Monday, August 3, 2009

Love and Critics

I have spent some brief time on the Waldorf critics list (if that's what it's called) recently, and I have engaged in a couple of exchanges that I intend to continue when I have time. It is stimulating and challenging to enter a discussion that involves different points of view.

It seems to me that some of the Waldorf critics, at least, actually love Waldorf education and anthroposophy, that the tension between the highly imperfect practices of Waldorf schools and Waldorf teachers and the high ideals that they espouse drives a desire for criticism. As a noted anthroposophist told me once, "I love Waldorf education; it's just the schools I can't stand." Tongue-in-cheek, but, all too often, understandable.

What I mean, for example, is this: I have no interest in astrology. When people at a dinner party start talking about it, I tune out. When I come across references to it in my reading, anthroposophical or otherwise, I tend to start skimming. Astrology may be total bunk or it may contain great truths of which I will remain ignorant. But I just can't bring myself to be bothered. I recognize that others take it seriously, on the one side for its apparent value, and on the other for its apparent idiocy. But to have a stake in a discussion about it is beyond me. And I recognize that I could only have strong feelings about it if it connected to my life somehow. I do not embrace it and I am not critical of it; I am indifferent.

If I grow, eventually, through interest, to love it, fine. If I grow to hate it, however, I must recognize that beyond the hatred is love for something that I wish to see born. In the phenomenon from which I distance myself is a kernel of truth that draws me. (Similarly, as the rabbi said to the atheist, "The god you do not believe in, I also do not believe in.")

To turn this around, if I experienced astrology as connected to my life, I would have strong feelings about it. So, in manifesting strong feelings, great interest--many of the Waldorf critics are as well read in Steiner as any anthroposophists I know--Waldorf critics demonstrate the connection of Waldorf education with their lives.

Unfortunately (from my point of view), whereas my education in a Waldorf school (after nine years in three mediocre public schools) and my experience as a teacher lead me to see great value in it, the experiences of many critics is the reverse. They or their children were wronged by someone or something in Waldorf schools--dogmatic teachers, heedless governance, even educational malpractice. Rather than writing off this experience, however, as we all do with wrongs done to us every day (unless we aim to carry a lot of baggage wherever we go; fewer than one child in one thousand is educated in a Waldorf school in the U.S.; if our primary motive is improving education, there are better ways to spend our time...), some Waldorf critics have engaged with it, in part through their on-line list or group.

Their motives, even if they seek to destroy Waldorf education, are beyond reproach. They aim (as I do) to make the world a better place, and what, in the end, is more loving than that?

Similarly, we may disagree, even after long conversation, but if we shun each other we exclude the possibility of mutual understanding. And there's no love in that.


zooey said...

Well, well. I once wrote to somebody else, who asked why I take such an interest in this wacky anthroposophy, when I think it destroyed so much (and it did, certainly) and when I don't think there's much value in it, I wrote, no I didn't, but I quoted Fernando Pessoa, because I can't ever write anything this good... Anyway, this is what I quoted:

Omar had a personality; I, for better or worse, have none. In an hour I’ll have strayed from what I am at this moment; tomorrow I’ll have forgotten what I am today. Those who are who they are, like Omar, live in just one world, the external one. Those who aren’t who they are, like me, live not only in the external world but also in a diversified, ever-changing inner world. Try as we might, we could never have the same philosophy as Omar’s. I harbour in me, like unwanted souls, the very philosophies I criticize. Omar could reject them all, for they were all external to him, but I can’t reject them, because they’re me.”
Fernando Pessoa, BOOK OF DISQUIET, p.468 (Penguin, 2002).


anthromama said...

Some of the most illuminating conversations on anthroposophy that I have ever had have been with critics of it. But these critics were, as you said, engaged with it and interested, if only in a negative sense. They were not simply trolls out to bash someone else's interests or livelihoods.

I watched others engage with these critics in a combative, defensive way, which in my mind did nothing to foster any understanding whatsoever. Throw in some ad hominem attacks and it's now a complete waste of time!

The disappointing part about the time-wasting aspect was that so much could have been gained from the conversation. I think the Waldorf world tends to be very insular, consciously or not. And so what feedback are schools getting from parents? Is there any awareness of parents as "customers" of the school, so to speak, and any thought of "customer service" in that regard in addition to what is being done for the children?

Cathy Balme said...

Your posts are thoughtful. Just to clarify why people I know discuss Steiner, anthroposophy long after they have removed their children from the schools; one reason is to understand what was done to their children, why they were encouraged to change handedness, why they were labelled with temperaments, why there was little intervention in bullying, or seemingly it was allowed to run its course, why they were taught such a specific curriculum at specific times, why they could only paint in a particular way, why they sang certain songs, peformed certain rituals, etc etc.
The answer is anthroposophy, followed by teachers who have been trained in anthroposophy ( some call Steiner waldorf teacher training brainwashing and indoctrination); karma, reincarnation,higher worlds, the supernatural, an education based on Steiner's clairvoyance.
I don't think the quest is to destroy this education; those of us who chose it, did so for all the right reasons, the creativity, "freedom" and broadness of knowledge, only to find it couldn't have been less so.
The difficulty lies in the fact that there is lack of transparency, and deception.
Many of us wouldn't have enrolled our children had we known about the anthroposophical core underlying the schools. This is where the fault lies; if the schools were honest, they would have families who chose them for what they are, not for what they aren't.

zooey said...

@Cathy That is indeed one main issue, people are unaware of what they are choosing when they choose waldorf. Even most books about waldorf education are written in such a way that they are deceptive. They are too much the works of "believers".

@anthromama What you say is certainly true. I'm not going to say it's the fault of anthroposophists only. I've been too angry, too often. Just want to add that I think it is unfortunate that waldorf people are generally so uninterested in knowing what went wrong, even though, quite clearly, something went wrong. I feel that many waldorf proponents are content when they can point to faults, personal faults, in the person who they perceive are "attacking" them. But the bottom line is still that my anger at waldorf arouse in waldorf. And even back then--and we left in peace, i e, we never made a stink out of our discontentment at that point in time--they were totally disinterested to know what made a formerly comitted family just leave after 9 years. The official story in waldorf was always that nobody ever left because they didn't appreciate waldorf--lots of kids left all the time, left what common "delusion" held was paradise. Something doesn't add up.

I've said this many times before but I maintain that if waldorf doesn't seriously consider the things I say, and the things other critics say, they are going to produce more ex-waldorf kids who are angry with waldorf decades later, who will read up on Steiner and waldorf literature when they have grown up, and go "wow, this is what went on...!"