10 November 2012

Is Waldorf a cult?

Okay. Those of you who know me and who know how long I've been working on this blog of a book, you know, you know how I struggle with "Should I let it rest? Let it go? or Just publish the damn thing already?!" But recent feedback has made me rethink the beginning and ending. So this is my new beginning or prologue. I mean, as much as I love my shitting in my pants story, I think it's time for a clearer direction. What do you think? Well, here it is:

“I feel like I've learned a lot about you today.”

“Why?”

“Well, I never really understood why getting fired from Waldorf was such a big deal for you. I only knew that you really liked that job. But now I get it, Waldorf is a cult. It messed with your head.”

I fought my reaction to say, “It’s not a cult.” Instead I replied, “Well, that is Waldorf’s biggest criticism. But I don’t know if it’s a cult…”

My friend stared at me, “You just told me you were criticized for being irreverent. You didn’t fit in to their dogma or beliefs. You didn't act the way they wanted you to. Somehow you must have slipped through the system, and when you didn't change, they fired you.”

That was succinct.

“I suppose...I just think people associate cults with weak minded people. And I'm not weak.”

“No you're not. And I don't think that at all. I think a lot of people who get into cults are looking for something, for answers, they're seekers.”

***

It’s been about 10 years since my Waldorf experience, so I understand a little better, how folks would think Waldorf education is a cult. But what isn't a cult these days? According to the Wiki, "The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices."

But when we look at these examples at Listverse, I want to laugh. I mean seriously. When I was immersed in the Waldorf world of fairy tales, watercolors and silk cloths, I’d say it was just magical. It was fun. It was as childhood should be. Gnomes are real dolls, and dolls with no faces were fine by me. Better no eyes, nose and mouth than one that I wished looked different.

Yet there is no denying, Rudolf Steiner advocates, and Waldorf educators fight any dogmatic leashes that the critics saddle upon them. I see it as they believe they are normal and other people think they are not, hence the word "cult" gets tossed around like a hot potato or a bill in Congress. So is Waldorf a cult? Up to you.

What do I think? It’s almost like Christianity pretending not to be a religion. Would Waldorf folks feel more comfortable it they were labeled as a culture or way of life? Because Waldorf cannot deny there are rules and ideals, and a set of practices and beliefs. Waldorf is a way of life, it’s a culture. This can be good or bad or neither.

I currently live in Thailand as an American Asian expat and have been wrestling with this culture question. And I don't think it would serve anybody to get into it here. But I think it's another way to look at this Waldorf as a cult question. And yes, I realize the word "cult" is in culture…

5 comments:

Leopard Spots said...

Hi....I think Waldorf is definitely a cult in the wiki sense of the word.

New - relatively. And put together by a person who seems to have gathered all the ideas he liked and mashed them together into one huge muddle. Incredibly clever - I stand in awe of the complexity, scope, and depth of his vision, but the more I study it, the more bizarre it seems.

Religious - hugely. They may dispute that, but since every single action performed, word spoken and song sung in the nursery is to nurture the reincarnating soul of the child who has chosen to be in that place and time (just as in a Christian preschool all those things are to uphold the unique nature of the child as a one time soul placed in this place and time for a particular purpose by a loving creator God) - then I would see them as intensely religious.

Nursery has nothing to do with education - literally - and is all to do with assisting the child's soul in re-entering the world. They may pay lip service to the state curriculum objectives, and find ways to justify their rituals and practices to outside educational review boards etc but it is smoke and mirrors 100%

Beliefs and practices seen as abnormal or bizarre....I guess singing thanks and talking to inanimate objects may be seen as bizarre....let alone the entire world view of Ahriman etc ... how colours encourage different spirits.....how teachers set up the room so that elemental beings could come and play overnight, leaving the room in a good spiritual state for the children the next day...highchairs as a demonstration of the incarnation of the child's soul...painting wet on wet to communicate with the spirit world...ensouling dolls as you make them....music with a beat 'pulling children down' into their incarnation much too fast....aspergers being a result of his imcomplete incarnation and the parents' fault for not nurturing and protecting the incoming baby.....immunisation being unacceptable because it disturbs the child's karma....etc etc ad infinitum
Hmmm. To them all this seems perfectly logical. But few others seem to think so - and I found my colleagues got very cross when questioned about the whys of what they were doing in practice. heaven forbid things could undergo critical professional review!

Rituals....far out. Verses and poems may go by different names, but they still have all the attributes of prayers. Just not to a God. The almighty Rhythm dominates every aspect of nursery life.

As you say, Waldorf being a cult may be good, bad or indifferent. It just depends whether you are prepared or able to subscribe to the demands of their faith.

I am not at work today or ever again, because the bullying since my resignation got to such a point that my wonderful supportive and diplomatic husband rang my boss and gave them the option of paying me out to the end of my notice and releasing me - or us starting a harrassment greivance. it was not a pleasant moment in the fairytale forest. but I am free. I think. i hope!

Keep blogging - you rock :-)

Lani Cox said...

This is why I love blogs. This is why I post, so I can get a remark or comment like yours. THANK YOU.

I love what you had to say and the reminder of all the crazy and bizarre stuff that R. St. lectured, etc.

It's been about 10 years so my memory is not as crisp as yours. Probably because I simply don't have his literature around me anymore.

But as this blog of a book is moving towards completion, it might be worth taking another look, just for 'ol tymes sake ;)

You raise an interesting question. Are you being "indoctrinated" if you are unaware of what you are doing/learning?

Because so many Waldorf practitioners do not consciously "teach" Anthroposophy.....

Leopard Spots said...

Yes, i think it is definitely indoctrination.

Saying the Rainbow Bridge story every birthday (that's quite a few each month in a class) ever so subtly reinforces the idea of reincarnation.

Thanking the earth and sun each day subtly pushes you towards a pantheistic world view.

Presenting the Christmas story as one of many fairy tales subltly pushes children to see it as fiction.

Never allowing children to question the teachers or use their intellect in any way subtly pushes them to accepting that the teacher's word is infallible. gnomes etc are presented as real by those infallible people. Why would the children not believe what they are told by trusted adults?

Again however, I think we all indoctrinate our children. As a Christian mother, I made sure to tell my children Bible stories and the essentials of the Christian faith as soon as I could - for the sake of their immortal souls. I was sure I was doing the right thing giving them a secure, well understood base that they could rebel against and question in later years, and hopefully come round full circle to accept Christianity in later life - simply because I was raised that way and believe it to be true.

i'm sure every parent of any faith does the same kind of thing....so it doesn't surprise me that anthroposophists do it too. They are just much more subtle because Steiner told them to be secretive about it; and because their faith is so 'out there' except in their tight little community that they can't tell the truth about it to many people!

I think even parents with 'no religion' indoctrinate their children with humanism in much the same way - and abdicate responsibility for spiritual teaching to state schools. State schools are a lot less subtle about their agenda than Waldorf, I reckon.

Hmm. Yes, I think that Waldorf teachers are actually consciously teaching anthroposophy. Just in their own subtle yet effective way! :-)

Anonymous said...

Lani- I just read your blog start to finish in 3 days! Brilliant and powerful!

As an educator in a progressive school (Piaget, child-development model, and as a former Montessori teacher) I was completely captivated by your educational experience. I've just learned about the "cult" of Waldorf, despite years of being neighbor schools with Waldorf schools and often compared to them! My school encourages play, the arts, developmental academics, and is in a garden setting- but that's where the similarities end. All schools have politics and you have captured the families, children and faculty at small private schools so well.

You're a beautiful writer. Thank you!

Lani Cox said...

Thank you very much Anon. That is encouraging and lovely to hear.

Piaget sounds familiar I will have to check it out. And thank you for commenting, what a beautiful way to start my day!!!