An Open Letter to Highland Hall

By Pete Karaiskos

Posted to the waldorf-survivors list June 7, 2008 – reproduced by permission

Dear Highland Hall College of Teachers,

I am in receipt of your letter dated June 24, 2005 (I assume you meant 2004). Your indictment of me begins with the statement “The College of Highland Hall Waldorf School has decided that the school cannot re-enroll [my daughter] for the 2004-2005 school year. This decision was made not because of [my daughter]’s behavior, but because of your behavior toward the class teacher and the school as a whole. The College sees that the class needs a space to heal after the past difficult year.”

First, let me make it clear that I am proud of my behavior and of my integrity. Many parents and former parents have written and called me to thank me for my part in exposing the class teacher and for taking the heat from the school. One former parent expressed that only now that the teacher is no longer at Highland Hall, her child has felt the necessary closure required for healing. But before we go any further, could I please inquire what my behavior was toward [my daughter]’s class teacher that you found offensive? I always treated her respect, conducted myself properly in my meetings with her, never raised my voice even when frustrated and angry. I even helped her carry boxes from her car while discussing my concerns with her about her inappropriate conversations with my daughter. My behavior toward her was absolutely respectful. Meanwhile, behind my back, the same class teacher specifically told my daughter to keep secrets from me, told [my daughter] that she wanted to adopt her and according to [my daughter]’s mother, conspired with her mother to have the Department of Child Services investigate me on false charges regarding my daughter and my other children. When the same teacher found out that my daughter was confiding in me, she continually gave my daughter dirty looks across the room and whispered comments to her in private that my daughter found frightening. She subjected my daughter and the entire class to several inappropriate stories, homework assignments and finally sang a horrible song to them – the common themes in each instance being forced male dominance over women and human dismemberment. Yet somehow MY behavior is in question here?  [my daughter]’s teacher was exhibiting disturbing behavior and she proved this to the entire community. My behavior, my obligation was to do whatever was necessary to point this out and to keep others (the Evaluation Committee and our administrators) from covering it up before more harm came to my daughter and other children – nothing more. How can any of you suggest that, by revealing this woman’s behavior, my behavior is somehow suspect.

Your letter further states “You have repeatedly sent blind emails to community members making negative statements about the former class teacher, the Evaluation Committee, and members of the administration, in direct conflict with our communication protocol.”

I pointed out the truth. The truth reflected negatively on the class teacher, the Evaluation Committee and the members of the administration – this is their fault, not mine. They are responsible for what happened. With regard to blind emails, I communicated in blind emails for the reason that not everyone I emailed to has given me permission to share their email address so I could not make those addresses public. You assume too much thinking that by including the recipient’s email addresses you would have had any better opportunity to do your damage control. I had to send my emails out in waves. Replying to the recipients of my original email would only have assured Highland Hall of reaching everyone on one wave of email so the fact that they were blind copied made no difference whatsoever in Highland Halls ability to respond. Emails that were issued by other parents contained email addresses but were forwarded to me and I could have forwarded them to others – the fact that they contained addresses was no indication of who eventually saw them. Indeed some people I email to are almost certain to forward my emails to others. I can’t even tell you who received them. The emails went everywhere and that’s the nature of email. People understand this and still I received messages from only four people asking to be taken off the email list during this entire process. Considering the number of emails that were sent, that’s amazing. None of the other parents, to my knowledge, have been reprimanded for participating in this email campaign – and many of the emails by other parents were more “negative” than mine.

Let’s be clear about the communication protocol. It is a directive by the school – not a contract between the school and parents that requires parents to suspend their first amendment freedoms. In fact, parents are absolutely entitled to communicate concerns with other parents, other teachers, relatives, prospective parents, God, their dog, in whatever way they choose – whether in person, by phone, by email or by telepathy. Highland Hall has no right to (or expectation that they can) suspend basic human communication. I never agreed to this protocol, nor do I agree to the tenets contained within it. While perhaps not originally intended as such, it is being used to isolate parents so that parents who have a complaint are frustrated or otherwise coerced into silence. Many parents could have the same complaint about a teacher but if they are to follow this protocol each thinks they are the only ones complaining. This is wrong, unhealthy and immoral. The communication protocol is a way for Highland Hall to control information and is another obvious and shameful action on the part of the school. Other parents who strictly adhered to the communications protocol to voice their concerns and complaints have also received notice that their child may not be re-enrolled. Let’s be honest, the College just wants to weed out the complainers – it has nothing to do with following the communication protocol, it is about Highland Hall’s need to control people.

You further declare “Your recent blind copy email, inviting people to a website where you have made a number of negative comments about Highland Hall and specific individuals in the community, is an example of your behavior.”

Yes, it is an example of my behavior that I am proud of. My efforts to open a place for free dialog among the Highland Hall community are much more honest and noble than what anyone at Highland Hall has done. Highland Hall has had a web site for years and despite repeated requests has never offered a forum for open communications among parents. If Highland Hall would allow this on their own site, my efforts may have been unnecessary. Indeed, any such forum offered by Highland Hall would be sure to suffer heavy censorship and banishment of some “disgruntled” community members (like most of the Anthroposophical forums do). The site I invited parents to was created so that open dialog between people involved in Waldorf education could exist and hopefully bring them closer. It is uncensored and anyone may join and stay as long as they like and discuss anything they like. It is healthy to talk about things.

Regarding “negative” comments, my comments aren’t negative, the atmosphere at Highland Hall is negative and my comments describe and reflect this. No specific individuals were mentioned in my posts but as with any close community, most of us in the community have a good idea of who the players are. When I related my response to a private email, I was careful to remove references to individuals. It is curious that not a single parent has posted a positive comment about Highland Hall. For that matter, no teacher, board member, college member or administrator has made the slightest effort to challenge anything that I have said. That’s because I always speak the truth. Some people don’t like this. Apparently, many people from our community have signed up for notification whenever new posts are made so certainly it behooves Highland Hall to set the record straight if I am not being truthful.

You state “You have also refused to meet with the group designated by the College to speak with your about your concerns and activities.” I had to make a phone call to Highland Hall to find out what meeting this refers to. I am told it refers to one that was scheduled several months ago that I declined to attend after two other parents attended a similar meeting and were ambushed and humiliated by the “group”. You expect me to welcome this sort of exchange? Your own actions have made this impossible.

You close with “Our decision only applies to [my daughter] and next year’s sixth grade class. It does not apply to your other children at Highland Hall as long as you follow the guidelines of our communications protocol.”
Why, I wonder does this only apply to [my daughter]? Why don’t my public criticisms about Highland Hall affect the status of my other children? Could it be that [my daughter] has already decided not to return to Highland Hall next year? Could it be that she has made her desire to never return to Highland Hall clear to the school, to her lawyer, to her classmates? Why is this letter even necessary? Could it be to blackmail or shame me into compliance with the ridiculous communication protocol? To disgrace me in the community? Do you think that by taking this non-action with me you can satisfy other parents that something has been done?

I had a lot of concern when I realized I would have to tell [my daughter] about your cruel and unnecessarily hurtful letter. I let her read it herself. When she was finished – she cheered and asked me if she could call her friends and tell them the good news! She is excited about leaving Highland Hall and the mind control and humiliation that comes with it. It was as if a huge burden was lifted off her shoulders. Does your communication protocol allow her to share her excitement at leaving your school with her friends or is she still bound by your silly control issues now that she is out?

I understand why you don’t like me rocking the boat. Clearly, this is not the boat I would have chosen if I knew at the beginning of this journey where this boat was headed. I am someone who regularly checks the integrity of the boat. Yet despite my diligent efforts, the boat has veered off course, as it commonly does, and the Captain has already run into an iceberg. The crew is straightening the deck chairs while I, one of the passengers, have noticed that the boat is sinking and have brought it to everyone’s attention. Clearly, in your minds, I, the passenger must be to blame. Your conclusions don’t hold water. Your actions don’t hold water. Your characterizations of me don’t hold water. Your boat is sinking, I’m trying to help you bail water and you’re trying to throw me overboard. Fine, it’s your boat – I can swim. Maybe without me, your boat will hold water.

What you have allowed to transpire, not just now but over many years at Highland Hall is shameful and you need to consider yourselves accountable. You are supposed to be educators, yet you let your arrogance and misapplications of your spiritual philosophy continually lead you to make terrible decisions that adversely and sometimes harmfully affect the children in your charge. You claim that the 6th grade class needs to heal. In reality, it is the school that needs to heal. This cannot happen until you realize that YOU need to heal – that your relationships with parents need to heal.

Open your eyes – I’m not the one with the behavioral problem here. You haven’t the dignity or the courage to stand up and face for yourselves, let alone admit to the community, what has happened. One of your own, a Waldorf teacher, did cruel and horrible things to the children in her class. She humiliated them, emotionally tortured them, exposed them to horrible ideas that still give children nightmares and in some cases directed them to hide her actions from their own parents, even told them they didn’t see what they saw with their own eyes. She admitted doing almost every one of these things. You all stood by her, watched her behave this way and later defended her when her actions were brought to the attention of the community. And you still do. Why? Is it because she’s an Anthroposophist, and in your eyes, the worst Anthroposophist is better than the best outsider? Shame on all of you for harboring such prejudice. You let Anthroposophy guide you rather than truth and honesty – and believe me (and thousands of other people who have been exposed to and rejected Anthroposophy), there is a big difference. Your dishonesty causes people to repel you more than your philosophy does. It causes you to lose your most valuable asset – parents who are already enrolled in your school. My daughter saw through you – my sons will too in time. Any one of my kids has ten times more character than all of you collectively. You don’t deserve them at your school and, in my view, you have nothing to offer them as long as you work outside of truth and honesty. I am proud of my behavior and feel nothing but shame for yours.

Pete Karaiskos