I am sorry that "Isis" feels she must unsubscribe to this forum just because a single thread has generated some opposing opinions and even controversy. That sort of attitude -- "Don't stir up the waters; just go along and keep your questions and concerns to yourself" -- reminds me quite a bit of the way my family was treated when our daughters attended a Waldorf school and we began to discuss our concerns and to ask questions. Not only weren't our questions answered, but I was told to hand over an audio cassette recording that I had made during a question and answer session that had taken place during a parent evening (and during which I had publicly -- and yes, bluntly -- asked a number of questions.)
I have since learned that other parents who have decided that Waldorf was the wrong place for their children encountered similar attitudes when they began to ask questions and to discuss their concerns and misgivings. One man that I know was told to either "shut up" or to take his son out of the school! (This gentleman has become concerned about a number of things, including the fact that the school store carried copies of a book that quoted Rudolf Steiner as saying that blonde hair and blue eyes "bestow" intelligence. When the man objected to such racist doctrine being sold by the school, he was told that he just didn't understand the narrative, that there was nothing to worry about, etc.)
If Waldorf schools -- and indeed, the whole of the anthroposophic movement, with which Waldorf schools are inextricably entwined -- would simply become honest about what they offer (and don't offer), this thread would have been much, much different. People could have been discussing the merits of children having the same class teacher for eight years, or the up- and downside of the Waldorf preference for large classes (30 to 40 students in a single elementary or middle school class is preferred.) They could have been talking about how learning knitting and crocheting improved their children's manual dexterity, or exchanging information on good books to read.
Instead, the discussion *must* focus on the fact that Waldorf schools promote themselves as one thing when they are quite another. (Sort of a "what you see ain't what you get" type of scenario.) Waldorf schools promote themselves as progressive, arts based, non sectarian schools, and they aren't: they aren't progressive (most of their philosophy dates back to the Middle Ages, believe it or not!); they aren't arts-based (yes, children paint and draw, but those activities are considered "spiritual" rituals that are intended to put the children in touch with supersensible "beings" and thus must be done in a rigid and proscribed order, copying the teacher ); and they are NOT "non-sectarian" because they are Anthroposophical institutions.
I spent probably 40 hours, at least, researching Waldorf education (both inside and outside the classroom) before enrolling my child, and here are a few things that I did not know, and that no one thought to tell me about
* Waldorf teachers consider fairies, gnomes and undines as REAL, and sometimes say "Good children can see the gnomes." (Makes one wonder how the child who does not see these little critters should react if he or she wants to be considered "good." Should the child lie? Hallucinate?)
* Waldorf teachers seat children in their classes according to the child's "temperment." Choleric children often are placed in the back, so that their "fire" will not "burn" the teacher. Phlegmatics often are placed near the window, so the light will rouse them.
* Waldorf teachers may be reluctant to intervene in bullying situations -- even when those situations portend harm to the children -- for fear of interfering with the children's karma or destiny. A California mother has filed a lawsuit against a Waldorf charter school because she claims that the teachers there allowed her son -- who has a disfiguring genetic disease -- to be beaten up repeatedly. Several Waldorf teachers examined the "question" of bullying and posted the resulting research paper online a year or so ago. Among the more interesting parts of the paper were portions where the authors questioned when, if AT ALL, teachers should intervene in situations were children may be harmed. (My aside: IF AT ALL? Are they crazy?)
* Eurythmy is not, as some Waldorf schools will tell you, a "form of dance." Steiner invented it to help human beings interact with the world of spiritual beings. Each movement is based on occult symbols, an alphabet if you will, taken from Rosicrucian and other mystical orders. Thus, eurythmy is considered "therapy" for learning differences, emotional problems, etc.
*A good portion of the science a child will learn at a Waldorf school is not the science that the rest of the world learns. Example: Waldorf students learn that the "elements" of chemistry are "earth, air, fire and water," instead of the Periodic Table of Elements. They learn the humans descended from a race that inhabited Altantis, which was destroyed in a catastrophe. Animals are the "cast off" parts of human beings. The optics they learn have been considered all wrong by modern science for years.
* Teachers at Waldorf schools believe -- at least most of them -- that the children in their classes were brought to them by "destiny" and that the teacher is the primary spiritual guide in the child's life.
* Though Waldorf schools begin to teach reading in second and third grades, many Waldorf teachers privately believe that children would be better served by waiting until at least 11 to read and write. That is because Steiner, their guru, said that children have a better chance of progressing spiritually, if they wait until 11 to 14 years of age to learn to read and write.
I could go on and on. Suffice to say that I truly do believe that people have the right to send their children to whatever school they choose. My beef with Waldorf schools is that they do a horrible job -- and I think it is on purpose! -- of letting prospective parents and the public know what they are about, which is educating children according to the tenets of anthroposophy, which aims to prepare children for their next reincarnation. (Anthroposophists believe that people are now preparing for the next epoch -- the Sixth, I think -- during which those trained in this life according to Anthroposophy will tell the rest of us what to "think , feel, will and do."
When this thread began, I was so impressed that the debate was so rational and congenial. In my experience, when folks begin talking Waldorf (and when they have differing opinions about it and different experiences with it), it does not take long for emotions to run high and for people to become angry. I understand this. When parents make a commitment to a certain educational modality, they believe in it and become very invested in it. They want to let people know about the good things, and to defend the system in question if someone else comes along and challenges that system. That is natural and understandable. I remember well how I felt when, as a solidly pro-Waldorf parent, I first took part on the Waldorf critics list and someone came forth telling me I was "indoctrinated" and "gullible," etc. I didn't get mad; I simply thought that those attacking Waldorf for being deceptive were over-reacting, or else just sad and unimaginative people who didn't "get it." I figured that, for whatever reason, things did not work out for their kid at a Waldorf school, and so they were taking out their "sour grapes" on the rest of us.
Now, of course, I am the one doing the challenging, and I have had to eat many of the words I said in the defense of Waldorf! (Keeping up the food metaphor, let's say that I am having my share of humble pie! <g>)
Anyway, please, please, please consider carefully before enrolling your child in a Waldorf school. Write me offlist to ask for a list of questions that I and other former Waldorf parents wish that *we* had asked before signing our children up. Read material that is produced OUTSIDE of the anthro. system (nearly everything written about Waldorf is the product of the anthroposophic press, AWSNA and other groups that are part of the system.)
In other words, make an informed decision. That way, you will be able to enjoy and support what is going on inside your child's classroom, which is how it ought to be.
Regards to everyone,
Lisa Ercolano in Baltimore, Maryland
Vice President, People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools (PLANS)www.waldorfcritics.org