When I created this page, in 2009, I assumed the events reported in "No Class Act" (below)
were extremely uncommon, and probably not indicative of systemic problems in the Waldorf movement.
Subsequent discoveries have led to me reconsider.
Authorities such as Grégoire Perra indicate that the lines between faculty and students
are often crossed at Waldorf schools, and thus romantic overtures and attachments between teachers and students
may occur with some regularity. See, e.g., the section "A Confusion of Roles"
in "He Went to Waldorf".
— Roger Rawlings
Here are excepts from a horrifying news account about a Waldorf school.
Presumably this school is an extreme case.
Presumably such misbehavior is not found at other Waldorf schools —
or at least, such behavior may not happen exclusively at Waldorf schools.
I will mark places where I have skipped passages, inserting the symbol <snip>.
To read the entire story, go to http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/no-class-act-20090710-dg2v.html?page=-1
While the details of events described in the news report may be unique,
some elements in the report are reminiscent of issues I cover in
— Roger Rawlings
NO CLASS ACT
By Tim Elliott
July 11, 2009
As an English teacher with a penchant for romantic poetry, Roger Graham knows how to write a love letter. But in 2001 when he began writing to one of his 16-year-old female students, the married Graham, in his fifties, may have penned the final chapter for the Newcastle Waldorf School, a Rudolf Steiner school he helped establish in the early 1980s.
"Dearest heart! Most beloved, heart of my heart!" he wrote to the girl, then in the same class as his daughter. "I yearn for your lips and arms … "
Graham wrote to "my luminous goddess" some 20 times over the next six months, during which they began a physical relationship, hugging and kissing before, during and after school.
The relationship was discovered in May 2001, and Graham was stood down [i.e., removed] on full pay. Even then, he continued to write to the girl, his letters passed on by the school's co-founder and senior teacher, Keitha Montefiore.
In 2003 Graham was re-employed as a consultant to the school, but the position was terminated in 2006.
Graham's re-emergence is the latest in a long line of controversies at the 140-student school, including the sexual grooming of students by male and female teachers in the mid-2000s and allegations of emotional and physical abuse dating back to the early 1990s.
In 1995 eight children and several parents made statements to the child protection and investigation unit of Newcastle Police, alleging seven teachers shook, choked, hit and kicked students as young as seven. A teacher also reportedly pushed a boy through a classroom window, breaking his arm.
The school - the recipient last year of $800,000 in state and federal funding - has since been the subject of complaints to the Department of Community Services, the NSW [New South Wales] Ombudsman, the Association of Independent Schools, the Board of Studies and politicians.
"And yet nothing ever seemed to change," says Peta Ridgeway, who removed her children from the school at the end of 2006. "It's a mystery to me how the place wasn't closed down."
Many parents told the Herald of being initially attracted to the school's perceived freedoms, including lack of uniform, long play in natural surroundings and a sheltering from the excesses of popular culture.
"They espouse all these beautiful things about 'the kingdom of childhood' and the creative and expressive side of the education," says Maria Larratt, who withdrew her son Leo in June 2006. "But after a while you start to notice some strange things about the way the place is run."
Parents, former students and former staff allege a culture of secrecy, denial and cover-up at the school, which they claim is run as a private fiefdom of Montefiore and Graham, until the latter's dismissal.
Montefiore - whose four children have taught at the school - "is a power unto herself", says a former member of the school board. "And they all idolise Roger. When the board dismissed him, two female teachers came to me, weeping, and begged me not to do it."
Several teachers have gone on to marry former students, who in turn became teachers at the school. "The whole place is incredibly incestuous and parochial," says the former board member.
While not accredited to teach years 11 and 12, the school regularly invites its more promising students - the "culturally worthy" - to stay on as "colleagues". These students attend TAFE as well as the Newcastle Waldorf School in year 11, but the school exclusively in year 12.
Called the College of Students, the practice has led to an unusual level of fraternisation between students and teachers. In 2006 a female teacher was dismissed, allegedly for inappropriate contact with two male year 12 students. That same year, a male teacher resigned, reportedly after a physical altercation with a student.
Of most concern perhaps has been the school's history of unorthodox discipline - what a Newcastle DOCS [Department of Community Services] officer described in a 1995 letter to the school as a "concerning pattern of [the] use of physical force". The letter queried the school's solicitor, Bruce Hansen, about the use of "milkshakes", together with teachers pushing, throttling and kicking children, and quoted a girl, 8, claiming "nearly all of the teachers tell you that if you tell your mum you get more of it tomorrow".
Maria Larratt first became concerned in 2002, when her five-year old son Leo came home talking about how he received a "milkshake" from Montefiore. When Larratt and her husband asked what he meant, Leo picked up a doll, grabbed it by the shoulders and shook it violently.
DOCS received reports of risk of harm against specific children in 1991, 1995 and 2000; a further nine instances were reported and investigated in 2006 and 2007, and one last year.
Parents who have complained are baffled by what they claim is a lack of remedial action. "Every time the Board of Studies comes to accredit the school, it goes through a period of window dressing," one parent told the Herald. "I've come to believe that nothing will change until Keitha and Roger have been totally removed from that school."
[End of Article]
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
I'll add a few comments.
The situation at Newcastle Waldorf School seems genuinely horrendous. Of course, such situations do not arise only at Waldorf schools, and — to turn the matter around — perhaps no other Waldorf school has seen events precisely like those that allegedly occurred at Newcastle. (Importantly, we must bear in mind that the news account count be mistaken in minor or major ways. Roger Graham must be considered innocent until proven guilty.)
Still, I would argue that Waldorf schools create an atmosphere in which such problems may easily develop — an atmosphere in which teachers may easily wind up abusing students. Waldorf schools are meant to be authoritarian. Steiner said that students’ “souls are open to consciously receiving what works on them from teachers on the basis of a natural, unquestioned authority." — Rudolf Steiner, RUDOLF STEINER IN THE WALDORF SCHOOL (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 4. Waldorf teachers should have unquestioned authority, especially over the youngest students.
Steiner also said, “The situation is that we need to create a mood, namely, that the teacher has something to say that the children should neither judge nor discuss ... An actual discussion lowers the content ... That is something I mentioned before in connection with ‘discussion meetings.’ They need to be avoided.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 495. Students — even the older ones — should sit down, shut up, and accept what they are told without judgment or discussion.
Steiner expected parents, also, to accept Waldorf teachers’ authority with a minimum of questioning or discussion.
What happens when people are given unquestioned, unsupervised authority over others? They almost inevitably abuse this authority — that is, they abuse the people who are under their control. It is sadly true that power corrupts.
Waldorf schools are dangerous places for many reasons, and this is one of them. The schools are authoritarian, which means that sooner or later Waldorf teachers are likely to misuse their unquestioned power. The misuse may not always entail physical violence; it may not usually entail sexual misconduct. More generally in Waldorf schools, the misuse of power entails luring children into dark, empty occultism — i.e., luring the children toward Anthroposophy without the consent of the children’s parents. Quiet manipulation of this sort may not seem abusive, but it is — potentially very severely so. Teaching kids that the real is unreal (the physical universe is illusory) and the unreal is real (karma, gnomes, invisible presences...) can cause deep psychological damage. It can unfit children for real life, making them dissatisfied with everything that is possible in the real world, while encouraging them to form impossible yearnings for the otherworldly.
This danger is accentuated at Waldorf schools by other factors. The conception of human nature preached by Steiner is utterly bizarre and unrealistic. As a result, devoted followers of Steiner may have great difficulty understanding their own motivations. Who knows what was going through Roger Graham's mind when he wrote to, and later caressed, his "luminous goddess"? (For the sake of argument, at least, let's stipulate that the news account is accurate in these matters.) Think of the spiritualistic meaning an Anthroposophist might find in such words, or in the phrase "heart of my heart." Did Graham think the young woman was his spiritual soulmate? Did he think his karma and hers were intertwined? Did he find his passion to be a form of spiritual exaltation? Did he fail to realize that he, like all men, can be excited by a nubile young woman in ways that are entirely earthly, not in the least spiritual?
The sense of moral and spiritual superiority within Waldorf communities also may lead to behavior like Graham's reported misdeeds. Anthroposophists believe they possess truths that most of the rest of us don't. They have, in their own opinion, a superior vision. Perhaps they are more highly evolved than other humans. Perhaps their spirits are purer. Perhaps the rules applying to the rest of us don't apply to them. Certainly they feel justified in lying to outsiders, disguising their real intentions, and blurring societal lines, such as the distinction between secular tax-supported schools and private religious schools. If the morality and laws of the secular world don't apply to Waldorf teachers in some matters, maybe they don't apply to them in other matters as well — such as sexual predation. At the least, note that other faculty members pleaded for Roger Graham: "When the board dismissed him, two female teachers came to me, weeping, and begged me not to do it." They apparently considered Graham to be above sanction.
This reflects the enclosed, cult-like culture of many Waldorf schools. Waldorf schools are often spiritually incestuous. Deeply committed members of the faculty may look exclusively to the tiny Waldorf community for friendship and support. They think they see in one another qualities that outsiders lack. “When we today — permeated even a little with anthroposophical consciousness — take a walk in the streets, we no longer see human people; rather we see moles that move about in the smallest of circles....” — Rudolf Steiner, EDUCATION FOR ADOLESCENTS (Anthroposophic Press, 1996), p. 92. It isn't surprising, then, if Waldorf teachers seek sexual partners only within their cult, even if the partners they find would be off limits according to the rules of the blind "moles." Indeed, forbidden sex may be all the more exciting if it is interpreted (perhaps just in one man's mind) as being entirely, spiritually proper within the uniquely glorious society of a cult.
To my mind, one of the most troubling elements in the "culture" of the Waldorf School at Newcastle is shown in this: "While not accredited to teach years 11 and 12, the school regularly invites its more promising students - the 'culturally worthy' - to stay on as 'colleagues' ... Called the College of Students, the practice has led to an unusual level of fraternisation between students and teachers." This reflects an extraordinary degree of self-approbation and elitism. The teachers of the Waldorf inner circle (called the College of Teachers, at many Waldorfs) select the most "worthy" students to join them in a fraternity that considers itself superior to the world outside the school. This is a cult recruiting new cult members. It is a disaster waiting to explode — and at Graham's school, the explosion occurred.
To reiterate: Sexual abuse of minors is in no way confined to Waldorf schools. Reports of such problems in all sorts of schools show up in newspapers all the time. The same is true of violence inflicted on minors. But if most Waldorf schools have not been scenes of sexual mistreatment and/or violence against children, some have. And a great many — perhaps all — Waldorf schools have been guilty of the psychological abuse of innocent children, twisting their conception of reality out of recognition. This is an important reason for opposing such schools. As authoritarian institutions, Waldorf schools are places where abuses arising from the corruption of unchallenged power are virtually guaranteed to occur, sooner or later.
— Roger Rawlings
For indications that the events at Newcastle were not completely unique
— indications that similar problems have arisen at other Waldorf schools —
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.