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Not to be confused with anthropology
February 23, 2005 2:26 PM   Subscribe

The World of Waldorf: where children learn to read after the second grade. Critics speak out against it, but there's dancing, and the moon was once part of earth. But, don't believe everything that you read online! One of the minor links is a pdf.
posted by Jim Jones (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had a couple acquaintances who attended this Waldorf school. They seemed pretty normal, if a little sheltered.
posted by rooftop secrets at 2:49 PM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]


where children learn to read after the second grade.

I don't get it. What do they do in the first grade?
posted by c13 at 2:52 PM on February 23, 2005


Oh. Ok. Finally clicked on the appropriate link.
posted by c13 at 2:54 PM on February 23, 2005


I went to a Waldorf school for 9 years (k-2 through 8). Although I complained about it non-stop growing up (I wanted to be like the public school kids) I am now glad I grew up in that school. It had an incredibly warm environment and I felt treasured. I learned to read just fine by any standards, but I do remember having to play the dog in a camp play after first grade because I was the only one in that age group who couldn't read. I also fantasized about learning to read (I thought we'd all get shots the first day of second grade) and when I did eventually learn it was an extremely memorable day. Actually, in some cases reading isn't the problem at all - math and science can be more problematical.
posted by Amizu at 3:06 PM on February 23, 2005


Some of the schools practices sound quite good. I like the no TV stance, for instance. But from the second critics link, it sounded to me like Steiner may have had links to Theosophy. So I googled Steiner and Theosophy and got this.

I think I'd rather my 7 year old wasn't learning about Root Races and Atlantis in school. Save that crap for college, when you can take LSD and explore the concepts more properly.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:22 PM on February 23, 2005


So what would they do with someone like me? Not a brag, but I learned to read by reading the newspaper when I was five. I could already read when I entered kindergarten. My parents sent me to parochial school, where they were using the initial teaching alphabet, a fucked up system that wasted a year of my time. Kids should be allowed to learn at their own pace, and in a real school - not some nun-run hell - I would have been placed in second grade. According to Waldorf I could then begin to read.
posted by fixedgear at 3:23 PM on February 23, 2005


World of Waldorf: Reading requires level 5 and you have to find the Trainers yourself?
posted by freebird at 3:31 PM on February 23, 2005 [2 favorites]


I really shouldn't have laughed as hard at that as I did, Free.

*goes off to level up his Rogue*
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 3:40 PM on February 23, 2005


I'm all for the Waldorf system. I attended a Waldorf pre-school and remember having a lot of fun and feeling supported. I've also done a good bit of nannying, and the Waldorf kids seem balanced and creative.

I don't have an opinion on the reading thing, because like fixedgear, I was reading at a young age (brag: three years old)...

Incidentally, they don't really teach kids about Atlantis.
posted by Specklet at 3:48 PM on February 23, 2005


fixedgear : I can one-up you. :) I learned to read at two and a half. I was writing at four. In kindergarten, I refused to do the "trace the letters" exercises designed to teach children how to write and spent most of my time in the principal's office due to causing an unholy scene on a daily basis about how the other children were insipid...

Speaking of insipid other children, my brother went to a Waldorf school and didn't learn how to read until well past the second grade. I think he was nine when he finally cracked that one. To his credit : he immediately started in with full length YA novels. The only experience I have with Waldorf schools is from watching my brother's childhood and I have to say that I'm sure it works for some kids, but he was not one of them. Without discipline, he just wouldn't do anything.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:00 PM on February 23, 2005


Wow, that's something I didn't expect to see anywhere, though I supposed I'm not surprised its on mefi

I went to a Waldorf school from 7-12th grade. I wouldn't be so foolish as to proclaim that it was all fun and games or that I wouldn't change anything but overall I think it was better than had I continued in NYC public schools.

Of course, the fact that the school I went to is right next to Bloomberg's House inevitably alters the amount of waldorf-ness that makes it into the school.

I've certainly never seen anything even remotely like what doctor_negative describes, but again I certainly can't speak for every crackpot who says he's being Waldorf. It's like anything else really, there are good examples and bad examples.

Eurythmy is one of the hardest parts to explain to people who haven't experienced it. In the way it helps develop balance, precision and poise it acts more like a 'soft' martial art like tai-chi or yoga.

The part about Waldorf education that I enjoyed most was the diminished focus on the metrics that dominate public schools. We didn't start prepping for the SATs until 11th grade.

But without doubt the most valuable thing was the balance of the education. We did science, math and english, but we also did art, music and crafts. All those things you see Martha Stewart making on TV? She learned those at my school.

Anyone can fill students with information, but to think that that is the extent of what teaching should be seems silly to me. The Waldorf education that I have seen places the emphasis on creating a love of learning as opposed to simply 'filling the bucket.'

On preview: I think grapefruitmoon is right, Waldorf is right for some people and not for others. Some people seem to do well in public schools and others turn out fine after Catholic education.
posted by Skorgu at 4:09 PM on February 23, 2005


*pulls out the reading dick for sizing competition* I wasn't even three, either. My big brother was in kindergarden and I wanted to learn, too. *puts away dick*

I was wondering what they'd do with the "gifted" kids too... while I agree that labeling children as "slow" is a bad thing, I don't think gifted education ever hurt anyone.

On another note, my cousin was in a Waldorf school for a year or so in pre-school, but then my aunt caught wind of the Theosophy connection and decided to pull her out. *shrug* It doesn't sound like much of the new agey stuff rubs off on the kids, but you never know.
posted by salad spork at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2005


My niece and nephew went to Waldorf schools. I insisted on auditing for a few days to see make sure this wasn't some kind of cult. What I saw was not at all disturbing.

The problem with the delayed reading is that it would work better if all of the student's peers were on the same schedule. When your friends from public school are reading and you aren't then it can cause an aversion, "readings not my thing".
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:20 PM on February 23, 2005


A friend of mine just learned to read and he's 23. To me, that's more impressive than a flock of three year olds.
Is that the word? A flock? A...gaggle? A dumptruck full?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:42 PM on February 23, 2005


I learned to read in utero. I was born with a tiny little newspaper in my hand.

/just being a smartass
posted by Turtles all the way down at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2005


Ha! I was reading as a zygote! Russian novels. In Russian. So there.

Re Waldorf; if I lived anywhere near a Waldorf school, I would probably enroll my son and let him decide if he liked it or not. The one is Austin has a really great vibe to it...I wish I still lived in Austin.
posted by dejah420 at 6:23 PM on February 23, 2005


I have a young friend who is in a Waldorf program. He went 'round twice in kindergarten, so he's 'old for his grade'. He is 11 years old now. IIRC he's in 4th grade.

He can barely read at all. He's old enough now to feel shame and despair about it.

As an adult watching him grow, it pains me greatly to see what Waldorf has done to his development. His reading skills are at least two, perhaps three years behind. A year ago, he couldn't read 'The Cat in the Hat'. Today, he struggles with monosyllabic words.

Now, the old Nature-Vs-Nurture question could be argued; It may be his Nature that he be disinclined to read. Dad is dyslexic and a poor role model, and mom's a busy executive who works to 7pm every night. The one thing that could mitigate that environment - the Nurturing of a good school - has actively resisted the the very tutelage that he most needed.

It makes me furious that anyone could advance a curriculum that intentionally sabotages its' students that way. Young minds are tuned for language learning. Reading is a part of language, and it does a grave disservice to a child to waste those early years in a curriculum based on "go slow to make up for being behind".

I don't care at all about the so-called 'cultish' behavior, or the nontraditional cosmology, or the eurythmy class, or any of the alternative activites of Waldorf. No, my complaint with Waldorf is aimed right at the heart of its' academic curriculum. It is a fraud, plain and simple. Any kid deserves better.

(W00t! My first post here, talking Waldorf got me worked up enough to de-lurk)
posted by Triode at 6:25 PM on February 23, 2005


Jeremy Irons runs a school now?


posted by exparrot at 6:36 PM on February 23, 2005


Just for some perspective, most kids these days, at least in east coast schools, learn to read either in kindergarten or in pre-K, and are pretty decent readers (Seuss would be no sweat) upon entering first grade.
posted by caddis at 6:48 PM on February 23, 2005


So Triode, based upon your name, I have to ask what kind of system are you running, SET?
posted by caddis at 6:51 PM on February 23, 2005


I'm surprised, a little, at the positive attitudes towards Waldorf schools. I guess my perspective is colored because I started with waldorfcritics.org and it was full "waldorf survivors," charges of racism, and allegations that parents are pressured to give up non-Waldorf friends and form a community centered on Waldorf. It's hard to tell what the reality is.

Triode, I'm sorry about your friend. When you have a bad start in life it's very, very hard to turn things around. Personally, I don't see a rational basis for not teaching to kids to read ASAP. Isn't it like learning a second language; the sooner you start the more fluent you're likely to become?
posted by Jim Jones at 8:07 PM on February 23, 2005


It is a fraud, plain and simple. Any kid deserves better.

I disagree. Of the folks consistently on the dean's list at my university, 3 of them were from the Austin Waldorf. I grant you that my son will be reading long before first grade, and if part of his day didn't include reading, its erroneous logic to then claim that he couldn't *still* be reading at home, in the car, at the library, etc.

The failure of your friend's social support system is not the responsibility of the school, nor can that failure be laid at its feet.

That said...some of the Waldorf schools look a little nuttier than others. Like I said, my only exposure has been the Austin school, so mileage may vary.

Oh, and sorry about the double post earlier...I dunno how that happened.
posted by dejah420 at 8:11 PM on February 23, 2005


This Waldorf... is it something I would have to not own a TV to know about?
posted by soyjoy at 8:55 PM on February 23, 2005


Seriously, though... obviously if you start with waldorfcritics.org you're going to be inclined to see the whole thing through that prism. But it's fair to say that with all its upsides and downsides, Waldorf is far too complex of a concept to grasp from a couple links on (or off) MeFi.

Steiner was obviously somewhat of a kook, and as with most people living through the turn of that century, had certain default assumptions that we now recognize as racist (and, let's not forget, sexist). But he also had some pretty impressive ideas that have been borne out by history and by science. Either way, it bears emphasizing that Waldorf students do not study Steiner or anthroposophy at all (unless, I suppose, some high-school students choose to do so as an advanced project).

I would gently suggest that anyone jumping to call the curriculum "fraud" or otherwise dismissing it on the basis of links or anecdotes actually attend an open house, an information evening or other event at a real Waldorf school. In my experience, those who do so realize pretty quickly how cartoonishly off-base that knee-jerk reaction is.

Reading is another very complicated issue, and I don't pretend that this is the one true and only way to do it, but statements like "Reading is a part of language, and it does a grave disservice to a child to waste those early years in a curriculum based on 'go slow to make up for being behind'" convey what can only be called ignorance of the subject. I have no idea what that quoted phrase is supposed to refer to, but the time before reading is taught is not wasted: Besides the education they receive in more advanced arithmetic as well as art, music and handwork, children are taught to write during this period - because it is a more active, tactile way of engaging with written language, which prepares the way for the more abstract, passive activity of reading. While there are undoubtedly horror-story outliers such as Triode's, those also exist, in great quantity, in public-school environments; the rosy picture caddis paints of early reading mastery is utterly belied by the grade-by-grade statistics for public schools, at least for the east-coast public schools I have examined.
posted by soyjoy at 9:28 PM on February 23, 2005


This Waldorf... is it something I would have to not own a TV to know about?
posted by soyjoy at 8:55 PM PST on February 23 [!]

No, but it does vibrate.

I cannot believe I'm derailing my own thread.
posted by Jim Jones at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2005


Does this have anything to do with the salad?
posted by berek at 11:39 PM on February 23, 2005


A friend of mine just learned to read and he's 23. To me, that's more impressive than a flock of three year olds.

Actually, that is sort of sad. Good that he became literate, but bad that whatever educational and familial system that s/he was part of failed him/her so miserably.
posted by fixedgear at 2:17 AM on February 24, 2005


Actually, that is sort of sad.

Sure, it's depressing -- the number of people living in the U.S. who've never learned to read, but this seems to be a problem in most countries. However, rather than shoulder the burden of illiteracy throughout his entire life, he bucked the system.
BTW, he was a ward of the state until his 18th birthday, so I suppose the educational/familial system he was part of was, in some sense, the U.S. government.

We need to accept illiteracy as a legitimate problem and encourage those who've been failed by the system to take on the incredibly difficult task of educating themselves.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2005


fixedgear : I can one-up you. :) I learned to read at two and a half. I was writing at four.

There's a problem with peaking early. By the time you're twenty five, no one knows or cares.

Mostly I'm with Baby_Balrog. His friend is far the more impressive
posted by IndigoJones at 3:40 PM on February 24, 2005


Dunno if anyone is still reading this but I was checked out for a while...

grapefruitmoon: The only experience I have with Waldorf schools is from watching my brother's childhood and I have to say that I'm sure it works for some kids, but he was not one of them. Without discipline, he just wouldn't do anything.

During my 9 years of Waldorf discipline was strong. My teacher (who was my teacher for 8 years) kept a very sharp eye on us. (I do agree Waldorf is not for everyone.)

Triode: I highly doubt a Waldorf program ruined your friend's learning abilities - children don't usually slip through the cracks at Waldorf because it is geared towards individualized attention. Sounds like he would've struggled in many other systems as well.

Gifted children - Incidentally, for the people who are concerned about gifted children, etc., generally the "main lesson" teacher stays with the class throughout grades 1-8. My teacher knew me extremely well (too well?) and tailored my education to my particular strengths. Some students got more advanced assignments in math, or english, or science, for example, and other students got remedial work in those subjects.

Not reading until 2nd grade - I can guarantee this does not cripple anyone for life. Part of the Steiner philosophy is simply that children shouldn't be rushed through their childhoods, and reading is deemed appropriate to be taught in second grade. (Of course kids can learn on their own, but Waldorf is not the school for parents anxious to get their kid into Harvard at age 15.) When I learned to read I was excited and involved in the process and my family did a dance around the book to celebrate. (I know that sounds hokey, but they were recovering hippies and we were all ecstatic.)

Brain development - although it's true reading is taught later than other subjects, Steiner was ahead of his time in terms of linguistics. At least in my school, German and Spanish are taught to all students beginning in the first grade. I now speak 5 languages reasonably well and I've always attributed that in part to my early start with multiple languages.
posted by Amizu at 7:44 PM on February 24, 2005


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