Argh. New to waldorf and having doubts. Talk me through this please! - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 40 Old 09-12-2012, 10:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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We are brand new to Waldorf.  My 4 year old started Kindergarten and 6 year old started 1st grade just last week. When I first heard of the Waldorf School, I was interested, but it was too far away and the whole lack of emphasis on reading and science in the younger grades turned me off.  But then I was more strongly turned off from the public school system after our experience with the oldest in public kindergarden.  At the same time had some inspiring conversations with other parents who had kids in the Waldorf School here.   So after touring and meeting with the teachers, we decided to go for it. 

 

 The kids like it so far.  The youngest is shy, but seems to have bonded with the teachers.  The oldest is making friends and doing well.  He’s the kind of kid that will thrive anywhere.  

 

It's me that has the problem...  I just don't know if I'm cut out for the Waldorf lifestyle.  I can handle the no TV, at least on weekdays.  We will probably still allow them to watch some movies and nature shows on the weekends.  But what I'm really struggling with is the emphasis on the imaginary world where fairies and angels and God live.  I'm a practical, scientific minded atheist.    When my kids ask me how something works, I have no problem telling them.  In fact, I love how they want to know every detail and ask more and more questions.  My six year old already knows how to read and knows fairly advanced math – I feel like he might be shunned for this?  I don’t know if that’s the case, but it certainly won’t be encouraged or praised.  He’s so proud of himself when he does figure out new things and I don’t want him to lose that sense of pride if it’s looked down upon by the teacher.

 

Tonight was the first group-parent teacher meeting.  The teacher scolded (not scolded but emphasized his views in that polite Waldorf way), that when he had been telling a story about some boy following the sun; several of the kids spoke up saying that the Earth really revolves around the sun, and the sun is a ball of gas.  I thought it was pretty cool that kids this age know this; and yet he wants them not to know this stuff.    I guess I just can't fathom how it is wrong to explain things to these inquisitive minds. 

 

And also he asked for no radio to be on in the car.  I’m all for not letting the kids hear sexist/racy lyrics, or hear about the latest bombing in Syria.  But I don’t  get how children’s music would be bad?  My kids love to sing out loud to the radio. 

 

I really want to make it work at Waldorf.  There are so many other aspects that I respect and cherish about it (esp when comparing it to the public school alternatives).  It’s just that sometimes it feels like I’ve joined a cult that I don’t really belong in.  Help!!!   Are there other parents out there like me?  How did you adjust?

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#2 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 07:32 AM
 
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Did you consider homeschooling ?

This is what I am considering myself and more than anything else not doing a full Waldorf but a pick and choose approach, Some Montessori, Some Waldorf (through the website and curriculum Waldorf Essential ), Some Charlotte Mason, Some Core Knowledge, etc...

 

I am an Atheist as well and don't mind a little fairies and gnome in their world (I loved that when I was a kid) but I would not go with denying the sun is a ball of gas either...

I am not too excited about delaying academics (eventho at first it sounded like a good idea) which is why I intend to follow an up to date curriculum and add some of the waldorf magic through.

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#3 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 11:00 AM
 
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Sarah - I can relate to your frustrations! Waldorf education is different and when you are new to it, it can be an adjustment when it comes to technology, TV and radio and fairy tales and stories. We all live in a very fast-paced consumer driven society and Waldorf education flows in the opposite direction of this stream. This is what makes Waldorf education so fabulous for children by taking away the pressure and over stimulation. My son is now in Grade 5 and has been in the Waldorf school since Kindergarten, and year after year, I am understanding and seeing the difference that this way of life is! I wish that I attended a Waldorf school! As our children learn in the Waldorf school, so do we as parents - and after 6 years, I can tell you that it is worth it!

My advice would be to not resist what is happening at school and allow your child to learn of the world through the imaginary fairy tales and stories, because this is what is most appropriate for their age. This is forming the "base" for what is to come. I can tell you from my own experience, that soon you will be able to speak of "facts" and complex concepts with your children and there will be days where you will be astounded at the knowledge that your children will have! And it is NOT memorized facts, but rather a deep understanding of concepts that just grows.

Since you are a factual person Sarah, I recommend reading books about Waldorf Education of the young child, and you may then understand the "why" behind it. So hang in there Sarah!

 

Chloe - I must correct you on your assumption that Waldorf education "delays" the academics. This is not true. Waldorf education presents concepts from the "whole" and then to it's individual parts as the children get older and come through specific developmental phases (when children are ready). In fact, children receive all academic "subjects" right from Grade one, and each year, these "subjects" are added on to, and by Grade 8, they will have learned more than you can imagine! A number of our Alumni kids when from Grade 8 Waldorf to Grade 10 public school!

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#4 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 01:05 PM
 
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@Sarah

 

I'm a practical, scientific minded atheist.  When my kids ask me how something works, I have no problem telling them.  In fact, I love how they want to know every detail and ask more and more questions. 

 

I am the same way (although a practicing mainline protestant with serious unitarian universalist tendencies. smile.gif) The longer we've been at our school, the more deeply I have come to understand the benefits of doing what I can to help keep our kids' sense of magic alive. I try but I wouldn't say I am good at it.  Lately, I have been battling the "google factor" in that my kids know that I can tell them how something works by just googling it. When I say "I don't know" (or the Waldorf teacher favorite) "What do you think?" they just say "Mommy, just look it up on your phone!" So, what I do now is go for the Socratic method and then we put the topic on our list of things to look up at the library. That's my personal solution. The basic take-away I get from the Waldorf way is that you don't want to heap on all this detail that the kids didn't ask for and maybe aren't ready for yet every time they ask a question. You want genuine interest in a topic to come from them and for the questions to unfold over time as they increase their own commitment to understanding the topic. A "download" of all the facts about the sun from the perspective of an adult just doesn't live in them the same way than if you followed their lead a bit more and showed them how human beings know the things we do: observing, touching, experiencing, reflecting, asking questions, consulting experts and source materials, taking notes, etc. My whole "take it to the library" approach is also meant to reinforce the fact that learning involves work and planning. Anyone can ask questions but knowledge isn't something that can be served to you. You've got to do your part.

 

 

And also he asked for no radio to be on in the car....But I don’t  get how children’s music would be bad?  My kids love to sing out loud to the radio.

 

I think what he means is don't have it on in the morning before school. Use the time to talk as a family, look out the window and observe the weather..that kind of thing. Give them the opportunity for a little quiet headspace before school starts. Why not save rocking out to the kids CDs for Friday afternoon pickup?

 

It’s just that sometimes it feels like I’ve joined a cult that I don’t really belong in.  Help!!!   Are there other parents out there like me?  How did you adjust?

 

Ha ha. Me too. How did I adjust? Mainly I just stay open to new ideas and perspectives that I hadn't considered before. Its an ongoing process and looking back, I wish that I had been able to do somethings more Waldorf-y in early childhood but now that time has passed. So, I just listen, consider and do what I feel is right. In the end, being authentic, loving and comfortable in my own skin is the best thing I can give to my kids. 

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#5 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 01:29 PM
 
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Not every family or child is cut out for Waldorf and that's okay


Give it a try and go here your heart is:shy
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#6 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 07:18 PM
 
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I find it interesting that the OP mentioned it seems like a cult.  Did you (the OP) know there is a Waldorf support group thread on this site?  I believe it is under the Personal Growth forum.  My daughter is suppose to start her Waldorf playgroup tomorrow, but now I'm finding a lot of odd things about Waldorf online which is giving me second thoughts.  I still plan to see for myself, but what I'm reading is basically saying that even if I see it for myself I will still be deceived by what they 'appear' to be teaching.  Very confused!


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#7 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 08:07 PM
 
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Hi Sarah-

 

I can offer a perspective as a Waldorf Dad who is also a committed atheist and pragmatic humanist who views the Waldorf curriculum with great appreciation and respect- and a critical eye. I understand your concerns but have come to an acceptance of the Waldorf way of approaching child development.

 

The wonder and awe celebrated in early Childhood, the realm of fairies and gnomes and rainbow bridges et. al. is a rich world of imagination and storytelling to inhabit and explore in the young mind of the child (I think about the wonder and excitement I felt about Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer as a young kid and I see the value in believing in figures and "fairy tales" of imagination and belief). My pragmatism came later in life, as did my atheism, and I see my two children (now in 4th & 7th grade) growing out of that rich and imaginative tradition as extremely critical thinkers. 

 

I think regardless of what YOU feel, the litmus test is your children. Are they flourishing, exploring, connecting with their teachers and classmates? Happy to be in school? This will prove if the Waldorf approach of "letting the child remain asleep" in the early years is an appropriate match for your children's developmental needs.

 

I LOVE and see as absolutely right and correct the limited media policy, the not needing to rush into reading, the emphasis on imaginary fairies and yes even the power and presence of God. As an atheist this is hardest for me to take, but I realize that a full landscape of human cultures and beliefs are being laid out in front of my children and it is ultimately their explorations and decisions that will consolidate how they conceive of the world. The have certainly come into grade school and middle school without any ill effects of having been indoctrinated; thats not how or why the teachers use the concept of a God (or the Gods) in class. The curriculum does cover the concept of god(s) in many different cultures. So while that may seem a big heavy handed to you in Early Childhood, realize that the teachers' approach does shift as the child matures.

 

I do  hate the use of the word "cult" in reference to Waldorf education as that suggests to me unthinking, blind acceptance of dogma or what another person imputes to you. This seems to be the opposite of what I've found Waldorf education to foster in children in their mid adolescence; which is rather a very critical, self confident and exploring mindset that questions and takes apart the world to understand it better (this seems the antithesis of cultish thinking).

 

So in sum, I stuck it out through some similar questioning about the Early Childhood experience, and my kids have proven to be well balanced, capable, and full of inquiring minds. Its working for my family, I hope it does for yours too.

 

Warmly,

 

Jason

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#8 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 08:29 PM
 
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Different Waldorf programs are often different from one another as well. We do a Waldorf homeschoolers program, which is wonderful. But I know our school is a bit outside the typical Waldorf too. Personally, I certainly wouldn't mind the kids knowing the science, but would probably get annoyed at being interrupted multiple times during a story telling. Sure, it's a fable or myth and not science fact, but these are valuable too! Is it the interruption aspect or the actual science facts aspect that the teacher is objecting to? I would just see how your child feels about it and decide if it is working for your family or not. 


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#9 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 10:33 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for all the comments. As I hoped, you all are helping me feel more comfortable.  

 

@Chloe B, For a variety of reasons, homeschooling is not an option for us; but it sounds like you have a great approach planned.  

 

@LitMom, I got the impression that the kids waited and raised their hands at the end of the story, and it was more the scientific comments about the sun that bothered him as they were taking away from the sense of wonder and excitement that the boy in the story felt about the sun.  

 

@mck211, I wasn't aware of the support thread here.  I guess I should check it out, but I'm feeling kind of nervous to do that. LOL

 

@hipmamaKelowna, do you have any particular books or articles that you recommend?  I would be mostly interested in evidence-based approaches to studying Waldorf education - if they exist?

 

@Jason; yes, the kids seem happy (we are only in week 2, so it's kind of early to tell); but their comfort in the school is what has kept me from feeling fully panicked about things.  My 4 year old in particular is not a typical kid; and I fear that he will be the subject of bullying as he gets older.  This was one of the factors behind my gravitating to Waldorf, as I am hoping that there will be more open-mindedness and acceptance amongst his Waldorf peers than he will find in a traditional school.  

 

 

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#10 of 40 Old 09-13-2012, 11:03 PM
 
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Hm. I have read the Waldorf critical thread on here, and it always gives me pause, although our school doesn't seem so heavily Waldorf... and my child is only there part time. Some of the things you worry about are definitely discussed in there, in terms of people having trouble with their schools. I do think it varies from school to school, and even teacher to teacher. Can you tell the teacher your concerns? 


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#11 of 40 Old 09-14-2012, 12:11 PM
 
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Another possible approach is to view the various perspectives as teaching moments.

Some people choose to teach their children that the sun is made from fairy magic and your kid/s might hear these stories and can learn different ways of thinking. If your kid/s have the awareness, then they may learn that the stories are merely entertainment and learn to appreciate the joy and wonder that other children feel by believing different things.

IOW, the Waldorf teachers are telling the stories for a reason -- usually laying a foundation for some future realization. Some kids may choose to believe the story as Truth and others may have an awareness of another Truth. Neither are wrong, nor right, nor mutually exclusive.

JMHO.

Good luck!

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#12 of 40 Old 09-15-2012, 05:37 PM
 
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Originally Posted by LitMom View Post

Can you tell the teacher your concerns? 

 

I would hope the answer to that would be "YES!". Part of Waldorf education is the parent education aspect that comes in the form of parent meetings et cetera. I have yet to meet a Waldorf teacher that isn't willing to explain the "why" of what they're teaching or to elaborate concepts of the curriculum. If you approach the teacher with a genuine concern, I would hope you would get an authentic answer. I always ask for ideas about how I can support the curriculum at home or how to deal with issues such as those you're concerned about with science.

 

A Waldorf teacher isn't stuck in the box of what is set curriculum at a particular grade level. At our Waldorf school at least, the teachers match lessons to the individual children as well as the class as a whole. One example: I was told that time/reading a clock is typically taught in 3rd grade, but DD's teacher is planning on starting a little in 2nd grade because of the group of children she has. That might not be the case with the next class group that comes along.


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#13 of 40 Old 09-17-2012, 10:38 AM
 
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 "My 4 year old in particular is not a typical kid; and I fear that he will be the subject of bullying as he gets older.  This was one of the factors behind my gravitating to Waldorf, as I am hoping that there will be more open-mindedness and acceptance amongst his Waldorf peers than he will find in a traditional school."  

 

This may be true.  However, if you look at the Waldorf thread in Personal Growth, you will note that some Waldorf parents found that discipline and intervention in cases of bullying was severely lacking in their Waldorf schools.  What you will find in that thread is that some Waldorf teachers have a reluctance to intervene in school yard disputes and in bullying as part of their anthrosophical beliefs (karma, etc.).

 

So the school's approach to instances of bullying may be something you want to investigate on the front end if you think it possible or likely that he may be a target.

 

Also, if your child is "atypical" due to any kind of learning differences, etc. you may want to investigate their approach on this issue further now.  There is certainly some debate (on this board and in the Personal Growth thread) about the "friendliness" of Waldorf education to differently abled learners.


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#14 of 40 Old 09-17-2012, 11:50 AM - Thread Starter
 
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 "My 4 year old in particular is not a typical kid; and I fear that he will be the subject of bullying as he gets older.  This was one of the factors behind my gravitating to Waldorf, as I am hoping that there will be more open-mindedness and acceptance amongst his Waldorf peers than he will find in a traditional school."  

 

This may be true.  However, if you look at the Waldorf thread in Personal Growth, you will note that some Waldorf parents found that discipline and intervention in cases of bullying was severely lacking in their Waldorf schools.  What you will find in that thread is that some Waldorf teachers have a reluctance to intervene in school yard disputes and in bullying as part of their anthrosophical beliefs (karma, etc.).

 

So the school's approach to instances of bullying may be something you want to investigate on the front end if you think it possible or likely that he may be a target.

 

Also, if your child is "atypical" due to any kind of learning differences, etc. you may want to investigate their approach on this issue further now.  There is certainly some debate (on this board and in the Personal Growth thread) about the "friendliness" of Waldorf education to differently abled learners.

Thank you for the comments.  He's only four, but so far, there are no indications of learning disorders.  It's more of a social concern.  He has some gender fluidity, and I wonder if we will not eventually find out that he is transgender.  He has aways flocked towards traditionally girly things (pink, princesses, hair bows, dress up in gowns, etc).  And even if he turns out to not be transgender; he is just a much gentler soul than most of his male peers and has zero sense of competition.   I *was* hoping that the emphasis on the arts would both help him find something he is passionate about (because he shares none of the interests that his older brother has); and also attract some like-minded kids.  

 

But I am going to look into the bullying issue at Waldorf some more.  Right now, due to his young age, it's not much of an issue; but I will have to make sure which ever teacher he will potentially spend the 1-8 grades with, will be in favor of handling bullying early and aggressively.  

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#15 of 40 Old 09-17-2012, 12:15 PM
 
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I would investigate the views of not just the grade 1-8 teacher but of the school and the school administration as a whole.  If the administration is not supportive of the teacher's discipline efforts or does not have an anti-bullying mindset, a supportive teacher alone will not be enough if there are any serious issues.  

 

Also, depending on the stablity of the school and its teaching staff, it may be unlikely that your child will actually have the same teacher for grades 1-8.

 

If I were you, I would want to know what the school's actual policies are and, if they actually have an anti-bullying policy, whether the policy has ever been enforced and how these policies have actually played out historically.  No policy is, of course, a huge red flag.


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#16 of 40 Old 09-18-2012, 06:35 AM
 
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One additional thought -- it might be useful to investigate what sort of view Steiner and anthrosophy have of gender issues generally if you suspect that might personally effect your child.  I don't know the "official line" on that.  I think it would be helpful to determine if this school is the sort of place that your child's choices as to gender will be treated with respect in the future.


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#17 of 40 Old 09-20-2012, 11:03 PM
 
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*retracted*
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#18 of 40 Old 09-22-2012, 08:32 AM
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Buzzbuzz View Post

 

This may be true.  However, if you look at the Waldorf thread in Personal Growth, you will note that some Waldorf parents found that discipline and intervention in cases of bullying was severely lacking in their Waldorf schools.  What you will find in that thread is that some Waldorf teachers have a reluctance to intervene in school yard disputes and in bullying as part of their anthrosophical beliefs (karma, etc.).

 

So the school's approach to instances of bullying may be something you want to investigate on the front end if you think it possible or likely that he may be a target.

 

Also, if your child is "atypical" due to any kind of learning differences, etc. you may want to investigate their approach on this issue further now.  There is certainly some debate (on this board and in the Personal Growth thread) about the "friendliness" of Waldorf education to differently abled learners.

 

Definitely ask lots of questions at the school you're considering/attending. Strangely, I think beliefs and policies can be very different from school to school. After reading about experiences with bullying and learning issues at other Waldorf schools, I feel fortunate to be part of a Waldorf school with a no-tolerance bullying policy that includes faculty and parent training, as well as an Educational Support Coordinator... and we're really not a very large school. I don't understand why there are Waldorf teacher trainings in the Extra Lesson, remedial interventions, and social inclusion yet some Waldorf schools apparently don't use these resources. It's disheartening.


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#19 of 40 Old 09-23-2012, 12:52 PM
 
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We just spent a very difficult year at a Waldorf School, and after much soul-searching (and personal trauma), decided to pull our kids out for some of the reasons you mentioned. There are very committed Waldorf parents out there who will tell you to give it time despite initial concerns or problems. Often, as you have heard, it works out.

 

For us, it did not.

(Note, I apologize for the length of this post...it is the first time I am writing about the experience, so it is difficult to crystallize in a short sentence or two.)

 

Our children were early readers, and we are an academic family; we encourage questions and critical thinking in our children, and delight when they want to engage the world with not only their heart and hands, but their minds as well. They love puzzles, word games, spelling challenges, science experiments - all the "traditional academics" that Waldorf intentionlly avoids in the early years. We were eager to let them discover other facets of learning, while still engaging their academics in an unconventional way. Unfortunately, we found that our children's learning personalites can be a terrible fit in the Waldorf context.

 

My nine year old, who has always loved school,  was abjectly miserable. She cried most days going to and coming home from the Waldorf school - she was begging for more challenging spelling  and math work, and asking to learn about history (her 3rd grade class had words like "cat" and "the" on a spelling test, when she had been practicing words like soliloquy and consternation in her precious grade. The only history taught was mythology or Bible stories) She wrote short stories for fun at home, and at school, was allowed no opportunity for creative writing. A curious child, she didn't understand why questioning the teacher was discouraged. She was bored out of her mind, and told to "concentrate on handwork and eurythmy" (new subjects to her) instead. When we met with the teacher and administration after she finally started asking to be homeschooled, we asked for simple fixes: perhaps she could get a slightly more challenging spelling list? Perhaps she could work ahead on fractions on her own (which she had learned and was intrigued by), while other children did the standard worksheets? We did not want to interrupt the class teaching model or curriculum, we only wanted to keep our child engaged and positive about school. But the school not only refused to provide any individualized work (they instead encouraged us to pay for outside tutors for this - really? for spelling tests??), they insinuated that there was something developmentally wrong with a child who didn't strictly hoe to the Waldorf developmental model. Again and again we were asked whether she had emotional/behavioral/or social deficits (no, no, and no - she is a very grounded, emotionally stable child with many friends, and a born peacemaker),  Was she resisting elements of the Waldorf curriculum? No - turns out she enjoyed handwork and Eurythmy, and did fairly well in both despite being new to the subjects. Again, and again, our daughter's interest in and enthusiasm for academics was met with something akin to suspicion, if not downright discouragement. At no point did she feel validated or even "heard" in wanting to learn more. Which ultimately made her sadder, and angrier, as the year wore on.

 

My son, who was in first grade, had a less traumatic, but still frustrating experience. He was very bored, and reading extensively at home. But books were discouraged in his classroom, and his teacher told him he shouldn't worry about learning more academics, that he should just "feel happy" that he knew more than his classmates. He, too, was encouraged to "work harder on things like handwork." He complained about the lack of any individual voice, about the rigidity of classwork, that each child had to do the exact same art, in the exact same way, as the teacher...he started having nightmares that "Waldorf teachers are trying to turn me into a mutant zombie robot." *(I'm not making that up.) He also came home voicing doubts about the morning verses, saying that he disagreed with the teacher saying there were different spirits in the world ("Brother Sun, Sister Moon), and that he "was not going to say prayers he didn't believe in."

 

Clearly, this was not a kid cut out for Waldorf. But when we shared our son's concerns with the administration, we were told that children his age "simply aren't able to engage in critical thinking," despite the evidence, and we were blamed as parents for somehow putting these ideas into his head. (Which we didn't....any concerns we had about Waldorf were never shared in front of or in the vicinity of our children.)  At home, we strove to lead a Waldorf-centered life; we upheld the no-media policy, we celebrated Waldorf festivals, we got our kids to bed early, we showed reverence toward nature and seasons, ate healthy, organic food...all things the school actively encouraged. We were as committed as we could be.

 

Going into the Waldorf experience, we had also done our due-diligence. We read extensively on Steiner and Anthroposophy, and knew we had serious doubts about much of the philosophy underpinning the curriculum. While we thought the belief in gnomes was kooky,  the core belief of helping our children's souls reincarnate occultish and odd, and the whole dentition-as-marker-of-readiness-to-read thing scientifically ridiculous, we were ready to go along with the program if it helped turn our children into independent, soulful learners who used their hearts, hands, and minds equally. (And we had been mightily impressed by many Waldorf teens we had met, who were wonderfully rounded, articulate kids.)  We didn't think the kooky theories would touch our kids, but ultimately they did, and that's a big reason why we ultimately couldn't stay.

 

We were floored when we were told, for example, that our daughter absolutely couldn't learn fractions (which she had already studied and knew) because it was "inappropriate before the 10 year change, that children cannot understand fractions before then." When pressed for scientific substantiation for this assertion, we were told it was because "Steiner said it." Apparently it all relates to reincarnation theories, and since part of my daughter's spirit would not descend until she was 10, she would be emotionally harmed by the prematurely early fragmentation of the world as presented by fractions. (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the message.) 

 

This, combined with the assertion that young children weren't capable of critical thinking, forced us to is recognize that there was a great divide in our educational philosophies We realized that the school was not looking at our specific children as individuals, but as some sort of typical 7 or 9 year olds who could not, must not, learn things out of Anthrophosophical sequence. 

 

Along with this basic philosophical divide, we were also deeply troubled by the tone-deaf responses to our children's frustrations and unhappiness.  Instead of empathy or compassion, our concerns were met with suspicion and a knee-jerk defense of the Waldorf approach. In the end, we felt the teachers cared more for upholding the sanctity of the school's philosophy than the spiritual and emotional health of my children. For a school that paints itself as nurturing, loving, and compassionate, this came like a kick to the gut. 

 

So....while I still admire much of what Waldorf does, and while we value the many gifts we took away from our experience, we look upon that time as the "lost year" for our children. I know many kids who are happy and thriving in a Waldorf School, but I also know others who had to leave when their children's individual needs (typically, as either special needs learners or advanced learners) simply couldn't be met. 

 

No one knows the right decision but you, but I would echo the advice of another poster who urged you to listen to your heart, and watch your children. They will tell you more than any one school or random internet poster can.

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#20 of 40 Old 09-24-2012, 12:00 PM
 
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@vjpam.

 

Hi, I wanted to respond to your post...but I am not sure how to do so without offending you in some way. So, please know that my intention here is not to deny or diminish your difficult experience. 

 

I wonder if you feel as if the mismatch for your kids had something to do with transferring in at 1st grade and 3rd grade after having taken some other educational approach up until that point? It could be that because Waldorf does things at different times than other approaches that there is a "sensitive period" between 1st and 3rd/4th grade that makes it very hard for kids who are used to doing things another way to transfer in. (On the other hand, you probably know of families who transfer in at this time who are immensely relieved and wish that they had found this approach sooner!)  This makes me think that the issue isn't so much that the school is insufficient (although it could be) but that children at this age can't easily adjust their "pace" with respect to others. This (entirely developmentally appropriate reaction IMO) rears its ugly head in a Waldorf context because grades 1-3 (especially) are very much focused on developing capacities gradually and as a group. For kids who have been progressing along together, at relatively the same pace, the "highs" and "lows" may not be so drastic as with a kid who has been doing sight words since they were 5 and may have different expectations of their own concerning what should happen at school. 

 

So, I wonder if maybe something more needs to be done within the Waldorf movement to understand the range of potential experiences children can have when transitioning at this age? And find ways to spot where "slowing down" on the academics will be stressful for a child or where "slowing down" is just what the doctor ordered before the children are enrolled. I say this because I think that many kids, once awakened to the possibilities of knowledge, get a hunger for it. And, that's a good thing!!! It makes sense that slowing this down, once an appetite has been created, will inevitably frustrate a child. Its not just a matter of organic food, low media, etc., but expectations the child now has in terms of what the teacher can impart to them and what can be accomplished in a school day. American public kindergartens are almost the polar opposite of a Waldorf kindergarten these days. And I don't think Waldorf kindergarten/1st grade teachers even fully grasp how their classrooms might feel to a kid who has been doing the more mainstream thing. I suspect they underestimate the differences because they don't really know. This is my view of the situation based on knowing that both outcomes from transferring do happen. What do you think?

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#21 of 40 Old 09-24-2012, 03:36 PM
 
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Originally Posted by vjpam View Post

We just spent a very difficult year at a Waldorf School, and after much soul-searching (and personal trauma), decided to pull our kids out for some of the reasons you mentioned. There are very committed Waldorf parents out there who will tell you to give it time despite initial concerns or problems. Often, as you have heard, it works out.

 

For us, it did not.

(Note, I apologize for the length of this post...it is the first time I am writing about the experience, so it is difficult to crystallize in a short sentence or two.)

 

Our children were early readers, and we are an academic family; we encourage questions and critical thinking in our children, and delight when they want to engage the world with not only their heart and hands, but their minds as well. They love puzzles, word games, spelling challenges, science experiments - all the "traditional academics" that Waldorf intentionlly avoids in the early years. We were eager to let them discover other facets of learning, while still engaging their academics in an unconventional way. Unfortunately, we found that our children's learning personalites can be a terrible fit in the Waldorf context.

 

My nine year old, who has always loved school,  was abjectly miserable. She cried most days going to and coming home from the Waldorf school - she was begging for more challenging spelling  and math work, and asking to learn about history (her 3rd grade class had words like "cat" and "the" on a spelling test, when she had been practicing words like soliloquy and consternation in her precious grade. The only history taught was mythology or Bible stories) She wrote short stories for fun at home, and at school, was allowed no opportunity for creative writing. A curious child, she didn't understand why questioning the teacher was discouraged. She was bored out of her mind, and told to "concentrate on handwork and eurythmy" (new subjects to her) instead. When we met with the teacher and administration after she finally started asking to be homeschooled, we asked for simple fixes: perhaps she could get a slightly more challenging spelling list? Perhaps she could work ahead on fractions on her own (which she had learned and was intrigued by), while other children did the standard worksheets? We did not want to interrupt the class teaching model or curriculum, we only wanted to keep our child engaged and positive about school. But the school not only refused to provide any individualized work (they instead encouraged us to pay for outside tutors for this - really? for spelling tests??), they insinuated that there was something developmentally wrong with a child who didn't strictly hoe to the Waldorf developmental model. Again and again we were asked whether she had emotional/behavioral/or social deficits (no, no, and no - she is a very grounded, emotionally stable child with many friends, and a born peacemaker),  Was she resisting elements of the Waldorf curriculum? No - turns out she enjoyed handwork and Eurythmy, and did fairly well in both despite being new to the subjects. Again, and again, our daughter's interest in and enthusiasm for academics was met with something akin to suspicion, if not downright discouragement. At no point did she feel validated or even "heard" in wanting to learn more. Which ultimately made her sadder, and angrier, as the year wore on.

 

My son, who was in first grade, had a less traumatic, but still frustrating experience. He was very bored, and reading extensively at home. But books were discouraged in his classroom, and his teacher told him he shouldn't worry about learning more academics, that he should just "feel happy" that he knew more than his classmates. He, too, was encouraged to "work harder on things like handwork." He complained about the lack of any individual voice, about the rigidity of classwork, that each child had to do the exact same art, in the exact same way, as the teacher...he started having nightmares that "Waldorf teachers are trying to turn me into a mutant zombie robot." *(I'm not making that up.) He also came home voicing doubts about the morning verses, saying that he disagreed with the teacher saying there were different spirits in the world ("Brother Sun, Sister Moon), and that he "was not going to say prayers he didn't believe in."

 

Clearly, this was not a kid cut out for Waldorf. But when we shared our son's concerns with the administration, we were told that children his age "simply aren't able to engage in critical thinking," despite the evidence, and we were blamed as parents for somehow putting these ideas into his head. (Which we didn't....any concerns we had about Waldorf were never shared in front of or in the vicinity of our children.)  At home, we strove to lead a Waldorf-centered life; we upheld the no-media policy, we celebrated Waldorf festivals, we got our kids to bed early, we showed reverence toward nature and seasons, ate healthy, organic food...all things the school actively encouraged. We were as committed as we could be.

 

Going into the Waldorf experience, we had also done our due-diligence. We read extensively on Steiner and Anthroposophy, and knew we had serious doubts about much of the philosophy underpinning the curriculum. While we thought the belief in gnomes was kooky,  the core belief of helping our children's souls reincarnate occultish and odd, and the whole dentition-as-marker-of-readiness-to-read thing scientifically ridiculous, we were ready to go along with the program if it helped turn our children into independent, soulful learners who used their hearts, hands, and minds equally. (And we had been mightily impressed by many Waldorf teens we had met, who were wonderfully rounded, articulate kids.)  We didn't think the kooky theories would touch our kids, but ultimately they did, and that's a big reason why we ultimately couldn't stay.

 

We were floored when we were told, for example, that our daughter absolutely couldn't learn fractions (which she had already studied and knew) because it was "inappropriate before the 10 year change, that children cannot understand fractions before then." When pressed for scientific substantiation for this assertion, we were told it was because "Steiner said it." Apparently it all relates to reincarnation theories, and since part of my daughter's spirit would not descend until she was 10, she would be emotionally harmed by the prematurely early fragmentation of the world as presented by fractions. (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the message.) 

 

This, combined with the assertion that young children weren't capable of critical thinking, forced us to is recognize that there was a great divide in our educational philosophies We realized that the school was not looking at our specific children as individuals, but as some sort of typical 7 or 9 year olds who could not, must not, learn things out of Anthrophosophical sequence. 

 

Along with this basic philosophical divide, we were also deeply troubled by the tone-deaf responses to our children's frustrations and unhappiness.  Instead of empathy or compassion, our concerns were met with suspicion and a knee-jerk defense of the Waldorf approach. In the end, we felt the teachers cared more for upholding the sanctity of the school's philosophy than the spiritual and emotional health of my children. For a school that paints itself as nurturing, loving, and compassionate, this came like a kick to the gut. 

 

So....while I still admire much of what Waldorf does, and while we value the many gifts we took away from our experience, we look upon that time as the "lost year" for our children. I know many kids who are happy and thriving in a Waldorf School, but I also know others who had to leave when their children's individual needs (typically, as either special needs learners or advanced learners) simply couldn't be met. 

 

No one knows the right decision but you, but I would echo the advice of another poster who urged you to listen to your heart, and watch your children. They will tell you more than any one school or random internet poster can.

 

Thank you for sharing your experience in a thoughtful, detailed way.  It is an invaluable input on a thread like this.  

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#22 of 40 Old 09-25-2012, 04:48 AM
 
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@Jacquelin: Thank you for your thoughtful, graciously worded post. I was not offended in the least! ( ;

 

I think you bring up an important point: we did bring our children in at a particularly difficult time to transition. There does indeed seem to be a "systems issue" at many Waldorf schools when it comes to helping children from more mainstream backgrounds transition to the Waldorf approach. But our children weren't completely mainstream; instead of being used to being "taught to the test;" they transitioned from a pretty progressive private school that didn't have tests, or grades, or competitive sports. Academics, though fairly rigorous, were very individualized. Fast learners could work ahead, while those children who needed extra time were allowed to take it. It was a very individualized approach, which in many ways was what I (mistakenly) thought Waldorf would be like.

 

But regardless of the simple difficulty of transitioning, and the school's lack of preparedness to meet it, I think the larger problem for us was a philosophical one. Our children, and we as parents, got the message that it was somehow wrong to have the kind of curiosity our children had - that they should still be in that dream-like fantasy world that Waldorf idealizes. The implication that our children had to be somehow unbalanced emotionally or socially to be striving intellectually at their ages was deeply offensive to us. We believe every child develops at her own pace, regardless of some schedule Rudolph Steiner developed a century ago. We believe each child's unique gifts should be celebrated, rather than shunned if they don't meet someone else's expectations.

 

I often heard the Waldorf metaphor that children are like rose plants; you must tend them carefully, and not allow them to bloom prematurely so as to allow a greater flourishing later in life. For us, it felt more like our children were dwarf Bonsai tree; eager for sunshine and deep soil, they were kept in small boxes and forced to pull their branches in. For them, in the end, the school's disregard for and suspicion of the joy they took in learning felt like a diminishment of their souls.

 

Bear in mind, this was a completely personal experience for us and our particular children's specific personalities. I mean no disrespect for the many family and children who thrive at Waldorf. It just didn't work for us for a very specific set of reasons.

 

Peace,

Vjpam

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#23 of 40 Old 09-26-2012, 11:19 AM
 
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Vjpam,

 

I am glad what I said didn't offend!!!! I was hesitant to say anything at all because this was such a recent (difficult) experience for you. However, I did want to respond somehow because I think everyone (kids, parents, teachers, the schools) would fare better if there was a bit more insight and discussion on transferring in after other kinds of educational experiences. 

 

You say, "...they transitioned from a pretty progressive private school that didn't have tests, or grades, or competitive sports. Academics, though fairly rigorous, were very individualized. Fast learners could work ahead, while those children who needed extra time were allowed to take it. It was a very individualized approach, which in many ways was what I (mistakenly) thought Waldorf would be like."

 

I think a lot of parents new to Waldorf think it is like this and I would have hoped that the school would have done more to explain the differences between the old and new schools. I am just a parent but even I could have elaborated on the many reasons why their new school wouldn't be "very individualized" or a place where "fast learners could work ahead." The model is completely different. The emphasis in grades 1-3 is on growing the capacities of the students (comparatively) slowly and as a group. Whatever modifications the teacher makes... it certainly doesn't extend as far as some students being able to spell "soliloquy" while others are working on "cat." If that is the range of abilities in the classroom...and you're not working with a radically individualized method...someone is not going to get what they need. I think that would be the default outcome in most classrooms, Waldorf or not. I am really sorry that this happened to you because (at least from what you've said) it could have been avoided if the school had taken more time to understand where the kids were coming from. Its weird because there is that metaphor of the rose plant. If the metaphor is right, that should also imply that if a child has "bloomed early" you have no choice but to encourage the new growth or else the whole plant will whither. You have to do it. From a Waldorf perspective, this means really understanding how much "new growth" you're dealing with and if its more than you are prepared to work with right now, you have to recommend another course. I am sure it is difficult for them because there are those cases where a student comes from another school and the kid feels as if its the one thing they have been waiting for all along. The grownups must have their eyes open and figure out which case is which.

 

As for your feeling that the school doesn't believe that "every child develops at her own pace," that hasn't been my experience. I have found that Waldorf is very attuned to this idea. Its why we send our kids there. We feel very encouraged to have them explore whatever they are interested in, although classroom activities may or may not support their given interest at the moment. I like the Waldorf approach because of the way it works with subjects in such a way to strengthen both inductive and deductive reasoning. This helps them as they take on new projects of their own outside of school. There are many ways to educate a child well. For example, I think Reggio, Montessori and other approaches that fall under the American "progressive" mantle can do some amazing things for kids. But part of the reason why they work may be because each is a "whole solution." You can't easily mix & match their strengths without losing something important. Maybe switching is made all the more difficult because each, as a whole solution, is so successful in setting learning patterns? I don't know for sure but it seems plausible to me. 

 

I am glad to hear that your kids are doing better now. It sounds like they are not only smart but have taken a lot of ownership over their education. On some level, I would take that as very good news. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. I agree with Emaye. We can learn so much from each other as parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#24 of 40 Old 09-26-2012, 02:20 PM
 
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Hi Sarah,

 

I have not read all the responses, but I wanted to say that my eight-year-old son has been in Waldorf since he was three, with a small break for a few months of Montessori when he turned five.  We didn't choose Montessori because we were looking for something different (we were in the middle of a move - long story), but I had wondered to myself if he was indeed a "Montessori kid" and if I was pushing Waldorf because *I* liked it.

 

He was completely lost in the Montessori setting - and it was indeed a "real" Montessori school (many schools call themselves Montessori without being credentialed from what I understand).  He has never played well by himself and needed more direction than he was given in that particular setting.  However, he is very "in his head" like it sounds like your children are.  He was an early and very proficient reader (is probably reading at a 5th or 6th grade level) and is also excellent at math.

 

Interestingly, our Pedagogical Chair (or "lead teacher") approached me when my son was in First Grade.  She said, "I see you have an early reader."  We had a great discussion about him and his intellect and we discussed the idea of him being "gifted."  I was so thankful for that discussion and it made me realize that not only is his teacher aware of his learning style, but the other teachers he works with are keeping an eye on things too.  There is a stereotype out there that "gifted" children can get lost in the Waldorf approach because it *is* "slower" but they have wonderful ways of working with children who are more academic than others.

 

Keep in mind that Waldorf *seems* slower because they don't push reading at a young age, however, it's kind of like the slow food movement - it takes longer to cook, but it's so much more nourishing than McDonalds.  :)  

 

:) mammom

 

(PS reading isn't the *only* way of learning - Waldorf math is pretty advanced in the early grades compared to public school and there are LOTS of ways Waldorf builds the brain - song/music/repitition/movement/handwork/plays/art, etc... it builds the WHOLE child, not just the head!)

 

(PPS - think of the people who got us to the moon, or even people like Steve Jobs: did THEY have academics pushed on them at an early age?? or were they allowed to play, build their imaginations and explore as children?)

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#25 of 40 Old 09-28-2012, 11:37 AM
 
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I think the best thing to do in this situation, if your are truly on the fence and would actually leave the school, is to ask the teacher the questions you asked us. For example, ask him/her if they believe in fairy's, or what they think a fairy is, and maybe why he/she thinks its necessary or important for a child who says fairy's aren't real to say they are.
I would ask them to help me understand the philosophy or pedagogical reasonings behind 1st graders thinking the sun is what he says, vs, what they had heard, learned from other adults.

To be honest, I was a waldorf teacher, I studied anthroposophy and I am still friends with current teachers. I could try to tell you why I think your child's teacher said this or did that. I could try to calm your concerns or ignite them, but when it comes down to it, you need to speak to the person who is actually teaching your child 8 hours a day 5 days a week and possibly for 8 years! I would imagine that, after having this somewhat difficult conversation, you will know if the person who is your child's teacher is actually meeting your child and trying to educate them, or is blind to reality (meaning your child, your concerns etc) by anthroposophical ideals.
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#26 of 40 Old 09-28-2012, 12:33 PM
 
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"The model is completely different. The emphasis in grades 1-3 is on growing the capacities of the students (comparatively) slowly and as a group."

 

Doesn't this argue against taking a "wait and see" approach for a doubting parent re: Waldorf education in grades 1-3?  In other words, since the adjustment to a mainstream classroom will likely be challenging (due to feeling "behind", etc.) shouldn't a parent who is questioning the appropriateness of Waldorf for their child taking that into consideration as to making the decision about how quickly they move their child on? 


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#27 of 40 Old 09-28-2012, 03:42 PM
 
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I might, as a fellow parent, recommend the "wait and see" approach if it were just the younger child. And if this were a case of a kid who was in 2nd grade and had been doing Waldorf since kindy, I might recommend that too. But I think for the 3rd grader certain patterns and educational expectations had been set in her mind already through her previous experiences. And, as I noted above, this is probably a good thing overall. It sounds like she internalized the value system (for lack of a better term) of the old model. I think it can be stressful for kids to change from one "whole system" to another. (BTW: this is just a working hypothesis I have...I am discussing it here to see what others think...) 

 

I think when it comes right down to it, we all question that we are doing the best thing for our kids. I was very interested in @mammon's comments/experience trying something else for a short period time. She got some clarity on what works for her kid and it sounds like this happened without too much disruption for her son. I feel for vjpam in that a longer period of time passed after they realized that the transfer was not going to work. Its got to be especially hard when its something you are hearing directly from your kids too. 

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#28 of 40 Old 09-29-2012, 04:45 PM
 
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@Mammon: it's interesting you bring up Steve Jobs, as I was just looking up a biography of his early life. He started reading before he started school, and did not like to have to follow authority. Apparently he really struggled in school with feeling bored and not being stimulated...so he acted out and had major disciplinary problems. Interestingly enough, it was a fourth grade teacher who recognized how gifted he was and worked hard to give him individualized work and attention so he felt challenged and re-gained interest in school. 

 

Not sure how all that would have played out in a Waldorf context, apparently since he was also intrigued by electronics at a very early age (a definite no-no in Waldorf schools), and was a critical thinker and questioner far earlier than Waldorf likes to see in young children. Which is just to say that there are incredibly talented, creative, trail blazing people who come from all kinds of educational backgrounds...and it sounds to me that Waldorf might not have been a great fit for him as well.

 

I'm sorry if I sound a bit defensive here - - it's just that we have felt very judged by many in our own Waldorf community for leaving what they believe to the the "one true educational system." Children can thrive in all sorts of wonderful schools (including their homes). I'm very grateful that Waldorf is out there, and is one of many other wonderful independent schools that also foster creativity, personal growth, and academic, social, and emotional well-being.

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#29 of 40 Old 09-30-2012, 06:09 AM
 
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A friend of mine who was a Waldorf student has a theory that Waldorf actually doesn't promote creativity at all.  She believes that Waldorf students bring a "Waldorf lens" to things which others perceive as creative (because it is different lens) but that this is not an innately creative act (as it does not come from within the child).


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#30 of 40 Old 09-30-2012, 08:15 AM
 
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Wow. How sad for your friend. Its like she's alienated from her own creativity. Slap her upside the head and tell her how awesome she is...how unique whatever she created is because (if nothing else!) she did it.  And, there's only one of her.

 

Sounds like we are getting into a bit of aesthetic theory here but how could something not be creative (ie., causing something to come into being) if in fact it was made? Whatever caused it to be made (the ideas...the process) was enacted by a human being engaged in the act of rendering something into being. Even if I take one of those classes where we work on the old masters as a way to learn certain techniques, I am creating because I have caused something to come into being that was not there before. It might be the worlds worst version of Monet's water lilies but in and of itself it would represent the outcome of my creative act. What should what someone says about it trump the fact my creative actions made it? Both the object (the painting) and the subject (me) have been transformed by the fact that I picked up the brush. This is creativity, even in cases where the outward appearance looks like all I have done is copied. I would argue the creativity I engaged in (perhaps less than Monet but more than nothing) was also generative. There was likely something that I learned about dabbing paint in a certain way over the course of my creation that I can now carry forward and use in a way that might be considered highly creative like Monet. Would only that painting be considered creative because both the object and the subject suggested the highest level of creative process?  

 

I offer my apologies to anyone here who does not find this idea as fascinating as I do. There is just something perverse about her idea that would seem to lead to alienation of one's own creative process. Maybe I haven't yet put my finger on it. Anyone else find this idea somehow disturbing?

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