Waldorf Education - One family's story

Sinking Fast

Although she settled at the village school and the children there were friendly, Joanna was still suffering badly from the rejection she had experienced at the Waldorf School. To be the victim of bullying was bad enough. To be thrown out of the school because her teacher could not cope with either the bullies or Joanna's reaction to them had created a terrible insecurity in her.
When she was asked to leave, this had been the only school she had ever known. It was also the school her brothers still attended and loved, and the school, who's system of education her parents still supported.
She was now the outsider at home. We told her that both schools and both systems of education were good. It was just that she was more suited to the state system. It wasn't true. She was not an academic child. She was very talented artistically. She was more suited to the Waldorf system, or at least to the artistic emphasis that was a big part of their curriculum.
She must have seen though what we said. She knew we still believed in Steiner education. They had made a thorough job of convincing us that state education was harmful to children, and we still hoped to find a way to get Joanna back there at a later date.
When she was 10, Richard was about to move to Class 1. It had been felt that he was not ready for Class 1 the previous year because of his 'soiling' and he had been kept back a year. We were hoping that we could get Joanna back to the Waldorf school when she was 11 instead of her going to high school.
I still wasn't aware of the extent to which she had been bullied. I think she must have repressed a lot of it as she told me parts of it over several years. In fact I am convinced there is still a lot buried inside her. At that time, I still thought that a lot of the problem had been in her. I felt she was stronger now, and her old class was bigger, and her old friend had made up with her. I thought it could work this time.
Richard's new Class 1 teacher was the mother of a Kindergarten friend of Joanna's who had left the area and returned. The teacher invited all of her new pupils to a party at her house. She thought Joanna should come along and meet her daughter again as they had been great friends in Kindergarten. Her daughter had also invited another girl from Joanna's old class, and two others from the class came along because they had siblings in Richard's new class. One of these was one of the bullies.
The two girls from Joanna's old class totally blanked her. They didn't even say 'Hello'. The teacher's daughter was encouraged by her mother to speak to Joanna. She did so briefly with her eyes nervously on the other two girls. Then she ran off with them. It was obvious to me that the same game was still being played of 'Don't you speak to her or we won't speak to you again.' just as had happened to Joanna when the new boy had arrived. The teacher's daughter was desperate to be accepted in her new class. Sadly it didn't work for her either and she became the fourth girl in that class to become the victim of the bullies and the third to develop school phobia.
I have heard since that this kind of nastiness is common among Waldorf children. When a child leaves he/she is ostracised. It happened to a friend who moved away. When she brought her daughter back for the Advent Fair to see all of her old friends, none of them would speak to her.
 I don't know why this happens, but I imagine it has something to do with the children being encouraged to believe that their values and beliefs, which differ greatly from those of the outside world, are superior.
Joanna came home and said that she was never going back to that school as the children were horrible, so off she went to high school where everything went wrong again. 



When Joanna went to high school, she settled for a short time, then a pupil from her old class at the Waldorf school joined the school and, although I am not saying he in any way tried to upset her, his 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.
She became very unhappy and difficulties developed both at home and at school. She became at times so distressed that Social Services offered to hold a meeting to decide how best to help Joanna. Our social worker prepared a report for this meeting, and it was only when I read it that I discovered that the meeting that had been held while Joanna was still at the Waldorf School had been requested by that school because they were concerned she and her younger brother were being abused! They had based this on the fact that Joanna was afraid to stay at school - a rather strange reason to suspect abuse at home I would have thought - and that Richard was soiling. Of course we had since discovered that Richard's problem was physical.
I was outraged at what the school had done. I have since spoken to people from other Waldorf Schools who have had the same thing happen to them after they had complained of their child being bullied.
 I have no way of knowing if this school genuinely believed our children were being abused or if they were trying to create a smoke screen. My husband and I went to the school to demand an explanation. The two teachers there listened and sympathised and promised to get back to us. They never did.
The autumn of 1997 was a particularly bad time for us. A dear friend of mine was killed in an accident  My husband's car packed up and we had no money to replace it because we were still paying Waldorf School fees for the boys, so he was walking ten miles to work and back. Then I lost my part-time job and finally Joanna refused to stay at her new school. 
Eventually it was suggested that Joanna attend an assessment unit for children with behavioural problems. She loved it there, the smaller classes and lack of academic pressure suited her, but it was only a short term unit. After a few weeks a meeting was held and it was decided that she go to the long term pupil referal unit. There she met the boy who had joined her Waldorf class and been ousted out by the other boys. She talked to him and his main memory was of the boys who had bullied him.


The next two and a half years were pretty bad. Joanna had settled for a while at the long term unit, but after she met her old Waldorf classmate she seemed to relapse, just as she had at the high school. For several years she had been suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which was focussed on her appearance and seemed to us to be a desperate attempt to be accepted by other children after her earlier rejections. The OCD began to get worse, and because of this so did her attendance.
During the previous year our elder son had left the Waldorf School to start at sixth form college and found that he could not cope with the academic work there. He has an IQ of 135 so I can only think it must have been a combination of his dyslexia being ignored at the Waldorf school and the fact that he was not used to this level of work. Eventually he packed in college and began to drift from one temporary job to another, a pattern which continued for years. Even now he is still doing manual work that he hates, but his self esteem is too low for him to attempt training for anything better.
After a year Joanna was moved to yet another unit for 14 to 16 year olds. Here things went from bad to worse. Her attendance became almost non existant. It was a constant worry for us, of course, as we were being chased by educational welfare officers who refused to believe that she truly couldn't get to school because her obsessions were taking up so much of her time and she was exhausted. She refused to see a doctor because of the psychiatrist who had forced her to go to school when she was being bullied, and that didn't help either.
By 2000 both my husband and I were suffering severe stress and were on anti depressants. It was at this time that we got seriously behind with the Waldorf school fees.