Following my recent post on “The issue that isn’t going away – leadership and management in Steiner Waldorf schools”, there was a minor flurry of comments from some of those who are critical of Steiner Waldorf schools. I will mention here just two of them:
Mark Hayes of the Steiner’s Mirror blog said:
“I think that the common lack of effective leadership stems from the collegiate management structure which originated with Steiner himself and the first Waldorf school, of course. I also suggest that the movement’s rigidity in this respect stems from the kind of unquestioning adulation for Steiner many share, as in your final paragraph.
Having said that, I have the impression that the mandate system used in many Steiner schools was an attempt to evolve from the fully collegiate approach, though I’ve seen little evidence that it has made much difference.
Does the SWSF still have an oversight role in the UK? Can grievances not satisfactorily resolved at school level still be taken there? If not, what role does it now have?”
Well, Mark, what I would say is that all sorts of variations have been tried in order to make the college of teachers system more responsive and effective, including the mandate system – I will be saying more about this in another posting soon, which will look in some detail at leadership and management issues.
I can’t speak for others but please do not assume that I have “unquestioning adulation” for Steiner – if I did, I would have failed as someone who seeks to work with anthroposophy. My appreciation of Steiner’s greatness has arisen over years of study, not just of anthroposophy but also of other spiritually-oriented philosophies. I have found that if you try to live and work with a new idea over a period of time, you will soon discover whether it has truth for you, because something within you will resonate with it. And if it sounds fantastical and cannot be verified, either within your own being or by some other means, then you can simply dismiss it, or say: interesting, if true. I understand that not everyone will share my assessment of Steiner, nor am I asking that they should.
Re SWSF, if I recall correctly, they no longer have a “final court of appeal “ role, which in the complaints procedures of most schools is reserved for the school’s Council of Trustees. What SWSF does do is to provide a Code of Practice, which spells out both Basic and Best Practice procedures; and in recent times, it has also introduced a Quality mark, which is awarded only to those schools which have undergone a rigorous outside assessment.
Melanie Byng has tweeted to say:
“your essential problem is that very few people agree Steiner was ‘a great initiate & one of the most remarkable human beings’ etc & most of these people don’t think it’s a good idea to base an education system on the ideas of ‘a great initiate’ or clairvoyant.”
I’m sure you’re right, Melanie, that not everyone will want such a system, but then as the marketing people say: “It’s different strokes for different folks.” Some people will want Montessori, some will want Froebel, some will want their local comprehensive, and there may even be a few who will want Steiner. What’s wrong with that?
Most parents will do their due diligence in researching the school they want for their child and there is plenty about Steiner schools on the internet, both pro- and anti-. Steiner schools are also much better these days in making statements about anthroposophy on their websites and in their prospectuses, so there should be fewer and fewer parents who are unaware of it.
If I might be excused a personal example, my wife and I were very happy to choose a Steiner school for our daughter, because we had done our due diligence and we did know fairly exactly what to expect; and it has worked very well for our daughter, both socially (like most Steiner pupils you meet, she is well-rounded, engaged with life, well-socialised, articulate and independent-minded) and academically (3 A*s at A level, a first class degree, and is now doing her MA at the Courtauld Institute). There are many others like her, both academic and non-academic types, who are able to find their way into adult life as free-thinking, creative and positive members of society. I saw it every year when I was working in a Steiner school and we said goodbye at the end of Summer term to the students leaving after their A-levels. These are fine young people that give one faith in the future of humanity – and any education system that can produce such results is doing quite a lot right.
One response to “Different strokes for different folks”
Thanks as ever Jeremy, for the straightforward response. Mea culpa – I didn’t mean to suggest that you personally were in unquestioning awe of Steiner, though others seem to be. As you suggest, a certain critical attitude (in the positive, constructive sense) is necessary to come to terms with anthroposophy and Steiner himself said as much. My main problem is that many parents and students involved with a Steiner school aren’t assisted in this by the school.
Interesting that the SWSF no longer have that role. I’ve always thought they seemed very stretched and under-resourced. It can’t help that the financial auditors for Hereford Steiner Academy recently recommended that the 2014-15 SWSF subscription couldn’t be justified…
Looking forward to the next post.