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Chicago Waldorf School

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I think that someone on here has extensive experience with this particular school and am hoping to here their thoughts. We just went to the open house last weekend and were underwhelmed. The open house itself was rather disorganized. A parent led the tour and they kept bringing additional people and adding them to the group, which means that they didn't get to hear/see everything (unless they went back, a rather disjointed way of doing it), but that the same questions kept getting asked.

Specifically, I got the impression that the mythology that is taught so much was portrayed as history rather than legend. Is this the case?

I also asked if anthroposophy was taught to the kids and the kindergarten teacher said "no, but the teachers study it and when the kids get older they might read some anthroposophical texts or something that Steiner wrote." Wouldn't reading anthroposophical texts be akin to teaching the kids anthroposophy?

I found the answers to questions parents posed pretty vague, as well. However, I didn't think the parents in general had any very thoughtful questions, but were just rather starry-eyed over the aesthetic of the school.

One of the pieces of literature also stated something to the effect that Waldorf students do as well or better than most public school students. While there are many good public schools, the general quality of them in the U.S. isn't great, and personally, I'd hope a private school like Waldorf would be comparing itself with other private schools. Also, a lot of the literature was vague when talking about the results of a Waldorf education, saying things like "do well." What does do well mean?

I'm not looking to start another Waldorf debate thread, but I thought I'd really like the school and didn't come away with the positive feeling I thought I'd have, so I'm looking to hear the opinions of those familiar with this particular school.

About Waldorf in general, I know that the reading instruction is considered "late"--but when is reading normally taught in the U.S. and at what age is a student expected to be reading simple texts on his or her own?

post #2 of 15
Hi Beth,

I used to work at the Chicago Waldorf School, but I was the business manager, not a teacher. I was there for three years, 1999-02.

I can't answer all of your questions. Some of them should be directed to a current teacher at the school. You could phone up and say: I attended your open house on _________, but I found I still have a lot of questions and concerns, can I meet one on one with a teacher, or perhaps have a phone conversation. The enrollment director may also be able to help, but my sense is that you need to talk to a teacher to get answers you'll find satisfying.

Now, to get to some specifics:

On mythology-it is taught as real from the point of view of children, which is different from the point of view of adults. My daughter, who attended a couple of waldorf schools, told me when she was about 8 that she thought all of the origin myths she had heard were "true." Obviously, to that 8 year old, "true" meant something different than it does to an adult. Children take in the pictures that the teachers present and recreate them in their own imaginations. They can't take them in if the teachers start out telling the story by saying this is make-believe stuff from ___________, it is a good story, but we know that it is all nonsense and doesn't explain anything. The teacher has to tell the story seriously and treat the characters and the situations with respect. It is actually quite similar to the way a critic treats the characters in a novel they are discussing: a good critic acts as though the moral problems faced by the characters are real moral problems and as if it matters what choices these characters make in the story. Does this make sense? It is surprisingly hard to explain. Mythology is not presented as religious dogma (children aren't supposed to start worshiping Thor or Zeus), but as stories about real stuff. Ancient peoples actually experienced mythology as true stories about real beings. The birth of what we call history was the beginning of the inability of people to live into mythology in this way. (My background is in history.) Waldorf schools put the transition from mythology to history in 5th grade, where the ancient greek myths naturally transition into the first "real" history, just as it did with Herodotus, whose history is actually jam-packed full of myths. He knew a good story when he met one! By the time you get to Thucydides it is mostly real history with only a slight sprinkling of myth, and very depressing history at that. Too bad some of our current politicians haven't read their Thucydides on the fate of overwheening empires...but I digress...sorry.

On the anthroposophical texts-Twelfth graders sometimes have one block at the very end of the last year where they read a variety of texts about aspects of human nature. Sometimes one excerpt from Steiner is included. This is the only way that Steiner is ever included in the curriculum that I've ever heard of. This is one of the questions I would ask a teacher, because if students are being encouraged to read Steiner there is something weird going on. It is not supposed to be part of the curriculum. Even the example I just offered is a very recent phenomena (at the Toronto Waldorf School).

As to the comparison to other students stuff, and the doing well bit...I would ask the enrollment director for clarification. I have known a few waldorf graduates (my daughter included) and most of them get good grades in college, have successful careers and so forth. I have found them to be thoughtful and resilient, with wide interests, and usually with a strong artistic component.

On the learning to read question-you should, again, discuss this with a teacher. There can be a significant variation among waldorf schools on the speed with which reading is introduced. My daughter could read simple texts on her own by the end of 1st grade. In the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade she read the last part of the Lord of the Rings (my mother had been reading it to her and she got impatient). After that she read anything and everything. That was typical for my family (we learn to read easily and become fanatical bookworms) but I don't think it is typical of waldorf students.

Would your child be starting in the early childhood program? If so, I would suggest going ahead and trying out the school. Unless things have changed, CWS has an excellent early childhood program with super teachers. This would give you a year or so to get a sense of the school, meet some of the teachers and ask more in-depth questions. Then you could decide if you wanted to go ahead with the grades program.

Please do give the enrollment director your feedback on the open house. She will be glad to know what you saw, thought and felt.

Hope this helps.

post #3 of 15
I have no real connection with Chicago, other than I attended a conference there in 2003 and met several people in the school.

My three waldorf-educated chidren could all read 'chapter books' on their own around half-way through second grade. Some children in their classes could read in first grade, some who were still struggling after third were not necessarily outside the "normal range" for our school. Please note that our school (in Rhode Island, far from Chicago) is blessed with a reading specialist among our staff, which buys us lots of credibility with parents of late readers. I don't know what would happen otherwise.

The study of Steiner would have to be limited to high shcool only, neither of my eighth grade children learned anything about him or anthroposophy, nor have they (as sometimes is suggested) absorbed anthroposophical concepts from waldorf schooling. I consider them both strong academically and artistically.

Waldorf schools are probably not going to be as strong academically as academically-focused private schools. Nor are they going to be, say, as good musically as musical-oriented magnet schools. But for an education that provides a broad range of artistic work AND a strong, varied academic curriculum for all its students, I'm pretty impressed with what they have.

Best, David

I also agree that you should feed back to the school that you found their open house less-than-satisfying.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 
thanks for the feedback. My daughter is about one and a half and we were considering the 3-year-old early childhood program, so we still have a year to think about it.

thanks again.
post #5 of 15
Hi Beth,

I have to say that your open house experience is dead on the same as my experience there. DD and I have attended two sessions in the parent/child program, and I have attended one open house and one orientation for the parent child class. The orientations and open houses were totally underwhelming, I agree! I was shocked that they were so disorganized, boring, and (you can see how spoiled I am here) that there was no food present. Come on - even my local public school knows the value of having coffee and pastries for such events! Not that I would even eat them, but it's a simple courtesy. But I digress. I was also not impressed during the tour - I thought the school was pretty cluttered with junk stashed in the corners, and even fairly dirty. And I am not at all picky about stuff like that.

That said, I have no complaints about our actual class. It is an enjoyable experience to go there every week, and dd loves it as well. I really like my fellow mothers - they are the cloth diapering, slinging, extended breastfeeding type (as a generalization, not a rule.) So it's nice to hang out with them. But this is our last session with the Waldorf school because I don't see it as a viable longterm option for us. My reason for even taking the parent child class was for research purposes to investigate the school firsthand, and my conclusion is that we need to find another one. Not based on our actual class, which is great for what it is, but based on 1) that they continue to underwhelm me as a whole school and 2) based on the fact that it is totally based on Anthroposophy, which is a philosophy I do not ascribe to. Have you seen openwaldorf.com? Controversial, I know, but it has helped me make my decision.

Anyway, this is so long because I am kind of obsessed with the idea of Waldorf and have been very disappointed with what I've found out. I just wish that there were a school with an arts-based curriculum, focusing on natural playthings, that wasn't based on occult beliefs!
post #6 of 15
Originally Posted by lizamann
I just wish that there were a school with an arts-based curriculum, focusing on natural playthings, that wasn't based on occult beliefs!
I wish some folks would start a school like that too. Then perhaps people would stop being aggravated at waldorf for being what it is rather than what they want it to be! Sorry for the mini scream! I have heard this several times now and I'm beginning to wonder why some parents don't get together and start a school that suits them. It can't be that much harder than starting a waldorf school and people keep on opening and building new ones.

post #7 of 15
Originally Posted by Deborah
I wish some folks would start a school like that too. Then perhaps people would stop being aggravated at waldorf for being what it is rather than what they want it to be! Sorry for the mini scream! I have heard this several times now and I'm beginning to wonder why some parents don't get together and start a school that suits them. It can't be that much harder than starting a waldorf school and people keep on opening and building new ones.


I totally agree with your here Deborah. I love Waldorf with its rituals and festivals and is warm community. Why don't people start an arts based school if that is what they are looking for? Sometimes, when I listen to parents talk at our school about why do we do this, why do we do that, couldn't we do this instead, I want to ask them, Why are you here? They are usually wonderful people whom are great additions to the class but if they aren't happy, don't try to make the school in to something it isn't supposed to be. Yes, the school has areas that need to be improved but lets not lose the Waldorf in the process. Sorry, end of rant.
post #8 of 15
Thanks Rhonwyn. I like waldorf the way it is and it has been great for me, for my daughter and is doing great for my granddaughter, but I do understand that some people have bad experiences and other people would like it to be something different. I just think that it would be really great if the people who wanted a school with some of the same qualities but none of the anthroposophy would actually get together and try to create a school to suit them.

One major problem would be around curriculum. Since all the people involved would be coming from a wide range of philosophical and cultural backgrounds, would they ever be able to agree on the subjects to be taught? I mean beyond reading, writing, arithmetic and science?

Would they use some of the waldorf techniques, for example the artistic approach to arithmetic and reading, or would that be anathema, contaminated with occultism? Lots of interesting possibilities.

Has anyone tried to start an arts based private or public school that is sort of like waldorf in some ways but isn't? I'd love to hear about it if it has been tried.

post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Like lizamann (is this Beth and Nora? Just checking.), I actually like the parent/child program, but don't have the same feelings about the school itself. I have not actually taken the parent/child class, but during the open house we also saw the parent/child space and listened to a teacher speak. I liked her (was much more impressed with her than the K and early childhood teachers) and thought the class sounded very fun and a nice way to spend time together. I, too, have considered taking the class as a way to decide if Waldorf is for us. But the class is not inexpensive and we are already quite busy, so my unenthusiastic feelings about the later school are keeping me from signing up now. I may do it anyway, though, with no intention of sending my daughter to Waldorf, because it really does seem like a fun parent/child program. It's just weird to me how I could like that but not the school. But that's my general impression right now.

I appreciate the people who say they get exasperated at the criticisms of Waldorf, but as for starting your own school, that's quite a large (and perhaps prohibitively overwhelming) venture that couldn't be undertaken by just one (or even two or three maybe) parent/s, so I think it's quite reasonable to lament the lack of an arts-based, but not Waldorf school without being taken to task for not starting your own. I know some of the CPS cluster schools say they have an arts focus, but I'm not sure what this means. I need to investigate the cluster schools more. We are actually quite interested in the Lycee Francais, because I speak and my husband is learning French and we think it would an incredible experience to have an immersion educational experience. However, cost (similar to Waldorf) may prove a worry and so I should look into the cluster schools.

I appreciate that many people love Waldorf, but the more I learn the more I think I don't fully believe in much of the philosophy behind it. I don't doubt though that for many kids it's a wonderful education.

post #10 of 15
Thanks Beth for a very thoughtful and well reasoned reply. I do understand why individual parents don't feel prepared to start their own school (although all the waldorf schools I know of have been started by interested parents, not by teachers), but there is a sort of waldorf critics movement that has been around for at least 10 years now and I fail to understand why they have made no move to start a school. It would be their best argument against waldorf: to demonstrate that it is possible to have the good qualities without the aspects they deplore. The two difficulties that I see are:

1)A philosophical basis for the education. Disagreement with something else is not really a basis for a positive construct.
2)Avoiding simply stealing large pieces of waldorf techniques and methodology. To be fair, they would have to build their own curriculum and teaching techniques out of non-waldorf sources, or else acknowledge that their education also has "occult" roots.

It is an interesting problem.

Good luck finding the right school that you can afford. Ain't easy...

post #11 of 15
We have some arts based alternative public schools around here. Where they seem to fall down though is the academics are not as strong as Waldorf. For whatever reason, the public schools can't seem to have a strong academic school with lots of art. They can't seem to make the connection. Also, I think it is assumed that a child who is strong in the arts can't be strong in academics too, which of course is untrue. A lot of parents end up of avoiding them because they believe their kids need more academics.
post #12 of 15
Beth, you live in Lincoln Square, right? The owners of Timeless Toys sent their son to Waldorf. I bet if you wait until after the New Year, they'd be happy to tell you their impression of the school

I don't have any direct experience with the school -too far out of my budget to even consider- but a close friend of mine was studying to be a Waldorf teacher and actually taught a several classes at the high school level at Chicago Waldorf. She liked a lot of the educational philosophy that was practiced there, but decided that she was not going to complete her training or send her children there. The main reasons she told me were that anthroposophy was very much a part of the curriculum, although the school denies it, and that many of the families with children in attendance were quite elitist.
post #13 of 15
Hi Bethwl,

Yeah, this is "Beth and Nora." I just told the Waldorf School this morning that we won't be returning in January, so it's now official. I'll be registering for a Park District parent tot class tonight to take its place. I'll let you know how that goes! It's about 5% of the cost of Waldorf - I hope it's not 5% of the quality!

And just this morning I ran into an old friend who has her 3 and 4.5 yr olds in the Lycee. Her oldest is in his second year there and she says he's fluent! They love it there.

Maybe you'll be joining us at Starbucks tomorrow for City Slingers? We can talk schools AND slings, my 2 favorite topics! Check out the BBBChicago group for info.

post #14 of 15
Thread Starter 
Mimi, great memory. I don't even remember which thread and how long ago I talked about living in Lincoln Square. Good to know about other parents in the area. We are friends with a couple who has been sending their son to Waldorf. My husband and the other husband and I all used to work together and I like him and I liked hanging out with their family, but the wife kind of got on my nerves. I have to say that some of my negativity about Waldorf comes from the fact that she is so into it and some of her reasons are crazy to me. She's also a very argumentative person (and of course always right) so I probably transferred a lot of my annoyance about her to the school because she was SO into it.

I might try to come to Starbucks tomorrow, but we do have an open house in the morning for St. Benedict's preschool. I'm not thrilled about Catholic education (I'm not Catholic or even religious), but it is such a more affordable option, I feel I have to at least check it out.

If I can't make it tomorrow, I hope to see you at the next one.

post #15 of 15
This is getting weird, Beth. I think we're leading parallel lives.

Things we have in common:
Same name
we're into baby slings
we're researching schools to death for our BABIES, many of the same ones
we're not religious

I'd love to hear what you thought of St. Ben's sometime. It's not an option for us due to location, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on Catholic school for non-Catholics, too.

The other Beth
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