Girls banned from going to university

“No girls attending our schools are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous.”

YeGlasses-and-Torah-Jewish-schools1-1068x801sterday the Independent published a document, written in Yiddish, which detailed the decree of the prominent strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish sect Satmar. The decree, aimed at the independent schools it operates in both the UK and around the world, reportedly says this:

“It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

“We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.”

As shocking as this is, it’s nothing new.

Just a few months ago a judge upheld Ofsted’s decision to ban a Charedi school in Stamford Hill from admitting new pupils because it was, among other things, ‘fail[ing] to encourage respect for women and girls’ and teaching pupils ‘that women showing bare arms and legs are impure’. Last year, too, two schools in London reportedly wrote to parents to say that ‘no child will be allowed to learn in our school’ if they were driven in by their mothers, as this went ‘against the laws of modesty within our society’. The schools were forced to drop the ban after the Equality and Human Rights Commission deemed it ‘unlawful’.

A picture of the decree, originally published by the Independent.

In April, a Jewish private school was failed by Ofsted because ‘pupils demonstrated stereotypical views on the roles of men and women, with men “going to work” and women “cooking and cleaning”’. And last year the Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School in Luton was criticised by inspectors for, among other things, teaching a design and technology syllabus which ‘limits girls to activities on knitting and sewing’.

We could go on, believe me, and those are just the schools we know about. As has been well-publicised, not least on this site, the existence of illegal, unregistered Charedi schools has been an open and shamefully unaddressed secret for years.

But this is by no means a problem specific to Jewish schools, or indeed to any other kind of ‘faith’ school. And that’s the problem. For too long religion has been allowed to range free in our schools and run roughshod over the education of our children. As long as this is the case, we’ll be forced to come on here time and time again to highlight yet more tragic and heartbreakingly avoidable failings in UK schools.

Until the next time…

FSA team

A dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control

“I had spent years in school and I felt like I knew nothing. I was extremely anti-social with no idea how to make friends. The people I knew, I had known forever, and I was desperate to be free from my cult-like surrounding.”

2016_08_18_lw_v1_fundamentalist_xtian_schoolWith every sentence of writing this I have felt guilty but have come to understand that this feeling is familiar as long as I’m doing anything I know ‘they’ would not like. So, I carry this guilt, and have already decided that if this can save one person from the struggle that I have had to face then it’s worth it.

As someone who attended an Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) school from the ages of 3 – 15 I learned not to question and not to ask questions, because you must be obedient and “obey them that have the rule over you.”

As with most faith schools my parents attended the church which had services held on both days of the weekend. This meant that unless I was ill, I simply attended that building 7 days a week. I had no external life and didn’t know what living was. All I knew was to work as diligently as possible and be completely passive. When I look back on my school life I wonder how I survived.

The majority of ACE schools seem to be linked to churches. Every subject taught is infused with religion and a perception of the way one ought to behave. There was constant segregation between the boys and girls and healthy friendships between the sexes were quickly put a stop to. Mobile phones had to be turned in at the beginning of the day and were returned at the end. There was a lot of unfairness, which was especially evident when you consider that every authority figure had their own children in the school and there was no way they were going to let anyone be better than their kids. If you had talent, it would be hidden. You could get through the workbooks, or PACEs (Packets of Accelerate Christian Education), as long as you were not catching up to their kids. When I did, my literature PACE was taken away.

From 11 years old you were considered a ‘homeschooler’ which meant no more music or art classes.  It was just devotions and PACE work (in your ‘office’ with dividers to ensure you had no contact with the other children) until I was finally able to leave. If it sounds like a prison or is reminiscent of the film Matilda, I also made that connection.

'Offices' in an ACE school
‘Offices’ in an ACE school

Upon leaving, I had no respect for education and found it pointless. I had spent years in school and I felt like I knew nothing. I was extremely anti-social with no idea how to make friends. The people I knew, I had known forever, and I was desperate to be free from my cult-like surrounding. Only I wasn’t able to fly.

To say I had a culture shock when I left and went to college is an understatement. Here I was free to be like other teens, free to socialise, and explore the outside world that I longed to get into. But I struggled to adapt. I soon realised that I was not as incredibly smart as the A-star student that was depicted from my ACE grades. The reason for that is because the ACE curriculum does not actually teach you, you teach yourself. You do not have to learn and all that is required are memorisation skills. You memorise so you can pass the test and then you very quickly forget the rest. My grades had fooled me, my student convention medals had duped me, and nothing I had meant anything in the real world.

“I thought people outside were evil because in my mind if the leaders and teachers are the most righteous and they deliberately crush beautiful potential out of children how much worse must the others be.”

When I dropped out of college my spirit was broken. I had no idea what to do or what I was good at or who I was. I felt disabled in every way and fell into a deep depression. I barely left my house for two years and remember being so low that it was a struggle to say my name if there were more than two people in a room. I only wanted to disappear. The effects couldn’t be denied on one trip when I remember travelling in a car with someone and they unexpectedly  turned down the school road.   I literally climbed into the car boot just in case someone from there was walking by. At this point I knew I was experiencing some type of trauma but I had no idea how to deal with it. I wanted to be fixed. It seemed  there was no cure from the anxiety that would have me on edge constantly because I would need to be prepared just in case the head teacher had an outburst that she would direct towards me.

There was so much public humiliation and slandering of children for such menial and ridiculous things. The whole system of merits and demerits, talking in class, and the dreaded ‘vestry’ that you would be called into if you were in trouble or if they felt like you were developing a mind of your own and they wanted to put a stop to it. This room was mostly used to intimidate and instil fear into children as they were interrogated for periods of time; it also occasionally meant the paddle.

Packet’s of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)

The head teacher and pastor genuinely seemed to get a high from breaking children’s spirits.  It was as if your fears and tears recharged their batteries.  The head teacher also thought of herself as one of God’s prophets. There were plenty of occasions where she felt she could predict our futures . For the girls in the room, the prediction was almost always a teen mum. One instance she went around the room inflicting her predictions: ‘do you wanna have a baby at 15’, ‘do you wanna be a shoplifter’, ‘do you wanna grow up and be a rapist’, all whilst reinforcing a message that unless you follow my rules this is how you will end up.

It seems far-fetched and outrageous that this could go on. An Ofsted inspection gave a good report. Of course they would because these people were master manipulators. They knew how to make things appear. Inspectors were given the schoolwork of the teachers’ children. They spoke to the prefects who were all part of the family also.

“To sum up my experience, the ACE curriculum, along with the types of people that seem to gravitate towards it, is a dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control.”

One of the hardest things is how alone you feel. It’s an abuse that is so strategic that it can’t be pinpointed down to one thing. You can try and explain but it is something that you have to have experienced to really understand. I just wanted to avoid people because they would never understand how I felt, or they might be evil. I thought people outside were evil because in my mind if the leaders and teachers are the most righteous and they deliberately crush beautiful potential out of children how much worse must the others be. I grow weary of trying to explain the gaps on my CV – time after I left that was utilised on catching-up and learning things I should have had the opportunity to learn about in school. An interview means questions and that takes me right back to the child in a vestry.

Lost and hopeless seems to be a recurring theme from attending these schools. They are intentional in their propagandist messages (through the comics) that there is only one way to live and that is their way. Submit to their will or be punished and doomed to hell. They use religion as a form of slavery, making it seem that they are directly linked to God and to oppose them makes you anti-Godly.

'Propagandist messages' in an ACE comic strip
‘Propagandist messages’ in an ACE comic strip

With this belief imposed upon you when you’re barely out of nappies you can only imagine how difficult it is to reprogram your mind and reconstruct a puzzle for which there are no pieces. To sum up my experience, the ACE curriculum, along with the types of people that seem to gravitate towards it, is a dictatorship which does not aim to teach but rather to control. The ACE system provides them with a way to legally abuse children and render them useless outside of their school gates.

I have since tried many things to help my recovery, but now realise that I can’t recover. It would mean going back to who I was previously, which was a toddler. Now, I can only try to become the adult I want to be. It’s a daily journey that I take literally one hour at a time, on a learning process that has meant going back to start over in a world that is decades ahead of you.


P.S. To any parents who think this is a good system where their child/children will learn Biblical principles (I understand you wanting your kids to have a firm spiritual foundation if that is your belief), please realise that your child/children do not leave school and immediately enter Heaven’s pearly gates. They will then have a life to live for which they will be gravely unprepared.

Keeping the faith – Are Steiner schools religious?

“Stop taking parents for mugs. Stop pretending that Anthroposophy is not promoted or taught in the schools, as if it were somehow unimportant. Be honest.”

meeting the child steinerAre Steiner schools religious? It’s rare to find a straightforward answer to this question and it is one the movement itself struggles with. Usually the question is answered along the lines of not adhering to any particular faith or denomination but instead cultivating a more vague form of spirituality and ‘reverence’ for nature.

The Steiner educator Eugene Schwartz was unequivocal on the place of religion:

‘I’m glad my daughter gets to speak about God every morning: that’s why I send her to a Waldorf school… I send my daughter to a Waldorf school so that she can have a religious experience. So that she learns something about reverence. So that she learns something about respecting a higher being… To deny the religious basis of Waldorf education… to satisfy public school superintendents, or a talk show host, or a newspaper reporter, is very, very wrong. And the Waldorf leadership, I would say, are waffling on this matter. I would say we are religious schools.’

But what kind of religion is he talking about? The truth is that Rudolf Steiner took Christianity as his starting point but developed his own very different interpretation of the place of Christ in the history of humanity and in his central doctrine of Anthroposophy. As a result he’s equally derided for this by both secularists and mainstream Christians.

In the Autumn 2011 edition of New View magazine, Steiner early years consultant and educator Jill Taplin, in the article ‘Reflections on some early childhood questions’, discusses two book reviews and adds her own thoughts on issues that the books raise.

The first book, ‘The Seasonal Festivals in Early Childhood: seeking the universally human’, is a compilation of articles on the important place the celebration of festivals has in Steiner education. The book makes clear that festivals celebrated at Steiner schools are Christian ones, but that the customs and practices involved in their celebration are recognisably anthroposophical. ‘Anthroposophy’, Taplin says, ‘is inseparable from the concept of evolutionary Christianity’ (i.e. that ‘the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ were essential to the survival and development of humanity and the earth’).

This is strong stuff for a movement which publicly distances itself from any particular religious creed.

The second book Taplin refers to is ‘Meeting the Child in Steiner Kindergartens: an exploration of beliefs, values and practices’ which is based on a joint research project by the University of Plymouth and the Hereford Steiner Academy. ‘Meeting the child’ refers to an acknowledgement of the spiritual dimension in Steiner education and the unusual practices this can lead to:

‘We trust the spirit within the child and we endeavour to meet and understand that spirit and its purposes… We trust that the child, given time to play uninterrupted (as part of a rhythmically structured day), will do what he needs to and learn what he needs to.’

I can’t help wondering whether this commitment to uninterrupted play can explain the frequent and widespread reports of bullying and physical violence, even in the Steiner kindergarten, that is allowed to continue and get out of hand, allegedly for the greater good of the children’s karma and spiritual development.

Parents believe they have encountered religious intolerance or even indoctrination at Steiner schools

When such problems arise, however, Taplin blames a breakdown in communication with the parents or a failure to ‘meet the child’. For parents with more conventional approaches to parenting who, for example, believe that young children do need to understand where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie, Taplin explains that:

‘The [parents’] next step is frequently to do some research online and immediately they find “Waldorf Critics” sites portraying our movement as racist, a religious cult, or, at the very least, doing and saying some very odd things. Many Waldorf critics…are former Waldorf parents. They are examples of breakdowns in communication, perhaps because through various experiences they believe that they have encountered religious intolerance or even indoctrination, or perhaps because they feel that the school has misunderstood and let their child down badly in some way.’

Taplin believes that Steiner practitioners can often ‘speak out of habit without appreciating that our listener doesn’t understand some of the phrases that we use so easily’ and notes that ‘when thoughts are clearly expressed they are more easily trusted.

Now that may be true, but I’d go further: by all means keep the faith, but stop taking parents for mugs. Stop pretending that anthroposophy is not promoted or taught in the schools, as if it were somehow unimportant. Be honest, tell us what you are really about and don’t underestimate the ability and motivation of parents to understand what’s really going on.

Mark Hayes

This an edited version of an extended piece first published on the site Steiner’s Mirror.

See the previous posts about Steiner schools on Faith Schoolers Anonymous: ‘You don’t expect a school to lie’, and ‘Supressing criticism, manufacturing support’.