A Reply to Nana

In yesterday’s post, Nana left a comment responding to my anxieties about sending my kids to private schools that are not Waldorf:

hokay! I’m an outsider here and will probably cause some apoplexy for some of you. Does anyone think it odd that a system (and don’t try to deny that it is, indeed, a system) such as Waldorf would become established in a country (Germany) which is known for its regimentation and by-the-rule-book attitude? This has been a highly organized and orderly country for a very, very long time. Let’s not forget the German propensity for rich food!

Now let’s apply this phenomenon to every day life, but in reverse. If you give your children the kind of nurturing environment which the Waldorf method encourages, it will be instilled in them and carried with them wherever they are.

If Waldorf could bloom in Germany, then Waldorf raised children can bloom anywhere. Kids need to be introduced to a variety of controlled experiences. Otherwise how can they learn to make intelligent, well thought out, decisions for themselves when they leave the nest?

Henitsirk needs to stop beating herself up over this because it’s not healthy for her and her family. She needs to put a more positive light on the challenge which life has given her at this time and remember – it’s not forever, but it is for now.

I started to write a response comment, and then realized that it was too long and might as well be its own post.

Yes, Waldorf sprang from the Germanic culture, with all its wonderful regimentation and paternalism and nationalism. Now, Steiner actually spoke and worked vigorously against those tendencies. In fact, his ideal for Waldorf schools was different in many ways, but he had to compromise with the state in order to manifest the schools in such a way that they would be not private but available to all. (See this PDF from the Research Bulletin on some of the ways in which Waldorf school methods might be a result of either Steiner working with necessities of his time and place or of our misinterpretations of his teachings.) Sort of the way Waldorf charter schools have done in California and other places. (Something good to remember for those who feel charters aren’t “real” Waldorf!)

Steiner also felt that younger children needed what you could call “regimentation”, though not in an authoritarian way, but rather an authoritative way. For the exact reason that you describe in your second-to-last paragraph: so that children are given a firm, secure foundation to later, when they are ready, make their own way. So, the Waldorf curriculum is highly structured in a sense: certain things are only taught to certain grades, painting for young children is not free expression but rather painting a certain motif modeled after the teacher, etc. This is an interesting article on young children in particular, and how strict discipline is not useful and in fact might be harmful (warning: published in 1963, very un-PC references to “primitive” cultures!).

I found a wonderful passage (see p. 45) from a lecture by Steiner on the healing effects of education. It seems like a gift for me in my questioning and anxieties right now:

[A]s grown-ups we do not find such great value in what we ourselves have become through our own education. We do not look back with deep gratitude on what we received through instruction and education. Ask your own heart whether this gratitude is always alive….

Advice to self: Breathe. Observe. Find gratitude in your heart. Be conscious of motives coming from fear or anxiety, as they will mislead you. Have faith.


Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Parenting, Uncategorized, waldorf education

15 responses to “A Reply to Nana

  1. I’m glad you replied to the comment from yesterday. I went back and read all the comments from the previous post and found the whole conversation to be quite helpful to myself as well. I think I to, need to take some of that advice you gave to yourself…it’s good advice.

  2. This is what I’m feeling for Kiko, that traditional authoritarian discipline doesn’t work for him but that he does need a great deal of structure in his day and firm guidance. I think “authoritative” is a good term. It’s hard to get people to understand what I mean, though. I keep getting the advice: “He just needs a good smack, that will make him toe the line,” and I’m trying to get across: “I am firm with him, but he doesn’t respond to those sorts of discipline and in any case, on a more general level [i.e. not when it comes to harmful behaviours or stuff that could hurt other people], do I want him to toe the line? Not ask questions? Be a mindless robot?” I want to nurture his “think outside the box” attitude – if there’s one thing he’s good at it’s thinking outside the box! I’m not sure how this relates to Waldorf, so sorry if this is getting to be off topic, I just feel that there is something there, that maybe this is an approach that would suit him. I think I need to write my own post about this!

  3. Penny in VT

    Great thoughts (and pictures too) – I’m wondering of sometimes people (including myself) get too caught up in thinking structure = regimentation = authoritarianism (and so we resist structure and all of it’s benefits). I find that for us, the structure, and how we create it, defines our days and our selves, and without it, we’re chaos, and then we jump back into regimented authority which does not work – because it pushes against, instead of finding the current and flowing with it… Just like the photos, it’s the structure that we build *ourselves* that pleases our eye and our inner self, even if it’s different from those who would live in different structures. Garbled, I know, but I hope I make sense somewhere on some level, and all this to say, thanks for the food for thought 🙂

  4. Dawn: It’s hard to remember that even if our values are different from the majority, we still need to be in this world and be grateful for it!

    Helen: Are these people in the daycare facilities you’ve been visiting that are recommending a “good smack”? If so, I’m appalled. That just shouldn’t even be in their thinking. Or is corporal punishment acceptable/legal in Australia? I think what you are saying about what you want for Kiko applies very much to Waldorf, in that the goal is to nurture children into being competent and social human beings, not mindless consumers/thinkers.

    Penny: I think I will write another post about structure, authority, regimentation, etc. It’s such a hard concept for most of us to really get, and often a source of conflict even for anthroposophists. I certainly struggle with it!

  5. Caveat emptor! I’m just playing devil’s advocate here as usual…

    The post-structuralist still hanging around in me from the reading I did from for my dissertation feels obliged to ask whether anything which is a system and which clearly includes some things and excludes others (Lego, anybody?) is in fact authoritarian in its right but in a different way? I can’t imagine Steiner schools emerging anywhere other than Germany – where else would someone set out to structure the unstructured?

  6. Nana

    The Jewish religion forbids causing pain (this includes physical, emotional, spiritual or any other kind of pain) to any living creature, be it child, adult, or domesticated and non-domesticated animals.

    Having said this, I will add an exception.

    The only excuse for a smack on the bottom is as a last resort if a child is in imminent danger. In my experience, these situations are rare and involve very young children with lots of diaper padding. The point is not to hurt the child, but to get his attention fast. This happens when the parent or primary caregiver reacts out of fear for the child’s safety and not out of anger or frustration.

    Any other use of corporal punishment is just that, punitive, and is inexcusable.

  7. URD: Sure, any system is a system. Even unschooling has a structure in that it excludes a preformed curriculum, classroom setting, etc. But…I think authoritarian has a connotation that exceeds merely being a structure or system, and rather implies what Merriam-Webster Unabridged describes as “often blind submission to authority… (or) a political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small autocratic elite”.

    It’s actually a bit of a tricky issue, because in theory, according to Steiner’s initiative, all Waldorf schools are independent, and the actual day-to-day curriculum and administrative decisions are made by the school, not any centralized authority. However, there are Waldorf coordinating bodies, such as AWSNA for North America and ECSWE in the UK, which more or less “accredit” Waldorf schools, and if a school chose to vary widely from the typical Waldorf curriculum, it is likely that they would not be allowed to call themselves a Waldorf school!

    I think what Steiner did was take a highly regimented educational system (the emphasis in Germany then was on rote memorization, for example) and change it to be, on the one hand, more flexible, but on the other, guided by a comprehensive set of ideals and instructions. There’s a lot of “Steiner said…” out there, which ends up making the schools more dogmatic than they could be.

    Nana: Generally, I agree, spanking is punitive. And in fact, will not “make him toe the line” but rather will probably make for a resentful and aggressive child.

  8. Mimi

    I hear your heart on this post.
    Have faith and listen to YOUR heart.
    From my heart,the longer you can keep them “in” what you believe, the stronger the foundation will become and they will be able to make even better decisions.

  9. Eve

    I think that when we use words such as “structure” and “regimentation” we may do well to look to the roots of the words and our attitudes toward our children. Children are comforted by routine and the expected. These build a temenos, a holy container, for their souls. But what passes for “structure” may do just the opposite. And we know this, so we fear for our children.

    Moving is a big thing, a very big thing. It is one of the biggest stressors an adult can face. It’s not unusual for people who move into a new home to feel like aliens in their own home for up to one year. We are not as resilient as we’d like to think. It’s difficult to have to make decisions for one’s children’s future when the entire family is undergoing such stress. I know that when we moved five years ago, we all wanted to go back home for the next 12 months. Yes, it was that difficult.

    So I agree with you: breathe, trust, be grateful. Have hope. Love. It will be OK.

  10. Nana

    I need some clarification. Did Steiner actually advocate letting a youg child touch a hot stove in order to learn for herself what it feels like?

    Please, please tell me this is not true.

  11. Nana: I don’t know if Steiner ever said that specifically. That part of the article was not a quote, but a passage written by the Mr. Schreiber.

    But it is a fairly common concept among Waldorfers, in my experience, that children need to learn through doing (which was spoken of directly by Steiner). Of course, you don’t want to actively or through negligence have your children be burned. But…once they have an actual experience, they are much more likely to remember it, because very young children learn through movement, experience, and imitation. I recall with Napoleona, I let her experience the warmth of the door of the oven, which was not hot enough to burn her, and then said “hot!” and maybe “ouch!” for extra reinforcement.

    I think the author was also trying to make a distinction between a quick touch on a hot stove that creates a small burn, and falling into scalding hot water! Also notice that he described how parents need to create a safe space (in this case, running the cold water first). So, I didn’t forbid Napoleona from coming near the stove, but I did work to help her understand through sensory experience what “hot” means.

    In a similar way, I started to let SillyBilly cut with “real” knives when he seemed old enough to handle a butter knife. It was probably at a younger age than most people would generally feel comfortable! But he gained in experience, until I felt he could have a sharp knife. He cut his fingers several times (never badly), and therefore became more careful and aware of what he was doing. You will often see Waldorf kindergarteners helping to cut up vegetables for soup, for this very reason.

  12. Nana

    I absolutely do not agree with letting children learn through any experience which causes them pain. I cannot understand putting a child in harms way.

    A small cut on a small finger is still a cut. A tiny burn on a tiny hand is still a burn. Did they cry?

  13. OK, I’m not going to talk about the article any more, but just my own experience.

    What I was trying to get at with the oven and cutting veggies examples is that I have tried to allow my children to have real-life experiences without shielding them unduly. I don’t let them cook at the stove yet, for example, but I have let SillyBilly stir a pan of food on the stovetop a few times, while I am standing right there watching. I let him start cutting veggies when I saw that his hand-eye and fine motor skills were appropriately developed–knowing that he might cut himself a tiny bit, but that he was skillful enough that he wouldn’t do any serious damage. After all, I’ve cut and burned myself many times, as an adult!

    I think there’s a big difference between “putting a child in harm’s way” and allowing them to try things that, in the parent’s thoughtful judgment, they are ready to try. I am certainly not planning or hoping that they get hurt–but I am also not so fearful of their getting hurt that I won’t take calculated risks.

    I try to strike a balance between parenting strictly out of fear, and total negligence 🙂

  14. Pingback: Structure « Anthromama

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