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Waldorf Education - One family's story

The Not Listening School

Shortly before Joanna began school refusing, two new boys had joined Kindergarten. Together with another boy they became quite a serious problem. As they went into the higher classes the three of them began bullying the other pupils. Joanna never said she was being bullied in Kindergarten, so it did not occur to me at the time, but with hindsight it all fits in. There was a class meeting at the time about the bad behaviour of the three boys.

Joanna developed other behavioural problems at this time. She began to be afraid to sleep alone, in fact she was afraid to be alone. However, she was fine so long as she was with people she knew. She would play at people's houses. It was just school where she refused, at this stage.

When we finally got her settled into Class I she seemed OK, but I noticed she would no longer have anything to do with her friends who had stayed in Kindergarten. When she had her birthday party I suggested she asked some of her kindergarten friends. She refused. Eventually she told me that the boys in her class had said, that if she stayed friends with these children they would never speak to her again, and see that no one else did.

I also remember an incident at a class meeting. One of the parents asked if the cruelty of the children to each other had been sorted out. The teacher acted like she meant name calling.
"No", she said, "I mean like dragging a girl's hand across the wall to make it bleed."

Several parents looked on in horror. The mother of one of the boys looked concerned. She began to ask how each of the girls were getting on. When she asked me, the teacher changed the subject very firmly even though she tried to protest. He would not let me speak of my daughter.

 

Looking back, I realise I should have stood up for myself at this point. I was beginning to feel that Joanna was really the symptom of a problem class that was not being dealt with. I should have spoken out, but I am a shy person who finds it difficult to express heself in large groups and I am afraid I let it go.

I wonder if it would have made any difference if I had. I was beginning to feel very much the sensation of bashing my head against a brick wall. I just didn't feel heard. At about this time a well known high street bank was promoting itself as 'The Listening Bank'. I began to think of the Waldorf School as The Not Listening School'. 


 

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Since leaving the school, I have been told that many Steiner teachers believe that children should be left alone to sort out thier own problems in the playground, even to the point of ignoring bulling. Anthroposophosts believe that these children are working through their Karma.
 

This was never at any time explained to us, althouh we were at the school for seventeen years. Had it been, I hope we would have taken Joanna away from the school. I say hope because no one who has not been involved with a Waldorf School can have any idea of the hold they get on you.
 
I have spoken to the school since about it and they denied that this is their policy, however a parent from the school has told me that she knew many people at the school who did believe this.
 
Much of my imformation has come from ex parents and teachers from other Waldorf schools who I have met through a support group on the Internet. I am inclined to think that the existance of a support group on the internet for people who have had bad experiences at Waldorf schools does speak volumes.
 
For anyone who would like to know more about this group here is a link to the Waldorf Critics site, then click on Waldorf Survivors.  

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I want to make it clear that I do not blame the children who did the bullying, nor do I blame their parents. I remember the mother of one boy being very concerned about his behaviour.
 
There was a occasion when she spoke out at a parents evening stating that he was a difficult child but that he would not be allowed to get away with that sort of behaviour at home. She went on to say,
"When the behaviour happens at school, what can I do about it?"
I felt she thought the teacher was not firm enough.
 
I know it can sometimes be very difficult for teachers to handle bad behaviour and bullying, but this teacher would not even discuss the problem.
 
Later, he totally denied there had ever been bullying. The school still denies it. Yet parents in the class frequently discussed the problems the children were having.
 
After Joanna left a class support group was started by one of the parents.
 
The difficulties in the class were known throughout the school.
Yet the class teacher never even discussed the possibility with us and has since denied bullying ever occurred.
 
Joanna's problems were constantly blamed on our parenting.
 

"For they did not listen.
They did not know how."

 
In fairness to the teacher I should say that he did have a particularly difficult class to deal with. The whole school were aware of this. I have been told since that the phenonemon of a group of children getting together and exhibiting much more serious problem behaviour as a group than any of them did as individuals is quite well known. A state school teacher told me that in a larger school they would probably have been  separated. This would not have been possible at our school as there was only one class in each year. I feel that some sort of intervention was essential, not just to protect the other children, but also for the boys themselves to learn that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. I don't know if any attempt was made to solve the problem. I do know that, if it was, it was not successful.
 
Unfortunately Joanna told me very little of what was going on in the classroom at the time. She has since mentioned an incident which I find very upsetting. She was apparently very upset, crying at her desk, and the teacher made her stand in the corner, facing the wall, for disturbing the class. She continued to cry and sob and her left her there. We are speaking of a six or seven year old very sensitive child who was distressed, rather than naughty. I can't believe this was the way to handle it. Removing her from the classroom for a while until she had calmed down would have been much more preferable.
 
I think part of the problem lies in the fact that many Waldorf teachers have not taken a normal teaching degree. They have only done Waldorf teacher training, which I have since learned is largly about Steiner's teachings rather than how to handle children. I certainly found many teachers there who, though very learned and intelligent, had great problems in keeping discipline. I have also been told of incidents of abuse in some classes which seemed to arise out of the teacher's inability to cope with the children. However this did not happen to my own children and I never witnessed it.
 
I have thought since that, had the teacher called a class meeting to discuss the problems with Joanna, and had he been open and honest about the other childrens behaviour and allowed all of the other parents to have their say, we may have been able to find a way through. Even if we hadn't we would have felt listened to. As it was Joanna's eventual leaving happened under such a cloak of secrecy that the people in the school office didn't know she had left for weeks afterwards. This meant that when she left there was no message of good wishes for the future in the school magazine. The only child that I ever remember this happening to. Ironically when she first joined the school she was not welcomed either due to an oversight. We have often felt that it is almost as if, from their point of view she never existed.

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