December 2nd, 2018
We sent all three of our children to Waldorf schools.
None of them have forgiven us for that.
I suppose that I should pause for a moment to explain what a Waldorf school is. This is somewhat complicated. A Waldorf school can be different things to different people. It depends on what a person is looking for. A Waldorf school attracts a peculiar population. If a person sends their kids to a Waldorf school, then they are already living pretty close to the edge. Waldorf is not mainstream. Not at all.
The first Waldorf school was established in Stuttgart, Germany, just after World War I, by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was a visionary, in the literal sense of the word. He claimed to be able to see various aspects of the spiritual world. He was a polymath, a man who was interested in everything and explored everything. He had never considered getting involved with education until the owner of a German cigarette factory asked Steiner to start a school for the children of his employees. At that point, Steiner’s spiritual vision kicked into high gear.
Steiner believed that the growth of each child was like the development of the entire human race in microcosm. He saw that every child went through every stage of the history of humanity. Steiner based his educational model on this premise. Everything in Waldorf flows from that concept.
Waldorf is spiritual, without being particularly religious. In essence, it is expected that people might talk about God at a Waldorf school, but it is not required that a person belong to a particular sect. When our kids were at Tamarack Waldorf School, many years ago, there were people who were Jewish or Catholic or Buddhist or Muslim or Wiccan. There was a very eclectic mix of religions. The common ground for everyone was the notion that there is more to life than just the material world.
The population of the school was also economically diverse. Some people were poor, some were wealthy. The population was racially mixed. There was an emphasis on being open and inclusive.
To a certain degree.
Waldorf schools are an offshoot of anthroposophy, which was Steiner’s all-encompassing philosophy. There are a certain number of people involved with Waldorf who believe that, if Steiner said it, then it must be true. In short, there are Waldorf fundamentalists. I think that it is also true that Waldorf schools have a idiosyncratic culture, one that embraces the noble goals of creating peace and preserving the environment, but also seems enamored with silks and stardust. Waldorf schools tend toward pastel colors, and things that are warm and fuzzy.
I never felt completely at ease in the Waldorf environment. This is mostly because I am not warm and fuzzy. Many people will testify to that fact. I always felt like a Philistine, not nearly enlightened enough to be part of the group. Karin, on the other hand, was able to get a part time job at the school as a teacher’s assistant. Karin helped teach handwork to the children (knitting, sewing, crocheting). So, Karin wound up teaching exactly the things she does every day. Perfect.
So, why do our kids hate us for sending them to this school?
I think that it is mostly because they all had a truly brutal transition from Waldorf to public schools. Everyone of them initially got their academic asses kicked when they got into high school. The problem was that the Waldorf teachers were generalists. They were supposed to be able to teach almost everything, and they did so with a reasonable level of competence. Public school teachers specialize in a certain subject, which makes them experts in a narrow field. So, our kids were not well prepared in every subject. They were well prepared for art and music and independent thinking. However, public schools don’t really give a damn about any of those things. Public schools are factories that spit out drones for industry to use and abuse. Our kids did not fit in, at least not at first.
Yesterday, Karin and I went back to the Waldorf school in Milwaukee for their winter fair. We hadn’t been there for several years. Karin lost her handwork gig a while back, so we left that community for a while. I suggested that we check out the fair this year. I guess that the thought was prompted by the fact that we will soon have a grandson. Sometimes, thinking about the future takes a person back to the past. Ostensibly, we were going to the fair to find something for the baby. I think we went for other reasons.
The Christmas/Holiday/Winter Fair at the Waldorf school is always pretty much the same. There are vendors selling anything that is organic or free trade or somehow involved with social justice. Every purchase is a political statement. Actually, some of the stuff was pretty cool. There were some really neat wooden toys. Those we will have to buy a couple years from now when Weston is older.
There was a booth for henna painting. There was a room set up for serving treats (cakes and cookies and tea and coffee and whatever). The classrooms were open so that prospective students and their parents could see what wonderful things occur in these classes. The set up hasn’t changed during the last few years.
We reconnected with a few people from years ago. In some cases the interactions were a bit stiff and awkward. However, several of Karin’s former students recognized their former handwork instructor, and initiated contact with her. These were teenagers who most likely spend their free time being cynical and surly. However, they usually smiled shyly at Karin and said something like,
“Mrs. Pauc, you probably don’t remember me at all, but…”
Then Karin would realize who they had been all those years ago. Karin beamed back at them. Sometimes they embraced. There was a true feeling of affection between Karin and those kids who had struggled to knit way back when. They have a real bond. It was beautiful to see.
Even if that is all that Waldorf has to offer, it’s worth it.