Here are some statements made by and for mothers who have sent their kids to Steiner/Waldorf schools, or who are thinking of doing so. Most of the statements come from online discussions at mumsnet [http://www.mumsnet.com/]. Like most postings in online discussions, they were quickly written with little concern for spelling, grammar, etc. I have done a little light editing, but the substance of these messages — not the form — is what is important.
For the first, long set of comments,
"They [Waldorf or Steiner schools] actively discourage formal learning below 7yo [i.e., age seven] — and yet we all know some kids are ready for it and most are capable before then. They seem overly obsessed (imvho) with the evils of things like TV, pop culture and non-organic food.
"They have some weird religious beliefs — arguably racist or elitist; they seem to have produced some high profile educational failures. David Gilmour's Telegraph article was quite compelling for me."
"The controversy comes from the fact that many of the teachers believe in something called anthroposophy, which is very very hard to pin down but there is a belief in reincarnation, past lives, that sort of thing.
"So while the children may be being dealt with in a particular way that sounds 'nice', the teachers might be coming at it from an anthroposophical view. Where there is a problem like bullying, this can lead to massive problems. Parents are not kept in the loop, they can be almost completely ignorant of the religious aspects.
"When it works, it seems ideal. When it doesn't, there have been accusations of emotional abuse to both pupils and parents, in a similar way to within a cult."
"The underlying philosophy which the schools are based on is not an educational philosophy as such, more of a religion, with a belief in reincarnation, gnomes, demons, etc. The schools and teachers vary in how much of this they teach, but it does underlie choices that are made in the schools.
"Parents who have been unhappy about Steiner schools are often very angry that they have not been told the truth about this philosophy and the effects it has had on their childrens education.
"eg children are not taught to read until the age of 7, because this is when they get their adult teeth. Stories about gnomes are told as if they are fact rather than fantasy, children are not stopped from bullying each other because of issues to do with reincarnation."
"Parents who choose Steiner tend to be quite alternative (eg accepting of homeopathy, suspicious of science, value the natural world highly) or are wealthy and would like to be more alternative; or they like Montessori/other non-standard systems and see a lot of parallels, but can't find anything beyond nursery level education other than Steiner; or they have a child with special needs like mild Asperger's and see it as a more appropriate way to educate their child.
"I think very few go into Steiner with an appreciation of what anthroposophy is, and they are not encouraged to find out."
"Those who have a problem with Steiner believe that the schools keep very quiet about the religion/philosophy because they think fewer parents would send their child there if they understood it. And that the purpose of the schools is to indoctrinate the children, to do with their beliefs in reincarnation.
"If you are interested in the problems many parents feel about this system, there is a website here...
"Equally, those in favour of Steiner schools have a website here...
"Another issue which parents often have is the fact that those in favour of Steiner education are very quick to threaten websites with libel action, so it is very likely that this thread will soon be pulled by MNHQ, unless all posters on it are very careful to be non-controversial. This, in itself, leads to comparisons with cults which have a tendency to limit open debate."
"It's such a strange thing though. I know an adult who was educated this way and she's lovely, and happy — wacky too, in some ways. Have met others and they seem ok.
"It's when it goes wrong that the trouble seems to be dealt with in such a way that the parents are kept out of it, and I've heard of parents being bullied for asking too many normal questions.
"I think our local Steiner school is fine (expensive though) but I wouldn't automatically assume they all are."
"I think this answer to a Yahoo question [http://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100525223155AA86fHY] summarises how the philosophy/religion aspect relates to the way things are actually done in schools. So, its not so much that the children are being taught anthroposophy, but that the whole way the school operates is linked to the philosophy behind it.
"And the parents who have taken their children out tend to say that they were not made aware when they joined the school that this was how things were done, or why, and that they would not have chosen to send their child to the school if they had been aware of it — the prospectuses, open days etc tend to describe these same things in ways which don't mention reincarnation." *
"Most people seem to like the school initially, and are welcomed. Children are encouraged to do 'natural' activities, lots of nature based stuff.
"Drawing etc., is encouraged in a uniform way, and children are taught to draw using certain colours and are generally (IIRC) encouraged to draw very fluid drawings. Black & brown are discouraged.
"Reading is not encouraged before 7, with the basis being that until the milk teeth are gone there is a different spiritual makeup to the child.
"Television and related media are strongly discouraged.
"The Steiner school is very very community based, and new families are welcomed into the community, and encouraged to remain in it. They are encouraged to participate fully in the community and encourage others to join it.
"The philosophy underpinning steiner education is really quite unique, and it is well worth reading about it to fully understand it.
"(It is diametrically incompatible with teaching methods such as ABA)
"Generally, the steiner schools like children to settle in well for a year or two before they start introducing the finer details of the philosophy to the families, so that they are well established in the community and can see all of its... benefits ...first"
"As far as I know there were no serious legal threats [stemming from previous discussions, etc., at mumsnet]. An individual [Sune Nordwall] since found to be working for the Swedish Waldorf Federation, paid to 'monitor' UK critics of Steiner Waldorf education, merely threatened to sue mumsnet for allowing mothers to post certain comments. He had no real means to do so but managed to 'chill' the threads.
"I can imagine which comments you mean but add that most of the deleted posts contained references to Steiner's own — bizarre — work or links to a US site critical of Waldorf education (housing a Waldorf Survivors' Group) or, even though this beggars belief, to the work of a historian writing a (now completed) doctoral dissertation about the history of anthroposophy at an Ivy League university. They were not libellous. Frankly, since this concerns families in the UK, their comments were in the public interest.
"I'm not aware of any other legal challenges aimed at mumsnet re Steiner education but I will stand corrected if that is the case.
"imo some posters here have a good grasp of anthroposophy's place in the Steiner classroom. I would say that children are 'marinaded' in anthroposophy — so you'd better know what it is before handing over your dcs. This makes it all the more important that information isn't suppressed.
"There are some really interesting old threads on here...
[R. R., 2011.]
Here are comments from some other mumsnet discussions:
"'If a child starts too early they will learn to read but they will never be a fluent reader as an adult'
"I am very suspicious of blanket statement like this. Not all children are the same!
"Gonna blow my own trumpet here (sorry) but I could recognise words at 2 and read basic sentences when I started school at 4 1/2. I loved reading then and guess what, I am a "fluent reader" now!!
"I'm not saying all children should be taught to read early, and I'm well aware that those who start later catch up fine, but what about those who love it / have a natural aptitude for words? I absolutely treasure my memories of those early books. The idea of not being exposed to reading till years later really unnerves me actually.
"Learning through play is essential IMO, but why at the expense of books?!! Way too prescriptive / one-size-fits-all for me."
"There are serious issues here, to do with the belief system Steiner schools are based on- reincarnation, races, karma, clairvoyance, spirit worlds.
"These crazy beliefs in the wrong hands , are nothing less than dangerous.
"There are good schools, and good teachers, everywhere. There are also dodgy ones. If they can use a ludicrous and racist doctrine to justify their actions, it is wrong.
"Why is it that the word anthroposophy isn't often on school's literature?
"Why doesn't the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship explain what anthroposophical belief entails?
"Parents need to be told about anthroposophy, and the Steiner movement needs to take a long hard look at Steiner's writing on race, rather than pretending it isn't there, or saying 'he only meant "nigger" in a nice way'"
''[I]t took over two years to get over the trauma of just two terms at the school [i.e., a Steiner Waldorf school]. But he was very young, so thankfully, has no [now?] forgotten most of it (aside from the odd nightmare still) so life is happier now.
"They get away with it because they lie to parents, simple as that."
[Q] “I'm looking into schools at the moment and was recently talking to someone whose kids go to a Steiner school in Kent. It sounded great (no formal learning until the age of 6 or 7 and lots of creative activities, etc) but DH says he's not keen as he's heard lots of bad things about Steiner schools... I was hoping someone with experience could tell me about the good and bad things. I live in London. Thank you”
[A1] “I know adults who went there and found it a bit of a bear pit. But then again a lot of people do seem to like it. Not sure myself why you'd want to pay money in order for your children not to be taught much."
[A2] “I have no personal experience, but looked into Steiner for DS at one point and found some of what is available on the internet very concerning. The fact that Steiner supporters attempt to stifle the debate is also of concern.”
[A3] “I went to a steiner primary school and my parents panicked and had me crammed for common entrance at 11. Despite living in London, I met my first black person at secondary school. Everyone at my primary school was white (occasional Asian). I am still hazy on what a noun or a verb is — really basic stuff (I went on to get a first in English lit at uni).”
[A4] “What useful role would you say gnomes could play in the teaching of maths? How do you feel about reincarnation? Are you members of an organised religion already or do you have a belief system that you subscribe to? How do you feel about joining one or participating in one without being told it is a religion? Do you think children can get art 'wrong'?”
[A5] “My ds is at this moment watching Dr Who on tv whilst using the laptop and spent part of the morning on the xbox. We are not strict vegans nor do we hug trees or talk to gnomes,but he is very happy at out local Steiner where he is doing very well academically,is learning three languages and two instruments,he has become a confident and popular child with a wide general knowledge as well as developing a love of gardening,cooking woodwork and pottery. There are children at his school from across the globe and of many ethnic origins. You will hear good and bad reports of every type of school but I think it is important that you visit the school and make up your own mind. I don't think it is the place for every child but I am happy it's the right place for my child (he's 13 now) I have three other ds who all went/go to different schools as what is right for one is not always right for another.”
“My daughter is 5.10 yrs old. At age 4 we sent her to a Steiner school, where there was no numeracy or literacy whatsoever ... We moved to a new area in April this year when our daughter (J) was 5.4 yrs old. We decided to put her into a mainstream ie not Steiner, fee paying school ... Having never had any numeracy or literacy, she was now exposed to the normal curriculum ... Her class tutor indicated at parents' evening (2 weeks ago) that J is not able to cope with Year 1 work. It is too advanced for her.”
"Well I've known about 30 people who were Steiner educated, not one went to University, even though their parents' could've afforded it!"
“I used to be a firm believer...that Waldorf methods were the best. So I enrolled my children in a Waldorf Methods Charter School ... After the two years of kindergarten that are required there, my kids were six and didn't know any numbers and couldn't read a single word ... When my daughter was in ‘first’ grade, she was painting and singing songs, which is awesome, but no education was getting done ... [M]y kids would come home with cuts and bruises all the time and there would be no explanation from the staff ... I discontinued enrollment there and enrolled my kids in a great public school ... [T]he support staff [there] are actually engaged in the children's interests ... The clincher was when my mom visited (she has a master's in education) and spent a few days with them at their Waldorf school and said it was garbage.”
[Q] "I went to a toddler group at our local steiner school today and it was just lovely. There was such a calm atmosphere and my daughter adored it. We've been thinking about schools for a while now and I wondered if anyone had any good (or bad) experiences of a steiner education, in preschool, primary and secondary levels. Many thanks in advance."
[A1] "well there are those who live and breathe steiner, and there are those who have been 'damaged' by steiner."
[A2] "...I get the impression that it's a lifestyle. I went to an open day/fair at our local Waldorf School, had a chat with some parents and teachers, looked at the Ofsted reports. It sounds like a lot more of a commitment from a parents' point of view than a more conventional style school."
[A3] "It's really not a lifestyle, more of a religion."
[A4] "brace yourself.
"i rather like the whole ethos and i'm not adverse to a bit of gnome and alien theory but i'm too sane to join up wholeheartedly."
[A5] "A friend has [a child] in Steiner and really likes it.
"I think you have to be quite committed to the lifestyle/philosophy of it though. Some of it is a bit wacky-spiritual."
[A6] "I visited one once. With a view to sending my DD. It was quite a distance from our home but we were really keen on finding a stress free and creative environment for DD.
"It was one of the oddest experiences I've ever had...from the fact that the school looked like Old Mother Hubbards cottage (all peach and with no sharp corners) and was nestled deep in a forest...with weird atmosphere....to the fact that all the art looked like the same person had drawn it....coupled with a wooden dish of gnomes with no faces and feral kids who almost bashed newborn DD2s head in with a big stick...while the "teacher" looked on smiling...it was not the school for us."
[A7] "My sister (10 years younger than me) went to one from the ages of 12 - 16 because she hated her school and just couldn't get on in a results driven environment, she is not academically challenged by any means but she is not the best at tests or working fast.
"She really loved the Steiner school and got on much better there, she is an amazing musician and they really harnessed that kind of talent. However, IMHO they do not necessarily prepare you very well for life in that the child is the focus and you are taught to learn things at your pace and it seemed that you weren't really punished for things like you would be in a state school (lateness etc) which are life lessons I think are important — especially if you then step into a more driven college / university / work environment."
[A8] "Cruel and inconsistent, inappropriate punishments for normal behaviour (summarily being sent out of the classroom from the age of seven and made to stay there, or being sent to the office to sit for a good hour.
"Older, teenage children being brought in to drag a seven yo [i.e., year old] out from under the desk he is hiding beneath — abuse of each child concerned, as well as the rest of the class exposed to it.
"Wild, inapropriate behaviour tolerated because it's perpetrated by children of good Steiner families. Toeing the Waldorf line considered more important than basic, decent human behaviour."
[Q] "We are currently trying to decide where to send our 3 1/2 year old son to school next year. Having been a little scared at the amount of pressure that some schools place on kids these days we thought we would investigate all options. Just wondered if any of you had any experience with the steiner school system? I know that there are a lot of old threads on here but just wondered if anyone had any recent input?"
[A1] "Wouldn't it be an idea to say which schools? i think some are worse than others."
[A2] "I would also say that most state schools don't place pressure on kids."
[A3] "tbh if you've read the older threads and haven't run for the hills at the way all the steiner loons descend and the links to the 'surviving steiner' sites, you should just go for it. i personally think you're crackers, but that does seem to be the steiner way..."
[A4] "i dunno, at least christianity is a well-known cult... steiner seems to keep its cultishness in the background until you are in its midst. the reason that the threads are old is that people got tired of being shouted down, tbh."
[A5] "Why don't you look at Montessori schools? There are a few in London."
[A6] "I have visited the St Michael Steiner school in Wandsworth. All the mums are expected to get involved crafting stuff to sell at their fairs. All the kids look really washed out, and in need of a steak. That is the extent of my knowledge of the place. And I would cut the heads of my dc before sending them there"
[A7] "My son has been at our local Steiner for nearly two years he started at secondary level, he loves it is doing very well and every one is really friendly...."
[A8] "I would recommend Steiner for ages 3 to 6 then switch to mainstream. that way the child's imagination has developed and they are ready to learn to read and do maths without parental headaches."
"Before putting your children into a Steiner school you should read the following post on Professor Colquhoun's blog: The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers? expense. Pt.1 www.dcscience.net/?p=3528"
"Steiner School system is just a sect. Like any other sect it brainwashes you to get you in and then sucks your finance.
"Those dolls [i.e., faceless cloth dolls promoted by Waldorf schools] are just strange and pity."
"'I never really understood anthroposophy. The meaning of that word made no sense to me. I thought that it was like any other philosophical concept...That I could interpret it as I liked. What I soon realized was that anthroposophy is a religion. A religion that Steiner invented and Waldorf takes very seriously.'"
"The bit that scared me was the bit about it being OK if your unvaccinated child got measles and died, because it meant they were 'impaired'.
"I only glanced at the link...it just confirmed what I saw when I visited a Steiner school in a remote rural area...I went all open minded and hopeful....it was bloody scary!
"DH and I could not wait to get out of there! As we were brought into the kindergarten room, a bowl of faceless gnome dolls was proffered to my child who was freaked out by them....the atmosphere in the kindergarten was oppressive and weird. The "teacher" wore an outfit like Old Mother Hubbard and the school was full of paintings which looked like they had been done by the same hand. The little ones were unnaturally quiet and good. They crowded round us and kid of grabbed on....
"Our tour culminated in us stumbling across a bunch of 10 year olds totally unsupervised...who were playing poker in a deserted classroom! The younger kids were chasing one another with planks of wood in the yard and narrowly missing me and my baby in arms....totally bloody odd it was.
"The garden was overgrown and neglected...it was so reote we felt we had stumbled on a sect or cult..."
"About Anthroposophy....yes...all very strange plus when a child is naughty, they blame it on the gnomes! A child under 7 is thought to be still 'with the little folk'...until their baby teeth come out...plastic is dirty and Steiner had some odd ideas linked to the Nazis."
"Mad as a box of frogs."
"I think the dolls are lovely...."
[Q] “I have been looking into the cambridge steiner school, i went to the mother and baby group and found it....well, odd. Quite a serious, nature worshipy, cultish atmosphere, strange monotone singing and general cringy pagan hippy stuff, i was a bit concerned. Any experiences of the steiner school would be really appreciated!”
[A1] “I've no experience of the Steiner school but it's something that I (very) briefly considered for my DCs. There are lots of threads about Steiner schools if you do a search in the education forum, they seem to generate fairly strong opinions....”
[A3] “...no experience of the cambridge school — but my fairly hippyish SIL dropped out their teacher training because she thought it was too much — too odd, too inflexible — and the threads on the education section are quite illuminating about it in general.
"I would urge you to visit your local state primary school — my experience is the states schools in cambridge are they of a very high standard and are really lovely places. Have a look in the primary school forum for more general info on looking for a primary school"
[A4] “I know a number of people who have defected from the Cambridge Steiner school into state mainstream. Their experiences weren't very happy.”
[A5] “Hello, I'm a dad who took our 2 year old son to the parent/child group at Cambridge Steiner school for a few months last year. Our experience was relatively benign, pleasant even, but your concerns do ring true. I suspect that the level of oddness depends a lot on the group leader.
“If you read up on Steiner education you're sure to come across Anthroposophy, on which their theories of child development and much else is based. I think it's fair to say that the Cambridge school seems more coy than most about this with prospective parents. Looking back at our experiences, it is deeply influenced by Anthroposophy.
“One of the surprises for us was a weekend course for parents ostensibly on 'home nursing' but which turned out to be promoting the Steiner brand of alternative medicine. Discussions over snack time at the p/c group were occasionally on the evils of modern medicine and technology, topics which made me feel uncomfortable.
‘Meanwhile, little M is showing early signs of wanting to read and an interest in numbers. Reading and arithmetic are not subjects generally promoted in Steiner education until the age of 7, so it's clear we're already on a different course....”
[A6] “Hello, My toddler and I go to parent and child at the Cambridge Steiner school and find it really worth while....”
I don't know the gender(s) of the correspondents in the following discussion
from the "news" page, but the back-and-forth is worth a look.
[Q] “I just want to hear what kind of take Dopers [i.e., correspondents at The Straight Dope] have on Waldorf Schools ... My niece is in the 8th grade and has attended a Waldorf school since Kindergarten ... I would really like to hear what others here have to say before I pipe up.”
[A1] “...if we're going to discount an educational tradition just because its underlying belief-system is whacky, well, heck...”
[A2] “...The schools were started on a philosophy called Anthroposophy. This rejects modern medicine and psychiatry and promotes a belief in things like astrology and spiritual mysticism.
"But how much a school accepts this varies. One of the [Waldorf schools] in my town has all the teachers wear long flowing skirts everyday and talks a lot about reincarnation as plants. The other takes a gentler than average method of education, but doesn't get all into the woo.”
[A3] “I have an anecdote about a friend of my mother's. He had his children in a Waldorf school, and worked out a deal where he would teach a semester of physics in exchange for a break on tuition (they had a semester of chemistry followed by a semester of physics).
"Sometime during his first week, he made a casual reference to the periodic table, and no one knew what he was talking about. He probed a bit, and discovered that they had spent an entire semester of 'chemistry' learning about the healing properties of different kinds of crystals. Even more disturbing, the administration was completely unaware that they were not learning mainstream chemistry (and were horrified when they found out, but still, it seems like the sort of thing that should come to the attention of a principal before the class is over).
"He ended up teaching both chemistry and physics for his semester, then withdrawing his kids from the school.”
[A4] “Not teaching your children to read until they're older is a turn-off for me [Waldorf schools usually postpone reading until age 7].”
[A5] “Statler schools are slightly better, but neither is especially charming or forgiving.”
[A6] “...I went to one of these schools for two years of elementary school (after I'd learned to read). While I can't say for sure that it would have been the optimal place for me long term, it was certainly a delightful portion of my childhood. There was definitely a lot of woo going on (which annoyed me), but I was adequately educated...”
[A7] “...My kids go to an ordinary public school and got that [math] starting in first grade. Not in a complex fashion, but the concepts.
“They started getting the concepts of algebra in 3rd grade.”
[A8] “[I]t makes a huge difference if the child has a learning disability or some such issue. A huge difference. I'm afraid too many kids could easily get lost in the woo.”
[A9] “...I have little faith in the public schools catching and correcting [learning] problems.
“Anyone considering one of these [Waldorf] schools can find plenty not to like about them, but the reading thing is seriously minor... “
[A10] “...sounds like a better education than you'd get from the Full Gospel Pentecostal Day School...”
[A11] "Bananas, celery, walnuts, grapes!"
[A12 - the original questioner] “Thanks for the input. I have a niece who attends a Waldorf school and I am shocked at the lack of real core education. They sort of seem to pretend to have math and language, but my niece knows almost nothing for her age, it's tragic as she is a smart kid and my sister and her husband are shelling out all this money for her 'education'.
"When I was there for a visit earlier this year her teacher assigned my niece a biography of Turkey. A BIOGRAPHY. Of a COUNTRY. I was flabbergasted. I was sure my niece misspoke, but I looked at her papers and sure enough, he refers to what is a standard research paper on a country/culture as a biography. The teacher doesn't seem to know the definition of 'biography'. WTF? It still completely baffles me as I sit here and write it.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm pretty good at math, and tutoring her drove me nuts as her assignments just didn't make any sense. Often vital data were left out, making the problem unworkable, unless one assumed things which weren't given. Each and every time, it turned out that the teacher expected it to be assumed, because it was 'obvious'. It was maddening. Again, TIP OF THE ICEBERG.”
[Q] “I was looking into this because their toddler and preschool programs seem really ideal for my DCs but I posted on here a couple of days ago and some of the responses really made me concerned.”
[A1] “...Personally I would highly recommend Waldorf education, especially preschool.”*
[A2] “We have some very thoughtful friends whose kids have all gone through it and they spoke so glowingly that I did some research and took DD to a baby program at our local Waldorf school. For us, way too wacky and pseudo-religious. If you're interested look into the beliefs of Steiner and the principles of anthroposophy....”
[A3] “Education, no. Salad, yes!”
[A4] “If I want my kids to learn that gnomes are real I'll send 'em to Disney.”
[A5] “Einstein said that if want your children to be intelligent tell them fairy tales, if you want them to be brilliant tell them more fairy stories”*
[A6] “Disney? That is part of the problem with our children. Too much media! Fostering imagination and creativity should be what we want for our children, not Disney. <sigh>”*
[A7] “My kids love it. I feel it helps nurture their creativity, which to me is the most important thing a child can learn.”*
[A8] “A steiner education is a comprehensive classical education that takes into account and seeks to develop the whole person. Hwn the children are small they are encouraged to be children to create little environments (yes with gnomes) that they can safely play in — imagination and role play is encouraged....”*
[A9] “The Waldorf school on 79th Street was just too weird for us and we didn't fill out the application.“
[A10] “My child has flourished in his seven years (and counting) of Waldorf education. 'Weird' and 'wacky'? Yes, in today's society, I suppose the school's connection to the earth, to the soul and spirit (in largely non-religious ways), seems a bit odd....”*
[A11] “IMHO, Steiner is a victim of its own educational theory. Telling 21st century parents that their children can't study a map because until age ___ a child is incapable of understanding a separate place is simply wacky. True story — and no other word for it.
[A12] “After meeting graduates from a Waldorf school, I was amazed! They can hold a conversation with an adult, look me in the eyes, have respect, are confident, have a greater sense of community, are creative and well educated...."*
* “WARNING: It is quite likely that one person posted the positive posts here. The Anthroposophists are so deceitful that they actually have people on the lookout for posts like this to take over. One of them may have started this thread just to be able to respond to it. YES! do your homework...but dig A LOT deeper than what any of the waldorf schools will tell you. It's an esoteric new age cult.”
The following is from a discussion at The Ethereal Kiosk
early in 2013
SWSF AND THE MUMSNET THREATS
January 2, 2013 · by alicia hamberg · in the bee
Perhaps now that the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship, too, has become more active on the internet and in social media, it will be possible to get a reaction to the old threat made by Sune Nordwall [an active, paid Swedish Waldorf proponent] in the organisation’s name. In a recent thread, which resurrected an old and dreadful topic, Melanie [a Waldorf critic] wrote:
In his correspondence with parent forum mumsnet he suggested that he was poised to:
“ask Percy Bratt of Bratt and Feinsilber in Sweden to contact you in cooperation with the legal representatives of The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship [SWSF] in the UK and Ireland (http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/index.html)”
and this was particularly aimed at silencing an ex-Steiner parent who was publishing ‘libel’ – in other words quoting Steiner in his own words in a way that made supporters of Steiner schools in the UK very uncomfortable.
The SWSF have never denied that their ‘legal representatives’ were involved. Neither has Sune.
It clearly wasn’t something that happened once — the forum, according to one of its owners, got legal threats pretty much daily during this time period when they still allowed negative comments on Steiner education, and this threat must have been representative (presumably, Sune Nordwall was behind many of the other threats too). What the situation is like now, I do not know; to my knowledge, when someone new starts a discussion about Steiner schools, they’re reminded, by other members, that they’re not allowed to write negative things. (Perhaps those who follow the forum can fill me in.) I do know that practically everyone who had posted negative comments on Steiner education on the forum was banned. Lots of comments were deleted. Entire threads were deleted. What Sune did at Mumsnet was taking advantage of the legal situation in the UK — a much criticized and debated situation where extreme libel laws stifle debate in an unhealthy way. The SWSF, too, has indicated in the past that if critics ‘go too far’, the movement will take action — against whom or for what remained unclear, but it wasn’t difficult to understand who was the target of the threat (Melanie Byng and David Colquhoun for the posts on his blog). It appears that they have since decided it’s better not to make worse fools of themselves, because nothing more has been said about this.
Perhaps now that the SWSF has more of a presence on the internet — both tweeting and facebooking — it might possible to get them to express an opinion about the old Mumsnet threats. I know it’s been many years, many years of stifled debate on one of the most important internet forums for education discussions in the UK.
Was the SWSF ever behind the threats made by Sune Nordwall towards Mumsnet? Unless told otherwise, we have to assume they were — the information Sune gave was pretty detailed, Bratt and Feinsilber, in Sweden, representing, presumably, not only Sune but also the Swedish Waldorf Federation, would contact the forum in cooperation with the SWSF through its legal representative.
What is the position of the SWSF today? Does the SWSF want debate to be stifled? Does the SWSF still stand behind such threats, if they ever did?
A related question is what the Steiner schools think of this. The SWSF is, after all, supposed to organise and represent them.
(By the way — I don’t have a beef with Mumsnet for deciding they don’t want discussions about Steiner education in their education forums. It’s their forum, and their decision; it is the actions of the waldorf movement, which led to the decision, that bother me. And I think it’s a pity that the most influential web forum for parents in the UK can’t allow this one particular educational movement to be discussed critically — especially since the movement is trying to expand and is in the process of obtaining state funding for more and more schools. However, it hardly matters one iota to me personally — I’m not getting involved in online discussions of that kind ever again.)
Melanie · January 2, 2013 - 11:39 pm ·
thank you for highlighting this, Alicia. What was Sune doing ‘monitoring’ the situation in England? (With the support of the Swedish Waldorf Schools Federation).
You now have to log in to the forum to read ‘talk’ – anyone can join. The latest mention of Steiner is this, dated Jan 1st 2013:
“I am also lucky to not have to worry about school fees and also to not have any baggage attached to going to any sort of school bar religious or cult (the Steiners) so can look at schools based on what they offer my child.”
I’d say this is fairly representative of the attitude on the forum – no one has responded.
There’s a recent thread on the Edinburgh Steiner School, the last post includes:
"…personally I have problems with the whole Steiner philosophy. Not sure whether the idea of karma (meaning if you are bullied, you are getting what is coming to you and why should someone interfere with that) has to do with the bullying stories…"
From what I can see people are openly discussing Steiner ed and no one is telling them they can’t – which is a positive sign. Sune did not succeed, in fact he probably made things worse for the movement. When you behave like the representative of a cult that’s exactly how parents will perceive you, even if it takes a little while to work out what’s going on.
Here is a message posted at mothering.com in March, 2013
I am so disappointed. I thought Waldorf would be a great experience for my daughter. It is, EXCEPT
1. 5 kids in the class are out of control, constantly interrupting, hitting, yelling. Stealing crayons & flutes from other children's desks, etc. The main bully had another child restrain a third child in the boys bathroom so he could punch him — one of 1000 examples.
2. The teacher says that the rowdy kids "need held" and my dau. needs to be stronger.
3. The teacher says the bullies are really improving so much since September, that should make all of us parents content.
4. The school will not acknowledge that there are any problems.
5. 4/5 of the bullies are from rich families.
It is too late to apply to other schools for next fall. I am so depressed. When I googled "waldorf bullying" i lost my mind. I had no idea it was like this.
How can it be OK to tolerate so much chaos? Those 5 kids take up 70% of the teacher's time.
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The following letter was posted on the waldorf-critics list in 1997 and reposted in 2013
I have added a few footnotes.
I spoke with an old friend the other day who had found herself upset all over again over events that happened in the [Waldorf] school our children had once been in. News items about cults had opened up old wounds for her.
We discussed a number of incidents, and it made me see that it's time to mention some of them here. She is considering how much she can tell about other friends' experiences without hurting anyone — and how much she feels o.k. telling about her own family's. She will be thinking about it and talking it over with her husband this next week.
At the time our children were at the school, there were many unsettling incidents that happened on the playground in the unsupervised environment. Little boys were being beaten up, and bullying was seriously out of control. Children would come home worried and upset. Some parents were closer to what was going on than others, and tried unsuccessfully to convince the teachers to supervise the playground. There was rarely a teacher out there. It was especially disturbing in light of the fact that the boys being beaten up were not the kind of children who would ordinarily be involved in fighting or bringing on that kind of negative attention.
An anxious parent spoke to a teacher who told her that those children were dealing with "past life karma" they needed to work out together.  The same parent finally called a member of the College  (there is a specific protocol you are supposed to follow in filing complaints) and told him she had observed children climbing the (high) play structure on stilts, children dragging other children around by ropes, children bullying and using foul language — but no teachers supervising. The teacher answered, "You are not an initiate , and therefore you cannot understand the kind of energies we're dealing with here." When the stunned parent reported this back to another teacher, she was met with wide eyes, "He told you THAT?" The implication was that he had seriously erred in letting a cat out of a bag. 
One of the concerns some parents had was that their little girls were continually having their dresses pulled up by boys. This was very disturbing to the girls. When they screamed, it was only the girls who were reprimanded for causing a disturbance. Finally a "Friday Is Skirts Up" policy was started by a teacher so as to placate everyone — that way the girls could have Monday thru Thursday as days their skirts were not to be pulled up. The girls, as you might imagine, were not amused. I don't remember the outcome, but I would hope it was finally handled after one little girl angrily proposed a "Boys Pants Down Day."
There was a lot of parent time and energy that went into trying to make the playground a safe place, but the teachers never seemed to share the concern. One parent who dropped out ran into a parent (an Anthroposophist) the following fall who had stayed. The other parent, who had formerly been warm and friendly, was aloof, and commented "Oh....it's just so lovely and peaceful there this year. Everyone who had problems with the school is gone, and those left are people who really *want* to be there." She was someone who had not cared to look at any of the problems that were being brought up. It was back to Business As Usual until the next batch of trouble making parents would arrive in a year or two.
The majority of people I've known who send their children to Waldorf schools have decided that the idea of public school is unthinkable. This makes them feel that they have to hang in and make it work or try to "trust" and let it be. I got so tired of hearing the word "trust" mouthed as if it were some kind virtue that separated the open and enlightened from the rabble.
A further complication is that many parents find such "community" around the campus, the wonderful festivals , and all that goes with being "Waldorf parents." This makes them very reluctant to see problems, to make waves — or to listen to troublemakers.
I used to regularly hear one parent or another discuss how miserable their child was for one reason or another, but they would do little or nothing to get the child out of the damaging situation. After appealing unsuccessfully to the teacher and then to the College, the child would stay in the situation.
Those particular parents were so full of their own neediness and longing for those beautiful pastel rooms, beeswax crayon drawings, and all the rest, that their children were made to stay there as a vehicle for their parents' access — the mothers especially. I mentioned this to several of them *after* they finally took their children out.
In every case, I was met with the sheepish acknowledgment that it was exactly what they were doing. They hadn't realized it at the time, and were surprised to hear that I had been observing it all along. In turn, I was surprised to hear that they had not been aware of what seemed so obvious all the times I saw them peering so longingly into the beautiful cloistered classrooms.  The few parents did get into those classrooms, by the way, were those few who were needed to teach a handicraft like knitting. This does not mean to imply that all children are unhappy in [Waldorf schools]! Many are perfectly happy there. I'm just making the point that some parents feel so personally fulfilled in the cultlike community that they are able to ignore or deny what they see, even when it affects their own children. The friend I spoke with yesterday recalled how she had been "shunned" after finally leaving the school. It had been painful enough to let go of her dream, but then being cut off from the community she that meant so much to her made it that much worse.
The [Waldorf] system is essentially set up in such a way that the teachers are responsible and accountable only to themselves to interpret Anthroposophy and apply it to the schools, without interference, in whatever way they choose.
 Karma and reincarnation are key beliefs in the Waldorf belief system, Anthroposophy.
 At many Waldorf schools, the central committee — the seat of power, occupied by senior faculty members — is called the College of Teachers.
 Anthroposophists consider themselves to be occult initiates, privy to secret spiritual knowledge. See, e.g., "Inside Scoop".
 Waldorf schools generally keep many secrets from outsiders, including students' parents. See "Secrets".
 These are often disguised religious observances. See "Magical Arts".
 Waldorf schools often strive to keep parents and others out, barring unsupervised visits. The faculty seeks freedom to proceed as they their beliefs dictate, with no outside interference. See, e.g., "Faculty Meetings" and "Visits".
Here are a pair of comments from a discussion labeled
"Waldorf Schools and ADHD" at ADDConnect
"We had our son in a Waldorf School and had plan[ned] to raise him with that education. We were on a waiting list for 2 years and it worked out that he could start in his Kindergarten year. We ended up pulling him out halfway through the year. It was a devastating experience for all of us. The main issue is that they do everything through the rhythm of the day — routines are cued non-verbally by the teacher as she starts her day and so it goes the entire day. The concept is sound but a child that needs to be redirected or to transition with ‘warnings’ it doesn't work out so well. They would try to redirect him by taking his hand which resulted in him not understanding and often times a struggle would [ensue] simply because he had no clue what was going on. Then there comes the issue with wearing layers, changing clothes (they go out in every kind of weather regardless), putting their wooly slippers on, etc. Everything was a struggle and he was labeled a difficult child and every suggestion we had to help him was ignored with ‘we do not really understand what he needs.’ We tried their Eurythmy Classes and there too he had difficulty with focus they said. So much for letting a child be and the imagination of free play. It began causing him stress and then there are the other kids there that just don't get it. These are just a few examples and I have many others. We are friends with people that have been raised in Waldorf Schools and the young adults that graduate are beautiful rounded people. Steiner was a brilliant man and his ability to understand the spirit, mind and body development of children is short of genius.* However, we found unstructured environments are detrimental to our son. We also tried several other private schools and soon realized that we would never be able to get what we needed for him to thrive. We finally decided to move to an awesome public school district and he is thriving and we have all of the services and staff needed to help him."
*A key point to note is that this parent — like many who have unfortunate Waldorf experiences — believes in the Waldorf system and greatly respects Rudolf Steiner. Favoring Waldorf and Steiner does not protect a family from the adverse effects of choosing Waldorf education. Indeed, making the error of believing in Waldorf and Steiner may simply set up a family for the problems that Waldorf often inflicts. As for whether Steiner had any real insight into the "spirit, mind and body of children," see, e.g., "Oh Humanity".
"We kept our son at a Waldorf school for way, way too long because we didn't realize he had ADD/ADHD. All the signs were there in the classroom and his class teacher never once mentioned the possibility to us. Instead she shamed, punished and took his disrespect personally. Ultimately she made it more about her than him. We were so very disappointed in this school. We feel that so much of what they claim to stand for is untrue. I very much regret choosing a Waldorf school for my son. I think it did him a great disservice. It is one of my biggest mistakes as a parent. A lot of time has been lost and we are desperately trying to work things out now. "
For reports from other former Waldorf parents, see
To consider such reports in context, see
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 14. PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER ◊◊◊