Saturday, March 1, 2014

Berkeley Area Waldorf schools

http://parents.berkeley.edu/recommend/schools/waldorf.html

I've always loved the idea of Waldorf, but here are two things learned from my nieces and nephews attending that I wouldn't have thought to ask about. One is that they believe in the children's karma and you as a parent or teacher are not suppose to directly get involved with their playground disputes- letting them evolve on their own. In one nieces case it translated into her being a bully, my nephew was fine, and my other niece seems the one picked on. All schools are different, so I would ask how they guide the kids to learn how to treat each other respectfully. The second thing to think about is the fact that most parents at Waldorf do not vaccinate their children. The year my son was born there was a whooping cough outbreak and the school was closed for a while- this may or may not concern you. The best for you as you search for schools! Anon



Waldorf is a beautifully crafted and carefully prescribed curriculum for children from birth to 12th grade. It is not a loosey-goosey program, as many think, but requires commitment and respect for the child's intellectual and emotional age appropriate abilities, from both families and teachers. My husband and I felt it was well worth the commitment.
That being said, I am sorry that the East Bay Waldorf School is the only K-8 option for Waldorf for the East Bay. (There is a K-3 Waldorf school in North Berkeley and a number of preschools.) As with any pedagogical model, the desired results are contingent upon how the staff of an individual school implement that educational philosophy, curriculum, methods.
Over the years we found that our children's teachers had what seemed to be some difficulty with child development and/or classroom management. My son reported, multiple times, that his teacher yelled at children in the classroom, and then changed his/her behavior when other adults came into the room. My daughter complained, with tears, that she couldn't learn because her teacher was always preoccupied with kids acting out.
We continued our commitment to Waldorf while we watched as families withdrew their children, and enrollment in my children's classes dwindled to less than half what they started with. When we expressed concerns or simply inquired as to why families were leaving, the staff told us that those parents were disgruntled or that their children were troubled. We regretfully decided it was a place not conducive to our childrens' learning or healthy social development. We finally withdrew them after attending for several years.
Waldorf aims to surround children with three things: beauty, truth and love. After pouring our hearts and souls into the East Bay Waldorf School, both financially and as active parents, people asked why we left. With disappointments too many to number, I simply respond with 'The school fell a little short on truth and love.' C.


We sent our daughter to Waldorf in Emeryville, lo those many years ago (1993). Maybe we were out of our minds (we were victims of the east bay "firestorm" and were in the middle of a three year nomadic period in which we moved 7 times and were forced to sue the insurance company or face starting all over from zero with toddler twins and two teen-agers. Yes, our decision to send her there may have been unbalanced).
What attracted us was an active music program and a certain global, intellectual/educational curiosity on the part of the teachers. It looked good. We tried to ignore our initial gut reaction that the staff and dedicated parents seemed all to exude an eerie, "Landru is All. Are you part of the body?" syndrome. We felt like alien hyper-intellectuals. Firstly, they misrepresented themselves. We asked explicitly about the religious nature of the school and were told that, though they were, in some tangential way, a "Christian" organization, historically, there was no theological/religious bias. Around the winter vacation, our daughter came home, rattled, and in tears.
"I don't understand," she said. "At school, they told us that the child is coming and everything will be o.k."
"Who's the child?" we asked her.
"I think it's a boy in the other kindergarten class. He's in a play about the saviour. Is he the saviour? Why is everything going to be all right? Why is he coming again? He didn't even come into our class once."
oh boy.
We marched off to school and asked what was going on. The answers were feeble and meandering, at best. It was evident that they had no clue of the effect of their "tangential" Christian metaphoric roots on growing young children.
Then there was the Landru effect. They really did have an image of children being these innocent little waifs, happy, serene receptacles into which their teachers might pour an entire Waldorf world-view. The rigidity of materials used in class, the dim lighting, the low energy level....were geared to kids with low metabolic function who were, by nature, obedient, malleable and unquestioning. O.K. My obvious bias is showing. I recognize that. It wasn't long before the teacher took us aside and suggested that since our daughter wanted to explore outside the prescribed lines, question the logic of instructions, and pretty much, follow her own creative, exuberant curiosities (that different drummer), she must be hyper-active and have oppositional problems. Hmmmm. I understand that the Waldorf systems in Europe are not so rigid or sanctimonious, so lecturing or idiopathic. And I hear that even in the states, the severity of the intellectual/spiritual anti-gravity effect differs from school to school. But, gee whiz, if your child is an independent thinker and a vibrant personality, I would recommend against Waldorf.
Oh, I forgot: They have a mystical ceremony on a child's birthday. There are a lot of candles lit, and the birthday kid sits in a chair across from the parents, separated by a bridge. The teacher explains that the angel child, before it was born, selected the two perfect parents, and then after much mystic m-bo jm-bo, crossed over this ethereal bridge to join its parents in the physical world. Then this bridge-crossing is acted out. There was a hitch in our ceremony, because our daughter, while lighting the candles along the bridge, caught her hair on fire. It was hard to return to the ethereal, metaphoric plain after rolling her in a towel and drying her tears. Still, that weird smell of burning hair.........."happy birthday to you....happy birthday to you...happy biRTHday......".
This was kindergarten. I shall give them the benefit of the doubt in suspecting that this kind of air-headedness subsides as the children get older. This has been simmering in me for a number of years. I apologize for the strength of my opinions if they have offended anyone. But this has been completely honest. I am also very sure that there are inquisitive, gifted and unusual children who are suited very well to the Waldorf atmosphere. I also hear that the dogmatic, religious adherence to Waldorfian principles varies from school to school.
Tobie


We recently pulled our two sons out of the East Bay Waldorf School for a variety of reasons that should be important to anyone considering the school for their children. While some children seem to thrive there, others do not and the school does little to either inform parents of any problems or to address them with the child.
The curriculum and philosophy are quite rigid. Parents are not allowed in the classroom to observe their child's class and are not even allowed to go into the room when picking up a child. The school does not "believe" in learning disabilities and will not recognize them, test for them or address them with your child. They believe that learning disabilities are part of a child's "Karmic experience." The advice we received regarding our son, who was reading at the 1st grade level in the middle of 4th grade, was that his reading would improve if he spent more time "rolling on his back." Children are not taught to read until they have lost all of their baby teeth. By this time, your child is in the 3rd or 4th grade and it becomes nearly impossible to transfer them to any other school because they are so far behind scholastically.
The school will not accomodate your child's learning style. The style of teaching is visual and the teachers write the lesson on the blackboard for the students to copy it into their notebooks exactly as it is on the board. At the end of the day, it is erased. If your child has not been able to copy all of the material, he is "behind."
There are so many children in most classes (it is not unusual for their to be 30 or more children in a class with one teacher - a situation that violates state standards) that your child gets little to no individual attention and and no acknowledgement or feedback on homework, except that if it is not done, your child may be ridiculed in front of the class by the teacher. Your child also has the same teacher for grades one through six, so if there is a bad "fit", you are stuck.
Our kindergardener on the other hand was so bored after 6 months at Waldorf he changed from a child who loved preschool to one who didn't want to go to school and said he "hated" school. There is virtually no stimulation in the kindergarden classrooms. They do not even introduce letters or numbers in kindergarden and it lasts for two years. No child who completed kindergarden at Waldorf would be able to enter the first grade in a public school with any degree of success. The items children may play with in kindergarden include stones, wood and wool toys. Families are asked not to let their children play with any plastic toys at home or to play with anything that is not of natural material. They also do not teach science, do not believe in the use of computers, and kindergardeners may only paint with one or two colors at a time using only their "Wet on Wet" method. The children are not allowed to draw lines of any kind in their paintings and may not use crayons, markers! or pencils.
Both of the boys disliked the Waldorf school and their self-esteem plummeted there. However, since taking them out of the Waldorf school, they have both blossomed. Our older son was diagnosed with a reading and writing disabiliity and is being tutored 3x per week by a specialist and is blossoming. He will be entering the Montessori School which is designed to address individual needs and is sensitive to learning disabilities and where the ratio of children to teachers is 12 to 1. Our kindergardener is at The Academy on Bienvenue in Berkeley and is so excited about school, he is ready and eager to leave first thing in the morning and has asked if he can stay later in the afternoon to play with his friends. He is reading and telling time and measuring things and reporting the weather and learning about the world around him with the excitement and wonder one would expect from a 5-year old.
Finally, I urge anyone who is thinking of applying to any Waldorf School to read the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf Schools. The website www.waldorfcritics.org is an excellent beginning and eye opener. We are not alone in our experience. Ask the teachers why the rooms are white washed a peach color. It is because pale peach is the closest color to Caucasian skin, and Steiner believed that the soul resides in the skin. He has his own theory about the races and believes that those with light skin and light eyes and light hair are the most spiritually evolved. There is a reason there is such a lack of diversity at the school and why there is such an emphasis on the Nordic myths and Nors Gods. Steiner believed that the Scandanavians were the most highly evolved of the human race. There are also little alters in the classrooms with pictures of Christ and the holiday ceremonies alternate between Pagen and Christian celebrations.
We were completely unaware of any of the above when we elected to send our children to the school. I urge any parent considering this school to look into it thoroughly. It is my sense that many parents who have children in the school have no idea what is going on and what their children are learning or not learning. Helen


Waldorf Education - One family's story
Lessons Learned? I think, now, it is more than that. I am trying to work out how something full of such promise, something which seemed the answer to all of our dreams, ended in such disillusionment, sadness and anger.
I do not believe that the people running Waldorf schools are bad people. For a while, after discovering the things I did, I thought there may be something inherently bad or evil in the system of education itself, but I think the problem lies more in the attidude and needs of those people who are involved in this kind of education.
We all have a need to belong, some of us more than others. In some of us the need has not been met. Perhaps we never had a family of our own. Perhaps we never found anywhere where we felt we could fit in. Perhaps we have been cast out of some other place.
Waldorf schools are more than schools, they are communities, and very tight knit communities at that. I, for one, certainly began to feel asense of belonging after being there a month or two. The other thing is that the schools tend to attract people with unconventional views, who are less likely to fit in elsewhere.
Once in,the communitiy demands much of your time and money, and this further tends to isolate you from other friends. Then there is the Waldorf belief that their way is the best way of education. They are strongly critical of other kinds of education and encourage parents to believe that sending their children anywhere else would be letting them down.
All of this engenders a fear of leaving the community. It certainly did in me. I have spoken to parents who have talked of having 'withdrawal symptons' after their children have left.
Loyalty to the community and it's ideals is uncompromising. Waldorf people view Rudolf Steiner almost as a God. Well they certainly never question anything he said and quote him frequently. Their beliefs are fixed. They do not develop with the times.

I wanted to add to the Waldorf discussion as I am a parent who had looked into waldorf education extensively for 2-3 years when my child was a toddler and the website ''waldorfcritics.org'' has many refernces to Rudolf Steiner's original words and works, which were translated from the German but the references to racist and anti-semetic ideology are too numerous and clear to have been mis-translated or ''made up.'' And, it is his work that currently informs the teaching and training of teachers- not an updated version, not in conjunction with other theories of child development. So I do not think these are primarily rumors, but based on experience in waldorf schools and research into anthroposophy. I asked maybe 2-3 of the questions from the circulating list of ''what to ask when looking at Waldorf schools'' and was answered with a chilly stare and no information at the information session. The website was very helpful as a guide when I looked into it, and while it was not the deciding factor in choosing a different school, I was greatful for the perspective from parents and graduates who did not have an ideal experience at Waldorf schools. anon.

Hello, regarding how special needs or behavior problems are treated at East Bay Waldorf School. In order to understand how this would be handled you must learn something about ''anthroposophy'' which is the philosophy/religion behind the Waldorf pedagogy. We were there for two years and we were asked to treat our child with ''anthroposophical remedies'' prescribed by an anthroposophical doctor to treat reading issues and difficulty with ''eurythmy'', a required dance/therapy program my child despised. I would advise you that there is much more anthroposophy in the classroom than the school will admit to prospective parents, probably out of fear of declining enrollment. Study and understand anthtroposophy and Rudolf Steiner before you enroll your child. His ideas permeate the classroom and culture of the school. A good, fairly neutral website for parents wishing to understand Waldorf education is http://openwaldorf.com


We enrolled our child at East Bay Waldorf School after learning about it on the Parents Network. We left the school due to ineffective teaching and a strange new-age spirituality called "Anthroposophy" that underlies the school community and curriculum. Many Waldorf schools are guided by this philosophy but claim, untruthfully, that it is not taught. Prospective parents who are considering this school would be wise to educate themselves about Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, and how this cult-like belief system educates your child in a Waldorf school. There is a movement of parents who have withdrawn their children from Waldorf schools, many asserting Waldorf schools mislead prospective parents about what the curriculum is truly about. Before enrolling your child please visit the PLANS website http://www.waldorfcritics.org/active/articles.html
FROM PLANS: "PLANS would like to see Waldorf schools advise parents up front that the teacher's interactions with their child will be guided by their belief in karma and reincarnation, which leads some Waldorf teachers to speculate that a child may have been born to the "wrong" parents, for instance, or may have been drawn "karmically" to the Waldorf school even against the parent's wishes.
Parents should be told that the science and history curriculum will be based on Steiner's reading of the "Akashic Record," according to which the "ancients" had clairvoyant powers which Anthroposophic initiation may help students attain some day. They should be told that loyal Steiner followers believe humans once lived on the lost continent of Atlantis and will one day live on Venus, Jupiter, and Vulcan. They should be told that teachers study a medieval scheme in which race, blood, and the "four temperaments" will help them understand their students' development.
Parents should be told that although Waldorf bills itself as "arts-based" education to attract holistically minded parents, creativity is actually discouraged, and many of the "artistic" activities in Waldorf are more accurately described as religious rituals, such as meditation on symbols important in Anthroposophy. Children spend a lot of time copying the teacher's work directly off the board. Fourth graders embroidering a purse must all use the same pattern (often with esoteric symbols)."
We enrolled our child unaware of the aforementioned. We also discovered the following through trial and error. Had we known we would not have selected East Bay Waldorf:
1. No parent visibility into teacher's competence. There was never an opportunity to volunteer during the primary teacher's class time, thus parents could not view first hand whether or not the teacher or curriculum were effective or how they were implemented. If you enroll your child there you must trust that they are doing what they say they are, and there is no real way to know how effective the teacher is due to a lack of accountability (test scores, independent student work, PTA, etc) to evaluate teacher competence.
2. Learning issues handled through a Anthroposophical doctor and/or their own anthroposophical therapies. If they have issues with your child they will require that you see an "anthroposophical doctor" at considerable expense to evaluate your child. They often ask children to partake in "therapeutic eurythmy" which is a form of dance while enunciating vowel sounds that is supposed to cure a multitude of issues; again at great expense. All of this is done in the guise of helping your child learn. However, we found out later that most of these therapies are geared toward saving your child's "soul", or making them more open to seeing "spirits". You may also be asked to rub a potion with gold and lavender in a crescent over your child's heart 3 times before bedtime. If this sort of new age medicine makes you uncomfortable do more research. In the end, our child was tested in another setting and had no learning issues and is thriving.
3. In the early years once you're in, you're behind. If you do enroll your child there during the early years (k - 3) please know that if you decide to later to attend another school your child may be significantly behind academically relative to most schools, especially in the areas of reading and writing. What this has meant for a couple of families is that their child was put back in other settings to learn the basics. If you plan to stick it out then I am told most Waldorf kids eventually learn to read, but we ran into horror stories of kids not reading till their teens.
4. Hidden spirituality in the curriculum. We were assured anthroposophy was not taught. But our teacher was definitely an anthroposophist and used it's language in casual conversation and at parent meetings. Concepts like "astral forces" and "etheric bodies" were thrown around without detailed explanation. Karma, reincarnation, racism, astrology are all part of Rudolf Steiner's philosophy. Please educate yourself about the underlying concepts that DO drive the curriculum as well as how you're child is viewed, assessed, etc. The more you learn about Anthroposophy and Steiner the more uncomfortable you may become.
5. Rote, copy-cat teaching method. After two years there we found out that all the lovely pictures, sentences, math problems our child had written in her "hand-made" text book were copied directly from the chalkboard. Word for word sentences had to be copied exactly, not created or broken down and understood. Math problems were copied from the board, both problem and answer, or figured out through "movement" games. Pictures were teacher creations copied from the board.
6. Strange, esoteric and usually unpublished "rules". No black crayons, no immunizations, photography at school events is discouraged, no cell phones on campus, no wearing black, no synthetic fibers, no brand names on clothing, rattan baskets for lunches, no "light-up" shoes for students or visitors to campus, puppet shows are not for children under 6 (once inside young children were asked to leave at a Harvest Faire Puppet show after waiting in line for 1/2 an hour), I could go on, and on......
Former Waldorf Parent


Regarding the East Bay Waldorf School, we spent the morning at the school today. I went in with fairly high hopes after having read some of the feedback here and talking to others about the theory behind Waldorf education. What we experienced was a big let-down. I would say unless you wholeheartedly embrace their views on media, pop culture, and ''screen'' time as they call it(any exposure to tv, computers, and the like), you will not be able to adjust to their environment very well. They require all children to not have any screen time up to age 10 and they take this very seriously. They have a strict dress code and look very negatively upon any kind of mass marketed products. One of the teachers on the interview brought up an example of a child sneaking in a ''Stussy'' labeled shirt and how wearing any sort of logo/advertising takes away from the uniqueness of the child. I did notice that she was wearing clearly labeled Birkenstock sandals, so I guess it must depend upon which products you are advertising.
I am sure this philosophy and approach works for some people, but it certainly isn't realistic for our family. Just my two cents. An East Bay Mom


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You may ask, "where are all the 5=Star reviews?" Well, the problem with those reviews is that many tend not to be too honest. I have included 4-star reviews that appear honest. Often, gushing reviews are placed by teachers and administrators - as some comments here indicate. "This school educates the whole child!!!" - 5 stars - by Anonymous... I say baloney! Notice, many of the reviewers have been misled by Waldorf and are still buying the PR, even after having been disappointed. Feel free to comment but understand the intent of this blog. Comments are no longer moderated.