A Failure to Act
Sexual Abuse in Green Meadow Waldorf School




In July 2013, novelist Kate Christensen published “Blue Plate Special”, her autobiography in which she describes how she had been sexually abused by a Waldorf teacher she referred to as “Tomcat”. Staff of Green Meadow Waldorf School identified Tomcat as John Alexandra, a former teacher of theirs who stopped teaching full time in 1979 but who still regularly visited the school until very recently. This sparked an investigation by the school and the results were made public on the 14th of July 2014 when Lohud - the Journal News reported on it once the investigation had concluded.


“An investigation launched last year after the Green Meadow Waldorf School alumna [Kate Christensen] accused a former teacher of molesting her alleges that he sexually assaulted her, 11 other girls and a woman during his decades-long tenure there.


“The findings, revealed in a damning report by a private investigative firm hired by Green Meadow, also accuse two other teachers of sex crimes — one of possessing child porn and another of assaulting a girl on a school-sponsored trip. It says the school failed to act when complaints of teachers' alleged criminal behavior surfaced.”


The investigators interviewed 95 people and examined thousands of pages of documents. The most damning result of this investigation is that the school “failed to adequately protect its students, faculty, staff, and community members […] because they failed to understand the seriousness of what they had been told or had seen.” The investigators concluded that “the lack of clear and appropriate boundary lines between students and teachers at Green Meadow contributed to the victims’ failure to report Mr. Alexandra’s inappropriate and sometimes criminal behaviour.”


This blurring of the boundaries was extremely well described by Grégoire Perra, a former Steiner teacher and anthroposophist, in his essay “An Almost Imperceptible Manipulation and Indoctrination”, and indicates that this problem is not an isolated incident in a single school, but is part of this education system's pedagogy:


“On school trips, some teachers move in to the pupils’ room. Not right next to them, at a small distance, but sometimes among them. But on the other hand, you’re right, the ‘evening cuddle’ is no longer done except by women, for safety reasons, after certain troubling stories that emerged over a fair few years...  That said, between ourselves, that’s not really advisable either. Women can obviously also be pedophiles. But in my view, this doesn’t address the real problem which is hidden behind this arrangement. But really, don’t you find these types of very intimate behaviours, (like pulling children into their arms right in their beds!) to be a more natural family behaviour than with professional people?”


“It’s true that such closeness is more like a mother or father’s behaviour than a teacher’s”, he replies. “Maternal and paternal affection, should be provided by the family, not teachers! Otherwise everything will end up in a muddle. It’s dangerous to try and take the place of the family. But apart from that one there are no other practices like that are there?”


“Don’t you remember, you who went right through the Kindy, how the Kindy teachers used to sit you on their knees? Don’t you remember, later on in the younger classes, the frequent affectionate gestures of our teachers? How they would take us in their arms, sit next to us in class, always putting their arms round our necks to help us write or draw?”


“But we’re not talking about something systematic or organised?” he retorts, “These were just spontaneous gestures of teachers touched by their young pupils.”


“I don’t think so,” I tell him, “When I did my training at l'Institut Rudolf Steiner de Chatou, the trainee Kindy teachers told us that they were often told to be very maternal with the children, to initiate cuddles, to take the children onto their knees etc., Those are pedagogical indications, not spontaneous gestures. It was ceaselessly drummed into them that the Kindy teacher should be ‘like a mother’ for the children in her care. In her passionate work called “psychological bullying” (“le harcèlement moral”), Marie-France Hirigoyen explains that this kind of developed manipulation is like some sort of hypnosis used to put the future victim to sleep. 80% of it takes place in non-verbal communication like gestures, looks, etc., which slowly control people. In the public school you’ve put your own son in, are the teachers allowed such spontaneous gestures?”


“No” he admits, “I would find it pretty suspect if my son came home one evening telling me that a teacher had taken him into his arms or sat him on his knee.”


“So why then, are methods like this still being taught in Steiner Waldorf pedagogical training, knowing of all the associated risks?”


“I can see that this blurring of roles might be dangerous”, he eventually says “and now that you mention it, that reminds me that our class teacher used to go and eat with each family at least once a month. It was supposedly in order to become better acquainted with the family environment of each student but it was still annoying. Initially I experienced it as an intrusion into our intimacy. Then I got used to it. Before long, he had become a bit like an uncle we saw a lot of.”


“He wasn’t the only one behaving in this way. It’s a pedagogical practice of these schools. And as you pointed out, one that creates a profound confusion between what belongs in the family sphere and what belongs in the professional domain. It is a very serious matter to try and become a substitute for someone’s parents.”


As mentioned above, Mr Alexandra wasn’t the only teacher who allegedly abused students at Green Meadow (according to the investigation, his most recent assault occurred in 2013). The report mentions two other teachers, but the report summary which was included with the newspaper article had their names removed. An unedited copy of that summary is now available.


Thanks to it, we can reveal that one of them is Richard Moeschl who allegedly assaulted a student while on a school trip. This took place in 1983, the year he left Green Meadow to work in another Waldorf school in California.


The third is Eugene Schwartz, a highly influential Waldorf teacher, lecturer, consultant, writer, and now allegedly owner of child pornography and attracted to young girls [1]. He worked at Green Meadow between 1981-2005, but he is more well known worldwide as a proponent of Waldorf education.


We recently discussed his controversial video where he makes fun of parents worried about bullying in Steiner schools, replacing bullying events with a video of kittens play-fighting. Well done Eugene for making kittens look über creepy now. We wrote a detailed review of the video when it was originally uploaded.


In all three of these cases, the school failed to act, didn’t report on what it knew, and essentially allowed those people to carry on teaching in other schools and potentially abuse other children elsewhere.


We have written about Steiner schools’ failure to act when bullying is reported to them, but the events described in Green Meadow Waldorf School between 1970 and 2013 take this laissez-faire attitude to a whole new and disturbing level.


Why are children allowed to be abused in places that advertise themselves as offering a “safe, peaceful and natural learning haven”?


One can only conclude that what Perra describes as the “pedagogical practise” of blurring of the relationship between teacher and student is an ideal breeding ground that attracts dangerous people who prey on innocent young victims.


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[1] 31-Aug-2014: Eugene Schwartz is now suing Green Meadow Waldorf School for defamation, claiming those revelations were made by his estranged wife, even though Eric Silber, the school’s co-administrator, states that she wasn’t a witness in the original investigation.


 
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