Whitehead's book, along with its two companion volumes (Vols. 1 and 2).
The point for us here is nothing especially unprecedented happened at Lorien Novalis. Rather, the history of that school reflects in many ways the histories of other Waldorf or Steiner schools.
Life can often be pleasant and apparently trouble-free at Waldorf schools; life was, as far as I can recall, generally pleasant and apparently trouble-free at the Waldorf school I attended. Mostly. Most of the time. But then our school exploded in scandal and uproar.
This is a pattern that recurs within the Waldorf movement, which should surprise no one. A school system rooted in a bizarre occult religion, where many of the faculty and staff consider themselves to be clairvoyant sages or occult initiates, is virtually guaranteed to teeter over the edge into chaos and confusion from time to time. Not every day. Not every year. But fairly often, and just about inevitably.