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Waldorf Doubter's Thread

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 
There are those as adamently opposed to Waldorf as those in favour. And it is sometimes difficult for us to all rub shoulders together without some upset.

This thread is to allow us to express clearly objections raised against Waldorf, and to discuss ideas and the misconceptions that are brought up in other threads.

post #2 of 74
I'm on neither side of the fence on Waldorf, but interested in the discussion. I asked a question on the other thread that was lost in the debate:

I understand that Waldorf teachers believe that neurologically the left side of the brain, believed by some to be responsible for more formal learning such as literacy, doesn't develop until the age of about 7. Have I understood this correctly?

Good idea to open a new discussion, Alexander, thank you!
post #3 of 74

I wish that I had more time to answer your question regarding your question. One book I highly recommend is 'Smart Moves' by Carla Hannaford. She speaks of this change in a child around the age 7 mark in a neurodevelopmental way. She has a PHD and is very knowledgeable of how and why we learn.

Interestingly, the Waldorf method of introducing reading and writing to children around the changing of the teeth corresponds to what is being discovered scientifically via brain research!

Hope that this helps!

By the way, Carla Hannaford is not a promoter of Waldorf philosophy in any way..
post #4 of 74

Anthro view of brain development

British mum and everyone else here --

I am short on time right now, but want to thank Alexander for creating this thread. My only concern about it is that those who want to accept Waldorf without question will simply avoid coming here, and thus miss out on information that may be important to them later. Oh, well ...

I wanted to respond to Britishmum's question about Waldorf's view of brain development. I have been researching Waldorf education and anthroposophy for close to 10 years now (counting the almost 6 my children were in a Waldorf school) and to my knowledge, Waldorf does not view children's development from a scientific viewpoint such as you expressed. In other words, Waldorf teachers are not taught to think of children's development in terms of brain capacity, wiring, etc. They are instead taught to view the child as an emerging spiritual being which is coming into the physical world from the heavens (or whatever you call the "other" realm!). Anthroposophists believe that small children are not entirely "of this world" and therefore, not completely "human" yet. They believe that children are contained in several invisible "bodies" called the etheric and the astral, one of which is in an "envelope" which "opens" at the age of 7 (around the time that baby teeth start to fall out.)

Your question about left-brain, right-brain development and neurology are not of interest to Waldorf teachers, who are looking at where the child is *spiritually*. A good example of this is evident in the way Waldorf teachers handle/react to children who are left handed. Left handedness is considered, in Waldorf, to be a sign that the child had a very tough past life ... that he or she may have been a manual laborer. Left handedness is viewed as something that MUST be changed, in order to alter the negative karma that the child carries with him or her. That is why Waldorf schools are probably the only schools in the developed world who insist that left handed children write with their right hands! (How that effects the children is an interesting neurological question.)

I will try to post more later. Suffice to say, however, that almost any question about Waldorf schools can be answered by studying the tenets of anthroposophy. And as Alexander pointed out, much of anthroposophy is a knee jerk reaction to the materialism of the Industrial Age.

Warm regards,

post #5 of 74


Just figured I'd let you all know, especially Britishmum, who has many questions. There is a CD-ROm out by Eugene Schwartz which covers, in depth, the Waldorf science curriculum in the elementary years. It is a power point presentation and also has word documents as a supplement. It is very well done. My husband, Mechanical Engineer, Network Engineer, my fil, PHD Aerospace Engineer and bil, MS Elect Eng. all took a look at the content and said there was nothing wrong with the way the science curriculum was being presented. Maybe some of us are being confused with anthroposophy's views on things and what is ACTUALLY taught in a Waldorf school. Anyway, I would encourage anyone interested in REALLy knowing about Waldorf curriculum questions go to the Millenialchild.org website, and of course, in researching a school, to be sure to extensively interview the teachers, faculty and staff. I sat in, all day, in a 1st grade class, 3rd grade class and the kindergarden class and had no problem. I also went to the Winter Faire, Spring Faire and didn't find anything unusual or "spooky" hiding in the wings! As in ALL schools, there are going to be some pecuiliar beings, of course, that is all biased according to our own objectivity/subjectivity and experiences. For all we know, WE are the weird ones.
I went in to that school looking for the "Spanish Inquisition" reincarnate (excuse the pun! *L*), and found quite healthy people. I wouldn't say normal, as WHAT is normal???? More than half the people that I encounter in daily life, who are, according to popular culture, normal, I consider quite strange?
By the way, my family is NOT Christian, but Hindu, we are Indian, from India, not Native American's, and I found the school we "interviewed" to be quite progressive and multi-cultural.
post #6 of 74
momofgurlz - thank you, I think you answered my question. I have done some reading and nowhere could I find reference to the philosophy on child development being backed up by recent research into the brain and learning.

This stance seems, in fact, to contradict what is being discovered about the brain. I can't marry it in any way with anything that I have read or know about the way that the brain develops in the earliest years. Sanna, if you have links or references, though, to contradict this, I'd be very interested to follow them up.

thanks for your answers!
post #7 of 74

about Waldorf and brain development theory

Pardon me, mjakka, if I am skeptical about trusting that an organization that is set up and run by a leading figure in the Waldorf movement -- Millenial Child (run by master Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz) -- would give parents the complete, unadulterated truth about Waldorf science. Upon brief questioning, Waldorf teachers will say that the only thing different about Waldorf 'science" is the method by which it is taught. That is not true. The content is also different, and teachers (at least in my experience) will finally admit this when pressed to the wall. (I did so when my older child was in 3rd grade and having her first "science" unit, and the material was just plain weird. People have 12 senses that correspond to the signs of the Zodiac?? Humans originated on Atlantis? Of course, the Waldorf school called these subjects by ordinary, scientific names, such as zoology, botany, etc. It was only when I pressed the point at a public meeting -- which I cassette taped -- that the teachers admitted that yes, the science taught in Waldorf schools is different!)

Mjakka, I am not sure how familiar you are with Waldorf in reality. My older girl spent almost 6 years in a Waldorf school -- from early nursery school thru half of grade 4, at which time she was so bored and so miserable that she cried every day before school. We also were appalled by the slow pace of the class -- many of the 4th graders could barely read Dr. Seuss, a number of parents were saying they thought their children had learning disabilities, etc. We actually had our daughter tested by an educational pyschologist whose first question was "Where the heck has she been going to school? Wherever it is, get her out -- now!" Turns out our daughter tested in the gifted range, but there was such a spread between her ability results and her achievement results that the psychologist called it "a teaching disability." He told us that the school was trying -- obviously deliberately -- to hold her intellect in place and that he was frankly disturbed by what he saw. We spent a half year homeschooling our daughter to give her the basic knowledge to catch up with her peers, and now she is an honor student at a very rigorous college prep school. She looks back on the Waldorf experience and says "I thought something was wrong with my brain. I thought thinking was bad!" She now delights in questioning things, researching them, and challenging herself intellectually. (The Waldorf teacher, on the other hand, told us that we had to "move her from her head into her trunk" or else she would have "hardening" in her "organs" in later life.)

Interestingly, Eugene Schwartz (Millenial Child guy) is rather a hero with we Waldorf critics because he is the only, to our knowledge, Waldorf establishment person who has said publicly that the Waldorf movement MUST stop deceiving parents. At a conference at Sunbridge College in 1999, he told an audience of Waldorf teachers, parents and others that the movement was putting itself in peril by not revealing to parents that Waldorf schools ARE anthroposophical thru and thru, and not just, as the admissions folks and brochures tell you, BASED on the ideas of anthroposophy. Schwartz gave such a strongly worded directive to his fellow teachers that he ended up losing his place as head of the teacher training program there. Though various other Waldorf officials deny this happened, Schwartz himself told people on the Waldorf critics internet discussion list that that was what happened.

People always seem to accuse critics like myself of being mean spirited, or wanting every Waldorf school to close, etc. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Though knowing what I know now, I would never send a child of mine to a Waldorf school, I affirm the right of every family to choose for itself. I ask only that Waldorf schools tell the truth, that they tell parents that they are the parochial schools of anthroposophy, and that each and everything done inside their four walls is dictated by anthroposophy. I ask that they tell parents that the system is based entirely on the views of Steiner, who was not a scientist and teacher (as they claim outwardly, to the uninitiated public) but a mystic and clairvoyant (which is what they call him among themselves.) I want parents to know that Waldorf's view of child development is often at odds with what modern science and educational theory knows about human development, and that Steiner based Waldorf on VISIONS he had. Steiner had extremely limited experience with children; he tutored a boy with hydrocephalus (or what seems to have been hydrocephalus) for a short time, and that is it. In Waldorf, Steiner designed the school that he -- a white child born in the 19th century in a rural area -- would like to have attended.

Lisa (who again wonders why I am the only one who uses her real name)
post #8 of 74

All I said was that I have been researching from a neurological point of view how the brain develops and according to this, when learning best occurs. I referred you to Carla Hannaford's book which is just a springboard into this type of research. Then I mentioned that it is interesting that Waldorf presents reading and writing at the time that now brain research is proving is the appropriate time to introduce those things. I never said that Waldorf researched this or presents this material as a backup to their way. It was I who made this connection for myself. I am surely not the first to do so..

By the way, in Denmark, they have 100% literacy rate, and they too do not introduce reading and writing until 7,8, and 9 years old. Until then schooling is much more loose and about alot of play especially outdoors!
post #9 of 74
Sanna, I wasn't implying that the research should have been done by Waldorf - sorry if you misunderstood. I said that I could find no reference within what I had read about Waldorf to modern research on brain development. It worries me that an educational philosophy doesnt seem to take into account what is being discovered about how children develop and learn.

I am familiar with Brain Gym and used it extensively in the past, with children from much younger than seven, and I will read Carla Hannaford's book about it for insight into the idea that there are windows of development opening later than I had thought. Thanks for the recommendation, this is a book I've flicked through before but never read thoroughly.
post #10 of 74

more about brain development a la Anthroposophy

Hi again, guys! (Dontcha love these lively discussions!)

I wanted to clarify something. My point was not that everything about Waldorf educational methodology is contraindicated by modern understanding of and research into brain development. Rather, I meant only to point out that Waldorf's methods and approach (and content) were set up based NOT on any scientific understanding, but on Rudolf Steiner's clairvoyant visions of the way he believed that human beings unfold. I am not saying that all Waldorf ideas are wrong -- as sanna points out, many countries who do not introduce reading and writing until age 7 and 8 have high literacy rates -- but just that one should not confuse Waldorf's spiritual point of view with a scientific one. (I do feel compelled to point out, however, that just because Denmark has a high literacy rate and they introduce reading/writing at age 7 and up does not necessarily mean there is a direct correlation between the two! I feel quite certain that other things also must be taken into account, such as the socioeconomic conditions of the majority of the children, their parents' level of education and achievement, the quality of the public school system, etc. Cause and effect is much more complicated than a one-on-one correlation!)

Waldorf's promise not to "push" children to read and write at "early" ages is, in fact, one of the things that most parents find really attractive. (I certainly did!) In fact, I still support the idea of not pushing children to read and to write at very early ages (preschool, kindergarten, for instance.) But what Waldorf fails to tell parents is that not pushing children to read when they are not ready (and it is impossible to do so, anyway --- ask any reading specialist!) often translates, at Waldorf schools, into an environment that is hostile toward children who ARE ready to read! In cases where children do read early, Waldorf teachers are known to try to STOP the child from reading, which results in the child feeling bad about herself or himself. It is actually (risking hyperbole here!) a form of intellectual bondage. I know of children who read at 5 years of age who were so proud and happy with what they had accomplished and who were made to feel terrible, as if they had done something wrong, when they showed what they could do, or told the teacher about it! Parents are warned (as I was) that early reading would translate into illness later in life. Some of us were given articles that said early readers had a higher suicide rate than other children!

post #11 of 74

interesting topic

I appreciate your posts, most of all those on this thread, as they seem less defensive and more open-minded. I hope you find ours to be as such as well.
There must be a large disparity between Waldorf schools...as I have noticed from, sitting in classrooms, speaking on the phone with other Waldorf schools around the world, Sloka in India,one with a Micahel name (can't remember it)in Argetina,also from looking at the website of some French ones (DH and I may be going to Switzerland or France in the next several years because of work), and reading your posts (I don't discount your experience and believe you and your children did go through what you did), I find that they must ALL be very different. The one in Argentina introduces singing in German in Kindergarden, for fun. At Sloka, most of the children who enroll in it don't speak English as a first language; although, English is the school's medium of instruction, meaning most of the children speak another language at home other than English for the majority of the time.
I know for sure at Three Cedars, for instance, in Bellevue, Washington that the teachers don't discourage the children from reading, but rather single out and encourage the faster learners to assist the slower children to participate in the "sounding" out process when reading picked out words from sentences on the board. I can't see that as discouraging children from reading when they are ready. That was a 1st grade class. I understand that some Waldorf schools are more dogmatic than others, maybe that is the case with the problem schools. One cannot question what is scientific fact...the CD-Rom which was sent to us was very scientifically and gramatically accurate. It paralleled the Main class books that I saw at the schools I interviewed.
Your experiences and what I have seen are quite revealing. I wonder what the different variable is.
(I never write my name online, as my dh is a network engineer with a security background. If you'd like you can call me Mo. He had to publish an article on the internet at a secure website, and still was badly pursued and spammed later...so, it is not a lack of trust with those I communicate, but just a knowledge that the information we share is for all to see. So, the truly personal stuff, stays personal.) Have a great day.
post #12 of 74
momofgurlz - I quite understood what you had said, and like you am not rejecting the entire Steiner philosophy, or saying that modern science disproves everything that Waldorf promotes. However, there seem to be some contradictions in what I know about brain development and what Waldorf seems to promote.

Like you, I am not convinced that there are pure and direct links from the age of starting formal teaching to literacy results. There are too many other factors to be taken into account. There is also a huge difference between not starting formal teaching of literacy, and not fostering literacy development. I'm sure that in Denmark literacy development is fostered, if not directly 'taught' before age seven.

I agree that formal teaching of literacy can start too young, but not that before seven is too young. For some children, it is far too late, in my opinion. I see it that there will be a normal curve in learning to read, just as there is in learning to talk, walk, crawl, roll over, and all over developmental milestones. Some children will be wired to learn to read earlier than others. Personally, I can't see that there will be a connection between where one falls on this normal curve and one's future emotional or physical wellbeing.

I would argue that to stifle a child who is learning to read through self-motivation is equivalent to pushing a child who is not showing signs of reading readiness.
post #13 of 74

Have you gone to an open house at Three Cedars? I live in the area and have begun to do some research on Waldorf and would like to visit the school - noticed there is an open house coming up in April.

Do you have specific knowledge of the teachers encouraging reading before 1st grade? Children are typically 6/7 years old in 1st grade and your post only mentioned reading in the 1st grade - what about before that? And do they wait until the 1st graders turn 7 before they are allowed to pursue reading? I'm really trying to get a handle on the reading/age issue as relates to anthroposophy and how it manifests in the actual Waldorf schools because I'm adamantly against discouraging or suppressing a child's natural inclination to begin reading.

This thread is fascinating - I had no idea when I first heard about Waldorf education that it was so controversial. I just didn't have enough information. I'm so looking forward to begin reading about Steiner . . . and a little afraid of what I'll find out! Thanks to all . . .


post #14 of 74
p.s. Mary - my real name
post #15 of 74
Thread Starter 

Re: about Waldorf and brain development theory

Originally posted by momofgurlz
Lisa (who again wonders why I am the only one who uses her real name)
Not the only one

post #16 of 74
Great thread

I just lost my post so I'll try to be quick this time.

I would encourage everyone that is interested in waldorf education to go to the toddler class.I think most schools have them?These classes are for the mothers(caretaker)and children.This is a great opportunity to see the philosophy in action.

I was so surprised at the difference btwx what I had read from them and what actually went on.There were a lot of things that I liked but it just didn't make up for the things I didn't.I had no idea that the philosophy influenced every little thing that went on.

I'll point out a few things that surprised me.

The teacher would tell my ds "good"when she liked what he was doing.I hate that word and didn't think anyone in education still used those kind of words.

The teacher would explain that we couldn't do something because we had to wait for the fairies to do such and such.There was lots of fairy talk.I thought when they said they taught children about fairies that it was kind of cute and I was expecting tales or books about fairies but not that they would be involved w/every simple thing we did.

I felt that at times the class was really more for me then my ds and that they really wanted to teach me the philosophy and more importantly teach me how to parent in a waldorf style.If this happened or if I could do this then we would be welcome to stay and if not then maybe this ain't the school for you.

I also peeked into other class rooms and thought the "art work" was really strange.I mean it all looked like the same person did it.And what is with the lack of faces in the work?

I think that you can't even compare these schools to catholic schools because not only do you know what catholic schools believe in but also I don't think that their curriculum is that different than any other school.Thier science,math,english,ect is pretty much the same.Of course,there is religion class and probably some morals thrown in here and there but essencially it is not that different.

Silly me I thought it would just be fun to go to a mommy&child class.It felt too heavy for me.I am not saying that It wasn't worth while or that I didn't learn anything,just that there seemed to be a lot more going on then I expected or wanted.Someone brought up (on the other thread)that maybe there should be a neo-waldorf movement and that sounds great to me.

Sorry I'm kinda rambling and saying what others have said but just wanted to add my .02
post #17 of 74

Parent-toddler classes

Thanks for your insightful post, Cookiemomster (great name, by the way! Wish I had thought of it myself! <g>)

Your observations during the parent-toddler classes make exactly the point I was trying to make here: that Anthroposophy, which is a religion/sect, influences everything at a Waldorf school, down to the smallest details.

"Fairy talk" is just one example. Like most parents coming into Waldorf, I was initially charmed by all the references to gnomes and fairies ("How quaint! How old fashioned and wonderful!"). But after hearing teachers refer over and over again to gnomes and fairies, the whole thing takes on a strang-ish aspect. You can tell that the teachers themselves *believe in* and even *see* these creatures, and they want the children to, too. I vividly recall my daughter getting very upset because *she* couldn't see these beings, when the teacher had said that "good" (there's that word again!) children *could* see them! At one point right before we withdrew our daughter from her former school, I told the teacher I objected to her teaching my children that gnomes and fairies were real. She angrily retorted "My beliefs are none of your business!" I calmly told her that her beliefs indeed *were* my business when she was pressing them on my kids without my express consent!

Cookiemomster's observation that the Mother-Child class seems designed to appeal more to the parent than to benefit the child is an extremely apt one. In fact, the more I ponder the issue, the more I realize that Waldorf is set up to appeal to adults' idealized notions of childhood and how it should be. The adults like the idea of children playing only with "natural" toys of wood and wool, whereas children are generally genuinely happy with toys of many materials, including plastic. (A preschool teacher on one Waldorf internet list recently bemoaned the fact that the children in her class preferred their plastic babydolls with open-and-shut eyes and plastic hair to the "beautiful" wool and cotton Waldorf-style dolls she had so lovingly provided. This teacher was worried about the children's reaction, because she had been told that Waldorf dolls are BETTER for children.) The adults like the idea that the young children are not singing things like "Wheels on the Bus" (can't have that -- it's about a machine! <g>) and instead learn lovely verses about "Mother Earth" and "Brother Wind." Young children often just want to sing the theme song from "Dragontales!" <g>

Once you study Waldorf education thru the lens of anthro., all of the ways that it influences -- dictates -- Waldorf become obvious. Almost nothing in a Waldorf school is done without an anthroposophical reason behind it. (The more anthroposophically devoted teachers, in fact, dress in the appropriate "color of the day" which is determined by an anthro chart of the planets and moons. This chart also dictates what grain is appropriate to eat on which day.) Even the tone the teachers use when speaking and singing derives from anthroposophy and Steiner's ideas about human spiritual development.

Again, I am not saying that it is bad that Waldorf is dictated by anthro. My complaint is that most parents enrolling their children don't know this. If the schools were open and honest about all of this, if they called themselves anthroposophic schools and informed parents of the important differences between their school and others (too numerous to mention), I would not enroll my kids, but I would not be spending time here criticizing Waldorf. I believe strongly in freedom of religion, and freedom from it.

Yours for truth,

post #18 of 74
I admire a lot about anthroposophy and it's beliefs about children.

However I have a few area's that differ markedly from my own feelings about parenting and have kept me from embracing waldorf.

Most prominent is the push for separation between parent and child. Germany invented the modern "kindergarten" which tranfered quickly to america and beyond. I have read numerous articles which point out that the entire motivation of putting young children in government run schools was to "homogonize" the culture. In Germany now, homeschooling is illegal. The very idea is considered rather dangerous (thus the illegal status), something only religious extremists or anti social parents would even consider. (We homeschool, in case you could not tell )

I find that anthroposophy and Waldorf, being German in origin, reflect strongly the idea that a child, around the age of 3, needs the introduction of a non parent *teacher*, and the beginning of parental separation.

As wonderful as many waldorf schools are, I cannot get away from the fact that most truly devoted to waldorf probably believe "school" meets the "needs" of a child, in a way that being at home never could.

This flies in the face of virtually every anthropological account of how humans have raised children since the beginning of recorded history. There is virtually no precedent for such early separation from the mother, and a *much* more common age to begin formal training of *any* kind is 7 or 8 years of age. Even then the child may still spend much of their day with a biological parent.

It strikes me as ironic that Waldorf kindergartens devote much time to baking, gardening, and other domestic activities...one's that normally would occur in the home with mother. In my opinion, the ideal function of "school" is to train an individual in those topics "not" easily found in their home life. Not to simply replicate the home in a new setting...

In many ways I think anthroposophy cannot co exist with attachment parenting (a theory I feel more in line with). I have been told that in anthroposophy, weaning begins when the child starts walking. You would never nurse past one year. Co sleeping is not prefered as the child needs their own space to identify with. There is a strong sentiment of avoiding "holding the child back" which seems impossible to me, if the child is happy where they are at.

These are my problems with the theory, and the reasons I have not investigated Waldorf schooling for my child.

post #19 of 74

interesting thread!

I've been quite fascinated with this thread. Although others have said it, it bears repeating that not all Waldorf schools are alike, and that it's best to check them out individually.

I went to an old, well-established Waldorf school for many years (Green Meadow omn NY state). While I do have some issues about that particular school, I want to say that though I am left-handed, no one there ever suggested to me that I write with my right hand! And though I came into that school in 2nd grade already reading, my teacher, awful as she was in some ways, never tried to get me to stop or slow down, though the other kids were still reciting the alphabet.

The science aspect of what Momofgurlz has been talking about is also really interesting. The 12 senses? Humans from Atlantis? Maybe our teachers believed that (who can say?), but it's all news to me. Neither in elementary nor in hs were such ideas ever presented. Sure, we had botany, but all we did was go outside and draw pictures of plants into our main lesson books, while learning such terms as "pistil" and "stamen." I thought science was a total bore, and I must say that the Atlantis theory would have been a whole lot more interesting to me at the time!

I'm not disputing that Momofgurlz's kids were taught some pretty strange things at their particular school. I'm sure I would have been as freaked out as she was! But I just wanted to reiterate that with Waldorf, it's all about the individual school.
post #20 of 74

Waldorf Mom and loving it!

Hello all,

I thought this message thread needed a little support for the Waldorf side of things. My two children are both in Waldorf. My son will be starting 1st grade next year. I think that every Waldorf school is different and some are a better match for a family than others much as different social organizations and churches are different from group to group. No one at my son's and daughter's school has tried to force lefties to be righties. They do however try to help children settle into left or right sideness to their bodies so that the child is balanced. No one has discouraged my children to not read before it is formally taught. Also, as has been explained to me, reading is taught from the beginning though the child may not actually read until 3rd grade. All of the foundations are being laid down before hand beginning with stories and sounds in Kindergarten, the introduction of letters in first grade and so on. What Waldorf has done and taught for my my children is the love of the outdoors, it has instilled independence and self confidence, it has allowed them to be children safe from the influence of media and it has recognized the fact children need to move. I wouldn't chose anything else. I would advise anyone interested in Waldorf to talk to other parents and check out their local schools. We have three in the Seattle area. Each wonderful in their own way and each with it's own flavor. Our family found the one that suits us best.

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