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Waldorf Education - One family's story

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         THE  PROBLEM  CHILD
 
She stood alone in a strange new classroom.
She wanted only to be loved and accepted,
And to give love in return.
She was a sensitive and compassionate child.
She had been fearful of coming, and was trying to be brave,
 
But there was no desk for her.
Somehow she had been forgotten.
Her good friend who should have been with her,
 was not there,
Only the ones who had never liked her.
She cried and refused to go in,
And the new teacher saw a neurotic problem child.
 
But she tried hard and eventually settled.
Then a new friend came, and she was so happy.
But the other children surrounded her and said,
"We hate him. You must hate him too or we will hurt you."
She couldn't hate her new friend,
But out of fear, she kept away from him,
And he went away.
 
Once more she was alone.
This time she screamed.
She was told she must go home and miss the festival
 for being so naughty.
At home she screamed again and again and they thought
 she would never stop.
Then her parents saw a neurotic problem child.
 
Then there was a long, dark time when no one listened.
Her parents took her to a doctor who frightened her
 and said she was just a naughty girl.
Her mother said she might be being bullied,
 and was told she was overprotective.
 
But, one day, a new friend came.
The new friend was kind to her and made her feel safe.
She began to be less afraid.
 
But then the doctor told the teacher that she would
 always have problems,
And the teacher was so afraid that he sent her
 away from the school,
And her new friend took her place as the outsider.

 

 

This is a poem I wrote about my daughter's experiences at our local Waldorf School.  Her experiences, and the effect is has had upon her and the rest of the family, are what has promted me to create this website.

 

My motive in telling this story is not to discredit the school. It is simply that I and my daughter have a need to be heard. I also feel I have an obligation to inform prospective Waldorf parents of what can happen.

 

Of course bullying and other bad experiences happen in all schools, but many people feel that the way Waldorf schools are organized, for example, with no one person taking responsibility when things go wrong, and no past records of pupils being kept, makes them particularly vulnerable to problems like the ones we experienced. It can certainly cause inconsistancy in the way the schools are run.

I have also been told that some Waldorf teachers believe that bullying should not be interfered with, that the children should be left to resolve these problems between themselves, that they are "working through their Karma". If this is true, I feel that parents should be informed of this policy when they first approach the school.
 

I would like to see much more information given to prospective parents about the schools' aims, beliefs and practices, such as the fact that they are very reluctant to call in outside agencies like educational psychologists. This was refused to me for two of my children, both of whom have subsequently suffered from not receiving early help for their dyslexia . 

 

What happened to Joanna and her brothers cannot be undone, but we would like to feel that our family's suffering has not been in vain.

 

Schools are created by adults to teach children, but sometimes the children have important lesson to teach us. 

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When we first visited the  Waldorf School, it was the day of the Summer Fair. The school had been founded the year before by a group of parents and teachers who, until then had been holding a kindergarten in a church hall. It had been the village school until it had been closed by the local council.

It was in a beautiful setting, nestling at the foot of a range of hills, surrounded by fields of crops and sheep. We were enchanted.

I had had a lot of problems around education in my own life, and I wanted the best for my young son. I wanted his creative side to be nutured, as mine had not been in a highly academic school. And I did not want the stress of comptetion which I believed set people against each other. I was something of an idealist.

The school looked so attractive that day. Little children were running around with butterflies painted on their cheeks. There was folk music in the playground and delicious wholesome food, and everyone was very friendly.

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We thought we had found the perfect place to educate our children but, unfortunately, this is not a success story.
 
 My eldest son, who has an IQ in the gifted range is now doing a menial job because he was unable to cope with GCSEs at college.
 
My younger son left the Waldorf school  at 13 and was unable to settle at a state high school because he found the work so difficult. In the end I had to home educate him.
 
My daughter's story is the saddest of all. After leaving the Waldorf school she attended six different educational institutions before sinking into chronic depression. She  rarely goes out, and suffers with anxiety, social phobia and sleep problems.
 
The school would probably claim that our children had problems and that these things or worse would have happened wherever they went to school. No one can be certain, but I do know of a lot of other people whose children attended Waldorf Schools and who have had similar problems.
 
I want to tell our story. I will try to stick to the facts and not get too emotional, then whoever reads this can judge for themselves.

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  Waldorf Education and ADHD
 
Three years after our family left the Waldorf school our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. This may explain the severity of some of her problems. The condition makes her highly sensitive and this probably made her a magnet for bullying. It also meant she had difficulty with concentrating and sitting still during lessons.
 
However, it doesn't change her story. She may have been more vulnerable to bullying than the average child, but the school made no attempt to resolve this, in fact on one occasion a teacher told me that 'She asked for it.'  She may have been difficult in class, but was her teacher's response, to make her stand in the corner for rest of the lesson, an appropriate one? The school also refused to allow her psychiatrist to observe her in class which may have helped to get her diagnosed. The school's opinion was always that Joanna's behaviour was because she was emotionally disturbed because of problems in her home life.
 
I am now very worried that some Waldorf schools, are saying that Steiner education is especially good for ADHD children. While I agree that the structured day of the Kindergarten did suit Joanna well, once in Class 1 the Steiner system, in retrospect, was most unsuitable. The 2 hour main lesson must have seemed like torture to her.
 
Most importantly, my daughter was asked to leave because of her behaviour. Some of it may well have been due to her ADHD and a lot to the reaction of the other pupils to her ADHD and the fact that the teacher could not cope with her. I am amazed that, in spite of this, Waldorf schools, including the one our family attended, are claiming to be especially suited to ADHD children. At least one other ADHD child was asked to leave this school. It seems they are not good at coping with this special need. I would have hoped that at least they had learned this, but it seems that is not the case.
 
ADHD children are particularly bad at coping with rejection. Schools should never go out of their way to attract them unless they are as sure as they can be of their commitment to the child and of their ability to meet their needs. The Waldorf school Joanna attended was totally unable to meet her needs. She went on to an ordinary village primary where they did cope. Even though she was still undiagnosed they helped her immensely and never felt the need to blame us or to call her emotionally disturbed.

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I  talk several times, in my story, about the Waldorf Survivors internet support group.
For more information about this group go to
'The Not Listening School' page where you will find a link to the
Plans - Waldorf Critics site. Then click on Survivors List.

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