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Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner (continued)

MAN! I feel like I’ve landed on a polemical goldmine!

It was no mistake I ended my last post where I did. I simply had no time or energy to continue on what is a difficult subject, especially one so close to my heart. I fear I might have presented myself as entirely won over by Steiner schooling.

Still, the replies have kept flooding in and everyone has a story to tell. To those of you who feel you have been unhelpful: please don’t. I am grateful for the opportunity to see this whole schooling fiasco in a multi-dimensional way. The premise is that we felt completely out of the loop with regard to how to secure a decent State funded education for our son. I guess it’s a side effect of coming into parenthood when we had not prepared for it.


We both had misgivings about the possibility of introducing our kiddie to an ‘alternative’ method of teaching  right from the moment we stumbled upon Steiner.

The first that springs to mind is that ‘safe’ and ‘protected’ are both synonymous with ‘sheltered’.


Yet this is a stereotype which is commonly applied to all private school education in the UK. It is so easy to paint everyone with the same brush.

Both me and my ex (I’m tired of referring to him like that – From now on, he is  ‘Daddya’ – see my post ‘Swings and Roundabouts‘) have been educated privately and in UK State schools at different points in our lives. Since I moved here many years ago I’ve seen how bitterly resented this division in British society is – and now, having no real resources to fund a creme-de-la-creme education for my child, I can see why, even though neither is a guarantee of future success.

However, I take the view that despite some formidable schooling being offered on the State, you get what you pay for. It’s just the way it is. For example, I buy Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’ smoked salmon; it tastes fine but comes in smaller pieces, almost like salmon mince. It does the job pretty well on my toasted bagel but it’s not quite up to the standard of the Wild Alaskan ‘Taste the Difference‘ range. OBVIOUSLY. We can grumble about the difference in the quality of public and State school education until we’re blue in the face but it doesn’t change the fact you are likely to get more if you are prepared to part with the cash. Sucks to be skint like me, but that’s life.

I think this bitterness underlies a lot of the prejudice against Public school educated children in this country. Are plenty of them sheltered? Of course. Are many of them snobs? Naturally. But that will never be the whole picture. It’s as ridiculous as saying every State educated child is down-to-Earth, unprejudiced and well-integrated. NONSENSE.

But then, there’s sheltered and there’s completely, harmfully alienated… Continue reading ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner (continued)’


Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner

After our applications for a State school place were declined a few weeks ago, me and my ex found ourselves confronted with the disheartening prospect of our son falling behind on his education. We decided to reapply to the remaining schools in our borough – the only ones that weren’t ridiculously oversubscribed, for all that may imply. Desperate times, desperate measures.

It was upon visiting one of these schools that our hearts really sank. It just seemed wrong. As lovely as the two kids who showed us around were, the fact that this was an oversized inner city dump where there were no longer any toilet seats just could not be disguised. ‘Perhaps‘, we thought, ‘we’re being a little pompous and unrealistic‘. The truth is that children all over the country attend schools such as this and worse and hopefully turn out fine. The Ofsted report gave it a grade 3. Furthermore, parental involvement is integral to any child’s overall education and we both care too much to let him miss out.

But to send our baby to that place felt like sending a  little lamb to slaughter.

(I sound like a mum!)

So we decided it was time to change our tactics and start researching our local private schools with the hope that we might be able to send him somewhere, somehow, someday. They all seemed like shining beacons after what we had seen, and they were all hideously above our budget. And that’s when we stumbled upon Waldorf Steiner.

At £4.055 per annum for their kindergarten (ages 4-7), it was a lot cheaper than any of the other prep schools we had looked at. Still a stretch, but one that we could just about cope with.  The memories of the inner city dump made the local Steiner school’s website  seem a wholesome and rustic idyll. But upon closer inspection we began to realise that this was not your average school, nor your average educational ethos. Something about it reminded me of what I’ve heard so far about the Montessori method, but Steiner seems to go beyond that. Thus began our investigation.

The Waldorf Steiner method of education was formulated by Rudolf Steiner, according to his personal philosophy of Anthroposophy.  It began when a friend of Steiner’s asked him to open a visionary school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf cigarette factory in 1919. You can find more about Steiner’s life and beliefs here, as I cannot pretend to have any expertise on the matter.


Anthroposophy was not a completely alien concept to me as my best friend in Brazil and her husband have been very keen to bring up their 5 year old daughter according to some of its teachings. Anthroposophy means, literally,  ‘wisdom of the human being’.

Well, I’m sure I can’t claim to be that wise because I found it all a bit radical and puzzling. Their daughter was not allowed any plastic or electronic toys; television and computers were forbidden; even recorded music was a no-no. When I landed in Rio with a 9 month old baby I felt slightly intimidated by this determination to occlude modern living. My son loved toys with flashing lights and music and I really couldn’t see how they could be so sure it was harmful. He was one of the happiest, most settled babies I have ever known —and I am not saying that just because I am his mum.

On my last visit to Brazil it was clear that they had had to relax their grip; financial and social constraints meant that raising their kid in an exclusively anthroposophical way became a bit of a nightmare — I think it also partly contributed to their break up last year. Clearly all this gave me a negative bias toward this philosophy, but I would be lying if I said I knew enough about it to refute it. All I am saying is that it probably didn’t come to me in the best light.


Nevertheless I can still see why an anthroposophical approach to education is appealing, particularly in the early years, which is the category my son falls into. It is certainly more caring and constructive than I imagine the nightmare State school could be. At best, it could help my child come on leaps and bounds in his personal development, for all that might represent. At worst, at this age, it wouldn’t harm him. I like the idea of play-based early learning; and I understand this is much of what he’d be doing at a State nursery at reception class – if he ever got into a decent one. My biggest concern over our lack of State school offers is that he would miss out on social interaction and structured activity if he was forced to spend the next year alone, particularly with mother dearest over here. Part of education is learning to be a social and moral being too and I like the Steiner focus on this aspect.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Steiner method is caring and that my son would have plenty of fun and human interaction — What else can I expect at the age of four? At a glance, kindergarten seeks to develop the senses through different kinds of play, giving the children a fair bit of autonomy with regards to their own development. Parents of young children see new milestones being reached on a daily basis and supporting these achievements makes a lot of sense. The focus on exciting children’s natural curiosity and satisfying their instinctive desire for learning is something you don’t hear often on the national curriculum. This was all interesting so I began to ask around.


I must have been living in a hole all my life. As soon as I mentioned Steiner, people started coming out of the woodwork with their experiences and opinions. The overwhelming majority used adjectives such as ‘well-rounded’, ‘creative’, ‘free-thinking’, ‘academic’ and ‘social’ to describe Steiner kids. The educational methods were perceived as ‘effective’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘caring’, if a bit ‘too idealistic’ and lacking in technology. At university level, a broad and unconventional approach would set Steiner children apart as scholars too. However, another friend related that some of her own Steiner friends suffered breakdowns in their late teens because they found it difficult to adapt when the ‘real world isn’t all nice and reassuring, and doesn’t value individuality or creativity’. This same friend mirrored my own concerns when she said ‘In theory, I am completely pro-Steiner philosophy, but it’s worth thinking that school needs to prepare kids for life in the real world’.

The huge response I had on the subject is one of the reasons I decided to write this all down in blog format. This has been very thought provoking on several levels, hence the length of this post and my decision to break it up into smaller segments. There is certainly a lot to be discussed and I can only hope to scratch the surface here. My realist and idealist sides have been struggling against one another. The next step in untangling what I’d heard through the grapevine was to visit the school itself…

To be continued…

The Chicken, The Egg and The Syringe.

This morning’s BBC Breakfast News brought to light a charitable project currently active in the US whereby drug addicts are being offered cash incentives of as much as US$ 300,00 to undergo long term contraception or sterilisation.

I can barely think of anything more controversial. The word ‘eugenics’ has cropped up several times during this debate. On one hand, the defenders of the project present horror stories of children badly neglected, abused or abandoned by their addicted parents; on the other, the opposition argues that addiction does not necessarily equate to bad parenting and that with support many addicts can raise families successfully.

I can see both sides of the dispute. While an eugenics programme is a mistake (‘Lest we forget’), many people  are incapable of meeting their children’s basic needs; and other people, damaged though they may be themselves, remain remarkably caring parents. There will always be a dichotomy in this respect. The one point of view I noticed was absent from the BBC Breakfast News’ coverage is the element of choice.

To force somebody to undergo sterilising treatment against their will is nothing short of committing grievous bodily harm. But I find it courageous and humane to offer vulnerable people birth control when they might find themselves in situations where they are too high to think about contraception. It is necessary to look at the matter head on, without hypocrisy. Even sober people mess up on birth control. I feel certain that the majority of addicts who have participated in the programme so far did not actually want to have children depending on them whilst they are incapable of bringing them up adequately. Let’s also not forget that the US does not boast of a National Health Service, and undergoing some of the procedures outlined would be costly to people who would rather spend their money elsewhere. The cash offered is an incentive to those who would not get round to it otherwise. Another point in question is that sterilisation is not generally irreversible; there are many long term contraceptives(such as the coil or subcutaneous implants) that last for years yet are easily removable. Even vasectomies and tubal ligations can be reverted.  In short, if any of the subjects decided that they were ready to start a family it would not be out of their reach.

I look upon this matter not only through the prism of drug addiction. In Brazil I grew up with the hypocrisy of the Catholic State. The poorest families conceive again and again, to their despair, because sterilisation and long term contraception is out of their reach. To make children is very easy, and there are too many people who feel it is out of their control to stop.  I feel projects such as this give people a choice, as well as prevent more children from being born to people who do not and cannot want them.

Swings and Roundabouts

I am very aware that I am making no new claim when I say that motherhood is a condition filled with woe and wonder.

You draw amazing strength from your children, and in return, they leave you drained.

I thank my lucky stars every day for my beautiful, happy, healthy little boy but I still think how beautiful, healthy and happy I might look sprawled across a beach chair in Thailand with a giant bucket in front of me.

My dear son was the main reason I managed to get out of bed in the mornings after my father’s recent death, and all my friends know how grateful I am to him for that. What I failed to tell them is that I meant it literally:

‘Get up mummya! GEEEET UPPP!

‘Uhhn…? Whaaaaaa…?’


‘Just a minute darling, *yawn*  mummy is a little bit sleepy…’

‘I WANT CEREEEEAAAAALLLLL!!!! Nooooooooowwwwwwww!!!!!!!’

A quick glance at my phone would confirm that this was 5:50am. Cbeebies wasn’t even on yet. That’s how you know it’s too early for your child to be awake.

Nevertheless, the age of three is a pretty magnificent time, there’s so much going on:

The acquisition of speech is remarkable and often incredibly funny and cute, and there’s this persistent drive toward independence, this desire to be a ‘big’ boy or girl. Unfortunately you don’t often get to choose which task your offspring wants to perform on their own. Cue milk all over your carpets, broken plates, broken bones. While you appreciate their kind offer to help you with the housework, it’s always *a little bit unfortunate* when they clip an expensive picture frame with the end of the broomstick.

Yet one thing I can never understand is how my toddler son decides that he’s perfectly capable of diving headfirst into a swimming pool with no arm bands on, because he wants to swim ‘all by myself‘, but whenever he goes to the loo he shouts tyrannically at me from the end of the corridor:


And I wonder what his last slave died of.

This particular phase of (ahem) motor development is something I would, frankly, rather speed up. But then even that has elements of cuteness.

After a long bed wetting spree, I started doing the clever mum’s trick of picking up their child late at night in their sleep and taking them to the toilet.

As the sun rises I invariably hear the ‘MUUUUUMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYAAAA‘ calls coming from his bedroom, but this time he is smiling proudly, absolutely beaming, and he announces,

Mummyaaa??‘ (that’s how he pronounces ‘mummy’)

Yes, dear‘,

‘I didn’t wet myself tonight!!!!’

I am tempted to let the incontinent little rascal into my secret, that this is actually all due to the astuteness of his very clever and talented mother,  but decide I’ll be gracious and let him bask in the glory of this achievement all by himself.

Especially as he flings his arms around my neck, kisses my cheek, and says

‘Mummya, I love you SOOOOO much…’



mente insana sincronia

letra redonda cicla

amarga acida cica

tia vizinha mae namorada

corre com a mao no chinelo,

prepara a palmada.

Mas e doce o seu perfume

doce como a laranja e a hortela

e a jabuticaba.

Cuidado, menina,

nessa sinuca tem assombracao.

O jacare vai fugir se voce pisar no feijao.

Refuja-se nesse quarto

ar condicionado, natureza,

corrente na senzala, colchao no chao.

Rosbife assado com linguica,

mae postica.

Linda linda mulher

mae sem barriga

Fada, Tiete, Sereia

bruxa mulher

Cachoeira, Quaresmeira, Ipe

O que sera ja e.

In Memoriam Maria Carmem de Alencar Araripe, 2009.

An Anonymous Poem Written on a Cemetery Wall in Spain

Poema Espanhol

I read a translation of the above at my father’s funeral the other day. It’s a poem that came to my attention completely randomly, and I thought it said some very meaningful things about life and death. It was found in Gaucin, Spain, and as far as I am aware it is completely anonymous.

I’ve translated it as best as I could.

“Death is nothing. It is merely as if one went to sleep in the adjacent room.

I go on being me, and you go on being you, and we go on being the same to one another.

Follow me calling as you once did, and follow me speaking as you did before.

Go on smiling as if I were still here. Think of me, pray for me and ensure my name is always spoken in a natural manner, without shadows surrounding it.

Death is a natural process and I still go on in your heart, even when you do not see me, I will always be by your side.

Life goes on and all is well.”

Grief is Pathetic Pain

Removes all eloquence.

Has no known cure.

Has no known use.

Just hurts, helplessly, pathetically.

Returns like a punch when you least expect it to.

When lulled into a false sense of security, the memory of the awful truth seeps through like sharp poison.

Like rotten, rabid sharp teeth.

Isolates you in your own despair.

The emptiness hurts like hunger but you still can’t swallow.

Dead and reduced to nothing but ash.

It cannot be because it is implausible, unthinkable, unbelievable.

You were sitting just opposite me at the dinner table.

And now I will never see you again.

It can’t be true but it is.