Waldorf Education - One family's story

Lessons Learned?

When I started this site, I said I was building it because of a need to be heard.
I think, now, it is more than that. I am trying to work out how something full of such promise, something which seemed the answer to all of our dreams, ended in such disillusionment, sadness and anger.
I do not believe that the people running Waldorf schools are bad people. For a while, after discovering the things I did, I thought there may be something inherently bad or evil in the system of education itself, but I think the problem lies more in the attidude and needs of those people who are involved in this kind of education .
We all have a need to belong, some of us more than others. In some of us the need has not been met. Perhaps we never had a family of our own. Perhaps we never found anywhere where we felt we could fit in. Perhaps we have been cast out of some other place.
Waldorf schools are more than schools,  they are communities, and very tight knit communities at that. I, for one, certainly began to feel a sense of belonging after being there a month or two. The other thing is that the schools tend to attract people with unconventional views, who are less likely to fit in elsewhere.
Once in, the communitiy demands much of your time and money, and this further tends to isolate you from other friends. Then there is the Waldorf belief that their way is the best way of education. They are strongly critical of other kinds of education and encourage parents to believe that sending their children anywhere else would be letting them down.
All of this engenders a fear of leaving the community. It certainly did in me. I have spoken to parents who have talked of having 'withdrawal symptons' after their children have left.
Loyalty to the community and it's ideals is uncompromising. Waldorf people view Rudolf Steiner almost as a God. Well, they certainly never question anything he said and quote him frequently. Their beliefs are fixed. They do not develop with the times.
Well, what do I want?
I guess I would like to know that lessons have been learned and that our suffering, particularly that of my daughter has not been for nothing.
I would like to think the school had learned lessons, but sadly that does not appear to be true. They are still denying that the bullying happened. We have never had an apology from them.
Apart from her time at the local village primary, Joanna was never able to settle into another school. We feel this was at least partly because of the traumatic experiences she had endured at the Waldorf School. Certainly her finding ex Waldorf pulpils in all of the schools she attended after the primary seems to have affected her. We can't help but notice that the only places where she did settle were the village primary and the short term assessment unit, and that these were also the only places where there were no ex Waldorf pupils or teachers. It seemed that just seeing someone from the school was upsetting her.
Since we ourselves have left the school, I understand this entirely. I suffered something closely resembling post traumatic stress disorder after we were thrown out, with nightmares and even hallucinations where I saw a person from the school who wasn't there. If I suffered like this, and I was just a parent, what must Joanna, who had spent five days a week there for five years, have experienced?
She also developed obsessive compulsive disorder shortly after joining the village school. This began with having to wear certain clothes to be accepted, but developed into compulsive washing and other symptoms. I watched it develop and it seemd to me she was desperate not to be rejected by the other children. All she spoke about was whether people really liked her.
After Joanna's brief remission at the local village primary, all of her problems reurned when she reached high school. There were a number of pupils there from the Waldorf school, and although I am not saying they did anything to try to upset her, their presence brought all of the memories back. We realised then that she had not totally recovered, since the sight of people from that school has continued to upset her.
Eventually she was placed in the special unit for children with behavioural problems where she met the boy who had joined her Waldorf class and been ousted out by the other boys.
I realise now that our boys continuing at the Waldorf school was hampering Joanna's recovery. It was still a huge part of our life, and it was a part from which she was excluded.
After leaving the special unit she attended college for just three weeks before leaving, and after that, she sank deeper and deeper into a depression. It did not help that, during that time, our family had to undergo the stress of the school's continued threats of court action if we did not pay the arreas. I felt that to pay them would be a further abuse of my children.
My own health has deteriorated considerably over the past few years as well. I am sure the constant worry over Joanna has not helped.
During the last year Joanna has at last begun to show signs of a recovery. She has made some new friends who have proved to be very accepting and nonjudgemental and their love and support has helped her tremendously.
Both she and her younger brother, however, have developed an aversion to anything remotely connected to the Waldorf School. They will avoid health food shops and craft markets as being 'Waldorfy'. Richard even refuses to listen to any music other than rock. He says that classical music and what he calls "that happy lovey dovey stuff", which seems to include the more middle of the road easy listening  music, folk or anything remotely spiritual reminds him of the Waldorf School and "those happy teachers with silly high voices who seem to walk on clouds" - his words not mine. It is so sad that this has happened because they will both miss so much that is good in life.
I continue to ponder why it all happened. How did I almost destroy my daughter by choosing to send her to an apparently caring, art based beautiful small private school? How could people who appeared to be good friends suddenly turn on us and later forget we exist. 
We have had almost no contact from any of them since we left. Only one family seemed to really care about what happened to our daughter. Another phoned to invite me to a class play. I couldn't go. The hurt would have been too great. More recently there  has been a reunion of old families and pupils. None of us felt we could go, not even to meet old friends, after all of the cruelty and unpleasantness.
I am particularly sad for Joanna. She has never recovered from the rejection. She was dyslexic and had some other problems and that was all they saw, a problem child. To us she is a special child, a gift. She is a gifted artist, a talented musician and a lovely spirited, sensitive, compassionate girl. She was a beautiful flower which, with the proper care, could have bloomed and turned her face to the sun, but they only saw her problems so she sits alone wilting in the dark.
She was different, but to them every child should be treated alike. There is no extra protection for the sensitive, easily hurt child. She must deal with her Karma alone and if she falls then that is her fate. There is no understanding of the child who is developing socially at a slower rate. She must fit in with her class. There is no understanding of the child with a particular problem. Unless, of course, and I know I am being cynical here, unless her parents are among the richer members of the community and are able to offer the school more than average in money or support.
Joanna had many gifts to offer, but these were not discovered.
They could not love her for what she was.
They saw only a 'problem child'. 


Horizontal Divider 21

"They would not listen, they're not listening still.

 Perhaps they never will."

   from 'Vincent' by Don McLean


Horizontal Divider 21

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

            from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran