Letters

Waldorf schools aren't a cult! And shouldn't progressive parents be interested in public schools, too? Responses to Meagan Francis' "What's Waldorf?"

Topics:

[Read the story.]

Back in the late ’60s, my mother seriously considered sending me to a Waldorf nursery school. Like the writer of this article, she was pulled in by the creative, natural, unconventional environment. Then the school informed her that I had learned to read too early. I was 4, and according to them no child should read before the age of 7. If she wanted me to attend, my mother would have to take away my books and stop reading to me at night. I loved reading even at that age (still do!) and if my books had been removed for three years I would’ve been despondent. None of this swayed the teachers at the Waldorf school. They had their curriculum and they were sticking to it. My mother immediately withdrew the application and I happily attended a school where, even though I played with plastic toys, I was also able to spend time reading my beloved books. Even if the Waldorf schools aren’t indoctrinating children into some sort of cult, they are stifling kids by requiring parents to substitute Steiner’s judgment for their own.

– Nina Berry

Count me as a happy Waldorf parent. I’m a little surprised Salon would run this piece — I think it belongs in a more “conventional” publication like, say, the Wall Street Journal, or National Review. My experience is that Rudolf Steiner is about as important to the day-to-day Waldorf experience as John Dewey is to the day-to-day public school experience. My daughter is 7 years old. Because of the Waldorf “no media” rule, she owns her own (vivid) imagination unpolluted by the corrosive Big Bird/SpongeBob mega-media borg. She is learning Spanish and Japanese. She can paint. She can dance. Her teacher is a very smart, savvy, compassionate woman who will be teaching my daughter for the next seven years. The parents are very involved — we’re responsible for making this enterprise work.

– Rich Procter

I attended a Waldorf school for seven years. Waldorf schools offer a great deal of hope to the right students and to the right parents — but it also offers a significant threat if a student or parents are mismatched or misinformed of Waldorf’s often bizarre philosophies. In addition, I think Waldorf as a whole would benefit greatly from an overhaul. Many of Steiner’s ideas about a holistic approach to child-rearing and education are essential to the success of a Waldorf education and should be incorporated into the curriculum and supported in the home environment, but other aspects of Anthroposophy and Steiner’s philosophies clearly need to be tossed out entirely. I am employed in education now, and in my experience the public schools could certainly stand some media-free time that focuses on the whole child, just as Waldorf could stand a good dose of the modern world.



– Paula J. Smith

It’s not at all surprising that someone who approaches alternative pedagogies with an “educational fantasy” instead of an open mind would come away disappointed. If Ms. Francis had tried seriously to understand Waldorf education, even if she decided in the end that it wasn’t right for her children, she wouldn’t have written about it dismissively. “What’s Waldorf” was a superficial treatment of the topic that revealed a lot more about the author’s prejudices than about Waldorf education.

– Cristina Bernardi Shiffman

Like the author of this insightful piece on the Waldorf education system, I too was charmed by the innocent atmosphere and supposed child-friendly persona of our local Waldorf school. While kindergarten was truly a lovely experience for our son, the pleasure soon turned to concern and then alarm as more and more of the true nature of the Steiner philosophical approach to education began to assert itself in the first and second grades. While I was not in a rush to see my son read (and in fact, had chosen Waldorf to avoid the overemphasis on academics in the lower grades so prevalent in public schools and other private schools), I was informed that his teacher did not consider not reading an issue until the fourth grade!

I emphatically urge any parent considering Waldorf to take the time to fully research Steiner and Anthroposophy before enrolling their child. These wacky and sometimes downright dangerous philosophical beliefs will influence your child’s education and the way she or he is treated within the Waldorf system despite what they say. In my opinion, “Cult-like” is too benign a term for what these schools are really about.

– L. R. Frayer

I thought progressives were supposed to support public institutions such as the public schools. Apparently not, according to Meagan Francis, who writes in her piece on Waldorf education that she “sought out alternatives to the local public school — as I assumed good, progressive parents are expected to do.” Say what? If progressives abandon the public schools, we leave them to conservatives and holy rollers who would be thrilled to pollute their curriculum with more even more creation “science” and corporate-funded propaganda.

Nor did I believe progressives, as I presume from her article Ms. Francis believes herself to be, seek an educational environment for their kids devoid of people of color. Yet she describes her fantasies of finding a school where her kids would be “surrounded by beautiful pink-cheeked children” with “bright smiles on their fresh, freckly faces.”

– Robert Niles

The author raises some interesting points about Waldorf education, but also makes a couple of veiled attacks against the philosophy which are more suggestive than substantive.

For example, she writes, “Waldorf’s theory about, say, delaying reading until age 7 or academics until age 14 is based wholly on Steiner’s spiritual principles, not science.” But the author fails to point to any science that disagrees with Steiner’s admittedly spiritual principles. His ideas may not be scientifically proven, but that does not mean they are not great ideas.

I attended Waldorf school in Virocqua, Wis., until I was 7 years old. At that time, we moved to Madison and I began public school. I excelled as a reader, surpassing my classmates who had already been taught to read for several years more. And I now work as a staff writer for a parody newspaper in New York.

I cherish my Waldorf years, few as they were. They allowed me to develop organically, starting with natural, creative and artistic stimuli, and progressing to the learning of words and numbers when I was ready to do so, after age 7.

Like Nietzsche and Heidegger, Rudy Steiner had many terrible and hateful beliefs, which are inexcusable. But he also had some brilliant insights into child development, and it does no one a service to ignore the benefits of those good ideas.

– Peter Koechley

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>