Leaving

Grégoire Perra has written about how difficult it can be to remove your child from a Steiner school when you are dissatisfied, – more difficult than one might think.

First he describes the difficulties parents face in leaving, then there are practical suggestions to help. Here I have tried to explain his post in English; apologies for any errors.

Since 2011, following the publication of his article entitled “the indoctrination of students in Anthroposophy in Waldorf schools” he has been asked to help many people to exit children from different Waldorf Steiner schools, in France and Belgium and  in Switzerland. Families who contacted him had encountered many problems that make something that would normally be simple, seem laborious and even arduous. He says he always asks relevant organisations in the field of sectarian problems to take over, having neither the vocation nor the skills to assume such a role, but he sometimes offers to be available as an advisor to clarify situations that only a former student and Waldorf teacher would be able to understand.

The difficulties may be psychological, administrative, and social, he explains;

The psychological difficulties often stem from the tendency of these schools to make parents feel guilty when they start talking about the fact that this method of teaching has defects and is no longer suitable for them. They are told that they did not actually understand the fundamentals of what is offered in school; they are offered long interviews in which everything is done to change their mind and question their opinions or even make them forget the serious facts that motivated their decision. Often after these interviews, the parents do not understand themselves what happened or what was said and especially how it could be that they finally opted for a decision that may have been the opposite of what they intended .

To understand such phenomena he says, they should know that the anthroposophic teachers of these schools have means of persuasion that go well beyond ordinary ability. It is not just their well developed rhetoric, but also the way they accentuate certain tones or certain words, like hypnotists, following the advice in mental manipulation that Steiner had given to teachers in  the first Stuttgart school.

Thus, it is understandable that during these often lengthy interviews, parents’ minds are changed by what they hear, as few people are used to dealing with this kind of thing and able to resist it.

On administration, Perra says that schools will make it difficult for parents to effect the transition to another school simply by delaying paperwork. Another tactic by the schools is to insist on meetings, or to falsely claim that families must stay until the end of the year when there is no legal requirement for this.

The difficulties parents face socially are clear according to Perra; on entering a Steiner school a family is immediately drawn into a small, apparently warm, close-knit community of parents and teachers; There are kisses every morning, everyone is on familiar terms, joint meals and activities are organised, etc. All this is done deliberately to create a cohesive social group which it is actually hard to get out of, a kind of extended family or clan. Soon, to question or express doubts about what happens at school or about the methods used is seen as a sign of weakness, stupidity, or even as a betrayal.

Sometimes dissatisfied parents are led to believe that they are the ones who are being unreasonable, when they are not.

At the end of the post are some general pieces of advice, in his words;

  • Do not go to the suggested meetings. They have no other purpose than to confuse, make you change your mind or just to stall. However, if you agree to go there, be sure to stay for a fixed time only: beyond 45 minutes, I advise you to get up and leave after saying goodbye; the Steiner teachers may remain seated to show that they want to continue or may say phrases like “no one will go out of this room until we have reached an agreement”. Sometimes, without the consent of parents, some schools keep minutes of these talks; if such a document is sent to you, I recommend you immediately contest any inaccuracies in writing.
  • When your decision is made, you must immediately stop communicating not only with the school staff, but also with other parents, even those that you think you can completely trust. Indeed even comments made out of the school environment  are likely to be immediately forwarded and could then be used against you.
  • Never take the word of the admin staff of a Steiner school. For example, if you are told your child’s record has been sent to the new school, check what it is with the institution in question; if you don’t, you risk missing deadlines and having to leave your child in Steiner school for an extra year (which is actually the purpose of the manoeuvre). Keep all the documents you have from this school (rules, letters, children’s work, etc.).
  • Promptly contact a person from a competent association – [Grégoire recommends the UNADFI in France – the National Union of Family Associations of Defence of the Individual and cult victims. In the UK we have CIC which is a charity providing advice and information for victims of cults, their families and friends, researchers and the media.]
  • Pay what you owe to these schools; leave no shadow behind which would then be likely to be used against you, especially if you decide one day to testify publicly.
  • Record in writing as soon as possible all the facts and elements that led you to make your decision, being as specific as possible in the details, even those that seem insignificant. Also do not hesitate to formulate what were your thoughts, your doubts, and your difficulties in fully realising the situation.
  • When your decision is made and your child is out permanently do not under any circumstances set foot in the school again, even to look for belongings your child may have left behind there!
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13 comments

  1. Steve

    Interesting article which matches the account of the family who took our eldest daughter’s place: the unchecked bullying obviously carried on after our children’s expulsions and it got so bad they had to bring in some kind of anthroposophical psychiatrist who observed the class for a week I believe. The outcome, if I remember correctly, was that bullied kids were over sensitive and essentially, they were influencing the outcome.

    But the worse thing is what these schools do to people they want to get rid of. Gregoire mentioned in a previous article what happens to teachers who are no longer welcome, but in our experience, and that of too many others, those techniques apply to families as well. And those actions are so damaging, it can take years (if ever) for them to get over it.

    Our original website – http://www.titirangisteinermessenger.com – has testimonials from other parents, but the most touching one is of the family whose son got a fractured skull due to bullying at school. Something which was hidden from the parents, and became an urban myth… until she contacted us once the media got hold of our own story.

    I’d like Gregoire to talk about these kinds of destructive actions on families. As a former anthroposophist and teacher, he must’ve been aware of them and it would be most interesting to read about it from that perspective. Unless of course he’s already done so and I’ve missed it :)

    • Helen

      I almost added a paragraph to this post about the reasons why the schools want to keep families, bearing in mind what we know about how they treat dissenters and people they want to get rid of; of course it looks bad for a school when families leave because they are unhappy, and sometimes the number of children in a class can sink embarrassingly low – not to mention the financial loss with every child that leaves, and that applies to independent and state funded schools.
      It is only when people leave that they may start to tell others what has happened, so it is safer to keep them.
      Going by the accounts from families who have suffered, the misery can go on a very long time before people become able to make the decision to leave, and I think Gregoire has explained the reasons for that very well in this and other articles; it is hard to blame the school when everyone around you appears happy and the school is saying it is your fault or your child’s. So as long as the school do not perceive any risk of damage to themselves they will try to make a family stay, and very sadly in doing so prolong the suffering of a child.
      It is not always bullying that causes a family to leave, but as you say this is a common problem,
      The parent on mumsnet http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/education/554507-steiner-school-scotland who wrote about years of “constant bullying that was not dealt with” is just one example. Somehow a school manages to convince parents that it is nothing to do with them; and as you say, sometimes parents are unaware.
      In the English version of his fascinating article “My life among the anthroposphists”, https://veritesteiner.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/my-life-among-anthroposophists-part-i/ Gregoire wrote about bullying amongst the children in his school and how he was victimised himself and had to fight back, and says he still finds it difficult to think about “an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life”.
      His sister also suffered and his parents were told “that the teacher’s role is not to interfere in the personal relationships between students, which have a deep karmic foundation.”
      It is a truly shocking situation, and hard to credit that yes, it really is a belief in KARMA that is the root of these problems.

      • Helen

        I said families only tell once they leave, but I guess if people cause enough of a commotion in school by complaining that’s when they will be expelled

      • Steve

        Hi Helen

        I know Grégoire’s talked of some experiences he and his sister had, and I think many of us (all of us here?) are fully aware of the damage these schools can cause families in the name of Anthroposophy. The Karma and spiritual aspects of their beliefs not to interfere is increasingly well documented.

        Grégoire has been extremely candid in how Steiner schools vilify teachers and staff. What we need, to finish off the picture, is the point of view of teachers when families and students are subject to the same treatment. As Rachael Colley said about Desert Sky Community School: “Understand that you will be lied to, and some people at Desert Sky believe that they know more about your child and what is best for him/her than you do. Many (parents) are referred to in negative terms behind their backs.”

        We’ve done our best to fill in the picture from the point of view of those families in our “Lies, Damned Lies, and Steiner Education” article, and Grégoire position should have made him privy to some startling stories I’d wager.

    • Helen

      Thanks, yes, the accounts of rifts within families due to Steiner education are very sad. Steiner polarises opinion so it would not be easy to compromise.
      The description of “cult” may seem an exaggeration to some people, but there are many ways that Steiner fits this description, and the family rifts and difficulty leaving are good examples.

      • Steve

        How can it not be a cult? Don’t cults regularly blame the people who speak out for the problems those people are actually exposing? Isn’t that what these schools and their communities are reported to be doing worldwide?

      • Jim

        I would guess that many find it hard to see the cult aspects because there are so many, apparently quite open, facets to the Steiner empire. So it is possible to come into contact with it frequently in quite ordinary ways – buying veg, looking for a nursery for your child, joining an allotment garden group, attending a musical or theatrical event and so on. None of these seem threatening or cultish.
        Maybe it would be more accurate to describe it as a massive commercial enterprise with a cult hidden at its centre.

        • Steve

          What better way to conceal a cult than to make it appear to be open, beautiful and harmless?

          The director of “Going Clear” said there were only 25,000 scientologists in the world. Considering how many tentacles Steiner orgs have, I think it’s safe to assume that there are many more anthroposophists than that… and no one knows about it. What amazing power and control.

  2. Pingback: Leaving | Waldorf Recovery

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