Sunday, October 18, 2009

San Francisco Waldorf School

Reviewed by Claire


Since I’m reviewing the independent schools Kate has suggested I do my best to remain anonymous. I won’t be divulging which dates I toured and won’t be too forthcoming with some of the unique interactions.


I’ll also let you in on a little secret. . . I toured some schools last year. If I can give all you K-hunters one bit of advice it’s start early. The public schools let you tour anytime, the indys ask you to tour the year before your child is eligible to enroll. If you have a summer baby like me, you get two full years of independent school tours. Wheee.


The Facts

Web site: www.sfwaldorf.org


School tours: by appointment – 415-931-2750


Location: 2938 Washington St. (preschool to 8th Grade); 470 West Portal (High School)


Grades: Nursery–12


Start time: 8:20 a.m.


Kindergarten size: There are three classes ranging in size from 22 to 28 students. Students are a mix of first and second year students. Half of the children move on to first grade each year.


Library: Physically small with a charming and knowledgeable part-time librarian


Tuition: $16,700–$18,400


You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an education highly guided by a philosophical approach, small classes, a tight knit community, a concern for the natural and an emphasis on esthetics


Playground: Located in the center of the school buildings (and therefore insulated from the traffic and noise of Washington Street), the young children’s play-space includes a large structure for climbing and swinging. There is also a blacktop surface with planting beds, foursquare courts and basketball hoops. The children also make use of a local park.


After-school program: K–5; runs until 5:30; $7 per hour fee; their website says: “The focus of the afternoon is rest, healthy play and good food. The intent is not to structure this time with a whirlwind of activities, but rather to provide a secure daily rhythm within which the child is free to explore options.”


Language: Spanish and German are taught from the first through the eighth grades.


Financial Aid: “Affordable Tuition” is based on need (using SSS) and given based on the financial resources available at the school. Aid must be reapplied for each year and returning families are given priority.


General Information: Waldorf education is based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher from the early 1900s. A key element guiding the curriculum is the belief that all children go through specific stages of development and Waldorf teaching purposefully helps to guide - not rush - children through these stages. While Waldorf doesn’t term itself as “religious education” there is a distinctly spiritual element. Waldorf education focuses on the seasons and the natural world, imparting a sense of moral purpose, and developing creativity.


Students attend Kindergarten for 2 years. When they move up to first grade they meet the primary teacher they will study with until they graduate eighth grade. We were told that sometimes circumstance change but more often than not, students and teacher stay together the whole 8 years. The school day begins with “Main Lessons” the subject matter is taught in blocks ranging from 3 to 6 weeks. After the daily main lesson, children have various subjects depending on the grade. All grades study Spanish, German, music, PE, handwork, and Eurythmy (as near as I can tell it means singing and dancing.) Older students also study woodworking.


The Tour:

We began by meeting the parent volunteers and Enrollment Director Lori Grey. Lori was warm and gracious and the mother of a Waldorf student. Our first stop was the large K class of 28 students (there are two smaller classes which we did not visit.) What a magical place! Busy little children were all about. Some made applesauce, some made bread, others wore little felt hats and capes as they pretended to be elves, and still another group played in a corner filled with toys. It was beyond charming. The room was warm and beautiful – all the toys were wooden, little nature vignettes were set up with apples, leaves, stones and sticks. The effect was stunning and inviting. I wanted to be a kid in that class!


In first grade we watched the teacher guide a lesson about a specific upper and lower case letter. The teacher told a story and used colored chalk to beautifully illustrate it on the board (incorporating the letter form.) The children followed along, using the exact technique and colors to recreate the illustration in their personal lesson books. The kids seemed attentive and engaged. The room, while not quite as lovely as the Kindergarten, was pretty and smelled of beeswax.


The fifth graders we visited were learning about Mythology. They too had lesson books. Lesson books are a big deal at Waldorf. We also saw an eighth grade class where the students were having a back and forth discussion with the teacher. They were obviously independent thinkers and had no trouble speaking their minds in front of a room full of adult strangers (I really wonder how kids are able to do that? I mean really, with all these tours is there a child in SF being educated without an audience?)


We toured the library and talked with librarian. The space itself was small but cozy and crammed floor to ceiling with books. The librarian told us that she fortunate to be able to get to know the children well enough that she learns their interests and will often pull out (or purchase) books for them to select from.


We then headed back into the meeting room to look over more beautiful lesson books and have Q & A with a long time teacher and a parent volunteer.


Claire’s Impressions: This was one of the tours Elias was able to come on so I’m going to include his impressions. He was incredibly impressed by the entire curriculum. The cross over of subject matters inspired him. One Lesson Book had a beautifully illustrated page about geometry in Middle Eastern Architecture and Elias was ready to sign up right then and there. He loved that the artistic was integrated into every subject.


If you’ve read this far you know I was bedazzled by the Kindergarten room. Wow wow Wubzy was it fabulous! And now, if you know anything about Waldorf (and Nick Jr.) you can see the rub. No TV if you go to Waldorf. Seriously. None. Ever. No plastic toys either. I can’t prove this but I’m fairly certain that LEGO factories worldwide would shut right down if we gave up plastic toys.


The parent volunteer at our Q & A - let’s call her Cindy - Cindy talked about making the hard decision to put away the TV, box up the videos and give away the non-wooden toys when her first child began at Waldorf. Cindy said it was difficult, but the best decision she ever made for her children. I totally believe her. I just don’t know if my family is ready to do that. Don’t get me wrong, Owen isn’t plunked in front of the TV for hours on end but I’m just not sure I buy the idea that 20 minutes of children’s television every few days is going to damage him permanently.


One of the things our family hopes to find when we leave a pre-school that we dearly love, is a new family community. It is evident that Waldorf offers support and fellowship for children and parents. I really admire and respect the play-based aspect of the younger grades – my son would really experience the magic of childhood at Waldorf and that is very appealing.

122 comments:

  1. I'm a Waldorf critic in the sense that I find it amusing, but here's the website of a serious anti-Waldorf organization, just for purposes of thorough research:

    http://www.waldorfcritics.org/

    My teens have a Waldorf-educated friend, and they consider it child abuse that she's not allowed to go to movies, as my kids are bit film buffs. At a slightly younger age, they were all baffled (including the Waldorf kid) that she was allowed to read the Harry Potter books but not see the movies.

    We have a better-informed regular poster here who will certainly appear soon to tell you about gnomes, Atlantis, our Lemurian ancestors from outer space, bans on black crayons and mirrors, and other fun Waldorfian trivia. Oh, and charges of racist attitudes, too.

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  2. Oh boy, Claire, hold onto your hat. Waldorf is very controversial. The Rudolph Steiner movement, also called anthroposophy, is seen by many to have cultic elements. And, truthfully, there is a certain lack of transparency in some of what they do....there are levels of initiation into the movement and they will not be entirely upfront about the degree to which their teaching staff is very engaged in the spiritual practices and theories of Rudolph Steiner.

    There's no doubt the wooden toys and emphasis on nature are very attractive to many of us (reminding me of my own 70's upbringing and my mother's emphasis on wooden toys, extremely limited TV, & home-baked bread)--there's a kind of purity and folksiness and earthiness that is a great antidote to contemporary living. It has its roots in the German back-to-roots movements of the early 20th century.

    But there are other parts of Waldorf curriculum, including in the science curriculum, that are to contemporary eyes....they are based on the spiritual beliefs of the anthroposophists. They also don't use the color black in anything (crayons, etc) and some link this to the evident racism in Steiner's writings. Elevating German folk culture was not always benign.....

    The ubiquitous gnomes are very much connected to the spiritual theories. So is the eurymthic dancing.

    Another thing is that Waldorf tends to discourage vaccination, so breakouts of pertussis (whooping cough) and other preventable diseases are not unheard of in Waldorf schools. There was an outbreak of pertussis just a couple of years ago at the East Bay Waldorf.

    I have known families in Waldorf. Two were nominally Jewish and one is actively Catholic. They didn't get drawn into that stuff, as far as I know, and most of the kids in question seem to be doing very well. But you will find others who feel it is a cult that they were subjected to (just google.....).

    I guess I would just suggest, eyes open on this stuff. If you wouldn't send your kid to Catholic school because you don't want him to learn that music, you might want to be clear about the music here too.

    Anyway, I say again, hunker down. This thread could get active.

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  3. Sorry, I mean my kids are BIG film buffs. Typo, not bad writing.

    Also, we spent a lot of time with our Waldorf friends when our kids were preschool-age. One downside is that the parents were not encouraged to read to their kids except for Waldorf-approved reading matter. That meant they missed out on all the fun current literature for young children and were stuck with tales written in 1902 and translated from the Danish about elves living under toadstools -- snore.

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  4. And humorist Sandra Tsing Loh satirized Waldorf in a commentary on private education:

    "Given that independent-school business (and middle- class urban fear) is booming now, “the front office,” as I call it, is always manned by mercenary professional gatekeepers—the lion-maned admissions directors, the women with important scarves—who let you know, in no uncertain terms, exactly what on your Visa is nonrefundable. But in “the back office,” there is always the gentle little gnome who lives in a woodland cave of the mind. In Los Angeles, this woodland gnome is typically a sweet and fragile eighty-something educator (think wonderfully old-fashioned cardigan, white hair perhaps growing out of the ears) who in Austria in the 1950s invented some sort of benevolent alternative- learning theory whence gently flowers the school’s educational philosophy. If he or she is the emotional figurehead of an independent school (one possibly even bearing his or her name) that now allows in, by breakneck competition, only the most affluent and privileged (with the occasional Savion Glover–brilliant inner-city child, for color; or perhaps an heir of Denzel Washington), thus exacerbating the twenty-first century’s Grand Canyon–like divide between rich and poor, it’s not the helpless and unworldly little gnome’s fault—it’s just something that happened along the way."

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  5. I think the outbreak at East Bay Waldorf was measles, but the point remains.

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  6. no, it was whooping cough

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  7. Will they immunize for Swine Flu? It's a killer, but there's thimerasol in it. Me, I'm immunizing my kids.

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  8. the lemurians always make me laugh.

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  9. there is a non-thimerosal version of the H1n1 vaccine ... the nasal spray

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  10. they don't immunize for anything, 6:41. they refuse accept the concept of herd immunity and how our society has overcome terrible diseases by vaccinating 93% of our kids or more (some kids who are immuno-compromised really can't be vaccinated, but the rest of us help to protect them with our vaccinations).

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  11. lemurians are cute and cuddly ... kinda like tribbles

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  12. yeah, but have you ever had to clean lemurian cages? stinks to high heaven.

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  13. article on the racist roots:

    http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/BierlFinal.htm

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  14. Here's an Alantic Monthly article on the vaccination issue & Waldorf that explains herd immunity very well.

    http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/AtlanticMonthlyVaccines.html

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  15. Parents who are attracted to New Age ideas seem to love Waldorf. These are the same people who disdain Catholic school as being sectarian--they don't want their kids getting Christian ideas. However, Waldorf has cultic tendencies--beware! If you are sincerely into these ideas, that's your business, and good luck to you. But at least the Catholics are upfront about who they are and what they believe. Anyone can read the catechism or the creeds or the Bible. Many families don't understand what they are getting into with Waldorf.

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  16. "the magic of childhood"

    yes, the teachers at waldorf actually think gnomes are real life forms

    some call it magical

    some call it insane

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  17. Waldorf teachers believe that the gnomes actually exist. Not as a fairy story, but for real. No, I'm not kidding.

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  18. Here's another Waldorf critic site, Waldorfwatch, with a discussion of the anti-immunization philosophy:

    http://sites.google.com/site/waldorfwatch/steiners-quackery

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  19. Here's a good article in Salon.com that about a family looking for a school and at first being attracted to the same elements described by Claire.

    http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2004/05/26/waldorf/index.html

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  20. Claire, please tell us you are reviewing other independent schools. I feel inclined, now, to discredit any review you give based on you your first review chosed was a Waldorf school. It is far too extreme for my tastes.

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  21. I'm a critic, but to be fair, here is a site that is less critical. It was founded by a parent who was okay with the method but objected to the lack of transparency about the anthroposophic roots, so created an open source site about Waldorf education that links to both critics and proponents.

    http://www.openwaldorf.com/

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  22. One striking feature of Waldorf education is its emphatic attitude that "rules are rules and they're not to be questioned." It seems kind of like military school with Maypoles.

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  23. Wait a sec, give Claire a break. Looking into a school isn't the same as buying everything about it. And when you schedule your tours (and hence write your reviews) is not usually in order of preference.

    But "military school with Maypoles" did crack me up.

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  24. Wow, lots of pretty extreme comments ... I went to sf waldorf elementary school for 7 yrs and now am a boringly normal lawyer and mother (ie no cult memberships!). During my Waldorf school years, my parents let me play with plastic toys, watch tv, get vaccinations, etc, and we didn't even get kicked out of school! Wd be nice if people tried to be a little less negative/opinionated, but I guess that's just the nature of the anonymous internet ...

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  25. steiner's spiritual movement is a new agey, gnostic offshoot of northern european christianity. it is classically gnostic in the sense of "secret knowledge" and also in the sense that the spiritual realm is considered to be more real than the material.

    many kids and families come through unscathed. their ideas maybe don't seem so strange in san francisco, where spiritual experimentation is common (and traditional religion commonly seen as outmoded). or maybe those kids and families they are just resiliant, or already have a well-formed guiding philosophy or religion and so are not susceptible to new ideas.

    however, the fact is that the teachers at sf waldorf are trained in rudolf steiner's teachings and methods and they are believers, and they carry out the methods. the curriculum is a path to their version of enlightenment.

    that's just to say, caveat emptor. if you like what they offer, including the anthroposophistic teachings, hey, great.

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  26. I find it hard to believe that 24 different people between 6:24 and 7:41 tonight posted negative comments about Waldorf. They were all anonymous comments. Someone or two has it out for Waldorf and posted almost every two minutes here. I'm a public school teacher in SF and think it is very interesting.

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  27. I remain anonymous here because everyone else is and it would seem a little too exposed not to be. But in other public situations, I'm perfectly willing to voice my opinion of Waldorf non-anonymously, and have done so.

    8:09, I feel that my opinions about Waldorf are reasonably well-informed (I said "military school with Maypoles" and posted the waldorfcritics link and the Sandra Tsing Loh quotes). So what's wrong with giving an informed opinion? Does Waldorf education teach that it's unseemly to voice an opinion, or just to criticize Waldorf?

    I submit that informed opinions, as long as they don't include personal attacks or other violations of civility, are not only legitimate but admirable. (That's what my kids learn at home and in public school.)

    To criticize Waldorf is not to criticize Claire. She's entitled to a different opinion -- plus I suspect I and other posters may have information that she doesn't, just due to previous familiarity. I for one didn't intend to pick on her.

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  28. No, I posted three or four of the comments, as the discussion progressed, and it's quite likely that at least one other poster commented more than once. What's wrong with that? There's no rule and there was no pretense.

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  29. Thanks 7:41 for the break. It's true, visiting a school, reviewing it even, isn't the same as attending. Elias and I are interested in seeing what's out there. We're not going to be applying to Waldorf for the same reasons we're not applying to Parochial schools (6:29 called it: the concert analogy applies here.) I would say that anyone considering Waldorf would be wise to delve deeply into the philosophical underpinnings and be sure it fits with your family. And yes, 7:12 I'll definitely be reviewing other independents.

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  30. Waldorf sounded intriguing until I read just the tiniest little bit of reading on Steiner and ran for the hills. It would be like sending my kid to a school run by L. Ron Hubbard.

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  31. "Will they immunize for Swine Flu? It's a killer, but there's thimerasol in it."

    Naw. Rudolph Steiner believed that a good bout of fever was good for the kids health.

    I think the rate for pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination is only 50% amongst Waldorf kids. Pertussis used to kill 8,000 kids a year. Now it's down in single digits.

    "Me, I'm immunizing my kids."

    I'd immunize them, let them play with lego, and give them the odd video instead of sending them to a high-end anachronism like Waldorf.

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  32. "It seems kind of like military school with Maypoles."

    On that topic, there's a school in Anaheim that's:

    K-8
    Single sex boys
    Catholic
    Boarding (after 2nd grade)
    *Military Academy*

    [http://www.stcatherinesmilitaryacademy.org/]

    Who the heck semds their second-grader to a boarding military academy?

    When I feel very very very wicked, I think that the next time my kid needs a time out, I'd instead just fire up the browser and show him that school's website. [Evil laughter.]

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  33. 8:50 - Exactly! It looks nice until you scratch the surface and find a walloping bag of crazy.

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  34. "8:09, I feel that my opinions about Waldorf are reasonably well-informed (I said "military school with Maypoles" and posted the waldorfcritics link and the Sandra Tsing Loh quotes). So what's wrong with giving an informed opinion? Does Waldorf education teach that it's unseemly to voice an opinion, or just to criticize Waldorf?"

    8:09 reporting for duty here -- oops, sorry, must be my childhood training.

    You seem inordinately interested in Waldorf schools -- would you mind sharing why? Did you know someone close who attended a Waldorf school, or is your knowledge all internet-based? I guess I'm not convinced yet that yours is an informed opinion, although it certainly seems quite passionate and unshakable.

    If you were even a teensy bit open to hearing that a child at Waldorf could have some positive moments there, and still be friends with class mates 20 years later all who all seems normally well-adjusted and happy, I would tell you that there was nothing militaristic about it, and the Maypole thing was actually very fun and sweet -- an excuse for little kids to wear pretty flowers, sing, and be outside on a beautiful day. Pretty horrifying, I know. Not a perfect school, but one I have fond memories of many years later.

    Well, I've dared to offer up a few positive remarks and childhood memories, so go ahead and insult way. I hope it makes you feel very superior and well-informed.

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  35. I object to Waldorf Schooling because it is a religious cult based upon Rudolph Steiner’s heavily racist “Anthroposophy”.

    The people who wanted to start a Waldorf charter school in SF say it will: “incorporate Rudolf Steiner’s teachings into public school curriculum”

    Which of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings will they incorporate? ALL of them?

    Here are examples of some of Rudolph Steiner’s “teachings”:

    the spiritual development of a black adult would compare to the level of a seven year old white child.

    until they die and are reincarnated as white people, black people will never reach “clairvoyant consciousness”.

    young children are not allowed to use black or brown crayons, because those are “undesirable colors.” Children with brown or black skin are not allowed to color themselves as brown or black.

    Gnomes are real life forms.

    Atlantis really existed, and Steiner thought he was a descendant of Atlantians, and called himself a “Lemurian”.

    They make the children say ritualistic prayers, they skirt around the issue by calling the prayers “verses”.

    There are some beautiful aspects of Waldorf education, but its underlying racism and cult-like religion is worrisome. Parents who are asking for this charter have not studied Anthroposophy, most have not read much, if any, of Rudolf Steiner’s writings, all the parents see are the wooden toys and nature walks and Isadora Duncan dancing with scarves, that is merely what is on the surface.

    From "Anthroposophy and Ecofascism" by Peter Staudenmaier:

    Steiner taught that black people are sensual, instinct-driven, primitive creatures, ruled by their brainstem. He denounced the immigration of blacks to Europe as "terrible," "brutal," "dreadful," and decried its effects on "blood and race." He warned that white women shouldn't read "negro novels" during pregnancy, otherwise they'd
    have "mulatto children." In 1922 he declared, "The negro race does not belong in Europe, and it is of course nothing but a disgrace that this race is now playing such a large role in Europe."[9]

    But the worst insult, from an anthroposophical point of view, is Steiner's dictum that people of color can't develop spiritually on their own; they must either be "educated" by whites or reincarnated in white skin. Europeans, in contrast, are the most highly developed
    humans. Indeed "Europe has always been the origin of all human development." For Steiner and for anthroposophy, there is no doubt that "whites are the ones who develop humanity in themselves. [ . . .
    ] The white race is the race of the future, the spiritually creative race."[10]

    Anthroposophists today often attempt to excuse or explain away such outrageous utterances by contending that Steiner was merely a product of his times. This apologia is utterly unconvincing. First, Steiner claimed for himself an unprecedented degree of spiritual enlightenment which, by his own account, completely transcended his own time and place; he also claimed, and anthroposophists believe that he had, detailed knowledge of the distant future. Second, this argument ignores the many dedicated members of Steiner's generation who actively opposed racism and ethnocentrism. Third, and most telling, anthroposophists continue to repeat Steiner's racist nonsense to this day.

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  36. I'm the military school/Maypoles poster; also the one who reported on the Waldorf kid who was allowed to read the Harry Potter books but not see the movies, and the Waldorf reading matter.

    No, my info isn't Internet-based; it's based on friendship with some Waldorf families. I have no personal axes to grind, but I do think this blog is a format for sharing information. Information is particularly useful to families considering Waldorf, which has more going on beneath the surface of the tour than other schools.

    Friends who were a Waldorf family had to transfer both kids into public school (in Marin), after the tuition was a casualty of a divorce. The mom had been solidly onboard with the philosophy of later reading, but she had to spend megabucks on tutoring to catch the kids up to transfer them into public, so at that point she was a bit annoyed with it.

    8:09, I'm not trying to insult you, but you acted like it was out of line for me to criticize Waldorf. So in context, I questioned whether the notion that voicing informed criticism is out of line came from your Waldorf education. Voicing informed criticism is an acceptable and admirable thing to do, in my book.

    My point is that Waldorf schools impose a VERY strict, VERY specific set of rules, and do not allow them to be questioned. Is there any doubt about that?(My personal view is that those rules are bizarre and eccentric, but that's just my own view.)

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  37. here's David's story:

    http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles/TelegraphGilmour.html

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  38. My son had a very "magical" Kindergarten experience in his shabby, underfunded public school.

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  39. Read up on Anthroposophy before you fall too madly in love with Waldorf.

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  40. Some people will drink the kool-aid, no matter how much you try to warn them.

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  41. I went to a Montessori program through the 7th grade. I wish there was a viable elementary Montessori program in SF (the one that exists is a little small). This would probably hit the market niche that most Waldorf parent are looking for, without the baggage. One interesting point to this is that there is a greater spread of school types regarding curriculum etc. in the independent schools. Important to gather info.

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  42. There's a K-8 Montessori (Mills on Hillside Blvd.) in South San Francisco. If you happen to work in that direction the commute might work for you. I know a family with a child there, and they are very happy.

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  43. I find it sad that so many on this site are critical of Waldorf schooling, yet are themselves perfectly happy to send their children into the one-size-fits-all curriculum of SFUSD, where at most schools you will see every day, in every classroom of any given grade, that the exact same lessons are being taught from scripts which allow no creativity, no variance, and no support for children who may be struggling or excelling with any given lesson. What I most noticed while touring San Francisco public schools is that so many of them are soulless places where teachers and students look unhappy, frustrated, despondent, especially in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades of the General Ed programs in the very schools which have much-sought-after immersion programs. I never saw joyfulness, or kindness, or creativity, or intellectual vigor, or art. I did see each of these things in great abundance at the Waldorf School. My children do not attend SFUSD, nor do they attend the Waldorf School because neither were good fits for them. Every family is different, and has different needs. Instead of attacking something that is different than SFUSD, San Francisco parents should take delight in the fact that there are many educational models in this city which continue to inspire and prompt new and better learning within the public school system.

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  44. The comments here are unfair. Criticism is good but it needs to be balanced and constructive. Also, I assume that most of the negativity is coming from one or two people with passionate feelings against Waldorf. Many families attend these schools and have positive experiences.

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  45. 10:23 AM, I'm sorry, but that's an ugly and untrue picture of SFUSD. Are you even reading the reviews of the public schools here? I just got back from touring a very underfunded school with 82% free lunch kids. It has small group "pullouts" for students either lacking specific skills or who have advanced beyond the standard fare, so your comment about not doing differentiated instruction is wrong. Another school I saw had integrated music and arts instruction into a lesson drawing the tones of instruments and notating in bass and treble clef, so your comment about no art or creativity is wrong. Another had diagrams of kinds of angles and triangles on the wall of their 4th grade classroom (care to define a scalene triangle for me, without using Google?), which I remember doing in middle school, so your comment about no intellectual vigor is wrong. I also saw evidence of "writing process" instruction, which is used in the UC system, basic grammar instruction from K on, and other marks of both progressive and traditional education in the language arts. Not to mention community celebrations of carnaval, tree frog treks, conflict-resolution programs, and peer mentoring programs, plus a lot of laughter and warmth. As to soulless, yes, blame some 1970s architects for a lack of vision, but if soul includes energy, resourcefulness, celebration of differences, and striving, I'm seeing a lot of that.

    I am not a parent ambassador or a member of parents for public schools. I did not even go to public school myself, ever, for even one grade. I am a firm believer in teacher autonomy, curricular innovation, education for the whole child, play-based learning, etc. - all the things you get at most independent schools. Frankly, if I'd had the bucks to consider private a given, I would not even have looked at public schools. And guess what -- I'm very glad I am "wealth-free" enough to have had to. Teachers, parents, and students in SFUSD are doing an amazing job while working with a shameful lack of resources. Whatever way we go in the end (and yes, I appreciate the range of public, private, parochial, and charter options in SF), I think the public schools really are a viable option.

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  46. I will admit that I cringed a bit when I saw that Claire's first independent school review was for Waldorf, just because it's such a huge can of worms. It's no surprise that Waldorf is controversial, we get it, but the negativity on this blog is overwhelming. Anecdotes about "friends" are useless. More helpful would be commentary from families that are currently there or that have been there and have either positive or negative things to say about their experiences.

    Waldorf is certainly not for me, and my child is at a private school that is on the other side of the spectrum, but there are things I appreciate about the Waldorf methodology. It might be helpful for parents that are touring to understand whether or not it's necessary to completely buy in to the entire Waldorf methodology, i.e, really does no-one have a TV? Really are there no plastic toys? Really is reading discouraged? And it would also be helpful to have a better understanding of the curriculum, i.e, how do they teach science? Do they incorporate anthroposophism into the curriculum?

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  47. Claire, can you tell us more or less which of the independent schools you plan on reviewing? Thanks.

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  48. My biggest criticism of Waldorf is not the curriculum--although it is definitely not for me, even though I think the nature/homey stuff very attractive--because I am not every family. Some families may want exactly what they are providing. My biggest issue is that they are not transparent about how much the ideas of anthroposophy infuse the curriculum and the teachers' approaches.

    This is not an off-base or anecdotal observation. You have to dig, but if you do you will find that the teachers are all credentialed at Rudolf Steiner teacher colleges. If you look at the curriculum they study, it is soaked in anthroposophic studies and spiritual practices. Yet if you go on a tour, you will not hear this outlined clearly. You'll hear about eurythmic dancing but not how it is a spiritual practice.

    Many families who go to Waldorf don't know about all this--because it is not clearly told. They are attracted to the anti-consumer, anti-plastic approach, and why not? It is attractive. I know two families well who sent their kids to Waldorf in SF--one for K-8, the other for high school. Their kids seem fine, so I'm not suggesting that it doesn't work for some families. Neither one was into anthroposophy; one was active in a Catholic parish.

    I just have a huge problem with the secrecy, and the different levels of initiation into the knowledge. If I were a parent who was attracted to the wooden toys and charming classrooms, I would WANT to know about this other stuff too, so that I could make an informed decision as to whether this would be an deal-breaking issue for us or not. I think that's a valid issue to raise, and I don't mean it in a mean-spirited way. I would equally say that someone looking at a parochial school might want to understand how much Catholic teachings are a part of classroom and curriculum.

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  49. One aspect of the Waldorf system that turns me off is that the kids have the same teacher for 8 years. I think there's enormous value to kids working with different teachers over time. In my view they're really missing out on a valuable component of education if they never change teachers.

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  50. The whole point of this blog is to share information and opinions. Those who don't want to see information and opinions shared are, by definition, not choosing their activities wisely in reading this blog.

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  51. 1:29, I agree, it is especially awful when the teacher isn't all that great, and you are *stuck* with them for years.

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  52. I wasn't even thinking about the teacher being not-so-great - that would really be a problem! I was thinking more about the experience of learning to work with different people who have different styles. I know that my kids have gained something different from each teacher they've had, including the ones they may not have liked so much.

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  53. I spoke to a SF Waldorf instructor when we were looking at preschools (the waldorf nursery school was very close to my work). If I understood her correctly, she expressed that although the SF Waldorf school does not teach any of Rudolph Steiner's scientific theories, they also do not teach any science lessons that would directly contradict with those theories. That was enough to make me rule out Waldorf, although I also initially enamored with much I saw offered.

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  54. "It's no surprise that Waldorf is controversial, we get it, but the negativity on this blog is overwhelming."

    It's hard not to feel antipathy towards an educational philosophy that rejects vaccination - a preventative health measure which has eliminated or reduced the impact of diseases that killed millions of children - as part of its core tenets.

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  55. Don't know what their policies are now, but our neighbor's daughter, who is left-handed, was encouraged to write using her right hand only. She graduated from the Waldorf school 3-4 years ago.

    I'm left handed, so I ruled out Waldorf based on that alone.

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  56. I must diagree with those who are chastising commenters who are critical of Waldorf. I read this blog precisely to get a sense of varying perspectives. I don't want to hear just one song, just one type of thinking. Looking over all the posts about Waldorf, there is not one that makes personal attacks or anything threatening. I think there's nothing wrong in impassioned debate. I'm afraid that sometimes on this blog there are folks who immediately jump in and start criticizing people for taking strongly held views. Having been a victim of that on this website in the past, I felt I had to chime in here. (And by the way I have no view on Waldorf pro or con, although I can't say that I might not consider it for my kid in the future.)

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  57. No computer labs at Waldorf ... they believe weird creatures live in electronic devices ...
    bizarre.

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  58. How could Rudolf Steiner be against computers or TVs?

    Neither had been invented when he was around ;-)

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  59. Seriously, as someone with friends at Waldorf, it appeared to me that the philosophy was that if it hadn't been invented in Rudolf Steiner's day, it was verboten.

    So... Waldorf kids are allowed to play knights/castle/dragon games, with swords - but no police cars or fire trucks.

    Waldorf kids can see live theater, but not movies or TV.

    I never really got a clear answer as to what happened if anyone questioned these bans. Whatever the punishment, it must be something that was already in existence in Rudolf Steiner's day.

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  60. fundamentalist Anthroposophists (waldorfians) believe that the computer is actually a conduit for a devil named Ahriman

    seriously ..hard to make this stuff up, it is already so looney

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  61. What's wrong with Maypoles? I went to a Seven Sister college and we danced around the maypole every May Day (or if you were staunchly feminist, you could dance around the May Hole). Am I missing something?

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  62. yeah, you're missing a sense of humor :)

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  63. I'm surprised by some of the comments. Granted, I don't know much about Waldorf schools but my 28-year-old cousin went to a Waldorf school from K thru 8th grade and liked it. Her parents (my aunt & uncle) are very conservative, which is why I'm surprised to hear that Waldorf is considered so "out there".

    That said, my aunt & uncle let her and her brother (who was public school educated) play with plastic toys and watch TV. They also got all vaccinations on schedule.

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  64. As a current parent at the SF Waldorf Grade School, I'd like to take this opportunity to dispel myths that are being perpetuated through previous comments. Many of the negative statements here are half-informed, but the full truth can easily be discovered by the tour that Claire/Elias experienced and through dialog with parents and faculty. We are a vibrant community that I would suspect is very much the same as the many wonderful school communities in our area. I represent a normal Waldorf family, and find offense that someone can hang a tag of "cult" around a stranger's neck so easily.

    First, my family has televisions/computers in our household, and many of our parents work in technology (with at least one successful video game developer). The "no media policy" is aimed at younger children, as most kids in middle school and probably all in high school watch movies and television, and work on computers just like every other kid. As more research studies are completed on the negative effects of television/visual media on young minds, I am glad that our community supports and embraces this stance. (And for the record, not every family strictly adheres to the policy, as some younger children use computers or watch movies from time to time.)

    As for vaccinations, the decision to vaccinate or not is a family decision. My child has all shots up-to-date, as does a significant portion of his class.

    On limitations of reading materials, I am really perplexed as to where this myth originates, as reading is highly encouraged across all of our grades. The school suggests reading lists, but I don't believe this is any different in other schools, right? On my child's shelf are books about space exploration, Wild Things, Berenstain Bears, cats in hats, Grimm's, etc... Of course there are books about fairies, gnomes, elves and dragons, but I would hope that those are on every child's shelf! (BTW, they are called "Fairy Tales" for a reason.)

    On toys, yes, we use wooden toys for children, but that hasn't seemed to hurt their growth or imagination. My child has mounds of Legos, as do many of his classmates, so the guys in Denmark should rest easy.

    Yes, our faculty members are trained at Rudolf Steiner programs throughout the world, and many carry a deep spiritual view of the human endeavor. Most are trained at traditional colleges and universities, with many in our HS holding PhD's in their chosen field. Since becoming part of the school community, it is clear that human spirituality is important, but not in a religious sense. We have people of all faiths in our community, and are continually incorporating events that celebrate our diverse community background.

    Do I ascribe to all of Steiner's views? Not in the slightest, as he was a white guy growing up in post WWI Germany, and was "out there" at times. But as the old saying goes, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Waldorf schools are not all the same, and SF Waldorf School is different than it was even 10 years ago. Although Waldorf schools spring from a common ancestry, each is a representation of its community; thus the education, events and community life are shaped by challenges and opportunities that present themselves independently. The one common thread you will find is a dedication to the education of the whole child, with a curriculum that is developmentally age-appropriate. I encourage those who are not swayed by hearsay and scare tactics to visit our school and see for yourself what our educational curriculum offers from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.

    For critics, I am sorry if you were wronged by a Waldorf school in the past, which seems apparent in the obvious disdain for Waldorf education. But please understand that our community cannot be boiled down to the negative stereotypes you lay at our door. I encourage you to take another look at the SF Waldorf School, as you may be surprised by the development and growth that has taken place over the years.

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  65. Okay, avoiding judgment here-for parents who would like to know what the Waldorf teachers are taught at the Rudolf Steiner teacher colleges, check out the website of the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training. You can judge for yourselves (based on what they self-publish, at least), about their degree of engagement with anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner. This is the first year curriculum, but you can click on the second and third too.

    http://www.bacwtt.org/curriculum-classes/teacher-training/first-year

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  66. Sigh. A "significant portion" of vaccinations, if low enough, does not provide the herd immunity needed for children to be protected, particularly if they are immuno-compromised. Check out this story in yesterday's Slate for a firsthand view of this issue, from a mother whose young child has leukemia:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2232977/

    Waldorf discourages families from vaccinating. The fact that some families do anyway is good--but why is it that pertussis outbreaks have happened in recent years at so many Waldorf schools, including in the Bay Area? Because overall vaccination rates at many Waldorf schools are dangerously low.

    None of us wants our children to suffer from leukemia or other life-threatening, immune-system compromising disease, but if it happens, we'll be glad if we can be assured that herd immunity procedures are already in place. Over 8-12 years, it is most likely that at least one child in a classroom will become immuno-compromised for one reason or another (cancer treatment, transplant), so this is about protecting your child or one of his/her beloved classmates.

    Herd immunity means 93% or even 95% of kids are vaccinated, with exemptions given primarily for medical reasons. Waldorf school rates are considerably lower--30-60% from what I have read, overall. Perhaps SF Waldorf has higher rates than that, but I'd be concerned.

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  67. According to Steiner, people existed on Earth since the creation of the planet. Humans, he taught, began as spirit forms and progressed through various stages to reach today's form. Humanity, Steiner said, is currently living in the Post-Atlantis Period, which began with the gradual sinking of Atlantis in 7227 BC ... The Post-Atlantis Period is divided into seven epochs, the current one being the European-American Epoch, which will last until the year 3573. After that, humans will regain the clairvoyant powers they allegedly possessed prior to the time of the ancient Greeks (Boston).



    Anthroposophy teaches that Negroes [sic] are at a baby stage of development, Asians are at an adolescent stage, and only whites are adults; it also teaches that while an individual's potential may be limited by his race, an individual's soul will reincarnate many times throughout the races. Steiner lectured in Germany, 1922: "If the blonds and blue-eyed people die out, the human race will become increasingly dense if men do not arrive at a form of intelligence that is independent of blondness." Steiner may have meant to challenge his listeners out of their own type of racism and into his own, but it is unlikely that many understood what he was talking about.
    Waldorf proponents like to say that such ideas of Steiner are not taught in Waldorf schools, that it is only his teaching methods and ideas about child development that are employed in Waldorf education. But in 1995, the mother of a student in a Dutch Waldorf school was outraged to find in her daughter's notebook various racial stereotypes ("Negroes have a sense of rhythm" and "Asian smiles hide emotions") dictated to her by her Waldorf teacher. To the mother's surprise, "racial ethnography" was being taught as a subject to eighth graders. The Waldorf Schools Association responded that ethnography was being taught "with the intention to teach interest and warmth for the diversity of nations."

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  68. I'm one of the posters who has commented on Waldorf schools. I have never been wronged by a Waldorf school; I simply have information and opinions that I'm sharing. They are NOT myths; they are based on both research and the real-life experiences of friends at Waldorf schools. It's simply false to mischaracterize them as myths. I haven't seen any information posted here about Waldorf schools and Rudolf Steiner that doesn't pass a fact-check.
    "I didn't know that" or "I don't adhere to that rule" doesn't count.

    I'm the one who mentioned a Waldorf teen (middle-school-age at the time) who was not allowed to see the Harry Potter movies. Her parent is a Waldorf teacher, so perhaps the policy is more stringently enforced. Of course families may violate it (our other Waldorf friends have), but the no-media philosophy IS practiced in the Waldorf world.

    There are many reports in the news of issues with low vaccination rates at Waldorf schools, and the herd-immunity issue is very real. The pertussis outbreak that closed an East Bay Waldorf school is a result of that philosophy.

    We spent a lot of time when our kids were preschool-age with friends whose two children attended Marin Waldorf, and they were very clear about the limits on reading materials. If it was a myth, they certainly seemed to believe it (and were somewhat bothered by it, but were onboard enough to try to follow it). They told me the philosophy was that reading to young children wasn't really encouraged at all, because the goal was to encourage children at that age to develop their own imaginations.

    I've been curious about what Waldorf parents think of the issue of Steiner's views. The options seemed to be:

    -- I don't know and don't want to know -- don't ask, don't tell.
    -- I have a total misconception about what his ideas were. Nobody told me about them, and I didn't trouble to find out.
    -- I subscribe to his ideas.
    -- Some of his ideas were good, and as to the others, well, he was a product of his time.
    -- I don't buy them, but I don't think it's that big a deal; I still like the school.

    We're hearing a combination of the last two here, I see. I personally think the first two are likely to be operative among many parents. That seemed to be what we saw when a "Waldorf-based" public charter school was being proposed in SFUSD. Maybe the school motto should be "ignorance is bliss."

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  69. I curious to know how science is taught in Waldorf schools. Does anyone know a source of information on this?

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  70. in a word: badly.

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  71. Anthroposophical medicine claims that:

    disease is caused primarily by a disturbance of the 'vital essence,'

    the heart does not pump blood,

    and there are twelve senses corresponding to signs of the zodiac

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  72. Anyone knowledgable about Waldorf schools want to comment on the science question?

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  73. Here is the concluding statement from a research paper that attempts to answer your question. The authors are sympathetic to much of what is good in the Waldorf method, so this is not a flat-out attack upon them. If anything, it is an attempt to ask--how could Waldorf take what is good and leave what isn't (or throw out the water but not the baby, to use the previous metaphor).

    The authors conclude that Waldorf unfortunately teaches pseudo-science based on Rudolf Steiner's ideas, although they also say that the kids are bright and engaged and they praise the method for encouraging that. They wonder if the kids were taught the latest science combined with the engaging methods....well, wouldn't that be great?

    Anyway, here is the excerpt, plus the link to the full paper after:

    Once again we return to the question: How Could Waldorf Offer a Viable Form of Science
    Education? We believe we have answered it by pointing to a rigorous process that distinguishes
    pseudoscience from science --with a rejection of pseudoscientific ideas, however pivotal they may have been to Waldorf science education in the past. This includes removal of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy as sources of accurate scientific concepts, a separation of Waldorf science education from anthroposophy, specific attention to bringing the “good ideas” of Waldorf into a secular environment, a critical review of Waldorf science resource materials, and expungement of materials that don’t make the grade. We then pointed to the five “big ideas” that Waldorf needs to come to terms with: (1) physics’ model of the Atom; (2) chemistry’s theory of Periodic Law; (3) astronomy’s “Big Bang” theory; (4) geology’s “Plate Tectonics” theory; and (5) biology’s theory of “Evolution”.

    Is it worth the trouble? Is it realistic to assume that the “good ideas” of Waldorf could be extracted from the pseudoscientific ones and emerge a strong and vibrant (and viable) form of science education? The evidence from this study indicates that Waldorf will have its work cut out and will have to lose some ideas and people (some anthroposophists are not going to accept the changes that have to be made) along the way, but Waldorf’s rich array of creative methods that stimulate imaginative thought and engage students in potentially meaningful activities could undoubtedly enrich secular education.


    http://www.awsna.org/jelinekarticle.pdf

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  74. 6:52 again, with a little more elaboration. Basically, the paper praises Waldorf for teaching *processes* of observation and analysis that could greatly enrich secular-school science teaching, while criticizing Waldorf content. I would add that the SF Waldorf school talks about teaching the "4 kingdoms of nature"--it's right there in their published curriculum.

    I think the point is that those who are attracted to the *method* are onto something, and those who are repelled by the anthroposophic spiritualist *content* are onto something as well.

    Another excerpt from the same research paper as cited above:

    The most difficult question to answer was saved for last, for while it is possible to draw conclusions based on data we have analyzed and discussed up to this point, it will not quite satisfy the complexity of this question. Waldorf does not, for example, fully align itself with the national science standards, though as the reviewers point out, there are numerous favorable processes that support science as inquiry, so they gave pedagogical appropriateness and science content fairly high ratings, overall. On the other hand, some of the concerns the reviewers raised about questionable concepts would be reason enough for some critics to discredit Waldorf science education all together. The evolutionary notion that animals are the by-products of human development, that the spirit of man physically incarnated into soul qualities that manifested themselves into various animal forms, is highly suspect as a valid scientific theory. So is the geological position that earth evolved through Lemurian and Atlantean epochs and is now in its fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Or the theory that the 4 kingdoms of nature are mineral, plant, animal and man.

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  75. And by the way, this paper is published on the AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America) website, so it is not an attack piece by waldorfcritics.org.

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  76. For the uninitiated, this is an excerpt from "Anthroposophy 101," published at the Why Waldorf Works website by AWSNA.

    It's far from the worst philosophical or religious or spiritual view of life I've ever seen, and some of the concepts are similar to what lots of people believe through more established faith traditions; but in any case, parents should know what they are getting into (imo):

    *****

    http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/07_Community/documents/Anthroposophy101_000.pdf

    Anthroposophy 101
    by Ronald E. Koetzsch, PhD

    1. Behind every material phenomenon is a spiritual reality with consciousness, thought, and intention. Spirit is primary and matter derivative and survives the transformation and disappearance of the material.

    2. This spiritual world contains a multiplicity of beings, the nine divine hierarchies—angels, archangels, up through the cherubim and seraphim, which are all expressions of a single creator God who is the foundation of all existence, elementals, fallen and unfallen, group souls
    of animal, plant, and mineral life, folk souls of different racial and national groups, the souls of human beings who are between incarnations on the material plane, and so on.

    3. The human being is a creation of this cosmos of spiritual beings. They have acted consciously and willfully and out of self sacrificing love. Hence, the human being is not an accident, the chance product of an impersonal, mechanistic evolutionary process. We are not the descendant of lower primates, not just a hairy ape. The human being is the crowning jewel of the creation. The entire created universe has been brought into being so that the human being might come into existence.

    ....

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  77. Wow! Thank you for these references. This is exactly what I was interested in learning.

    I wonder if any Waldorf schools are accredited.

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  78. The SF Waldorf School is accredited by WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges), that's the same organization that accredits all the other independent schools.

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  79. """Anthroposophical medicine claims that:

    disease is caused primarily by a disturbance of the 'vital essence,'

    the heart does not pump blood,

    and there are twelve senses corresponding to signs of the zodiac""


    Is this why I get sick every time I eat a Waldorf salad?

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  80. I have a child at the SF Waldorf school and the impression that the negative comments give does not match the reality on the ground. It is a gentle curriculum with emphasis on respecting childhood and not rushing the process. It believes in learning by doing and using the hands : no spectators.

    The idea of gnomes and the like is to keep alive the sense of wonder and magic in the children - just like many of you do with Santa Claus.

    The fixation on Steiner, who was an unusual person with a lot of unusual ideas, is misplaced. The education stands apart from him. To claim that Waldorf education is somehow racist (the actual curriculum would teach the opposite) because of Steiner's views is like saying the United States is racist because its founders were slave owners. And to look at Steiner's religious views and lay them on the school is very much misplaced.

    As far as I can see, this is a school with normal parents and children who think the world is a bit rough and raw, and want to quiet and slow things down. Kind of an antidote to the plight of modern life.

    And our kids are 100% vaccinated and my wife and I are both engineers.

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  81. 7:21

    I think the slow, patient part is great, I really do. The authors of the paper cited further up the thread, who looked at science curriculum, also cited the "process" of learning taught at Waldorf as being helpful--emphasis on learning by doing & observing rather than being taught what to think. All great. I do understand the attraction. Not to be one of those "I have a friend" people, but I really did--kids are long graduated--but my friend, who was also a co-worker, and I talked a lot about it. They were not into Steiner (and attended a church quite actively) but the loved that approach. They wanted me to apply for my oldest kid.

    I personally could never overcome the content issue--also raised by those same researchers. Nor the transparency question. At least with Catholic school, which also teaches a spiritually-infused curriculum and some stories that might be understood mythically but also might be understood literally--the religion, the catechism, is out there. Also, Catholics and mainline Protestants have done a lot of work to align their teachings with modern science, including evolution. Partly because their spiritual roots are somewhat secretive (the gnostic thing, which requires initiation), I don't see the anthroposophists doing the same work. One is never quite sure how much the teachers really believe the stuff about gnomes being real, and everything else. I have come to believe that many really do believe.

    That's not to say it's an egregiously awful philosophy of life--charges of racism in Steiner's works aside, I do think SF Waldorf doesn't think they teach that stuff, although I take issue with the no black crayons and with some of the folk/race typing that seeps in through the stories. Just that a big part of their curriculum is all about the anthroposophy, and unexamined or still-held beliefs within that that I am not comfortable with.

    At the very least, parents should be aware of it and make their own judgment based not only on the method, but on the content. I'd love to see some of the methods transferred to a secular education. I haven't seen it happen yet.

    By the way, it is great that your kids are 100% vaccinated. What is the % rate of vaccination at the school overall? The concept of herd immunity is the protective point. Vaccination is not 100% effective in every single person, but even if it fails in your child, the fact that others don't get ill means it is not transmitted through the group. Or if your child is immune-compromised for some reason, the herd immunity affords greater protection. THAT is the issue, not whether or not you vaccinate your family. When it comes to infectious disease, we are not little islands (especially classrooms of kids).

    As someone else posted, the position of Waldorf parents seems to run the gamut from full-on belief in anthroposophy to don't ask, don't want to know, to yeah it's there but I don't care. So there will be many parents who vaccinate, watch TV, and give their kids black crayons. Just as there are lots of kids in Catholic school who don't go to church on Sunday. Doesn't mean it doesn't have an impact. For me, I couldn't do it. I'm glad you are happy though. I do see the appeal.

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  82. I just read Amy Wallace's very recent piece on vaccinations in Wired Magazine (sorry, no link; I'm sure it is google-able). She cited research from the Netherlands that says you are more at risk as a vaccinated person in an significantly unvaccinated community than you are as an unvaccinated person in a significantly vaccinated community. The reason is herd immunity, which is more protective than individual vaccination.

    Something to think about even if your kid is vaccinated. Rates of non-vaccinations have doubled in the last decade--they are still high, like 98%, in the U.S., but certain communities like Waldorf, and Marin County, have lower rates.

    We are a couple of generations apart from the ravages of some of these diseases, so we have forgotten why we do this.

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  83. It's interesting how intensely people feel about the Waldorf school. It's usually people who have nothing to do with the school and little actual experience there, yet somehow it bothers them enough to develop a strongly held opinion.
    My children attended SFWS a few years ago and it was a good experience. The teaching was high quality and gave them a broad base of knowledge. They were not able to go to the high school but from what I could see the strength there is the science curriculum. The teaching is rigorous and supportive.
    It's true that the school doesn't really present itself very well to the general public. It is run by the teachers and they don't know anything about PR which tends to be pretty far down the list of priorities anyway.
    My son was vaccinated, drew with black crayons, was left handed and we were encouraged to read to him from kindergarten on up. I've heard all the stories mentioned here, it just was not our experience.
    I'm very happy to see our public schools coming in to their own now and feel we all need to do our part to to support them. It's a different world from the Waldorf methodology but I think all children could benefit from the stronger connection to the natural world and sense of social responsibility that the Waldorf schools impart.

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  84. I would really disagree that Waldorf doesn't present itself well to the public. Most people see natural wood and maypoles and gentleness, and are oblivious to the bizarre teachings behind the Waldorf philosophy. My suspicion is that most parents IN Waldorf schools are oblivious to the bizarre teachings even as they happily tout their school's link to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

    Covering up the wackiness so successfully is a fantastic PR coup -- it should be the envy of the pros.

    I'm stumped at the number of Waldorf parents who will dismissively scoff, "Oh, well, THAT..." when presented with the actual teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

    I personally find that level of willful ignorance a little alarming, so maybe that's why it evokes strong reactions.

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  85. Dear 7:04 - I'm alarmed by the tremendous commercialization of childhood but that doesn't mean that I judge how other people choose to parent. For some reason you can't respect my good experience at a Waldorf school but need to characterize me as ignorant. Why? Clearly, you must have had a painful experience or you wouldn't care. I'm sorry.
    I found that teachers at the Waldorf school are very dedicated to creating an environment that supports the children's learning and spend very little time thinking about how to present it to the public. So I guess I respectfully disagree with you.

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  86. Waldorf proponents like to say that such ideas of Steiner are not taught in Waldorf schools, that it is only his teaching methods and ideas about child development that are employed in Waldorf education. But in 1995, the mother of a student in a Dutch Waldorf school was outraged to find in her daughter's notebook various racial stereotypes ("Negroes have a sense of rhythm" and "Asian smiles hide emotions") dictated to her by her Waldorf teacher. To the mother's surprise, "racial ethnography" was being taught as a subject to eighth graders.

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  87. "But in 1995, the mother of a student in a Dutch Waldorf school..."

    Something happened once in another country in another century...and I suppose when they got sick from not being vaccinated they had to stand in line for their rationed universal healthcare too? Anecdotes used to instill fear.

    The reality, yes reality not something dug up on the internet and not some obscure "underpinning", is that the Waldorf community is extremely progressive in its general view of the world. The idea that it would teach racism is so far from reality as to be laughable.

    And for the "regular" schools - what are the philosophical "underpinnings" anyway? Do you even know? It seems that the average public school is, like it was in 1950, missioned to create skilled workers with more emphasis on preparing children for the white collar workforce.

    To me education is much more than preparing my children for the workforce. It is preparing them for a good life, something that never shows up on a test score.

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  88. Well,

    it's a free country, and if people want to join cults and brainwash their children into believing in gnomes and evil spirits who live in electronic, devices, let them sell their refrigerators and do whatever they want to. But trying to convince sane people that Waldorf devotees are not NUTS, that's an uphill battle, thank god.

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  89. Yeah, REFRIGERATORS!

    How come they think devils live in computers and televisions (electronic devices) but not in refrigerators? Refrigerators re just too damned handy to do without, eh? COme on, go back to using an icebox!

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  90. What? Sounds wacky and ridiculous. Many people in the Waldorf community work in high-tech industries.
    One hears the same stories and quotes over and over repetitively. The conversation never goes anywhere. Get deprogrammed and let the rest of us enjoy our Waldorf education, if we so choose.
    It's like the cult of anti-Waldorf.

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  91. yes, enjoy the gnomes and fairies

    enjoy having no mirrors at school

    enjoy no photographs

    (except photos of adolph steiner)

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  92. Your are wrong about the mirrors and photography and as the child of a holocaust surviver I take serious offense at your remark.

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  93. My kid goes to public school and he knows how to spell "survivor"!

    Offended? Me too. I'm offended by a cult that tells a little African American girl that she will never reach clairvoyant consciousness until she dies and is reincarnated as a white person. SICKENING!

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  94. Yes, the anti Waldorf cult appears mainly to consist of the gloomy followers of Richard Dawkins and his ilk.
    If you want the good oil on Waldorf, talk to the many satisfied customers (obviously there are more satisfied than unsatisfied, which accounts for its raging success worldwide).

    You can find thousands of Waldorf kids and past alumni on social networking sites. They often speak of the 'obscene advantage' their education has given them. And the fact is, scientific research has shown that Waldorf kids are less racist than those in public schools.
    Stick with the science not the cynical hearsay.

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  95. How can scientific research measure racism? What's the research?

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  96. I was very tired and spelled "survivor" wrong. I apologize and thanks for the correction.
    Racism is a serious issue, doesn't it belittle its impact to confuse the issue? All these strange stories seem so ancient and remote from the reality that I see.
    What is this intensity of feeling? So it's not your cup of tea, that's alright. Can we just agree to disagree about an educational philosophy?

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  97. It isn't an educational philosophy, it is a CULT. Many CULTS have "satisfied customers".

    Whoever mentioned "scientific studies" please post links to them, if they exist.

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  98. ""They often speak of the 'obscene advantage' their education has given them. ""

    ?

    While there are always exceptions, I know of kids who could not even get into a 4 year university because they didn't learn enough math and bombed on their SATS. Obscene advantage?
    Sounds like the smug Waldorf propaganda machine at work. The kids are led to believe that they are getting a great education, but then enter the *real* world (the world without gnomes and fairies and isadora duncan dancing) and they find they aren't equipped to make it in the real world.

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  99. It's too bad that the conversation has to take the form of petty insults because they help us avoid thinking about underlying questions.

    Our idea of what a well educated person is can take many different forms depending on our beliefs, needs and values.

    There are contradictory views about educational goals even among public school teachers. What constitutes the ideal outcome?

    Most alternative schools strive to facilitate internally driven learning rather than the external reward/punishment model. It's a different view of the function of education.

    In my experience students from the Waldorf school do usually go on to college. I don't know the students you, 9:58, are talking about but I do know that the math and science teaching in the high school is rigorous and challenging and the teachers hold degrees in their field (often Phd's).

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  100. "deggrees in their fields"

    GNOME sciences?

    FAIRY psychics?

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  101. oops

    degrees

    of course

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  102. I would bet that if the comments were not anonymous, you would see that the posts about gnomes, racism, cults, etc. are all from the same handful of people listed as officers on the Waldorf Critics web site. I am not pro-Waldorf since my experience is that the math and science teaching are weak, but those anti-Waldorf crusaders are cult unto themselves, i.e., their truth is the only truth. Some people like Waldorf and a few of them (none that I've met, but anyway) may even believe in the gnomes. At least they keep it to themselves in private and charter schools. Some people believe the earth is only a few thousand years old and every word of the Bible is literally true, and they sit on public school boards and try to get those beliefs added to public school curricula.

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  103. It's true that math and science were quite weak in the grade school. The high school teachers have exerted influence on the middle school math program and it has been redone so that the students enter high school at a higher level.

    I believe the high school is about half former Waldorf students and half students from outside that system.

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  104. I have a six year old step-child in her second K year in a "tuition free" Waldorf Charter School and can say that I honestly wish I did not. In my personal experience, this type of environment fosters emotional and mental underdevelopment, a non-academic based learning curriculum, and an alarming "closed door" policy on the intricate details surrounding funding and their particular "Steiner Based" curriculum. My step-child harbors a fear of media (television and computing), citing that it "makes your brain bad", has a preoccupation with death and dying (because of the stories that are told in her classroom), and often has difficulty in "normal" social situations that occur away from her school. I am beyond myself with guilt as this is the future that was selected for her. My only advice to parents considering this type of educational path is to be aware, and as much as I hate to say it, be on guard.

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  105. 11/3 at 3:40: Those are good concerns to raise, but Waldorf is intentionally non-academic in the early years. They don't start reading until they are older (age 8 I think), but all Waldorf students I've encountered are excellent readers and writers by 8th grade. Lots of parents in and out of Waldorf prefer to keep kids that young away from computers and TV. When I see my husband raptly watching yet another Scooby Doo video just because it's on, well, I realize there's lots of good educational stuff on TV, but I can see their point that it's kind of a brain suck. Lots of kids around that age go through a phase where they're preoccupied with death. Mine did and we don't go to Waldorf school or read scary fairy tales, but they've reached the age where they're conscious of it when an elderly family member or a pet passes on, or perhaps a schoolmate loses a parent (it happened in our school). Also, at 6, a lot of kids are most comfortable with their friends from school and shy in other social situations where the crowd is unfamiliar. So . . . again, while I think your concerns are valid and I am not pro-Waldorf and the TV-computer thing is Waldorf-specific, some of the issues may not be strictly Waldorf-related, but rather normal childhood stuff.

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  106. As a product of SFWS (K-8) I'm both curious and amused as I read these comments. Curious because as a child I had no idea about the controversy surrounding the curriculum and so am learning to see all the wonderful things we did in a new (not so chirpy) light the older I get. Amused because as the other Waldorf alum stated, I had Barbies, watched TV, went to movies, etc. and felt no pressure to (not) do otherwise, so the cult comments don't ring true to me.

    That said, I'm applying to K for next year for my daughter and I will not be sending her to SFWS. My reasons (aside from the commute and cost) are that I don't agree with the Christian undertones of most of what is taught (yes, we were encouraged to consider creationism in 8th grade, and yes, we did all roll our eyes and go on to Lick and University with no problems), and I don't believe in the approach to science and math.

    But then again, it WAS pretty great to work on a biodynamic farm, play recorder at the Ren Fair in full costume, knit socks from wool we carted and dyed ourselves, make tortillas from scratch at the Petaluma Adobe, and have the same teacher for 8 years who still sends birthday cards 20 years later ...

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  107. Wow!
    yes a spark in deed!
    I am a Waldorf parent and training to be a handwork teacher. I totally departure from my current insane world travel career.
    Perhaps critics should realize that with anything you need to be strong and independent enough to embrace the parts that fit and shrug off the parts that don't. FYI - Many Waldorf teachers are agnostic. The school is not totally submerged in the anthroposophy. It has been my experience that the teachers understand that spirituality is very personal and not a subject for school. And I certainly do not believe in gnomes in the truest sense.

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  108. The person who mocked the child of a holocaust survivor for misspelling survivor -- could you be more obnoxious or rude? Wherever you went to school, it's a pity you didn't learn a little humanity and kindness.

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  109. A lot of the negative comments here are generated by one poster, yes C.G. i'm looking at you. As the parent of two S.F Waldorf educated children I can tell you that just as with any school there were amazing and disappointing aspects of the school and my children's educations. If one wanted too one could make any educational philosophy sound as dingy as Waldorf has been made to sound here. One could do the same painting a rosy picture. Neither and both are true. Nothing's perfect. Get a grip.

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  110. I read through this blog and agree there are a lot of angry posts. Instead of posting hateful messages I'd like to give you the FACTS of my current Waldorf situation.

    My children are currently in a Waldorf school and I am trying desperately to get them out. My ex wife drank the kool aid a long time ago and can not see the harm being done to the children. My son is 8 and can not read or even spell simple words like YES, DOG or CAT. He can not tell time or even calculate how many pennies it takes to make a nickel. However, he can knit, recite verses about a "mother earth" and "father sun" and even speak some German phrases.

    They have been in two Waldorf schools and both are filled with divorced, broken and separated families. If the father isn't a follower of Anthroposphy he is quickly black listed. When I began asking questions like "how come my son is'nt being taught to read and write" and "why are you teaching German to the children...wouldn't Spanish be a more useful second language?" I was told by the school that my children's progress reports and updates on their education would only be sent to my ex wife because she "is involved with the school community". I was told that releasing that information would be a "breach of confidentially".

    I am having to go through the court system in order to allow my children to read and write and get them a proper education. I guess Waldorf isn't for everybody.

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  111. Your kid is at a high risk of contracting a preventable disease. Waldorf schools especially in San Fransisco have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. But don't take my word for it look at the PDF on Californians site
    http://www.cdph.ca.gov/PROGRAMS/IMMUNIZE/Pages/ImmunizationRatesatCaliforniaSchools.aspx

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  112. The glowing review by Claire makes it easy to see how people can be completely duped by people on a "mission".

    Waldorf is the missionary arm of Anthroposophy. Waldorf's job is to make Anthroposophists out of normal people - and, of course, children. Not everyone who puts their kid in Waldorf will "drink the Kool-aid" but in Waldorf's eyes - no harm... they still get tuition money - which will pay for an Anthroposophist's kids to attend for free. Some kids turn out fine, others are scarred for life. If both parents drink the Kool-aid, the kids might turn out OK. As a poster above mentioned, divorce rates are high at Waldorf schools because when one parent wises up, they are expelled from the community. Most kids suffer, IMO.

    In my personal experience with Waldorf, I have witnessed racism being taught directly to kids as "science". Children were taught that people in Europe are more "evolved" than people from Africa... as if this was a scientific FACT!

    Someone above brought up Dawkins. In evolution class, Dawkins was hardly mentioned - except to be questioned (Dawkins is a Darwinist). Instead, students were given assignments of writing "from a creationist's viewpoint". The "evolution" class was promoting Intelligent Design. Intelligent kids are FORCED to write about stupid stuff in Waldorf schools. That is shameful.

    Waldorf science is Steiner's science... religion, racism and all.

    Pete Karaiskos

    http://petekaraiskos.blogspot.com/

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  113. ARE WE NOT ALL A BIT WEIRD?
    WHY DO WE KEEP JUDGING?
    WHAT ARE WE SCARED OF?
    I don't like any of these horrible plastic-sounds-lights toys, I personally think wooden is best, more natural feel and last longer than other plastic ones. I also think kids don't need that many toys..I love some of the things Steiner teaches us..secta? perhaps for some narrow minded people.. are state schools any better? I don't think so..are catholic schools any better? I DON'T THINK SO! my child goes to Steiner, I worked in the school too and I don't see any weird things about it...kids are well looked after, I did my best to look after them! about the gnomes..what is the problem with making some crafty gnomes? I never heard at school of any teacher saying they do exist! we just make them as crafts! do you not tell your kids about santa claus? come on!! is that any better??

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  114. about the reading and writing, I must say that the kids I worked with age 4 and 6, knew how to spell. They didn't learn that at school..perhaps on their own or at home, but they were spelling properly! that's for sure! kids are able to learn lots of things on their own if they ready..and want to learn...TV is bad! do you want your kid to spend time in front of that box or playing!
    You free to send your kids where ever you like, but perhaps all this time talking and judging Steiner schools could also be share with looking at states schools and how we could improve them!

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  115. Since my previous comment, last March, I've been researching and collecting Waldorf school reviews - specifically reviews that are critical of Waldorf education. What I discovered is that the same problems run through ALL Waldorf schools. The main complaints are no accountability, unresponsive administrators and teachers, poor academic standards, bullying, humiliation, elitism, favoritism and attacking families who complain or even ask questions about the system. Many times, parents believe it's only *their* school that is problematic. They have fallen for the Waldorf hype and believe their school to be the single anomaly. Reading reviews of disappointed Waldorf parents from around the world paints a different picture: http://thewaldorfreview.blogspot.com/

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  116. SF Waldorf is about to have a big exodus. They ignore bullying and disruptions from rich kids.

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    1. Please tell me more about this if you can. We are at another local Waldorf school and have encountered some bullying issues with our oldest. We are new there this year and were considering looking at other local Waldorf schools. I'm starting to wonder if all Waldorf schools have bullying problems due to their approach to social situations. Anything you can share would be helpful because I do not feel as though I can put my finger on what is really going on and teacher and class meetings have not been extremely helpful.

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    2. The teacher blames the kids who get hit or fight back. Coincidentally, the 2 bullys in the class are from rich families. They can do no wrong, or if you complain about yr kid being hit, you get told you need to "hold all children in your heart"

      Anyone who complains gets told they are the problem. The bullies are left unsupervised & have been given room to do what they want.

      The pricipal of the whole school just had his 7th grader expelled. The grade school principal is leaving. This place is sick.

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    3. Our family went on a tour of a Waldorf school just like Claire did and fell in love with the warm feeling and beautiful classrooms and that the school promoted lifestyle choices that modeled our own ( respect for children to remain childlike in the early years,healthy food, no media for young children, all natural toys, ect) and made the HUGE mistake of not researching Stieners Philosophy and teachings.

      Fast forward 4 years later where our child is being bullied in school by 5 of his classmates and his teacher that has done nothing to change this harmful situation, we have done everything to bring this issue out into the open and engage the school, teacher and the families of the bullying children together to proactivly deal with this with NO RESULTS and there has been much secrecy and refusal by all involved to EVEN name what is occuring which is BULLYING and not social inclusion as they keep saying and at this point we are reaching the sobering and worryisome conclusion that the teacher or the school must actually believe in Steiners teachings concerning bullying in that "it is the bullied persons karmic fate to be bullied and to intervene would be disrupting the individuals karmic fate". I call BULLSHIT on this view!!

      There has also been a lot of focus on our child not finding his voice in dealing with the 5 classmates daily harrasment, teasing, and bullying. I think its a bit much to expect most 9 year olds to be able to handle that kind of intense bullying on thier own and to allow for children to settle things amoungst themselves when involved in such harmful and frightning situations, there clearly should have been an adult steeping in and mediating the negative behavior and notifiying all parents of the children invloved with clear consequences of what would occur if the bullying continued (pretty basic stuff here), but THAT DIDNT HAPPEN !!!!

      At this point we can only be grateful to have had a harsh (and painful to our child) wake up call to what Waldorf education really is about without the beautiful trappings of faries and maypoles and gnomes to distract us and can now focus on finding a school that will educate nurture and protect our children.

      I would like to hear from other families that have experienced bullying in Waldorf schools. Since our school and its community are not supporting us through this harrowing time it would be nice to have support from others that have had to deal with this mess before us.

      Also, how were you able to transfer your child into a non Waldorf school in terms of Academics, our kids are years behind thier public school peers, its not going to be pretty or cheap to get them ready for mainstream education. And I have no idea how long it will take or what it will cost to repair the scars and damage inflicted on our child being bullied by his peers for so long and ignored by the teachers that should have been keeping him safe.

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  117. Yes, the principal's son pooped into the school washing machine. Several rich families who are friends of theirs threatened to withhold large contributions unless the school "revisted" the kid's getting kicked out.

    Somehow wisdom prevailed over $$$, for once & he is not coming back.

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    1. Did this really happen? Anyone have more details? The principal's son must have had a history of bad behavior. While pooping in the school washing machine is absolutely disgusting, it sounds like a prank that a 12 year old boy would do. I imagine there is more to the story. Was his son one of the bullies that folks have referenced?

      I have to say, I'm surprised to hear that there is bullying at Waldorf. My husband and I toured as well. We loved loved the kindergarten. We like the younger grades quite a bit as well, but starting from 5th grade on, we were not so into it. The problem I had with Waldorf is that if your kid doesn't connect well with the teacher, you are screwed - it's not like your kid will have a new teacher the following year. And we wanted to find a program that we liked that went through the 8th grade, so we didn't pursue Waldorf.

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  118. Its true.

    The worst is the 1st grade violence that the teacher says is not possible because a 6-7 yrs olds cannot know how to bully, so it isnt happening.

    She says that the girl who knocked another girls tooth loose with a board needs healing, the boys who punch and hit and yell in class are not fully in their bodies and all the other mothers shouldnt stand on the sidewalk gossiping about it.

    I shit you not.

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