Friday, May 28, 2010

Beauty and Peace or Academia

For the past five years, my children have been going to a Waldorf methods charter school. The campus is beautiful. There is a large pond with ducks, a barn with goats, a pig and a sheep. There is a chicken coop where Number 2 is raising his own hen to lay eggs for the eventual seed to table program. (Seed to table means that the children grow or raise, harvest, prepare and eat their own food.) The garden is more like a mini farm. Not only is it organic, but it is biodynamic. ("Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing without external inputs, insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food." ~ Wikipedia, Biodynamic agriculture) The classrooms are beautifully painted. The play yard does not have plastic equipment, but rather wooden balance beams, a new set of rings to swing across, mud and sand. The younger grades, 1-4 do not play with balls at recess, but rather jump ropes and imaginations.

The academics are laced with art, music and hand works, such as knitting, crocheting and woodworking. Free thinking and free speech, in a respectful manner are encouraged. Each grade has a specific theme that is set. First grade is uhhh....something, second grade was something else, third grade is The Old Testament, fourth grade is Norse Mythology, fifth is Greek mythology and I suck because even though I have a six grader, I can't remember what he is doing this year. Anyway, The Old Testament sounds scary, like bible study, but it's not. The kids learn the stories, the way things were bought, sold or traded. The teachers all have teaching degrees, plus they go to Steiner School for Waldorf methods training. (Rudolf Steiner was the philosopher that arrived at the ideas of anthroposophy, or Waldorf methods.)

Lately Number 1 has been bullied and Number 2 has been getting sent to the office. (Number 3 was kissing girls, but I fixed that...) The sitch with N1 is worse because he doesn't think there is anything wrong with the other kids stealing food from his lunch box and eating it, even giving it back half eaten. Also, he came home from school asking if I would wash his water bottle, which I do every night anyway, because someone spit in, or so his friend told him. Why would this happen? I have spoken to the teacher who says that each incident was isolated and the other parents have been talked to. N1 is a real sensitive kid who avoids peer conflict at any cost, even his own well being. The food thief has been a bully since Kindergarten, with ZERO intervention.

When N2 was sent out of the classroom for misbehaving, I found out because he told Tris. Not because the school called and said anything. How am I supposed to be a parent and teach my children how to right their wrongs if I have no clue they are screwing up in the first place. The point is that the school has so many wonderful attributes but NO discipline plan. The thing is that I have only voiced my problem with this to a substitute teacher and partially to N1's teacher, but not to the pedagogical director, Waldorf's version of a principle. I am not sure if I am being over sensitive and protective, which is definitely NOT my parenting style, or if I have a good argument.

In a fit, I went to another, more traditional school. There academics are high priority, but they still put a small emphasis on art, PE and other things. Because the school the kids are going to now is charter, they have been exposed to standardized tests, which I do not have the results back for yet. This other school is in a rich district, they have high scores, whereas the current school is passing, but I don't think by much. The new school has a small garden, a cramped campus, block classrooms, connected to each other  in rows. They also have combined classes. (K/1, 1/2, 3/4 and so on.) This would be good for the younger kids as children in Waldorf schools tend to be a bit academically behind in the elementary years. After I left the new school the first time, I had a major panic attack. Couldn't breathe, talk, all I did was cry. I had to pull the car over and Tris had to talk me back to life.

I know this school has a discipline plan. I know that my kids would get a great academic education, but I also know they would miss out on all the beauty that their other school offers on a minutely basis. Kids and parents wait years to get into the Waldorf school. What the fuck am I doing thinking about pulling my kids out? I even told my friend Elise that art, poetry and music historically is what brings about major world change. What the f should I care about education for? Will they grow up to be well rounded people? Yes. Will they take the initiative to learn all the things they want to know about on their own? I can only hope. I just need to either step up and help implement a discipline system and keep the kids there or I need to live with my previous apathy to the lack of system and move them to the other school. It just doesn't feel right.

What would you do?


  1. It seems to be a common theme at the school this year. Rhayn comes home regularly saying "Oh the boys were throwing rocks at us." (or "we got stoned this morning at school.") I ask what the teacher or person on the playground said "Nothing they were talking with someone" did you tell them what happened? "No, but nothing would happen anyway."
    Nice. I love the school, I love the campus and I absolutely LOVE her teacher, however I don't want her to be bullied by the boys in her class. I plan to wait it out, I know a few of the bullies are leaving this summer not to return. Maybe a new classroom dynamic will make it better next year. I don't know what to do about it if it doesn't change.

  2. I had a similar experience though it was another parent, not a child at our Waldorf school who caused difficulties for my child. After initial reassurance there was very little communication with the teacher, which became disorientating and upsetting. Our daughter was very behind her peers at other schools academically and though she's bright she took a long time to catch up, missing opportunities along the way. She was very cross with us about this, since she also became aware that much of the history she'd been taught at Waldorf school was nonsense, with little distinction between myth and reality.

    When I visited another school I too found it very hard to cope with what seemed a garish and deprived environment compared to Waldorf but after much deliberation (and tears) I made the break. Only then did I realize how wonderful it was to have uncomplicated relationships with staff and other parents - just normal - how disturbing the pedagogy of Waldorf really is and frankly, and I know that this will be difficult to hear - that we had been involved with something which resembled in many ways a cult. I didn't read this on some critics website, I did my own reading and thinking. It was a hard thing to realize that I had been sucked in by pretty wooden toys and natural aesthetics. I hadn't been thinking clearly at all, nor had I been acting in the best long-term interests of my child.

    I urge you to look carefully and ask questions about the exact nature of that pedagogy. There are certain beliefs about bullying which will explain why teachers do not intervene in the way you would expect. This is a common theme in Waldorf Steiner schools around the world.

    It doesn't feel right because there is something very badly wrong. You've sensed it, which is a mark of your good sense. Trust your instincts and good luck.

  3. Remember, home can be anthroposophic. Don't fret about what the school is giving if you can give it at home. Since it seems to be a choice between the two decide which of the two, beauty or academia, you'd rather provide at home. (ie it's good to know how to read and diagram a sentence, really it is)