Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Watercolor and Controversy

Last week I was looking on line for instructions for wet-on-wet watercolor painting to use up some of the insanely expensive Stockmar watercolor paint I bought during a fit of Waldorf-poseur-dom when I ran across this website for critics of Waldorf education. They claim that Waldorf schools are creepy-weird religious cults rife with institutionalized bullying (by teachers and students) and disturbing racist undertones and that the educational philosophy is entirely based on the untested hypotheses about child development of Rudolph Steiner and that it has not been updated to align with modern understandings of education.

Whew! I know some people who find Waldorf overly rigid and controlling and I had read Kate Haas's essay about her horrible experience as a child in a Waldorf school, but I had no idea there was such controversy surrounding it. I don't know enough about either the benefits or the drawbacks of Waldorf to have an opinion one way or other, but I do find it interesting (I love a good controversy). I do read a lot of blogs by Waldorfy parents, and I find it hard to believe that all of these creative, seemingly intelligent people are either members of a cult or have
been duped into following cultish practices unwittingly.

In any case, I am feeling extra grateful for our wonderful PUBLIC school with amazingly caring teachers who know my kids (and no doubt all the other kids too) so well and go out of their way to make education work for them, who are creative and flexible (we just had parent-teacher conferences and E and Z's kindergarten teacher told us about how after Z brought in the Dangerous Book for Boys, she set up a knot-tying station and how much all the kids love it).

I am a huge proponent of public school anyway, and if you let me I'll get on my big (probably offensive to many) soap box about how public school is our most basic democratic institution and that (like water) if the people who care about education (or clean water) only send their kids to private school (or buy bottled water) then there will be no political pressure for public school (or tap water) to meet high standards and it won't be there for those who need it, but who may not come from a family who has the time, interest or motivation to make it work (or it will just flow rusty from the tap).

It breaks my heart to see how much time and energy people put into educating their one or two own kids when if they just put a tiny fraction of that into a public school classroom, they could benefit 20 or 30 kids. (Two disclaimers here: 1. I have well water--but I drink tap water when I travel--and 2. I have not volunteered in my kids' classrooms, due to infant/toddler twins when M was younger and full-time work now. I know, I suck).

Anyway, back to Waldorf education, regardless of controversy, I do like the idea of children learning to cook, sew, knit, and create art as part of their education, so I try to fit as much of that in during our "at home" time as possible. And I do like the look of wet-on-wet paintings (we've used old watercolor paintings in the past as Mother's Day & Thank You cards, Valentine hearts and gift tags). And there's all that paint to use up. So we did some wet-on-wet painting Sunday morning. I had even bought some of the big brushes (rather than using the tiny ones that come in watercolor trays) and I finally figured out the ratio of paint to water (1:2), which as it turns out was in a book I had all along. This gave the paints a much richer color than we'd had in the past when I had stingily put in a little dab of paint with lots of water. I didn't tell any stories or give them any kind of instruction.

It took a lot longer to set up than I had expected, with finding and cleaning jars and mixing paints and soaking paper, so I don't know how often we'll do it, but E and Z seemed to have a good time (Z left after his first painting, while E completed four. The other two are mine. M was downstairs working with C on his Halloween sword).

How do you fit creative time with kids into your busy schedule?


  1. Lovely.

    I don't fit it in nearly as much as I'd like to outside of summers, but we try to have seasonal crafts of some kind or another.

  2. Amen.
    I want to believe in public school, I do. It's the one size fits all approach that is challenging. But it IS an important institution, for which we're lucky to have and needs support and money and time.
    I am glad your boys have done well in public school, I really am.

  3. The paintings are lovely and your photographs of them are lovely too! I wasn't clear about the technique - do you soak dried watercolor paintings and then paint on top for an overlay? Mmmmm.

    I wish I knew more about the Waldorf education philosophy. My children attend a Waldorf-inspired preschool that focuses on a lot of imaginative circle time and plays, outdoor experiences and "life" skills like oatmeal flaking and caring for chickens. At least at this point in their lives, it seems like the right fit.

  4. 6512--I know exactly what you mean; every child is different and learns differently at a different pace. I love the Montessori multi-age classroom and "mastery" concept. However, I've found our local public school (which is admittedly small) does a wonderful job tailoring education to the child and is not one-size fits all at all. And compared to the Montessori preschool/kindergarten classroom they were in, there are almost half the number of children, so I think the reduced chaos level alone is much more beneficial to learning.

    dearheart--you soak heavy watercolor paper in water for about 15 min. before you paint, then lay it on a board (we used plastic trays, but I think Waldorf prefers wood) and smooth out the bubbles with a cloth or sponge.

  5. OK, I'm laughing because I, too, have read some of the critiques of Waldorf. I have a minor obsession with reading about "culty critiques" of various groups. I do enjoy a lot of what Waldorf has to offer, but I definitely pick and choose. I do not and cannot worship Steiner, and there's definitely stuff I do not like. We've also enjoyed the wet-on-wet watercolor and have done it several times.

    I have to say that I agree with you on so many levels about the public schools, and I have several friends whose approach is exactly the same as yours. And...I'm a total hypocrite because I still really, really want to homeschool and am working towards making that happen. Is this a situation where I am choosing the benefits for my own children over the greater good of the masses? And as well, the society in which my children will be living? Your point of view is so valuable to me because it forces me to challenge my thoughts on my own children's education. It's something I struggle with on many levels.

  6. Oh, and PS: I meant to say that we keep our paints pre-mixed in small jars so they're all ready to go. I just have to stir them and shake them a bit, being sure to scrape the settled paint from the bottom. It definitely helps with the set-up time.

  7. Hello! I love the paintings - very sweet. I stumbled across your blog (from the UK, can't remember where now) and have a Z and an E too which made me smile reading your post.

  8. Thanks for mentioning my essay about bad times in Waldorf School! My kids are at a lovely public school where they learn to knit and do lots of art, the stuff I actually do value from my Waldorf education. And the stuff they're never going to get there, like Norse mythology, I just teach 'em myself.


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