Why do so many of the uninitiated still believe the hype that Steiner schools are a utopian learning environment in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. As the flow of public money towards Steiner schools continues to grow, the myth that you would probably like to put your children into one, if only you could afford it, has lent the appearance of legitimacy to the Government’s pro-state funding for Steiner position.
Reality is something different.
When employment Judge Martin Warren recently acknowledged ex-Steiner teacher Jo Sawfoot as a "whistleblower", due to the Norfolk Steiner Kindergarten's “failure to investigate” the incident in which her child was hurt by a fellow employee at the school, the judge drew attention to the fact that she had been"targeted" by the school because of being a whistleblower.
He said “We are satisfied this difficult and obstructive line taken by the school is because they have come to regard Miss Sawfoot as an irritant because of the complaint.”
The size of the projected pay-out, £100K, in this case belies the fact that this is far from an isolated incident. In fact, in flagging up the school's “misrepresentations to social services” about the behaviour of Jo Sawfoot's pre-school age daughter, and in spite of the size of the potential pay-out ….Judge Warren is actually highlighting the amazing talent for unaccountability usually displayed by the Global Steiner Brand.
Norway, Germany, Sweden, Haiti, New Zealand, The USA, Australia….all have had recent Steiner related scandals. So does Government funding improve the behaviour of Steiner Schools and lead to more openness in the press? Not really.
The whole scenario - ignoring the complaint, targeting the "irritant", ejecting them, and then misrepresenting the facts to whoever, including the government - is classic Steiner and it has been for a very long time. And that's why the movement needs more whistleblowers.
So where's my evidence for such a broad statement?
Although I can’t claim ever to have been a Steiner advocate, like Jo Sawfoot, when health problems forced us to look for a less harsh climate to live in than the UK, we looked at the Titirangi Steiner School in New Zealand. Knowing nothing of Anthroposophy, we loved the school’s lush and gorgeous campus and its wonderful advertising as a " safe, peaceful and natural learning haven” and the fact that people talked to you.
Our three year old was happy in the kindergarten for over a year, but when our eight year old daughter went into Class three, there was bullying of gang-like proportions. We continually asked the school to follow their own policy on bullying, which claimed that they would not tolerate it.
In reality, they continually ignored the problem and refused to separate children who were assaulting others in our daughter’s class whilst assuring us that they understood the seriousness of the situation. Forgetting to mention the fact that another parent had just withdrawn her sons from the school because of the bullying, the school then suddenly acted to make the ‘irritant’ - in this case us - disappear.
Without warning, and on the morning of the day we were expecting “the big meeting”, including Trustees and the College of Teachers, to discuss the well-corroborated bullying, the British Manager, Mark Thornton, expelled all our three children forthwith and sacked us from our jobs.
We decided to go into the school at the scheduled time of the meeting with our camera and demand an explanation on the record. The Manager immediately issued Trespass Notices to us and called the police.
The situation was then officially misrepresented to the school 'community'. Mark Thornton wrote a statement that it had become necessary to “ask us to leave”, including issuing Trespass notices, because we had brought a camera, and upset parents and children by filming them.
The record clearly shows that it was the other way round and also that they called the police immediately, with no parents or children in sight.
You can see some of the footage we took on that day here:
To get away with such abuses, for so long, worldwide, not only have you got to be willing to ignore legitimate complaints, and to lie to governments about families and children, but you need the manpower to tie up the press, and jam up the comments sections of articles about Steiner on the web with intellectual stuff.
The self-proclaiming “fastest growing alternative education movement in the world” can do all that and more and the judges comments in the Norfolk case shows beyond question the lengths they are prepared to go to.
Unsurprisingly, a movement that is prepared to give out such harsh treatment to people, is dogged by those who have found out the hard way what is really going on. And the harshness of the treatment also helps to explain why so many of them don’t really want people to know their identity?
You’ve got to be extremely wary of a movement that’s prepared to lie to governments about you and your children.
But the desire to be anonymous might also take the pressure off journalists to report on the issues, and it’s much easier to discredit people if they aren’t speaking for themselves. All of that then seems to create a kind of positive feedback loop for the Steiner movement, in which they can portray “critics” in a negative light, to their own advantage.
Which might be why it sometimes feels hard to tell the difference between people not really whistleblowing, and the press not really reporting it.
So is there a difference between a whistleblowers and critics in this education movement? Can you be an anonymous whistleblower? And why has it become necessary to write the words "education movement" and "whistleblowers" in the same sentence?
In the Norfolk case, Jo Sawfoot’s job as a child protection officer in the school may have lent her both urgency and clout, then again it could be cynically observed that if it takes someone to be paid to do it, then wow, that must be a hard thing to do!
But seriously, although nothing can stop the unpleasant effects of your children being targeted by a school because you tried to protect them in it, or of you subsequently being mobbed by a ‘community’ of parents, having hard evidence of it can’t really hurt.
Obviously we still receive emails telling us we’re crazy, and worse, but we receive many more messages from other parents encountering this and other Steiner schools’ ostrich position on bullying.
One family who took their child out recently said that our publicity “helped us to come to this decision immediately, realising that the school was not ignorant or innocent of the problem, but would seem to have a strange and hidden position.”
Going public can have other advantages as well. Due to our refusal to keep quiet, we have been able to remain buoyant enough to get the issue in front of another global organisation, the Human Rights Commission, who have seen potential discrimination, and who offered the school mediation. After postponing their decision for weeks, the school has refused.
So now the behaviour of the Titirangi Steiner School towards our children is sitting on the desk of the Director of the Human Rights Tribunal.
So is it really much harder to be public? Well apart from the obvious advantages above, it’s difficult to quantify how much worse it might be to be public, when you’re coming in for the “treatment” anyway…
But it is hard not to wonder whether a lack of hard evidence might not help to explain the pro-state funding position of the Government, because if the stark reality of the dark side of Steiner schools were made truly public, it does seem likely that any thin perceived case for chucking Government money at them would simply evaporate.
Help the Steiner Movement go public today and submit your evidence here
By Ms Angel Garden.