Why does it matter to us? - the story so far.

In 2009 our three children were expelled from a Steiner School because the school didn't want to address the bullying and assault taking place in a class of 17 boys and 5 girls. 

The school assured us that they took bullying "very seriously" and we trusted them for too long, encouraging our children to follow the school policy which was to tell. 

The daughter told the teacher.  The teacher did nothing.  The daughter told us. We told the teacher.  The teacher did nothing.  We told the Manager.  The manager did nothing.  We kept talking about it.  The Manager threw out all the children.

We, aghast, tried to get the school to justify the expulsions, on the record.  The Manager trespassed us off the property for two years and called the Police.

We told the other parents.  They did nothing.  We told the Ministry.  The Ministry awarded the school a brand new High School licence on the Anniversary of the expulsions.  We told Health and Safety.  Health and Safety said that a known bullying child left unsupervised with others was not a “foreseeable hazard”. 

The Government announced that it was going to change the law in New Zealand Private Schools.  We waited to see if the new law would have protected our children’s rights to safety and to an education. But the Government of New Zealand decided not to put any of this in the law saying that no evidence existed that legislating for children’s rights was necessary.

This led us to ask the question "Is it safe to tell?" 

There were so many possible reasons why this situation was allowed to happen, and so we have tried to clarify things by keeping information on different websites so:

Titirangi Steiner Messenger documented the expulsions and contains all our communications with the school including statements from Trustees that the expulsions should never have happened - yet they never did anything about it and even used the fact that we had documented their treatment of us (afterwards) as a reason for the expulsions (which happened before).  

We canvassed opinion from all the other Steiner Schools in New Zealand about the behaviour of this one school and asked them if they agreed with it.  Not one of them had a problem with what had happened.  In fact, they all promoted the man who had expelled the children as he now has become Top Steiner Brass in the Federation of New Zealand Steiner Schools.  Therefore we felt it was reasonable to flag up the Federation as having colluded with both the original bullying, the expulsions and the mobbing.

We put our satirical show on SafeToTell, the website we made to follow the law change that could have passed protections for the welfare of 33,000 children in New Zealand, but didn't because Anne Tolley, the education Minister, (played with a dodgy kiwi accent by yours truly in our show), said that there was "no evidence" of any problems.  All those videos are on YouTube.

Because so many other people began contacting us about their own horrible experiences of bullying at Steiner Schools all around the world, and because it was the Anniversary of Rudolf Steiner's birth this year, we made this website, The Steinermentary Project, to feature other people's stories, especially through the medium of video.  

Then earlier this year I was asked by a British Steiner ‘critic’, Melanie Byng, to write an article on the Local Schools Network about Steiner Education because Michael Gove decided to ask tax-payers to fund this form of education which many people feel is not actually secular, i.e. non religious, but which has several elements in common with other organisations which are acknowledged to be cults.  More immediately, Jo Sawfoot had also just taken the Norwich Steiner School to court where she was acknowledged to be a whistleblower when it was discovered that the school had lied to social services about her child who was under 5 years old.

Our efforts in New Zealand had paid off by this time and we finally got to tell someone who might be safe to tell: the Director of the Human Rights Tribunal.  If the tribunal got behind our complaint, it could:

• make it impossible for any other private school in New Zealand to expel children as a way of cherry picking  parents. (we have plenty of evidence that other NZ private schools do behave like this, and free-schools in the UK will be able to do it too as it is a similar 'high-trust' model);

• make it much harder for Steiner Schools worldwide to treat families in this way.  If you google about, you will find many many similar stories of Steiner Schools and school communities rounding on families, called mobbing, and bullying them out.  Because it is so horrible being bullied, many of these families do not want to stand up and name the schools where this happened to them, so a lot of these accounts do not name the schools where these abuses occurred. Sometimes it is also because they want to carry on being friends with people who are at the school.

The article I wrote on the Local Schools Network got us into a LOT of trouble with a group of people calling themselves the “Steiner Critics”.  The Steiner "critics" apparently didn't like the fact that we are so vocal and visible about what has happened to our family.  They rounded on us for suggesting that Jo Sawfoot and other whistleblowers like us were doing a good job and that standing up about bullying is the right thing to do.  

The critics told us that we were “guilt tripping” other people for pointing out that saying that not naming abusive schools is like leaving a hole in the road for others to fall into.  These same critics often welcome new families who have been mobbed by Steiner communities and who are looking for understanding on the internet by saying things like "you couldn't have known".

To make matters worse, Francis Gilbert, the journalist who had thanked me for my hard work immediately prior to publishing the article, has not replied to emails from me since.

It sounds extraordinary to say, but they have at the same time also slammed us for making videos of parents' testimony where we have used professional actors to protect their identities.  Instead of understanding that we are exploring the methodology of documenting about a cult (where people usually don't want to speak out), or congratulating us for trying to protect the anonymity that they feel parents should have a right to, they have bullied and ridiculed us, for using ordinary techniques used by huge, influential organisations such as the BBC.

The mobbers have used all the ordinary techniques such as swearing at us, banning us, ridiculing us, telling other people that we're "demented" that our work "stinks" that we've made our whole story up, etc., etc.,  even that the school was right to expel our children, one of whom was very badly bullied.  Their protracted online mobbing led to us being banned and when we tried to defend ourselves we are accused of stalking.  Of course, as in all bullying scenarios, anyone who stands up to the bully is always called a bully - that old switcheroo.  Anyone reading this who has been a target will know exactly what that feels like.

So we got mobbed again, this time online but these Steiner critics who complain about the cultishness and discrimination of Steiner will not answer the charge or talk to us any more. Through this experience, which was such a shock, as the critics had welcomed us with gushing enthusiasm when we arrived in Europe, we learned about the phenomenon of secondary wounding which is commonplace in whistleblowing situations when those who are turned to for help or at least understanding, turn on you instead.

So, in the same way we had done with the New Zealand Federation , we wrote an Open Letter to see if the majority of critics agreed with the behaviour of a few of them.  Not one critic has yet disapproved of that behaviour. They are still all around criticising the Steiner movement for behaving in a cultish manner but they themselves have closed in as a group to protect the behaviour of a few of their members and they even continue to write about us in places where we have no voice. If we try to defend ourselves we are now apparently “stalking”.

One of the things that one of the mobbing critics Alicia Hamberg says about us is that we are “self-endorsing” by virtue of having anonymous websites “created only to make it appear lots of independent sources support them. It's just all make-believe. Like the project itself.” In fact, as I said above it is really a filing system, but these criticisms and the way these people would like to destroy our efforts have made me think quite hard about questions of anonymity, self-endorsement and the true nature of what makes a ‘cult’. 

None of the supposed ‘critics’ have stood up and said clearly that it is unacceptable to say such things about children who have been traumatised by bullying and assault, then expelled, ending up with PTSD symptoms. She considers this behaviour by a Steiner school “elegant”.  Yet when her friend writes on her blog that Steiner critics are “all about protecting children”, she does not contradict her.

Although we have put our open letter to critics on this site, the background to what happened and why the critics turned on us is just on three pages elsewhere.  It’s a murky story of ganging up, mobbing, and a stirling example of relational bullying. 

Only recently we received yet another piece of testimony from someone who’s son started at the Titirangi Steiner school a few months after our children were expelled, when the apparent problem (us) had been removed.  This is what she said:

So he started in October 2009 and we'd been barely at the school for a couple of weeks when we saw some people protesting outside the school one evening. My husband asked Susanne what it was about and she said that it was just some parents would were a bit upset at the school. We didn't really think much of it at the time.

But very quickly after that my son came home saying "mum, there's a group of boys”… He kept telling us that these boys called him "dumb", "stupid", closed a desk lid on his hands, told him that he's an idiot, slow, stuff he didn't even have to deal with that the other school.


Obviously these experiences have been pretty hard to withstand, but we keep faith with our original question “is it safe to tell?”.  It hasn’t been so far, but with so many inspirational stories of change and of people dumping the non-collusion delusion, we live in hope.

So... phew, it's been an exhausting couple of years.  But anti-bullying week gives us the opportunity to come together with others who believe that if you keep quiet about bullying, you are basically joining in!

What do you think? If you believe the Human Rights Tribunal should step into the legal vacuum and ask the school to be accountable for its actions, please let us know and we will pass the message on.

1861-2011 : 150 years of Rudolf Steiner

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