Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: the Seacoast of Bohemia
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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.